After years of hard work by both myself and Nelson J. Sherren, our book, Their Sturdy Pride: RCAF History and Aviation Mysteries of Newfoundland and Labrador is finally available. For now, just the paperback is available, but an ebook will be available soon. Find it through Engen Books or Amazon. It will soon be available in person at locations across Newfoundland, and hopefully Labrador and further afield.

The cover of a book. The background is red and across the middle is a picture of an aircraft in a snowy setting. Across the top, in white letters, reads: Their Sturdy Pride: RCAF Torbay History and Aviation Mysteries of Newfoundland and Labrador. Under the image, again in white, reads: Lisa M. Daly, PhD, Nelson J. Sherren, CD.

The book is divided into three sections. The first is Nelson J. Sherren’s history of RCAF Torbay, which is now the St. John’s International Airport. Nelson had worked on this history for years, and around 2016, he shared a copy with me. I did a light edit, but when he pitched it to a publisher, they said it needed more work. He again shared his manuscript with me and said if I could make it something a publisher would accept, then we’d put both of our names on it. But I moved for work soon after that, and the job took up so much of my time that I could only pick at Nelson’s manuscript. And when I moved home, I came home just in time to attend his funeral.

I didn’t want his hard work to be lost, so I continued to work on the book, and now, part 1 is Nelson’s wonderful history of the Royal Canadian Air Force, and later commercial use, of the Torbay Airport. Finally, this section ends with a list of the incidents and accidents that took the lives of those who served at Torbay during the Second World War.

A set of interpretation panels and models at the St. John's International Airport. Nelson was part of the committee that designed this display.
Nelson was on the committee who created this display about the history of RCAF Torbay, found at the St. John’s International Airport. Photo by Daly 2023.

The second part of the book is based on my own archaeology work, featuring two sites that Nelson had a hand in. One is USAAF B-24M 44-42169 that crashed near Gander, NL, on 14 February 1945, that was carrying top secret equipment. The chapter discusses the crash and those who were on the aircraft (see Darrell Hillier’s Stars, stripes, and sacrifice: a wartime familial experience of hope, loss, and grief, and the journey home of an American bomber crew for a detailed history of the crew), the search and recovery of the crash site, and our archaeological work. This aircraft crash site was also one of those featured on Land & Sea, and you can find the episode Fallen War Birds on CBC Gem (requires a CBC account) or on the Gander Airport Historical Society page. This was my first aviation archaeology site, and the excavation was run by Dr. Michael Deal. I had just come back from finishing my MSc in Forensic and Biological Anthropology at Bournemouth University and had applied for a few different summer archaeology positions. Working on this site changed is what created my passion for aviation archaeology and history, and Nelson Sherren supported and encouraged my work every step of the way. I met him because of this site, and happy that we became friends.

Part of a tail fin that is resting against some scraggly trees so that it is partially upright with jagged metal debris all around it. The numbers 42169 are visible in a faded red/orange paint.
Part of the tail to B-24 44-42169, or archaeological site DgAo-01. Photo by Daly 2007.

The next chapter examines the crash of the American Overseas Airlines that crashed near Stephenville, NL, on 03 October 1946 (see this post for a brief history and Tales of the Great Outdoors for a bit about how we found the site, plus other stories about hunting, fishing, and trapping [mine is the only searching for an airplane story]). The history of the site is explored, as well as the people who were on the aircraft and the backgrounds of the crew. Like the previous chapter, this one also goes into the archaeological work, and Nelson’s information about later blasting of Crash Hill that attempted to bury the wreckage.

The photo is taken from above, and is of the top of the author's head. She has her hand extended holding a handheld GPS and is taking the measurement of a very damaged engine that is nestled into moss, small woody plants, and resting against a tree.
Taking a GPS coordinate for one of the engines of American Overseas Airlines NC90904 which crashed on 03 October 1946. Photo by Shannon K. Green 2011.

