Canada 150 Vignette Series
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Vignettes
PART I: Nos. 1-5
By Greg Sigurdson/Bill Hillman
001/150: No. 35 Elementary Flying Training School ~ Neepawa Manitoba
002/150: No. 33 Elementary Flying School ~ Caron Saskatchewan
003/150: British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Station - Stanley Nova Scotia
004/150: No. 9 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) ~ Summerside, Prince Edward Island
005/150: No. 41 Service Flying Training School ~ Weyburn, Saskatchewan
To be continued in PART II: Nos. 6-10
No. 35 Elementary Flying Training School ~ Neepawa Manitoba
No. 35 Elementary Flying Training School opened in Neepawa Manitoba on January 30 1944 under management of the Royal Air Force. In January 1944, the RAF abandoned the station and operations were taken over by the Royal Canadian Air Force as No. 26 RCAF EFTS. It closed on August 25 1944.
Training aircraft included the De Havilland Tiger Moth and Fairchild Cornell. This station also served as the No. 5 Satellite Equipment Holding Unit which disposed many Tiger Moth and Avro Anson aircraft when they were no longer required for training.
An interesting footnote for Neepawa is an award given to a RAF Sergeant named Victor Francis Bateman. In January 1946 he received the British Empire Medal for his service at No. 35 SFTS. His citation includes: ``This non-commissioned officer has been in charge of the Royal Air Force Orderly Room since the transfer to Civilian Operation and (he) has done a tremendous amount of work. His application to duty has been of an extremely high order… Particularly during the change-over ¬¬of this unit from Service to Civilian operation and from Royal Air Force personnel to Royal Canadian Air Force personnel has this non-commissioned officer performed a prodigious amount of work.’’
This award is a good illustration of the valuable contributions made by a multitude of non-flying, non-combatant Commonwealth airmen and airwomen to the war effort. That group included dozens of trades including orderlies, typists, drivers, mechanics, cooks and supervisors without whom, winning World War II would have been impossible for the Allies.
No. 33 Elementary Flying School ~ Caron Saskatchewan
No. 33 Elementary Flying School was a British Commonwealth Air Training Plan facility opened to train Royal Air Force personnel as pilots in Caron Saskatchewan. It was located 25 kilometers west of Moose Jaw Saskatchewan on what is now the Trans-Canada Highway. It was open between January 5 1942 and January 14 1944 for a total of 739 days. The cost to open the school was $1,169,319.70 ($16.7 million in 2016 dollars) and had an initial personnel compliment of 335 and 56 De Havilland Tiger Moth aircraft. By April 1942, staff and students numbers had risen to 700 and training was going full tilt with the Tiger Moths putting in 275 flying hours per day. In January 1943, 100 Fairchild Cornell aircraft took the place of the Tiger Moths.
Of the 1837 pilots who completed elementary training at Caron, 1833 were from the Royal Air Force, three were Royal Canadian Air Force and one was Royal Australian Air Force. Pilots averaged 50 flying hours over the eight weeks of their training. Ten airmen were killed while training at Caron and are buried in the local cemetery.
The current population of Caronport is 919. Before the BCATP came to town… there was no town. Caron is a municipality and Caronport, now the largest village in Saskatchewan, was born when locals combined the words Caron and Airport.
Briercrest College and Seminary, along with the associated Caronport High School, became the heart and soul of the community in 1946 when school founder, Mr. Sinclair Whittaker, purchased No. 33 SFTS from crown assets. With modifications to the station’s barracks and other buildings, the RAF school became an instant home for the college, seminary and high school which served the community well. A number of highly modified BCATP buildings remain while the last RAF dormitory was demolished in 2005. Runways were used for a time by CFB Moose Jaw as a relief field but no longer function as such. Portions of the taxiways have been used as access roads to mobile home lots.
Click for larger images
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Station - Stanley Nova Scotia
No. 17 Elementary Flying Training School opened in Stanley Nova Scotia on March 17 1941 and is located 15 km. east of Windsor Nova Scotia. It was open as a BCATP School for 1033 days, closing on January 1 1944. The RCAF utilized Fleet Finch and De Havilland Tiger Moth aircraft for elementary flying training.
At its busiest, No. 17 EFTS was training four classes of 30 students every six weeks.
No. 17 EFTS was one of the smaller BCATP schools. The station had one hangar with control tower attached and barracks to house 360 trainees and support staff. A post war aerial photo shows the barracks and hangar. A current photo shows the RCAF buildings gone and a small, active airport in use today.
When built, the Stanley hangar was the largest building in Hants County Nova Scotia. It was torn down in 2005. Current aerial photo and hangar photos are from the Stanley Sport Aviation Association web site.
Stanley Sport Aviation Association
No. 9 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) ~ Summerside, Prince Edward Island
Summerside, Prince Edward Island was the site of three British Commonwealth Air Training Plan schools during World War II. No. 9 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) opened on January 6 1941 and closed on July 8 1942 after operating for 548 days in service to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. No. 9 SFTS moved to Centralia Ontario to make room for No. 1 General Reconnaissance School (GRS) which took over operation of the BCATP station from July 6 1942 to February 3 1945, operating for a total of 943 days.
When No. 9 SFTS opened for business, Summerside had about 5000 residents. At its peak, the BCATP stations increased the town’s population by 2000. Two Summerside companies - Curran & Briggs Ltd. and M.F. Schurman Co. Ltd. were the contractors responsible for the construction of the station which opened ahead of schedule. Both companies still exist today.
The first SFTS students graduated and received their wings on April 16 1941. They flew Harvard aircraft for training. Members of the RCAF Women’s Division were first assigned to Summerside in March 1942.
The primary purpose of No. 1 General Reconnaissance School was to supply trained pilots and navigators for general reconnaissance on the North Atlantic Ocean. Run by RCAF personnel, No. 1 GRS was modelled after No. 31 GRS which was relocated to Charlottetown PEI from Britain early in the war. It was Royal Air Force managed. No. 1 GRS utilized Avro Anson aircraft for training. It opened with 1855 personnel in July 1945 and peaked at 2147 including 676 students in May 1944.
Pilots trained for nine weeks and navigators for four. Having qualified as Pilots and Navigators prior to coming to No. 1 GRS, these airmen spent a great deal of time as passengers in aircraft over the ocean, honing their dead-reckoning skills. Most of the 6000 pilots and navigators who trained at No. 1 GRS went on to serve in Coastal Command assigned to anti-submarine warfare. They protected Allied convoys with vital supplies and personnel coming and going to Britain and other Allied locations. Four issues of the station magazine ``RECCO’’ were published by No. 1 GRS.
After No. 1 GRS closed, the No. 1 Reconnaissance and Navigation School was opened on September 16 1945 combining existing resources from Summerside with those of the No. 2 Air Navigation School in Charlottetown which had been closed. Total personnel at the new school amounted to 1855 in July 1945. This school operated for short time and then was closed in 1946 only to be reopened in 1947 as No. 1 Air Navigation School. The air station continued in one form or another until 1991 when it closed for good and its military units were transferred to CFB Greenwood.
After closure, the base was transferred in total to the Slemon Park Corporation which renamed it Slemon Park. A number of private and public sector organizations took up residence and started business operations. The airfield was separated from Slemon Park and now operates as Summerside Airport which is open to general aviation. When the City of Summerside was created in 1995, a portion of the station, the residential area of Slemon Park, became a part of the city.
In the attached WWII air photo – five hangars and about 30 other building are visible. A 2017 Google Maps air photo shows three of the hangars and a dozen or so buildings from WWII still in existence and providing a useful purpose to local business. Another photo shows the cover of the No. 1 GRS station magazine ``RECCO.’’ The fourth photo shows a hangar, fuel tender and Harvard at Summerside during WWII.
No. 41 Service Flying Training School ~ Weyburn, Saskatchewan
In 1941, the Town of Weyburn Saskatchewan had a population of 6,119 people. The Royal Air Force came to town on January 5 1942 when No. 41 Service Flying Training School was opened under the management of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. It continued as a RAF school for 747 days, closing on January 22 1944. The RCAF took over the No. 8 Service Flying Training School on January 24 1944. It continued operations for 158 days until it was closed on June 30 1944 and moved to Moncton New Brunswick.
No. 41 SFTS graduated 1,055 pilots who flew a grand total of 180,000 hours in Avro Anson and Harvard aircraft. Of the 1,055, 1011 were Royal Air Force airmen, 35 were Royal Canadian Air Force airmen, 2 were Royal New Zealand Air Force airmen and seven were Royal Australian Air Force airmen. The station had 146 aircraft of which 136 were Ansons and 10 were Harvards. Seventeen airmen were killed while in training at Weyburn. The No. 41 SFTS Station Magazine was ``The Flying Gopher.’’
Post war, the station was home to a children’s psychiatric hospital and then, the Western Christian College from 1957 to 1989. Three of the original five hangars still exist today and two of the three runway legs service Weyburn airport. The site is home to a number of commercial enterprises and residential housing.
In the attached photos, it is interesting to note railroad tank cars in the distance of one of the photos – those of us who only see railroad transport today as long-distance point-to-point service, don’t realize that during World War II, railroad was the primary mode of transportation for just about all freight and people, long and short distances. The Google image shows the Weyburn airport today. We also see images of the station dance band, a proud airman beside his Harvard and an air photo of the station during WWII.
Contact Greg Sigurdson at:
Contact Bill Hillman at:
Web Design and Hosting by Bill Hillman
Volunteer Editor and Webmaster: William G. Hillman