Eric Watts, a natural leader

News Article / February 19, 2020

Click on the photo under “Image Gallery” to enlarge it.

February is Black History Month throughout Canada. To mark the month, the RCAF is publishing articles about Black Canadians who, during or after their career in the RCAF, have achieved great things for Canada.

Here is the story of Eric Victor Watts.

By Major Mathias Joost

When Eric Victor Watts enlisted in the RCAF on May 10, 1939, technically, he should not have been allowed to join. The federal Cabinet and the RCAF had approved enlistment policies earlier that year that stated recruits had to be of “pure European descent”.

Eric Watts was Black.

However, the recruiting officer in Calgary, Alberta, likely saw the potential in Watts and allowed him to become a member of the RCAF. The recruiter’s decision certainly seems prescient.

From the very start, Watts proved himself to be a natural leader. He enlisted as an armourer and served at several units and schools. He was identified as being a superior instructor and supervisor who rose rapidly to the rank of warrant officer class 2.

Throughout the war, the RCAF sought out members who wished to become aircrew. In December 1943, Watts began the selection process to become a pilot, for which he qualified in March 1945. He remained in Canada and served as a pilot at several schools until November 1946. As the RCAF had a surplus of pilots in the period of the interim air force of 1945-47, he went back to being an armaments instructor and supervisor of armaments sections.

His leadership skills shone through, and he was continually recommended for commissioning from the ranks. Finally, in February 1951, a place was available, and he was commissioned as a flying officer while on the RCAF ground defence course.

As an officer, he was an instructor as well as a supervisor of armaments sections at Trenton and Camp Borden, both in Ontario. In November 1955, Watts was posted to RCAF headquarters in Ottawa, Ontario, where he worked on armaments programs, including the development of the Sparrow II missile that was planned for the Avro Arrow.

In August 1959, Watts was finally able to get the posting he wanted. He was posted to Marville, France, as the maintenance armaments officer at 445 Squadron and eventually became the wing armaments officer at 1 Wing in Marville. He took an organization that was ranked last in terms of serviceability of aircraft armaments systems and made it the best of the four RCAF wings in Europe. As a result of his outstanding work he was promoted to squadron leader on January 1, 1962. He returned to Canada in July 1963 and served in both leadership and staff positions until he retired in 1966.

The fact that there was a Black senior non-commissioned officer supervising or instructing during the Second World War, one who was consistently highly rated, speaks to Watts’ leadership ability.

At a time when racism was still quite prevalent in Canadian society, he was continually rated as an outstanding instructor and supervisor. Throughout this service he was always considered superior, usually graduating at or near the top in his courses. Wherever he served, he held the respect of both his subordinates and his fellow officers, being regarded as a highly capable and affable individual. He was considered an outstanding officer, and it was only his lack of a university education that hindered his progression to a higher rank.

Eric Watts passed away in Belleville, Ontario, on March 18, 1993.

Date modified: