Updated 4 November 2020
In the PDF version 1942 has to be corrected with 1941.
AT457 3 Sept. 1941 12 Dec. 1941
Cat. “A” accident 10 Dec. 1942 LAC W.J. McCarthy 656512 killed 20:30 hrs second solo flight. Crashed three miles north of aerodrome, pilot killed instantly. Funeral 13 Dec. 1941.
Also please note that in the draft PDF version, Flight Hangar Museum should read Hangar Flight Museum.
The Forgotten R.A.F. History –
This is the forgotten history of RAF No. 37 SFTS Calgary, Alberta, during WWII, dedicated to the 30 British lads who never returned home.
Royal Air Force, No. 37 Service Flying Training School, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Click below for the PDF file.
No. 37 SFTS
Draft text version (with no images)
The Forgotten R.A.F. History –
This is the forgotten history of RAF No. 37 SFTS Calgary, Alberta, during WWII, dedicated to the 30 British lads who never returned home.
Royal Air Force, No. 37 Service Flying Training School, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, – Part One
The British Royal Air Force members of No. 37 S.F.T.S. docked at Halifax, Nova Scotia, 14:30 hrs. 15 September 1941, with their first train arriving at Calgary, Alberta, five days later. Their new training school was still under construction, with the first 13 British officers and 444 other ranks moving in 30 September 1941. This RAF unit unofficially adopted an indigenous Thunderbird as their new Canadian training flying school insignia, and this image first appeared on stationary and the school newsletter “Wings” cover [above] in November 1941.
The large area surrounding present day Calgary, Alberta, was first inhabited by a prehistoric Paleo-Indian culture of peoples who have been radiocarbon dated [human remains] to 10,200 years ago. At the end of the last glacial period, Cordilleran Ice Sheet, 11,650 years ago, this culture began to manufacture distinctive bone and ivory tools with distinctive “Clovis points” and they became known as the Clovis culture. The Clovis people are considered [DNA testing] to be the first ancestors of today’s indigenous cultures in most of North America, reaching to Mexico and South America. The First Nations of present day Alberta came under control of the Blackfoot Confederacy and this included the Blood, Peigan, Blackfoot and Tsuu T’ina indigenous peoples. The first recorded European appeared in 1787, when cartographer David Thompson made contact with the First Nations people and the early white settlers began to arrive in 1873. The North-West Mounted Police arrived in 1875, and the following year Fort Calgary was constructed, named after clear running water on the isle of Mull, Scotland. The Native Thunderbird symbol is a mythical creature still seen as a most powerful spirit which can change into a human form and was believed to be the dominating force of all natural activity, power, protection, and strength. It is clear some forgotten RAF historian carefully did his research long before the RAF selected their British Thunderbird insignia, possibly at RAF Station West Kirby, England, in July 1941.
In the early hours of 17 December 1939, the British and Canadian government representatives signed a document titled “Agreement Relating to the Training of Pilots and Aircraft Crews in Canada and their Subsequent Service.” During the many hours of meetings [which began 5 November 1939] leading up to the signing the BCATP, the United Kingdom government had intimated the possible need to move complete RAF training schools to Canada, but nothing else was discussed. In the spring of 1940, the World War took a turn for the worse and the British faced possible invasion from Nazi Germany. On 4 July 1940, the British High Commissioner in Ottawa ask Canadian Air Minister Hon. Charles Gavin Power if the RAF could move four complete flying training schools to Canada. The British High Commissioner was informed by Hon. Mr. Power the U.K. could move four schools to Canada, then added, “If the British wished to transfer more schools to Canada, room for them would be found, but it must be understood the full cost of these schools must be borne by the United Kingdom.” On receiving this answer, the RAF revised their original request [four] to eight service flying training schools, two air observer schools, one bombing and gunnery school, one air navigational school, one general reconnaissance school and one torpedo bombing school.
The original estimated Canadian cash outlay for building “Part One” of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan came to 441 million dollars and to this total was now added the Canadian cost for construction of fourteen new Royal Air Force special training schools, with an estimate cost of another $50 million.
Canadian cartoonist editorial drawing by Les Callan which was published after the signing of the 17 December 1939 agreement. Repainted and coloured by author. This cartoon in fact projected BCATP history, as the yellow peril [training aircraft] were like wild hornets attacking Nazi leader Hitler. The British also called the plan “Empire Air Training.”
New sites were now selected for hurried construction of the fourteen new RAF schools, [located in Western Canada] to avoid confusion with RCAF training schools under construction in the BCATP. The movement of complete RAF training schools began in earnest in October 1940, and five schools had arrived by the end of the year. In March 1941, the British government again revised the number of RAF schools they would like to move to Canada, nine more service flying training schools [including Calgary No. 37 SFTS], fifteen elementary flying training schools, ten air observer schools and four operational training units. In 1941, Canada constructed and opened thirty-three RCAF training schools in the BCATP, plus constructed and opened seventeen special RAF schools which were operated by the RAF. The RAF schools in Canada were subject to RCAF administration and operational control, while the British had access to Canadian supply, medical, maintenance, and the same services as the RCAF. There was really very little difference between the British RAF special schools and the RCAF schools under construction for the BCATP. The one major division became the British preservation of their national identity in the RAF schools, which were commanded by their own officers and trained in the same custom and traditions as that in the United Kingdom. For administration control the numbering of RCAF training schools was reserved from #1 to #30 and the RAF training schools were allotted numbers #31 and above. During the war the RAF would operate twenty-eight British schools in Canada, twenty-six were for aircrew training, one Radio Direction Finding School #31 RDF at Clinton, Ontario, and the main RAF reception centre, #31 Personnel Depot at Moncton, New Brunswick. By 1942, it had become clear that air training in Canada [BCATP] had far outgrown the size, cost, and organization of the original plan due mostly to the arrival of twenty-eight new RAF special schools. On 5 June 1942, the British partners in the BCATP set down with Canada and deliberated a new agreement, [Part Two] and the plan was extended until 31 March 1945. Canada would bear half of the total cost of the new extended training program, which was estimated at 747.5 million dollars, for a total Canadian cash outlay of 1,188.5 billion. The British contributed 145 million in cash, and 360 million in aircraft and supplies, for a total of 466 million since the beginning of the plan.
The true financial cost of the BCATP will never be known due to the many claims and counter-claims between the various partners. In 1946, a group of accountants produced a balance sheet which seemed to satisfy all the parties involved and that is the best rounded number we have for historians. Canada contributed seventy-two per cent of the air training cost [$1,617,955,108.79]. The United Kingdom paid $54,206,318.22 in cash, and provided equipment to the value of $162,260,787.89 or ten per cent of the overall cost. Australia payment was $65,181,068.00 or three per cent and New Zealand $48,025,393.00 or two per cent of the total cost.
By 30 June 1942, [end of Part One] Canada had spent $212,280,010.00 on the construction of twenty-eight British RAF schools and purchase of additional aircraft for RAF training in Canada. On 13 October 1944, the Hon, C.G. Power released to the Canadian public the first reports, costs, and prospects of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, and these figures were staggering to the main stream Canadian taxpayer.
Under the new BCATP agreement, [Part Two] which took effect on 1 July 1942, the RAF schools in Canada would continue in their present form of retaining British identity under the administration of the RCAF. The only change became the RAF and RCAF schools were now all merged with the Commonwealth Air Training Plan, and almost all RAF schools were enlarged to take in new trainees from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Free French, Holland, Norway and Poland. These European Allies maintained national squadrons in the RAF and provided individual aircrew for British Squadrons. Now they would be trained in Canada beside the RAF in their operated schools, where a wide variety of English was being spoken in six foreign tongues. When I walk the small forgotten grave sites near No. 36 SFTS Penhold, No. 32 EFTS Bowden, or the largest grave site  at Calgary, Alberta, I can historically read the Allies names mixed with their British comrades as they fell from the sky and died during training.
No. 36 SFTS Penhold, Alberta, was officially opened by Group Captain W.B. Farrington, DSO, on 23 August 1941. It was constructed by the Canadian government for the RAF with the purpose of training young British pilots to fly multi-engine Airspeed Oxford aircraft to “Wings” standard. These British pilot trainees had graduated from basic flying on light aircraft at another RAF E.F.T.S. in Alberta, and now they would learn more advanced flying in the Airspeed Oxford twin-engine aircraft. Each course contained 35-55 students on average, and the course ran for twenty weeks. Today twenty casualties are buried in the Red Deer Cemetery and seventeen lost their lives training in the British Oxford aircraft. [above actual accident] Three were non-flying training deaths, 30 January 1942, Cpl. Stan Ryder, plowing snow RAF tractor tipped over killing driver. 24 September 1942, Flt. /Sgt. G.F. Jennings natural death in hospital. 23 July 1944, P/O D.J. Stewart, drown in swimming accident.
At the request of the British government, RAF schools in Canada were the first to close, and this began in January 1944. By November 1944, only two RAF schools remained with 3,800 RAF students in training. The Part Two agreement of the BCATP signed in June 1942 stated the total cost of the Plan would be divided equally between Canada and the United Kingdom. When the books were balanced in September 1945, the U.K. still owed Canada $282,511,039.25 for Part two of the Plan. Counter-claims and dropping of figures reduced the final claim owed to Canada at $425 million for Plans #1 and #2, including the cost of the twenty-eight British RAF schools. On 29 March 1946, the Canadian Minister of Finance introduced Bill No. 208 providing a loan to the British government in amount of $1,250,000,000.00 for postwar Canadian food products. Included in this Bill was a special clause cancelling the $425 million owed for the BCATP. The Bill passed on 7 May 1946, and the BCATP became history. As the Canadian Press reported – “In addition to meeting more than its own appropriate share of the Training Plan costs, the Canadian Government [taxpayer] had played the role of creditor to its British partners on a very large scale.”
Today modern Canadian and British aviation historians continue to state the total cost of the RAF schools moved to or formed in Canada during WWII were paid for in full by the United Kingdom. I believe that claim is false, and in fact the construction of twenty-eight RAF schools, special CN/CP train transportation, bombs, ammo, food, fuel, medical, ground equipment, and the purchase of extra aircraft for RAF training [$104 million] was paid by the Canadian taxpayer, when the British $425 million owed to Canada was cancelled in May 1946.
Calgary New Airport and the Second World War
In 1935, Canadian voters defeated the Federal Conservatives and returned the Liberals of W.L Mackenzie King to power. This proved to be the most aviation minded government Canadians had ever seen and many historical changes took place. In 1936, Minister of Harbours and Railways, Hon. C.D. Howe, moved civil aviation from under the Department of Defence and placed it in a new formed Department of Transportation. Next he began construction of a Trans-Canada Airway, with airports and emergency landing fields spread across Canada, and by 1938 a framework of 94 airfields were nearing completion. A new [fourth] civil airport for Calgary, Alberta, was developed on new land purchased [$31,126.00] in the North-East of the city, with the first ever designed municipal constructed civilian airport terminal and hangar. The new airport opened [two weeks after Canada declared war on Germany] 25 September 1939, titled McCall Field, for WWI ace and Calgary born Freddy McCall. Today this famous original TCA terminal and historical WWII hangar still stands, sadly, forgotten by the passage of time and proper historical background education.
The cover of Maclean’s 1 March 1940, featured a color photo of Lockheed Model 14H2, believed to be CF-TCJ, the TCA pilots are not identified. These pilots and aircraft would continue to transport passengers, freight, and Calgary air mail during WWII.
