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