666 Air Observation Post Squadron:
On may 29th the trek to the continent began. The aircraft proceeded to Andover for six days to await the ground party's arrival at Gilze-Rijen, Holland. The latter travelled via Hornchurch, LST, Oostende and Antwerpen, thoroughly enjoying each and every moment of this scenic tour. The principle of war dealing with surprise was well observed, and our 150 men and 70 vehicles pounced upon Gilze-Rijen unexpected, unheralded, and unwanted. By D plus 362 the Squadron was reunited on the continent by the arrival of fifteen aircraft complete with crews. Good show, eh?
If you're smart you are wondering what happened to the sixteenth aircraft. Well, on June 20th Capt. Pat Harrison arrived with it from England, and in his relief to be with us again, dropped it from about twenty feet, wrote off the undercarriage, and left us with fifteen again.
June 6th saw the Squadron dispersed in Flights for the first time. Squadron HQ was at Hilversum doing nothing; "A" Flt moved to Dordrecht to support 1 Cdn Div; "B" Flight founds its way to Alkmaar to join 1 Cdn AGRA; "C" Flt set down at Ede to work with 3 Cdn Div.
June was a month of mobility and celebration. "B" Flight tired of their location after two weeks so pushed off to Maarssen. To keep things cozy 1 Cdn AGRA complete with Brigadier went along with them. At this point SHQ and the Flights were amalgamated into one complete group. Towards the end of the month, the communal spirit re-asserted itself and the whole Squadron converged on Apeldoorn. Accommodation in well-aired tents was found in the nearby village of Vaassen, while the aircraft were squeezed onto a strip occupied by three other AOP Squadrons.
The description in detail of the various parties and celebrations held by SHQ and the Flights would be indiscreet and probably libellous. Cigarettes were standing firm at one guilder, so ample funds for entertainment were available. These finances were somewhat superfluous anyway because we came into possesion of 500 litres of "Eclipse" rum. Saying that the Squadron was drunk for a whole month would be untrue, but certainly a rosy glow persisted for many weeks. Squadron HQ in their normal officious fashion immediately locked their rum issue in the armoured car, however even this defense was overwhelmed by the cunning of the thirsty ones. A party was finally arranged in a nearby sand-pit. No survivor of this affair can at this date be found, so we must rely on the reports of one who arrived only in time to help repair the damage. Hearing groans in the above mentioned pit, this Friend spent a whole night picking up recumbent bodies and returning them to their respective blankets. The resulting two weeks of inefficiency on the part of Squadron HQ was of course never noticed by the Flights.
"A" Flight approached the subject of liquor consumption with consummate care. First a secret session was held to which only the officers were permitted to invite themselves. The consiquences of this gathering were that the Flight Commander was not to be found for five days, and the rum was passed out as fit for general consumption. A stag party for the men was then held to make sure that the quality of this free liquor was sufficiently high to disperse to the local burghers'daughters. Needless to say a unanimous verdict was returnded and a successful dance was put on. Some of the ladies were brought from as far as Rotterdam which neccessitated them being put up for the night.
"B" Flight seemed to like their entertainment in boats and held a successful yachting party. We might mention here that is was found necessary to show a Sherman tank on strength in order to draw enough diesel oil to operate the yacht. Relations with the Crown were somewhat strained when a latrine was dug in the Queen's garden. A Netherland's order-in-council promptly forbade such excavations, so the project had to be abandoned. The reputations of "B" Flight was further impaired when Capt. C.E. Campbell (at that time operational) was caught by the Brigadier having Sgt. Johnstone fly his seven mile mail run by jeep.
The members of "C" Flight being notorious for their restraint and sobriety, entertained themselves in a sedate and soldierly manner. A successful dance was held at Ede at which no cases of drunkenness were reported. The exemplary conduct of the Flight officers may be traced to the fact that they were messing under the eagle eye of the CRA 3 Cdn Div.
Major D.R. Ely left the Squadron on June 12 to take up his new duties in connection with the C.F.E.F. Capt. A.B. Stewart assumed command and Capt. A.S. MacPherson became heir to the duties of Squadron Captain. Six days later five pilots left the unit for service in the Far East, some of whom got as far east as Vancouver, but we have been through all that before.
If as this point you think the record of the past four months has been pointless, wait till you see what comes next.
At the beginning of July we entered upon what we call the period of indecision. Never before have so many varied and intriguing rumours been spread. The tentative day for the liquidation of the Squadron was set for July 15th. Little did we know then that this date was only to be the first in a long series of disbandment dates. This stage of uncertainty was not peculier to ourselves alone. After some palaver 665 Squadron gave up the ghost and we took on part of their personnel. The flying duties were then shared between ourselves and 664. Further complications were offered by the formation of an occupational AOP Squadron. The burden of this task fell on 664 and after a few more rumours, some volunteers and low-point men were posted to that Squadron for duty in Germany.
