CAN/RAF: The Canadians in the Royal Air Force (RCAF Journal - SPRING 2015 - Volume 4, Issue 2)

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By Hugh Halliday

On 3 September 1939, only hours after Britain declared war on Germany, a Westland Wallace biplane of the Royal Air Force (RAF) Air Observer School at Wigtown encountered thick fog and blundered into a Scottish hillside, killing Pilot Officer Ellard Alexander Cummings, 23, of Ottawa and his British gunner. Cummings had been commissioned in the RAF on 7 May 1938. He was a member of an unusual group—Canadians who had enlisted directly in the Royal Air Force (CAN/RAF). He was also the first Canadian to die on active service during the war.

It is difficult to determine the number of wartime CAN/RAF personnel, in large measure because the definition of “Canadian” is inexact; Canadian citizenship did not exist until 1947. Various authors have been flexible in compiling lists, and even the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Association website naming Canadian Battle of Britain personnel is open to question. Is it fair to name Max Aitken as a Canadian? Although born in Montreal in 1910, he was taken to England as a baby, educated there and spent his entire career (military and commercial) in Britain. If place of birth were the only criteria, then Percival Stanley (Stan) Turner would be British, but his youthful education, upbringing and post-war RCAF service undeniably qualify him as Canadian, notwithstanding membership in the RAF between 1939 and 1945.

To demonstrate the intricacies of national origins, consider the following. Richard Howley appeared in a 1974 list as being from Victoria, British Columbia (BC) and the RCAF Association website concurred. Howley was killed in action on 19 July 1940, flying a Boulton-Paul Defiant—a certifiable death trap. The Newfoundland Book of Remembrance recorded him as being from that province; online records of the Commonwealth War Grave Commission did not identify his next of kin. It took an article by Floyd Williston to resolve the matter.[1] Howley had been born in 1920 in Esquimalt, BC. However, his father had been born in Newfoundland, and in 1926, the family moved back to the “Rock.” To further complicate the story, the father was receiving medical care for wounds suffered in the Great War as well as a Royal Navy pension. He decided he would receive better care—and live more comfortably—in England; thus, they relocated there in August 1933. So, having lived six years in Canada, seven years in Newfoundland and eight years in England before his death, what shall we call Richard Howley?

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As one contemplates CAN/RAF personnel, two questions arise. How many were there? How did they get there? Given the complexities of defining “Canadian,” statistics are inexact. In the year 2000, this writer undertook to survey the subject, using varied sources. I came up with the approximations shown in Table 1.[2]


Table 1. CAN/RAF personnel
Number of CAN/RAF personnel (all ranks) 1,820
Number of CAN/RAF personnel decorated 422
Number killed or died during the war 777
Transferred to the RCAF 225
Transferred to RCAF Women’s Division 20
Number making the RAF a permanent career 55

The statistics require some caution. For example, RAF Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) personnel transferring to the RCAF Women’s Division might include a few British women who had married RCAF personnel and used the transfer method to ensure speedy repatriation with their husbands. The figures do not include approximately 10 Canadians who joined the pre-war Fleet Air Arm. Nor do they encompass persons from Newfoundland—some 740 in all—who are worthy of a separate study.[3]

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Breaking the CAN/RAF personnel down by trade is inexact. Of the 1,820 men and women identified, 1,106 are known to have been aircrew and 361 were in non-flying trades (although 44 of these subsequently remustered to aircrew). That leaves roughly 350 personnel whose trades are uncertain.

How they arrived is a complex story. A few had always been present. First World War veterans like John Baker, Herbert Seton Broughall, Raymond Collishaw, Harold Spencer Kerby and Joseph Stewart Temple Fall had made the RAF their permanent careers and through survival, seniority and service rose to senior rank.[4]

The RAF Cadet College, established at Cranwell in 1920, opened the way for a new generation. The constitution of the college had been communicated to the Canadian government, via the governor general, on 1 September 1920, together with an expressed hope that Canada would recommend candidates for the college. It was suggested that each self-governing Dominion (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa) would recommend two candidates per year; more limited numbers would be entertained for protectorates and colonies with less autonomy. Curiously, one self-governing entity, Newfoundland, was overlooked. Potential cadets were to be between 17 and 19 years of age, physically fit, unmarried and “of unmixed European descent.”[5]

The number of candidates allowable from the Empire was subsequently enlarged; as of 1932 it stood at 33 annually, with Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Irish Free State, Northern Ireland, Newfoundland and Southern Rhodesia each being allowed four candidates per annum (two per entry) while “other territories” were allowed one yearly Cranwell candidate. It is evident, however, that Air Ministry would have considered it a nightmare had all the Dominions and colonies simultaneously filled their quotas. In 1932, the number of reserved places for colonial cadetships was cut in half.[6]

Not all who joined stayed. Paul Yettvart Davoud, having graduated from Canada’s Royal Military College and qualified for RCAF wings in 1931, accepted a permanent commission in the RAF. His service must have been exciting, including as it did flying Bristol Bulldogs with No. 17 (Fighter) Squadron at Upavon. Nevertheless, he resigned his commission on 31 March 1935, returning to Canada to become a bush pilot before joining the RCAF in 1940.[7]

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The ascension of Adolph Hitler to power in 1933 soon set alarm bells ringing, from private homes to government ministries. The RAF began to expand, slowly at first, accelerating throughout the decade. The principal sign of this was the number of short-service commissions that were allowed. This coincided with diminished aerial opportunities elsewhere. The RCAF had been cut by one-fifth in 1932, and it was not until 1937 that the Permanent Force experienced any significant growth. The Auxiliary Force took up some of the slack from 1934 onwards, but its units offered little of the glamour and excitement of a professional force. Young Canadians seeking an air-force career looked increasingly towards Britain, and slowly, they began to appear in RAF schools.

It is doubtful if many joined out of a sense of political conviction, such as drove the “Mac-Paps” to the Spanish Civil War. The prime motivations were either adventurism or opportunism. In 1935, Alexander Myles Jardine was a 29-year-old merchant mariner who found work irregular and infrequent. The RAF accepted him and launched a career that was as harsh as it was productive.[8] In 1937, David Alexander Willis had applications with both the RAF and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP); the air force responded first.[9] Charles Ian Rose Arthur claimed that he just wanted to be a bush pilot and that the RAF seemed to be the most direct route to that goal, yet he must have sensed trouble ahead when he boarded the Athenia for Britain in August 1938.[10] Howard Peter Blatchford came from the most air-minded family in Edmonton; his father, as mayor and Member of Parliament, had established the municipal airport and extolled the city as a northern aerial gateway. Nevertheless, the elder Blatchford’s suicide in 1933 may have driven the son to seek a career abroad in 1936.

Today we regard flying as commonplace; the most adventurous aviation experience—space flight—is beyond the reach of all but a select few. Eighty years ago it was very different. In 1927, Charles Lindbergh had demonstrated that an individual could perform a great deed. The age of aerial adventure did not begin with him, but it mushroomed thereafter. Air races and global flights, aerial explorations from Pole to Pole, altitude records that were made to be broken—all made the news regularly. Flying movies appeared; Wings (1927), Hell’s Angels and The Dawn Patrol (both from 1930) were blockbusters in their day, and the 1938 Test Pilot featured a who’s who of contemporary stars. In Canada, the stories of bush pilots abounded (though their numbers were actually very few). Popular literature spread the word, and although George Drew’s 1930 book Canada’s Fighting Airmen probably did not feed the CAN/RAF ranks, it inspired hundreds to join the RCAF a decade later.

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We may take the experience of Alfred Llewellyn Bocking of Winnipeg as typical (although his subsequent career was not).

It was 1933, and I was proud holder of a brand-new “Commercial Air Pilot’s Certificate – Flying Machines” duly signed by [Squadron Leader] A. T. Cowley for the Controller of Civil Aviation. I was all set to fly anything, anywhere, at any time for “hire or reward” or just for the hell of it.

Disillusionment came fast. I was 18 years old and no one appeared especially interested in hiring a teenager to fly anything, anywhere, at any time.[11]

Having paid his way to England in 1934, Bocking was brought before a selection board consisting of a group captain and four wing commanders. He found the experience terrifying:

The interview itself has become a somewhat hazy memory, but I do recall that the first question was “A Canadian, eh? What cattle-boat did you come over on?” This was not as rude as it may sound, because at that time the cattle-boat appeared to be the accepted means of transportation to the U.K. [United Kingdom] for Canadian hockey-players and R.A.F. aspirants. I explained that I had arrived via the C.P.R.’s [Canadian Pacific Railway] “Duchess of Bedford.” I must have made this statement with a slightly supercilious air, for they found it necessary to put me smartly in my place by expressing the hope that I had a return ticket, so that I wouldn’t become a charge on the public if I didn’t satisfy their required high standard … .[12] [italics in original]