With the Canadian declaration of war 10 September 1939, the Federal Department of Transport took over control of Calgary McCall Field, which was now selected as a potential BCATP training base site. The Dept. of Transport completed surveys, blueprints, and cost estimates, which were submitted to the RCAF Aerodrome Development Committee for rejection or approval. The final construction site approval came from the Minister of National Defence, [sworn in 23 May 1940] Hon. Charles Gavin Power in Ottawa. Calgary’s McCall Field was first selected to train British fighter pilots for the Royal Air Force, becoming No. 35 Service Flying Training School, construction beginning in late November 1940. Construction continued during the bitter cold winter months when temperatures dropped to 35 below F and gravel had to be steam heated before it could be mixed for cement.
This image was taken in spring of 1941, possibly around April or May, giving a clear air-shot of the original TCA 1938 wood constructed terminal and hangar, which opened 25 September 1939. Seven Trans-Canada Airlines Loadstar aircraft can be seen on the ramp, possible delayed in Calgary due to bad weather over the Rocky Mountains. [TCA only had twelve on strength] The three bottom aircraft are CF-TCY, CF-TDG, and CF-TDF, with CF-TCY surviving today and being restored by the Canadian Museum of Flight in B.C., a rare Canadian historical civil aircraft. Top is the future RAF hangar #1 with British control tower, first used by the RCAF. On 24 January 1941, RCAF Flying Squadron from No. 2 Wireless School [SAIT campus today] Calgary, moved from RCAF No. 3 SFTS [Currie Barracks] to TCA operations hangar. [above]
This image was found and supplied by Karly Sawatzky, BA, SAIT Archives of Calgary.
These eight D.H. 82C-4 Menasco Moth II wireless trainer aircraft were the first WWII trainers to occupy the future RAF hangars, they arrived by rail at Calgary on 18 March 1941. The first Menasco Moth assembled was RCAF serial 4843, [first aircraft in line] and the first to fly at Calgary, [officially recorded by RCAF as Municipal Airport No. 35 SFTS] on 20 March 1941. Menasco T-Moth serial numbers were in production order – 4834-35-36-37-38-40-41 and 42. Eight more arrived on 20 March 1941, serial 4833-4839,4843-4844-4845-4846-4847 and 4848. No. 2 Wireless School Flying Squadron [formed 6 January 1941] became the first WWII Wireless Air Gunners Course 9X [46 trainees] to train and use Calgary Municipal TCA control tower at Calgary. The airport was now under control of the Dept. of Transport, and the British control tower was not in operational order. The Wireless course began on 28 April 1941, with thirty-five aircraft on charge, 9 RCAF Norseman, 1 old Fairchild, 1 Moth 82C and 24 Moth 82C-4 trainers. These trainer aircraft also became the first to used the new constructed Relief Flying Field located at Airdrie, Alberta, however they would never graduate at No. 35 SFTS. On 12 May 1941, No. 2 Wireless School was ordered back to RCAF No. 3 SFTS at Currie Barracks, as the British government had requested the movement of many more Royal Air Force training schools to Western Canada, and training space for twelve schools had to be found in a short period of time. These future RAF training schools were still under construction as the British staff and trainees began to arrive by train, and they would have to double-bunk in H-huts which were still not fully constructed.
On 22 April 1941, RAF Senior Officers and other ranks of newly formed No. 31 SFTS boarded a train 09:30 hrs at Kirkham, England, arriving at Glasgow, Scotland at 13:00 hrs. They sailed on the S.S. “Royal Ulsterman” on 23 April and arrived at Iceland four days later. They departed Iceland on 29 April in the H.S. California and arrived Halifax, Nova Scotia, 6 May 1941. A special CPR train transported the entire staff to Calgary arriving on 10 May, where they were trucked from the train station to the Calgary Municipal airport and No. 35 SFTS, their temporary training school still under construction.
Two days later RCAF No. 2 Wireless School Flying Squadron were ordered back to Currie Barracks, [their original base] to complete their wireless flight training, and make room for the arriving British. RAF No. 31 EFTS were never assigned aircraft for training and one RCAF D.H. Menasco Tiger-Moth Mk. II was loaned to them from No. 2 Wireless School on 15 May 1941. This allowed the pilot students to receive aircraft ground instruction until their new trainers were delivered from Toronto by rail. Their first Canadian built De Havilland Tiger-Moth arrived at Calgary, flown from Regina, Saskatchewan, 30 May, and twenty-one more would arrive by CPR rail from de Havilland in Toronto, by the end of June. The first RAF flying instruction at Calgary, Alberta, began on 18 June when Course #22 commenced their first elementary flying school training, containing 93 student pilots, with completion of course slated for 20 August 1941. The RAF staff of No. 31 EFTS at Calgary were 29 Officers, 24 NCO’s and 425 airmen, including the first 93 student pilots. In June the course students flew an average of seven and one half hours, with six pupils flying solo, and six more ready to fly solo. In the month of July 1941, No. 31 EFTS student pilots had twelve Tiger Moth aircraft accidents, fortunately with no loss of life.
The last collision between two Tiger-Moth trainers at Calgary occurred on 11 October 1941, and training was suspended the next day.
The advance RAF party of S/L P. Jackson, P/O J.S. Robinson, and 84 other ranks began the move to their new base at De Winton, Alberta, on 13 October, and the main body of the school arrived three days later. Their new school was still under construction, no telephones, poor sanitation, temporary heating, but they had running ‘cold’ water. The British called this ‘blue pencil’ showers. Not one building at De Winton, Alberta, was 100% completed, including hangars, requiring all aircraft to were flown back and forth to Calgary for normal maintenance and major overhauls. Base construction would not be completed until 13 July 1942.
The historic 1938 constructed first Calgary TCA terminal and hangar remains in use today, while her WWII past is largely unknown to the majority of citizens in Calgary. Author in hangar door under the impact point of the world famous WWII RAF Mosquito “F for Freddie.” Believe it or not, the history of the tragic crash of “Freddie” is not even displayed in the Hangar Flight Museum, and the City of Calgary have never designated this historic aviation hangar as a protected heritage building, which is  privately owned and operated by Condor Aircraft. Knowing the cowboy priorities in Calgary, Canadians can pretty much kiss this Trans-Canada Airlines and WWII RAF British aviation history good-bye.
In March 1941, the British once again revised the number of RAF schools they wished to move to Canada, adding nine more service flying training schools, fifteen elementary flying training schools, ten air observer schools and four operational training schools. This caused many additional construction problems for the Canadian government, RCAF reorganization, doubling the size of some schools under construction, and turning relief landing fields into full size training schools. In June 1941, the RAF Officers and ranks of No. 35 SFTS were reassigned from their intended base at Calgary to North Battleford, Saskatchewan, where they arrived on 21 July 1941.
Their original designated RAF school under construction at Calgary, Alberta, now remained an un-numbered temporary training school of RAF No. 31 EFTS until 4 September 1941, then it was officially renumbered RAF No. 37 SFTS.
When this image was taken, 4 April 1941, [5,500 feet] the base was still designated as No. 35 S.F.T.S and the aircraft seen in front of Hangar #1 are four Menasco Moth Mk. II from No. 2 Wireless School. The RAF organization of British Officers and other ranks of new formed No. 37 S.F.T.S. Calgary, Alberta, Canada, came together at RAF West Kirby, England, on 18 August 1941. RAF West Kirby was constructed beginning in October 1939, a large camp designed to train new RAF recruits in education of the wartime RAF, learning air force parade ground drill, later with rifles, and intense physical fitness training. West Kirby was a basic training unit with no airfield, where discipline was much stricter than a normal RAF training school, which earned the nickname ‘square bashing camp.’
After eight weeks of basic training, the new recruit was posted for special trades training or directly to RAF operations. The new staff of No. 37 SFTS were recalled from leave on 2 September 1941, and it appears around 400 were new British airmen who would learn their air force trade at a far-off place called Calgary, Alberta, in Western Canada.
Of all the new formed RAF training units in Canada the elementary flying training schools went through the most numerous changes in construction, location, and student size, due to their rapid expansion. This sudden acceleration of British student pilots also effected the service flying training schools in not only construction, or finding training aircraft but in finding proper accommodations, and Calgary became a perfect example.
When the first No. 37 SFTS RAF train arrived at Calgary on 20 September 1941, they found it occupied by No. 31 EFTS, and new arrival staff [458 all ranks] had no accommodation. The new arrivals had to double-up with the 478 staff members of No. 31 EFTS. The second train was halted at RAF No. 39 Swift Current, Saskatchewan, which was still under construction and would not open until 15 December 1941. The officers from the second train were taken to RAF No. 32 SFTS at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, for accommodation. What a confusing greeting to Canada after five or six days at sea, and then four days on a train. The fact being RAF training staff and students were arriving in Canada faster than their training schools could be constructed by Canadians.
On 30 September 1941, 13 officers and 444 other ranks moved into RAF No. 37 SFTS Calgary, Alberta, a very slow beginning, then came aircraft training changes. Calgary originally had been selected as a service flying training school, equipped with Harvard aircraft for RAF fighter pilot training. In 1940-41, Harvard aircraft in Canada were relatively plentiful and twin-engine Avro Anson and Airspeed Oxford bomber pilot trainers were scarce. The British Oxford [Ox-box] twin-engine aircraft were being shipped from England and took weeks to deliver, thus more RAF pilots were being trained as fighter pilots and an imbalance was taking place. Fully trained RAF fighter pilots arriving back in United Kingdom had to be retrained as bomber pilots at a British operational training unit, and this wasted time and cost money.
On 22 September 1941, RAF Order #228 advised No. 37 SFTS Calgary, would train bomber pilots flying British built Airspeed Oxford trainers, being shipped across the sea from England. These aircraft would arrive three, four, or six a time depending on the ship size that transported them to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The prototype British [Ox-box] Oxford flew on 19 June 1937, with 8,586 manufactured by Airspeed, 4,441 at Portsmouth, 550 at Christchurch, 1,515 built by de Havilland at Hatfield, 1,356 by Percival at Luton, and 750 by Standard Motors at Coventry. The RCAF ordered twelve Mk. I and thirteen Mk. II trainers in 1938, the first serial 1501 [Mk. II] arrived at Trenton, Ontario, 8 May 1939. These first twenty-five aircraft were serial #1501 to #1525, serving at RCAF Camp Bordon, Trenton, Picton, and Rockciffe, Ontario.
Oxford #1521 was taken on charge RCAF at Camp Borden 10 September 1939, had a Cat. C accident at RCAF Rockcliffe, Ontario, on 9 January 1942, off charge 19 February 1945.
The RCAF also purchased 188 Oxford AS. 46 Mk. V aircraft which trained in various parts of the BCATP in Canada. Oxford Mk. V, serial EB623 was taken on charge 19 March 1943, off charge by RCAF 21 August 1945. This aircraft never few training operations and had only 10:10 hrs when sold by War Assets in 1946.
Due to RAF training school construction delays in Canada, combined with a shortage of RAF Bomber Pilots, No. 37 SFTS RAF Calgary will begin twin-engine Bomber pilot training with the British Airspeed Oxford “All Purpose” RAF trainer. The RAF Calgary airport was constructed at a high elevation of 3,606 ft. [1,099 metres] above sea level, which required a longer runway for take-off in twin engine aircraft and the Oxford was not suitable to operate in this high altitude of Western Canada.
The most notable difference between twin-engine training schools in Canada became aircraft types. The RAF schools flew the Airspeed Oxford, 601 which were shipped from England, [March 1941 to November 1943] then arrived by rail at the assigned schools in Western Canada, while the RCAF schools flew the Avro Anson trainer. The higher the British Oxford trainer flew in Calgary the more power it lost due to thin air density, and the RAF knew this, but they needed bomber pilots, so the decision was made to train bomber pilots at Calgary [for eleven months] until 25 September 1942. The first British Oxford AS276 arrived by rail on 7 August, followed by four T1184, V3426, V3434, and AS365 on 20 August 1941.
The first 68 RAF EFTS pilot graduates arrived at Calgary on 13 October 41, and now these British lads came face to face with their first twin-engine Oxford and their new flying instructor. Keep in mind all British schools and many RAF course numbers in Canada began with number 31.
This four-page cartoon appeared in No. 32 EFTS magazine “Three Corners” but the humor would apply to any of the 26 RAF wartime training schools in Canada. Joining up and posted to RAF West Kirby, Cheshire [later Merseyside] England, “Fly with the RAF.”
RAF parade ground drill, “square bashing” spit and polish, with strict discipline.
Intensive physical fitness training and weekends of book study, kitchen duty, or Orderly Sgt.
Canadian RAF Flying Training washed-out, replaced by hours of cleaning duties.
On 21 October 1941, RAF ground school lectures and flying instruction began at Calgary, and the next day RAF No. 37 SFTS officially opened for Airspeed Oxford bomber pilot training, Course #31. This first Course began with 68 students and graduated 53 Bomber Sgt./pilot flying badges, with 13 students granted officer commissions. The Wings parade flying badges were presented by Vice-Marshal G.N. Croil AFC, beginning 09:00 hrs 21 January 1942.
This is an actual RAF photo of a Wings Parade Badge presentation at the Drill Hall of No. 37 SFTS Calgary, Alberta. Today this 1940 constructed Drill Hall survives as the Flight Hangar Museum of Calgary. In 2017, the City of Calgary spent one-million dollars to renovate and make this historic old building fire proof, and you can now rent this very space for a birthday, wedding, funeral, or stag party evening, drinking and dancing around old airplanes. Sadly, you will not find one aircraft, photo, or fact sheet which tells the true history of this British WWII RAF pilot training site, or the 30 British lads who died here. One-thousand five hundred and thirty-five RAF trained pilots received their wings in the Flight Hangar Museum of Calgary.
Image from RAF aircraft in March 1942, showing downtown Calgary and the location of British No. 37 S.F.T.S. Forty-three Mk. I and forty-one Mk. II British Oxford aircraft were delivered directly to the base from Halifax, Nova Scotia, by C.P.R. Railway.
Airspeed Oxford Mk. I, serial number Taken on strength Taken off strength
T1180 2 Sept. 1941 17 Feb. 1945
T1184 [Mk. II] 20 Aug. 1941 17 May 1944
V3379 29 Aug. 1941 3 Oct. 1946
V3393 29 Aug. 1941 19 Feb. 1945
V3426 20 Aug. 1941 18 Aug. 1942
Cat “A” accident, 14 August 1943. Mid-air with AS666, LAC Nimmo and LAC Webb killed.
V3434 20 Aug. 1941 19 Feb. 1945
V3439 12 Aug. 1941 19 Feb. 1945
V3463 19 Sept. 1941 11 Apr. 1944
V3479 3 Sept. 1941 28 Nov. 1942
Cat. “A” accident, 28 November 1942, No. 39 SFTS Swift current, Sask.
X6539 26 Aug. 1941 23 Jan. 1945
X6544 4 Sept. 1941 19 Feb. 1945
X6549 4 Oct. 1941 18 May 1944
X6550 2 Sept. 1941 8 Sept. 1943
X6551 2 Sept. 1941 3 Oct. 1946
X6557 22 Oct. 1941 19 Feb. 1945
X6589 24 Sept. 1941 19 Feb. 1945
X6590 17 Sept. 1941 10 June 1943
X6593 25 Sept. 1941 11 May 1943
X6881 3 Nov. 1941 23 Jan. 1945
X6883 3 Nov. 1941 3 Oct. 1943
X6884 [Mk. II] 9 Oct. 1941 19 Feb. 1945
X6964 [Mk. II] 2 Feb. 1942 23 Jan. 1945
X6967 [Mk. II] 2 Feb. 1942 12 May 1943
X7143 [Mk. II] 24 Mar. 1942 3 Oct. 1945
X7156 [Mk. II] 14 May 1942 19 Feb. 1945
AP424 [Mk. II] 4 Mar. 1942 23 Jan. 1945
AR969 [Mk. II] 17 Sept. 1941 23 Jan. 1945
AS266 [Mk. II] 28 Aug. 1941 19 Feb. 1945
AS276 [Mk. II] 7 Aug. 1941 23 Jan. 1945
AS303 [Mk. II] 29 Aug. 1941 17 May 1944
AS321 [Mk. II] 18 Aug. 41 13 Apr. 1944
AS365 [Mk. II] 20 Aug. 1941 11 June 1943
Cat. “A” accident, 1st British bomber student pilot killed at Calgary 5 December 1941, LAC Ernest Thomson 1387318. Flying his first solo, the pilot attempted to land with only one wheel locked in down position, the aircraft stalled and crashed onto nose, killing LAC Thomson. Funeral on 8 December 41, attended by ten RAF officers, firing party, trumpeters and drummer.
RAF crash photo Oxford AS. 10 Mk. II, serial AS365, 5 December 1941
AS373 [Mk. II] 17 Sept. 41 29 Oct. 1942
19 January 1942, forced landing Cat. “C” accident, extensive damage, LAC Crampton G.C.
AS382 [Mk. II] 29 Aug. 1941 18 Aug. 1942
Cat. “A” accident, LAC E.C. Dunbavand #1218546 killed at Three Hills, Alberta. [1st Solo flight]
Funeral 16 January 1942.
AS396 [Mk. II] 18 Sept. 1941 19 Feb. 1945
AS475 22 Oct. 1941 2 Oct. 1946
AS599 14 Nov. 1941 3 Oct. 1946
AS603 4 Sept. 1941 3 Oct. 1946
AS610 26 Aug. 1941 28 Nov. 1942
AS612 29 Aug. 1941 23 Jan. 1945
AS614 2 Sept. 1941 12 May 1943
Involved in collision 11 Dec. 1941, pilot 656537 LAC B. Williams.
AS616 22 Oct. 1941 23 Jan. 1945
AS617 22 Oct. 1941 11 Nov. 1943
Cat. “A” accident at No. 29 SFTS Swift Current, Sask.
AS619 2 Sept. 1941 28 28 Jan. 1945
AS625 18 Nov. 1941 27 Aug. 1943
Cat. “A” accident 8 July 1943, No. 39 SFTS Swift Current, Sask.
AS629 25 Sept. 1941 19 Feb. 1945
AS666 17 Sept. 1941 12 Mar. 1943
Cat. “A” accident 14 Aug. 1942, LAC L.R. Nimmo 420814 mid-air.
AS691 12 Nov. 1941 23 Jan. 1945
AS699 10 Dec. 1941 23 Jan. 1945
AS701 3 Nov. 1941 19 Feb. 1945
AS790 [Mk. II] 4 Sept. 1941 22 Feb. 1943
Cat. “A” accident 12 December 1943, No. 39 SFTS, Swift Current, Sask.
AS798 [Mk. II] 17 Sept. 1941 23 Jan. 1945
AS802 [Mk. II] 4 Sept. 1941 19 Feb. 1945
AS834 [Mk. II] 18 Sept. 1942 25 May. 1945
AS837 [Mk. II] 18 Sept. 1941 23 Jan. 1945
AS838 [Mk. II] 18 Sept. 1941 3 Oct. 1946
AS848 [Mk. II] 18 Nov. 1941 17 Feb. 1945
AS853 [Mk. II] 17 Sept. 1941 23 Jan. 1945
AS859 [Mk. II] 9 Oct. 1941 12 Feb. 1945
AS860 [Mk. II] 9 Oct. 1941 23 Jan. 1945
AS862 [Mk. II] 22 Oct. 1941 22 Feb. 1945
AS927 [Mk. II] 8 Jan. 1942 19 Feb. 1945
AS931 [Mk. II] 6 Nov. 1941 19 Feb. 1945
AT442 3 Sept 1941 2 Oct. 1946
Crashed in landing accident 17 April 1942, no injuries.
Cat. “C” accident 17 April 1942, Oxford AS. 10 Mk. I, serial AT442, repaired, continued training until October 1946.
AT444 3 Sept. 1941 2 Oct. 1946
AT446 25 Sept. 1941 19 Feb. 1945
AT447 25 Sept 1941 14 Feb. 1945
AT452 25 Sept. 1941 20 May 1943
Night flying 8 January 1942, hit telephone wires. No injuries.
AT455 25 Sept. 1941 17 May 1944
AT457 3 Sept. 1941 12 Dec. 1941
Cat. “A” accident 10 Dec. 1941 LAC W.J. McCarthy 656512 killed 20:30 hrs second solo flight. Crashed three miles north of aerodrome, pilot killed instantly. Funeral 13 Dec. 1941.
AT458 17 Sept. 1941 30 Oct. 1945
Cat. “A” accident 14 Sept. 1943, No. 39 SFTS Swift Current, Sask.
AT472 17 Sept. 1941 12 Mar. 1942
Cat. “A” accident 26 Aug. 1942
BG303 [Mk. II] 12 Mar. 1942 23 Jan. 1945
BG328 [Mk. II] 12 Mar. 1942 13 Apr. 1944
BG354 [Mk. II] 4 Mar. 1942 1 Aug. 1943
Cat. “C” accident 1 June 1942.
BG355 [Mk. II] 27 Feb. 1942 25 May 1945
BG363 [Mk. II] 27 Jan. 1942 19 Feb. 1945
BG503 [Mk. II] 14 May 1942 11 Apr. 1945
BM679 [Mk. II] 4 Mar. 1942 8 Aug. 1944
BM701 [Mk. II] 27 Jan. 1942 8 Sept. 1943
BM749 [Mk. II] 22 Apr. 1942 19 Feb. 1945
BM752 [Mk. II] 24 Mar. 1942 17 May 1942
BM807 [Mk. II] 10 Apr. 1942 11 Apr. 1944
BM810 [Mk. II] 10 Apr. 1942 28 Nov. 1942
Cat. “A” 14 August 1942, LAC W.J. Webb killed. Mid-air with Oxford AS666, LAC Nimmo.
Six of the thirty RAF pilots killed at Calgary were flying an “Ox-box” Airspeed Oxford when they died.
The British RAF shipped 601 Airspeed Oxford AS. 10 and AS. 46 trainers to RCAF for training in Canada, [March 1941 to November 1943] five were lost at sea [ship torpedoed] serial – AR809, AR810, AR813, AR814, and AR819. Delivered Mk. I aircraft totalled 281, Mk. II, 318, and Mk. V, 2. No. 37 SFTS RAF Calgary received 43 Mk. I aircraft and 41 Mk. II aircraft which are listed above on date of arrival and date off charge by RCAF.
