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While the bulk of trainees in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) came from Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, there were hundreds that came from places in occupied Europe, the United States and lesser-known parts of the British Commonwealth. These trainees were integrated into the Royal Air Force (RAF) quota, except for some Americans who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).

Medicine Hat, Alberta sleeping quartersMost of these trainees trained at two bases, one of which was No. 34 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) in Medicine Hat, Alberta. The base log states that a total of 447 pupils from Allied countries trained there, including one Argentinian, 74 Belgians, four Singalese, 94 from Czechoslovakia, three Danes, 48 Dutch, 40 French, one Lithuanian, 146 Norwegians and 31 Poles. Other trainees in the BCATP came from Jamaica, Nigeria, Trinidad, Cypress, India, Java and Ireland, among other places. Certain events reflected the multi-cultural nature of the base. On May 18, 1942, there was a dinner put on by members of the Royal Norwegian Air Force for the 128th anniversary of Norway’s Constitution Day. On July 3rd, airmen received wings of the Polish Air Force.

We have little in terms of first hand accounts from the trainees of these many countries. Marcus Humphrey, an American, is one exception. One thing he noticed was that a certain symbol of the Canadian prairies was a useful navigation aid: "Now every town in the prairie provinces of Canada has the requisite grain elevator. This is the bread-basket of Canada. All of them have on the side or on the roof the name of the town. When we discovered this we got to feel like we could find our way from here to there and back with no trouble at all. The secret was, if one got confused or lost and you could see a town, all you had to do was follow the iron compass, our name for the railroad, over there and you got an immediate fix on the name of the town. So cross-country flying, although it was another new experience for us, didn’t seem all that difficult."

Marcus Humphrey, American in the Royal Canadian Air ForceBefore December, 1942, Americans who wanted to fly in World War II came to Canada to train simply because America had not entered the war. After Pearl Harbour and American entrance into the war, those Americans already training in Canada were faced with a difficult choice, explains RCAF pilot Doug Warren: "Of course the Americans serving in the RCAF (we had none in our group), were torn between staying in Canada or trying to get back to the US and entering the American forces. Many stayed in training in Canada. There were two basic reasons for this I feel. The first was the fact that many of those who were training as pilots had tried to join the US Army Air Corp before coming to Canada and were not enlisted. The peace time standards required a college degree. The other reason was that the men who wanted 'to get into action' had a better chance of doing so at an earlier date if they completed their training in Canada."

According to Warren, however, it may have been a futile choice. "Calgary had a large number of young Americans in the RCAF working on the flight line on menial tasks. These AC2s [Leading Aircraftsman 2nd Class], the lowest rank possible, were employed on tarmac duties (rather than guard duty as our course had done at Mossbank). There were two versions as to why this occurred. One version said that the government didn’t want Americans with rifles guarding defence establishments (we could look after ourselves). The other version said that a group of Americans staged a protest: they didn’t come to Canada to do guard duty, they wanted to fly. So, at least to give them the impression they were going to fly, they put them on tarmac duty while awaiting a flying training course."

Warren wasn’t the only person to notice some discrimination against certain people. RCAF Gordon Diller wrote his final exams in March 1945. "The course was led by the Jamaican chap in the RAF who achieved a total of 1850 marks for 92.5 percent. I managed a total of 1806 marks for 90.3 percent, and came 22nd out of a total of 381 graduates. The irony of this was that normally a percentage of the top of the class were granted commissions—I was granted one and the Jamaican chap was not. One of those political things, I guess, because he was a person of colour."

Eric Robinson was an instructor with the RAF, serving in Medicine Hat, who noticed certain trends among the various nationalities.

"At this stage of the war [in early 1943] we were receiving quite a lot of students who had escaped from German-occupied countries and after they had been taught a minimum of English they came to us to be taught to fly so that they could join squadrons in England to have a crack at a common enemy. We trained Norwegians, Dutch, French, Belgians as well as British and students from other Commonwealth countries. They varied tremendously in temperament. The Norwegians for example were very calm and efficient. One day I was flying over the prairie with a pupil and spotted three Harvards in Vee formation almost on the deck (ground). On closer inspection I found that they were three Norwegians, at an advanced stage in the course, doing some superb flying, but breaking all the rules. Then number three rolled over the top of the formation into echelon starboard. As it was wartime and those boys were obviously going to do an excellent job somewhere later on I could not possibly report them.

"At the opposite end of the scale we found that the French and Belgian student pilots were generally very excitable and prone to flare-ups. A Belgian student B was on a spinning exercise with me. After several demonstrations I took him up to ten thousand feet, fortunately, as it turned out, to let him try one. He pulled the stick back, applied right rudder and when told to recover he just froze on the controls and he would not relax or let go. Eventually after too many turns and strenuous efforts on my part to recover without success, I started to curse and swear at him, when he suddenly came to his senses and let go. After almost going through the top of the aircraft as the stick suddenly went forward, we leveled off just above the tree tops! On landing he said "If I do dat again you swear at me, it do good!""

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