Early in July the Squadron came directly under "Q" Moves at Army HQ and thus began our serious taxe-driving career. From this time until the unit finally does disband, our soul purpose in life is in sating the wanderlust of those in league with the high-priced help. Such cynical reflections have in no way prevented us from comfortably insinuating ourselves into the social life of the Netherlanders.
We were lucky indeed to fall heir to a fine café ideally suited for use as a canteen and cinema. The building came equipped with a Canadian Legion Supervisor, Bill Stewart by name, the first Auxiliary Services Officer we ever owned. This centre was in future to provide two movies or stage shows each week and contributed in large measure to the entertainment of the Squadron. Perhaps one of the reasons why any shows are well attended is that beer is usually served after the performance, Landlord Whitworth genially dispensing the ration. Many as the complaints are regarding the strength of Naafi beer, satisfactory results have usually been obtained. This life though soft was certainly dull. To alleviate the dullness, short leaves to Brussels and Amsterdam were started. Out of these grew many beautiful friendships and many interesting sights were seen. All of this contributed to the general education of the Squadron.
The fallacy that the officers could play baseball was continually exploded by various men' teams, in fact no combination could be found which was willing or able to lose to them. Scores ranged from 21 to 0 in favour of the Servicing section down to slightly narrower margins. From all these inter-Squadron games a powerful combination was finally chosen comprising representattives from every section of the unit.
Amidst all this frivolity the fact that there still was a war on was brought home to us by the posting of eighteen men to the Canadian Far East Force. Naturally they never got there, some even didn't get out of Blighty, but at least they moved somewhere.
At the end of July Capt. A.B. Stewart was promoted to the acting rank of Major. It is reported that this move was forced on Army HQ by the fact that it necessitated at least a crown to beat twenty odd captains and lieutenants into submission. This promotion brought to an end the previous "open season" on COs, so the wolves were obliged to vent their spite instead on the new 2 i/c Capt. A. Carpenter.
Doubts and speculations concerning the date of disbandment were temporarily put to an end by the official announcement that the 666 body-carrying league (Apeldoorn to all points north, south, east and west) would continue to function (Call Ext. 638) until 15 Sept. At this stage it was necessary to tighten the old belts once more, and start viewing the local fairer sex in the light of long term policy.
At this stage the Public Relations Officer draws to our attention that we're not paying much attention to fact. To remedy this oversight let us mention that during July an extensive educational program was put info effect.
Of course the first move in any such program is to make some unoffending officer responsible for it, and then to hound him to death. All this having been accomplished, it can be stated quite firmly that quite a few individuals received some benefit. Various courses were taken both in U.K. and on the Continent, while many conscientious souls were to be found poring over manuals of this and that. We lost faith however when our foremost "operator", desirous of estimating his shady profits, had his book on book-keeping stolen from under his nose. In case you are inclined to doubt the benefit liable to result from any Army course, just think over the consequences of a ten-day grind on "culture" in Paris.
A couple of months ago the Flight authorization book used the consist of such entries as "Local Flying Practice", and "Local Dicing 50 feet." Today however this sort of thing has been stamped out by the lethargy of the pilots and the scowls of the servicing party. Any pilot who now wishes to fly for pleasure is regarded with some distaste as wilfully abusing the announced policy of "Minimum work and even less effort." As a matter of fact the union only allows propellers to be swung by appointment after 48 hours notice.
Finally even the C.O. became most disturbed over goings-on at the airstrip. There were rumours of card-games being played by servicing personnel, pilots landing on the windsock, and even worse occurrances. Accordingly, one otherwise idle officer was daily appointed to do Flying Control in order to maintain a smart and soldierly atmosphere at the airstrip. This appointment has been received with enthusiasm and is eagerly awaited by each officer in turn. Within two days all Veré lights were expended so the Flying Control duty was in future carried out by sulking in the control van.
The tranquillity of August was only marred by the celebration of V-J day. The news of the atomic bomb was discussed and dismissed as only constituting yet another hazard to the poor blokes who have to fight these wars. We are not deluded for a moment into thinking that this new weapon will make wars so dangerous a pastime that mankind wil abolish them. On the departure of 664 Squadron for the wilds of the Third Reich, we fell heir to several personnel of that unit, and were also able to assist in the liquidation of their affairs in this part of the country. 666 Squadron also became the sole owners of the Auster strip at Apeldoorn complete with 18 Dutch guards. These Hollanders were considered so valuable that no effort was spared to make their life comfortable, we even loaned them a tent to sleep in and gave them rifles with which to defend themselves. Whenever the dreadful thought of doing this guard duty ourselves assailed us, we immediately approached these watch-dogs bearing still more gifts.
