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Why Did the Caterpillar Cross the Pond?

Question:  Why did the caterpillar cross the pond?

Answer:  To save the lives of airmen who were forced to bail out of disabled aircraft, like George Edwin Farrar of the 384th Bomb Group of the USAAF 8th Army Air Forces and Lawrence Edgar Newbold of the RAF 50 Squadron in WWII.

I recently wrote about Lawrence Newbold here. Lawrence was forced to bail out of his Avro Lancaster on March 18, 1944 on a mission to Frankfurt. Six months later, my dad, George Farrar, was thrown from his disabled B-17 on September 28, 1944 on a mission to Magdeburg. Dad and Lawrence were assigned as fellow POWs in Room 12 of the Stalag Luft IV prison camp.

I even more recently was able to connect with Lawrence Newbold’s family in England and his grandson Paul Newbold kindly shared a photo of Lawrence’s Caterpillar Club certificate and pin with me.

Lawrence Newbold’s Caterpillar Club card and pin
Photo by Paul Newbold

Seeing Lawrence’s Caterpillar Club certificate and pin jogged my memory of how important a wonderful invention – the parachute – was to the airmen of WWII and specifically to my dad and to me. If my dad hadn’t been wearing his in his midair collision of September 28, 1944, he would not have survived, married my mother, and had me or my sister.

During WWII, several companies manufactured and sold parachutes to both the American and British military. The Irvin Air Chute Company was one of them, as was the Switlik Parachute Company.

In 1919, Leslie Irvin, a stuntman from California, borrowed a sewing machine and made the first “free drop” parachute, which he demonstrated himself to flying safety experts. He so impressed them that the American and British Air Forces adopted the parachute as standard equipment. Irvin established his first American factory in Buffalo, New York that year and his first European factory in Letchworth, England in 1926. The Irvin Letchworth factory produced a peak of nearly 1,500 parachutes a week during the height of WWII.

Both the Irvin and Switlik companies began Caterpillar Clubs which awarded certificates and pins as testimony to the life saving ability of the parachute. The requirement for each was that the applicant must have bailed out of a disabled or flaming aircraft under emergency conditions.

The name of the club came about because in the early days of the parachute, they were made from pure silk. The clubs used the symbol of the silk worm caterpillar, which descends slowly by spinning a silk thread to hang from.

By WWII, silk could no longer be imported from Japan and the parachutes used by American and British airmen were primarily made of nylon. Regardless of the material used in the construction of their parachutes, after the end of WWII, by late 1945, there were 34,000 members of Irvin’s Caterpillar Club.

Airmen serving in WWII did not receive any training for bailing out or using their chutes other than a set of instructions. Though the Parachute Instructions (full instructions at the end of this article) suggest “It is advisable to have one side of the parachute pack snapped to the harness when in immediate danger,” most airmen didn’t strap them on until they heard an alarm or instructions from their pilot to bail out. Chutes were uncomfortable to wear and got in the way of an airman’s duties.

My dad must have been wearing his chute, which was a chest chute, or at least had one side of the pack strapped on, because I don’t think he would have had time to grab it when, and if, he saw another B-17 in his formation heading straight for him.

In the stories he told me when I was a child of the collision and his time as a prisoner of war, he said the reason he was the only survivor aboard his flying fortress was because he was the only one who “still had on his chute” after dropping the bombs on their target. He was knocked unconscious in the collision and awoke in free fall 5,000 feet from the ground to the sound of his mother’s voice calling his name. After hooking up his chute and taking in the view of the countryside below him, he lost consciousness again and didn’t awaken until he lay injured on the ground, being beaten by an older German woman.

On his parachute ride down, he did not see the B-17 from which he had been thrown burning and spinning into the clouds. He did not see the ball turret knocked from the ship with the helpless gunner inside falling to Earth. The ball turret was too small for most gunners to wear their chutes inside the capsule. Even if my dad’s crew mates had been wearing their chutes, the centrifugal force of the spinning ship likely would have pinned them inside and prevented them from bailing out. They also may have been knocked unconscious in the horrific collision 25,000 feet above the ground, unable to find and strap on their parachutes.

But like Lawrence Newbold, my dad survived, thanks to his parachute, to also become a member of the Caterpillar Club. Dad joined both Irvin’s and Switlik’s clubs.

From the Irvin Air Chute Company…

Dad’s Caterpillar Club card issued by the Irvin Air Chute Company

One of Dad’s Caterpillar Club pins, likely from Irvin

From the Switlik Parachute Company…

Dad’s Caterpillar Club certificate issued by the Switlik Parachute Company

One of Dad’s Caterpillar Club pins, likely from Switlik

George Farrar and Lawrence Newbold endured Stalag Luft IV together, they survived the Black March together, and both became lifetime members of one of the most exclusive clubs in which no one wants to have to face the first requirement to become a member, having to bail out of a disabled aircraft in an emergency to save one’s life.

