Dunkirk Color Photographs, Hugo Jaeger Collection Part III

These are color photographs taken by German photographer Hugo Jaeger.  They are currently held in the Life Magazine archives.  These were likely taken in May – June 1940. Hugo Jaeger color photographs part I here: https://inchhighguy.wordpress.com/2023/01/18/invasion-of-poland-1939-color-photographs-hugo-jaeger-collection-part-i/

Dunkirk Color Photographs, Hugo Jaeger Collection Part III

French Armor Color Photographs, Hugo Jaeger Collection Part II pp

These are color photographs taken by German photographer Hugo Jaeger.  They are currently held in the Life Magazine archives.  These were likely taken in May – June 1940. A pair of knocked out AMR 35 reconnaissance tanks. A Renault FT-17.  The design dated to the First World War but many were still in French service […]

French Armor Color Photographs, Hugo Jaeger Collection Part II

Invasion of Poland 1939 Color Photographs, Hugo Jaeger Collection Part I

These are color photographs taken by German photographer Hugo Jaeger.  They are currently held in the Life Magazine archives. A line-up of captured Polish TKS tankettes. The TKS carried a crew of two and were armed with either a machine gun or 20 mm cannon. An abandoned TK-3 tankette. The unit symbol of an arm […]

Invasion of Poland 1939 Color Photographs, Hugo Jaeger Collection Part I

Jim L’Esperance’s Wartime Log

As a follow-up…

This was given to Jim L’Esperance by the Red Cross. There was a letter sent with the Wartime Log. Life was very harsh for POWs in Marlag und Milag Nord. Food was scarce as well as heating. Jim L’Esperance survived the sinking of HMCS Athabaskan. He came close to being rescued by HMCS Haida. taken […]

Jim L’Esperance’s Wartime Log

W.K. Lawrence

Comment on a post written in 2014…

I am proud to say Ken Lawrence was a dear friend of mine albeit I was like a son to him and his wife Marge. While with the partisans he encountered a Germany patrol who tossed a hand grenade at him, falling just feet from his head. The group of partisans that he was with saw the explosion and assumed he was dead. He was therefore reported dead to the British government and his family. Marge received, posthumously, Ken’s medal from the king. But she never really believed he was killed. He was taken to one of the Marlag camps where he did much of the document forgeries, as he was a brilliant artist. Until he turned up in London after the war no one knew he was still alive. During his time in the POW camp he kept a diary containing day to day activities including one of Churchill’s speeches, and many illustrations of camp activities. That diary somehow got lost during his journey home, but returned to him by, I believe, a Wren who had found it and shared it with her fellow wrens, all of whom could not hold back tears while reading it. After the war Ken was asked to give advice to the film makers during the making of the movie « Above us the waves » about British frogmen. In his youth Ken at one time tried to join the Foreign Legion, but I believe it was his father that got him out as he was underage. During WWII he joined the Royal Navy and volunteered for « Special Services » which he had no idea what it would entail. Despite his willingness to face the unknown and danger he was an extremely quiet man. It was at Marge’s insistence that he would relate his experiences to me and I spent many an wonderful hour listening to him. He also painted an underwater charioteer scene on one wall of their home, the likes of which should be in a gallery for all to see. I did keep contact with Ken and Marge for many years after I immigrated abroad. But now in my eighties I know they must have passed, and had no children of their own. I am very honoured to have know Ken as a friend

This is what I found on the Internet about W.K. Lawrence. But the biggest success for the chariots came three weeks after the fall of Rome in June 1944. A single chariot forced its way through dense anti-submarine nets into La Spezia harbour and sank the last Italian heavy cruiser Bolzano, which the Germans had […]

W.K. Lawrence

R.A.F. Relief Field Airdrie, Alberta, 25 September 1942 until 10 March 1944 (PDF and text versions) October 1941 – 25 September 1942 (PDF and text versions)


Research by Clarence Simonsen

RAF Relief Field Airdrie 4

Text version with images.


RAF Relief Field, Airdrie, Alberta, 25 September 1942 until 10 March 1944

Chapter Four

The most important American trainer aircraft to arrive in the 1930s flew with the name Texan, J-Bird, AT-6, while in Canada and England it was called the Harvard. It was safe, reliable, yet very powerful and challenging for young pilots transitioning from elementary flying school to front-line fighters of that period, earning the name “Pilot Maker.” 

The founding of North American Aviation Inc. emerged in 1931 from several different aeronautical firms, constructing its first aircraft in 1933, when General Motors Corporation purchased twenty-nine percent of company shares. On 1 April 1935, a N.A.A. prototype aircraft NA-16 [charge number] flew for the first time and the U.S. Air Corps ordered 42 aircraft for trainers, under designation BT-9. As the aircraft was modified and more powerful engines emerged, the U.S. Army and Navy continued to purchase training models. In 1937, the model BT-9D [fixed landing gear] was manufactured with a Pratt & Whitney 450 h.p. R-985-25 engine and the U.S. Air Corps ordered 251 of the new trainers, which were designated BT-14s.

Two months later [1937] the U.S. Army Air Corps ordered a new competition [Army Circular Proposal 37-220] for a Basic Combat trainer aircraft and North American Aviation entered the race. They added retractable landing gear to the NA-26 prototype aircraft, [NX1990] redesigned the wings, and the test performance [11 February 1938] was outstanding. The U.S. Air Corps ordered 180 of these new aircraft at once [charge number NA-36] designated BC-1 [Basic Combat]. 

This North American Aviation ad appeared in Aviation Weekly magazine for February 1939, [one full year after the original prototype was test flown] showing the original production line of 180 [NA-36] Basic Combat BC-1 aircraft for the U.S. Air Corps. During this production run, thirty-six trainers were equipped as dual instrument trainers and designated BC-1-I, [Instrument]. These aircraft features became the future trainer with retractable landing gear, R-1340 Pratt & Whitney engine and the long greenhouse canopy. NOTE – The first built BT-9D [charge number NA26] prototype registration NX18990, was purchased by Canada, [second hand] as the first BC-1 [Basic Combat] for flight testing, given RCAF serial #3345 on 23 July 1940. Crashed 22 March 1942, Kingman, Maine, USA, on flight to Scoudouc, New Brunswick. 

Numerous BT-14 trainers [with fixed landing gear] were sold for overseas export to China, Sweden, Australia, Japan, Brazil, France and Great Britain. The British were impressed with their trainers [called Yale] but they wanted a more powerful advanced trainer and North American Aviation were very happy to oblige their request. The first Harvard Mk. I serial N7000 [NA-49], a Basic Combat version with special British equipment, came off the Inglewood, California, assembly line on 28 September 1938. [Jeff Ethell collection]

By 1940, the Harvard [AT-6] was firmly established as a priority military pilot trainer by several different countries. North American Plant and airport on 7 April 1941, collection from Fort Worth Star-Telegram, free domain. This is where the first RCAF Harvard Mk. I aircraft began their northern flight to RCAF Sea Island [Vancouver, B.C.] Canada, on 15 July 1939. 

Harvard Mk. I, civil serial N7000, first flight 28 September 1938, ad published May 1939.

The new Harvard Mk. I found favor with the British representatives who were present at Inglewood, California, where North American pilot Louis Wait flew Harvard N7000. In October 1938, the British ordered 200 Harvard Mk. I aircraft and another 200 were ordered in January 1939, all were crated and shipped to England. After reviewing British test results, the Canadian Government ordered thirty Harvard Mk. Is [Charge number NA-61] which were flown in ferry groups of two or three to RCAF Sea Island [Vancouver] and on to RCAF Uplands, [Ottawa] Canada, beginning 15 July 1939. On 10 September 1939, Canada declared war on Germany and that caused a Harvard flight delivery problem. The U.S. Neutrality Act prohibited the flying of American military aircraft to any country at war.  

This photo was taken by LIFE magazine on 19 November 1939, showing the first delivery of RCAF Harvard Mk. I serial #1338 which was flown to Sweetgrass, Montana, then pushed across the border into Coutts, Alberta. [published in LIFE 11 December 1939] N.A. Harvard Mk. I serial #1336, 1337, 1338, 1339, and 1340 were the first N.A.A. Harvard trainers pushed across the border on 19 November, and taken on strength by RCAF on 21 November 1939. More would follow, serial #1341 to 1350 were pushed across to Coutts, Alberta, on 26 November 39. 

The two RCAF Ferry pilots seen on the right of this photo would be F/L Berven, F/L Peterson, F/L Waterhouse, F/O Martin or F/O Hodgson.  The five Harvard trainers were accepted by the RCAF at the Alberta border ‘as is’ and then flown to RCAF Depot in Calgary for a close inspection. Next they were ferried East to RCAF Uplands, [Ottawa] ‘in bond’ for customs clearance and removing the U.S. National under wing markings. 

Note – for all model builders, these RCAF Harvard Mk. I aircraft carried under wing U.S. National Insignia, Type 1, [introduced 1 January 1921] centre red disc on white star over blue outer roundel, as required by U.S. law. For ‘unknown’ reasons, the LIFE magazine original 4” by 5” negative was edited by painting out the U.S. National markings. North American Harvard Mk. I serial #1324, was taken on strength 3 August 1939, then flown to RCAF Test and Development Flight at Rockcliffe, Ontario, and flight tested by F/Lt. Truscott on 13 September 1939, as recorded in their Daily Diary. These first thirty Harvard’s were assigned to RCAF Trenton and RCAF Camp Borden, Ontario, seven would be destroyed in 1940-41 accidents.

Library and Archives of Canada MIKAN 3205786. RCAF Harvard Mk. I, serial #1335, the 15th and last flown to RCAF Sea Island, [Vancouver] then to Uplands, [Ottawa] 2 September 1939, before Canada declared war eight days later. Image taken at RCAF Trenton, Ontario, February 1940.

RCAF PL1191 image taken 23 August 1940, F/O W.V. Mudray and Sgt. R. Hammill, Harvard Mk. I, serial #1344. Flown to Sweetgrass, Montana, and pushed across the border to Coutts, Alberta, 26 November 1939, taken on strength RCAF 1 December 1939. Crashed 15 February 1941.

Harvard Mk. I serial #1321 to #1335 were all flown from Inglewood, California, to RCAF Sea Island [Vancouver, B.C.] then to RCAF Uplands [Ottawa]. Harvard Mk. I serial #1336 to #1350 were all flown to Sweetgrass, Montana, and pushed into Canada at Coutts, Alberta. 

These first thirty RCAF Harvard Mk. Is were powered with a R-1340-S3H1 WASP engine with a fabric covered fuselage, but that was about to change.

In October/November 1938, North American were going through a fast progression of BC-1 trainers and many were being developed simultaneously by the company. Australia had obtained the rights to build the NA-32 and the NA-33 under license and the first Australia NA-33 [named Wirraway] flew on 27 March 1939. During this time, North American pressed ahead with a more powerful NA-33 which they designated NA-44, powered by a Wright R-1820-F52 Cyclone 775 h.p. engine, a three bladed propeller with an all metal fuselage.  

This is the first built NA-44 [NX18981] which was used as the demonstrator for several potential customers, [mostly for Thailand, Brazil and Chile] in November 1939. This original NA-44 was purchased by Canada on 6 August 1940, delivered in bare metal finish RCAF #3344, at No. 2 SFTS at Uplands, Ottawa, Ontario. [Image Pete Bowers via Jeffery Ethell]

Became the personal trainer of the RCAF Officer in Charge of No. 1 Flying Instructors School at Trenton, painted in toned down yellow with blue trim wing tips, code “AA” as seen above. Note – still has three blade propeller on 20 February 1947. [Internet image, location unknown]

The three bladed prop had very little improvement on the powerful R-1340 engine, so it was removed and the new aircraft became the BC-1A [NA-55]. Twenty-nine were manufactured for the U.S. Army National Guard and another fifty-four for the Air Corps Reserve. The last nine aircraft would be built under a new “Advanced Trainer” number, AT-6, and the first flew on 6 February 1940. From this point on the AT-6-NA would remain basically unchanged for the rest of its production life, and the manufacture number AT-6 remained forever. 

On 17 November 1939, the RAF ordered the first production [NA-66] of 508 Harvard Mk. II, which were identical to the AT-6-NA trainer, with serial numbers 2501 to 3013. A second production order [NA-75] produced 100 serials 3134 to 3233. A good number of these aircraft were pushed across the Canadian border at Emerson, Manitoba, and Coutts, Alberta. In June 1941, the U.S. State Department suspended the ridiculous process of pushing American aircraft across the Canadian border, and they were now flown directly to the RAF training bases in mostly Western Canada. A third production order [NA-76] of 259 Harvard Mk. II aircraft were given RAF serial numbers AJ538 [14 July 1941] to AJ986 [3 February 1942] constructed at Inglewood, California. The RAF serial numbers AJ538 to AJ757 were assigned to RAF No. 31 SFTS, Kingston, Ontario, RAF No. 32 SFTS Moose Jaw, Sask., and RAF No. 34 SFTS, Medicine Hat, Alberta.

RAF serial numbers AJ753 to AJ986 contained eighty-one Harvard aircraft assigned to No. 39 SFTS at Swift Current, Saskatchewan, flight delivery [plant to base] beginning 16 October 1941. 

Peter Bowers from Jeff Ethell collection taken at N.A.A. Inglewood, California. 

The company posed photo was taken at North American Aviation, Inglewood, California, around the end of January 1942. These are the last two Harvard Mk. II trainers [NA-76] constructed in batch of 259 serial AJ538 to AJ987. They were both being tested for the flight north to RAF No. 39 S.F.T.S. at Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Canada. 

Note – the U.S. National Insignia [Type 1] painted under wing as required by U.S. law, with mixed RAF British markings on upper wing and fuselage. Flown from North American Plant at Inglewood, California, to Swift Current Saskatchewan with these under wing markings, then painted with British roundel by RAF in Canada. 

Harvard Mk. I serial AJ987 never made the trip, it was destroyed in a test flight at Inglewood, and was never taken on strength by the RAF. The background Harvard Mk. I serial AJ986, was the last Harvard Mk. II taken on charge by the RAF No. 39 SFTS at Swift Current, Sask., on 3 February 1942, minor “C-5” accident on 18 March 1942, then flew with the RCAF until 6 July 1955. Harvard AJ986 trained RAF pilots at No. 37 SFTS Relief Field, Airdrie, Alberta, from 1 October 1942 until March 1944, then transferred to RAF at No. 34 SFTS Medicine Hat, Alberta.

The first echelon of Royal Air Force No. 39 S.F.T.S. arrived at Swift Current, Saskatchewan, on 28 November 1941. On 6 December 1941, 34 RAF Flight Instructors, and 64 untrained pilot cadets stepped off the train in Canada. Course RAF No. 1 [Pilot Training] began with 73 British cadets on 15 December 1941. The RAF unit had 65 N.A.A. Harvard Mk. II trainers on strength, with more arriving each day. The peak Harvard strength would be reached in April 1942, with 105 Harvard trainers on charge. The following RCAF records show eighty-one Harvard Mk. II aircraft serial, date they were taken on charge and trainer remarks, crash, accident, etc., for No. 39 SFTS, Swift Current, Saskatchewan, 16 October 1941 to 3 February 1942.

The Royal Air Force “Thunderbirds of the Great White Chiefs” were now being moved from No. 39 SFTS Swift Current, Saskatchewan [#1 on map] to No. 37 SFTS Calgary, Alberta, [#2] and their main pilot training base will become the RAF Relief Field at Airdrie, Alberta. 

The move of 100 RAF Harvard Mk. II trainers began on 24 September and was completed on 30 of the month. The Harvard’s departed Swift Current, Sask., flew West into the province of Alberta and refueled at RAF Station No. 34 Medicine Hat, Alberta.

Free domain from the internet. Taken by unknown RAF student pilot possibly from #56 Course.

This rare RAF color photo was believed to have been taken from a Harvard Mk. II [RAF pilot Course #56] on the transfer to No. 37 SFTS Calgary, Alberta, 24-30 September 1942. The airport seen in the bottom right [next to the South Saskatchewan River] is RAF No. 34 SFTS Medicine Hat, Alberta, the base fuel stops on the transfer flight. RAF pilot Course #56 began training on 25 May 1942, with 69 students, graduated 50 pilots on 11 September 1942, who were now assigned the ferry trip of 100 Harvard trainers from Swift Current to No. 37 SFTS at Calgary, Alberta. N.A. Harvard Mk. II serial AJ930 [training #39] was taken on strength by RAF at Swift Current, Sask., on 26 March 1942, transferred on 24-30 September 1942, and began training RAF pilots at No. 37 SFTS at Calgary at their main training Relief Field located at Airdrie, Alberta, 1 October 1942, until March 1944.  This aircraft will be struck off strength by the RCAF on 4 December 1946.

The RAF No. 37 SFTS at Calgary, Alberta, Daily Diary records in detail the flight of a two-hundred and eight RAF aircraft in southern Alberta, from 25-30 September 1942. I’m sure the Alberta farmers wondered if the air war had arrived over Canada. 

In June 1942, profound changes came to the BCATP when a new agreement was signed and the termination date was extended until March 1945. The RAF schools were now incorporated into the BCATP, with a few more training units added and existing training fields enlarged. RAF Relief Field, Airdrie, was enlarged and became a regular training base, with five new buildings [red] constructed for the increase of RAF and RCAF staff. The new RAF British pilot students were now joined by RCAF, Free French, Australian, New Zealand, Belgians, Dutch and Czechoslovakian trainees. 

This RCAF issued map shows the Harvard training areas [marked by unknown pilot] at Airdrie.

The 100 Harvard trainers were stored, fueled, and maintained at home base Calgary, however their training base became RAF Airdrie and their new Relief Field became the RCAF grass field at Inverlake, Alberta. [west of Strathmore] The City of Calgary and the area around their home base became a restricted flying zone, requiring the Harvard trainers to fly north to Airdrie. The area north of Airdrie, from Crossfield east to Beiseker, [yellow] became the Harvard “Low Flying Training Area” which also contained the RAF Wood Lake No. 1 Bombing Range.  Two Forced Landing areas [red] were located on the west and east of Nose Creek and their RAF training field Airdrie. A large area of farmland from Beiseker south to Carseland became the High Flying Area where high speed manoeuvers [dives and spins] were practised again and again until they were performed with pilot confidence. The Canadian Rocky Mountains were 55 air miles due West from Airdrie Field and the location for many student pilot photos. 

Harvard Mk. II trainer #91 [left] was serial AJ835, taken on strength Swift Current on 16 October 1941, flew at Airdrie 1 October 42 until March 1944, then transferred to RAF No. 34 SFTS at Medicine Hat, Alberta. Flew total of 2734:05 hours training, off strength by RCAF on 21 October 1945. Harvard trainer #34 serial number is unknown. Internet from Dave M. Lambert collection in 1944.

RAF No. 37 S.F.T.S. Relief Training Field, Airdrie, Alberta, began training RAF fighter pilots on 1 October 1942, Course #62.

On 5 October 1942, student pilot LAC John C. Darling #1560163 [Course #62] walked into the rotating propeller of a Harvard Mk. II, killed instantly. 

Burnsland Cemetery, Calgary, Alberta, contains 43 RAF WWII plots. In most cases the passage of time, the development by mankind and nature have erased the training fields from the past. The only official marker from that period of history are the well-tended graves of the British student pilots who came to Calgary to learn to fly 1941-44.  

On 12 October 1942, a number of RAF trainers were flying close air formation one and one-half miles west of the Airdrie Relief Field, when two Harvard aircraft collided mid-air. RAF Instructor F/O A.I. Phelps and his student pilot LAC H.C. Cromack [Course #64] were in Harvard AJ898, which collided with F/Lt. R.F. Warner [pupil course #64] flying Harvard AJ854. All three were killed, interned at Burnsland Cemetery in Calgary.

Close-air formation near Airdrie, Alberta, 1943. Harvard Mk. II, serial AJ835 [trainer #91] taken on strength RAF No. 39 SFTS 16 October 1941, flew at No. 37 SFTS Calgary, 1 October to March 1944. Internet Dave M. Lambert collection 1944. 

23 October 1942, Harvard Mk. II forced landing at Airdrie, Relief Field, Category “C” accident, landing gear would not lower. 

30 October 1942, 6:50 Hrs., P/O N.R. Saxton in Harvard AJ983, ran off runway, stuck in two feet of mud. 17:30 Hrs., LAC R.F. Scarlett in Harvard AJ901, crash landed, as the right landing gear would not retract. 

31 October 1942, aircraft on strength – 107 Harvard Mk. II, 6 Avro Anson and 57 RAF student pilots in training. 


November 1942

2 Nov. 42, accident 1452099 LAC W. Creasey, student pilot in Harvard AJ952, taxied into parked Harvard AJ975.

4 Nov. 42, three RAF Harvard’s did an air demonstration flight over the City of Calgary.

6 Nov. 42, RAF pilot Course #60 graduated 57 pilots, seven failed the course and five were transferred to Course #62 for further training.

8 Nov. 42, LAC J.J. Fitzgerald 658963 landed at Airdrie with the undercarriage retracted. 

10 Nov. 42, accident LAC A. Jarvis 658798 in Harvard AJ790 minor damage to aircraft.

11 Nov. 42, one complete flight [twelve Harvard aircraft] flew over Remembrance Day at Calgary.

14 Nov. 42, accident at Airdrie, LAC F.S.T. Chesterfield 1316104 in Harvard AJ758 minor damage.

18 Nov. 42, flying instructor P/O M.J. Gubbins and his student LAC L.A. Doward 658062 were conducting spinning exercise in Harvard #2698 when four engine side panels were lost in a farmer’s field. 

21 Nov. 42, LAC J.E. Brown 1234926 overshot landing Harvard AJ829, stopped in ditch, minor damage. 

25 Nov. 42, LAC G.D. Kynman 945562 force landed Harvard AJ835 at Conrick, Alberta, when engine quit. 

Total hours flown in November 7,039. Aircraft on strength – Harvard 105, Avro Anson 6, and Airspeed Oxford 16 trainers. RAF pilots in training 111 Airmen, and 11 officers. 

This impressive air-to-air shot was taken around No. 37 SFTS Relief Field, Airdrie, Alberta, in 1942. Harvard Mk. II trainer number “41” was serial AJ904, taken on strength 2 April 1941 at No. 39 SFTS Swift Current, Sask., began training Calgary and Airdrie on 1 October 1942. No recorded accidents, flew 2873:20 Hrs, struck off charge by RCAF on 5 March 1946. Internet Dave M. Lambert collection 1944. 

In 1989, the author corresponded and interviewed [by phone calls to Ottawa] one of the original RAF student pilots who came to Canada on troopship H.M.T. Letitia [“C” deck, Mess 21, Hammock #86]. RAF cadet Archie M. Pennie sailed to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and four days later arrived at No. 32 E.F.T.S.  Bowden, Alberta. He trained in Tiger-Moth and American PT-27 Stearman aircraft, Course #64 and graduated in late November 1942, half of his class were selected for bomber pilots, posted to No. 36 SFTS at Penhold, Alberta. Archie was selected as a fighter pilot and posted to No. 37 SFTS Calgary, Alberta, Course #70, which began on 7 December 1942, flying Harvard Mk. II trainers.

RAF Cadet LAC Pennie explained – “the Harvard was a real airplane, in size and power, a great jump from the British Tiger-Moth and American PT-27 Stearman trainers we gained around 70 hours flying experience at RAF Bowden. After just three or four trips [four to six hours] in the Harvard the RAF flying instructor would let you go solo and what a delight it was to master that powerful and loveable aircraft. If you trained or just served at any Harvard aircraft school during WWII, you will never forget the sharp, loud, rasping characteristic sound of the Wasp engine. This loud noise and the opposition from the local population of Calgary was so strong from the inhabitants, all flight training was conducted several miles north on the Edmonton Trail at RAF Relief Field, Airdrie, Alberta. Discipline on the ground and in the air was very strict at RAF Calgary SFTS and our numbers were gradually thinned out by poor performance or attitude, inability to cope with hours of ground school tests and, of course, our share of fatal accidents. My upper bunk mate, LAC Hall, was a keen bright-eyed British lad of nineteen years, a good promising future fighter pilot. On his first solo flight with his instructor [F/L Ford the Flight Commander] their Harvard engine quit, they stalled, and both were killed on the main runway at Relief Field, Airdrie, 10 December 1942.”

All Harvard training at Relief Field Airdrie was carried out without the benefit of radios. Harvard pilots and instructors used hand signals from the cockpit while the mobile and main hangar control tower used a Morse lamp, sending light flashes by Morse code. At night they took off and landed by simple coal oil gooseneck flares which smoked and flickered as they outlined the dark Airdrie runways. Graduation day finally came on 2 April 1943, Wings were presented to the 56 pilots who graduated RAF No. 70 Course by Group Captain D. Iron, O.B.E. F/Lt. Archie Pennie was one of the pilots who received his wings in the RAF Drill Hall, today the Hangar Flight Museum of Calgary, Alberta. It’s a pity, there is no mention of the RAF history in Calgary during WWII, or the thousands of British airmen who received their wings in the Drill Hall.

10 December 1942, crash site of Harvard Mk. II, serial AJ759, stalled during take-off. Bert Sharp collection.

F/Lt. Archie Pennie was selected for Flying Instructor School, graduated, and was then posted to No. 34 EFTS at Assiniboia, Saskatchewan, where he trained future RAF pilots. He published many stories on his days with the RAF in Canada and preserved so much aviation WWII history. He returned to his old base 14 years after he departed and it was all gone, only 16 graves of the British students remain, the only tangible evidence there once was an RAF Station Assiniboia in Canada. This story appeared in Flight Magazine 18 March 1959, titled “Assiniboia Revisited.” For the full history of F/Lt. Pennie go to the Vintage Wings of Canada website and read the story by Dave O’Malley, it’s well worth it. Archie never forgot his fellow pilots who trained and flew with him, including his bunk mate #1512542 LAC Harry N. Hall at No. 37 SFTS Calgary, Alberta, who died on the main runway at Airdrie, Alberta, just before Christmas 1942. He is just a name on a stone marker, forgotten, but the author has been to visit six times. His RAF Airdrie photos and family history must remain somewhere forgotten in England today. 

RAF pupil 1004562 LAC Landells was in Course No. 70 with fellow student Archie Pennie. 

The North American Harvard Mk. II aircraft trained 862 student pilots, mostly British, at No. 37 SFTS Calgary, Alberta, beginning with Course #64 [30 December 1942] and ending with Course #94 on 10 March 1944. These sixteen RAF pilot Courses conducted their flying training at Relief Field, Airdrie, Alberta, and graduated 771 fighter pilots for the Royal Air Force. Twenty-one RAF members were killed in Alberta, one in a drowning at Banff, one in a motor vehicle accident at Airdrie during a blizzard and nineteen were killed flying the Harvard Mk. II aircraft during training. One New Zealand student pilot [NZ421082 LAC W.D. Shaw] was killed in training at Airdrie, Alberta, Harvard Mk. II serial AJ966, 31 December 1943.  

“They flew together as Brothers-in-Arms. They died together and now they sleep together in Burnsland Cemetery at Calgary, Alberta. Canadians have a solemn obligation to never forget them.”

Located five miles north-east from RAF Station Airdrie you will find a half-mile body of water called Wood Lake. This became the WWII Royal Air Force No. 1 Bombing Range for Airdrie, Alberta. Today the lake is home to thousands of waterfowl and also contains tens of thousands of WWII RAF training smoke bombs, with a few that never exploded. The author’s photo was taken from the west side looking east, showing the size of the lake, which is government [Crown] private land. 

During WWII the center of this photo contained twelve telephone poles [in a circle] which had been pounded into the water and then painted red and yellow. The center aiming point contained tepee shaped telephone poles. The RAF Harvard pilots flew from north [justify] or south [right] depending on the wind direction and dropped two smoke bombs on the centre aiming point. Each Harvard aircraft contained eight 8.5-pound smoke bombs, four under each wing.

The original 1940 RCAF blueprint of the bomb assembly buildings located at RAF Station Airdrie, Alberta. Collection of Gwen Conroy 1995.

The north-east corner of the RAF field at Airdrie contained three buildings [all painted white with a bright red roof] for the storage and assembly of the 8.5-pound practice smoke bombs. Each bomb contained a nose loaded with lead-antimony balls and the bomb casing body was filled with a pale yellow liquid of Titanium-Tetrachloride. When the bomb comes in contact with water, a chemical reaction rapidly takes place and Hydrochloric Acid smoke is released and can be seen from a distance. Eight smoke bombs are loaded on each Harvard Mk. II trainer and the student pilot takes off for the Wood Lake Bomb Range. All flight directions are controlled by a Morse Lamp in the Mobile Traffic Control Car RCAF serial #31-129.

An RAF student pilot class with bombs loaded on Harvard aircraft at Airdrie, Alberta, 1944. Dave M. Lambert collection.

The RAF Traffic Control Car [shadow] signals [Morse Lamp] the Harvard student pilot to take-off and the bombing exercise begins. The three bomb storage/assembly buildings can be seen on the right, white with bright red roof. RAF Airdrie single aircraft hangar in background. Internet Dave M. Lambert collection 1944.

The location of three bomb storage/assembly buildings and position of Mobile Traffic Control Car RCAF serial #31-129. RCAF 1940 map from Gwen Conroy 1995.

The Harvard aircraft arrived over RAF Wood Lake No. 1 Bomb Range and took turns dropping two smoke bombs on each pass. 

On the east and west sides of Wood lake the RAF constructed two twenty-seven-foot-high observation towers.

An RAF L.A.C. sits in each tower, where he records the trainer number on each Harvard aircraft, and when the smoke bomb hits the water, he points his sighting instrument at the smoke and records the degrees from the disk. That evening the two bomb tower records are combined, which forms an X and the location of each smoke bomb dropped. The students bomb score [eight bombs dropped] is totalled and presented the following day. That was the simple but effective way the RAF at Airdrie, Alberta, trained Harvard pilots to drop bombs in 1942-44.

This original RAF No. 1 Wood Lake Bomb Tower survives on a local farm today, possibly the only one in all of Canada. [Below] RAF Harvard Mk. IIB serial FE824 over the Wood Lake RAF Bomb Range at Airdrie in October 1944, after the release of eight smoke bombs.

Harvard Mk. IIB, serial FE824 [trainer #97] was taken on charge RAF No. 37 SFTS Calgary, Alberta, on 9 February 1943. The pilot has dropped his eight bombs and stunts high over the CNR railway snaking their way northwards around Irricana, Alberta. FE824 was transferred to RCAF 2 October 1946 and flew 2053:00 Hrs. RCAF LAC Bert Sharp collection.

The original Harvard Mk. II aircraft were fully painted with RAF aircraft markings at the North American plant in California and delivered to No. 39 SFTS at Swift Current, Saskatchewan. Each aircraft arrived with Gear Doors, which were the first items removed from the trainers, saving mechanical repairs and accumulation of snow and ice during winter months in Canada. The RAF aircraft training numbers were assigned and painted on each Harvard at Swift Current, Sask., and remained the same after the transfer of 100 aircraft to Calgary 24-30 September 1942. 

Nineteen RAF Harvard Mk. II aircraft received British serial numbers BW184 to BW207, with BW204 assigned to RAF Swift Current, Saskatchewan, on 14 May 1942, transferred to Calgary 24-30 September 42 and flew training at RAF Airdrie until 10 March 1944. Off Strength RCAF 2 February 1946. 

Harvard Mk. II serial AJ851, was taken on strength at Swift Current, Sask., 5 November 1941, suffered a minor landing accident [Cat. C-3] on 13 January 1942, delivered to Calgary 24-30 September 1942. Flew with a different style RAF Fin Flash which was introduced in July 1942, [18” wide by 24” high] Red 8” wide, White 2” wide and Blue 8” wide. Off strength by RCAF on 26 November 1947. RCAF LAC Bert Sharp image 1943. [author watercolor painting] 

American artist Clayton Knight [left] Leslie Roberts and F/O Beurling, Ottawa, January 1943.

