Reproduced with permission from The Beacon Supplement July 27, 1977


Gorden Stanley

“I was the radio operator on duty the night we got a message from the flight from Goose Bay informing us that four men had jumped out without the Captain’s permission,” Gordon Stanley, former railroad agent from Placentia said as he recalled some of the experiences he’d had during the early days in Gander.  He had come to Gander from Botwood in 1938 to work with the British Ferry Command. 

 Even though work had begun on the airport at Gander in 1936 by the British government, all radio communication with aircrafts was handled from Botwood until 1938. 

 Our base of operations was where the Old Navy Site is now and it was our job to sit on watch and record the weather in our area and keep schedules with Shannon, Ireland and Preswick, Scotland.

 The Weather Office had not been set up so we copied the International broadcasts and reported to Patrick Mactaggart-Cowan, who represented the Canadian Weather Service.

 There were no regularly scheduled flights though Pan American and British Imperial (later B.O.A.C.), were running survey flights which were investigating the possibility of establishing such a service.  One plane would leave from each take-off point and they would cross paths in mid-Atlantic.  It took 18 hours for the trip.

 We gave these flights weather reports and since there was no air traffic control they made their own flight plans and muddled through the best way they could.  They even tried loading a Mercury aircraft piggy-back on a Boeing Sutherland because the Mercury was too heavily loaded with fuel and mail to get off the ground.  They only tried this once.

 This particular flight, from which the men had made such a hasty department, had left Dorval for Gander by way of Goose Bay to bring in personnel and supplies.  About 1 a.m. the flight left Goose Bay and as they were crossing the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, one of the heaters on the plane caught fire and started to smoke.  The pilot put the aircraft into a steep dive to clear the smoke and when he did, four men jumped out.  They notified us that they were going to circle around and descent to look for the men but by the time they were organized and back in the area the fog had set in and no trace could be found of the three Canadian servicemen and one Newfoundland Ranger.

 Two of the men were never found and it was assumed that they went down in the Straits of Belle Isle or in the waters along the French Shore but one serviceman and Ranger Hogan landed by a pond.  Ranger Hogan, who was experienced in the woods, thought he was the only survivor and he immediately left the open country and made a shelter in the woods from his parachute.  He made a fire and spent a comfortable night.  The next morning he met the other survivor who had spent the night tramping through the woods.  This man was suffering from frost bitten feet.  They searched the area together and found an abandoned shack which provided some shelter but the only provisions in the cabin was a cake of soap which Ranger Hogan used to make a poultice for the other man’s feet.

 In the three months that they spent there, they were only able to catch one rabbit.  They ate roots, bark and spruce and birch tops and when they were found in the spring by some trappers, Ranger Hogan who had weighed 190 pounds was down to 90 pounds.  The serviceman lost his foot by amputation when he arrived at a hospital but the poultices had kept down infection and saved his life.

 We were all in uniform, civilians and military alike, said Mr. Stanley.  I wore the blue uniform of the R.A.F.T.C. (Ferry Command) and we, along with the Royal Canadian Air force, the Royal Canadian Army, the American Air Force and the Royal Air force, were all under military rule.

 We (the Ferry Command) lived in the Administration Building and in order to visit our friends, we might have to pass through three or four “zones” all operated by different branches of the armed forces from different countries.  At each of these we had to show our pass when challenged.”

 In 1940 Mr. Stanley married Violet Walters from Gambo.  She couldn’t live on the base and if he G Stanleywanted to go home on his day off he had to get written permission to leave and written permission to get back in.

 In 1942 he was able to bring his family to live at Gander.  They had a three bedroom apartment in the Mars Building across the road from the present EPA hangar.  The rent was $40 a month, heat and light included.  The only thing they brought with them was their personal effects.

 Everything else was supplied from the fridge to the cup towels, Mrs. Stanley remembers that if a cup was broken, one simply saved the pieces and got a new one.  The cost of having sheets laundered was four cents in the Laundromat behind the railway station and she fondly remembers. 

 Gus Bailey’s bread which was baked for Goodyear’s store.  She says it was the best she ever tasted.  They shopped in the Ferry Command Store and everything  was at cost price.  This was located in the brick building now occupied by the Forestry Department. 

 One of the unpleasant things about life on a military base was getting needles for every disease known to man or so it seemed to the Stanley’s.  They remember lining up every three months for shots for diphtheria, mumps, measles, Cholera and many other infectious diseases. 

 There was no shortage of entertainment though they made a lot of their own fun.  They went to movies, played cards with their friends and occasionally were entertained by visiting U.S.O. shows.

 After the war, the Ferry Command came under the jurisdiction of the Newfoundland Civil Aviation under the Commission of Government and then after Confederation the Department of Transport took over.  Between 1945 and 1949, a great many people were on the “dole” at 9 cents a day but wages at Gander didn’t change.  They were considered fortunate to receive such a high salary.  The Commission didn’t spend any money except on what was considered essential services but saved everything they had.  Even though a great many Newfoundlanders were suffering because of lack of jobs, the Commission of Government passed over forty million dollars to Canada when they joined Confederation. 

The Stanley’s remained in Gander after Mr. Stanley retired a few years ago and they still receive mail addressed to “B” building, Beaver Centre, Gander, which was the address of the  Ferry Command during the Second World War.


researched by Carol Walsh



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