Parachute Instructions for B-17 Crews as presented at Stalag Luft I Online (link below)

  1. Handle the parachute pack gently and do not allow it to get wet or greasy.
  2. It is advisable to have one side of the parachute pack snapped to the harness when in immediate danger.
  3. Jumping Suggestions
    • Make delayed jumps.
    • Dampen oscillation.
    • Face downwind.
    • Keep feet together.
    • Unhook snaps during descent if over water.
  4. Use static lines to bail out wounded personnel.
  5. Three short rings on alarm signal indicates “Prepare to bail out.” One long ring is the signal for “Bail Out.”

Source:

Stalag Luft I Online

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

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The 1973 Fire

On July 12, 1973, shortly after midnight, a fire was reported at the military personnel records building of the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in the Overland area of St. Louis, MO. Firefighters were on the scene in a little over four minutes after the first alarm. They were able to reach the fire on the sixth floor, but heat and smoke forced them out three hours later.

To combat the fire and contain the flames, the firefighters poured great quantities of water on the building and inside through broken windows. The fire, fueled by all those paper records, burned for twenty-two hours. It was two days before firefighters could re-enter the building. The fire department deemed the fire officially out on July 16, nearly four and a half days after it started. Investigators never officially determined the source of the fire due to the extensive damage.

The fire destroyed sixteen to eighteen million Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF). Records of Army personnel, of which WWII Army Air Forces were a part, discharged between November 1, 1912 to January 1, 1960, suffered an eighty percent loss. There were no duplicate or microfilm copies, or even any indexes prior to the fire.

The National Archives immediately began a salvage operation to save as many records as possible. On July 23, Federal Property Management Regulations (FPRM) Bulletin B-39 halted Federal agencies from disposing of records that might be helpful in recreating the lost military service records. Those records have helped reconstruction efforts of basic service information. Also on July 23, the NPRC awarded a construction contract to salvage the remains from the sixth floor, and recovery efforts began. Approximately six and a half million burned and water damaged records were recovered due to this effort.

Just behind the fire damage was the water damage. Firefighters poured millions of gallons of water into the building fighting the fire. To stop sporadic flame-ups, they continued spraying water until late July. Broken water lines also flooded the building. The heaviest water damage was on the fifth floor, one floor below the destruction of the fire on the sixth. Once all the water was combined with the high temperatures and humidity of St. Louis in the summer, the next avenue of destruction was mold. Thymol was sprayed throughout the building to control a mold outbreak on all that highly susceptible paper.

The next challenge was how to dry all those millions of water-soaked records that remained. Records were shipped in plastic milk crates to several sites for drying on racks made from shelving. The McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Corporation in St. Louis had vacuum-drying facilities, and those were utilized in addition to a NASA facility in Ohio.

During the reconstruction effort, the NPRC established a “B” (Burned) Registry file to index the six and a half million recovered records and set up a separate temperature controlled area for them. In April 1974, the NPRC established the “R” (Reconstructed) Registry file to further assist the reconstruction efforts. Reconstructed files were then stored in another new area separate from the Burned Registry files.

In the months following the fire, the NPRC established a new branch to deal with damaged records issues. The new branch’s central mission was to reconstruct records for those requesting service information. Records were reconstructed from documents and alternate sources outside of the NPRC as well as the center’s organizational files. Alternate sources included Veterans Administration (VA) claims files, individual state records, Multiple Name Pay Vouchers (MPV) from the Adjutant General’s Office, Selective Service System (SSS) registration records, pay records from the Government Accounting Office (GAO), as well as medical records from military hospitals, entrance and separation x-rays and organizational records.

Source of information:  http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/military-personnel/fire-1973.html

To be continued:  how to request records and my personal experience locating my dad’s service records with the NPRC.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

Two-hundreth Mission Celebration

 

Invitation to the 384th Bomb Group's 200th Mission Celebration

Invitation to the 384th Bomb Group’s 200th Mission Celebration

On September 23, 1944, the 384th Bomb Group celebrated their two-hundredth mission.  Fortunately for the boys on the air crews, no one had to fly the next day.

Mission 197 was flown on Thursday, September 21.  Everyone had a day off on the 22nd.  The party was on a Saturday – September 23.  Probably anticipating the aftereffects of the party, a mission was not scheduled the next day, the 24th.  Mission 198 was flown on the 25th and 199 on the 26th.

