...while training on twin-engine Oxford planes at RAF Station Church Lawford
near Rugby in England
Pilots: note "wings" crests on uniforms
... by Mike Spack
Resource: a personal wartime diary and a weakened but still useful memory.
April 6, 1943: Bournemouth, London, Church Lawford ....arrival in Rugby near Coventry in Warwickshire, England then transport to Royal Air Force Station, Church Lawford, Advanced Flying Unit (A.F.U.). Friends Bill Cameron from Winnipeg, Reg Bray, and Bill Campbell were there having arrived ahead of the few of us posted from Bournemouth and a long wait it had been. Interesting to note that I for one did not know from which town or city my Canadian friends had come except for those who came from my own hometown Winnipeg.
Bournemouth, a beautiful peacetime tourist city located on the English Channel coast, was the reception station for overseas airmen. Everywhere you turned you would see airmen and at times airwomen. A lovely reception area and a great way to become acclimatized to England. Nevertheless we were more than ready to be posted back to flying having received our wings in Canada ready to “do our bit” to win the war. Idealist youngsters, most of us, so a posting for training and being readied for “operations” (bombing over Germany) was uppermost in our minds.
Therefore arrival in Church Lawford after a few months meant we were on the way having just completed a brief stint on the Tiger Moth airplane again for reorientation to flying. The aircraft we were to fly in Church Lawford was an Airspeed Oxford, twin engine, which meant we were headed for Bomber squadrons when and if we were successful in this training course. Such were our expectations when posted for some “real” flying.
This story is about friend Bill Campbell who I met firstly at Bournemouth but came to know him more personally in Church Lawford. Some excerpts from my diary concerning Bill and our circle of friends April/May, 1943, follow:
April 7 - “In the evening played pool and ping pong with Cam, Dave (Shewan), and Bill”.
April 10 - “ had a fine lunch and then Campbell, Dave, and I walked the two miles to the main road and caught a bus to Rugby - bought a lot of odds and ends - lost Campbell.....”.
April 16 - Cam, Bill, and I got the bus to Rugby ...Cam went to Coventry - Bill and I to a dance in Leicester -it certainly is a lovely city -dance great but we had to catch the train back at 10.18 pm - we ran the two miles into station” (from main road).
April 17 - “played Bill in snooker and lost”.
April 19 - “ argument about the Royal Air Force (as compared to RCAF) - we got pretty heated but soon cooled down”.
April 22 - “Bill, Dave, and I went to the station show, a very good one, ‘This Women Is Mine’ (RAF Stations regularly had movies and often stage presentations....the snooker games, by the way, took place in the officer’s mess. We were Pilot Officers (PO) at the time closing in on the next rank, Flying Officers).
Note: Our “leaves” either a 48 hour pass and far less often the “one week”, came at different times especially with Cameron and Bill being a course ahead of the group with which I had arrived..
May 4 - “played pool quite a bit (snooker and sometimes billiards with three balls), Campbell and I had three good sessions - I lost two ( by now readers may believe we were becoming better snooker players than pilots -however the hours in flying and lectures carried on during the day with evenings on our own except when on night flying of course).
May 7 -” Bill posted to a staff pilot station - we all hope this will be changed” ( indeed operations was our goal and circumstances so often dictated where one was sent next such as pilots needed on operations, as staff pilots, or in my case and others. training to become instructors with operations perhaps over a year away. Quite disappointed we all were with a posting other than operations training but nothing could be done about this).
May 10 - (Cameron was posted also not known where so both of them on leave before arrival at their new station - dairy: “ Bill and Cam must be having a great time on their leave”.
May 18 - (Bill must have arrived from leave and ready to leave for new posting) -diary: “went to bed after bidding Bill goodbye -how brief our stay was and to think that we may not see each other again”. Beautiful friendships these were happening often as we shifted from one station to another. Old friends going away and new ones arriving!
