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PECKFORD – Spirit of Codroy

This is the time of year when stories that uplift the human spirit are welcome, no matter what the time or place. I came upon the following story quite accidentally.

Because my father was a Newfoundland Ranger, I am in the process of researching much about their work in Newfoundland and Labrador during the period 1935 – 1950. In this context I came upon an account about how the community of Codroy played an important role in the recovery of a wartime aircraft that crashed close to the community in March 1942.

The amazing part of the story is that there was no injury or loss of life but the business of extracting a downed aircraft from the wilds of Newfoundland, getting it back to Montreal to be reassembled, is deserving of the telling. This story is recounted in the book “North Atlantic – Crossroads” written by Darrell Hillier and published in 2021. Hillier’s book details the coming of age of Gander and its evolution as the focal point for the Royal Air Force’s Ferry Command, 1940 – 1946. Gander at that time was a key departure point for aircraft built in North America that flew across the Atlantic Ocean to join the war effort in Europe. If you are interested further in those details I highly recommend that you buy the book.

The details that I want to share, as told by Hillier, are that as part of the many aircraft that flew from Montreal to Gander there were unfortunately those that did not successfully make it and quite a number of planes were lost crossing the Atlantic Ocean after departing Gander. In the Codroy circumstance the aircraft (Hudson FH235) had engine trouble and crash landed in an area know as Brooms Hill, several miles from Codroy.

The three-man crew suffered no injury and after some confusion realized that they landed in western Newfoundland. Miraculously, too, the aircraft was in good condition. After receiving supplies from search aircraft, the crew walked to Codroy, startling the residents as they were in full flying gear, not a familiar attire for folks at the time. Having located the downed aircraft, the Gander Ferry Command under the leadership of John Joseph (Joe) Gilmore quickly determined that the aircraft was worth salvage. Gilmore, with a crew of maintenance men, soon travelled to Codroy and mobilized to get the aircraft moved from the crash site. As determined as the men from Gander were to retrieve the plane, they were quick to appreciate that, without the available resources from the community (men and boys, horses, dogs and all around local knowledge), this job would not be successful. Blizzard and snow conditions frequently thwarted attempts to access the crash site, not to mention the logistics of pulling large pieces of the plane over woodlands and barrens.

The record is clear that the people of Codroy were superb in supplying the rescue team with their full support. Not mentioned in Hillier’s account is what must have been the additional responsibility of accommodating many men who descended on Codroy requiring meals and accommodations.

The end result was that in short order the plane was moved to Codroy where arrangements were made to have it shipped to Montreal later in the spring when ice conditions permitted. The aircraft was successfully reassembled and flew again. In the meantime, before the aircraft was moved from Codroy the maintenance crew from Gander made one alteration to he plane. To quote Hillier: “Mindful of Charles Lindbergh’s famous Spirit of St. Louis aircraft, and to honour the work done by the people of Codroy, the salvage team stencilled the words Spirit of Codroy on the Hudson’s nose.”

Senior officials from Gander and Montreal lauded the work of the community of Codroy as well as the work of local Ranger Force member, F.A. Thompson, all of whom pulled off a super human feat at a time when positive outcomes in events of this kind were rare.

During my time associated with the Codroy Valley, I have never heard this story. The good people of Codroy can be proud of this moment in the history of their community.

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