A little bit of Prairie history was restored last year when members of Saskatchewan’s Wynyard Branch rededicated the cenotaph at the abandoned bombing and gunnery school in Dafoe.
Dafoe, 150 kilometres north of Regina, was home to the Royal Canadian Air Force’s No. 5 Bombing and Gunnery School, part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) during the Second World War.
But the base closed when the war ended and was abandoned. “The base continued as a weather station for a while. There was a beacon there. But all that remains is one hangar. A farmer bought that and used it to store farm equipment,” said Wynyard Branch Second Vice Wayne Sandler.
When the base officially opened on May 22, 1941, it had 43 officers, 486 airmen and 69 trainees. It grew into a busy centre, accommodating up to 366 trainees at a time, following a set syllabus of lectures, demonstrations, tests and assessment. Flying exercises were held day and night. The school’s motto was We Aim To Teach And We Teach To Aim.
Supporting the school was a full infrastructure with a station headquarters, service police, hospital, dental clinic and post office. Buildings were devoted to armament and parachute training, photography and meteorology. Maintenance Wing kept them flying. Streets on the base were named after women, such as Yvonne, Annette and Cecile.
The first aircraft used were 37 Fairey Battles. Later Ansons, Bolingbrokes, Lysanders and the odd Harvard were used. Lysanders were generally used to pull the drogues for gunnery practice.
The base had an impact on the community as buildings, supplies, food and services were all needed. The YMCA had a Hostess House and there was a station band and orchestra for many social activities to which both airmen and the community were invited (When The Boys Came To Town, January/February).
By Jan. 11, 1945, when the airfield was disbanded, 131,553 aircrew had been trained for the battle and transferred overseas.
More than 1,200 people attended the ceremony on June 2. The guests of honour included Patti Braun of Raymore, Sask., who was the national Silver Cross mother in 2011 and air force historian Rachel Lea Heide. The government of Canada was represented by Senator Pamela Wallin. Barry Needham, a Spitfire pilot in the Second World War, represented Wynyard Branch.
“We gave the cenotaph a facelift,” said Sandler. “The timbers supporting it had rotted. So we replaced them and shined up the plaque.”