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Jack Gould’s Memories Of Serving In The Royal Canadian Air Force During The Second World War

This story is part of our partnership with Maryboro Lodge The Fenelon Falls Museum and was written by Glenn Walker.

KAWARTHA LAKES-D.J. (Jack/John) Gould came from a prominent Fenelon Falls family. His grandfather, David H. Gould was a physician, whose practice was located at 17 May Street (The Well Body Group, recently Lighthouse Real Estate or the Fudge House). David had started his practice on Colborne Street, and would mix medicines above the doctor’s office. When his son Alvin finished high school, he attended the University of Toronto and graduated as a pharmacist in 1903, allowing him to help at his father’s practice. Alvin would go on to operate a drug store on Colborne Street, which has since operated as MacArthur Drug Store. 

Being the son of a physician in a small town allowed Alvin a life that farm kids could only dream of. While he was a university student, he loved to play hockey and became a standout goaltender, back in the days when there were six skaters and a goalie on a team, and goalies did not go down to stop the puck. His father was instrumental in expanding the Trent Valley League to Fenelon Falls and Lindsay. While Alvin was away at school, he made the trip home to play for the Fenelon Falls Hockey Club, which won Stratton Cups in 1901, 1902 and 1905. Before the NHL, Canada had more than one Silver Challenge Bowl named after a donor-politician. The victory was a huge event for the community, celebrated on the main street and with a banquet at Northey’s Restaurant (later J’n B’s and the General Store, now vacant). Alvin was also well-known as a curler and member of the Don’t Give a Damn Club—a group of young men, who obviously had a sense of humour. 

As Alvin and his wife Lila (Henderson) were raising their own family in the interwar years, they too had a special childhood. The Goulds had one of the first radios in the area, and as a boy, their son Jack was really interested in this revolutionary new media. Long before television and movie theatres reached the area, radio was the only live media, though the stations were distant. CKLY 910 AM Lindsay was not launched until 1955. While early broadcasts included musical concerts, once NHL games were broadcast starting in 1932, they became one of the most popular shows. Early radios were a large piece of furniture, and families would gather around to hear the broadcasts in their parlour. Many early radios operated on batteries (not everyone had electricity, especially outside towns and villages), though some newer models worked on AC. They were a major investment, which required technicians to service. 

While he was in high school, Jack got in a disagreement with his father, and decided to move to Hamilton to complete his final year of studies. As he was finishing high school, Jack enjoyed playing with radios, as he would modify one to pick up short wave messages from boats on Lake Ontario. After he finished school he moved to Toronto, and found a job working at a department store, as a radio technician. 

When the Second World War broke out, though he was married with a daughter, Jack enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Being in the Air Force was a very attractive profession—not only did they get to fly in the most spectacular of the fighting machines, the thrill and acrobatics of aerial combat held special appeal. Loss rates of 2% per sortie were common, and about 40% of aircrew perished. If anything the danger that came with the job made it cooler. Airmen passing through town in their uniforms would turn heads. Jack was fortunate, as a radio technician, he had skills that were in demand, and would spend his time keeping the equipment on the planes operational from the relative safety of the airfield. Though he might be bombed, his odds of survival were a lot better than the fighter aces—though one of the radio technicians that he served with was killed during his tour of duty. On the other hand, he had a much longer tour of duty, because the aircrew had a limited number of flights to give them some reasonable hope of survival.  

Jack’s aunt, Marion Henderson, had served in the First World War. Though she had to face the ghastly battlefield wounds of soldiers sent to England to convalesce, it was a unique opportunity to see the world. For Jack and his comrades in arms, it was similarly the adventure of a lifetime. When he was deployed to England, though they were heading through U-Boat infested waters, Jack and his friends had a memorable time on the Holland America Line Pennland, which carried them from Halifax to Grenock, Scotland. They disembarked on Christmas Day, 1940.

