The Empire Air Training Scheme



The Empire Air Training Scheme


A handwritten account by Keith Thompson of his time training in Canada from the time he left England in February 1942 until he returned to Scotland as a navigator in January 1943.




Temporal Coverage




Six photocopied sheets


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[underlined] 24 MARCH ’98 [/underlined]
[underlined] EMPIRE AIR TRAINING SCHEME [/underlined]
[underlined] 24 FEB ‘1942 [/underlined] We left HEATON PARK, MANCHESTER with it’s snow turning to slush at 3 AM. Our kit bags marked with the code FAUNA C SPRAT loaded with us, the train pulled out at 5 AM After [deleted] seral [/deleted] several stops, including CARLISLE we arrived at 330 PM at GOUROCK, SCOTLAND where we climbed aboard the S.S. ORBITA a 15,000 TON – CANADIAN PACIFIC LINE ship (she’d carried troops in 1914 – 18 and was scrapped sometime in the 60’s)
[underlined] 25 FEB ’42 [/underlined] moved out into the river about 6 PM and sailed at 10 PM.
We had drawn hammocks but there were not enough hooks for all – we slept on the mess deck – so unless you slung your hammock early you ended up on the floor or table!
Being FEBRUARY and the N. ATLANTIC the sea was a bit rough, most of the time The fire buckets [underlined] we [/underlined] had to empty frequently and refill with fresh WATER!!! Despite this I do remember sitting on an empty Biffo box on the stern to look at the moon and it’s [sic] reflection on the sea and to watch the phosphorescent glow of the wake as we pitched & rolled.
Being bored with nothing to do I volunteered to BAT for some RCAF aircrew returning home
On our last day the wind and sea “got up” and we slowed to about 2 KNOTS with the [indecipherable word] being lifted right out of
[page break]
4 PM. landed 630 PM. Train overnight to MONCTON. N.B. arriving 2 AM.
We were warned to beware the COLD – children were ice skating on the pavements, most houses had a small rink, a banking of snow filled with water, in their back garden. A parade ground on camp had been made into a large rink.
[underlined] 11 MARCH 1942, [/underlined] two days later, we left, by train at 1030 PM. with two blankets & our kit bags to sleep with & on, a bare wooden drop-four bunks on HARD unpadded slats.
A half hour stop at WINNIPEG brightened up 14 MARCH at 4 PM – coffee, “cookies”, “cigs and candy bars were given [inserted] to us [/inserted] by the town. A RCAF band played dance music while we danced with local “talent” on the station platform
Another night we ground to a jolting halt – an axle box was overheating – a hose cooled it down & a new shell bearing was slotted in & off we went.
After 4 days & nights we arrived on 15TH MARCH at CALGARY – at 3 PM. A 30 mins bus ride took us to 31 EFTS, DE WINTON, RAF STATION, where TIGER MOTHS fitted with cockpit canopies awaited us. You needed the canopy in winter – it was COLD!!
(All that was left in [underlined] 1983 [/underlined] was the rifle range butt, concrete bases of the buildings and the GUARD ROOM!!)
[page break]
of the air – the wind was so strong
My powers of control when sitting in the cockpit I found & my instructor agreed were not good enough to continue pilot training so I was “WASHED OUT.” I continued with ground school and was put forward to remuster to U/T. Nav. While awaiting my posting I also worked as “runner” in the station orderly room I also had two weeks leave on a farm at HARMATTON, OLDS.
[underlined] 27 MAY ’42 [/underlined] left DE WINTON, - 830 PM train pulled out at 9 PM – No not B.R. but CNR or CPR – to go the [sic] TRENTON, ONTARIO.
One loco driver was [indecipherable word] – LIVERPOOL and let me have a 50 mile, or so, ride on the foot plate. The engineer (fire man) didn’t have a shovel but a lever to control the automatic feed.
[underlined] 30 MAY [/underlined] Trenton, ONT, RCAF – remustered to U/T. Nav. 8TH JULY we were issued [deleted] whith [/deleted] with RCAF K D – the climate was quite warm.
