Canada 150 Vignette Series
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Vignettes
PART XX: Nos. 96-100
By Greg Sigurdson/Bill Hillman

96. Swords Into Ploughshares
97. Legion Magazine - Company at Cole Harbour
98. A WW II Memory: Sam & Glen Merrifield Part 8
99. No. 4 Bombing and Gunnery School Fingal Ontario
100. The Northrop A-17A Nomad
Many of the illustrations may be clicked for full screen size.

096 of 150: Swords Into Ploughshares

The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was a great success found to be adequate, or just a little too large, to provide aircrew needed for the Commonwealth Air Forces during World War II. However, it represented a huge surplus for Canada’s War Assets Corporation. Created by the government in 1944, this organization was given the task of disposing of those assets no longer needed by a country living in peace. The most visible surplus assets of the BCATP, and equivalent facilities constructed for the army and navy in every one of Canada’s nine provinces, were the buildings of all shapes and sizes.

Over 8300 buildings were constructed new for the BCATP. Some had use for civilians and private business returning after the war to the properties on which they were built. Most had no use and had to be removed.

The War Assets Corporation came up with a brilliant plan to deal with surplus buildings from the war – sell them whole and in pieces at a discount price to returning veterans who, with growing families, faced a housing shortage at home.

My parents took advantage of this program and built a house primarily with surplus materials from Canada’s war infrastructure. The process was explained in an article entitled "Swords into Ploughshares" published in the museum’s spring 2001 newsletter CONTACT. This story is reprinted below.

Click for full-size pages
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097 of 150: Legion Magazine - Company at Cole Harbour
Company at Cole Harbour
by Mickey Stevens
Legion Magazine – September/October 1997

In September 1942, the Royal Canadian Air Force opened No. 5 radar unit near Cole Harbour, N.S. There was a full complement of 36 men at the unit and most of us were either radar operators or radar mechanics. I joined the services at Winnipeg in 1940 and worked at Cole Harbour as a radar operator between the fall of 1942 and 1945; starting out as a leading aircraftman and ending up as a sergeant. Situated on Tor Bay, approximately 125 miles east of Halifax, the unit had been known as No. 5 Queensport after the small community that's located six miles to the north on Chedabucto Bay.

The unit's location on high ground north of Cole Harbour wasn't exactly a hub of social activity That is why several of us participated in some extra-curricular pursuits that mixed a little pleasure in with our daily routines. During our six-hour work shifts, each member of our four-man crews manned a communications headset for two 45- minute periods. Our main purpose was to monitor our patrol aircraft, but radar could also be used - in a limited way- to detect surfaced U-boats. The first order of business when your shift began was to confirm there was somebody on duty at Eastern Air Command Halifax to accept any coded aircraft tracking information we wished to transmit to the filter centre. The filter centre plotted information from the radar units and then fed the intelligence to sector control rooms at the fighter aerodrome. The filter centre was also where members of the RCAF Women's Division worked as operators.

Our radar station's 24-hour-a-day contact with Eastern Air Command was never intended to be a licence for our radar operators to operate a wartime dating service, but in the late and lonesome hours of the night - when air traffic was light or sometimes non-existent – it could get awfully boring to just sit there with a headset on and not try to engage the young filter centre operator on the other end in conversation. This, of course, depended on whether or not the WD at the other end was plotting air traffic in another area or under the watchful eye of a no-nonsense duty officer. It also depended on whether or not the filter room operator was interested in you, or not yet bored enough to desire companionship or casual conversation.

Of course, not all of our conversations with the filter room operators were conquest motivated. Indeed, many of my fellow radar operators were just passing the time because some had commitments back home that they were  honoring. For others, though, the name of the game was to arrange a date and to that end some great lines were perfected by my fellow operators at Cole Harbour.

I did not always hear the results of these meetings in Halifax. but I know some of the dates resulted in great friendships, several of which blossomed into love and marriage. Once in a while someone tried to convince a filter room operator to visit Cole Harbour, but this proved very difficult because some of our operators - in order to gain the sympathy of a filter room operator - had exaggerated the isolation of our unit. And so it seemed none of the women in the Halifax filter room wanted to visit us at Cole Harbour.

We were pretty well resigned to the simple pleasure our radio conversations could bring until one summer day in 1944 - almost two years afler the first invitation to a filter room operator went out. Remarkably, someone or some group of men at our unit succeeded in convincing a member of the WDs to visit Cole Harbour. And so it came to pass that not one, but 11 WDs from Eastern Air Command accepted an unofficial invitation. Indeed, most of us were surprised when the women arrived – unannounced - at the Monastery railway station some 65 miles from Cole Harbour. It was late in the day and naturally all of the women expected transportation in from the railway station.

