During World War Two, the United Kingdom found that they didn’t have the space required to train an air-force large enough to combat Nazi Germany. To solve this, the British parliament called upon the commonwealth to support their forces in aircrew training. Together they created the British Commonwealth Airforce Training Program or the BCATP. Canada, Australia and New Zealand all signed onto this deal on December 17, 1939 and began preparations to support troops in training. Canada built 151 airbases across their country and created training programs to prepare volunteer Canadian troops. Between the three countries, the UK received 131,553 men in the form of pilots, air-gunners, navigators, wireless operators and flight engineers. These soldiers were an essential piece of the Allied Forces’ victory and their resounding success has led to Canada becoming a major global power in air-force training for UN and NATO peacekeeping missions.
During this time Canadian soldiers were supported by overwhelming patriotism from their fellow citizens. Communities rallied around their local airbases and they celebrated whenever a new one opened. Trainees from New Zealand, Australia and Britain were greeted with open arms and welcomed into Canada as soon as they came. Many soldiers married into their surrounding communities, which brought new diversity to Canada’s population. Overall, the incredible support from Canadians made the daunting task ahead seem clearer for many aircrew personnel, and the ability to stay involved in the war efforts at home brought communities together. Giving civilians a chance to play a part in the war efforts without putting themselves on the front lines bolstered national pride and brought military action into the spotlight for the people of Canada.
(stamp released alongside the beginning of Canada’s involvement in the BCATP on Dec. 17th 1939.)
While their soldiers trained and fought, Canada’s airbases began to build up their surrounding rural communities. Towns and communities began to rise up around airfields. In these areas, the large influx of training soldiers supported merchants and their families, while other civilians, including women were presented with high-paying job opportunities to support themselves and the war effort. Local companies received contracts to supply goods such as gravel or heating to the airbases and many soldiers took up residence in the surrounding towns. This new income brought these new communities across Canada to new wealth and prestige, which allowed them to become more economically stable, something that has generally been up-kept since then. As all of this occurred almost directly after the Great Depression, hundreds of families were pulled out of deep financial issues by these airfields and the profits they brought with them.
(Aeriel view of an airforce training center in Saskatchewan.)
(A female employee refueling a plane at an airbase)
(Many women were employed by the RCA during the second world war, giving them a new opportunity to serve their country.)
During the BCATP, Canadian Prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King viewed the war efforts by Canada as “the most essential military action that Canada could undertake”. Though he was incredibly supportive of the Crown, King had one requirement that would change how Canadian pilots were viewed throughout the rest of the war by their own country and the rest. Rather than be absorbed into the British army, King requested that Canadian aircrew be allowed to label themselves as a part of the Royal Canadian Airforce (RCA). Allowing Canadians to fight as their own entity, has had a lasting impact on Canadians across the country, both military personnel and civilians. Before this time, Canadians had only ever fought as a faction of the British commonwealth, but now they were more than that. King’s decision was the beginning of an era of politically Canadian identity, which we have held onto since and will continue to value for years to come.
The BCATP ended on March 31, 1945. With it came the solemn closing of one hundred and fifty one Canadian airbases, and though many communities would be losing integral parts of their society, the fact that Canada was able to attribute this to the end of the Second World War and their hard-won success made it a victory. Though Canada lost countless brave lives, their efforts wouldn’t be forgotten, and the Royal Canadian would continue to represent their country in times of need. The BCATP allowed Canadians to fight as their own people for the values they believed in, and gave them the autonomy of serving under their own flag, while bringing civilians to place where war efforts were a nation-wide concern in which everyone who wished could play a part.