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Air Chief Marshall Bowhill

by R.G Pelley

This extremely interesting envelope related to the history of Gander. It was sent from Gander during World War II to Air Chief Marshall and Lady Bowhill in Dorval.

As many may know, Bowhill was the commander of the Royal Air Force Ferry Command from July 1941 to May 1943. His wife worked in the Signals code office in the RAFFC headquarters in Dorval. The RAFFC was responsible for ferrying airplanes across the Atlantic from Gander, and some other airports, to re-supply the Allied air forces in Britain.

envelope

This envelope is very peculiar for a number of reasons. First of all, it did not go through a military censor, as was the case with just about all mail coming from wartime Gander.  As well, it did not go through a military post office (Canadian Army Post Office CAPO #4  for Canadian mail or Army Post Office APO 801 for the Americans) but is simply franked Gander.   It has no return address, which would have been a must for military mail.  Also it is a bit smaller than the usual envelope, only roughly 5 ½ x 3 ¼ and looks like the sort of thing that would be appropriate for a small card.

The date can be seen as Dec 25 so it would have been sent on Christmas day 1941 or 1942.  The simple Gander franking suggests it might have been by a civilian. But a civilian in Gander who was familiar enough with the Bowhills to send a card to both husband and wife would logically have sent before Christmas day. A very likely hypothesis is that was sent by some person, perhaps a personal friend of the Bowhills, travelling through Gander during the Christmas period.

In any case, ACM Bowhill (1880-1960), known as “Ginger” to his close friends, was quite a chap!  He started his career as a sailor. He sailed round the Horn in windjammers and worked his way up to a captain's berth. He was qualified as “Master Mariner”, certified to command any ship of any size anywhere in sail or steam.

But when in World War I the Royal Navy drafted him at 32, he was given another job than running a warship. Instead, he found himself on the cockpit of an openwork biplane, learning to first fly and then the dangerous art of taking off from the deck of a merchantship. From this kind of makeshift carrier, the then Flight Commander Bowhill flew on the first bombing run against the German Navy in World War I.

Before taking over the RAFFC, he was commander of Costal Command in England which played a crucial role in the hunt for the German battleship Bismarck, which, in company with the Prinz Eugen, a heavy cruiser, posed the most serious surface threat that convoys yet faced.  In May 1941, the Bismarck broke out into the Atlantic sinking the HMS Hood, the pride of the Royal Navy, on the way. Ships of the Royal Navy chased the Bismarck for several days but lost contact on 25 May. Bowhill, being both a flyer and an experienced mariner himself, put himself in the place of the commander of the Bismarck and redirected the air search for Bismarck on to a south-easterly course. He was rewarded when a Catalina of 209 Squadron found the Bismarck on 26 May, enabling Royal Navy Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers to attack and sink her.

Bowhill

There was a Bowhill Boulevard in old Gander in the RAF side (near the present day hangars 21 and 22).  And those interested, there is short  RAFFC video by British Pathé  (with a quick shot of AFC Bowhill) at this address: http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=23248

To read the story behind the photo of Air Chief Marshall and Lady Bowhill

researched by R G Pelley

 

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