Part I: Overview | Part II: Brandon Sun | Part III: News Story | Part IV: Photos
Part V: Episode 1 Video and Screen Captures

Brandon Man Chosen for the BCATP Film Project

Robin Hillman
Three great-uncles passed through the BCATP and died in Europe during WWII.
Robin will re-enact their story in a 4-hour film documentary.

Bomber Boys: The Fighting Lancaster bridges the generation gap and tells the story of the Lancaster crews and their critical role in the Second World War. Join History Television as we follow a group of young men who volunteer to re-live the wartime experiences of their grandfathers, who were members of the “Lucky H” aircrew. All are descendants of Canadian, British, Australian and American airmen.

Using a unique blend of living history elements, first-person interviews and never-before-seen World War Two colour footage, this dramatic four-part documentary series chronicles a new generation of "Bomber Boys" as they train to become a Lancaster Bomber crew. 

Episode 1: The Lucky H
Seven young volunteers from the U.S., UK Australia and Canada make up ‘Baker Flight.” All are descendents of Second World War flight crews, ready to test themselves against the original training regime of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
Episode 2: Baker Flight
After countless hours on the drill square the recruits are finally given hands-on training with the Lee Enfield .303. Most of the boys have never fired a gun before and the Lee Enfield will be their introduction to the feel and sounds of battle – and the bruises the kick of a rifle can leave.
Episode 3: Combat
Baker Flight gets to spend time in the sky as the recruits begin hands-on training in a Tiger Moth. Three generations after their training began, our group of Second World War vets gets a chance to see if the young men measure up.
Episode 4: Reunion
Both generations experience the rare opportunity to fly in one of the world’s only operating Lancasters. After their flight, they cross the Atlantic to visit the places the Lucky H crew first visited when they were young.

The Bomber Boys

Bomber Boys: The Fighting Lancaster
A 4 x 1-hour Documentary Series
Even sixty years on Joe English can never forget the sight: “Flack clouds like bowling balls exploding all around us.”  The twenty-year-old farm boy from Nanton, Alberta was skipper of a Lancaster Mk IV known as “The Lucky H”.  Their navigator, Harvey Gottfried, considered “the best in the business”, had the Lucky H tucked deep in the heart of the bomber stream as more than 500 aircraft wallowed through the German skies on their way to bomb Berlin.  The Ju-88s were up in force that day and Joe watched as plane after plane exploded in a brilliant flare of yellow and orange.  “If it wasn’t for Harv…we’d have been picked off like a blind gopher,” Joe remembers decades later.

What’s remarkable about Joe’s story is how ordinary it seemed at the time.  Joe was simply doing his job.  He had just turned twenty and had never kissed a girl but he went to war to serve his country, to fly with his buddies, and with luck – to meet some women.

The guys on the crew of the Lucky H were just a few of the tens of thousands of young airmen who emerged from World War Two’s most remarkable program – the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP).  Winston Churchill said the air campaign was “the decisive factor in the war”.  Men like Joe English waged and ultimately won the war, but it was the BCATP that gave them the skills to do so. 

2005 will be an important time to remember those who served and died for us.  There are just a few precious years left before the veterans of the great wars will be gone.  As we have often heard, more than they want honours or medals, they want to be remembered.  But 60 years on, how do we connect with the past?  Can we find a new way to help them share their stories?

Reach for the Sky will provide a fresh approach to telling the story of the BCATP, the bombers and the crews that flew them.  Using a blend of first-person interviews, living history and other more traditional documentary techniques, the series will give viewers a better understanding and appreciation for this critical part of the war effort and a part of the greater context: the history of the Lancasters and their important role in Bomber Command during the Second World War.

The BCATP was much more than a collection of flying schools.  It was to become the world's largest and most successful system for training aircrews for military service, prompting President Roosevelt to dub it the “Aerodrome of Democracy”.  Thousands of young men - Canadians, Americans, British, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans and even some Europeans - descended upon 231 schools across Canada to learn to fly.  The program was one of the largest undertakings of the World War Two, costing over $2 billion (in 1940s dollars) and churning out over 130,000 graduates.

For those passing through its doors, the program was a challenging and formative experience.  From raw recruits, the men became pilots, navigators, gunners and wireless operators – but more than that, they became part of a team that would come to rely on one another for success and survival. 


Reach for the Sky will tell the stories of the men who graduated from the BCATP and risked – and sometimes lost - their lives over occupied Europe.  We will focus primarily on bomber crews especially those who flew the magnificent Lancaster heavy bomber – aircraft such as the Lucky H.

Joe English flew his aircraft on some of the most dangerous ops of the war.  Hamburg - Berlin - Dresden - the Keil Canal - Joe and his crew survived thirty wartime raids over Germany.  Remarkably six of these seven brave men are still alive and willing to share these experiences.  The stories of their time at war will provide the storytelling spine for our series and give us a chance to explore these different missions and their impact on the timeline to the ultimate Allied victory.

Joe’s crew offered a cross-section of 1940s Canada.   Joe, young and handsome, came from middle-class Calgary; his navigator – fast-talking Harv Gottleib – was the son of a Hamilton jeweler.  Harv earned the admiration of all when he smuggled a film camera onto their operational base in England to record “illegal” home movies.  Burke Thompson came from a BC ranch and was considered a crack-shot.   The mid-upper gunner, Burke once decided not to shoot down a German nightfighter at the mercy of his guns because he “had a bad feeling”. The sensible one on board was flight engineer Jack Munday, who was so accurate with his fuel calculations that the Lucky H once ran out of gas on the taxiway  - just after landing on its home field.  Bomb aimer Ernie Croteau, rear gunner George Stowe and the wireless operator, Mike Chalk, an Englishman who still resides in the UK today, rounded out the crew.  Only Stowe is deceased, having passed away in 1997.

These courageous men will be interviewed at length and by using home movies, letters to family members, personal photographs and archival footage, our audience will experience what Joe and his crew saw first-hand: the rigour of the BCATP training regime, the camaraderie of the English operational bases and the terror of the German night skies. 

In addition to this “core” group of veterans, our documentary series will also include the voices of other veterans.  Our research team has identified approximately 20 surviving aircrew that may be included.  These are men with colourful and amazing stories - such as Reg Paterson, who escaped from a dying aircraft by cutting his way through his cockpit roof with a fire axe and parachuting down to safety.  Or rear-gunner Ken Davis who was rendered unconscious when his Lancaster exploded and awoke to find himself plummeting towards the earth.  Their stories are ones of heroism and survival but our program will also tell some more of the tragic stories as well. 

10,347 Canadian men gave their lives in the service of Bomber Command. Virtually all of these men began their BCATP training with the youthful excitement and sense of adventure that Joe English and his crew did.


Reach for the Sky will utilize a limited amount of Frantic Films’ successful “living history” production technique.  Seven carefully selected young men will participate in a 1940s-style BCATP training program. 

All the recruits will begin their experience in the historic location of Picton, Ontario, the best preserved BCATP site in Canada.  There they will learn to march, salute and “enjoy” air force rations.  Like the men generations before, they will learn to identify plane silhouettes.  After trying out one of the earliest flight simulators, the Link Trainer, they will gear up for the excitement of their first flight in a Tiger Moth, one of the original planes used in the Elementary Flight Training Schools.   They’ll also learn techniques such as dead reckoning and celestial navigation and operate some of the antiquated communication systems used by wireless operators.  Like the bomb aimers and air gunners before them, they learn about the weapons of the time and will even strip, assemble and practice target shooting with period machine guns. 

After “graduating” from their BCATP experience, our group of young men will join the Joe English crew for a truly remarkable opportunity.  They will fly in one of the two remaining airworthy Lancaster Bombers – and our cameras will document the moment.  For the living history boys, this flight promises to be an exciting ride…but for Joe English and his crew it will be a deeply moving and personal event.

The recruits will share their personal moments through video diaries and letters home as they describe the challenges of their first-hand experiences.  A Historical Authority Board comprised of historians and experts in the field will ensure the series recreates these elements of the BCATP experience in the most authentic way possible.

After experiencing the selected elements of the BCATP our living history group will travel with Joe English and his crew to Europe and the United Kingdom to learn about the final stages of their training and to visit the places Joe and his friends knew when they were the same age as our boys.

Although this documentary series will incorporate living history elements, unlike past Quest programs, it will use more archival footage and feature interviews that mirror the experiences of our young men.  While past Quests have recreated some incredible experiences there is no way to credibly recreate the experience of war.  As a result, the living history elements will be a much smaller part of the series, but will nevertheless serve an important purpose – to create a shared experience between the generations.  This will be the first time that two generations will connect in this way and the audience will be able to understand the impact of the Plan as they will see the old and the young come together to discuss the experiences they now both have in common.


Joe English did not escape the war unscathed…among the many he knew who died was his brother-in-law, who was also a Lancaster crew member.  His aircraft was shot down over Belgium; he and his crew died.  The force of the crash was so horrific their bodies were flung far and wide – it was not until weeks after the crash that the corpse of Joe’s brother-in-law was finally found and buried in a small Belgian village. 

Following our filming in England, Joe, his crew, and the living history recruits will be brought to Belgium to pay their respects to Joe’s long dead relative.  In a tastefully produced scene both generations will remember the many that died in the air war.  This solitary grave will symbolize the war dead of all nations – but in particular it will speak to the sacrifice of Canadians.

At this point in the program the script will “reveal” that the scene has a particular relevance for our living history cast as well as for Joe English.  The audience will learn that some members of the young group are direct descendents of Joe and his crew – in fact, one of the boys will be Joe’s grandson – while some of the other living history team will be descendents of aircrews who died in Europe during the war.  We will then see the burial sites of all these relatives and watch the old and the young pay their respects to the dead.

Both crews, both generations, will stand united in their BCATP experience and their respect for the lost family members and Canada’s war dead.


Joe’s last mission was one he’ll never forget.  It was a mission of mercy. 

At the end of April 1945, the Lucky H forsook bombs in favour of bread as Joe and hundreds of other Canadian airmen dropped food supplies to starving Dutch communities along a special corridor negotiated by the Allies with the Germans. Archival footage of the mission plus family photographs of the actual food drop will set-up a hopeful ending to our series as Joe and his crew plus the living history cast will visit one of the communities who benefited from Operation Manna. 

There they will meet the families who survived on this desperately need food and be celebrated by the community they saved.


Sixty years have now passed since Joe English flew the Lucky H and the boys who fought in the war are now old men in the twilight of their time.  The Lancaster in which they will fly for one last time is a symbol of their courage and their youth.  The sound of its engines and the lift of its wings will carry them back to a time when they were young and strong and life held endless possibilities. 

On the 65th anniversary of the BCATP’s creation and the 60th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe (May 8, 2005), our series will honour those who participated in the Plan, remember those who gave their lives and pay homage to the important role that bomber command played in winning the Second World War. 

Our living history team will allow this experience to be shared by today’s generation.  It will establish respect and understanding for the world of their grandfathers and the choices made when they were young.

As the world remembers in 2005, Reach for the Sky will celebrate one of the most important and least told stories of the War while honouring those who were so critical to the Allied victory.


September 03, 2004

We would like to extend our congratulations to you on officially being selected as a participant for Reach for the Sky.  There were so many incredible applicants to the program and we are happy to invite you as part of a very select group of seven.

I have attached an information sheet (in case you hadn't already received it) which outlines some of what you can expect to experience in this program.  As we are short for time and hope to begin shooting in 2 weeks, I need you to get me the following information as soon as possible:

Full, Legal name ~ Full current address ~ Telephone number ~ Fax (if have one)
Email ~ Passport number ~ Passport date of issue ~ Passport expiration date

Date of birth ~ Country of Birth ~ Citizenship ~ Social Security Number ~ Occupation

City where closest airport is locate to you (this is to assist us in booking your airline tickets)

Apparently, there are a few measurements that I ommitted in my request earlier.  Therefore, could you please provide me with the following (also ASAP - some time over the weekend please)

Head measurement (measure 1 inch above eyebrows, right above the ears - should be at largest circumference of the head)
Shoe size
Inseam (crotch to the top of shoe)
Sleeve (I know I asked for this already but please make sure it was done from the center of the neck to the end of the cuff)
Your Height

Thank you so much.  I look forward to your swift response.

Congratulations again and welcome to the team!  It should be a fun and unforgettable experience.

All the best,

Susie Freedman
Project Manager
Frantic Films Live Action
Suite #300-70 Arthur St.
Winnipeg, MB  R3B 1G7
Phone: 204.949.0070
Fax: 204.949.0050

Participant Information Sheet For Robin Hillman
Reach for the Sky is a 4 x 1-hour documentary series being produced for History Television for broadcast in Spring 2005.  It will celebrate the creation and contributions of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP), as well as the bomber missions and the veterans who were a part of the aircrews in the Second World War.  It will be shot this fall in Picton, Dunnville, and Hamilton, Ontario, as well as locations in England, Belgium and the Netherlands and will encompass historical footage, interviews with veterans and experts and a living history segment - which is where you come in.

