Newfoundland and Labrador

All posts tagged Newfoundland and Labrador

Strangely, I had not come across this book on my own. I am sure it would have caught my eye with a cover full of fairly iconic Gander photos. Instead, it was introduced to me by a German documentary group who were recently in Gander filming about the town. I did get to be involved, and was interviewed in the pilot’s lounge, which meant I got to walk through the international terminal for the first time! Quite exciting.

The inside of the Gander International Airport Terminal. Visible is the statue "Birds of Welcome". On the back wall is the word Canada and the Newfoundland flag, the Canadian flag, and the Union Jack.
“Birds of Welcome” inside the International Terminal. Photo by Daly 2019.

Voices in the Wind: A History of Gander, Newfoundland is a lovely read about the history of Gander told very much through the story of aviation. The forward, written by Reg Wright, president and CEO of the Gander International Airport Authority Inc. at the time of publication (2014) is the most poetic look at Gander I have ever read. The love for the town and for aviation is so clear in the forward, and offers a wonderful romanticism about the town. This was the part that was recommended for me to read, and I was in awe of the author’s handle on prose. I wish I could write so well.

The cover of the book, Voices in the Wind by Jean Edwards Stacey

The rest of the book gives a thorough history of Gander, with research, newspaper articles, and personal stories, the author lets the people of Gander tell their own story. There is a lot of information in the book, and sometimes the timeline jumps around a little and there is a little repetition, but overall, it is a detailed history of Gander.

A propellar mounded on a conceret support pillar in the Gander Airport
One of the aviation displays in the Gander Airport. Photo by Daly 2019.

While I have spent a fair bit of time researching the Second World War history of Gander, and have quite a few locally published books on the topic. This is one of the few that spends a good deal of time discussing Gander after the war era. This offered quite a lot of new information, from my perspective; obviously it would be common knowledge for anyone from the area. The look at Gander at the end of the war, as well as with the advent of Confederation was refreshing and gave me a few into Gander that, honestly, would have been helpful when researching the end of the Canadian Side and the building and moving to the newer part of the town.

Gander Airport International Terminal looking at the blue chairs used by passengers and the Art Deco mural, Flight and Its Allegories by Ken Lochhead
Inside the International Lounge looking at Flight and Its Allegories by Ken Lochhead. Photo by Daly 2019.

One of the things I found the most interesting were the stories regarding the Lancaster that killed some residents of Gander in 1946. Frank Tibbo’s account of the incident can be found on the Gander Airport Historical Society page (almost word for word as is in the book) or I discuss it in the context of the Gander Cemetery in Canadians and War Vol. 3. The author allows Tibbo’s story to speak for itself, and tell about the accident that killed four residents who were crossing the runway when the aircraft returned unexpectedly. Tibbo states that the civilians did not know the aircraft was returning because it was landing facing the wind, so they would not hear the airplane behind them, and because it was not using landing lights. Carol Peyton Fitzpatrick also talks about the Lancaster tragedy, but from the perspective of a child who was warned away from playing on the runways. She remembers an abandoned aircraft that was kept in a hanger to itself because it was the one that returned and struck a group of people watching the other aircraft leaving. It is interesting, even though the stories are about 100 pages apart, to see how the Lancaster became a bit of a legend to keep kids safe in Gander.

A piece of the World Trade Centre Towers that were destroyed on 9/11, now on display in the Gander International Airport
A piece of the World Trade Centre given to the people of Gander for their efforts around 9/11

Overall, this is an enjoyable read with a lot of history around Gander and aviation. Sometimes it wanders a little off topic, but always comes back to focus on the community and its history. As is often the case with these books full of memories, I would love more citations so that I could look up some of the great pictures or read a little more into the people and history of the area.


Stacey, J.E. 2015. Voices in the Wind: A History of Gander, Newfoundland. DRC Publishing: St. John’s.
A brown escalator along a bugundy wall featuring four clocks showing the time in London, Montreal and New York, Moscow, and Gander.
Inside the Gander Airport International Terminal. Photo by Daly 2014.

A few months ago, I was looking through MUN’s Digital Archives Initiative for more information for my article Sacrifice in Second World War Gander in Canadians and War, vol. 3. While looking, I came across Ray Guy’s article in The Newfoundland Quarterly, Ten Miles Apart in Space: Five Years Apart in Time. One a Vultee; the Other a Hudson, which sent me down a research hole looking in to the Lady Peace. When I first got to look through the Official Register for the Harbour Grace Airport Trust (on display in the Conception Bay Museum), I wanted to look further into the Lady Peace event because there was just so much aviation activity around it. The heyday for the Harbour Grace Airfield seemed to have passed. In 1934, only the Warsaw passed through, and in 1935, the Northrop. The airfield had started to fall into disrepair, and two flyers were turned away in 1936 due to safety concerns while raking and clearing were done. There were attempts to secure funding for the upkeep, even supported by T.M. McGrath with the Newfoundland Airport, because until the Newfoundland Airport construction was completed, McGrath figured the Harbour Grace Airfield would be used as an alternative landing place.

Unknown biplane flying over the airport at Harbour Grace Maritime History Archives Rorke Family fonds PF-314 01 229

In fact, in September of 1936, it was.

Nightclub owner and singer of “Puttin’ on the Ritz” fame, Harry Richman, found that aviation was a wonderful hobby, and had ambitions to be the first person to do a round-trip across the Atlantic. He had bought a Sikorsky and had set several records with it. Richman was contacted by Henry T. “Dick” Merrill, chief pilot for Eastern Airways, who had similar ambitions for lacked funds, and similar achievement in his flying career.

Merrill found himself at Richman’s club in New York during a layover, and the way the story goes, the two got to talking and of course the conversation turned to aviation.


