Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Willem Jacob van Stockum - What Air Force Was He In? (Comment)

Dr. Robert Wack signing his book, Time Bomber
at a book fair in suburban Baltimore.
Dr. Robert Wack, author of Time Bomber - a Five Star book on Amazon based on five reviews - recently reported that he had received multiple inquiries from readers of his book.

The readers were curious about details of some aspects of the life of Willem van Stockum, the bomber pilot and time-travel thinker who is the subject of the book.

One question was the flag under which Willem van Stockum flew as a bomber pilot. His life story is accurately told by Dr. Wack except for some time-travel additions that are acknowledged in a note to the reader.

The reader asked whether Willem flew for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) or the British RAF. Here is Dr. Wack's response:
The answer is, both. How could this be? Part of the answer lies in the circumstances of Willem’s enlistment, as well as the relationship between Canada and Britain as part of the Commonwealth, and lastly the specific needs of the war time Bomber Command. Willem initially enlisted with the Canadian RAF purely for logistical reasons: it was the closest place he could go to get into the war. 
In 1940 and early 1941 (before Pearl Harbor), there already were Americans frustrated with isolationism traveling north to enlist, and Willem took that path, leading him to the new recruit depot in Toronto. Canada had already been supplying England with food and weapons since the outbreak of the war in 1939. The relationship between Canada and England was still very close, despite the Statute of Westminster in 1931 granting autonomy to all the Dominions of the Commonwealth. The Canadian RAF assembled units and sent them to England as separate units under British command, and it was one of those that Willem wanted to join. 
However, his value as an instructor was of more interest to his Canadian military superiors, so they repeatedly denied his requests to be assigned to combat units. Eventually, he applied for transfer directly to the British RAF, which was finally granted, resulting in his transfer and assignment to No. 10 squadron at Melbourne Station, a few miles southeast of York. The British RAF took volunteers and assigned units from anywhere willing to send them. No. 10 Squadron was a particularly diverse group, with members from all the occupied countries, as well as other Commonwealth nations. Willem wrote home about other Dutch members of the squadron, as well as French, South African, Canadian, and even American flyers. It was a tumultuous time, with citizens of many countries all joining efforts to defeat the Nazis, regardless of nationality or native origins.

I would like to add two things to this admirably thorough response:

1. Willem's gravesite is the only one of the 14 gravesites with a non-RAF gravestone. There were other flyers from Australia and Canada - the RAF was desperate for experienced pilots and other airmen then because so many airmen were being shot down and the training period for a pilot is long. Although Willem was flying under RCAF and RAF colors, he was a Dutch citizen (he was in the process of getting American citizenship). My mother, sadly, arrived with her husband and children in 1954 to find there were 13 gravestones and only a wooden cross for her brother, because the Dutch hadn't gotten around to putting in a gravestone. (I have posted her diary entry for that day, December 26, and the next day.) Willem now has a proper gravestone, as well as a monument to him and his crew contributed by the French people who live in the area. To add to the confusion about Willem van Stockum's national identity, he received his undergraduate education at Trinity College, Dublin, and his Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Edinburgh.

2. No. 10 Squadron has an illustrious history. In 2015 it celebrates the 100th anniversary of its creation.