Tag Archives: Alberta

A Canadian training

A first-hand account of training in the depths of a Canadian winter, extracted from the Bomber Command website:

‘There was a great response in Western Canada to the British Empire Air Training scheme. All the flying schools in Canada became training centres under the supervision of the airforce. There was a big manning pool opened in Edmonton where I lived. We stayed there a few weeks, but they didn’t have any stores or uniforms. We finally got kitted out and we had to go to different stations on what they called Tarmac Duty, or guard duty. I went to a service flying school in southern Alberta, where I was driving a tractor. Then they opened an Initial Training School at Saskatoon and we went over there on one of the coldest days of the winter. I had not been issued with a great coat, and we had to march 2 or 3 miles up the road to the training station.

Most of the navigation instructors were ex-schoolteachers, recruited from schools. Some of us who didn’t have as great an education as others had to learn logarithms and so forth. We were billeted in this old school and there were blackboards up all over the place. At night those who understood navigation and logarithms, and I didn’t know a logarithm from a hole, taught us our classes. One was a mathematical genius, and he used to stand up and pound the blackboard because we were all so dumb. “Don’t you guys get it?” he would say and he would bang the board until chalk came out of the cracks. That is where we were selected as pilot or navigator or wireless operator.’

Wilkie Wanless,
Bomber Command rear gunner


Wings over Alberta

On December 17, 1939, two months after joining World War II, Canada signed on to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). Far from Europe and destructive German attacks, yet closer to Britain than Australia or New Zealand, Canada was the ideal training ground for Commonwealth air force recruits.

Dozens of training schools opened across Canada, including 18 in Alberta. They impacted the economic, political and social life of dozens of communities and left a lasting impression on the Canadian landscape.

In small prairie cities and towns such as Vulcan, Claresholm and Medicine Hat, young airmen from around the world arrived to train for the battle that raged in the skies over Europe.

 A digital collection, including first hand recollections of those who trained in Alberta

Wings Over Alberta explores a unique period in the formation of the plan and the role that it played in Canada’s contribution to World War II.

Although no longer updated, the site is owned by the University of Alberta and includes links to original documents, photographs and stories.