With creation of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in 1939, surveying began across Canada to find suitable locations for air training facilities. One site had been located near the village of Centralia. It was decided that the facility would house RAF Service Flying Training School (No. 42). In the meantime, on Canada's East Coast, another Service Flying Training School site was to be built near Summerside, P.E.I. Designated No. 9 SFTS, the facility began training student pilots on January 6, 1941. While training at Summerside continued, the German U-Boat fleet was emerging as a major or threat to shipping in the North Atlantic. This lead to the expansion of air defence facilities along Canada's East Coast. It was determined the Summerside Station would better serve this expansion by converting over to a General Reconnaissance School. In this role the school would train crews for coastal duties with Eastern Air Command. In an issue of the station newsletter, No. 9 Flyer, Mr. L.B. Hodgson described the sale of his farm. “The first intimation I had that my land was any different from any other was in August of 1941. The Department of Transport, learning that there was a well on my farm producing an abundant supply of water, and realizing that the place was an ideal location for an airport, purchased my property, house and all, on August 25, 1941.” Changes in war meant changes in training. Thus the Centralia facility which was purchased and construction paid for by the RAF suddenly became the new home of No. 9 SFTS. The massive task of moving a complete air training school was carried out in stages. The Advance Party arrived at Centralia on June 8, 1942. Their role was to receive the initial issue of equipment and make necessary arrangements with regard to accommodation, messing and services for the remainder of the school. On July 5, 1942, G/C Fullerton left by service vehicle for Moncton, N.B., and then proceeded by rail to Centralia, leaving S/L G.M.A. Monteith in command of the Station. The main body of the School moved out by rail for Centralia, on July 6. The party consisted of seventy-seven persons. S/L Monteith was in command of rear party. The day was also the official opening of No. 9's new home. For the first few months of the Station’s official existence, it was known as No. 9 SFTS Exeter. A postal dispute was resolved by renaming the facility No. 9 SFTS Centralia. On August 6, 1942 the first group of student pilots commenced training. The official opening of the new facility was held on September 21, 1942. Sadly, many pilots who completed their flight training at No. 9 SFTS Centralia paid the supreme sacrifice during the Second World War - many killed during aerial bombing operations. They went with songs to the battle, they were young. Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow. They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted, They fell with their faces to the foe. They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.
Brothers Arthur Kenneth and Edward Allan Clarke were driving truck for their older brother Bill when they decided to enlist in the RCAF. Kenneth received the following assessment during his RCAF interview report: “Wants to be a pilot – to fight.” Allan was assessed as: “A hardworking, alert young man. Should train well. Sincere, co-operative.” The Hawkestone, Ontario residents received their EFTS training at Goderich, where Allan was assessed as: “A slow type of student who has not worked too hard. Lacks application but has possibilities if he would buckle down.” The brothers were posted to Centralia where Kenneth was assessed by G/C Fullerton as: “A good pilot but is inclined to be chronically careless.” Allan was assessed by G/C Fullerton as: “A good type who will do good anywhere. This student has been an above-average type from the beginning. This pupil is not recommended for a commission.” Upon graduation from Centralia, the brothers received notice they were to be posted overseas. Allan received the following assessment while training at No. 24 Operational Training Unit: “An above average pilot and a captain of great practice who should make an excellent operational pilot. Strongly recommended for a commission. Upon completion of advanced training, the brothers were posted to 432 Squadron. On April 12, 1944, Pilot Officer Kenneth Clarke was piloting Halifax LW614 when the aircraft crashed during an air-to-air firing practice. Despite the loss of his brother, Pilot Officer Allan Clarke continued to fly operations with 432 Squadron. On July 29, 1944, he was was piloting Halifax NP702 on operations to Hamburg and failed to return to base. This was to have been the crew’s final operation (No. 33).
Course 103 commenced training February 27, 1944. Tragedy stuck April 3 when LAC’s Joseph Roy and John Carey Gardner were killed when their Ansons collided in the circuit and crashed. The Accident Investigation Board recommended: “that consideration should be given to the method of aerodrome control on take-off on this and other Units.” LAC Gardner was taking off from one of the runways in Anson 7619. LAC Roy was attempting to land Anson 7434. An Instructor in a third aircraft attempted to attract the attention of Roy so as to have the aircraft pull away. The Board concluded: “It is possible that LAC Roy may have been watching his instructor’s aircraft and not looking elsewhere.” Gordon Sluman recalls the incident: “During my time at Centralia, one incident took place that I’ll never forget. Two pilot trainees crashed head-on while doing "circuits and bumps" off the end of one runway. Both were killed and remarkably the fabric and debris still fluttered down 20 minutes later! I did not witness the crash but did view the tragic aftermath.”
Joseph Armand Jacques Roy was a resident of Montreal. While at Initial Training School, he was assessed as “Smart, confident French-Canadian lad. Has ability, mature for age, dependable, co-operative and well liked by flight.” During his Elementary Flying Training Roy received the following assessment: “Always eager to get into the air, behaviour good, always on time for flying, neat and clean and could be depended on to carry out his duties. Elder brother in the Army. Parents approve this one joining in aircrew. Best friends are in the RCAF, in Nfld and already overseas. Highly intelligent. Willing – will accept heartily any aircrew duty, but looks like a natural.”
