Category Archives: RCAF Bella Bella

RCAF Station Bella Bella – War Against Japan – Part Two (text version)

War Against Japan

A forward RCAF Air Gunner of a Canadian Vickers Supermarine Stranraer Flying Boat and No. 9 [B.R.] [unofficial] diving Eagle Insignia adopted at Bella Bella, B. C., in May 1943.

For 34 months, RCAF Advanced Detachment Bella Bella had operated from temporary quarters on the RCAF scow seaplane tender M159, anchored in Klik-Tso-Atli Harbour, adjacent to Denny Island. On 26 June 1940, the construction of RCAF Station Bella Bella was underway, and one year later, [27 June 1941] the twelve RCAF personnel under command of Sergeant Henderson moved into housing accommodation at the new base still under construction. The days of cramped quarters on the scow and preparing their own meals were gone forever, the detachment now take their meals with the civilian construction company employees. In August 1941, Flying Officer L. R. Chodat, the new Officer Commanding arrived to take change and other RCAF officers and men began to arrive.

RCAF Detachment Bella Bella had three officers and forty-six airmen on strength by 1 November 1941. Construction was rapidly moving forward with 21 buildings completed and nine under construction. On 4 November, the first shipment of aircraft bombs and explosives arrived by ship and under the real threat of a possible Japanese submarine attack, [from American intelligent reports] RCAF Bella Bella moved into the month of December with increased momentum in all areas. An RCAF Administration order had been signed on 30 July 1938, [H.Q. 1018-1-14] which allotted No. 9 General Reconnaissance Squadron as a permanent attack force based at Jericho Beach, B. C. However this squadron was never activated due to a shortage of RCAF flying personnel and flying boats. On 1 December 1941, Secret Organization Order #34 was received advising the formation of No. 9 [B.R.] Squadron in Home War Establishment, based at RCAF Station Bella Bella. B.C., effective 8 December 1941. Japanese submarines had in fact been sighted in the coastal waters around Vancouver Island, but it was not until the postwar years that it was learned at least two submarines had been hiding and spying on the construction of the RCAF West Coast sea and land airbases. The Japanese submarines knew more about our west coastal waters than our Canadian Armed Forces, possibly with support from a few supportive Japanese Canadian fishermen.

At 15:30 hrs, 7 December 1941, RCAF Detachment Bella Bella, received a signal of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. A second signal was sent by Western Air Command at 22:30 hrs, advising a state of war now existed between Canada and Japan. All leave was cancelled, guard posts were doubled, machine gun positions [with live ammo] were established at the wireless station, power house, and near the RCAF pier. A complete blackout of the new RCAF base and the Bella Bella Indian village [Campbell Island] was ordered and enforced, including the hospital. On 8 December 1941, RCAF Advanced Detachment Bella Bella, officially became RCAF “Station” Bella Bella, A.F.R.C. 1561.

The two Vickers Supermarine Stranraer flying boats were RCAF #936 and #949.

This is what the base looked like from 5,000 feet on 26 May 1941. The RCAF image was taken from the west looking straight east over RCAF Detachment Bella Bella, which was still under construction. Hangar # 1 and #2 were over 70 per cent completed when this photo was recorded. The white object in the middle of the bay is RCAF scow seaplane tender M159, the original RCAF Bella Bella Detachment weather observation home base. M159 would be towed to Langley Passage, Estevan Islands, on 26 December 1941.


On 9 December 1941, S/L F. S. Carpenter assumed command on No. 9 [B.R.] Squadron, flying the very first operation in response to the sighting of a Japanese submarine in the Queen Charlotte Strait. Stranraer #936 and #949 flown by S/L Carpenter are assigned. This sighting was for real and underlined the need to get the new squadron up to strength, trained, and ready for defending the waters around Bella Bella, B.C. This became a daily challenge flying the obsolete Canadian Vickers constructed British Supermarine Stranraer 1934 designed Flying Boat. These young RCAF airmen became caught between a government that wanted to protect her coastline in Canada, but the fact was, they did not control the resources to meet this objective until April 1943.

The patrol area east of RCAF Station Bella Bella in early December 1941.

The first thirty-one No. 9 [B.R.] pilots at RCAF Station Bella Bella, 18 December 1941. P/O J. Harrison, P/O G. Hunter, Lt. E.F. Biart, P/O J. B. Gant, Mr. F. Hardwicke, P/O G. Carter, P/O J. Dewar, P/O Ledbetter, P/O Hughes, Lt. P. Reid, F/O H. Green, F/O J. Shaw, F/O J. Matheson, F/O R. M. Jones, F/O J. Dougherty, F/O J. Johnson, F/O R. Laughren, P/O C. Duncan, P/O E.C. Seon, Capt. Forbes, P/O Garnett, F/Lt. F. Patterson, F/L A.E. Porter, F/Lt. R. Henderson, S/L F.S. Carpenter, F/Lt. P. Sorenson, F/Lt. W. Egan, F/ Lt. R. E. Johnston, F/L L. S. Thompson, W/C C.M.G. Farrell, C. O.

RCAF Station Bella Bella Hangar #1. [PL9575]

Vickers Supermarine Stranraer #949 and rear is #936 in hangar No. 1, while the three aircrew carry their 303 cal. rifles and baseball equipment for a game. The station airmen had organized a baseball and basketball team which played the local Indian [Heiltsuk] village teams, and most times the RCAF lost. Basketball is still a year round recreational pastime in Bella Bella, and they are very professional.

The swampy or rocky surface around the RCAF Station was covered in small stunted and twisted cedar evergreen trees and this made walking almost impossible. The easiest form of transportation was by small boat, and Bella Bella would operate eleven boats in their Marine Section, M-172, [Scoter], M-174, rowboat, M-177, pulling boat, M-189, rowboat, M-226, 38ft. crash boat [Teal], M-267 [Brant] M-339, 50ft refueling scow, M-334, 18ft. bombing boat, M-331, aircraft tender, M-433 [Snipe], and M-449 [Jager]. Many of the new aircrew arrivals could not swim, and for a period of time they were not even required to wear a life jacket while performing their duties. No life jackets had been shipped to RCAF Bella Bella. Other airmen were totally inexperienced in handling a small boat at night or day in fog, heavy rain, and almost daily stormy weather conditions. In the rush to finish the RCAF sea base, safety was often overlooked and it was just a matter of time before a life was lost.

On 3 January 1942, AC2 I. A. Macdonald capsized his small boat, he could not swim, and was not wearing a life jacket. AC2 R138318, Ian Alexander Macdonald was born in Summerland, B. C., age 36 years, when his boat collided with a Supermarine Stranraer flying boat #949, which was preparing for take off. His body was never recovered and he has no known grave.

The above official RCAF photo is not dated and no names are recorded. It captures the type of boat [possibly the same] which AC2 Macdonald fell from and the heavy RCAF winter coat he was wearing. Without a life jacket, he never had a chance to surface in the ice-cold water and be rescued.

As the pressure of defending the West Coast against possible attack from Japan grew, so did the number of marine surface vessels which were acquired by RCAF Western Air Command.

RCAF photo of 70-foot crash boat “Montagnais”

The first four original crash boats were manufactured by Canada Power Craft of Montreal, powered by two 1350 H.P. V-12 Packard engines built in Detroit, Michigan, USA. The same engines which powered the famous American [Patrol Torpedo] PT boats during WWII. These 70 foot Scott-Paine designed boats would cruise at 37 knots and could maintain a top speed of 47 knots. These four boats were the pride of the RCAF Marine Section and patrolled the complete coast of British Columbia. RCAF M-132, named “Malecite”, M-232, “Takuli”, M-234, “Montagnais, and M-235, “Huron”, patrolled the coastal waters looking for downed aircraft or surface vessels in distress. Smaller 38-foot crash boats were assigned to RCAF Stations where they were based for training and rescue patrols. RCAF Bella Bella was assigned one 38-foot crash boat M-266, named “Teal.” In December 1942, the Marine Section at Bella Bella sent a letter request to Walt Disney artists in Burbank, California, asking for a unit insignia which would feature the image of their RCAF Station Bella Bella Mascot, a little Monkey the Sergeant’s obtained in September 1942.


The Walt Disney design arrived by mail in spring of 1943, featuring the little Monkey attempting to save a parachuting airmen. It was most likely, this Walt Disney design which was painted with pride on a few Marine Section boats at RCAF Bella Bella.

The original drawing on file at Disney Archives in Burbank, California. The colors [above] are correct.

The first issue [Vol. 1, #1] of “The Roundel” which appeared in March 1942.

In spring, March 1942, the first addition of the monthly newsletter “Roundel” was published and hand delivered to all base buildings for the local reading of news and for enjoyment. [RCAF P.R. PL9577]

The back cover page of issue #1 contained this unknown creature. The connection to Bella Bella is still a complete mystery.



On 28 March 1942, the first major training course began at RCAF Station Bella Bella. The entire course lasted three months, covering everything, from forced landing at sea, in lakes, and on land. Actions to take in sighting and attacking a Japanese submarine, and the use of life jackets at all times. They were also taught intensive procedures in the operation and safety of the old Vickers [Montreal] Supermarine Stranraer. The complete course contained 109 lectures, and these pilots and first navigators were most qualified when they completed their exams and graduated. A few of the officers who obtained high marks, were retained as future RCAF instructors, and began teaching the same course at Bella Bella. The young RCAF aircrew fully understood they were flying a 1934, British designed flying boat, which shared an unfavourable reception by both air and ground crews, but that was all the Canadian government could give them. This produced a good amount of humor in the station newsletters.

The Stranraer prototype, [K3973] was test flown 27 July 1934, and seventeen entered service with the R.A.F. on 16 April 1937. The flying boat was a fabric covered biplane, which passed all its British tests, but it was just obsolete for the time, and future production orders were cancelled. The Liberal government of Canada found it a perfect fit, [cost $30,000 each] and built 40 under licence at Canadian Vickers Company Ltd. in Montreal, Quebec.

Generally, the aircraft was not well-received by the RCAF as the performance was slow and very marginal at best, but you fly what your government gives you. The last operational combat flight of a British Stranraer in the R.A.F. took place in No. 240 Squadron on 17 March 1941. The combat career of the Canadian built RCAF Stranraer began in 1938, and would last until 1946.

The Canadian RCAF Stranraer flying boats were equipped with a rear toilet and when the lid was lifted, the air flow inside the aircraft caused the toilet to whistle. The old British Designed Flying Boat aircraft soon earned the common RCAF nickname of a “Whistling Shithouse”, the Flying Meccano Set, and later the Flying Centre Section of the Lion’s Gate Bridge, in Vancouver, B. C. The aircraft was also a good source of WWII cartoon material as they were always breaking down, oil line leak, lost engine, could not complete patrol due to bad weather, and crash landings which would rip off a wing or totally destroy the flying boats.

For the first twenty months of WWII, the main concern of Canada’s home forces was the threat from German submarines on the east coast and the threat to Allied shipping convoys to England. The Canadian built Vickers Supermarine Stranraer flying boats were put to work patrolling and providing air cover [Scare-Crow] for the St. Lawrence and east coast of Canada, where no German U-boats [U-111] arrived until late September 1941. This became a mixed blessing for the RCAF. The sudden and surprise attack by Japan on the United States naval and air forces at Pearl Harbor, changed the complete tempo of the war, and priorities were now reversed. Until the Canadian government could manufacture more modern [Canso A] flying boats, the old “Flying Shithouse” would be all the RCAF had protect the west coast of British Columbia, from real Japanese submarine attack.

Vickers Supermarine Stranraer #937 was the 27th aircraft constructed with manufacture number CV223, assigned to No. 117 [Bomber Recon.] Squadron, at Sydney, Nova Scotia, on 14 August 1941. This new unit had just been formed on 1 August 41, and suddenly received orders on 27 October 41, to pack-up and move to Jericho Beach, B.C. The stay was short, as the unit was temporarily disbanded on 20 November 1941, and reformed at Sydney, Nova Scotia, on 28 April 1942. They were re-equipped with new Consolidated “Canso A”, Flying Boats, serial 9701-9702-9704-9705-9706-9797- and 9709. The old Vickers Stranraer aircraft were left with Western Air Command, and #937 was assigned to RCAF Station Bella Bella on 25 February 1942, flying until 8 March 1944. [RCAF photo PL9601]


A normal patrol record from Stranraer #937, 4 May 1942 and [below] 9 May 1942.

A full description of each sighted ship was recorded and many times photos were taken. The first Japanese submarine sighting took place in early July 1942, when Stranraer #953 reported one on the surface approaching Cape St. James., however it disappeared before an attack could be made.

Photo taken from the window of a Vickers Stranraer [possibly #937] over Queen Charlotte Sound west of RCAF Bella Bella. [RCAF photo 1942]

On 20 June 1942, Japanese submarine I-26 surfaced off the signal station [lighthouse] at Estevan Point, and began shelling the area. The staff sent out a distress signal, and total confusion took over from the ill prepared RCAF Stations. The two RCAF Stations closest to Estevan Point, [Ucluelet and Coal Harbour] were unable to operate any aircraft at night, and nothing could be done to send help. One aircraft at No. 32 Operational Training Unit [R.A.F.] at Patricia Bay sent an aircraft, but during take-off it crashed and blocked the runway, and no other aircraft could take to the air. One single Vickers Stranraer from RCAF Station Bella Bella took off and arrived at Estevan Point one hour later. [Too little, too late] The Japanese submarine I-26 was long gone, and the event was recorded in the Operational Diary above. What they did not record was the fact this was the very first time F/O Matheson had ever flown the old Stranraer #921 at night, making his first night water landing by flare path lights. This comedy of errors showed RCAF Command how they could not even defend against the shelling by one single Japanese submarine, and major improvements were required at once. This included new constructed of log and rock filled barriers to protect the two hangars and aircraft at Bella Bella from Japanese submarine shelling. These RCAF official photos were marked ‘Secret” and ordered destroyed in postwar era. They show the new log and rock protection construction against Japanese submarine shelling defences in June 1942, and were not to be shown to the public.

RCAF Official PL9586. Construction of Japanese submarine defence wall at Bella Bella.



A new submarine watch tower was also construction in front of the two hangars at RCAF Station Bella Bella, with a Stranraer flying boat [936, 937, or 949] anchored in the heavy rain and fog background. [RCAF PL9587 and PL9584]

A close-up shows the pouring rain at RCAF Bella Bella.

On 22 June 1942, Stranraer #936, developed engine trouble and managed to make a crash landing at Rose Harbour on Kunghit Island. This was an active whaling station and the crew had to stand the stench for weeks while repairs were made to #936. A Roundel newsletter cartoon soon followed by Sgt. Jackson.

The cartoon by Sgt. Jackson also featured the Station Monkey Mascot. The Vickers Supermarine Stranraer Flying Boat at Bella Bella received the nickname – “Monkey Cage” which could be the reason it appears in this cartoon. The Bella Bella RCAF members had also given the flying boat the name – SUPERSUBMARINE, also appearing in this cartoon. While #936 was being repaired, a replacement Stranraer #915 [parts survive today] was transferred from Jericho Beach, [Vancouver] B.C.

Stranraer #915 in markings of No. 4 [B.R.] Squadron at Jericho Beach, before transfer to Bella Bella. Between 25 June 1942 and 13 December 1943, this flying boat completes 297 anti-submarine patrols.

On 16 July 1942, H.M.C.S. Prince Robert arrived for a two-day visit of the station by Lieutenant Governor Honourable W.C. Woodward. This is the RCAF Guard of Honour greeting their special guest, followed with a dinner in the Officers Mess at 19:30 Hrs.

The HMCS Prince Robert had a brilliant WWII career, well worth reading on other websites. Some of her tough crew were ex-convicts and alcoholics, who had signed on for two years and then had to remain until the end of WWII. She was an ex-Canadian National ship taken over by the Canadian Navy when the war began, completing many firsts, including capturing a German supply ship off Mexico in 1940. In May 1942, she arrived at Esquimalt, B.C., for a refit and was reassigned on 22 June 1942, to patrol the west coast of B.C. looking for hiding spots for Japanese submarines or supply ships. In July, Lt. Governor Hon. W.C. Woodward came aboard to visit and inspect the newly constructed RCAF seaplane bases on the west coast. On 17 July 1942, he inspected every single building at RCAF Station Bella Bella, B.C., departing that evening on HMCS Prince Robert. While his inspection was taking place, many RCAF members were allowed to tour the warship and get a look at Navy life.

The RCAF station feelings towards the newly named “Supersubmarine” keeps appearing in the Roundel.

Another cartoon by Sgt. Jackson appears December 1942.

And another “SUPERSUBMARINE” crash lands on 29 July 1942.

After losing his left engine F/Sgt. Hildebrande jettisoned his extra fuel load to gain altitude as he was down to 25 feet over the water. As he turned his right wing struck the water and was torn off. The aircraft bounced along three times before coming to rest in the ocean swells. A Canadian Navy Corvette saved the crew and took the remains of the aircraft in tow back to Bella Bella.

