GENERAL RECONNAISSANCE SCHOOL
CANADIAN LEGION WAR SERVICES
June 7 1943
Here we are in Summerside—for a day. We are leaving this afternoon for Charlottetown or perhaps Montreal if we can’t find any excitement on this island. You see we have a weeks [sic] leave as there were too many to start the new course. This sort of thing happens every week and had we known we could have wired for an extension from Saskatoon.
We got here late Saturday night and having nothing to do on Sunday we walked into town—about four miles and looked the place over. Summerside has only about 4000 inhabitants so is not much of a place and when we get started on the course we won’t see much of it. We will be getting one day off a week and one 48 in the nine weeks. P. E. I. seems quite a pretty spot—very green with almost brick dust coloured soil.
We spent about 1½ days in Toronto and two in Montreal. In Toronto I had supper with an old varsity friend of mine and his wife. They drove me around part of the better residential section afterwards. Every house in the city is either brick or stone as frame buildings are not allowed.
We were much more impressed with Montreal. It was a very clear day when we arrived and we spent most of the first day on Mount Royal which is right in the centre of town. It has a marvellous view. The cafes are distinctive too. Most of them new and very modern with an imposing list of wines and liquors. Some of the buildings are very nice too such as McGill University, the art gallery and many churches.
They gave us a compartment on the train from Montreal to Moncton. This is the best way to travel by train and we had quite a party that night.
As most of the students here are officers we don’t get anything particular in accomodation [sic]. In fact our quarters in Saskatoon were perhaps a little better but now we don’t have to make our beds or worry about barrack inspections.
One chap I met this morning is someone who worked in one of the CM&S offices at Yellowknife when I was there. I last saw him at manning depot. He had just finished a weeks [sic] leave similar to what we are getting now. I hope we are going to find it worthwhile because we volunteered for it. We had thoughts of New York fir awhile but this seems rather difficult to do.
With love from
June 14. 1943.
Your airmail letter arrived on the 11th, postmarked the 8th in Kelowna which is pretty fast travelling. Soon I had better think about coming home this way myself when the course is over as you have to make reservations a long way ahead.
I am afraid I never got around to mailing a birthday letter to Dad. I thought about it at odd times in Montreal and Toronto but not when pen and paper where [sic] handy and it slipped my mind when I did write (if I did. I can’t remember.)
What happened to Hugh Dunlop? Perhaps there is another letter covering this. Also what is Henry H[obson]. taking accounting for when he is a radio mech?
Our little holiday last week did not take us very far—only to Charlottetown. We decided that to go further would be useless expense as we would be travelling most of the time. Stayed at the CNR hotel which cost 5.75 per day each being European plan. What a quiet time we had—that town is dead. We had a party the first night but had to pay 10.00 for 25 oz of rather poor rye. A few days late we went to about 6 different doctors to try and get some scrip for a bottle but of course there were none left as they each get 25 on the 1st and 15th of each month. I had more to do than the others because my chum P/O Doug McGrath and his bride who he married when he got his wings a month ago have an apartment and I spent much of my time with them. Doug is an amazing chap—you can’t help feeling good when he is around, he is always so darned happy. One day we rented bikes and went to a beach about five miles away. This island with its gentle slopes and paved highways is the tops for bicycling and we had a great time. The beach was supposed to be private and so we had it to ourselves. We should have had bathing suits because the water felt very warm (the water is supposed to be 60 – 70 F in the summer despite the cold winters).
I was a little envious to hear that at Charlottetown GRS the officer students are two to a room instead of in barrack blocks and don’t have to wait in line for meals but there are probably compensations. We don’t have PT, they do.
I have hardly got into the course yet but far enough to see that it will require a great deal of work. Some of it will be really interesting as, being secret, it is absolutely new to me. On the other hand I imagine ship recognition will be deadly.
I doubt if one can influence ones poting from here very much. I still think I would like to go overseas as soon as I can but a course at Nassau might be interesting (and a proportion of each class goes here). The third best seems to be Pat. Bay.
With love from
June 20, 1943
I hope this first week of our course has not given us a sample of the typical summer climate here. If so, Summerside has the worst climate of any place I have ever seen. There is nearly always a strong and decidely [sic] cool wind blowing and when it subsides the rains come. Our classroom was once part of a warehouse and is consequently poorly lighted and at present unheated. Sometimes you can see your breath but always it is really cold and a lot of us have got colds as a result. The only time I was properly warm last week was when flying. This sort of weather makes thoughts of the Bahamas pretty good but ones mind is too dulled with cold to bother to study for it, I should think.
