RCAF Floating Detachment and Land Station Bella Bella, B. C. (text version)

RCAF Floating Detachment and Land Station Bella Bella, B. C.

Bella Bella Part One - 1

This cat like creature appeared in the March 1942 issue of the RCAF Station Bella Bella newsletter titled “Roundel”, however the World War Two meaning is not recorded. It could possibly be connected to the Heiltsuk First Nations folklore.

The word Bella is derived from the Latin “bellus” meaning fair, charming, and pretty. The Italian word Bella stands for beautiful, and the French equivalent is spelled Belle. Bella is most often considered to be the short form of Isabella, Annabella, Mirabella, Arabella, or any name ending with the suffix “Bella.”

The present day Heiltsuk First Nation people is an amalgamation of five tribal groups who inhabited an area of over 6,000 square miles of Central Coastal region of British Columbia. Geological evidence shows these people have been living in the area for the past 9,700 years, and new archeological excavations have revealed a settlement lived in this area 14,000 years ago, during the last ice age, when glaciers covered most of [Canada] North America. Many websites make for excellent historical reading on the ancestors of the Heiltsuk natives who were also known as the Bella Bella. Their descendants still live in their First Nation Campbell island village of Bella Bella, located 98 miles north of Port Hardy, B. C. This original site was first named Waglisla, meaning “River on the Beach.”

The first contact with Europeans is not known, but historians believe it was possibly in 1793, and the use of the name “Bella Bella” begins around 1833. The name was possibly derived from the word “Pelbala” and translated into the English word Bella. In 1833, the Hudson’s Bay Company constructed a fur trading post on the shore of Campbell Island, on McLoughlin Bay, B. C. The Heiltsuk people constructed a small village [eight homes] adjacent to the new fort, and it was called “Qelc” or Bella Bella. In 1897, the Heiltsuk community began to relocated to a new site, 3 km further north at Waglisla, and by 1903 the new town of Bella Bella was founded, which is the current village site today. The original site [abandoned] was now called Old Bella Bella, then a new fish cannery site was constructed on Denny Island in 1914, also named Old Bella Bella.
This mix of old and new names is still disputed and confusion still persists to present day. Then the RCAF came along and created a fourth Bella Bella, on Denny Island, [Klick-Tso-Atli Bay] beginning 9 September 1938.

Bella Bella Part One - 2

Author map showing the use of name Bella Bella from 1833 to 1944.

The Beginning

On 29 April 1919, the Canadian Parliament passed its very first postwar aviation bill, and the “Air Board Act” became law. Canada became the first nation to legislate complete control over the realm of flight, combining both civilian and military aviation. The new Air Board responsibilities were based on the British model and simply designed to regulate Canadian aviation, manage aircraft and equipment, regulate the operation of air services, and the most important, locate new sites for the construction of new air bases in Canada. This part of our Canadian aviation history requires much more reading, however that is not important to my Bella Bella history. In short, the Air Board first had to deal with the gift of surplus WWI aircraft that Great Britain had offered to Canada in early June 1919. It took the Air Board [and Canadian government] four months to decide it they wanted the aircraft, a gift that had a value of over five million dollars, a lot of money in 1919. The U. S. Navy had also left [donated to Canadian government] twelve Curtiss HS-2L flying boats, plus 25 American built Liberty aircraft engines, that had flown from Nova Scotia on convoy patrols during World War One. Slowly, the Canadian government approved the formation of the Canadian Air Force, the forerunner of the future Royal Canadian Air Force. They accepted over one hundred British donated aircraft which were crated and shipped to Canada, and by spring 1920, administration staff and instructors were arriving at Camp Borden, Ontario.

