Growing Up with Air Force Ghosts

As a child, I used to lie in bed at night and imagine the ghosts of all the air force veterans around me.

That's because the farm in Saskatchewan where I grew up is a former airfield, one of hundreds created during the Second World War through the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

Of the tens of thousands of men who trained here and at other air bases across Canada, some crashed and died in our country.

Some flew successful missions against the enemy and lived to tell their tales.

Some were killed in combat and never returned home again.

Perhaps that’s why I’m fascinated by war stories, not only those about the overseas conflict, but also about the events that took place here at home -- literally in my own back yard.

Canada, also known as “democracy’s airport,” was responsible for training 130,000 aircrew from all over the world in our sky-and-dry climate. But after the war, these airports were often abandoned or sold off.

When my father Douglas Florence returned in 1946 from his stint overseas with the Royal Canadian Air Force, he was sick of taking orders and desperate to farm.

So he scraped together the money and purchased one of the flat, treeless airfields from the Department of National Defence, which was ideal for farming. It was called a relief airfield, because it handled the overflow from the main station at North Battleford.

Along with the land came several sturdy, serviceable wooden buildings. Typical of governments everywhere, no expense had been spared. They were made of the finest lumber, with shingled exteriors painted military green, and distinctive six-over-six paned windows.

Our house was fashioned from a former T-shaped barracks building. The T was cut into two pieces, and the nearest end became the home where I grew up. The other end was moved into North Battleford where it became the home for the Mennonite Church and it remains so today.

My father plowed under the grass runways, and planted wheat. The wheat grew like gangbusters, certainly higher than my little head.

After several years, he finally got around to painting the military-green shingled exterior, with the "help" of my younger brother Rob and me.

My father is dead now, but my brother Rob took over the farm. The house where I grew up was still used by my mother June as a summer residence until she died in November 2017.

Here she is on her last visit to the farm, seated in her lovely kitchen.

And fortunately I can still return any time I like, to sleep in my old bedroom.

In the nearby field, the main airfield administration building still stands. The long grassy track was once a busy runway where the new recruits practiced their wobbly takeoffs and landings.

The original building had three large storage bays, with administration offices at one end. A staircase led to the roof, where a square glassed-in control tower allowed the officers to keep an eagle eye on the raw recruits.

Boys like these trained here, in aircraft painted bright yellow so they could be identified as novice aircrew. After a few short months, they earned their wings and went off to war.

To read my post about the number of young men who died in training accidents, click: Canada: A Perilous Place For A Pilot.

Now few signs remain but this calendar from 1945, still hanging on the wall.

My sister Mary Margaret and I moved away, but my brother Rob and his wife Wendy raised four children here. Like us, my nephews and nieces romped among the remnants of the former airfield.

Several years ago, my brother erected a permanent marker to honour the farm’s former glories.

Perhaps one day, this will be all that remains of the past.

            MY FAVOURITE VETERANS

My story about growing up on a wartime airfield, along with twenty-seven other original stories from Wartime Wednesdays, are now available in printed book form.

To read more about the book, click: My Favourite Veterans: True Stories From World War Two's Hometown Heroes. To order a signed copy for $35.00 Canadian, email me at elinor1@telus.net or call me at 250-342-1621.

Bird's Eye View

  • Bird’s Eye View is my fact-based novel about a Saskatchewan farm girl who joins the air force and becomes an aerial photo interpreter in World War Two. This Canadian best-seller is available through any bookstore, and also as an e-book and an audiobook. To purchase online, click here: Bird's Eye View.

Wildwood

  • Wildwood is my contemporary novel about a young woman from the city who inherits an abandoned farm in northern Alberta, on condition that she and her little daughter live there for one year, off the grid. She is inspired by the diary she finds in the house, written by the original homesteader. Wildwood is available through any bookstore, and also as an e-book. To purchase online, click here: Wildwood.

My Favourite Veterans

Letters From Windermere

  • To subscribe to my new monthly blog which started in 2019, titled Letters From Windermere, describing my writing life, travels and hobbies, enter your email address in the small yellow box under "Subscribe By Email" at the top right-hand side of this page.‚Äč

Wartime Wednesdays

  • All my Wartime Wednesdays stories written from 2013 to 2018 are available to read on my website, indexed by subject and title. To see the complete list, click here: Wartime Wednesdays.

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