RCAF History – American Comics – April 1941 to 1946
This first issue of “True Comics” appeared in April 1941, however this four-color, ten-cent [US], treasure chest of American and Canadian culture would never be sold or read in Canada during World War Two. So why was each American publication full of Canadian and RCAF history? Possibly for the simple reason so many RCAF heroes were Americans serving in the RCAF fighting Nazi Germany.
Canada declared war on Germany on 10 September 1939, and almost one year later, the Liberal government of P.M. William Lyon McKenzie King declared in parliament the passing of the War Exchange Conservation Act, [WECA]. This was a Canadian protectionist measure to help the Canadian dollar and strengthen the war economy in general. American publishing giants of pulp magazines and comic books were now restricted imports and no longer allowed into Canada. I believe this new law upset a number of powerful American comic book publishers, who had totally controlled the Canadian youngster’s minds from Prince Edward Island to the Vancouver Islands. By the beginning of March 1941, the American comics were gone from Canada for the next four years, a period historians have now titled “First Age of Canadian [Whites] comics.” Anglo-American Publications in Toronto and Maple Leaf Publications in Vancouver, B.C., were the first to fill the void and began publishing what collectors call the first true Canadian comic books, for sale in March 1941.
Maple Leaf Publishers “Robin Hood” and “Better” comics both appeared in March 1941. Today  this “White” comic has a collector price between $600 to $800 [Can.] partly due to the fact they are so hard to find.
I do not intend to get too deeply involved in telling the history of the rediscovered “Canadian Whites” which can be found and read on many websites and new published books. Maple Leaf “Better” comics made Canadian history, with a comic for boys and girls, drawn entirely by young Canadians and published by Canadians, and soon other publishers followed. Between March 1941 to 1947, over 700 Canadian comics were printed and read by young Canadians, who were introduced monthly to a new Canadian superhero. Most of these comics books ended up in wartime paper drives and were returned to pulp, thus today they are rare and becoming a collector’s item.
The standard Canadian black-and-white line drawings were a mix of primitive artwork, which some have called “simply awful”, while others [above] were drawn by very talented young artists, whom I feel were an equal to any American comic book artist for that period. Only the full-color pages of American comics need to be added, but Canadian publishers could not afford the cost in time of war. Only Wow Comics No. 1 was published in full color from cover to cover and this was far too expensive. The first issue of Better Comics [Vancouver] offered five contests for Canadian youth across Canada, and mail poured into the publisher. It did not take long to realize the vast forgotten Canadian market which had been discovered, after the U.S. comics were removed by law from the American giant publishers.
Contest page by Canadian Artist Ern Walker, LUCKY COMICS, Vancouver, B.C. 1942
These Canadian contests added immensely to the over all “Made in Canada” of the comics, and allowed all young Canadians to become directly involved with the development of ‘their’ comic books. Thousands waited for the next issue to read the announcement of winners, and to possibly see their name published along with other contest winners across the vast country. Today we live in the super-fast world of the Internet, twitter, etc., however from 1941 to 45, the comics and mail had much of the same impact on Canadian youth, it just took seven to ten days longer to arrive. The young audience of WWII in Canada had no television to watch, could only listen to the occasional radio show or news broadcast, and viewed short newsreel reports on the war at the cinema. I experienced this, as I grew up on a farm with no electricity, no inside plumbing, and my full news and entertainment became a radio [battery-powered, two hours each evening] plus the world of comic books and Saturday comic strips which were in four print color ink.
For some strange reason, these new young teenage Canadian comic artists never ventured into the real world of Canada at War or the true adventures of our Royal Canadian Air Force. This real wartime material was endless, but it would be the American publishing giants who once again beat us to the punch, as they so often did, and began to publish the “TRUE” aviation heroic actions of the RCAF at War. With the first issue of TRUE Comics, April 1941, the American public were introduced to the cultural history of Canadians and the real action of our men and women in uniform. I’m still attempting to fully understand why the American publisher went to all this trouble, knowing these issues would never be sold in Canada. Who cares, I just wish to thank American publishers for preserving and saving our RCAF past in ‘their’ color comics, during the years 1941 to 1946. For historical “Canadian” value the “Whites” preserved nothing but a few homegrown fantasy Canadian superheroes, read by boys and girls.
TRUE Comics No. 1 issue [April 1941] introduced [neutral] Americans to the aviation war in England, the leaders, and the aircraft involved, including real RCAF heroes, some American.
Canadian youth were reading the “whites” with only fictional Canadian comic heroes, Terry Kane, Johnny Canuck, Rex Baxter, Canada Jack, and many others. Total fantasy and funny cartoons.
The British and German air war battles and aircraft were detailed in full by the American publishers, sold and read only in United States.
Next came the full nine-page comic history [August 1941] of Air Marshal W. A. Bishop, VC, CB, DSO, MC, DFC, ED, and Director of RCAF Recruiting. Please keep in mind this was only sold to and read by citizens of the United States of America. The American publishers also mixed comic drawings with real photo images, creating a new issue titled “TRUE Aviation Picture Comic Stories” No. 1 published January 1942. As U. S. entered WWII this new comic became an instant hit and contained one or two RCAF stories per issue until mid-1943. On 8 December 1941, 667 Americans were flying combat as airmen in the RCAF, thanks to the semi-secret Clayton Knight Committee. Many of these early American aircrew won awards and decorations during the war, and their story now appeared in the American color comics.
