Christmas Card 1943
This is a wartime Gander Christmas card is believed to be from 1943, with a possiblity it was a year later. It was probably an official card rather than something that could be bought at the base PX shopping facility because the name was printed inside the card is in the same characters as the main text. Given the quality and that the senders name was printed at the same time as the card, it could quite possibly have been reserved for senoir officers. (I used Photoshop to erase the name on this one.)
The name "Gander" can be clearly seen on the inside-
I noticed that the Lancaster on the cover of the Christmas card had the identification number “VN-N”. In the Royal Air Force and Commonwealth countries, the first two letters identified the Squadron which flew the airplane while the last number identified the aircraft itself. I wanted to discover more about this airplane, hoping in particular to find out why it had been selected for the cover of a card representing Gander.
The manufacturer’s serial number of the airplane was R5689. It was one of 200 originally ordered as “Manchesters” (a similar 2-engine airplane) from the AV Roe factories in Manchester England, but was finally built as a 4-engine Lancaster, model B1. These were delivered during the period February to July 1942 with Merlin 20 engines (same as on the famous Spitfire fighter). Here is a colour sketch of VN-N in its normal livery:
Lancaster R5689 (VN-N) was sent to 50 Squadron of the RAF on 22 June 1942. It took part in many key operations, bombing places such as Saarbrucken, Dussldorf, Le Havre, Essen and Wilhelmshaven. On its last run, it left Swinderby, England, at 19h15 on 18 September 1942 on a mine-laying operation. It crash landed and was written off at Thurlby, Lincolnshire, when both port engines conked out as the airplane was coming in to land. One of the seven member British, Australian and Canadian crew who lost his life was Sgt JR Gibbons of the RCAF, a fellow from the area of Brantford, Ont.
Here are two photos, from slightly different angles, one of which seems hand-coloured, which appear to be during the same pre-take-off line up at Swinderly:
It may be that VN-N was used for the cover because of Sgt Gibbons. But that appears unlikely because he didn’t seem to have any personal connection with Gander. The Lancaster itself was not one of those built in Canada and sent overseas. In any case it would unlikely that RCAF Gander would have selected its own card, especially as there were no Lanc bombers operating from Gander. It is thereforemost likely a general use RCAF model for the year.
However, for some reason, this particular aircraft comes up often in research on Lancasters, both in actual wartime photos, in sketches and in post war paintings. In one online chat group, some thought that VN-N was the most photographed Lancaster of WWII. I have read however that this particular airplane may have been used to make "air recognition" photos showing the front, side and bottom views to train air and ground crews in the instant recognition of a Lancaster so as not to shoot at it by mistake. These photos would therefore have been distributed in large quantity. Given that wartime secrecy precludes publishing the various aircraft beening used in different locations, it would therefore be quite logical to use this particular Lanc for generic purposes.
For those wish to learn more about the history of the Lanc and what it was like to be on one during real operations, the video below is excellent. It is however about 40 minutes long.
(Much thanks to Robert (Bob) Evans, Volunteer Curator at the Nanton Lancaster Air Museum in Nanton Alberta for his help on this.)