The Board agreed to accept him, but five months elapsed between their decision and his being directed to an RAF depot, during which time he led a spartan existence. Finally, on 26 March 1935, the London Gazette announced that 68 young men had been “granted short service commissions as provisional pilot officers on probation”[13] with effect from that day. They included six Canadians: David K. Banks (retired from the RAF, 1958), A. L. Bocking (transferred to RCAF, 1944), Alfred D. C. Fair (survived the war, settled in England), John Fulton (awarded Distinguished Service Order [DSO], Distinguished Flying Cross [DFC] and Air Force Cross [AFC], killed in action 28 July 1942), Gordon E. Hawkins (killed in action, 16 March 1943) and John A. Kent (DFC, AFC, retired from the RAF in 1956). Besides these men, nine other Canadians would secure short-service commissions that year. In 1936 the figure was 70; in 1937 it was 116, and 127 in 1938.

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From 1937 onwards, Captain Henry Seymour-Biggs, a retired Royal Navy officer living in Victoria, was instrumental in guiding young Canadians as they sought enlistment in the RAF. He acted as an informal recruiting office, advised men about documentation and medical examinations, provided letters of reference, and loaned passage money to a few. It was estimated that “Biggs’ Boys” numbered 719 (aircrew and tradesman).[14]

Enlistment was not always swift or happy. Apart from the west coast efforts of Seymour-Biggs, authorities in Canada attempted some medical checks and interviews, but there was no guarantee that an applicant, arriving by cattle boat, would necessarily be accepted swiftly. Complaints were made that some men, with no friends or family to help them, ended up living hand-to-mouth, even pawning their clothes. The RCAF Liaison Officer in London, Squadron Leader V. F. Heakes, described the situation as “pitiful” and ascribed it to incomplete information or downright misinformation provided in Canada. A possible culprit may have been the well-meaning Seymour-Biggs, but persons without his expertise may have been more responsible. On 23 August 1938, Heakes wrote:

They invariably expect to be able to get into the RAF immediately with, at the most, a maximum delay of a week. Instead, the minimum delay is usually six weeks, although, by persistent effort, we can sometimes get this reduced.

Rarely, if ever, do we get a case which is completely documented and here is where the first delay occurs, for before candidates can be placed before the [Selection] Board, they must have their birth certificate, educational certificate and at least two recent and full references as to character.[15]

Canada’s entry into the war curtailed, but did not end, the flow of CAN/RAF personnel. In 1940, a monomaniacal George Frederick Beurling would cross the Atlantic twice in his quest to join the RAF. Young men and women stranded by circumstance in the UK or in the Empire enlisted. Douglas Rose (Stonewall, Manitoba) was playing professional hockey in Britain when the war broke out. Initially, he worked in an aircraft factory, but in 1941, he enlisted in the RAF, crossed the Atlantic to train as a pilot in Canada, then returned to Britain to fly Lancasters and be awarded a DFC.[16] Flight Officer Francis Corinne Duval of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, was similarly marooned in Britain; she had been studying music there when hostilities began. She joined the WAAF as an administrative officer; in January 1945 she transferred to the RCAF’s Women’s Division.[17] Occasionally, a Canadian soldier, bored with garrison duty in Britain, applied for RAF service (although a transfer to the RCAF was more common).

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There is a tendency to think of these men and women as youngsters, but many were mature when they signed up. Alfred Keith “Skeets” Ogilvie of Ottawa was 24 when he enlisted, 25 when he became a Battle of Britain “ace” and 29 when he was involved in the Great Escape from Stalag Luft III.[18] There were others (not necessarily fighter pilots) who also enlisted at 25 or older.[19]

Upon the outbreak of war, dozens of CAN/RAF personnel were positioned to see action in the first engagements. When RAF Blenheims attacked German warships on 4 September 1939, the lead navigator was Pilot Officer Selby Roger Henderson of Winnipeg, who brought his formation directly to the target.[20] On 17 October 1939, during a German raid on Scapa Flow, Flying Officer Howard Peter Blatchford (Edmonton) shared with three others in the destruction of a Heinkel (He.) 111—the first Canadian aerial victory of the war. The London Gazette of 2 January 1940 announced the first aerial gallantry awards to Canadians—Distinguished Flying Crosses to Wing Commander John Francis Griffiths and to Pilot Officer Henderson. Meanwhile, CAN/RAF ranks had suffered their first casualties, including Flying Officer Alfred Burke Thompson (Penetanguishene, Ontario), who, on the night of 8 September 1939, was taken prisoner following engine failure during a leaflet drop over western Germany. By the end of 1939, 24 CAN/RAF members had died in battle or flying accidents. Ahead lay more night bombing, the campaign in Norway, and the Battle of France, before the commencement of the Battle of Britain.

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Recounting their story is complicated by the frequent repetition of errors relating to Battle of Britain personnel. This author takes responsibility for some of them. In 1973, using sources available or known to me at the time, I prepared a list of Canadian fighter aircrew who had been in the battle and came up with a figure of 103 including both CAN/RAF and RCAF aircrew.[21] In fact, I erred in some respects, viz.:

  • I included one William Fiske, a member of the RAF, whom I thought was from Montreal. He was, in fact, American.
  • I listed William Waterton as being a Canadian in the Battle of Britain, but although he was posted away from No. 242 Squadron in August 1940, I concluded eight years later that he flew no sorties after a crash on 25 May 1940.
  • I associated K. M. Schlanders with St. John’s, Newfoundland. Six years later, when researching my book on No. 242 Squadron, I realized that he was, in fact, from Saint John, New Brunswick.
  • Even in 1974, The Narrow Margin identified Leo Ricks as Canadian, yet I missed him completely. He was unusual for having enlisted in the RAF with the rank of “Boy.”
  • My most egregious error was to include one K. A. H. Lawrence as a Canadian in the Battle of Britain. It took me 20 years and a visit to London to realize that the Battle of Britain K. A. Lawrence was a New Zealander; the Canadian K. A. H. Lawrence was serving in East Africa at the time.

Generally speaking, my 1973 list was used by Arthur Bishop in his book The Splendid Hundred, and I can hereby confess that errors in his book most likely began with me. On the other hand, one must take issue with names included on the RCAF Association website listing Canadian Battle of Britain personnel.[22] As commonly accepted, these should be aircrew personnel who qualified for the Battle of Britain clasp to their 1939–1945 Star. They should have flown at least one operational sortie between 10 July and 31 October 1940, in one of the qualifying squadrons. By these standards, Roy Stanley Baker-Falkner should not be listed; he was mining French harbours in a Fleet Air Arm Swordfish and would not have been eligible for the Battle of Britain clasp. There can be no questioning the inclusion of Roland Dibnah as a CAN/RAF Battle of Britain veteran, but the statements that he shot down nine enemy aircraft and that he was awarded a DFC are both dubious at best and fantasy at worst.[23]

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When one reviews the CAN/RAF contribution to the Battle of Britain, it is necessary to remember that the majority of such personnel were outside Fighter Command, and some were flying in distant theatres. Of the 80-odd Canadians present (excluding RCAF pilots), one realizes that they were widely scattered throughout Fighter Command, with only No. 242 Squadron (a special case) having any concentration of Canadians. Four commanded squadrons, albeit briefly—Edward Mortlock Donaldson, John Arthur Gerald Gordon, John Alexander Kent and Ralph Ian George MacDougall.[24] Others, however, were flight commanders and not far away from post–Battle of Britain commands. That was a reflection of seniority; many of the longest serving CAN/RAF aircrew were in Bomber and Coastal commands (J. F. Griffiths and H. R. Coventry).

That said, they represented a diversity of experiences. Unique among them was Sub-Lieutenant Jack Conway Carpenter, one of some 50 naval pilots loaned to Fighter Command. He was born in Toronto and largely educated in Canada, but in 1938, most of the family moved to Britain, leaving behind Pilot Officer Frederick Stanley Carpenter as a member of the RCAF.[25] Jack joined the Royal Navy in July 1939 and was trained as a Fleet Air Arm pilot. While on the strength of His Majesty’s Ship Daedalus, he was attached to the RAF on 15 June 1940 and on 9 July reported to No. 229 Squadron. He was subsequently posted to No. 46 Squadron on 23 July. He was credited with a Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (Bf.) 110 destroyed on 3 September 1940 and a Bf.109 shot down on 5 September. In turn, he was shot down and killed on 8 September. Although his body was recovered, the family chose that he be buried at sea. Carpenter is commemorated on the Fleet Air Arm Memorial at Lee-on-Solent.[26]

Among the CAN/RAF aircrew there were raw newcomers; others came to the Battle with considerable combat experience. An unusual example of the latter was William Henry Nelson of Montreal. He had been appointed an acting pilot officer on probation on 9 May 1937. As of 3 September 1939, he was a pilot in No. 10 Squadron (Whitley bombers) and captained an aircraft in the unit’s first wartime operation—dropping leaflets over northwest Germany. As a result of sorties flown during the winter and spring, including raids on Norwegian targets, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross at the end of May 1940.

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When Fighter Command sought reinforcements from other commands, Nelson volunteered. He attended No. 6 Operational Training Unit (24 June to 20 July 1940) and then was posted to No. 74 Squadron, flying Spitfires. With that unit he was credited with the destruction of five enemy aircraft (11 August to 29 October 1940), plus two damaged. He was the highest-scoring Canadian Spitfire pilot of the Battle. Nelson was killed in action on 1 November 1940.[27]

Mark Henry “Hilly” Brown (Portage la Prairie, Manitoba) had fighter combat experience in spades. He had been commissioned in the RAF in May 1936 and duly joined No. 1 Squadron, accompanying it to France in the autumn of 1939. That unit was involved in the first tentative brushes with the Luftwaffe during the “Phoney War” period, during which time he was credited with three enemy aircraft destroyed (two of them shared with other pilots). On 10 May 1940, the Germans launched their offensive in the west; No. 1 was thrown into the battle, and Brown regularly added to his victory list.

Calculating fighter pilot “scores” is a mug’s game, and drawing up a tally of Brown’s successes is complicated by several factors, including the many claims that were shared with other pilots and inadequate documentation from the Battle of France. The citation to his first DFC (gazetted 30 July 1940) began, “Since the beginning of the war Flight Lieutenant Brown has destroyed at least sixteen enemy aircraft,”[28] but even this seems to lump confirmed, probable and damaged claims. For all that, Brown was undoubtedly one of the two most successful Canadian fighter pilots of 1940, his only rival being William Lidstone McKnight (Calgary, No. 242 Squadron). Brown’s Battle of Britain claims amounted to two destroyed (one shared) and one damaged, but as an experienced flight commander, he was a rock in his squadron’s order of battle. He took command of No. 1 Squadron shortly after the Battle of Britain, was subsequently advanced to wing commander and was killed in action over Sicily on 12 November 1941.[29]

Three CAN/RAF Battle of Britain pilots came from an unusual source. In the autumn of 1939, an enterprising Australian, Sydney Cotton, had undertaken to experiment with aerial reconnaissance using unarmed, high-speed Spitfires. His Photo Development Unit (PDU) enlisted several CAN/RAF pilots—“Cowboy” Blatchford, George Patterson Christie (Montreal) and John Alexander Kent (Winnipeg)[30]—who subsequently transferred to Fighter Command and participated in the campaign.

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As the war progressed, RAF combat reports became increasingly detailed, but the narrative standards in 1940 were much less demanding. Some of the better ones were filed by Pilot Officer Joseph Emile Paul Larichelière of Montreal. Having attended McGill University (1935–1936), he had chosen to join the RAF; he was 27 when he joined No. 213 Squadron on 25 May 1940. He was thus reasonably experienced when he filed his first combat report, for an action at 1230 hours, 13 August 1940, near Portland, when enemy aircraft were sighted at 15,000 feet [4,572 metres].

I was patrolling near Portland when I saw the Section Leader dive towards a [Messerschmitt] ME.110. I followed, and saw through an opening of the clouds a [Junkers] JU.88. I immediately stalled, turned, and got on its tail, giving him short bursts on the starboard engine which began to emit black smoke. I followed him and played “hide and seek” in the clouds for 15 minutes, he always leading to S.E. [south east] of Portland. Eventually I caught him up in a clear patch and put his port engine on fire and he dived straight into the sea. I could see a small motor boat rushing towards the wreck. While I was looking at the wreck I was surprised by a ME.109. I immediately did steep climbing turn to reach the clouds, which I did, and headed south for a few minutes thinking that I would not be followed there. Then I came back again through the clouds to find the ME.109 inspecting the wreck. I gave him a burst of about three seconds and saw him give a sudden upward jerk, stall and dive into the sea in flames approximately 500 yards [457.2 metres] from the JU.88.[31]

Although he had described his first victim as a JU.88, intelligence concluded he had shot down a Bf.110. Two fighter pilots had made the same mistake—allowing themselves to be distracted by the wreckage of the first victim. Larichelière also noted delays in reporting the enemy presence because someone had left his radio transmitter on, effectively jamming squadron communications. He was credited with two enemy destroyed in this action and another Bf.110 shot down that afternoon. Two days later, again near Portland, he destroyed two Bf.110s and a Ju.87 in a single action. Six victories in three days was a remarkable feat, but Larichelière was shot down and killed on 16 August, before anyone could recommend him for a decoration. His body was never recovered; his name is listed on the Runnymede Memorial, west of London.