Cover art by Eward John Sampson for Maclean’s 15 January 1943.

George Frederick “Buzz” Beurling from Verdun, Quebec, attempted to join the RCAF in 1940, but was rejected as he lacked academic qualifications. Accepted by the RAF in September 1941, they needed good pilots, not paper qualifications, and in Malta F/O Beurling shot down 27 Axis aircraft in 14 days, and damaged another three. He was a lone wolf, hard to control, always breaking RAF rules and orders, but he was a killer fighter pilot at the right time. Good in the air or bad on the ground, George became Canada’s most famous RAF fighter pilot in WWII, with 31 and one-half enemy kills, and earned the name “Falcon of Malta.” In peace time he would possibly have been a failure, but during WWII he was a Canadian hero and the RCAF used him for wartime public relations.

F/O Beurling came to RAF No. 37 SFTS Calgary, 1 March 1943, and lectured over 900 members of the Royal Air Force, including 237 student fighter pilots training in the Harvard Mk. II aircraft. 

The RAF Calgary permanent staff Flying Instructor Officers were also present for the lecture. 

A good number of these 68 RAF Flying Instructors [January 1944] had never flown in WWII combat.

Peter Charles Middleton was born 3 September 1920, joined the RAF Reserve in 1940, promoted to Pilot Officer 9 May 1941.  Became a Flying Instructor in the N.A.A. Harvard Mk. I aircraft which had been purchased by Britain in 1938-39. Promoted to F/Lt. Middleton, 9 March 1942, arrived in Canada [RAF Harvard Flying Instructor] May 1942 at No. 39 SFTS at Swift Current, Saskatchewan. [99 Harvard Mk. II aircraft on strength] Transferred with 62 Junior RAF Officers to No. 37 SFTS at Calgary, Alberta, 25 September 1942, under command of W/Commander J.W. Slater A.F.C. and flew most of the 100 Harvard Mk. II trainers on strength at Calgary and their training field at Airdrie, Alberta.  

Picked by his Commanding Officer to lead the pupils of No. 80 and 82 Courses in the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede parade 5 July 1943. RAF No. 37 SFTS was disbanded 10 March 1944, special officers train departed Calgary at 20:00 hrs for Halifax, Nova Scotia. F/Lt. Middleton served with No. 605 [Reserve] Squadron flying Mosquito fighters, released in 1946. Flew Trident aircraft with British European Airways, became First Officer to Prince Philip on a two-month flying tour of South America in 1962. Prince Philip flew as co-pilot on 49 of the Royal tour’s 62 flights. The Duke of Edinburgh earned his wings in 1953 flying an RAF Harvard Mk. II trainer [KF729] and logged 5,986 hours in 59 different aircraft, including his helicopter pilot licence. I’m sure the two pilots had lots to talk about as they flew around South America. 

In June 2011, the Calgary and Canadian Press were alive with stories such as “City Soars with Royal Link” Calgary Sun newspaper. 

Thank goodness Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and her new husband Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, never attended the old Aero Space Museum at Calgary International Airport. The museum contains no history of the RAF in Calgary 1941-1944 and in fact the staff did not even know which aircraft Kate’s grandfather F/Lt. Peter Middleton had flown in Calgary during his nineteen months as flying instructor of North American Harvard Mk. II trainers. Today [2023] this original 1940 RAF Drill Hall is renamed The Hangar Flight Museum of Calgary and still no mention of the Royal Air Force who called this home from 1 June 1941 until 10 March 1944. A new generation has destroyed WWII City of Calgary aviation history.

F/Lt Peter Middleton possibly with RAF No. 605 [Reserve] Squadron 1945-46.  [Internet]

Witness statements report LAC Major was stunting over the City of Calgary which was a restricted fly zone during the war. Aircraft could only fly over the city from point A to point B.

Amber Airway No. 2 over Airdrie, Alberta, Canada.

In 1925, the United States Civil Aeronautics began forming American Air Corridor Routes for airliner traffic control to fly safely at night or in bad weather. Experiments were conducted with radio range beacon stations and by December 1935 the first Airway Traffic Control Center was located at Newark, New Jersey.  By 1938, airport control towers became a familiar sight across the United States and color coded air corridor maps designated the airspace an aircraft must remain during its transit through a given region in the United States. These established routes were called Airways, and each was given a color code. Green and Red routes ran East and West with all aircraft flying at 2 or 4 thousand feet. Amber and Blue routes ran North and South with all aircraft flying at 3 or 5 thousand feet. Each route had an equal spaced radio beacon station which sent out a signal to keep the aircraft on course and prevent mid-air collisions. 

In 1939, Amber Civil Airway No. 2 ran North from Daggett, California, to Great Falls, Montana. 

1942 list of Amber Civil Airway No. 2 radio range stations required for the 1,138-mile flight. Each radio range station sent out a signal which kept the aircraft in their designated air corridor.

Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor [7 December 1941] it became imperative to rush men and American war material to Alaska, with the most direct route over the province of Alberta, to the Yukon, and Alaska. Permission to fly was obtained from the Canadian Government in January 1942, and a contract was signed with Northwest Airlines on 26 February 1942, to fly priority cargo over this Canadian route. By May 1942, Northwest Airlines were making regular flights to Edmonton and on to Fairbanks, Alaska. In mid-May Western Airlines began flying the same route and by June 42, United Airlines were operating the same interior route to Alaska. These three civilian airline pilots extended “Amber Civil Airway No. 2” from Great Falls, Montana, to Edmonton, Alberta, and official or not, the name Amber Airway No 2 began appearing on RCAF, RAF in Canada, and American military maps. [It appears the Canadian Name “Amber Airway No. 2” became official by the USAAF on 15 October 1943] This new air corridor in the sky was ten nautical miles wide [19 k/m] and during first operation lacked radio directional aids from Edmonton west to Alaska. These early airline and military pilots followed the Alcan Highway which was under construction. On 20 July 1942, the USAAF 7th Ferrying Group began sending detachments to airports at Lethbridge, Calgary, Edmonton, Fort St. John, Watson Lake, and Whitehorse in Canada, for ferrying of American lend-lease aircraft to the Soviet Union. To fully understand this part of Alaska/Canada history please read the three volume history titled “The Forgotten War” published 1988 by Stan Cohen, it is the best. [Just amazing research]

From September 1942 until September 1945, 7,971 American lend-lease aircraft were delivered to the Russian pilots at Fairbanks, Alaska. Of this total 5,066 were fighter aircraft, mostly the Bell Aircraft Corp. Airacobra P-39M and Q [2,618] and the Bell Kingcobra P-36A [2,397]. Bell produced 9,584 fighter aircraft until July 1944, but the P-63 Kingcobra was never flown on operations by the USAAF, it was out-dated and all were delivered lend-lease to Russia by Amber Airway No. 2, Great Falls, Montana, directly over Airdrie, to Edmonton, Alberta.

RAF No. 37 S.F.T.S. at Calgary, Alberta, was not an aircraft stop on the ferry route to Edmonton, but many American aircraft landed for repairs, fuel, or bad weather conditions.

Daily Diary [Calgary RAF] records –

15 October 1942 – One American C-47 landed, fuel.

20 October 1942 – One American C-47 landed, fuel.

24 October 1942 – One American C-47 landed, fuel.

31 October 1942 – One USAAF C-46A Commando, serial 42-3640 landed, fuel.

6 November 1942 – 16:30 hrs., three USAAF P-39 Airacobra fighters landed, low cloud and snow conditions. Departed the following morning for Edmonton.  

This Airacobra serial 42-4725 [P-39M-1-BE] sits in the December 1942 winter snow at No. 37 SFTS at Calgary, Alberta, wearing full Russian markings. The auxiliary ferry fuel tank held 250 U.S. gallons of fuel for the trip from Great Falls, Montana, to Edmonton, Alberta. The American radio range receiver is located on the belly of the aircraft, which received the ground tower signal and kept the aircraft on an air corridor course in Amber Airway No. 2 over southern Alberta. [Bert Sharp photo collection] No. 7 Ferrying Group Pilot Lt. H.E. Williams departed Calgary, 30 December 1942, then his engine caught fire near Wetaskiwin, Alberta, and he bailed out. Aircraft sections were recovered by Stan Reynolds, remaining in his museum collection and today parts from this [Russian] aircraft are being restored into another Bell P-39 airframe [recovered from New Guinea] under restoration at the Alberta Aviation Museum in Edmonton.  

The Northwest Sector of the Domestic Division [Ferrying Command] was activated in January 1942, [after Pearl Harbor] at Seattle, Washington. They became the 7th Ferrying Group under Ferrying Command of the USAAF, ferrying new B-17 bombers from the Seattle factory to modification centers and American air bases nationwide. The designation 7th Ferrying Group was first used 4 June 1942 when they were transferred from Seattle to Great Falls, Montana, officially 19 June 1942. They came under control of Air Transport Command of the U.S. Army Air Forces, primarily for ferrying Lend-Lease Russian aircraft and supplies from Great Falls, Montana to Fairbanks, Alaska. One-hundred and seventy-seven pilots were lost ferrying aircraft to Alaska, and Amber Airway No. 2 in Alberta has fourteen known crash sites. Keho Lake, Alberta, [N-E of Fort Macleod] still hides the remains of a crashed Russian Airicobra, while others [B.C. and Yukon] are still just missing.

RCAF Calgary Radio Beacon [VXC278] was a major course correction for the American ferry pilots flying at 18,000 ft. to Edmonton, Alberta. At the same time RAF Airdrie Harvard trainers were flying night and day, in the same air-space, at 3,000 to 5,000 ft., with no radio communication, only plane to plane hand signals.  

The United States military policy in Alaska showed total neglect until 25 April 1939, when Congress approved $4 million for building a military cold weather station, new aircraft, and an airport at Fairbanks, Ladd Field. The commander of the newly-created Alaska Defense Force was Lt. General Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr., who had to start fresh and build an almost non-existent military force. The first American troops arrived at Anchorage, Alaska, 27 June 1940, 780 men and officers of the 4th Infantry Regiment, the vanguard of the new Alaska Defence Force. On 9 August 1940, Major Evert S. Davis, chief of aviation for the Alaska Defence Force, and the first commander of the 11th Army Air Force, arrived at Merrill Field in an old Martin B-10 bomber. In March 1941, Major Davis ordered twelve United States Army Air Corps Douglas B-18A bombers and assigned six to the 73rd Medium Bomb Squadron [Elmendorf Field, Alaska] and the other six to the 36th Heavy Bombardment Squadron, 31 March 1941, Elmendorf Field. 

This photo from Evan Hill collection [ASL-P343-558] shows one of the first Douglas Bomber-1 [DB-1] bombers at Elmendorf Field, Alaska. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, these original twelve B-18A bombers flew first line coastal defence patrols from Nome to south-east Alaska. In 1944, this rare old bomber serial #37-627 was ordered to return to Great Falls, Montana, for storage and later scrapping. Air Transport Command, 7th Ferrying Group were given the task of returning the old bird by Amber Airway No. 2 to Great Falls, Montana.

In March 1944, the vintage American bomber was proceeding south from Edmonton, Alberta, on Amber Airway No. 2, and over Olds, Alberta, an engine was lost due to a broken oil line. The American pilot contacted Airdrie Relief Field and declared an emergency landing, but never made the airstrip.

A forced landing was made just short of the Airdrie runway, No. 1 hangar seen in background. Due to the spring melting, the bomber became stuck in the soft ground. Bert Sharp photo.

Bert Sharp and his fellow RCAF ground crew members extracted the B-18A from the mud and pulled it by Cat tractor to the hangar for oil line repairs. 

The veteran B-18A was flown by pilots of USAAF Air Transport Command, 7th Ferrying Group with a detachment [385th Squadron] based at RAF No. 37 SFTS Calgary. American ground crews arrived, by jeep, replaced the oil line and the following day the Alaska bomber departed for Great Falls.

It’s not a heritage site, but with permission [private factory property] you can still relive the RAF and American past associated with No. 1 Hangar, RAF Airdrie, Alberta, Canada.

On 10 March 1944, No. 37 S.F.T.S. RAF Relief Field, Airdrie, Alberta, was disbanded and 96 Harvard aircraft were flown to RCAF Edmonton, RAF North Battleford, Saskatchewan and RAF Medicine Hat, Alberta.

On 11 March 1944, Airdrie Aerodrome became RCAF Relief Field, flying RCAF Cessna Crane twin-engine trainers from No. 3 SFTS, Calgary, today the location of Mount Royal University.

RCAF [engine-mechanic] LAC Bert Sharp was posted to RAF Airdrie in the fall of 1942, and now he would work on Cessna Crane aircraft of the RCAF. LAC Sharp far right in both photos.


RCAF Relief Field, Airdrie, Alberta, 11 March 1944 until 28 September 1945. Bert Sharp photo collection.

The same location today, 2023. A new cement wall factory attachment has been constructed on the east side of the original RAF/RCAF hangar doors. In the foreground is a section of the original WWII Royal Air Force H-Hut, moved from the north side of No. 1 hangar. 

Left photo by Bert Sharp showing RCAF ground crew members mopping the cement floor in Airdrie No. 1 Hangar in 1944. Right – a cartoon created by RAF F/Sgt. D.C. Hickling No. 32 EFTS at Bowden, Alberta, December 1943. Cartoons can sometimes become real.

RCAF Cessna Crane which crashed at Airdrie being removed to No. 10 Repair Depot, Calgary, winter 1944. Bert Sharp collection.

RCAF No. 3 S.F.T.S. and their Relief Field at Airdrie closed on 28 September 1945, and the Crown property went to War Assets for sale. The airport buildings were purchased by Gordon Bowers in 1948, and used for oil patch pipe construction. In 1969, Thomas Conroy purchased the remaining airport property and created a flying club he named “The Airdrie Country Club of the Air.” 

Family photo from Gwen Conroy [top left] and husband Thomas Conroy, with son and daughter. The “Flying Conroy’s” owned three WWII Harvard trainers and all four family members were qualified Harvard pilots. In 1979, Tom was flying with another pilot friend and something went wrong near the village of Irricana, where they crashed to their death in a farmer’s field. Gwen Conroy remained living on her Airdrie Airport property and running the business until 1998, when she sold to Airdrie Airpark Inc. In 1995, the author made three visits to interview Gwen and preserve the airport past, over a pot of coffee. Gwen passed away in 2003, but her memory lives on in the following photos [slides] which she gave to the author, and I do not believe have been published before this date. The images are not dated but clearly show the happy times at the Airdrie Country Club of the Air. I believe Harvard pilot Gwen Conroy took these images but the info. is not recorded in my past notes. 

1970-78 era –  Gwen Conroy.

Airdrie Country Club of the Air – Gwen Conroy

A high speed Harvard pass, just like WWII – Gwen Conroy 

Oh, the throbbing sound of those WASP engines – Gwen Conroy




The “Thunderbirds of the Great White Chiefs” still thunder over Calgary and Airdrie, Alberta, for special events, thanks to son Thomas P. Conroy.

And most of the original RAF Airdrie buildings survive.

RAF Medical Officer Doc. Walton and Air Force Police Crawford in 1943.         Author.

A special thanks to RCAF engine-mechanic LAC Bert Sharp who preserved so much of WWII Airdrie Relief Field, his home and work place for over three years.

24 July [Thursday] 1941, Chief of the Battle River Cree Nation, Sam Swimmer, “Ya Ya Num” extended a greeting to the R.A.F. pilot’s [King’s Braves] North Battleford, Saskatchewan, – “The Thunderbirds of the Great White Chiefs.”

R.A.F. Relief Field Airdrie, Alberta, 1 October 1941 – 25 September 1942 (PDF and text versions)


Research by Clarence Simonsen

RAF Relief Field Airdrie 3

Text version with images.


R.A.F. Relief Field Airdrie, Alberta, 1 October 1941 – 25 September 1942

Chapter Three


In March 1941, the British again revised the number of R.A.F. schools [twelve] they would like to move to Canada, in addition to the five which had moved in 1940. This added to the already growing burden placed on the RCAF, and the additional construction of RAF schools. It became clear to the Canadian government the air training plan was now outgrowing the dimensions of the original plans, and more extensive use of present facilities must be taken at once. With growing confidence in Canadian construction, training schools were now doubled in size and relief landing fields would be turned into full time training bases. The training establishment of a new RAF service flying training school in Canada now reached over one thousand, and the presence of the RAF in Canada was becoming a sizeable growth. No. 35 S.F.T.S. originally planned for Calgary, Alberta, would now be moved to North Battleford, Saskatchewan, on 15 July 1941, where two RAF troop trains would be arriving with almost 700 Royal Air Force Trainees. These British recruit future pilots would be training in British Airspeed Oxford aircraft which had been shipped from the U.K. and transported from Halifax, Nova Scotia, by train. The school was still under construction when the troop trains arrived and would not officially open until 4 September 1941, when Course #27 commenced flying training.

The newspaper clipping of the first RAF troop train arrival at North Battleford on 21 July 1941.

A special RAF greeting was made by Chief Sam Swimmer [son of Yellow Mud] of the Sweetgrass First Nations Reserve who welcomed the new British student pilots to their treaty land, reserve 113, calling them – “The Thunder Birds of Great White Chiefs.” The author believes this possibly influenced future RAF designs of two Thunderbird Totem symbols used at R.A.F. No. 37 S.F.T.S. Calgary, Alberta, beginning in November 1941. 

The RAF Service Flying Training School in Calgary, Alberta, was now re-numbered No. 37 S.F.T.S. and continued to train RAF students from No. 31 E.F.T.S., but that was about to change.


17 September 1941, RAF No. 31 EFTS were ordered to leave Calgary effective 16 October 1941.


The first troop train carrying RAF officers and airmen of No. 37 SFTS arrived at Calgary on 20 September 1941, and by the end of the month they had opened their Orderly Room and Section Offices. 

No. 31 EFTS completed their movement south to RAF Station De Winton, Alberta, on 14 October 41 and RAF No. 37 SFTS became official on 20 October 1941. RAF Relief Field at Airdrie, Alberta, had officially opened on 1 July 1941 as No. 35 SFTS and they now officially became No. 37 SFTS Relief Field on 20 October 1941. Course #31 arrived Calgary on 13 October and began ground lectures and flying training on 21 October 1941. On this date the first flying training of British Airspeed Oxford trainer aircraft took place at RAF Airdrie Relief Field, totalling eight hours flying time. Due to the progress of airport construction and lack of twin-engine trainer aircraft in Canada, it became necessary to open RAF No. 37 SFTS with “Ox-box” twin engine trainer aircraft which were not suited to the Calgary elevation of 3,606 ft. [1,099 metres] above sea level, but single-engine aircraft changes could not be made for one more year.  Officially on 25 September 1942, they converted to American AT-6 Harvard Mk. II single engine trainers. 



Between March 1941 and November 1943, 601 British Airspeed Oxford trainers were delivered by ship to Halifax, Nova Scotia, loaded on railway cars and shipped to RAF Station Repair Depots located in Canada. Most of these RAF trainers arrived in No. 4 Training Command, where thirteen RAF training schools were constructed. All retained their RAF camouflage paint and original RAF serial numbers. [Five were lost at sea, ship sunk during transport – AR809, AR810, AR813, AR814, and AR819]


The following serial numbers were taken on strength at RAF No. 37 SFTS Calgary, Alberta, and most flew training at Relief Field Airdrie, Alberta, 20 October 1941 to 24 September 1942. 

AS.10 Mk. I serial T1180, V3379, V3393, V3426, V3434, V3439, V3463, V3479, X6539, X6544, X6549, X6557, X6589, X6590, X6593, AR969, AS475, AS599, AS603, AS610, AS612, AS614, AS616, AS617, AS619, AS625, AS629, AS666, AS691, AS699, AS701, AT442, AT444, AT446, AT447, AT452, AT455, AT458, and AT472. 

AS.10 Mk. II serial T1184, X6884, X6964, X6967, X7143, X7156, AS266, AS303, AS321, AS365, AS373, AS382, AS396, AS790, AS798, AS802, AS834, AS837, AS838, AS848, AS853, AS859, AS860, AS862, AS927, AS931, BG303, BG328, BG354, BG355, BG363, BG503, BM679, BM701, BM749, BM752, BM807, and BM810. 

Below is a Chris Charland rare color image of the Oxford trainer markings in Canada. X6559 was an AS.10 Mk. I constructed in a batch of 79 aircraft, assigned to No. 36 SFTS at Penhold, Alberta. The RAF camouflage [sand and spinach] was Pattern #2, for twin engine monoplanes of less than 70 feet.

Some of the first RAF Airspeed trainers arrived in Canada with RAF Type A [II] roundel fuselage markings which were Red, White, and Blue, [equal diameter colors] used on camouflaged surfaces for a limited period 1937 to 1939. The roundel Type A [I] was introduced in June 1940, Red, White, Blue, outer Matt Yellow [equal diameter colors] and generally used until 1942 on fuselage sides. The undersurface was yellow with aircraft serial numbers painted in opposite directions in black [one-half the wing chord length] on the main wing for easy identification from the ground. The fin flash was introduced in June 1940, 27 inches high with equal red, white, and blue 24 inches wide. This trainer carried nose art with what appears to be “Jimmy” in yellow. 


RAF Course #31 began flight training on 21 October 1941 and the first accident occurred on 5 November 41. 