The third section features my more recent work at Gull Pond, on the Cape Shore, and the stories of aircraft wreckage at that pond. Nelson was involved in a search of the area in the 1990s, while another American organization was also searching for the Oiseau Blanc (White Bird). I explore some of that, as well as some of the other avenues of research that Nelson was pursuing, such as a series of articles and documents looking at Norther Quebec as a possible crash site for the Oiseau Blanc, and other theories that Nelson had about what aircraft could have left debris at Gull Pond, like Frances Grayson’s The Dawn, also lost in 1927. I also explore the search conducted by Sidney Cotton for the Oiseau Blanc and some of the searches reported by newspapers for both the Oiseau Blanc and The Dawn. I had the opportunity to visit Gull Pond, and discuss the archaeology that I conducted.

A panoramic view of a bond taken from the banks. The water is a rich blue and there is a ripple on the pond. There are rocks visible in the foreground of the pond. The banks are bright green with small trees and the sky is bright blue with light cloud cover and sunshine.
Gull Pond, on the Cape Shore of Newfoundland has had stories about aircraft parts being found here since the 1930s. Photo by Daly 2022.

Overall, the book is a tribute to Nelson. It’s his words and research that shaped the work, and without Nelson, I don’t know if I would still be doing this research. He was always there to support my research, and helped so much. Nelson passed in 2019, so his royalties will be going to 515 North Atlantic Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron in his memory.

And now that this project is out in the world, stay tuned to here or my social media pages for readings and signings. I’m getting ready to start my next big research project, but hope to find time for a few small research project to share here. In the meantime, you can find Their Sturdy Pride at Engen Books or Amazon.

A black and white image of a building under construction and two aircraft near the building. Most of the image is of the ground and a path leading to the aircraft, putting the building and aircraft further into the background so details are unclear.
Two aircraft at RCAF Torbay. From PANL A52-144.
Share Button

In recent years, I have picked at the history of some of the women who were vying to be the first to cross the Atlantic by air. I touched on Mabel Boll when I did a presentation about the Columbia‘s two visits to Harbour Grace for the Conception Bay Museum, and more recently, won in the 2021 Senior Non-Fiction Arts and Letters category for a piece about Frances Grayson and The Dawn, based on documents I found in Nelson Sherren’s files, which was later edited and published in the Aspects section of NQ journal, and further expanded for my upcoming book co-authored with Nelson Sherren, Their Sturdy Pride.

This, a recent interview about Mabel Boll, and my volunteering with the Conception Bay Museum have made me want to further explore the histories of these different women who wanted to be the first to cross the Atlantic. That, and the fact that Mabel Boll and Amelia Earhart were stuck in Newfoundland for some time before the weather cleared enough that Earhart and the Friendship team managed to take off, placing Earhart firmly in the history of aviation and pushing out the other women. I would love to know if there is more information out there about what Boll and Earhart were doing while in Newfoundland. I have been exploring newspapers from the time, and recently spent some time searing different local archives, without much luck. So if anyone has any information about Boll and Earhart and their time in Newfoundland, please send me a message.

A black and white photo on a woman wearing an aviator's cap, a cardigan and long skirt standing next to the tail of an aircraft. She is smiling and looking away from the camera, towards the nose. Behind her, N-X and C O L U are visible, indicating the Columbia.
Mabel Boll with the Columbia in Harbour Grace in June 1928. From the collection of the Conception Bay Museum.

In this search, I decided to read Crossing the Horizon by Laurie Notaro. This is a historical fiction that focuses on Elsie Mackay, Ruth Elder, and Mabel Boll and their quests to be the first to cross the Atlantic by air.

