Prairie Wings - RAF 34 Service Flying Training School, Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, 1941-1944
by David J Carter
Published by Eagle Butte Press. Price: C$ 35.00 (plus p&p C$ 10.00) from author at Box 39, Elkwater, Alberta T0J 1C0, Canada.
Reviewed by Graham Goss
The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan operated 107 Flying Training Schools throughout Canada during 1941 to 1945.
Medicine Hat was one of the 21 schools specifically designated to train Royal Air Force personnel within the plan. Developed from the Prairie area, Medicine Hat had witnessed the suffering of drought and poverty of the 1930s depression.
Thus the area benefited economically from the 1939-45 war with the intakes to the Flying Training School of personnel from Britain and other Commonwealth countries. The five-year span of the training plan experienced across Canada saw the construction of 8000 buildings, paving, water, electricity, thousands of vehicles including snow ploughs, fire trucks and ambulances etc. It was an incredible achievement at anytime, let alone in wartime with its shortages of materials. The cost was $2,231,129,039.
One of the greatest benefits applicable to all training stations, Medicine Hat being no exception, was the development of strong relationships between the local population and station personnel. Airmen were invited to spend their leave as guests of cities or individual residents. The warm generosity and hospitality of the Canadian people always remains a wonderful memory for those British and Commonwealth airmen who came and graduated within the BCATP.
All training bases experienced incredible pressure to provide trained aircrew to operate in the hostile theatres of the 1939-45 conflict, and those pressures caused inevitable casualties. Medicine Hat being no exception, experienced 49 training fatalities including one New Zealander, John Russell Allen (Islington, Christchurch) on 6 July 1943, aged 19 years. He was one of the 84 Kiwi casualties suffered while training in Canada.
Since 16 March 1941, Medicine Hat logged 352,067 flying hours, the highest of any training school in Canada, with 2190 pilots graduating, 92% of the original intake.
One other notable record (Guinness Book of Records) is that of Thomas Dobney, born 6 May 1926, who joined the RAF aged 14 years, 3 months. Went solo 3 weeks after his 15th birthday, gained his wings at Medicine Hat at 15 years, 4 months. He was posted to Bomber Command and became a Whitley captain. Eventually his age was exposed and was discharged 31 January 1942.
The author has provided a comprehensive account of the staff and those aircrew pupils who came, trained and graduated from Medicine Hat. The initial chapters have relied on research from personal information of those who trained at #34 SFTS, but most of the history has come from the day by day record of the station diary.
David Carter offers the book as a thank you to those who served to defend freedom, especially those who passed through the gates of #34 SFTS and its airspace. It is a final tribute to the young men from many countries who trained at Medicine Hat and then served around the world, many of whom died in far off places, some lie in peaceful surroundings, whilst others were never found.
This book is recommended reading, particularly for surviving aircrew who trained in Canada. It will stimulate memories of challenging and exciting days in a vast and beautiful country whose people could not do enough for us. They were and still are "the salt of the earth’.
Graham H, Goss
NZ Federation of Brevet Clubs