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History of 125 (Newfoundland) Squadron R.A.F.
By: Sid Butler
The original 125 Squadron was formed in February 1918 – saw no service and was disbanded in September 1918.
125 (Nfld) Squadron RAF came into being as an indirect result of the response of Newfoundlanders investing in a 2 ˝ million War Loan raised by the Newfoundland Commission of Government in 1940. The loan was oversubscribed in less than five days.
In 1941, when the Commission of Government found that it had a surplus of revenue over expenditures, it presented to the British Government $500,000 of the amount received from the sale of War Savings Certificates, to be used to establish a Squadron of Defiant aircraft, expressing the hope that this would be manned and serviced by Newfoundlanders.
125 (Nfld) Squadron was formed on June 16th, 1941, at Colerne, Wiltshire, England. The Commanding Officer Squadron Leader H. M. Mitchell and the Adjutant Flight Lieutenant R. Morgan. The CO and his two Flight Commanders were very experienced Defiant pilots and shared their knowledge and experience with the Newfoundlanders.
The Adjutant, Bob Morgan , who held that position for the duration and was chosen for the post to this Dominion Squadron because he worked for Remington Rand, an American Company, and would know better than anyone how to deal with “those types!” He said that when he reached Colerne there was nobody there. But, after a couple of days two or three fellows appeared, and a few days later a few more, and so on until there was a Squadron. By the end of June 1941 12 Boulton Paul Defiants had been received and training was under way.
The Defiant, a single-engine, two-seater aircraft was a day fighter used very successfully at the time of Dunkirk, but it was no match for the single-engine German fighters. Losses began to mount and it was withdrawn in August 1940. It was then decided to use it as a night-fighter and its record was most impressive.
In those early days there were about a dozen Newfoundland flying personnel posted to the Squadron, the remainder having a strong international flavour, including English, Scots, Welsh, Canadians, Poles, Australians and New Zealanders. There were even Royal Naval Air Arm crews attached to the Squadron.
In September, 1941, the Squadron moved to Fairwood Common and here became fully operational. It was now on active service and for the rest of the war would play an important role in the defense of Great Britain.
In February 1942, the Squadron began converting to twin-engine Beaufighters, again becoming operational on April 21st, 1942 under the then Co W/C Ivins who was then replaced in June by W/C C. P. Greene. The crews took pride in naming their aircraft after places such as St. John’s, Corner Brook, Deer Lake, Buchans.
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Slowly, the number of Newfoundland personnel had been increasing, the largest number being in the servicing (or ground crews). In December, 1942, the Squadron was joined by Pilot Officer Jos O’Driscoll as intelligence Officer.
However, he was posted after a few months for more "active" service in North Africa. Pilot Officer Myles Murray who transferred from one of the Artillery Regiments replaced him. The Squadron also acquired a Newfoundland Medical Officer Flying Officer Noel Murphy.
In January 1944, after being moved to Valley in North Wales, the Squadron was reorganized and began to convert to Mosquito Night Fighters. The Squadron then consisted of the CO now W/C W. C. Topham; the Adjutant F/Lt Morgan; the Medical Officer F/O Noel Murphy and the Intelligence Officer P/O Myles Murray ; two clerks and two man crews with 20-24 aircraft. The Squadron Engineering Officer F/Lt Lofty Youing and 170 ground personnel were transferred to o071 Echelon – the Squadron serving unit now largely Newfoundlanders.
At the end of March 1944 the Squadron was moved to Hurn just outside Bournemouth on the South coast of England. This was to bring additional protection to the preparations for the invasion of Europe, and to play an active part in the invasion itself. With the foothold secure the Squadron was moved back to Middle Wallop in July and then in October, moved to Coltishall, Norfolk. Here it found that it was only a short distance from the Newfoundland Depot at Sprowston Hall. This presented opportunities for visits between the two units.
One memorable occasion took place when seven Officers and 66 men from Echelon took part in a joint March Past, the salute being taken by Mr. Davies, the Newfoundland High Commissioner in London. A new CO W/C G. Howett took command early in 1945 and the final move was to Church Fenton in Yorkshire where the Squadron was officially disbanded on November 20th, 1945.
The Squadron had served in four Groups, No’s 9-10-11 and 12, and the final score was 44 enemy aircraft destroyed, 5 probables and 20 damaged. The Squadron also had suffered losses and not only Newfoundlanders but also other members of the aircrews. Of the 700 Newfoundlanders who served with the Royal Air Force between 1939 and 1945 a total of 135, or almost one in five, did not survive the war. In addition, 40 or more who had joined the RCAF died, mostly aircrew of Bomber Command.
Nor must one overlook the part played by the young women from Newfoundland who enlisted in the RCAF Women’s Division. They numbered 260, not only doing their own work but releasing the men to serve flying or elsewhere.
Apart from the men of the 125 (Newfoundland) Squadron RAF and the Echelon, there were many Newfoundlanders who served with great distinction in other units of the RAF and RCAF. They served in the air and on the ground with every type of aircraft and in every theatre of war. Too many did not survive the war. Anyone who served in any of the Services can be proud – and while we each believe our own unit was the best – deep down in our hearts we are united in a singular manner – as comrades-in-arms – no matter where or when we served.
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