Military Ops




Reproduced with permission from The Beacon Supplement July 31, 1991



RAF Hangers Largest in the World during 1940's

A brief visit to the Royal Air Force Transport Command (RAFTC) station at Gander provided evidence of a different type of setup than was found on most America and Canadian military posts, although the general objectives were the same.       

The RAFTC station was formerly operated by ATFERO, a civilian organization acting for the British Ministry of Aircraft Production but the flow of deliveries to Britain was increasing so rapidly that they were unable to expand to meet it and in July, 1941, the RAF Ferry Command came into being, headed by Air Chief Marshall Sir Frederick Bowhill with headquarters in Montreal.  The RAFTC was formed with headquarters in England and the Atlantic Division of Transport Command in Montreal became known as 45 group.

The RAFTC unit at Gander was a staging post with important signals and control facilities capable of handling all delivery and communication aircraft using the North Atlantic routes.

As to composition and organization of Unit, the Aircraft Maintenance Department was composed of civilians recruited in Canada and Newfoundland.  The Signals Department was partly civilian, some of the latter were members of the original Signals detachment who came here in 1938.  There were also Hotel, Security, Motor Transport and Marine Base Departments, whose personnel were nearly all locally recruited civilians.  The Marine Base, which was situated on Gander Lake was a well equipped and organized little unit capable of handling all types of flying boats up to and including Boeing Clippers. 

The huge transmitter station, which was the largest station of its sort devoted exclusively to aviation on the North Atlantic continent, was supervised for the last five years by J.S. Gillingham, a Newfoundlander.

The first two large hangars (1941), were reputed  to be the largest in the world.  The roads on the RAF site had literal names; Bowhill Boulevard, Anderson Alley, Waafery Walk, Radcliffe Row and MacGillivry Mall, named for persons prominent in the development of the base.  The whole area was known as Beaver Centre, named for Lord Beaverbrook, former Minister of Aircraft Production in England.   

Curious to visitors was the bright red berets which were worn by the Security Guards, all Newfoundland recruited civilians.  The functional purpose of the red hats was merely to distinguish the guards from other uniformed personnel and, although the men were fond of them later, they disliked the fancy headdress at first. 

Several small cottages were built from lumber salvaged from old construction barracks by civilian personnel and the families of some of the men who lived there. 

Unlike the United States Army, the RAF was allowed to have wives on the post if the wives were already on this side of the Atlantic.  There were about 15 wives here, three of whom were Americans.

researched by Carol Walsh


top return to top