A century after WWI, stories still need telling
Sitting comfortably in a chair at his Grand Falls-Windsor home where he raised 15 children, Harry Pinsent holds the Canadian passport from when he served a navigator as a part of Ferry Command in the Second World War.
While it was no laughing matter, the 96-year-old can’t help but smile as he opens the small booklet.
“There was a lot of bad that came with the war, but you try and remember some of the good too,” he says.
In between the protective casing of the passport are his short snorters.
According to the shortsnorterproject.org, the tradition of signing banknotes by various people travelling together or meeting at different locations, was started by bush pilots in Alaska during the 1920s. The popularity of the practice was adopted by the military and commercial aviation.
“If you signed a short snorter and that person could not produce it upon request, they owed you a dollar or a drink (a ‘short snort’, aviation and alcohol do not mix!),” states the website.
“I never had to buy a round,” Pinsent said, as he always had the banknotes on him.
The Grand Falls-Windsor native enlisted when he was 18, joining the Royal Air Force (RAF), as Newfoundland and Labrador was still a British dominion, and would be stationed in Quebec as a wireless operator/air gunner – largely deciphering Morse code. In early 1942 he would go on to become an aviation navigator for the remainder of the war.
His missions would take him all over the world, including Africa, South America, Egypt, and the United Kingdom, delivering air force aircraft as a part of the RAF Ferry Command, which was designed to improve the delivery of aircraft between U.S. factories and Britain.
Pinsent said he regrets not keeping track of all his flights.
“At the time, we were just doing a job,” he said. But he was always fortunate to have never taken enemy fire during his travels.
Ferry Command was established because shipping things overseas by ship was too slow and they were often needed for other cargo, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia.
While transatlantic flights were still deemed dangerous, Winston Churchill’s war-time Minister of Aircraft Production backed the idea and even though it was highly ridiculed, on Nov. 10, 1940, the seven Hudson aircraft (bombers) departed Gander. All seven would arrive safely in Ireland.
The establishment of Ferry Command would see Americanbuilt aircraft transported to Dorval, QC, then flown to Gander for the transatlantic journey.
Pinsent himself passed through Gander a few times. He remembers the airport being up and running, and it being a busy place.
“One trip we had to come back, after carburetor icing 600 miles out, so we had to turn back and spend a couple of nights in Gander before we took off for Scotland,” he said. “But, because we were so busy, back then Gander was just a stop like any other place.”
In total, the Canadian encyclopedia states, “The CP Air Services Department, established in July 1940, and its successors, the RAF Ferry Command and No 45 Group of RAF Transport Command, delivered more than 9,000 warplanes - losing only about 100.”
The last flight of the planes for the war effort departed Gander in September 1946.
Grand Falls-Windsor native Harry Pinsent served in the Second World War as a wireless operator/air gunner and navigator with Ferry Command.
Inside of Harry Pinsent’s passport are his short snorters for the war.