During the Second World War, hundreds of classes and tens of thousands of pilots graduated from elementary flying training courses held at schools across Canada under the umbrella of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. One such school was 19 EFTS at Virden, Manitoba. The graduating class of February 26, 1942 included 80 proud young men, their draft being mainly from Western Canada, with the exception of a few Americans.
Every graduation featured a program of events and list of graduates. During the day, a parade would be held, followed by the final banquet. The excited young pilots, each with a few flying hours on the De Havilland Tiger Moth, then would be posted to a service flying training school to train to “wings” standards. If destined for fighters, they usually would go on to a Harvard school; if going to bombers or other multi-engine planes, they usually would be posted to a school flying Ansons or Cranes.
Recently, I came across this course graduation program among the vast and endlessly fascinating holdings in the William H.D. “Bill” Meaden, DFC, Collection, which I inherited long ago from the Meaden Estate. Over the decades, readers of CANAV’s RCAF history books have seen quite a bit about Bill Meaden’s illustrious wartime and postwar RCAF careers. From Edmonton, he had begun on Course 45 at Virden on December 29, 1941. He finished on February 26 with 80 hours flying the Tiger Moth. He went on to Cranes at Dauphin, Manitoba; went overseas into the RAF training system, and finally on to operations. He excelled in Bomber Command, coming home with the Distinguished Flying Cross. You can read of Bill’s exploits in such CANAV titles as Sixty Years, The Royal Canadian Air Force at War 1939-1945, and Aviation in Canada: Bombing and Coastal Operations Overseas.
As the war proceeded, many of these young airmen kept in touch. I have many of Bill Meaden’s wartime letters. In these he and his pals often traded war stories (sometimes dreadful ones) and sometimes he received a letter back that he had written to a pal – a letter stamped “deceased”. Yes, these were young men tied up in some very brutal realities.
What about 19 EFTS, Course 45? EFTS was just the first of the flying hurdles that aspiring pilots had to face in the BCATP and later. So what became of these 80 fellows on leaving Virden early in 1942? No one’s fate could be predicted at the time. Certainly, several would have “washed out” at SFTS, where standards were tougher than at Virden. Even a small failure could see a fellow sent home to his mother. Even worse … hundreds at the SFTS stage would be killed or injured in flying accidents. Others would die in traffic accidents, drownings, fatal illnesses, even the occasional murder or suicide. It was not an easy go.
I’ve had a look through the graduate list for Course 45 at Virden and it’s clear that most of the fellows survived the war. Yes, some would not have made it through the rigours of SFTS, being shipped home perhaps for many a reason to work in the war industries, return to school, etc. From what I can see (although my work here has been limited) ten Course 45 fellows were killed either in action (KIA – killed in action) or training (KIFA – killed in flying accident). One man lost in eight is a high casualty rate, especially considering that several others did not even get beyond SFTS.
Interestingly, you can see that a number who had survived at Virden, washed out of pilot training at SFTS, but then selected alternate trades in order to fulfill their dream of serving their country in time of great need. Four of the 10 fatalities from Course 45 were not pilots. Here is my tentative list of those lost. I know of just one (Meaden) who later served in the postwar RCAF. The majority of survivors simply went home after the war to do other things. Notice the scribble on the Course 45 program – “LAC Morgan, J.C.” His bio on Wiki is worth a look. Morgan later transferred from the RCAF to the US Army Air Force, flew on B-17s over Germany, then one day had a horrendous mission. For his determined work that day, he would receive the Congressional Medal of Honour — as good as it gets at the Presidential level.
19 EFTS Course 45 – Wartime Fatalities
P/O Joseph Eloi Bohemier of St. Anne, Manitoba Age 21. KIA January 23, 1945. 441 Squadron, Pilot, Spitfire MK585 lost off Shetland Islands. No known grave. Remembered on the Runnymede War Memorial.
Sgt Douglas Oliver Broughton of Vancouver Age 21. KIA May 13, 1943. 429 Squadron, Air Gunner, Wellington HE913, shot down by a night fighter on operations to Duisberg. Broughton previously badly injured in a crash at 22 OTU (sole survivor of this crash). Buried in Nijmegen, Netherlands
F/O Harry Allan Danniger of San Bernadino, California. Age 26. KIA September 6, 1943. 419 Squadron, Bomb Aimer, Halifax DJ210, shot down, target Mannheim. Buried at Durnback, Germany.
P/O Warren Douglass Hall of Crossfield, Alberta Age 21. KIA May 7, 1944. 211 Squadron. Pilot, Beaufighter TF539, lost on operations. Remembered on the Singapore War Memorial.
FSgt James Douglas Hamilton of Kenaston, Saskatchewan. Age 22. KIA June 23, 1943. 427 Squadron, Pilot, Halifax DK141 shot down by a night fighter during operations to Mulheim. Buried Bergen-Op-Zoom, Netherlands.
FSgt Elmer Charles King of Peace River, Alberta. Age 20. KIA July 16, 1944. 44 Squadron, Air Gunner, Lancaster PB206 lost on mining operations. Remembered on the Runnymede War Memorial.
FSgt James Lawrence McConnell of Calgary, Alberta. Age 22. KIFA January 29, 1943. 22 OTU, Pilot (in training), Wellington HE650, crashed Gloucestershire. Buried Moreton-in-Marsh.
Sgt Samuel Hampton McBryde of Kingsville, Texas. KIFA October 13, 1942. 15 AFU, Pilot (in training), Oxford crashed during night training at Acaster Malbis aerodrome near Leeds.
F/O Robert Jordan Sheen of Owendale, Alberta. Age 26. KIA July 13, 1944. 415 Squadron, Pilot, Wellington MF494, lost on night anti-shipping operations North Sea. Remembered on the Runnymede War Memorial.
FSgt Hugh Phair Spencer of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Age 20 KIA May 1, 1943. 51 Squadron, Air Gunner, Halifax HR733 shot down near Essen. Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany.