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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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
In fact, in September of 1936, it
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
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.
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
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.
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
“And where is
Man Point Marsh?”
knows where Man Point is. ‘Tis between Salt Water Pond and Big Brook.”
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.)
Anonymous 1976 We Treated Them As If They Were Residents of Our Community. Decks Awash, 5(6): 59.