~ St. Catharines' Wartime Neighbourhoods

No. 9 Elementary Flying Training School

Pilots in training in formation at the No. 9 Flighing Training School at the Airport on Niagara Stone Road.

The St. Catharines Flying Training School and the airport, like so many other companies during the war,  joined the war effort and became the No. 9 Elementary Flying Training School which was part of the Commonwealth Air Training Programme.  The school started to train flyboys in October 1940 and soon became a hub of activity with thousands of men training to become pilots.

The students, 180 at a time were trained, started with Fleet Finch biplanes which were replaced in 1942 with DeHaviland Tiger Moths.  Upon graduation, students were sent for more intensive training in Dunville.

Community relations became an issue with so many planes in the air over local farms and cities.  It was reported that cows gave less milk, horses were nervous,  foxes devoured their young , chickens gave less eggs and humans couldn’t sleep.  Two pilots were court-marshalled for flying under the Rainbow Bridge and 3 pilots were killed in training accidents.

The school had great successes.  From the first graduating class of 26, 6 were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, 2 had a Bar added to the medal, one was mentioned in a dispatch, 8 were listed as missing, presumed dead or killed in action and 1 became a prisoner of war.

Training at the school continued until 1944, by the war end over 2,500 students had attended and 1,848 graduated.

One notable graduate was John Magee (American) who after graduation, became a pilot with the RAF.  In 1941, he wrote the poem High Flight, which has become a mantra to pilots.  He was killed in action the same year.

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee
No 412 squadron, RCAF
Killed 11 December 1941

Photo credit – St. Catharines – Canada’s Canal City –
reprinted April, 1993 – John N. Jackson/Sheila M. Wilson