Canadian Participation in the Royal Flying Corps

Canadian Participation in the Royal Flying Corps

Posted on: November 9, 2018 12:15 pm

More than 22,000 Canadians joined the British flying services during the First World War, many of them drawn to the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) by patriotism, the hope for adventure, the promise of steady employment, or the romance of flight. Tested in many theatres, these Canadians made a significant contribution to the war effort, and many lost their lives in combat or accidents. Canadian participation in the RFC helped pave the way for the formation and development of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

When the First World War began, Canada did not have its own air force. During the war, the importance of air power grew steadily. Aircraft were an important tool in reconnaissance, photographing enemy defences to direct the heavy guns that bombarded those defences, and they warded off opponents’ aircraft intent on performing the same tasks. As aircraft became more important to waging war, RFC expansion plans called for the creation of 35 new training squadrons, most of which would be located outside Britain. In 1917-18, the RFC ran a training program in Canada, and constructed large-scale aerodromes and hundreds of aircraft. At the war’s end there were nine training facilities in Canada, and Canadians were involved in all aspects of the air war.

Participation in the RFC catapulted Canada into the aviation age, creating a substantial nucleus of skilled workers for the emerging aviation industry. The RFC training scheme had produced a school of aviation, complete with trained instructors and equipment, several hundred pilots, some 7,000 workers trained as mechanics for the aviation industry, and roughly 700 aircraft available at low prices to fledgling airlines and Canada’s own newly established air force. Many RFC veterans went on to provide leadership in the developing field of aviation. Some were part of a select group of pioneering bush pilots who played a significant role delivering passengers, mail, and supplies to Canada’s North.

Canadian participation in the RFC also aided in the development of the Royal Canadian Air Force. An England-based Canadian Air Force (CAF), which consisted of two Royal Air Force squadrons manned entirely by Canadians, was formed in 1918 but the squadrons were disbanded after the war. In 1920, a new, non-permanent CAF was formed as part of the peacetime military establishment. Based out of Camp Borden, the CAF used installations erected by the RFC for their wartime training. The CAF was eventually reorganized into a standing air force, established as the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1924.

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