EPISODE 177 CYRUS MCCORMICK AND HIS REAPER 1831

EPISODE 178    CYRUS MCCORMICK AND HIS REAPER


alan  skeoch
Nov. 2020

Cyrus McCormick…reserved, determined, inventor, industrialist, 

Replica  of the first McCormick Reaper (restored  by Alan Skeoch) dated 1931 copy of original 1831 machine.  Shipped to Ulster Folk
Museum, Northern Ireland, original home of the MCCormick family.

McCormick reaper
Artist engraving of early MCCormick Reaper which appears  a  little more sophisitcated
than the replica model.   The Bull Gear is visible inside the drive wheel if you look hard  enough.

CYRUS  McCOMICK…INSIGHT

Cyrus McCormck was a tough nut to crack.   In other words I do not think I would enjoy
having a draft of  beer with him whereas Patrick Bell would be good  company. Both
men, along with Obed Hussey, are credited  with inventing the horse driven reaping machine.

I doubt that McCormick or Bell actually drank beer.  Both were Presbyterians and may
well have taken the pledge as is said about non drinkers.   Bell seems to have had
less starch in his britches.

McCormick on the other hand had lots of starch in his britches.  The best example of this
has nothing to do with his reaping machine.  Cyrus McCormick, at the mid points of
his business life initiated a lawsuit against New York Central Railroad.   He sued the railroad
for $20,000.  Big time money.  What was the issue?  McCormick claimed the railroad overcharged
his wife $8.75 for her baggage.  He took the lawsuit right to the Supreme Court. Not once, but three
times over a 20 year period.  Eventually he won.  That case I present as  evidence that Cyrus
McCormick was a tough nut to crack.

Imagine sitting with him for  a  quiet conversation.  Perhaps I am  exaggerating but he seems to have had
the crazy tenacity of Donal Trump.  

Cyrus Hall McCormick was  born on Ferry 15, 1809 in Rockbrdge county, Virginia where his father was  a farmer and a dabbler in agricultural inventions.  Cyrus died on May 13, 1884.   He was ten years  younger
than Patrick  Bell.   They were both children and adults  of the 19th century, a century of invention.

McCORMICK AND HIS REAPER


Like father – like son.  Cyrus  McCormick’s father also invented labour saving farm machines as was  the rage in the early 19th century but no one built a successful reaping machine except for
Patrick Bell (1828) whose machine was large and expensive … never put into production anyway.   The McCormick reaper was built in 1831 when Cyrus was only 22 years old.  It was  primitive like
the replica I restored.   It had  three features of all reapers  though..1)  a  vibrating cutting blade, 2) a reel that swathed  he standing green to the cutter blade and 4) a platform  on which the
gran could fall and be hand raked  for binding into sheaves.   All subsequent reapers, of which there would be many, shared these features and improvements.

A  PUZZLE:  Why does the reaper I restored look so primitive when compared to he sleek looking McCormick reaper pictured  above?

AN ANSWER: The McCormick reapers underwent constant improvements.  The original was built by young 22 year old
Mccormick in his fathers blacksmith shop.  The later models got better and  better.

ANOTHER ANSWER:  The reaper pictured above may never have  existed.  It is an advertising image.  Mine is closer
to being  accurate.

ANOTHER ANSWER:  IF you look closely both machines are almost identical.  The engraving just made the machine look
a little more artistic.


THE  CLATTERING THAT  TERRIFIED  HORSES

The first McCormick Reaper had problems with the cutter bar which did not work too well.  And the machine made so much clattering 

noise that men had to walk alongside the frightened horses to keep them from bolting.  The reaper was patented in 1834 but no models
were sold until it was improved iii 1841 when 2 were sold…then 7 sold in 1842…then 29 in 1843 and 50 sold in 1844. 

By 1844 the western prairies were open for farming  as both the First Nations people and the buffalo had been violently suppressed.  Strictnine 
poison planted in  buffalo carcasses  killed most of the 40,000 wolves who had also feasted  on the buffalo herds.  Prairie soil was being plowed and McCormick realized his
reaper had a great future.   In 1847 he opened a factory in a small lakeside town called Chicago turning out 800 machines in the first year.

His  main competitive came fro Obed Hussey who also invented an American  reaper.  But it was better as  a mower for hay fields
than  a reaper for grain fields.   Hussey and McCormick got into a legal tangle when Hussey blocked  the renewal of McCormick’s
1848 patent.  If he could not beat his opponents by exclusive patent rights then McCormick decided to beat him  in sales.  And
to do much personal selling.  He went out to the west with his pockets full of order blanks.   In Chicago his factory
was ready for mass  production.   The Advertising budget was pumped up.  The McCormick  Reaper was demonstrated wherever
the public gathered.  Credit was advanced.  By  1850 the Mccormick reaper was familiar to most Americans.  When he Crystal
Palace Exhibition was opened the McCormick Reaper was boosted before European farmers.   Prizes followed  until the reaper
became familiar to people around the world.   In 1856 sales figures were over 4,000.    McCormick became one of the great
capitalist captains of industry.  He was also an active Democrat and a devout Presbyterian (established McCormick Theological
Seminary in Chicago).    When his  factory was gutted in the Great Chicago fire of  1971, he rebuilt it better than ever.




His company grew and grew long after he died.  In 1902  McCormick Harvesting Machine Company joined other companies to 
formed International harvester Company.

SO WHAT?

Well, the bank executive that hired  me around  1980 to rebuild that reaper was connected in some way
with the International Harvester Company and therefore  connected  to Cyrus McCormick.

In the latter part of the 19th century many companies made reapers copying the McCormick models.  Some of
them in Canada such  as  Massey Manufacturing of Newcastle and later West Toronto.  Every farmer wanted
a reaper .   The engraving below claims to portray the arrival of reapers and  mowers for sake in Dresden, Ontario
in 1879.  The machines  were constantly improved looking less and less like the 1831 prototype.

  



alan skeoch
Nov. 2020

NEXT STORY:    JAMES SKEOCH, MY GRANDFATHER WHO I NEVER KNEW, PICTURED 
RIDING A REAPER ON THE SKEOCH FARM IN 1932.    

THE CONCLUSION

POST SCRIPT:  IMAGES BELOW






EPISODE 177 THE MCCORMICK REAPER PROJECT , CIRCA 1981

EPISODE 177    THE MCCORMICK REAPER PROJECT


alan skeoch
Nov. 2020

 McCormick Reaper…scale model of the 1831 invention of Cyrus MCCormick as restored in our back yard and  chicken coop around  
1981…half a  century after 100 scale models were built to celebrated the century of  The McCormick Reaper.


THE ADVENTURE REBUILDING A  MCCORMICK  REAPER (CIRCA 1931, REPLICA  1931)

This McCormick Reaper may look primitive to readers when placed beside a picture of a modern
Combine Harvester.  When the picture is placed beside the original model reaper built by Cyrus
McCormick in 1831 this picture looks  quite sophisticated.   Technology changes.  And change continues
to happen.   


THE CYRUS MCCORMICK REAPER PROJECT

“Alan, aren’t you getting yourself into this project a little too deeply?  What do  you know about repairing…rebuilding….historic
machines?”
“True.  But I just could  not let the opportunity slip by.”
“But you are dealing with big shots…an executive with the Mellon Bank of New  York.  Why didn’t you
tell him you were a  high school teacher…a teacher of history?”
“I guess  I found it easier to say  yes than to say no.”
“Could be a deep hole you are stepping into.”
“I know…makes me a bit nervous.”
“How did  they get your name?”
“I think Peter Cousins at the Dearborn Museum … near Detroit …must
have passed my name along.  I had been doing all that research on machine
technology much of which was centred on the collection of  Henry Ford.”

“What are  you going to do now?”
“Well, first thing is to get the machine and bring it here.”
“Where will you put it”  Sounds  like a big machine.”
“I’m emptying the garage….the McCormick Reaper is about 
the size of  a car.”
“You have already  converted part of the garage and the attached
old mink house into a chicken coop.  Where will the chickens go?”
“Nowhere.  They will keep the Reaper company…lots  of room.”
“Alan,  our home is not a farm.”
“Lucky we have this huge lot…lucky we live on the old Mississauga
reserve with non conforming property lines…lots of room.”
“is this legal?”
“Perish  the thought.”

“Next step?”
“To get the reaper and bring it here.”
“How?”
“Gary Duncan has  offered to help. His  brother runs  a truck rental agency
and has offered a  five ton truck for Saturday.   Gary and i will drive down
to Merlin.”

“Merlin?”
“Small farm outside Merlin where the current owner of the reaper keeps his
collection of things.”
  (Note: Forgot his  name at the moment but remember him so well)
“How will you load the reaper?”
“Easy…the five ton has an  hydraulic  ramp…piece of cake.”

WHEN the rental truck failed on Highway 401 , we tuned to our Ford Van and a  little trailer as  an alternative.  Here is a picture with
a  different load  and  one of ours sons, Kevin, tightening up  the straps.   The McCormick Reaper was loaded successfully 


Unfortunately the ‘Piece of cake” was not that easy.  The five ton truck
broke down on the 401 before we really got out of Toronto.
My van would have to be the back as  Gary and I
headed for Merlin, a small town south west of Chatham.  East of
Windsor…east of Detroit.  

The cutter blades were designed  differently from the BellReaper…more like a saw than garden shears.

“How can you carry the reaper in your truck?”
“We’ll put it in the trailer.”
“I thought the  trailer was broken.  Didn’t it come loose and
end up in a swamp near Fergus”
“That was months ago.  Got it fixed.”
“Will the reaper fit onto a two wheeled homemade trailer?”
“Hope so.”





Gary  and I managed to get to Merlin without trouble.  The retired 
farmer (whose name I must find again) met us at his small two
storey drive shed where he kept the reaper.  

“Let me help get the reaper onto the trailer…two long planks should do it.”
“Really only need  one plank…the McCormick Reaper has only one bull wheel.”
“Between the three of  us we can get her on…winch attached  to the truck
and one of us on each side  so it does not tip. “
“Moving up  a foot at a time.  There.  Done. Now we’ll lash
it down…”

I remember clearly speaking with the owner of the reaper but cannot
be sure  how he got the machine. I think he said that the reaper had
been on display for  a time and then put into some kind of  storage shed
where it sat for decades.  

One  thought kept bothering me.  “How could such a delicate machine
have survived for such a long time?   No apparent invasion from powder
post beetle.   Almost intact.”

I found  out later that the reaper we strapped down on my trailer was not the
reaper everyone thought it was.  It had  not been built in 1831 by
Cyrus McCormick.   This  machine had  been built a hundred years later in 1931 to celebrate
the McCormick invention.  A replica.  One hundred scale models had been built
by the International harvester Corporation to celebrate the original inventor.

That knowledge was a bit of a relief.  I would  not be fooling around with
a machine that was  really historic.  There might be a few others around
somewhere  even though there was  no evidence of such.  If this had  been
the original McCormick machine it should have gone directly  to the Smithsonain
in Washington.    One McCormick replica did exist in the Dearborn collection.   
But perhaps the Dearborn Museum McCormick reaper was ancient.   Now
safely on display.  Protected.  In no danger.

In  short, I was more relieved that mine was a replica.  More pleased than disappointed.  I would not be restoring
the Mona Lisa.

“So what are you going to do with the money?”, I asked gently
“It will pay for my funeral.”
“I beg your pardon,”  I really was not sure I heard him correctly.
“When I die, this money will bury me…cover any funeral expenses.
I won’t be a burden on my family that way.”

There was not much more  we could say.  
With that touching comment, Gary and I revved up my Ford van  and
began our careful return to Mississauga.   It was a long day but we got
the reaper home and rolled  it into the garage (chicken coop) for the 
restoration to begin.

All the immediately visible parts  were evident but in the back of may mind
I wondered why we could roll it so easily.   Must be an  idling pulley or some arrangement
that kept it out of gear for moving around.  

The next discovery really knocked  me  for a  loop.




In this picture you can see the big but gear clearly…bevelled, sprocketed.

“Where is the bull gear?”
“Bull gear?”
“The main gear…the sprocketed bevelled  gear that converts the forward motion of the horse 
into power that drives the cutter bar.  “

That discovery was  made when we got the reaper to Mississauga.  There was ‘no joy in mudville’ that day.
Sure  enough the large cast iron bull gear was missing.  Any other missing part might  be replaced.  The
absent bull gear was a devastating discovery.  If I was  a real mechanic I would have noticed.  What could
i do?   How could  I get another bull gear.  Even if I toured every scrap yard in North America it
was unlikely I would find another bull gear.

In shock, I sat on a stool beside the machine.  Afraid to tell anyone.  Fully aware that such a gear could
not be found.  Nor could a  bull gear be made.  The pattern…the sand mould…had been dumped into
garbage back  in 1931.   Here i was half a century later telling a banker I could restore the reaper.  Telling
him a big lie.  I should have qualified my answer…should have said I would take a look at the job.
Instead i had agreed with him on a telephone call.  Thankfully there was no formal contract.  Maybe I could
weasel my way around the situation.  That would make me look like a fool of course…which was nothing new.

“Alan, where could you find another bull gear?”
“The only place possible is the McCormick reaper on display at the Dearborn Museum.”
“Well?”
“Well, I could  hardly go into the museum and remove the bull gear from a prize exhibit.  That
would be like taking Mona Lisa’s smile.   No one would let me do that.  I am in trouble.”
“You could ask Mr. Cousins.  Nothing  ventured nothing gained.”
“OK…I’ll give it a try.”




A interior view of trains in Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn Michigan Circa 1950


Ring, Ring , Ring
“Peter, this is Alan Skeoch from Canada, I have a big favour to ask.”
“Yes.”
“Would the Ford  Museum let me take the bull gear off the McCormick Reaper.  
I am in a real box here as that bull gear is missing and the only way I can
see around the problem is to get your display model’s bull gear and then
get it duplicated somehow.”
Pause…long pause…”Yes, I suppose that could be done.   Be careful, give  me a
few  days to get the clearance  then come down here a take the gear away for a month or so.”
“Great,  Peter, I will fly down on the week end.”
“Bring your own tools…I will get you a pass.”

So I was on my way.  One step at a time. I really did not know what i would do  with
the  bull gear if I did manage to get it off the reaper.   I would have to use it to make
a sand mould and then find some factory that would be able to pour molten iron
into the mould.   But that would be the next step.  First, I had  to get the bull gear.
One step at a time, Alan.   

“Marjorie, book me on a  flight to Detroit … need one night in a hotel
near Dearborn.   You were right.  Peter Cousins has given me a permit to
borrow the McCormick bull gear.”
“Do you know how to get it off the machine?”
“Nope.  But I will figure it out.”
“Alan, this project is costing us a  lot of money.  How much are you being paid?”
I asked  for $1,500 …same as  the Merlin farmer  got.”
“Our costs are mounting up.  How much do  you think it will cost
to get a new gear made?”
“I would rather not think about that.”

Marjorie did not say it directly but she was likely thinking about that old
song…’Fools rush  in where Angels  fear tot red.’   Cool down, Alan, one
step at a  time.  Get your tools together.

“Let’s see…a set of open ended adjustable  wrenches, a hammer…and most
important a spray can of nut loosening lubricant, a mechanics overalls…a peaked
cap to hide my eyes…a nice new red tool box…maybe an electric drill?
No, scrap the drill idea…too likely to do  damage…also need a sports bag to bring
the gear home.”

“Alan, can you bring a bull gear across the border?”
“Not sure…one step at a  time.”

Once again a dash of serendipity helped me on that score…more than a dash
of serendipity for that matter.   That will come later.

It was late August when I flew  to Detroit with my tool kid.  Flew  alone. No holiday. This
was business.   Booked into a fancy hotel with an interior glass walled elevator as  I remember.
No joy alone in an hotel.  Made me  feel sorry for sales executives.  Lone hotel rooms
always remind me of the great John Candy movie titled Planes, Trains and Automobiles…a
lonely lost gregarious man ever on he move.

Early next day I put on my overalls and baseball cap.  (Did promote the Detroit Tigers?  Can’t remember),
grabbed  my tool box and took a cab to the Food museum  where my pass was  waiting.  Smooth at the
beginning until I stepped across the rope fence around the McCormick  Reaper.  

I set down the tool box and begin  disassembling the reaper.  Carefully.  Soon a small crowd  
was watching.  Unusual to see a featured machine being taken apart.  Like a watch repairman I
set the pieces  in line.   I was scared.  What if I broke something.  I soon got down to the
bull gear.  Great brute of  a gear.  Quite stunning really.  A piece of art.   I managed to get
the shaft clear.  All that I had to do next was  slide the gear off the shaft.

Whoa!  I pulled…twisted…tapped.  Failed on all counts.  The bull gear was rusted tight
to the shaft.  By this time the crowd was bigger.   “Keep calm, Al…no perspiration…act like
you know what you’re doing.”

“She’s trusted tight, folks.   Old as the ages.”
Calm …Al…keep calm.
“Just a good shot of penetratng oil should help.”
And I gave both ends  of the bull gear a good soaking.
“Give the stuff a  moment or two to soak in, folks.  And watch this.”

At which  point, I grabbed the bull gear with both hands … twisted …the gear came loose.
Just for effect I spun the big gear and  it whirled like a spinning dervish down the shaft
where I caught it, set it down,..and…And did  I turn to the crowd and take a bow?  I wanted
to do that but  then carefully put the parts back on the reaper.  Packed up my tool box after
giving the can of penetrating oil a  kiss.   No, I did  not kiss the can.  I wanted to kiss the can
but that would reveal too much about my state of nerves.

Before leaving the museum I dropped in on Peter Cousins to thank him and
then another wonderful thing happened.

“have  you got anyone willing to make a casting for the new bull gear?”
I looked quickly at Peter.  Was he setting me up?   He  was a serous kind  of guy.
No light talk.  No  jokes.
“Not yet.”
“Here take this phone number.  This  fellow owns a factory outside Detroit. He might 
be able to replicate the bull gear for you.”

So there was another big step in the project.   As things  turned out the factory owner
was quite willing to make me a  new gear.  No small task.   I expected it would cost
a fortune.

“How much will that cost?”
“Nothing…do it as a favour for you guys on the other side of the border. “
“No, I will  pay.”
“Nope, won’t let you…call it a neighbourly act … done for that old grouch  Cyrus McCormick
who has been dead  for years.”

A couple weeks later the new  gear was made and somehow  I managed to get the
gear from Detroit to Mississauga without a problem.  Sam Markou, a good friend, was
in our truck when I brought the gear across the border.  We were sent to a special
holding area where I explained  the project to Canadian border guards.  They cleared
the import.  Not sure they cared much about it.  This new bull gear was small  potatoes in
the great scheme of things.  A blip.

I worked all that fall improving  the reaper.  Some wood parts had to be refashioned.  A whole
new reel windlass for instance.  Easy work though even for a left handed historian.

Word got out to the local  paper and  a feature story was  written.  Friends came by often
Even our boys, then quite small, showed  an interest.   The McCormick reaper project was
a  rock thrown in a  small pool.  The ripples spread out.  

Then the fateful day arrived and I built two gigantic wooden crates for the reaper and the
separated cutters and wooden bed.  All crated  up and shipped  air freight to the
Ulster National Folk Museum of Northern Ireland.

There it rests today.  At least i think it is  there.  We have never heard a word about it.
I am not sure that anyone in Northern Ireland gives a sweet goddamn about the model
McCormick Reaper.





Bigger projects were done  in Northern Ireland.  Like the Titanic.

Your questions?  “Did I make any money from the job?”   I never really checked.  Probably
lost a  few dollars when  everything is considered.   If my dad had been alive at the
time he would  have been impressed.  How would I know?  Because he would  have
called me s  goddamn fool which  was his way of saying “I am proud of you”





alan skeoch
Nov. 2020

POST SCRIPT:   THE ULSTER FOLK MUSEUM…NO  SIGN OF THE MCCORMICK REAPER

NEXT STORY:   WHO WAS CYRUS MCCORMICK?

POST SCRIPT BELOW:  NO SIGN OF THE MCCORMICK REAPER IN NORTHERN IRELAND






































EPISODE 176 PART 2: PATRICK BELL AND HIS REAPER… UNEXPECTED GOOD LUCK WHEN DISPARATE EVENTS COME TOGETHER

EPISODE  176   PATRICK  BELL AND HIS REAPER…UNEXPECTED GOOD LUCK WHEN DISPARATE  EVENTS COME  TOGETHER


Begin forwarded message:


From: ALAN SKEOCH <alan.skeoch@rogers.com>
Date: November 22, 2020 at 12:41:49 PM EST
To: Alan Skeoch <alan.skeoch@rogers.com>


EPISODE 176    PATRICK BELL…INVENTS FIRST REAPING MACHINE…TAUGHT SCHOOL IN FERGUS, C.W.


alan skeoch
Nov. 2020

man guiding two horses pushing machine

Patrick Bell was 29 years old when he constructed this grain reaping machine in Scotland  in 1827-8…known to history as the Bell Reaper.
Few  people remember  him today.  But they should.  Because of  him bread became cheap and people lived longer.
(Note:  Bell is  no longer considered the principal inventor)



The  wheat is ready for harvest.  Today the  job of  harvesting is done by huge combine harvesters…great self propelled  machines
that cut the grain with reciprocating triangular blades.  All the elements of these modern machines occurred to young Patrick Bell
when  he  built his reaper.


CHEAP BREAD FOR EVERYONE

I have  had more than my share  of ‘unexpected good luck’ in my life.   Sometimes I did
not see  the good luck when it happened. A major piece of good luck for me began when
Uncle Norman had a rock smash the master cyulliNder  of his 1953 Massey Harris combine
harvester.   This event was a major disaster for Uncle Norman…enough of a disaster for
him to blaspheme and give  the rock  a baptismal  name…i.e. “Goddamn Rock”

Then, much later another piece  of unexpected good luck came when my interest in

machine design and  function led me back to the University of Toronto as a mature
graduate student.  Luck and the kindness of the Toronto Board of Education (Sabbatical leave) gave me
the chance to delve deeply into the way agricultural machines changed human society
in he 19th century.    

