With the declaration of War against Germany, the Canadian government found itself ill prepared for what
this declaration committed them to. The military was something that had been left to crumble and now the current
level of men and materials needed to join the war effort would not meet the simplest action.
The Senior Services, the Army and the Navy at least had some equipment and bases to train the new recruits. It was the
Air Force which had been nothing more than a "flying club" was in a much dire position. Only a few aircraft mostly
obsolete, even fewer pilots and no training bases of worth. Those Canadians who were serious about a career in military aviation
, such as Wing Commander John "Moose" Fulton future CO of 419 Moose Squadron joined the RAF.
Fortunately the Canadian government in association with the British government had talks in December of 1939
about setting up the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
By April of 1940 St. Thomas and Trenton had become the first operational training bases in the BCATP.
"Winty" Shoemaker enlisted on Aug 28, 1940, a year that is common with the enlistment of many 419 aircrew and ground crew personnel.
Shoemaker from Paisley, located in South Western Ontario, was one of many future Moosemen from this area. Men from
Goderich, Exeter and Brussels
along with those from the city of London Ontario would become part of the famous Squadron. One other future Moosemen would
be from a town much closer to Paisley, Sgt. Eric Winkler of Hanover.
After enlistment "Winty" along with many others would be posted to Number 2 Manning Depot at Brandon Manitoba. The
Air Force seemed to like the idea of sending their new recruits to buildings whose former occupants were livestock. Just as the
men of No. 1 Manning Depot Toronto found themselves in the CNE grounds Horse Building, Shoemaker found himself in the former
fair grounds in Brandon. The buildings being somewhat readied for their new human tenants.
Once the civilian who had entered the Manning Depot had been fully militarized in the arts of marching, saluting,
proper dressing, cleaning brass.
Not to mention all the other things military, they were then posted to a training base for the trade
which they had selected on enlistment.
First stop in AC2 Shoemaker's training was at Number 2 Wireless School at Calgary. No. 2 was a new center opening in September of 1940.
It would not be until December of that year before it was completed. This would be about the time that AC2 Shoemaker would
arrive to begin training.
Following that he was posted to No. 4 WS at Guelph Ontario, much closer to home. It was a common sight through out the area of training bases
to see airmen hitch hiking home for weekends if they could get a pass.
Getting a pass for a weekend Leave often depended on the marks the airman received.
His understanding of electronics, radio
and antenna theory as well as troubleshooting skills made a difference in getting away from Base or being confined to Base.
With successful completion of his courses he received his Leading Aircraftman propeller, along with his Wireless Operators shoulder flash
an indication to all he was a trained Wireless Operator.
LAC Shoemaker's next step was the dangerous crossing of the Atlantic. (RCAF personnel volunteered for Overseas service
, not all who wanted to go
There is no information on his part of his service life, so I will use my knowledge from my father of what
went into getting to Britain.
After one or two weeks leave the airmen were whisked off to Halifax where as with all the military movements
they rushed just to wait sometimes for days sometimes weeks.
Halifax harbour was the beginning point of many of the convoys to Britain. Here train load after train load of soldiers airmen
and others waited for the allotted ships for the long voyage. When the ship was ready for men, an attempt at keeping the event
secret was put in place. The men would march and gather in numbers as
they moved through the streets of Halifax. For these security reasons usually under cover of the darkness of night in silence, well as silent as
thousands of marching feet could be, then they would stand in long lines awaiting their turn to board.
Shoemaker left Halifax around November 28th and arrived in Britain prior to December 9th. The speed of the crossing
indicates he was most likely
crossing on one of the "Queens" either Queen Mary or Queen Elizabeth. Two luxury liners who normally carried 2,000 passengers
were now transporting 10,000 plus men per crossing.
Crammed into every nook and corner they could find, berths six high with barely enough room to slide into. From the
upper deck cabins down to "E" deck well below the water line. Men everywhere. A life boat drill was called and it was apparent to all
that there was no chance for anyone below decks to survive a torpedo attack. And only a slim chance for the others anywhere else on the
Long lines for meals, washrooms and people sick everywhere. I am sure LAC Shoemaker would have many stories to tell of just the
crossing alone. The only grace was the fact that the Queens were faster than any other ship and the crossing
was swift if not with comforts or breathing room.
