Ferry Command





Joe Gilmore M.B.E.

by Frank Tibbo


Gilmore Place, Gander, is one of the least known streets because there is no residential property on it. Gilmore Place, adjacent to Armstrong Boulevard, is named after Mr. Joe Gilmore. Gilmore was a civilian who worked for the Ferry Command, a quasi-military organization formed to deliver aircraft to Great Britain during the Second World War.

Everyone who lived in or went through Gander during World War II knew, or knew of, Joe Gilmore. He was a rescue pilot, well not exactly, although he rescued some and searched for others and carried out mercy flights. But, that wasn't his job. The more one hears of Joe Gilmore, the harder it is to determine how he did so many things and whether he ever slept. He brought his family from Ireland to Quebec and later on was transferred to Gander.

Gilmore was a native of Ardglass, Co. Down, Ireland. He went from the automobile motor business to aircraft and became an aircraft ground-engineer at Baldonnel Aerodrome. But Gilmore wasn't satisfied to just fix aircraft, he also learned to fly. In 1932 the Irish Free State issued him License No. 23. What does one do with both a pilot and an engineer license? Well, if you were Gilmore, you'd build and fly an aircraft.

He built a small aircraft at Baldonnel Airport, County Dublin, mostly from parts of aircraft that had crashed. The fuselage, fairings, undercarriage and engine mount were of his own design. He flew the aircraft for more than 300 hours.

For some time, he held the gliding record for Ireland. Then in 1933 while working as a civil engineer with the Irish Free State Army Air Force, he made the first parachute descent from an airplane in Ireland. He subsequently travelled around the country giving parachute displays.

In 1933 he joined Imperial Airways and soon became one of their best mechanics. In 1938 the airline transferred him to the Atlantic Division and sent him to Boucherville, Quebec, as part of the team preparing for transatlantic flights.

Joe also serviced the company's aircraft at St. Hubert and Port Washington, New York. During this period, he went to Botwood, Newfoundland, to organize the Imperial Airways base there. He remained in that capacity until August 1940 when he became involved with Ferry Command. Canada Pacific Railway was selected to organize the ferry organization and as such became Gilmore's employer. The records show that Joe Gilmore was one of the first ferry command employees hired.

Ferry Command needed an expert ground-engineer in Gander to ensure that mechanical problems with ferry aircraft were corrected prior to the long flight across the North Atlantic. Gilmore accepted the position along with the onerous responsibility; and in early 1941, he and his family moved to Gander. He and his staff were responsible for the mechanical integrity of every aircraft being ferried through Gander. The aircraft didn't depart until Gilmore gave permission.

What is so strange and intriguing is that Gilmore also played the role of search and rescue pilot and mercy flight pilot. He looked for any excuse to fly the station's Norseman and Fox Moth. By January 1945, the station aircraft had flown approximately 500 flights in Newfoundland – and Gilmore had flown almost half of them. Other pilots, including the Commanding Officer of Ferry Command Group Captain Anderson, had flown the remainder.

A writer for the Daily News dated January 13, 1945, said, "A catalogue of Mr. Gilmore's connections with the aircraft industry sounds something like history of aviation itself."

Somewhere, sometime, in the midst of all of his activities, he made eight transatlantic flights with ferry command either as flight engineer or copilot.

It's almost impossible to follow his activities chronologically because his notes, which are in the possession of his son Pat, are not all legible. It is clear, however, that he travelled extensively and had been in such places as Athens, Bermuda, Cairo and Aden.

What is not generally known is that Gilmore, who had earned membership in the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences, has several inventions to his credit. The Irish Weekly and Ulster Examiner, on Saturday, May 12, 1945, had this to say in his obituary: "He flew the Atlantic many times and made several aero plane inventions, including one to overcome icing, which is now the standard fitting on planes."

He also designed and fitted the carburetor alcohol deicing system in the first Hudson to fly the Atlantic. Prior to this he had designed the fuel dump system for the British Overseas Airways Corporation Ferry B-24 aircraft

The following excerpts from the Gander RCAF Station Diary give an idea of the work done by Gilmore.

Oct. 13, 1944

Today F/L A.B. Bird, Medical officer at this station took off on a mercy flight to Seal Cove in the RAF Norseman piloted by Mr. Gilmore. They were airborne at approximately 1725 hours. Although the weather at Gander was good, they found on landing at Seal Cove there was a wind blowing about 40 m.p.h. The Norseman had landed on the long bay but the pilot was unable to turn it due to the wind velocity and they drifted for nearly three hours in constant danger of being smashed against the rocks. After this time the pilot shot flares and a motor boat managed to put out and come to them. With the assistance of this vessel they were able to get the Norseman to the shelter of Western Arm, where they were to pick up their patient. On arrival here, however, they were told it was not Western Arm, but Western Point at which they would locate the patient – a woman resident of the point. By this time the weather had grown so rough that any thought of proceeding further was out of the question and they were forced to spend the night at Western Arm.

Oct 14, 1944

Continuing the story of the mercy flight: This morning the weather had cleared and the wind had died. The Norseman took off and shortly landed at Western Point. Here they found that the patient had recovered and would, moreover, have refused to go with them under any circumstances – being afraid of air travel. The news that a doctor was at the point had travelled and several people with small illnesses and minor injuries asked his aid. Just before they took off on the return trip a lad of six was brought in from a neighboring, and seemingly unnamed, cove. As the child was found to be suffering from pneumonia, they placed him in the Norseman and brought him back. He is now a patient in the RCAF hospital, Gander, and another mercy flight is completed.

Joe Gilmore's life ended in tragedy. On May 15, 1945, en route to Montreal with passenger Squadron Leader Frank L. Ratcliffe, the Norseman crashed near Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Both men were killed.

Their bodies were brought back to Gander for interment. The late Mr. Gilmore's headstone is located in Row 14, Grave 11 at the Commonwealth Graves Cemetery, Gander.

One has to have had to perform exemplary service in order to be made a Member of the British Empire. From the data that has been gathered there is no doubt that he was indeed a worthy recipient of that high honour. Thanks must go to his eldest son Patrick for his research in obtaining information that revealed that his father had been so honoured. Patrick's research revealed that on July 1, 1946, "His Majesty the King appointed the late Mr. Gilmore a Member of the Civilian Division of the Order of the British Empire for meritorious service with the ground staff in Canada of the R.A.F. Transport Command." The original headstone did not reflect the MBE. During the summer of 2005, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission corrected that omission and replaced the hard granite headstone. It now reads:

John J. Gilmore MBE
Royal Air Force
Ferry Command
15 May 1945


Submitted by F. Tibbo


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