Saluting the men who trained air crews during the Second World War- by Simon Ducatel- Vulcan Advocate


Charles Dalziel was a Royal Australian Air Force pilot during the Second World War when England began its massive air crew training program in 1942. The new mobilization led to his deployment on the Canadian Prairies, where he served as a flight instructor at Vulcan's air base. Photo courtesy of Simon Ducatel Vulcan Advocate

During some of the darkest and most desperate days of the German occupation of Europe, England and her Western Allies’ only means for counter attack was by air.

So began in 1939 the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) that led to the massive and unmatched undertaking of training and preparing air crews for missions that would send them striking targets deep into Nazi occupied Europe.

The Plan, as the BCATP was also known, was an enormous joint training program for the air forces of England and the commonwealth, and many aerodromes, including one near Vulcan, were built to start preparing air crews for retaliatory strikes against Germany.

On Friday afternoon, a memorial event dedicated to the memory of the flight instructors, who prepared the young pilots for unpredictable and often deadly situations, was held at Vulcan’s aerodrome.

Attending the ceremonies were seven flight instruction veterans of the turbulent times.

Among them was Charles Dalziel, an Australian who was serving with the Royal Australian Air Force when the BCATP’s mobilization led to his transfer to the Canadian Prairies in 1942.

He originally learned to fly training on a Tiger Moth in Australia, but underwent more training in Claresholm to get his wings. As soon as he’d successfully completed his training, Dalziel was posted to the No. 2 Flight Instruction School (FIS) in Vulcan.

The students he trained — usually about 30 at a time — came from all over the world, including New Zealand, South Africa, Poland, Norway, the U.S., England and Australia.

To get an idea on the activity at the No. 2 FIS, its first month of operations had instructors and instructor trainees accumulate 2,927 hours and 10 minutes of flying time.

In May of 1943, Vulcan’s No. 2 FIS was repurposed as No. 19 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) until the end of the war.

As a SFTS, Vulcan’s base boasted roughly 2,500 personnel — far more than even today’s population of the town — and graduated about 860 pilots. The school even earned the nickname “Western University of the Air.”

Like many other servicemen, it was during his time instructing air crews that Dalziel met his future wife, Iris Shimp, who owned the boarding house in Vulcan at the time.

“She was the prettiest girl in town,” Dalziel said, explaining that they had met during a Saturday night dance that had been held in Vulcan.

A widower since his wife died last year, Dalziel lives in Kelowna, B.C., but he wasn’t about to miss the opportunity to make it back to the aerodrome where he once trained air crews for the dangers they would face. He even bumped into an old friend, Marge Weber, a local historian in Vulcan, who he hadn’t seen in 10 years since the millennium reunion in Vulcan.

About 200 people attended the memorial event, including five-year-old Brendan Diebel and his parents Diane and Clarence, a family from High River.

“It’s a good opportunity to see the planes up close,” Diane said. “Makes the airplane books he’s reading come to life.”

Despite a smoky haze that blanketed the area — caused by fires burning in B.C. — several vintage aircraft were able to land at the aerodrome, as well as skydivers landing with flags.

Presenting at the official ceremonies were Rob Pedersen, president of the Bomber Command Museum of Canada, John Blake, mayor of Nanton, Tom Grant, mayor of Vulcan, Derrick Annable, Vulcan County reeve, Senator Anne Cools and Ted Barris, an author and historian who told some stories about life on the old base, which published its own paper called the Vulture Kulture.

In the winter of 1942, the editors of the paper published The Vulture’s Song, which demonstrated the isolated aspect of life on a base:

Oh, if I had the wings of a vulture

Way from this Vulca-traz, I would hop

And not until I got to my darling

Would I be willing to stop

Oh, if you lived as I do, so stranded

Miles from any nice girl I can date

You wouldn’t think this place was so funny

For I don’t want to be … celibate…

Oh, a bachelor’s life ain’t what it should be

Though it’s free from marital storm

But I’d gladly swop my independence

For someone to keep the bed nice and warm…

– signed: The Bard of Vulture Gulch

Although flight instructors stayed behind to train others who would be sent off to fight, that didn’t mean life was free and clear of danger.

Roughly 1,000 instructors and trainees were killed throughout the years of the BCTAP, Barris said.

While large museums in larger cities generally run up huge costs to operate and maintain, smaller museums like the one in Nanton and the aerodrome near Vulcan rely more on the efforts of local volunteers who have a passion for history and keeping it alive, said Senator Anne Cools during an interview with the Advocate.

“Their contributions are overwhelming and unequalled,” she said. “It’s a labour of love for these people.”

“That’s one of the reasons I’m here, because it’s indicative of the kind of quality of commitment that can come out of small-town Canada, in this instance, small-town Alberta.”

Holding such memorial ceremonies is important to keep alive the memory of the sacrifices made by those who chose to contribute to the desperate effort, Cools said.

“When you understand that these people were doing this willingly in the belief that they were serving, you have to celebrate that,” Cools said.

For more information and photos on Vulcan’s aerodrome, visit www.vulcanairbase.com or www.bombercommandmuseum.ca.

For more photo coverage of Friday’s even at the Vulcan aerodrome, visit vulcanadvocate.com, or click here for the original article.

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