The end result was a 300 page thesis, ‘Technology and Change – 1850 to 1891” (short form title)
My love for old machines led us far and wide.  I say ‘us’ because Marjorie and our sons Kevin and
Andrew were very much a part of this grand adventure.  (Coopeerstown, N.Y.,  Dearborn, Michigan, London (England)
Californin, NewZealand, Australia, Ireland, Scotland)

THE PHONE CALL

Another component came in the form of a strange phone call.

“Ring, Ring, Ring!”
“Marjorie, can you answer the phone?”
“Yes…yes…he is  here.”
“Alan, the call is for you.”
“Who is it?”
“Some bank executive from the Mellon bank in New York.”
“You must be kidding.,” 
“No, that’s what  he said…”
“Hello,”
“Are you Alan Skeoch?”
“I am,  how can  I help you?”
“Did you write a learned paper on machine technology in the 19th century?”
“I did…but your the first person to say I wrote a ‘Learned  paper’.  What’s up?”
“We are searching  for someone in Canada to repair…reconstruct…the reaper
built by  Cyrus McCormick in 1831.   We have located what remains of the machine…bought
it from a retired farmer living near Chatham, Ontario.  Would you be interested  in
assuming responsibility for rebuilding the machine…some parts  are missing…and
then sending it air freight to a museum in Northern Ireland where McCoirmick was born.  We will pay whatever
seems reasonable.”
Is this a joke?”
“No, we are serious.  You were suggested by Mr. Cousins, Director of the Dearborn Museum near Detroit.”

My thoughts began to race.   This  guy is  serious.  He must think I am some kind  of
mechanical engineer who owns a machine  shop.   What a great chance!

“Yes, I will take the job.  Where is the Reaper?”
“Still sitting in a barn near Chatham.  Can you pick it up
and do the restoration?
“Sure,”  I said, bluffing somewhat.
“That’s wonderful.  Have you any idea of the costs?”
No idea at all…I will give you and estimate after I see the Reaper
and get back here in Mississauga.”

There are three great names in the 19th century history of  mechanical reaping machines.  One of
them is Cyrus  McCormick, who became  a classic entrepreneur creating a huge industrial corporation.  His beginning
was, however, humble.    Another was a very strange man named Obed  Hussey.   And the third
is Patrick  Bell/.  Three men who  changed the world  in which they lived.  Three men whose  inventions
made a better world for you and  me.  Three men who have been forgotten.

By a quirk of fate I was on their trail.  Well, the trail of two of them.  The  third,  Obed  Hussy, could have been
a great man if he had been given the chance.   He never really got the ‘unexpected good luck’ that I had.
That phone  call from the Mellon bank wanted me to reanimate the life  of Cyrus McCormick.  I could do that
I suppose.  He did not live in a vacuum however. His life was intertwined with the life of Rev. Patrick Bell, a Scottish Protestant minister.   

There is a  long line of  causes and effect that led from Bell and  McCormickBoth McCormick to the Skeoch farm outside Fergus where Uncle  Norman’s 
 Massey  Harris combine rested with a rock in its master cylinder.
Skeoch  connectons may seem  laboured to readers but they were very much alive to me..   Patrick Bell  comes  first.

MAN OF THE CLOTH

PATRICK BELL (1799 – 1869, born Auchterhouse, Angus, Scotland

Patrick Bell was a farmers’  son born in Scotland.  He had a way with mechanical
things and  must have thought: “There has to be a better way of harvesting grain…barley, wheat and oats.”

The harvesting of grains was a monumental task prior to the  reapers  invented  by  Bell, Hussey and  McCormick.
Thousands of  men and women were hired to cut and bundle sheaves of  grain using hand tools most important of
which was the cradle scythe…really a long knife with a basket attached.  Men  did the cradling.  Women and children
bound the cut grain into sheaves.  The sheaves were pitched onto wagons and  hauled to threshing floors and pommelled
with hand held  flails to knock the grain loose after which the grain was winnowed  by being pitched in the air to let wind
blow the chaff free.  It was laborious.  And  much grain was lost in the process.



This threshing machine nocked the heads of the wheat stalks … an improvement over the flail
but still labour intensive…


After the  harvesting…hit and miss harvesting. The grain fields were open to the gleaners…farm workers, villagers, poor
peasants.  The gleaners rescued as much fallen  grain as they could.  With the gleaners came flocks of seed eating birds
also gleaning.  In the evenings small creatures slipped through the fields, also gleaning.  Harvesting  was a wasteful
and laborious task prior to the invention of  Patrick Bell’s reaper.

man guiding two horses pushing machine




This  engraving of the Bell Reaping machine invented and constructed  by Patrick Bell in 1827 and first used on his father’s farm in September 1828.
It worked so well that young Patrick  Bell was awarded  a 50 pound grant from the Scottish  Highland Society..   The  real machine was much heavier than this depiction.  How do I know?  
Patrick  Bell’s prototype reaper continued to be used on his brother’s farm until l870 when  it was purchased by the Science  Museum in London, England.   Marjorie and i flew to  London to marvel
at the machine.  Today,  in November 2020,  the large lumbering machine has been moved into storage but someday it
will be put back on display we hope.  

The astrobiologist, Chris Impey,  in his book The Living Cosmos expressed our feelings best when he wrote  “No other species has created machines to extend
the senses and do its bidding.  No other species invented art or mathematics.”  The Bell reaper blends  art and mathematics into a machine that has extended
the lifespan of millions of people improved copies, called combine harvesters,  are working today..  Art and Mechanics…art and mathematics… apt description of the Bell Reaper!

Some readers  might be interested  in the elements of the Bell Reaper.

1)  The Bell reaper was  pushed by a team of horses.
2)  At the front of the machine there is a reel that gently pushed
the standing grain towards the cutter bar which is  at ground level
3) The cutter bar holds a  series of reciprocating blades that cut
the grain stalks.   Really a  linked line  of grass  clippers…that was
Bell’s idea.   “Why can’t I build a machine with mechanically driven 
grass  clippers?”, he must have thought.
4) There are two large drive wheels …  bull wheels …that are linked
to a bull gear that makes  the clipper do their snipping as long as
the horses  provide the power.
5) There is a movable looped ‘apron’ upon which the sheared grain falls
and  is moved to the side of the  reaper where it can  be bound
into sheaves.   The horses do not tread  on the cut grain.

(Note John Common had  a similar idea much earlier in 1812.  No invention
comes  from nothing…there are stepping stones)







This  is the prototype of the Bell Reaper.  What is  most obvious?   To me it isThe large bull wheels which drive
the bevelled Bull Gear that makes cutter bar move at right angle to the direction of movement … cutter bar acted 
 like a  bunch  of hand shears joined together..  
    Readers do not need  to be engineers
to get drawn into this story.  Remember I am an historian…not a mechanical  engineer.  Worse still, I am left
handed and therefore find machines  made by those of you in the 90% majority goddamn awkward.  Try 
cutting open an envelope with your left hand  using right handed  scissors and  you will get an inkling
as to the mechanical handicaps faced  by left handers.   This story is not reserved for mechanics.  It is
best understood by dreamers…people with imagination.

SERENDIPITY

Much of this story has chunks of SERENDIPITY.   Meaning what?  Meaning that there a number
of wonderful elements that have com together without me looking for them…’unexpected good luck’
  1. (Serendipity is a noun, coined in the middle of the 18th century by author Horace Walpole (he took it from the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip). The adjective form is serendipitous, and the adverb is serendipitously. A serendipitist is “one who finds valuable or agreeable things not sought for.”)  Persia is  now Iran. 

    This story has a lot of unexpected elements  that came together and  changed our lives.   First was  the
    ‘goddamn’ rock in the master  cylinder of Uncle Norman’s Massey Harris combine harvester.  That happened
    on the Skeoch farm located on the south west corner of the town of Fergus, Ontario ( called  Upper Canada when
    the little  Skeoch boys, James and  John, arrived  in 1846).

         In 1851, Patrick Bell left Scotland to teach school in Fergus.   The Bell papers have
    yet to be published.  He kept a  record of his life in Upper Canada… records that have
    yet to be turned into a book although someone in the 1990’s
    is supposed to be doing so…or was doing so thirty year ago.

    Did Patrick Bell likely notice the Skeoch boys on the streets of Fergus.  Did he teach  them?  Unlikely
    because education was reserved for the toffs of the town.  Then again, Scots  have always highly valued  education.
    Maybe Patrick  Bell and  the Skeoch boys  did  come together but that is  pure speculation.  By 1851 the Skeoch
    boys were teen agers.  Busy farmers sons.  No time for book learning.

    But just to think they came that close to each other… serendipity.    


    The Bell Reaper and the modern Combine Harvester





    Patrick Bell did not become a farmer.  Nor did he become a mechanical engineer.  Nor did he become an inventor
    beyond his Bell Reaper.  Patrick  Bell became a Christian minister in the Church of  Scotland.   No longer
     tinkering with bull gears and  bull wheels  and reciprocating garden shears.   And  isn’t it serendipitous
    that Patrick Bell came to Fergus to teach school in 1851?   That is really weird.



    The Bell Reaper on dislay at the Science Museum in London, England.  (Now removed to storage)

    BELL REFUSED TO PATENT HIS INVENTION

    Patrick Bell was very different from the  American inventor Cyrus McCormick.  How?  Bell refused to
    patent his inventor.  He refused to make money from the invention of a machine that would make
    life easier for human beings around the world.  He encouraged  others to improve his machine which
    they did and  are continuing to do right now.  Just look at those giants of the harvest fields today.
    Direct descendants of a machine imagined  and built by a 27 year old farm boy, future Christian minister, future
    school teacher, in the barn on the Bell farm in Scotland.

    WHAT DOES THIS STORY HAVE TO DO WITH THE CALL FROM THE MELLON BANK OF NEW YORK?

    Remember, When  I answered the phone call and accepted the project to rebuild a 
    a  McCormick Reaper I had never heard of  Patrick  Bell.  To fully understand
    the projects I  undertook to research the history of reaping.  Seemed a good
    idea to do so.  And that led me to Patrick Bell.  Serendipity at work.  


    The ‘goddamn rock’ in Uncle Norman’s combine set off ripples like a rock thrown in an Ontario pond.
    On March 1, 1976, my M.A. thesis was completed.  Three hundred pages under the title “Technology and Change
    in 19th century Ontario Agriculture, 1850 to 1891.  A massive tome of 300 plus pages.  I think it was too much
    for my history professor Dr. J. M. S.  Careless to read.   In  the school year, 1975-6, I was  granted a year long
    sabbatical leave by the Toronto Board of Education to put my love  affair with machines together.  Copies of
    the thesis are  held by the New York Sate Historical  Society in Cooperstown, and  Black Creek Pioneer Village
    in North York courtesy of a request from Jim Hunter, collections department.

    WHAT A  JOY 

    My work overlapped  into three University of Toronto departments.  First was the history department, then
    the Fine  Arts Department chaired by Dr. Webster and  finally the Engineering Department …then Bruce Sinclair, the School of
    Practical Science…S.P.S.   I still have a good  feeling about that  engineering department and the book
    ‘Let use Honest and Modest’ by Bruce Sinclair and  others.  That was  46 years  ago..  The SPS members were so 
    incredibly helpful and actually interested in what I was trying to accomplish.  At some point
    a U.  of T. history professor  asked  how long I expected to take.  “Seven months”, I answered.  His response was
    a furrowed brow.  Scepticism.  I soon understood why the furrowed brow. There was a big bump in the road.

    THE BUMP IN THE ROAD

    There was one tricky side to this sabbatical.  In 1976 an M.A.  graduate student was expected to have reading level
    familiarity with French.  We were tested.  I say ‘we’ because there were many  fellow graduate students.  I was two decades older than all of them.  
     But accepted. Nice feeling.  The French  requirement, however,  was a  hurdle that most had trouble leaping 
     over myself included.  My  first score  was ‘zero’ which must sound  terrible.  In fact it was the mid  point
    between a score  of  -7 and  +7.  Most, perhaps all, of my fellow grad  students scored the same or less.  At least
    I had high  school French which  most of them did not.  My friends  at Parkdale took great joy in 
    my ‘Zero”.   After a lot of work I managed to get +3 on the second effort.  That was a  pass. How in hell
    most of the kids  I was with could be expected to translate a Syrian  script in French I failed
    to understand.   Soon afterward that French hurdle for graduate students was dropped.  

    Why  tell you this?  Because the hurdle was way too high and failure  to clear it
    led  to a  very amusing incident in my life.  Perhaps offensive to purists.  On my second
    attempt at the reading  level in French we lined up at the  exam building on Queens Park Circle.
    One of our student leaders came over and said, “Al, you are number 4.”which  meant nothing to me.
    “We’ll all meet for s beer after the exam.”  Now that was fine by me.  Nice to be accepted by
    kids twenty years younger than i was.  The exam was hard but I soldiered my way through it.
    Then we went for a beer….about ten of us.
    “OK, Number 1, give me your sentence.”
    “And now Number 2…”
    “Number 3…”
    “And  you, Al, what was the fourth sentence.”
    I failed to understand…did not know I was supposed to memorize the fourth sentence. The 
    plan was to memorize the whole exam then Parrot it back  to our leader
    who would  get the exam translated  by someone that actually knew French.
    Then they would be ready for Test attempt Number Three.   The plan was
    both funny and tragic.  I did  not believe the test would be the same paragraphs
    for Test Number 3.   So the whole effort was tragic.  These kids, most of them,
    had never even taken Gr. Nine French.   Eventually the U. of  T. big shots must
    have realized that fact and dropped the need  for reading level in a second  language.
    Although  I failed my young friends I was flattered to be considered part of the
    conspiracy.  We had a few laughs with our  beer that afternoon.  I credit my success
    with the French requirement to Madam  Schroeder at Humberside C.I. who kept me
    in the front seat because I made up words that did  not exist.  She was  a great teacher.
    I will always be in her debt.

    END OF PART TWO:   REAPING … 
Notes and Postscript

-Note that Patrick  Bell is no longer credited  exclusively with the invention of the reaping machine


Papers of Reverend Patrick Bell (c 1799 – 1869)

Scope and Content

Journals of the Reverend Patrick Bell (c 1799 – 1869) kept during his visit to Canada, 1833 – 1837. 

GB 231 MS 2317/1 – 2 Journal of travels between Great Britain and the province of Upper Canada, 1833-4.

GB 231 MS 2317/1 contains an itinerary of the journey from Great Britain to the Province of Upper Canada, describing his route through Dundee, Cupar (Fife), Glasgow, Isle of Man, Manchester and Liverpool; his passage to New York on board the Eagle, continuing up the River Hudson to Albany, and by Erie Canal to Queenstown, Canada, passing through Saratoga, Little Falls, Utica, Syracuse, Auburn, Lockport and Louisville, Jun 1833 – 1834. The volume is fully indexed and accompanied by a tabular record of daily temperature and weather conditions, Nov 1833 – Feb 1835; an account of a journey from Niagra Falls to the city of Fergus, township of Nichol, Apr 1834; and outline plans for his second volume, to include an account of agricultural practices in Upper Canada, notes on the natural history of the region and hints to emigrants, Jul 1835. 

GB 231 MS 2317/2 is a fair (and slightly expanded) version of the first part of GB 231 MS 2137/1, and of another volume (or volumes) which has not survived. It begins in 1833 and ends 6 Mar 1834. The last page is inscribed Drummondvill Niagra Falls U.C. – Patrick Bell.

GB 231 MS 2318 Journal or rather observations made in Upper Canada during the years 1834, 35, 36 and 37.This is a continuation of Bell’s journal for the period 1834 – 1837; also containing weather observations, Jan 1835 – Apr 1837; thermometer readings at Quebec, 1832 – 1833; and temperature statistics for Montreal taken from a Montreal newspaper, 1826 – 1835.

Each volume described above is illustrated with sketches and diagrams of farm steadings, houses, agricultural implements, and detailed pencil drawings of plants and animals observed. His observations of people and places encountered are detailed, often amusing, and full of social and political comment (see in particular his account of the Campaign against the Swine in New York  which terminated shamefully for those in power , GB 231 MS2317/1 p 50 – 52)

Administrative / Biographical History

Patrick Bell was born at Mid-Leoch farm, Auchterhouse, Dundee, c 1799, son of George Bell, tenant farmer there. He studied divinity at St Andrews University, and was ordained and appointed minister to the parish of Carmylie, Arbroath in 1843, where he remained until his death in 1869. He was for many years credited as inventor of the reaping machine, though the title now rests with John Common of Denwick, who invented a machine based upon the essential principals of the modern reaper in 1812, some 15 years ahead of Bell. The machine which Bell developed in 1827, whilst still a student at St Andrews, remained in regular use until c 1868, when it was purchased for the museum of the Patent Office. In recognition of his services to agriculture, he received a presentation from the Highland Society, subscribed for by the farmers of Scotland and others, and was awarded the degree of LL.D. by the University of St Andrews. 

From 1833 – 1837 he travelled in Canada, where he seems to have found work as a private tutor. During this time he kept a detailed journal of his travels, making particular note of the geography, natural history, and agriculture observed.


EPISODE 175 “GODDAMN ROCK IN THE COMBINE” (BEGINNING OF A SERIES)

EPISODE  175  “GODDAMN ROCK IN THE COMBINE”  (BEGINNING OF A SERIES)



alan skeoch 

nov. 2020











Begin forwarded message:


From: Alan Skeoch <alan.skeoch@rogers.com>
Subject: Skeoch Family…to complement the Auction poster
Date: April 13, 2018 at 1:33:04 PM GMT-4
To: Karen Wagner <karenw@wellington.ca>


The MASSEY HARRIS COMBINE HARVESTER…FINAL DAY OF ITS LIFE

“ALAN, how would you like to take the Ford tractor and the side delivery rake…turn over the hay in the south field.”
“Love to…”
“Hay got a little damp in the rain…too wet to bail.”

That must have been in the late 1970’s.  Uncle Norman (Skeoch) was running the Skeoch farm alone by then.  Uncle Archie had
died in the west.  Choked to death.  Which left Norman alone on the Fergus farm.  It was mid summer, beautiful day, smell of growth in
the air coupled with the perfume of new mown hay.  A gaggle of guinea hens ran here and there yapping to beat the band.

Uncle Norman surprised me that  day.  That was the first and only time he ever entrusted me with a farming operation.  Hell, I didn’t
even know how to start the tractor let alone guide the side delivery rake accurately down the windowed timothy.   

“No problem, just
push the starter and put her in gear.  Do it now.  I’ve got to work on the combine.”

The combine?  Archie and Norman had pooled their resources back in the early 1950’s to buy what was then a brand new Massey Harris combine harvester.
By the late 1970’s it was no longer new.  The red paint of its halcyon days had faded to a rusty red hue.   The great hulking machine had lost its
novelty.  New combines had replaced this one.  Huge, self-propelled machines that could consume wheat, oats or barley fields as if they were morning
porridge in a lumber camp.

“Needs some repairs.”

Seemed off to me that Uncle Norman was going to repair the machine with a big ball pain hammer.  But what did  I know?
So he began hammering as I drove down past the barn to the south field. Elated to be trusted.  Determined to ruffle up the wet hay as perfectly as
possible.  What a grand afternoon?  What a great job?  Could I do the turning twice just for the hell of it?  Best not.  So I returned to
the barn where Uncle Norman was pounding the Massey Harris combine as if it was some enemy in mortal combat.

“Job’s done, Uncle Norman.”
“Harrumph1”
“What’s up?”
“Picked up a son of a bitching rock … bent the goddamn master cylinder.”
“Can it be fixed?”
“Not today and not with this goddamn hammer.”
“Rcck?”
“Yep, still in  there…”
“Can it be fixed?”
“Nope…dead…dead as that guinea hen I hit with the mower…damn,damn, damn!”

So, while i was enjoying myself, Uncle Norman was trying in vain to attempt to harvest the oats whose golden tassels were waving in the summer breeze.

“What will you do?”
“Have to get a custom machine in to harvest the oat field.  Have to pay for that.  Farming can be a losing proposition.”

That comment made me think of another visit to the Skeoch farm.  Uncle Norman was in the stable and a big five ton truck
had backed up close to the stable door.  A boarding ramp had been lowered.  Painted on the side of the truck were
the words  “dead and disabled animals,  call ….”

“What’s up Uncle Norman?”
“Had to call the dead wagon…heifer in the barn got the bloat…blew up like a goddamn dirigible…dead…alfalfa, I think.”
“Bloat?”
“Happens once in a while with cattle.  if I had seen her I could have driven-in the bloat knife right into her gut and let the gas out of her.  Happened so goddamn fast
that I couldn’t reach her in time.  Now she’s wedged in the barn, blown up…take a look if you want….”

And there she was, Dead as a doornail, lying on her side at the stable door.  Huge.  Seemed too big for the doorway. Wndered if she
could be deflated somehow but Uncle Norman and the dead wagon man hooked her up with a cable and winch and hauled her
through the door and up into hte back of the truck.

“What happens  to her now?”
“Depends  how long she’s been dead,” said the dead wagon man.  Which  was not really a straight answer.
“Dead  loss to me, for sure,” responded Uncle Norman.

Farming is a chancy kind of business.  Lots of things can and do go wrong. Often.  At the time I was young and it never occurred to me
that Uncle Norman’s income from farming must have been a pittance.  So small that the loss of a heifer and the loss of the Massey Harris
combine might have pushed him over the edge into near bankruptcy.    His expenses  were small.  For most of his life he was a bachelor
Never travelled much.  Couldn’t really because his truck was so badly battered that it raised  eyebrows on the road.  That condition coupled
with the fact he had four or five dogs as passengers, their heads jockeying to get in the open air from the passenger window.  There was no back window
making the truck rather chilly on winter days.





Back to the combine.  “Barring!  Whump…boom.”   Uncle Norman could not dislodge the rock that had been the master cylinder.
Each time he pounded the combine the closer it got to the scrap heap.    Finally Uncle Norman gave up and hauled the Massey
to the fencerow of dead machines … a grave yard if you will.  The combine would not be lonely for others were abandoned there long the golden rod… a couple of drag plows, a timeless dump rake
and various sections of harrows both spring toothed and straight toothed.

Up a little further in the orchard archaeologists had identified the fragmentary evidence that ancient people…perhaps Neutral aboriginals…had once lived and laboured
on Skeoch land.   But that was supposed to be a secret lest souvenir hunters destroy any remaining evidence.  Perhaps the Massey Harris combine was about to be discarded
on top of a long forgotten First Nation fire pit.   No matter.  All dead and forgotten.

So, on that summer day, I drove down the laneway feeling both exhilaration and depression.   Uncle Norman had tried to cheer me up with his usual offer of a bottle of beer
from a case hidden in the cattle rubbed manger.   “Thanks anyway, got to head back…thanks for the job turning hay…loved it.”

Norman’s figure receded as I bumped down the long lane passing the pig barn on the way.  Pigs seemed to pay well and Uncle Norman had several big fat brood sows
with their tiny piglets rooting around the bedding straw.  I could  see Uncle Norman in the rear view mirror.  He was slaking his thirst with a brown bottle of Molson’s Golden Ale.
All was not lost obviously.

That was the last time I remember seeing him alive.  He died in 1979 and when his Safety Box was opened  and the will read I got a big surprise.  My cousin John Skeoch…long John Skeoch…and I
were named as executors in the will … not as recipients but executors.  We had to carry out Norman’s wishes.  He left the farm to his  brothers and sisters and their families.  Holy Smoke!
That meant one unpleasant task was placed in our hands.  We had to sell the farm.  How else could the farm and its contents be divided? It had to be converted to cash and then divided
equally as possible to the families of Lena,  Elizabeth, Greta, Archie, Arnold, Arthur and John.  And, in the cases where some had pre deceased Norman then that share had to be further
subdivided.   This was going to be messy.  

To make it simple.  Our job was to convert the farm into cash and then divided the cash among all the surviving relatives.   We did  the best we could.

Today, in April 2018, one memory of that ‘executing the will’ ordeal stands out in my mind.  Yes, correct. You guessed it.  That Massey-Harris combine harvester.

    Who owned it?  Was it Uncle Norman’s?  Or Uncle Archie’s?  Well, it belonged to both of them.  So in order to avoid family squabbles we decided that whatever we got from the machine

    at the auction then that amount would not be divided up but go directly to Uncle Archies surviving family members.  Seemed wise at the time.  But wasn’t.  

“Next is this Massey Harris combine harvester.  Not running right now
so you are buying it as is.   Open bid?”

Silence. No bidding. Eventually the scrap man bid around $40 for the machine…might be worth $100 in the scrap yard but it would cost quite a bit to get it there.
The $40 satisfied no one.  We would have been wiser to have avoided trying to be nice guys.  Got us only anger. Being executors in a will where there are many
people to satisfy is not easy.  And sometimes things being sold have higher emotional value than market value.   Some relatives stopped talking to us after the sale was over.

To avoid this kind of dispute I did what I thought was an honourable thing.  Uncle Norman had given me the cast iron pot used in pig slaughtering or alternatively used to
boil maple sap into maple syrup   A huge thing bigger than a bathtub.  To avoid trouble I returned it to the farm auction and was resolved to buy it back at whatever
price.  Bidding was spirited  I won but nearly damn well broke.  That honourable effort got me no praise.  Instead the men from the Fergus Legion got really angry with me.

“Norman brings this cauldron to our corn roasts every year…has done so for decades.  It’s ours”
“Then why not bid for it?”
“Who do you think was bidding against you…that was our man.”
“Why did he stop>”
“Price went too high.  But that is our pot…need it for the corn roast.”

I said nothing but just loaded it into our truck.  Seemed being honourable was not a good idea.




WHERE IS THIS STORY GOING?


Strange thing happened  that day.   Somehow that bashed up and broken Massey Harris combine harvester 
became lodged in my mind.   Events followed culminating in my M.A, thesis  at the University of Toronto on machine
design.  Sounds boring!  Right it does sound boring but stick  with me.   The story is goddamn interesting. Have you
ever heard of Patrick  Bell? Cyrus McCormick? The Massey  Family?  Well, more by fluke than design my life
changed when  that “goddman rock” bent the master cylinder of Uncle Norman’s 1953 Combine Harvester.  
After his death, my cousin John and I had the unhappy job of getting the auctioneer Max Storey to sell off
Norman’s possessions.  The Massey Harris  combine sold  for $40 or so and  went to the local  scrap yard.
I should have bought the machine.  It became that important to me as you will read shortly.  

alan skeoch
Nov.  2020


EPISODE 174 the sun is still shining

EPISODE 174    THE SUN IS STILL SHINING


alan skeoch
Nov. 2020

So here we are.  Going into another lockdown in Peel County, 
Ontario.  Cold weather on the way and fear of explosive Covid 19
return.   Now that is a ‘downer’.

“What we need is an upper.”  that thought I am sure was on the minds
of many this week.   And lo and behold an upper arrived with the morning
sunshine as recorded by friend Rick Irving whose apartment looms over
Lake Ontario and his unit faces east from which arrived a glorious morning
sunrise.

The kids gave me an ATV for my 80th birthday two  years ago.   So I went 
for a drive over the bare fields in search of more uppers.  And I found
one in the least likely place…an open air swamp that had been clear cut
by Ontario Hydro so the company could deliver  Nuclear energy
to our households.

And there in the midst of the beige and dark brown landscape of November
a different kind of  sunshine sparkled. Little islands of colour …contrasting bursts
of colour.   I have no idea what the plant was
called but it was a pleasant adventure slogging through the near dry swamp
to get these photographs.   I got the  pictures for you.  To brighten your day and
my day.


There is joy in the big  things…such as the sun rising beneath a few clouds…and
the small things….such as the survival triumph of bushes crowned with orange  red berries.

While we all wait for the snowflakes 

alan skeoch
nov. 2020

Fw: EPISODE 173 PROPS AND SETS… MAKING MOVIES DEMANDS PERIOD SETTINGS

NOTE    MY EMAIL HAS FAILED…I AM USING ANOTHER ROUTE WHICH IS NOT AS  GOOD BECAUSE
PICTURES ARE GROUPED  AT BOTTOM…MAY NOT MAKE SENSE…NIGHTMARE  TRYING TO FIX COMPUTER.
NO ONE CAN COME TO HOUSE DUE TO COVID 19.
ALAN  

—– Forwarded Message —–
From: ALAN SKEOCH <alan.skeoch@rogers.com&gt;
To: Marjorie Skeoch <marjorieskeoch@gmail.com&gt;; Alan Skeoch <alan.skeoch@rogers.com&gt;; John Wardle <john.t.wardle@gmail.com&gt;
Sent: Thursday, November 19, 2020, 12:27:38 PM EST
Subject: EPISODE 173 PROPS AND SETS… MAKING MOVIES DEMANDS PERIOD SETTINGS
EPISODE  173    PROPS  AND SETS…MAKING MOVIES DEMANDS  PERIOD SETTINGS 


Alan skeoch
Nov. 2020



Machines have  always fascinated  me.  Not because I know how to operate them or
even want to operate them.  The fascination is  historical.  Years ago  a material  historian
names John Kowenhaven (sp. is incorrect ) wrote that “machines reflect the culture in
which they were created.”  Not his exact words but the meaning is clear.  Machines are  
historical objects.  They fit into their historical settings.   

Half way through my teaching career I applied for a sabbatical leave to study  machine design
in the 19th century.  The end result was a 300 page tome describing the changes  in machine
technology in the 19th century.   

That was when i started to buy old machines.  Dozens of them.  Hundreds  of them.  Initially there
was no financial reason for doing so other than the encouragement I got from Marjorie.  Grain cleaning
machines…fanning mills…really fascinated me because by the end of the 19th century these machines
were made into objects of beauty by the paint ‘stripers’ in the factories.  I think I bought 80 fanning mills.

Then the movie industry came to Toronto needing authentic sets.  Sets that would transport TV and Movies
watchers into the past where particular machines were needed as background (sets) or as foreground
objects actually touched by actors (props)..  They needed our machines.  And suddenly we had a business
We  were considered a bit eccentric in that Marjorie and I took real interest in each movie that was being made.

At the same time, quite a few of the students I taught at Parkdale Collegiate found themselves employed
in the movie industry.  Some  of those students rented machines from us.   We were the bottom of the
movie pyramid…no one was lower.  A  role reversal that my ex-students  relished.  One movie I remember well.  A village in Ontario was converted
into a movie set and rented truckloads of our things.  We drove over, asked the art director if we could take pictures
of our things. 

 “Not supposed to let pictures be  taken,  but what the hell…just get your things and not
the whole set.”
“Great.”
“And move fast while we are on a coffee break.”
“Right.”

We  zipped from store to store snapping digital  pictures.  

THEN  CAME THE  VOICE.

“What the hell are you doing here, Skeoch?” came a voice from a guy high up on a
movie ladder.  In the dark.
“Taking pictures…all cleared.”
“Skeoch…I heard you were in the business.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m the best boy on this set”
“Who? How do you know me?”

Then Phil Calambakis came down the ladder.  One of my Parkdale students.   Great kid. Taught his sister Anna as
well.  His mom and  dad were boosters of our school.  Now he had become and I think remains a pillar of 
the movie industry.

“Remember the smelly feet kid, Phil?”
“God his feet were bad…I had to sleep on the couch. Abandon my own room to his shoes and socks. Rotten.”
“Your mom and dad were always willing to help music exchange students…”
“Well, Not that willing, sir,   After the guy with the stinking feet.  I lost my room SIR   (Did Phil say ’Sir’…yes he did) …still blame you for it.”

I noted  that Phil slipped back into the ‘Sir’ mode…an expression of respect that I always savoured
when used by my students.   We had a few laughs that day.  Then the actors began to troop
in and we were politely ushered out.

So here below  are a few of the things we have rented  this  month…November, 2020.










A  period calendar from 1945 to 1946…interesting.


One ladder is not rentable…movies want multiples…so our collection expands.

You will hear about this machine in a story shortly.   Bet you do not know what it is.  It revolutionized agriculture.  Cheap food followed its’
invention.   We travelled  to England, Ireland, USA…in search of the history of this machine.   Then I rebuilt it in our back yard.;;and  
shipped it air freight to a museum in Northern  Ireland.   interested?  Are you interested?

alan skeoch
Nov. 2020

Question:  Which object … artifact…do you remember best?









EPISODE 173 PROPS AND SETS… MAKING MOVIES DEMANDS PERIOD SETTINGS

EPISODE  173    PROPS  AND SETS…MAKING MOVIES DEMANDS  PERIOD SETTINGS 


Alan skeoch
Nov. 2020



Machines have  always fascinated  me.  Not because I know how to operate them or
even want to operate them.  The fascination is  historical.  Years ago  a material  historian
names John Kowenhaven (sp. is incorrect ) wrote that “machines reflect the culture in
which they were created.”  Not his exact words but the meaning is clear.  Machines are  
historical objects.  They fit into their historical settings.   

Half way through my teaching career I applied for a sabbatical leave to study  machine design
in the 19th century.  The end result was a 300 page tome describing the changes  in machine
technology in the 19th century.   

That was when i started to buy old machines.  Dozens of them.  Hundreds  of them.  Initially there
was no financial reason for doing so other than the encouragement I got from Marjorie.  Grain cleaning
machines…fanning mills…really fascinated me because by the end of the 19th century these machines
were made into objects of beauty by the paint ‘stripers’ in the factories.  I think I bought 80 fanning mills.

Then the movie industry came to Toronto needing authentic sets.  Sets that would transport TV and Movies
watchers into the past where particular machines were needed as background (sets) or as foreground
objects actually touched by actors (props)..  They needed our machines.  And suddenly we had a business
We  were considered a bit eccentric in that Marjorie and I took real interest in each movie that was being made.

At the same time, quite a few of the students I taught at Parkdale Collegiate found themselves employed
in the movie industry.  Some  of those students rented machines from us.   We were the bottom of the
movie pyramid…no one was lower.  A  role reversal that my ex-students  relished.  One movie I remember well.  A village in Ontario was converted
into a movie set and rented truckloads of our things.  We drove over, asked the art director if we could take pictures
of our things. 

 “Not supposed to let pictures be  taken,  but what the hell…just get your things and not
the whole set.”
“Great.”
“And move fast while we are on a coffee break.”
“Right.”

We  zipped from store to store snapping digital  pictures.  

THEN  CAME THE  VOICE.

“What the hell are you doing here, Skeoch?” came a voice from a guy high up on a
movie ladder.  In the dark.
“Taking pictures…all cleared.”
“Skeoch…I heard you were in the business.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m the best boy on this set”
“Who? How do you know me?”

Then Phil Calambakis came down the ladder.  One of my Parkdale students.   Great kid. Taught his sister Anna as
well.  His mom and  dad were boosters of our school.  Now he had become and I think remains a pillar of 
the movie industry.

“Remember the smelly feet kid, Phil?”
“God his feet were bad…I had to sleep on the couch. Abandon my own room to his shoes and socks. Rotten.”
“Your mom and dad were always willing to help music exchange students…”
“Well, Not that willing, sir,   After the guy with the stinking feet.  I lost my room SIR   (Did Phil say ’Sir’…yes he did) …still blame you for it.”

I noted  that Phil slipped back into the ‘Sir’ mode…an expression of respect that I always savoured
when used by my students.   We had a few laughs that day.  Then the actors began to troop
in and we were politely ushered out.

So here below  are a few of the things we have rented  this  month…November, 2020.










A  period calendar from 1945 to 1946…interesting.


One ladder is not rentable…movies want multiples…so our collection expands.

You will hear about this machine in a story shortly.   Bet you do not know what it is.  It revolutionized agriculture.  Cheap food followed its’
invention.   We travelled  to England, Ireland, USA…in search of the history of this machine.   Then I rebuilt it in our back yard.;;and  
shipped it air freight to a museum in Northern  Ireland.   interested?  Are you interested?

alan skeoch
Nov. 2020

Question:  Which object … artifact…do you remember best?

EPISODE 172 WLAND RECOVERED…AT A COST


EOPISODE  172      WETLAND ROCOVERED…AT A  COST


alan skeoch
Nov. 2020



Our farm is not a good  farm.   My grandparents managed to make a sketchy
living on the 25 acre farm.   They had no car…no horse and buggy…no way  to 
get to town except with their sun, Uncle Frank who owned a  neighbouring farm.
Both farms are glacial dumps.  Rubble from the Canadian Shield  pushed down
by ice two kilometres high.  Ice that scoured the bedrock making indentations in
the flat surface wherever possible.  


Those indentations filled with water when the ice sheet melted  10,000 years ago.
Ponds.  Lots  of ponds were scattered across the rock surface of ancient Ontario.
Plants eventually got a grip on the rocky soil.  The ponds became hubs for 
vegetation.  

And eventually over the 10,000 years a great number of those ponds became
swamps…thick with spongy mosses and other watery plants.  In some cases
the pond  water totally disappeared and was replaced  by wetlands.

A third of my grandparents farm was  wetland that drained in two directions.
Some of the swamps drained into the Credit River drainage basins.  The rest,
the larger, drained into the the Grand River basin.  Lots of water.

HERE IS THE STORY…IN OUR FEW  YEARS OF OWNERSHIP

About 20 years ago Marjorie and  I decided to hire JIM Sanderson’s family to 
bring their big excavator to open up one of the large swamps.  This was  no small
task.   Jim had to remove the plant life that had taken 10,000 years to
pile up…living plants succoured by their dead  predecessors.

The excalator got caught in quicksand  and  slowly sank into  the swamp.
So deeply that Jim’s son had to abandon the cab as the huge machine
slipped deeper and deeper into the pond.   Much excavation had  been done
successfully and the swamp was  now a pond as it had been long ago.
A  pond with a huge iron, steel and rubber dinosaur slowly sinking deeper
and deeper into what had once been a sandy beech.

“How will you get it out, Jim?”
“We’ll have to float the machine out?”
“Float?”
“Need to bring in truckload or two of giant timbers to encircle
the excavator then use another excavator to lift it up…a giant raft, if you will.”

The project took a long time. Days and days.  The fifth line in front of our farm
was lined with machines and  truckloads of timbers.   Eventually the excavator
was recovered.   I offered to help with the costs  but Jim would not accept help.

“We got it into this  mess, so we will get it out.”

The new pond was a bit of an embarrassment so we sort of forgot about it.
The pond was surrounded by large ancient white pines and a line of immense
spruce trees  planted by my grandfather.  The pond was invisible.

Wild animals knew that.  One summer a  bank beaver moved in and chomped down
a grove of small poplars.  It was an old beaver.  Almost tame.  But it was really dying
so we left it alone in its small watery world.  Other creatures  came and  went. A pair
of muskrats burrowed  into one bank  and have been raising  a whole bunch  of young muskrats
that we hardly ever saw.  A family of mud hens had lived in the former swamp and
now lived in the pond.  Deep dear tracks were incised  into the mud now and then.
Sadly one summer we saw a doe with a crippled fawn emerging from the piece of wetland.
 Shrubs thrived forming a veil of low life that made the pond
more and more invisible.

Just one giant spruce…felled by a windstorm…was  enough to reveal the pond  that we had forgotten.   



Then, last spring, a big windstorm brought about a major change.  The pond suddenly
become visible.  The tree carcass was down flat…we could now see the pond
clearly.   Work with the Bobcat and a  brush cutter revealed  a wondrous patch
of open water surrounded by all kinds of  plant life the had been formerly shielded
from view by  the giant spruce tree.

A wetland that we had forgotten for years was  now visible.



The muskrats were rearing a family of four in the pond.  They did not
like the improvements one bit.

alan skeoch
Nov. 2020






P.S.  Milkweed plants seem to like the pond margin.  If they have their will they will take over a wide swath and maybe…just maybe…we will get our Monarch butterflies back again.
Farmers hated  mllkweed.  Poisoned cattle.  So the plant was  condemned for years.  But now, in 2020, there are only a few cattle grazing on the Fifth Line and the milk weed
has returned.   Not as  much as in the past though.  Why?  Because corporate agriculture has  “improved” Ontario farmland  by removed so many fencerows where wild plants
and  song birds once thrived.  The same is  happening to wetlands.  They are being drained.  Not on our property though.  We are doing the reverse.

alan skeoch
Nov. 2020


P>S.  The Excavator looked like this…and  it finally rested
about deep in the pond.  How would you get it out?




EPISODE 169: PART 4: THE VICTOR POPPA STORY THE POW EXPERIENCE 1944 AND 1945

EPISODE 169    PART 4  THE VICTOR POPPA STORY

NOTE:  EPISODE 170  WILL CONTAIN NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN THE VICTOR POPPA STORY…IT WILL COME LATER


PART 4:  THE VICTOR POPPA STORY:   PRISONER OF WAR


alan skeoch
DEC 30. 2019







VICTOR POPPA

So here  we are Victor.  May  I speak to you Victor even though you have died longlong ago.

I wish, Victor, that I had transcribed your edited diary back in the 1980’s when you were alive and full of
piss and vinegar.  You trusted me and believed I was a much bigger fish in the ocean life than I 
actually was in those days.   My first  priority was  my students.  I know that sounds cruel, Victor, but
it was a truth.  Each day I tried  to inject young  minds  with an ability to be introspective.  To see
themselves as  threads  in the garment of life.  That task was never easy.  Preparing lessons  sounds
like such a dull thing to do.  Boring some might say.  I laboured to avoid the tedium of repetition and
sometimes I succeeded.  Sometimes I failed Victor.  Your story, however, was always on my mind
as  Gordon  Lightfoot said in one his wonderful songs.  And  when I told your story to a class they were
always riveted…always able to put themselves  in the lonely plexiglass bubble of HX 313 as it hurtled
its to earth.  I regret that your constant sexual  adventures were never shared.  That would have got
me into trouble for sure.  Some people might consider those sexual adventures exploitive.  i.e. treating
women as only sexual objects.  I know that was  not the case with you Victor. You loved them all.

Now we have reached the final section of your story.  I would  like to pick it up at the point your
damaged body hit the ground near your target of Bourg Leopold, Belgium.  You have written some
notes for me to put the story together but those notes are not nearly as rich  as  your diary notations.
So forgive me.  I am going to try and put my feet in your shoes.  To start me off I have to take
another look at you…maybe two looks.  First, the Amused  grin of you Victor when you took me
up in that decrepit Cessna 170 over the Californian village of Lake Elsinore in 1984.  And  second
the real devilish  smile on your face the year you joined the RCAF at 22 years of  age.  

Victor, it seems to me that you knew that being tail gunner was going to be a life altering experience,
You joined he RCAF as a baby faced kid in the early years of World  War Two.   By 1945 you had grown
up and  were aware of your days living on this earth were limited.  Yet you survived.  And  for the r best
of your life you would live and  relive those Bomber Command war years

So let’s pick up the story again on that tragic night of May 27, 1943 when  the Blonde Bomber, HX 313
was on fire and plummeting to earth afire and  carrying a full bomb load.

Victor you were the only living person still on board.  Your good friend  Hank Freeman was  present
but dead.  Killed by bullets that punctured the belly of HX 313 and just stopped short of Victor’s rear   

      gunner bubble.

.








EVENTS IN VICTOR’S OWN WORDS

“Our bomber did not explode.  There were  fires in from front to rear.  The inside  of much  of the plane was cherry red.
My first thoughts were: ‘You have been waiting for this and now  it has finally happened.’ I called on the Intercom
but received  no answer, only static.  HX 313, however, was still flying in a straight line.”

“I pulled off my flying helmet, opened my turret doors, reached for my parachute and snapped it to my chest. I stayed in my
position because  I saw  no parachute go by the tail.   Then,  a few seconds later, I saw  one.  It was open and  on its side
parallel to the ground  just missing the  port rudder and fin. Then I decided to go.  I swung my turrets 90 degrees in the
fuselage and tried to go  out but couldn’t because of the fire and wind.  I tried twice to no avail.   By this time the ground
was appearing quite close.  I could tell from  the fires that to bail out from the aft fuselage exit would have entailed too much 
time and  by then it would be too late anyway.  So I sat there waiting for my end.  The aircraft then went into a  flat spin.
My turret twisted  free and I was flung out by the brute force.  My leg, however, was stuck momentarily under my leg guard.
I could feel my knee pull right out of its socket.   Then my leg came free.  I was falling flat on my back.  I looked on my
chest for my parachute  and it was not there.  The parachute had been pulled away for my chest by the wind force and was
 nowhere feet from my face and above.  Pulled on the
harness  and brought the parachute down close enough so I could  grab  the D ring and pulled. It opened with sharp snap.  A pain
knifed through my groin, I put my arms above my head, grabbed the harness and  pulled thereby  relieving the pain.  A few
seconds later I saw  the ground coming up real fast. I felt as though  I was an arrow.  I hit the ground hard  and collapsed
with my parachute falling on top of me.  I am  sure the chute had  opened  at less that 1,000 feet and our aircraft had been
at 11,900when we were first hit by the flak and  then shot up  by the JU 88.”

“I managed to get onto my feet but I could not feel  anything  from the waist down…felt like metal bands were clamped around
my ankles and knees.   I was standing balanced as though on stilts.  Just t hen I could hear motors screaming…an aircraft
in its death sieve.  I Dropped flat to the ground.  It is amazing how close you think you are to the ground, as  if you are being
pulled down tight, pressed into the grass.  This aircraft hit a few fields away and  exploded.”

“All of this happened at approximately 2 a.m. on the 28th of May, 1944.  After the explosion I found I couldn’t walk but moved with
a painful shuffle.  I moved away from the area slowly.   At wire fences I would put my body through and  then with my hands pull my legs  through.
I moved along in this manner until the dawn started to glow.  Then I made my way  into the centre  of a wheat field where  I  lay down
and fell into a deep  sleep. I awoke at noon hour with the sun shining down at me.   I made my way out of the field and crawled  under
a tree.  I took off my electric suit and found I  had suffered some  spinal chord damage and had torn open my left leg and buttocks.
The  leg was swollen twice its normal  size and black  and blue.  I also had torn muscles and  ligaments.  I crawled  to  a farm house
where the farmer  was kind but reluctant  to hide  me.   He gave  me water and milk to drink.  We were advised in England never
to impose upon these people.   I they showed willingness, fine.   If not, leave.  If we were caught with them they would suffer
Grievously.”

      




“My legs were starting to stiffen up and  the pain was increasing.  I made  my way to another field where I lay down and rolled and rolled
in agony.   I was this way well into the afternoon.   Finally I felt that I must get  some assistance.  On my knees I made my way  
back to the  farm house and indicated I  would like police assistance.  While waiting, a Belgian doctor gsve
me an injection of some sort but it had no effect.  I gave the farm woman all of my escape  money and shortly two Luftwaffe
NCO’s came  in an automobile.  I was placed in the  back seat with one  NCO and because I  could not bend my  legs I had
to lay across his body.”

“I was driven to our target the previous night.  There was one room left standing where I was deposited on a  bed.   Despite all
of the  killing we had done I was not mistreated.  I was given a bowl of greasy stew which i could not down.  Later, I was visited
by a German medical officer   All he did was rant and rave  at me in German.   Although I Felt he was going to strike me, he did not.
Three days later I was taken outside and placed in the back of a truck with four caskets.  A German NCO pointed to one and
said “Komerad  Irwin. This was our navigator Bob Irwin.  I gave a negative response.  He then pointed  to the casket on my right
and said “Kamerad Wakely”.  This was the coffin of Wilf Wakely.  Again I gave a negative response .  I was not questioned about the 
third caskrt. This one must have been George. The fourth  was empty as I had moved it with my foot.  At that  time I did not know George
was dead.   It wasn’t until I returned to England after the war  was over that I got word from RCAF records that George had  been
killed.  This left me stunned as  Hank (George)  and I were real close friends.”

       What happened to Hank Freeman?   “So Hank could  have been the first one out as Bill seems to remember someone going out ahead of him.  Bill may be  correct

      but I don’t think so.  I had  no  trouble hearing the clatter of bullets coming through from below and stopping just short of my position.  I think Hanks was hanging
      there. Dead.  Remember the comment that the crew passed by the upper turret and  saw feet hanging down and my smelling burnt flesh when I  was  put in
      the German truck  with the coffins  later.  But I could be  wrong.  If Hank bailed out he would  have been the first out followed by Bill, Muir, Wilf, Bob, Eric, Ken and
      finally myself.  Personally I think he  was killed  by the tremendous burst of bullets crashing through HX  313 from front to back in those few seconds.  Hank
      wasn’t the type to  bail out first.   He  would  have waited to be  sure.   I only tried to bale out after I saw a chute  go by horizontally which  was  Ken.  I was
      sure I would  go  down with HX 313…certain death.  Then fate took hold, the bubble shifted and I  fell out just in time.”


Note:  Victor  Poppa’s account closed the file on the  last flight of HX 313.   He was the last person to get out of the aircraft.  All had
been able to get out one way or  another, except for George Freeman.  Two who got out were killed when they  hit the ground.
The rest survived. George was  likely killed  when  the JU 88 strafed the plane.  One of the crew remembers George’s legs hanging down
as he worked his way past the upper turret to reach the escape hatch.   The nagging thought that George remained  alive worried Victor because
gunners were often trapped in their  turrets like  Victor had been.  HX 313 exploded on impact near an abandoned railway station.   Eric  Mallett
and Ken  Sweatman were escorted  past a pile of melted metal that had once been The Blonde  Bomber.  They could not stop to look
closely for their  escorts were members of the Belgian Underground and it was imperative that they hide Ken and Eric as 
quickly as possible.   Victor Poppa, George Elliott and Morris Muir became POW’s.

STALAG LUFT  VII

Stalag Luft 7 was a World War II Luftwaffe prisoner-of-war camp located in Bankau, SilesiaGermany (now BąkówOpole VoivodeshipPoland.


Note: OnMay 19,1984, almost 200 Canadian veterans and their wives celebrated the 50 year anniversary of 424 Squadron…the Tiger Squadron…the ‘City of Hamilton  Squadron.

Among those present were Victor Poppa and his wife Louise.  In the special Memorial  book, Victor provided  an overview of his  life as  a POW in Stalag Lutt VII.

Victor Poppa: ” After hospitalization and interrogation i Iwas sent to Stalag Luft VII at Bankau which is ten miles from the  Polish border in a straight line between Breslau and Krakau. 
At first we were given one Red Cross parcel a week plus one meal a day.  The tins  in the Red  Cross parcels were punctured to keep us from hoarding the food  for escape use.
By September 1944 the parcels only came once every two weeks and  on Christmas  day, December 25  1944, we received our last Red Cross parcel. In the new year the weather
became colder.  Since our food had been  reduced we felt the cold more. ” 

upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/02/Red_Cross_Parcel.jpg/500px-Red_Cross_Parcel.jpg 2x” data-file-width=”2848″ data-file-height=”2136″>




Note:  Other surviving POW’s described Stalag Luft VII as terrible…especially for the Russians in adjoining POW camp who were systematically starved to death.  One Canadian POW
said  they sometimes  tried to throw potato peels over the barbed wire to the Russians who  fought to get whatever they could.  Russian corpses  often had flesh wounds related to
cannibalism.  Efforts to help the Russians was nearly impossible.  No point, explained  one guard, just a waste of food  for the Russians  would soon  be dead.
Note: Victor Poppa’s description is short.  Conversations with Victor were much  more detailed but I have no detailed written account except from memory.  Victor did describe the
horrors faced by the Russians.   He also described  a Russian women’s POW camp which was  also grim.  Grim?  Wrong word.  Horrible is better.
In 1941 Hitler gave the infamous Commisar Order that permitted the wholesale murder of  Russian  POW’s and civilians.   He justified it by saying that Stalin would  do
the same to German POW’s.  The estimated numbers  of deaths by starvation or execution is mind boggling.

(“It is estimated that at least 3.3 million Soviet POWs died in Nazi custody, out of 5.7 million. This figure represents a total of 57% of all Soviet POWs and may be contrasted with 8,300 out of 231,000 British and U.S. prisoners, or 3.6%. About 5% of the Soviet prisoners who died were Jews.[5] The most deaths took place between June 1941 and January 1942, when the Germans killed an estimated 2.8 million Soviet POWs primarily through deliberate starvation,[6] exposure, and summary execution. A million at most had been released, most of whom were so-called ‘volunteers’ (Hilfswillige) for (often compulsory) auxiliary service in the Wehrmacht, 500,000 had fled or were liberated, the remaining 3.3 million had perished as POWs.”)


An improvised camp for Soviet Prisoners of war.  Thousands.  Many would starve  to death.  Allied prisonerss
like Victor Poppa were treated  better and many  survived.  


 THE LONG MARCH






“Because of the Russians advance we were ordered to march  west and  after 15days marching, with very little for, we reached  Cloberg on February 5th, 1945. We were put
into boxcars and  transformed  to Luft 3A which is about 4 miles from Potsdam.  Our rations  were cut again and we were getting concerned about our health as we  were
weaker and noticeably thinner.One morning when we awoke to the sound of gunfire in the distance there were suddenly no guards in the camp.   About noon the Russians
appeared.  We were told they had hooked  up with the Americans about 50 miles to the south of us. Carl Seeley and I decided to cut out on our own.”

Note:   See two diary descriptions of the Long March as post scripts.  Why was it necessary to march POW’s deep into the collapsing circle of German territory?
Prisoners had  negotiating value I  suppose.  One source reported that Adolph Hitler ordered  all POW’s to be shot in the event of a German surrender.  This never
happened.  The collapse of German forces  was fast and it is  doubtful that such a wide scale massacre would have happened.

“On the second day out we hooked up with nine French girls.  We did the food scrounging for all of us while the girls did the cooking.  After 14 days we reachedTorgow and the
Americans.  They agreed to pass us on to the Canadians but could  do nothing for the French girls as they were civilians.  That night we had a farewell party and after exchanging addresses we 
boarded  a  C47 for Brussels..  The next day we were flown to England and boarded  a train for Bournemouth and eventually repatriated home to Canada.  Out of our  crew of eight, five of us
managed to come home.”

“I found my map used by Seeley, myself and the French girls to reach the American sector.  Dated  Aril 10, 1945.  We walked from LUckenwalde POW camp to Juterborg, then south to 
Herzberg then SW to Torgau where the Russian and American forces met.  I am not sure how long it took…between 9 and 14days.”

Note:  This short account was written in 1984.  Too bad it is so short.  I remember Victor telling me his adventures when he and Seeley walked through the ruins of Germany
to the American lines.   At one point while scrounging for food they entered a  farmer’s house and  faced a German  officer in a bedroom.   The officer was scared as was Victor.
Nothing happened even though the German  had a Luger beneath the covers.  Victor backed out of the room.   Seeley and Poppa acted  as  protectors of the nine girls on their
14 day escape.  He told  me that chaos was too soft a  word  for the condition of Germany in those immediate post war weeks. I remember asking  Victor is they  hid at night.  Usually
in empty barns or houses he answered.  

“What did  you do in daylight?  Lots of  people with guns…Russians, Germans.”
“That was a  problem.  At first we ducked into ditches or bushes but that was risky.  Nervous trigger fingers all around.  So we decided it was best to stay exposed on the roads.  We became
part of the stream of people moving who knows where.  Actually having the nine French girls was protection for Seeley and  me.”

Note:  Other stories by liberated POW’s abound.  In the daytime they wandered through German towns taking whatever was portable.  One POW even broke into a paymaster’s office and
found  piles of various wartime currencies.  “I took some…wish I had  taken more for the money turned out to be cashable.”  Another group broke into a wine storage building filled with
fine wines from France.  One of the POW’s took a case of champagne back  to the POW camp for a  party.  Next day he thought he should get more but by then the building had
been set ablaze. “Burned to the ground.”  Most POW’s felt safer in the prison camp rather than in German towns and cities at night.  So they raided in daylight and returned to camp
at night.   Another Canadian ex  POW carefully snipped out a huge portrait of Hitler as  a  souvenir.  “Too big for the C47…you cannot take it aboard.”  What most POW’s wanted to
find  were German Lugers as there were heaps  of recently cast off German uniforms here and  there as Germans attempted to suddenly become civilians.  “I kicked one pile of German
uniforms and  a Luger slid out from the pile.  Before I could reach down, other hands  grabbed it.”   Symbols  of the Third Reich were gathered not just by POW’s but by Allied soldiers and
officers as well.  They appear now and then in auctions.  Harry T—. a good friend of mine had  a  nice oil painting hanging in his Mississauga  home that he cut from a German  frame and 
rolled up as ‘the spoils of war’.  Another friend inherited  from his paratrooper father a  whole basket full of badges including an Iron Cross along with a large Nazi flag.  “What am I  going
to do with this?”, he wondered.  

Note:   What happened to the guards?  Seems that some of them ditched their uniforms and mixed in with the refugee streams on the roads.  One group of guards had a novel reaction to
the situation.  They threw their weapons over the barbed wire fence and became prisoners of the POW’s and were photographed as such.  I  do not know if that was much  protection
against the arrival of Russian troops so  suspect those guards  were in an American sector.  Dead and near dead Russian POW’s must have enraged Russian forces.
A  long time ago, back in 1961, I read ‘Documents of the Expulsion’ which detailed  the fate of tens of  thousands  of Germans attempting to escape Russian occupation
of Poland and the Baltic States.  There is no horror that I have read since to match what happened to many of these people.  German  POW’s  captured by the Russians were shipped
by the trainload to Siberian  prisons  where many died.  Eventually, years  later, some were able to trickle back to Germany.  Some may have been Victor Poppa’s  prison guards.



 When Victor Poppa reached the American sector he was housed
briefly on a recently liberated  German  air base.  “One day a German Messerschmitt  flew in escorted by American fighter planes.  It landed and a German officer surrendered having escaped 
the eastern sector.  His girlfriend was  with him in the plane.” Both were taken away.  “I do  not know what happened to the Messerschmitt.   But I do remember looking at a  great number of aircraft on the base.
Most of them no longer airworthy.”  Did Victor Poppa bring any trophies home?  I don’t know, but he sure brought back lots of memories.  I bet he wanted that Messerscmidt for he had a deep
fascination with aircraft.  I can imagine Victor suggesting….  “I guess it would be out of the question for me to fly that Messerscmitt back  to England.  That would save
a seat in the C47 for someone else?”  (never uttered but true to Victor’s nature.)

CONCLUSION:

Those  of  you who  have read Parts  1, 2, and 3 of the Victor Poppa story must feel as I did that
a very human, very graphic, very exciting window  had been opened.   Perhaps the best way
to close that window is to let Victor do the closing.  Below is the last letter Victor Poppa sent
to me on Dec.  7, 1988.  

                                                                                      Victor Poppa
                                                                                     33535 Valencia St. R1
                                                                                    Lake Elsinore
                                                                                    California,  92330

Dear Alan, Marjorie, Kevin and  Andrew,

I was  just reviewing your letter of April 8, 1988 which seems a  very long  time ago. I regret not
answering sooner.   Thanks for your book ‘Focus on Society’ which I have read and  enjoyed.
I have a collectors’ item for you…a 12 ounce can of Budweiser Beer with no pull tab for easy
opening, the can must have slipped through inspection.  As you know I quit drinking alcohol
years ago which  must surprise anyone reading my diary of those war years.

I have not been feeling all that well this year with has hampered my letter writing. Presently
I am getting pain up my left leg from ankle to hip.  It pulsates in an arthritic way….very painful.
Louise  is  having her share of trouble as well.  To add to it she  fell off our airplane’s horizontal stabilizer
as I was trying as I was trying to get the main wheels out of  some soft earth.  I pushed down 
on the tail to get the nose wheel up and induced Louise to sit on the stabilizer. This kept
the nose wheel up.  Louise’s weight was a modest advantage.  However when Louise  changed
position the tail unit shot up and Louise fell off.  She fell about 4.5 feet landing on her left foot then
banged the back  of her head.   Louise was  groaning and crying that she was  about to die.  A
bone was broken in her foot so  Louise is now sporting a cast from toe to just below the knee.
She will be limping around the house for six more weeks.

Then a  few weeks  ago when I was  on a nocturnal visit to the refrigerator I tripped  and cracked
a rib when I hit the table top with my side.  A few weeks  earlier I tripped over the dog on a 
similar trip to the refrigerator.  That time I cracked my right knee cap I think.  There was a
loud  ‘crack’ indicating something broke.   It doesn’t hurt though.

We had  Thelma Sweatman  here for two weeks in early February.   I gave her the picture of
HX 33.  She was  happy to get it.  Thelma  asked me to send you a card from Ken’s funeral.  
He died on August 30, my birthday.  Ken has  let me with the fondest memories.  He was a
wonderful  person…cool in combat…good and  sincere…never changing.  Always a  good friend.
The world  has lost a fine person.

Alan, I should  have put in more detail describing some of  our missions in my diary.  I suppose
I can add comments now.

Have a very Merry Christmas and  a  Happy New  year.

Love from  us

Victor and  Louise Poppa

Note: I suppose This  must seem to be a strange letter .  Accidents, ailments…normal give and take
of daily life including Victor’s  ‘nocturnal raid on the refrigerator’ and  ‘tripping over the dog’.  Why
use this  letter as a  conclusion to his  escapades in Bomber Command?   Victor had not changed
much.  In 1988 he was still flying…and his description of getting his plane out of the mud has a  sort
of amusing yet concerned ring to it.  His wife Louise was  the young girl  he met in Quebec City
just before he went overseas in World  War Two.  She must have known about his  escapades
with Hank  Freeman and been amused rater than offended.

Perhaps the main reason I have included  this  letter however is his  mention of Ken  Sweatman, the
bomb aimer one HX313.   The crew bonded and kept in touch.  They became family.

Then there is the dog.  Probably the same dog that nearly killed me when Victor described a mouse
running back and  forth in the dog’s mouth between lips and teeth.  “The dog looked at me, Alan,
with a questioning dog grin as if saying ‘what do I do now?’    That caused me to laugh too hard…injest
a piece of stake that was too big for my esophagus…no air..gagging…leapt up on the restaurant
table.  Whereupon Victor, lightning speed…whirled me around  and  locked his hands below my rib
cage…pulled firmly.  And saved my life.  

I hope that this  transcription of his diary can be seen as payback.

alan skeoch
dec.  2019



  Ken Sweatman,  Bomb Aimer on HX 313.


Only image known of  HX 313, The Blonde Bomber.



Victor Poppa’s hand written map  documenting his escape from POW camp at Luckenwalde.  Victor and  his friend Terry Seeley
joined 9 French nurses in a trek across Germany to the American sector.



Victor sent this  drawing to me in 1984, saying ‘this is what the Long March  was really like’



Copy from a page in Victor Poppa’ diary.  More below.









TWO DESCRIPTIONS 

 THE LONG MARCH TO LUCKENWALDE, JANUARY, 27, 1945

       (NOT BY VICTOR POPPA )







17.1.45 Orders received to evacuate the camp because of the Russian advance towards the West. Stood by all day with, kit packed.

All Red Cross parcels withdrawn from stores. Columns of retreating Germans pass the camp. Horse drawn wagons main form of transport. Bitterly cold – sub-zero temperatures. Russian P.O.W.’s are moved into our new compound. Small issue of cigarettes to each man. 

18.1.45 Rations issued – 1/7th tin of meat, 2/3rd loaf of bread, 1/8 lb margarine. 1/4 lb honey, 2 cheeses. This to last two and a half days if we march – 4 days if transport is by train. All contents of food parcels shared amongst our combine of 18. My share – tin of cocoa, packet tea, tin sausages and some margarine.

Heavy air raid in vicinity of camp. Latest rumour – Germans leaving us here after all. Confusion in the minds of many. We may move this evening. Took to my bed at 22.00 hours. 

19.1.45 03.30 hours ordered to parade at 05.00 hours. Bitterly cold – nothing but ice and snow. Moved off at 07.00 hours – some 1500 POWs, guards, guard dogs and 2 field kitchens. 

Passed through Kreutzburg mid morning – unaware there were some three and a half thousand Red Cross parcels in the vicinity. Column moving very slowly – 5 minutes rest every 2 hours. 

Arrived Kronstaat 12.30 hours. Items of kit left by the roadside at every stop., Mainly books, musical instruments and other bulky items. Some already finding this march difficult. Those in poor shape find a place in the sick wagon at the rear of the column. 

16.00 hours – reached Winterfeld. Shelter found in barns and farm outbuildings. Spent night in hay loft. Main meal – bread and honey.

