by David Clark
How a derelict Canadian Lancaster would render one last service to her country and allow another Lancaster continue to fly to this day
1. The Accident
On January 24, 1952 Lancaster FM213 was on approach to the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) base at Trenton, Ontario at the end of one of the legs of her journey to join 405 MR (Maritime Reconnaissance) Squadron in Greenwood, Nova Scotia. The Cold War was in its infancy and Canada had to begun rearm after the massive demobilization that had occurred at the end of the Second World War. FM213 had just recently completed a conversion from a Mark X heavy bomber to a Mark 10MR maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft. Unfortunately as she reached the landing field the aircraft stalled, ground looped and collapsed her starboard landing gear as she impacted the runway. Initially it seemed that she was a total write-off, her centre section badly damaged. With no known source of replacement for such a large part known to exist in Canada at this time, as all the other Lancasters had been scrapped or converted for other duties, it seemed that FM213 would be doomed to never see active service. Thankfully, one of the men who had helped to find and reacquire many of the Lancasters that had been sold off after World War Two during the post-war demobilization remembered one possible source for this vital replacement part.
FM213 after her crash at Trenton in 1952. Photo: Ron Cruse/Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.
It would be this event that would cause the histories of two Lancasters--one a Second World War veteran that had lain derelict in a farmers field for a number of years and the other an aircraft that had been built for war but seemed fated to never serve her country--to intersect and allow FM213 to not only go on to render many years of service to her country but also to survive to become an enduring monument to the service of thousands upon thousands of men and aircraft that served Canada during and after the greatest conflict in human history.
2. Lady Orchid goes to war
Lancaster Mk. X KB895 left the Victory Aircraft Factory in Malton ON, January 1945. Victory Aircraft Limited was a Canadian Crown corporation created from the Malton branch of the National Steel Car Corporation in November of 1942 as a 'shadow factory' safe from German bombing. This facility would go onto build thousands of aircraft during the war, including 430 Mk. X Lancasters (Mk. X being the designation for Mk. I Lancasters built in Canada). KB895 arrived in England in March of 1945 and was initially issued to No. 428 (Ghost) Squadron but was soon reissued to No. 434 (Bluenose) Squadron. Now all the aircraft needed was a crew and a pilot.
Ron Jenkins in October of 1943 after receiving his Pilot's Flying Badge. Photo courtesy of the Clarence Simonsen collection.
Ronald Henry Jenkins was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada on July 8, 1913. He grew up around his family's grocery business, and after graduating from Mount Royal College in 1934 went to work in the family business, Jenkins Groceteria which by this point was growing into a very successful chain of stores that would eventually include seven stores, a bakery, and a wholesale branch. In 1943 he left the company to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. Though Ron was 29 years of age (about 10 years older than the average recruit) he had his heart set on joining the Air Force and fighting the war as a pilot. In the spring of 1943 he was assigned to No. 4 ITS (Initial Training School) of the BCATP (British Commonwealth Air Training Plan) in Edmonton and began his training to become a pilot. After passing through a number of training schools he was authorized to wear the Pilot's Flying Badge as F/O (Flying Officer) Jenkins, graduating from No. 3 Service Flying Training School on October 15, 1943. He would then complete a number of other courses before he was posted to No. 434 Squadron in Croft, Yorkshire, England on December 21, 1944. He flew his first operation as second pilot over Paris on January 28, 1945 and was then assigned to an aircraft and a permanent crew.
F/O Jenkins and his new crew, consisting of F/O Savage, F/O Hines, W/O (Warrant Officer) McLean, F/Sgt (Flight Sergeant) Baird, Sgt Foss and F/Sgt Moodie, would begin flying operations in early February and would go on to fly eleven missions (February 3, 7, 19, 26, 27 and March 2, 7, 8, 10, 14, 20) in a British-built Lancaster Mk. I, PA 225, which carried the squadron code WL-O (Oboe). That aircraft was then reassigned to No.429 (Bison) Squadron on March 28 as No. 434 Squadron began taking delivery of new Canadian-built Lancaster Mk. Xs. On April 2, 1945 Jenkins and his crew took charge of KB895. After they completed pre-operational testing, No. 434 Squadron's commanding officer, Wing Commander J.C. Mulvilhill, assigned them the new Lancaster as their personal aircraft. Now that the crew had their own Lancaster they decided to personalize the aircraft. Though nowhere near as wide spread as it was in American air services, painting nose art on aircraft, particularly bombers, was becoming very popular in the British and Commonwealth Air Forces by this point in the war. As was the case with their first aircraft, KB895's squadron code letters were WL-O, so they named the Lancaster "Wee Lady Orchid". The entire crew participated in painting the nose art on the aircraft and it was decided to use the image of Lady Godiva riding a bomb and carrying two six-shooter pistols, the later part in honour of the western heritage of Jenkins' home town of Calgary. Jenkins painted the red L and O on the aircraft and the rest of the crew completed the rest of the name and the artwork. During the painting it was decided to drop the prefix Wee from the name and the aircraft became known simply as Lady Orchid.
Lady Orchid just after the maple leafs had been added to her torso, sometime before June 7, 1945 while she was still based at the RCAF base in Croft, Yorkshire. Photo courtesy of the Clarence Simonsen collection.
KB895 and her crew began operations on April 8, 1945. Jenkins and his crew would fly a total of five missions in her by war's end: Hamburg on April 8, Leipzig on April 10, Kiel on April 13 (in which Jenkins performed two successive corkscrew manoeuvres to evade German nightfighters), and Schwandorf on April 16. The final mission to Bremen on April 22, 1945 was aborted due to poor weather over the target. Lady Orchid therefore ended up displaying fifteen white bomb mission markers for the total number of completed missions that Jenkins and his crew had flown in combat and one red one for the aborted mission. KB895 would also fly a number of other operations during its time with No. 434 Squadron with other crews before the war ended, with the final taking place on April 25, 1945 in a raid on naval defences at Wangerooge under the command of F/O Bonar.
Though the war in Europe was over, the war in the Pacific still raged and Lady Orchid and her crew continued to train in preparation for deployment against Japan. From May 7 to June 7, 1945 the crew trained intensely. On May 10 they flew over continental Europe one more time as part of Operation Exodus, with Lady Orchid flying from Croft to Juvincourt France for the purpose of ferrying Allied POWs back to Westcott in England before returning to Croft. It was also during this time that KB895 gained some more decorative touches. Lady Orchid herself acquired two red maple leaves on her upper torso, the aircraft's prop spinners were painted roundel blue, the phrase "Jenkins' Express" was painted on the right side of the fuselage under the cockpit and tail gunner Bruce Baird painted the words "Bruce "Buster" Slim" on the face of his turret. It was now time to return home. Lady Orchid and many low flight time Canadian-built Lancasters that had been deployed to Europe were flown back to Canada to join the RCAF's contribution to Tiger Force (also known as the Very Long Range Bomber Force), a large heavy bomber force that Britain planned to deploy against Japan after hostilities ended with Germany. Tiger Force was originally proposed during the Quebec Conference in September of 1944 and was to consist of 22 squadrons from the RAF, RCAF, RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) and RNZAF (Royal New Zealand Air Force). The aircraft in the force would consist of Lancasters (which would be replaced by Avro Lincolns once enough of them became available) and Consolidated Liberators and by mid-1945 it was planned that the units would be based on Okinawa. Canada was originally slated to deploy four bomber wings (Nos. 661, 662, 663, and 664) with each wing consisting of two squadrons and including in total 141 Canadian-built Mk. X Lancasters. The planned size of Tiger Force soon shrank to ten squadrons as the war in Europe neared its end and the logistical realities of deploying such a large force provoked an adjustment in thinking. KB895 left Croft on June 7, 1945 and flew a series of legs across the Atlantic with Jenkins and a ferry crew. The trip took a total of ten days and included a delay of five days in Cornwall due to bad weather and two close shaves when the aircraft had one engine fail between the Azores and Gander, Newfoundland and again between Gander and Dartmouth, Nova Scotia where she finally completed her journey home on June 17, 1945. After her arrival she was assigned to No. 662 HB (heavy bomber) Wing. Jenkins quoted one of the ferry crew, Rudy St Germain, in his pilot logbook which encapsulates the feeling of the crew as they neared home:
RCAF Lancasters in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia after returning for Europe in 1945, Lady Orchid is second from the right. Photo courtesy of the Clarence Simonsen collection.
"Flying the Atlantic alone - because in spite of others - you feel alone, with the sun over you and nothing between you and the sea but this man-made machine, a Lancaster, that once seemed so huge but is now dwarfed by the immensity of space; yet is winging its way confidently towards some known place on the other side of the world, the Azores, Newfoundland and finally good old Canada."