Major Clarence MacLaurin DSC, [Superintendent in charge] Major A. G. Lincoln, Captain G. O. Johnson, and Captain J. W. Hobbs were commissioned by the Air Board to research and submit recommendations for the construction of new flying stations in various regions of Canada. Captain Hobbs was appointed the officer in charge of the west coast of British Columbia, and began with meetings of the Provincial and Federal government departments. The Government of British Columbia granted, free of charge, a section of land on English Bay, and this became Jericho Beach Air Station, a chosen site motivated mostly by the fact it cost the Air Board no money. In mid-May 1920, Capt. Hobbs, submitted his recommendation for the construction of Vancouver Flying Boat Air Station [Jericho Beach] and the site was approved by Major C. MacLaurin on 29 May 1920. Major Claire MacLaurin arrived in Vancouver to take over the responsibility of all construction which began on 1 June 1920, and the new base was completed on 7 September that year. Three [American donated] seaplane canvas hangars were erected, with one 300-foot cement apron running between each hangar, 75 feet in width. One slipway 210 feet in length by 25 feet wide connected the apron to the water. The total cost of the air station was $48,391.31, which included the construction of one large wooden building [70 ft. by 20 ft.] office and garage for the aircrew. Other smaller frame buildings surrounded the three canvas hangars which had been donated to the Canadian government by the United States, plus the four assigned American donated Curtiss HS-2L flying boats which arrived by rail in Vancouver. Assigned code letters G-CYBA, G-CYBB, G-CYDX, and G-CYEA, they were joined by one twin-engine British Felixtowe F-3, G-CYDI, shipped from the U. K. to Vancouver, B. C.

The four American Curtiss HS-2L Flying Boats arrived by truck on 15 September 1920, and all were assembled and test flown by the end of the month. They became the workhorse of Vancouver Air Station, with double-layered wooden hull, mahogany-planked bottom, they were able to take the pounding of the rough seas and served Canada well on the west coast. The large British F-3 flying Boat could not stand up to the west coast weather/sea conditions and required continual maintenance, which put a drain on their small budget.

Bella Bella Part One - 3

The arrival of the single British Felixtowe F-3 on 17 September 1920, code G-CYDI. [Ottawa image PA114756] Note [right] assembled Curtiss HS-2L, “G-CYDX” ready for flight. This Flying Boat made the first Canadian Air Force landing at Bella Bella, B. C. on 22 July 1923.

Bella Bella Part One - 4

Major Clarence [Claire] MacLaurin and crew at Jericho Beach in 1921, Ottawa image PA28591. This is the British Felixtowe F-3 coded G-CYDI, which was used for film and aerial photo duties until it was withdrawn from service in early 1923.

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The new station was assigned five trucks, two tractors, three trailers, and two boats.

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This photo image of Vancouver Flying Boat Air Station was taken in January 1921. The launch boat named “Van Blerk” can be see in the bottom left corner of image. The Daily Diary description of Vancouver Air Station and cost of construction follows.

Bella Bella Part One - 7

Bella Bella Part One - 8

Original Daily Diary and creation of Vancouver [Jericho Beach] Air Station, on 29 May 1920. Ex-U. S. Navy Curtiss HS-2L, “G-CYBA” was the first assembled and first test flown.

In March 1921, the B.C. government allocated twenty thousand dollars for the exploration of British Columbia’s forests and the reconnaissance of the west coastline. Jericho Beach station was awarded a trail season of coastal forestry patrols, and the Daily Diary records a very busy season, including the first surveillance patrols of narcotic drug smuggling. 1921 proved to be a trail blazing year, which introduced Aerial Photography across Canada, and Jericho Beach received their first Eastman camera, installed in F-3, G-CYDI. In December 1921, the Liberal government of Mackenzie King won the election, followed in early 1922, with a full reduction in the allotment for the Air Board, to one million dollars for the full year of operation.

The effects were soon seen everywhere, and now 96 years later; the Liberals are still making our air force do much more with much less. As we enter the year 2018, the Liberal government is cancelling the previous Harper government deal to purchase 65 new modern American F-35 fighters and replace them with used surplus F-18 fighters that Australia no longer needs. You see, the Australians are replacing their old F-18 fighters with the most modern F-35 Stealth fighters, and they must be jumping with joy to be able to dump their old fighters on good old Canada. It is possible the House of Commons Defence Committee will find a solution to this Liberal political mess, something Canada did not have in the year 1922. This must be very troubling to our modern RCAF pilots, and their future, not to mention the technicians and their families, who may serve the next 40 years without a vital aircraft or equipment. History always likes to repeat itself, and we will soon see the direction our government has taken in the next year or two.