[underlined] 16 JULY [/underlined] – moved to TORONTO, RCAF MANNING DEPOT TRENTON was full to the slams so 3 large parties were shipped out – about 40 went to TORONTO
The unit was for RCAF new recruits to be kitted out & given a bit of drill like ACR.
We were housed in CANADIAN NATIONAL EXHITION [sic] buildings – huge halls had rows & rows of 2 tier bunks – mine is 4 down and 12 across, I think!
[page break]
[underlined] 4 [/underlined]
DRUMMING OUT ceremony.
The man concerned had been caught & found guilty of stealing from his comrades. He was DRUMMED onto the parade – his tunic buttons and eagles were stripped from his uniform then he was DRUMMED OFF parade – a sight and sound never to be forgotten.
On some of our route-marches, the rest of the band, RCAF, joined the drummer to try to keep us in time. I took a ferry across LAKE ONTARIO to NIAGARA one Sunday PM where I bumped into a fellow YORKSHIRE man from SHEFFIELD I was from ROTHERHAM – 7 miles centre to centre.
[underlined] 16 AUGUST 42 [/underlined] – MALTON, TORONTO, NO 1 AOC. RCAF – we were the first RAF they had had and were “pre-warned” about some/most of our antics. The SWO took us off camp on the odd route-march & he was most upset when we started up with the old marching songs when outside the camp but wondered what had happened to us when we went silent & marched to attention on re-entering the camp gates.
[underlined] 31 AUGUST [/underlined] – visited and saw our first LANCASTER – I think it was the first one built in the factory on the airfield
[underlined] 4 DECEMBER ’42 [/underlined] – WINGS PARADE – with a layer of snow on the ground.
[underlined] 8 DECEMBER [/underlined] – Back to MONCTON.
[page break]
at TORONTO. Snow did hold them up – the winds were high & with the snow & cold temperature the LOCOS were freezing up.
After Christmas several of us helped sort mail in the Post Office.
[underlined] JANUARY 2ND 1943 [/underlined] – paid – UK £1 NOTES – going HOME.
[underlined] 4 JAN [/underlined] – MONCTON – left by rail – 1 PM
[underlined] 5 JAN [/underlined] – NEW YORK – arrived – 5 PM
Boarded [underlined] QUEEN ELIZABETH (MARK I !!!) [/underlined] 7 PM.
[underlined] 6 JAN [/underlined] – Sailed 6 AM –
2 MEALS PER DAY – breakfast and late tea – in shifts.
US ARMY “SNOW DROPS” (MP’s) were “IN CHARGE”!!! We were 6/8 to a [deleted] cold [/deleted] cabin, U.S. troops in multi-storey bunks – packed like sardines
There was no smoking below decks and the promenade deck was, shuttered, blacked-out & out of bounds after dusk so I volunteered for GUN (.5 BROWNING) CREW. These were up on the top lifeboat deck – a bit wet & windy at times The ship rolled & pitched too – the dining tables were [indecipherable word] so it was as well to hang onto your plate or it [deleted] th [/deleted] would end up in a pile at one end or the other – grab it on its way back!!!
[underlined] 11 JANUARY [/underlined] – dropped anchor at 6 PM. – saw the harbour lights from my privileged place by the guns – 5 days at sea.
[page break]
train. Smooth track, stops and starts – after CNR/CPR! We left GOUROCK at 6 PM and arrived in HARROGATE at 3 AM.
Mail too & from CANADA was a bit erratic as we might expect and was of course all by sea.
We were able to order “food parcels” from stores to send direct to UK – I think we were rationed to one per month.
Cable and Wireless Co. had a system called EFM’s. (Expeditionary Forces Messages) They had a list of about 30 phrases and you could choose 3, writing the number for each on the form. You could add a birthdate or address but nothing else. They cost about 2/0d.
At times we did sit around, doing nothing, for long periods but in view of the numbers of us it was well organised.
The Canadian people were great and still are!!
I hope the above will help the story along. Sorry to be so late in compiling it – tempus fugit (as the scholars say)
Keith G. Thompson



Keith Thompson, “The Empire Air Training Scheme,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 26, 2024,

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