Santa takes a tiger by the tail

News Article / December 11, 2019

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By Santa Claus

Late one evening back at the North Pole while working on some toys late last year, I was interrupted by the sound of my cell phone ringing. I answered it with my usual, “Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas!”

On the other end was Captain Matt Sinasac, a Royal Canadian Air Force air combat systems officer from 424 Transport and Rescue Squadron at 8 Wing Trenton, Ontario. He was calling to tell me that my request to fly on a familiarization flight with them had been granted. I thanked him very much and said that I really looked forward to meeting him and the rest of the squadron 'Tigers'. Fast forward two weeks to December 5, 2018, and I found myself attending the morning briefing with squadron personnel, who are true life-saving heroes.

I climbed up the ladder into the cockpit of a CC-130H Hercules and strapped in for what was going to be a most memorable experience. After take-off we headed west to around the Cobourg, Ontario, area. The aircraft set up in a right hand orbit while the four search and rescue technicians who were onboard prepared to jump—Master Warrant Officer Dan Pasieka, Warrant Officer Dwayne Guay, Master Corporal Olivier Dionne and Master Corporal Sebastien Gaudet. After jumping from a “perfectly serviceable aircraft”, they slowly drifted away, becoming small orange specks in the distance. Personally, I’ve never had any desire to jump out of my sleigh while it’s in flight, and I admire the courage of those who do so routinely as part of their jobs.

I passed some time comparing the flight characteristics of the CC-130H Hercules and my sleigh with the flight engineer, Warrant Officer Dave Rainbird. The most visible difference is, of course, that the Herc is powered by four powerful turbine engines, where as my sleigh is hauled by eight reindeer.

While perched on the edge of the ramp at the back of the aircraft, chilling out with my newest BFF (Best Flying Friend) loadmaster Corporal Sandy Bridger, the snow-dusted countryside of Quinte West whizzed by us below. I made two streamer drops; the first one didn’t go very well but the second was successful. I was beginning to think that both pilots, commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Philip Marcus and first officer Captain Adrian Rizzuto have secret desires to be fighter pilots as I could have sworn Santa experienced two or three “G's” in a couple of turns.

During the flight, the topic of how the squadron got its nickname came up. 424 Transport and Rescue “Tiger” Squadron's lineage goes back to the May 15, 1935, when No. 19 (Bomber) Squadron of the Non-Permanent Active Air Force was formed in Hamilton, Ontario. It was re-numbered as No. 119 (Bomber) Squadron in 1937. Members of the squadron volunteered for active duty on the September 3, 1939. The squadron was mobilized a week later as a bomber reconnaissance unit. The only association with Tigers at the time were the de Havilland DH.82A Tiger Moths they operated alongside Fleet Fawns. The squadron was transferred to Jericho Beach, British Columbia. While there as part of Western Air Command, they operated the British Bristol Bolingbroke Mk. I. On the July 21, 1940, No. 119 (Bomber Reconnaissance) Squadron—now equipped with the Lockheed Hudson Mk. III aircraft—returned to Eastern Air Command at RCAF Station Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

On August 21, 1942, Squadron Leader H. Wigle took over command at Sydney, Nova Scotia, and at that time approval was granted for an official crest. The Hamilton Tigers Football (Rugby not CFL) Club, allowed the use of their team insignia, a tiger. Artist J.D. Heaton-Armstrong prepared a drawing that was then submitted to the Chester of Herald of the Royal College of Arms, in London, England. The crest was officially approved in October 1942 by King George VI.

On March 10, 1944, the City of Hamilton was advised that No. 119 'Hamilton Tigers' Squadron, a Home War Establishment unit, was being disbanded by the RCAF. In May 1944, the City of Hamilton, looking for another unit to sponsor, decided to adopt No. 424 (Bomber) Squadron. At that time, the squadron was part of No. 6 (Bomber) Group of RAF Bomber Command and stationed at Skipton-on-Swale, Yorkshire, operating the Handley Page Halifax B. Mk. III. A special committee of prominent citizens was set up to ensure the squadron's morale was boosted. They instituted the “Hamilton Tiger Squadron Fund” and each month, supplies of cigarettes, lifesavers, gum, and chocolate bars were sent to the squadron through the Canadian Red Cross. The squadron was officially adopted by the City of Hamilton in September 1944 and received the nickname “Tiger” Squadron.

To the men and women of 424 Transport and Rescue Squadron: You carry out a very important mission to ensure that when someone is in dire need, the “Tigers” will be there to save them. Santa thinks that’s the best gift of all.

And just one last thing. To all the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces who will be away from their loved ones over the holiday season—thank you so much for your service. You all have a special place in my heart. 

At times other than Christmas, Santa Claus is Chris Charland, an RCAF associate historian.


 

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