Some black and white cartoons that depict one of the most storied eras of Canadian military aviation history, the Cold War, have surfaced in Ottawa.
Now posted online, the 90 or so cartoons by Warrant Officer Class 1 Ray Tracy offer a rare glimpse, in words and pictures, of life behind the scenes at Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) installations in the 1950s.
The cartoons depict what many believe was the heyday of RCAF operations after the end of the Second World War. Defence budgets were big, fears over Soviet aggression were even bigger and the RCAF was a favourite recipient of that heightened defence spending, especially in Europe.
“There was certainly no shortage of cash back then,” says Captain David Krayden, a Canadian Forces public affairs officer who authored the Air Force history book, On Windswept Heights: Historical Highlights of Canada’s Air Force before re-enrolling in the CF last year.
“People forget the Royal Canadian Air Force was larger than the Canadian Army in 1952. We had an entire air division in Europe with four wings. We had lots of aircraft and the mission was quite clear. They were great years of pride for the Air Force.”
While researching On Windswept Heights, Capt Krayden noticed cartoons in two books of RCAF anecdotes and reminiscences he was reading – Laughter-Silvered Wings and The Tumbling Mirth by J. Douglas Harvey.
The cartoons caught his eye because of what they represented.
“Not only were the cartoons emblematic of the Cold War era but they were very, very funny and quite popular at the time,” recalls Capt Krayden who then set about trying to locate the original cartoons for use in On Windswept Heights.
He contacted his friend WO (Ret’d) Vic Johnson, editor of Airforce Magazine and walking encyclopaedia for all things Air Force, past and present. As it turned out, Mr. Johnson knew exactly who drew the cartoons and how to reach the person who inherited the originals, a man by the name of Bruce Beatty.
While many Canadians may not know him by name, Bruce Beatty is a retired RCAF flight sergeant and graphic designer, perhaps best known for designing the Order of Canada in 1967, and other heraldic emblems. He was personally asked by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson to design the Order of Canada in celebration of the Canadian Centennial. It was the first of many medals and honours he would design for the Office of the Governor General which is responsible for military and civilian honours and awards in Canada.
After an initial phone call, Mr. Beatty met with Capt Krayden in Ottawa in 2008 and passed over dozens of original cartoons that he had inherited from the wife of his old friend and colleague, WO1 Ray Tracy.
“It was just incredible. He had all of these cartoons. He told me that when Ray Tracy died quite prematurely in 1956 or 1957, his wife told him, ‘You were his best friend. I don’t know what to do with them. I don’t know who else would appreciate them more’ so she bequeathed all of the Ray Tracey cartoons to Bruce, and Bruce has been sitting on them ever since then.”
Bruce Beatty had donated copies of the cartoons to RCAF Public Affairs in 1966; after meeting with Capt Krayden and hearing his story, he decided to donate the originals to Air Force Public Affairs.
“He had a sense that he’d given them to somebody who had a passion and a care for them. I appreciated who he was talking about. I knew this work, I knew that Ray Tracy had created the cartoons and had great respect for the work,” says Capt Krayden.
“I think he felt assured that I was going to do something with them to preserve them. A great experience that I wouldn’t have traded for anything.”
The man behind the cartoons
After becoming the fourth largest air force in the world following the Second World War, the RCAF enjoyed huge national acclaim in the boom years of the 1950s. The RCAF set aircraft distance and speed records, charted the North Pole, defended Western Europe from communism and was never hesitant about making the public aware of the Air Force's accomplishments.
The RCAF Office of Public Relations was responsible for telling that story. It employed some of the best writers, editors, photographers, designers and graphic artists – in or out of uniform.
WO1 Ray Tracy was one of those artists. A gifted cartoonist, WO1 Tracy was responsible for recording some of the funniest moments in Air Force uniform and his comic strips and caricatures spared no rank or occupation. Douglas J. Harvey says in his introduction to The Tumbling Mirth says WO1 Tracey “will be forever remembered for bringing Sergeant Shatterproof to life”.
Unfortunately, WO1 Tracy died at the age of 37. He left behind a legacy of art that deserves to be enjoyed by today's Air Force - and generations to come.