American comic book readers knew more about A. M. William Bishop than our Canadian kids, thanks to ‘their’ color comic books. On 4 September 1939, [the day after United Kingdom declared war] Air Marshal Bishop telephoned his WWI American pilot [artist] friend Clayton Knight, who was completing aviation paintings at the Cleveland air races. Bishop ask if he would like to become involved in a scheme to ‘smuggle’ American pilots to Canada, which was unquestionably illegal at that date. Knight said “Yes.” This became the very early beginning of the semi-secret Clayton Knight Committee, which also had a direct connection to the RCAF presence in hundreds of early American True Comics. In 1941, ten percent of the RCAF enrollment consisted of United States volunteers and they became the first real American WWII comic book heroes.
The original Atlantic Ferry Organization [ATFERO] was created by Canadian-born Lord Beaverbrook on 16 August 1940, run by Canadian Pacific Air Service, and the RCAF, taken over by the R.A.F. on 20 July 1941, under command of Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill.
Twenty-eight-year-old American pilot Sid J. Gerow was born in Wayzata, Minnesota, USA, and was flying for United Airlines when Canada went to war. The RCAF [semi-secret Clayton Knight Committee] were hiring qualified pilots and by February 1940, 197 civilian American pilots had been accepted into the RCAF. Forty-four of these pilots went to RCAF Ferry Command, [ATFERO] based in Montreal, Canada. In May 1941, Sid joined RCAF Ferry Command flying American Boston bombers to England, receiving $150 [U.S.] per week and $600 [U. S.] per aircraft delivered. On 22 December 1942, he was flying a test flight with RCAF 20-year-old L.A.C. Harry Griffiths, who was conducting a compass check in the nose of a Boston bomber. At 7,000 ft. Griffiths tripped the escape hatch and fell from the bomber nose, screaming “Help – Help.” In sub-zero conditions, LAC Griffiths was only holding onto the hatch cover edge. Quick-thinking American pilot Gerow made an emergency dive from 7,000 ft. to the snow-covered Lake St. Louis, 15 miles west of Montreal. At a speed of 125 mph, and only fifteen feet from the frozen lake surface Harry Griffith let-loose, and survived with no injuries. The complete RCAF story appeared in TRUE Comics August 1943, an early American RCAF ferry pilot hero in Canada.
Lloyd Vernon Chadburn was born in Montreal, Quebec, 21 August 1919, later the family moved to Oshawa, and Aurora, Ontario. He became a bank clerk in Toronto and a salesman for the Red Rose Tea Company. He applied for the Canadian Army and Navy in 1939, but was turned down by both. Joined the RCAF in April 1940, as an air gunner, re-mustered as a pilot. Flew in No. 112, No 412, No. 19, No. 416, where he became the youngest Squadron Leader in the RCAF, age 21 years. Posted to No. 402 and No. 403 Squadrons, where he led the Wing in escorting American B-17 and B-24 Bombers and was dubbed “The Angel” by the USAAF, 8th Air Force aircrews. Received the D.F.C., and Distinguished Service Order twice, one of only four pilots to be honoured twice. Twenty-four-year-old Wing Commander Chadburn #J2976, was flying Spitfire LP824 on 13 June 1944, No. 416 Squadron, when he had a mid-air collision over Chedbourg/Caen, France, with another Spitfire. Buried in Ranville War Cemetery, Calvados, France.
Pilot Officer Claude Weaver, DFC, DFM, #J18784, the youngest Allied [RCAF] Air Ace in WWII, enlisted at age 17 years, killed at age 19 years, No. 403 [Wolf] Squadron, RCAF.
On 3 September 1939, the United Kingdom declared war on Germany, and that evening President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed his fellow Americans in his radio “Fireside Chat.” Two important messages were contained in his address, the President did not demand that
– “every American remain neutral in thought, even a neutral has a right to take account of fact, and even a neutral cannot be asked to close his mind or conscience.”
The next day, Canadian First World War fighter ace W.A. Bishop contacted Canadian veteran pilot of the Royal Naval Air Service WWI, Homer Smith, and ask if he could provide financial backing for a scheme to recruit American pilots for the RCAF. Smith had fallen heir to a fortune in the oil business, and gave his word to Bishop for providing the needed cash. Bishop then phoned American Clayton Knight, an aviation artist who had flown with the British over the Western Front in WWI. Clayton Knight had broad ties with high-ranking U.S. officers and political connections with the U. S. government, he agreed to join the group. This is very long and complex, but keep in mind the Canadian government and the RCAF had to avoid any activity which would embarrass President Roosevelt and his neutral government. The American involvement records are still hidden away someplace, possibly in Washington, D.C., to this very day. The Canadian records were released [after fifty-years] and show that on 9 September 1939, the day before Canada declared war on Germany, Homer Smith was given a commission as a Wing Commander in the RCAF. Two weeks later W/C Homer Smith, RCAF, opened an office in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, which became the Headquarters of the ‘cloak-and-dagger’ operation, which used code names “Mrs. Bishop” and Mr. P. Jones. Another WWI flyer was involved and his name was Fiorello LaGuardia, the Major of New York, but his part is still hidden away in United States history. LaGuardia was appointed Director of U. S. Civil Defense by President Roosevelt in April 1941, and was involved ‘somehow’ in the Clayton Knight Committee. [True November 1941 featured his story]
The American pilot recruiting program began very slowly with W/C Homer Smith and Clayton Knight touring American flying schools by air and advertising by word-of-mouth only. Clayton Knight fully understood the American law against recruiting still stood, it was a violation of the Neutrality Act to recruit citizens of the United States on American soil, to fight in a foreign war. Knight next flew to Washington to see a friend Major General H. H. Arnold, who was then chief of the U.S. Army Air Corps.
