Vantage Points Flashback - War Training near Hartney 1943 Connection to the World
Please scroll down to the bottom of this article for the audio recording with David Neufeld.
Welcome to Vantage Points Flashback. We highlight personalities, places and opportunities in history, with stories that shape us as a region. Thank you municipal councils of southwest Manitoba and Manitoba Heritage for your support.
This story is adapted and aired because of the time we're in – while war is being waged in Ukraine. Please join me in reflecting thoughtfully on why and how wars are fought.
Training for War
What on earth? Local farm boys going to fight in a distant war? Yikes! One week I'm flying over Britain’s coastline and the next I'm in Canada preparing new pilots for WWII. It was 1943. As an Avro Anson aircraft, I lived for two years just south of Hartney, at the Commonwealth Air Training field.
That was a long way from the war in Europe. After France fell to the German army in 1940, the British, Australian, New Zealand and Canadian authorities decided to train fighter pilots far from the war action. Manitoba prairie proved to be perfect. Stable weather. Few people. A network of training fields were built, including Souris and Elgin nearby.
I couldn't get too proud though. I wasn't a combat aircraft. I could carry guns and bombs, for sure, but I was designed for surveillance, not battle. I was sent to Hartney because I was reliable as a trainer plane. The fellas climbing into my cockpit were new to flying fighters. Speed and endurance weren't that important at first. The real fighters in our training squad were the Harvards; also propeller driven, but much livelier in the air. Every new pilot looked to those powerhouses with fear and longing.
I love prairie skies. Like being on a crystal-clear lake. I could see every boulder, farm animal and creek-bed down below. And every house had a massive garden, called a Victory Garden. So much food was going to soldiers. Folks had to feed themselves. Coffee, tea, sugar, butter and gasoline were rationed.
But as beautiful as it was up there, it was also loud. There was no hiding from it. With takeoffs, steep turns and firing at bunker targets, the sound of impending war was constant.
We planes wondered among ourselves, about the young men, some still boys, who had experienced so little, how many would come home after the war. European skies were dominated by the famous German Messer. And German engineers were working on the first jet powered fighter. Scary place in those skies. We shuddered and focused on our task. “Planes don't choose war. Humans do!” we'd say. Our job was to offer pilots and crews every advantage - skill and confidence in the sky.
New pilots and their trainers were a serious bunch. But after work, and after we had been tied down, fueled and polished bright, we'd hear roars of laughter from the barracks. There were 100 lads or so, along with a few wives who did the cooking. With new friends made, good food served, and raucous games of craps played, the future could be set aside, at least for a time, and a good night's sleep gained.
Why do people go to war? They're convinced it's the best way to make the world a safer place. And maybe, sometimes, it's true.
I adapted “Training for War” from a story in Vantage Points 5.
Vantage Points is a 5-book series of stories about layers of history in southwest Manitoba.
Please contact Turtle Mountain Souris Plains Heritage Association. Our website is www.vantagepoints.ca for contact and book-purchasing information.
Find past stories in this radio series by clicking HERE!
See ya’ later!
Turtle Mountain-Souris Plains Heritage Association