By : Neil Redpath (Revised by Frank G. McGrath)

RCAF_memorial.gif
RCAF WW2 war memorial; image from: Kegworth Village War Memorials (http://www.kegworthvillage.com/show_page.php?id=13)
Lest we forget
Pilot, Second Class Warrant Officer, Sergeant, No. 50 Squadron, RCAF

50_Squadron_RAF_crest.gif
No. 50 squadron insignia; image from No. 50 squadron (http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/h50.html)

Service Personnel Information

  • Name: Francis Gerard McGrath
  • Service Regimental Number: 108260
  • Rank: Pilot, sergeant, class 2 warrant officer
  • Height/weight: 5, 9 1/2" / 151 pounds
  • Colour of eyes: blue
  • Marital status: single
  • Religion: Roman Catholic
  • Address: 3810 Marlowe Avenue, N.D.G., Montreal, Quebec
  • Next of Kin (and relationship): Mary McGrath (mom), single
  • Date of enlistment: June, 16th, 1941
  • City and province of enlistment: Montreal, Quebec

Essay

Lest We Forget: Francis Gerard

Far too often, Canadians simply remember war vets as a collective of men, who’s only identity is they fought in some war sixty years ago. However, in reflection, when examining one specific war vet, one comes to the revelation that each man who died for Canada was very talented and loved. Almost immediately enormous feelings of empathy kick in, because one realizes if he were born two generations ago, he would be in those shoes. Furthermore, after comprehending all the suffering, loss and trauma the war vet experienced, and how he ultimately sacrificed his life, for his loved ones, tremendous feelings of pity and at most respect arise.

Born from Mary and William McGrath, in the Montreal General Hospital, on December, 1921, Sergeant Francis Gerard McGrath. Francis grew up on Marlowe Avenue in the N.D.G. sector of Montreal, in an Irish family of the Roman Catholic Faith. Growing up, Francis developed a love for building and collecting model planes, and sports (Attestation Paper,1-2). As a result of his interest in model planes, he joined the R.C.A.F. and became a pilot in # 50 squadron (Book of Remembrance, 492). Francis mainly flew a Lancaster Avro III, a bomber plane and fought in the battle of the Atlantic for 2 years (No. 50 squadron). Unfortunately, his pilot career was short lived, when he went missing, April 11th 1943, may he rest in peace (Book of Remembrance, 492).

Prior to enlistment, Francis’ was a single man, living with his mother, as his father had recently passed away. Francis was most likely born into a semi-wealthy family, as he lived on Marlowe Avenue in NDG and went to a private Irish Roman Catholic School. In addition, Francis was well educated, as he was attending university before his enlistment. Furthermore, he participated in seven different sports and developed huge athletic ability. Another interesting fact about Francis is that he had hobbies in stamp collecting and model planes. Given his love for planes, Francis was very keen to join the R.C.A.F., when he enlisted. He was a very sought after applicant because he was keen, smart, athletic, was knowledgeable about planes and was “quite desirable in every aspect” (Attestation Papers, 1-4).

Francis unfortunately has no publically recorded photographs, of himself, family or home. However, there are photos pertaining to his uniform, and the plane he flew. Firstly, his uniform, also known as his battle dress, was a navy blue button jacket, with matching navy blue pants. On the top left of the uniform is the classic R.A.F. patch, with wings on either side of a circle with R.A.F. embroidered on, with the crown above it. Also, on his right arm, was his rank information. Francis was a warrant office second class, so he would’ve had St. Edwards crown with a laurel wreath. Francis was also a sergeant, so he would have a maple leaf on top of three inverted chevrons (Canadian Forces Ranks and Insignia). Another item to complete his uniform was the hat; navy blue on the top, and the RAF golden wreath, golden eagle and golden crown in the middle (WWII RAF). In accumulation to his uniform, Francis flew a Lancaster Avro 1, a huge bomber plane, with a big fuel tank. On the top of the plane were brown and green stripes and the sides and under belly were dark grey. Previous to May 1942, Francis flew a Handley Page Hampden I. This was a smaller plane compared to the Lancaster, and had more of an underbelly. Additionally, there are pictures of his squadron’s insignia as well as the honours Francis earned. Francis was in # 50 squadron, and their insignia was "Sic fidem servamus" or in English, “Thus we keep faith" (No. 50 squadron). Francis earned numerous awards, such as the war medal, for serving a minimum of 28 days in war, the Distinguished Service Cross, for being a warrant officer serving with the fleet, the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, for volunteering to fight in the war and the unofficial bomber command medal (Medals and Awards).

