Andy Robson, 91, holds a 1943 photo of his fellow trainees at the No. 3 Service Flying Training School at Currie Barracks. He trained to be a pilot at the Lincoln Airfield. The last of the airfield buildings including the hangar at left and the Wildrose Brewery building, on the right, are soon to be demolished. —
BY TAMARA GIGNAC, CALGARY HERALD 05.05.2013: During the Second World War, hundreds of young men from as far away as Australia and New Zealand learned to fly bomber aircraft at the No. 3 Service Flying Training School in Calgary.
It was an important aviation hub for pilots bound for overseas combat, although little remains today of the former British Commonwealth air training facility.
But as the former Currie Barracks military base completes its transition to a trendy urban neighbourhood, some are concerned the few landmarks that remain will be lost to the sands of time.
Andy Robson, 91, got his wings at the wartime school on Sept. 26, 1943. He learned to fly on a Cessna Crane and later volunteered for Bomber Command in England.
“It would be really nice to see what is left preserved. A lot of pilots trained here. It has an important history,” he said.
The remaining hangars from the era are slated for demolition next year to make way for the last of three development projects on the 81 hectare site.
Back in 1935, the army property was in the middle of nowhere.
“There wasn’t much around there. It was pretty isolated,” Robson recalled.
“To get there from downtown, you took the streetcar as far as Marda Loop and then you walked across the prairie out to the airport.”
This is Andy Robson’s 1943 photo of his fellow trainees at No. 3 Service Flying Training School at Currie Barracks. Now 91, he was in his early 20s when he trained to be a pilot at the Lincoln Airfield.
Construction began that year on an unpaved landing field on the southern section of Currie Barracks.
Beginning in 1940, a portion of the land became the pilot training school. It closed in 1945, and the airfield was later renamed RCAF Lincoln Park, which served as a repair depot and a NATO pilot training facility until consolidation within the Canadian military closed aviation operations for good in 1964.
The abandoned runways were later used as a racetrack for sports car and motorcycle racing until the early 1980s. For years, a collection of deteriorating wartime hangars and other properties remained like ghosts from a bygone era.
Some of the structures have disappeared, but others carry on as film studios and even a pub.
The clock is ticking, however.
Many military buildings have existed on borrowed time since the mid-1990s, when the federal Liberals under Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced the closure of Currie Barracks.
Canada Lands, a Crown corporation that redevelops property no longer required by the federal government, converted the site for mixed residential and retail use, starting with Garrison Woods on the east side of Crowchild Trail just south of 33rd Avenue S.W.
As Canada Lands moves ahead with building on the huge tract of land that remains, including the former airfield, officials say they are committed to honouring the site’s military past.
“There is a significant amount of both historical buildings and spaces that will be preserved here on Currie,” said Doug Cassidy, Canada Land’s western region vice-president.
Approximately a dozen buildings are designated provincial heritage sites and will be refurbished and in some cases used as business space.
The Officers Mess on Trasimene Crescent will stay, as will a formal garden behind the structure and all of the barracks buildings around Parade Square.
But the remaining aircraft hangars will be demolished, including a green Quonset occupied by the Wild Rose Brewery.
The building known as AF23 was used as a military clothing supply store and, more recently, a set for a Jackie Chan movie.
Ultimately, AF23 was deemed not to have any heritage value. Cassidy said he understands some people are not pleased to see the hangars disappear from the former RCAF lands, given their early ties to Calgary’s wartime airfield.
For now, the hangars remain. The city has yet to receive an application for demolition.
That offers little comfort to Jaeson Cardiff, a longtime Calgarian with personal ties to the old RCAF Lincoln Park.
He sees it as the end an era.
“My grandparents lived just across the way from the old airfield. I remember as a kid, sirens would go off during practice and there would be helicopters landing there,” Cardiff said.
“I always knew there was an airport there and that it played a fairly major role in Canada during the Second World War.”
Photo - Wing Commander Arthur Dwight Ross, officer commanding No. 3 SFTS, Calgary, pins wings on the tunic of Leading Aircraftman Raymond Edward Thorold-Smith, January 16, 1941.(RCAF photo)
Raymond Edward Thorold-Smith
No. 3 Service Flying Training School, Currie Barracks, Calgary October 28, 1940. Graduated January 16, 1941.
57 Operational Training Unit February 12 - April 21, 1941
No. 452 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, was the first Australian squadron to form in Britain during the Second World War in accordance with Article XV of the Empire Air Training Scheme. Its first personnel took up their posts at Kirton in Lindsey on 8 April 1941 and, flying Supermarine Spitfires, the squadron became operational on 22 May.
Pilot Officer Thorold-Smith led Yellow section on a target support sortie August 9, 1942. Red section was led by Squadron Leader Brendan Eamonn Fergus "Paddy" Finucane. Soon after reaching the French coast, a large number of Me.109's were encountered. The squadron claimed 5 enemy aircraft destroyed which included one shared Finucane shared with Thord-Smith. During a September 18 bomber escort to Rouen, Pilot Officer Thord-Smith destroyed a Me.109. He destroyed another October 13 during a Blenheim escort to Arques. Squadron Leader Finucane and Keith 'Bluey' Truscott each destroyed 3 - 109's.
Photo - November 1941 - 400213 Squadron Leader Keith 'Bluey' Truscott (left), Squadron Leader Brendan Eamonn Fergus "Paddy" Finucane RAF (centre) and 402144 Squadron Leader Raymond Edward Thorold-Smith of No 452 Squadron RAAF. (Credit - AWM)
On November 6, 1941, Thorold-Smith led "A" Flight escorting three Curtiss Tomahawks which were to attack coastal gun positions in France. Thord-Smith described the subsequent encounter with enemy aircraft in a combat report: "I was port leader Yellow 1 at 12,000 feet N.W. of Griz Nez and flying south, 6 enemy aircraft dived on rear of port section. I turned my section hard to port. I did a diving beam to quarter attack on rear enemy aircraft (Me.109F) from 300 yards to 200 yards with cannon and machine gun - saw flashes in front of cockpit and engine - no evasive action. Left enemy aircraft in steep dive leaving thin black smoke increasing rapidly. Felt something amiss, saw over left shoulder a radial engine aircraft doing fine port quarter attack from 50 yards. No warning from Yellow 2 - I assume that this enemy aircraft had shot him down. Still turning to port, I jammed back the stick, did very steep climbing turn and knew enemy aircraft couldn't follow - then throttled fully back, whipped into vertical turn in opposite direction. Below and to starboard I saw a Spitfire going down on its back pouring out white smoke from coolant radiator, then saw enemy aircraft again below, slightly ahead and crossing from port to starboard, I could still see a radial engine and standard camoflage. I did a diving starboard beam to quarter attack starting with about 4 lengths of deflection from 300 yards. Fired very short bursts and kept watch behind - closed to 200 yards. Pieces flew off cowling and tail unit, and thin black smoke came from enemy aircraft. At 8000 feet approximately, he dived vertically - I followed to 500 feet and watched him dive into the sea about 8 miles N.W. of Gris Nez."
Photo: Buckingham Palace - Squadron Leader R. E. Thorold-Smith of No. 452 (Spitfire) Squadron RAAF, shows his DFC to his fiancée, while 13009 Corporal Charles Marshall looks on. London Gazette December 2, 1941 - Distinguished Flying Cross Citation: "This officer has participated in 50 operational sorties since July, 1941. He has proved himself to be first class fighter pilot and a most determined and capable fighter leader. He has destroyed 5 enemy aircraft and shared in the destruction of another."