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Creston Valley Goes to War

Commonwealth Air Training Program

Manning Depot

The RCAF's Manning Depot in Brandon, Manitoba

CATP Claresholm

CATP Claresholm

CATP Pearce

CATP Pearce

CATP Fort MacLeod

CATP Fort MacLeod

Anson Kitchener 1943

An Anson Mark I plane, probably from the CATP school at Fort MacLeod, after a disastrous emergency landing at Kitchener, 1943

The Creston chapter of the IODE undertook to help raise funds for a Bolingbroke bomber in response to what the newspapers termed “a crying need” for airplanes. That need, in turn, was created when the German army swept through France and Belgium, forcing the evacuation of Allied troops at Dunkirk in June 1940, and leaving Allied forces with no way of reaching the enemy except by air. Thousands of bomber aircraft were needed to carry the war to Germany, thousands of fighter planes were needed to protect them on their missions, and hundreds of thousands of people were needed to fly them.

Those people needed to be trained – in safe places. The Canadian government, fearing a repeat of the bloodbath that had characterised the trench warfare of the Great War, lent its wholehearted support to the Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

Over 150 schools were established across Canada. Some of these made use of existing facilities; some required major expansion of existing facilities; some were built from the ground up. Different schools offered different training, from basic military training to specialised training in the specific needs of the air force. Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the British Empire – pilots, bombardiers, gunners, navigators, air craft mechanics, wireless radio operators, and so on – came to Canada to take their training.

The army required no specialised training, which helps explain why the majority of Creston Valley’s recruits to the armed services joined the army – but the presence of the Air Training Plan schools in Canada made it very easy for local recruits, who may never have been near an airplane, to get the skills they needed to serve in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Of the 806 men and women who enlisted during World war II, nearly a quarter are known to have joined the Air Force.

The Commonwealth Air Training Plan was also a way for local men and women to play an important and valuable role in the war effort, in uniform, without leaving Canada. Over a hundred thousand men and women ran the CATP schools, serving as instructors, aircraft mechanics, administrative or maintenance personnel, and in any of the innumerable other tasks required at large and busy airbases. We know of nine local men who served in this capacity; there were undoubtedly many other men and women whose service details are unknown.

Bud Holmes and Edgar Home were both stationed at Brandon, Manitoba. This was, primarily, a Manning Depot where recruits were given basic military training including how to maintain their uniforms; they could also be assigned “tarmac duty” which comprised some pretty menial jobs – counting bolts in a warehouse, for example. This is where they also took a battery of aptitude tests to sort them out into Air Crew or Ground Crew training streams. Brandon also had a Service Flight Training Crew and it’s possible that Holmes, as a Leading Aircraftman, had a role in that school, but Home was a bandsman.

Herb Dodd served as a navigation instructor. While we don’t know any further details of his work as an instructor, it is likely that he served at one of the seven Initial Training Schools in Canada. After recruits to the air force had completed basic military training at a Manning Depot, those who were selected for pilot training went first to an Initial Training School to learn navigation, theory of flight, and meteorology among other subjects. Part of Herb’s duties may well have included weeding out those were not, after all, suitable for pilots and re-routing them to the Wireless Air Gunner training stream.

Austin Bathie served as an instructor at CATP schools in Claresholm, Vulcan, and Fort MacLeod, Alberta, and North Battleford, Saskatchewan. These were all Service Flight Training Schools, the third stage in a pilot’s training following the Initial Training School and fifty hours of basic flight training at an Elementary Flight Training School, before spending sixteen weeks in specialised flight training at the Service Flight Training Schools.  Claresholm, Vulcan, and Fort MacLeod were all equipped with Anson trainers; they turned out pilots for duty in Bomber Command, Coastal Patrol, or transport roles. North Battleford also trained pilots in the fighter pilot stream.

Larry Davis was also stationed at North Battleford. As Leading Aircraftman, he could have done everything from working in the kitchen to servicing trainer aircraft. Paul Lachat served as a driver and bandsman at Edmonton and Claresholm.

Richard Trevelyan and Don “Babe” Uri were both instructors for the Royal Canadian Air Force, but we know no further details. They might well have taught at any of the flight schools.

Art Sutcliffe served at Pearce, Alberta. This was an entirely different level of training: it was a Flight Instructor School, teaching experienced pilots how to teach new recruits to fly.

The proximity of flying schools to the Creston Valley also, on occasion, brought the war a little closer to home – literally. In 1943, a flight of three Anson Mark I aircraft, probably from the school at Fort MacLeod,  made a forced landing at the Kitchener airport. The airport, a depression-era make-work project that opened in 933, was serviceable enough but it still had lots of roots and ruts in the runway which was a relatively short 1,400 feet.

This particular flight had landed in Cranbrook and then continued west. Something, possibly bad weather, forced the flight to attempt a landing at Kitchener. The planes overshot the landing strip, which was simply too short for the twin-engined Ansons. One plane escaped with little or no damage; the second wasn’t too badly broken; but the third was what war-time aviators called “pranged:” the entire right wing was torn off and scattered in chunks around the airstrip.

Further reading:

Veterans Affairs Canada has a very detailed history of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

Here's an excellent website on the CATP schools in Southern Alberta (and source of several of the photos in this article).

Skills From Home
Commonwealth Air Training Program