Daring aviators

From our January 2014 issue

By Magdelina (Yungwirth) Bernier – St. Louis, Sask.

I remember the planes that flew over us from the Prince Albert flight schools. They seemed to fly our area more so than any other because of our locations. We lived 7 miles northwest of Prince Albert while the airport was northeast of the city and the Saskatchewan River.

Some of the trainers flew directly at buildings such as our school and then pulled up at the last moment, gunning their motors to thrill us kids and to horrify our teacher. Some went under the telephone lines. One was seen flying under the bridge between the piers over the Saskatchewan River.

Many crashes occurred where the pilots, trainer, or instructor walked away, while others were not so fortunate. They came from Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States.

The men who died during training were often overlooked in light of those who died overseas or in combat. However, these men are commemorated in a monument in front of the main terminal building at the Prince Albert Airport named Glass Field.

As kids we’d watch the sky for a Tiger Moth to do its manoeuvres – banking, diving, accelerating, doing a roll or a loop or climbing.

A midair collision between 2 Tiger Moth aircraft was witnessed by a group of us kids walking along the road home from school. A bang was heard and 2 planes plummeted to earth.

This crash took the lives of 2 instructors and 2 students. One parachuted to safety only to be caught in a tree and wind-tossed with a broken back, dying of his injuries 10 days later.

While we were getting the cattle in an open pasture one plane flew over us sputtering, low on fuel, and crashed in a bush of young aspens, sheaving off the tops for a stretch before going down.

My husband, Armand, recalled one student crash-landing in one of his dad’s grain fields. The young British pilot radioed to headquarters and was very fearful of what his reprimand would be. Soon another plane was seen in the sky, and to be smarter than to land where the student did, he landed in a nearby summer fallow field and flipped his plane upside-down. Trucks came to haul both away and no one had a smile on their face that could be seen.

There were other crashes when no one died. We watched low-flying planes disappear behind a hill or a bush and listened or watched to see them again or to hear them accelerate and come out from behind a cloud sometimes. Often we would search or tell our dad who would report to the airfield.

This is but a few of my experiences during my youth with the air force and the training school as these young men prepared to take their places in their homelands to fight in the war in Europe and Japan.