Francis had various titles; he was a Pilot, a Second Class Warrant Officer and a Sergeant (Book of Remembrance, 492). Francis became a pilot by going through months of training. Firstly, Francis went through Elementary Flying Training School. Here is where Francis first flew. Next he went through Service Flying Training School, where they were separated into fighter and bomber pilots. Finally, he went through Advanced Flying and Operational Training Units, before heading overseas. Becoming a pilot is the hardest and longest route to take, in becoming a member of the RAF (The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan). Another of Francis’ titles was he was a second class warrant officer. A second class warrant officer is a senior non-commissioned soldier of a battalion or regiment. This is a fairly high rank, and Francis achieved it through lasting in the war long enough to be a senior officer. The final component of Francis’ title is he was a sergeant, simply meaning a senior non-commissioned soldier (Canadian Forces Ranks and Insignia).

As a pilot, Francis would have numerous roles, most obvious flying the plane. Francis flew a bomber plane, so therefore he would have to get him and his crew at the right spot to rein bombs on German U boats. Obviously, Francis’ most paramount objective would’ve been to keep his crew safe, and he could do so by making split second decisions, to avoid things like oncoming missiles. Being a pilot was very crucial to the war effort, one had to be talented, smart and safe. Francis possessed these qualities, and so contributed greatly to the R.A.F., because a plane doesn’t run without a pilot, all the other roles are secondary. In summary, if it weren’t for men like Francis, there is no way Canada and her allies would’ve pulled through (The Battle of the Atlantic).

Following his training, Francis officially went into action in July of 1941. Francis was at two different bases during the war, Swinderby and Skellingthrope. Swinderby is just outside of Nottingham in England. Francis was there during July 1941 – November 1941, then returned later, and served from June 1942 – October 1942. Skellingthrope is slightly northeast of Swinderby, and closer to Lincoln in England. Francis served here twice, November 1941 – June 1942, and from 1942 onwards. A Canadian pilot had a good chance at fighting around the British Isles, in the R.A.F., simply because its closest to Canada (No. 50 squadron).

During the war, Francis served in # 50 squadron of the R.A.F.. Number 50 squadron was founded in May of 1916, during world war one. Their motto is “Sic fidem servamus” or in English, “Thus we keep faith”. Their badge is a standard R.A.F. one, with in the middle a sword pointed diagonal across a cloak. The task of # 50 squadron in WW2 was to help win the Battle of the Atlantic. Ultimately they won but a large cost.

At first, Francis flew a Handley Page Hampden I, a smaller bomber plane, which had a larger cockpit. This plane could maneuver well, however it wasn’t as protected, or as big as the ideal war plane would be. Following May 1942, Francis began to fly an Avro Lancaster I. This plane was very big, and well protected. The Avro Lancaster I was pertinent to the success of # 50 squadron in the Battle of the Atlantic, because it had a huge fuel tank and therefore could be over water for extended periods of time, and it was simply built to blow stuff up. In a tool shed, the average fighter plane would be a screwdriver, and the Lancaster would be the big hammer (No. 50 squadron).

In the Battle of the Atlantic, Francis’ role was simply to protect ally convoys coming across from the Americas. The convoys were fairly unprotected, large ships which would carry essential supplies, such as troops, food etc. So the German’s noticed that this could be an Achilles Heel of the ally forces, and so they decided to send U – boats, a type of submarine to blow them up. However the allies figured this out and put recon on the convoys. When a German U – boat came near, the convoys would get a signal and the ally planes nearby would get a message. Then the planes would swoop down, and drop bombs on the German U –boats, and the ships would be saved. In total, the allies destroyed around one quarter of all U – boats. However this task wasn’t easy, as the Germans sank 2,900 allied ships before their defeat (The Battle of the Atlantic).

On April 11th, 1943, things took a turn for the worse, for Francis. On a mission over the English Chanel, Francis and his crew suffered an undetermined technical problem and were considered to have ditched the plane in the North Sea off Skegness. It is most likely that they were shot by a German U – boat, lost total control and crashed into the Sea. When the crew failed to radio in, and later report to the base, they were pronounced missing. Francis’ body was never actually found, however he has a memorial at the Runnymede Memorial, in Runnymede Park just outside of London. The Runnymede Memorial is unfortunately home to many ally air force men. Francis’ memorial rests on panel 180, on the eastern lookout. May Francis forever rest in peace (Book of Remembrance, 492).

Lest we forget, Sergeant Francis Gerard McGrath, pilot in the R.C.A.F who fought with the R.A.F, one truly brave and caring man, who fought and died for his country. He was a loved son, student and pilot. He was a very honourable man who will never be forgotten.




