Remembering the Telegraphist Air Gunners East Camp
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Wartime Heritage ASSOCIATION
Over the years I have walked the pathways and the platforms of what was, between 1942 and 1945, the Fleet Air Arm Royal Navy Base that was East Camp located in the area across from the present Yarmouth Airport. My first trips to the site was in spring and summer of 1987 as I was writing the scripts for “Meet the Airmen” a stage production about East and West Camps, West Camp being the RCAF Station at Yarmouth during WWII. At that time I was trying to recreate the story of wartime Yarmouth with so little knowledge. As I walked those pathways at that time I tried to imagine East Camp as it was in the 1940s and the British recruits that lived and trained there during the war. There was a photo in a family album of a young TAG, Bill West, my only direct connection to what was East Camp. Little did I realize at that time the connections that would be made in the years ahead; the Telegraphist Air Gunners that as teenagers trained in Yarmouth or their family members that I would meet, my association with TAGA (the Telegraphist Air Gunners Association in England) as an associate member or my visits to England, especially to Gosport and Portsmouth the home of the Fleet Air Arm Royal Navy. In 1987, I never for a moment considered that I would talk and write to Bill West, or meet his family, that I would meet Les Sayer in England, the Telegraphist Air Gunner that was on the plane that disabled the Bismarck; Eric May that would I meet and visit in England and he would visit with me in Yarmouth; Leslie Hodges who would spend a week with me returning to visit the place where he trained as an eighteen year old and who would call me on Sunday evenings until his death in 2012. My last visit to East Camp was with the son and daughter of William Jacks, Leading Air Mechanic, Fleet Air Arm Royal Navy, who was in Yarmouth at East Camp during the war. On that occasion we was told we were trespassing on private property and would have to leave. I have not been back since; however, there is a monument on the site to the history of the TAGs that can be visited, which I suspect few know exists. Our search for the location of the Air Mechanic Building was perhaps too close to rock weed or Irish moss drying on the old tarmac. I doubt if the person who spoke with us had any idea of the history of the place or why someone would travel thousands of miles to walk the area. In December of 2003, the cast and crew of “Time To Remember visited the site on December 22. They would perform for the first time at Gosport, England for the Telegraphist Air Gunners Association in May of 2004. It was opportunity to remember that the first course of TAGs first arrived on December 25, 1942. The history of the site is unique to Canada and to Yarmouth. East Camp was a part of the World War II RCAF Station, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. The Camp was located on a twenty acre area of the airport with a main entrance from the Chebogue Road in the Arcadia area of Yarmouth County. The Camp included forty buildings,including aircraft hangars, messes, and quarters for the men. The building were arranged on a sloping hill upward to the hangars and main runways. Construction began in 1941 by an Ontario construction Company using local men. British Columbian fir were used to construct the hangars. Messes and quarters were built from wood cut and milled in south western Nova Scotia. Metal parts used in the construction were machined at the Hebron Shoe Factory. Approximately ten teams of carpenters, consisting of fifteen to twenty men with a foreman. Local carpenters were used from Yarmouth, Wedgeport, Carleton, Port Maitland, and the Work was carried out on one building at a time until completed No 45A was first TAG course. They arrived in Yarmouth by train from Halifax departing from HMS St Vincent Gosport, England. About 250 RAF personnel, a detachment from No 34 OTU (Pennfield Ridge) occupied other quarters in East Camp for several months after No 1 NAGS was officially formed on January 1, 1943. The base was used for training Telegraphist Air Gunners, Fleet Air Arm, Royal Navy as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. It was a unique multi-service school with both ground and air training by the Royal Navy and administration by the Royal Canadian Air Force. The main base for Telegraphist Air Gunners was located at Worthy Downs, Portsmouth, England. British recruits in England were divided into two groups fifty percent to be trained in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and the second fifty percent trained at Worthy Downs. Ground school and in-flight training took about ten months. Ground training was supervised by Royal Navy Petty Officers in the School Training Centre. The TAGs received training in Morse code, Radio Operations, Discipline, Gunnery, Naval regulations, and Flight Experience. In-flight air experience included proper sending and receiving communication techniques and air gunnery training while flying as crew in Fairey Swordfish and Avro Anson aircraft. The pilots were from the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, RCAF, RNZNVR and the RNZAF. The goal of training was to produce air gunners for use on British aircraft carriers. Since 1987 the history of TAGs has become for Wartime Heritage an ongoing venture to remember our wartime history. We have learned about Merchant Aircraft Carriers - MAC Ships though out connections to Fred Good; the story of the Pacific Fleet through Bill West; the story of the TAG called “Canada”; the contribution to history of Anthony Kenneth Johnson, the father of Pieter Johnson; and the story of the Palembang Nine; the Channel Dash; of the contribution of the war effort by Lionel Reginald James and so many other stories that connect the Town of Yarmouth to World War II. In our modern world, the remembrance of the past is so important because, with time, our Town and County contribution to wartime history continues to fade away. Remembering the TAGs who trained in Yarmouth as part of our history and our contribution to the freedom of the world during WWII needs to be remembered. Written by George Egan Chairman, Wartime Heritage