The first RAF Sgt/pilot Howard to solo in an “Ox-box” at Airdrie Relief Field Course #31, November 1941. Photo by P/O Nimmo RAF Flying Instructor and art editor.

The first RAF station magazine was published at the end of November 1941, featuring a Golden outline of a First Nations Thunderbird Symbol, representing power, protection, and strength. The origin is unknown, but the author feels it was possibly connected to a greeting extended to the RAF at No. 35 SFTS at North Battleford, Saskatchewan, on 21 September 1941, by Chief Sam Swimmer of the Battle River Cree Nation. He called the new RAF arrivals “The Thunder Birds of Great White Chiefs.” The RAF art editors of the first magazine were Flying Instructor P/O N.D. Nimmo and LAC [student-pilot] E.J. Mansfield. Published by Phoenix Press Co. Ltd. Calgary, Alberta, it was a high quality magazine. The inside front cover featured an RAF welcome message from the Mayor of Calgary, Andrew Davison.


RAF cartoon art in first issue by Rodger, 1941. [possibly a student pilot in Course #31]

When the RAF first arrived in Calgary they were shocked by the backward Alberta Liquor Laws, as they were accustomed to attending a local pub with the whole family and enjoying a night of food and drink with adults and children. The Canadian prohibition of Beer, Wine, and Liquor in Alberta was not changed until 5 November 1923, and under the new Provincial Liquor Law only low content liquor and beer of 1% could be sold. Women were barred as customers and men drank alone, telling bar jokes, getting drunk, messing their pants, fighting, and acting like cowboy cavemen. In 1928, mixed drinking in Alberta was finally allowed, however, females must be with a male escort and they could only drink in a segregated area, away from single males. The advertising of Beer, Wine, or Liquor was forbidden in the province and the Calgary Brewing and Malting Co. could only display soft drinks. 




This RAF student pilot [possibly Course #31] was featured in the November 41 magazine ad, and he is smiling because it’s Horse-shoe and Buffalo Ginger Ale, not Calgary Beer.

This ad appeared in RAF magazine in 1942 featuring three women drinking Calgary soft drinks. Women were not allowed to drink with single men in Alberta until 1957, and real major liquor law changes did not come until 1971 when the Progressive Conservative government came to power. [above is original Calgary “Big Lime” soft drink from author collection]


First accident which took a student pilot’s life, 5 December 1941, Oxford serial AS365.



Airspeed Oxford serial AS365 was taken on strength 20 August 1941 – 5 December 1941.


In total six RAF student pilots would be killed during training in Oxford aircraft at Calgary and area. Oxford serial #AS365 – LAC Ernest Thomson 1387318, Calgary, 5 Dec. 1941. #AT457 – LAC W.J. McCarthy 656512, crashed near Airdrie, 10 December 1942. #AS382 – LAC E.C. Dunbavand 1218546, crashed near Three Hills, 16 January 1942. #AS610 – LAC W.J Stonebridge killed in crash near Langdon, 10 August 42. #AS666 – LAC Nimmo 420814, mid-air with #BM810 – LAC W.J. Webb, Calgary, 14 August 1942. 

The British Union Jack flies over Burnsland Cemetery, Calgary, Alberta, which contains over 22,000 burials, including the RAF section which contains 43 RAF student pilots and Flying Instructor graves 1941-45.

The second school magazine would appear in March 1942 featuring a new Thunderbird. This symbol possibly appeared on a few aircraft and was retained until March 1944.

This March 1942 second impressive First Nation Thunderbird was also printed on No. 37 SFTS stationary for writing letters home [above] and possibly even a few aircraft, however no aircraft photos have been found to date. Ox-box photos from Calgary are very hard to obtain.




Calgary: As some imagined it – drawing by P/O G.A. Brandreth, R.A.F. Flying Instructor.

The population of Calgary, Alberta, in 1942 was 88,904 and Canada had 11.6 million in total. The population of the Village of Airdrie, Alberta, in 1942 was 185, with not much to see for the RAF student pilots training next door at their relief field. Oxford Mk. I serial AT442 was practising landings at Airdrie, 17 April 1942, the port tire burst, which resulted in a Category “C” accident. Student pilot LAC Sunderland Course #51 was not injured, he graduated on 2 July 1942, with 41 fellow pilots, two being the first Free French pilots trained at Airdrie, Alberta.  

This crash image also captures [background] the RCAF aircraft recovery truck used by the RAF at Relief Field, Airdrie. The make is impossible to know as both the Ford Motor Company and General Motors of Canada produced over 300,000 military pattern vehicles of the same snub-nose design. The author believes it is a GMC of 1942-43 vintage. 

The Ford Motor Company at Windsor, Ontario, constructed 50,000 military vehicles, 40,000 for Great Britain and 10,000 for Canadian Forces during WWII. [Maclean’s 1941]

Canadian Maclean’s magazine 1 July 1942.

GM in Oshawa, Ontario, produced over 201,000 Canadian Military Pattern trucks during WWII, including special aircraft recovery trucks for use by the RCAF and RAF schools in Canada. 

In 1994, the author obtained permission from Mr. John Edwards, Commissioner of Correctional Services in Ottawa, to conduct exploratory excavations at RAF ex-No. 32 EFTS at Bowden, Alberta. Each WWII RAF school in Canada [twenty-four] contains a burial pit, with their complete WWII inventory, which was ordered to be buried in Canada. The reason was simple: the British Government could not afford to move the vast amount of RAF material back to the U.K. in 1944. In October 1991, and June 2001, digs were conducted at the old British base but the exact pit location could not be found. In September 2005, Professor J.M. Maillot and his wife donated a full day to carry out a magnetic ground survey of the site location, which was prison farm land, used as a garbage dump during WWII. Professor Maillot was in charge of the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Calgary, Alberta. In short, after years of research, the RAF burial pit was found, but the Canadian Government said “No digging, it is Crown Property.” At noon hour, September 2005, I was taken by a guard inside the wire, where the most serious Canadian criminals manufacture prison furniture. There sits an original [mint] GMC 1943 RCAF aircraft recovery truck used by the RAF during WWII, and it has never left the site. Efforts to have this vehicle donated to a museum fell on deaf ears, so it is only driven by murders and rapists. So much for preserving Canadian RCAF history, thanks to my government and their small-thinking Correctional Bureaucrats in Ottawa. This original 1943 GMC RCAF Aircraft recovery truck, was the same style as used at No. 37 Relief Field, Airdrie, Alberta, 1941-44.

The RCAF also supplied RAF Stations in Canada with Mobile Air Traffic Control Cars, Library & Archives Canada RCAF photo, Car serial 35-723. 

 Airdrie Mobile Control Car [left] large “T” on roof and Dodge Ambulance #30-632. 


No. 37 SFTS R.A.F. Relief Field Airdrie Mobile Air Traffic Control Car in 1942, Airdrie Hangar and main control tower seen in left background.

The RAF Airdrie Control Car [with large “T” on roof] and their 1941 Ford Herrington 3-ton, 6×6 Fire truck serial 33-741, with aircraft crash fire rescue suit. [possibly AC1 P.G. Cleeve]

The RCAF vehicles assigned to the RAF in 1941-44 are long gone, however their original vehicle storage garage survives and is still in use today, 2023.

The original RAF hangar built in 1940 survives in 2023, photo looking south-east.

After training at No. 37 SFTS Relief Field Airdrie, Alberta, the RAF Wings parade would be held in the Calgary Drill Hall, today [2023] the Hangar Flight Museum of Calgary. Nine RAF courses would graduate 257 pilots from 21 October 1941 until 24 September 1942. Course #31 [53 Wings] Course #33 [59 Wings] Course #35 [49 Wings] Course 47 [41 Wings] Course #49 [35 Wings] Course #51 [42 Wings] Course #56 [[38 Wings] Course #57 [40 Wings, on 24 September 41] with Course #59 graduating at No. 39 SFTS at Swift Current, Saskatchewan, where the Oxford aircraft were transferred on 28 September 1941. 

This order dated 22 September 1942, details the reasons for No. 37 SFTS RAF Station Calgary being first equipped with Airspeed Oxford twin-engine trainers, and the date the 100 Harvard aircraft would be exchanged with No. 39 SFTS Swift Current, Saskatchewan. 

RAF No. 37 S.F.T.S. at Calgary, Alberta, would now begin training RAF fighter pilots, in AT-6 American Harvard Mk. II aircraft, beginning 1 October 1942.

End of Chapter 3


R.A.F. Relief Field Airdrie, Alberta, June 1941- Oct. 1941 (PDF and text versions)

Research by Clarence Simonsen

RAF Relief Field Airdrie 2

Text version with images

Unofficial W.A.G. badge [above] was created by RCAF Canadian LAC Frank Raymond Scott, R80514, from Toronto, Ontario, Entry Class 16 at Calgary, assigned to RAF No. 102 [Ceylon] Squadron, Killed in Action – 5 October 1942, age 21 years.

R.A.F. Relief Field Airdrie, Alberta, June 1941- Oct. 1942

Chapter Two

No. 2 Wireless School opened at Calgary, Alberta, on 16 September 1940, training wireless operator/air gunners who were becoming specialists in aviation radio work. The wireless course was extended from twenty weeks to twenty-eight weeks in 1942, and the gunnery programme was increased from four to twelve weeks. During the early wireless training the student would spend his last two weeks learning his trade [air experience] while flying in a DH.82C-2 [ten built serial 4935-4944] or a DH. 82C-4 [125 built serial 4810-4945] Menasco Tiger Moth trainer aircraft. The RCAF DH. 82C Tiger Moth was built by de Havilland in Toronto, fitted with a British Manufactured Gipsy Major engine [130 h.p.] and known as the Tiger Moth Mk. II used for elementary pilot training in Canada. Due to a shortage of engines being shipped from wartime England, the Canadian government purchased American manufactured Menasco D-4 Super Pirate 125 h.p. engines and fitted them in the Canadian built Tiger Moth aircraft. These aircraft were designated DH. 82C-2 and C-4 Menasco Tiger Moth Mk. I and Mk. II, with 125 Mk. IIs manufactured in Toronto. Because of the reduction in horse-power they could not be used for pilot training and most were shipped to Wireless Schools and used primarily as radio trainers.

No. 2 Wireless School, Flying Squadron, was formed at Calgary, Alberta, on 6 January 1941, composing three Squadrons, A, B and C. Flying operations began the same date at No. 3 S.F.T.S. RCAF Currie Aerodrome, which opened on 28 October 1940.

The Flying Squadron had on strength nine Canadian built Noorduyn Norseman trainers, serial numbers – 679, 693, 2461, 2462, 2463 2464 2465, 2466, and 2467. No. 3 S.F.T.S. at Currie Aerodrome had 93 RCAF pilot trainees under instruction and twenty-three Avro Anson aircraft on strength for 31 December 1940. For reasons unknown, the new No. 2 Wireless Flying Squadron did not fit into the base training plans and a new home had to be found.

The new Service Flying Training School at the Calgary Municipal Airport was still under construction, however the new runways and one hangar could be used for training the Wireless Air Gunners. On 24 January 1941, No. 2 Wireless Flying Squadron moved from No. 3 SFTS [Currie] to No. 35 SFTS [RAF] Municipal Airport at North Calgary. RCAF administration had assigned this new base to the Royal Air Force, numbering it No. 35 SFTS designated to train RAF pilots using American AT-6 Harvard trainers.

The new Calgary municipal hangar control tower [with modern radio equipment] served both the Wireless School Flying Squadron and the civil Trans-Canada Airlines. Training with the nine RCAF Norseman trainers continued till March 1941, when new DH.82C-2 and DH.82C-4 Menasco Tiger Moth [Pirate engines] wireless trainers began to arrive.

The first eight Menasco T-Moth wireless trainers arrived from Toronto by CPR rail on 18 March, serial 4834, 4835, 4836, 4837,4838, 4840, 4841, and 4842. Two days later eight more Menasco Moth trainers arrived by rail, serial 4833, 4839, 4843, 4844, 4845, 4846 4847, and 4848. Assembled at No. 10 Repair Depot in south-west Calgary, across from No. 3 SFTS Currie Aerodrome, test flown and turned over to No. 2 Wireless Flying Squadron at TCA Municipal Airport in North Calgary.

The first class of 46 wireless air gunner trainees, [Class W.A.G. (9X] commenced training on 28 April 1941. On 30 April 41 the aircraft strength at TCA Municipal Airport was Norseman – 9, Fairchild – 1, Menasco T-Moth 82C2 – 2, Menasco T-Moth 82C4 – 24.


This RCAF photo was taken on 4 April 1941, 5,500 feet over RAF No. 35 SFTS at Calgary, Alberta.

The five aircraft in this photo show four DH Menasco 82C Tiger-Moth trainers [parked in line] and one Noorduyn Norseman trainer on the taxi strip, all belonging to No. 2 Wireless School, Flying Squadron. This RCAF image was most likely taken from another of the wireless school trainers.

This rare image was copied from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology [SAIT] archives thanks to Archivist Karly Sawatzky. This records the training of Class W.A.G. 9X on 28 April 1941, two Norseman [far end] and eight DH Menasco Tiger Moth [Mk. I and Mk. II] Wireless/Air Gunner trainers, No. 35 S.F.T.S. Municipal Airport, Calgary, Alberta. Wireless Flying School training continued at the municipal airport until 9 May 1941, when the RCAF advised the advance party of the RAF No. 31 S.F.T.S. would be arriving at Calgary on 10 May 41 and they would occupy the quarters and training field at No. 35 S.F.T.S. The RCAF Wireless Flying Squadron would move back to No. 3 S.F.T.S. at Currie Aerodrome effective 13 May 1941.

The author believes these RCAF Wireless Flying School aircraft were the very first to use the Relief Field at Airdrie, Alberta, however no mention of this can be found in their Squadron Daily Diary.

No. 31 E.F.T.S. is arriving at Calgary No. 35 S.F.T.S. and will begin Elementary Flying training.

No. 31 E.F.T.S. was formed at Kirkham, England, on 16 April 1941, arrived by train at Glasgow, Scotland, 23 April 41 and sailed on the S.S. Royal Ulsterman, arriving at Reykjavik, Iceland on 29 April 1941. They sailed the same date for Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the H.S. California and arrived in Canada 6 May 1941. Their home base at No. 31 EFTS De Winton, Alberta, was only half completed, and still in a state of hangar and barracks building, with no roads, no water, and mud everywhere. It was decided they would take temporary accommodation at No. 35 SFTS Calgary, Alberta, where ground instruction and pre-flight training could begin. One CPR troop train departed Halifax at 13:45 hrs. on 6 May 41 and arrived at Calgary on 10 May, where the RAF were trucked [by No. 2 Wireless School] the five miles from the main train station to the new base still under construction.

Photo taken by R.A.F. P/O Don Webber, arrival of Course #30 student pilots at RAF No. 32 E.F.T.S. Bowden, Alberta, 15 September 1942. This scene was being repeated all over Western Canada from 1941 to 1944.

This March 1943 air image shows Calgary downtown core with frozen Bow River, the RAF base [re-numbered No. 37 S.F.T.S.] located at top of the photo, five miles North-East.

Original drawing from unknown member of RAF No. 31 EFTS at Calgary.

The RAF had arrived at their temporary base No. 35 SFTS Calgary with not one DH.82 Tiger Moth training aircraft on strength. One RCAF DH82-C Tiger-Moth serial 4505 was loaned from RCAF No. 2 Wireless School on 15 May 1941 and ground instruction training could begin.

The following DH.82C Tiger-Moth RCAF aircraft were shipped or flown to No. 35 SFTS at Calgary, Alberta, and taken on strength by the Royal Air Force No. 31 EFTS so they could begin pilot training. These twenty-five serial numbers were constructed and taken on strength by the RCAF from 22 May 1940 until 7 December 1940, all were now allotted to RAF.

4016,4024,4056,4096,4131,4133,4144,4150,4200,4237,4239,4247,4248,4249,4250,4285,4292,4297,4301,4303, 4310,4321,4323 and 4325.

RCAF DH.82C serial #4505 loaned on 15 May was re-allotted to RAF on 2 June 1941. On 5 June 1941, RCAF DH.82C serial #4304 was flown from No. 2 Wireless Flying Squadron and allotted to the RAF at No. 35 SFTS north Calgary.

RAF Flying Training commenced at No. 35 SFTS Calgary [plus Airdrie Relief Field] on 18 June 1941, RAF Course #22 with 96 untrained pilot students, 74 graduated on 22 August 1941, wastage of 23 students. Airdrie Relief Field officially opened on 1 July 1941 and twelve accidents were recorded in the month of July, all at Calgary main training field. 5 July 41, 87 untrained RAF students arrived for course #25, Flying Training began on 12 July with 34 DH.82C RCAF Tiger-Moth trainer aircraft on charge. Course #25 began pilot training on 15 July 41, 90 untrained student pilots, 62 graduated on 8 September 1941. Ten accidents were recorded in the month of August, two very serious when Tiger-Moth crashed 1-mile S-W of Chestermere Lake. Deceased – P/O D.G. McLeod J5071, 3 September 41 and P/O B.A. MacCallum J5075, 5 September 41. On 1 September, Course #30 began with 98 student pilots in Flying training, graduated 56. 17 September, 90 untrained RAF student pilots arrived, and assigned to Course #33.

First RAF personnel from No. 37 SFTS arrived by CPR train in Calgary, 01:00 hrs., 20 September 1941, 9 Officers, 8 Senior NCOs, and 421 RAF airmen.

Course #33 with 90 untrained RAF student pilots began Training at Calgary on 25 September. First Category “B” crash [heavy landing] at Airdrie Relief field on 25 September 41. First heavy snow falls on 26 September, and Flying was suspended for the day. RAF had 54 RCAF DH.82C Tiger-Moth trainers on charge at the end of September. 1 October 1941, the first serious accident near Airdrie Relief Field, Tiger-Moth with solo pilot LAC Whittaker crashes one-mile south-west of Balzac, Alberta.

On 1 October 1941, 13 R.A.F. Officers and 444 other ranks of No. 37 SFTS take command of R.A.F. Station Calgary, renumbered [from No. 35 SFTS to No. 37 SFTS] and No. 31 EFTS prepares for the move south to their home base under construction at De Winton, Alberta.

No. 31 E.F.T.S. begin their move to home base at De Winton, Alberta, on 13 October 1941 and the main party arrives on 15 October. Course #35 with 102 RAF student untrained pilots arrives at Calgary during the move and one of the student pilots is named LAC Gafney.

LAC Gafney [Course #35] takes this image from a Tiger-Moth trainer flying over the new numbered [No. 37 SFTS R.A.F. Calgary] and the back of the photo only records the month as October 1941. RAF Pilot Course #35 began Flying Training on 19 October 1941, at Calgary, and moved to De Winton on 24 October, to complete Flying Training, ending 16 January 1942.

Future RAF pilots cleaning floors at De Winton, [Thursday Morning Inspection] image taken sometime after 24 October 1941. [Gafney photo]

LAC Gafney [right] and his first RAF Flying Instructor F/O Reg Eastwood at De Winton, Alberta, 5 November 1941. DH.82C serial 4304 in background, taken on charge at Calgary, 5 June 1941.

5 November 1941, Gafney standing by Tiger Moth serial 4304, which was taken on strength 5 June 41 from No. 2 Wireless Flying Squadron at Calgary. [RCAF on strength 7 December 1940]

December 1941, unknown RAF student pilot at De Winton, Alberta, Course #35 which began training on 19 October 41, 102 students, graduated 58 on 16 January 1942. [LAC Gafney photo]

Air photo of No. 31 EFTS at De Winton taken by LAC Gafney from DH Tiger-Moth [possibly RCAF serial #4304] 9 December 1941.

Fellow RAF Course #35 student pilots of LAC Gafney, at De Winton, Alberta, on 9 December 1941. L to R – Ian Reekie, Ted Jones, Ted Ivison, and Geoff Knowles.

On 1 January 1942, No. 31 E.F.T.S. published their first unit journal at De Winton, Alberta, and a new chapter was beginning. “Adastrian” was named for the Greek mountain goddess Adastreia, the daughter of Melisseus, and identified with Nemesis, goddess of divine retribution. “Punishment by God.”

Some of the first pilots trained at RAF De Winton had a feeling this new base was a punishment by God. Good British humor is shown in their first RAF history of De Winton published 1 January 1942.

Five RAF student pilots in training, RAF Course #35, 23 December 1941, playing soccer on grass in front of the two hangars at De Winton, Alberta. The temperature is mild, no snow on the ground, and 58 of these lads will graduate as pilots on 16 January 1942.

Today, [same location] only the two RAF WWII Hangar foundations and cement floors remain, a ghost from our past, home once again to Alberta gophers.