It just so happened that our military transport driver, Doug Barkhouse, was on a duty run into Mulgrave for our weekly rations and supplies. He was told to swing by the railway station on his way back. When he got there and saw the  women, Barkhouse did the only thing he could - he immediately telephoned us for further instructions.

The commanding officer at Cole Harbour was Flight-Lieutenant Louis Monasch, a well-respected man who allowed us to perform our regular duties without issuing a lot of orders. When he was blind-sided by the news of our unexpected visitors, Monasch was anything but pleased. However, when he was reminded that there was no return train to Halifax that day, he knew he had a problem that would not go away immediately. He began by asking Barkhouse a number of questions "Do they understand that there are no facilities for WDs at Cole Harbour? Do they understand that they will have to ride on the back of an open transport truck? Do they realize that it is 65 miles to the radar unit, only 25 of which are paved?"

When all of this was understood by the WDs, the CO told Barkhouse to bring them in. All trips in from the Monastery railway station took a long time, but on that occasion none of the passengers resorted to pounding on the roof of the driver's cab to denote it was time for a pit stop. At the radar unit, the CO assigned men to remove the office equipment and files from the administration room and establish a temporary quarters for our unexpected guests.

When the transport truck pulled in around 11 p.m., the room – complete with bunks and bedding - was ready. As the night progressed, it became more and more obvious that the CO was not pleased with the situation. There was very little doubt in anyone's mind that some radar operalor - or perhaps several operators - were responsible for the invasion from Halifax. The CO acted as though I knew who was behind it all, and he insisted that it was up to me to determine who had been the instigator and then report my findings to him.

Meanwhile, the women from Halifax were enjoying themselves immensely. They were being treated like royalty,  waited on hand and foot. And much to the radio operators' pleasure and the CO's chagrin, a closer look at the rail service schedule revealed it was not practical to return the WDs to the railway station the next day. This meant the WDs would have to stay over a second night before they could return to Halifax.

The following day, the usual boredom was replaced by face-to-face conversations, card games and volley-ball matches with our guests. Our CO, meanwhile, was careful enough to establish some ground rules. These were hardly necessary, but we all followed them. After two days of fun, the WDs were driven back over the long bumpy road to the railway station.  From there, they returned safely and on time to Halifax and their work at the filter centre.

For some reason the women did not make a return trip to Cole Harbour. I have often wondered why because the women were certainly well treated while they were with us. My only guess is that it was the thought of another journey on the back of our transport truck that kept them away Our CO did not issue any order prohibiting a repeat visit, however, he did not say we could do it again, either.

Aller the women left, I had hoped that the visit had been so successfully completed that Monasch would relax and forget about his instructions to me to find the instigator. No such luck. I was still expected to produce the guilty party.

Quite high on my list of suspects were radar operators Gordon Chisholme of Toronto and Bill King of Victoria. All I will say is that they were logical suspects. Actually, they were on my list of suspects even before I learned they were at Monastery railway station on day passes when the train with the WDs arrived. The two of them sure knew something, but it had not been their idea. My next suspect was radar operator AI Snow of Montreal who was most conspicuous by his absence at certain times. Fortunately or unfortunately, we never did learn who the instigator was.

When I got to know our CO a bit better, I realized that his reason for wanting to know had changed. This switch came about when he realized the visit had actually been handled rather well and that he had not been left with any problems. Monasch no longer wished to reprimand the guilty party; all he wanted to do was know the guy who had so much moxie. But even then I could not tell him who it had been. Mere suspicions do not count.

Editor's note: By 1945 there were 22 radar stations on the East Coast for early warning and ground control. These units were immensely valuable in locating friendly aircraft that were lost or in distress notes W A.B. Douglas in The Creation of a National Air Force: The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force Volume 11. The range at which flights could be tracked was extended by Identification Friend or Foe equipment first used by Eastern Air Command aircraft in 1943 The IFF equipment responded to signals from equipment at radar stations, and could also transmit a specially coded signal if the aircraft were in distress.

Photo by Wally Dunbar
WDs and their hosts pose for a picture 
at Monastery railway station.

Photo by Wally Dunbar
Radar operators and mechanics relax with some of the WDs 
at the Cole Harbour radar unit.

098 OF 150: A WW II Memory - Sam & Glen Merrifield Part 8
During my time at Ascomb Grange, August 7 to be exact, the squadron moved to Topcliffe. This was a permanent base and it was nice to be back in the brick buildings  and central heating with our ablutions in the same building we occupied. Sam had moved my kit and I got there August 13. Laying on my bed when I arrived was a letter from the UK RCAF YMCA rep, Ernie McEwen, asking me to represent the RCAF against the Army at a Field Day in Aldershot on August 15. There were a couple of problems, first I had just spent five weeks in hospital so could hardly be said to be in condition. Secondly would my ability to compete convince the M.O. that I didn't need sick leave which was usually given for people who got shot. I hurried over to see the M.O. and he ok'd my attending but cut my leave from two weeks to one week to start at a later date.