Once in Britain, LAC Shoemaker would see a whole different world, unlike what he had been used to. Rationing, Blackouts, Air Raids among other
things in the new daily life of the British.
After a short period at No. 3 PRC at Bournemouth, the RCAF reception base for all who arrived,
Bournemouth was a stones throw from Luftwaffe bases in France and was a target of enemy fighters.
Here the men awaited their postings while being billeted with locals in their homes or hotels if lucky.
Shoemaker was posted briefly to RAF Wilmslow, most likely to make room at PRC for more arrivals.
His first official posting was to No. 115 Bomber Squadron RAF.
He then was posted to No. 1 Service School for training on the newer radio equipment. After this
training he was posted to an RCAF Bomber Command squadron located at Mildenhall in December of 1941.
419 Moose Squadron had only just begun operations that month.
LAC Shoemaker would find himself as
one of the few RCAF ground crew of the mainly RAF attached to the squadron at that time.
419's Wellingtons had only just begun to arrive.
For "Winty" it would have been a busy time, the arriving Wellington's wireless and intercom systems needed to be completely checked out before
being accepted by the RCAF. Then as January 1942 419 Squadron became fully operational and started flying over Europe.
These Wellingtons going
on operations would also need radio and intercoms to be checked out and kept in good repair.
Unlike the other "Erks", the RAF slang for ground crew, Shoemaker would service all aircraft in the squadron rather then
being responsible for one aircraft. He and the other WO ground crew would report to two different section Officers.
The Squadron Signals Officer and the Squadron Engineering Officer, this would be through the ever watchful eye of the Flight
Sergeant in charge of one of the two Flights.
Returning crews would complete a Snag Book entry for any mechanical, electrical or airframe fault. The Sgt. in charge of the
ground crew for an aircraft would request via the F/S that a WO would work on the problem.
Shoemaker would do what was necessary to correct the defect, then sign off on the repair. The F/S would check with
the aircraft's WO to see if he was satisfied. Then all these reports were passed along to the Squadron Signals and
The work for all ground crews went on out doors no matter what the weather and no matter how long it took. Telling the F/S
that an aircraft would not be ready for operations was not a pleasant experience.
Post 419 Postings
LAC Shoemaker completed his time with Bomber Command in 1942 and became part of No. 3063 Service Echelon at RAF
Digby. Here the ground crews were not assigned to squadrons but as with Fighter Command policy they were assigned
to a Base or Wing. This Echelon was assigned to a Night Fighter squadron flying the Beaufighter.
In May of 1943 he would again take part in a dangerous voyage on the Atlantic, this time to Tunisia.
The RCAF was to take part in a poorly planned and thought out operation to aide the invasion of Italy. Three
RCAF squadrons flying Wellingtons made up 331 Wing at Oairouan. This time LAC Shoemaker found himself fighting the heat
and blowing sands of the desert damaging everything. The Wellingtons were a poor choice for the types of dirt runways and
the high temperatures. The problems brought about the decision after six months to return the three squadrons back to Britain.
Winty Shoemaker now was posted to County Durham in November, no more warm sun just the damp cold of this area of
Northern England. His posting 61 Base, Heavy Conversion Unit where crews trained on the larger heavy bombers, such as the Halifax and the
Lancaster which most RCAF squadrons were now flying.
Now as 1945 opened up, the air war in Europe was winding down the RCAF began to send home ground and
air crews home. The plan had always been that first Overseas would be first home, something that Shoemaker was lucky enough to
be part of. Others were not so fortunate as newer crews began to fly home before those who had been Overseas much longer. It was a problem
which RCAF could not realize would cause so much trouble to them.
By February of 1945 Corporal Shoemaker was back home in Ontario. Within days he married and awaited his complete
discharge from the RCAF which came in April.