By September 1922, the demands on Jericho Beach Air Station grew, and grew, but the lack of Liberal government funding prevented them from obtaining better aircraft and equipment. We must remember the British and Americans had given Canada their old aircraft to form our Canadian Air Force, and now the strain on these ageing flying boats would take its toll. On 11 September 1922, Major Claire MacLaurin took off from Jericho Beach Air Station in Curtiss HS-2L, G-CYEA, with passenger’s air force mechanic A. C. Hartridge and civilian engineer John Duncan. Shortly after take-off the radiator reached the boiling point and then a gasoline leak was observed over the engine area. To prevent a fire, pilot MacLaurin cut the engine and the aircraft fell into a drive from which it failed to recover. It struck the water in a vertical dive and only mechanic Hartridge survived the crash. The body of pilot MacLaurin was found on the beach the following day, and his funeral service was held in downtown Vancouver on 14 September 1922.
The new appointed Air Station Superintendent was S/L Earl A. Godfrey, MC, AFC, who arrived at Jericho Beach to take command on 18 October 1922. He arrived at the height of service offered by private enterprise and saw the transition from the Canadian Air Force to the new Royal Canadian Air Force. Most importantly was the fact he understood the relationship between the two branches of the Air Board and how the civil operation and the air force pilots and aircraft were dependent on each other. He became the first pilot to fly his Curtiss HS-2L flying boat into the history of Bella Bella for fuel on 22 July 1923.

As 1922 came to a close, the government was faced with a growing concert over the fact fishing boats in the Prince Rupert area were committing many fishing infractions. This was the largest fishing area on the complete British Columbia coast and the government decided to test the use of aircraft to stop the flagrant violations. The year 1923 began with plans for a temporary Air Station set up in Seal Cove, located on the north end of the city of Prince Rupert, B. C. The flying boat Curtiss HS-2L, G-CYDX was selected for assignment to Prince Rupert, with Flying Officer Earl MacLeod and crewmen Harold Davenport and Harry Bell. Jericho Beach Air Station [Vancouver] began to plan and organize this first long range fishery patrol route and this required new aircraft refueling sites on the B. C. coastline. The first and longest flight took place on 30 June 1923, which in fact was a test flight for the one-day trip from Jericho Beach to Prince Rupert, B. C., which was planned for 22 July 1923.
The original 1923 Daily diary with the first longest flight recorded on 30 June, 9 hours and 55 minutes.

Bella Bella Part One - 9

Bella Bella Part One - 10

The first landing of Curtiss HS-2L flying Boat
at Bella Bella refueling site

Bella Bella Part One - 11

The first refueling flight of Curtiss HS-2L Flying Boat at Bella Bella, B. C. on 22 July 1923, pilot S/L Earl A. Godfrey, MC, AFC. This first long-range fisheries patrol by the Canadian Air Force, in a WWI American Ex-Navy flying boat, was the beginning of a long history of aircraft refueling at Bella Bella, B. C., which led to the forming of RCAF Station Bella Bella.

The formal application to use the prefix “Royal” was submitted on 5 January 1923, and the British Royal approval was granted by King George V on 15 February 1923. Royal Canadian Air Force appeared on all correspondence beginning on the 14 March 1923, however it was not authorized by the Canadian government until 1 April 1924. On that date, Canada’s fifth air force organization became a permanent part of our defence forces, and the birthday of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Like its predecessor [Canadian Air Force] the new RCAF would remain unique to other air forces in the world, as its work was essentially non-military. On 19 May 1925, the Canadian Privy Council authorised the establishment of four service squadrons in the new RCAF, and Jericho Beach, [Vancouver], B. C. became No. 1 Operations Squadron, on 1 April 1925. They were now employed by the civil government air operations and flew west coast patrols in forestry and fishery for the next seven years. In 1932, the world-wide depression brought a drastic cut-back to the RCAF and all of their civil aviation activities. The RCAF strength was slashed by one-fifth, 65 pilots were released, and they were barely able to survive as an effective Air Force.

During these massive cut-backs, the RCAF was reorganized and No. 4 [Flying Boat] Squadron was formed at Jericho Beach, Vancouver, on 17 February 1933. They were really the remains of the original No. 1 Operations Squadron which had its service designation lapsed on 1 July 1927. The new No. 4 [FB] Squadron took over the same duties employed by the civil government, patrol operations against illegal immigration, fishery, forestry, and aerial photography of the west coast. They operated one Vickers Vancouver flying boat #906, one Vickers Vedette float plane #613, and one Fairchild FC-2W float plane #619, plus one 26-foot seaplane tender [Scow] M.159 with a motor boat M.162. This RCAF Scow has been forgotten by time and history, but it would soon play an important part in the early history of establishing RCAF Detachment Bella Bella, B. C.

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Fairchild FC-2W2, CF-BXF, Carcross, Yukon Territory. (Library & Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4295607)


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Vickers Vedette

Bella Bella Part One - 14

Vickers Vancouver

In the summer of 1935, the entire civilized world was facing a possible world war, which would effect both Canada and the United States. On the eve of his retirement in the fall of 1935, Canadian Chief of General Staff Major General A. G. L. McNaughton wrote a detailed paper on the failure of the Canadian government to provide even a minimum national defense in the foreseen world war. His report revealed the RCAF strength and aircraft had diminished to nothing, and he believed a strong Royal Canadian Air Force was the most urgent requirement in case of war. A United States Congressional Committee paralleled the report by McNaughton and concluded it was entirely possible for an enemy force to attack the United States, using Canada as a base. It took a high ranking Canadian Army officer, combined with the United States fear of attack, to awaken our Canadian government, which in turn slowly saved our new Royal Canadian Air Force.

In October 1936, No. 4 [F.B.] Squadron received orders to begin surveying the complete coast of British Columbia for new potential land and seaplane base sites. On 10 October 1936, Squadron Commanding Officer, W.C A. B. Shearer and Sgt. N. E. Small departed Jericho Beach in Fairchild #619, in the company of Royal Canadian Navy HMCS Vancouver, which became their floating base station. The squadron continued their surveying duties into mid-1937, and also participated in army cooperation exercises with coastal defence batteries. In August 1937, the squadron sent three Vickers Vancouver Flying boats to Bella Bella to establish a meteorological reporting station and continue coastal survey duties.

When the aerial surveys were conducted in the sea coastline around Bella Bella, the topography of the area revealed it offered excellent protection as an idea site for a future RCAF flying boat station.

In November 1936, it was decided the RCAF should be reorganized as a pure military organization, and the Civil Aviation Board of the Department of National Defence was now transferred to the RCAF, which would only be involved with aerial photography for any civil operations. On 19 December 1938, the RCAF became an independent arm directly under control of the Minister of National Defence, and the head of the RCAF became Chief of the Air Staff. The RCAF was now [for the first time] mostly free of government civil responsibilities and could now reorganize and develop as a pure military air force.

Until this date, Canada was the only country in the world which operated an air force that could not patrol or protect its very own coastal shorelines 125,567 miles, the largest in the world.

On 1 March 1938, RCAF Western Air Command was formed, followed on 15 November with the formation of Eastern Air Command and Air Training Command. This resulted from the growing threat of conflict in Europe and the fact we had no protection of our Canadian coast shore lines. Canada is the second largest country in the world, with 202,080 k/m [125,567 miles] of coastline, and water occupies 8.93 per cent of our land mass, the most in the world.

Bella Bella Part One - 15

Just five days after Western Air Command was formed, Group Captain Johnson arrived in Vancouver [Jericho Beach] to begin inspection of new potential land and seaplane bases. On 31 May 1938, Group Capt. Johnson is appointed Commanding Officer of Western Air Command, and by August he has selected on paper six sites for future RCAF land and seaplane bases on the west coast of British Columbia. The sites were Patricia Bay, Ucluelet, Alliford Bay, Vancouver, Prince Rupert, and Coal Harbor, B.C. The approval and construction of each base began at different times and each base has a different RCAF history to tell. While Bella Bella, B. C., did in fact appear on the first construction site list, it was selected for a very different and most important reason, refueling aircraft, and the reporting of sea and weather conditions.

Bella Bella Part One - 16

The life of RCAF Detachment Bella Bella unofficially began at 09:00 hours, the 6th of September 1938, while RCAF 26-foot Scow Serial M.159 was docked at Jericho Beach [Vancouver] B.C. The RCAF Scow Seaplane tender and workshop was assigned to Jericho Beach from the contractor at 14:30 Hrs, 18 February 1936, and given the serial M.159, along with her one RCAF motorboat which was given serial M.157.
Shortly after 09:00 Hrs, the Navy tug “Standpoint” arrived, hooked up to Scow M.159 and the two-day tow north to Bella Bella began around 1000 hours. The Daily Diary from 6 to 13 September 1938, makes for unique and interesting history of RCAF Detachment advanced base at Bella Bella, B. C.

Bella Bella Part One - 17

This rare advanced floating air base served as a detachment from RCAF Station Jericho Breach, [Vancouver], staffed by one NCO and two airmen who lived in the Scow for two months of duty, from 6 September 1938 until 8 December 1941, when RCAF Station Bella Bella was officially formed, authority A.F.R.O. 1561. They were a self-contained unit who gathered weather reports, recorded data on climatic conditions, and refueled aircraft passing north and south from Vancouver to Prince Rupert, B.C. The NCO in charge was a corporal from the RCAF Marine section, plus two aircrew members, one which acted as the cook and had some training in preparing rations, the other was trained as a wireless operator, also trained and responsible for taking regular daily weather observations. The weather and daily records were mostly routine, releasing weather balloon, wind, rain, and sea conditions, however life aboard the Scow was anything but what could be called normal. The Scow contained one aviation fuel tank of 381 gallons and one aviation oil tank of 25 gallons. When these tanks ran low the Scow had to be towed to the Imperial Oil dock at the Heiltsuk village of Bella Bella and refilled. The Scow contained two fresh water tanks, one in front and one in back of the barge, containing a total of 3,500 gallons. This was refilled at the Old Bella Bella Cannery dock situated half-way between the dock at Bella Bella and the home base in Klick-Tso-Atli” Bay. When the Scow was towed for fuel they would stop on the journey and top up the fresh water tanks, taking up most of one 12-hour day, cost $10 per tow. This all appears in the Daily Diary for November 1938, which was originally in handwriting form, then later typed at Jericho Beach, [Vancouver].

Bella Bella Part One - 18

On 3 November 38, the three new replacements arrived at 21:45 Hrs. Cpl. L’Abbe, LAC Bradley and Rogers, replacing the original Cpl. Harris, LAC Neff and AC2 Ingram.

These forgotten RCAF aircrew faithfully carried out their meteorologists duties, a life which seemed more suited for the Canadian Navy.

Bella Bella Part One - 19

This is a sample of the original hand written Daily Dairy completed by Cpl. W. Harris on the RCAF Scow M.159, which was all later re-typed at Jericho Beach, Vancouver. Both Daily Diary records survive in Ottawa archives, telling a forgotten chapter in the forming and operation of Western Air Command marine surface vessels crash boats and aircraft seaplane tenders. As more and more very remote sites were chosen for RCAF radar and Flying Boats Stations, the role of the Marine Section took on an important role in saving lives and preparing the west coast for protection. The RCAF workshop Scow M.159 took on an important role for which she was never designed and served as a work horse in the early days of Bella Bella. In the next chapter you will read how she took on another new role in moving construction crews, transporting material, recovering crashed aircraft, and remained such a major floating base during the construction of RCAF Station Bella Bella. The original NCO in charge, Cpl. W. Harris also located a large fresh water lake near the mooring site of their Scow and named it “Croil Lake” in honor of Air Vice-Marshal G. M. Croil, and this would later become the main water supply for the new RCAF Station Bella Bella. It is possibly still in use today by the village of Shearwater, B. C. On 3 September 1939, the United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany.
For some reason, P. M. Mackenzie King of Canada unnecessarily requested approval from King George VI, to declare war on Germany. On 10 September 1939, King George VI of Canada, declared war against Germany for Canada.

Bella Bella Part One - 20

On 10 September 1939, Western Air Command consisted of five RCAF squadrons, four of which flew obsolete aircraft, including one bomber squadron equipped with World War One bombers.

Bella Bella Part One - 21

Nothing is recorded in Detachment Bella Bella Daily Diary that war has been declared, and the routine weather collecting carries on per normal. On 15 Sept 1939, Scow M.159 receives three WWI Lee Enfield 303 cal. rifles packed in grease. They are ordered to clean the rifles, live fire five rounds in each, then lock then in the workshop.

Bella Bella Part One - 22

In October 1939, a complete survey was completed at Bella Bella, B. C. for the future plans in constructing an RCAF seaplane base. On 26 June 1940, [RCAF contractor] Major Drysdale arrived by aircraft and requested a tour of the coastal area around the building site. The NCO in charge, Cpl. Bremner and AC1 Johnson from scow M.159, loaded him in rowboat M.177 and gave him a tour of the bay front area from Klick-Tso-Atli Bay, north to Whiskey Slough. On 1 July 1940, the clearing and grubbing of trees began and by 31 of the month only 10% of the area had been cleared. The final clearing of the site was completed in late September and now the Coast Construction Company arrived to clear the rock formations around the shoreline. On 1 October 1940, massive rock blasting operations began and this marks the beginning of RCAF Seaplane Station Bella Bella, B. C.