John Carey Gardner was an accountant with a Toronto newspaper at the time of his RCAF enlistment. While at No. 1 Initial Training School, Gardner was assessed as “A very keen outstanding airman who has worked and played hard. Lots of determination, excellent service spirit.” Gardner received his Elementary Flying Training at Windsor, Ontario where he was assessed “Appearance and bearing good. Keen and shows interest in his work.” From Windsor, Gardner was posted to Centralia where he was sentenced to five days confined to barracks after he failed to appear for ground lectures. On April 17, 1944, Gardner’s mother wrote the following letter to the RCAF Casualties Officer: “Thank you for the kind letter sent to my daughter-in-law, when my dear son, John Carey Gardner, was killed at Centralia on April 3rd. His father died only four months ago. Therefore his death has been a greater shock for me. There have been several crashes at Centralia reported in area papers, therefore it has been in my mind, well, just wondering, if perhaps the boys in training could be protected in some better way. My son leaves his wife and two children. Perhaps there could be more protection – a light system – some sort of practice place for beginners such as my John. Yet I know it was the other boy who crashed my son’s plane. It is just my over-burdened heart, crying out for other boys in training. I know the task is a very trying one, and may God help you one and all in my prayer.”
Bruce Gordon was a recent arrival No. 9 after completing his Elementary Flying Training. He was the “baby” of the Course being one of the youngest trainees. Fellow course mates razzed him about his light beard and how he worked so hard on his shoes and buttons for parades. In a letter to his buddy, Gordon described his observation of the fairer sex at Centralia. “The WD’s around here are really easy to get along with and they are a good looking bunch. Remember at Arnprior and the other places where you had to have your wings to suit them? Here they almost overwhelmed me with their friendliness and I wondered why until yesterday. I was told of a F/Sgt. who was given hell for dancing too often with a WD and of a WD who was posted to the Coast for being too friendly with the Officers. Result – aircrew is strictly the business around here. Foo! I continue. I took one out a couple of times and thought I was getting along O.K. until one night she really gave me the old one, two – the run around, see? Well that’s O.K. because there are lots more and I’m still making pretty good time.” In another letter he described his flying experiences and, further comments about No. 9’s WD’s. “I find the Anson a very nice aircraft; much easier to handle because it is so stable and not affected by bumps. The only hard thing is to remember the lengthy procedure entailed with every move. I am still flying circuits and bumps. “When I got here I didn’t have much of an opinion of WD’s because when I was at Arnprior, which was an Instructor’s school, they wouldn’t look at us, even though we were carrying flying helmets around. You had to have the Wings to suit them. When I came here I find that aircrew is great stuff with the WD’s. That was O.K. but there is a catch in it. They are strictly prohibited from being too friendly with Officers and Senior NCO’s. There is nothing to do around here anyway and you can’t shoot a line because they know too much.” On February 24, 1944 Gordon flew a training exercise with his D Flight instructor, P/O Behan. In preparation for his solo flight in a multi-engine Anson, he was then given a check ride with F/O Robertson. Upon completion of this flight, Gordon boarded Anson 7269 and departed the field. On a parallel runway, fellow student pilot Donald Joseph Byrne took off, side by side to Gordon, in Anson 7314. A combination of pilot inexperience and the glare from the sun contributed to a collision between the Ansons Gordon and Byrne were piloting resulting in their deaths. The Accident Investigation Board concluded that aerodrome traffic control at the Station appeared to be weak. It was determined by the Board that improved supervision was required - especially when take-offs and landings were being practiced by pupils. Sadly, Bruce wasn’t the first Gordon boy to be killed during the War. Richard Gordon was killed April 29, 1942 while serving with 408 Squadron. Their parents were Rev. and Mrs. Simeon Moore Gordon of Hagersville, Ontario. The same day Bruce was killed at No. 9, the son of another Hagersville Minister was killed in a flying accident. On the evening of the accident, an unidentified member of the course wrote a poem about the tragic event that day and left the poem in the flight room. Bob Jackson, another member of the course, picked up the paper and, fifty years later, presented the original copy to David Gordon, brother of Bruce. The barrack room is very still tonight The boys are quiet, pensive, and restrained This thoughtful stillness all night long It isn’t fright – I know it isn’t fright. Today we lost the first of our flight The blinding sun condemned him ere it would And whiffed away the friendship we had gained So Red can sit and talk with us tonight. Last night while Red was here among the boys He stood for laughter, glee, and mirth; but yet Tonight the spirit is anything but noise And Red is in the midst of us. You get to hate the sun sometimes. It just decoys and coaxes you to fly where death is met.
Tragedy struck Course 95 at Centralia on January 14, 1944, when Hamilton, Ontario native LAC Adam DiFilippo was killed along with his instructor, P/O Francis Henning a resident of Atlin, B.C. (pictured below). While flying in Anson 7272, the aircraft struck the top of a chimney, causing the Anson to crash. The conclusion of the Accident Investigation Board: “When demonstrating low flying, instructors are to do so in the approved low flying area for their particular unit and are to clear all obstacles by a minimum height of 50 feet.
On February 5, 1944 three students of Pilot Officer Henning wrote to his parents. "As former students of Mr. Hennings we wish to let you know of our great admiration for him as our instructor and friend. Mr. Henning possessed an instructing quality and good will manner that promoted a feeling of friendship between himself and his pupils. He started us on our way to our wings and his memory will be carried with us wherever we go." Signed by: D.W. Adair, A.D. Skirrow, E.F. Anderson


William Paget received his Elementary Flying Training at No. 12 EFTS Goderich. S/L H.E. King, Chief Flying Instructor, assessed Paget as “Very steady pilot. Aerobatics are improving steadily. General flying is high average. Forced landings are average. Very conscientious about his flying.” While at Centralia, G/C Fullerton assessed Paget as “A high average pilot – clever worker – recommended for a commission.” From Centralia, Paget was posted to No. 34 Operational Training Unit. Upon completion of training, Paget was assessed “This pilot has done very well. He is very keen and enthusiastic. Above average.” After completing Operational Training, Paget was posted to 437 Squadron. On September 23, 1944, F/O Paget piloted Dakota KG305 on his first operational trip with the Squadron.The aircraft left base at RAF Blakehill Farm at 13.30 hours for a pannier dropping mission to re-supply airborne forces in Holland who had been cut off by the enemy. The target was a dropping zone west of Arnhem, Holland. F/O Paget and crew are believed to have become a casualty at about 16.10 hours near the dropping zone, where enemy activity in the form of light flak and small arms fire was encountered by other aircraft. A civilian buried the crew near the scene of the crash. Paget was from Shelburne, Ontario. In 1947, Annie Paget wrote a letter to the RCAF Casualties Officer. “Would you please tell me if my dear son, the late Flying Officer William R. Paget received some award for his gallantry at Arnhem. I have had it on my mind for some time, and feel that his sorrowing parents have at least a right to know. “My son, like many others was married a few hours before leaving for overseas, and we his parents who loved and mourn his loss, receive no word or any of his personal effects to cherish. We feel this is very unjust.”


Donald Bowes left his Winnipeg home to enlist in the RCAF. While at Initial Training School he received the following assessment: “This airman is quiet and retiring but is an efficient worker and is apt to be overlooked as one of the good members of the Flight due to his reticence. He quit school to join the Air Force and is somewhat immature. His hobby was firearms and he has done a lot of hunting which may be helpful as he proceeds in Aircrew. This airman should be satisfactory Pilot material.” Bowes received his pilot training at Centralia where he was assessed as: “Inclined to be lazy – no outstanding faults.” After receiving his wings at Centralia, Bowes was posted to Britain for advanced bomber pilot training. While at No. 1664 Conversion Unit, Bowes was assessed as: “An average pilot with no outstanding faults. Should be checked on captaincy. Landings no hell. Landings a little rough but safe.” After completion of heavy conversion training, Bowes was posted to 419 Squadron. On March 31, 1945 Lancaster KB869 departed for operations to Hamburg U-boat shipyards with F/O Bowes at the controls. Cloud cover over the target hindered accuracy of the operation. Along with this, Luftwaffe day fighters launched an attack on the bomber stream, including the Lancaster F/O Bowes was piloting. F/Sgt. Milne, the Mid-Upper Gunner, stated in a POW report: “Intercom dead, but saw pilot motioning Engineer (Rea) and Bomb Aimer (Gladish) out. Saw Engineer take off his helmet and clamp on his chute. Saw Bomb Aimer trying to open front hatch. Then explosion and when I got out there was no nose forward of the skippers seat. Rear Gunner (Rowlands) and Navigator (Berry) are here (POW’s). “The German Intelligence Officer wanted us to identify bodies and he read off a list of what he said were identified bodies. This included two names which I took to be my Pilot and Bomb Aimer.” M.E Ferguson W/C Officer Commanding No. 419 Squadron wrote the following letter to F/O Bowes’ mother: “Dear Mrs Bowes: “I greatly regret having to confirm the telegram which you have no doubt already received, notifying you that your son, Flying Officer Donald Stuart Bowes is missing from operations. He took off the morning of March 31st 1945, to attack a very important industrial centre in Northern Germany. The attack has since proved to have been very successful, but unfortunately, nothing has been heard of your son or his crew since take-off, and their loss can only be attributed to enemy action. “Donald was with the Squadron for more than three months, and in this time he became a very popular Squadron member and one of our most experienced pilots. He was a cheerful, quiet, unassuming fellow who was very devoted to his duties. During your son’s stay with us he took part in nineteen attacks on the enemy against the main German industrial targets and in support of our land forces. On one occasion, one engine of your son’s aircraft became unserviceable soon after the take-off, but he skilfully mastered the situation and courageously carried on to the target to drop his bomb load. I can assure you that we all feel the loss of ‘Don’ very deeply.”


Stanley Hanna, of Stavely, Alberta, graduated from Centralia with Course 83. On December 4, 1944, Flying Officer Hannah and his crew were returning from a bombing operation to Karlsruhe, Germany when their No. 166 Squadron Lancaster LM176 spun and crashed on approach to their home base at RAF Kirmington.


