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Canadian Army Aviation Memories

    On Wed 12 Feb 14, I had lunch at the Canadian War Museum with two former Canadian Army pilots; namely, Maj Pierre Garneau and Maj Digger MacDougall, both Armoured Corps officers when they were awarded the Canadian Army Flying Badge. It was an honour and privilege for me to meet Pierre for the first time and also to see Digger again after so many years.

    Pierre was a graduate in Mar 49 of the first Army pilot course run by the Canadian Army, course No. 1, at the Joint Air School (JAS), Rivers Manitoba. By comparison, Digger and I were graduates of course No. 34 in Apr 63 at the Canadian Joint Air Training Centre (CJATC) Rivers (see picture below. Dicker back row second from left: MacDougall back row fourth from left). Pierre commenced ab initio flying training in Nov 48 at the Brandon Flying Club (BFC). The club was under contract at the time to the Canadian Army to provide said training. Flight training was conducted on Tiger Moth and, for navigation and map reading, Aeronca aircraft, with periodic checks by the CFI, Flt Lt Poyntz, from 444 (AOP) Sqn (RCAF) based at Rivers. That Sqn was re-designated the Light Aircraft School (LAS) 1 Apr 49, with Maj Norbert Reilander (RCA) the OC.

    It was interesting to note that while undergoing training at the BFC, the students on course No. 1 lived in barracks at Camp Shilo and commuted daily in a 'vintage' army truck signed out to the senior student. Once training commenced at Rivers, students were quartered in barracks there. Given that most if not all the buildings and facilities at Rivers were wartime constructed (except for No. 6 hangar that was built in the 1950's), Pierre and his course mates could well have lived in the same Officer's quarters (BB47 in all likelihood) as Digger and me in 1963.

    Originally, Pierre's course started-out with six students (three Artillery and three from other Corps). Three were eventually RTU. Two additional students already on strength at Rivers (Wagner, who already had his private pilot licence, and Hall who was ex-RCAF and who had received primary flying training previously) joined the course there. In all, five ultimately graduated. Below is a picture of course No. 1 taken at Rivers prior to graduation. From left to right: Flt Lt H.A.P. (Hap) Poyntz (CFI), Pte Fred Wagner (QORofC and later RCASC), Capt Dave Struthers (RCA and senior student), Lt Bill Hall (later PPCLI), Lt Rudy Ulrich (RCCS) and Lt Pierre Garneau (later LdSH (RC)). Behind the group is one of the three de Havilland DHC-1A-1 Chipmunk aircraft (18001, 002 and 003) that were to serve at Rivers in the early years.

    Instructors at Rivers on Pierre’s course were Percy Davis, Al Stewart, Joe Liston and occasionally Norbert Reilander, all RCA officers. Percy Davis was Pierre’s Instructor and Pierre’s final handling test was done, interestingly enough, on one of the Chipmunks.

    Pierre told a story that made us all cringe about how an Artillery officer, who shall remain nameless, lost his ring finger to a Bell H-13 while slowing the rotor down after landing. As recalled by Pierre who was at Rivers at the time, the helicopter had just landed between the hangars and the pilot was standing on the starboard skid, talking to someone. While the blades were slowing down, he was allowing the counterweight on the cross bar overhead to slap his hand. Two threads of the screw holding the counterweight and projecting out from the ball caught his ring finger and pulled off the finger at the middle joint. One might conclude the story by saying that the pilot was a very, very lucky man that day to not have received the full fury of the "fickle 'finger' of fate"!

    Some other names of note in Canadian Army Aviation who were around Rivers during Pierre's time there were Suds Sutherland, Bob Lundgren and Mike Henderson, all wartime RCA Air OP officers.

    In the opinion of the author, Pierre Garneau is, today, the epitome of a classic veteran: 91 years young, spry, exceptionally well turned-out (dapper, like Percy Davis, for those who knew Percy!), gentlemanly in all respects, memory sharp as a tack, and above all, very proud to have served his country in so many ways, past and present (currently he and Digger are volunteers at the Canadian War Museum).

Note: Ab initio flying training was conducted by the BFC for 27 Canadian Army light aircraft courses, ceasing upon simultaneous completion of course No. 27 and cancellation of the Canadian Army contract in 59. Thereafter, Ab initio flying training for future Canadian Army pilots was conducted at PFS RCAF Station Centralia, commencing with course No. 28 in Nov 59 and ceasing with course No. 44 in Aug 66 upon closure of RCAF Station Centralia late 66/early 67. Subsequent ab initio flying training for future Canadian Army pilots was conducted at PFS CFB Borden for a short period with the eventual award of the Canadian Army Flying Badge to nine graduates. The awarding of the Canadian Army Flying Badge ceased for all intents and purposes effective upon unification of the Canadian Armed Forces in Feb 68.

Personal Note:

I have the privilege of knowing each of the five graduating students of course No. 1. Fred Wagner was a flying instructor at CJATC Rivers for part of the time I was stationed there between 1962 and 1966. I met Dave Struthers in Camp Petawawa in early 1962 when he was CO 4 RCHA as a Lt Col and I was a member of 2 Sig Sqn as a 2Lt. Bill Hall and I were both at Rivers during the timeframe 1962-1966. He was an instructor in the Ground Training Wing as a Maj and I was OC Air Sp Sig Tp as a Lt. We flew together often on Continuation Flying during that period. I met Rudy Ulrich in the Officers’ Mess in Camp Wainwright during summer concentration 1962 and lastly, I met and had lunch with Pierre Garneau in Ottawa in Feb 2014 as you have read in the above article.”