For some CAN/RAF personnel, the Battle of Britain represented the beginning of distinguished careers. C. I. R. Arthur, who had wanted to become a bush pilot, found himself flying Boulton-Paul Defiants with No. 141 Squadron during the summer of 1940. He survived the massacre of 19 July 1940 in which Richard Howley was killed. His wartime service encompassed seven squadrons and 488 sorties, a DFC and Bar, command of a Mustang wing, and the destruction of at least six enemy aircraft (four shared with other pilots). Following the war, he stayed with the RAF, reverting from wing commander to squadron leader. He retired from the force on medical grounds in November 1954, returned to Canada and died in Richmond, British Columbia, in October 1998.

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Howard Blatchford had an equally distinguished career—but one cut short. His one Battle of Britain victory was a Dornier (Do.) 17 destroyed on 2 October 1940, shared with another pilot of No. 17 Squadron, but on 11 November 1940, he scored two Italian Bombardiere Rosatelli (BR.) 20 bombers destroyed (one shared) in the single intervention of the Regia Aeronautica in attacks on Britain itself, for which action he was awarded a DFC. He rose quickly to command a squadron, then a wing, but was killed in action on 3 May 1943. Like many of CAN/RAF pilots, his name is recorded on the Runnymede Memorial.[32]

The best known of the CAN/RAF pilots, John Alexander Kent, rose to group captain and survived the war. He was also one of the few who wrote a memoir.[33] His story is remarkable in many ways. Commissioned on 15 March 1935, he had been awarded the Air Force Cross in January 1939 for test flying which included more than 60 deliberate collisions with barrage balloon cables; from Farnborough he went to the PDU, then to a flight-commander position with No. 303 (Polish) Squadron. His personal Battle of Britain score was four enemy aircraft destroyed, two “probable” and one damaged. On 26 October 1940, he became Commanding Officer of No. 92 Squadron. Among his wartime honours were the Polish Virtuti Militare, 5th Class, frequently and erroneously described as the Polish Victoria Cross.[34] He continued to work in the test pilot field, retired from the RAF in 1956 and died in October 1985.

Among the CAN/RAF pilots subsequently transferring to the RCAF was Edward Francis John Charles of Lashburn, Saskatchewan. He had applied to join the RAF in October 1937 and had been given preliminary instruction by the RCAF in 1938. He left for Britain in May 1939, taking with him the pilot’s wings that had been awarded to his father in the First World War. Charles was granted a short-service commission. His RAF training was leading to an Army Cooperation role on Lysanders, but abruptly, he was switched to fighters and joined No. 54 Squadron on 2 September 1940. He flew eight sorties on Spitfires, which made him eligible for the Battle of Britain clasp. However, the squadron had been moved north for rest and recuperation; he saw no combat and claimed no victories during the Battle. Subsequently, he rose to wing commander, destroyed 16 enemy aircraft (and one Hurricane in a “friendly fire” incident) and survived the war as a much decorated ace (DSO, DFC and Bar, and American Silver Star). Charles spent five years in the post-war RCAF and died in Vancouver in 1986.

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Anyone who survived the Battle of Britain undoubtedly regarded it as the high point of their careers. Robert Alexander Barton (Order of the British Empire, and DFC and Bar) of No. 249 Squadron subsequently took command of the unit, led it in Malta, commanded RAF wings and in 1947 helped organize the Pakistan Air Force. He retired from the RAF in 1959 and returned to British Columbia, where he was noted as a sports fisherman. He died in Kamloops on 2 September 2010; on 15 September—Battle of Britain Day—his ashes were scattered on his favourite lake.[35]

Hugh Halliday is a former member of the RCAF, a historian and author with numerous books and articles to his credit. One of his more recent works, entitled Valour Reconsidered: Inquiries into the Victoria Cross and Other Awards for Bravery (2006), examines how major gallantry awards were bestowed.

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AFC―Air Force Cross
BC―British Columbia
Bf.―Bayerische Flugzeugwerke
CAN/RAF―Canadians who had enlisted directly in the Royal Air Force
DFC―Distinguished Flying Cross
DHH―Directorate of History and Heritage
DSO―Distinguished Service Order
PDU―Photo Development Unit
RAF―Royal Air Force
RCAF―Royal Canadian Air Force
UK―United Kingdom
WAAF―Women’s Auxiliary Air Force



[1]. Floyd Williston, “Slaughter of the Innocents,” Ottawa Citizen, November 5, 2000.  (return)

