No matter where you lived as a youngster in the early 1940s, an aircraft generated tons of curiosity and excitement. Now, suppose someone parachuted from an aircraft and then the aircraft executed a crash landing. It's something one could never forget and the details would linger forever in your mind.
It all started when three Ferry Command aircraft departed Gander for the United Kingdom on Nov. 30, 1942. Two of the aircraft went down in the North Atlantic and were never heard from again. The third aircraft, a Boston Douglas DB-7, a relatively high speed short range bomber, is the subject of this story.
The crew was composed of the pilot, Squadron Leader R. Morrow, D.F.C.; radio operator Flight Sergeant McLaughlin; and navigator Pilot Officer Tamhlym.
The aircraft, which departed Gander at 8:30 a.m., didn't have the range to fly straight across the Atlantic but were forced to fly a northern track with plans to refuel in Greenland and if necessary, Iceland.
In a report to Group Captain Anderson, the commanding officer of the RCAF Station, Gander, the pilot wrote in part, "three hours after departure, the cloud layer broadened into continuous light cloud with thinly defined layers, and icing encountered. I decided to return on a reciprocal course, to clear icing conditions, and when clear of cloud to either climb over the top and proceed to Greenland or return to Gander. On turning back I discovered that the layer cloud had widened to continuous light cloud behind. The aircraft iced to a dangerous extent, and I was unable to remove it. Despite having to fly at full throttle to prevent stalling, it stalled several times at speeds up to 190 mph but was stopped from spinning by application of full power and diving. I endeavored to gain altitude but was unable."
Further on in the report - "Finally at 12,000 feet the aircraft stalled and spun, I recovered from the spin and the aircraft fell into a spiral dive with little or no control. At approximately 3,000 feet and at 350 mph, I recovered from the spiral dive. As I passed through solid icing cloud from 12,000 feet, I decided that the only hope of getting clear lay in going down to sea level on the chance of getting warmer air. At 1,000 feet I eased off the dive as speed was in excess of 400 mph. At the same time warmer air was encountered and the ice began to break off the leading edges. At about 100 feet the sea became visible and I followed cloud breaks at sea level for 20 minutes. I instructed the Radio Operator to send S.O.S. as I thought there was little change of survival."
Icing conditions and low visibility continued to the point where it was decided to try and return to Gander. It soon became apparent that the fuel would soon be exhausted and they decided that they would have to land somewhere very soon. They saw Grey Island approximately 20 km east of Conche and proceeded to look for a suitable place to land in the vicinity of Conche.
Morrow spotted what looked to be some relatively level snow-covered meadows and made the decision to crash-land. There was, however, a problem. Morrow: "The navigator was positioned in the nose compartment and I considered it unsafe to land with him there."
That was when the excitement in the village reached its peak.
Ignatius Dower, who now resides in St. John's, was 10 at the time.
"I was in school at the time and we saw the aircraft because it circled a couple of times. I saw this parachute falling from the sky but I didn't know what it was."
Gerald Fitzgerald of Conche was also 10 years old but remembers it like it was yesterday.
"It was in the afternoon and when the parachute came down some men went up to Kenney's Woods where he landed. But he wasn't hurt and came back with the men."
John Bromley was also in school. He still lives in Conche.
"I was 12 at the time. We heard the plane and saw it through the window but the teacher wouldn't let us out."
Morrow saw the navigator land safely and lined up the Boston for a landing. He was about to land the aircraft on a combination of fenced meadows and gardens.
"The aircraft tried to land in the meadows, hit a rock, slewed around and went into the brook," said Mr. Bromley. "I ran from the school house toward the crashed aircraft; the priest, Father Hennebury was also running toward it, but I think I beat him to it."
At 3:56 p.m. the aircraft touched down, slid over the snow through two fences, and hit a fairly large boulder twisting the bomber sideways. Morrow's landing was as good as was possible under the circumstances - the aircraft was wrecked, however, no one was hurt. The aircraft had been flying for seven hours and a half, the majority of which could only be described as horrendous weather conditions.
The navigator and Radio Operator were put up in Ambrose Flynn's house, a stone's throw from young John Bromley's home and the pilot was given a room at the priest's residence.
Later the aircraft engines were removed from the wreckage, and taken away by ship. The salvage of the engines required a lot of manpower and in some case 'boy-power'. John Bromley helped tow the engines to the wharf.
"My part in it was hauling on a rope. We all got paid for that. I don't know what the rest got but I got seven dollars."
Seven 1942 dollars must be equivalent to approximately $100 today. In 1942 men were working for five cents an hour. I asked him what he did with the money.
"I gave the money to my father."
Joan Simmons, Program Director for the French Shore Historical Society, says the wreckage has become a tourist attraction.
With thanks to: Eric Dawe for bringing this story to my attention; Joan Simmons, Program Director for the French Shore Historical Society for the photos and documents; Ignatius Dower, Gerald Fitzgerald and John Bromley for the memories of the incident which they shared with this columnist.