by Peter C. Conrad
When Training for Victory was first published in 1989 it found a significant market in Canada, the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, all countries where those who participated in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan came from.
There was nothing different about the field of prairie grass that I stood in except that in the distance there were huge gray buildings that looked like a set for a World War Twomovie. But, looking at the scene more closely, it was clear that the dark buildings, were in a state of disrepair and that the grass I stood on was growing through cracks in what had once been runways. In this field, as in many others across the Prairies, the remains of the Jacob, Wright, and huge Pratt and Whitney engines that once roared through the skies of the Canadian West lay in the deep grass, only rusting memories of a massive national effort.
The eerie summer scene was at Vulcan, Alberta. The buildings were from the instructor flying school and service flying training school of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, which had trained massive numbers of aircrew for the Allied cause. The final number of trained personnel was over 131,000 at a cost in excess of two and quarter billion dollars.
When doing the research for this book, I was struck by two realities of the Air Training Plan. The first was its magnitude. Air schools were located across the country. Indeed, the BCATP was a central focus of the nation during the war. The second was the high level of uniformity among the schools located in British Columbia, the Prairies, Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritime. From interviews with those who were involved in the Plan, it was clear that there were few differences between the schools regardless of where they were across Canada.
Although there was uniformity in the way that the schools operated and in the way they related to the communities around them, the Prairies as a region experienced especially significant changes as a result of its involvement. The Prairies had just been liberated from the Great Depression in the late 1930s. The economic prosperity that accompanied the schools aided in the recovery, and, at the same time, began to ease the feeling among western Canadians of being alienated from eastern Canada, a feeling that had been aggravated by the Depression. Approximately half the air training schools of the Plan were located in the Prairies, making the region an important part of the national war effort. The experience of being an equal partner in a national effort brought about a decline in western Canadian alienation during the war years that continued in the postwar era.