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 short end became the home where I grew up.

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 is still used by my mother June as a summer residence.

Here she is, seated in her lovely farm 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 a 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.

You may also purchase a copy from Amazon by clicking here: My Favourite Veterans: True Stories From World War Two's Hometown Heroes.    

                    About My Novel

  • Bird’s Eye View is fact-based fiction about a young Canadian woman who serves as an aerial photo interpreter in World War Two. In 2016 it was named a Canadian bestseller by both The Globe & Mail, and The Toronto Star. It's available as a trade paperback through any bookstore, and also as an ebook. To order online from Amazon, click Bird's Eye View. It's also available from Amazon's U.S. and U.K. websites.

                    About My Website

  • All blog posts are indexed by subject and title on this page. Scroll to the top of this page to see the list, and enter your email address to subscribe to Wartime Wednesdays. If you enjoy it, please share through Facebook, Twitter, email or just an old-fashioned phone call!

                     About My Events

  • You can see a complete list of my upcoming events on my Events page by clicking the link at the top of this page. You can also see a list of discussion questions for Book Clubs by clicking: Events.

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Greetings

During my research into Canada’s wartime past, I uncovered some fascinating facts and anecdotes. I’ll share them here and welcome feedback and stories of your own.

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