The Winter Of Their Discontent

One of the Canadian pupils who graduated with the first course of pilots recalled that “the school was efficient, the discipline quite noticeable and the instruction stiff.” Another heartily disliked the regimentation found on the R.A.F. base. The biggest shock, one said, was what he described as the “really strange British food.” A story in the Whig Standard gave a typical menu for what was called a “typical” meal served the airmen: boiled mutton, onion sauce, green peas, mashed potatoes, boiled jam roll, cheese, coffee, tea.

On January 28, 1941, a Command messing officer visited the station at the request of the Commanding Officer and found the airmen’s mess unsatisfactory “due to poor cooking.” The C/O felt that the problem was caused by “the difference in the ration issued compared with the U.K. They do not include liver, kidney, tinned fruit or mustard which are popular with the British airmen. Dishes unpopular with the British troops, such as rice, macaroni and prunes, were included.”

During this winter of discontent, the C/O noted in his diary: “This is the only country I have served in where both the rates of pay and the standard messing has been different to normal service practice. Undoubtedly the men do not appreciate the changes. In another entry he noted: “Informed that under R.C.A.F. regulations no hard liquor can be sold in the Sergeant’s Mess.” He concluded: “These pin pricks are, in sum, a serious proposition.”

“An Open letter to the Erks, Cpls, Fleet Air Arm and Airmen Pilots (u.t.)”

“I have been with the R.A.F. for over 22 years as a service man and a civilian, and I have never seen so much food given to the troops as YOU get in Canada. Can anyone tell me of a Station in the Old Country where you can have your sugar, butter, and jam with as much as you want put on the table, and a second helping at breakfast, dinner or tea whenever you want it?

Everyone of you knows that your wives and families, mothers and fathers, are doing a good job over there on far less than what you get and not so good, so in future use that thing you put your hat on a little bit when you see what is served at each meal. Don’t take your food and then sit at the table until it gets cold and throw it away. You wouldn’t do that at home. Well, don’t do it while you are in the service!

Your food on this Station is good, and cooked well, also clean. We are under the watchful eye of a good Messing Officer and W. O. in P. O. Matthews and Mr. Carlisle. Remember we are not all theory trained cooks of one month from Halton. Don’t forget that the first place you run to after you have been on late work or night flying duties is the Cookhouse for a cup of hot tea and a hot meal, for which no man – who has been on duty – has yet been refused.

Give the cooks a break; many of them do their best even for you. We moan like other people, but we are always at your service day or night, rain or snow, hell or high water.”

(Signed) E.K.,
Airmen’s Kitchen


The airmen had heard this from Kingstonians all winter, and it became a standing joke. To add to their misery, a heavy thaw cleared all the loose snow and rendered the airdrome a sheet of ice which, combined with a high wind, made taxiing exceedingly difficult since neither brakes nor airmen could get any foothold.

Our winter conditions also revealed more serious problems with the Fairey Battles, and for the Commanding Officer. It was discovered that if the aircraft were allowed to do a landing more than every forty minutes, the intakes began to pack with ice. In February, the C/O made a notation that they were “taking a lot of chances in using the Fairey Battles without the air intake modifications,” and night flying training was cancelled. Since he learned that there was no chance of changing over to Harvards anywhere in the future, he decided: “It appears that the only hope of turning out decent pilots at all is to run small terms.” A few months later, the number of accidents caused by engine failure was a cause of “considerable anxiety” and high dive bombing (from 5,000 feet to 2,000 feet) was discontinued as, he noted, “it appears the Battle is unsuitable for this exercise.” Snow put the airdrome out of action again due to high winds and for the month of February there were a total of 15½ days unfit for flying.

Group Captain Alexander Shekleton, C.B.E., D.S.O.

Sadly, after months of coping with the problems of getting the station operational, Group Captain Alexander Shekleton collapsed and died of heart failure on March 1, 1941. His wife requested that his body be cremated and the ashes scattered over the open water of Lake Ontario. G/C Shekleton had served in the First World War with distinction and had been hospitalized with pneumonia shortly after arriving in Canada.

The C/O’s Diary reveals the many difficulties he encountered as he tried to bring order out of chaos. The work would have to continue under a new Commanding Officer from Great Britain.


Funeral party carrying C.O.’s casket out of St. George’s Cathedral

After twelve days at sea, No. 5 Course consisting of nine airmen and twenty-six naval ratings arrived on March 2, a week late. The diary noted: “They will not be able to commence flying instruction for about a week owing to the fact that No. 3 Course, due to lack of aircraft, has not yet passed out from ITS.”

On the 5th & 6th, a total of eight Fairey Battles were collected from DeHavilland Aircraft Company. They were very welcome “due to the lack of parts – 11 aircraft being rendered useless due to the lack of airscrews.” It was a confusing time for the station due to the shortage of aircraft and the difficulty in regulating the courses’ schedules. The diary noted that on the 10th, No. 3 Course commenced the A.T.S. programme and No. 5 commenced the I.T.S.; then on March 11, Course No. 12 arrived from England twelve days ahead of schedule.

The course numbers were altered on March 22, further confusing anyone trying to determine the number of courses which passed through the station. Course No. 3 became No. 5, Course No. 4 was altered to No. 7, Course No. 5 to 10, Course No.6 to 12. Two days later the diary noted that No. 7 Course (which had been No. 4) had to be extended for fourteen days owing to lack of aircraft, spares and equipment to carry out the necessary modification to the Battle air intake.

No. 2 Course graduated on March 24, 1941, with thirty-three pupils receiving their wings, all members of the R.C.A.F. including two Americans who had come north to enlist. At the end of yet another trying month, the diary entry showed that the serviceable aircraft totalled: 39 Battles and 6 Yales; unserviceable: 51 Battles and 2 Yales.

Next Chapter: Unsuitable For Training

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