THE FIRST WORLD WAR (1914–1918)

FOCUS ON… THE RAF AND RFC

Established in 1912, the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was the flying organization that supported the British army during most of the First World War. In 1917, the RFC established the Royal Flying Corps Canada to train aircrew in southern Ontario. On April 1, 1918, the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and the RFC amalgamated to form the Royal Air Force (RAF), the oldest independent air force in the world. Canadians served with pride and professionalism in all three organizations.

Robert Leckie, shown in a 1944 portrait.

On August 5, 1918, the British Air Ministry announced the formation of two RAF squadrons to be manned entirely by Canadians. A Canadian Order-in-Council confirmed the formation of the Canadian Air Force (CAF) on September 19 for “the purposes of the present war”.

No. 1 Squadron, equipped with Sopwith Dolphin fighter aircraft, was formed on November 20, 1918, under the command of Major Andrew Edward McKeever. No. 2 Squadron, equipped with de Havilland 9a day bomber aircraft, was formed November 25, under the command of Captain Walter B. Lawson. Both were located at Upper Heyford, England. In March 1919, the squadrons were organized as a wing and placed under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Leckie.

On May 30, 1919, the Canadian government decided the country didn’t need and couldn’t afford a military air force, and the concept of a Canadian air force died once again.

Approximately 20,000 Canadians served during the conflict in the RFC, RNAS or RAF. Of these, approximately 1,500 gave their lives.

Robert Leckie was the first CAF wing commander. He rose to the rank of air marshal and commanded the RCAF from 1944 to 1947.

DID YOU KNOW…

Flight Sub-Lieutenant Edward Rochfort Grange became Canada’s first air ace on January 4, 1917. He was credited with destroying his fifth enemy aircraft while flying a Sopwith Pup with the RNAS. Although born in Michigan of British parents, he was raised in Toronto.