The boys reached mission 200 on Wednesday, September 27.  The 384th Bomb Group formed the 41st CBW “A” wing for Mission 201’s attack on the railroad marshalling yards of Cologne, Germany.

Celebration aside, mission 200 did not go off without incident.  Everyone did make it back to Grafton-Underwood, but there were many mishaps.

  • The Donald George Springsted crew and Bert O. Brown, Jr. crew were involved in a taxi accident prior to takeoff.  The Brown crew’s aircraft, 44-6080, had to be scrapped.  The Springsted’s aircraft, Sneakin’ Deacon, was repaired in time to fly the next day’s mission.
  • The Loren L. Green crew aboard Pro Kid had to abort and turn back due to an internal failure in an engine.
  • The Frank F. Cepits crew aboard The Challenger came back with the #3 engine feathered.
  • The James W. Orr crew aboard Tremblin’ Gremlin II experienced a bomb bay door malfunction over the target.  The bomb bay doors could not be opened, either electrically or manually.  Gremlin returned to base still loaded with all of her bombs.
  • The John H. Hunt, Jr. crew had a harrowing landing.  Boss Lady’s tail wheel would not extend for the landing.  Fortunately, no one was injured.
  • The William J. Blankenmeyer crew landed with wounded aboard.  Rebel came back with an injured tail gunner, Robert H. Hoyman.

The John Oliver Buslee crew, aboard Hale’s Angels, was the high group deputy, the hot camera ship.  They completed mission 200 without incident.  The James Joseph Brodie crew did not fly mission 200.

For the Buslee and Brodie crews, the celebrating would be over all too soon.  It would be the next mission, 201, on Thursday, September 28, 1944 that would be their last.  The Buslee crew aboard Lead Banana and the Brodie crew aboard Lazy Daisy collided coming off the target at Magdeburg on September 28, 1944, at about ten minutes past noon.  Aboard the two ships, fourteen men lost their lives, and four became prisoners of war.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

Safety in Flying

My dad, George Edwin Farrar, saved his life with a parachute after the mid-air collision of Lead Banana and Lazy Daisy on September 28, 1944.  This feat granted him admittance to the Caterpillar Club, whose sole requirement of members was that they had to bail out of a disabled aircraft and were able to save their lives with a parachute.  Note the term “disabled.”  Parachuting from an aircraft for recreational purposes did not make one eligible for membership.

Four and a half years after his bail out, Ed Farrar was still thinking about the parachute that saved his life when he wrote this letter to H. B. Lyon of the Caterpillar Club with an idea.

April 16, 1949

Chicago, Ill.
Caterpillar Club
Attn: Mr. H. B. Lyon, Executive Secretary
Broad Street Bank Bldg.
Trenton, N.J.

Dear Sirs:

As a member of the Caterpillar Club, I naturally have an interest in the furthering of its program, safety in flying. The only way to accomplish this feat is to set up a definite program. That is, let the public hear our ideas. Of course this will take money, more than the club can afford at present I understand.

In the files of the club, I am sure are the largest collection of true, spectacular, and amazing escapes, that could ever be told. This in my opinion would make a wonderful radio program for a national hook-up of about 15 or 30 minutes a week, if presented right. There should be many prospective sponsors for such a program, that would pay well, for this information. The money the club received could be used to further the safety of flying. We could set up a safety school, so problems could be worked out, or at least determine some of the hazards in flying. There would be many details involved, but I will not try to elaborate on any at this time.

I must confess, I haven’t been a very good member. As a traveling salesman on the road most of the time, I haven’t had the opportunity to attend meetings. This idea may have been brought up before, but thought it wouldn’t hurt to mention it.

Will appreciate your reply, at your convenience, am looking forward to seeing all the fellows at a national convention one of these days.

Sincerely,
G. E. Farrar
c/o N.B.W.
224 W. Huron St.
Chicago 10, Ill.

My dad must have thought it important enough to save a copy of this letter he wrote, but to my knowledge, did not receive a reply.  If he did, he did not save it.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

Veronica Brodie

James Joseph Brodie, the pilot of the Lazy Daisy who lost his life on September 28, 1944, had a brother named Francis and two sisters, Veronica and Mary.  James was the youngest child in the family.  Veronica was three years older than James, Mary was ten years older, and Francis was twelve years older.  With such a wide difference in ages between the two older children and the two younger ones, Veronica was probably closer to James than Mary and Francis.  It would be Veronica who felt the loss of her brother more deeply and took steps to find where he had been buried.

War Department
Office of the Quartermaster General
Washington 25, D.C.

