Once a Chinthe, Always a Chinthe
By 2Lt Becky Major, 17 Wing Public Affairs
When Richard Earl joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) at age 18 in 1942, he never imagined he would end up as a radio operator for one of two brand new Canadian transport squadrons in India.
Mr. Earl was placed in 435 Squadron working on the Dakota DC-3, or “Dak” as it is fondly remembered by its operators. Seventy-five years later, through a chance meeting, Mr. Earl had the opportunity to reunite with his former squadron at 17 Wing Winnipeg.
Mr. Earl served through the end of the Second World War until 1946 before returning to his job in Canada at CN Rail. Since then, he had not attempted to reconnect with the military until a chance meeting with his new next door neighbour, Master Warrant Officer (Ret’d) Richard Henry, a former Search and Rescue Technician with 435 Squadron.
“We started talking in the back lane one day and Richard mentioned he had served in India,” explained MWO (Ret’d) Henry. “After a few minutes he said he served with 435 Squadron and I thought, this is a big deal.”
After connecting with a member of 435 Squadron, a tour was arranged for Mr. Earl to come and visit Hangar 16 and see the CC-130 Hercules the squadron now operates. Mr. Earl did not cancel his visit despite temperatures below minus forty, and the squadron did not disappoint.
When Mr. Earl stepped off the elevator onto the third floor of the hangar, he was greeted by 435’s Commanding Officer Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Coffin, Chief Warrant Officer Paul Nolan, and members of the squadron. It was an honour he was not expecting, and one he will not soon forget.
LCol Coffin presented Mr. Earl with a squadron coin and welcomed him home, saying “Once a Chinthe, always a Chinthe!” The Chinthe, a lion-like figure from Burma, was adopted as the squadron’s mascot during its time in India.
Mr. Earl spent the morning sharing some of his stories from Burma and reminding the squadron’s members just how different times used to be. When asked what type of harness they wore while conducting airdrops in the back of the Dakota, Mr. Earl said, “The clothes on my back!” While this seems shocking to today’s aviators, Mr. Earl and his fellow airmen did not think twice about it in 1944.
Mr. Earl was in awe after being shown the CC-130 Hercules. “You could fit the body of the Dak in the back of this Herc no problem!” he laughed. Squadron members took him right into the cockpit and explained how the aircraft works.
Having trained as a wireless-air gunner in Canada, Mr. Earl used those skills while stationed in India. He relied heavily upon his lessons in Morse Code while working in a dual role as a radio (or “wireless”) operator as well as an air gunner alongside two pilots and a navigator that made up the crew of the Dakota. To his surprise, Mr. Earl ended up on a crew with a pilot who lived on the same street as him back at home in Winnipeg, Earl Payne.
The tour was a thrilling morning for Mr. Earl, but 435 Sqn will be seeing even more of him this year. In April they will honour the squadron’s 75th anniversary by hosting a banquet dinner at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.
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