On 28 September 1942, seventy-eight of the above Airspeed Oxford aircraft were flown to RAF No. 39 SFTS at Swift Current, Saskatchewan, and one-hundred Harvard II trainers were flown to No. 37 SFTS in Calgary. Another five Oxford aircraft were transferred on 30 September, and the last six departed Calgary by 11 January 1943.
Burnsland Cemetery, Calgary, Alberta, was established in 1923, containing 22,061 burials of WWI and WWII Veterans from the City. The British Union Jack proudly flies over the hallowed ground which contains 43 WWII graves of RAF students and Flying Instructors who never left Calgary 1941-44. Thirty were RAF members killed while training at No. 37 SFTS, Calgary, Alberta, with the other thirteen killed training in Tiger-Moth aircraft at No. 31 EFTS RAF De Winton.
The first British issue of “Calgary Wings” with original RAF [First Nations] Thunderbird on front cover, November 1941.
The second issue of Calgary Wings came out in March 1942, featuring a new designed [First Nations] Thunderbird which remained with the British school until closing 10 March 1944. It’s possible this image was even painted on a few aircraft.
The first RAF full page cartoon appeared in the March issue. The citizens of Banff would invite 100 RAF students for a weekend of entertainment every few months.
The British RAF feelings towards Wild West Calgary in March 1942. Population was 87,000.
The first RAF Bomber pilot to solo at No. 37 SFTS Calgary, Sgt. Howard from Course No. 31, trained 21 October 1941 to 21 January 1942.
The second RAF Oxford trained Bomber Pilot class of sixty to graduate at Calgary on 5 March 1942, became Course #33. Seventeen from original class were wastage [failed] posted back to No. 31 RAF Personnel Depot at Moncton, New Brunswick.
Course #35 graduated 52 bomber pilots on 21 May 1942, with 13 wasted [failed]. The last bomber pilot graduation class became Course #57 on 24 September 1942. Sixty-eight pilots graduated and all flying training was suspended on 25 September 42. The next day 73 Oxford aircraft were flown to No. 39 SFTS at Swift Current, Saskatchewan, and exchanged for 100 Harvard trainers which arrived Calgary on 30 September. No. 37 SFTS Calgary had graduated eight Airspeed Oxford bomber pilot courses [#31, #33, #35, #47, #49, #51, #56, and #57] with a total of 385 bomber pilots returning to England. Now, RAF Calgary would begin training fighter pilots for the RAF, flying Harvard II trainers, a new era begins on 1 October 1942.
R.A.F. No. 37 SFTS Relief Field at Airdrie, Alberta
On 10 October 1939, the Canadian government agreed that after the BCATP was signed [17 December 1939] the new Department of Transport would undertake the initial selection of airfield training sites, which must then be approved by the Aerodrome Committee of the RCAF. The erection of all buildings and training aids on each base was totally controlled by the Aerodrome Committee [RCAF]. Government survey crews from the D.O.T were aided by provincial highway survey parties and by 24 January 1940, a tentative selection of eighty schools for the BCATP was summited to Supervisory Board in Ottawa. A good number of these early training sites originally constructed for the RCAF would now be turned over to the RAF as they arrived in Canada, however I’m sure these original records are long gone.
The RCAF training schools in the BCATP were distributed throughout the four Air Force Training Commands in Canada, while the RAF schools were mostly located in No. 4 Training Command, which took up the southern part of Saskatchewan and the complete provinces of Alberta, and British Columbia. The above map shows the locations of thirteen RAF Pilot training schools in No. 4 T.C. and three more located in No. 2 Training Command, with H.Q. at Winnipeg.
Twenty-six Royal Air Force training schools would train 42,110 British aircrew members from October 1941 until January 1945. Almost half [17,796] graduated from Canadian RAF flying training schools in western Canada as pilots. Another 81 RAF pilots were trained and graduated from RCAF schools in the BCATP. After 1 July 1942, these Canadian RAF schools also trained 2,000 Free French aircrews, 900 Czechoslovakian pilots, 677 Norwegian pilots, 450 Polish pilots and 400 Dutch and Belgian pilots. Each of the British run RAF schools had one Relief Landing Ground [some had two] which was used for day and night flying training. These figures give a small account of the tremendous problems encountered and it is still hard for many historians to grasp that the RAF schools were training in the same air space as many other [five] RCAF schools south of Calgary, Alberta. Seventy-eight years later the RAF Relief landing fields are mostly gone, the buildings removed or torn down years ago, the runways over-grown with trees or just a faint outline in the earth seen from the air by passing aircraft.
Today  it is a complete surprise to find a large percentage of No. 37 SFTS Relief Landing Ground at Airdrie, Alberta, still operates and survives like a war ghost from the past. My historical research of RAF in Canada began in 1985, and the hardest part was finding WWII images, and placing the history of this forgotten British training base in correct order. I know that hundreds of photos survive in England, forgotten in old photo albums, which are rarely looked at by today’s generation. The author would really appreciate any British images or shared history from this past RAF history in Western Canada. The majority of my RAF Airdrie/Calgary history was obtained from four caring Canadians, all of whom are now deceased. Mr. Burt Sharp, an ex-RCAF airplane mechanic who was posted to RAF Relief Field in February 1943, Mr. Harry Cromwell, an Airdrie farmer who owned the land surrounding the RAF Bomb Range, Mr. Archie Penny, an original 1942 RAF pilot, who flew Harvard trainers from Calgary, training at Relief Field Airdrie, and Mrs. Gwen Conroy, an amazing lady who owned and lived on the Airdrie Airport, plus being a qualified Harvard aircraft female pilot. Some of these WWII photos are being published for the very first time, with limited information, corrections are always appreciated, to record and preserve the truth. Many WWII photos were copied and shared by other aircrew members, then passed on and later placed into photo albums. For this reason, a good part of Canadian training RAF history was just forgotten and lost.
In December 1940, the aerodrome Committee of the RCAF selected 640 acres of farm land situated almost 3 miles East of the Village of Airdrie, Alberta, for construction of a Relief Landing Ground for RAF No. 35 SFTS being constructed in North-East Calgary. The construction contract was awarded to the Dutton Bros. of Calgary, Alberta, with the airfield completed in May 1941. Airdrie first became a railway siding of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway in 1889, named after a Scottish village, with the first farmhouse constructed in 1901. When the RAF airfield construction began in 1940, the Village of Airdrie had a population of 191 citizens. The runways at Airdrie were first used for training by RCAF No. 2 Wireless School Flying Squadron using D.H. 82C-4 Menasco Moth Mk. II trainers based in Calgary, 28 April until 12 May 1941
No. 31 EFTS RAF arrived next, flying Canadian built DH 82 Tiger-Moth training at Airdrie Landing Ground beginning 18 June 1941. No. 31 EFTS moved to De Winton, Alberta, beginning 13 October 1941, and the main party arrived officially three days later. Airdrie Relief Landing Ground officially became the training field of No. 37 SFTS Calgary on 4 September 1941, with British built Airspeed Oxford twin-engine pilot training beginning 22 October 1941, consisting of 68 RAF pilot students in Course #31.
This cold flying shot was taken on opening day of No. 37 SFTS at Calgary, 22 October 1941. The RAF student pilot [LAC Gafney who took image] was being flown by his RAF instructor Reg Eastwood, in a DH 82 Tiger-Moth trainer aircraft from No. 31 EFTS at De Winton, Alberta, and they would be landing in a few minutes. Twenty-five British Twin-engine Airspeed Oxfords are parked on the first snow fall of the fast approaching Calgary winter. The Daily Diary records 8 hours flying time on 22 October, with RAF strength 51 Officers, 136 RAF Student bomber pilot trainees, and 1,044 other ranks of British training staff. RAF Officer’s and Oxford aircraft are still arriving on a daily basis, with 50 aircraft on strength, and by the end of the month, they completed 444 hrs. 55 min. flying training hours. The Relief Landing Ground at Airdrie, Alberta, had suddenly become a busy WWII British airport.
This is the normal “three corner” design of a WWII Relief Landing Ground of the British and RCAF Commonwealth Air Training Plan. This 1991 image was taken by WWII pilot Ernie Thompson showing the RAF Relief L.G. at [Big Bend] Innisfail, Alberta, used by student pilots from RAF No. 32 EFTS at Bowden. Relief Landing Grounds received a fair share of training accidents and loss of life during WWII training in Canada.
Crash image by Mr. George Frost, Chief RAF Aviation Engineer at No. 32 EFTS, Bowden, Alberta. This DH 82C Tiger Moth #5034 being flown by RAF student LAC Thomas Malan hit the power lines over the Town of Bowden on 27 May 1942, and the pilot survived. The man on right in white shirt with hands in pocket is the one and only Town Constable Ed Shenfield. Up to this point in his police career, he had only investigated, stolen horses, car accidents, and drunken Alberta farmers. That possibly explains the puzzled look on his face, what the hell should I do?
The RAF at Bowden picked their news magazine publication cover from Shakespeare – “Come the three corners of the world in arms” a dark period in England, when King John has been poisoned by a Monk. It also stood for the three corner runways of the training fields in Canada, very fitting.
A copy of the original Dutton Bros, ‘Three Corners” construction map created by the Department of Transportation in 1940. Obtained from Mrs. Gwen Conroy in 1991, at which time she was the property owner of the runway portion of the Airdrie Airport, and resided on her very own private airport.
In the spring of 1944, a south-bound American Douglas Digby lost an oil line over Olds, Alberta, then made a forced landing in the wet field just south-east of the Airdrie Relief Landing Ground. The RAF Airdrie Hangar can be seen on the left under the bomber wing. The American airmen [possibly pilot] in the bomber door has dropped his pants, and ‘moons’ the British camera.
Towed from the soft-wet ground by an RAF Cat Tractor, [seen above] the oil line was repaired and the Digby took off south for the United States. The old USAAF bomber had been serving in Fairbanks, Alaska, and the three corners of Airdrie, Alberta, had saved her return flight home.
This original 1940 constructed RAF Hangar survives 2019 [minus WWII control tower] which is still in private use, owned by a German who immigrated to Calgary, Alberta, in the 1960’s.
Airdrie Relief Landing Ground was constructed at elevation 3,602 ft. [1,098 m] and as you drive or fly directly east, the ground level slowly drops. Four miles directly east of the airport the ground suddenly drops 130 ft. and the lowest section contains a two to three-foot body of water which is one-half mile in length, running north to south. This body of water was never claimed by early western homesteaders, as no farmer wanted to pay taxes for a duck pond. Today it still remains Federal government property, [Crown Land] and for that reason the RAF in WWII decided this would make a very good bomb training range for low-flying aircraft.
This author image is looking directly east at the road located four miles east of the Airdrie airport, and this body of water marsh area contains tens-of-thousands of WWII British smoke bombs, some still unexploded ordnance. Farmer Harry Cromwell owned the surrounding farm land and lived on the far south section of land from the lake area. The lake had no official name, however the local Airdrie farmers called it Wood Lake, reason unknown. In January 1942, the RAF approached farmer Cromwell for permission to build two twenty-seven-foot bomb towers, which would be placed on the east and west side of Wood Lake, near the center of the body of water. In the center of the frozen lake they chipped rows of six holes in a square shape and them pile drove thirty-six half length telephone poles in each hole. Each telephone pole was then painted yellow and red in alternating colors, and this became the target for dropping training smoke bombs. On the assigned training day, the RAF placed one LAC student in each tower, and his duty was to point a gun sight device at the white smoke released where the bomb hit the water near the target. Then the number on a map were recorded and this was repeated again, and again, as each aircraft dropped its bombs. In the evening, the maps from were each tower were connected by drawing lines, which marked an “X” and the location each student bomb landed. A very simple, but effective way of giving each RAF student his bomb marks. The RAF called this training area “Wood Lake No. 1 Bombing Range” and it remained in use until 1946, used by the RCAF in the postwar era. The only known accident at the bomb range occurred on 26 October 1943, when RAF Harvard aircraft FE808 struck the centre of the target area with a wing, but made it safely back to base. Today this forgotten WWII bomb site is not even recorded as a government explosive ordnance site, so please use caution, if you are digging for war junk.