Robert Kingdon received his pilot wings with Course 77. Group Captain Elmer Fullerton assessed Kingdon as: “Quick to learn. Willing worker; very keen. This pupil is recommended for a commission.” Upon graduation from Centralia, Kingdon was posted overseas. Upon completion of training at No. 16 Operational Training Unit, Kingdon was assessed as “An average pilot and sound captain of aircraft. Recommended for heavy bombers. At No. 1657 Conversion Unit, Kingdon was rated as “An above average pilot and skipper of aircraft who had no trouble in converting, and was keen to learn. Crew discipline is good, and fighter affiliation exercises were above average. Should do well on operations.” On March 20, 1945, F/O Kingdon was serving with 214 Squadron, a radio countermeasures unit. F/O Kingdon was skipper of Fortress HB785, detailed to disrupt communication between enemy night fighters and ground controllers while RAF bombers attacked a synthetic oil plant in Bohlen, Germany. The crew never returned to their home base. On October 1st 1947, W/C W.R. Gunn, RCAF Casualties Officer sent a letter to Mrs. E.T. Kingdon, Weston, Ontario, mother of F/O Kingdon. “It is with regret that I refer to the loss of your son, Flying Officer Robert Verdun Kingdon, and to advise you that a report has been received from our Missing Research and Enquiry Service that, while on search duties in the Sulzbach Area, it was ascertained that a four-engined aircraft had crashed 1 ½ kilometres south of Sulzbach at 4:00 am., on the morning of March 21st, 1945; that it had approached the town, flying at an low altitude, and when just clear of the town, had exploded and fell to earth. “The Buergermeister and the local Priest advised that the explosion and resulting crash, being of great villence, it was not possible to identify the crew members recovered, but that they had been buried on the same day at the Sulzbach Cemetery, the local Priest and members of the Parish attending. At the cemetery it was found that all of the coffins had been place in a large single grave. The grave was in excellent condition, and the cross at the grave bore the following inscription: - ‘Hier ruhen in Gott 9 englische Fliegersoldaten abgestarzt am 21 Marz 1945, bei Sulzbach.’ “All ten members of your son’s crew were found to be buried in this grave, and all were individually identified, except Pilot Officer V.A. Routley and Flight Sergeant D.R. Miller (RAF), who are resting in Coffin No. 9, but unfortunately could not be individually identified. Your son was found to be resting in Coffin No. 7. I realize that this is an extremely distressing letter, and it is my earnest hope that you and the members of your family will derive a measure of comfort in the knowledge that your boy’s resting place is known, and that it will be reverently and permanently maintained.”


John Morton, a resident of Toronto, received his pilot training at Centralia with Course 75. G/C Fullerton assessed Morton as: “A good average student with quite a bit of natural skill. Quiet and works hard. Good commission material but not suitable for instruction.” Upon completion of his training at Centralia, Morton was posted overseas, where upon completion of advanced operational training, he was posted to 90 Squadron RAF.On D-Day operations, P/O Morton piloted Stirling bomber Maid of the Mist, bombing railway and road lines in Caen. P/O Morton was skipper of Lancaster PB198 on operations against Stuttgart, July 28/9, 1944. On the return trip, the bomber stream encountered night fighters. At 1:15 hours, a night fighter attacked PB198 and the bomber crashed in flames in the woods of Saulxures Les Bugneville. On crashing, one of several bombs exploded, and the aircraft was completely wrecked. The bodies of five airmen lay nearby. The body of the sixth airmen was found about 1000 metres from the crashed aircraft. The Germans allowed the citizens of Saulxures to remove the bodies of the crew but would not allow for a burial ceremony.
Ian McKenzie Hamilton was born in Orangeville, Ontario in 1921. He graduated from Orangeville High School in 1935, and then moved to Toronto. Hamilton enlisted in the RCAF in 1942 and received the following assessment during his interview: “Aggressive, determined, should do well in Air Crew when Educational Standard acquired. Recommend.” Pilot Officer George Ponech was LAC Hamilton’s main instructor at Centralia. G/C Fullerton assessed Hamilton as: “Hard worker, showed improvement throughout. Good capable pilot and should make a capable T.E. instructor. This pupil is recommended for a Commission.” While at No. 20 Operational Training Unit, Hamilton received the following assessment: “This N.C.O. made good steady progress throughout the course and is now an above average pilot. He has quite a good crew, controls them efficiently and is recommended as captain of aircraft. Can be relied upon conscientiously to complete any instruction that he may be given and is strongly recommended for a commission. Should be considered for P.F.F. duties after further experience.” After completing OTU training, Hamilton was posted to 1663 Conversion Unit where he and his crew received the following assessment from the Chief Instructor: “Has coped very well on course, is above average pilot and captain but does not seem to receive full support from his mid-upper gunner. An above-average crew.” Pilot Hamilton I.M. P/O J19966 Above Average Very keen Navigator Bastable H.D. F/O J27478 Above average Air Bomber Noble A.C. Sgt 1575695 Average works hard Flight Engineer Rowe A. Sgt. 1673459 Average Wireless Op Horler Ivan L. Sgt 1316267 Above average Mid A/G De Vetter L.L. 1814893 Average This gunner has given no cause for complaint yet I cannot feel happy regarding his relation with the rest of the crew. Suggest you watch him. Tail A/G Lane J. William Sgt 1609246 Average On May 9, 1944, P/O Hamilton and his crew commenced flying with 640 Squadron RAF. The target for May 24/5 were the railway yards in Aachen. P/O Hamilton’s crew faced six individual combats and two head-on attacks by a JU-88. One enemy aircraft was claimed shot down. When they arrived over the target the bombs hung up. P/O Hamilton flew two operations during D-Day. The first was a 4:20 trip bombing Normandy coastal batteries at Maisy. The second op involved bombing railway and road centres at Chateaudun. On June 8, 1944, Halifax aircraft LK 866 with P/O Hamilton as skipper, failed to return from an operational attack on Versailles Matelont, France. It left base at 00.24 hours carrying 16X500 G.P., 2 X 500 L.D., 37 pistol and 7,600 rounds of .303 ammunition. P/O Hamilton and Sgt. Lane killed. F/O Bastable was hidden in June for two weeks when he left to attempt to reach Spain. Sgt. De Vetter (M.U. Gunner) wrote the following report: “On our way back we were attacked by fighters. The fighters came up from beneath us. All the bottom of the fuselage caught fire. The engines were still working. The intercom was u.s. The pilot gave orders to jump out. The navigator, F/O H. Bastable – missing, bomb aimer Sgt. A. Noble – POW, wireless operator Sgt. I. Horler – POW, baled out by the first escape hatch. The rear gunner, Sgt. J. Lane - killed, bailed out by a hole in the fuselage as the main escape door could not be opened. “I was going to bale out by the same way as the rear gunner, but on turning round I saw that the fire was not so bad. I went back and with the help of the engineer Sgt. A Rowe – POW, we managed to put the fire out. “The fire was nearly out and we were hoping to get – if not back to base – into allied occupied territory, when fighters suddenly attacked us from underneath. The fire developed. A petrol tank was on fire. Nothing could be done, so we baled out. I baled out first, the engineer second. As for the pilot, I do not know if he managed to escape.” The navigator, F/O H. Bastable reported on May 17, 1945: “Believe all my crew bailed out safely. Rowe and Noble I have seen since. Rowe reports having seen the WOP in Thennes Prison. Also informed by now known traitorous French Resistance in Paris that all but DeVetter had been through their hands. DeVetter, being Belgian, escaped to Brussels I believe as the Belgian Recruiting Mission reports having seen him in Brussels last week. “Bill Lane, tail gunner and the pilot were buried in the little cemetery of the village. Although it was forbidden by the Germans, a crowd of people went to the burial and sang the first strains of ‘Marseillaise’ as the tombs disappeared under a load of flowers.” Mrs. Emily Hamilton wrote the following letter to the RCAF Casualties Officer: “Because of the poor state of my health, and the uncertainty of the future owing to my son’s death, I have no permanent address. Will you please address all mail in connection with my sons estate to the following address c/o Mrs Lang Trinity Avenue Toronto.”
Elwin Quantrill left his job as a bank teller to enlist in the RCAF. The Port Hope, Ontario resident received his Elementary Flying Training at Goderich and was assessed by S/L Ken Krug as: “Average pilot material. This student needed considerable encouragement due to an aversion developed from a scare in first solo flight. Aerobatics, airmanship and recoveries from unusual positions need more practice.” After completing his pilot training at Centralia, Quantrill received the following assessment from G/C Fullerton: “An above average pilot, has natural ability and confidence in his flying. Should make an excellent instructor. This pupil is recommended for a commission.” Quantrill received his wings and Commission at Centralia. Three days later he married Vivian Jennings. After finishing instructor training at Pearce, Alberta, F/O Quantrill was posted to No. 12 SFTS Brandon, where his wife joined him. On May 16, 1944, F/O Quantrill was killed when Cessna Crane 8162 he was piloting was in a mid-air collision – one day before his first wedding anniversary. His widow recalls Elwin Quantrill’s life: “Elwin was like many young men at the time – taken in the prime of their life and didn’t have too many years in which to have interests and hobbies. He went from High School into the Royal Bank and became an Assistant Accountant the year before he joined the RCAF. He was interested in sports and was on the tennis team which won the Kawartha Championship and was also interested in golf. He was an avid bridge player. “I know commemoration means so much to veterans celebrating their ‘war’ days but I find it sad – Elwin losing his life, and my second husband wrestling with bad affairs in Europe. I am interested in what you are doing to preserve the boys’ memories.”
ROBERT LORNE SLEETH - Lorne Sleeth received his Elementary Flying Training at Goderich and was assessed by F/L MacLean, No. 12 EFTS Chief Supervisory Officer: “A student with very good possibilities but inclined to be set in his ways. Does as well as he can.” While Sleeth was training at Centralia, Group Captain Elmer Fullerton provided the following assessment: “This student is a good pilot and keen to learn. However, he won’t admit a mistake even to himself and tries to alibi out of everything he does. This pupil is not recommended for a commission.” Upon graduation from Centralia, the resident of Gravenhurst, Ontario was posted overseas. He received the following assessment while training at No. 11 Advanced Flying Unit: “An over confident pilot who is rather erratic, low average.” After completing AFU training, Sleeth was posted to No. 20 Operational Training Unit. He was given the following assessment: “The AFU trained NCO has completed almost two full courses at the unit, having disagreed with his original crew, and subsequently been crewed up again. He is keen, conscientious, smart and a good pilot. Although he has three Officers in his crew, he has had no trouble in asserting himself as captain of aircraft, and his crew like him and respect his ability. He has been completely trouble-free in this Flight, has completed all exercises most efficiently, and is considered an above average captain with above average crew. Strongly recommended for commissioned rank.” Flying Officer Sleeth and crew were posted to 158 Squadron RAF. On September 13, 1944, Sleeth piloted a Halifax bomber for what was to be his 10th sortie. The aircraft departed at 15:52 hours for the target; an oil refinery located at Gelsenkirchen. The aircraft was shot down over the target. An investigation into the accident was performed by No. 2 MRES (Missing Research and Enquiry Service). Statement by F/S T.W. Roberts, rear gunner: “Barker bailed out (navigator) before me and could be seen above coming down with open chute. Informed by German Interrogators that he had been wounded by flak and died 1 ½ hours later.” F/O Sleeth, Sgt. J.H. Boocock (Flt/Engineer), Sgt. J.L. Mitchell (Mid Upper Gunner), F/S Laing AUS (W/Op) were killed when plane blew up at 18,000 feet and later identified near scene of crash by rear gunner of crew F/O R.H. Fox RAF (Air Bomber) baled out safe POW. F/S T.W. Roberts (Rear Gunner) safe POW. Fox stated to investigators that Sgt. Roberts, the Air Gunner, personally saw F/O Sleeth near the wreckage and actually spoke with him a few minutes before he died. Both his legs had been torn off in the crash. In 1949, Flying Officer Sleeth’s parents wrote a letter to W/C Gunn, RCAF Casualties Officer. “We deeply appreciate your very kind letter wherein you advise us the location of the grave of our beloved Son, Flying Officer Robert Lorne Sleeth and those of his chums who died with him. With the information now given us we hope it may be possible for us to someday visit the scene of his last resting place. As Lorne was our only child and meant everything in the world to us you will understand how much it means to us to have the information you have so kindly passed on to us. “In one of his last letters home, Lorne mentioned that if his plane became damaged by shell fire it would, of course, be necessary for him to make sure all members of his crew were safely out before he could jump himself; and from particulars indirectly received, we are inclined to believe our Son could probably have saved his own life had he known that those members of his crew who did not ‘bale out’ were killed when the shell hit his plane. While such action possibly does not merit any special recognitions to his memory, it does convey to a Mother and Dad a certain degree of comfort to know that their Son died as we would have lived – honourably and thinking of others before himself.”
EARL WOODROW WARD - Earl Ward completed his Elementary Flying Training at No. 12 EFTS Goderich before being posted to Centralia. Ward, a native of St. John, New Brunswick, received the following assessment from Squadron Leader H.E. King, Chief Instructor at Sky Harbour, Goderich: “Appears conscientious and hard working type. Inclined to work slowly but quite reliable. Aerobatics and precision need practice.” After Ward completed his pilot training at Centralia, Group Captain Elmer Fullerton provided the following assessment: “Exceptionally hard worker tries his best at all times. Will make a competent pilot. This pupil is recommended for a commission.” While training at No. 17 Operational Training Unit, Ward was engaged in High Level Bombing at 8,000 feet. At 02:20 Ward called up on R/T from Bombing Range: “Starboard motor feathered – cannot see airfield”. All available lights were illuminated. R/T from pilot: “Permission to land losing height rapidly” Answer “Land immediately”. Ward made a tight circuit and a wide turn to the left downwind of runway, which carried the Wellington bomber BK333 beyond end of runway. The aircraft continued across the airfield losing height and crashed and caught fire on impact. An accident investigation determined the cause of the accident to be: “Loss of use of Starboard engine was initial cause. Pilot’s inability to make successful landing on one engine is root cause of accident. Using power of port engine to maintain height when doing a turn to the left considerably extended the turn, causing line error in the approach. Order to crew to bail out at safe height should have been given”.
DOUGLAS EARL AIKEN - Like Julius Kramer, Doug Aiken graduated from Centralia as a member of Course 69. P/O Aiken was also killed on the same operation as P/O Kramer. P/O Aiken was skipper of Lancaster ND751, scheduled attack flying-bomb sites in Pommereval. The Sarnia, Ontario resident was serving with 44 Squadron RAF when he lost his life on his 18th operational sortie.
JULIUS KRAMER - Kramer was one of Fifty-three graduates who received their wings on April 6, 19433 as members of Course 69. Upon completion of operational training, the resident of Toronto After operational training, Kramer and his crew were posted to No. 1651 Conversion Unit, where Kramer received the following assessment: “Very steady pilot, slightly above average. Handles crew well.”Kramer was posted to No. 61 Squadron. On June 24, 1944, Pilot Officer Kramer piloted Lancaster ND987 for operations to Prouville, France, to attack flying-bomb sites. The Lancaster was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed near the village of Epecamps, about 2 kilometres from Bernaville, Somme. Pilot Officer Kramer’s brother, Captain Louis S. Kramer U.S. Army, travelled to the area and received the following information from local villagers.On the night of 24th/25th June 1944, an English bomber crashed in flames in a field in the village of Epecamps and exploded on impact, scattering the wreckage over a half acre. No identifications were possible, but by identifying the remains of six left feet, the villagers assumed that at least six persons perished in the crash. They buried the remains they could find in the village cemetery. Part of the wreckage with the number ND 987 was shown to Captain L.S. Kramer by the villagers. As one member of the crew is now safe, and as he completes the crew of seven, it is possible to assume that one of the six members that perished in the crash, was P/O J. Kramer.