During this meeting Knight learned that the American Air Corps standards were so high, there was a large group of ‘washed-out’ quality pilots, many who drank too much, got a young lady in trouble, did not follow military rules or were flying under bridges and always stunting. Both pilots knew these were just the type of American pilots the RCAF and RAF wanted to fight in the air wars over Europe. General Arnold agreed to supply Clayton Knight with a list of the ‘failed graduates’ with no questions asked, and the Clayton Knight Committee now began in earnest. The Canadian government passed [Order-in-Council P.C. 2399] on 7 June 1940, that American foreign nationals need not swear allegiance to His Majesty the King of England.
New offices were soon opened in Spokane, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Antonio, Dallas, Atlanta, Cleveland, Memphis and Kansas City. Recruiter-interviewers were paid $100 to $150 a week, but no advertising was allowed, only direct word-of-mouth and brochures which were handed out at American aviation schools. Again, I do not have the space to properly explain what took place but this involved many American political issues and the November 1940 elections. President Roosevelt let it be known that the Clayton Knight organization should “slow down and pull in their horns.” After the president won the November election he addressed his people on 29 December 1940, in a Fireside Chat, and stated he would be providing all the help for Britain short of going to war. The United States would become the “Arsenal of Democracy” and the Lend-Lease Act was passed on 11 March 1941. The United Kingdom was on the edge of bankruptcy, but now they did not have to pay cash to the United States for war purchases. In April 1941, a Canadian manpower shortage began to appear in the RCAF and at the same time President Roosevelt declared a national emergency, and now American pilots were at liberty to accept employment in Canada and also volunteer for combat service in the RAF or RCAF. The President warned Ottawa, that politically it was still necessary for the Clayton Knight Committee to avoid running afoul of the U. S. State Department or the F.B.I. The Canadian government in turn formed the new “Canadian Aviation Bureau” and the recruiting term “RCAF” was suddenly removed and replaced with “Canadian Aviation.” Americans under twenty-one years of age needed their patents consent and must make their own way to the Canadian Aviation Bureau in Ottawa. When the Americans arrived in Ottawa, they were informed there were no openings, but maybe the RCAF could take you and the RCAF Headquarters was right next door. Others were sent directly to RCAF Recruiting Depots in Canada. The significance of the semi-secret Clayton Knight committee has been forgotten [possibly for American political reasons] and lost over the passage of time, but the statistics of the recruiting activities tell the truth. Over 49,000 Americans made contact with the Clayton Knight Committee, and by January 1942, 667 experienced airmen were flying combat overseas with the RCAF, another 3,883 were in various stages of training in Canada. Over 300 American pilots had been trained in Canada for the Royal Air Force, [92% of the Americans who became RAF Eagle Squadron pilots were products of the Clayton Knight Committee] and 668 American ground tradesmen, instructors, and staff pilots were part of the BCATP teaching pilots to fly in Canada. All American members were given the opportunity to return to the United States, and 1,759 returned to the armed forces of their country. For various reasons 5,067 Americans remained and completed their service in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Eighteen-year-old Claude Weaver from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was one of them.
The full history and RCAF records of Claude Weaver can be found on many websites and official RCAF Ace records of WWII. When you read and digest his RCAF conduct sheet he was judged as – “Inclined to be cocky, but otherwise good student, likes aerobatics.” “Learns quickly, seems to be above average intelligence, but is a smart-ass.” Is sloppier in appearance than anyone to come to this unit.” “This pupil had to be watched carefully, discipline poor, has too much to say, is always a wise-guy.” 8 April 1941, refused an order- 7 days’ detention. 4 June 1941, refusing to obey an order, 5 days’ detention. 7 August 1941, negligence causing damage to aircraft, 7 days’ detention. 28 February 1942, AWOL, reprimanded. 10 June 1942, insolent to F/Sgt. Franklin, threatening F/Sgt. Franklin, and absent without leave. Severely reprimanded and loss of days pay. At No. 8 S.F.T.S. Moncton, New Brunswick, 27 July 1941 to 9 October 1941, he was graded very last in a class of 39 student pilots. Yet, his Chief Flying Instructor wrote – “Has a schoolboy complex, but lots of courage.” Flew his first operations overseas with RCAF No. 412 [Falcon] Squadron, 15 April 42, “B” Flight, Spitfire serial AD510, [fighter sweeps over France] then was posted to Malta on 31 May 1942.
Arrived Malta, 29 June 42, assigned to No. 185 Squadron, RAF, at RAF Station Ta’Qali [Ta Kali], which was also the base for the Spitfires of No. 249 Squadron RAF. Just twenty days earlier, another young Canadian fighter pilot had arrived at Malta, flying his Spitfire off the British Aircraft Carrier H.M.S. Eagle, which was some fifty miles off the coast of Algeria. His name was Flying Officer George F. Beurling, a 21-year-old Canadian with many of the same qualities as 18-year-old American Claude Weaver, a rebel, untidy, brash and outspoken, and always facing disciplinary problems. They flew together in the skies over Malta, both became RAF Aces with five kills, obtained in a short period of time, and I’m sure they had some form of contract with each other. To understand the story of a Malta fighter pilot, please read the 1943 book by journalist, broadcaster, and author Leslie Roberts, “Malta Spitfire” forward by Air Marshal W.A. Bishop, and illustrated by none other than Clayton Knight.
You can also read American True Comics for March 1943.
George Beurling applied to the RCAF in fall of 1939, was rejected due to his education. Beurling next sailed to England on a munition ship and applied for pilot training in the RAF. Rejected as he did not have proper Canadian documents. Returned to Canada and sailed back to England on a cattle boat where he was at last accepted for pilot training in the RAF.
