Fighter pilot, Royal Navy 1945, Hydrographer Iraq 1947-52 India 1952-53, Canadian Hydrographic Arctic explorer 1953-1960, Writer-producer Canadian National Film Board 1961-72, Freelance journalist, audio-visual producer 1972-2009, National Press Club of Canada 1961 - 2006

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Wings Parade Pageantry


The Magic of it all

Several topical Hollywood movies made during the Second World War era showed for their emotional climax the wonderful passing-out parade scenes of  newly-fledged heroic young pilots receiving their hard won wings.  
They showed the triumphant lined-up ranks of the hero graduates, the watching crowds of cheering, proud parents and emotionally- charged admiring girlfriends, the massed bands and guards of honour and the distinguished four-star generals who were along to pin on the newly gained shiny wings and take the salute at the grand final march past.

Well, we Royal Navy, Fleet Air Arm ratings didn't expect to get a show like that.  
And we didn't.
Instead, a couple of days before, we were instructed to each go to the navy stores and buy a rating's red-cotton-embroidered pilot's flying badge.  They cost fourpence in Britain and so I think we had to pay a dime in Kingston, Ontario.  
We each had to drop the badge we had bought into an old cardboard box.  
Then on the cold and gloomy early morning of February 6, 1945, in a dark and freezing hangar, we were lined up—all the final nineteen of us who remained of the contingent of 121 which had landed in Boston ten months before.   Our names were called and (because I think our resident navy lieutenant was off somewhere else that morning, or maybe was still in bed) one by one we marched up to a Royal Canadian Air Force flight lieutenant and saluted him.  
A sergeant from the orderly room had the cardboard box in one hand and with the other he fished out the first pair of red wings he found.  These he handed to the RCAF flight-looey who shook the student's hand and gave him the wings.  They weren't even the same pair one had forked out ten cents for.  And they couldn't be pinned on because no one really knew where they should be worn by men dressed in traditional square rig.  Anyway, the badges didn't have any pins.  
So we just stuck them in our jersey pockets.  
For an audience we had, over on the far side of the hangar, half-a-dozen mechanics banging away with wrenches and ballpein hammers and in another corner a couple of guys hanging around the pop-dispensing machine, waiting for someone else to get the one-in-every-sixth empty bottle, which was the arbitrary way the pop makers manoeuvred things to keep payments in balance with the new one cent increase from five to six cents as the price of a Canadian bottle of pop at that time.  
Then we all just sloped off without anyone playing even a mouth organ.  That was it.  
I guess we had the rest of the day off.  
But, so what if there was no fanfare.  
We were Royal Navy.   
We had Royal Navy wings. 
And best of all, they were our wings.  
Also that day we were upped to petty officers with an accompanying modicum raise in daily pay.
That night we had a wings party in the local Kingston Yacht Club.  Just we nineteen and our handful of wonderful RCAF instructors.  
And just lots of beer and bits and pieces to nibble on.
The next day I helped clear up the empties and the day after that we were entrained for Halifax to board our ship back to Britain.


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