We feel that great credit is due to Army Signals for their valiant efforts to maintain telephonic communications to the airstrip. No matter how much wire the civilians expropiated for clothes-lines, line maintenance crews invariably tracked down the break within a week and restored the service.
During August quite a stream of officers and men left us for repatriation to Canada. At the same time a considerable number of polits, groundcrew and gunners reached the unit from AOP courses and the two other Squadrons. On Capt. Carpenter's departure, Capt. Johnston blundered into the post of 2 i/c and consequently became "the man we would most like to find with his throat cut". Further to this thought all personal weapons were called into Woody's emporium on Deventerstraat and subsequently sold to a demobilization depot.
As September 15 approached we waited confidently for the order "To repat depots-move", but of course were told to be patient until the 30th.
To forestall another crisis, the plan of a reduced Squadron was announced late in September. High point-score men were quite buoyed up by this change of policy and a good many of them seized the opportunity to make tracks for Canada. There were however several members who either simply could not afford to leave Holland at this time or felt incapable of withstanding the rigours of civilian life, and these strange characters are with us to this day.
The size of this reduced Squadron was set at ten aircraft and 94 all ranks, while its lease on life was signed up to the end of October. Scaling down to this establisment proceeded merrily for several weeks. Aircraft were presented gratis to various British squadrons, vehicles were delivered to all sorts of ordnance parks, and personnel were handed over to some charitable organization at Nijmegen.
Leaves to U.K. for those scheduled to remain in Vaassen were commenced with a ready queue for this chore. Nothing was accomplished by permitting this iniquity as these people always come back with a silly grin, having spent all the money they should have been using during the previous four months, and demoralized the unlucky ones with tall tales of mild and bitter evenings in Piccadilly, etc.
Once we were invited in a rather offhand way to take a part in a baseball championship being conducted by an RCAF Wing in Germany. Owing to the distance involved, Q Moves were told that all aircraft were grounded for modification to the perspex, and the team was flown to Hamburg. Due to some oversight on the part of the umpire, we lost this game by a very narrow margin. To vent his spite on the world one of our pilots put his aircraft up on its nose on returning to the strip, thus providing a fitting climax to a rather unfortunate day.
Amidst all the mud, tents and Dutchmen, many amusing incidents took place in the well-aired tents in Vaassen. No one caused excessive trouble wallowing to and from Cpl. Dixon's cookhouse. Those who didn't survive this trek were listed as "missing", while the majority stayed in their quarters and sent their Dutch batmen to draw rations. After three days rain everyone was always cheered up by any officer swimming in for a visit. In no way did these supreme efforts on the art of he Orderly Officer improve the drainage.
However it was not always wet. On a beautiful sunny morning it was a joy to see the crowd of urchins hurrying to and from preparing coffee and shaving water for their masters. How some brat of seven could carry a jerry-can taller than himself, forever remained a mystery but a help.
Again the latrine became public news. Although not necessitating parliamentary action it certainly became a centre of interest for the local Dutch burghers. This interest became so intimate that no one objected to a friendly "Goeie morgen" (believe me that i s friendly) with the locals during the morning session.
No mention will be made of miscellaneous fires. One did away with a tent in the lines with the assistance of the usual U/S RCAF extinguishers. Another almost destroyed the Orderly Room. Starting in a nearby chicken coop this blaze threatened F/L Dougall's home who took the whole affair as a personal affront. As the laboring Dutch brigade tried to put out the fire in the hen house, Dougall organized the force with a war cry "To hell with the chickens, save the office."
With the chilly days of Autumn, and the increasing infrequency of orderly officer's visits by jeep or by boat, it was carefully decided that the tent lines should be abondoned to some likely Dutch farmer and the men moved into available billets. This we thought a rather sharp idea - and so did the men.
The quarters, if dispersed, were comfortable, dry and warm, thanks to the very accommodating citizens of the village. Before and after this move the officers were housed in the Hotel de Cannenburgh, with the exception of the adjutant. As the men moved from under canvas this blue representative decided to rough it, pitched a tent in the front yard of the office and for some unknown reason made an effort to get back to nature. Unfortunately this had little effect on his ever increasing waist measurement.
One of the more interesting scenes during the closing weeks of our communal life was the queue formed daily at 1000 hours outside the C.O.'s office. The odd feature to these gatherings was the complete lack of headgear, while the BSM was always to be found on the sidelines complete with raw-hide whip. By 1030 this select body was usually turned away to go their sorrowful ways with the promise that the C.O. would definitely hear their speeding charges the next day, and if not then, surely during the following week. All Provost Companies please copy.
While discussing the tiresome subject of discipline it might be convenient to bring up our box score on vehicle casualties. We have left this to the end owing to the uncertainty of statistics and the habit these figures have of growing from day to day. At time of printing it stands thus: - jeeps - 8, 15 CWTS - 4 and 60 CWTS - 4.
In the above figures all minor accidents are overlooked, which makes the total look pretty grim, but one must remember the large number of miles driven. Our vehicles have worn tracks on the highways to Utrecht and Amsterdam, while all drivers are honorary members of the Provost impoundment camps.
Aircraft accidents present a completely different picture. In the early days of he Squadron so many flying machines were damaged that we lost count, but after our arrival on the continent it became a different story altogether.
In June, July and August the Squadron flew more hours per accident than any other Squadron in 84 Group RAF, a creditable achievment. At the close of October we have sustained only two accidentt in five months, neither of which were in any way serious. To augment this record we can mention our other achievments in the flying line. We have carried bodies to every available leave centre; we once flew a round trip of 200 miles to provide ketchup for an "A" Mess luncheon: sent two aircraft to pick up 300 pounds of essential documents which turned out to be one town of stationery; picked up boots and saddles in Brussels to equip twelve nags in Hilversum's military horse meet.
To give an accurate picture of our life in the swamp land it is necessary to make some mention of the Amsterdam Cigarette Exchange. This organization grew with the summer into a powerfully efficient outlet of Canadian business men and Canadian cigarettes.
The beginnings of this so-called black market were modest. Dealings between the have's and the have-not's took place all over the country at widely varying prices, with a maximum of good will and the least amount of avarice. Both sides soon decided however, that a market stabilization was necessary if the trade was to survive. The majority of the big operators were in Amsterdam so despite abortive attempts by Rotterdam and Den Haag, the official Exchange was set up in Dam Square, with branches in Chinatown and the local Provost Company's HQ. Telephone wires were leased to all sections of C.F.N. and the Maple leaf, official organ of the 1st Cdn Army, handled advertising and daily market quotations. Thus prices settled down and the business took on a more "respectable" tone.
As might be expected the set-up did not contine to be so easy and convenient. Some bright individual in the Dutch Govt. decided to withdraw all paper guilden in circulation, get accounts, and re-issue new money if it could be proven that credits in the old currency were arrived at by legitimate business.
This presented an almost insurmountable obstacle to the Canadian conscience. Fortunately our more practical Dutch brethren handled the situation with dispatch, and trading continued uninterrupted during and after the change over of money. Prices fluctuating between 75 cents and f 1.50 per cigarette before the market crash, were settled at 25 gulden per 100 in new dough and business continued as usual.
During the period of transition it became necessary, due to the shortage of ready cash, to quote prices in terms of Sterling as well. No firm market was established on the pound basis however, so the English Exchequer was not concerned with the existing traffic.
Most days found trading light in other articles of loot. Leugers originally drawing as high as f 500 fell to almost nothing while cameras were practically non-existent. Some bids were made in precious stones but found few sellers. The chocolate market held firm at f 1.50 bid, f 2.00 asked in new money, while our white belted friends looked on with interest.
Of all sights in Holland, none were so interesting as Dam Square on a busy afternoon. The khaki representatives of Canada packing kit bags of the where-withall and the local traders moving about armed with enough money to buy the Canadian Navy and take a first mortgage on Parliament Hill to boot.
Thus were our financial difficulties solved most amiably with little interest shown in Ilsley's new budget.
Such transactions were certainly not peculiar to the Squadron alone. Not only did all the units of 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Divs solidify their contacts with the Dutch traders but Army HQ participated in a more subtle and genteel fashion. Sufficient rank enabled them to use 666's checker cab service to the market, thus saving time, jeep tires, and Provost's patience at the innumerable speed traps on the Amsterdam highway.
And so you have the "Battle History of 666 Sqdn" Maybe it won't be history and certainly there were no battles, but for all, our service with the Squadron had been a time we shall not soon forget.
Air Force and Army alike learned much about each other's Service and work that, but for AOP, would forever have been a closed book. There have been moans and complaints, but in the days to come, such petty diffirences which may have existed will be easily forgotten and everyone will look back upon their life in the Squadron with a feeling of satisfaction and pleasure.
As this volume goes to press, odds are quoted that Squadron disbandment will be carried out on Oct. 31st and to get this printed before everyone leaves Holland, is no small rush. Composition and layout are not what we would have liked had the time been sufficient to do the job properly. We must give credit and thanks to those who in the last minute rush pitched in and gave us valuable assistance. Neil Moher for his typing, Rand Evans and Josh Segal for organizing the numerous Squadron photos and page layouts, and "Red" Baslaw for his cartoons.