William (Bill) Belford grew up on a wheat and sheep
farm in the northern wheat belt of western Australia. Belford
joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in June 1943.
He underwent initial training in Perth and his elementary training
in Cunderdin. He was then drafted to Canada, arriving
at the No. 3 Manning
Depot (MD) in March 1944. Posted at No. 36
Service Flying Training School (SFTS), Penhold, Belford
trained on a twin-engine aircraft, the Airspeed Oxford Mk
2. He received his wings in August, but owing to a surplus
of pilots in Europe, was sent back to Australia.
In this excerpt from his memoirs, "One Airman’s
Odyssey," Belford describes some of the unique aspects of flying in Alberta.
summer advanced, all traces of snow on the prairie slowly
disappeared and the snow line on the Rockies retreated upwards
until only the highest peaks retained any snow at all. The
countryside became a lush green as wheat crops grew and
eventually ran into head. The time available for growing
at this latitude was limited from the time the ground thawed
out in May until the onset of winter by mid-October. As
a result, the method of harvesting was to cut the wheat
in September and leave it lying on the ground until October
when it had dried out sufficiently to allow the heads to
be threshed of their grain.
A thresher was used for this purpose, but in this process
they tended to sweep up large amounts of wheaten chaff into
large mounds. All this we observed whilst undertaking our
flying exercises around Red Deer, and we found it very exhilarating
to dive on these mounds and climb steeply away with full
power on. It was amazing how far we could spread one of
those mounds. The farmers were not impressed and continually
complained to administration about it, but there was not
a great deal that could be done, unless someone admitted
that they had been responsible.
Pilot navigation was by "Dead Reckoning," which meant careful
map reading of the intended track. This meant that we plotted
our course for a cross-country exercise by first drawing a straight
line on our map from our base, Penhold, to the destination
or destinations and back to base. After receiving the forecasted
wind speed and direction from the meteorology section covering
our intended journey, we were able to calculate the compass
heading required to keep us on track. Having calculated
our expected ground speed, we then marked off where we should
be along the track at each five-minute interval. It was then
fairly easy to keep to our intended flight path by keeping
a sharp lookout for any special features that we knew to
be along the way.
Special features could be a major road, a railway line,
a body of water (lake or river) or a town. That was the
theory. In practice, however, around Red Deer we had a far
better and more reliable source—the local topography.
First, there was the railway line running north and south
from Edmonton to Calgary and through Red Deer. Second, there
was the Red Deer River that ran through the town. Finally,
each town along the railway line had large wheat silos with
the name of the town painted on them in very large letters.
So, any one who got lost on a cross-country exercise around Red Deer
in daylight should never have been flying there.
Although visual navigation at Penhold was relatively simple,
there was one peculiarity of which we had to be aware. Throughout
the world, a compass heading did not necessarily indicate
true-north bearing. An allowance for this variation, as
it was called, had to be made on the plane's compass setting.
At Cunderdin in western Australia, this was not significant,
as the variation was only four degrees. But at Penhold it was
26 degrees east. If you forgot to set your compass correctly
before take off, you would soon be in trouble. All
aeronautical maps showed this variation as a line drawn across the map
with the amount of variation shown beside the line, rather
like an isobar on a weather map. It remained permanent so
there was no problem in finding out what it was anywhere.
It was caused by the structure of the earth where one was,
so I suppose that the proximity of the Rockies caused the
large variation in Alberta.