One chapter in “Malta Spitfire” explains the type of person Beurling was. A ground crew sergeant had re-mustered to pilot training, and he kept his three stripes. The rank gave him an edge, and he used it to march the man around, giving orders, and making his fellow classmates do jobs for him. Beurling spoke out, and told him how he was being too hard on the class, and he was in fact just a student pilot like the rest of his classmates. The Sgt. objected, and later that night Beurling invited the three-striper to a fight and he backed off. Beurling then hit him in the nose and two went at it for several minutes. The next day, Beurling was in front of his C.O. and suggested no such fight took place, he had spent the evening in quarters studying. He also had the complete class as an eye-witness to prove he was not involved in any fight. The sergeant must have walked into a door, or the corner of a H-hut in the dark, that’s how he received his black eye. The C.O. looked at Beurling, [understood what occurred] then dismissed the case for lack of evidence. The RCAF needed fighter pilots more than man who could march and salute officers.
The back cover of his book “Malta Spitfire” contains this rare RCAF official image of American WWI pilot and artist Clayton Knight, completing a sketch of Canadian RCAF fighter ace and hero F/O George F. Beurling, D.S.O., D.F.C., D.F.M., and bar. The man in the middle is author Leslie Roberts. Images of Clayton Knight are very hard to find, possibly due to the semi-secret work of the Clayton Knight Committee, and the American politics involved. What a movie this would make, and it’s all factual American WWII aviation history. It’s too bad Hollywood always likes to create their own super American heroes, twist WWII facts, and overlook the real ones like American WWI pilot/artist Clayton Knight, from Rochester, New York.
On 6 September 1943, F/O Beurling arrived at his new posting, RCAF No. 403 [Wolf] Squadron where he had flown as a F/Sgt. before posting to Malta. On 9 September 43, he test-flew Spitfire MA573 and began operations, flying fighter sweeps over the coast of France. Beurling was not in good health, could not sleep at night, and was suffering what today we would call – “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” He had seen and done too much killing, but that was his job, and it almost cost him his life.
On 18 October 43, Beurling could not recover from a drive [Spitfire MA585] and radioed “I’ve had it.” He blacked out but recovered and came out of his drive at 1,700 feet. He was now removed from operations [due to his health] and given a desk job in the squadron. On 27 October 43, P/O Claude Weaver arrived with No. 403 [Wolf] Squadron, flying his first operation over France in Spitfire MA467 on 4 November 1943. If Weaver and Beurling had formed any friendship from their Malta days, their greetings were short lived, as Beurling was posted to No. 126 A.F.H.Q. as a gunner instructor on 8 November 43. P/O Weaver would now fly 36 operations [15 in Spitfire MH840] until 28 January 1944.
On Ranger #22 operation he was flying Spitfire MA642, shot up by two German fighters, he bailed out but his chute caught on his Spitfire tail and he was dragged to the ground. His body was found ten yards from the aircraft by Madame Truffier, yet, he was not dead. He was transported to the main hospital at Albert, France, where he later died from his injuries. He had 12.5 confirmed kills and three damaged.
Joseph Guillame Laurent Robillard was born at 15 Elm St., Ottawa, 17 November 1920. He enlisted in the RCAF December 1939, deferred until July 1940 due to weight, graduated as a Sergeant Pilot and was posted to United Kingdom in April 1941. Posted to No. 145 Squadron RAF, flying a fighter sweep over France on 2 July 41, saw his British C.O. shot down, went to protect the descending pilot from nine German fighters and shot two of them down, before he was shot down. Evaded capture, and returned to England. Awarded the D.F.M. 8 November 1941. Next flew with No. 72 Squadron RAF until April 42, returned to Canada, flew with No. 130 Squadron. June 1943, returned to England posted to No. 442 Squadron, then No. 443 Squadron in October 1944. Released from RCAF April 1945. Joined the Royal Canadian Navy as a pilot, retired as Lt. Commander in 1955.
The history of Canadian Lord Beaverbrook appeared in True magazine for November 1941. In April 1940, the idea of ferrying American aircraft to England was proposed but the British Air Ministry and the RAF believed it was “total suicide” and the idea was dropped. The new appointed minister of British aircraft production was Canadian-born press baron, Lord Beaverbrook. He was notorious for side-stepping English bureaucracy, a hard driver, and eager to take control of the manufacture and delivery of wartime aircraft to the RAF. In July 1940, he contacted Canadian Pacific Railway, [without Canadian government approval] organized all ground personnel, supplies, aviation experts, aircrew, and the transatlantic ferry route was created on 16 August 1940. He also had faith in the American aviation industry, and the first Hudson bombers arrived in England the last week of August, barely two weeks after the forming of RCAF Ferry Command. American pilots were hired by the secret Clayton Knight Committee. All this history appears in nine pages of American color comics, which was never read in Canada. [The first ten Lockheed Hudson RCAF bombers arrived in Ottawa, 3 November 1939].
Canadian Aces from WWI also appeared in True magazine, October 1941.
The date was 3 October 1943, target Kassel, Germany, and F/O Jackson was flying Halifax Mk. II, serial LW285, not a Lancaster as illustrated above in the True Comic cover art.