On 20 August 1942, Stranraer #915, and crash boat M-266, proceeded to Calvert Island to assist in the rescue of an American crew from the crash of U.S. Navy Vought-Sikorsky OS2U-1 Kingfisher seaplane #01341.

RCAF Station Bella Bella salvaged the remains of the aircraft on 14 September 1942, and it was placed on an American ship for return to United States.

On 24 September 1942, preparations for the first station recreation hall dance were underway, with a flotilla of boats bringing lovely ladies from Ocean Falls, Bella Bella village, and Namu.

The one and only dance held at Bella Bella on 26 September 1942.

Most of these pretty ladies came from Ocean Falls, as the native Heiltsuk village at Bella Bella on Campbell Island was off limits to all RCAF officers and Airmen.

These RCAF Public Relations photos were taken at the Heiltsuk village in Bella Bella, fall 1942.

The two Native children are explaining their culture to the visiting RCAF Sergeants. [PL9571-72-73]

Memorial to John Humchitt, Bella Bella, village.

“In Affectionate Remembrance of John Humchitt
Son of Moody Humchitt and Chief of Bella Bella.
He was drowned while crossing from the Cannery
and his body was not recovered.
Born – April 9, 1895
Died – March 23, 1930”

Stranraer #937 making a landing with use of flare path of lights which were placed in the bay in front of RCAF Station Bella Bella. This practice of water landings and take-offs [devised at Bella Bella] began in late evening and continued into the dark hours. [PL9599]

Preparing Stranraer #937 for night landing and take-off practice in 1942. [PL9578]

At the end of training, the flare path lights were recovered by the crash boat. [RCAF PL9579]

The RCAF Bella Bella Station Daily Diary gives a very good account of the Stranraer flying boat patrol activities and the hard work and determination, to keep track of the enemy Japanese submarine movements around the coast along Queen Charlotte Sound.

22 August 1942 – submarine sighted north of Coal Harbour, two Bella Bella Stranraer aircraft dispatched.
23 August 1942 – Stranraer #951, landed 100 miles at sea and sinking. Two Bella Bella aircraft dispatched but failed to find aircraft or crew who were all lost.
4 September 1942 – submarine sighted in south Bentinck Arm, not found.
25 September 1942 – submarine sighted in Fisher Channel, not found.

During the months of October and November more submarine sightings were reported but no attacks took place.
21 April 1943, saw the arrived of the very first modern Canso “A”, serial 9761, and the following day a submarine was sighted at Scott Islands, [north tip of Vancouver Island] but crash-dived before the aircraft could attack. A week later another submarine was reported near RCAF Station Alliford Bay, not found.
This marked the slow beginning of the end for the old RCAF Stranraer Flying Boats, which had given so much to protect Canada in the early days when our government was not prepared for anti-submarine [German U-Boat] patrols of Eastern Air Command. This will be covered in full detail, appearing in a later history on the Canadian built and RCAF flown Vickers Supermarine Stranraer flying boats of Eastern Air Command. I will now just give a small sample, as this history is all connected with the new naming of the Canadian built CANSO “A” flying boats, and Western Air Command.

No. 5 Squadron was formed in 1934, as a flying boat unit at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. On 1 April 1937, the unit was reclassified to a [Coastal] General Reconnaissance Squadron. They would receive the first five Canadian built Vickers [Montreal] Supermarine Stranraer flying boats between 9 November 1938, [Stran. #907] and 8 June 1939, [ Stran. #911]. On 10 July 1939, Eastern Air Command formed the first patrol areas along the complete coastline of Nova Scotia, numbered Yarmouth “A”, Halifax “B” and further north was Sydney “C”. A vital ground fix position for the patrol aircraft was established, and the dividing point between Halifax “B” and Sydney “C” was a small village of 800 people called “Canso” Nova Scotia. This would remain a very important reference point for both flying aircraft and the future hundreds of ship convoys that sailed from Halifax harbour to United Kingdom, bringing a life-line of food and war materials for the British government. The following map outlines the changing patrol areas from Halifax, Nova Scotia, from the beginning in July 1939, until 25 May 1941, flown by Stranraer flying boats of No. 5 [G.R.] Squadron.

On 3 September 1939, Eastern Air Command created three new patrol areas just for the forming and sailing of convoy ships from Halifax harbour. One patrol covered the inside of Halifax harbour, where the ship convoys were formed after loading. A second covered the entrance of Halifax harbor, and a third extended 20 miles to sea, as each convoy formed the proper lanes for sailing to U. K. Each convoy were given sailing orders, ship position, ships spacing in row, speed, etc., as they all moved to a fixed point between Canso point and Sable Island, then the convoy changed course and headed for Newfoundland, then on to United Kingdom.