Having all returned to Canada, Jenkins and his original crew were then given a well-deserved 37 days' leave before they would rejoin their unit for deployment to the Pacific. However, with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japan's subsequent formal unconditional surrender on September 2, 1945, Tiger Force was no longer needed and the unit was disbanded on September 5, 1945. With the war now at an ended, large-scale demobilization soon followed and KB895, along with most of the approximately 230 Lancasters in Canada, were slated to be placed into storage.
3. Demobilization and retirement
With the end of the war Canada's military quickly began to demobilize and with no imminent or nearby enemy in sight it was decided that Canada had no need of a large long-range bomber force. A small number of Lancasters were kept in RCAF service to be converted for various duties including survey, search and rescue, training, and testing purposes but it was decided that most of the aircraft in Canada would be put into storage. Many of the newer of the Canadian built Lancasters (the FM series) were be put into storage at active RCAF bases while most of the remaining older Lancasters (the KB series) would be put into long term storage at inactive bases such as old BCATP airfields. Lady Orchid was one of 83 Canadian Lancasters transferred to Pearce, Alberta. Pearce had served as a BCATP base during the war from March 1942 to January 1945 and had been home to No. 36 Elementary Flying Training School, No. 3 Air Observer School and No. 2 Flying Instructors School. It now served as a storage depot and scrap yard for the Royal Canadian Air Force and became a temporary home for many of the Lancasters before they moved onto long-term storage or disposal. Lady Orchid was flown from Dartmouth to Pearce via Toronto, Ontario and Gimli, Manitoba and arrived at Pearce on September 8, 1945. She would remain on strength with the No. 2 Air Command at Pearce from September 11 1945 until January 22, 1947 when she was struck off charge and flown to Penhold, Alberta by F/L H Buocher and turned over to Crown Assets for final disposal.
Lady Orchid after her arrival at Pearce, Alberta. Photo courtesy of the Bomber Command Museum, Nanton.
After mustering out of the RCAF, Ron Jenkins returned to his hometown of Calgary. His father had passed away a few months before the end of the war so he now took over the family's business and soon became a successful businessman in his own right. In 1947 he heard through a friend that his old Lancaster was up for sale and decided to purchase it so he could remove all of the instrument panels and seats from the various crew stations and send them to his crew as souvenirs of their service together. According the transcript of an interview Jenkins did in 1975, Crown Assets agreed to sell him Lady Orchid for $300 if he promised to never try to obtain a Certificate of Airworthiness for the aircraft and if he agreed to sell one of the Merlin engines to SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary) and one to NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton) for $100 each. So on April 12, 1947 Ron purchased KB895, but now he had to figure out how to move her off of the storage facility at Penhold to somewhere he could have the aircraft worked on. He soon learned through another friend who worked in real estate that there was a farmer by the name of Clifford Doan who had an interest in aviation and whose farm was next to the storage facility. He contacted Doan and asked him if he would like to have what remained of KB895 for free if he could move the Lancaster onto his property and work on removing the various crew station parts. They ended up cutting the fence between the property and the storage facility and then towed Lady Orchid onto the farm. Jenkins and some hired help then set about removing the various parts, including the entire rear turret for tail gunner Bruce Baird and the pilot instrument panel and seat for himself. He then left what remained of her with Doan. The farmer considered turning the aircraft's fuselage into a machine shop and tool shed, but after mounting the aircraft on three cement columns he lost interest in the project. As KB895's gutted remains sat slowly decaying in rural Alberta, it seemed that Lady Orchid's days of service were over.
4. FM213 resurrected
Like Lady Orchid, Lancaster Mk. X FM213 was built at Victory Aircraft and was taken on strength with the RCAF on August 21, 1945, but unlike Lady Orchid she was completed too late to participate in the war in Europe or to be assigned to Tiger Force, so she was immediately put in storage at the RCAF base in Trenton, Ontario. With the dawning of the Cold War in 1950 Canada quickly realized that there was a desperate need for long range aircraft to patrol the nation's vast coastlines, so it was decided to convert approximately 70 Lancasters into maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft. A.V. Roe Canada (the company formerly known as Victory Aircraft Limited before it was acquired from the Canadian government by the Hawker Siddeley Group in 1945) was contracted to complete the conversion, but many of the aircraft, including FM213, ended up being converted by de Havilland Aircraft of Canada in Downsview, Ontario. de Havilland was sub-contracted to do the work due to the fact that A.V. Roe was heavily committed to producing the new CF-100 jet fighter aircraft and the C-102 Jetliner. FM213 was removed from storage with nine other Lancasters and dismantled, then on August 28, 1950 the ten aircraft were shipped to de Havilland. By January 1952 FM213's conversion to a Mark 10MR configuration was complete. After flight testing she was designated VC-AGJ and assigned to No. 405 MR Squadron in Greenwood, Nova Scotia. But after the crash landing at Trenton, Ontario on January 24, 1952 it seemed that her short-lived career was over and she would be doomed to be scrapped for spare parts.
Photo taken by Bud Found of Lady Orchid at the Doan farm in 1952. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum and the Clarence Simonsen collection.
The RCAF would have a total of approximately 100 Lancasters converted to various configurations after the war, but when the Canadian government made the decision convert a large number of Lancasters as a quick way to build a maritime patrol force in 1950, they soon realized that the Air Force had nowhere near the number of aircraft needed remaining in their inventory. Though the RCAF still had some of the newer FM series Lancasters in storage, most of the 230 that were on strength in 1945 had been sold off by Crown Assets during the latter half of the 1940s. The Canadian government soon found that it needed to buy back many of the aircraft they had just disposed of and began searching for airworthy airframes and parts. Soon after the announcement that Canada would be returning a large number of Lancasters to service N.K. "Bud" and S.R. "Mickey" Found of Found Brothers Aviation in Malton, who were looking for money to finance a prototype aircraft (FBA-1A bush plane) for their fledgling company, remembered that many Lancasters had been sold off in Alberta and were soon scouring the province for aircraft and parts. Eventually they found a total of 50 complete airframes plus extra Merlin engines and a huge amount of spare parts, much of which they acquired from a farmer from High River, Alberta by the name of Albert Hoving. He had purchased 44 airframes, 20 Merlin engines and a large collection of spares from Crown Assets with the intention of melting them all down for the aluminum and then selling it for the manufacture of pots and pans. The brothers ended up paying Hoving approximately $1,000 per aircraft, but then sold the Lancasters they found in Alberta to the Canadian Government for $10,000 per aircraft. Needless to say the Found Brothers got their project off the ground and the Canadian government found that they were seriously regretting selling off the aircraft for $400 each only a few years previously. Found Brothers Aviation would go onto build a number of different types of bush planes throughout the 1950s and 1960s before the company finally closed in late 1968.
Photo taken by Bud Found of Lady Orchid at the Doan farm in 1952. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum and the Clarence Simonsen collection.
It would be Bud Found who would now help save FM213 as well. By 1952 all the remaining serviceable Lancasters that were left in Canada had been converted to various new configurations or had long since been scrapped, so when the accident to FM213 occurred the RCAF knew of no remaining Lancaster airframes in Canada that could be used to repair the aircraft. However Bud Found remembered that during the brothers' hunt for aircraft in Alberta they had seen a derelict Lancaster on a farm in Penhold that was too far gone to be a candidate for restoration and conversion, but he believed that the centre section could be salvaged and used to save FM213. Lady Orchid would now be allowed to render one more service to her country. The government quickly contacted Clifford Doan and a salvage crew was dispatched to Penhold to remove Lady Orchid's centre section. Meanwhile a large flatcar was sent to Alberta to carry the huge section to de Havilland Aircraft. The section was mated with FM213 in July of 1953 and on August 26, 1953 she was test flown and considered ready to be returned to service.
By this time many of the maritime reconnaissance Lancasters were being replaced with newer types of aircraft so FM213 would be assigned to No. 107 RU (Rescue Unit) in Torbay, Newfoundland when she returned to service and was given the squadron code VC-AGS which was later changed to CX 213. She would serve with this unit for about 10 years as a search and rescue aircraft. Most of her time was spent patrolling the Atlantic and responding to distress calls but she also served as an escort aircraft three separate times for aircraft carrying members of the royal family to Canada in 1957 and 1958, helped escort RCAF fighters deploying to Europe during Operation Jump Moat IV in June, 1958, and would call on Greenland, Iceland, Scotland and the Azores during her travels over the years. On November 6, 1963 she was finally retired from service and was sent into storage in Dunville, Ontario. She was finally struck off charge on June 30, 1964.
Lady Orchid's centre section after it's removal. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum and the Clarence Simonsen collection.
FM213 would remain stored in Dunville, Ontario until she was purchased by the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 109 in Goderich, Ontario for approximately $12-1300. She was flown down to Sky Harbour Airport in Goderich on June 14, 1964 before being officially struck off charge in the RCAF and was soon mounted on three pylons outside the Legion. After remaining on display outside Branch 109 for 13 years, it was realized that the legion could no longer afford the cost of maintaining the aircraft and they began looking to sell her. It was at this point that the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, which had been searching for a Lancaster to restore, looked over the FM213 and realized it was an excellent candidate for restoration to flying condition. Initially the two parties could not reach an agreement on acquiring the Lancaster but it was at this point that Bruce Sully, a successful Goderich businessman, agreed to create a scholarship trust fund for children of the legion members through his foundation in exchange for the legion donating FM213 to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. On July 1, 1977 the museum officially acquired FM213. On November 5, 1979, after two years' work dismantling and preparing her for transport, No. 450 Hel (Helicopter) Squadron transported the main body of the aircraft to the CWH Museum at the Hamilton International Airport. After nearly a decade of restoration work FM213 returned to the skies on September 11, 1988. She now wore the colours and designation of KB726 VR-A of No. 419 (Moose) Squadron as a memorial to P/O (Pilot Officer) Andrew Mynarski (RCAF) who posthumously won the Victoria Cross on a raid the night of June 12-13 1944 over Cambrai. FM213 in the guise of VeRA is now an enduring memorial to those who served in Bomber Command in World War Two and one of only two Lancasters in the world that have been restored to flying condition.
Lancaster FM213 in flight during her time with No. 107 RU. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.
KB895 also lives on today. In the summer of 2011, the Aero Space Museum of Calgary completed the static restoration of the Lancaster in their collection, FM136. She was another Mark X / Mark 10MR conversion that served in No. 32 MU (Maintenance Unit), No. 419 B (Bomber), No. 404 MP (Maritime Patrol) and No. 407 MR Squadrons during her time in the RCAF, and Ron Jenkins had a hand in preserving her as well. In 1962 a group led by Lynn Garrison found FM136 in relatively good shape in storage in Fort Macleod, Alberta and purchased her for $975 in the hopes of displaying the aircraft at the Calgary airport as a war memorial. He faced quite an uphill battle due to lack of local support but in the end, with the help of a few local political, business, and media leaders (including Ron Jenkins), Garrison managed to get the project completed. FM136 remained mounted on a pedestal at the airport for 30 years until she was transferred from the City of Calgary to Aero Space Museum of Calgary for restoration. She is now on display at the museum in the guise of Lady Orchid as a memorial to Canadians and Albertans who served in Bomber Command in the Second World War and to Ron Jenkins. There is also a reproduction of Lady Orchid's nose artwork painted by Clarence Simonsen in the nose art gallery at the Bomber Command Museum in Nanton, Alberta.
Ron Jenkins not only became a multi-millionaire after the war but was a great community leader as well, having served as CEO, President or General Manager of approximately 20 companies and organizations including the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the YMCA and the Calgary Stampede. He passed away on April 30, 1976. After his passing a number of his wartime artefacts were donated to the Aero Space Museum of Calgary, including the pilot's seat and instrument panel that he had removed from Lady Orchid many years before. The instrument panel would later be installed in FM136 during the aircraft's restoration.
Over the past few years the Canadian Warplane Heritage has honoured famous Canadian Lancaster bombers by adding their nose art to FM213. This year the museum will honouring this incredible story by painting Lady Orchid's nose art on VeRA and allowing her to fly again -- fitting tribute considering that one of the major reasons FM213 is still flying is due to the piece of Lady Orchid she carries to this day. The Lady Orchid paint scheme will be debuted at the Flyfest weekend on June 18 and 19 at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum and will remain until the end of the summer.
FM213 on display in front of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 109 in Goderich, Ontario. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.
The author would like to acknowledge the generous assistance received from the following sources: the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, the Bomber Command Museum Nanton, the Aero Space Museum of Calgary, Elinor Florence, and especially Clarence Simonsen whose books, articles and other research were invaluable resources in the writing of this fascinating story.