The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan’s No. 15 Service Flying Training School, Royal Canadian Air Force Station Claresholm
In 1941 Claresholm was selected as a site for a Service Flying Training School (SFTS), a flight school stabled under the auspices of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Construction began in October 1940. Five large hangers were erected along with all the necessary buildings needed to support the school. Given the wartime context, there was considerable pressure to have the airport operational as soon as possible. As an example of how quickly the construction progressed, on March 25, 1941, the Bennett & White Construction Company raised the fabricated framework of a standard size hanger in just 7 hours 45 minutes.
Operations started on June 9, 1941 with a class of about forty young Canadian men arriving to train. The first commanding officer was Wing Commander Hugh Campbell. As a Service Flying Training School, advanced flying was taught using the twin-engine Avro-Anson and the Cesna Crane. The training course provided 75 to100 hours of flying and included night flying, navigational flight and advanced aerobatics; all of this was combined with a comprehensive ground school course. Many of the graduates became bomber pilots overseas, while some remained to serve as instructors. Aircraft in the sky soon became a common sight in the Claresholm region and by early 1942 the school had a fleet of 47 Avro Ansons and 70 Cessna Cranes.
A new class graduated about every four weeks. On October 5, 1941 the Duke and Duchess of Windsor toured the facilities and, after receiving the Royal Salute from the paraded station personnel, the Duke presented the flying badges to the third graduating class. A routine was soon established and students arrived from the United States, England, New Zealand, and Australia, although the majority of students were from Canada.
On February 23, 1942 a party of 62 of the RCAF Women’s Division arrived in Claresholm, having completed their training in eastern Canada. Their duties included serving as cooks, clerk accountants, telephone operators and motor transport drivers. The Women’s Division was led by Assistant Section Officer Elizabeth Bie and Sergeant Margaret Sanderson.
In May of 1943 The Earl of Athlone, Governor General of Canada, and his wife, Princess Alice, visited the No. 15 Service Flying Training School. After a tour of the school and lunch at the Officer’s mess, the Governor General presented to the graduates of Course 74 their flying badges.
Over time the course syllabus became more rigorous and, as a result, the graduating classes were increasingly more skilled. The No. 15 SFTS also evolved to meet the changing needs of the front. The permanent staff at the School were aware that their efforts were integral to the war effort. As Wing Commander Kennedy regularly reminded the graduating classes, “The staff of these schools are the main stay of our continued war effort in the air, and they deserve our full measure of recognition and praise for their efforts.” At the same time that the training at the School became more rigorous, the capacity of the School also increased. To illustrate, by January of 1944 there were 126 Staff Officers, 5 WD Officers, 722 Airmen, 204 WD Airwomen, 296 Trainees, 10 Service Personnel and 75 civilians. The infrastructure was also expanded and two more hangars were added, existing building were improved, and a bowling alley was added to provide residents with entertainment.
On March 29th, 1945 the final graduating Courses, 121 and 122, received their wings. In total, the No. 15 SFTS graduated thirty-five classes of trained pilots. The No. 15 SFTS officially closed on August 10, 1945. In the four years that it was operation between 1941 and 1945, about 2000 young men received their pilot’s wings at RCAF Station Claresholm.