On 25 May 1941, No. 5 [B.R.] Squadron formed a Detachment at North Sydney, Nova Scotia, with thirteen new patrol areas, all shown in yellow markings. A Detachment is a portion of one RCAF unit detached from the mother squadron, but not operating independently. Three Stranraer flying boats, #914, #923, and #927, were flown from Dartmouth and began flying the new patrol areas assigned to North Sydney, N. S. In July 1941, a request was sent to Dartmouth for an additional flying boat and on 15 July, Stranraer #920 was flown to North Sydney, to join the other three flying boats on patrols. Stranraer #920 had joined No. 5 [B.R.] Squadron on 22 December 1941, flying 47 convoy patrols of Halifax harbour until 15 July 1941, then 30 more patrols at North Sydney, until her last flight on 17 September 1941. The old flying boats were now being replaced by the new long-range American Consolidated Catalina Mk. I flying boats, who would take the fight to the German U-Boats for the next three and one-half years. Stranraer #920 was now transferred to Western Air Command along with many of her flying mates, and was assigned to No. 9 [B.R.] Squadron at Bella Bella, B.C., where she went on to complete 153 more patrols, this time looking for Japanese submarines. This old “Whistling Shithouse” went on to complete 230 anti-submarine patrols during WWII, and in the postwar continued to fly with civilian operators until August 1966.

Did the RCAF or Canadian government save any of our built in Canada Vickers Supermarine Stranraer flying boats for future generations to see and learn from? “NO.”
But thank God the British did, and Canadian built, RCAF flown, Vickers [Montreal, Quebec] Supermarine Stranraer #920 survives in RAF Museum, Hendon, London, U.K., the only complete restored flying boat of her type in the world. My complete RCAF history of #920 will appear later, in my attempt to preserve some lost past, which is not found with the Canadian flying boat history in England or Canada.

The American built Catalina PBY Flying boat was the best and most extensively flown aircraft for anti-submarine patrols and warfare during World War Two. Even the Russian Navy received and flew 138 during WWII.


Soon after the arrival of their first Canso “A” flying Boat at Bella Bella, [19 April 1943] this ‘unofficial’ No. 9 [B.R.] Squadron insignia was painted. I believe this RCAF insignia art was created and adapted partly from the emblem of the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation at San Diego, California.

The prototype XP-3Y-1 Catalina first flew on 28 March 1935, and by September 1936, the first production models were in service with the U. S. Navy. In 1937, the Liberal government of Canada decided to build the cheaper [$28,000 each] obsolete British Vickers Supermarine Stranraer, and by 1939 realized they needed a successor to defend Canada against the German U-boats. The Canadian government next selected the best in the world, the Consolidated PBY-Catalina, which cost $90,000 each to construct in Canada. Three times the cost, a hundred times more protection for Canada.

The first production of the Canadian built Catalina began at the Boeing [Canada] Plant at [Sea Island] Vancouver, B. C. in late 1940, and 362 would be constructed. These first Canadian built Catalina flying boats [PB2B] were constructed from parts manufactured by Consolidated in the U. S. and shipped to Vancouver. The first 55 flying boats retained their American name, Catalina [RCAF Mk. I], with the first received by No. 116 [B.R.] Squadron at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, on 28 June 1941.

Canadian Vancouver built Catalina Mk. I Flying Boat of No. 116 [B.R.] Squadron at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Building the Catalina in Vancouver, B.C., then flying them across Canada to the east coast, cost money, and was not good government planning.

