A QFI IN CANADA
Reg Davis - Pilot
47 Sqn SEAC
Having received my'calling up' papers, I duly reported to the Air Crew Receiving Centre at St John's Wood London, on 20th October 1941, where a group of about 30/40 met in the Long Room at Lords' cricket ground and were then billeted in the up-market flats, north of Regents Park.
The following days were spent learning how to live in a limited bed space with all the kit etc collected from a local store: undergoing medical injections and vaccination - and in strange new hard boots, forever being marched around the local area by a masochistic Corporal - who so 'enjoyed' the authority vested in him by the two stripes.
Our stay here was brief before moving to No.17 Initial Training Wing at Scarborough where we were taught all ground school studies, much marching and lots of PT.
A 'Grading school' course then followed, at Sibson, an Empire Flying Training School near Peterborough where you were given basic flying instruction in Tiger Moths and sent off to fly the aircraft solo when considered proficient enough to do so - that was the sole purpose of the course. A maximum of 15 hours was permitted, but failure at any stage meant being dropped from pilot training immediately, and remustered to another aircrew duty. I was fortunate that after five and a half hours flying with a pleasant instructor, and 30 minutes with an 'examiner,' I was sent for my first solo circuit and landing, which took 10 minutes, on 19th April 1942.
With 6 hours and 10 minutes in my new log book I crossed the Atlantic in a Polish liner - SS Batory, with reputedly 6000 service personnel on board - May 18-25th, then followed the usual progression of EFTS flying at Neepawa, Manitoba (Tiger Moths) from where I was posted for a single-engine course to No.32 Service Flying Training Sschool, flying Harvards, at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan where I was awarded an 'above average' rating and presented with my 'wings' on 18th December 1942.
I graduated, like the majority on my course, with the single minded ambition to become a fighter pilot - preferably to fly Spitfires and we looked forward to returning together to the UK with this in mind. When our postings were promulgated I was at first quite disheartened to learn that I was one of three to be retained in Canada, and posted for flying instructor training to No.1 Flying Instructors School in Ontario, instead of going to an Operational Training Unit.
With the other two, who had both been commissioned as Pilot Officers, we completed the Instructors course at No.1 FIS at Trenton, Ontario, flying first in very cold Cornells, then learned the more advanced instructional patter for the Harvard. The course started on 9th January during the most severe winter weather with very heavy snow falls and freezing temperatures. We flew from the compacted snow in the coldest temperature I had ever experienced - Lake Ontario was frozen and condensation in the 'gosport tubes' (like thin hose pipes) which linked the front and rear cockpits in the Cornells, would freeze solid after speaking for a short time - therefore all training flights were restricted to no more than 30 minutes until the temperature and conditions improved.
Having finished the course at No 1 FIS, and qualified with an A rating as a 'C' category instructor, qualifying me to instruct both day and night, I was posted back to the 'prairies' on 10th March 1943 to the SFTS at Medicine Hat Alberta, where after a check flight with the Chief Flying Instructor, I flew on 12th March with pupils at the end of course No.69. On the 22nd a new course, No.77, began with a fresh batch of pupils direct from EFTS.
Initially four pupils would be allotted to each instructor and would remain with the same instructor for most of their training, apart from additional flight checks and tests, unless there was a need for change, brought about by differences in temperament between Instructor and pupil or for one reason or another.
The SFTS at Medicine Hat was laid out on similar lines to most of those created for RAF training elsewhere in Canada, but differed in that the main east-west public road split the camp into two sections, with the messes and living quarters on the northern side and a vast flying area with the hangars and long wide concrete runways to the south. This was a big school with four courses running continuously, thus a 'wings parade' took place every 'month'.
This required a large staff of instructors to deal with the ground studies, in addition to the large flying instructional staff, the latter mainly from the UK but quite a number from European countries. In a similar manner, the pupils came from differing nations, but there was no regard to this when they were allocated to a flying instructor - so over a period you would fly with pupils from Norway, Poland, Belgium, France, Holland as well as from Australia, Canada and UK.
In addition to the EFTS pupils, some who had failed the course whilst training in America, would be given the opportunity to try again and be included in one of the courses.
F/Sgt R Davis, Medicine Hat, Alberta
There was always a certainty about the weather, making flying possible for most days of the year, and additional ground studies would be introduced when flying had to be 'scrubbed' due to rain or sand storms during the summer months, or a heavy snow falls during the winter period. The good weather also made it possible to plan and carry out long cross-country flights, and much formation flying, particularly towards the end of a course when pupils were accumulating and building up their flying hours.
With the advent of the winter weather, the snow would be rolled and compacted. Flight direction for take off and landing would then be determined by the line of the wind-sock. It was always a difficult time for pupils on a course when the snow began to thaw. Not being used to landing on runways, they had little or no experience of correcting for drift on the approach before touching down and many wing-tips were damaged from the resulting ground-loops.
Pupils would arrive from EFTS (Tiger Moths) with about 60 flying hours and would then start the SFTS course of approx. 120 hours - thus graduating with close to 200 hours - after which they would be selected and posted for further training on single or twin engine aircraft - to Advanced Flying Units and Operational Training Units for conversion to Hurricanes/Spitfires or multi-engined aircraft.
The majority would en-train back to the transit camp at Moncton, to await a boat to return to UK - but a selected few would be posted to a General Reconnaisance course, with its emphasis on astro-navigation, possibly leading to a posting to a Coastal Command squadron.
Pupils did not have a great deal of spare time for other activities as the SFTS course was a clear well defined programme for the period of 16 weeks, without a break, covering all aspects of the day and night flying syllabus with ground studies during the mornings and flying during the afternoon - alternating each week. The programme being altered to accommodate the night flying period.
The last 7-10 days of the course would be taken up with the eagerly awaited 'Flying Test' and ground school examinations, leading to the last Friday of the course when with a formal passing out parade, the graduates would be presented and awarded their 'Wings' - now recorded in their RAF Log book as the 'Flying Badge'.
Later by early afternoon, clear from the parade, the new Sergeant Pilots would be gone from the station and the Instructors granted leave until the following Monday morning, ready to meet a new group of 60 keen, eager young men: most were apprehensive and somewhat fearful about flying the Harvard, as it had gained a poor reputation for being 'uncontrollable' during a spin. I had not found this so, and tried to eliminate the myth during the initial flight I had with each of my pupils.
After a few months instructing I was fortunate enough to be one of the five pilots put forward to fly with members of the Visiting Flight from the Trenton Central Flying School, who made random visits to the training schools, when the standard of flying and instructing ability was put to the test. My flying and ground studies proved to be satisfactory and my rating was upgraded to Category B - thus permitting me to authorize pupils to fly solo, either by day or night, but it also added additional duties and responsibilities.
On such a large training School, there was always a great deal of activity, with four different courses progressing through the various stages of the flying programme, from circuits and bumps, instrument, night and formation flying, leading to the final 'Wings Test' and graduation parade.
Medicine Hat, like all flying schools, had its fair share of accidents. During my period there were few flying fatalities but I was witness to one such tragedy. Returning from a long cross-country flight, during the winter, in a clear cloudless sky, at about 8000 feet, with a pupil 'under the hood' - i.e. flying on instruments, I idly watched another aircraft at a much lower height performing what appeared to be a series of gentle gliding turns. The aircraft's attitude suddenly steepened and the aircraft plunged to the ground, cutting a long black scar on the snow covered ground which I saw all too clearly as I dived down to follow it. The inevitable Court of Enquiry, to which I was called, was spread over four days. Whilst understanding the necessity of the cross examination of my account of the accident, it was not a particularly pleasant experience.
L-R: u/t pilot L Cadden - F/Sgt Davis - u/t pilot K Burns
During my service at Medicine Hat I had the good fortune to be very much involved in the flying tuition of a good many pupils who attained their 'wings', but of the six I kept all through their SFTS course, one stood out and was my 'ace' pupil.
He was a young Canadian, of minimum height, named Burns, who won 'top of the course' title in the flying section. He had a natural ability and rapidly became a confident and competent pilot much ahead of his companions, enjoying his flying, by day or night, in whatever exercise we carried out.
He was accorded an 'above average' rating at what was known as the 'D' test. This required a pupil seated under the hood in the rear cockpit of a Harvard to fly solely on instruments, and complete a take off, climb out, circuit, approach and round out before landing. The instructor involved in the front cockpit would line up the aircraft on the runway, gyro on zero, advise when to initiate turns and regain control before touch down. Of the various flying tests this was never considered to be a 'popular' one!
Kenny Burns gained his 'wings', was granted a commission as a Pilot Officer, achieved his wish to be posted to a fighter Operational Training Unit - and left for the UK. He was a fine young man, not yet 20 years of age.
I do hope he survived.*
with "little friend" Kenny Burns, Wings Day, March 1944
During Spring 1944 whilst at Medicine Hat I was granted a commission as Pilot Officer - being notified by the CO of the station G/Capt A ap Ellis, thus ended my rank as a Flight Sergeant - a rank which I enjoyed and stood me in good stead thereafter. I was not retained on the station and posted shortly afterwards to 31 SFTS - a Fleet Air Arm station at Kingston Ontario.
Life on this new station was not run as strictly as Medicine Hat, possibly due to being more Naval oriented, with a fine Mess, good food, a comfortable billet, a batman and a half share in a car with my room-mate. Regular Mess parties were held miles away in New York State - also in addition to flying to a number of American cities on cross country flights. I remember flying some 100 miles to Scidouc in the States to buy golf balls for one officer.
The pupils on a course were ranked as Acting Leading Airmen or Sub/Lts - and a ships' deck was marked out on the runway to indicate where to land - thus the Instructors thought any landing you could walk away from was a good one! There was also a relief landing strip at Gananoque, north east from Kingston near to a the low flying area where forced landings, and other exercises could be carried out safely, miles away from any habitation, where we would annoy the RCMP by flying under a bridge across the St Lawrence river.
After three months, my time as a flying instructor at Kingston came to an end as having the required number of flying hours, I was posted to the OTU at Greenwood, Nova Scotia, for a conversion course to fly the twin-engined 'Wooden Wonder', the Mosquito, which at that time was the pinnacle of nearly every pilot's ambition. It proved to be a very powerful, responsive aircraft to fly, and it was there I crewed up with Sgt Bert Reich. On the course he rapidly proved to be a first class Navigator and radio operator, he was competent and supportive, and it was his skill that got us safely back to the Greenwood valley in the frequent bad weather.
Our three month course took place when the station was being taken over from the RAF by Canadians, and subsequently the number of the OTU was changed. It was not a 'happy' period and concern grew among the aircrews, particularly as three aircraft were lost whilst carrying out night flying exercises - 'pilot error' was given as the reason. To reassure the crews that the kites were safe, we were all called to a meeting in the station cinema where we were harangued by the CO - we all listened to what he had to say!
The course progressed through a number of different 'Flights', finishing in the night flying section - and our last two cross-country flights that night proved to be quite eventful, first having to make a single engine landing after a fire in the starboard engine, and the second with faulty radios - but our seven hours flying that night completed the course and we were glad it had come to an end.
On 6th October 1944 we left Greenwood, Nova Scotia and travelled to the transit camp at Moncton, New Brunswick, to 'await the boat' for the return to UK. We finally boarded on 20th November and crossed the Atlantic on the SS Andes wondering what the future might hold.
171570 F/Lt R Davis
Links & Notes
* [editor: no Canadian of that name is listed in the CWGC database for WWII]
No.34 SFTS Medicine Hat Alberta http://members.memlane.com/djcarter/sfts34/sfts34.htm
No.34 SFTS Medicine Hat Alberta http://www.wartimememories.co.uk/airfields/medicinehat.html
31 SFTS Kingston Ontario http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RCAF_Station_Kingston
32 SFTS Moose Jaw Saskatchewan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CFB_Moose_Jaw
8 OTU Greenwood, Nova Scotia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CFB_Greenwood
page last updated 28 June 2010: © ACA Surrey Branch 2010