So it was quite normal while in England to say “so long and all the best” to friends posted to another Station. Memories remain and one gets to think, “ I wonder how so and so is getting along for instance Bill and Cam?”. The picture photo copied shows Bill with a jaunty air about him officer’s hat higher up on his head. His was a cheery disposition and remarkable his look of boyishness with such a smooth complexion. Mind you most of us were “boys”; Bill and I just 21 years of age.
Is this the end of this story of “BILL”? We did lose touch with each other as was the case with so many friends. Sometimes the postings were such that a circle of friends found themselves together at a new RAF Station as was true in my case with Reg Bray for instance. One then became more familiar with their home towns such as Alexander in Manitoba for Reg. Why RAF and not RCAF? Apparently a surplus of pilots occurred at the time of our arrival in Bournemouth from Canada. Hence the longer stay than usual there with many courses and experiences but not flying. That is another story except to say that though we remained RCAF, we were attached to the RAF and were posted accordingly. Having lost touch with Bill, I know not of his further postings except for his reported squadron.
Having lost a diary, I rely completely on memory and perhaps a letter or two amongst the letters I wrote to my mother. She saved them all and gave them to my wartime bride Kathy from Nantwich, Cheshire, after we were settled back in Winnipeg.
Prior to actual repatriation from Liverpool in July, 1945, I spent naturally many days in May, 1945 (war ended May 8th, 1945 officially) with Kath, newly married we were, and her family in Nantwich located in between the cities of industrial-like city of Crewe and the truly lovely city of Chester. My last posting as an instructor was RAF Station Calveley located about 3 miles from Nantwich on the road to Chester. Reg Bray was my roommate for all those months in Calveley and fast friends we were as one would expect. Indeed the posting in Calveley was the longest stay of all while in England.
Knowing I would be leaving soon back to Canada and Kath to follow me a year or so later, I asked Kath to come with me to see Reg, his gravestone, in Blacon Cemetery located on the fringe of Chester. We had been there before but a last goodbye to my friend killed in an accidental low flying accident was a priority. How devastated I was at the time when the accident was reported! We arrived at Blacon and walked through the rather unkempt English Cemetery to the Canadian area which was kept ever so beautifully. Row after row of gravestones and we knew where Reg was buried and laid some flowers there on behalf of his family back in Alexander with whom I had corresponded after the accident.
Leaving Reg, we noted that workmen were placing a new gravestone, upright similar to all the others. We stopped and naturally sought out the name and finally were able to read it; William Gavin Campbell. The middle name did not provide a clue as to whether or not he was my fine Church Lawford friend. Checking further though I noted his officer number and it was J 21450. I knew that both Bill Campbell and Bill Cameron had numbers close to mine. Indeed Cameron’s was J 21453 and Bill’s two away. J 21450 from mine J 21452. This was indeed my friend and sadly, so sadly, we left the cemetery. Unfortunately Bill Cameron was killed in action also along with between 18 and 19 thousand other airwomen and airmen in World War 11 out of an estimate of some 42000 who died in this war supposedly to end all wars.
At that time, I did not know Bill came from Strathclair but some years later after war ending, on one of my visits to England and Nantwich, I went to Blacon. This time there was a book at the entrance listing all the names and their home towns/cities. In this way I learned that Bill came from Strathclair. We moved to Brandon and at an opportune time I drove to Strathclair and inquired about Bill Campbell who had died in the war. The information led me to the Strathclair High School to seek out nephew Bill Hillman. After our chat he informed me that Bill’s sister Louise I believe, lived in the next town, Newdale. So I proceeded on my way to Newdale and luckily found her at home. We talked for some time and said our goodbyes with memories etched in both our hearts, sad and happy.