23 June 1947

QMGMF 29
Brodie, James J.
S.N. 01 012 186

Address Reply To
THE QUARTERMASTER GENERAL
Attention: Memorial Division

Miss Veronica Brodie
c/o Ginn and Company
2301-2311 Prairie Avenue
Chicago 16, Illinois

Dear Miss Brodie:

I have received your letter concerning your brother, the late First Lieutenant James J. Brodie.

The official Report of Burial discloses that the remains of your brother were interred in Plot R, Row 9, Grave 220, in the United States Military Cemetery Margraten, Holland, located ten miles west of Aachen, Germany.

Please accept my sincere sympathy in the loss of your brother.

Sincerely yours,
RICHARD B. COOMBS
Major, QMC
Memorial Division

Today, cemetery records show that James Brodie is buried in the cemetery’s Plot J, Row 13, Grave 4.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

Answers

George Edwin Farrar had completed a casualty questionnaire when he returned to the states after his liberation.  As the only survivor on the Lead Banana in the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision with Lazy Daisy, he was asked to provide information on the other members of the crew and write a description of the event as he knew it.  As he was knocked unconscious in the collision, he had more questions than answers.  On the back of the questionnaire, he apparently asked for information on the fate of his crewmates.

On June 14, 1946, Lt. Colonel William H. Brandon had written to tell him that his casualty questionnaire had been received, but that because of a backlog of inquiries, his questions couldn’t be answered at that time.  Now, three months later, 1st Lt. John W. Bertschi was trying to answer Farrar’s questions.

September 11, 1946
Headquarters, Army Air Forces
Washington

Dear Sir:

The casualty questionnaire you completed for Air Forces Headquarters came to my attention today. I noticed your own question in the back of the sheet, and knowing how anxious any crewmember is to know what happened to the rest of the fellows, I want to tell you what we have found.

German casualty records which we recently translated state that all your crewmembers were recovered dead. The only one not identified by name was S. J. Peluso. All the boys were buried in a cemetery at Ost Ingersleben where the plane crashed. This town is twenty miles northwest of Magdeburg. We do not have reburial on all of the fellows yet so this would indicate that the Quartermaster General is having trouble identifying the bodies.

That is really all there is to tell you. You might be interested to know that the German records also include your name and state that you were taken to Dulag Luft West.

You really lived through a close one. I hope you suffer no permanent ill effects, and are enjoying a normal life once again.

This personal letter is easier to get out than an official one.

Very sincerely,
John W. Bertschi
1st LT. AC

In a handwritten note at the bottom of the typed letter, John Bertschi described himself as “Just one of the boys now working in AAF Hdqts personnel division.”

He also added:

P. S. When I checked your 201 file for your address, I found our “very sorry” letter to you.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

Laurie Newbold

More than a year had passed since George Edwin Farrar spent his last day marching across Germany and his ultimate liberation on May 2, 1945.  We Americans that know of the Black March probably picture the marching prisoners in our minds as American, but my father’s companion on the march was a British soldier, not American.  From this letter my father kept since 1946, I must assume that he was housed in a Stalag Luft IV barracks that was a mixture of American and British prisoners.

July 15, 1946
6 Forest View Cottages
Belton
NR Loughborough
Leicestershire
England

Dear George,

It seems a long time since those unhappy days at Luft 4 & the three months marching but I haven’t forgotten the many Yank friends that I made & thought that I would give you time to settle down before I dropped you a line. I hope this finds you in the best of health old-timer & settled down to your home life again, enjoying all those good things that we used to dream about, steaks, chocolate, ices, etc. I’m sure you deserve them all.

I hope that this letter also brings back a few pleasant memories of England with its small hawthorn hedged fields & narrow country lanes. It looks very lovely at the moment as the crops are just about ripe & everywhere is so green. I am writing just after my Sunday tea & it is one of those rare sunny days that we get so few of over here.

I have been demobbed 12 months now & am back at work with promotion to shop foreman. My family has also risen to two boys since I got back. I expect you are also out of the Army Air Force.

Have you ever come across any more of Room 12. Old Mac Whorter lives down south at East Bernstadt, N London, Kentucky but I forgot that your states are as big as England. If you do write any of them please give them my regards.

I have been keeping my eyes open for some card-views of England, but I am sorry to say George that they are not yet back on the market but I shall remember. Try & get me some of those railway view that you told me about.

I’m afraid there’s not too much of anything yet over here & rations are as strict if not stricter than they were during war-time. Now bread as gone on rations due to the state of the continent, the capitalist clique over here are making a lot of party capital out of it but we shall pull through this the same as everything else.