The Construction of Station Bella Bella

In the first week of October 1940, construction material begins to arrive at Bella Bella from the Coast Construction Company, under supervision of engineer, F/Lt. Gwyther of the Works and Building Department, Western Air Command. The blasting operation will take three long months, and for safety reasons, no building construction can begin until the rock is blasted and dumped into the shoreline.

Bella Bella Part One - 23

This image taken on 25 May 1941, shows hangar #1 [72% complete] and the amount of rock which had to be blasted and removed to construct one aircraft hangar. The construction of buildings began in January 1941, and continued all summer long at a fairly rapid pace. The first small building to be completed housed a wireless transmitter and a land based weather observer station, which relieved most of the workload from Scow M.159. This new weather gathering station was manned on a continuous operation with three RCAF weather observers and four civilian meteorologists, plus one assistant. This weather station was constructed on a high rock formation overlooking the bay area of the new RCAF base. [see image PL9588]

Bella Bella Part One - 24

The land based weather station at RCAF Bella Bella, 25 May 1941.

Below is the amount of construction work completed for 31 May 1941.

Bella Bella Part One - 25

Bella Bella Part One - 26Bella Bella Part One - 27Bella Bella Part One - 28


Photo taken by F/L Baker at 5,000 ft. over RCAF Station Bella Bella, 10:00 Hrs., 26 May 1941. The image was taken from the Pacific Ocean looking east towards the B.C. mountains, showing the remote base site still under construction, protected by the [Army] Veterans Guard of Canada.

Bella Bella Part One - 29

RCAF Official 1941

Image taken at 1,500 ft. showing RCAF Station Bella Bella construction on 26 May 1941.

Lt. Barrington-Foote, Officer in Charge of the Veterans Guard of Canada, arrived to inspect the RCAF base under construction on 6 April 1941. On 2 May 1941, Lieutenant Barrington-Foote, and 34 other ranks of the Veterans Guard of Canada arrived by boat to provide security for the new base under construction. The RCAF have eight airmen on total strength, in a floating Scow Detachment, no form of security, but now land security manpower was turned over to the Army World War One veterans.

In September 1940, thousands of Canadians flocked to enlist in the forces, and do their part in the Second World War. A large number of these were veterans of the First World War and the majority were in their mid-forties or even fifties. These veterans were all turned away, as the recruiting depots were instructed to do such, as they were only interested in young, able-bodied Canadian males. The veterans were very upset and persisted with their attmpts to enlist and took their voice to the Canadian government. The government knew they had a serious problem with protecting Canada and also providing manpower for the war in Europe. These old veterans with their military experience became the natural solution, and the Canada Veteran’s Home Guard was formed in mid-May 1940. Their early formation was based on the British Home Guard which was so effective in England during this same time period.

They were organized into companies of 250 men, both Active and Reserve companies, with the Active companies serving full-time with regular members of the Army and Air Force units. The Home Guard were issued with standard Canadian Army uniforms and a shoulder badge which read “Home Guard” or “Canada.” They were initially established as a defence force in British Columbia for protection and security of new Home War Establishment land and seaplane stations such as Bella Bella, B.C. On 29 April 1941, the first equipment of the renamed “Veterans Guard of Canada” arrived at the dock of Bella Bella Indian village, to be picked up by RCAF Pulling Boat M.174. On 2 May 1941, at 02:30 Hrs., Company “B” of the Veterans Guard of Canada arrived at Bella Bella and were next transported to the new RCAF Station under construction. They were housed in the new RCAF mens quarters, which had just been completed [93%], and did their cooking in the RCAF Mess kitchen using the equipment for the first time, as no RCAF cooks had been posted to the new station. On 15 May 1941, Sgt. Dafoe arrived to take charge of organizing the security of the new RCAF base and begin the planning of gun defences. On 15 June, Commanding Officer of the Veterans Guard of Canada, Major Sweemy, arrived to inspect the base and his company of veteran soldiers. The tour of duty at RCAF Bella Bella was five months, and these troops were the only land military force on the base. Base security was the first priority, which included issuing the first identification of the Coast Construction civilian workers, including a large number from the Heiltsuk First Nations community who were employed in the base construction.

Bella Bella Part One - 30

RCAF Official 1941

These old war veterans were also made up of farmers, woodsmen, trappers, and native Indians, from the West Coast of B. C., something always forgotten by today’s historians. They played a most important part of this vital RCAF history and protecting their native lands for Canada.
The first causality of RCAF Station Bella Bella, took place on 20 June 1941, when a member of the Veterans Guard of Canada, Pte. Harriman, fell off a hired RCAF boat. His body was never found.

