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Gander Streets







S/Ldr H.A.L. Pattison C.B.E

by Frank Tibbo

Gander's Pattison Place is named for the most prominent individual in Gander's history. Considering Gander's rich, albeit short, history, that's quite a statement.

Following his graduation from Cambridge University, Pattison joined the Royal Air Force and flew in France on the Indian frontier and in Palestine. In 1933, Flight Lieutenant Pattison was sent to Canada on exchange duty with the R.C.A.F. At first he served at Camp Borden, Ontario, as a signals specialist to set up the Wireless Service training. After seven months, he went to the RCAF Headquarters in Ottawa as assistant staff officer, Air Operations, in charge of organizing the RCAF Signals Service. His temporary assignment to Canada concluded in 1935, and he returned to London, England. When Pattison arrived back in England, plans were being made for transatlantic flights.

A year later in 1936, construction had started at Botwood and Gander. The Newfoundland government assumed the responsibility for the development of Botwood and Gander with the assistance, both financial and technical, of the British Air Ministry. Someone was needed to supervise the construction and operation of the Botwood radio station for the British Air Ministry. Pattison, an experienced RAF signals officer with experience in Canada, was sent to Botwood to head up the project.

The Botwood Radio Station was ready for operation in January 1937. The facilities enabled the operators to communicate with aircraft crossing the Atlantic and to afford navigational assistance in the form of medium and high frequency direction finders installed at Botwood. The direction finding receivers were among the first installations of this type put into operation anywhere in the world. The first members of the radio staff from the Air Ministry arrived at Botwood and began recruiting Newfoundland radio operators. In January 1937, communications was established with Foynes, communication which has been maintained to this day although the station was transferred to Gander on November 30, 1938.

Pattison oversaw the construction of Gander Airport for the United Kingdom and the Newfoundland government and became Gander's first airport manager; however, the British referred to the position as aerodrome control officer; and, of course, it was Newfoundland Airport. A 1938 newspaper report read, “Pattison becomes Newfoundland Airport's first Airdrome Control Officer.”

Work on the great airport continued, pavement was laid in August 1939, and war started in September.

In February 1939, Chestnut Avenue was built with its comfortable houses. Squadron Leader and Mrs. H.A.L. Pattison, Squadron Leader and Mrs. F.L. Ratcliffe, Mr. and Mrs. Ron Hayden of Shell oil and Mr. McTaggart-Cowan, meteorologist with the Department of Transport, Canada, were among those who established homes.

In April 1941, Gander was formally taken over by the R.C.A.F. from the civil authorities for the duration of the war. United Kingdom authorities, however, ordered Pattison to remain in Gander as officer in charge of the Air Ministry's wireless organization and as the liaison officer between Newfoundland, the RCAF, and the British Air Ministry, with particular reference to trans-Atlantic flights.

At the cessation of World War II, control of the airport reverted to the Newfoundland Commission of Government, and it was immediately necessary to provide accommodation for a large increase in civilian population. Squadron Leader H.A.L. Pattison, who had been acting as Liaison Officer during the war, resumed his previous position as airport manager; and Mr. R.A. Bradley returned to the position of Resident Engineer.

In 1944 he was appointed Director of Civil Aviation for Newfoundland; and when Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949, Pattison became Airport Manager at Gander under the Department of Transport. In May 1951, he became Canada's member of the ICAO Air Navigation Commission. Following six years in that appointment, he served as Department of Transport's representative at the Canadian High Commission in London.

The following is from a speech by Commissioner James Scott Neill, C.M.G., during the official opening ceremonies of the new terminal building at Gander Airport on September 14, 1946:

"We are thankful for the help received and I am indeed sorry that the Director of Civil Aviation is not here today to express his own thanks. Squadron Leader Pattison, as you know, may well be termed a foundation member of Gander and it is a great disappointment to him and to all of us that duty called him to a conference in the United Kingdom at this time. Throughout the years he has served Gander with loyalty, skill and devotion."

The following is from a 1944 issue of The Propagander published quarterly at U.S.ARMY AIR BASE, Gander.

"The first person here for the business of building the base was Squadron Leader H.A.L. Pattison, an Englishman on loan from the Royal Air Force." (U.S Army, 1944)

The following information is taken from an official report on the Hangar 6 fire and explosion:

“In early June, 1944, there occurred the greatest explosion ever heard in Gander. Fire broke out about 10:00 a.m. in Hangar 6. At 10:15 the building was a mass of flames. Four Liberator aircraft, spare aircraft engines and valuable radio equipment, in the hangar at the time, were lost. When the fire had been burning about one-half hour, depth charges in the aircraft in the hangar exploded, blowing off the roof of the building. There were hundreds of people in the vicinity at the time that scattered in all directions to avoid the falling pieces. In the ensuing panic a number of people were knocked down but none were seriously injured. When the explosion occurred minor damage was caused to nearby buildings, such as broken windows, etc. Some damage was done in the residence of Mr. Pattison. A radiator was dislodged, some windows broken and ornaments thrown from shelves. Mrs. Pattison was visiting her daughter in her apartment nearby at the time. The shock threw them on their faces giving them a shaking up, but they were not otherwise injured. Ammunition stored in the hangar was exploding all morning. A number of the fire-fighting personnel were injured. The loss was estimated to be in the millions.”

