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Dafoe RCAF Airbase History

 

     The Dafoe RCAF #5 Bombing and Gunnery School was one of 230 RCAF training bases established by the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan from 1939 thru 1945 to train aircrew and ground crew for the war in Europe.  

     The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan brought young men and women from all across Canada and from the U.K., Australia, New Zealand to Canada for training.  By the end of the war, the BCATP program had trained 131,553 aircrew as well as some 80,000 ground crew.  

     Dafoe #5 Bombing and Gunnery School trained bomber pilots and crew. It is not known exactly how many young men trained at Dafoe.  

Here is a picture of the base in the 1940's.

Dafoe Airbase 1940s

     Many of the bases were in Western Canada because of the flat terrain and relatively sparsely populated areas.  Some of these airbases formed the basis for the municipal airports in use today in cities and towns throughout Canada. Many of these bases, like Dafoe, have been abandoned

     The Dafoe airbase, located about 19 km north of Dafoe,  is now a grain farm. Visitors are not allowed past the road. Only one of the former hanger buildings remains and can be seen from the road.  Concrete structures and the remains of some of the runways are visible too. There is a plaque commemorating the site.

     Here are two pictures of the site, taken in July 2011.

Dafoe Airbase July 2011                 Dafoe Airbase July 2011

 

 

 

    Below are some pictures typical of the buildings and aircraft that would have been at the Dafoe Airbase in the early 1940's.

Typical RCAF base
Typical RCAF Airbase

Typical bomber hangers
Typical Hanger Row


Fairy Battle airplane
Fairy Battle

Avro Anson airplane
Avro Anson

Bristol Bolingbroke airplane
Bristol Bolingbroke

Westland Lysander airplane
Westland Lysander

 

      There is an excellent museum in Brandon, Manitoba which commemorates the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.  They are located on the Brandon Municipal Airport, which was the site of No. 12 SFTS (Service Flying Training School).  A trip to this museum is highly recommended.  Here is a link to their website www.airmuseum.ca/

     Below is a history of the Dafoe Airport reprinted with permission from the 1981 RM of Big Quill history book "Reflections by the Quills".
We thank the authors for their work in preserving our past.

No. 5 Bombing and Gunnery School

by Erwin E. McCallum

     The official opening of No. 5 B. & G. School took place on May 22, 1941. It was authorized by government order No. 112, dated March 24, 1941.

     Wing Commander R. A. Delhaye, D.F.C. was the first Commanding Officer with 43 officers, 486 air- men, and 126 personnel other than R.C.A.F. The first trainees, 69 of them, arrived on course on May 26  just four days after the opening. At its maximum, the school accommodated 366 trainees.

     No. 5 B. &, G. was one of five such schools set up in Canada as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan which came into being, officially, on January 7, 1941. It was to have world-wide ramifications. Its purpose was to prepare and to train aircrew personnel. At the time of its official disbandment, January 11, l945, 131,553 aircrew had been trained and sent to the various theatres of war.

     Throughout its period of operation, the 'Dafoe Airport' was an active, busy, and successful school. It met its training responsibilities and it exerted an impact on the Quill Lake community in a variety of ways. It was administered efficiently and well. It had adequate facilities and it was fully equipped. The morale was good except, of course, for the occasional gripes by ‘permanent force' types who considered a Dafoe posting to be a posting to isolation.

     Training Wing was, of course, the heart of the school. That was the place of action  instructing, learning, training, and preparing. Its motto was We aim to teach and  we teach to aim. All flights, sections, and groups contributed to the training of bombers and air gunners. The Chief Instructor and his staff  0/C Flying, staff pilots, instructors, control tower staff, operations clerks, wing adjutant were responsible for the whole training programme. All trainees followed the official training syllabus  lectures, demonstrations, flying exercises (day / night), tests, and assessments. The schedules were demanding and left little time for recreation or for entertainment.

     In support of the Training Wing and the station as a whole there were various parts or sections  station headquarters, service police, the hospital and dental clinic, the post office, motor transport, works and buildings including armament, parachute, photographic, and meteorology, and the Maintenance Wing which was responsible for ‘keeping them flying.’ Committees such as canteen (airmen’s, N.C.O.s', and officers’), library, sports, entertainment, and others operated for the benefit of all.

     The first aircraft used on the station were old Fairey Battles  37 of them. Later, Ansons, Bolingbrokes, Lysanders, and the odd Harvard were brought on. In general, the Lysanders were used to pull the drogues for gunnery exercises and practice.

