by Clarence Simonsen
Canadian Warplane Heritage’s Andrew Mynarski Memorial Lancaster (FM-213) honours the story of Lancaster KB-726 and its crew on the fateful night of 12/13 June 1944. However, few know that FM-213 flies with the centre section from KB-895, Ronnie Jenkin’s Lancaster which was known as “Lady Orchid.”
Henry Marshall Jenkins grew up on a farm in the heart of Prince Edward Island potato country. As a teen he grew bored with the picking and sacking of the endless rows of spuds. For pure adventure Henry came up with an idea of placing a note in each sack of potatoes, asking the recipient to write back to him, telling of the place they lived. When a letter arrived from a western town named Calgary, Henry was hooked and saved his money to purchase a one-way train ticket west. In June 1909, Henry stepped from the train and just two months later formed a partnership with storeowner John Irwin. They opened “Jenkins and Crowfoot Groceries” at the corner of 9th Avenue 12th Street S.E., near the entrance to the Calgary Zoo.
Henry’s only son, Ronald Henry Jenkins, was born on 8 July 1913. He grew up around the grocery store business while attending Earl Grey and Western Canada High School before graduating from Mount Royal College. In 1934, Ronnie joined Jenkins Grocerteria as an inventory clerk and traveller. At that time the business consisted of a network of several stores, a bakery, and a wholesale grocery branch. The responsibility for the country stores fell on Ronnie.
At age 29 Ron left the family business to join the Royal Canadian Air Force, reporting to No. 4 Initial Training School at Edmonton on 18 April 1943. F/O Jenkins graduated as a pilot during October 1943 and was posted overseas. Following further training at an O.T.U., he was posted to No. 434 Squadron on 21 December 1944. His crew was made up of F/O A.W. Savage, navigator; F/O R.J. Hines, bomb-aimer; F/Sgt N. McLean, wireless operator; Sgt. D.C. Foss, flight engineer; Sgt. T.B. Baird, rear gunner; and F/Sgt K. Moodie, mid-upper gunner.
Ron Jenkins and crew flew Lancaster PA225 (marked WL-O) on 3, 7, 9, 26 and 27 February then again on 2, 7, 8, 10, 14 and 20 March 1945. The aircraft was then transferred to No. 429 Squadron on 28 March 1945.
On 2 April 1945, a new Canadian built Lancaster Mk X, serial KB-895, was air-tested by Ron Jenkins and crew. Upon completion of the testing, Wing Commander J.C. Mulvihill informed Jenkins the new bomber would become his personal aircraft with code WL-O. The crew now decided that “their” bomber needed a name and nose art painting. At first they named her “Wee Lady Orchid” for each of the code letters. Later they dropped the “Wee” and she became “Lady Orchid.” Pilot Jenkins painted the name in large white letters with a larger red capital L and O. The complete crew then shared in the painting of the Lady Godiva pin-up riding a bomb while holding two western style six shooters because of Jenkins’ Calgary connection. She completed her first operation on 8 April 45, attacking the submarine pens at Hamburg, Germany.
F/O Jenkins flew a total of fifteen operations, five in Lady Orchid. Under his pilot position he painted fifteen white bombs and one red bomb for an aborted operation.
On 7 June 45, No. 434 Squadron left Croft, England, for the transatlantic flight home to Canada, and for this return, two red Maple Leafs, were painted on the upper torso of Lady Orchid. On 17 June, Lady Orchid and crew landed at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
Ron’s father had passed away a few months prior to the end of the war. When Ron returned to the family grocery business, he became president and general manager and shortly thereafter purchased control of the company. Under Ron’s guidance, the business continued as a family-run entity to become the dominant force in Calgary’s retail food business. In 1959 Ron sold the business to Western Grocers which entered a new stage of expansion under Ron’s direction. Ron Jenkins was involved in a variety of Calgary-based businesses and played a leading role with community service organizations such as the Calgary Stampede, United Fund, Chamber of Commerce, and the Rotary Club until his death in 1976.
Following the end of the war in the Pacific, hundreds of Lancaster bombers were placed into in long-term storage in western Canada and Lady Orchid eventually found herself in Penhold, Alberta where she was turned over to War Assets for disposal. Ron Jenkins had somehow been keeping an eye on his old aircraft and on 12 April 1947, he arranged to purchase KB-895 for $230. Ron then had some of the equipment from each crew station removed and shipped to each of his old crewmembers as souvenirs.
The bomber was then returned to War Assets who re-sold the Lancaster to a local Penhold farmer who had a scheme to turn it into a machine shop and shed. By 1952 the Lancaster had been raised up onto three cement columns, but the farmer had lost interest in his project.
During the early 1950’s, Lancaster Mk X’s were being modified for post-war service in the RCAF. Shortly after conversion work was completed on Lancaster FM-213, a crew stalled the aircraft over the runway at Greenwood, Nova Scotia, lost control, ground-looped, and then the starboard undercarriage collapsed. When the inspection team checked the aircraft they reported repairs could be made but a replacement centre-section would have to be found. There were no other centre-sections in Canada according to RCAF records but Bud Found, who had been in the business of locating aircraft parts for the air force, recalled the farmer in Penhold and his plans to build a shed. A phone call was made and the farmer was willing to sell Lady Orchid. The largest railway flat-car in Canada was sent from New Brunswick to Penhold in order to carry the centre-section to Downsview, Ontario where KB-895’s centre section was inserted into FM-213 during July 1953. FM-213 went on to fly ten years with No. 107 Composite Unit at Torbay, Newfoundland, and today flies as KB-726, VR-A, known to all as the Mynarski Lancaster.
Rudy St. Germain of Timmins, Ontario served as an air gunner with the No. 434 Squadron crew piloted by Terry Coghlan of Sudbury, Ontario. Rudy was part of the crew that took “Lady Orchid” across the Atlantic. It appears to have been a perilous trip. Ron Jenkins’ logbook noted the 7 hour and 45 minute leg from St Maugans, Cornwall to Santa Maria in the Azores as a “tough trip” and referred to “broken hydraulics” and “three engines.” They were on three engines again on the 8 hour leg between Lagens and Gander and again on the final leg before landing at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
During the flight, Rudy wrote the following words which Ron Jenkins considered a “Good Thought” and subsequently copied into his pilot’s logbook, “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.”