In July 1941, the Canadian government awarded a new contract to manufacture the complete PBY Catalina at the Canadian Vickers plant in Montreal, the same location the old Stranraer had been created. A second plant was constructed at Cartierville, Quebec, to help produce the RCAF demand for the flying boat, and the three Canadian plants would manufacture 730 flying boats during WWII. The government decided the two plants in Quebec should produce a flying boat PBV-1A [Vickers] with a “Canadian” name and turned to the RCAF for the official selection. In 1918, the British Air Ministry created an official system for naming all British aircraft. All British Naval aircraft not originally ordered by the Fleet Air Arm were given the prefix “Sea.” [Hawker Sea Hurricane – Supermarine Sea Spitfire, de Havilland Sea Venom, etc.] All Naval Flying Boats were named after coastal or port communities, such as the southwest Scottish town of “Stranraer” picked for the Vickers Supermarine Stranraer. The RCAF followed this British system of naming flying boats for coastal towns, selecting the name “CANSO” from the little village at Canso, Nova Scotia, which was so important to the early Stranraer patrols and the forming of convoys of ships heading to United Kingdom. I also feel the name selection was a special [hidden] way to honor the old RCAF Stranraer flying boats, but that is just my gut feeling, and I can’t find any written proof. The first Montreal built Canso #9761 arrived with No. 9 [B.R.] Squadron on 19 April 1943, and that same day, S/L Galloway flew her to Alliford Bay, to provide special escort for a United States convoy to Alaska. I guess the RCAF wanted to show off their new Canadian built Canso to the Americans, but the weather would not cooperate.

On 9 July 1943, No. 9 [B.R.] Squadron at RCAF Station Bella Bella, B. C., received their second Canso “A”, serial 9789, which extended their submarine patrol range to 2,500 miles, [4,000 km].

On 25 July, Canso 9789 sighted a Japanese submarine 175 miles west off the Queen Charlotte Islands, and they made a rapid descent to attack. At 2,000 ft. they broke out of cloud cover and the submarine was gone. Five days later, the Squadron first and only fatal accident took place and Canso 9789 was lost with flight engineer Sgt. J. A. Cowman killed.

Canso 9789 took off for a 1,000 mile, extra long patrol, [loaded with fuel] plus carrying a crew of nine. The pilot became lost in the fog at Lama Passage and attempted to make a left turn and return to base, as he could not see the ground or climb above the fog bank. In his attempt to negotiate the left turn [at 110 MPH] the aircraft struck the side of a mountain face and exploded.

Flight Engineer Sgt. James Allan Cowman, R75569 from Hamilton, Ontario, was 26 years of age when he was killed in action. The Canso 9789 struck the side of the mountain at Alarm Cove, two miles from its take-off point at Bella Bella, B. C. Sgt. Cowman is buried in the Woodland Cemetery at Hamilton, Ontario.

No. 9 [B.R.] Squadron flew 1,314 Sorties from Bella Bella during WWII, 8,863 operational hours of patrol hours and Sgt. Cowman was the only member killed. Three of his fellow crew members were serious injured and burnt in the crash, when the fully fueled aircraft exploded on impact and was totally destroyed. The large wing span and low speed of the Canso A, saved the lives of eight of the crew.

By 31 July 1943, the squadron were operating two Stranraer flying boats with a patrol range of 720 miles, and two Canso A, with a range of 2,500 miles. Stranraer #949 was one of the first aircraft assigned on 7 December 1941, and parts of #915 survive today in the Shearwater Aviation Museum at Halifax, Nova Scotia. The flying boat [#915] crashed on 24 December 1949, [civilian operation] was recovered in 1980, and today is owned by Shearwater Museum, with only nose and cockpit sections missing. It appears at some future date, a second RCAF Stranraer #915 will join flying boat #920, which is presently the only complete type in the world. Both of these flying boats have a major historical past at RCAF Station Bella Bella, B.C., which has been totally forgotten by Canadian historians. The Canadian constructed Canso “A” is finally taking over patrols for the old Stranraer flying boats.

In January 1944, a new policy came into effect and the new Canso A were required to make two long-range patrols over 500 miles seaward each day, which totalled over 1,000 miles flying time. The flying boat night landings [flare path] which had been devised at RCAF Bella Bella, were discontinued and only emergency night landings were permitted.

On 4 March 1944, the crew of Canso “A”, serial 11003 had the closest encounter with a Japanese submarine since the beginning of the war. At 5,000 feet they sighted a Japanese submarine on the surface and descended rapidly for attack at 2,000 feet but the submarine was gone. Thanks to the flying time of the new Canso “A”, the crew remained in the area for three more hours and the submarines periscope reappeared. They attacked with 303 cal. machine guns, firing 1,509 rounds, like shooting a whale with a 12-gauge shotgun. The following official reports are dated 3 March 1944, and should read 4 March 1944.

Crew members reports 4 March 1944

By August 1944, the Japanese had suffered many major defeats from the Americans plus her Allies, and the threat of a west coast invasion had disappeared. The supply and cost of operations for the remote site of RCAF Belle Bella led to the government decision to disband No. 9 [B.R.] Squadron on 1 September 1944.