20.1.45 Expected to move at 08.00 hours but guards had us out by 04.00 hours. Moved off 06.30 hours. Bitterly cold – fingers and ears quickly numbed. 10.30 hours – arrived Karlsruhr. Refugees choking roads in all directions. Some guards disappear. Whole party accommodated in brickworks. Filthy dirty. Opportunity given to light fires and brew coffee and tea. Issue from field kitchens. Distance so far today – 12Km. At 21.30 we moved off again. Orders to cross the River Oder by 08.00 hours next day as the bridge was due to be blown. Temperature about freezing point.

21.1.45 Many observed suffering from hunger and fatigue. Reached Oder at 05.15 and crossed in single file. Rumours of rail transport soon. 07.00 hours reached Rosenfeld. No accommodation available – 7 Km. to proper barracks and then transport. 10.00 hours – Walchaven – almost exhausted. We had covered 41 Km. in some 24 hours. Shelter in Stables and cow sheds. Stench forgotten as we welcomed the warmth. Issued with 40 dog biscuits and cup of coffee (acorn). My feet are sore. 48 hours rest? Abandoned most of my kit including 1 of 2 blankets.

22.1.45 Rumour that the Russians have crossed the Oder and we must march 03.00 hours. Sick – about 40 – being left in hospital at Walchaven. Reluctant to move but a few warning shots fired around the stable area prompted a mass movement outside. Civilians in neighbourhood preparing to move as well. Women in tears. Passed through Schonfeld. Next shelter a barn at 11.00 hours. Cases of frostbite. Distance marched 21 km.

23.1.45 Food issue – half packet Knackercrot wafer, 1/8 lb margarine.
Marched from 08.45 to 11.30 hours. Germans prepared to exchange bread and cigarettes for our soup ration. Next stop Hansen (Barns) – half cup of soup. Distance today 19 km.

24.1.45 A complete day for rest. Rations – 1/7th loaf, 1/10 lb marge and 2 cups of soup.

25.1.45  Marched off 08.00 hours. 13.30 hours – Wintersdorf. Barnyard accommodation. Soup issue. Distance 21 Km. 

26.1.45 Half cup of soup. More rumours of transport provision. Sick queue extremely long.

27.1.45 Ration – 2/5th loaf, 1/10 lb marge, Marched off at 11.00 hours. Still bitterly cold. Boots frozen solid. 17.00 hours Perfindorf. Distance 21 Km. Half cup of soup.

28.1.45 04.00 hours – prepare to move off by 05.30. Reached Standorf at 12.15 hours. Half cup soup and a couple of potatoes. Unbearably cold even in the loft, Germans say we stay for 2 or 3 days and then continue by train. 

29.1.45 to 30.1.45 Food issue – 7 biscuits, 1/2 lb margarine 1/16th can meat, half cup soup. We match tonight as transport is waiting. On road at 18.30 hours. Temperature – freezing. Impossible to keep water in a bottle. 20.00 hours – issued 2 packets biscuits. Weather worsening. Marching in a blizzard. Men at breaking point. Fatal to drop out now and be left to die in this. Army vehicles snow bound. Forced to help move them. A dead German by the roadside. 05.15 we reached Javer. Still marching. 07.30 – Peterneiz. Guards in bad mood. Only barns in which to sleep. Distance during worst conditions so far – 25 Km. Change in diet – half cup porridge. 

31.1.45 Ration issue – 1/5th loaf. 1 packet biscuits 1/10 lb margarine. Two and a half cups of soup, 2/3rd cup dry oats and 2 spoonsful of coffee grounds. Report to the M.0. Septic blister on foot. Moved into the barn used as a sick bay. All sick being moved next day. Polish people with whom we came in contact showed much compassion. 2 cups of porridge and onions – a real banquet! 

1.2.45 Main column moved off at 08.00. Transport for the sick at 09.00 hours – 1 steam engine pulling 2 lorries and a trailer. So many aboard, it proved very uncomfortable. An added inconvenience – the Kommandant’s dog. 14 Km. to Prossnitz where we arrived at 13.00 hours. Main group already there and usual number of small fires burning – a cheering sight. DEFINITELY NOT MOVING until transport is provided. Rations: 2/5th loaf bread, 1/7th lb margarine, half cup porridge and 2 raw potatoes. 

2.2.45 Little improvement in condition of my foot – confined to makeshift bed. Weather improved considerably. A quick thaw – mud and slush replaces ice and snow. 2 issues of soup from field kitchen. Watches and rings bartered for bread, onions and potatoes.

3.2.45 No signs of moving. Small issue of bread and margarine also soup.

4.2.45 Information to the effect we move tomorrow as transport awaits us at Goldberg. Rations – 1/3 loaf, 1/6 lb marge, 1 spoonful sugar, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup barley, 1/3 tin meat, 1/2 cup porridge oats. How long will this have to last? 

5.2.45 06.45. Column marched off in a slight drizzle. My foot is better but marching is a strain. How different the countryside looks now the snow has gone. 8 Km to the station – arrived 10.00 hours. What a relief to see the TRAIN. No first class – just cattle trucks. 54 men in each truck so we were very restricted. Squat or stand – cramped in one position. Doors closed,and bolted. How many days of this hell? Train moved off at noon. passed through Liegnitz. Tempers frayed – dejected and miserable. Conditions in truck becomes unbearable as men urinate, vomit and excrete in odd corners. Feeding ourselves on raw oats, porridge and flour.
As night fell we were shunted into a siding at Sagan (Stalag Luft III). No movement for hours. 

6.2.45 Moved from siding back to main line. Start, stop, start, stop. Carriage doors opened at intervals and we were allowed to stretch our legs. Buckets of water provided. Food and tempers getting short. 

7.2.45 My last slice of bread has gone. Train never seems to travel for more than an hour before grinding to a halt. Half cup coffee per man. Protests about shortage of food to Germans, 30 trains ahead of us waiting to pass through a large town ahead. Many men being taken to hospital truck. Medical Officer and Staff unable to cope. Now eating flour and oats – a sickening concoction. 

8.2.45 In a siding at Luckenwalde. The end of the line for us – confirmed by Camp Leader. A glorious morning – Spring is here. Rumours – 20,000 prisoners already in the camp. We are not expected. No food parcels. 11.30 Marched the 2 Km. to Stalag IIIA and searched as we passed through the gates. 400 of us to be housed in Barrack 9 North. No bunks – straw bales on the floor. Find a space and stake your claim. Food soon available – barley soup and potatoes and small ration of bread. All nationalities here in separate compounds. – Americans, Poles, French, Yugoslavs, Russians.

So begins life in my third camp but the end must be near.

 
Notes: marge=margarine: lb = pound weight = 454g 



ONE SOLDIERS TALE – BANKAU STALAG LUFT 7 DIARY


Diary of Sergeant Ben Couchman
P.O.W kept the following pencil written diary during the forced march from Bankau in Poland to Luckenwalde near Potsdam during January/February, 1945.
January 17th, 1945: Bankau Stalag Luft 7
Things went as usual until about 11:00am when we were given orders by the Germans to leave ahead of the Russian advance. Then the panic started. Food that was likely to be left was eaten. Headquarters, stores and the cook house were ransacked.
Rumours were plentiful:
“P.O.W’s unable to walk would be left behind.”
“During the march for every man who escaped or tried to escape, five would be shot.”
“We were outflanked by the Russians and there was no hope of the march succeeding.”
There was a roll call at 4:00pm and we were told that probably the march would commence early the next morning, at the latest mid day. During this day there had been a continuous line of trucks, wagons and carts carrying military and refugees, proceeding to the west along the road passing the camp.
About 6pm Germans ordered ‘prepare to move’ and issued marching rations: half loaf, margarine, honey and piece of sausage. At 10:30pm ordered to go to bed.
January 18th
Woke up shivering as my blankets had remained packed overnight. Soup 8:30am, roll call 9:30am. Formed into three parties and were told this would be our marching order. The roads were full of lorries, horse and cart and refugees from the Russian advance.
Latest rumour:
“We were marching to Stalag Luft 3 Sagan, which was 200kms away.”
At 4:00pm in the afternoon another roll call ordered and we were informed that the march was postponed for two of three days. Half an hour later we were ordered to parade ready to leave.
We waited for about an hour and then drifted off to the billets. The German guards were as confused as we were. Food was becoming a problem, but a further raid on the cookhouse produced some oats and treacle.
The air raid warning sounded while we were preparing the watery porridge, and the lights went out. After which all the ‘non walking’ P.O.W’s were shipped out of camp to travel with civilian refugees. We were told to parade at 4:00am the next morning, and so to bed.
January 19th
Lights on at 3:30am, paraded at 4:00am. Stood around in the cold snow until 7:00am when we trudged out. That day we walked 28kms, with the longest stop being half an hour. As we had proceeded the P.O.W’s had discarded in the roadside much of their possessions that were impossible to carry through the snow. Marching with an accordion was impossible for one P.O.W and it was tossed into the snow with a lot of other possessions. At night we were lodged in barns, I slept (?) sitting up.
January 20th
Awakened 4:00am and started marching about 6:00am Gerry said that Kreuzburg, that we went through yesterday, had fallen to the Russians and that they were now about 10kms behind us. Gunfire could be heard all day. The marching was difficult in the soft snow and the P.O.W’s threw more of their kit away. The guards picked a lot of it up.
Reached Karlsruhe shortly before noon and were put in a brick factory. Received cups of acorn coffee from field kitchen. At 7:00pm we were back on the road. The bridges over the river Oder were to be blown up by 8:00am the next morning and we were to be over the river before that time.
January 21st
We had walked all night through the snow and crossed the Oder river at dawn. We were told that there would be rest and accommodation at a village about 5kms ahead. We heard the explosions of the Oder bridges as we marched.
When we arrived at the village there was no shelter for us. We walked a further 8kms and found a refuge in barns. During the night some men dropped out due to the intense cold and fatigue. The only food we had during the past twenty four hours was three slices of bread, a spoonful of bully, a small bag of biscuits and a cup of coffee we had marched for about fourteen hours through the snow. To bed and the name of the village is Buckette.
January 22nd
Roused by Gerry at 1:30am who said we had to move quickly as the Russians had crossed the Oder north of us. There was an argument with Gerry before we marched another 20kms.
We sheltered once again in big barns. We received one biscuit between two and a pound of margarine to last five days. we dug in the frozen earth and found pieces of potatoes, carrots and peads and made ourselves a cup of soup, and then to our blankets. We had two blankets and slept fully dressed with every bit of clothing that we possessed. The village nearby was Jenkwiz.
January 23rd
We were called at 6:00am and were on the road at 8:00am promised better billets and a good meal when we arrived at our next destination. However, when we finally arrived it was more big cold barns, a cup of tea, a cup of soup, we found a few spuds then to bed.
January 24th
The village we were in was called Wansen and we were told that we could rest all day. Made a fire and roasted a few spuds. Supplied with 2 half cups of soup and quarter of bread from field kitchen.
January 25th

Wakened at 1:30am and on the road at 3:00am. Weather was warmer, but walking through the slush more difficult. We passed through Strehlen and later in the day we put up in a barn at Heidersdorf, having walked 30kms. Issued with a cup of soup and a fifth of a loaf. French P.O.W’s said that the Russians were nearer to Sagan than we were.
January 26th
Stayed all day, scrounged some spuds and beans made some stew. Issued with two half cups of soup from field kitchen and a seventh of a block of margarine. I went to bed.
January 27th
Awoke at 8:00am and as there was nothing doing stayed in blankets until 10:00am. Issued with half a loaf of bread to last two days. Started marching 11:30am Roads crammed with civilian refugees. Rested in barns after walking 20kms.
January 28th
Wakened at 3:30am and on the road at 5:00am. Walking easier as the snow had hardened. Walked 25kms many of the boys had frost bite in their feet. Arrived at the barns at 1:30pm It was very cold and no fires were allowed, so I went to bed.
January 29th and 30th
Stayed in blankets until soup was served. Other rations were seven biscuits, 1oz margarine and one tenth of a tin of bully beef. At 4:00pm ordered to prepare to move and started off at 5:30pm.
A blizzard was blowing and at times walking was tough as the snow was two to three feet thick. Transport littered the roads, stuck in drifts, and in the dark we had to walk single file to get round them. Reached our barns at 4:00am We had walked 21kms and Gerry tried to crowd us into two small barns. Then they opened up a small loft. It was 7:00am when I crawled into my bed. A tragedy hit when I had to go outside for two minutes and someone stole my blankets.
January 31st
Woke up about 7:30 but stayed in bed until about 11:00am. Roasted a few spuds I had scrounged from a Polish girl, and made a brew of tea. Gerry made us parade while he counted us, after which we marched to Goldberg where we would get transport ration from the field kitchen: half a cup of rolled oats, a little coffee, tenth of a block of margarine, and a small piece of bread. The weather was much colder, I cooked my oats and went to bed.
February 1st
Awakened at 6:00am on the road by 8:00am. The roads were clearer of refugees. It had rained during the night, melted the snow, and there were puddles everywhere. We stopped at some barns about 8kms from Goldberg. There was little room in the barn. I slept at a cowshed further down the road, after fencing off the cows and spreading straw over the dried cowdung. Gerry rations two fifths of a loaf, half ounce of margarine and half a cup of oats.
February 2nd
Awakened by chaps getting water. Cooked more oats and a couple of spuds. Cows escaped and so we turned them outside.
February 3rd
Woke up fairly late, finished off my oats and drew half a cup of barley from field kitchen. Gerry issued rations half a loaf and a quarter of a pound of margarine to last three days. Let the cows out just after dark.
February 4th
Had to get up at 8:00am to let the cows back in. Ate some bread and a cup of soup. Went to bed at 11:00pm.
February 5th
Cows broke loose at 2:00am and trampled all over our beds. We managed to get them out, but we were awakened at 4:00am and we were on the road at 6:00am. Arrived at Goldbery about 9:00am and were loaded into railway box cars which were thirty feet long and eight feet wide, thirty six men to a truck. There was not enough room for all to even sit down so we took it in turns. Travelled about 100kms and stayed the night in a siding.
February 6th
Train moved off at 6:30am and stopped about every fifteen minutes. Travelled about 100kms finished off my food.
February 7th
Hardly slept. Train moved about 5kms during the whole day. Issued with one cup of acorn coffee. Train moved about 25kms during the night.
February 8th
Everyone awake very weak and shaky. About 10:00am the train stopped and we got out. Walked very slowly about 1.5kms to the camp at Luckenwalde. We were given one cigarette each. After which we had a hot shower and a cup of soup and spuds. It was our first food for nearly three days.
Bankau to Winterfield = 30km
Winterfield to Karlsruhe = 20km
Karlsruhe to Pugwitz = 41km
Pugwitz to Grosser Jewitz = 20km
Grosser Jewitz to Wansen = 25km
Wansen to Heidersdorf = 30km
Heidersdorf to Plaffendorf = 20km
Paffendorf to Peterswitz = 21km
Peterswitz to Praunitz = 12km
Praunitz to Goldberg = 8km
Total marched = 227km

















            GEORGE ‘HANK”  FREEMAN AND GIRLFRIEND


GEORGE FREEMAN WHEN HE ENLISTED


  THIS WAS ONCE THE AIRFIELD AS SKIPTON ON SWALE, YORKSHIRE, WHERE HX 313 AND OTHER AIRCRAFT AND CREWS
OF RCAF SQUADRON 427 WAS BASED  IN 1944.



COMEMORATIVE PLAQUE IN THE VILLAGE SQUARE, SKIPTON ON SWALE, YORKSHIRE. DEDICATED 1984



WHEN MARJORIE AND I VISITED SKIPTON ON SWALE IN 1988 (?) WE FOUND SOME SURVIVING BUILDINGS BUT WE WERE
QUITE SHOCKED TO SEE THIS HUGE FIRE.    RUBBISH WAS BEING INCINERATED BUT IT SURE LOOKED LIKE
THE CRASH OF A HALIFAX BOMBER RETURNING FROM AN OPERATION .











EPISODE 168 PART 3 VICTOR POPPA STORY 1943-1945

EPISODE 168    PART 3  VICTOR POPPA STORY  1943-1945


Alan skeoch
november 2020


Begin forwarded message:


From: SKEOCH <alan.skeoch@rogers.com>
Subject: PART 3: THE VICTOR POPPA STORY
Date: November 7, 2019 at 4:56:26 PM EST







PART 3: THE VICTOR POPPA STORY

Above is a post card Victor sent me shortly before he sent his diary 

manuscript written in 1984-1985 based on the detailed  diary he kept

during World War Two.







When Victor sent me this story in 1984 I was still teaching history at Parkdale Collegiae

Institue, a Toronto downtown core high school.   Parkdale was  and remains a gritty
place where many students have faced poverty and social dislocation..  Tough kids.
Realistic kids.  Nice  Kids.  The  kind you would want as a son or daughter.
Even so, I did not think they could handle the Victor Poppa story without 
some laundering.  And  laundering the historical record  is a very slippery slope.
So I never told the full story.  I told the story of the day HX 313 was shot down
but I did  not put that in its full context.  I used the voice of Vera Lynn whose
wartime singing was used to boost morale.  White Ciffs of Dover, I’ll Be Seeing

You and other songs.



I’ll be seeing you
In every lovely summer’s day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way
I’ll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you

Note:  The pop music of  World  War II has endured…


Today I think I would not be  so afraid  of using  the “F” word.  Everyone else
is using it.  Netflix uses it so often in its films that the word has no shock value
any more.   I might explain diplomatically that ‘Bless ‘Em All’ is fake news.
The  real song makes a lot more sense.

And, once free of inhibitions, I could tell the Victor Poppa story in a
real  gritty, tragic, compassionate and  humorous way.
Stick with me if you can.  If you can’t just press delete.  Do not
bother to phone me.   I am on a roll.


BLESS ‘EM ALL…THE LONG AND THE SHORT AND THE TALL

alan skeoch
Nov. 2019
beginning Part 3
The Victor Poppa Story

“Bless ‘em All” is the laundered version of a very popular World War 2 song.
The song’s origin is a bit misty.  Maybe written in 1917 during that horrific
war.  But more likely written later.  Certainly popular in World War 2 and
made so by  George Formby and  Vera Lynn.  The laundered lyrics do
not make much sense.   Ordinary  NCO’s were very unlikely to Bless their
sergeants and  officers, especially if they ‘crawled off to their billets’
when the real fighting began…i.e. when to bombers rolled along
the taxiways…

Now take  the lyrics and substitute one word.  Suddenly the song
makes sense.  What is that word? The word is ‘Fuck’. Go ahead
sing it both ways and  you will see  what I mean.  And I bet $10 you
will be humming and singing the unlaundered tune all day.

Bless ’em all,
Bless ’em all.
The long and the short and the tall,
Bless all those Sergeants and WO1‘s,
Bless all those Corporals and their blinkin’/bleedin’ sons,
Cos’ we’re saying goodbye to ’em all.
And back to their Billets they crawl,
You’ll get no promotion this side of the ocean,
So cheer up my lads bless ’em all

NOW I just wonder if the RCAF flight crews
sand this song while cursing Bomber Harris?
I like to think they did.


SOME of the crew of HX 313.   Ken Sweatman, Bob Muir (?), Eric Mallet, Victor Poppa.  And The Blonde Bomber…HX 313, 424 squadron, RCAF, 1944
Victor looks like so many of the kids I taught in high school which is a reminder that the airmen of  World War Two were just recent high school graduates .





The aircrew of HX 313.  Hank Freeman (George) on far left, and Victor Poppa
on the far right.


THE VICTOR  POPPA STORY, PART 3

(Feb. 21 to May 27, 1944)

“February 21, 1944:  Hank and  I did an inspection of “P” Peter then went to Stores to trade in my old bots for a pair of shoes

and changed my damaged electrical slipper for a new  one.  Hank and I then gave ourselves the afternoon off.  We had a bath.
Hank, Ken, Wilf, Eric and I headed for town and drank it up. The crew now seems closer together for we are now fully
‘blooded’ after our Leipzig experience.   Leipzig was Hand’s first mission as it was for Maurice, our engineer and our
spare Navigator, Ozzie.  Ken told me later that Ozzie sharpened his  skills and we made our way accurately to target 
points marked out by a Pathfinder Squadron.”

“February 22, 1944:  Hank and I reported to Flights  and  were assigned another inspection of “P” Peter.   I skipped ou
Flights and went to our billet to light our small stove.  The coke they gave us was hard  to light so  I pulled the flare
portion out of a Very Pistol Cartridge, slipped the explosive into the bottom of the heater, lit it and that got the coke
going in no time at all.  Must tell the crew about that trick.  Later i went up to the mess and  saw  Joan.

“Eric was always volunteering for other things than flying.  One of  our gunners  had a misfortune and was killed. Terrible
One of our aircraft was following the gunners’ aircraft and could not stop.  His propeller chopped  up the gunner of
the lead  plane. Eric tried to enlist me  as a pall bearer.  I refused with a strong ‘Oh, No!’  Eric  had to find someone 
else.  Think for a moment about that accident.  Grim. “

“Here is another instance about Eric and  his volunteering.  One night we were to go  on a mission. On A long trip
there was always the problem  of urinating.  I kept a can  just outside of my turret in the fuselage.  when the urge came
upon me I just used that can and when the urine froze I threw the ice lump out my rear window which  I kept open
for better visibility.  Then Eric got the bright idea to use me as a urine volunteer.  He was given a device which 
looked like an overlarge condom.  I  was supposed to put it around my penis which was  in turn tied  around
my waist to  prevent it from falling off.  I could urinate to my hearts content just so long as the thing  did  not overfill.
I declined this   magnificent gift saying ‘why don’t you wear it yourself?’  So he  did…for a while.  He disappeared
for a few minutes  while we were going for a briefing and I said, ‘Where did  you go?”  He said the device kept rubbing
on his penis  and as a  result he had  an erection that would  not go down.  We had a good laugh over that one.