True magazine for 1942, featured the story of another American who made his way to Canada thanks to the Clayton Knight Committee. Basil George Delaval Jackson was born in Edinburg, Massachusetts, in 1923, raised and schooled in Weston. He contacted the Clayton Knight Committee and was directed north to an RCAF Recruiting Depot at Montreal, Quebec, passed the qualifications, and enlisted 2 December 1941. Five days later, the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor and declared war on Japan, 8 December 1941. Basil Jackson and all U. S. nationals in the RCAF were given the chance to transfer to the American forces, and a special train left Washington, D.C., making a cross-country journey of Canada gathering their American citizens. A.C. 2 Jackson was at No. 6 Initial Training School in Toronto, Ontario, when the special American train arrived and he did not get aboard. Jackson graduated on 6 June 42, moved to No. 12 EFTS, Goderich, Ontario, graduated 1 August 1942, and finished his training at No. 9 SFTS, Centralia, Ontario, on 20 November 1942. He sailed for England and was posted to No. 22 Operational Training Unit, [Wellesbourne, Warwickshire] then No. 429 [Bison] Squadron of the RCAF, arriving at East Moor, Yorkshire, on 1 August 1943. The RCAF Bison Squadron moved to Leeming, Yorkshire, England, on 13 August 1943, and this is where F/O Basil George Delaval Jackson flew his first operation on 27 September 1943, in Halifax Mk. II, serial LW285. Operation number two came on 29 September 1943, to Bochum, Germany, Halifax Mk. II, serial JB327. The True comic book story “Off The Beam” took place on his third operation, 3 October 1943, target Kassel, Germany, flying Halifax Mk. II, serial LW285. The comic cover art drawing shows a Lancaster bomber and that is not correct, it should be a Handley-Page Halifax Mk. II aircraft. Below is a Handley-Page Halifax Mk. II bomber from No. 429 [Bison] Squadron taken 22 November 1943, Leeming, Yorkshire, with nose art “Easy does it.”
Their ‘third’ operation into Germany was normal as they dropped their bombs on the target, then turned and began the return trip to base at Leeming, Yorkshire. The Halifax was then hit by a flak burst in the starboard cockpit area, shattering the windscreen, damaging the cockpit instruments, and injuring pilot Jackson in the head and face. His vision was impaired by blood and particles of glass, yet he remained at the controls and was able to find his correct course, and in spite of considerable pain and difficulty returned his aircraft and crew safely back to base after four hours flying time.
The Squadron Operations Diary records about twelve flak holes were found in the fuselage and starboard wing of his Halifax bomber. F/O Jackson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 20 October 1943, AFRO 2507/43 dated 3 December 1943. He returned to duty on 3 November 43, and completed five more operations with No. 429 Squadron, the last on 29 December 1943. Posted to No. 405 [Pathfinder] RCAF Squadron on 2 February 1944, where he began operations in the British Lancaster Mk. III bombers. [this is most likely why the comic book Lancaster mix-up appeared] Flew first Lancaster operation on 19/20 February 1944, Leipzig, Germany, aircraft “U”. 20/21 February flew Lancaster “K” to Stuttgart. Third operation was to Schweinfurt, 24/25 February 1944, in Lancaster “K” serial JB241.
The British Lancaster JB241 exploded, throwing navigator, bomb-aimer, and pilot Jackson clear, the others were killed. This brave American pilot who came to Canada, spent the reminder of the war in Stalag Luft 3, as a Prisoner of War. “Supporter” was the name given to Americans in the RCAF.
Elsie MacGill, Queen of the Hurricanes appeared in True January 1942, only seen by American readers. A Canadian lady hero totally forgotten and unknown by Canada until these American comics appeared on the internet in 2006. Our history again lost but preserved by American “True Comics.”
Prime Minister Mackenzie King appeared in True issue for May 1942. King was the only Western leader to travel to Berlin and meet with Adolf Hitler, 29 June 1937. His [online] diary of 50,000 pages contains all the facts, and his feelings from that visit reveal our Prime Minister was most impressed with Hitler and the ‘constructive work’ of the new Nazi party. He proudly showed Adolph photos of his childhood birthplace, Berlin, Ontario, renamed Kitchener during WWI. King returned to Ottawa and openly stated Hitler didn’t pose an imminent military threat to Canada or the world. His Liberal politics and fondness for Hitler left the RCAF totally unprepared for World War Two in both aircraft and manpower.
On 31 March 1939, the Royal Canadian Air Force had 4,061 personnel [all ranks] 235 pilots [August 1939] and a dozen airfields. On the declaration of war [10 September 39] only fifteen squadrons could be brought to strength and be mobilized, flying twenty different aircraft, totaling 270 machines. Only nineteen British Hurricane fighters and ten Fairey Battle aircraft were front line, the rest were obsolete. The new RCAF had to be expanded at once, building new air bases, acquiring new modern aircraft, developing new training schools for the modern aircraft, and most of all recruiting thousands of instructors for [BCATP] which U. S. President Franklin Roosevelt used the slogan “The Aerodrome of Democracy” for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. In a radio address on 29 December 1940, the President used another slogan “Arsenal of Democracy” in which he specifically referred to the industry of the United States as the supplier of war material for the Allied war effort. The North American Harvard aircraft is today universally regarded as the best American built combat trainer in WWII, used by 36 countries. United Kingdom had purchased 400 when the war began and Canada ordered 533 for the BCATP. On 8 December 1941, 668 American ground crew tradesmen were serving in the RCAF, and hundreds of civilian American flying instructors and staff pilots were teaching aircrews in the BCATP.
On 10 October 1939, Prime Minister Mackenzie King announced the beginning of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Not being prepared for world War Two cost Canadians tons of money to catch up. The BCATP alone cost came to $2.2 billion, and Canada paid the most at $1.6 billion. In today’s world, that amounts to $3,000 per Canadian taxpayer, based on the population in 1939.
Washington, D.C. did not prohibit Americans from volunteering to serve in the RCAF, and by February 1942, the official month the Clayton Knight Committee closed, 3,000 more American citizens had been received in the RCAF. A total of 8,864 American citizens served in the RCAF during World War Two. We owe them a big thank you, but the real hero and brains was in fact President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the Clayton Knight Committee. The American True Comics captured and preserved all this American-Canadian RCAF history, but it would not be read by Canadians until after the year 2006.