Now that the American loan as gone through we expect to get more petrol, newspapers & a bit more variety in our very dull meals. I’m sure that you won’t regret it when you know what good it will do. It’s no good to anyone as money alone & a thriving Britain means more trade for the U.S.A. as I see it. Anyway our two countries must stick together.

I never saw you again after the day we were liberated. I understand that nearly all your boys stopped the first night at Boizenburg but most of the RAF went straight on to Luneburg & I got there that night. From there I went to Emsdetten near Holland & then flew to England in a Lanc [possible abbreviation for Lancaster bomber].

Well George I expect I could write all night about the past but most of that’s best forgotten, don’t you think. I hope this letter finds you, & I shall be looking forward to your reply. By-the way are you married yet. Write & give me all the news. Please give your family my regards.

Well I must draw to a close as I’m going up to the local pub which my father-in-law runs. I should like to have you here & treat you to a pint of good old mild which I know you used to like.

Cheerio for now old pal & all the very best.

Your Limey Pal,
Laurie Newbold

1946-07-15-Newbold-006-Signature

Notes:

“Old Mac Whorter” was Cecil C. McWhorter of Kentucky.  He was a Staff Sergeant with the 351st bomb group.  McWhorter was a left waist gunner on the Charles E. Cregar, Jr. crew on the 351st’s October 3, 1944 mission 213 to the Nuremburg railroad marshaling yards.  All on board became POW’s with the exception of bombardier John F. Dwyer, who lost his life on that mission.  MACR9358 contains details, but I have not yet been able to locate a copy.  McWhorter died February 10, 1965 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

Questions without answers

Still searching for answers regarding the mid-air collision between Lazy Daisy and Lead Banana more than a year after his liberation, Ed Farrar received a reply to his inquiry from the Army Air Forces.  He did receive a reply, but he did not get any answers.

June 14, 1946
Headquarters, Army Air Forces
Washington

Mr. George E. Farrar,
79 East Lake Terrace, Northeast
Atlanta, Georgia

Dear Mr. Farrar:

Your completed casualty questionnaire has been received in this Headquarters, and we are appreciative of the information you furnished us relative to the fate of your fellow crew members.

At present we have on hand a large back-log of inquiries from the next of kin of our personnel who were killed in action or who are otherwise unaccounted for. In accordance with the Air Force post war reduction in manpower, the staff of this office has been reduced to a point where all inquiries cannot be answered as promptly as we would desire. In view of this, I am certain you will agree with our policy of giving preference to the next of kin. It is not known when we will be able to answer your questions concerning the members of your crew; however, an attempt will be made to furnish you this information as soon as possible.

Sincerely yours,
WILLIAM H. BRANDON
Lt. Colonel, Air Corps
Chief, Notification Section
Personal Affairs Branch
Personnel Services Division, AC/AS-1

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

Caterpillar Club II

The Irvin Parachute Company also operated a “Caterpillar Club” for those who had saved their lives with a parachute.

1946-05-30-Irvin-001

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014

 

Revisiting Ardmore

In 1946, George Edwin (Ed) Farrar was a traveling salesman in training with Neumann, Buslee & Wolfe.  He wrote to his mother from Oklahoma, the home state of his future wife, Bernice Jane (Bernie) Chase, in March 1946.  At this point, Ed and Bernie had not met and would not meet each other for another two years.

1946-03-29-FarrarEd-001 - Letterhead

March 29, 1946
Oklahoma Biltmore
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

I like these large letter heads. I don’t have to write so much.

Dearest Mother:

Haven’t heard from you in several days, but know it isn’t your fault. We changed our route a bit. Mr. Buslee is going back to Chicago from here. Then J.B. and my-self are going back to Ark, and then back into Kan.

I feel at home in most of these towns as, I have visited the majority of them before. A couple days ago, was through Ardmore, and drove to the field. All the boys have gone, and is now a civilian field, with D.C.3’s.

Hope Gerry can arrange for your reservations to Susanville O.K. Am sure I can manage to get to Atlanta before you leave. I miss greatly being with the family, but I know some day I will be able to give you the things you want. I’ll be getting out of school soon, and then I’ll receive a certain percent of all business of the territory. Then I’ll be working out of Atlanta, and I’ll build you a brand new house. I just want to see all in the family happy, and they will be some day.

Write when you can and give my love to all. Tell Millie her home state looks very good.

Love,

Ed

Notes:

  • Gerry was Ed’s oldest sister, Geraldine.  She was married to Wally Mass and they lived in Susanville, California.  Ed’s mother planned to visit Gerry with daughter Beverly and son Gene as soon as school ended for the summer break.
  • Millie was Ed’s oldest brother, Carroll Jr.’s, wife.  She was also from Oklahoma and a friend of Bernice Chase.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014