When the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP)
was announced, hundreds of men lined up to enlist. While all
openings were filled, most recruits were turned away. The
existing facilities were simply not capable of handling the
large volume of applicants. This caused some men to apply to
the army or navy instead, but there remained a steady stream
of air force recruits as air training bases continued to
open and accommodate the BCATP.
first school to open in Alberta was in Lethbridge. In June
1939, Kenyon Air Field was opened by a civilian flying club
and, shortly thereafter, appropriated by the Royal Canadian
Air Force (RCAF) to become No. 5
Elementary Flying Training School
(EFTS). As in many instances, a local construction
company was hired to build barracks and hangars. Construction
of the bases was rarely a problem, but finding enough staff
often was. The RCAF realized that it must look to the community
for help. While they sent personnel to all of the bases,
it was impossible for the RCAF to staff them completely
internally. Ultimately, many were hired from the community.
Given the short time in which each base was surveyed,
selected, constructed and opened, it is not hard to fathom
difficulties in terms of the facilities. For example, many
bases had difficulty obtaining enough aircraft. There were
only a certain number available, and they could only
be built so quickly. A new school would slowly accumulate
aircraft, sending aircrew instructors to go by road to other
schools and fly them back. Some were delivered by rail and
needed assembling upon arrival at the base. After being
given a reasonable amount of time, most bases found they had
acquired a fleet large enough to sustain efficient training.
Other facilities posed problems as well. At many bases in
rural Alberta, access to water was limited. It seems that, in
some cases, water had to be brought in by truck, and as a
result, availability was quite limited. A certain amount had
to be used for cooking, cleaning and drinking. Bathing was to be done less frequently than usual, and
students were ordered to use water quite sparingly.
Thankfully, this sort of problem was the exception and not
the BCATP progressed, life on the base got better. Problems
with facilities were ameliorated, and once the bases were
running smoothly and efficiently, students found themselves
able to direct some of their energy toward leisure activities.
Eventually, recruits at the bases created recreational facilities,
fashioning bowling alleys, games rooms or libraries to suit
the desires of those at the station. Sports teams were
formed and the necessary equipment was usually provided.
The BCATP was a very ambitious project, and at its outset,
providing all of the necessary amenities was next to impossible.
However, as the Plan progressed, facilities were put in
place and aircrew trainees became accustomed to, and often
satisfied with what was accessible to them.