No history of Air Defence Command would be complete without mention of the Ground Observor Corps (GObC). With hardly more than an organization order approving its formation, it was formed in Canada in 1951 to supplement the Aircraft Control and Warning System. However, as onimous as this task seems, there was the memory of a previous organization of civilians that had started in 1938 and had operated throughout the Second World War that would bring back the required personnel, The Air Detection Corps. This corps had provided yeoman service throughout WWII reporting not only aircraft movements but surfaced submarines as well. With the cessation of hostilities came the closing of Air Detection Corps. This previous experience provided the ground work for the creation of the new corps and under Wing Commander JA Wiseman and a small group of officers, the GObC became a giant in a few short years. With approximately 50,000 civilian volunteers from every walk of life, the GObC on numerous occasions proved the truth of their slogan, "The Eyes and Ears of Air Defence Command". The GObC was a network of manned observation posts across Canada. These observation posts were manned 24 hours a day by civilian volunteers and formed a reliable air defence reporting system. The observers would report aircraft movements to their respective centres (filter centres) which would confirm the report before passing it on to ADC. Each GObC detachment or unit had a number of regular force officers (4-7) to act as the central command structure for their respective GObC detachment or unit. The actual strength of the GObC came from the civilian volunteers within each unit's area of responsibility. Over the nine years of operation (from 1951 until 2 May 1960) south of the 55th parallel the response and enthusiasm of the civilians in volunteering for the GObC constantly amazed members of the RCAF, especially so when one remembers the volunteers were not paid for their services. The GObC north of the 55th parallel continued until 12 January 1964.."
Onservation towers, built by volunteers at their own initiative and expense, sprang up from coast to coast. Small huts appeared, as if by magic, on the roofs of schools, monasteries and in fact any high suitable building - all designed to protect the voluneteers from the elements, while performing their air defence duties. Many queer looking, but decidedly effective listening and visual aids (from elaborate electronic audio amplifiers to binoculars) were either purchased or built by the volunteers, again at their own expense.
In 1955 during Exercise "Cracker Jack" Canada was exposed to a simulated enemy attack. All available aircraft and air defence personnel were involved and the Strategic Air Command provided the "enemy" force. The first warning of approach of the attackers came from the GObC some three hours before the information was available from other sources. The enemy force congregated in the North-West Territories, feeling free from observation to set up their battle formations for the south bound strikes. While the jets were still being refuelled by tanker aircraft, GObC posts in the area flashed the word back to the south. The GObC were able to keep the force under almost constant visual observation and to supply track reports as they flew south toward the radar systems.
The GObC was not without its hunorous side and any historical precis of the Corps would not be complete without some of the stories. In the Maritimes one of the oldest members of the GObC was a medical doctor, who one day appeared at a lady's home frantically pushing his team of horses to the limit. Since the lady was one of the doctor's maternity patients, she was naturally quite interested. Grinding to a halt, the doctor climbed out of his buggy and dashed to the door. He was met by the housewife. "My baby isn't due for another month yet doctor", she exclaimed, a trifle perturbed. "Oh, I know," he said, rushing into the house, "but I have an aircraft flash message to report and I want to use your telephone". Another - A zealous houswife in the Maritimes was hard at her housework one sunny day, keeping one ear cocked for aircraft. Unknown to her a bulldozer began grinding away out of her sight. Attracted by the noise she rushed to the window to see an object moving across the sky. Without a second thought she put through her "Aircraft Flash" report and upon replacing the telephone returned to the window to witness a large crow alight in a nearby tree.
Reporting aircraft was not the only service rendered. Many search and rescue missions owe their successful conclusion to the GObC. Often the only report on the missing craft was from a field observer. Mercy missions and aid to aircraft in distress were other functions capably handled by the Corps. There were so many "trades" employed in the Corps that an enormous pool of talent was available and members continually surprised the RCAF with their ingenuity. Ham radio operators, for example, with their air defence affiliation could bring immediate relief to pleas for help. As an example of the speed of the reports, one filter centre received a long-distance telephone message reporting that a pilot had bailed out of his aircraft. When queried as to where the pilot landed? The observer replied, "I don't know sir. He's still coming down.".
Members of the Corps included many prominent citizens from all walks of life. In the north it was common for the Corps to have members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Hudson Bay Company factors, rangers, lumberjacks, miners, Eskimos, Indians, trappers and fishermen providing reports to their filter centres. Although the GObC only survived until 1964, while it was in being, it provided yeoman service to Air Defence Command and to the defence of the North American continent.
When the various corps were formed, they were known as Detachments, with the exceptions of Nos. 1 through 8, which were designated as Units. The remaining numbered units, 10 to 80, which were originally Detachments, in 1958 were designated as Squadrons.
Notwithstanding the fact that the GObC was set up to report aircraft movements for Air Defence Command, five of the GObC units were administered by other Commands within the RCAF due to their physical locations near various stations and establishments operated by these Commands. 7 GObC Unit from Halifax, 70 GObC Squadron Turo, Nova Scotia, and 72 GObC Squadron St. John's, Newfoundland were administered by Air Material Command. 51 GObC Squadron Winnipeg, Manitoba was administered by Training Command while No. 20 GObC Squadron Edmonton, Alberta was administered by Tactical Air Command.
Updated: February 26, 2005