“February 23,  1944: Hank and I reported to Flights and did another inspection of “P” Peter.  We find we are too
late to go to Leeming to get our pay.  The  rest of the crew went to Harrogate except Hank who had a date
with Kay.  I stayed in the barracks.

“February 24, 1944:  Hank and I went to Leeming for our pay and hitch hiked a ride to Thirsk and then to Leeds.
Had a few  drinks  then caught train to London.  We  arrived in our usual beat condition, straightened  
ourselves  out at Queens Garden  YMCA.

“February 25, 1944: Hank and I made  a snap visit to the Beaver Club and I was surprised to run into Dick Schott
We trained together in Canada. Dick had been posted to an  English squadron flying Lancasters.  (Later Dick
was shot down and turned up in Stalag Luft VII with me.)  Hank and  I went to London’s Latin Quarter, boozed  
it up and back to YMCA before we fell down.

Note:  Readers who have read Parts 1 and 2 might assume Victor’s consumption of beer so often would
make him an alcoholic  if he survived the war.  When I met him in 1984 he did not drink at all…gave it
up.  Young men in their twenties often drink a lot of beer which does not mean that alcohol  consumption
is a lifetime phenomenon.   Hank and  Victor became very good friends.  Victor survived the war.  George
Hank  Freeman  did  not.   When  Victor was told of Hank’s death in HX 323, he cried.  And  the, 40 years
later , I sent a  letter to Victor, he  also cried.

“February 26, 1944: Hank and I left London for Caterham to visit my brother Max.  We took Max and his
friends out boozing and then dancing. What a wild night.  Met a girl and that’s rhe way she stayed.

“February 27, 1944: Got up late, ate at the snack bar and went to corny movie after which revisited the Valley
Hotel for a few beers then back to sleep on the floor at Max’s billet.   Hardwood floor and two blankets.

“February 28, 1944: I ran into a fellow I knew casually, Joe M…forget his last name.  He recognized me
first.  We  went out dancing again and were thrown out of the dance hall.

“February 29, 1944: Hank and I left for London after saying goodbye to Max and his  pals.  Then on to Leeds,
ate  at the  YMCA and went girl hunting.  We met a couple of nice prospects.  Pub crawling as  usual.
The only place for love making was in the cemetery.  My girl would only venture in a  few yards but Hank’s
girl was willing to go further.  The girls  I was with was too nervous  about her surroundings and no matter
what tactics  I used my efforts  were to no avail.  A  considerable amount of time elapsed and  my girl
and I  were getting cold so she said she was staying at Hank’s girls house. “Let’s walk there and
wait for them.”  It was a  long wait.  About 3.30 a.m. they had still not arrived.   So I left and told  my
girl to tell Hank I  would  meet him at the railway staton.   Some time later Hank came storming into
the station.  Raging mad.  “Hold your breath and then tell me what happened.” It seems Hank and  his
girl were having a  great time and  thought they were in Heaven.  On one occasion they were  making
out with her sitting on a tombstone and  the girl had her legs  off the ground and around Hank’s waist.
At the crucial moment the  Tombstone ‘shifted’  which scared the daylights out of them.  They thought
the ground  was about to open up and swallow them in a grave.  Back at the girls’ house  things got
worse.  My girl  got tired of waiting outside and went into the house and was met by the father. “Where is
my daughter?  He got really angry and got the local constable.  Both looking for the daughter
in the cemetery.   Hank spotted the constable and  the girl’s father first.  Ducking from tombstone to
tombstone they managed to work their way out of the cemetery and  made a  run for it.  This  episode
brings  a smile to my face every time I think about it.  Life does have its’ beautiful moments.

Note:  Sounds hard to believe?  But it fits.   Victor’s diary has so  many similar stories  with
names, dates,  place included.    Lucky George Freemans mother, my  aunt Kitty, has died long
ago.  She might not approve of Hank’s womanizing.  On the other hand ??  I was surprised to

learn that Hank was never mentioned at the Freeman home after his death.  His sisters children,

Doug and Christopher , did not even know George existed until they were adults. The hurt was
that deep.  “I remember  asking why Grandma was crying one day snd  Mom  said, ‘This would
have  been  George’s birthday.”  I said, “Who was George?” “My brother, killed in the war.”


“March 1, 1944:  Hank and I arrived  back at Skipton on the 5.18 out of Leeds.  Had  baths,
opened letters and parcels.  Nice to sleep  between clesn linen sheets.

:March 2,  1944:  Not much doing.  Practiced shooting with my .38 Smith and  Wesson.
Ammot for the .38 is hard to come by.

March 3, 1944:  Reported to flights and were assigned “Q” Quance to inspect.  Hank and  I were
asked if we wanted to apply  for a commission.  We  said ‘sure’ and got busy  filling in the forms
and presented  same.   We felt we could do what we  do and still be gentlemen…just need to refine
the rough edges a  bit.  We are going on a night Bullseye, my 5th, from Base to Redding, London,
Dagenham, Sait Abbots Head, Glasgow,  Catterick, Manchester, Birmingham and  back to base.  
This trip  took 6 hours and15 minutes

NOTE:  Interesting comment “We could do what we do and still be gentlemen.”  The great charm
of  Victor’s diary to me is its’ lack of pretence.  No phoniness.  No snobbery.  Just great joy stripped
of all caution.  Underneath, however, is constant fear.

March, 4, 1944:  We slept till noon then reported to Flights.  Did  our inspections  of “P” Peter.  Took
rest of the afternoon off.  Went back to our billet and lit the stove with a cartridge from a  Very Pistol
(a flare gun) .  Not too worry as I took all the precautions.  Then we had toast and sausages and
tea.  We talked  for a while.  Ken is lost somewhere.

March 5, 1944:  Reported to Flights and were sent to inspect “H” Harry. We were supposed to do
some fighter affiliation but the aircraft was declared  unserviceable.  Back to our billet, lit the stove
with the help of the flare gun. Had toast then went to a  movie.

March 6, 1944:  Reported  to Flights. Operations are in for tonight.  We are to bomb the marshalling
yards in France.  Seems to be an easy target but we are alert.  The  target is the town of  Trappes
which is my 1th mission.   There will be 346 aircraft on the raid, all of them four engined  heavy bombers.
Our gross load is to be 11,500 pounds…8 x 1,000 pound bombs, 7 x 500 pound bombs, 
The trip went smoothly as all of  our squadron made it back safely. Time was 5 hours and 50 minutes.
Happy debriefing.

March 7, 1944: Awoke around  noon hour, had lunch, cleaned  billet, then back to the mess for beer
I  wrote Mary a letter , read a bit and fell asleep.

March  8, 1944:  Hank and I  went to Flights  then gave ourselves the  day off at our favourite pub.

March 9, 1944: Hank and I inspected “Y” York.   Operations were supposed to be on but were 
cancelled.   Wilf went to town with his sailor-boy brother in law.  Wilf was full of alcohol before they
left the base.  

March 10, 1944:  Reported to Flights…we are ‘on’ for tonight…then a few  hours later it
was called of,  Flew out to the North Sea where a smoke float was thrown out and Hank and I
shot the float from a broadside position.  We used 2,000  rounds apiece.  Very low  flying, close
to the water.   Flying time 2 hours

March11, 1944:  We reported to Flights and were assigned “P” Peter to do complete job checking
from guns to turrets.  Then we were of to the Sam Hutton pub for beer.  Had some trouble
walking home.

March 12, 1944:  Same…assigned “P” Peter to check after which we did some “homing on our
radio beam”  and some 3 and 2 motored flying.  Later Hank  and  I did some Skeet shooting and
I got 14 out of 20.  

Today a new Mark VI Halifax landed,  a new  replacement.

March  13, 1944: Usual routine and  checked “P” Peter again. The special equipment and
bombsight were declared unserviceable.  Then  some 3 motored flying.

Maurice pissed me off and  just as I was going to settle things with my fists Bob intervened
and pushed me aside.  Maurice will never fit in as part of our crew.   Missions were on for 
tonight but we were not on the Battle Orders.

March 14, 1944:  Reported  to Flights.  Another air test which took 5 minutes doing evasive 
action practice.  Special equipment checks out.  Then  sent out on a Command  Bullseye, my
6th.  Took off at 2015 hours..base to Cambridge, Norwich, Lincoln, Newcastle,  Leeds,Hull, Peterborough
and  Base.  We were coned by searchlights once for 4 minutes.   The whole exercise makes
me feel good.  Took 4 hours and 10 minutes.

March15, 1944:  Operations on for tonight.  Target is  Stuttgart,  my 11t mission.  We  are sending
788 aircraft all 4 motored heavies.   Bad  night for we lost 40 aircraft and 280 crewmen…some killed,
some  captured snd  some wounded.   Our bomb was 4,000 pounds of  incendiaries
plus 2 x 250 lb bombs.  At briefing  we  are given our winds, altitudes, turning point which  is
redding, North of London.   The  wall map points out all the flak positions and the concentration
of their 88 mm. anti-aircraft gun.   Also what potential  night fighters we may  meet.   

On the raid we did not have too much of a problem, plenty of flak though.  We fly south
and make our turn over the Swiss Alps just short of the border.  The firing of  flak  guns
defines the border for us. There is not much distance between us  and the snow capped mountains.
 Stuttgart suburbs the worst flak.  We are getting banged about. 
Ken is now in position getting ready to drop the bombs.  Hank yells as another aircraft above
us is dropping his bombs.  Eric quickly moves “P”Peter  as bombs pass on our side.  The
whole city of Stutgart is illuminated by our fires and their searchlights.  I can  see bombs
exploding and  new fires  starting.   Down below Hitler’s people are getting their premature
view of  Hell.  Shells are bursting close and we are taking some hits from Flak shrapnel.
Hank and I are keeping both eyes open for night fighters.   This is some night.  Ken  has
dropped  his bombs. Eric is  now flying straight and even until our photo flashes go of and
our camera catches our bombs bursting.  Then Eric is given his new course and  we are on
way home but everyone is alert because this mission is far from over.  We do not make it
home and have to land at a Typhoon fighter base on the south coast of England.  We pick
our location to land using the ‘Nemo’ emergency call and the corresponding  ‘Darky’
response.   As we  circle  the field the outer lights are in water.   Is this a dummy airfield?
“Darky” responds by  flashing lights on  and  off.  We spot the runway lights and make your
final run, touch down and park “P” Peter at a dispersal.  since this is a fighter base the dispersal
points are not too large.  We got what rest we could and in daylight found our hydraulics were
unserviceable.   We had a  hole in our flap and the bomb bay doors also had holes. The flaps
for landing are set at 90 degrees but we could  not raise the flaps hydraulically for takeoff.  Rather
than hang around for repairs we elected to push the flaps up manually into takeoff  position, leave
the landing gear down and fly to base at Skipton.   This  worked out fine.  Sttuttgart took 8 hours  and 40 minutes.


Each bombing raid  was horrific for German civilians as seen above
…the  picture may have been taken after the HAmberg raids  but
could apply to other raids. 


Note:  There were 53 raids on Stuttgart because of the heavy industrial plants. Only partly  successful
because the  city had deep valleys and heavy defences.  Allies lost 300 aircraft and 2,400 crewmen.
Death toll on ground  was 4,950 people.  Death toll lighter than the Hamburg raids that killed
35,000 to 45,000 people. The bombing created 15 million cubic metres of  rubble
and damaged or destroyed 39,125 buildings.  

March 17, 1944:  Hank and I did  a little Skeet shooting.  I got 9 out of 10.

March 18, 1944:  Operation are on.  Target is Frankfurt on the Main River.  This will be
my 12th mission. At briefing we were told what to expect as we were given our weather, altitude ,
route as well as the flak positions.  This time we are carrying 4,600 pounds of explosives.
There will be 719 planes, all heavies.   We lost 22 aircraft and 154 men.   We took off at 1850 hours,
Over the English Chnnell.    Our airspeed indicator quit working as did our compass.
Bob does  not want to continue’   We still have  our magnetic compass and  Eric  can get Quite close
to the air speed required.  Bob rofuses to navigate and  the rest of the crew are pissed off at him.
So Eric makes a turn to return to base. A new decision needs to be  made.  Should we  dump our  bombs….
a danger below as some troops are practising for the coming invasion of Europe in.  We did not know this
but we knew there were our ships at sea.  Or should we return to base with our bombs  which is always a danger
especially when we had  a load of fuel.  We decided to fly around  and burn up fuel and then land.  Nobody is
happy about this situation for it means we will face another mission to make up for the aborted mission
at the end of our 29 missions.

March  19, 1944:  We slept until noon and then reported to Flights.  I played checkers with Hank and Rennie…lost.
We  are giving the job of trying out “M” Mother for an acceptance test.  Over the North Sea with the airplane…seemed 
fine .  Hank and I fired off 1,000 rounds apiece at the water.  silly.  Landed at 1800 hours.

March  20, 1944:  Hank  and I do our usual inspection of “P” Peter but did not finish due to rain.   Mission is on for
tonight laying mines north of Kiel in the Baltic Sea.   but mission was cancelled.   It is much easier on the nerves
to go on a mission rather than  plan for a mission that is then cancelled.  The led down is terrible.

March 21,1944:  We were supposed to be on a mission tonight, again mine laying in the Baltic Sea. And again
it is cancelled.  The excuse this time is that Eric and Ken are on another course.  Eric is going on an Air Sea Rescue 
course and Ken is on a course on the Mark 14 bomb sight.  I ent over to see Mary at Dishforth for some Tender
Loving Care.

March 22, 1944:  We flew twice today ferrying aircraft  to Croft and returned with another newer Halifax Mark III.
Only firing today was using the flare pistol cartridge to light our stove.

March  23, 1944:  Hank and I got up early to go to Leeming to get some overdue pay…my share was 11 pounds 
and four shillings then went over to the mess and had some gin and bitters along with beer.   Hank and  I took
Kay snd  Betty.  Betty and I have never really got along well together.    Hank decided to end his relationship with
Kay after all this time.  















March 24, 1944:  Hank and I are going on leave today.  We decided not to visit any distant city so set our sights
on York.  Caught train  from Harrogate to York and signed  in at the YMCA.  Then off we went to Betty’s Bar, an
RCAF hanout.  We got talking to P/o Fenton who asked  us to say  hello to Eric as he knew him from some other
place.  The place  was full and drinking was in full swing.  Later we ate at Jack’s cafe.

March 25, 1944:  Hank and I decided to see if we could survive a leave without getting involved with girls.
We planned  to spend a  quiet evening drinking at Betty’s Bar but a couple of girls made their way  to our table
and we chatted  a while then palmed  the girls off to a couple of guys we knew who  were glad to hit ‘pay dirt’
with no effort on their part.  We went back to the YMCA and bed.

March 26, 1944: A  nice spring Sunday with the sun shining and  all the good  stuff.  Hank  and I had 3 beers 
each then visiting places of interest.   Doing all the things a tourist would do.Hank and I were really enjoying our walk
 when out of the  blue this girl runs across the street and skids to a stop in front of us saying, note “I’m ‘Legs’ of
the Robin  Hood (pub) and I’ve fucked every jerk  in Sixth Group Bomber Command”  This presentation came on so
strong that we took a couple of steps back.  This appears to be a threat to this new doll.  So we said, “Well
we are the flying part of Six group and  have never heard  of you”  Meanwhile  the three of us are blocking
the sidewalk.   Hank and I are smoking with our hands  in our pockets, jackets unbuttoned, caps tucked  into
our shoulder straps, when this British Army type officer of some sort of high rank is forced to walk around  us
to get by.  Legs was using some great language and we were given  a real frosty look but we felt it was
best to say nothing.  The Robin Hood was a notorious pub in Leeds but was off limits because of  rampant
V.D.

Legs language was so raw that we  sought to escape to a local park where no one  was near. We  tried
all sorts of things to get rid of her but she just would not leave.  Hank and I were getting hungry and
since we couldn’t get rid of this Gem, we asked her to go with us.  We were getting her to the point
where  her choice of words was almost acceptable. We ordered our meal and then I asked her a
fairly simple  question. “How did  you get the name Legs?”  She promptly pulled up her skirt, way up
past her hips.   You should have seen the looks we  got from the patrons. She  really did have nice legs
however she  was not wearing underwear.   Our respectable leave was being compromised.  We finally maneuvered
Legs to he railway station and we thought that was the end fit all.   Legs was more tenacious than we thought.
We headed back to the YMCA then headed for Betty’s Bar.  In we go…  most of the action is in
the basement.  I asked  Hank to find  a table while I went to the washroom.  Returning I see Hank over
in a corner making frantic gestures.  I hurried over and  Hank  Said,  “Legs is here!” Good grief, our
darling is  right in the middle of the room where she can  Zero in on a victim..  Our beer came and
we kept as low a profile as possible.   Legs spots us and  gives us a wave, heads our way until some
unknowing type introduced himself to Legs and our moment of terror was over.

Well Legs and her new  victim moved to  a booth.  we now felt at ease.  Nor too long later two lovelies walked in 
and sat at the table Legs had vacated.  We  both happened to glance in their direction when one picked up
a cigarette and  asked for a light.  Hank started to rise  and I said, “Hank if you get up and giv her a light, our
respectable leave is as  good as  over.” Hank  said, “No don’t worry, i will just give her a light.”  Hank does this
and comes back saying they want us to join them.  “Ok, just you wait and see,” and after a few drinks  in Betty’s
Bar we all leave for another bar.  Here the girls decide to chug a lug.  Imagine that!  This raises  our eyebrows
so, what the Hell.  Our morals took a giant step backwards.  We hunted around and found a  small old hotel
where the proprietor took us  to a bedroom on the 3rd  floor that only had one 3/4 bd.   The four of us looked
at the bed with an unsaid  question.  Then the proprietor tuned into our wave length and took us to 
another room on the first floor.  The room had two full size beds and a bathroom.  But there was someone
sleeping in one of the beds.  It seems Hank and I were expected to sleep in the empty bed.  No way,  we
had other plans.  After the landlord left, Hank snd  I sped  upstairs to see Gwyn snd Ilene.  Upon entering the
room Gwyn was standing near nude with her shoes, stalkings  snd garter belt.  What a  sight.  Ilene  was
almost in the same state.  I picked  up Gwyn, clothes and  all, and  said ‘’Let’s Go!”  We  made  our way to
the first floor room, snapped on the light and awoke the guy in the other bed.  He was  startled and  did
a double take.   “Don’t interfere, she’s all mine.”  Just then the door opened and  a new guy comes in.  He asked  
what were we doing.  I nodded  towards the empty bed whereupon he said that bed was his.
What a  mess.  I was carrying her clothes  and  Gwyn was still nearly nude.  Off we go back upstairs
where Hank is in bed  with Ilene.  Without saying much Gwyn crawls over those two against the wall  and
get lodged between the two girl.  Nice spot.  We all have our fun and games  and fall asleep.  

Around 5 a.m. the proprietor makes his rounds.  He  has figured things out.  Runs upstairs to our 3rd floor
room, shakes Hank awake.   Hank forgets  where he is.  Sleepy. He gives the proprietor a good  back hand.
Hank becomes fully awake then shakes me  awake. We threaten him a  bit, “you gave us this room
with only one small bed, what do you expect?”  His response “I’m going to get the Specials (MP’s?) and
a constable.  We all decide to get dressed  and  leave fast.  Walked the girls to the railway station. It
was early, maybe 6 a.m. and the locals were going to work.  They gave us  some frosty looks. These
people were not dumb. The girls got the train to Leeds.  Hank and I waited for the train to Harrogate where
we took in a show, lapped up some beer and  headed back to Base.

We discussed the matter and decided to give the respectable leave idea another try next time.
This one sure turned  out to be a honey.

NOTE:  I don’t know whether to include this story in the Victor Poppa story or not.  Sounds  far 
fetched  but Victor uses such precise terms that I am not sure.   Remember Victor rewrote 
the story forty years after the fact.  Did  he improve the story?  I don’t think so.  It fits the
pattern and even provides detail that might fit other romantic  episodes mentioned in short
form earlier.  My experience is limited but I spent ten years working with men in mining 
exploration.  Their stories and  actions were similar.  Some lurid  descriptions and  some  real
events. In the 1960’s  I stayed clear of the sexual opportunities as Ken Sweatman  did in 1944 but other
events involving beer were spot on.  One event in Dawson City.  We  awoke in a dumpy room
where I was sleeping in the bathtub and other guys in the bed.  One guy,locked  out, got into the room
by crawling over the transom above the door.  There were 4 or 5 of us.  We paid for one person rental.
We laughed a lot especially at the two people copulating drunkenly on a barroom floor where
the bartender just rolled them out the door like one gigantic soccer ball.  Believable?
You will say the story is a fabrication but it is a lasting memory of mine.  Victor was
likely saying the truth.  Betty’s Bar was real and can be found described as a wartime
 RCAF Hangout
 on the internet.

March  28 and 29, 1944:  Nothing to report

March 30, 1944:  Ken has been asked  to fly as  a  ‘spare body’ with another crew.  I sure
hope nothing happens to him as  he is  one nice person.

March 31, 1944:  Did  inspection of “P” Peter then drank beer in Mess with my brother Max and Hank.
Max is on leave. We all went to the Sam Hutton for another wild  night.’

April 1, 1944: We went to Flights and Max came along.  The crew like him.  

April 2,  1944:  Hank and I went to Flight…Max slept in until noon. A bunch of 424 Squadron guys took us
along to Leeming where we all had  a  party.  Hank  and  Max got rather  drunk.  I stayed sober because 
my stomach  is  in terrible shape.

April 3, 1944: Hank and I inspected  “P” Peter again.  Max must head  back  to his army units out of 
London…It was good seeing him again.





