The First World War and Canada’s Aces

With the disbandment of the Canadian Aviation Corps, those who wished to fly had to serve with the British Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. At the beginning of the war only qualified pilots were being accepted and, as a result, civilian flying schools started up in Canada. Young men flocked to the Curtiss School of Aviation at Toronto Island and Long Branch where, with J.A.D. McCurdy as chief instructor, a hundred and twenty-nine pilots graduated in 1916 and 1916.

These civilian schools could not keep up with the demand for pilots and the Royal Flying Corps, early in 1917, set up training wings at Camp Borden, North Toronto and Deseronto. When the United States entered the war, American flyers trained in Canada during the summer at Camps Mohawk and Rathbun, near Deseronto. In winter, in turn, the Royal Flying Corps moved to Texas. A total of Not counting the Americans, 3,136 RFC pilots and 137 observers were trained in Canada during 1917 and 1918. A little later, Russian pilots were also trained in Canada to fight the Bolsheviks.

Over twenty-two thousand Canadian men served with the three British services and 1,563 gave their lives. Three won Victoria Crosses. Flying boat pilots from Canada shot down Zeppelins, fought enemy seaplanes, bombed submarines and escorted convoys. One, Maj Robert Leckie, DSO, DSC, DFC, later became Chief of the Air Staff. S.D. Culley gained recognition by flying his Sopwith Camel off the deck of a rudimentary carrier to shoot down a Zeppelin.

No 203 Squadron, consisting of mostly Canadians, was led by Squadron Commander L. S. Breadner, DSC, who was to become Chief of the Air Staff in the RCAF and its first Air Chief Marshal. Other outstanding fighter pilots were Maj D. R. Maclaren, DSO, MC, DFC with 48 aircraft and 6 balloon victories; Maj W. G. Barker, VC, DSO, MC, with 50 victories. Barker won his Victoria Cross for fighting off 60 Fokkers in one engagement before crash-landing, wounded several times, in Canadian lines. Capt A. Roy Brown, DSC, got credit for the kill of the legendary “Red Baron” – von Richthofen, who was at the peak of his own career. The third Canadian Victoria Cross was won by 2LT A. A. McLeod, who stepped out on the wing, because his cockpit was in flames, to control his aircraft to a crash-landing in No-Man’s-Land, thus saving the life of his helpless observer.

Ten pilots were among the top 26 leading Allied “Aces” – all credited with 30 or more kills. Heading this list was Major W.A. (Billy) Bishop VC, DSO, MC, DFC, with 72 victories. Major Raymond Collishaw DSO, DSC, DFC, was second with 60 victories. R.H. Mulock, was the first Canadian pilot to fly against the enemy in 191 5. Canadians flew on every front and distinguished themselves in every operation. They could be found flying fighters, day and night bombers, flying boats, in balloons and co-operating with the army in the skies of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Following the armistice, several flew against the Bolsheviks in Russia.