[2]. In late 1939 and early 1940, RAF authorities compiled extensive lists of Canadians who had enlisted in that force; these appear to have been assembled with a view to finding as many Canadians as possible to serve in No. 242 Squadron. The lists became the basis of RCAF Overseas Headquarters file 22/2/1, “Records of Canadians in RAF” (now Directorate of History and Heritage [DHH] file 181.005 Docket 270), RCAF Overseas Headquarters file C.23, “Nominal Roll, Canadians in the RAF” (now DHH file 181.005 Docket 271) and RCAF Overseas Headquarters file 22-15, “Canadians in the RAF” (now DHH file 181.005, dockets 1094 to 1096 and 1235). A card file on CAN/RAF personnel, held by DHH, apparently was based on these nominal rolls, with operational data added up to about mid-1941. (return)

[3]. G. W. L. Nicholson, More Fighting Newfoundlanders: A History of Newfoundland’s Fighting Forces in the Second World War (St. John’s: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, 1969) has some information on persons of Newfoundland origin in the RAF. See also Kerri Button, The Forgotten Years: The Formation of the 125th (Newfoundland) Squadron, Royal Air Force, 1938–1941 (university paper, institution not mentioned; copy held by Canada Air and Space Museum). DHH has a document (79/201) which names Newfoundland enlistments in the RAF; of these, about one-third were recruited in the Old Colony and trained in Canada, one-third recruited there and trained in Britain, and one-third transferred from army units (notably artillery regiments) to the RAF. (return)

[4]. See W. R. Cumming, “‘The Man Who Refused to Die’: G/C Joseph Stewart Temple Fall,” Journal of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society 28, no. 2 (Summer 1990). Broughall, having flown in Russia in 1919, was awarded a DFC for 1923 operations over Kurdistan. His extraordinary services in Burma, 1941–1943, are described by Robert H. Farquharson, For Your Tomorrow: Canadians and the Burma Campaign, 1941–1945 (Toronto: Trafford Publishing, 2004). (return)

[5]. Governor General’s file 32946, “Royal Air Force Cadet College, Cranwell – RAF Staff College – Commissions in RAF – Apprentices to RAF,” in the National Archives of Canada, Record Group 7 (Governor General’s Records), series G.21, volume 606. (return)

[6]. Public Record Office Air 2/4260, memorandum dated 2 February 1932. O. L. Bullock to Under Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. (return)

[7]. For more on his subsequent career see, “Paul Yettvart Davoud,” ZoomInfo, accessed January 16, 2015,‑Davoud/678274050. (return)

[8]. Colin Castle, Lucky Alex: The Career of Group Captain A. M. Jardine, AFC, CD, Seaman and Airman (Victoria: Fighting Fit Publishers, 2000). (return)

[9]. In 1976, his widow, Barbara Willis, published a biography, Left Hand Salute (New York: Carleton Press). (return)

[10]. See George Brown and Michel Lavigne, Canadian Wing Commanders of Fighter Command in World War II (Langley, BC: Battleline Books, 1984). (return)

[11]. Wing Commander A. L. Bocking, “Memoirs of a Canadian in the R.A.F.: Part One,” The Roundel 7 no. 2 (February 1955): 9. This is the first instalment of a story that ran in the magazine through to February 1956. (return)

[12]. Ibid., 11. (return)

[13]. “Air Ministry,” The London Gazette, March 26, 1935, 2057–58, accessed January 16, 2015, (return)

[14]. Ken Stofer, The Biggs’ Boys: The story of young Canadians who paid their way to England to join the Royal Air Force during World War Two (Victoria, BC: Kenlyn Publishing, 1995). (return)

[15]. British National Archives, Air 2/3907, selected pages copied by DHH. (return)

[16]. “Stonewall Pilot Recalls War in the Skies,” Western Canada Aviation Museum Aviation Review (March 1991). (return)

[17]. RCAF Public Relations Release 5860, dated 11 April 1945, described several cases of former Canadian WAAFs transferring to the RCAF. It mentioned that “more than 40” Canadian women had transferred as of that date. (return)

[18]. Ogilvie and A. B. Thompson are frequently mentioned by Ted Barris, The Great Escape: A Canadian Story (Toronto: Thomas Allen, 2012). Ogilvie is generally credited with shooting down a Do.17 on 15 September 1940, just after it had bombed Buckingham Palace. (return)

[19]. A bomber pilot, Colin Francis Campbell (Mulgrave, Nova Scotia) was 26 when he enlisted in 1939. Alexander John Nicholson (Windsor, Ontario) was 26 when he first tried to enlist and 28 when he finally succeeded; he served in Coastal Command. Spencer Leonard Ring (Regina) was granted an RAF short-service commission at the age of 28. Gilbert Campbell Hooey (Toronto) joined the RAF at 31, flew bombers and was killed in action at 33. (return)