Author map showing location of RAF Wood Lake, No. 1 Bomb Range at Airdrie, Alberta.
Airdrie Relief L.G. bomb training is not recorded in the Daily Diary of No. 37 SFTS at Calgary, while farmer Cromwell believed it began in April 1942. RAF Calgary had a staff of 88 Officers, 1,168 airmen and 221 RAF bomber pilot trainees, with 98 Oxford aircraft on strength, 1 April 1942. Airspeed Oxford bomb training began 21 October 1941 and ceased 25 September 1942. By 28 September, 78 Oxford trainers had been flown to RAF No. 39 SFTS at Swift Current, Saskatchewan, and 100 Harvard trainers returned to Calgary by 30th of the month.
North American Aviation, Inc. [NAA] was a holding company for many aviation firms, which came together during the great depression, then General Motors obtained 29 percent of the shares in 1933, and decided to create General Aviation Corp. of NAA, located in the Curtiss-Caproni factory at Dundalk, Maryland. In 1934, General Aviation was renamed becoming the Aircraft Manufacturing Division of NAA, and from this came the prototype [future Harvard] aircraft, NA-16 the first of many. The first BT-9, flew on 15 April 1936, and a production line was set up in the new constructed plant at Inglewood, California. The first Harvard I, serial N7000 was built with British-specified equipment, and flew on 28 September 1938, wearing full British RAF markings. Witnessed by British representatives, the aircraft impressed and 200 aircraft were ordered for RAF training in U.K. Another 200 Harvard’s were ordered in January 1939, which were shipped without engines, assembled at a shadow factory RAF Shawbury, England. In April 1939, Canada ordered 30 Harvard I’s [NA-61] which were built for the RCAF, serial #1321 to #1350. The first three were delivered 20 July 1939, eleven in August, eight in November [Canada had declared war on Germany 10 September] and the last seven arrived at the Alberta border on 1 December 1939, serial #1344 to #1350.
This image appeared in the 11 December 1939 issue of American LIFE magazine, titled – BRITISH WARPLANES ARE TOWED ACROSS CANADIAN BORDER AT MONTANA “PORT OF EXIT.” This North American Harvard I is serial #1338, delivered to the RCAF in Alberta, [above] 21 November 1939. The aircraft flew at Camp Borden, Ontario, until 14 February 1945. Flying the last fifteen Harvard I’s to Canada proved to be a problem as the U.S. Neutrality Act prohibited the flying of aircraft to a Country at war. The Nov. & Dec. Harvard’s for the RCAF were flown to Sweetgrass, Montana, USA, landed at the border, and then pushed across to Alberta, [right side of fence wire in photo] then flown north to Calgary RCAF No. 3 SFTS at Currie Barracks.
From this point in time, [January 1940] the Harvard production line officially became the American AT-6 production line for the remainder of the war. Whatever you wish to call it – U.S. Navy J-Bird, Texan, AT-6, or British/Canadian Harvard, it soon earned the unofficial name “Pilot Maker” and the entire Allied war effort would depend on this single aircraft which produced tens of thousands of WWII combat pilots. The largest customer for the Harvard became the RCAF and the Royal Air Force training at their bases in western Canada. On 18 March 1941, the 1,000th Harvard II rolled off the production line in California, and it became the 570th to be flown directly to Canada. The ridiculous process of flying to the Canadian border had been dropped by the U.S. State Department and now direct flights were made to Canadian RCAF bases. For model builders or aviation painters, it is interesting to see the new Harvard II was painted in full British RAF markings on the NAA final production line at Inglewood, California. For flying in the United States the trainers still required U.S. national insignia under the wings, an unusual mix of fuselage British Roundel with American Star National wing markings.
Jeff Ethell collection 1983.
Harvard AJ987 never made It to Canada, one of two aircraft which crashed in California before delivery to RCAF. In the background is AJ986, flown to RAF No. 39 SFTS [Swift Current, Saskatchewan] and taken on charge 3 February 1942. This trainer had a Cat. C-5 crash on 18 March 1942, was repaired and became one of the  delivered to RAF No. 37 SFTS at Calgary, Alberta, 30 September 1942. In the Royal Air Force, the American built AT-6C became known as the Harvard IIA. In January 1940, the Canadian government bought the rights to produce the AT-6A by Noorduyn Aviation Ltd. in Montreal, Quebec, and these Canadian constructed RAF Harvard’s became the British Harvard IIB trainer. Noorduyn Aviation would build 2,610 Harvard IIB trainers in Montreal, Canada, 1,500 were lend-lease for the RAF. Uncle Sam paid Canadians in Montreal to build the AT-6, then gave them to the British [Lend-Lease] to train pilots in RAF bases in Canada.
On 30 September 1942, one-hundred RAF Harvard II “Pilot Makers” returned to Calgary, Alberta, where the very first RCAF Harvard I, #1321, touched down on 20 July 1939.
By mid-January 1943, all the Airspeed Oxford trainers were gone from Calgary, aircraft strength 102 Harvard II’s and seven Avro Anson.
Part Two R.A.F. No. 37 SFTS Harvard Training follows.
No. 37 Service Flying Training School, Calgary, Alberta, – Part Two
RAF Flight of North American Harvard Mk. II trainers on delivery to No. 37 Service Flying Training School at Calgary, arriving over RAF No. 34 SFTS Medicine Hat, Alberta, where they landed for refueling. Date 25 to 27 September 1942. [RAF WWII Image]
On 21 September 1942, all North American Harvard Mk. II aircraft flying training ceased at No. 39 Service Flying Training School, Swift Current, Saskatchewan. In the next five days, One-Hundred Harvard aircraft, thirty-four RAF Harvard Flying Instructors, and a large number of RAF Ground Staff would be transferred to No. 37 S.F.T.S. at Calgary, Alberta. This large base transfer included four Senior RAF Officers, 62 Junior Officers, and 313 other British ranks, mostly Harvard trained ground crews. The one-hundred Harvard Mk. II aircraft flew west from RAF No. 39 SFTS to RAF No. 34 SFTS [refuel] then north to RAF No. 37 SFTS at Calgary, Alberta. The refueling arrival over Medicine Hat was captured on rare color film by an RAF flight member.
The new RAF administration staff at Calgary Headquarters were:
G/C J. B. Stockbridge, [C.O.] S/L G.S. M. Warlow, [S. Adjutant] F/L E.T. Hawley, [Admin. Officer] W/O R. H. Evans, [S. Warrant Officer] Sgt. D. Abery, Cpl. E.A. Palmer, LAC G. Wishart, LAC K. Jennings, AC1 G. Meakes, LAC E. Dickinson, Cpl. E.W. Bryant, LAC E.D.G. Crowe, LAC W. Goodlett, AC1 J. Coppock, LAC V. Gould, LAC P.G. Ross and LAC L. Calver.
The 34 RAF Harvard Flying Instructors, consisted of twenty-one officers, and thirteen NCO’s. The Flying Instructors were composed of four squadrons commanded by F/O R.H. Saxton, F/O E.O. Jones, W/O R.H. Evans, and F/Lt. Peter F. Middleton. [remember that last name] On 1 October 1942, RAF Calgary began training of British Fighter pilots in North American Harvard Mk. II aircraft, using Airdrie Relief Landing Ground. Seven Cat. “A” fatal crashes took place.
North American Harvard Mk. II T.O.S. RCAF Taken Off Strength by RCAF
The dates shown are for RCAF Harvard aircraft Taken on Strength and shortly after they were delivered to RAF No. 39 SFTS Swift Current, Sask., which opened on 5 December 1941. All of these one-hundred Harvard MK. II’s were delivered to No. 37 SFTS at Calgary, Alberta, by 30 September 1942. All Oxford aircraft were gone from Calgary mid-January 1943.
2566 23 Sept. 1940 18 Oct. 1960
2586 4 Oct. 40 15 Jan. 1947
2631 26 Oct. 40 1 Dec. 1943, Cat. “A” 21 Oct. 43
2698 2 Dec. 40 1 Oct. 1946
2726 20 Dec. 40 18 Oct. 1960
2937 5 Mar. 41 31 Aug. 1946
3274 2 Feb. 42 4 Dec. 1946
3278 9 Feb. 42 7 Nov. 1957
AJ582 29 July 41 14 Mar. 1945
AJ583 [#46] 29 July 41 21 Jun. 1960
AJ723 9 Sept. 41 21 Oct. 1957
AJ753 16 Sept. 41 21 Oct. 1957
AJ758 16 Oct. 41 1 Oct. 1946
AJ759 16 Oct. 41 2 Mar. 1943, Cat. “A” 10 Dec. 42
Airdrie Relief L. G. claimed the first qualified Flight Commander F/Lt. E.G. Ford #81636 and his pupil from No. 70 Course, when Harvard AJ759 stalled just after take off.
Recovery of RAF Harvard Mk. II serial AJ759, 10 December 1942.
