Plane crash

All posts tagged Plane crash

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.

Something a little new this time, I’m just sharing an article. Darrell Hillier is a name familiar to any regular readers, especially if you read through my sources. He is often listed as a source, and has been a great help throughout all of my research. Darrell’s MA thesis has just been published through Memorial University, and I wanted to share it here with everyone. It is well worth the read and looks at the history and crash of USAAF B-24 Liberator No. 44-42169 which crashed near Gander on 14 February 1945 killing all 10 servicemen on board. But his thesis doesn’t just look at the crash. He has done extensive research, talking to family members and reading correspondences to look at the impact of this incident on the home front; how the families were notified, their questions, and how they lived with their loved ones first being declared MIA, then dead. I had the privilege to read a draft of the thesis a while ago, and have been waiting anxiously for it to be published so I could share it here. I haven’t written about this crash on my blog for a number of reasons, but it is the first crash site that I visited and it is the site that really woke up this passion for aviation archaeology. I made no secret that I am not an expert in aircraft, but do try to surround myself with people who continuously educate me on the finer points or who point my research in the right direction.

The tail fin from USAAF Liberator 44-42169. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2007.

You can find Darrell Hillier’s thesis, Stars, Stripes, and Sacrifice: A Wartime Familiar Experience of Hope, Loss, and Grief, and the Journey Home of an American Bomber Crew on the Memorial University Research Repository.

A machine gun and other wreckage from USAAF Liberator 44-42169. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2007.

As for myself, I am still getting settled into a new job, and it looks like my things (including any research documents I own) will not be delivered for a couple of months. That said, I have been working on some articles, and you can find one about the mock dogfight that happened over Gander that lead to the collision of a B-25 and an A-20 in their January/February 2018 edition of In Formation.

The engine from the USAAF A-20 involved in the 27 October 1943 crash. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2011.

I do hope to be better settled soon so that I can get back to semi-regular posts.