Military Ops




Reproduced with permission from The Beacon Supplement July 31, 1991  

The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada

The Queen’s Own Rifles arrived in Newfoundland August 10, 1940.  Their ship dropped anchor at Botwood at 0800 hours.  A and B Companies and a detachment from HQ Company remained at Botwood under Major W.L. Bryan.  C an D Companies and the remainder of HQ Company, under Lieutenant-Colonel MacKendrick proceeded by railway to (described in an official report as) Newfoundland Airport at Gander in the interior.  By 1350 hours on August 10th they had arrived in Gander.

Six weeks prior to this date, the Black Watch had started from nothing so naturally much remained to be done.  The tents had no floors, and, as there was little runoff from the rock, the camp was damp and clammy.  There were no showers, the cookhouse was primitive and recreational facilities were completely absent. The first night the temperature fell to 36 degrees F. and the never ceasing wind howled around the tents and ice rain fell fitfully. 

The role of this battalion was to preserve internal security, aid the Newfoundland Militia, if required, and guard against sabotage at the airport and at certain other strategic points.  This was a big task for one unit.  It would be fairly easy for an enemy submarine to find an isolated stretch of coast on which to land a group of saboteurs.  Obviously, the airport at Gander was absolutely essential.

In bringing about the necessary improvements at Gander, Lt. S.M. Lett, OC Pioneer Platoon, and a platoon of hard rock miners from Geraldton, under Lt. I.R.F. Wilson, proved invaluable.  In practice it was the same as having a platoon of engineers attached.

There was little digging; dynamite had to be used and the battalion had the men who knew how to use it.  Soon a garbage disposal system evolved; the kitchens were improved; hot showers provided; floors laid in all tents; a proper ammunition storage shed built and, as a final gesture, a 300 yard rifle range produced. 

By August 15th, Mr. Peters, an auxiliary services officer, had managed to secure a moving picture projector.  Only about 50 men at a time could be accommodated but the ancient westerns and flaming love stories of the ‘20’s helped.  So too did the military band who played at every opportunity.  Mr. Peters arranged with the citizens of Grand Falls to extend hospitality to 100 men from Gander each weekend until all had made the trip.

On August 20th, Major-General W.H.P. Elkins CBE DSO, Air Minister C.G. Power and Air Vice-Marshal L.S. Breadner arrived on a tour of inspection.  Satisfaction was expressed.  The General confirmed the CO’s suggestion that a detachment be placed at Lewisporte and that concrete pill-boxes with an all around traverse be constructed to supplement the slit trench section posts round the runways.  At that time, a route march round the edge of the runways cover seven miles. 

Around this time, huts began to be erected.  A small engineer detachment under 2/Lt. “Rory” MacLeod RCE was attached to plan and supervise the work.  All labor was found locally, however, when the news was bruited that carpenters were being paid the phenomenal sum of $1.25 an hour, men came from miles away.  The Newfoundland government protested that the pay was much in excess of the prevailing rate, to which the reply was made that the QOR didn’t set the rate, Ottawa did!

The Legion Hall opened on September 5th.  A dry canteen under W.R. Robertson was opened and the first film show.  Six RCAMC orderlies arrived as the incidence of minor illness had arisen. 

General alarm practices was held at both Gander and Botwood.  By September 18th, Lt. S. Lett and his pioneer platoon had built a grenade range and made many improvements to the cam’s drainage and sewerage.  On September 19th, some 12 USA naval planes landed on Gander Lake, bringing many high ranking officers headed by Admiral J.W. Greenslade, USN.  At the same, Colonel C.S. Craig RCA, arrived to reconnoiter positions for AA guns.  Major-General C.F. Constantine, DOC, MD No. 6 came in from Halifax with Colonel Campbell DMO; Major Dawson DDO, and Commander Gow RCN.  The airport was alive with brass. 

A severe storm struck the airport on September 23rd.  A good many tents were blown down and some general dislocation resulted.  The continued bad weather postpone the return of the VIPs.  In spite of the negative aspects, all men were in hutments by October 1st except the officers.  They stayed in tents until the beginning of November. 

A snowstorm struck on October 18th and continued to rage until the 29th.  Section posts were flooded and drinking water became in short supply.  To this trouble, the pipes leading to the showers burst, so, once again the Pioneer Platoon swung into action.  The blizzard left several feet of snow.  All telephone and telegraph wires were out of commission and trains were from six to 12 hours late.  The outposts were put on a time schedule allowing the men to return to camp to sleep and railway cars were put on a specially constructed siding for the civilian pilots.

By October 31st, communication was reestablished but seldom does trouble come in singles.  It was around this time at lot of trouble was experienced with boots.  The Shoemaker couldn’t cope with the hundreds that had been worn out on the rocks.  The snow was turning to slush and, despite greasing, the boots were soaked in a very short time.  No reserve stock was available and rubber boots were in very short supply. 

The officers’ mess and sleeping quarters were sufficiently completed by November 2nd so they could move in.  The Pioneer Platoon had built a fireplace in the Ante-Room complete with regimental crest.  It all seemed rather luxurious. 

On November 10th at 1900 hours, the first flight of seven Hudson bombers took off for England.  All arrived safely. 

A fire broke out on November 12th at No. 7 Airport post.  It was completely destroyed but there were no injuries.  The following day word was received from Canada of a possible sabotage attempt.  The airport guard was doubled but nothing happened.  By this time, practically everyone had but one dilapidated pair of boots left and Lt. S.M. Lett had joined dozens of others stricken with colds and influenza but, alas, there was a ray of hope!  On November 18th word had reached Gander that the Royal Rifles of Canada would soon arrive relieving the QOR who would then leave for New Brunswick.  All was made ready and a farewell dinner was held November 20th.

 researched by Carol Walsh

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