I had a few drinks in the mess one night with two of the staff pilots here who are from Kelowna. One is Murray Tree who I knew before and the other, Foote, son of the man who used to be at the Aquatic. These two, along with Povah from Kelowna also, where [sic] posted to GRS at Charlottetown over a year ago and got rather a raw deal. Their whole course was taken off course and give[n] six weeks instruction as staff pilots and then posted here when the school was opened. Red Pettigrew is here somewhere but I have not seen him yet.
Murray Tree arranged with our course instructor so that I would have my first flight with him. This first exercise was just to learn how to take drifts over land and sea so we just wandered aimlessly about at heights of 1500 down to the deck. I had a spell in the pilot’s seat for awhile which was nice. We have Ansons here so I have flown them before except that these are English and have to have the wheels wound up by hand—the second navigator’s job.
Yesterday we started out on our first navigation exercise. Soon we ran into a front with hard rain and poor visibility and were ordered back by radio. However the trip was long enough for me to realize how I would hate to be a navigator and how we, the first and second navigators, must organize our work before taking off. You are kept most frightfully busy, about every two minutes something must be done and recorded in the log. Our pilot got temporarily lost coming back. I thought there was no excuse for this unless he was new to the station for we went over a town which must have been within 7 miles of home. The W. A. G. eventually indicated the way. We navigators had given up long before neither feeling very well as the air was very rough.
Except for attending lectures we are allowed to wear civilian dress on or off the station which is a sensible idea.
In the mess we can get only two ounces of liquor per man per day but all the beer or stout you want until the day’s quota is sold. I don’t think Charlottetown is rationed like that but I guess here you could buy on a non-drinkers [sic] card.
We are paid in cash here so I suppose I will have to open a postal bank account for there is no chance of getting to an ordinary bank and I would not like to carry on me the accumulation of $90 odd every two weeks.
The hours are quite reasonable. Half-hours [sic] drill every two weeks, otherwise we start at 8:15 and are usually through at 4:15 with an hour for lunch and two 15-minute breaks. Of course we are supposed to study a tremendous amount outside of this.
With love from
June 27. 1943.
It has suddenly become summer here and most of the last week has been very nice. It is a pity there isn’t a decent beach nearby to make the best of it. There is a place to go swimming about one mile away but you have to walk out about 300 yds to get up to your knees in water. We have walked down a couple of times and I think the benefit of the swim would be lost on the trek home as there are innumerable fences to climb over. We went for quite a long walk this afternoon to a place called Miscouche. We expected a town but there were only two small stores, both closed, so we couldn’t even get a much needed ‘coke’.
Yesterday I went on a triangle trip around the Magdalen Islands. I was off course quite a bit on the way up but managed to fix it up pretty well by taking bearings on any landmarks I could see. For the last 50 miles coming back I made no alterations of course and on ETA which was calculated at that distance away I was only ½ mile from the airport. A successful ending anyway.
On the next rip we are supposed to use the sextant in the air. We have been practising this on the ground. The actual operation of the instrument is not bad but the arithmetical work is profound, requiring two or three widely separated sections of two different volumes for each reading.
Dave Bone came in on the train last night for the new course. He left our office at least two months after I and now he is only two weeks behind. He took SFTS at McLeod but I saw him at ITS and again at EFTS.
It will likely become too warm for a uniform on Sunday so I would like you to send the following by express: my Grenfell cloth wind breaker, my greyish suit, one or two shirts (one white if I have any and both ‘collar attached’, a couple of ties (one to be a sort of reddish foulard that I have. It might be made by Currie and is the only one I like.) You can wrap the bundle quite small if you like because I can get it pressed on arrival. In the middle of it you might be able to put my camera but don’t bother with any accessories or the case and don’t indicate its [sic] there unless you have to.
This may arrive just before your birthday so I wish you many happy returns of the day, Mother.
