Group Captain Roy H. Foss
It may seem unusual or surprising to some that the commanding officer of a station or base would be darting off here and there on missions of mercy.
© Submitted Photo
INSPECTION – Group Captain Roy Foss, far left, with Princess Alice, countess of Athalone inspecting RCAF WDs in Gander in March 1942.
One would think he’d be ‘flying’ a desk and delegating the saving of lives to subordinates. Searching for lost aircraft or personnel and airlifting patients to hospital somehow doesn’t seem to fit in with the routine of administrative duties required of the top military brass. Group Captain Roy Foss, Commanding Officer of the RCAF Station, Gander, during 1942, wasn’t going to be tied to a desk.
One of the prominent streets on the former residential area of the airport honours the memory of Group Capt. Foss. Former residents of the airport area will remember that among the buildings on Foss Avenue were the Drill Hall, the Amalgamated School (Hunt Memorial Academy), Goodyear Humber Store, as well as several apartment buildings.
Group Capt. Foss, who was born in Sherbrooke, Que., on Jan. 19, 1896, was sent to Gander in 1941 to take charge of the RCAF Station from Group Capt. Lewis, who had been assigned other duties.
Robert G. Pelley, formerly of Gander, and now living in Quebec City, has done extensive research about the “man behind the name,” and the following is from his files:
— 30 December 1941 and 1 January 1942, flew 13 hours 40 minutes searching for Digby 744 (not located);
— 28 January to 1 February 1942 flew 16 hours 20 minutes searching for Hudson 768, landing at several difficult sites to gather information; from information gained at Alexander Bay station, it was possible to locate the lost Hudson, fly in and bring out two crewmen who were suffering terribly from exposure and could not make a dog team trip to Grand Falls. Three trips made to site of crash, but on last one he had to leave alone following magneto failure. All landings made in small burnt area surrounded by dead trees.
— 2 March 1942 at request of Newfoundland government he flew a Fox Moth to Musgrave Harbour and evacuated a Mrs. Vincent (in labour and acute appendicitis); baby girl born 21 hours after arrival at Gander;
“Searching for lost aircraft or personnel and airlifting patients to hospital somehow doesn’t seem to fit in with the routine of administrative duties required of the top military brass.”
— 2 March 1942, night flight of 90 minutes searching for Ferry Command personnel who had become lost skiing. Dropped flares over airport which enabled the man to find his way back, though with both feet badly frozen;
— 29 March 1942 with F/L Graham flew to Burlington and Fleur-de-Lis to investigate and treat patients (meningitis epidemic), landing on ice in both places; probably five lives saved by early treatment;
— 3 April 1942 with F/L Graham flew to Musgrave Harbour at request of Newfoundland government to retrieve sick nurse. Landing conditions very bad owing to soft, wet snow. He made one flight to evacuate nurse, then returned to bring out Graham, needing 14 attempts to effect two takeoffs;
He was Mentioned in Dispatches and on 13 June, 1946 was made a member of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). His OBE citation:
Group Captain Foss as Commanding Officer of an RCAF Operational Station has flown many wearisome hours under adverse weather conditions on searches for lost aircraft and in the rescue of aircrew personnel. He showed courage and resolution in landing and taking off in small hazardous places and undoubtedly saved service crews from hardships and danger of freezing. His ability as a pilot was also demonstrated in landing and taking off in difficult circumstances while on mercy flights, undoubtedly saving lives. He completed on one occasion thirteen hours flying on search. Most of this flying was completed on light aircraft which was the only means of successful operation.