Wireless Air Gunners War Art

Research by Clarence Simonsen

Wireless Air Gunners War Art

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Text version with all the images

Wireless Air Gunners War Art

From October 1940 to March 1945, 18,496 Wireless/Air Gunners were trained in four RCAF Wireless Schools in Canada. Aircrew W.S. graduates by country were:

RCAF – 12,744,

Royal Australian Air Force – 2,875,

Royal New Zealand Air Force – 2,122,

Royal Air Force – 755.

Today [2022] a large part of RCAF Wireless School training history is still preserved in forgotten photo albums in Australia, New Zealand, England and Canada. Please share and help the author preserve our past, mostly lost aircraft markings and art from the war era.

The majority of young RCAF aircrew volunteers began their wartime career at the local RCAF Recruiting Centre, which was full of inspiring WWII air force painted poster art. Secretly, each one wanted to be the handsome hero pilot painted on many posters, but only a selected few would become pilots, and the majority would become bomber pilots, not fighter pilots. The BCATP trained 131,533 aircrew members in Canada, which included 49,808 pilots, 29,963 navigators, 18,496 Wireless Air Gunners, 15,674 Air Bombers, and 14,996 Air Gunners.

In 1940, the aircrew selection began with the recruiting officers, who accepted candidates in two broad categories “Pilot or Navigator.” Next came a Manning Depot, and after five weeks the recruit learned the basic elements of life in the RCAF. The course at Initial Training School lasted another four weeks, class room lectures, navigation, mathematics, armament, aerodynamics, mixed with parade square foot drill and daily physical training to keep in shape. The final and vital concern to all trainees was the sorting of students into five aircrew categories, and deciding for some they would remain on the ground and never fly.

Once again the RCAF used official training poster drawings which stressed the importance of teamwork and working together in aircrew positions. In the first 166 recruits who entered No. 1 Initial Training School on 29 April 1940, eight failed, ninety-two were chosen as pilot, forty-one air observer [air navigator] and twenty-five wireless operator/air gunner.

No. 1 Wireless School, Montreal, Quebec

The first wireless operator/air gunner trainees were sent to No. 1 Wireless School at Montreal, Quebec. First formed at Trenton, Ontario, in January 1937, the Wireless School transferred to Montreal, beginning 16 February 1940, [advance party] with the new formed Flying Squadron located at St. Hubert, Quebec. After twenty-four weeks of wireless instruction and in-flight training, the first wartime class graduated from Montreal on 16 August 1940. They now attended four weeks of gunnery training at a bombing and gunnery school, then off to England.

During this early BCATP construction and growing period, the training of wireless / air gunners was a haphazard learning experience and many arrived overseas never using the equipment they would fly with on combat operations. On 20 December 1940, a simple line in the Daily Dairy read – “2,000 copies of the new No. 1 Wireless “Review” newsletter was distributed to unit personnel.

The front cover came with a new unit insignia created by artists LAC A.E. Danes and AC2 Woodman the school cartoonist.

The first RCAF Wireless School “unofficial” unit insignia designed by RCAF members in Canada. Coloured by the author, which gives a better idea of this first created wireless image which most likely appeared on Mess walls and possibly even painted on trainer aircraft, or beside the W.A.G. poem of 1941.

On 3 March 1941, LAC Woodman drew a page dedicated to the Staff of the Newsletter, including the two artists who created No. 1 Wireless School Insignia.

A busy [cartoon] training day at No. 1 Wireless School, Montreal, 3 April 1941.

“Personalities” cartoons from LAC Woodman, W.A.G. Class 9A.

The first twenty-three DH 82C-2 Menasco Moth II aircraft constructed were all assigned to No. 1 Wireless School at Montreal, St. Hubert Airport. Menasco Moth II #4816-4817 and 4818 arrived St. Hubert on 3 January 1941. On 22 January 41 Moth – #4812-4813-4814-4819-4821 and 4822 arrived. The next day #4810-4815 and 4820 arrived, all recorded in Daily Diary.

DH.82C-2 Menasco Moth I, [ten built] D-4 Super Pirate 125 h.p. inline inverted 4-cylinder engine. Opposite rotation of propeller and reversal of the cowling openings.

DH.82C-4 Menasco Moth II, [125 built] same as the DH82C-2 but with reduced fuel capacity and minor alterations for wireless radios.

DH.82C-4 Menasco Moth III [one built – serial 4934] fitted with American AT-1/AR-2 radio, which was intended to be a radio trainer. Cancelled when British Gipsy Major engines arrived at de Havilland, [Toronto] Canada.

The ten DH 82C-2 Moth I trainers built by de Havilland in Toronto, Ontario, assigned RCAF 15 May and 11 June 1941.

