Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum
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A World War II Memory
A Pilot in Training by Lloyd Shea
In June our course came back to Edmonton to #4 Initial Training School. We lived in the University of Alberta dormitories with only two persons to a room and took our classes in what was then known as the Normal School. It is still there but is now called Corbett Hall. We went on parade every morning at 8 AM and after inspection marched to school about half a mile away. On Friday mornings we had a Commanding Officer’s parade. Following inspection, we marched out of our parade grounds down to 109 St. then onto 82nd Ave. to the Normal School where the CO took the salute. We went to class each morning until 12:00 then marched back to the U of A for lunch and then back to class until 5:00 when we marched back again to the U of A. We had classes on Saturday mornings however, one weekend I received a 36 hour pass on which I went home for overnight. Our courses were quite heavy and for me it required a lot of homework to keep up. Some I remember were theory of flight, navigation, Morse code - both key and Aldis lamp, armament and a number of other subjects. In addition each Flight drilled several hours each week.
To ensure you had some choice into which aircrew category you would be selected, you needed to have good marks and stand as high as possible in the course. I wanted to be a pilot and was selected for flying training. Our exams ended about 10 days before our posting to flying school but I needed to have my
tonsils removed before I could be given medical clearance to start flight training. While it seems a bit crude by today's standards, an Air Force doctor removed them while I sat on a chair in the MIR (Medical Inspection Room) of the little hospital in the basement of Athabasca Hall. I was offered two weeks sick leave but turned it down because I wanted to stay with my friends. While still living on ice cream that I bought in the canteen I went to #5 Elementary Flying Training School at High River Alberta in August to learn to fly on the Cornell aircraft. When we graduated from ITS and went on flying training we were promoted from Aircraftsman Class Two (AC2) to Leading Aircraftsman (LAC) which meant an increase in pay of 20 or 30 cents a day, flying pay of 75 cents a day and we proudly wore a white "flash" in our caps denoting aircrew under training.
# 5 EFTS was a sort of a hybrid school with RCAF flying instructors but the rest of the station was civilian staffed and run by the Calgary Flying Club. Unlike Air force messes we were waited on at the table but the food served was the worst I ever experienced in the Service and that includes the time spent in the UK with the RAF. Much of the beer served in the Wet Canteen was milky with sediment and I'm sure it was from the bottom of the vats at the Calgary Brewery and unfit for sale through regular outlets. We were young and only interested in learning to fly but I have wondered many times since then about what went on. The first morning we were in class, Mr. D. K. Yorath, the civilian manager, came to the classroom to request that the students turn in their liquor permits (liquor was rationed) so they could be used by the officers mess. This wasn't greeted very warmly and not many complied with the request.
Our days consisted of half day flying and half day in ground school with Sunday the only day off. In summer when the days were long and we were flying in the morning, we were called at 5:30 and after breakfast went straight to the hangars where we flew or sat around until 11:00. We had lunch and went to ground school until 6:00 and after supper were often on Duty Watch to lower the flag, do homework, go to the wet canteen or simply lay around the billet talking flying until lights out shortly after 10:00. The following morning we were awakened at 6:30 and after breakfast had an hour of Physical Training and were in class from 9:00 to 12:00. After lunch we reported to the hangar where we stayed, often flying until near dark or helping to push the planes into the hangar. The students weren't the only ones who worked hard. My instructor, a P/0 Roe, had six students and until we went solo, which took me about nine hours, he flew at least five instructional trips each day. I graduated with a little over 70 hours including three hours night and 10 hours of instrument flying. In addition I was given 11 hours of instrument instruction in the Link Trainer.