Writing historical fiction is a challenge. I have an idea for a historical fiction, and know that every error can take a reader out of the story. As well, when dealing with historical figures, it is difficult to know exactly what they were like. Notaro did a lot of research, and talked to family members who could give an idea of what these women were like, and what really comes out is that these women were absolute forces who had goals and worked to achieve them in the best ways that they could. These women are inspiring in very different ways, and approach entering a male-dominated work in ways that best suit their own personalities, mixing their love of flying with their femineity. I love Elders signature red lipstick, Boll’s (sometimes almost outlandish) fashion, and Mackay’s take-charge organization and funding (something that inspired me about Grayson as well).

Reading this book just made me want to research these women, as well as the others who were in the race, even more. Reading newspaper articles and other books, such as The Big Hop by Gavin Will really portray Mabel Boll as a high tempered society woman who loved to be at the centre of everything. And she is certainly that in this book! What it does neglect is some of her more generous side. She certainly throws money around to try to achieve her goal of being the Queen of the Air, but when Earhart wins that race, Boll, in the book, quietly retreats. I would have loved to have seen the small, but important tidbit, that even though she wasn’t the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air, she still donated $500 (a lot of money in 1928) to the operators of the Harbour Grace Airstrip for, what she called, a world-class runway. It shows that she was a complex women, as there are very few records of other aviators paying for the use of the runway. In fact, there are letters after the whirlwind of activity with the crash of The Lady Peace at Man Point Marsh in Musgrave Harbour where the Harbour Grace Airstrip contacts some of the newspapers whose reporters used the strip to ask for compensation. That money from Mabel Boll would have gone a long way in the operations of the Harbour Grace Airstrip.

A landscape photo showing short grass in the foreground with patches of sand, then a length of sand around the middle of the photo, behind which is a small grassy slope and evergreen trees in the background. The sky is a gray-blue overcast.
A picture of Man Point Marsh in Musgrave Harbour. The Lady Peace crashed somewhere in this area. Photo by Lisa M. Daly October 2023.

Neither Elsie Mackay nor Ruth Elder were in Newfoundland, so I have not really researched them much. I did love the romanticism of Mackay being able to see the lights Newfoundland in the distance, and the mention of Mabel Boll going from Harbour Grace to St. John’s to be wined and dined. I would love to know if Boll actually did buy a Labrador silver fox coat while in Newfoundland.

I also loved how small the aviation world is in this book. Boll meets Erroll Boyd, who later flew the Columbia to Harbour Grace and went on to be the first Canadian to fly across the Atlantic. The interactions between Boll and Stultz who went on to fly with Earhart out of Trepassey, and other such meetings that excite me and make me want to discover what is in the historical record and what is historical fiction. That’s the beauty of a good historical fiction, it can blur the lines between fiction and non-fiction, and a well-written and well-researched book like this really succeeds in creating a great story.

I really enjoyed this book, and would look forward to picking it up every evening and may have stayed up a little too late reading. Of course, I did see a few historical errors, but, this is a historical fiction, and changes and omission are done to move the story forward or to add to the characters. I understand that, and would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in women’s history and the history of aviation.

This book has also inspired me to continue with my research. I have been searching through different newspapers for tidbits about these and the other women wanting to cross the Atlantic, and did use the bibliography to send a wish list to my mother-in-law for Christmas, and she gave me a wonderful selection of history books that I look forward to reading. The biblio for this book will be a great tool for my own research; the biggest problem is often finding online copies of the newspapers, or having to search through reels and reels of microfilm. That’s certainly one of the reasons research takes so long!

Six books are laid out on a wooden surface clockwise from top left they are: West over the Waves: The final flight of Elsie Mackay by Jayne Baldwin, Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History by Keith O'Brien, A Flight too Far: The Story of Elsie Mackay of Glenapp by Jack Hunter: Great Mysteries of the Air by Ralph Barker, Women Aviatiors: 26 Stories of Pioneer Flights, Daring Missions, and Record-Setting Journeys by Karen Bush Gibson, and The Lindbergh of Canada: The Erroll Boyd Story by Ross Smyth.
Christmas presents to continue my research!
Share Button