Note: Skipton Base.   Victor and his crew were assigned  one  of the quonset hut barracks
that are clustered top left.

April 4, 5, 6: 1944:  Rained heavily  for first two days.  Today, 6th of April, we checked  out the guns
on  “R” Romeo.   Later. I borrowed a bicycle and pedalled to Thirst.  

April  7, 1944:  Today  we were supposed to go on a mission to Paris and  Lille but it was cancelled.
We  stayed  around doing nothing.

April 8, 1944: Hank and I harmonized the guns  on “Q” Quebec and “P” Peter. Later Hank, Eric, and Maurice
weht to our local  pub to get boozed up.  Ken, Wilf, and  Bob have gone to Harrogate  to do the same thing.
I decided  to write letters and then go to bed.

April 9, 1944:  Mission #13, Operations  on for tonight.  We are to use “M”Mike tonight.  Hank and I  got busy
with our end  of the airplane then had  dinner before going to the Briefing Room.  Our target will be ‘Villeneuve
St Georges’ near Paris which is a railway yard.  We  are given our route in and out at an  altitude of 6,000 
feet.  We should expect lots of  flak at that altitude we are told.  Our bomb load  is 10,000 lbs of high
explosives.  The flight was not too bad but we took our share of Flak. On takeoff from Skipton, however,
we either flew into some other aircraft’s propeller washer were caught in a wind  shear.  This was not a
healthy situation.  One wing dropped abruptly when we were only 75 feet off the ground. Heavy load
aboard made the situation very serious.  We were just above stall speed.   Eric had enough experience to 
react fast .  Eric hit on top rudder speeding up our low right wing thus creating more lift.  This saved  us.
Anyone with less experience  may not have known what to do  in time.




Note:  In April 1944, Bomber Command concentrated its strikes on German
railway marshalling yards.   This must have been noticed by  German high
command who were expecting an invasion which came on June  6, 1944.
A massive deception was put in place in England. Where were  the invasion forces
going to land?  Picture shows just how concentrated bombing could be.

April 10, 1944:  We are now on leave again. It seems everyone is going off in different directions.  But we
all went to Leeming to pick  up our pay then to Thursk to a tour train.  I’m off to see my brother Max south 
of London.  Then YMCA.

April 11, 1944:  Staying in London for four days.  Went to visit Frank  Hughes but no one home so I went
to the movies and an entertainment centre.  Visited a few pubs.  Bed.

April 12, 1944: Rode  around London on the bus sightseeing then another movie and bar hopping.

April 13, 1944:  Caught the train to Caterham and found out from people who were not supposed to talk
that Max was now in Brighton, booked into the Emery Hotel.

April 14, 15, 16, 1944:  I had no trouble finding Max.  When he was  off duty we went pub crawling then dancing.
Which was what we did for all three  days.  When my funds were  used up I took the train back  to Skipton.
The train journey could have been  better.

April 17, 1944:  I spent most of the day answering letters.

April 18, 1944: Operations on for tonight.  Hank and I did our inspection of “P” Peter.  This  will be my
14rh mission.  Target is another railway marshalling yard called ‘Noisy le Sec’.  Near Paris. When we
work over these marshalling yards we come close to the ground.  So close that the bomb explosions 
make it seem someone is  hammering under the fuseage with a  telephone pole.  There will be 170 heavy bombers this  mission. 
We lost 4 of them on the mission which means  another 28 aircrew will not make it home.  Our bomb load
is 10,000 lbs of high explosives.  This time the route is right over Paris at 12,000 feet.  The flak is heavy
The smoke from the shells permeates our oxygen masks.  The flashes and smoke pass by our bomber
really fast and close together.  The explosions toss our aircraft all over the place but we stay on course.
Ken gets into position for bombing.  Our Mark 14 Bombsight compensates for our irregular flying due to 
the anti-aircraft  shells exploding.   Ken waits for the right moment and  then drops our load.  Then we must
fly straight and level as usual so our camera can take a picture of the impact locations.  We passed over
two French towns where our air forces were working over marshalling yards. 




Limburg railway marshalling yard after a bombing in Dec. 1945

As we passed  over London on our return to Skipton we noticed  that the Luftwaffe was giving
London a pasting.   The anti-aircrsaft fire from London’s anti-iraft defences was  mind boggling.  I could
not imagine any German bomber surviving.   We flew at 13,000 feet which is quite low.  I am tired
and longing for a cigarette.  I cup the cigarette in my oxygen mask. , my cigarette flamed and  burned 
right down to my lips.  I call Maurice on the intercom and
tell him to cut off the oxygen.  He asks why?   “Never mind why, just do it!”  He cuts he oxygen and
I light another cigarette.  This was the first and last time I ever smoked on an aircraft.  We land…flying
time for this mission is  6 hours and 15 minutes. At briefing our camera  confirms that our bombs
were all cocnetrsted on the target..

Note:  German night fighters could  sometimes see the Halifax tail gunners lighting cigarettes
which gave the Germans a clear target in the dark sky.  Cigarette smoking was forbidden for this
reason.  Victor lit his cigarette contrary to orders but he was then over England,  heading home.

April 19, 1944:  Slept late today then picked  up our mail.  Raining hard so we slacked  off.
Lit our stove with the pistol cartridge as usual.  The stove reduces the dampness somewhat.

April 20, 1944:  We  report to Flights and find  out we will be going on a Mission tonight.
We are assigned “U” Uniform which Hank and  I inspect.   I have been  issued a .38 Smith and Wesson
pistol which  I keep in my boot with a flashlight in the other  boot.  Easy to get them if needed.
Take off time is 2105 hours.

Through the day  each of us keep our feelings to ourselves.  This is  mission 15 for me.  Off we 
go to briefing where the target is on a wall map including the route in and  out using
a red ribbon indicating route changes.  Again we will use Redding as the collection and 
turning point.  We will be guided to The target  by Pathfinders leading the attack.
Our target tonight is  “Lens”, another marshalling yard.  There is no doubt
in our minds that we are getting close to D-day.  158 bombers are being sent.  We have
11,000 lbs of high explosives.  Ken has  done well on this one as our camera  reveals.
On  target.  

Skpton on Swale is one  of 3 airfields close to each other in Yorkshire.  Each airfield contains 
two squadrons…about 100 aircraft. There are many near misses when bombers arrive
back at Skipton as bombers take short cuts to get back  to base as fast as  possible.
We hear a lot of anger about these pilots who make Skipton air traffic very dangerous.
There are aircraft who want to get down fast for good reasons…short of fuel, damaged
engines,  serious battle damage, injured crew.  Because of  these emergency landings
we spend several minutes doing circuits around Skipton.   Later a solution is found
…Squadrons at each airfield will alternate  landings on arriving at the airbase  early.

April 21, 1944:  We slept until noon. Operations are on for tonight but not for us. 
Hank, Ken, Bob and  I do not feel  too well so it is just as well we are to
on missions today.

April 22,1944:  Misson # 16 for  me. Hank and I do our inspection of our guns
on “P” Peter then write a few letters at our billet.  Our mission today will be a real ‘gut’
grinding one.   After lunch  we  sit around the briefing room staring at a  map covered 
by a blind.  Our commanding officer enters, everyone  stands, he says ‘Gentlemen, be
seated’. The curtain is  drawn back, our target revealed…a very heavily industrialized
section of Germany  called  the ‘Ruhr Valley’…specific target is Dusseldorf. The Ruhr
Valley  is nick named  Happy Valley by bomber crews.   Today  we will send 997 heavy bombers
in a split force.  613 will bomb Dusseldorf.  384 will bomb elsewhere.  (This night we will
lose  43 aircraft and 310 aircrew.  Our squadron will lose 3 aircraft.)  We are shown
our route in and  out from Dusseldorf. Much of the route is over the heavily defended zones.
We  can expect late doses of flak going in and  coming out.  There will also be
many night fighters.  The room becomes  very quiet as the briefing continues.
Halfway through the briefing in walks Flying Officer B. whose  crew  is already
in the room.  I never saw this pilot ever make it to a briefing on time.  (Later, he was
shot down.   His crew showed  up at Stalag Luft 7 where I was also a POW.
Flight Officer B. survived being shot down but lost his foot on Bailing out.  
It seems he jumped from the hatch  above his  head and the foot was cut off
by the propeller.

Take off is to be at 2210 hours.  We go to our lockers to pick what we will need then  
into the truck that will drop us at “P”Peter’s dispersal site.  We chat with our ground
crew while we wait to climb aboard.  It is still daylight when we take off.  Finally
darkness descends as we reach our assigned altitude and our turning point above
Redding.  By the time we approach the enemy coast I start to calm down. We are often being
shot at by flak and there is danger we will be coned by searchlights. But I feel alright.  Anyway I am busy.
Long ago it seems when Hank and I loaded our guns.  All ready.  The big task is to
try and spot night fighters before we become a target.  We try to keep conversations  short.
Bob has been giving Eric  course directions.  Ken is busy helping Bob by picking up
built up areas on our H2S set.  Wilf is working  his radios.   Maurice is tending to our motors.
Maurice  has the habit of sucking our fuel tanks  dry and waits for the  motors to show
signs of fuel starvation.  Only then does he  switch tanks.  Eric never liked this practice
by Maurice however he never says anything. We are  now on our final course to Dusseldorf.
The  flak is getting more intense.  Eric  can see the target ahead and also see the flak 
density we will soon experience.  A large  area around Dusseldorf is lit up by fires
searchlights.   WE are being battered  by flak burst that are too close.  

Hank snd I are busy  scanning  the skies around us for night fighters.  Ken is now
in position to drop our bombs…2,000 pounds of high explosives snd 4,000 pounds
of incendiaries  Ken is giving Eric the necessary lefts and rights until he decides
to press the release switches.  Once done after the camera shot we start to get close calls
from the flak guns blow.   Then things start to ease up as we head for home.  

The mission took 5 hours s and 45 minutes.  We are debriefed at Skipton. I take my
shot of Navy Rum and any other shots as well.  Then we go for our special bacon
and eggs breakfast given to all returning crews  And finally to bed.

April  23, 1944:  Too busy to make notes in my log book.

Note: “Throughout the war Commonwealth squadrons  were generally the last
to receive new equipment, RCAF squadrons were saddled  with under-powered
twin-engined Wellingtons longer  than  their British counterparts, and also lagged
in receiving  four-engined Halifaxes and  Lancasters.  Many Canadian squadrons 
did without Lancasters … which  were the best for bomb load, range,  ceiling and
ease of handling and lightest on casualties … until 1945.” (Roger Dentley)
One good  point about the Halifax.  It was easier to bail out of with  higher
survival rate if being abandoned  in combat according to a different source.

April  24, 1944:  Operations are on for tonight so Hank and I do our usual inspection of “P” Peter.
We get through the early part of the day OK.   Write letters…speculate on the target…get
very nervous.  Most of the crews are in the briefing room when we enter.  This will  be 
Mission #17 for me.   The curtain is drawn and we see in an instant that the target is Karlsrue.
We note the Flak stations on our route.  Another split force.  613 aircraft will got Karlsruhe and
345 will bomb elsewhere.   Total attack force of958 aircraft. (We will lose 32 bombers and
224  crew members )  

There is a big flash of light behind us as we leave Skipton.  Some plane exploded on takeoff.

The weather is not too good…overcast at 10,000 feet. Conditions worse over Europe.
Our pilots  will have to contend with flying using only instruments.
We fear collisions.   We have six Squadrons taking off from airports  close to each other…all aircraft

Making a standard 360 degree turn left as we climb.  There’re now 144 aircraft circling.  We are in

solid instrument dependent weather…pilots flying strictly by the gauges in front of them.  All of 
us hoping and praying we will not collide with another aircraft in this “soup”.  As we climb I see
a big flash of  light bursting through the ‘soup”.   Someone must have crashed  on take off.  Finally
we break through at 10,000 feet and  sure enough off to our right is another aircraft not 500 feet
from us.  I wonder if there were others  even closer as we circled in the soup.

We continued  to climb crossing the enemy coast where flak bursts light up the clouds.  Like
looking through frosted  window glass.  One good thing.  We are no longer worried  about night
fighters under these conditions.  One worry.  We are picking up ice which is not too good.  We have
no way to break  up the ice.  We do have a kind of paste which is smeared on our wings leading edge.
Looks  like grease.  The weight of the ice and the big bomb load  pulls us down.    Bomb load  includes 
one 2000 pound high explosive and  4,000 pounds  of  incendiaries. Not much is being said on the intercom
but we are all aware of the increased  danger.  Ken is working our H2Sset , Bob passes us some
useful information  as to a  good fix on our  location but does not trust the info.  As a  result we overflew
on the right side of our target.  Bob realizes he  was wrong and gives Eric a new course to fly.We decide 
to unload our bombs  on what seems a likely target.  About 15 minutes later we fly through a hole in the
weather.   We are alone.  Our main force had finished bombing on target and had  headed for home. The
fires  below had burned a hole in the clouds.   Lucky  no Flak.  The target looks  well and truly smitten.
Bob  gave us a new course for home.  Not much more was said about our error…our’ faut pas.’ Flying time
was 7 hours.

 
April 25 and  26, 1944:  No time for diary notes…getting really busy

April  27, 1944   Operations  are on  for tonight.  This  will be my 18th mission.  Takeoff time is 2345 hours and
our target is  once again is railway yards, this time at “Aulnoye”.  Apparently we will not be bothered by
too much flak.  The  fighter problem remains though. The mission includes 116 heavy bombers.  We will carry 
10,000 pounds of high explosives.  And  once again, our ‘master of ceremonies’, the Pathfinder (Mosquito bombers)
will layout our target and instruct us where to lay our eggs. We are flying at 5,000 feet.  Ken is  busy…he does
a good job which our camera confirms  later.  Our time for this  missions  4 ours snd 50 minutes.

April  28 and  29 1944:  Recently we have been getting a lot of ‘on and off’ missions  which are terrible on the nerves.
Especially bad  when we are already in the aircraft and  ready to go. 

April  30, 1944:  Operations are on for tonight, my 19th mission.  This time we are going to “Somain”, a railway
marshalling yard in France.  Our bomb load is15 x 250 pound bomb of high explosives…7,500 pounds.
We  will bomb from an altitude of 6,500 feet.  Pathfinders were supposed to layout the target but failed  to do
so.  While the Pathfinders were taking another try we were asked or orbit off to the left….all 143 aircraft.
Flares  are being dropped  by parachute lighting up the target area as  we have done in all attacks  on 
marshalling yards.  We end  up stooging to one side for 17 minutes then there is a big rush of  aircraft
to unload and get away as  fast as  possible.   We feel the Luftwaffe must be on its way as there are many
fighter bases close by.  As a result of the disrupting the air raid is not a 100% success.  On our way back there was
a short burst of flak that hit the aircraft near us.  There was  an  explosion and bits of the aircraft 
fell  in flames.  This could have been us.  We took some hits from flak but not lethal hits.  Flying time 6 our sand 10 minutes.
My total flying time is  now 317 hours snd  55 minutes.

May 1, 1944:  Operations again  This time we are sent on a mine laying trip to ‘Brest Harbuor’ along with 5 other
aircraft all carrying 2 x 1500 pound atrial  mines.  Nice moonlit night.  We set our course at 10,000 feet altitude.
Eric and  Lt. Compton were going to fly together on this moonlit cruise.

When we reach 10,000 feet Eric says “Do you see Compton?”  I scan the sky and say he is off  to our starboard side.
Eric asks again, “Where?”  I repeat “Starboard”.   Then Eric suddenly lays  us over on our side…way over…perhaps  90
degrees….so far over that it was nip and  tuck whether we were going on our back or not.  I yell, “Eric!”.  Eric  responds,
“I know Vic!”  Fortunately we rolled back right side up.  What happened?  Eric,  in his eagerness to line up with Lt.
Compton over controlled.   (Note:  Lt. Compton finished  his tour, survived the war along with his crew.  He was a
fine person.)  

May 2, 1944:  We are on leave.  Everyone takes off on his  own.   I decided to got to Scotland on this one to visit Ann and  Ruby.
On arrival I find that Ann is off visiting her mother in Manchester.   I look up Ruby and am invited to stay which makes 
things  nice and cosy.  I have a  nice room upstairs.  After everyone is  in bed I hear the back stairs creaking. In comes
Ruby on her tip toes.  Everything was great in this nice soft bed, a real  delight.  This visit was pretty well standard
except for two occasions.  One afternoon while we were walking in the woods the urge arose.  We did  our thing and
only afterword  did  we notice we had an  audience of 6 young children around  10 to 12 years of age.  

Ruby lived very close to Loch Lomond snd one  day  i Rented a  row best and took Ruby for a boat ride. We were
about 200 yards from shore when the urge overtook us.  Ruby layed  back  on the seat  with her back in an arch,
a strain there I should imagine but Ruby was game and  we had our fun.  It never occurred to us that people could
see us easily from the shore.   Later upon returning the row boat the attendant gave us  a broad  smile.  This  
turned  out to be a really delightful leave and  I was well rested …ready to go back  on operations.

May  … I have no diary entrees.  We did a lot of flying.

May  17, 1944:  We are now using the aircraft QB-B HX313,  a  Halifax bomber.  Someone put a  big strain on 
“P” Peter after we used it.   It never seemed to fly properly any  more.

May 17, 1944:  We are assigned to fly twice  today  using QB_B HX313.  First we do fighter affiliation with a
Hawker Hurricane as  the attacking fighter.  We  have a second pilot aboard learning the tricks.  Later we
take off  again so  that Ken can practice bombing over Strensall.  

On the way to  this exercise a de Haviland  Mosquito fighter bomber comes up alongside my turret…in fact
about 25 feet.. close…he indicated he wanted to play.  What a beautiful sight.  I asked Eric if he was  game snd he said yes.
“Give him a run for the money Eric!” I said. After about 8  wild Corkscrews Eric  is pooped out and I Get the chance
to wave the Mosquito off.  He does  a  barrel roll and peels  away.  What a sight seeing such a wonderful  plane
close up and doing some really great flying.  (This picture has stayed crystal clear in my mind all my life.)

May 18, 1944:  Nothing logged

May 19, 1944:  Missions are on for tonight. My 21st.   Mission it to St. Malo, a fairly easy mission mine laying in the
St. Malo harbour  Two aircraft , each carrying 4 x 1500 lob mines.  We cannot close the bomb doors  because of
the bulky mines but this is not big deal.  The mission went smoothly and both aircraft returned to base.  We were
the only planes  used  that night.

May 22, 1944:  Missions are on for tonight.  This makes  NO 22 for me.   We notice that bombs are now being
stored  at our dispersals, a clear sign that D day is just around the corner.  Looks like we can expect more than
one mission per day.  Today our bomb loads are 250 and  500 pound high explosives snd the target is the “Le Mans”
marshalling yards.  The railways are sure getting more than their  share of bombs.  Tonight we send  112 Heavy
bombers.  Two Pathfinders  lead  the way,  Banana  One and Banana Two.   There is trouble dropping the parachute
flares due  to 40 mm anti aircraft guns below.  The Apex of these shells  is at our bombing height of 8,800 feet.

Banana One orders  us  to orbit to starboard.  We  enter a  cloud bank.  Surprisingly there is  not much complaint
over the radio telephone .  We  orbit for about 15 minutes when Banana Two orders  us to bomb the centre of
the green target he has  marked.   We begin our bomb run.  The 15 minutes delay gives our French  friends  time
to move away from the target.  We drop down to low level and do our bomb run then head for the coast
at the same low level.  I can clearly see towns and  even buildings…and  people flashing flashlights at us.  It
is nice to know we are being loved.   We climb to clear the French coast and the coastal guns gave us
our share of flak.  This trip took  5 ours  snd 50 minutes.

May 23, 24, 25,  1944:  Too many  ‘on and  off’ again missions.  Is anyone aware of how these things shatter our nerves?

May 26, 1944   We fly to Strensall today giving Ken some bombing practice.   

May 27, 1944:   NO DIARY ENTRY BECAUSE VICTOR AND HX 313 NEVER CAME BACK TO SKIPTON ON
SWALE.  WE DO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED THOUGH WHICH OPENS A DIFFERENT CHAPTER IN
THE VICTOR POPPAS  STORY. BUT FIRST HERE IS WHAT HAPPENED ON THE NIGHT
OF MAY 27/28, 1944 WHICH  WAS THE LAST FLIGHT OF HX 313.


VICTOR POPPA

“Dear Alan,

Your letter came  to me approximately three weeks ago, and upon opening  and reading the first paragraph, I could not talk.
My throat constricted  and  I  had to cry.   It was 40 years ago this day (letter written May27, 1944), that we  were preparing for a
raid on a town in  Belgium…Borg Leopold.  This camp contained 13,000 German troops who had  been fully trained
and were to be moved  out the following  day.  To keep these  troops out of their air raid shelters and  above ground our
air force  planners arranged for the RAF to overfly Borg Leopold and  to continue on to  bomb Achen.  This force 
consisted  of  some 200 Lancasters. The Germans at this time went into their air raid shelters.  Then another force of some
45 Halifax bombers were routed  over our target.  They then made turn and continued on to bomb  Dusseldorf.  Again the
Germans went under to their shelters.  Then we came along…Number Six Bomber Group, RCAF with 333 aircraft which  included
424 Squadron Halifax’s ardour aircraft Q.B. – B – Hx313.  QB were the letters of our Squadron.  B was our  airport letter in the 
Squadron.  HX 313 was the serial number of our aircraft.”

“We were to bomb  from three levels.  The first level was  9,000 feet; second level was 10,900 feet; third level or wave was
11,900 feet.  We  were the third level.  Each wave consisted of 111 and each aircraft carried 18 x  500 pound bombs.
The  raid was to last for ten minutes.  As I  found  out later this raid was a classic for night bombing accuracy.  We  killed
8,500 German  soldiers in ten minutes with hardly any casualties the Belgian civilian  population.”