A few months before Jack Gould arrived in Britain, the Battle of Britain had passed its climax. Germany’s Luftwaffe had failed to subdue the Royal Air Force, making German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler’s proposed invasion of Britain, Operation Sealion, impractical in 1940. The Royal Air Force (and their comrades in the RCAF) were the heroes on the front line of defending Britain—“never was so much owed by so many to so few,” in the words of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. By Christmas 1940, London was in the midst of the Blitz, which would not let up until May 1941, when Hitler redeployed his forces east to invade Russia. Jack was deployed to RAF Bomber Command’s Air Base at Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire. At the time, Bomber Command was attacking German cities to retaliate for the carnage wrought on London. 

Coffee and Doughnuts at the Beaver Club

Though the Blitz was an ordeal for Londoners, there were many people who would not allow being bombed on 56 of 57 nights to dampen their spirits—including the boys who just arrived with the RCAF. Though the Blitz was on, one of Jack Gould’s crew’s first stops was the Beaver Club in London, just two days after landing in Scotland, where he soon had a membership. The Beaver Club catered to Canadians serving in Britain, and was located at Trafalgar Square. Operated by the YMCA, it offered soldiers a chance to check their kit, shave, shower, and have their shoes shined, before visiting the “beautifully furnished” canteen. With service by “Canadian and English ladies,” it offered a “Soda Fountain and Snack Bar, bright up-to-date and appealing with coffee—real coffee and doughnuts, soft drinks, ice cream and short-order snacks.” It offered live concerts, cinema film shows, and “one of the best dancing floors in London.” 

While they were on leave in London, a visit to the Beaver Club had all kinds of entertainment—billiards, table tennis, darts, bagatelle, chess, draughts, cards and Chinese checkers. They supplied pens and paper to facilitate soldiers writing home, a library and reading room and Canadian newspapers. It had gymnasiums, swimming baths, squash courts, golf, and, of course, skating and hockey in partnership with London rinks. Soldiers were given special low-admission privileges to attend London theatres and concert halls. Jack enjoyed visiting the Royal Opera House and seeing Black Vanities at the Victoria Palace. The Maple Leaf Club, Canadian Legion Club and YMCA were among the many organizations boarding servicemen on leave. 

Coming to London in the midst of the Blitz, Jack Gould and his comrades in the air force were heroes. They were treated to the best hospitality that London could offer. Being in the air force, active service came with thrills, and so did being on leave. It truly was the adventure of a lifetime, set amidst an unprecedented human tragedy. Just two days after Jack was enjoying coffee and donuts at the Beaver Club, a German air raid started a firestorm, the Second Great Fire of London. But even that would not stop the culture of London. 

When his crew was serving at RAF Upper Heyford, there was serious work to be done, and the air crews faced the prospect of air raids, as in London. Blackouts were strictly enforced. Lights had to be turned out in the barracks by 10:15 PM, and covering the windows was not sufficient, to prevent enemy airplanes from spotting their targets. Service Police would court-martial any offenders. But, when their work day or sortie was over, they had time for recreation. In January 1941, they put on a performance, with décor from the Drury Lane Theatre. When they were granted leave, they were back in London enjoying the theatres. 

Propaganda flyer dropped over Germany

In May, as Hitler was turning his attention east towards Russia and the Blitz finally abated, the RCAF organized a new squadron, number 407 at Thorney Island, just off the south shore of West Sussex, near Portsmouth, where Jack would continue his service. By September, 407 Squadron was ready to begin active operations, as a strike group, attacking German shipping with Lockheed Hudson planes. They soon earned the nickname “the Demon Squadron.” 

Newspapers feted the Demon Squadron’s successes as they raided Nazi boats in the North Sea. In their first month of operations they hit 30,000 tons of shipping. But it was an unforgiving place to operate, like the British, the Germans tried to protect their convoys, accompanying them with Flak boats. For those who were downed over the North Sea, there was little prospect of survival. In that first month, four of Jack’s Ontario friends disappeared. 

Being a radio technician had its perks. Jack’s squadron hosted an overseas radio broadcast, a creative way for army and air force personnel to send a message home. Jack had his moment on the air, wishing “love to my wife and daughter in Toronto and my Dad in Fenelon Falls.” All of them were tuned in at the moment, and it was special for them to hear Jack’s voice across the Atlantic. 

While Jack worked at the air base, his friends returned with dramatic stories of the adventures they survived, as they attacked German shipping from the North Sea to Brittany. In February 1942, the Demon Squadron was part of the raids on the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, with their escorts, off the coast of Holland. Three of his friends were decorated for this mission, where they survived flying through Flak to bomb a destroyer and being intercepted by a Ju88. The Nazi battlecruisers survived the channel dash and were deployed to raid British convoys headed through the North Sea to Russia. But as Jack’s comrades hit Nazi convoys, inevitably some of them did not return. For those who did, they continued to make the most of each day, travelling around England to see the country and attend shows while on leave.

Air Force Canteen Menu

For Christmas 1941, even as Germany was trying to strangle Britain by sinking convoys in the Battle of the Atlantic, the air force did its best to host a feast for its crews. They served joints (a large piece to be shared by several men) of turkey and pork, with applesauce and forcemeat stuffing (a puree of egg, bread, cream and meat). These entrees were served with potatoes and Brussels sprouts, with plum pudding, rum sauce and mince pie. For dessert the airmen could indulge in oranges, apples, nuts, cigarettes, beer and minerals.

Air Force Christmas Menu 1941

A couple weeks before that Christmas dinner, a corporal that Jack worked with and had promoted, went to the mess hall for breakfast, and did not find the grub to his liking. He said to his comrade who was serving breakfast, “you can keep that bloody bit!” (in the 1940s, ‘bloody’ was much obscener than it is today). This outburst led to a confrontation with the sergeant overseeing the mess hall, prompting the corporal to punch the sergeant several times in the face. The offender was court-martialled, and acquitted of his charge for saying ‘bloody,’ but convicted for punching the commanding officer and reduced in rank. 

Digby Bombers of 10 Squadron at Gander

In 1942, Jack was transferred to 10 Bomber and Reconnaissance Squadron in Gander, Newfoundland. Jack’s crew was flying Douglas Digby bombers, to find and destroy the U-boats that were harassing Allied transatlantic shipping. From 1942 to 1943, the squadron attacked 22 U-boats, sinking 3 of them. Where the air patrols could operate, it was a lot easier for convoys to get through. The air crews spent long hours searching the North Atlantic for U-boats—and they did not come home with nearly as many wild stories of dangerous missions through enemy Flak. Jack did not lose as many friends at Gander. 

10 Squadron at Gander Newfoundland

The nightlife at Gander was nothing like being an airman in Britain during the Blitz. After Jack was transferred to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, he followed Boston Bruins’ winger Bobby Bauer, who played in the military hockey league out of Halifax, while serving in the Air Force. He also had the chance to go with his friends to New York City to see Fred Waring at the Vanderbilt Theatre, Broadway. For an airman who had started out in Bomber Command during the Blitz and gone on to serve in the Demon Squadron, it was a quiet end to Jack’s military service. 

Once his tour of duty was over, Jack returned to Toronto to live with his family. The Goulds enjoyed hunting and fishing around Fenelon Falls and liked to travel to Algonquin Park on vacation. Tragically, not long after the war ended, Jack’s father Alvin drowned when he was walking home across the ice on the Fenelon River on a winter night in 1946. Jack inherited the family cottage on Cameron Lake, where he enjoyed many pleasant summer visits. He operated a radio store in Toronto, where he put his technician skills to good use. He continued into the age of television, but retired as colour TVs became the norm. 

Thank you for your service! Lest We Forget.

This story is a memory and nobody’s memory is perfect. Sometimes details get a little mixed up, things get forgotten or overlooked, and the perspective is inevitably subjective. If you notice something that not right, have something you would like to tell us, or a memory to share the museum would be happy to hear from you: [email protected]

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