All posts tagged Gander

I have been working away at my book, an article for the Journal of Newfoundland and Labrador Studies, and just finished the final edits on my textbook chapter, which should be out next month. All while working and volunteering.

I did get a chance to read some local aviation history. In particular, I read Bill Bennett: Pioneer Bush Pilot and Outfitter, a biography by Len Rich, published by Breakwater Books. In searching for the link for this book, I found this Land & Sea radio feature about Bill Bennett, I’m listening to it as a type. Here’s the link: Hear about one of N.L.’s aviation pioneers in a Land & Sea archival special from 45 years ago |

A white float plane with orange markings is on a pond at the end of a dock. A man is reaching up to the wing that is over the dock.
Gander Aviation aircraft on Deadmans Pond in Gander. The Room S 894.

The book is interesting in how it approaches the biography. It is a collection of recollections about Bill Bennett. Each section is another person remembering Bennett. Sometimes you get the same stories told in different way, as it’s clear that quite a few people remembered the challenge of trying to dig a basement in the sands of Labrador for a new hunting lodge!

A Gander Aviation plane on skis on the snow. The plane is white with orange markings and the propeller is turning.
Gander Aviation Ltd. plane on skis. The Rooms S 2291.

Presented this way, you also get personal stories about Bennett, mostly how his anger could be legendary, where after an incident or accident, he would get so very mad and start firing people, only to hire them back hours later.

Three men on the end of a dock next to a white float plane with orange markings. They are standing under the wing. A yellow float plane is in the background.
Unnamed men on a dock next to a Gander Aviation Ltd. aircraft. The Rooms S 2304.

The biography really showcases the work that Bennett put in to running Gander Aviation Ltd. and his travel lodges, and his passion for both of those areas. While he may have occasionally forgotten to pick up travelers at a lodge, his meticulous record keeping made sure they were eventually remembered. And sometimes fishing wasn’t as great at one of his lodges, so he’d fly to another camp and pick up salmon from other fishers to make sure the folks at the lodge always left with something.

A float plane flying over a pond.
A Gander Aviation Ltd. plane flying over a pond. The Rooms S 3489.

I did find one strange oversight with the book. As it was done through the stories of other people, it means that stories are missed. Others remembered their own accidents, but of course, in the case of a tragic accident like the crash of the Beechcraft on Bauline Line, the pilot could not tell his story. I am certain that that incident was a major moment for Gander Aviation.

A fragmented piece of airplane aluminum with the word Aviation Ltd painted in orange on the site. Some graffiti has been scratched into the paint.
Part of the Gander Aviation Beechcraft which crashed on Bauline Line in 1978. Photo by Shannon K. Green 2016.

Overall, it was a short, enjoyable read about another colourful pilot who helped pioneer aviation, particularly bush aviation, in Newfoundland and Labrador. If you love local aviation, then this is an excellent read, with many other major players in aviation sharing their memories of Bill Bennett.

A Gander Aviation plane on skis on the snow. The plane is white with orange markings and the propeller is turning.
Aircraft on skis in the snow. The Rooms S 2209.

Time for a long overdue review of Darrell Hillier’s book, North Atlantic Crossroads: The Royal Air Force Ferry Command Gander Unit, 1940-1946. I admire Hillier as a researcher, and will often refer to him regarding the history of the bases in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as for crash sites across the province. It seems that in most of my papers, Hillier’s works will be found in the bibliography. He has also just published an article in the summer 2023 issue of NQ (available here) called U-Boat Attack!: When the Day of Islands Made the Big Screen.

A hand holds open a magazine to an article with the title U-Boat Attack! A black cat is sitting on the person's lap, back of her head visible against the page, as if she is looking at the article. In the background, a green garden and sunshine showing a compost bin and planters, some with strawberry plants visible.
Myself and Sophie the cat enjoying the sunshine while reading U-Boat Attack!

As is the usual from works by Hillier, North Atlantic Crossroads is incredibly well-researched and enjoyable to read. Hillier is great and really bringing the people of history forward and telling their stories. His thesis, Stars, Stripes, and Sacrifices: A Wartime Familial Experience of Hope, Loss, and Grief, and the Journey Home of an American Bomber Crew looks at the loss of a B-24 on 14 February 1945, and the impact on the families, and an excellent example of how he tells the history through the people involved. His book mixes the history of the Royal Air Force Ferry Command Gander Unit through the people, especially Joseph “Joe” Gilmore, who was recently recognized as an Exceptional Person of the Past by Heritage NL. Hillier’s research helped to enhance the submission, really demonstrating the impact that Gilmore made not just on aviation as a whole, but on the aviation issues that arise in a place like Gander, and how he touched many people and communities around Newfoundland with his rescue operations, as well as helping civilians reach the hospital in cases of emergencies. More about Heritage NL’s designation can be found on their website, including an essay written by Hillier.

The cover of a book. The image is in sepia tones with a stylized image of an aircraft near a WWII hangar and another aircraft in flight. The title is in red and reads North Atlantic Crossroads.
Find Hiller’s book on his website or Amazon.

North Atlantic Crossroads focuses on the Gander airbase, with the first chapter going through some of the history of Newfoundland to explain how the airbase came to be, from the loss of responsible government in Newfoundland, to the discussion and surveys for the establishment of an airfield, into the construction, and finally how Gander became an important airbase for the Second World War. The end of the chapter looks at the first crash in Gander.

This is something I found interesting in how Hillier shaped the book, was how the looked at the various crashes around, and affiliated with, Gander. Like the crashes themselves, they pepper the book, from the first chapter onward, sometimes discussing at length, like the crash of T9449, which killed Sir Frederick Banting, but at least mentioning many of the other incidents. Some may not have been seen as important on an international scale, but were locally important, such as the crash and recovery of FH235, which because of the assistance of the people of Codroy in the salvage operation, was named “Spirit of Codroy”, an homage to Lindbergh’s famous plane.

A black and white image of a damaged hudson aircraft. There are coverings over the nose and cockpit, and the wings and engines are missing. A man is standing in front of the aircraft. Near the nose, Spirit of Codroy has been painted.
The Spirit of Codroy in Botwood, waiting transport to Gander. From The Rooms VA 128-16.2.

Hillier’s book explores the growth, successes, and challenges of the Gander Airbase. When I first read the book, I said it would be taking it’s place on my shelf next to Ocean Bridge: The History of RAF Ferry Command by Carl A. Christie, but I lied. I’ve been using it too much in trying to finish a current book with Engen Books and an article for the Journal of Newfoundland and Labrador Studies, so it hasn’t been able to sit on any bookshelf for long! I will also be using Hillier’s work to update a number of pages on this site, as Hillier offered information about a few different crashes that I investigated that wasn’t available to me at the time of my thesis. Once again, his research is incredible.

A book open to a page with four black and white photos of different plane crashes. Small strips of yellow sticky notes are sticking out from the other pages of the book, many with writing visitble.
Some of the pictures featured in Hillier’s book. As you can see, I took many notes while reading it.

I don’t feel like I’m really expressing how good this book it. It is not only a great research resource for anyone researching Gander or the RAF in Newfoundland during the Second World War, but it is also an enjoyable, interesting, and exciting read for anyone with an interest in war or aviation history. As an example, I gave a copy to a family member for Christmas soon after the book came out, and I was later told he picked up the book, and just sat on the steps reading for the next hour, even with all of the activity of Christmas happening around him. I thought that was incredibly high praise! I, myself, read quite a lot of the book when I had slow moments while working at the Colonial Building in St. John’s. I thought it was fitting to read it in the place where many decisions about Newfoundland’s aviation history were made.