With love from
July 5, 1943
Thank you very much for the money order but it never has got to me yet. It has just occurred to me that it might be at the post office since all ordinary mail is brought up to the mess for us and put in cubicles. They might have overlooked sending up a chit from the post office saying it is there so I will find out tomorrow before I seal this letter. Your letter got here July 2 a.m. and Mothers [sic] July 5 p.m. both posted June 29 3:30 p.m.
Our ground school is not mostly navigation although that is a big subject. We have to study a lot about the navy and how it works, also coding, astro, reconnaissance etc. Actually we are not supposed to talk much about what the course does consist of and that is why the public knows so little about it and why even us, at S.F.T.S., had only a faint idea of what we were coming to.
Our navigation trips usually take about 3½ hours. The next one I do is strictly dead reckoning turning on three imaginary seas positions, something like this. [sketch] Dead reckoning here means that if I do get close enough to land at any time (which is doubtful) to get a bearing I mustn’t use it. I will have to navigate simply by watching my drift and finding out what the wind is about seven times. As long as there are any white caps however small this isn’t too bad and even if it appears to be flat calm there are ways of getting the drift by dropping sea markers. In fact if you can see the sea at all you are not lost.
We had our intermediate navigation exam in ground school last week and with 86% I just led the class. There were several others in the 80’s. This week we have a final in photography. One thing about this course is they don’t save up all exams until the end.
I have just got back from a 48 spent in Charlottetown. It is the only one during the course so it is a pity it had to come so soon for everyone gets fed up with the course toward the end. We have only 5 days off in the next 6 weeks.
In Charlottetown I managed to get a fairly good brand of scotch for only 7.00 for 26 oz. This didn’t go very far with five of us so we got some rum for 15.00. Rather weak rum at that. However before we tackled it we met two naval officers who had lots to drink. H.B.C. scotch costs them 70¢ for 26 and the same in rum about 1.30. Amazing, isn’t it?
The weather there was grand but just as soon as we got back the rains started again.
This afternoon we met some of the personnel of a New York show which is touring the R.A.F. stations putting on entertainments. One of the girls was from Vancouver and [k]new the same set of people that I do and has been to many a party at our West End boarding house although shortly before my time. Small world, what.
I have at last seen Red Pettigrew here. He finishes up this week (and we finished I.T.S. at the same time).
July 6 I have partially solved the mystery of the missing mail. There was another P/O R. A. Stubbs on the station who has subsequently been posted to Lachine Quebec. I am not sure whether he took my mail before he left or whether it was forwarded to him but in any case the post office is going to look into the matter so you won’t have to do anything yet.
I have already made reservations on the T.C.A. for when we finish on Aug 13 and so far they can only promise me as far as Toronto.
With love fro,
July 12 /43.
The registered letter is still travelling and is on its way to the Bahamas now, forwarded from Lachine, Que. They sent off a teletype today to find out about it but it only got as far as the border and had to come back to be coded.
I haven’t got the parcel yet but it should have come in to town last Saturday so perhaps they have just forgotten to notify me.
I was navigator on a very busy trip this morning. We flew over to Pictou and there did a harbor reconnaissance. Your [sic] given a blank map and in twelve minutes you have to put in all data, type of ships, weight, colour, position etc etc also trains railways roads oil tanks, everything and take some photographs. Both navigators work on this, scurrying around the plane like mad trying to get a decent view. Then you spend the rest of the trip writing up a comprehensive report. But they make the return trip tough by giving you a radius of action to do. In this you set course from the harbor on a given track and fly out to such a point from which you can fly home in a straight line, the whole trip to take a specified length of time. I got back with 3 minutes of the two hours but made a bad arithmetical blunder which caused us to go far off course.
Maybe Archie can figure this out. I wanted a track of 259 and figured course of 27° would give this. Then I found drift was 6 port which made (270-6) = track of 264 requiring alteration of 5 port. However I got 270-6=254, therefore gave alteration of 259-254=5 starboard and so was going 10° off course. Didn’t notice it for 15 minutes.
We had our final written photography exam last week. It was very easy, class average 85% and four of us got 39/40. The other 60 marks go on practical work such as the pictures we took this morning.
It was in the papers so I guess I can mention one of our planes ditched last week. All the crew spent 24 hours in their dinghy before they were found. Remember I said last week how hard it rained. Well that was the night so it must have been pretty miserable.
I suppose you might tell the time with a sextant but it would be very difficult as the tables don’t work so easily backwards.