     Trainees came from various places in the Commonwealth  Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Once in a while a class from another country would be brought in. The staff pilots, many of whom were trained under B.C.A.T.P., sometimes found the repetitious routine of carrying out the exercises for bombers and gunners frustrating. They wanted more excitement and action.

     In order to maintain an esprit de corps, a posture of well-being, and high morale, steps were taken to cater to the needs and wants of personnel. There were efforts, too, to keep the station neat, tidy, and appealing. Though it was never intended that the station would be permanent, there was concern for the general appearance. Flowers and shrubs were planted near the administration building and the officers’ quarters, and trees were planted beside the main roadway. Street signs were erected and some of the streets were named,  yes, you guessed it,  Yvonne, Annette, Emilie, Marie, and Cecile!

     Other facilities for the use and benefit of everyone included a library, a Hostess House provided by the Y.M.C.A., educational counselling, craft and hobby facilities, and certain other recreational offerings  bowling, for example. There was a station band and an orchestra. There was a saddle club. Church Parades were scheduled regularly under the direction of the padres.

     Occasionally, distinguished visitors would fly in. And that of course meant that the station would get a ‘going-over,’ a tidying-up. The V.I.P.s might be officers from headquarters or military attaches from Russia, France, Britain, or the U.S.A. Gail Patrick inspired a surge of excitement when she visited the station in 1942. For the promotion of public relations, "Visitors' Days" were held. Tours of the station were arranged and entertainment of various kinds was set up. The Women’s Division organized a Precision Drill Squad. It was popular and well-received by civilians.

     With a station strength of about 1400, it may be assumed that life and living on it was a miniature of society as a whole. Most of the human traits, habits, feelings, and customs could be found, There were shocks, surprises, and bewilderment. Feelings, passions, and emotions would come to the fore in times of good news  a promotion, for example, might come at the same time as bad news. There was fun and enjoyment  dances, parties, and even weddings. Many lasting and long-standing friendships were forged. But, too, there was pain and suffering. There was death, that concomitant of war! Unfortunate and disastrous air crashes took the lives of many young aircrew.

      It goes without saying that the presence of No. 5 B. A G. in the Quill Lakes area had considerable impact on the lives of folk in Watson, Leroy, Dafoe, Kandahar, Wynyard, and even Raymore. There was interaction  communication, involvement, and fraternization. Neighborhood farmers, businessmen, and workers were called upon for a variety of services. The families in Boomtown created a demand for buildings, for dairy products (milk, cream, meat), and perhaps some free advice. Local recreational facilities  theatres, curling rinks, golf courses, dance halls, and so on  were actively patronized. Duck hunters quite often called on natives for guidance in locating good hunting grounds. The mixing and melding of young people led to the blossoming of many a romance, to weddings, and to the loss of many a bride to faraway places. The service people, the civilians  who can ever unravel or identify the consequences of their interactions, one with the other? There was a sharing of thoughts, ideas, views, and opinions. One idea sown in the mind of a young Saskatchewan man by an Australian airman grew into the formation of the Air Ambulance Service!

     Through every member of the Air Force had the right to ‘bed and board,’ there were families, married men and newlyweds, who chose to live off station. Where did they live? They lived in BOOMTOWN.

     "Boom" means to grow suddenly and swiftly. Boomtown did just that. It sprang up as if by magic, outside the gate of the station, in among the trees of a wayside bluff. The residences, the ‘homes’, were trailers, granaries, shacks, and improvised houses. Boomtown became a unique colony of families  wives, brides, children, and babies. They came from many parts of Canada with a few from the U.S.A. It was where 'city folk' learned the skills of living without the amenities of the water tap, the light switch, the thermostat, the washer, the electric iron, the refrigerator, vacuum, and so on. It was where wives and mothers mastered the techniques of lighting the kitchen stove, of lighting the lamp, of ironing with an old-model 'sad iron,' of placing a barrel to catch rainwater, of winterizing the house, of going to the ‘hole-in-the-ground' cooler, and a myriad of other chores. To face the challenges and to succeed in overcoming them must have been most gratifying and satisfying. Individual successes contributed, no doubt, to a wonderful spirit of friendliness, of sharing, of helping, and of sympathizing that grew in that little colony  an oasis on the prairies.

     To-day,  in 1980,  there remains but little of what was No. 5 B R G, Dafoe. The buildings, barracks, offices, classrooms, and all except one hangar  have been dismantled or moved away. Grass and weeds have asserted their rights. Poles, posts, light standards, and markers are gone. Stillness reigns. Through the process of time, the decay of ages has crumbled the once-active, hustling, bustling station to a few dim scars of roadways and runways. Soon, it will no longer exist  not even in the memories of those who knew it.