Only one DH 82C-2 Menasco Moth I was assigned to No. 1 W.S. Flying Squadron at St. Hubert, Quebec, serial #4943.

Grant Macdonald was an official War Artist and one of Canada’s most famous portrait artists. This is his self-portrait completed in December 1943. He drew and painted men and women in all three services of Canada. His WWII sketch art sells for average $1,000 on today’s market.

Grant Macdonald came to No. 1 W.S. in 1942 and completed a number of drawings.


On 14 September 1944, No. 1 Wireless School moved to Mount Hope, Ontario, [today home of Warplane Heritage] where they operated until 31 October 1945. The new magazine was called “The Circuit.”

The cover art for No. 2 Wireless School at Calgary, Alberta. [The complete author history with school art can be found on Preserving the Past II]



No. 2 Wireless School, Calgary, AB, “W.A.G. magazine” contains some very good art, insignia, maps, and cartoons. [Today the large collection is stored in archives at SAIT Campus, Calgary]

The Calgary Wireless School Flying Squadron was formed 6 January 1941, flying eight D.H. 82C-4 Menasco Moth II trainers which had been ferried from Montreal, No. 1 Wireless School. They flew training flights from the Municipal Airport TCA [Trans Canada Airlines] hangar at RAF No. 35 SFTS North Calgary. [Later became No. 37 SFTS R.A.F. Calgary] On 12 May 1941 they moved to a hangar at No. 3 SFTS [RCAF] which is today the campus of Mount Royal University, Calgary. The third and final move was made on 25 November 1942, to “their own” RCAF No. 2 Wireless School Flying Squadron at Station Shepard, [South Calgary].

Today the WWII Wireless training base is a huge industrial area, however, the original C.P.R. Railway station, used by the RCAF during training, survives at Heritage Park, Calgary, Alberta. The author has been inside many times, sadly, the world visitors to Heritage Park have no idea it had roots with the W.A.G. trained in Calgary during WWII. The Flying Squadron also created a “Willie the Wolf” Walt Disney inspired training badge, which was manufactured by Crestcraft in Saskatoon, Sask. [A few Wolves survive, the author has seen them, but they are way over-priced by collectors]

No. 2 W.S. Flying Squadron at RCAF Shepard, Alberta, “The Shepard Wolves.”

No. 2 Wireless School Trumpet Band, March 1941, Calgary. [SAIT Archives]

Painting by author based on original cloth badge [from private collection] used at RCAF Shepard, Alberta, November 1942 to 30 March 1945.

The RCAF H-hut ‘Wolves’ living quarters [top] and Airmen’s Lounge, No. 2 W.S. Calgary.

This was the standard Combined Training graduation diploma presented at the four RCAF Wireless Schools in Canada by the RCAF. This New Zealand student at No. 2 Calgary graduated with 22 words per minute and no errors, Class 100, 9 February 1945. [SAIT Archives] I’m sure his life was spared, as the war would be over in Europe [three months] 8 May 1945.

No. 2 W.S. Calgary closed on 14 April 1945.

No. 3 Wireless School, Winnipeg, Manitoba

The wireless training at No. 3 W.S. Winnipeg was delayed because of inadequate facilities and an embarrassing shortage of training aircraft.  The first non-Canadian personnel trained under the BCATP in 1940 were forty Australian pilots. They were the vanguard of 9,606 who would sail to Vancouver, B.C., then disembark and board special trains for their RCAF trades training location across Canada. No. 3 W.S. at Winnipeg, Manitoba, was first selected as the main wireless training school for Australian and New Zealand recruits, and in the first year they outnumbered RCAF recruits four to one.

The Wireless Training rooms as described in their Daily Diary – 31 March 1941.


Aerial photo of No. 3 W.S. which appeared in the first issue of W.A.G. Vol. 1, #1 – December 1941.

On 1 March 1941, 118 New Zealand Air Force recruits arrived by train from Vancouver, B.C., and Course 13 began wireless training on 19 of the month, with 145 students. The R.N.Z.A.F. recruits were divided into four groups of 36 students and numbered Squadron 13, Flights A-B-C and D. The students in No. 13D Class [Flight] mailed a letter to Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, requesting a Disney Wireless Insignia for their training class. Disney artists would design over 1,200 insignia for American and Allied Nations in WWII.

[On file at Walt Disney Archives, Burbank, California, – 1986]

When Hank Porter [Disney artist] designed the Royal New Zealand Air Force Squadron No. 13 insignia, his choice of a Canadian Bear became an instant hit. The Insignia included a Canadian Brown Bear [Winnipeg] standing on a 500 lb. blue bomb, as he directs wireless signals to the ground. [The author has painted this replica wireless Bear many times, one hangs in the Bomber Command Museum of Canada at Nanton, Alberta, and the second in the Western Canada Aviation Museum at Winnipeg, Manitoba] This Disney insignia is a big hit with museum visitors of all ages, and I’m sure it was painted on walls and a few trainer aircraft. The needed proof might still be contained in a long forgotten Australian or New Zealand photo album, like the image seen below.