Military Service Record


  • Age (at death): 21
  • Force: RCAF (RAF)
  • Unit: # 50 squadron
  • Service Number: 108260
  • Honours and Awards: Atlantic Star, War Medal, Bomber Command Medal, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, Distinguished Service Cross

  • Photograph: N/A
  • Next of Kin (and relationship): Mary McGrath (mom), single
  • Next of Kin (living); Frank G. McGrath, architect (nephew and namesake)
  • Date of Death: April,11th,1943
  • Country of Burial:England
  • Cemetery: Runnymede Memorial
  • Grave Reference: Panel 180
  • Location: Runnymede Park, outside of London
  • (Attestation Papers)

Grave Reference

  • Name of Cemetery: Runnymede Memorial
  • Grave Reference: Panel 180

Runnymede_cem_diagram2.pngrunnymede.jpg
Runnymede Memorial Cemetery Plan ; Picture from CWGC : (http://www.cwgc.org/plans/4-32/M002.GIF) Runnymede Memorial Cemetery ; Picture from the Runnymede Memorial : (http://www.raf-lichfield.co.uk/images/runnymede.jpg)

Additional information/links


Airplanes which Francis flew
airplanes.png
Medals/Awards Francis earned
canadian_volunteer.gifatlantic-star-0178-Copy-lge.jpg distinguished.png war_medal.pngbomber.png
Canadian Volunteer Service Medal : Picture from campaign stars and medals (http://www.veterans.gc.ca/images/collections/cmdp/cvsm-l.gif)
Atlantic Star : Picture from WW2 - Atlantic Star (http://www.mycollectors.co.uk/Image-Viewer.aspx?ProductID=1406)
War Medal : Picture from War Medal (http://www.neatemedals.co.uk/medals/war-medal-1939-1945.html)
Distinguished Service Cross : Picture from The London Medal Company (http://london-medals.co.uk/second-world-war-c-b-e-and-great-war-bruges-docks-raid-bomber-pilot-s-distinguished-service-cross-group-awarded-to-air-commodore-r-g-gardner-royal-air-force-late-royal-naval-air-service.html)
Bomber Command Medal : Picture from Royal Air Force (http://www.raf.mod.uk/raflintononouse/newsweather/index.cfm?storyid=A1406B2D-1143-EC82-2E7C006EADC4D8C7)

Where Francis was... A= Swinderby B= Skellingthrope C = Runnymede Memorial Cemetery

Places where Francis was associated with : Picture from Google Maps (http://maps.google.com/)

Francis' Home in Montreal

Where Francis live before the war : Picture from Google Maps (http://maps.google.com/)

Uniform
RAF_Uniform.jpg
R.A.F. Uniform : Picture from Military Uniforms (http://ww2-military-uniforms.info/images/RAF_Uniform.jpg)

Book of Remembrance
ww2190.jpg
Book of Remembrance : Picture from Veteran Affairs Canada (http://www.veterans.gc.ca/images/collections/books/bww2/ww2190.jpg)

(Book of Remembrance)

Research Notes



Top Three Websites

1.http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/h50.html#top (#50 Squadron)
2.http://www.veterans.gc.ca/pdf/publications/canada-remembers/SWW_Britcom_e.pdf (British Commonwealth Air Training Program)
3.http://www.veterans.gc.ca/pdf/publications/canada-remembers/SWW_Atlantic_e.pdf (Battle of the Atlantic)

Works Cited


Baxter, Bob, and Roy Woolley. "Medals and Awards." Bob Baxter's Medals and
Ribbons. Ed. Bob Baxter. N.p., 16 May 2006. Web. 29 Apr. 2012.
<http://www.bomber-command.info/medals.htm>.

Canada. Veterans Affairs. Attestation Papers. Montreal: Government of Canada,
1941. Print.


Crown Copyright, and Deltaweb International Ltd. "No. 50 Squadron." RAF History.
N.p., 6 Apr. 2005. Web. 29 Apr. 2012. <http://www.raf.mod.uk/
bombercommand/h50.html#top>

Government of Canada. "Francis Gerard McGrath." Book of Remembrance. N.p.:
Government of Canada, 1943. 492. Print.

Rathbone, Tod. "Royal Air Force." The Rathbone Museum of WW2 Aviators. Ed. Tod
Rathbone. The Rathbone Museum of WW2 Aviators, 2000. Web. 29 Apr. 2012.
<http://www.rathbonemuseum.com/GB/RAF/GBAVMNillson/GBAVMAllinson.html>.

Veteran Affairs Canada. "The British Commonwealth Air Training Program."
Veteran Affairs Canada. Ed. Veteran Affairs Canada. RCAF, 2008. Web. 29
Apr. 2012. <http://www.veterans.gc.ca/pdf/publications/canada-remembers/
SWW_Britcom_e.pdf>.

"Canada Remembers; The Battle of the Atlantic." The Second World War.
RCAF, 2008. Web. 29 Apr. 2012. <http://www.veterans.gc.ca/pdf/
publications/canada-remembers/SWW_Atlantic_e.pdf>.

Wikipedia. "Canadian Forces Ranks and Insignia." Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 9 Apr.
2012. Web. 11 May 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Canadian_Forces_ranks_and_insignia>.

Archival Reference

Military service files of Francis Gerard Mcgrath (108260) obtained from Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa, Ontario.