After arriving at the BCATP in Portage, I found out why they needed me to drive the heavy crane there, seems like a student had decided to use the officer's mess as his landing spot and short of burning the whole thing to the ground it required some heavy lifting. Now I had been to Portage, Manitoba before and it was just farmer's fields everywhere so my expectations were pretty low for a few old aircraft to train with and a farmer's field to land in with the requisite cow pies. Imagine my surprise when a fully working aerodrome of 4 concrete runways, hanger facilities and 99 aircraft were there on display. the aircraft were multi engine trainers from a small company in the US called Cessna. The RCAF ordered the first large shipment of Cessna Cranes this company had ever had and they produced a handsome aircraft indeed. I hope they make it in the future as they built good stable aircraft.... Well, the pilots were from various locations around the world, Britain, New Zealand, Australia, India and Other. We weren't allowed to state where the others came from as they were officially not in the war butt they had a funny way of pronouncing Z as Zee not Zed like the rest of the civilized world. They had already passed their preliminary flight instruction and it was up to us to get them up to speed on multi engine. It took about 108 hours of cross country type flying in all weathers to pass the multi, and we used a combination of Cranes, Harvards, Faiery Battles, Hudsons and Tiger Moths to complete this training. It was boring as an instructor and nail biting sometimes with hands off the controls, but someone had to do it. I put in for my transfer out about a month in, but it took 6 months to process. I was lucky enough to get picked to fly the PBY Canso and had to go get it from Vancouver as it was built at a small plant out of Washington state and quietly moved across the border. I stole the Adjutants log book before I left and you can take a look at it here...Reports Log -
(I flew 108 hours in the Cessna Crane in almost all weather conditions, doing cross country all over the Prairies, and only force landed once.)
In 1939, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia signed an agreement creating the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). Located in Canada, the plan's mandate was to train Allied aircrews for the Second World War, including pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, wireless operators, air gunners, and flight engineers. More than 130,000 crewmen and women were trained between 1939 and 1945, making this one of Canada's great contributions to Allied victory in the war. It led United States President Franklin Roosevelt to call Canada the "aerodrome of democracy."
Officers Group #2
(courtesy Library and Archives Canada/BL-3541)
Original pilots and office staff, of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 1941 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/BL-3541).
Wartime Role for Canada
Canada had been the home of a major air crew recruitment and training program during the First World War – the Royal Flying Corps, Canada. The British again looked to it for aviators when war loomed in Europe in the 1930s. Canada had an abundance of air training space beyond the range of enemy aircraft, as well as excellent climatic conditions for flying, immediate access to American industry (for aircraft and parts), and was close enough to Britain to transport men and airplanes from Canada via the North Atlantic shipping lanes.
Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King was at first cautious about what the scheme might require of the Canadian government, but he later saw the benefits of the program after Parliament declared war against Nazi Germany in 1939. After the BCATP agreement was reached on 17 December 1939, King was proud, believing his government had secured a critical role for Canada in the war, which did not require supplying a large land army.
William Lyon Mackenzie King with Winston Churchill
Yousuf Karsh. Library and Archives Canada, e003894599
Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, 1941
Negotiating the plan had been difficult. Canada agreed to accept most of the program's costs, but insisted that the British consent to a public pronouncement that air training would take precedence over all other aspects of the Canadian war effort. The British expected that the Royal Air Force (RAF) would absorb not only Commonwealth air training graduates without restrictions, but also Canadian graduates, as in the First World War. Instead, the King government demanded that Canadians be identified as members of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), by their shoulder badge.
The first recruits were accepted into the program on 29 April 1940, and the plan remained in effect, with few alterations, until 31 March 1945.
Between 1940 and 1945, air schools were set up in hundreds of communities across the country, in every province except Newfoundland (which was not yet part of Canada). The schools and airfields were staffed and operated by more than 104,000 Canadians, including thousands from the RCAF (Women's Division), which provided support services for the program.
The plan divided the country into four training commands. Alberta and Saskatchewan – under No. 4 Command headquartered first in Regina and later in Calgary – played a critical role in the plan. The southern parts of those provinces, with wide open skies, generally clear weather and large tracts of sparsely occupied land, provided the perfect conditions for air bases that needed numerous runways and lots of flying room for novice pilots.
The program required a huge mobilization of people and experts, as well as the construction of schools and airfields, and the purchase of aircraft. When the plan was announced, cities and towns began lobbying the federal government to be one of the locations. An air base would mean a lot to Depression-depleted local economies across Canada, especially on the Prairies. The promise of construction jobs, followed by continuous waves of trainees, a permanent staff with wages to spend in town, and jobs for civilians, was irresistible. Those hopes proved true. The headline in the Lethbridge Herald on 24 October 1941 was typical of many, as it declared of its small-town neighbour, "Vulcan Booming as Air Station Development Brings Big Payroll." Things were busier than during the biggest wheat boom the article declared, and the BCATP school was responsible.