The First Accident

Since the first group of naval ratings was not due to arrive until January 1941, training began with regular B.C.A.T.P. entrants. By the end of November, fifteen badly-needed Harvards had been delivered to the station. Night flying training began on the 19th and on the night of the 28th, the first accident occurred when Harvard aircraft 195 crashed causing concussion to the instructor, P/O J. W. Bradley and pupil, LAC R. F. Watson.

In December, a new Commanding Officer arrived with a group of two more complete training schools consisting of twenty officers and 241 airmen. Accompanying them was their commanding officer, Group Captain Alexander Shekleton, C.B.E., D.S.O., who had been an ace in the Great War. They arrived on December 5 just as the area was recovering from another severe snowstorm.

Officers who arrived in January 1941 claimed that the journey over the snow-drifted roads to the airdrome was rougher than the stormy Atlantic they had just crossed. It required two large snow- plows to break a path for the Colonial coaches taking the men to the airdrome, but as soon as the snow was cleared it drifted back in. Ten buses had to make two trips to convey the large party.

With this group were: Acting W/C W. M. Keddie (a Canadian serving with the R.A.F.), L/Cdr C. A. R. Gibb of the Royal Navy and F/Lieuts A. A. F. Hickman, C. H. Simpson, Acting F/Lieuts A. M. L. Alderton, T. E. Ison, R. G. Mitchell, F/O F. C. Bradley, Acting F/O H. Harvey, W. R. Mitchell, A. R. Povey, J. Shearsmith and P/Os H. F. Breakspear, A. G. H. Cooper, T. M. Dow, J. E. Glenny, S. H. Rochester, R. M. H. Ross, and D. G. Skegg.

During the first week of December, Kingston and district was buried under mountains of snow after an accumulated snowfall of thirty inches. The road to the airport was completely blocked and the airmen were cut off from the city for a day and a half. One of the instructors, George Holloway, recalled that the British personnel were not prepared for the snowstorms this area was receiving.

“We seemed to run into snow constantly and it was a problem for us. We had a limited snow removal scheme and nobody knew how to deal with snow. So when the snow came, we would all move into town and stay at one of the hotels there and tell them to give us a shout when they had the airdrome ready for us to fly on. Often we had to walk into town. The snowploughs didn’t come out as far as the station and we walked, sometimes in snowdrifts six feet deep, as far as Portsmouth where we could get a bus that took us the rest of the way into town.”

Even by Canadian standards, we were experiencing unusual amounts of snow. The war years saw some of the heaviest snowstorms experienced in this area. Ex-instructor Holloway recalled an amusing event that happened to him on his way to

“I was on the ‘DUTCHESS OF RICHMOND’ and there was a young Canadian who wanted to come to Kingston and wanted to trade with me then and there…I would go to Moose Jaw and he would come here. I didn’t rush into this and asked a few Canadians first what they thought about the idea. One guy said to me, ‘Well, I’ve just had a letter from my aunt in Moose Jaw and there’s six feet of snow there already. So I decided against trading with him and came to Kingston. We arrived on November 15, 1940 in a big snowstorm.”

Describing what it was like to fly during their first winter here, he said: “On very cold nights, going night flying in the Fairey Battles was really no picnic. When in the air, you could close the windows but on taking off and landing, you had to have the perspex back to see what was going on. It was some of the coldest nights we had ever experienced.”

Mr. Holloway had completed one tour of operations before being posted to Kingston and was enthusiastic in his assessment of Canadian pilots: “In the beginning, we were getting the cream of the crop, with some having had previous flying experience. The standard was very high. They were first rate all the way. Canadians are better pilots than the rest of the world, but they don’t realize it. As a race, they are great pilots.” Mr. Holloway returned to Kingston to live after the war.

The entry in the C/O’s diary for December 2, 1940 states that No.3 Course ADS (Advanced school) commenced, and No. 2 Course ITS (Intermediate School), made up of twelve pupils from 8 E.F.T.S. Vancouver and twenty-eight pupils from 7 E.F.T.S. Windsor, commenced.

Next Chapter: First Pilots Receive Their Wings

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