Reflections of a BCATP Harvard Instructor
Article by Andrea LeBlanc, Assistant Editor Trenton Contact
To most people, The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) is something to read about in the pages of Canadian history--a long ago, albeit great, contribution to the Allied war effort made by Canada during the Second World War. But to Colonel (Ret'd) Cy Yarnell, it was so much more.
Under the plan, Yarnell learned to fly, became a flying instructor, and later put his skills to use as a fighter pilot overseas. And it was also where he met his future wife, Phyllis.
The picture on the right is of Flight Lieutenant Cy Yarnell taken in Italy in 1943 when Yarnell served with 601 Squadron in the Desert Air Force during World War II. The picture on the left is a present day recreation of that picture of Colonel (Ret'd) Cy Yarnell. Yarnell served as a Harvard flying instructor under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and later completed two tours overseas as a fighter pilot.
The BCATP--one of Canada's greatest contributions to the Second World War--was a program whereby Canada provided training for airmen from all parts of the British Commonwealth--England, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Between 1940-45, about 151 training schools were established across the country with a ground organization of 104, 113 men and women--of whom Cy Yarnell was one.
Yarnell first joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 1940 at the age of 19.He earned his wings and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in September of 1941 at the Service Flying Training School (SFTS) at Aylmer, Ontario. He was then selected for the Central Flying School at Trenton to attend the three-month-long Flying Instructors Course. Upon completion of this course, Yarnell returned to Aylmer as a flying instructor.
For the next year (November 1941 to December 1942), Yarnell trained many men to "wings standard" on the Harvard Aircraft at the Aylmer SFTS. "I'm proud to say that none had any accidents during their training and all survived the war. They were magnificent people, all of them."
Yarnell met one more magnificent person that year - a girl named Phyllis. They dated, fell in love and then Yarnell was sent overseas.
His first assignment was to an operational training unit on Hurricanes in Scotland. "Once I got there I realized that I didn't want to let Phyllis go--so I proposed to her via telegram and, happily, she accepted by return telegram. As soon as I got her "yes," I immediately telegrammed my father back home and asked him to go out right away and get her a ring. Which he did."
From Scotland, Yarnell was sent to the Desert Air Force with 601 (RAF) Squadron, where he remained until his tour was finished in Italy in August of 1944. Yarnell next found himself in England where he completed a pilot gunnery leader course and then went on to serve as a flying instructor at a Spitfire operational training unit at Rednal on the England/ Wales border, from October of 1944 until January of 1945. He then happily went home on aircrew leave and promptly married Phyllis. Two short weeks later, Yarnell was sent back overseas for his second tour. This time, he flew with 403 (RCAF) Squadron, with whom he remained until the end of the war. His second and final tour ended near Hamburg, Germany on VE Day.
Soon after, Yarnell headed home and was discharged from service as a Flight Lieutenant in October of 1945. A few months later, he was recalled into the RCAF and remained until August of 1975, retiring as a Colonel.
"I am very proud of the contribution I made to the Canadian war effort in the Second World War."