1 October – 21 November 1943: No. 2 Bombing and Gunnery School, RCAF Mossbank.
He was then posted to No 2 Bombing And Gunnery School (2 B&GS or 2 BAGS), in Mossbank, Saskatchewan, Canada, 43 miles southwest of Moose Jaw.
The base was as large as a small town and featured five aircraft hangars, barracks and other living quarters for several hundred men and women, a parade square, administrative buildings as well as an indoor swimming pool, a bowling alley, a tennis court, theatre, an open-air skating rink and two ball diamonds. The students frequently made trips into Mossbank where they frequented “the Hostess Club,” which was set up in the local Masonic Lodge.
Wireless operator / air gunners (WAGS) undertook a six-week course where they learned to operate machine-guns and hydraulic turrets.
Air training included Gunnery (air-to-air drogue, air-to-air tracer demonstration and air-to-ground), Bombing and Photography training.
2 B&GS operated twin-engined Bristol Bolingbroke IVT’s for air-to-air and air-to-ground gunnery training, each equipped with two Browning machine guns in an electro-hydraulic powered Boulton Paul Type C dorsal turret.
Photo above: On the 19th and 20th of November 1943, Gerry flew in this Bristol Bolingbroke IVT serial no. 10106, with BACTP all-yellow colour scheme.
Air to air gunnery involved target drogues towed by Westland Lysanders. The windsock-type drogue was towed 300 feet behind the tug while the student gunner would fire at the drogue from the turret of the other aircraft, the Bolingbroke, flying parallel to it. Usually three trainees would go up at a time, each using bullets coated with a different coloured wax. On inspecting the target this enabled ground crew
to determine who was hitting or missing.
Air-to-ground gunnery and bombing practice was carried out over nearby Old Wives Lake which had targets representing German submarines.
Gerry graduated from No. 2 B&GS on 22nd November 1943.
He was also awarded his 1st G.C. (Good Conduct) Badge on 7 November 1943 on completion of 3 years’ regular service.
Gerry was now a qualified Wireless Operator-Air Gunner, promoted and re-mustered as a Sergeant (WO/AG Spec) on 22 November 1943, the day he graduated.
Gerry and his fellow course graduates were granted pre-embarkation leave from 23-29 November.
The photo above was probably taken during this leave; Gerry with two “Newzie” WAG mates, Rex Furey and Ernest Armstrong, proudly wearing their new Sergeant’s stripes and RNZAF WAG brevets (half-wing badges).
Sadly, within a year, both had been killed – Rex on his final training flight, and Ernest on one of his first operations.
F/S Rex Patrick Furey, NZ428189 R.N.Z.A.F. Wireless Operator, age 21.
18/19 October 1944: Stirling III LK488, QQ-E, 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit RAF Wratting Common, low-level cross country navigation exercise, their last training flight before being posted to an operational squadron. Off-track and in poor visibility (widespread fog) collided with the top of Mickle Fell (some seven miles ENE of Appleby-in-Westmoreland). Rear Gunner W/O Alan G Small of Takaka, New Zealand, was the only survivor.
When Gerry would eventually hear about Rex Furey’s death, it would have an extra tragic twist.
F/S Ernest Robert Armstrong, NZ427084, R.N.Z.A.F. Wireless Operator, age 20. 16/17 November 1944: 214 Sqdn Flying Fortress Mark II HB787 BU-J Crashed on returning to RAF Foulsham. 214 Sqdn was engaged in radio counter-measures (detection and jamming of enemy radio and radar equipment).
Unbelievably, before Gerry completed his training in the UK, both mates would be gone.
Gerry was transferred to No. 1 Y Depot (holding unit), Halifax, on 3 December, and embarked to England on 14 December 1943, probably from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and probably as part of a high-speed North Atlantic convoy.
On one of the forms he filled out when transferring to the RAF as he embarked, there was a box asking for “Name and address of person to be notified in case of casualty (other than next of kin)” – Gerry wrote:
“Miss M. Reilly, 803 Nassau St, Winnipeg, Manitoba”