Air Cadet Uniform circa 1940s
1941 TO 1946 ...

To understand why and how the Air Cadet League of Canada came into being, it is necessary to recall the early days of World War II. France had fallen, the Low Countries had been invaded, and Britain was under heavy attack from the air. The critical need was for planes and more planes - and for trained young men to fly them in defence of freedom.

Against this background there grew in Canada the idea of a select corps of teen-aged youths who would devote some of their spare time to preparing for the day when they would take their places as aircrew in the ranks of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).

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As early as 1938 an interest was shown in such a youth program as noted in the History of Western Air Command by Hugh Halliday,

"....On May 29, 1939, apart from ceremonial duties, Western Air Command personnel were engaged in such work as street-lining and mounting a special guard on the royal luggage. That evening,.....aircraft escorted the steamer Prince Robert to Victoria and repeated these tasks on May 31 as the royal party (King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) returned to the mainland.

Among those lining the streets were hundreds of youth wearing vintage air force uniforms. A year earlier, Wing Commander A.B. Bell-Irving, commanding RCAF Auxiliary units in the area, had conceived the idea of forming an air cadet corps to be affiliated with No. 111 (Auxiliary) Sqdn. The first reaction to a report in the Vancouver press on this was little short of astonishing when approximately 1,400 youngsters reported to the squadron to join up. Negotiations with the Honourable Ian Mackenzie, then Minister of National Defence, produced a number of obsolete high collar air force uniforms. Squadron Leader Nick Carter was persuaded to take on the task of organizing the corps. The Vancouver Air Cadet Movement was the inspiration for the future Air Cadet League of Canada."

In Winnipeg, Air Cadets had a slightly different beginning -

It is not generally known that one of the first Air Cadet Squadrons in Canada was formed in Winnipeg by a member of The Winnipeg Lions Club, Albert Bennett. On leaving a meeting at the Christ Church, he found the radiator ornament of his car had been damaged, and he caught two of the boys responsible. In talking to the boys, he was told that in the district around Christ Church on Henry Avenue, families were living in rooms and the boys could only play on the streets. There were no sports facilities, Boy Scout Troops or other organizations to take care of them. He invited them to bring their friends to meet him at the church the following evening. Twelve attended, and The Christ Church Air Cadet Squadron was formed in October, 1938. The numbers grew, and Mr. Bennett was assisted in the drilling and training program by Sid Press and Mrs. Chase.

The first monetary grant was made by The Lions Club, of $50 which went to buy cloth for uniforms. The corps was outfitted with blue shirts, shoulder straps and caps at a cost of 79ยข per cadet.

A committee of Lions members was formed to assist Mr. Bennett in the work. Bob Rutherford later became Chairman and Secretary-Treasurer. Others in the early days among The Lions members who served on this committee were Bill Fleming, Al McNamara, Cliff Hudson, Ralph Misner, Ray Sweet, Bob Rutherford and Ed Vopni. Later others joined to assist: Al Simmons, Don Furney, Herb Ford, Alex Morrison, Pete Speirs, Brendy O'Brien, Bob Webb, Jonny Innes, Ralph Armstrong and John Roddy. All names that are synonymous with the Air Cadet Program in Manitoba.

The movement grew until eventually there were over 800 cadets divided into five nights, and parades were held at Daniel McIntyre, St. Johns, Tachè Collegiate and Robert H. Smith School. The name changed to Winnipeg Air Cadets in 1939. About this time, Group Captain Bonham-Carter became interested and provided officers from the R.C.A.F. to assist in the training.

This program was absorbed by the new Air Cadet Program in 1941 to become #6 Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron. The Winnipeg Lions Club has been the sponsor of #6 Squadron and its predecessor since that day in 1938.  more...

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Prior to 1940, these first Air Cadet Squadrons were considered to be Army Cadet Corps that were usually affiliated with Royal Canadian Air Force, Air Reserve Squadrons whose officers provided or assisted with leadership and drill training.

In 1940, Air Minister Power, who was very much aware of the need for this type of Air Cadet training, called in a group of influential civilians and asked them to set up a country-wide voluntary organization to sponsor and develop this growing movement. The response was immediate, and a civilian organization was soon created to work on a partnership basis with the RCAF. As it later developed, this partnership was to be the main reason for the striking success of the Air Cadet Movement in Canada.

On the 11th of November, 1940, Order-in-Council PC 6647 was passed. This order authorized the formation of the Air Cadet League of Canada and set forth the responsibilities of the civilian body and of the RCAF. On April 9, 1941, the Air Cadet League of Canada was granted a Dominion Charter authorizing it to operate as a charitable, non-profit corporation.

An administrative headquarters was established in Ottawa, and the stage was set for a concentrated appeal for sponsors and volunteers throughout the provinces.

In the early part of 1941, a national board of key men was chosen and it met for the first time in Ottawa on June 2nd of that year. One of the first acts of the national directors was to appoint an outstanding Chairman in each of nine provinces. The Provincial Chairmen in turn set up their committees and these gentlemen traveled widely, talking to public-minded citizens and recruiting local sponsorship for the squadrons.

The organization of squadrons proceeded through the fall months of 1941. The initial eighteen squadrons stood up on September 24, 1941 and by the end of the year there were 79 squadrons affiliated across the country. By May, 1942, there were 135 squadrons and 10,000 cadets; and a year later, 315 squadrons with 23,000 cadets.

The primary purpose of the League during its formative years was a military one, but its founders were also thinking in terms of the long-range benefits of Air Cadet training. They realized that through voluntary study, the cadets could improve their knowledge of aviation and increase their usefulness to the community. Through participation in supervised squadron activities, they would find opportunities to develop those qualities usually associated with good citizenship.

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It was the character-building aspect of Air Cadet training which appealed most strongly to the youth leaders of the country. Service Clubs, Educators, Boards of Trade and Veterans Groups offered their services to the League, not only as a contribution to the war effort but also as a means of assisting the youth of the country along the road to good citizenship.

With the start of the Air Cadet Program in Manitoba, in 1941, squadrons were started at schools throughout the province in both the cities and small communities alike. No statistics exist to indicate the number of air cadets that participated in the training but suffice it to be told that most recruits into the RCAF had some level of the program before they enlisted. The program was popular with teen boys and the number of squadrons grew until 1945 when 59 Air Cadet Squadrons operated in the province. Some twenty squadrons functioned within the present boundaries of Winnipeg alone.

In September of 1944, the Movement reached the peak war strength of 374 squadrons, over 29,000 cadets, 1,750 officers and instructors and another 2,000 civilians who supplied financial and other support.

At wars end, people wanted to forget the war years and the Air Cadet Program became less popular with the result that many of the squadrons disbanded. Some amalgamated with other squadrons, some held on for a few years before they closed; some were to reopen after a period of time. Seventy-one Air Cadet Squadrons have functioned in the Province of Manitoba, twenty-four remain active.

It is unfortunate that during the early years accurate records were not kept of the number of cadets who joined the fighting forces. It has been established, however, that during one brief period, between October, 1943 and June, 1944 over 3,000 Air Cadets graduated into the wartime RCAF and more than a score of them were subsequently decorated for gallantry. This was a proud record and one which provided tangible proof of the value of wartime Air Cadet training.

Continue - Part 2...

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