THE KINGSVILLE CONNECTION
1941-45 and Beyond
by Gary R Tetzlaff
The Squadron’s first CO, W/C Nelles Timmerman has explained how he chose a goose for the heraldry–as a second choice. What remains unclear, is how in his mind, the Canada Goose became such a matter-of-fact symbol of Canada. Only Air Commodore Timmerman is likely to know or recall that influence.
For thirty years prior to the existence of 408 Squadron, the continuing work of Jack Miner, a.k.a. ‘Wild Goose Jack”, made the Canada Goose a symbol of conservation in Canada, the United States and the world. Details of the connection between 408 Squadron and Kingsville have largely been lost over time. Research has revealed many details and permitted reconstruction of the events.
Sometime early in 1942, a local boy named Garfield Kelly joined 408 Squadron as a disciplinarian. A popular athlete in the town, he would return in 1944 and the write up in the local paper would establish the first connection between the Canada Goose in Kingsville and 408 (Goose) Squadron.
Wartime censorship forbade the mention of squadron locations and the reports of the Goose Squadron that came back to the Windsor Daily Star, often via Canada Press wire services, gave little information to the reader, beyond a few details of actual operations.
Murray Viper, a local boy from Mersea Township near Leamington, joined the KCAF with his good friend Don Toffelmire and after his air gunner training joined 408 Squadron in 1943. On their first trip to Berlin they were attacked by German night fighters. Some welcome to the Squadron! But worse was in store as on their next operational trip to Brunswick on the 14th January, 1944 they would go missing in action and later be reported dead.
In 1943 Jack Miner’s lifetime of work in waterfowl conservation was recognized when King George VI made him a Member of the Order of the British Empire and so brought national awareness of the work which had been accomplished at Kingsville.
Out of the public eye Claire Ferguson of Kingsville bad joined 408 Squadron as a bomb aimer on the crew of LL-636 EQ-G (Goose) flying the Marl 2 Lancaster which had replaced the Merlin powered Halifax. More speed, higher altitude more safety. Ferguson persuaded his crew to name their aircraft “Miss Kingsville” and wrote a letter to “Uncle” Jack Miner explaining the connection he felt between his aircraft on the (Goose) Squadron, his hometown and the Jack Miner Sanctuary. He also hinted that the Squadron had not yet been adopted and could “Uncle “Jack do something about persuading the good folk of the town to take some action on the matter.
The upcoming 79th birthday of Jack Miner in April, 1944 brought about a number of write-ups about this distinguished Canadian and in the preparations for the birthday celebrations Jack reported to the Mayor of Kingsville and the County Warden the Claire Ferguson suggestion of adopting the Squadron. On the 3rd of April, 1944 the Mayor and Council formally passed the resolution of adoption.
The Council further suggested that the name of the Squadron should be changed to “The Kingsville Wild Goose Squadron”. Apparently RCAF Headquarters in Ottawa had no objection and so informed the Kingsville authorities. The citizens of the town and surrounding countryside, spearheaded by an energetic group of Kingsville High School students, began to collect chocolate bars, personal items, gum, candy and cigarettes to send to the members of their newly adopted squadron.
Jack Miner had promised to supply one Canada Goose to be used as a mascot for the Squadron. Meanwhile the Mayor and County Warden had promised, via the Toronto Star reporters, a Goose dinner for the squadron for Christmas of 1944, guessing that this might mean 10 geese or more.
This promise seemed to be in conflict with the idea of the wildlife sanctuary and after some discussion the idea was dropped. However Claire Ferguson remembers that not one but six live geese turned up at Linton-on-Ouse only to slowly disappear one by one.
In August 1944 word finally got back to the town about a bomber which had been named Miss Kingsville but they felt that for security reasons Claire Ferguson’s name could not be mentioned. Later in the month a picture of the aircraft was displayed in the local paper and featured a local boy (from Leamington), LAC Harry Truax as a member of the all-important ground crew. The subsequent newspaper articles and minutes of the Town Council meetings show the exchanges of gifts to the squadron and letters of appreciation.
On the 4th of November, 1944 Jack Miner died and the town went into mourning. Another local son named Donald Sherman would join the aircrew of 408 Squadron and one month before hostilities ceased would become a casualty and join the Kingsville Honour Role.
The Last Letter of thanks from the Commanding Officer of the Squadron, Wing Commander Fred Sharp would arrive in Kingsville just prior to the disbanding of the Squadron in September of 1945.
408 Squadron would be re-formed and go on to other tasks and the connection between Kingsville and the squadron would be largely silent. But just as the Jack Miner Sanctuary continued its work the connection between 408 Squadron and Kingsville continues in the Charlie Campbell Memorial Museum in the Kingsville Historic Park.