The last mission patrol #53 was flown by F/O Asher and crew on 21 August 1944, taking Canso # 11005 two hundred miles out to sea and return. Canso “A” #9761 and #11018 are transferred to RCAF Station Ucluelet, B.C. The next day [22 Aug. 1944] the last flying boats are transferred, including three Catalinas.

No. 9 [B.R.] Squadron Catalina Mk. IB, FP293, “W”, preparing for her last flight to No. 7 Squadron, Alliford Bay, B.C. It’s all over for RCAF Station Bella Bella, and most of these built in Canada flying boats will soon be scrapped.

RCAF Station Bella Bella was now reduced to a care and maintenance base, effective 1 September 1944, with aircraft and aircrew transferred to other RCAF units.


No. 9 [B.R.] Squadron formed 8 December 1941 – disbanded 1 September 1944.

Over the passage of time, Canadian historians, RCAF bureaucrats in Ottawa, and our National Museum have forgotten about RCAF [Detachment] and Station Bella Bella, B.C. No. 9 [B.R.] Squadron operated for only 33 months of WWII, flying a substandard 1934 designed Vickers Supermarine Stranraer flying boat for thirty of those months. Some 1,500 RCAF members served at this remote site, where it rained almost everyday of the year. Their job was monotonous, wet, dirty, and very dangerous just for the fact they were flying the obsolete SUPERSUBMARINE “Whistling Shithouse” in terrible weather conditions. They did their job, station morale was high, and in the end they received no just reward from the people of Canada or the RCAF historians themselves. They were just forgotten until 3 July 2013, when Craig Widsten [owner of Shearwater Marine Group, B.C.] the First Nations people of Bella Bella and other veteran groups came together and erected a fitting tribute to those WWII RCAF veterans and the also forgotten First Nations Veterans who served ‘their” country, Canada in two World Wars. Please take the time to look at the websites and read what took place on 3 July 2013. They also erected a scaled down model of the Canadian built Vickers Supermarine Stranraer flying boat, which now swings in the wind over the old RCAF Station Bella Bella, today named Shearwater, B.C.
The first Canadian constructed Vickers Supermarine Stranraer #907 flew on 21 October 1938, and forty would be produced, assigned and flown by eight RCAF Squadrons. [No. 4, 6, 7, 9, 13, 117, 120 and 166] During the Second World War, 16 RCAF Stranraer flying boats would crash and today only two survive in the world. The only complete survivor is RCAF Stranraer #920 in the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, London, England. It is painted in the colours of RCAF No. 5 [B.R.] Squadron where it was first assigned.

The other RCAF Stranraer is #915, which crashed in 1949, and was recovered and taken to Shearwater Aviation Museum, Halifax, Nova Scotia. I’m positive when restored, #915 will also be painted in colours of No. 5 [B.R.] Squadron, but that is just my guess. It never flew with Eastern Air Command, ever.

In a twist of fate, No. 9 [B.R.] Squadron received Stranraer #915 and #920, and combined they flew a total of 448 anti-submarine patrols from RCAF Station Bella Bella, B.C. The complete history of these two aircraft will follow in my next chapter.

Between 25 June 1942 and 13 December 1943, Stranraer #915 flew an incredible 279 anti-submarine patrols from RCAF Bella Bella, B.C., today named Shearwater, B.C. The remains of #915 is today stored at Shearwater Aviation Museum, Halifax, Nova Scotia. The direct distance between these two Canadian coastline communities with the same name is 6,345 k/m, [4,000 miles] but they will forever be connected with RCAF World War Two Vickers Supermarine Stranraer history.

I just love history.

This 22” by 33” painting was completed in Mexico in 2014, to honour the forgotten who served at RCAF Station Bella Bella during WWII. It is painted on the original skin from Fleet Fawn Mk. II, RCAF serial 264, assigned on 7 July 1938 and flew until 1945. The original aircraft [below] and history can be read on the Bomber Command Museum of Canada at Nanton, Alberta.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Beginning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Vickers Vedette

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Vickers Vancouver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Construction of Station Bella Bella

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

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

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

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

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

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RCAF Official 1941

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

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

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

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

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RCAF Official 1941

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RCAF Official 1941

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

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

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

War declared against Japan, 8 December 1941

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RCAF Official 1941

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

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

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

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