The slogan “Arsenal of Democracy” was first spoken on radio, 29 December 1940, referring to the collective efforts of the American industry in supporting the Allies [and Canada] at war. One of the reasons Canada was chosen as the training centre for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was the simple fact, we were next door to the United States and their huge industrial resources. The very future of the United Kingdom depended on the BCATP, and the ultimate air supremacy in Europe. American manpower from the Clayton Knight Committee, [legal or not] was an unexpected bonus in the first two years of the war. The interest shown by President Roosevelt in the air training programs of the Commonwealth countries in offering facilities and assisting Canada catch-up is too often ignored by historians. Funny, but the American “comics” captured it all in color as it occurred from 1940-1942.
Sgt. Leslie Smitten R60902 from Calgary, Alberta, was posted to No. 9 Squadron, RAF, famous “Bat” badge. On 14/15 July 1941, their Vickers Wellington bomber [possibly serial Z8845] was hit by flak, set on fire, and the rear gunner was wounded and trapped in his gun position. Sgt. Smitten extinguished the fire, saved the rear gunner, and then gave his pilot Sgt. Jack Saich] the correct directions to return to England. He was awarded the D.F.M. on 15 August 1941. His story appears in eight color pages of American comics.
The American color comics would also record a little known part of history that occurred in May 1940, when French-British-American-Canadian and pro-Vichy Nazi German political infighting involved the French aircraft carrier Bearn and the Islands of Miquelon and St. Pierre.
The United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, with Newfoundland and Labrador a self-governing colony of U.K., they also declared war on Germany that same date. This Eastern Air Command original map was created on 3 September 1939, Appendix “L” in preparation for Canada declaring war with Germany on 10 September 1939.
On this date the Canadian government also specifically forbid the RCAF, Navy, or Army to discuss joint defence measures with the government of Newfoundland. The only RCAF patrol aircraft based at Nova Scotia, [No. 5 General-Reconnaissance] Squadron must first obtain permission from U.K. or Newfoundland government to fly over Newfoundland or Labrador for the first eight months of World War Two. Yes, that is correct, as the three governments and officials did not meet officially until 1 August 1940, and formed the new Atlantic Command, placing all Newfoundland military forces under Canadian Command. To add to this wartime red-tape confusion, the French population of the Islands of Miquelon and St. Pierre [Orange circle on map, twelve miles from Newfoundland] decided to pledge its allegiance to Nazi-Germany Vichy French. When two RCAF aircraft from No. 5 [G.R.] Squadron flew over the two French islands, the French Vichy Navy ships pointed their deck guns at the Canadians, and threaten to shoot them down if it occurred again. Protecting the coastal waters around Newfoundland was not as easy as it looked on paper. The RCAF had to first ask permission from Newfoundland or Britain to protect their coastal waters from the Germans, plus the 4,400 people on the French Colony Islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon had a government which pledged allegiance to the enemy, Nazi German controlled Vichy French. The German invasion of France began on 10 May 1940, and as the German forces marched along defeating the Allied forces day by day, the French government prepared for the “Fall of France.”
The French government dispatched their Navy aircraft carrier “Bearn” to Toulon, the major naval base on the Mediterranean coast of southern France. The Bank of France gold bullion [$300 million in 1940] was then loaded onto the aircraft carrier which set sail for Canada, meeting the French light cruisers “Jeanne d’Arc” and “Emile Bertin” in the mid Atlantic Ocean on 25 May 1940. The French Navy flotilla then successfully delivered the gold bullion to the Canadian government [for protection] at Halifax, Nova Scotia. The French flotilla then departed for the United States East Coast, loading new American aircraft for France and Belgium on the aircraft carrier. The aircraft cargo was twenty-seven Curtiss H-75s, twenty-five Stinson 105s, forty-four SBC Helldivers, and six Brewster Buffaloes for the Belgium Air Force. The French carrier Bearn then arrived back at Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 14 June 1940. A number of RCAF Hurricane aircraft parts and Canadian equipment was then loaded on the Bearn which departed for France on 16 June 1940. RCAF personnel from No. 5 Squadron at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, were still on the French aircraft carrier when it sailed from Halifax, hastily preparing the Canadian military equipment for storage. Two days after sailing from Halifax, [18 June 1940] French officials surrendered to the German commanders and the Nazi Vichy government took over France. The three French navy ships, including the aircraft carrier Beam were crewed by pro-Vichy Frenchmen and they would not join the Allied cause or most of all the hated British to fight Nazi Germany or Hitler. They turned around and sailed south to the French Island Colony of Martinique in the southern Caribbean, also controlled by the Vichy government of France. The poor RCAF ground party were held captive on board and they would not make it back to Halifax, Nova Scotia, until mid-July 1940. The Canadian government hid this from the Canadian people, as it would only add more French/English problems in Canada, and P.M. King did not want that, he had enough to worry about building up the run-down Canadian forces.
I do not wish to tell the rest of the French-British-American political battles that now took place, and if you are interested please search the Internet, it is all there, politically confusing for a normal person, but all true and interesting for historians. Here are the main points of history, which some have titled “The Mouse that Roared.” The Islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon are 93 square miles of rock, ocean, and birds, but the British and French had been fighting over ownership since 1530, mostly because it was a major cod-fishing center. From 1920 to 1933, it became the major port for Al Capone’s rum runners, who operated a fast fleet of trawlers based at St. Pierre, smuggling booze to the United States east coast ports, even Washington, D.C. [Read the man in the Green Hat “George Cassidy” who sold Capone’s booze to 80% of the Congressmen in Washington]. In 1927, “Big Al” even came to St. Pierre to have a first hand look at his operation and fleet of booze smuggling ships. When the U.S. government repealed the Probation Act in 1933, the Island suffered a huge economic crisis, as delivering Canadian booze to rich Americans made much more money than fishing for cod.
