Thursday, October 4, 2012

CHARLES CLAY LEAF ~ "Christmas Day of 1940 was probably the most important day of my life and one that followed many weeks of indecision. On that day at age 19, I decided to join the RCAF, a decision that launched a flying career for the next 31 years. I was ineligible for the U.S. Army Air Corps since it required a minimum of two years of college. That was not the case with the RCAF. A brief visit to the Canadian Consulate confirmed that I could serve in His Majesty’s Forces without jeopardizing my citizenship in the US. I could attend flying school and become an officer or sergeant pilot for combat duty overseas. At No. 9 Service Flying Training School, Summerside, I met a few more Americans and many Canadians from the former months in Toronto. We were advised that our stay would be about four months and was to include formation, night and instrument flying. Our training plane was the Harvard, a two-seat monoplane with radial engine, and retractable wheels for better speed and maneuverability. They were newly built models and were called the AT-6 back home. The staff and instructors were RCAF officers and we experienced a more disciplined regime than we had in the past. The planes were heavier and more complex so that flying them was more rigorous. My instructor was a personable fellow and I tried hard to follow his advice. One of the more difficult tasks was to recover the craft from a spin. Normally, you had only one chance and that had to be done correctly. Being late in the fall season, ice had formed over the sea. The instructor pointed out a large round hole in the ice where a plane had dived into the sea. The student had been unable to recover from his spin! Time passed quickly while we attended classes in the mornings and flew in the afternoon and evenings. Good autumn weather prevailed and we enjoyed an occasional weekend break to visit the island. Our favorite spot was the small town of Tignish, located at the tip of the Island. It possessed a graceful stone lighthouse and a small but comfortable hotel. The folks there were very friendly. One evening, quite late, I was entertaining a young lady in the hotel lobby by the fireplace. The front door opened and, to our mutual embarrassment, in burst a whole group of travelers. I was not aware that the hotel also served as a bus terminal. Our final days at Summerside involved the much more complex flying by instruments. The trainees flew beneath a canopy in the rear seat. The instructors would observe in the front seat. They offered suggestions for techniques that could ease the habit of over controlling, which would create stress and ultimate panic. Due to my instructor's perseverance, I was able to trust the flight instruments despite some sensation that the plane was in a turn or descending. This feeling is popularly known as "flying by the seat of your pants!” Months later, while flying in England, this training would prove invaluable in the face of poor weather and limited visibility. Time passed quickly while we attended classes in the mornings and flew in the afternoon and evenings. My greatest thrill up to that point was a solo flight at night. The sky was clear and the air crisp. I was alone in the sky with a panorama of stars and distant lights of a town. Time again had passed quickly and with excellent flying weather our course was completed before the Christmas season. Both staff and students were cheerful to learn that all would be provided home leave for the holidays." (Photo: Charlie Leaf (middle-center) and Course 35 mates at Summerside) Note: Charlie Leaf received his RCAF pilot wings at No. 9 SFTS Summerside, October 24, 1941. After completing operational training in England, Leaf was posted to the Western Desert serving with No. 33 Squadron (RAF). He transferred to the USAAF, December 20, 1942, and was posted to the 57th Fighter Group. His story continues ~ "I delivered my last Spittie, armed and serviceable to the 103rd Maintenance Unit at Abu Kir, near Alexandria. Another all day truck ride to Cairo, only to find that our home and office, the "Egypt," had moved somewhere up the Nile. I found her after hours of search, and went aboard to discover that most of our group had dispersed. Fortunately, Sgt. McCloy from Hamilton, Ontario, had also just returned. He advised me that both of us had been reassigned to the 33 Squadron located somewhere in the desert. In the more comfortable fall season of 1942, we were settled on a desert airbase known as Landing Ground (LG) 98, a few miles north of Cairo. Our runway was a 5,000 foot sand strip marked by rows of salvaged petrol drums. The tents were fabricated in India, their dull white color blending well with the desert sand. All of the tents were scattered in the event of an air attack and each had a nearby convenient "slit trench" for protection. Most of our Hurricane fighter planes were of older vintage, patched up and "war weary." There were also shortages of petrol and ammunition. The veteran pilots of multi-nationalities include a few Poles and Americans, many of whom had endured the long retreat eastward from Tripoli. September 28: Today I intended to complete many odd jobs but a dog mixed everything up. F/O Bob Kehrer (Course 37 graduate at Summerside)stopped by to ask for some .32s and also to give me his dog, Prince. The thing is still around just barely surviving the heat, lapping up water every few moments. Bob and I plan to visit Cairo this P.M. to visit a show – will take a chance with Prince to see whether or not he will remain nearby the tent. Hq., Ninth Air Force, Army Air Corps, Cairo, December 24, 1942: For Mike Marcus, Jim Smith and me, this day was special. Our hopes became reality! We were sworn in by Adjutant General Smith and commissioned 2nd Lieutenants in the U.S. Air Corps. By orders we were rated as pilots and 'required to participate in regular and frequent flight' meaning that we were entitled to flying pay!"