I put the week with a weeks leave I had coming and so spent my 21st birthday at Torquay visiting, with Norm Hulse, a pair of lovely London gals who were on a holiday The band at the Pier Dancehall played 'Happy Birthday' and this was followed by the whole hall singing 'I've got the key of the door'. Sam's account of the Field Day follows...

As a sequel to and a result of the Track and Field meet at Pocklington, Ernie McEwen compared our achievements against those set at a Canadian Forces Track and Field Championship in 1941 and felt we should participate as members of an RCAF team. Out of 277 athletes competing in events, there were 13 from the RCAF of which 3 were from 405 squadron, my brother Glen, Bill Patchell and myself. We had by this time moved to Topcliffe and Ernie drove us to Aldershot in his station wagon and S/Ldr Stan Griffin, the squadron administration officer came along for moral support or because he had an unused forty eight hour pass, I am not sure which.

Before the competitions got going, we watched the army contestants warming up and saw we were badly outclassed. We realized why once we heard them telling each other  about the fine time and good food they had been having whilst training at Brighton over the prior two months. We, during that same period had been doing our bit to keep the war going. Each event had three men from the 1st Division, three from the 2nd Division and so forth with a mere smattering of RCAF participants. My brother, Glen, did however, take third place in the Hop, Step and Jump and as we arrived back in camp we were met by the squadron dentist, an army captain, who left no doubt as to where his sympathies lay because on being told that we had won one point in answer to his query, his reply was "What for ... GOOD CONDUCT???.

My memory of Field Day which was held under the patronage of Lt General AGL McNaughton and Air Marshal Harold Edwards, was the parade past these and many other Brass Hats. The pipe bands which led the parade were from every Division in the Canadian Army and numbered well over 100 drummers and pipers. Each Army Division marched a team of some 40 Athletes all in matching outfits and at the very rear we 13 RCAF types in the odd outfits we had found for ourselves in our own kitbags. I understand Edwards was upset and can imagine why. Starting the next summer the RCAF had organized Field Days and we were scheduled to take on the Army again at White City in June 1944. That was to be our generations Olympics but a larger gathering named 'D' Day caused it all to be forgotten. We did however get to an RAF station do and Sam's account follows.

Our sports officer at that time was an English chap who never let us forget that he held his position because of his prowess as a runner. He decided that we should enter a team in a one mile, four man relay race being run at a nearby RAF station. A lad called  Don Newcombe ran the first 220 yards and handed the baton to my brother Glen a couple of paces ahead of the pack and Glen gained a little more during his 220 yard stint. I managed to gain a few paces more during the 440 yards that I ran and when our expert took the baton he had a clear lead. Needless to say, when he crossed the finish line 880 yards later the dust from the front runners had already settled; all of which went to confirm a then prevailing belief that you don't necessarily get a commission for what  you can do.

Page 300 of BOMBER COMMAND WAR DIARIES states... From March to August 1942, 109 Halifaxes were lost from 1770 sorties, a casualty rate of 6.2 percent. Morale in the Halifax units - 10,35, 76, 78,102,158 and 405 squadrons - fell and the whole Halifax force had to be rested from operations for nearly a month. It was against this background that the Pathfinder Force commenced its operations. On 17th August 1942, the same day that Pathfinders assembled at their new airfields, twelve B-17 Fortresses of the Eighth Airforce carried out the first American heavy bomber raid.

405 flew 34 bombing raids with 4 Group in this period for a total of 396 sorties and lost  26 aircraft - 6.6%, Further light is thrown on this situation on page 130 of THE DAMBUSTERS by Paul Brickhill. Speaking of Cheshire he says "He had been flying a certain type of heavy bomber at a time when losses of that type were inexplicably heavy. They had acquired too much extra equipment... taking off a lot more; front turret... Our later Halifaxes did not have front turrets so we can read between the lines.

Photo Credit -

405 Squadron Operations Room ~ source:

405 Squadron Handley Page Halifax Bomber ~ source:

099 of 150: No. 4 Bombing and Gunnery School Fingal Ontario
The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan’s No. 4 Bombing & Gunnery School was located at Fingal (Southwold Township) Ontario. It was operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force from November 25 1940 for 1545 days until it was closed on February 17 1945. In addition to the ground training that aircrew received at Fingal, No. 4 BGS operated bombing ranges located at Dutton, Melbourne, Frome and Tempo as well as a marine section at Port Stanley and gunnery ranges on Lake Erie.