When France declared war on Germany, 3 September 1939, 550 French Colony citizens joined the local Armed Forces for protection of their Islands. Although 60% of the inhabitants supported the Free French under Charles de Gaulle, the Island administration was controlled by Baron Gilbert de Bournat, who was intensely loyal to Vichy President Petain, who was strongly supported by the Catholic Church hierarchy on the Islands. [those religious reasons are never explained] Demands for a plebiscite to decide the colony’s loyalties to France were not allowed by both the Catholic Church and Vichy State control. The Free French supporters then contacted Charles de Gaulle [Free French] by short-wave radio in England, asking for help, but this would take time and political fighting among major world powers.
On 19 June 1940, the Newfoundland government ask United Kingdom permission to invade and take over as administer of the French Islands. The United Kingdom said – “No.” On 28 May 1941, the Canadian government began preparing for invasion of the Islands, but backed off due to pressure from the United States. Now I will just let the American True Comics tell the rest of the story.
The Free French forces under Charles de Gaulle seized the archipelago from the Nazi Vichy French on 24 December 1941. This invasion was strongly opposed by the United States, United Kingdom, and to a lesser extent Canada, which is explained on a number of websites. A free referendum was held on Christmas day, 25 December 1941, and the Island population endorsed the takeover by Free French forces by a vote of 98%, on 29 December 1941. The ballots were – 132 for Free French, 4 for Vichy, 75 spoiled, as they had slogans written on them. Only 211 voted out of a 4,400 population, thus the true feelings may never be known.
This thirty-minute invasion by the Free French against the Vichy French, should have remained a most trivial part of World War Two, however it produced a major, political, and diplomatic incident involving all super powers. It exposed the fact President Roosevelt did not like Free French leader Charles de Gaulle and both these leaders were always attempting to get control over P. M. Churchill, while Canadian P. M. Mackenzie King ran around attempting to please everyone, plus taking orders from all the other leaders. The full history makes for some very interesting reading, and Canada remained in the background.
Vichy administrator Baron Gilbert de Bournat was arrested along with his German wife, and placed in a cabin prison on the French Corvette Aconit, then transported to the United States. The U.S. repatriated the pro-Nazi man and wife team back to southern controlled Vichy France in February 1942. I’m sure their future was in danger when the Germans left France, as many pro-Nazis were beaten to death, hung, or just had their heads shaved.
The three French ships which sailed to Martinique [June 1940, with RCAF ground crew] had been interned by pressure applied from the United States government. Martinique was 100% pro-Vichy Nazi supporters and became a major base for German U-boats operating on the American East Coast and the Caribbean waters. If the French ships were not interned the Island would be attacked by the U. S. On 14 July 1943, [Bastille Day] Free French forces attacked and recaptured the Island of Martinique. The 102 American built aircraft on board the French aircraft carrier were unloaded and it appears they never left the French Island. [maybe the remains are still there today] On 30 July 1943, the three French ships were handed over to the Free French Naval Forces, however the aircraft carried never left the Island until postwar. In 1945, it sailed for the U.S. where it was turned into an aircraft transport for postwar France. In January 1946, the aircraft transport “Bearn” delivered French arms and men to Vietnam, and another war. In 1958, the island people were given the option of becoming fully integrated with France, but voted to remain a French territory.
True stories of RCAF pilot’s continued to be published “War Heroes Comics” July 1942.
A famous Canadian hero and his history can be found on many Internet websites.
I was born into the Canadian wartime world of comics  and they have been a part of my life ever since I can remember. I am so pleased to see that Canadian “Whites” have been rediscovered by a new generation, thanks to the Internet, documentary films, public donations by collectors, websites, republished comics, and blogs such as mine. This almost lost and forgotten Canadian legacy is a much-needed inspiration for todays Canadian students in the arts, cartooning, art illustration, graphic arts and even in computer gaming. I also feel they are very important in teaching the mistakes of the past in Canadian comic book creations. For collectors the Canadian “Whites” are now worth $600-$800 per issue range, while a poor copy of “Nelvana of the Northern Lights” just sold for $9,000.00. In the 1990s I paid $50 to $75 for a “White” comic and believed it was far too expensive.
The Canadian “Whites” comics were the very same as reading the black and white American newspaper comic strips, with the main exception they were based on new Canadian fantasy super heroes and funny cartoon characters. As soon as the Canadian comics appeared in March 1941, the American publishers turned around [April 1941] and began their new series called “True Comics” a thoroughly different comic, which was both fascinating to read and very accurate in showing the real aviation world at war. This new educational comic even attracted the attention of the U.S.A.A.F. who gave their free support.
I have researched the aviation subject of aircraft “nose art” for the past fifty-five years, which includes collecting, repainting replica WWII art on original aircraft skin, and interviewing almost one-hundred WWII nose artists. The number one subject painted on WWII combat aircraft became the young ladies from that era, movie stars, pin-up girls, and even the fantasy girls that appeared in comic strips and comic books. The characters from Walt Disney and the 1,200 insignia characters his five-man artist team created came a close second to the semi-nude, or fully nude female form painted on aircraft nose sections. The third most selected nose art images came directly from American comic books, American comic strip superheroes and the American cartoons and graphic art female which appeared in hundreds of Camp Newspapers and Camp Newsletters. For the duration of the Second World War, the homegrown Canadian artist created superheroes, two featuring a title including Canada, “Johnny Canuck, Canada Jack”, however they were never painted by Canadians on RCAF or RAF aircraft. In fifty plus years of research, I can only find one RCAF Halifax bomber nose art which possibly came from a Canadian “Whites” comic book. The young Canadian aircrews of WWII were born and raised into the world of the American comic book and comic strip superheroes and the new Canadian comics could never replace them. The Canadian comics were just a collection of clean-cut fantasy heroes and new funny characters created for the entertainment of boys and girls in Canada, and never intended for the adults or the Canadian fighting forces at war.
