When the Second World War began, Summerside, P.E.I. was a town of approximately 5000 people. During the war years, it became a temporary home to thousands of military personnel who worked and trained under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). The plan was developed to prepare men from all over the Commonwealth for Air Force duty.
The training facility that was built on farmland in North St. Eleanors became known as RCAF Station Summerside. In the time period covered by this website, 1940-1945, it was also referred to as the Station, the Airport, or the Port.
In addition to these generic labels, it was also named in the press by the training designations. The schools were the No. 9 Service Flying Training School (SFTS), the No. 1 General Reconnaissance School (GRS), and the No. 1 Reconnaissance and Navigation School (R & NS). After the war, the Canadian government continued to use the site as a military air base until 1991. Some of the original structures are still standing in 2004, but the other buildings were built in the post-war period. They are owned and operated by the Slemon Park Corporation, which provides space for aeronautical industries, as well as for a small municipal airport.
No. 9 Service Flying Training School
Local companies Curran & Briggs Ltd. and M.F. Schurman Co. Ltd. carried out the construction of runways and buildings for RCAF Station Summerside in the summer and fall of 1940. Training started in January 1941, three months ahead of schedule and before the completion of the facilities. It was a stormy winter, but enough flying hours were acquired for the first graduates to be "winged" on April 16, 1941. A civic reception at the Summerside High School welcomed the Commanding Officer E.G. Fullerton and his officers to the community. It also served as an unofficial opening of the Station.
The pilots who graduated from the No. 9 School, which was one of 16 similar schools across Canada, were ready for posting overseas. They honed their skills in single-engine Harvards that had dual controls. There were many minor mishaps on the runways and some fatal crashes. Quite a few pilots failed to pass the challenge of service flying and were sent back to a Manning Depot for reassignment within the Air Force.
The students were assigned to barracks, but most of the officers and many of the airmen on staff lived away from the Station. The arrival of members of the Women's Division in March 1942 was a social diversion for the airmen who had sought female company in the town.
An official representative of the national YMCA arranged the recreational needs of the personnel. The three that served consecutively were Mr. Horton, John Walker, and Angus (Mac) MacLellan.
In June 1942 the staff of the school began moving out to a new location in Centralia, Ontario and was replaced on July 6 by a General Reconnaissance School. There was increased need for pilots and navigators to work in general reconnaissance over the North Atlantic Ocean and Summerside was a logical location for men to train for Coastal Command.
No. 1 General Reconnaissance School
The No. 1 GRS opened under the command of F.R. Miller. Group Captain Alexander Lewis replaced him on January 17, 1943. The pilot training facilities, which had been built to accommodate approximately 1000 people, were gradually enlarged for the use of approximately 2000. The number of personnel, including civilians, at the Station peaked at 2147 in May 1944.
Pilots trained for nine weeks and navigators for four weeks. As many as 676 trainees were on the Station in May 1944. The first students flew in the twin-engine Avro Anson Mark I, which were gradually replaced by the Mark V. Over 6000 airmen trained at the No. 1 GRS. Upon graduation most were assigned to Coastal Command, which operated nearly every type of aircraft that engaged in anti-submarine warfare.
The recreational program of the No. 1 GRS was arranged by an official representative of the Canadian Legion War Services. Capt. Allan Murray, an original member of the Dumbells, was the first to serve in the position. H.W. Phinney later filled the job. There was a very active social program at the Station and much of the musical talent spilled over into the community.
Operations began to slow down in the fall of 1944. The strength of staff by the end of January 1945 had decreased to 1616 and the aircraft to 58. At that point the Charlottetown Navigation School was closed and its staff integrated into a new training school for Summerside.
No. 1 Reconnaissance and Navigation School
The official beginning of the No. 1 R & NS in Summerside was on February 4, 1945. On that date the No. 1 GRS and the No. 2 Air Navigation School of Charlottetown combined to form the new school under the Command of G/C Lewis.
Various courses in navigation were completed over the next few months. The number of personnel peaked at 1855 on July 31, 1945. The Mark V aircraft on the Station reached a high of 118 at the end of May as other stations began to disperse their aircraft prior to closing.
That spring there were sport competitions, hobby pursuits, discussion groups, and the talk of rehabilitation and life after the war. The publication of four bi-monthly issues of a Station magazine called "RECCO" was a highlight of the social life.
There was much celebration when victory in Europe was announced on May 8, 1945. Over 1500 people attended a special V-E Dance held in the Drill Hall for all ranks. More rejoicing followed on August 14 with the declaration of victory in Japan. The next two days were proclaimed holidays for all personnel. Work resumed with everyone wondering what would happen next. An order came through on August 24 stating the re-organization of the School into an RCAF Air Navigation School effective Sept 16, 1945.