Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum
Canada 150 Vignette 018 of 150
A World War II Memory

Don Rollins – Aero Engine Mechanic

were times during the 30s when we had no telephone, radio or car. We travelled by horse and a rubber tired car. That took us to school, to church and to town to get the mail and groceries.

When I finished Grade 8, I being second oldest, was left at home to look after the farm and family while Dad and my oldest brother did hard work for the municipality, so we could buy groceries.

In the fall of 1940, I left to go to YTS (Youth Training School) for a period of six months. There we had lectures and shop training to prepare us for Aero Engine Mechanics. After we graduated from this, we were sent off to the Brandon Manitoba (Manning Depot) Pool where I signed up to join the RCAF. There we received our uniforms, medical shots, dental work plus lots of drill work and long marches.

After eight months of that, we were sent off to St. Thomas Ontario to start our training as Aero Engine Mechanics. After four months of that we were posted to a number of airports across the country.  My posting was to No. 12 Service Flying Training School in Brandon. At the end of September, after posting in Brandon for four months, I was posted down to Souris Manitoba which was just opening with seven big hangars. The first few days there with a few helpers who were busy setting up bunk beds for the new student pilots which happened to be a group of Australians who had been waiting for their posting to Canada. The day that I was sent down to greet them at the train, it was minus 23 degrees and a real good wind blowing, but they were a happy-go-lucky lot.

Some of the mishaps that happened while I was in Souris were when one of our aircraft (Mark II Anson) had to do a forced landing due to frozen carburetors. It did a belly landing down between Pelican Lake and Rock Lake. It happened in late January or February. Both wooden propellers were broke and when it finally came to a stop, it was only about 30 feet nosed up to a big hay stack. Myself and another fellow by the name of Davies were told to guard the aircraft until the next day. I went to work to get a new pair of propellers.

We had what was called a guard house to spend the night. The Guard House was five by eight feet with windows on all sides and a little round tin stove. The night was really clear and cold so we got a good fire going and climbed into our sleeping bags to spend the night. At about 2:00 o’clock in the morning we woke up and the place was full of smoke. Some of the hot coals had fallen out of the stove and started a fire in the bottom end of our sleeping bags.

A work crew arrived next morning. They jacked up the landing gear and locked it in place. New props were installed and we gave the aircraft a run-up. All was okay. One of the flying instructors made a couple of passes up and down the open field and with a Wing and a Prayer took off safely.

I spent a lot of time working in the service hangers which were just across the way from the control tower. This hanger also housed the Fire & Emergency truck so when a call came from the control tower that there was an emergency, I was always the one that got `Joe’d’ to get into the asbestos fire suit mostly because I was the only one small enough to get into it. One spring morning it was a bright clear day. Just about 9:30 when an aircraft was coming in to change students and refuel.  A heavy fog rolled in. Some of the planes had enough fuel to make it to another airfield. A couple of aircraft managed to get below the fog and get in okay. I was already in my fire suit ready for an emergency. One aircraft just missed the top of our hanger but one of his wings struck a hydro pole near the main gate which caused it to flip over on its back. We crashed over a few fences and rail track to get to the aircraft. Their fuel was just about done so there was no fire. Unfortunately, both student and instructor were killed.

After my time in Souris, I was posted to Moose Jaw Saskatchewan. For some unknown reason to me, I was detailed to work in the Central Registry. While at this office, I witnessed two fatalities. The first happened when an electrician climbed a ladder to change a light bulb on a hydro pole outside my window. As he reached out to change the bulb, his ladder slid sideways around the pole and he fell headfirst to the ground. The second fatality was when a young pilot, who had two overseas tours in a fighter aircraft, took out a little Cornell trainer to get some more flying time before his discharge came through. Anyway, I saw this small plane flying rather low down to the end of the runway. He could have landed into the wind but he banked too sharp to make the runway and crashed as he was used to fighter aircraft with more power to hold him up. It was a sad ending for a young pilot.

I received my discharge from Calgary Alberta… end of story!

Don Rollins and his wife Molly were founding members of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum. He put his skills as an RCAF trained Aero Engine Mechanic to good use working as a volunteer in the museum’s shop restoring aircraft. Projects he worked on included restoration of the Fairchild Cornell to flying status, static restoration of two Bristol (Fairchild) Bolingbrokes and preliminary work on the museum’s North American Yale project, which currently is in hiatus pending allocation of resources to complete the project. Don also enjoyed helping with maintenance of the museum’s buildings and grounds. Don passed away in 2004 at the age of 84 years and Molly passed away in 2011 at the age of 85 years.

I was born May 29 1920 in Regina Saskatchewan during the `Dirty 30s.’ Our home was just 18 miles east of Regina near the little Hamlet of Jameson. We were a family of six – three boys and three girls. There 

Don Rollins beside an Avro Anoson