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Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF)

No. 2 Air Observer School, Edmonton, AlbertaMore men from the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) trained in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) than all the other participating countries combined. A staggering 72,835 RCAF aircrew qualified through the Plan to be pilots, navigators, navigator/bombers, navigator/wireless operators, air bombers, wireless operator/air gunners, flight engineers and flying instructors. They trained entirely in Canada, although many continued to learn skills during their overseas postings. 

Canada paid for the 72 percent of the Plan, a cost of $1.617 billion dollars. According to the BCATP agreement, the program was to be run by the RCAF, although there was a shortage of personnel and know-how at first. The RCAF, therefore, received significant help from the Royal Air Force (RAF). Thus, while most of the schools were RCAF administered, a number were RAF and continued to operate throughout the war.

Canadian recruits came to Alberta from across the country. RCAF recruit Jim Northrup, who hailed from Vancouver British Columbia, recalled about his new home: 

"Now I must say a word about the people of Calgary. If you went into a beer parlor you never bought a beer, either the bartender or another patron sent you a beer. None of us were drinkers and many were too young to be in a beer parlor legally. The bartenders always made sure we left after the first glass. The Calgary Brewing Company had a brewery not far from No. 11 E.D. [Equipment Depot] and you were always welcome to go in and they would give you a glass of ale. Nobody ever passed you in a car without offering you a lift. I had never met such friendly people."No. 2 Wireless School badge

Living in barracks with people from other countries was something of a change for these young men. Gordon Diller, an RCAF recruit training at No. 2 Wireless School in Calgary, noticed that things seemed to work differently in the Royal Australian Air Force from in his own division:

"One day going into the shower room for a shower, I noticed, on one of the benches, a pair of pants with what looked very much like a leg, with a shoe on it, sticking out of one of the pant legs. Sometimes it’s hard to believe one's eyes, but there it was, for real. As I stood there digesting this strange aberration, out of one of the stalls hopped this Aussie, sans one leg! Well, obviously their recruiting standards were somewhat different from ours – a one legged aircrew type would be out of the question in the RCAF, but made some sense when you really think about it – you don’t need two legs to pound a Morse key (although some guys sounded like they were using their feet) and you sure couldn’t run too far at 20K feet but, then again, couldn’t figure out how he got through basic drill and marching training."

Diller also mentions that RCAF trainees were all grouped together in one of the two wings of the school, while the other wing housed the British, Australians and New Zealanders. This setup was deliberate, says Diller, and worked well as it prevented cultural clashes.


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