Richman, at Merrill’s suggestion, purchased a Vultee V1-A and modified it for the trans-Atlantic round-trip, including putting 40,000 ping pong balls in every available space in the wings of the aircraft in an Royal Air Force War trick from the 1920s that was supposed to help the aircraft float should it happen to land in the ocean on the crossings. This gave the flight the nickname the “Ping-Pong Flight”. The actual name for the aircraft was the Lady Peace, so named to promote peace in the years leading up to the Second World War. The flight plan was to fly from New York to London, refuel and return the following day.

The flight left from Floyd Bennet Field, New York, at 4pm on 02 September 1936 after a day’s delay due to weather. A crowd of well-wishers saw them off, and though sluggish to start, the plane took off, and climbed steadily to fly a course over Long Island. Soon after takeoff, they were joined by a couple of DC2s, one blown by Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, owner of Eastern Airways. It is reported that he was wearing his famous straw hat as he and his staff waved to the aviators.

The Lady Peace leaving New York. va-v1a-04-cr-2k

Like Lindbergh before them, they set their course for Newfoundland, the last landmark to use before crossing the Atlantic. Cape Race reported them flying overhead at 11:50 local time, travelling at a high speed and heading northeast.

They took the Great Circle route, but due to a thunderstorm in their flight path they became lost, were low on fuel, and had to look for an emergency landing spot. They saw a field through a break in the clouds, and landed in a farmer’s field, much to the surprise of the farmer and his cows. They had landed in Carmarthenshire, Wales.

The locals were very helpful, but aviation fuel was not available locally and had to be brought from Bristol. The aviators had just broken a speed record for crossing the Atlantic, and decided that they now wanted to celebrate in London. As their plan to cross in 48 hours was now out of the question, they traveled to London, then Paris, then back to Merseyside, England, for their return flight. The prevailing wind was poor for flying out of Liverpool, so the aviators decided to try a dangerous takeoff from Southport beach, then in Lancashire. The takeoff was made after dark from the sandy beach, and the locals set up a flare path to help the attempt. The aircraft took off and started the return trip.

Here’s where the stories start to differ. One account says that the wings started to ice up, so Merrill decided to descend to try to clear them. As Merrill stated they were going down, Richman interpreted to mean they were ditching, and dumped the fuel. Another account says Richman was at the controls, and panicked due to the headwinds and dumped much of the fuel to lighten the plane. Yet another is that neither aviator could understand why there seemed to be less fuel on board than expected, and when Rickenbacker arrived later, he found the emergency fuel dump valve was stuck partially open. A further account says it was later found that the storm cap had blown off the tank and the speed of the plane syphoned the fuel out.

In any case, enough fuel was lost on the return flight that they could not make it to New York and had to make another forced landing. According to Ray Guy, the aircraft passed over Musgrave Harbour, then Carmanville, but could see nowhere to land in Carmanville and returned to Musgrave Harbour where they saw a field. What they believed was an open field was actually a soft bog and the aircraft suffered some minor damage.

From Guy 1987

There were not many radios in Musgrave Harbour at the time, but T.W. Abbot had one across the street from his home. This powerful radio allowed for Abbot to follow the trans-Atlantic circumnavigation, so he assumed rightly that it was the Lady Peace. It was not powerful enough, and throughout the rescue of the aircraft, the wireless station was much improved so that newspapermen could get their stories out.

The plane landed in Man Point Marsh where a number of berry pickers saw it land. It frightened at least one woman, who threw her berries and jug at the plane in surprise. The plane came to rest near a man named Israel (Guy doesn’t give a last name) to the following exchange between him and Merrill:

“What place is this?”

“Man Point Marsh.”

“And where is Man Point Marsh?”

“Sure everyone knows where Man Point is. ‘Tis between Salt Water Pond and Big Brook.”

From Guy 1987

The aircraft had to be removed from the bog, and with the help of local residents, who pulled the plane about a half mile to get it to more stable ground. Newspaper men from New York City sensationalised some of this. For instance, an editorial in the Daily News complained about how papers were reporting that the aircraft was “still floundering in a Newfoundland bog” and that Eddie Rickenbacker had flown to Newfoundland and could not find the airmen in Musgrave Harbour. The same man, Lowell Thomas, also reported that Merrill and Richman were sleeping with the moose. The story goes that Merrill and Richman heard this on the radio, while sitting in Abbot’s living room, perfectly comfortable. In fact, the only incident, besides the bent propeller, was that a float plane found the local waters too rough to land, and had to land in a calmer harbour nearby.

(Due to the length of this event, I have split it into two posts. The next one can be found here.)

The Lady Peace in Musgrave Harbour. From Vintage Air


1976      We Treated Them As If They Were Residents of Our Community. Decks Awash, 5(6): 59.

Clarke, D.J.
2018      Stories From Our Shores: Musgrave Harbour and the Ping Pong Flight. The Western Star, 04 December 2018.

Guy, R.W.
1987 Ten Miles Apart in Space: Five Years Apart in Time. One a Vultee; the Other a Hudson. The Newfoundland Quarterly, 83(1): 5.

Jessamine, Bob
n.d.       The Ping Pong Flight Project. The Ping Pong Flight, accessed 20 December 2018

Mann, Robert S.
1936      Letter to Paramount News, 18 September 1936. On File: Conception Bay Museum.
1936      Letter to O.J. Whitney Inc., 02 October 1936. On File: Conception Bay Museum.

Radecki, A.
2015      From Glendale to London with Peace, Pingong Balls, and the Ritz. Vintage Air, website, accessed 04 May 2018

Whiteway, L.
1971      The Story of Musgrave Harbour. The Newfoundland Quarterly, 68(2): 6-11.