Veteran Stories:
Alvin Harold Prentice

Air Force

  • A Royal Canadian Navy Supermarine Seafire on HMCS Warrior like the ones Alvin Prentice flew during the war years.

    Canadian War Museum - George Metcalf Archival Collection
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"So we spent two very enjoyable weeks on this farm in Devon and we were riding their horses. They had riding horses. And we would ride past the prisoner of war camps that were filled with German and Italian prisoners of war and the looks that we got in our British uniforms as we rode by these POW camps on our horses was really something. "

Transcript

We were in No. 1 Manning Depot [Toronto] I guess for two or three months. And it was mainly marching and drill. We had a drill sergeant, a Sergeant Chapman, who was our drill sergeant. And most days of the week we would be drilling and going on route marches down towards Lakeshore Road west to the old Saint Joseph’s Hospital at Sunnyside. And, yeah, that took up about the first two or three months. The first ten days we were in what was called the sheep pen at the old Exhibition Grounds. And during those first ten days we got acclimatized to the Air Force, got our inoculation needles and packed up our civilian clothes and sent them home and it was just a sort of an introduction to the military. And then we were moved into what was known as the bullpen. And there would be probably a couple of thousand airmen in there taking basic training. And being the bullpen, on the damp days, you could easily detect from the smell in the air that it had been a bullpen. But we had all the necessities of life. We had long rows of shower stalls, open toilet booths, maybe a row of 50 or 55 toilets all in a row. Shower stalls and long rows of wash basins where every morning the men shaved and those wash basins would accommodate maybe 60 or 65 people at any one time. There would be that many wash basins. Yeah, [No. 1] Manning depot in Toronto was quite large. At the same time, the Army occupied what had been the horse barns and the Air Force occupied the bullpen, sheep pen and the electrical building. And that’s where the Air Force motorized vehicles were located. And the Navy also occupied another building, a smaller building. So there were all three services in the old Exhibition Grounds. And that took us into January of 1945. We were, again, given some leave and I’ve forgotten how long it was. But as you probably know from your history, by January 1945 it was well known that the Allies were going to win the war. The only thing that wasn’t certain was as to when that would happen. But, anyway, the military, for quite a number of months, had not known really what to do with these trained people, particularly the air crew. There was no point in sending them overseas because it wasn’t going to be needed. There were plenty of air crew in Britain at the time, both British, Canadian, American, South African, Australians, New Zealand’s and so on, Rhodesian’s. So we were sent to No. 1 Manning Depot which then became, I think it was No. 4 Release Center. It was the old Exhibition Grounds for discharge. And I was discharged from Manning Depot or No. 4 Release Center on the 18th of January, 1945. I went home and did odd jobs here and there until I received a letter from the British Admiralty inviting me to join the British Navy Fleet Air Arm. And asking for my reaction to that invitation, I advised them that I would be pleased to do that. To make a long story short, I got a notice from them fairly promptly asking me to report to the University of Toronto for two days of physical and psychological testing so they could determine whether I was suited for flying with the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. I did that and went back home and then within days I received a notice to report to Halifax for an onward trip to the United Kingdom. And on the way to Halifax I met a chap who was later, became my best buddy in the Fleet Air Arm and we got outfitted with uniforms in Halifax at HMS Shearwater which I believe eventually became the Halifax International Airport. And from there, we boarded the Isle de France ship and sailed for Britain on I think it was the 25th of June, 1945. We arrived in Gourock which was the dock for Glasgow on the Clyde River on July 1st, 1945 which was the day that Prime Minister Winston Churchill lost the election to Clement Atlee. July 1st, of course that was a holiday in Canada but not in UK. So, we took the train from, we took the train out of Glasgow which was only a few miles east of Gourock and we landed in a little village by the name of Boodle, B-o-o-d-l-e, in Cumberland which is now called Northumberland, on the Irish sea. And the idea of our being in Britain was to eventually have us fly Seafires, which was the naval version of the Spitfire [the Supermarine Spitfire, a British single-seat fighter aircraft]. Fly those aircraft off aircraft carriers in the English Channel and have us based in, I think it was either Portsmouth or Southampton, one of the two. Well, it was now end of July and to make a long story short, your history will tell you that the war in the Pacific ended on August 16, 1945 with the Japanese surrender [to be officialised on September 1, 1945]. So there was no real need for us to even start the landings on and off the aircraft carriers in the Channel. So, again, we were in the position of the military, this time the British Military, not knowing what to do with us until they could find transportation back to Canada and other people to different countries, South Africa or wherever it was where their homes were. So we were given leave for much of that time. We used to go to the YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association] on Regent Street in London and say we understand that there are British families who want to host Canadian military personnel and they would say to us, well, we have a home in Devon which my buddy John that I met on the train on the way down to Halifax, we’d say, yes, that sounds interesting. We’ll take that vacation. So we went to Devon and stayed with a family who had a daughter serving in the Canadian Army. So we spent two very enjoyable weeks on this farm in Devon and we were riding their horses. They had riding horses. And we would ride past the prisoner of war camps that were filled with German and Italian prisoners of war and the looks that we got in our British uniforms as we rode by these POW camps on our horses was really something. Anyway, we enjoyed our two weeks, went back to, our station at that time was in Shropshire, a town by the name of Ternhill, Shropshire and they sent us on leave again. So we went down to the YMCA on Regent Street in London and, again, enquired as to whether there’s a British family would want to host a couple of Canadian Service men and they said, yes, we have a family by the name of Blake in Falmouth, Cornwall. He said Mr. Blake is head of the telephone and postal service in Falmouth. Would you be interested in going there? We said, yes. So, John Ward, my buddy and I, took the train down to Falmouth and Cornwall and were amazed to see that, this was November [1945], early November, the weather was so mild and, of course, there were palm trees growing in Falmouth. It was moderated, of course, by the Gulf Stream that crossed the Atlantic and hit the County of Cornwall and we actually were swimming in the Bay in Cornwall and Falmouth in early November which was quite something. Anyway, we were treated quite royally there. And they said all we needed from you is your ration books. So we turned over our ration books and we ate well. They were able to get rabbit and the Blake family had a son by the name of Jeffery who was serving in the Royal Navy but he was not in the UK at the time. He was somewhere overseas. So we had a very interesting two weeks with the Blake family there.
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