Fred Jones joined the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War Two. After flying training at Toronto and Uplands, Ontario, Jones was selected to become an instructor and upon completion of his instructor’s course at Arnprior, Ontario, was assigned to No.13 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) St Eugene, Ontario not too far from Vintage Wings of Canada’s Gatineau base of operations. Jones moved first to nearby Vankleek Hill with his bride Lillian, eventually taking an apartment over St. Eugene’s main street. After two years as a flying instructor, he was transferred to an operational training unit in England where he transitioned from the Miles Master to the Supermarine Spitfire and eventually flying photo-recce Spitfire PRs.
The following story is a eulogy read by Vintage Wings MarCom manager Dave O‘Malley at Wing Commander Jones’ memorial service conducted at the Rideau- Perley Veterans Home in Ottawa. It is not a eulogy in the traditional sense nor is it an accurate account of one particular event, but more or less a “word painting” to create a picture for his five daughters of why those war years held him in their grasp and were never forgotten by Jones or his fellow officers.
Elements of this story were collected from many hours spent talking with Fred and visiting his old airfields at No.13 EFTS St. Eugene and No.10 EFTS Pendleton.
It’s 6:30 in the evening in early October of 1943. Fred is strapping himself into a de Havilland Tiger Moth sitting on the short-cropped grass outside Hangar 3 at Number 13 Elementary Flying Training School St Eugene, Ontario near the Quebec border. He has agreed to take the Moth back to its home in nearby Pendleton, also a training base and part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Fred is excited about the upcoming flight but he won’t let that interrupt his methodical pre-flight preparations. Fred likes the method almost as much as he likes the freedom. All day he has put up with a particularly ham-fisted trio of student pilots and he is fed up and looking forward to being alone in the cockpit for the ferry ride. It’s also his first flight in a Tiger Moth in nearly 6 months since St Eugene is equipped with the Fleet Finch. He prefers the Moth for its glorious handling qualities and its better view forward over the sleeker Gypsy Major engine.
The early evening air is still and cool and Fred’s pounding heart knows this is the best time of the day to fly. The sun isn’t getting any higher and he signals the airman at the prop to pull the blade through a few turns to help circulate the oil. Fred switches on and then calls “Contact”. The strong-armed airman at the nose pulls down hard on the propeller blade and the Gypsy Major barks into life. In seconds the staccato sound runs to a smooth rasp. No point in shouting now, Fred signals “Chocks out” and gives a purposeful nod to the airman who scoots from under the wing dragging the wooden blocks that have been holding the Tiger Moth’s runaway heart in check.
Fred waggles the stick left and right and back and forth to check the controls, moves the throttle forward and releases the brake handle. The grass behind is flattened by the wash as he swings round – just in time to see the airman chasing his hat across the field. He’s smiling now, the business of getting ready now behind him. He wishes he had three hands – one for the stick, one for the throttle and a third for the brake handle. Being a tail dragger, the nose blocks his view forward but he weaves the Moth from side to side in gentle curves as he moves out to the runway. St Eugene is equipped with three paved runways in a triangular layout, but Fred and the Tiger Moth both prefer the grass to the side.
The air is dead still so Fred can choose his take off direction. He prefers the sun at his back tonight and has always loved the breathtaking Rigaud escarpment when flying to the east of the field. Swinging round in that direction, he wastes no more time, advances the throttle, counter acts the torque with a little boot of rudder, bounces once and is airborne. No gear-up, no flaps, no boost, no fuel transfer - nothing to do but fly. And Fred flies.
He rises up out of the shallow bowl that is St Eugene airfield, over the B-17 Flying Fortress that had to make an emergency landing late last night – still surrounded by students chatting up the crew as they wait for a repair crew to arrive from Dorval. A kilometer off his left wing is the village of St Eugene where his wife Lillian is taking in the laundry. With the sun low behind, Fred chases his shadow up and over the tall pines and stand of bright red maples at the east end of the field. Now he banks right, watching the shadows of the rigging and struts move across the bright yellow wing. Wings level again, Fred looks forward along the side of the Tiger’s black nose and is transfixed by the sight of the escarpment rising nearly 400 feet from the valley floor. The low golden light of the soon-to-be setting sun has transformed the face of the mountain into a solid cumulus of red and orange and yellow against a cerulean sky. His propeller disc shimmers before him.
Fred runs directly at the ridgeline, rising steadily on the liquid air. The darkening waters of the Ottawa run to his left and now that he has climbed through 500 feet, he can see Montreal far ahead, but for now the escarpment is his destination.
In a few short minutes, the deep red and orange of the escarpment’s highest point runs beneath his wings and he feels the air burble beneath him. Fred just feels the Tiger now, no longer deliberate, no longer thinking - he wheels right, banking the little biplane steeply so that he can look down at the palette of autumn colour. He sees deer in a cleared area at the top of the mountain and keeps his bank on hard so that they rotate beneath him seemingly unaware of his presence. 720 degrees later, he levels his wings and runs for a while along the ridge as it peters out to the south. Fred pushes the stick forward, diving the little airplane gently to keep close to the lowering ridgeline.
Where the dropping ridge meets the Ottawa Valley floor, he pulls back on the stick, enjoying the feel of his body as it builds a little G. Fred now runs low across the tiny village of St Redempteur, past the silver-painted steeple of the church, across the ball diamond where children stop their game and run along with arms outstretched like birds or wave up to the yellow plane. Fred smiles behind his goggles and waggles his wings – below the children leap with delight.
Now heading into the sun he climbs steadily to two thousand feet. Time to see if he’s as good as he thinks he is. The Moth is going back to Pendleton to get her winter canopy put back on and so for now Fred feels the fragrant air of Indian summer buffeting his cheeks in an open cockpit. An open cockpit is what he needs for his little test. Flying Officer Jones levels the lovely Tiger Moth out, sets the throttle at a steady cruise and waits to feel her settle down. He fiddles with the trim wheel until she flies without sink or climb, without yaw or perceptible roll – perfect – the way only an instructor can make her – balanced on the head of an invisible pin. The Tiger flies on towards the red setting sun, steady as a river. Fred takes his hands off the stick and his feet off the rudder pedals – he smiles again thinking of riding his bike with no hands down a country road near his dad’s home in Southern Ontario. Now the trick – Fred sticks both of his arms straight outside the cockpit, his left palm down - his right palm angled up to the slipstream like one might do from a car window. The air buffets his arms and hands, but the Tiger Moth responds by ever-so slowly and ever-so gently raising her right wings in the slightest of sliding turns. Then the right palm down, the left palm up and the Tiger Moth comes back. For a mile or so the Tiger Moth bores west into the sunset with Fred flying it with his outstretched hands and his heart.
To fly a Tiger Moth is to feel the air and Fred loves the feel of the air tonight. He enjoys his skill with the airplane. He knows this freedom is a gift and he accepts it with outstretched arms.
Flying westward towards Pendleton and the orange orb of the sun, he recites out loud, shouting against the wind and the tumult of the Gypsy Major engine, a poem written by his friend and flight training school classmate, John Magee - a poem that all pilots everywhere would, in time, come to know and cherish.