[20]. Pilot Officer Albert Stanley Prince of No. 107 Squadron was shot down and killed on this raid. Born in Montreal (1911) but resident in England for 20 years, he may be considered as the first Canadian-born serviceman to die in battle. (return)

[21]. Hugh A. Halliday, “Canadians in the Battle of Britain,” Journal of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society 11, no. 4 (Winter 1973). (return)

[22]. “Battle of Britain,” Air Force Association of Canada, accessed January 16, 2015,‑awards/military‑honours‑awards‑1914‑1945‑files/battle‑of‑britain/. (return)

[23]. There are no London Gazette or Canada Gazette entries to indicate a DFC award years after the war, such awards for Second World War service having been stopped in 1950. Following transfer to the RCAF, Dibnah submitted a report on 24 January 1945 (copy in the service file) in which he claimed no enemy aircraft destroyed (although existing combat reports indicate he was credited with one destroyed and one damaged). On the other hand, he claimed to have destroyed three V-1s, only one of which has been traced by Brian Cull, Diver, Diver, Diver: RAF and American Pilots Battle the V-1 Assault over South-East England, 1944 (London: Grub Street, 2008). Dibnah gave his wartime flying as 296 operational and 740 non-operational hours. His service was prolonged and honourable, but exaggerated descriptions of his career, whatever their source, do him a disservice. (return)

[24]. Donaldson is another instance of a CAN/RAF pilot with only tenuous attachment to Canada. He had been born at Negri Sembilan, Malay States, in February 1912 and was educated at King’s School, Rochester, Christ’s Hospital and McGill University before being commissioned in the RAF, 29 June 1931. He commanded No. 151 Squadron from 1 December 1938 to 5 August 1940. Gordon, from Red Deer, Alberta, had more robust Canadian roots. He had received his RAF commission on 22 April 1935. His command of No. 151 Squadron was brief—5 August to 19 August 1940—ending in his being shot down and badly burned. He was killed in action on 1 June 1942. MacDougall (who commanded No. 17 Squadron from 8 June to 18 July 1940) is a puzzling case; he was included in a 1941 list of CAN/RAF personnel compiled by RCAF authorities, but his next of kin was given as his mother, who was living in Surrey County, UK. Kent’s command of No. 92 Squadron came at the close of the Battle of Britain. (return)

[25]. F. S. “Flat-Top” Carpenter rose to major-general in the Canadian Armed Forces; he was an early and enthusiastic supporter of service integration. (return)

[26]. “The Airmen’s Stories – Sub/Lt.(FAA) J. C. Carpenter,” Battle of Britain London Monument, accessed January 16, 2015, (return)

[27]. See H. A. Halliday, “Man of Many Talents: F/L William Henry Nelson,” Journal of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society 8, no. 2 (Summer 1970). (return)

[28]. Public Record Office Air 2/6085 (Non-immediate Awards, 1940–1941).  (return)

[29]. See H. A. Halliday, “The Amazing ‘Hilly’ Brown,” Journal of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society 9, no. 2 (Summer 1971); and Brown and Lavigne, Canadian Wing Commanders. (return)

[30]. See Constance Babington-Smith, Evidence in Camera: The Story of Photographic Intelligence in The Second World War (American title, Air Spy), first published in 1957 and republished frequently thereafter. Other CAN/RAF pilots associated with Cotton’s early PDU were Keith Fergus Arnold (Kindersley, Saskatchewan), Robert Frederick Leavitt (Saskatoon), Robert Henry Niven (Calgary) and Spencer Leonard Ring (Regina). Of the Canadian PDU pioneers, only Kent and Ring survived the war. (return)

[31]. Combat Reports, RCAF and Canadians in RAF, October 1939 to May 1945 (chronologically arranged) – Directorate of History and Heritage, document 73/847. (return)

[32]. Articles on the Italian raids on Britain appeared in Air Pictorial, September 1965 and September 1969. (return)

[33]. John A. Kent, One of the Few (London: William Kimber, 1971); reprinted in several editions. (return)

[34]. Comparing the awards of one country with those of another is inexact, but the five classes of the Virtuti Militari overlapped with several awards in the British and Commonwealth system, including recognition of very senior command accomplishments as well as valour. Kent’s award in the Fifth Class might be deemed to fall somewhere between a DFC and a DSO. (return)

[35]. “Wing Commander ‘Butch’ Barton,” The Telegraph, October 19, 2010, accessed January 16, 2015, See also Hugh Halliday, The Tumbling Sky (Stittsville, Ontario: Canada’s Wings, 1978). (return)

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