Aircraft used at this school included the Westland Lysander, Fairey Battle, Northrop Nomad, Avro Anson and Bristol Bolingbroke.

No. 4 BGS had an impressive physical presence with six steel framed hangars, a large drill hall and 50 other buildings including h-huts, canteens, repair shops, recreation facilities as well as others. The school operated with three hard surfaced runways.

Over 4000 aircrew from the Commonwealth Countries (Great Britain, New Zealand, Canada and Australia) graduated from No. 4 BGS. Another 2000 aircrew from other countries such as Norway and Free France graduated as well.

With the exception of Air Gunners, all other aircrew trades received initial advanced training elsewhere and then topped up their training at the bombing and gunnery schools. Air Gunners received all of their advanced training at these schools. Aircrew trades included Observer, Air Gunner, Wireless Air Gunner, Navigator/Bomber, Air Bomber and Flight. (See above chart for time allotted for training for each trade).

A station magazine known as the Fingal Observer was published at No. 4 BGS for the duration of time that it was open. Digital copies of this station magazine can be seen on the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum web site at  and

The Royal Canadian Air Force continued operations at No. 4 Bombing and Gunnery School under a number of other names until it was closed in 1961. The Province of Ontario took possession of the property.

To see an exceptional No. 4 BGS web site, go to  (no contact information on web site).

Parade Square and Skeet Shooting

Flingal Station Magazines
Read 17 Issues at:

Credits and Captions
Photo Caption: Parade square looking west. Ground instruction building in background. (
Photo Caption: Airmen skeet or trap shooting to develop the eye during training at Fingal. LAC William C. Phillips, Palmerston North New Zealand, B.T. Drummond, Masterton New Zealand and A. Fjellsatd, Norway. ( ).
Photo Caption: The Fingal Observer, April 15 1941.(
Photo Caption for the plaque pictures: John S. (Steve) Bond
CATPM Digital copies – The Fingal Observer: Read 17 Issues at:  and
Other information source: Sources:

100 of 150: The Northrop A-17A Nomad

The Northrop A-17A Nomad
Based on the Northrop Company’s successful single-engine, mono-wing civilian Gamma aircraft, the Northrop A-17 was a modified for military use, light-attack aircraft first built for the United States Army-Air Corp. First delivered in 1935, a total of 411 A-17 models were built., It is a two seat, light attack bomber, which like many of the aircraft of that era, became obsolete before the start of World War II. Its obsolescence was based on the policy adopted by the USAAF in 1938 that all of its attack aircraft were to be multi-engined. The USAAF A-17s saw their last service in 1944. Other countries which purchased the Northrop A-17 included Argentina, Peru, Sweden, the Netherlands, Iraq, Norway and South Africa,
In 1940, the Royal Air Force acquired 61 Northrop A-17As for training purposes. They came from a lot of 93 aircraft purchased by France, but never delivered prior to the German occupation of that country. These aircraft came as used by the USAAC and refurbished by Douglas Aircraft for the French Air Force.

With the fall of France, the Royal Air Force acquired a number of these aircraft and passed on 32 to the Royal Canadian Air Force. The RCAF designated them as the Northrop Nomad A-17A, With RCAF markings and serial numbers between 3490 and 3521, the RCAF put them to work first at Camp Borden Ontario to determine if civilian trained pilots had the skills and knowledge to fly for the RCAF. They were also assigned to Canada’s No. 3 Training Command at British Commonwealth Air Training Plan schools in Mountain View, Trenton and Uplands in Ontario, and at Mr. Joli Quebec. In the BCATP, the Nomads were used for target towing in air gunnery training. The Nomad showed similarities in performance and characteristics to the Fairey Battle.

The Northrop Nomad A-17A Mk.1 was manned by a pilot and observer. This Canadian variation was  powered by the Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp Junior R-1535-13 radial engine rated at 825 horsepower and equipped with completely retractable landing gear. It attained a maximum speed of 220 mph with a service ceiling of 19,400 feet and range of 730 miles. It measured 47 wide x 31 long x 12 high  feet. It could carry up to four forward facing 0.30 calibre machine guns mounted in its wings. The Observer was given another 0.30 calibre machine gun mounted on a swivel for defence of the aircraft above and to the sides and back of the aircraft. The Nomad A-17A was capable of carrying four 100 pound bombs on wing racks

The Norwegian Air Force, in exile in Toronto Ontario utilized the Northrop A-17As as aircraft trainers in their own training scheme.

With the end of World War II, all of the Northrop Nomads were struck from service by the RCAF and disposed of by the War Assets Corporation.

The Douglas Aircraft Company acquired the Northrop Company late in the war.


Northrop nomad photo captions
Special Hobby Model Company -

Click for full-size promo collage poster
Continued in PART XXI: Nos. 101-105

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