Aerodrome of Democracy

WWII Training aircraft being towed out of hangar at No. 2 Bombing and Gunnery School near Mossbank in 1942.Ansons, like the one being pulled out of its hangar in Mossbank, were frequently used at the No. 2 Bombing and Gunnery School
 

During World War II one of Canada’s major contributions to the allied war effort was the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). The plan was an agreement between Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand but the bulk of the responsibility and costs for the program fell to Canada.

Between 1940 and 1945, 120 BCATP aerodrome sites were built and operated in Canada with 20 of these located in Saskatchewan, more than any other province except Ontario.

Mossbank BCATP

The Fairey Battle, another type of aircraft used at the Mossbank base

 

During the war the BCATP produced over 120,000 graduates who served in the air forces of all four Commonwealth nations involved in the plan, as well as some Americans, Poles, Norwegians, Belgians, Dutch, Czechs and French. Recognizing the central importance of the BCATP to winning the war, United States President Franklin Roosevelt called Canada “the Aerodrome of Democracy.”One of Saskatchewan’s BCATP bases was located four miles east of Mossbank at the current location of the Mossbank Golf Course. This base, the No. 2 Bombing and Gunnery School was built with amazing speed and began operations in October 1940. The military enlisted the assistance of a large number of local workers and merchants to build and maintain the base, which provided a major impetus to the Mossbank area economy.

Mossbank BCATPOne of the cavernous Mossbank Hangars at night
 

The base was as large as a small town and featured five aircraft hangars, barracks and other living quarters for several hundred men and women, a parade square, administrative buildings as well as such amenities as an indoor swimming pool, a tennis court, an open air skating rink and two ball diamonds.

Mossbank BCATPA young pilot in a Cornell
 

Students received classroom instruction as well as extensive in-flight training. Exercises included bomb drops over Old Wives Lake on targets representing German submarines. The students frequently made trips into Mossbank where they frequented “the Hostess Club,” which was set up in the local Masonic Lodge. This proved a popular social spot throughout the war.

Mossbank BCATPNo. 2 Bombing and Gunnery School, winter 1944
 

In anticipation of the end of the war, the base was closed in December 1944 but not before it had trained 2,539 air bomber and 3,702 air gunner students. Of these, 3,493 were Canadian, 1,651 Australian, 755 British and 342 were from New Zealand.

Mossbank BCATPPart of the barracks at the Mossbank base
 

Following the end of the war, several of the school’s buildings were moved off-site and found homes around Saskatchewan. Most notably, the Turvey Centre in Regina was originally one of the Mossbank hangars. Both Skates’N’Skirts and Hat Trick Grocery in Mossbank are also in former airbase buildings. The home of the famous “Hostess Club” is still part of Mossbank, although it was recently transformed from a Masonic Hall into a Fitness Centre and Gym. Mossbank obtained a fire truck from the air base, which remained in service until the 1970s, when it was donated to the Western Development Museum in Moose Jaw. The same museum possesses the engine of a training aircraft that went down in Old Wives Lake in World War II. The engine was recovered when the lake briefly went dry in the 1980s.The Mossbank and District Museum and the Mossbank Legion have cooperated to educate the public about the importance of the BCATP, in general, and the No. 2 Bombing and Gunnery School, in particular. In 1990, a reunion of personnel and students from the base was held. It attracted fifty people from all across Canada. The Mossbank Museum now holds one of the larger collection of BCATP artifacts in Canada. This includes pictures, base newsletters, Hostess Club sign in books and uniforms. The prize of the collection is a large mural depicting the Mossbank base in 1942. Bibliography Lea Heide, Rachel & Herrington, Ross. “British Commonwealth Air Training Plan,” The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan. Canadian Plains Research Centre, 2005, p. 129-130.

Zabo, Phyllis, editor. Furrows and Faith: A History of Lake Johnston and Sutton R,M.’s, Friesen, 1980. Picture Credits Ernest L. O’Bryne (top) and Arni Olafson (all others)