Internet New Zealand Air Force Museum – MUS0604812. The inside of a RNZAF H-Hut at No. 3 W.S. Winnipeg, 1941. [Below] The Wireless Air Gunners badge they would earn on graduation.

On 31 March 1941, the RCAF trainees were out numbered by four to one, 290 New Zealand and Australians to 73 Canadians.

The BCATP number of training aircraft allotted to No. 3 W.S. Winnipeg, 19 December 1940.

The Canadian constructed D.H. 82C Tiger-Moth, Primary Training Biplane, was powered with a 130 H.P. Gipsy-Moth four cylinder in-line inverted air cooled engine. When British engine delivery to Canada stopped, 136 DH 82-C, T-Moth aircraft were fitted with American purchased Menasco D-4 Pirate engines, and became D.H. 82C-2 [ten built] and D.H. 82C-4 Menasco Moth II trainers. One-hundred and twenty-five [serial #4810-4945, see list at end of history] were fitted with the D-4 Menasco Pirate 125 H.P. engine, and assigned to RCAF wireless schools for [air experience] wireless trainers.

Twenty-five D.H. 82C-4 Menasco Moth II from the above block were assigned to No. 3 W.S. at Winnipeg in early April 1941. The ten marked in yellow were confirmed, including a rare survivor serial 4861, below DND Archives PCN-4631. [Can. Air and Space Museum at Ottawa]

On 18 May 1941, three flights from No. 3 W.S. Flying Squadron, D.H. Menasco Moth II aircraft took part in the Winnipeg Decoration parade. On 31 May 41, forty-four wireless trainees were given their first air experience training flight in five Norseman and twenty-one Menasco Moth II aircraft.  The R.N.Z.A.F. students from Squadron 13, Flights A-B-C- and D [Bear] began their wireless air training [air experience] on 13 July 1941, and graduated 1 August 1941.

This image from the WAG magazine December 1941, shows the very basic markings used on the Menasco Moth II trainers. Only a single trainer tail fin letter was painted on the Moth IIs.

D.H. 82C-4 Menasco Moth II serial 4870 was taken on strength RCAF 29 March 1941, arrived No. 8 R.D. Winnipeg, 30 April and was assembled, assigned No. 3 W.S. Burnt 17 May 1944, at Winnipeg.

The first Canadian built Fleet Fort was taken on charge No. 3 W.S. Winnipeg on 4 April 1942 and in total forty-three would be used as trainers until 14 July 1944.

Air-to-air photo Fort 3614 which arrived No. 8 Repair Depot, Winnipeg, 23 February 1942. Caught fire mid-air made forced landing, scrapped 23 October 1943. [Norman Malayney]

Fort 3622 No. 3 W.S. Winnipeg. [Norman Malayney]

The Question remains: – “Was the Winnipeg “Wireless Bear” even painted on a Norseman, Menasco Moth or Fleet Fort Wireless Flying Squadron aircraft?” Replica on original Norseman skin painted by author for Bomber Command Museum of Canada at Nanton, Alberta.

The new No. 3 W.S. insignia appears in 1943.

The W.S. closed at Winnipeg on 20 January 1945.

No. 4 Wireless School – Guelph, Ontario

Opening day RCAF free domain image. The citizens of Guelph did not want the Wireless Training School.

In February 1942, the first edition [Vol. 1, #1] of the local wireless magazine was published, with small cover header created by L.A.C. Lynn J. Chapters, entry class No. 39.

Training classes began at No. 4 W.S. on 7 July 1941, the official opening on 9 August 1941. The original wireless program was twenty weeks, followed by four weeks of gunnery training.

No. 4 W.S. Guelph was the fourth and last wireless school formed, yet, they became the first to select the “Fist and Sparks” official trade badge as their cover newsletter title. The official wireless air gunner sleeve trade badge is giving Hitler a punch in the nose, which was a very truthful drawing by artist LAC Chapters.

The magazine was very professional, high quality, and contained very good informative articles, but it totally lacked any humor, art, unit badge, pin-up girls, or RCAF cartoons. It was very British style conservative, [southern Ontario] to the point of being boring. I believe this was possibly due to the two consulting editors who were both man of the cloth. [See above]

The first full cover art appeared in Vol. 1, #7, for September 1942, created by RCAF Armament Section Sgt. “Tex” Wilson, and I believe the original was painted in full colour. Dedicated to the Vickers-Armstrong Wellington bomber, where thousands of Canadian wireless operators flew combat operations, and died. [RCAF lost 127 Wellington aircraft with aircrew of five]

Colour painted by author. The wireless trainee is seen sending a Morse signal from his D.H. 82C-4 Menasco Moth II trainer and three Wellington bombers fly in formation, [top] Mk. II, Mk. III, bottom Mk. X aircraft.