An epilogue is that in due course I renewed conversation with Bill and his wife Sue-On since both attended the Faculty of Education at Brandon University where I had been teaching since 1966. I knew that both of them were popular musicians and we have now a record which they gave to us when seeing them at their restaurant. As a member of the Shilo Golf Course I was fortunate in meeting Alex Campbell who I believe is related, perhaps a nephew. At the Royal Canadian Legion # 3 in Brandon, I chatted occasionally with Bill’s Mom and Dad. This may sound like a family tree but Kevin Choy from whom we bought our computer informed me that Sue-On, Bill’s (Hillman) wife is cousin to Bill Campbell. Kelly Choy, my favorite student at the Faculty of Education, is brother to Kevin and by this time on the phone to Kevin I was pretty well lost.
How to close other than the cliché that it is indeed a small world. This story, BILL, becomes part of my ethical will, memories of my wife's and my past experiences for our children and grandchildren as well as friends and their families. The headline in the Brandon Sun recently, WWW.HEROES, says it all. Bill Hillman’s discovery through the Internet brought back sharply my memories of friend Bill Campbell. It became a calling from inside to read again the diary and to record in written form these precious memories.
I searched in vain for the pictures of Blacon cemetery and the gravestones of Reg and Bill. Perhaps I sent them on to relatives but if found will copy and mail.
This is not goodbye to Bill for indeed he is with us and will remain so. God Bless to Bill and all his loved ones.... Mike SpackBEAUTIFUL WORDS!
There are those families who have graves moved from overseas to home town cemeteries. Such was the thought of a mother of one of my friends who had died in the war. She must have changed her mind as a result of a picture of her son’s gravestone and some words printed on the back. The words follow:
Having been privileged to visit the resting place of your son, I want to thank you for that privilege and although the rain was teeming down when this picture was taken I did get a picture and what a thrill when previously one expected it to be blanked out.
Why would anyone want to move the honoured member of the family from amongst his buddies in one of these beautiful cemeteries? Caretakers treat them as the unforgotten. Time will make no change and as the years press on they will always have a kind hand daily tending them and interested in them. Your son could not rest in a lovelier place and his memory will still be alive centuries after we will have been forgotten!
I was quite moved by these words especially the thought of one “ resting with his buddies”. Indeed so many of my “buddies” are resting in various places in Britain and Europe as well as Canada as a result of a ridiculous war. Bill is one of these remembered always.
SITE NAVIGATION CHART
Part I: The Home Front
Staging Area - Contents - Dedication William G. Campbell Tribute Site Wonders of the Internet: Sandon/Strathclair
Two Villages Meet
A Hometown Story:
Strathclair, Manitoba, Canada
Campbell Family Album: Early Years Campbell Family Album: 1920s Campbell Family Album: 1930s Campbell Family Album: 1940s Hope... and Despair Victory Lancaster Story & Links RCAF Pilot's Flying Log Book Greetings & Mementos from Canada I Greetings & Mementos from Canada II Brandon Sun FP Story: WWW.HEROES MY FRIEND BILL by Mick Spack Sandon Memorial & Fly-Past Photos:
Phill Barratt Photo Gallery
Part II: Overseas
Day 1: Arrival Day 2: The Grand Tour ~ Sandon Church & Hall Day 2: Sandon House Day 2: Sod Turning for the Stone Day 3: Stone Village Tour I Day 3: Stone Village Tour II Day 4: Blacon Cemetery I Day 4: Blacon Cemetery II - Memorials Day 4: BBC Radio Interview Day 5: Chatsworth Day 5: Banquet at the Crown Day 6: Memorial Dedication I Day 6: Memorial Dedication II Day 6: Lancaster Fly Past Day 6: Greyhound Inn Reception Day 6: F/S Graham Ward Day 7: Goodbyes: Memorial Site
Burston & Purl Cottage & Sandon
Day 8: Return ~ Home Again
TAKE ME TO THE BCATP MUSEUM
Webmaster: William G. Hillman
BILL & SUE-ON HILLMAN ECLECTIC STUDIO
All Original Material Copyrighted 1999