AJ760 [#73] 16 Oct. 41 23 Oct. 1946
AJ762 16 Oct. 41 18 Oct. 1946
AJ766 16 Oct. 41 4 Feb. 1943
AJ793 16 Oct. 4 24 Apr. 1944
AJ795 16 Oct. 41 4 Dec. 1946
AJ796 16 Oct. 41 24 Sept. 43, Cat. “A” 28 Aug. 43
AJ798 16 Oct. 41 27 Nov. 1958
AJ799 [#87] 16 Oct. 41 4 Dec. 1946
AJ824 3 Nov. 41 1 Oct. 1946
AJ825 11 Nov. 41 24 Nov. 1946
AJ827 14 Oct. 41 23 Jan. 1946
AJ830 29 Oct. 41 16 Apr. 1945
AJ833 16 Oct. 41 1 Oct. 1945
AJ834 16 Oct. 41 9 Mar. 1945
AJ835 [#91] 16 Oct. 41 21 Oct. 1945
AJ836 16 Oct. 41 12 Mar. 1945
AJ847 3 Nov. 41 1 Oct. 1946
AJ848 3 Nov. 41 11 Mar. 1958
AJ849 3 Nov. 41 1 Oct. 1946
AJ850 11 Nov. 41 9 Jun. 1946
AJ851 3 Nov. 41 26 Nov. 1945
AJ852 4 Nov. 41 18 Oct. 1946
AJ853 3 Nov. 41 1 Oct. 1946
AJ854 3 Nov. 41 12 Mar. 43, Cat. “A” 15 Dec. 43
AJ893 30 Dec 41 5 Sept. 1946
AJ894 11 Nov. 41 29 Sept. 43, Cat. “A” 4 Aug. 43
AJ896 11 Nov. 41 10 Nov. 1945
AJ897 11 Nov. 41 21 Oct. 1945
AJ898 11 Nov. 41 2 Mar. 1943
AJ899 11 Nov. 41 16 Feb. 1944
AJ900 [#21] 11 Nov. 41 1 Oct. 1946
AJ901 11 Nov. 41 4 Dec. 1946
AJ902 11 Nov. 41 4 Dec. 1946
AJ903 26 Nov. 41 18 Oct. 1946
AJ905 26 Nov. 41 18 Oct. 1946
AJ906 26 Nov. 41 6 Nov. 1946
AJ908 26 Nov. 41 27 Oct. 1955
AJ909 26 Nov. 41 9 Mar. 1945
AJ910 27 Nov. 41 1 Oct. 1946
AJ912 26 Nov. 41 11 Mar. 1943, Cat. “C” 22 Jun. 42
AJ913 26 Mar. 42 1 Oct. 1946
AJ914 26 Nov. 41 22 Dec. 1954
AJ915 27 Nov. 41 1 Oct. 1945
AJ917 27 Nov. 41 18 Oct. 1946
AJ920 26 Nov. 41 1 Oct. 1946
AJ921 26 Nov. 41 4 Dec. 1946
AJ927 30 Dec. 41 29 may 1944
AJ930 [#39] 26 Mar. 42 4 Dec. 1946
AJ948 17 Jan. 42 22 Feb. 1945
AJ949 14 Jan. 42 1 Oct. 1946
AJ951 19 Jan. 42 1 Oct. 1946
AJ954 9 Feb. 42 1 Nov. 1960
AJ955 21 Feb. 42 23 May 1945
AJ956 22 Jan. 42 20 Sept. 43, Cat. “A” 8 Aug. 43
AJ957 14 Jan. 42 1 Oct. 1946
AJ958 17 Jan. 42 1 Oct. 1946
AJ960 14 Jan. 42 1 Oct. 1946
AJ961 17 Jan. 42 4 Dec. 1946
AJ962 14 Jan. 42 22 Dec. 1954
AJ963 17 Jan. 42 18 Oct. 1960
AJ964 14 Jan. 42 4 Dec. 1960
AJ965 17 Jan. 42 7 Dec. 1950
AJ966 14 Jan. 42 16 Feb. 1944
AJ967 14 Jan. 42 9 Mar. 1945
AJ968 14 Jan. 42 1 Nov. 1946
AJ970 14 Jan. 42 7 Nov. 1957
AJ971 14 Jan. 42 25 May 1951
AJ973 14 Jan. 41 11 Mar. 1946
AJ974 17 Jan. 42 21 Jun. 1955
AJ975 17 Jan. 42 18 Sept. 1947
AJ976 17 Jan. 42 18 Oct. 1960
AJ977 17 Jan. 42 3 Nov. 1950
AJ978 17 Jan. 42 5 Aug. 1948
AJ979 17 Jan. 42 11 Mar. 1946
AJ980 17 Jan. 42 11 Mar. 1946
AJ983 6 Feb. 42 1 Oct. 1946
AJ984 9 Feb. 42 14 Dec. 1960
AJ986 3 Feb. 42 6 July 1955
BW204 [#100] 14 May 42 2 Feb. 1946
FE405 5 Aug. 42 2 Oct. 1946
FE406 5 Aug. 42 15 Jan. 1947
FE407 5 Aug. 42 12 Nov. 1946
FE408 5 Aug. 42 2 Oct. 1946
FE409 5 Aug. 42 2 Oct. 1946
FE411 5 Aug. 42 20 Aug 43, Cat. “A” 6 Jun. 43
FE808 7 Feb. 43 2 Oct. 1946
FE824 9 Feb. 42 2 Oct. 1946
North American Harvard Mk. II pilot training began at Calgary/Airdrie on 1 October 1942. Today it is hard to believe this RAF training was done by hand signals, without the benefit of aircraft radios for air-to-air communications.
To the west of Calgary were the foothills and towering Rocky Mountains to explore, and to the east the flat prairie and desolate Red Deer River badlands to Drumheller.
On 30 June 1942, the original part one of the BCATP was terminated and phase two began dated 1 July 1942 until 31 March 1945. This became a turning point in the history of the BCATP with many major changes related to a large expansion for RAF’s Bomber Command. In England, RCAF and RCAF squadrons were being equipped with four-engine Handley Page Halifax and Avro Lancaster bombers and aircrew training numbers must increase. In January 1943, total aircrew production in Canada was 39,354 compared to 19,423 in all other Dominions, Canada was training 45 per cent of all Commonwealth aircrew. This would increase as RAF schools were enlarged and began training students from Australia, New Zealand, Czechoslovakia, Free French, Holland, and Norway. In August 1942, five new buildings, [red] were constructed for increased training [including Wood Lake Bomb Range] at Relief Landing Ground RAF Airdrie. A large percentage of these graduating students became RAF Mosquito Fighter/Bomber pilots.
The original RAF administration building constructed in summer 1942, is still in use today, the left section in original WWII condition, used for storage.
Inside the original WWII RAF 1942 administration building, Airdrie, Alberta.
The location where the first  RAF H-Hut building once stood.
This is the original 1940 constructed RAF Motor Transport building, located at the entrance to the main gate. This is where the 1941 Ford [Marmon-Herrington] 6X6 crash fire truck, medical ambulance, [RCAF 30-632] Dodge Station Wagon Transport vehicle [RCAF 31-162] Crash Tender Recovery Truck, [RCAF 33-741] RCAF Tractor [20-247 CL] refuelling tender [RCAF 34-276] and mobile radio control tower vehicle [RCAF 31-129] were parked and maintained for over three years. These emergency vehicles were on 24-hour standby during night and day flying training at Airdrie landing ground. The right side building addition was constructed in August 1942, for increased vehicle space.
The RAF Airdrie Relief L.G. 1941 fire-crash truck, [Marmon-Herrington Ford 6X6] aircraft fire-rescue suit, and the mobile radio control tower truck, RCAF #31-129 with wind sock. The mobile radio tower vehicle was painted bright yellow, with complete top a bright red, with a large white letter “T” painted on roof for trainee pilots to see. Image taken in front of hangar doors, east side of building summer 1943.
RAF Medical Officer “Doc” Al Walton beside ambulance and mobile radio control tower truck.
The RAF mobile control tower airmen sending lamp signals to the Harvard pilots, [no aircraft radios] with the Airdrie hangar and main control tower in the background. The bright red painted roof clearly shows in this image. RCAF and serial number 31-129 in black are stenciled on yellow driver/passenger doors.
RAF Doc Walton [left] and “Meathead” RAF Service Police Sgt. Crawford, south side of hangar, summer 1943. The Air Force Police Sgt. wears an RCAF Sweat-Shirt, lettered North Atlantic Squadron. The Airdrie L.G. Camp Commander was F/Lt. F.R. Britton.
14 November 1942, Harvard AJ758 nosed-over at Airdrie, pilot LAC F.S.T. Chesterfield. Night landings were made by coal oil goose-necked flare pots which were spaced beside the runways.
Cartoons can become real, mopping hangar floor 1943. The same Airdrie hangar floor today.
RAF 1942-44 Practice Smoke Bomb Loading Range Airdrie, Alberta.
In August 1942, the RAF began construction of three concrete buildings for the purpose of storage and arming of RCAF 25-pound white smoke practice bombs. This original construction bomb-assembly building blue-print copied from Mrs. Gwen Conroy collection 1991.
Bomb building #6 contained the gun powder, building #7 contained the 25 lb unarmed smoke bombs, and the third building was where RAF ground crew members primed the smoke bombs, [seen above]. Four smoke bombes were then attached under each wing of the Harvard II trainer and the training could begin. I believe this bomb dropping course lasted one week but no records can be found. The RAF total inventory, unused bombs, and student records were ordered buried on the airport property in April 1944, by the British rear party before they departed for U.K. That’s another story of time capsule war junk.
When each No. 37 SFTS Course graduated and their new pilots received their wings, these pilots had also qualified in a one-week bomb training at Airdrie Wood Lake No. 1 Bombing Range. The RAF Harvard carried four 25 lb. smoke bombs under each wing, as seen in above photo taken at Airdrie in early January 1944. These are seven RAF members of Course #90 which began with 59 students on 20 September 1943, graduated 56 new fighter pilots on 14 January 1944. The Course had twenty-seven members of RAF, six from R.A.A.F. and twenty-three from R.N.Z.A.F. The course lasted 117 days in which 113 days permitted full pupil flying conditions, class rated Average, discipline Very Good. Thirty-four pilot cadets received over 70% in their final graduation marks. RAF cadet 51513 P/O J. Brown was killed in flying accident 26 November 1943. 1314739 LAC R.W.G. Sadler failed due to medical reasons. 1604059 LAC R.L. Mitchell failed due to being mentally unsuitable, bad temper. 1624942 LAC G. Bradley and 1582558 LAC D.B. Holland both failed due to lack of natural flying ability. Fourteen of the new pilots were granted officer commissions with all [except six] posted back to home country, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Six students were selected for Flying Instructor Training [top course marks] and remained in Canada posted to No. 1 Flying Instructor School, Trenton, Ontario. Each student pilot made four flights over the Airdrie bomb range at Wood Lake, dropping two smoke bombs on each pass. That means this course dropped at least 448 smoke bombs in Wood Lake, where they remain today, beside a few unexploded ordnances.
One rare photo taken from the mobile radio control tower vehicle showing a Harvard taking off and the three cement bomb storage/assembly buildings on the right of the aircraft.
This unknown British/Australian/New Zealand RAF future fighter pilot has dropped all his eight smoke bombs and now for a little aviation fun. What an impressive photo that needs no words, taken in late 1943 or early January 1944, over Wood Lake No. 1 Bomb Range Airdrie, Alberta. Pilot graduates RAF 17,796 – RAAF 4,045 – RNZAF 2,220 and most earned their Wings over southern Alberta, and Saskatchewan.
The WWII RCAF and RAF practice smoke bombs which were used at Wood Lake, Airdrie, Bombing Range, 1942-46. When the RAF left on 10 March 1944, the RCAF moved in and continued to use the bomb range until late 1946. After release from the Harvard aircraft the 25 lb. bomb striker head would hit the water or ground causing the striker rod to be driven back igniting the gun powder which gave off a large white smoke. The smoke travelled up the round tail tube showing the location the bomb landed. These bombs were painted solid white, and some had red rings painted on round shaped tail fin or rear section of the bomb casing. It is estimated over 10,000 of these smoke bombs remain in Wood Lake, Airdrie, today, some still armed and dangerous.
Each evening the RAF instructors aligned the recorded map numbers and drew two lines which made an X on the location the bomb was dropped. This very simple bomb record was the modern computer for the war years [1942-44] at Airdrie, Alberta, Wood Lake Bomb Range.
The two RAF constructed bomb towers base measured twelve feet wide at front and back, the sides measured thirteen feet in width. The structure was twenty-seven feet high in the middle with a roof that sloped down four feet on each side. The front side facing the lake contained three joined windows, ten feet width by four feet high, located on the second floor, which was reached by a single set of stairs running up the inside rear wall of the building. The two side walls each contained a four foot by five-foot window, on the second floor, allowing the airmen to look left or right to observed the arriving Harvard aircraft. The right side on the main floor wall contained a single seven and one half-foot high door for entering the building. The front of the building main floor contained a small hatch door which only opened outwards, locked from the inside. The rear wall of the structure contained no openings, doors, or windows.