February 1943 issue cover was dedicated to the RCAF Mosquito. Top aircraft is a Mosquito Mk. VI, center a Mk. XIII, and bottom a Mk. XXX fighter, with up-turned ‘radar’ nose section.

In July 1942, RCAF aircrew special categories and wireless training changed, thanks to the new fast de Havilland Mosquito fighter/bomber aircraft. In September 42, navigator “B” and navigator “W” categories were formed and training began in November. The navigator “B” remained with RCAF bomber squadrons, [gunnery training] while the new navigator “W” was a special trained wireless operator trained to navigate, provide wireless, and read radar, in the fast twin-engine Mosquito. This special trained recruit spent twenty-eight weeks at a wireless school, then another twenty-two weeks at an air observer school, where he earned his navigator’s badge, while wearing his “Fist and Sparks” wireless sleeve badge. This special aircrew member became the eyes, [navigation-radar] ears, [wireless-radar] and mouth [wireless] for his pilot in the fast RCAF Mosquito night-fighter squadrons. The Luftwaffe feared these Mosquito RCAF intruder night-fighters.

No. 410 [Cougar] Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force earned the distinction of becoming the top-scoring night-fighter squadron in the Second Tactical Air Force, from 6 June 44 [D-Day] to 8 May 45, flying Mosquito Mk. XXX aircraft. They saved thousands of Canadian Army lives.

Patrick Anderson photo

This image was taken at Glisy, France, early March 1945. The RCAF pilot was F/L Stan R. King J27022, [Markham, Ontario] and the ground crew of No. 410 [Cougar] Squadron, Mosquito code “W.” The photo was taken by [Air Navigator] F/O Alexander “Patrick” Anderson, [note Cougar door art], who flew training in this Mosquito [“W”] once. Pat flew 15 operations as a Mosquito navigator, wireless, radar operator, plus numerous training flights, eleven in “G” MM757, six in “O” MM767, nine in “P” NT491, and ten in “Y” serial NT377. This image clearly shows the up-turned ‘radar’ nose on the Mosquito Mk. XXX aircraft, the first twelve arrived with No. 410 in the first days of August 1944. This was the reason Sgt. Wilson dedicated the February 1943 cover of Sparks magazine to the Mosquito aircraft and the new Navigator/Wireless aircrew members. The Mosquito “W” could be serial MM757, MM786, MT485 or NT377.

The No. 410 Cougar door art was painted by LAC Donald Jarvis from Vancouver, B.C. [1923-2001]. Born in Vancouver, he became a cartoonist in his teens, enrolled in the Vancouver School of Art and Design after WWII, graduated in 1948, becoming a well known Canadian abstract artist. He also decorated RCAF Mess buildings with mural art during 1944-45, his forgotten lost wall war art, and painted at least three No. 410 [Cougar] Squadron Mosquito Night-Fighter nose and one Mosquito door art – “Death in the Dark.”

The author replica “Door” art is painted in correct colours.

Beginning November 1942, the four RCAF Wireless Schools in Canada trained 4,298 Navigator/Wireless aircrew members, 3,847 were R.A.F. and 412 were RCAF. Most of these graduates served in RAF/RCAF Mosquito radar intruder squadrons during 1944-45.

Records on the Flying Squadron at No. 4 W.S. are very difficult to locate. The citizens of Guelph did not want the Wireless School during the original formation and their air exercise station was constructed 43 [air] miles south at RCAF Burtch. Students were bused [1 ½ hours] to the airfield for their ‘air experience’ training.

This little No. 4 W.S. Flying Squadron “RCAF Gremlins” cartoon [LAC Pinnegar] appeared in 1943 and it just might be the best way to preserve their Menasco Moth II past at Burtch, Ontario.

Photo MIKAN 4820767 of RCAF Burtch on 9 December 1941, taken from the control tower, showing one two story H-Hut, one fire hall, one aircraft hangar, and one D.H. Menasco Moth II, serial 4896, [engine running] delivered and taken on charge by RCAF 3 June 1941. Involved in Category “C” accident on 28 October 1941, and it is possible this photo records the return of the aircraft after repairs had been completed. Major aircraft repairs and maintenance were completed at RCAF Station Jarvis, Ontario. This aircraft was struck off charge by RCAF on 25 February 1944.

The Flying Squadron moved to No. 5 SFTS St. Catharines on 25 February 1944, the school closed 12 January 1945.

The total of 136 DH.82C [Menasco Moth I, ten built] DH.82C-4 [Menasco Moth II, 125 built] and one DH.82C-4 [Menasco Moth III] serial #4934.