Your estimate of the length of our trips was very close.
We are having real summer weather now.
With love from
There is still another namesake on the station. This time an F/O with different initials.
However it might be good to use my number which is now J26815. T.
July 19th. 1943.
We are supposed to be through here Aug 12 so I am trying to get my TCA reservation changed. With 14 days leave at the end if I go overseas and less otherwise, you can imagine how many days at home I will have if I don’t fly. Also I wanted to go as far as Vanc. in order to buy a few things such as an overcoat.
There has been no further word on the missing letters. I don’t think the M.O. could be legally cashed by my namesake.
I have a bad time with the aldous. In one weekly test I got 82% which had the distinction of being the lowest in the class. Last week I got 93%–about half way down from the top.
Flying exercises become more arduous. The second navigator, formerly not too busy is given a photo of certain ships just before takeoff and in the air he must make up all the W/T coded messages he would send if they were actually spotted. This is not too easy. In addition he must make up a recco report for the intelligence.
There are two final exams on Wednesday and a ship rec. test tomorrow so I cannot write more now.
With love from
[Enclosed are five photographs with the following inscriptions verso:
“L to R. / Self K. W. Reid W. Johnston / Charlottetown Hotel”
“L to R. / R. Mountford, K. W. Reid, Self, W. Baine / At Charlottetown”
“Charlottetown from its park”
“Doug McGrath & I at Keptock Beach.”]
July 28 /43.
The registered letter has turned up although not the other one. It had at least seventeen post-marks on it, including Miami and Nassau.
Heard today that my TCA reservation was through O.K. so in two weeks late Friday I should be in Vancouver. It hardly sounds believable but I hope it works out like that.
If I didn’t mention it before, the clothes arrived alright and the tie was the right one. Now that I have the camera I probably won’t use it, not having any 48’s.
This morning I got up at 0230 to fly with the dawn patrol. First we had the best breakfast I’ve ever had in the air force. This alone was worth getting up for and then when we got down to the Ops room the flight was cancelled so we hurried back to bed before they changed their minds. That was great. However this trip will have to be done sometime and a recco to Sidney to complete the flying part of the syllabus.
In the signals theory final exam written last week I got 88, tying for first place. Ship recog. is going to be a problem. We spent a year learning how to recognize about 100 planes so cannot be expected to learn almost that many ships in 6 weeks, especially as we spend less time per week on them. Previous classes have had a good system of mutual aid during the exam which the instructors overlook and this is the only solution. The models room is the only way to learn them and it is locked at night so you can see its [sic] a bit difficult.
29 Today is our holiday but I don’t know what to do with it. I wanted to get a suntan but it is cloudy as it is every Thursday. I have only had one day off here when it has been sunny. I suppose we will follow the usual routine of going to town after lunch and wandering aimlessly about until supper.
I had some low flying one night. We came home about 2130 and when we hit the island followed a small stream for quite awhile at about 100 to 200 feet up. It was rather like driving in a car I thought. When we passed over farms the powerful landing lights were turned on the house so no one could read our number. No doubt many people were surprised to have their bedrooms suddenly flood lighted.
Never mind about sending cookies along. We will soon be through here and we get sandwiches at night anyway.
With love from
Our postings came threw [sic] today and a tentative distribution has been made. They wanted over 1/3 of the class for Eastern Air Command and got more than enough volunteers for that. Then there were some to Debert and I think there are enough volunteers for that also. The rest go overseas so I guess I will be able to get what I want. I am not in the clear yet though and we got a bad scare yesterday. They wanted one ground school reconnaissance instructor out of the class (such a procedure is quite usual here, even though thousands have been been [sic] spent in teaching a man to fly) and our flight commander thought seven of us were in the running for this. I was one. All were above average students who have tried to make a go of this course so it seemed criminal that they should be penalized for doing so. Today we were told (although not definite) that the instructor would be chosen from the next class.
I was so worried last night I couldn’t study at all for the six hours of exams we wrote today but instead had a few beer and went down town. We have recess tomorrow so I certainly won’t study much tonight. As long as I get 50 in it or any other exam I am satisfied. The two poorest students are the only ones who know definitely they will be going overseas provided they manage to scrape through all exams.
My TCA reservation has gone through to Vancouver OK. Should leave Montreal Friday morning and get in Vanc that night. I hope so.
With love from