One of the many things that surprised and impressed me during my research into my Dad’s air force experience was the training he (and all the tens of thousands of his comrades) received. From the day he joined the RCAF to the day he left Gransden Lodge after completing two tours of combat operations (almost three years later), it never ceased. What particularly impressed more than anything else was what I will call the sincerity of the training – every effort was made to make the training relevant, clear and focused on real-life situations. I couldn’t help but contrast this sincere effort to some of the “C.Y.A.” training courses I was required to complete during my time with B.C. Corrections – more on this in a bit.
Dad’s training started at Manning Depot in May of 1942 with rifle drill, learning to break down, clean, reassemble and then accurately aim and fire the Lee-Enfield .303, the basic rifle of the British forces in the Second World War. His final bit of training, in September of 1944, was an air-to-air firing and fighter affiliation flight in a Lancaster bomber. In between those dates the training never ceased – dinghy drill, parachute drill, Standard Beam Approach flights, H2S (“Y Runs”) navigation flights, cross-country mock-bombing exercises etc etc.
One of the most innovative methods used by the RAF to train their airmen was a small, flimsy and innocent-looking magazine called TEE EMM (from Training Memorandum). It was provided to aircrew around the world in their various theatres of war, but was mainly focused on Bomber Command operations based in the U.K.
Over the course of a year or so, I managed to obtain seven original copies of TEE EMM via eBay, covering the months Dad and crew were flying operations in 1944 - I wanted to read what they had read.
TEE EMM turned out to be a fun and informative read, which used a light-hearted approach to tackle deadly serious issues. Those who wrote the articles knew that their audience was (for the most part) young men barely out of school, and wisely tailored their approach to connect with them.
Consisting of short articles, anecdotes, photo illustrations and cartoons, each issue of TEE EMM was a smorgasbord of pertinent information, dished up in digestible portions. Some examples :
A photo gallery identifying the various United States Army Air Forces uniform wings in use at the time.
A short article explaining the deadly consequences of the common practice of diving an aircraft to put out an engine fire.
A humorous poem to address a serious issue: aircrew who baled out of a stricken aircraft but forgot to pull the ripcord of their parachute until it was too late – it did happen, despite all their training.
A plea to take care of the paper maps issued to aircrew – too many were wasted and precious resources were used up to replace them.
An article for air gunners discussing the value and the limitations of tracer fire, and an article for pilots on techniques for landing if you have no ailerons (spoiler alert: it can be done!).
A redacted copy of a telegram reporting a fatal crash – a young fighter pilot in training decided to show off his new Spitfire to his proud family and flew low over their home. In a tragic split second moment of inattention he slammed into a nearby hillside, killing himself in front of his parents and sister. No commentary accompanies the telegram: the tragic dangers of horsing around speak for themselves.
One character who populates every issue of TEE EMM is P.O. Prune, a lovable but thoroughly incompetent and completely clueless cartoon pilot. Prune does everything wrong, but has more lives than a cat, walking away from every crash unscathed and in the process showing aircrew what not to do! My very favourite Prune cartoon depicts him flying at night, clueless as to where he is. There are searchlights and flak bursting around his cockpit (helpfully labelled with swastikas!) but Prune is nonplussed: “My, Southhampton seems pretty jumpy tonight!”
Despite the stellar job TEE EMM did in teaching airmen it wasn’t without it’s missteps: in 1943 an anonymous pilot wrote an article suggesting that to avoid the German flak, bomber pilots should change course every 30 seconds as they approached the target. Sir Arthur Harris, commander of the force, blew a gasket, and said such “idiotic antics” would lead to inaccurate bombing and threatened to have TEE EMM banned from his bomber squadrons. TEE EMM backed down and agreed in future to have articles vetted before publishing.
I can’t help but contrast all this sincere effort with the kind of training I often received during my time with the Corrections Branch. As the years went on and pressures to save money increased, the training deteriorated to the point when it consisted almost entirely of online reading. The staff, completely unengaged, would sit in front of a computer and quickly scroll through the pages, most not even reading them, until the last page, when they would sign with their employee number to show they had completed the “training”. The main point of all this seemed to be to protect the employer – if any situation went sideways the front line staff could be blamed and proof could be shown that they had been well “trained” and should have done things differently than they did.
I always thought that the many keen young men and women I worked with deserved a better effort from their employer, and my research into Bomber Command’s training proved to me that it could be done.