Living history series allow audiences to gain understanding of a historical experience by watching real people go through carefully constructed scenarios.  We have done this with the fur trade in the 1840s with our series Quest for the Bay, where 8 people went from Winnipeg to the edge of the Hudson Bay in a 40-foot York boat; in the series Klondike: The Quest for Gold, where 5 individuals traveled the Chilkoot Trail and Yukon River to experience what the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush was like, and in Quest for the Sea, a series that saw 10 people live the lives of Newfoundlanders in a small fishing village circa 1937. [For more details, please see our web site at]

We are selecting 7 young men to take part in the “living history” portion of the series, who will represent the 7 members that made up a bomber crew during the War.  As this is a documentary series, you will not be “acting” in this program – you will be participating as yourself, but you must be cognizant of the fact that you are “living” in the early 1940s, 24 hours a day.  The purpose of this portion of series is to show what it was like for an average person of your age to participate in the BCATP in the most realistic way possible and correlate your experience with that of the real veterans who trained for the war, so we want you to be honest and open with how you feel about your experience.  The following information will help outline what you can expect should you be chosen to be one of these participants.

For approximately 10 days, you will be participating in an abbreviated 1940s-style aircrew training program, which will give you a small taste of what the young men in the program had to go through at the time.  You will be expected to give 100% and to cooperate with the production crew throughout.  The majority of the training will take place at the best preserved BCATP site in existence in Picton, Ontario.  All uniforms, equipment and activities will reflect that time period to the greatest degree of accuracy possible.  There will be certified instructors who will teach courses such as physical training, drill, aircraft recognition, flight simulation, navigation, use of weapons and the basics of flying a WWII-style plane.   You will sleep in barracks that were actually used during the period and eat the same type of food that was consumed by the men during their training.

In the final days of training, you will travel to Dunnville, Ontario, where you will get the opportunity to put your learning to the test by target shooting with period machine guns and flying in an original plane used in the Flight Training Schools.  In addition to our filming these activities with a director and cameraman, you will be required to share your feelings and experiences through video diaries and written letters.

The training period will end with a trip to Hamilton and the very rare opportunity to fly in one of only two remaining airworthy Lancaster Bombers in the world.  You will share these flights with actual WWII veterans who flew in these planes during the War and will be able to discuss and share your common and unique experiences with them.

After the training segment is complete, you will travel with the crew of veterans to Europe for 7-10 days to learn about the final stages of training in England and to honour the people who died in the war cemeteries of Belgium.  Finally there will be a ceremony to honour the veterans in a small town in the Netherlands where a very important mission known as Op Manna took place at the end of the Second World War.

Your participation in Reach for the Sky will require up to 3 weeks of your time, from approximately September 18 to October 8.  If you are chosen as a participant, you will receive an honorarium of $1500 upon completion of all elements of the program.  Expenses for flights, transportation, meals and accommodation in Canada and in Europe will be covered by the production company.

If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Susie Freedman, Project Manager at or (204) 949-0070 ext. 212.

Company Background

Frantic Films is a film and television production and services company with offices in Winnipeg, Vancouver and Los Angeles.  We’ve created and produced award-winning television programming for networks including History Television, Life Network, CTV, and Global Television and our productions have sold to countries around the world. Our visual effects department has provided state-of-the-art effects and animation for such films as Scooby Doo 2, X2: X-Men United, The Core, The Italian Job, and Swordfish.  In addition, we also develop software for use in the visual effects market and have produced commercials and corporate videos for national and international clients.

Follow more of this story in 
The Brandon Sun Feature
September 13, 2004
by Joanne F. Villeneuve
Other Links related to this story:
Odyssey of the Tiger Moth

#1 Heritage Hangar: 
Museum Dedication Ceremony

RCAF Lancaster and Campbell Tribute
TRIBUTE SITE: F/L W. G. Campbell 
& Crew of Lancaster KB 879 Tribute
HMCS Prince Robert and Hillman Tribute
& H.M.C.S  Prince Robert
NAVIGATION MAP to Hillman Tribute Sites
World War II & Military Nostalgia Sites
TRIBUTE: F/L Donald E. Hillman
S.O.E. Secret Halifax Missions Log
TRIBUTE: F/O J. Gordon Hillman
Lancaster Downed in 1000 Bomber Mission

150 WWII RCAF Vignettes

BCATP 4-Hour Documentary
Navigation Map to our Feature Web Pages

Part V: Episode 1 Video and Screen Captures


Bill Hillman
Bill and Sue-On Hillman Eclectic Studio
Photos Copyright 2004/2011/2021