In October, most of the course was posted to #19 Service Flying Training School at Vulcan Alberta but some others and I, luckily, were posted to #3 SFTS at Currie Barracks in Calgary. I think luck received a bit of an assist because the station senior NCO who had been a friend of my dad asked me about going to Currie. We arrived there on a Saturday afternoon and the first thing my friend Neil Paton and I did was go over to the tarmac and have a look at a "mighty" Cessna Crane and wondered how we would ever learn to fly such a big machine. After that we strolled into the Airman's Canteen where we met a tall, slim, pretty Womens’ Division Corporal working behind the counter in the Dry Canteen. We later found out that her name was Verna Rice and she came from Estevan, Saskatchewan. The reason I bring this up is because, while it is a long story with a lot of improbable happenings, when I returned from overseas a year or so later we were married and in last August celebrated our 55th Wedding Anniversary.
To get back to the BCATP, our course, #92, consisted of "C' Flight of RCAF and "D" Flight of Royal Air Force. It was a little different than EFTS and we worked for 12 days and then got a 48 hour weekend pass. The two Flights alternated so if the weather was fit, the airplanes were always flying. Our Flight went to Ground School in the afternoons one week and in the mornings the next week. The rest of the day was spent at the hangar where we usually flew a couple of trips or often went to the Link for instrument training. The weekends that we were on duty we spent the entire day at the flight room.
It was a wonderful exciting time. We were young and usually trying to see how far we could bend or stretch Air Force rules on the ground and in the air. It was wartime and there were lots of girls and things to do in the city. I loved flying and I could go home on our 48's or a couple of us would get a hotel room and live it up or so we thought. You had to keep up your ground school marks and we had check rides at regular intervals to ensure you met Air Force flying standards. Sadly we had good friends who washed out and were sent to train in some other aircrew or ground trade. We graduated and were presented with our Wings in March of 1944, most of us as Sergeant Pilots. I had a total flying time of 230 hours and 10 minutes of which about 20 hours were at night and 41 hours of instrument flying. I also had a total of 35 hours in the Link Trainer.
After only a one week leave those of us who were posted overseas reported to #3 AGTS (Advanced Ground Training School) at Trois Rivieres Quebec where for a few weeks we played soldier while Army Commando officers proceeded to get us in shape. I managed to sprain an ankle quite badly but again limped around so I could stay with my friends. From AGTS we went to #1 Y Depot in Lachine Quebec and after indoctrination and inoculations we soon boarded a train of old colonist railway cars to Halifax where the Empress of Scotland waited. We filed on to the ship with our back packs and kit bags and the next morning at dawn, with about 5600 ship's crew and service men and women on board, moved quietly down the harbour and out into the grey Atlantic heading for Britain.
That ended my training under the BCATP. I said previously that I had gone through at the peak of the Plan and shortly after we got our Wings, the Plan started to slow with some stations closing, moving or changing roles. I knew some trainees who graduated on courses only slightly after me but did not get overseas.
To put things into perspective it must be remembered that airplanes were a rare sight and still pretty primitive at the start of the war and most of us never dreamed we could someday learn to fly.
Verna and I are both in our late 70's but still talk about those years and the friends and experiences we had. Unless you were there at the time you cannot know what those years were like. Wartime was great for survivors and a brother who is now dead, was in the Army all through the Italian campaign, was wounded and yet always said it was the best time of his life. I guess this is why young men now do extreme sports because there is no war to fight.
Lloyd Shea’s story was received at the Commonwealth Air Training Museum in 2000 as his contribution to the museum’s Oral History project.
I joined the Royal Canadian Air Force at the age of 19 in the fall of 1942 in Calgary and was given Service number R******. I went to #3 Manning Depot in Edmonton in early 1943. This was at the very height of the Plan and after about six weeks of indoctrination and learning to march, we were sent to Vancouver for three months to what we called WETP (actually it was Wartime Emergency Training Plan). It was spring in Vancouver and a pleasant change from the prairie winter. We boarded in private homes and attended classes five days a week at Seaview School in the Kitsilano area. We took mostly refresher High School subjects with a few Air Force courses thrown in. It was actually just a way to keep us occupied because the flying schools were plugged. Previous to this, aircrew trainees had done guard or tarmac duty while they waited to start training.