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Flying training program was key to Allied victory

Military historian Stephane Guevremont was guest speaker Nov. 10 at the Empress Theatre during the Aviation Film Festival

The British Commonwealth Air Training Program was instrumental in the Allied victory in World War Two.
The program that saw flying training schools built in towns such as Fort Macleod also helped establish Canada as a world power.
“It was Canada’s greatest achievement in World War Two,” military historian Stephane Guevremont said.
Guevremont, who teaches military history at Mount Royal University and the University of Calgary, was a guest speaker during the Aviation Film Festival at the Empress Theatre.
From Dec. 17, 1939 to March 1945 the British Commonwealth Air Training Program saw 1207 schools built across Canada, including one in Fort Macleod.
During the course of its operation the program trained 167,000 students from 11 nations. The program graduated 131,553 pilots who flew during World War Two.
“We trained the world,” Guevremont said.
Guevremont cited as an example 23-year-old Ken Smith from Melville, Sask. who enlisted in 1940 and was sent to No. 2 Air Observation School in Edmonton.
From there, Smith went in January 1941 to No. 1 Air Transportation school in Rivers, Man.
As a navigator Smith completed two tours and more than 80 missions flying Mosquitoes and with the Pathfinder Squadron.
“It was very dangerous,” Guevremont said.
Smith was twice awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
“That’s just one person,” Guevremont said.”There were 167,000 who went through.”
Guevremont said a pilot would spend 10 months in ground school, elementary flight training and at a service flying training school such as No. 7 in Macleod.
Pilots trained in Canada would receive at least 113 hours of actual flying instruction.
That compares to Germany where by 1944 pilots were sent into battle with as little as eight hours flying experience.
“That’s called suicide,” Guevremont said.
Nonetheless, flying in world War Two was a dangerous profession. Bomber air crew had just a 28.3 per cent chance of completing their first tour, and a 14 per cent chance of making it through a second tour.
There were 12 flying schools in southern Alberta, including No. 7 Service Flying Training School in Macleod and No. 36 Elementary Flying Training School at Pearce.
Serve Flying Training School No. 7 opened Dec. 9, 1940 in Macleod and graduated its first class of 50 men on March 1, 1941.
A class of 50 graduated every month at Macleod after training on Avro Ansons until the base ceased operations on Nov. 17, 1944.
The school created an economic boom wherever they opened.
“There was a whole social life,” Guevremont said. “Those bases were bringing money into the economy.”
Some of the men never left Macleod. British and Australian airmen killed in training crashes rest in Union Cemetery. Across Canada there were 1,713 fatalities in the British Commonwealth Air Training Program.

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