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John Aitken

Course 74, 'A' Flight at Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Station Calgary, Alberta, No. 3 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) 1943.A Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) man, Flight Lieutenant (F/L) John K. Aitken was posted to No. 3 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) Calgary, where he received advanced flying training and ultimately, his Wings. Unlike other trainees, F/L Aitken did not interact with the local communities a great deal. He did, however, greatly enjoy the Canadian landscape and leave found him exploring the Calgary Zoo and Banff, canoeing amongst beavers and moose and spending afternoons trapping gophers with friends. 

Leave was an integral component of training, and was a effective way for those in training to relax and take a break from the harsh realities and seriousness of training. The simple pleasure of leave is captured in the following expert.

 

We used to get leave every now and then and sometimes go into the city [Calgary]. The tramlines were right outside the camp gate, and we visited the excellent parks, etc. There was quite a good zoo where we saw coyotes and squirrels, and I suppose many other North American animals, too. There were also concrete replicas of dinosaurs, of which there were a lot of their bones discovered in this area. Some were so large that you could walk upright right underneath them. 

There were lots of waterways we could explore by canoe. In general, though, we did not have much contact with the local population, and, as far as I know, none of us ever got to see the inside of a Canadian home. This was quite the opposite in Eastern Canada where most of the Royal CanaCourse 74 at Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Station Calgary, Alberta, No. 3 Service Flying Training School (SFTS), flying west of the city, 1943.dian Air Force (RCAF) stations had standing invitations for overseas trainees to stay with local families...

One weekend, some of us went up to Banff by train and stayed in a boarding house. We had a good look at the Bow Falls and the huge Banff Springs Hotel, which was closed at the time, but whether it was for the season or for the war, I am not sure. We hired bikes and got around quite a bit and I rented a trout rod, but didn't have any luck. We had a pretty good time and resolved to back again if we could.

One of our pastimes if we had half of a day off was to try and catch gophers, the little ground squirrels that were very common around the perimeter of the airfield. They were very watchful and would duck down into their burrows as we approached, but we would put a slip knot noose around the hole and retire a distance to the other end of our piece of string. After a while, just the lop of a head and a couple of eyes would appear, but if we kept still, a little more, and a little more, would come out. Then a jerk on the string and "gotcha"! They had a nasty pair of little fangs and it was a bit of a risk holding them to get the noose off again and let them go.

...The Canadians had very strange liquor laws. Down in the city there were beer parlours with separate entrances for males and females, with tables and chairs down the sides. But, once you got to the bar, it was common to both sexes. I can't remember whether you could have a female at your table, but I don't think so. You couldn't take any liquor away with you, and had to have a liquor license, which restricted you to so much of this or that per month, according to the strength of the booze you were buying. We all had to go down to the government liquor store to get enough for the [graduation] party and produce our identity cards to get our licenses. I was only 20 at the time and if the minimum age was 21, it did not seem to matter.

[On another leave], from May 29th, 1943 until 2200 hours June 7th, 1943, we were given permission to visit the United States. We had enjoyed our previous visit to Banff so much, however, that five of us— Dave Moriarty, Gallagher, Jack Brightwell, Lyn Price and myself—went up there for a few days before heading off east. We rented a little log cabin just across the river from the shopping area and had no trouble feeding ourselves, as food rationing in Canada was a bit of a joke. We hired canoes and paddled up river, then up a little creek and under a railway bridge. When the creek got narrow we dragged the canoes until we came out onto a little lake. On the far side, there were a couple of moose, but they took off before we got near. Several beavers were swimming around. When we paddled up near them, they would slap the water hard with their tails and dive. It was good fun, we even got close enough to get splashed from the slap.

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