IVAN STEEN SOLLOWS - Steen Sollows graduated as a member of Course 63 on January 15, 1943. The Yarmouth, Nova Scotia native was training at No. 9 Operational Training Unit on November 15, 1943, when Beaufighter aircraft EL 285 which he was piloting, crashed at Wolf Crag at approximately 2010 hours. F/Sgt. Sollows and his observer, were returning to the aerodrome from an Operational Flight Exercise when the Beaufighter flew into high ground near Matterdale. The aircraft had successfully completed two circuits of its exercise and Sollows asked permission to proceed on the third circuit by VHF to the ground station. The permission was granted and acknowledged. Sgt. Marc Jean Lahausse observer a resident of Mauritius was killed as well. K.G. Sollows recalls his brother’s RCAF service. “Steen during his primary education years aspired to be an aeronautical engineer. He constructed countless flying models – many of his own design. He completed high school at the age of fifteen years. On finishing high school he demonstrated that he was entrepreneurially minded by subcontracting with the builder of the RCAF airport at Yarmouth, N.S., to pull nails out of used lumber so that the wood could be reused. During school years he delivered papers for pocket money. His friends recollect that he was so polite to others that his personality bordered on humility. “Steen, one of three brothers in the RCAF, enlisted at the age of seventeen. On completion of his training at Patricia Bay, B.C., on torpedo bombing, he and his radio navigator Sgt. Marc Lahausse (RAF) were seperated on arrival at Bournemouth England. They finally succeeded in being recrewed on Beaufighters after months of representation at Carlisle. Shortly after that they were both killed. Steen was 20 years old when he died. “You are to be commended for your efforts to help preserve the memory of those who died that we who survived might have a reasonable life.”
LLOYD OFFER - Winnipeg resident Lloyd Offer graduated with Course 63. He received the following assessment at initial training School: “Mature, cool alert trainee with splendid service spirit. Very dependable with good sense of responsibility.” Upon completion of pilot training at Centralia, Offer was assessed as: “Fairly good student, although a little slow. This pupil is not recommended for a commission.” Offer was posted overseas. After completing his Heavy Conversion Training, F/Sgt. Offer and his crew were posted to 426 Squadron. At 12.00 p.m. on the night of the 2nd January 1944, Lancaster DS 760 took off to participate in an attack on enemy installations at Berlin, Germany. Flight Sergeant Offer had been detailed to accompany Pilot Officer C.A. Griffith’s crew as 2nd Pilot in order to gain needed experience before taking his own crew on an operational flight. The Lancaster was attacked by a night fighter. While serving as a POW, P/O George Sparks, Air Bomber, stated in a report: “I spoke to P/O Griffiths on the inter-com just before I baled out. He was not injured but was having great difficulty controlling the aircraft. Extremely unlikely he was able to leave the aircraft before it exploded. Believed killed. F/Sgt. Offer was alive when I left aircraft. Just before I bailed out he was saying that he had lost his ‘chute’. Believed killed. Sgt. R.C. Cridland MU/AG parachuted and became a POW. The remaining crew were killed.”
RCAF Station Centralia Flying Instructor George Kercher (centre), with NATO pilot trainees Steiner Wang (Norway), and Piero Brazzola (Italy) - The first NATO member pilot trainees arrived at Centralia in 1950. Steiner “Stan” Wang describes his time at Centralia training with the first NATO arrivals. "My first impression of Canada and Centralia? The Norwegian contingent, nine cadets and myself, travelled by steamer from Norway to New York, then by train from New York to London, Ontario, where the introductory course started. The aim of the course was mainly to learn English, with emphasis how to behave in Canada in general and in the RCAF especially. My first impression of Centralia was that we were heartily welcomed. The officers and their wives were doing their best to make us feel at home. Very early in the course, a fellow student not so fluent in the English language asked me, “Listen Stan, what means the word ‘fast?’” I replied, “Sometimes it means ‘no move’, but today it meant ‘go like hell’”. I may add that the “delinquent” perfected his English considerably before he returned to his homeland. There were two different groups of trainees, cadet trainees and officer trainees, and as such were living in two different messes. The social contact between these two categories were mainly limited to working hours. As I was an officer trainee, my social contact was with the Canadian instructors and the other officer trainees which were, apart from the 10 Italian officers, 2 Belgians, 1 Dutch and myself. As for the cadet trainees, my impression was that the Norwegian cadets made good relations with the Canadian, Belgian and Dutch contingents. The Italian group seemed to keep more to their own nationals than their fellow students from the North-European nations. The reason for this might be that the Italians made a bigger party and created their own self-supporting social group. I had a feeling that it also, to a certain degree, depended on to what extent the individuals wanted to have external acquaintances and practice their English. As I understood from my fellow countrymen, this also applied to the French cadets. During my flying training I had a greater number of different instructors than was desirable, especially in the first period. Despite this, the training routines, both the theoretical and the flying training were excellent and well adapted to the trainees’ background. After the return to Norway, the pilots were posted to different fighter squadrons, mostly flying DeHavilland Vampires, but also Spitfires, which the Royal Norwegian Air Force still had in operation in Northern Norway. Two, including myself, were posted to transport, flying C-47’s.” George Kercher was a flying instructor at Centralia. He recalls his experiences with NATO student pilots. “When Canada started the NATO pilot training, Italy, England, Norway, Denmark, Belgium and Holland managed English very well but the French required that Centralia bring bilingual staff F/O’s Michaud, Lemieux, Gagnon and Rivoire. The other staff instructors soon learned to communicate by using multiple words eg. power, gas, throttle, rpm, pitch, mixture loosely implied more power or airspeed was desired. “Lt. Brazzola, during a pre-flight check on a Harvard was perturbed because his long-stemmed pipe couldn’t be held under his mask so he could smoke in the air.” After completing 36 weeks of training at Centralia, some 81 pilots from six NATO nations received their pilot wings in a gala ceremony 18 May 1951. Hon. Brooke Claxton, Minister of Defence, flew into Centralia in a North Star along with Lieutenant Hartley Antonsen, Norwegian air attaché, His Excellency Hubert Guerin (France), His Excellency Mario de Stefano (Italy), His Excellency Vicomte Du Parc (Belgium) and His Excellency A.H.J. Lovink (Netherlands). The wings parade was considered one of the most important events in Canada’s history of international relations.


