Remembering the Telegraphist Air Gunners
British East Camp Veteran [Leslie Hodges] returns to Yarmouth British East Camp Veteran Returns to Yarmouth August 30, 2011 (From The Vanguard, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia) Article in The Vanguard (Yarmouth NS): By Eric Bourque novanewsnow.com Leslie Hodges was just a teenager during the Second World War when he left his native England and wound up in Yarmouth and was stationed at East Camp [at RCAF Station Yarmouth]. He arrived in 1944. He was 18. “When I came here I was a trainee air gunner,” Hodges, now 85, said during his first visit back to Yarmouth since the war. Asked about his first impressions of Yarmouth when he got here, he says what stood out most of all was the peacefulness of the area, a much different situation from what it had been like back home. “It was quite a shock for us, because we had all come from bombings in England and so when we arrived here, it was like a new world,” he said. “Everything was quiet.” His main reason for wanting to return to Yarmouth was to see the graves of four friends of his fellow Englishmen and East Campers who were killed in a crash involving two aircraft [Ansons]. The planes reportedly had collided while returning from a training operation. Last Wednesday, two days after his arrival for a week long visit to the area, Hodges went to Yarmouth Mountain Cemetery to view the grave sites. The four Albert Brooks, Henry Taylor, John Bennett and Raymond Stanier were around the same age as Hodges, in their late teens, when they died [Also lost in the crash were the two pilots; Pilot Officer J. N. Richardson, in Anson 11233, and Flying Officer G. Freese, in Anson 7146]. “They finished their course, they got their wings and they were just finishing when it all happened,” Hodges said. Still, he says he focuses on the good memories he had of Yarmouth and he had a chance to reflect on them during his visit last week, including a stop at the Yarmouth County Museum to view some old wartime pictures in the museum’s archives. “I found the photographs of my friends and I could recognize them because they’re still in my head as they were when they were 18.” Discussing what it was like to see those photos, he said, “You think of the happy times. You do. No sadness…just happy memories because we had good times together as a group”. His recollections of his days as a young man in Yarmouth during the war include recreational activities like basketball and bowling. One of his earliest memories is of visiting a local café and trying T-bone steak for the first time. He recalls visiting a house near the airfield, although he wasn’t able to find it this time. But then 67 years have passed since he first set foot in Yarmouth and a lot can change and has changed. Indeed, he said he found present-day Yarmouth a much different looking place from the one he remembered. “It was a country village to me (in 1944), coming from London,” he said. A resident of Epsom [in Surrey], part of the Greater London area, Hodges is a retired jeweler and before that was a silversmith who says he had been thinking of coming back to Yarmouth for a long time. His son, Trevor, helped make his father’s wish come true. He contacted Yarmouth-area resident George Egan, president of the Wartime Heritage Association, and the two took care of the details of the trip. Egan offered to have Hodges stay with him at his home in Dayton and picked him up at the Halifax airport on Aug. 22. “I’ve enjoyed myself immensely,” Hodges said. “George has fed me and we’ve sat and chatted until one in the morning.” Initially, Hodges said he expected to be on his own in Yarmouth having to find what he was looking for by himself, but with Egan as his host and guide, he said the visit turned out to be even better than anticipated. In other words, some things about Yarmouth apparently haven’t changed in 67 years. The hospitality Hodges found in Yarmouth this time apparently was similar to what he experienced back when he arrived as an 18-year-old. Recalling those days of long ago, he said, “We were immediately made welcome everywhere we went.”
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