Recognizing a BCATP school, keeping community ties alive

News Article / October 25, 2016

To see more images, click on the photograph under "Image Gallery".

By Major Holly-Anne Brown

Dismal, rainy weather did not deter veterans, dignitaries, 736 Squadron cadets and local Canadian Armed Forces reservists from gathering for a special commemorative event at the Mont-Joli, Québec, Regional Airport on August 22, 2016. 

The small town, located in Québec’s Bas-Saint-Laurent region, south of the Saint Lawrence River, has strong historical ties to today’s air force. It was home to Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Station Mont-Joli and, from 1941 to 1945, No. 9 Bombing and Gunnery School, which provided instruction to air observers, bomb aimers, and wireless air gunners in the techniques of their trades.

No. 9 Bombing and Gunnery School was stood up, as were many other facilities, under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP), Canada’s greatest contribution to the Allied efforts and ultimate victory in the Second World War. The aircraft employed by the bombing and gunnery schools included Avro Ansons, Fairey Battles, Bristol Bolingbrokes, and Westland Lysanders.

To mark the 75th anniversary of the creation of the school, the August 22 ceremony was held to celebrate the unveiling of a commemorative bronze plaque, installed just outside the entrance to the Mont-Joli Regional Airport. Displayed prominently, the plaque reads, “In memory of those who served their country under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan at the 9th Bombing and Gunnery School.”

For Martin Abud, a former (1974-77) aviation (engines) technician with 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron, the ceremony was the culmination of countless volunteer hours of planning and coordination. His three-year labour of love began when he was building a hangar for his own private aircraft. Upon discovering that Mont-Joli was once an RCAF training base, he immediately began researching No. 9 Bombing and Gunnery School. Learning that No. 9’s 75th anniversary was approaching, he initiated plans to commemorate the event.

His fondest wish was to connect the past, as represented by the veterans, and the present, through serving members, to the future, represented by the air cadets who attended. He recognizes that such a connection is important for young Canadians who may be considering a career with the RCAF. “Keeping the memory alive is a sign of respect,” Mr. Abud says. “For me, this event was important to give thanks – not just to Mont-Joli but also to the Canadian Forces – for the training I received.” 

The BCATP and the enduring relationship the RCAF built with Canadian communities such as Mont-Joli under “The Plan,” is a cherished part of Canada’s rich aviation history. The presence during the ceremony of the 2016 Demonstration CF-188 Hornet fighter, with its creative painted design saluting the BCATP, helped to connect Mont-Joli’s historical past with today’s RCAF, as did Captain Ryan Kean, who piloted the Demo Hornet into Mont-Joli and attended the ceremony as a guest. Mont-Joli Mayor Danielle Doyer, and Chantale Lavoie, president of the Mont-Joli Regional Airport, also attended the ceremony.

The town of Mont-Joli further recognizes its connection to the BCATP and No. 9 Bombing and Gunnery School with a painting, which is very appropriately displayed on the exterior wall of Mont-Joli Post Office No. 9.

As time goes on, as Canada’s Second World War efforts fade from personal memory, events such as this will continue to “keep the ties alive” between the RCAF and the Canadian communities that have given – and continue to give – so much.

Four Years and a Bit

The following is an excerpt from Four Years and a Bit, a book by Vern White about his Second World War years, from his time as a green airman training at British Commonwealth Air Training Plan schools in Canada in 1941-42, through his service in Europe and his time spent as a prisoner of war, to his arrival home in Canada after the war.

Our next stop was Bombing and Gunnery school and we heard rumours it was to be Mossbank, Saskatchewan. I hoped for one of the Ontario schools at Mountain View near Belleville, or Fingal or Jarvis on Lake Erie. It was not to be any of these and we drew #9 B&G, which had just opened at Mont Joli – situated on the St. Lawrence about 200 miles [322 kilometres] east of Québec city. We arrived there on the morning of April 13 [1942] and found ourselves in a sea of mud. There were raised duck-walks connecting most of the buildings. Fortunately, it was dry as a bone around the hangars and on the freshly poured asphalt where the Fairey Battles were lined up. These single-engine aircraft or ones like them had seen service in the Battle of France in 1940 and two years later they were used for both bombing and gunnery training in Canada.

The base itself was situated a short distance from the town of Mont-Joli and we were located right on the St. Lawrence. At this point, the river is about 25 miles [40 kilometres] wide and we could barely see the North Shore. It was an ideal location as there was a large bay nearby providing plenty of space for the bombing range, which consisted of a bright triangular floating target anchored in the water. There were headlands on either side of the bay where measuring devices were placed to take sighting on the bomb bursts, which were plotted on a chart for each student. The scores were retained and became the basis for success or failure.

Our course last six weeks and were delighted to learn that there would be a lot less classroom work than at AOS [Air Observer School]. We learned about the construction and fusing of bombs and the many factors affecting the trajectory of the bomb on its way downward. We were trained on the Vickers gas-operated machine gun (VGO for short) even though by now it was virtually obsolete. However, it served the purpose and we learned how to take the gun apart and put it back together again. In theory we learned how to clear troubles when the gun jammed but the stoppages which were frequent sometimes had to be cleared by an armourer after we landed. In those days, I wasn't very good at things mechanical and not much has changed in the intervening years.

The practice bombing exercises were fun – better than today's video games, for sure. The students went aloft in pairs with an RCAF pilot flying the Fairey Battle. Each of us had six 11-pound [5-kilogram] practice bombs to drop, but first we had to fly a triangular course to calculate the wind speed and direction. As with navigation, the wind factor was the unknown and an accurate wind was absolutely essential for good bombing results. We use the Mark 9 bombsight which was still in general use on most squadrons overseas. There were other settings such as height and airspeed and then we were all set to do our thing.

Unless otherwise directed, the pilot was required to fly straight and level on the run up to the target. If he was off line the bombing aimer would order an alteration with the words, "left, left" or "right" as appropriate. When the wind setting was perfect, the target would pass along a pair of parallel drift wires on the bombsight. When the vertical and horizontal sites were in alignment we would depress a hand-held plunger, which released the bomb electrically. If it wasn't a perfect run, we would say "dummy run" and have to go around again.

I recall only too well dropping my first practice bomb. It was a fairly calm day and the wind was not a major factor. I checked all the settings very carefully, and was all set to go. The Battle was a much faster aircraft than the old Anson and the target seemed to appear out of nowhere in the blue waters some 6,000 feet [1,829 metres] below. Very quickly the two markers on the bombsight came into alignment. I was certain we would be far short but had no reason to call a dummy run on this my first attempt, and pressed the release button anyway. The little white bomb fell away and as I looked ahead at the target I was more certain than ever that I goofed. I could see the bomb dropping vertically but it seemed to be falling behind the aircraft. In actual fact the bomb was gradually losing its forward speed and gravity was taking over while the aircraft itself was continuing to move forward at its normal cruising speed. As I looked down and to the rear, the bomb still seem to be going straight down when all of a sudden it appeared to suddenly change direction and shoot straight ahead parallel to the river before splashing into the St. Lawrence in a cloud of white smoke, a lot closer to the target then I expected. The trajectory of the bomb was actually a parabolic curve but it created an illusion of sorts as seen from the bomb aimer’s position in the nose of the aircraft. It always took new trainees like myself by surprise even though our instructor had warned us about what to expect.

At the same time, we started gunnery exercises. Again, two of us would go up together, each of us with a drum of ammunition for the Vickers machine gun. The armourers painted the tips of the 303 ammo, blue in one drum and red in the other, so that the hits on the go target could be allotted to me or my flying partner. The target was a long nylon sleeve towed several hundred yards [metres] behind another Fairey Battle which flew parallel to our aircraft or in some other configuration to test or marksmanship. The drogue was never close to our aircraft and my scores were seldom that great. What I still remember most was the "fearless" things we did in those days. There wasn't much danger, I suppose, if we were careful, but the gunnery station in the battle was an open cockpit behind the pilot. When firing, the gunner stood up with a strong leash snapped to his parachute harness and the other end snapped to a metal ring on the aircraft frame. That was all there was between Florence White's son and the St. Lawrence River. When not firing, we crunched down in a confined space breathing the glycol fumes. These flights and our bombing exercises were usually 60 to 90 min., and we got accustomed to discomfort. Occasionally if we finished early the pilots would go low flying down the Matpedia valley as a respite from the boring business of being a staff pilot at B & G School. Many of them wanted to be posted overseas and some of them got their wish later in the war.

The submarine scare occurred at Mont Joli when we were there and it created a great flap with good reason. The German U-boats were inflicting heavy losses in the North Atlantic and were becoming increasingly bold and begin entering the Gulf of St. Lawrence and attacking ships not far from our station. We awoke one morning to see two Canso anti-submarine aircraft on the shoreline. They were armed with depth charges and flew reconnaissance patrols up and down the river. One night we heard explosions downstream and the rumour mill reported that a German sub had been attacked by a Navy patrol ship. The river was so wide at this point there was lots of space for the U-boats to ply their trade. Several allied ships were sunk in these waters in the spring of 1942 and the history books will show if any German subs met a similar fate. They had no reason to fear the presence of the student bomb aimers and gunners with their 11 pound practice bombs and VGO machine guns.

Date modified: