No. 31 Elementary Flying Training School commemorated
News Article / August 8, 2016
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By Anne Gafiuk
Close to 200 people gathered in mid-June to commemorate the 75th anniversary of No. 31 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) De Winton at the site of the former Second World War airbase, some 25 kilometres southeast of Calgary, Alberta.
No. 31 EFTS, a Royal Air Force training school established in England in April 1941, was moved to De Winton and began operations on June 18, 1941. It was one of a number of RAF schools established in Canada during the war and, by 1942, it had turned over operations to the Royal Canadian Air Force. At this point, the school became an official part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, and was managed by the Toronto Flying Club.
In April 1943, No. 31 EFTS won the Efficiency Pennant for the most efficient EFTS in Canada for that quarter of the year. The next month, it was awarded the “Cock O’ the Walk” trophy.
According to the commemorative booklet produced for the reunion, “The Calgary Herald quoted Air Vice-Marshal G. R. Howsam, air officer commanding No. 4 Training Command, when he presented the Efficiency Pennant to the assembled personnel of De Winton. ‘Your station has been awarded the Minister's Pennant and in addition the "Cock O' The Walk" trophy as being the most efficient elementary flying training school in the British Commonwealth Air Training Scheme and the winning of the double award means much. You have achieved the highest standard of efficiency of any elementary school in the world and there is no other flying training organization compared to your own.’ ”
In July, the school proudly featured a float in the Calgary Stampede with the theme: “We Teach the World to Fly”.
By September 1944, the school had closed and today the airfield receives little use. Some of the Second World War buildings remain, however, almost lost in the long prairie grass.
Special guests at the 75th anniversary celebration, held at the site of the school on June 15, 2016, included Flight Lieutenant James Andrews from the Royal Air Force; Dr. Stéphane Gouvrement, an historian and honorary colonel of 419 Tactical Fighter Training Squadron (located at Cold Lake, Alberta); Susan Cowan, the daughter of one of the school’s commanding officers, Squadron Leader Ron Watts; Squadron Leader Rae Churchill, a former Second World War instructor at RAF Bowden; and Susan Wilkinson-Matticks, United Church minister.
Canadian veterans, civilian personnel who worked at No. 31 EFTS along with their families, persons interested in local history, and the media were among the attendees.
The master of ceremonies, Mr. Tim Johnston of Calgary, a member of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society, read excerpts from the school’s daily diary, giving the attendees an idea of what life was like on the base. Many stories of the stories brought smiles and laughter from the attentive crowd. Honorary Colonel Gouvrement spoke of the importance of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan to Allied victory in the Second World War.
During the event, two types of aircraft flown at the school took to the skies overhead: a Boeing Stearman, piloted by Alex Bahlsen, and a Fairchild Cornell, piloted by Don McLean. They represented two of the three airplanes used at No. 31 EFTS. Dave Birrell, a director at the Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alberta, explained the aircraft flown at the base. People cheered as the planes flew past, with the Stearman demonstrating some aerobatics. The third aircraft flown at the school was the de Havilland Tiger Moth, but unfortunately, due to windy conditions, the Tiger Moth owned and piloted by Doug Robertson was unable to take part.
Squadron Leader Churchill, Flight Lieutenant Andrews and Ms Cowan unveiled a bronze plaque commemorating the school, which was dedicated by Reverend Wilkinson-Matticks. The plaque now awaits permanent installation in the Davisburg District, just outside No. 31 EFTS De Winton.
After the ceremonies at De Winton, guests and attendees continued their enjoyment of the reunion during a reception held at the Davisburg Community Hall.
The Memorial Plaque
The text of the Memorial Plaque unveiled and dedicated during the reunion reads as follows:
Royal Air Force Station De Winton
No. 31 Elementary Flying Training School
Formed at Kirkham, England on April 16, 1941, this school was one of six Royal Air Force (RAF) elementary flying training schools (EFTS) sent to Canada to train British aircrew. These and other RAF schools in Canada operated alongside the schools of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCAT)) and graduated 5,296 aircrew prior to the reorganization of the Plan in July 1942. Canada was the lead nation in the BCATP, a massive undertaking that saw 131,553 aircrew graduate from 110 training schools.
During its operational life, No. 31 EFTS De Winton trained aircrew from 20 free or occupied countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, France, Czechoslovakia, Norway, Poland, Belgium and Holland. Under the terms of the reorganization, this school, along with all other Royal Air Force schools in Canada, was fully incorporated within the BCATP. The Toronto Flying Club took over management of the school with flying instructors provided by the RAF until the school’s closing on August 26, 1944.
De Havilland Tiger Moths were the first training aircraft used on the base. Supplementing these were Stearman PT-27s provided to Great Britain by the United States through the Lend-Lease Act. Following the return of the Stearmans to the United States, the school eventually transitioned to Canadian-built Fairchild Cornells.
No. 31 EFTS De Winton was recognized for its outstanding performance by the award of the Efficiency Pennant on April 30, 1943. On May 7, 1943, under command of Squadron Leader R.E. Watts, the school was awarded the “Cock of the Walk” trophy in recognition of having achieved the highest standard of efficiency of any elementary flying training school in the British Commonwealth.
Placed on June 15, 2016, this memorial is dedicated to the memory of those who trained and served at No. 31 EFTS De Winton and to those who made the supreme sacrifice in defense of their countries and democracies.
Anne Gafiuk is a member of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society and the author of She Made Them Family, a Wartime Scrapbook from the Prairies, which is based on an actual Second World War-era scrapbook.
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