By Karen Richardson
To The Haldimand Press
In 1939, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain approached the Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King with a proposal for Canada to be the site for a training program for Commonwealth airmen. Prime Minister King felt that a training program would keep Canadians at home, ward off demands for a large expeditionary force, and bury the politically divisive issue of overseas conscription. In 1940 the first of the 28 Service Flying Training Schools (SFTS) constructed under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan began opening in towns across Canada.
Two British flight training schools were located in Dunnville and Hagersville, while one bombing and gunnery school was located in Jarvis. These schools were responsible for teaching allied soldiers from around the world how to properly operate aircraft, guns, bombs, and similar weapons. There was also a relief field located at Kohler.
On November 25, 1940 Dunnville opened station No. 6. SFTS, a single-engine school for fighter pilots and the third such school to begin advanced flying training in Canada. After an eight-week course at Elementary Flying Training School, students spent an additional 12-16 weeks in Dunnville before earning their wings and proceeding to an Operational Training Unit or remaining on the home front as instructors. The station was situated on 415 acres of land between Dunnville and Port Maitland. The layout consisted of five steel-framed hangars, three double runways ranging from 1,800 to 3,200 feet, and a sprawling camp area consisting of some 50 H-huts (barracks) and numerous other buildings. Initially the school flew Harvards and Yales for training while Ansons were used for navigational exercices. Before the war’s end, No. 6 SFTS alone had graduated 2,447 pilots.
On January 24, 1942, 120 members of the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (CWAAF) arrived in Dunnville. Although originally received with some apprehension by those who did not think that a woman could do a man’s job, the CWAAF members quickly earned the respect of those that they assisted in maintenance, stores, motor transport, parachute section, mess halls, canteen, accounting, equipment section, and administration.