In 2016, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) is commemorating Canada’s greatest contribution to the victory of Allied forces during the Second World War – the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) – which ran from 1939 to 1945.
2016 was selected to celebrate the five-year-long effort because the first Canadian squadrons that were established as a result of the Plan were formed in 1941 – 75 years ago.
These “400-series” squadrons continue to form the Royal Canadian Air Force of today; in essence, the RCAF as we know it came into existence 75 years ago as a direct result of the air training plan.
The 400-series squadrons were established because of a brief clause in the BCATP agreement known as “Article XV”: two vaguely worded but pivotal sentences in the history of the RCAF:
“The United Kingdom Government undertakes that pupils of Canada, Australia and New Zealand shall, after training is completed, be identified with their respective Dominions, either by the method of organizing Dominion units and formations or in some other way, such methods to be agreed upon with the respective Dominion Governments concerned. The United Kingdom Government will initiate inter-governmental discussions to this end.”
The agreement was signed on December 17, 1939, and training began in April 1940. Meanwhile, Canada and Great Britain entered negotiations to create at least 25 RCAF squadrons overseas, in addition to the three that had already been deployed. On January 7, 1941, representatives of the two nations signed a supplementary agreement governing the formation of the squadrons, which began coming into existence on March 1, 1941.
During the First World War, Canadians had flown as individual members of the British forces; a Canadian Air Force did not exist. This time, however, as a result of Article XV and the 1941 sub-agreement, Canadian aircrew overseas would fly in Canadian squadrons, under Canadian command.
The new squadrons were numbered from 400 to 4491. On March 1, 1941, the squadrons that were already overseas – 1, 110 and 112 – were renumbered as 401, 400 and 402 Squadrons, respectively. The first new squadron – 403 Squadron – was formed on March 1 and others soon began making their appearance.
Many of those squadrons, which began their service 75 years ago as a result of the BCATP, continue to fly – serving Canada and Canadians – to this day.
Source :Royal Canadian Air Force
One of these Service Training Flying Schools was located right here in Estevan, Saskatchewan.
Opened on 1 April 1942 near the city of Estevan by the Royal Air Force as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Relief landing fields were constructed near Shand, Outram and Chandler. The school closed 14 January 1944 due to the reduced need for pilots overseas.
SFTS Estevan No.38 served as a R.A.F. bomber trainer where they were trained on the AVRO ANSON Bombers.
Plans were made to convert the aerodrome into a RCAF Air Navigation School, but this never came to be. Instead No.201 Holding Unit was established at the aerodrome, later changed to No.204 Equipment Holding Unit. No.204 EHU closed on 30 November 1944.
The final chapter in the military history of the airport came with the founding of No. 4 Surplus Equipment Holding Unit on 1 April 1945, for the purpose of disposing of surplus RCAF war equipment. The unit closed on 1 December 1945 and the aerodrome was turned over to the City of Estevan for use as a municipal airport. The Estevan Flying Club was also formed at the airport.
In 1989, the former No. 38 SFTS aerodrome closed and the property was sold to the Saskatchewan Power Corporation for a coal mine. A new airport was built north of Estevan. Nothing remains of the aerodrome today.
As for the relief fields, the faint outline of the airfield at the former RCAF Detachment Outram is all that remains, you can see it on google maps.
As many of you who know me, know I am kind of a military buff, and operate and maintain a non-profit website dedicated to my Grandfather’s WWII regiment, The Saskatoon Light Infantry (M.G).
It has been about 10 years that I created the site, and as I have researched and learned more, I have shared my findings in hopes to keep a record of the regiment and those who belonged to it, and also create a place for family members to go and understand the part that their family member played in the war with the SLI.
About 8 years or so ago, I was searching EBay for Saskatoon Light Infantry related items, and military goodies in general, when I came across an auction from England for a WWII pendant from the RAF that said ESTEVAN.
Immediately knowing what it was, I put in my bid and waited for the auction to close. I knew this was a piece of local history, and I felt compelled to bring it home. I won the auction at 35 British Pounds (roughly $60.00 CAD at the time), and waited for my item to be shipped.
My pendant arrived, and I kept it with my other treasures wondering what I should do with it. Long story short, I completely forgot I had it until just this summer, when The Canadian Forces Snowbirds came to the Estevan airport for an airshow, and in their brochure, I noticed that they had mentioned that this was the 75th anniversary of the BCATP, and suddenly I knew what to do with it.
After some research, most of which is featured above, I created a background poster and framed the RAF ESTEVAN pendant and donated it to the care of The Royal Canadian Legion Branch #60 here in Estevan. It is on display in the lobby if you would like to get a better look at it.
This is a photo I found on-line from 1943 and it’s the Officer’s Mess at No. 38 SFTS, Estevan. Here you can see plainly, two of the pendant’s hanging proudly on the wall.
This is the pendant pinned to the poster I created. As you can see, it is the same pendant in the Mess Hall photo, and it is in excellent shape for being 75 years old.
I believe the pendant would have belonged and taken back to England with an RAF pilot who trained here as a souvenir.
I am very proud and honoured to be able to bring this historic, museum quality pendant back home to Estevan, and am awed a bit by how fate had me find it, bring it home and keep it safe so it could be displayed on it’s 75th anniversary.