The pine trees planted by the Royal Air Force in 1942, still silently guard the closed entrance to the old No. 31 E.F.T.S. RAF base, and the main gate Administration abandoned building still stands in the wind. The full history of RAF De Winton from 15 October 1941 until 23 September 1994, can be found on other websites, with many more photos. Training School numbers 31 and above were reserved for R.A.F. schools transferred to Canada or formed in Canada by the Royal Air Force during WWII. The B.C.A.T.P. operated thirty-six E.F.T.S. in Canada and six were RAF, No. 31 EFTS being the first to move to No. 4 Training Command in Alberta. With home base at De Winton still under construction the RAF were forced to begin Flying Training at No. 35 SFTS in Calgary, Alberta, on 18 June 1941. Forgotten in this past confused history is the fact these first RAF student pilots began training at RAF Relief Field located at Airdrie, Alberta, officially on 1 July 1941. RAF Course #22 graduated 74 pilots, Course #25 graduated 62 pilots, Course #27 graduated 54 pilots, Course #30 graduated 56 pilots and Course #33 graduated 66 pilots. RAF pilot training began at RAF Relief Field Airdrie, Alberta, with 34 RCAF DH.82C Canadian built Tiger-Moth aircraft on strength and by October 1941, these aircraft had increased to 74 T-Moth trainers. RAF Relief Field Airdrie provided a training base which graduated 312 RAF fighter or bomber pilots for further training in Canada and war in Europe.

End of Chapter 2

Royal Air Force Relief Field Airdrie, Alberta, 1940-1941 (PDF and text versions)

Research by Clarence Simonsen

raf-relief-field-airdrie-1 (1)

Text version

Royal Air Force Relief Field

Airdrie, Alberta, 1940-1941

Chapter One

Just before midnight on 16 December 1939, a small group of men gathered in the office of Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King at Ottawa, Canada. The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan signing took place on 17 December [King’s birthday] titled “Agreement Relating to the Training of Pilots and Aircraft Crews in Canada.” That same evening, the Canadian people listened to a radio broadcast by King, describing Canada becoming the greatest air training plan of the world. It would take another eight months for the scope and size of the plan to be fully settled, with a satisfactory cost sharing arrangement for all four countries. A new policy of command and control was adopted, while the selection of new RCAF air training fields was already in progress.

Canada went to war on 10 September 1939 with only five RCAF airfields, with another six still under construction, plus 153 selected airport sites with only half suitable for flying training. On 3 October 1939, RCAF Air Vice Marshal G.M. Croil and the controller of Canadian civil aviation [Mr. J.A. Wilson] agreed to co-operate on the rapid expansion and construction of RCAF landing fields. RCAF training site selection and ground survey work began in early November 1939, before the BCATP agreement was even signed. The Canadian Department of Transport would select the future airport site, survey the site, and estimate the cost of land purchase [mostly from Canadian farmers]. Airport drawings and blueprints were next submitted to the RCAF Aerodrome Development Committee for final approval, and construction of the new training field began at once, before the onset of the harsh Canadian winter. The RCAF would design and construct the required buildings for each selected training site.

In the first four years of WWII, one and three-quarter million airfield blueprints were submitted, with 33,000 final drawings, and 8,300 RCAF buildings would be constructed by the newly formed [January 1940] RCAF Directorate of Works and Buildings. Mr. R.R. Collard, vice-president and general manager of Carter-Halls-Aldinger Construction Company of Winnipeg, was brought into the RCAF as deputy director of works and buildings with the rank of Wing Commander. To ensure effective supervision of the new RCAF training site construction program, he organized engineering sections in the field, to supervise and correct problems in their work.

Many of the workers I have interviewed, described this as being the best years of their lives, as they had suffered during the Great Depression. At last they had a job, pay, good food, dances, parties, all because of the war. Many also described how they were given a construction job with no experience, and were required to learn a trade [on-the-job] as they worked, and that is the reason engineering supervision was so important.

The new selected RCAF sites needed level, safe approaches, with firm well drained ground plus available public utilities. Each main selected airfield usually had two emergency landing ground airstrips called “Relief Fields” which were used for alternative landings if the main airfield was closed down and practice landing training sites for pilots. Service flying training schools were also located with access to practice bombing ranges, or close to crown owned property such as non-farm land or small lakes and ponds.

Airdrie was selected as the relief field for these reasons, attached to the main RCAF aerodrome to be constructed at North Calgary, Alberta, Municipal Airport, McCall Field.

15 March 1940, the RCAF Officer in charge of Air Training, A.V. Marshal G.M. Coil, AFC.

In 1935, it took an ex-WWI Canadian Army Field Artillery Officer to inform the Canadian public that Canada was far behind the whole world in long distance aviation travel. George Alexander Drew P.C. C.C. Q.C. became leader of the Federal Progressive Conservative Party, and was a WWI veteran, Lt. Col. of the Canadian 11th Field Brigade. He penned many articles which in fact told the truth about Canada Armed Forces, the RCAF, and civil aviation in Canada.

His article in Maclean’s magazine 1 November 1935, was very powerful and putting politics aside, possibly made the Liberal party in power get their heads out of their “behinds.”

In 1936, the Canadian Liberal Government began construction of the Trans-Canada Airway, with a framework of 94 airfields situated across Canada. The original plans had been published in the 15 August 1935 issue of Canadian Maclean’s magazine, titled WINGS for Tomorrow.

At the time of publication, the Canadian public had no idea how important this political decision would be or how far behind the rest of the world Canada was in airline long distant travel. By 1938, the new airfields were completed or nearing completion, [Trans-Canada Airlines was formed ‘1937’] which would soon [unknowingly] become a major blueprint for the future building of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in 1939.

Maclean’s magazine 1 June 1939, told the full story of “Canada Flies” displaying the original new Calgary Municipal Airport terminal “McCall Field” used by TCA.

A new Canadian Trans-Continental Airway and Trans-Canada Air lines were born. A new Lockheed airliner [with TCA Insignia] wings its way across the Rocky Mountains towards a main junction at Calgary, Alberta.

The American aviation world had been waiting and watching Canada for two years.

In 1938, the City of Calgary purchased farmland in the north-east for $31,126.00, and construction began on their fourth, but its first modern designed municipal civilian airport, TCA terminal, with control tower and aircraft service hangar. Calgary was a major stop with the only north-south, east-west, junction on the new Trans-Canada Airways, and the Federal Government aided with construction costs and modern radio range service, providing $96,000 to the City of Calgary. The Municipal Airport was named “McCall Field” for Calgary WWI ace Freddie McCall and officially opened on 25 September 1939, just two weeks after Canada had declared war on Germany. The Canadian Department of Transport assumed full control of the new airport during World War Two.

In December 1939, the Department of Transport, accompanied by RCAF officers, surveyed the Calgary Municipal airport and selected this site for a future RCAF Service Flying Training School. The RCAF approved the plans and construction began at once, and continued during the bitter cold winter of 1940, when temperatures dropped to -35 degrees F and even the gravel had to be steam heated before it could be mixed with the cement.

The D.O.T. also surveyed and began winter construction of the new S.F.T.S. Relief Field located north at Airdrie, Alberta.

This is a copy of the original D.O.T. survey map prepared in January 1940, for Relief Field Airdrie. This was sent to the RCAF Aerodrome Development Committee, a body of RCAF officers who would reject, recommend reductions in cost for promising sites, or approve suitable plans. RCAF Relief Field Airdrie was approved, with a bomb range located in a lake five miles east.

In three short years Canada had advanced from the stone-age of aviation to the fastest Trans-Canada Airlines schedule in North America, thanks to Lockheed Model 14 transport aircraft. Now, the Dept. of Transport would build one RCAF Service Flying Training School beside their controlled TCA Municipal terminal at North Calgary.

On 29 April 1940 a major reorganization was made when the RCAF formed No. 4 Training Command.

Eight RCAF Elementary Flying Training Schools opened in 1940 : No. 1 Malton, Ontario, 24 June, No. 2 Fort William, Ontario, 24 June, No. 3 London, Ontario, 19 August, No. 4 Windsor Mills, Quebec, 19 August, No. 5 Lethbridge, Alberta, 14 October, No. 6 Prince Albert, Sask., 14 October, No. 7 Windsor, Ontario, 9 December, and No. 8 Vancouver, B.C. 9 December. Fourteen other RCAF E.F.T.S. were under construction and would open from February 1941 to February 1942.

Five RCAF Service Flying Training Schools would open in 1940 : No. 1 Camp Borden, Ontario, 22 July, No. 2 Ottawa, Ontario, 2 September, No. 3 Calgary, Alberta, 16 September, No. 4 Saskatoon, Sask, 28 October and No. 5 Brantford, Ontario, 9 December. Eleven other S.F.T.S. were under construction and would open from 20 January 1941 to 13 April 1942.

The BCATP was proceeding to plans, the work was progressing, and the Canadian government now devoted more attention to the BCATP than to any other aspect of Canadian military policy.

The primary task of the RCAF in the first year of war was sending trained pilots and aircrew to England and meeting the challenge of building the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. After the fall of France, the British government sought permission [13 July 1940] to transfer four existing Service Flying Training Schools to Canada, provided they did not interfere with BCATP production.

Canadian Air Minister C.G. Power [Quebec ex-Postmaster General, appointed minister of National Defence for Air on 23 May 1940] conferred with Cabinet colleagues, the Chief of Air Staff and Sir Gerald Campbell, the British High Commissioner. The four British RAF schools could be accommodated and if the RAF wished to transfer more schools to Canada, “room for them could be found.” All costs for the RAF schools must be borne by the United Kingdom. On receiving this good news, the RAF revised their original request to include eight service flying training schools, two air observer schools, one bombing and gunnery school, and one torpedo bombing school. Never before had the Canadian construction industry experienced such a demand for airfield site completion. Construction planned to take two years was now pushed forward and must be 90 per cent complete by November 1940.

In March 1941, the British again revised the number of schools they wished to move to Canada, and again the government said yes. This added to the already over-loaded burden of the RCAF, the Canadian tax-payer, and cost of the additional construction sites. Many schools were doubled in size and relief landing fields were turned into full size training schools. Five RAF schools moved to Canada in 1940 and twelve more RAF schools were accepted in 1941. In total twenty-six RAF training schools would move to Canada, plus one Radio Direction Finding School, No. 31 RAF Clinton, Ontario, and the main RAF reception centre No. 31 Personnel Depot at Moncton, New Brunswick. The above map of No. 4 Training Command in 1943, showing the location of all BCATP schools [RCAF and RAF] in Western Canada. Twelve RAF [yellow No. 31 and above] were located in Alberta and Saskatchewan, three in Manitoba, with one in British Columbia, Patricia Bay being a Torpedo Bombing School.

The RAF movement to Canada was delayed by the Battle of Britain, then resumed in October 1940, when four complete schools arrived before the end of the year. No. 32 Service Flying Training School [S.F.T.S]. was the first RAF school to arrive in No. 4 Training Command [Moose Jaw] and the following history appeared in their Daily Diary dated 12 November 1940.

The school was selected for RAF fighter pilot training and received new American AT-6 Harvard Mk. II aircraft with training beginning on 9 December 1940.

End of Chapter 1

Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (5)

About a year ago I bought a DVD with more than 12,000  images of World War Two . Most of them were either Russian or German. This first photograph shows a little Russian boy who appeared in one of the previous photographs in the Blog Post “Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two […]

Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (5)