In April 1941, American publishers took a much different approach and created a thoroughly different True Comic which reported the accurate events in history for both adult and young readers. The American publisher employed the very same artists who had created their superheroes and had them draw well researched and accurate stories of ‘mankind.’ They adopted a slogan – “Truth is stranger and a thousand times more interesting than fiction.”
The publishers created a Junior and Senior Advisory Board, then ask for suggestions and criticisms of their True Comic contents. They in fact let their readers suggest a story and at the same time were educating the American public to world historical events and the aviation heroes at war. In April 1941, the United States of American was still a neutral country in World War Two, however each issue was full of aviation, heroes of the war, and very heavy in “Canadian” content. The history and drawings were well researched, which included both past and present True Canadian history in four ink color printing. The only problem being it was never purchased or read by Canadian youth, other than copies which were mailed to Americans in Canada. Today the American color comics are all free on the Internet.
True Comics became such an instant hit with Americans that the Publisher decided to expand and created a new full military comic “Real Heroes” which appeared in September 1941, again featuring real RCAF stories. This was followed by True Aviation Comics Digest, True Aviation Picture Stories, and Aviation Adventures and Model Building. All of these issues contained true aviation stories of RAF, RCAF, and Americans serving in these units at war. Even after American entered WWII, the Canadian history and Armed Forces history continued to be published and read by only citizens of the U. S.
For some reason the Canadian Whites comics never attempted to copy the Americans in drawing and telling the truth about Canada and her Armed Forces at war. From time to time an issue would contain one page on a real WWII British or Canadian hero or a Canadian military aircraft or vehicle identification page, but that was the best they could produce. Most of the Canadian artists were young teenage boys who lived in a world of fantasy, unlike the American artist who was much older and had many years of art experience. Canadian Hero comics were published but contained a mix of fantasy and real world, drawn as exciting adventures possibly to install patriotism in our wartime kids.
This one-page real hero appeared in a 1943 issue of Canadian Commando Comics. It is clearly directed at the Canadian youth showing masculinity, and patriotism, the important morals a good Canadian soldier should have in time of war. The very same as the American True comics proved for their youth in five or ten frames of full color.
Vancouver, B.C. based Rocket Comics one page for November – December 1943.
Gerald [Jerry] Lazare was another Toronto born teenager [15 years] with artistic talents. He mailed two samples of his cartoon images to Bell Features and was hired to take over two other successful strips when the original artist had joined the Canadian Forces. In December 1943, he also created four short-lived strips of his own creation and one was titled “Air Women.” This comic strip was based on the real Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force formed on 2 July 1941. On 3 February 1942, this organization became part of the RCAF reformed as a Women’s Division, and during WWII 17,038 women served with the RCAF [W.D.’s] Women were now in the RCAF to stay. Initial training was conducted in Toronto, and that’s possibly where young artist Lazare obtained his information. His strip was in fact just another fantasy for Canadian kids, however it contained some important lessons on the value of the female in the RCAF and very different from the superhuman masculinity of the other heroes. I do not have the complete comic series to make judgements from, but I do believe this strip proved the young female Canadian readers with much more than pure entertainment, the same as the American True Comic issues. I’m positive a few young Canadian ladies joined the W.D.s thanks to this ‘white’ strip.
Vancouver B.C. “Lucky Comics” August-September 1943
Teenager artist Leo Henry Bachle was born in Toronto, Ontario, November 1923, and was only fifteen years of age when he was hired by Bell Brothers to produce a new comic character. He created the most famous Canadian super-hero Johnny Canuck in his own image, appearing in the first issue of Dime Comics, February 1942. Canadian hero “Johnny Canuck” never appeared on one single aircraft of the RCAF, while all the other American superheroes were painted on hundreds of RCAF and Allied aircraft.
Lancaster Mk. X, serial KB847, No. 431 Squadron, RCAF, SE-R [Rocket] Superman nose art. Toronto born artist Joe Shuster and American writer Jerry Siegel created Superman in April 1938. They also set the mould for all future comic book super heroes.
Lancaster Mk. X. serial KB931, No. 425 Squadron, RCAF KW-S [Samson]. Samson No. 1 published September 1940, Fox Comics, and sold in Canada.
Another American Hero “T-for Tarzan” on KB924, Lancaster Mk. X, RCAF. The first Tarzan comic strip appeared in 1914, drawn by Canadian born Harold Foster. The Canadian “Whites” were for boys and girls and never connected with RCAF aircrew at war like the American superhero comics.
By 1944, more American comic book publishers were beginning to print true historical stories such as a new series “War Heroes” by New York Journal American. The American reader also continued to read and learn more about how a great cold country up north, even how it obtained its name.
Today the American full color history of the RCAF during World War Two has been saved and preserved on the internet for free. You can even read the past history of our great country – “KANATA.” It appears in 1943, the American publishers believed the United States was bigger than KANATA. Canada is in fact the second largest country land mass in the world, with 9,984,670 Sq. k/m and United States is 9,826,675 Sq., k/m, very close but third.