Credit was given to Pattison and his fellow members of the Local Authority for saving the airport from, what now would be called, a bureaucratic blunder, but then was covered by the exigencies of war. Prior to the airport being taken over and made into the largest military airport, and one of the largest military bases in the world, the local authority consisted of Squadron Leader H.L. Pattison, meteorologist Patrick McTaggart-Cowan, and a communications officer from Britain by the name of Fever. Military authorities, concerned that the Germans would invade and capture Gander and Botwood, gave orders to the local authority to render the bases useless for aircraft. The theory was that Gander and Botwood would be used by the Germans as a staging point for invading Canada and the United States. The three procrastinated because they were convinced that Gander could be used as a strategic military airport and staging point for getting aircraft to Britain. It soon became clear that the three were right and the orders were cancelled.

Back then the Airport Manager (Aerodrome Control Officer) had the authority to name streets on the airport as evidenced from this report:

“McClure Street was first named Queen Street and later changed to McClure Street by S/L Pattison. McClure, the British Air Ministry official who instigated the "Gander Scheme", wrote Squadron Leader Pattison asking if there was some way in which his interest in the station could be shown. Pattison obliged by taking the "Queen" sign down and replacing it with 'McClure'.”

The Newfoundland Airport Club was an exclusive club with a waiting list for members:

"Membership shall be at the discretion of the Executive Committee and shall be limited to a total of 275 paid Members who are residents of Gander (i.e. within a five (5) mile radius of the Gander Railway Station), and 25 Non-Resident Members. Of the 175 resident paid Members not more than 150 shall be Voting Members, the remainder being known as Associate Members. 'Non-Resident Members' shall not be eligible to become Voting Members." The Club listed one honorary member: H.A.L. Pattison, C.B.E., Honorary President.

Frederick Griffin, writing in The Star Weekly, July 15, 1939:

“Big airports – Croyden, Newark, LeBourget, Templehofer Field, Malton – are usually near great cities. But in the heart of Newfoundland, 200-odd miles north and west of St. John's, the capital, the largest airport in the world is nearing completion. This is the Newfoundland Airport, destined to put Atlantic on wheels. I have just come from a visit to it – and to Botwood, the flying-boat base, of which more presently. Squadron Leader H.A.L. Pattison, sent out originally by the British Air Ministry, runs this greatest of airports, for the Newfoundland (commission) government which is responsible to the Dominions Office in London. “ (Griffin)

The following telegram indicates that Pattison was not the type to settle for less than the best for his employees:

Telegram sent to Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs from the Governor of Newfoundland on January 26, 1938:

“No. 23. Confidential. Following for Woods from Pensor. Begins. Pattison has commenced advertising for applications for Wireless operators at the Airport announcing that Canadian rates of salary would be payable. Number of skilled wireless operators in Newfoundland is very limited and we are seriously alarmed lest recruits may be withdrawn from Canadian Marconi Company's Stations at Signal Hill, Battle Harbour, Cartwright, Hopedale, and other stations in Labrador. First of all these stations operates important ship direction finding apparatus and its continuous maintenance is essential; but there is a serious danger of breakdown; two trained men who are sole temporary staff available for relief duties at Signal Hill have already accepted posts at Airport and if regular men do likewise station cannot continue functioning. Same remarks apply to important Labrador stations of Battle Harbour Cartwright and Hopedale. Canadian salary rates are considerably in excess of rates being paid by Canadian Marconi which as you know are refunded by Newfoundland government. Raising Company's rates to Canadian government scale would cost Newfoundland government $5,000 a year. Would you kindly consider instructing Pattison that if he must pay Canadian rates, reason for which I am not aware of, he must recruit his operators from Canada or at any rate outside of Newfoundland as in case of Canadian government's stations at Belle Isle and Cape Ray. I would add that Canadian government rates are quite out of scale with general Civil Service rates of Newfoundland. Perhaps you would also kindly inform Dominions Office of the position---ends. Governor."

Both Squadron Leader Pattison and his wife were involved with the flying activities of the airport:

‘The second aircraft to land at the airport was piloted by Mr. C Bachman, a Swedish house-painter, who on May 15, 1939, was going to fly from Newfoundland to Stockholm in a Lambert Monocoupe. All he had was a railway map. Mrs. Pattison made sandwiches for this historic Atlantic flight, but the plane was so heavily fuelled that there was no room for them inside, so she tied them on a string inside the cockpit just above the pilot's head. The Pattisons saw him off at dawn but thought it was a risky business. The authorities would have stopped him here, but he had papers signed in the States giving him permission to attempt the flight. He had been told to pick out a rock in the Atlantic, which is sometimes invisible, and to change his course there; but he was advised by S/Ldr Pattison to set a rhumb line on Stockholm and hope for the best. He was never heard of again ... probably he was iced up about 300 miles out.’ (Archives)

It is worthy to note that prior to the arrival of these planes, the first plane to land on the new runways was the Gypsy Moth owned and operated by Mr. Douglas Fraser. The second plane to use the runways was a Beechcraft owned by Dupont Chemical Works of the USA and was the first to try night flying from the airport. All the field lighting had been installed at that time and was placed in operation. Squadron Leader Pattison and Mr. F.C. Jewitt were taken up on the first flight and Messrs. Ratcliffe, Bailey and Fred Chafe on the second

Pattison was one of the very few people who had a street named in his honour at the airport and another in the Town of Gander.

He retired in 1964 and died in England a few years later.


References: National Museums of Canada, R358 400971 H675, W/C F.H. Hitchins, Air Board/CAF and RCAF, Canadian War Museum paper no. 2, Mercury series, published by the Canadian War Museum, National Museum of Man; the RCAF Station Diary, Gander; the records of the Newfoundland Airport Club; The Propagander; The Star Weekly; the notes of Fred Chafe and the notes of H.A.L. Pattison.

Contributed by F. Tibbo

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