In 1992, Stephen Township, where the former RCAF Station Centralia is located, planned to celebrate it's sesquicentennial. One of the events planned was a RCAF Station Centralia reunion. I attended many of the reunion committee meetings and offered my collection of photos and information to the committee at no charge, for a possible commemorative book. Instead, the committee voted to copy a Department of National Defence written overview of RCAF Station Centralia which was on file at the local library. I also provided the committee with the names/contact information for many of the ex No. 9 SFTS personnel who attended the 1992 reunion. I wrote an article about RCAF Station Centralia which was published in Air Force magazine to promote the reunion. I also set up an extensive display of photographs at the reunion. Prior to the event, I also contacted the late Colonel Tom Lawson and received a written committment from the Lawson Foundation to contribute $2000 toward the erection of the memorial cairn - pictured above. Despite this, Tim *, a photographer who was covering the reunion (above photo of his appeared in Air Force magazine along with other photos he took at the reunion) and I were asked to leave the dinner/dance event in the former drill hall as we had not purchased a ticket to attend the event! Politics aside, it was a great pleasure of mine to meet Jean McCormick, daughter of Group Captain Elmer Fullerton, and Ken Steubing, one of the original pipers in the No. 9 SFTS band. Tim took the photo (above) of Jean and Ken in front of the cairn on Sunday morning - the day after we were tossed from the former drill hall by two of the reunion committee members! Years later, one of the "enforcers" asked me for some information about the pipe band for a speech he was preparing - I reminded him of the past encounter and declined to assist him!
In 1991, I approached the management of Clearwater Aircraft Maintenance and Overhaul Inc. about setting up a display of RCAF Station Centralia memorabilia in their hangar -the former Hangar No. 2 during the RCAF Station Centralia days. They agreed to devote some space in the hangar for a display of photos. They felt the memorabilia from the airport's glory days might raise the morale of their employees. A few years later, the company went out of business. I don't know if the "morale booster" worked on the employees. Fortunately, Jim Parker, then owner of "Club Albatross" (located in the former Sergeant's Mess - since demolished) informed me that Clearwater was out of business and that he had managed to rescue my RCAF Station Centralia memorabilia from the locked building before the creditors threw it out. Jim was kind enough to allot some space in his business to set up the RCAF Station Centralia display. The former Clearwater hangar is now owned by Goderich Aircraft Inc.
Letter (1992) From Squadron Leader Eric Webster (A.F.C.) Former Chief Flying Instructor at No. 9 SFTS Summerside & Centralia. I had the pleasure to spend some time with Eric and his wife at the 1992 RCAF Station Reunion. In 1944, Eric Webster was awarded the Air Force Cross. The citation states: "The performance of his flying duties has consistently been above average with a commendable absence of accidents, and his strict adherence to flying discipline, loyalty and devotion to duties at all times, together with his keen enthusiasm in instructional flying, have been a splendid example and inspiration to other Flying Instructors."
Photo: September 1943 - Dam Buster Guy Gibson Visits Centralia (L to R) Squadron Leader Eric Webster, Wing Commander Guy Gibson and Group Captain Elmer Fullerton


Between 1992-5, I operated the RCAF Station Centralia Memorial Museum from the former 25 yard gun range property. The building had been used by the former Centralia Agricultural College to store landscaping equipment. When the college closed, I approached the Ontario Development Corporation, then owner of Huron Industrial Park, to see if they would rent the building for use as a museum. They approved my proposal. I spent hours renovating the interior of the building and constructing displays at my expense. The building was demolished several years ago - so much for preserving local history in Huron County! The Ontario Heritage Trust is an agency of the Government of Ontario (supposedly) dedicated to identifying, preserving, protecting and promoting Ontario’s heritage for present and future generations. Along with the 25 yard range building, many of the wartime RCAF buildings at Centralia were demolished while under the ownership of the Province of Ontario's Ontario Development Corporation arm. The former station hospital, sergeant's mess (Club Albatross) and various barrack blocks was demolished.


In the late 1980's, I began to research personnel who served at the former No. 9 Service Flying Training School, Centralia. I soon discovered that the first flying fatality at Centralia was an American from Valparaiso, Indiana, by the name of John Birky. I wrote to David A. Butterfield, Mayor of Valparaiso, seeking his assistance in possibility locating relatives of John Birky. I was pleased to receive a reply from Mayor Butterfield, informing me he had delegated his staff to assist me and that they had located Reverend Ken Birky, John's brother. Over the years, I corresponded with Reverend Birky. He always said he would like to travel from Indiana to Centralia to retrace his brother's service with the RCAF. Finally, in 2000, Reverend Birky and his lovely wife, Mary Jane, were able to visit the Centralia area. I contacted relatives of Murray Dixon, one of the farmers who pulled John Birky from his burning Avro Anson aircraft. They provided me with directions to the exact location of the accident. I took Reverend Birky and Mary Jane to meet the Dixons, and along with London Free Press reporter John Miner went to the location of the aircraft accident. Reverend Birky stated it was well worth the trip up to Centralia to experience a bit of closure by seeing first hand where his brother had crashed and eight hours later, lost his life in the station hospital.