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The RCAF had first acquired marine surface vessels when Air Station Vancouver [Jericho Beach] was formed in 1921. The seaplane tender Scow M.159 arrived at Vancouver in 1936, and then was towed north to establish the RCAF metrological detachment Bella Bella, in September 1938. The Scow M.159 arrived with an attached dinghy serial M. 162, and these two vessels served until pulling boat M.177 arrived at Bella Bella on 26 March 1939. The 26-foot Scow was required to make constant trips back and forth for water and fuel, while local fishing boats were hired to pull her from dock to dock. In February 1940, a twelve foot pulling boat M.174 arrived and replaced M.177, which was sent to RCAF Alliford Bay on 28 April 1940.

Marine Pulling Boat M.174 became the work horse boat, making unscheduled runs for both construction crews, medical attention, and the duties for the Veterans Guard of Canada.

Bella Bella Part One - 32

While the names of these two RCAF officers are not recorded, nor the date it was taken, I believe this is in fact pulling boat M.174, which was painted in dark Air Force Blue, the same as the outer roundel color. The PL14977 number was possibly recorded in December 1941, when Canada declared war on Japan. In 1942, the RCAF discovered that the prefix “M” was the same prefix assigned to pendant numbers of the Royal Canadian Navy vessels. The RCAF then ordered all vessels to be painted with white letters RCAF before the M number. On 3 March 1941, the 50 ft. refueling Scow M.339 arrived complete with sleeping quarters for four more airmen. This was followed by the arrival of 50 ft. Derrick Scow M.337 and an 18 ft. bombing-up boat M.344 on 24 April 1941. On 1 May 1941, the 18 ft. aircraft tender boat M.311 arrived and a second 18 ft. bombing-up boat M.320 arrived on 18 August 1941. The Marine section now have eight RCAF boats on charge, with only one officer and nine airmen, while 35 members of the Veteran Guard were living on RCAF Station Bella Bella. It appears to be more like an Army/Navy base rather than Air Force.

On 30 September 1941, the RCAF strength is one officer and 22 airmen, an increase of thirteen.

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31 October 1941, the RCAF strength has increased to three officers and 46 airmen, the first time the air force have surpassed the Veterans Guard of Canada total troops of 35.

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RCAF Official 1941

The Veterans Guard have completed construction of four gun emplacements around RCAF Station Bella Bella and now move by boat to Shearwater Island on 30 October 41, constructing more gun emplacements.

Bella Bella Part One - 35

November 1941, is a busy month with more RCAF arrivals, the R.C. alter is established, the Medical Officer and staff set up office, the RCAF take over mess rationing and the first bombs and ammunition arrive. The RCAF NCO and crew of nine from the Scow M.159 are now sleeping and eating in the new base. The rotating aircrews have been living, eating, and carrying out their duties on the Seaplane Scow for the past 27 months. The RCAF strength has reached three Officers and 73 Airmen, but no aircraft on strength.

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The “Bella Bella Blues” by Pte. McMinn of the Veterans Guard of Canada, 1941.

War declared against Japan, 8 December 1941

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RCAF Official 1941

7 December 1941, the Veterans Guard of Canada man the machine gun posts on Shearwater Island and post sentries at the power house, wireless building, and RCAF pier at Bella Bella. [Below – Bella Bella coastline seen from the air]

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The original advance base RCAF Scow Workshop M.159 is towed to Langley Passage, Estevan Island, where it is based on 26 December 1941.

RCAF Station Bella Bella is still under construction, with 21 buildings ready for use and nine at various stages of completion. They are officially formed on 8 December 1941, and ready to receive their new squadron, aircraft, and begin operations. No. 9 [General Reconnaissance] Squadron was authorized in Western Air Command on 1 April 1938, however due to no aircraft or personnel they were not formed. On 8 December 1941, No. 9 [Bomber Reconnaissance] Squadron is officially formed at Bella Bella, B. C. [A.F.R.O. 1561]

Bella Bella Part One - 42

RCAF Station Bella Bella and No. 9 [B.R.] Squadron prepares for war.


1 thought on “RCAF Floating Detachment and Land Station Bella Bella, B. C. (text version)

  1. Pingback: RCAF Floating Detachment and Land Station Bella Bella, B. C. (text version) | Preserving the Past

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