Note Made 1984: At this point Victor Poppa explained the routine events  of a  bomber operations day  from briefing to
a special meal of bacon and eggs.  As the day wears on the crew begin  to get nervous.  Some write  letters.  George  Freeman
wrote to a girlfriend  (platonic by sound of it) and  sounded  cheerful.  Faking perhaps.  (see Georges’ letters later). 
Some even preferred to write their last wills and  testaments.  Not George  or Victor that I could tell. As evening approaches
the crew put on their flying suits.  Victor loaned  his fur lined  suit to Bob Irwin as his feet got freezing cold…moreso
than the rest of the crew. Victor prefers the electric  flying suit as it take less space in the tiny tail gunners bubble. One 
of the most moving snapshots sent was taken surreptitiously from the crew truck.  It shows a corner of the truck
windshield and  off in the distance silhouette  against the skylines HX 313, the Blonde Bomber.

“Into HX 313 we go, each to his position.   Eric and our passenger  Bob Elliott, co pilot;  Moe, our engineer; Ken to his bomb
aimer’s position;  Bob, our navigator; and Wilf ,our wireless  operator;…all accounted for. Then George  and  myself  to our 
gunners bubbles…George as  upper middle gunner and me as tail gunner.  Eric  goes through the check  list and soon we
are taxiing around the perimeter track to the main runway.  In  position. Eric advances the throttle and we are on our way.”

Note:  Liftoff is  extremely dangerous  as HX 313 is loaded with bombs  and  high  octane fuel.  An error can detonate the load.
There would  be little chance of survival.  The crew knows this…they have seen  it happen.

“We are soon at altitude. Bob, our  navigator, has given Eric  a course and suggested so that we can arrive as scheduled.
All of the previous aircraft have stirred things up.”  (Perhaps German soldiers in Bourg Leopold will be  out watching
the bombers overflying their camp.) “Ken  (bomb aimer) is now in  his position for  bombing as we start our run.  He 
gives Eric  course directions…left, left, right, etc.  We  are  now but a few miles from the  target when Ken says, “Vic, there  is
a JU 88 below us.  I stand  up and try to see under our aircraft but cannot.   Eric  is asked  to  drop a wing so  George can
see.   He can’t see it either.  Ken is asked to give Eric evasive  action  instructions if necessary.  Just then there is  a
horrible explosion in our left inside motor.  HX 313 lurches  up as if struck  by a gigantic hammer.  Flames  run down  our
left side.  Then a few seconds later there is the chatter of machine gun bullets and  cannon shells slamming  through our
aircraft.  The plexiglass nose is shot out but the bombs are secure.”

“Our bomber did not explode.  There were  fires in from front to rear.  The inside  of much  of the plane was cherry red.
My first thoughts were: ‘You have been waiting for this and now  it has finally happened.’ I called on the Intercom
but received  no answer, only static.  HX 313, however, was still flying in a straight line.”

“I pulled off my flying helmet, opened my turret doors, reached for my parachute and snapped it to my chest. I stayed in my
position because  I saw  no parachute go by the tail.   Then,  a few seconds later, I saw  one.  It was open and  on its side
parallel to the ground  just missing the  port rudder and fin. Then I decided to go.  I swung my turrets 90 degrees in the
fuselage and tried to go  out but couldn’t because of the fire and wind.  I tried twice to no avail.   By this time the ground
was appearing quite close.  I could tell from  the fires that to bail out from the aft fuselage exit would have entailed too much 
time and  by then it would be too late anyway.  So I sat there waiting for my end.  The aircraft then went into a  flat spin.
My turret twisted  free and I was flung out by the brute force.  My leg, however, was stuck momentarily under my leg guard.
I could feel my knee pull right out of its socket.   Then my leg came free.  I was falling flat on my back.  I looked on my
chest for my parachute  and it was not there.  The parachute had been pulled away for my chest by the wind force and was
 nowhere feet from my face and above.  Pulled on the
harness  and brought the parachute down close enough so I could  grab  the D ring and pulled. It opened with sharp snap.  A pain
knifed through my groin, I put my arms above my head, grabbed the harness and  pulled thereby  relieving the pain.  A few
seconds later I saw  the ground coming up real fast. I felt as though  I was an arrow.  I hit the ground hard  and collapsed
with my parachute falling on top of me.  I am  sure the chute had  opened  at less that 1,000 feet and our aircraft had been
at 11,900when we were first hit by the flak and  then shot up  by the JU 88.”

“I managed to get onto my feet but I could not feel  anything  from the waist down…felt like metal bands were clamped around
my ankles and knees.   I was standing balanced as though on stilts.  Just t hen I could hear motors screaming…an aircraft
in its death sieve.  I Dropped flat to the ground.  It is amazing how close you think you are to the ground, as  if you are being
pulled down tight, pressed into the grass.  This aircraft hit a few fields away and  exploded.”

“All of this happened at approximately 2 a.m. on the 28th of May, 1944.  After the explosion I found I couldn’t walk but moved with
a painful shuffle.  I moved away from the area slowly.   At wire fences I would put my body through and  then with my hands pull my legs  through.
I moved along in this manner until the dawn started to glow.  Then I made my way  into the centre  of a wheat field where  I  lay down
and fell into a deep  sleep. I awoke at noon hour with the sun shining down at me.   I made my way out of the field and crawled  under
a tree.  I took off my electric suit and found I  had suffered some  spinal chord damage and had torn open my left leg and buttocks.
The  leg was swollen twice its normal  size and black  and blue.  I also had torn muscles and  ligaments.  I crawled  to  a farm house
where the farmer  was kind but reluctant  to hide  me.   He gave  me water and milk to drink.  We were advised in England never
to impose upon these people.   I they showed willingness, fine.   If not, leave.  If we were caught with them they would suffer
Grievously.”

“My legs were starting to stiffen up and  the pain was increasing.  I made  my way to another field where I lay down and rolled and rolled
in agony.   I was this way well into the afternoon.   Finally I felt that I must get  some assistance.  On my knees I made my way  
back to the  farm house and indicated I  would like police assistance.  While waiting, a Belgian doctor gsve
me an injection of some sort but it had no effect.  I gave the farm woman all of my escape  money and shortly two Luftwaffe
NCO’s came  in an automobile.  I was placed in the  back seat with one  NCO and because I  could not bend my  legs I had
to lay across his body.”

“I was driven to our target the previous night.  There was one room left standing where I was deposited on a  bed.   Despite all
of the  killing we had done I was not mistreated.  I was given a bowl of greasy stew which i could not down.  Later, I was visited
by a German medical officer   All he did was rant and rave  at me in German.   Although I Felt he was going to strike me, he did not.
Three days later I was taken outside and placed in the back of a truck with four caskets.  A German NCO pointed to one and
said “Komerad  Irwin. This was our navigator Bob Irwin.  I gave a negative response.  He then pointed  to the casket on my right
and said “Kamerad Wakely”.  This was the coffin of Wilf Wakely.  Again I gave a negative response .  I was not questioned about the 
third caskrt. This one must have been George. The fourth  was empty as I had moved it with my foot.  At that  time I did not know George
was dead.   It wasn’t until I returned to England after the war  was over that I got word from RCAF records that George had  been
killed.  This left me stunned as  Hank (George)  and I were real close friends.”

Note:  Victor  Poppa’s account closed the file on the  last flight of HX 313.   He was the last person to get out of the aircraft.  All had
been able to get out one way or  another, except for George Freeman.  Two who got out were killed when they  hit the ground.
The rest survived. George was  likely killed  when  the JU 88 strafed the plane.  One of the crew remembers George’s legs hanging down
as he worked his way past the upper turret to reach the escape hatch.   The nagging thought that George was remained  alive because
gunners were often trapped in their  turrets like  Victor Poppa.  HX 313 exploded on impact near an abandoned railway station.   Eric  Mallett
and Ken  Sweatman were escorted  past a pile of melted metal that had once been The Blonde  Bomber.  They could not stop to look
closely for their  escorts were members of the Belgian Underground and it was imperative that they hide Ken and Eric as 
quickly as possible.   Victor Poppa, George Elliott and Morris Muir became POW’s.

Victor’s adventures as a POW Had similarities to Steve MacQueen in the The Great Escape…only life was a hell of a lot less
fun.  Worse  for the Russian POW in he adjoining camp where abuse was more prevalent.   Victor had a  choice  when  the war
ended.  Either to walk out of the Stalag or  stay put until Russian troops took over.  The German guards  just disappeared one
night leaving the gate  open when the sun came up. Victor and a friend decided  to take their chances  and  start the long and potentially dangerous
trek through the  Russian sector in hope he could reach the American sector.  He had he good fortune of  hooking up with nine
French  girls hiking their  way  back  home from a German labour  camp.  

Victor had been  on a long march  from a  POW camp in Poland to another in Germany.  On that trek he became aware of the
hatred the German civilian population had toward  air force prisoners.   The bombing of  Bourg Leopold killed  many but the 
constant bombing of German cities killed  a whole lot more.  Mobs tried  to attack air force prisoners. “While in Kohn train station we   were
threatened by a large mob.  Our guards, however, kept order and we were not molested.”   So he knew the risks when  he walked
out of his Stalag and  headed south to American  lines.   In one instance, at dusk, Victor and  his French girls entered a German house
which they thought had been abandoned.   Instead they met a  German officer who was already in bed  but with a  Luger under his sheet
aimed right at them.  They left without incident.  Fear was spreading through the German civilian population in what was to become
East Germany. German  officers and soldiers feared for their lives.


END  OF PART 3:  THE VICTOR POPPA  STORY

PART 4 WILL COVER HIS PRISONER OF WAR (POW) EXPERIENCE

alan skeoch
Nov. 16, 2019

Appendix

1) Eric Mallet’s Description of THAT EVENING OF MAY 27/28, 1944


“Dear Alan:
In the first place I must you that George Freeman was never known to us  as George,  he was Hank.  Hank carried out his duties as  Mid Upper Gunner
with great courage and at no time was overcome  by fear. I am enclosing the only picture  of our aircraft that I have with a member  of the ground crew
sitting in my seat.  The ‘Blonde Bomber’ was one of the finest aircraft that I have ever flown (note: Eric was an experienced  pilot)  At that time the  Halifax 
was the fastest heavy bomber in the world.  We  carried 42 tons of  bombs and 21,000 gallons of100 octane  gasoline, total all up weight was 85,000 pounds 

Hank’sturret had four Browning machine guns capable of firing  1,250 rounds per minute.”


Note from 1984:  Eric Mallett’s enthusiasm for the Halifax contrasted with the opinions of military historians who regarded the Halifax heavy bomber inferior to the Lancaster.
Some historians even went so far as to note that the conversion of  bomber squadrons to Lancasters was done in a discriminatory manner which favoured
RAF  bomber squadrons.   Canadian Number Six Bomber Group continued to fly Halifax bombers to the end of the war.

“The member of  my crew were  Flight Lieutenant Bob Irwin (deceased); Wireless Operator Wilf Wakely (deceased); Vic Poppa, tail gunner; Ken Sweatman, bomb aimer;
Engineer Morris Muir (English); Mid-UpperGunner George Freeman (deceased); and flying  officer Elliot who was coming  along on his first trip…The target was Borg
Leopold in Belgium a base  which the Germans  were using as a  rest camp for their troops from the Russian front.   After leaving the briefing I  mentioned  to the 
crew that we were being sent on a mission for the sole purpose of killing people. We  carried  14,000 lbs. of anti-personnel bombs and the aiming point was to
be the officers quarters.  This mission did not sit well  with the crew. We had already  been through some tough missions against industrial targets but
this  mission made us feel uneasy.”

“Strangely enough we were not able to drop our load.  We were  right on our bomb run when we got hit.  Just a few seconds prior to being hit I had  an
urge to take evasive action but I did not because we had  our bomb doors  open and  had  started  our run.  I didn’t want to spoil the bomb aimers sighting
as there was  no indication of an attack other than my hunch.   Suddenly there  was  a tremendous burst of flame and I gave the order to ‘abandon aircraft ‘
immediately.  Knew from past experience that we only had seconds to do so because  100 octane gasoline  would blow  up once the  flames reached  the 
tanks. The Navigators position was right on top of the  forward escape hatch.  The whole crew was supposed  to go out this exit so  I would know when all
were out.  They did  not, however,  because Bob Irwin couldn’t get the hatch  open.  The second pilot (Elliott) and engineer (Muir) took off the rear seat and
went out of the entrance hatch.  I went forward to see how Bob was  doing and  by good fortune he was  beginning to have some luck so  I went back and
straightened out the aircraft.  In what seemed  like an eternity I returned to the hatch in time to see someone leaving.  I then, did not hesitate to  follow.
Upon hitting the air my flying  boots left me and I then tried  to find the rip chord  on my parachute.  I couldn’t find the  ring for what seemed like another
eternity. Eventually I hooked the ring, otherwise I would  not be here.”

Note:  Even today, Oct. 2, 2019, I can remember reading Eric Mallett’s letter.  Rivetting.  I could hardly believe I  had set an event like  this in
motion back 1984.   I had an idea that this  was  the end of the story so I read  slowly  and  re-read even slower.   But the story of the  Last Flight
of  HX 313 was really just beginning.  Read on!

“Drifting down through the nigh sky, I could see the target with the bombs landing, exploding and  setting fire to the buildings.  I thought for a moment or two
that I was going to land right on it.  The next thing I recall was seeing the ground  come up to me and then  ‘Boom!’…everything was silent.  When I came
to, I found myself right beside  a barbed wire fence.  Remembered my previous training and buried my parachute.  It required much effort.

“It is almost  impossible to describe the feeling that overcame me.  Since that day nothing has ever scored me as all I have do is recall in my
mind this dreadful night and the terrible feeling that I had.”

“I spent the rest  of the night sitting in a cornfield taking off my rings and rank markings as well as looking at my purse and pandora.  The escape kit
contained Horlicks tablets, benzedrine, German, Belgian And French currency.  When daylight came I discovered that I  was close  to a small village.
I knew that i  must get some help as I had a badly cut finger and no footwear.  I waited and  waited to  see what  sort of  traffic was entering or leaving the village.
There seemed  to be none other than that of  someone  tying up a  goat close to  where  I  was  hiding, for  quite  long time I wondered what the tinkling of
the goat’s bell  was.”

“Alan,  I  am going  to sign  off for now for this  is  only the beginning of a long, long story.  Enclosed you will find  your map with the location of the attack. Also 
you will find pictures of my crew, and one of  the Blonde Bomber.   We  were not allowed to take any pictures of our aircraft for security reasons, as  you can
well understand.    Also included is a  picture  of Hank  and Vic  Poppa engaged in a  little horseplay outside of our flight room.   Vic Poppa  and Ken  Sweatman
would be very pleased to hear from you if  would  care to write them.”

Kikndest  Regards
Eric  L. Mallett


2) REMEMBERING GEORGE (HANK) FREEMAN

PICTURE of George Freeman and, I believe, the girl known only as  Kay.  I think
this is the woman he wanted to marry after a year of  chasing women  with his good
friend Victor Poppa.

This story began as an attempt to find out what happened to George Freeman  on that horrific May 27/28 evening.
“At times  Hank and  I went on leave together where we  had undisciplined fun.  Hank had a real way of charming the girls in the mess
as well as on our trips  away from he base.”  As Day approached the crew of  HX 313 were working together  like  a well
oiled machine.  A human machine.  “On one mission it was Hank’s birthday and we  arranged for Ken  to say  ‘Happy Birthday Hank’ instead
of ’Bombs away’.  QB B HX 313 was shot down on its  fourth mission.   The  crew had  flown more than double that number.  Eight missions
for some.  For others, many more missions.  The death rate was high.  They knew  that.
Both planes and men  had short lives in  #6 Bomber Group.   The results of the  steady bombing  was a devastated  Germany.
Ciies turned into rubble.  Factories flattened.  Many many thousands of people maimed and killed.  As allied land troops fanned
out across Germany this devastation became an  embarrassment to many.  As a result  the  Bomber  Groups were never  given
full recognition for their service and some  felt neglected.  Side  lined.  Overlooked.  

The  story was assembled back in1984 and now updated in 2019.  Much has happened and continues to happen.
Discoveries.  Take the war graves for instance.  One of my colleagues, John Maize, was working in Holland in 1984
and I asked him to see  if he could find the grave  of George Freeman.  He found George and Wilf and Bob all
buried side  by side in a military grave in Belgium.   What day do you think he visited the grave site? 
…John Maize arrived  there  on May 27, 1984…exactly 40 years to the day after the Bourg Leopold attack.
And on that same day, May 27, 1984, Victor Poppa, Eric Mallett and Ken Sweatman sent the letters that made this
story possible..

GEORGE FREEMAN’S LAST TWO LETTERS:  THEY WERE NEVER MAILED

When George Freeman’s personal things  were returned aunt Kitty and Uncle Chris, there were two letters
that George had written but never mailed.  They reveal much so have been included.  George was a young man…barely
past the teen age part of his  life as  will be apparent.  Thoughts  of death are not a big part of the letters but those
thoughts  can be found between the lines.

“Arrmed Forces Air Letter
Flight Sergeant Freeman, G.F.,
R190568
RCAF
Overseas

MAY – 1944 (/)

MRS. C.W. FREEMAN,
C/O Scanons Store,
1439 Kingston Road,
Toronto 13, Ont.
Canada

Dearest Mom and Dad,

Well dearest, here I  am again.  Have received a letter from you and another from Mickey (sister).  It sure is swell to hear from you.
We have been pretty busy of late and  I’m pretty tired and would like to see the end  of the war.  Maybe it’ll end soon.  I’m
flying as a  spare gunner and  also as  a  regular member of the crew, it’s a bit risky flying every time but at least it keeps  me from 
being browned off.  Auntie Jean and everybody down that way are fine and send  their love  to you and dad.  I’m sorry dad can’t get the help 
he needs the golf  course. (Chris was  head greenskeeper at the Hunt Club Golf Course in Scarborough where George spent
his teen age years  caddying.) I don’t think I told  you about the visit I paid  on my last leave to one  of the girls parents house.
The girl works in our mess  and is  a good girl.  In fact, mom, she is a Cockney so you have an idea that what she is  like.
Her parents made me very welcome and  I had two eggs there.  Eggs area blessing when you can get  them.  (This  ‘good girl’
and George were planning marriage but her name has been lost).  Frankly,  mom, I like Cockneys the best of anybody
in the south of England.   They don’t beat around  the bush if they are going to tell you something.  Gosh!  I almost forgot you
should receive a Victory Bond  pretty soon.  I’ve paid  for it so do what you want with it.  Seems  like there isn’t much more
to say Mom, outside of I’m fine and  hope you and  everybody are the same.  I’ll close for now with love to all  and  all my love
 to you and Dad and may God
be with you.

All my Love, 

Note: This letter had been ‘opened by the examiner’  on April 6, 1944.
All personal letters were censored in case crucial information would
compromise the war effort.

George   xxxxxxxxx

SECOND LETTER TO ‘DOT’, A GIRLFRIEND BACK HOME IN CANADA

R190568
Sgt. Freemand,
RCAF
OVERSEAS,
30/3/43


Dear Dot,

This is just a couple of paragraphs to let you know I’m still kicking and  that Jerry hasn’t had much  success in getting rid  of me.  How 
goes the battle with you and are you still working as hard as ever?  First, I want to thank you for the swell Valentine.  It was super.
How did  you ever dig it up?  I’m sorry I couldn’t return the favour and send  you  one.  Guess  you’ll have to settle for a  
Christmas card when Christmas rolls  around  again.  Will you thank Beryll for her card and tell her as  soon as I can find  the 
address I will write her too. Kind of me don’t you think?  Thank her for the pics  as well.

Things  are pretty much the same as ever over here.  Nothing good to eat and lots of beer.  I’m still as teetotaler.  The dances 
are corny…always  will be.  This mountain music they dish out here is worse than Columbus  Hall  stuff.  Guess  I sound pretty 
browned  off (fed  up) with things. Well I’m not too  badly put out.  It’s just the monotony of things.  One good thing is ‘leave’
which comes up pretty regularly.  We do get a  bit of a change in scenery, faces,  etc. I saw Sam Manhood on one leave.  
He looks  pretty fed up with everything not to mention that he has  aged  about 4 years.  Say, I wonder if I have aged  too?

The next thing on my list of jazz to talk about is flying.  That too is very monotonous.   I have put in a few trips  over Germany
and haven’t had too  much trouble with Jerry although he does try to give us a scare once in awhile.  The last trip over the 
skipper was in an excited mood at having seen his first real live fighter…F.W. 190.  So  he “dood it in his pants’ if you know
what I  mean.   If  I ever did that I’d ask  for my discharge  so  help me.  The agony of  it was that he had to sit that way for 
six hours.  On the whole it’s not to bad over  there if you keep your eyes open.  Maybe I’ll live through it.  Who knows?

Let’s skip that and talk about you.  That picture we had taken sure was terrific.  I had some time explaining to the boys
that it was  purely a platonic  friendship we had for each other.  How goes you and the Masonic Temple.  Still up there regular?
Are Beryll and  Freddie still on just friendly terms or has Freddie put on the old charm and  made her fall for him?

Well, Dot, there doesn’t seem to be much  more to say outside of it’s closing time.   So give my love, etc.  to the gang
and write soon.  Love to Berryl.

xxxx love xxx
xxx George xxx


CONCLUSION:  SO  MUCH  HAS NOT BEEN EXPLAINED

There is so  much that needs saying about HX 313, especially the larger picture of the RCAF and 424 Squadron.  To
do so , however, needs a lot of space and a lot of time