This RAF tower was used by the RCAF from April 1944 until the fall of 1946. Farmer Harry Cromwell then purchased the tower from the RCAF for $125.00, pulling it by his tractor to his farm property, where it was placed over his water well. Seventy-three years later this WWII RAF Airdrie Bomb tower survives and it is still being occupied. The far right wall is today  home to wild honey bees, who have taken over the space between the walls. This is possibly the only surviving original RAF WWII aircraft bombing range observation building in Canada. Nobody cares, and no Canadian Museum wishes to preserve RAF bomb range history.
By July 1942, the Canadian aviation industry still struggled to get the Avro Anson II into full production, with most of these new aircraft were assigned to pilot training schools, the navigator training schools continued to fly the ancient Mk. I, III, and IV aircraft. In early October 1942, No. 37 SFTS RAF Calgary received on strength six new RCAF Avro Anson Mk. II aircraft [three more arrived in November 42] for navigational student pilot training, and staff transportation. On average only six or seven Anson’s were serviceable per training day.
Anson #11300 28 Dec. 1940 Calgary Oct. 42, accident 18 May 43. Off strength 17 Aug. 1946 – 406:15 Hrs. flying time.
Anson 7402 11 May 1942 Calgary Oct. 42, accident 13 Feb. 45, Off strength 10 May 1945.
Anson 7403 11 May 1942 Calgary 25 Sept. 42, Off strength 14 May 1947.
Anson 7404 11 May 1942 Calgary Oct. 42, accident 20 May 43, Off strength 15 Jan. 1947.
Anson 7405 11 May 1942 Calgary Oct. 42, accident 1 June 43, Off strength 17 Aug. 1946.
Anson 7407 11 May 1942 Calgary Oct. 42, accident Calgary 10 Dec. 42, crashed Vulcan 9 Jan. 45, 439:15 hrs. Off strength 22 Feb. 45.
Anson 7409 12 May 1942 Calgary Nov. 42, Night crash 30 Nov. 1943, Off strength 16 Aug. 1946.
Anson 7410 12 May 1942 Calgary Nov. 42, accident 10 June 43, Off strength 27 Jan. 1947
Anson 7411 12 May 1942 Calgary Nov. 42, accident burst tire 13 June 1943, Off strength 12 Nov. 1946.
The RCAF Anson II had cabin heating, a square astrodome fitted with heat jets, and two navigator desks with a complete set of instruments. This allowed for training of four students on each flight, as noted above in Daily Diary Anson serial 7411 crash report. Below is a nice flying shot of Avro Anson 7411 in the farm country around Airdrie, Alberta, fall of 1943. This also records the correct RAF roundel wing markings locations used at RAF Calgary, Alberta.
Permanent RAF Staff Officers’ and NCO’s at No. 37 SFTS Calgary, Alberta, October 1942.
P/O Baker, F/O Bates, S/L Best, W/C Blake, F/O Booth, P/O Bower, Sgt. R.N.G. Bray, F/O Bromfield, P/O Brown, F/O John Brown [killed 24 Nov. 43] F/O Bryant, F/O Casley, F/O A. S. Carter, F/O O.S.D. Carter, F/O A. Chadwick, F/O F.F. Clarke, F/L Clelland, F/O Cooper, P/O P.D. Corlette [killed 7 Jan. 43] P/O Darke, S/L Davies, F/O Deane, F/O De Verteuil, F/Lt. E.G. Ford [killed 10 Dec. 42] F/O Gale, F/O Greig, P/O M.J. Gubbims, F/O Hames, W/C Hancockes, F/O Hicks, S/L Jackson, F/O Jeffery, F/L E.O. Jones, F/L H. B. Jones, P/O Jackson, F/L Korer, P/O Lattin, F/O Leeming, F/L Luck, F/L Mason, F/O Maxwell, F/L McArdle, F/Lt. I.F. McDermott, F/O McKelvey, Sgt. G.F. Lambert, F/L Peter Middleton, F/L M. V. Morgan, F/O Morgan, F/O Muirhead, F/L North, F/O Norminton, P/O Offen, F/O Osborne, F/L Ossulston, P/O Passey, S/L Palmer, F/O A.I. Philips [killed 12 Oct. 42] P/O Potter, P/O Ray, S/L Reuss, P/O Ridgeway, F/Sgt. K.W. Rosewell [ killed 8 Jan. 44] F/L Ross, F/L Samuel, F/O Saward, F//O Saxton, F/L Scott, F/O Seldon, P/O Severn, P/O Stephens, G/C J. B. Stockbridge, F/O Smalley, Sgt. S.D. Timms, P/O Walkden, S/L Warlow, F/L Werner, F/L Wheeler, F/O J.K. Williams, and F/L Wright. Thirty-four of these seventy-nine RAF officers and NCO’s were Harvard II aircraft Flying Instructors.
The majority of these British Harvard II Flying Instructors remained at Calgary until closing 10 March 1944. The Flying Instructors of the BCATP [both RCAF and RAF], were the unsung heroes of the Second World War, chosen from the best pilots of their class and not always keen for their frustrating and often dangerous student training job. They received eight weeks special training and were rated in four main categories: A1, granted to only the most experienced instructor with exceptional flying ability. A2, was for a very good instructor, B1 and B2 was awarded to an outstanding or more capable flying instructor.
Peter Francis Middleton was born at West Yorkshire, England, 3 September 1920, joined the RAF in 1940, and became a flying Instructor the following May 1941. I do not know his rating, possibly one of the few A1 instructors. Posted to Canada RAF No. 39 SFTS, Swift Current, Saskatchewan, promoted to F/Lt. 9 March 1942. Arrived RAF No. 37 SFTS Calgary, Alberta, 28 September 1942. F/Lt. Peter Middleton led the RAF student/pilots from course No. 80 [60 students began 3 May 1943] and No. 82 [68 students began 1 June 1943] in the official 58th opening parade of the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede, 5 July 1943. I feel he was selected by his Commanding Officer [Group/Captain D. Iron, O.B.E.] for his special Flying Instructor leadership abilities.
Many RAF WWII parade images are preserved in the archives of the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede; however, the author cannot afford the cost for long-time usage on my free Preserving the Past Aviation Blog site.
Sixty-eight years passed before a small forgotten part of RAF history would repeat itself at the Calgary Stampede Parade, 8 July 2011. A most gorgeous Royal British [cow-girl] watched the Calgary Stampede Parade, seated beside her new RAF helicopter pilot husband Prince William, known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine [Kate] Middleton was the granddaughter of F/Lt. Peter Francis Middleton. On this same spot in July 1943, a young RAF Flying Instructor Peter Middleton led 128 British student Harvard fighter pilots on their one and only appearance in the Calgary Stampede. Twenty-two Australians led the first RAF July 1942 Stampede parade. F/Lt. Middleton departed Calgary at 19:00 hrs, 10 March 1944, on a special CPR officers train headed for eastern Canada, and back to U.K., where he flew de Havilland Mosquito Mk. VI aircraft with No. 605 Squadron at Manston, Kent, England. Capt. Middleton flew postwar with British European Airways, and much more family history can be found on the internet. Capt. Middleton [90 years] passed away 2 November 2010.
In learning to fly the Harvard the RAF student pilot made a great jump from the RCAF Tiger Moth or American PT-27 Stearman [March to November 1942] aircraft they flew around 70 hours as an elementary trainer.
The RAF service flying schools were equipped with a Harvard cockpit drill trainer, such as above taken at RAF No. 34 SFTS Medicine Hat, Alberta, December 1943. [PMR 81-138 Ottawa] This was where the students began by making themselves familiar with the layout and many functions of instruments and controls in the new Harvard cockpit. Next came four hours of dual instruction and the pre-take-off drill which had to be memorized perfectly, H-Harness/Hatches, T-Trim, M-Mixture, P-Pitch [prop], F-Flaps, C-Carb/heat, G-Gas, and S-Switches. After three or four flights the Flying Instructor decided when the student was ready to make his first solo flight and take full control of the tremendous 600 h.p. Pratt and Whitney Wasp engine. A few good RAF students never returned from their first solo flight. Harvard manoeuvres were repeated again and again until the student obtained a degree of proficiency, then he was slowly given more freedom and encouraged to get the best performance out of the massive, heavy, rugged, Harvard II trainer. Cross-country flights by day and night raised the discomforting thought of engine failure and a forced landing in an inhospitable section of vast farm and ranch lands in Western Canada. As the weeks passed the RAF students gained confidence and experience and now two-hour sessions of aerobatics were introduced. The night landing flights were very primitive by todays standard, as simple coal oil goose necked flares lined the runway, smoking and flickering for the returning pilots. With all these hurdles and obstacles safely passed, graduation day arrived and the proud pilots received their coveted Wings. The American Harvard trainer aircraft truly earned the title “Pilot Maker.”
The above history came from letters and phone calls received from Archie M. Pennie a British pilot who trained in Harvard’s at No. 37 SFTS Calgary, beginning 7 December 1942. Archie took his basic RAF training at Heaton Park, Manchester, England, and sailed for Canada on the troopship H.M.T. Letitia, arriving at Halifax in early August 1942. He still had his RAF ship pass which read – “C” Deck, Mess #21, Hammock #86. At RAF No. 31 Personnel Depot, Moncton, New Brunswick, LAC A.M. Pennie was assigned training at No. 32 EFTS Bowden, Alberta, and after five days on a train, arrived at Bowden, which was in full prairie harvest mode. He joined 61 other students in Course #64, beginning 14 September 1942. At the elementary flying training school student pilots came face to face with their first aeroplane and the RAF instructor who would teach them how to fly it. Due to a shortage of Tiger-Moth Trainers, No. 32 EFTS at Bowden flew sixty-six American PT-27 Stearman biplane aircraft from April to 14 November 1942, and LAC Pennie was a member of the last RAF course to train in these freezing open cockpit biplane aircraft. RAF personnel had flown to the Stearman Aircraft Company, at Wichita, Kansas, on 17 October 1941, and ordered 300 American biplane trainers [lend-lease] which were designated PT-27 for the British. The first PT-27 arrived at No. 32 EFTS Bowden on 2 March 1942, and all of these aircraft would be modified to Canadian weather conditions in the following months. The pilot canopy modification and cockpit heating system never arrived from Wichita, and all open cockpit training was halted by the RAF on 14 November 1942. The 60 British pilots in Course #64 were issued with leather face masks, which they wore to complete their flying training in the freezing skies around Bowden. On 28 November 1942, the British RAF made the decision to return the remaining PT-27 open cockpit trainers [287 survived] to Great Falls, Montana, in the coldest months of Alberta winter weather. RAF Course #64 graduated 54 student pilots on 6 November 1942, one was killed in training, and seven failed the course. Thirty-five RAF students were posted to RAF No. 36 SFTS at Penhold, for bomber pilot training in Airspeed Oxfords, while the remaining nineteen were posted to No. 37 SFTS at Calgary for fighter pilot training in the Harvard II trainer. Archie Pennie was one of the nineteen students selected for pilot training at Calgary, and each of these student pilots were ordered to fly a Stearman PT-27 trainer from Bowden to No. 37 SFTS at Calgary on 6 December 1942.
