Trenton gates commemorate Air Training Plan

News Article / September 30, 2016

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By RCAF public affairs

Sixty-seven years ago today, a set of ornate gates at the air base in Trenton, Ontario, were presented to Canada in commemoration of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP).

This year, the RCAF is commemorating the BCATP, one of the greatest air training programs the world has ever seen.

As outlined in the booklet produced after the presentation, to “commemorate the successful organization and operation of the wartime British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, representatives of the governments of the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, met at R.C.A.F. Station Trenton, Ont., on Friday, September 30, 1949. The ceremonies included the presentation of Memorial Gates to Canada, and the presentation by the R.C.A.F. of silver plaques to representatives of the Royal Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, Royal New Zealand Air Force and the United States Air Force.”

The gates stand on old Highway 2, in front of the 8 Wing Trenton’s headquarters building and the parade square where so many BCATP graduates received their aircrew wings before joining the fight against Nazi Germany.

More than 130,000 air crew from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom trained under the BCATP from 1940 to 1945. The plan’s success was praised by leaders such as Sir Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who gave Canada the proud title “the aerodrome of democracy”.

After the war, Canada’s partners in the BCATP wished to commemorate the plan with a gift of a suitable memorial to the host country. They chose a set of wrought-iron gates symbolic of the “the gates of freedom” – the freedom that BCATP graduates had defended. RCAF Station Trenton was chosen as the location for their installation and the crests of the four BCATP countries were mounted on the each of the four gates.

The ceremony to present the gates was a massive event. The long guest list included the Governor General, Viscount Alexander of Tunis, Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, Minister of National Defence Brooke Claxton and the RCAF’s Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Wilfred A. Curtis. 

As part of the ceremony, representatives of the four BCATP nations unlocked the portion of the gates bearing the crests of their respective countries. Once each gate was unlocked, sentries officially opened them for the first time and the four keys were then presented to Canadian Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent.

“It is with deep appreciation that I accept, on behalf of the Government and people of Canada, this magnificent gift from the governments of the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand,” said Prime Minister St. Laurent.

“These gates will remind us of the sacrifice of those who gave their lives so that we may live in freedom,” he continued. “They will also stand as an enduring symbol of unity of spirit among the peoples of the British Commonwealth.

“The gates will be a reminder to those, in the world today, who harbour aggressive intentions.”

The silver plaques, presented to the four Allied air forces were, in the words of the announcer at the presentation ceremony, to “show the appreciation of the Royal Canadian Air Force for the cooperation and assistance rendered by our Allies during the operation of the Air Training Plan”.

Members of the RCAF’s first post-war fighter squadron, 410 Squadron, gave a display of formation and single plane aerobatics flying Vampire jets. Harvard aircraft also performed a fly-past and formed the letters “R C A F” in the skies above Trenton.

Princess Elizabeth – the future Queen Elizabeth II – dedicated the gates in October 1951. During the event, she was presented with four keys to the gates – one for each of the BCATP nations.

On July 4, 2009, they were rededicated at a public ceremony at 8 Wing; it was a by the assistant chief of the air staff, representatives from the embassies of BCATP nations and a host of spectators.

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