In 1944, serving with the Royal Air Force Coastal Command, Frank Cauley's crew sank a German U-boat. Their Short Sunderland flying boat was damaged in the melée, but the crew flew home to safety after patching up the damaged plane with Wrigley's Spearmint gum.
Frank Cauley enlisted in November 1940 and flew in overseas service from 1942-1945. He finished the war as a Flying Officer.Frank Cauley
Frank Cauley (left) and Leading Aircraftman Tom Fettes (Royal Australian Air Force Tasmania) during training at Malton Airport, September 1941. Original photo published in the Gloucester Star.Frank Cauley
"We had, each of us had five sticks of spearmint gum, Wrigley’s Spearmint and as fast as we chewed it, he collected it, we plugged 36 holes."
And I was posted, as part of my training, down to a place called [Royal Air Force Station] St. Eval in Cornwall, down on the south coast [of England]. On [Armstrong Whitworth] Whitleys [medium bombers], we used to do practice runs into the English Channel and into the Bay of Biscay. On the fourth trip, we lost an engine and crashed in the sea. There was five of us in the aircraft and I was the only survivor. I spent three days in a dinghy, in the Bay of Biscay, off the coast of Spain. I was rescued by a British destroyer.
Then I went back to St. Eval and then picked up another crew. And, then I was posted to [No.] 106 Squadron at RAF [St. Eval]. I finished my tour. You have to do 30 trips over Germany – I was on [Avro] Lancasters [heavy bombers]. You get a month’s leave and you have to do another tour. That’s the deal when you join up. So I should have gone home, but I went to Warrington [RAF Burtonwood], to a re-pat [repatriation] depot, and the wing commander there said, “Golly, have I got a deal for you. You want to go on to a Canadian squadron?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, I’ll give you a refresher course in navigation and then I’ll post you to [No.] 422 [General Reconnaissance] Squadron, over in Northern Ireland.” So I thought for 10 minutes and then agreed.
Our first trip out of [RAF] Castle Archdale [Coastal Command] – the Brits had broken the German code, the Enigma code, and they knew there was a German U-boat out about 400 miles in a certain section of the Atlantic. And, that was our goal. So we went out, after – we took off at 11 o’clock in the morning. After about four hours, we cut to the search place, and on the second leg, we spotted the German U-boat. It was U-boat 625. We went in and attacked it, four depth charges, and we sank it. And we have the pictures – we had a camera in the tail. While we were attacking it, there was a German gunner on the conning tower, who shot at us as we came in, and we couldn’t take evasive action. And we got a big hole in the, below the water line, in the – these are seaplanes that we were flying, [Short] Sunderlands [flying boat patrol bombers]. So, we had the big hole, and we had about 36 holes all around it from, rivets and holes, from the .5 gun.
We patched a big hole, we had emergency leak stoppers – they were metal things, like Meccano sets. But what to do about the small holes, you know, we didn’t know what. It wasn’t my idea, but the [flight] engineer, Ted Aikens from London, England, he said, “Let’s plug it with chewing gum.” We had, each of us had five sticks of spearmint gum, Wrigley’s Spearmint and as fast as we chewed it, he collected it, we plugged 36 holes. We went up to 3,000 feet. The gum froze and meanwhile, we broke WT [radio] silence and told them back in Northern Ireland at Castle Archdale, what we were doing. And, when we got back there, he landed, and there was crash boats, and everything. But, everything held. We landed and it hit the papers and it hit the Ottawa papers, and the London papers, and my pilot got the DFC [Distinguished Flying Cross] and I was Mentioned In Dispatches.* I was promoted to Flying Officer right away.
The war ended. I was in London for VE [Victory in Europe] Day. Then I came home on the [SS] Île de France and into New York and back home. I was 23, I was a flying officer at $7.50 a day, with seven medals and back with my family.
*For brave or meritorious service.