LAC Archie Pennie stands beside an American PT-27 at No. 32 EFTS Bowden, Alberta, 6 December 1942. In a few minutes [the engine is running] he will put on his leather face mask and fly this open cockpit trainer to No. 37 SFTS at Calgary, the outside air temperature is -50 degrees F. LAC Pennie will begin fighter pilot training in the Harvard II at Calgary, Alberta, the following day, Course #70, with 64 pupils, another twelve will be added during the training, two will be killed in flying training accidents.
Flying Students at Calgary shared a small room with a double bunk bed, and Archie described his upper bunkmate as a nineteen-year-old, very keen, bright-eyed lad, quick to learn. On 7 January 1943, LAC A. Leder # 1397463 [Pennie’s bunkmate] and his RAF flying instructor P/O P.D. Corlett were flying two-and one-half miles east of Conrich, Alberta, when they collided with another Harvard flown by a pupil from course #68, LAC D.A. McAuley. The two aircraft AJ912 and AJ953 were destroyed and three members of No. 37 SFTS were killed instantly.
Archie Pennie graduated on 2 April 1943, received his wings, was promoted to F/Lt. and selected for Flying Instructor training in Canada. In April 2010, I donated all of my RAF Bowden research, photos, and letters from F/Lt. Archie Pennie to Dave O’Malley of Vintage Wings in Ottawa. Please go to Vintage Wings of Canada to read three excellent stories on this WWII RAF Flying Instructor [night] P/O Archie M. Pennie #157698, who flew 252 hrs, training RAF students in night flying, No. 34 EFTS, RAF Assiniboia, Saskatchewan. Canada provided a safe training site for the British students, an abundance of healthy food, bright lights for study and entertainment, and as would be expected, many fell in love with Canadian girls and married. The normal training time spent in Canada averaged around eighteen months and a staff posting lasted two years. Generally, most of the RAF student trainees looked forward to receiving their wings and then returning to the United Kingdom, where over half would be killed in flying accidents or WWII combat. A large number of RAF airman who survived the war returned to Canada, and I have interviewed a few in southern Alberta. Archie Pennie returned to eastern Canada after the war, married and resided in Ottawa, for the rest of his life.
No. 34 RAF Assiniboia, Sask., closed 30 January 1944, taken over by RCAF and re-designated No. 25 EFTS, closing for good 28 July 1944. In 1958, Archie Pennie returned to visit his old RAF base and it was totally gone. On 18 March 1959, he published his story “Assiniboia Revisited.”
Archie was very proud to know his old training base at Airdrie, Alberta, had somehow survived the passage of time, also troubled by the fact WWII RAF history of Calgary, Alberta, was not being preserved by the old Aero space Museum of Calgary.
Nineteen single-engine Harvard II pilot training courses were held at No. 37 SFTS Calgary
Course #60 [students were in Harvard II aircraft mid-training when they arrived at Calgary 25 September 1942] seven failed, graduated 57 pilots, 6 November 1942.
Course #62 [in training when they arrived Calgary] five killed in October 42, LAC Darling, LAC Buckley, F/O A.I. Philips, F/Sgt. R.F. Warner, and LAC H.C. Cormack, graduated 53 pilots, 5 December 42.
Course #64 graduated 51 pilots, seven failed, 30 December 1942.
Course #66 graduated 56 pilots, two failed, 5 February 1943.
Course #68 began 9 Nov. 42, graduated 54, six failed, 5 March 1943.
Course #70 began 7 Dec. 42, graduated 56, two ceased training, two killed, 2 April 1943.
Course #72 began graduated 60 pilots, six failed, one killed, 30 April 1943.
Course #74 began 8 Feb. 43, graduated 55 pilots, one ceased training, 28 May 1943.
Course #76 began 8 Mar. 43, 63 pupils, 34 failed medical reasons, 25 transferred to Course #78, six posted away, graduated 35 pilots, 25 June 1943.
Course #78 began 5 April 43, 31 transferred to Course #80, graduated 55 pilots, 23 July 1943.
Course #80 began 3 May 1943, one killed, five discontinued training, graduated 55 pilots [45 RAF], 20 Aug. 1943.
Course #82 began 1 June 1943, one killed, twelve discontinued training, graduated 53 pilots, [first class of all RAF Sergeants], 17 Sept. 1943.
Course #84 began with 55 pupils 28 June 1943, one killed, three discontinued training, graduated 46 pilots, 15 October 1943.
Course #86 began 60 pupils 26 July 1943, graduated 60 pilots, 12 Nov. 1943.
Course #88 began 23 Aug. 1943, 62 trainees, one killed 51513 P/O John Brown 24 Nov. 43, four failed, graduated 56 pilots, 10 December 1943.
Course #90 graduated 56 pilots, 14 January 1944. This course consisted of twenty-seven RAF, six RAAF, and twenty-three RNZAF.
At the request of the British government, Canada allowed their RAF schools to be the first closed. This British closure began with RAF No. 41 SFTS Weyburn, Saskatchewan, which officially closed on 22 January 1944. Their last two courses totaling 117 students in training, were transferred to No. 37 SFTS at Calgary, where they graduated 105 pilots. No. 41 SFTS had received 1,425 students for instruction in twenty-five courses, graduating 1,036 Harvard II pilots, for return to wartime England. Over half will be killed in action.
Course #92 at No. 37 SFTS Calgary, [This course with 61 pupils was posted from No. 41 SFTS Weyburn, Saskatchewan, on 15 January 1944]. They graduated 52 pilots at Calgary, 11 February 1944.
Course #94 at Calgary contained two groups of students. Course #94A began 15 November 1943, with 69 students, 64 graduated on 10 March 1944, one RCAF, thirty-four RAF, one RAAF, and twenty-eight RNZAF, four students were wastage and transferred out, New Zealand student LAC W.D. Shaw was killed 31 December 1944. This became the last RAF fatal flying training accident at No. 37 SFTS, Calgary, Alberta, during WWII.
No. 94B Course graduated the last 53 pilots from No. 41 SFTS Weyburn, Sask. 10 March 1944. This became the very last graduation course at No. 37 SFTS, Calgary, Alberta, and the last Wings Parade at the Drill Hall, today home of the new Hangar Flight Museum of Calgary. It is a pity, each new generation of Calgary citizens can party and dine in this very same space, where 1,535 pilots [Australian, New Zealand, and British] received their wings, yet there is no memorial to their sacrifice.
Nineteen RAF Harvard II [fighter] pilot courses were completed at No. 37 SFTS Calgary, Alberta, 1 October 1942 until 10 March 1944, with 1,150 RAF students receiving their Wings. Calgary averaged a graduation of 60 students per Harvard II course, plus first graduated a further 385 twin-engine Airspeed Oxford bomber pilots for England. That’s 1,535 RAF pilots [including Australian and New Zealand students] who returned to United Kingdom to fight Nazi Germany.
On 10 March 1944, two special CPR trains departed Calgary for Halifax, Nova Scotia, the beginning of their return trip home across the sea. The first train with NCO’s, ground crews, and airmen, departed Calgary at 19:00 hrs, the second train with RAF Officers, and Station Commander Group Capt. J.B. Stockbridge and family departed Calgary CPR main station at 20:00 hrs.
This forgotten plot of land in Calgary will forever be a part small part of RAF Britain.
Thirty members of RAF No. 37 SFTS were killed in southern Alberta, Canada, and they rest in Burnsland Cemetery, where the Union Jack flag flies. Twenty-seven were killed in aircraft training, [one student from New Zealand and twenty-six British], twenty were killed flying the Harvard II, while one walked into a spinning Harvard propeller.
LAC John Broadhurst #573151 Killed 8 January 1944, Harvard AJ889, Drumheller, AB. Last member killed at Calgary.
P/O J. A. Brown #51513 Killed 24 November 1943, Harvard 2739 mid-air with Harvard 2566.
LAC Cornelius C. Buckley 15396504 Killed 5 October 1942, Harvard AJ836.
F/O G.A. Clegg Killed 7 January 1943, Harvard AJ953.
P/O Peter D. Corlett Killed 7 January 1943, Harvard AJ953.
Cpl. C.A. Crapper Died natural causes, 11 March 1942.
LAC Hubert C. Cromack 1125880 Killed 12 October 1942, Harvard AJ854.
LAC John C. Darling 1560163 Killed 5 October 1942, walked into Harvard Propeller.
LAC Edward C. Dunbavard 1218546 Killed 14 January 1942, Oxford AS382.
LAC Mosttn V. Eckert 1350866 Killed 28 August 1942, Harvard 8127.
F/Lt. E.G. Ford #81636 Killed 10 December 1942, Harvard AJ759.
LAC H.N. Hall #1512542 Killed 10 December 1942, Harvard AJ759.
AC1 L.A. Keeble #1426377 Fell out of boat, 17 July 43, in [ice cold] Bow River at Banff, body recovered 8 August 1943.
LAC A. Leder #1397463 Killed 7 January 1943, Course 70, Harvard AJ953.
Sgt. Charles A. Lockett #988641 Killed 12 October 1943, Harvard 2631.
LAC Jack Major #1339948 Killed 28 August 1943, Harvard AJ796.
AC1 N.J. Mann #1234015 Died from auto accident, Airdrie, blizzard 6 February 1943.
LAC Henry T. McCarthy 656512 Killed 10 December 1941, Oxford AT457.
LAC D.A. McAuley #1483473 Killed 7 January 1943, Harvard AJ953.
LAC James McNaught #1566353 Killed 5 March 1943, Harvard AJ986, mid-air, student bailed out. Too low, hit ground before parachute opened. The Flying Instructor safely landed the damaged Harvard back at base.
LAC Laurence R. Nimmo 1389540 Killed 14 August 1942, Oxford AS666.
F/O Anthony Phelps Killed 12 October 1942, Harvard AJ898.
Sgt. Kenneth H. Rosewell #1586791 Killed 8 January 1944, Harvard AJ889, crashed Red Deer, River, Drumheller, Alberta. Second last member killed at Calgary.
LAC J.G. Rynn #1459936 Killed 12 October 1943, night flight Harvard 2631. Ex-Scottish Army Major who transferred to RAF.
LAC William D. Shaw NZ4216082 Killed 31 December 1943, Harvard AJ966.
F/O Iain A.L. Stewart #49623 Killed 1 August 1943, Harvard AJ894.
LAC W.I. Stonebridge 1331534 Killed 10 August 1942, Oxford AS610.
LAC Ernest C. Thomson #1387318 Killed 5 December 1941, Oxford AS365. First student pilot killed at Calgary.
F/Lt. Robert F. Warner Killed 12 October 1942, Harvard AJ898.
LAC William J. Webb 1331223 Killed 14 August 1942, Oxford BM810.
I would tend to agree about the schools were NOT paid by the British. With all I’ve read, the UK took, by way of quotas imposed, from her Commonwealth – not gave. They were broke. It took until 2006 for them to pay back the Lend Lease we gave them 61 years ago.
I knew all about this… Like some many Old World empires, WW II were the last days of the British Empire. Empires never last.
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[off topic, Pierre.]
Is the spelling LaCosse one of the alternate spellings for your name? I’m asking because my team, the Patriots, has a Matt LaCosse. I looked him up, but couldn’t find any personal bio, just his statistics. But he was born in Illinois.
No… LaCosse is either Lacoste or Lacasse which are French-Canadian surnames. Lagacé would be more Lagace, Lagasse, Legace…
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Oh well, thought I might have located some forgotten 5th cousin, twice removed or some such …..
Win some, lose some…
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