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.
The 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 rule.
As 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.