RCAF Station Alliford Bay

Chris Weicht

An RCAF Flying Boat Station in the Queen Charlotte Islands, Canada's most westerly body of land, was a prime importance in the defence plan for the west coast. In 1937 the reconnaissance detachment recommended locating an RCAF Station on the south shore of Skidegate Inlet, at Alliford Bay - one of few areas in the Charlottes that combined natural protection and strategic location. Orders were given in 1938 to begin construction on RCAF Station Alliford Bay, and from 1940 until 1944, Number 6 (BR) Squadron operated from this remote station. The airmen dealt with the effects of living is such total isolation with good humour and hard work, and the station developed a reputation for maintaining a consistently high morale.

Number 6 (TB) Torpedo Bomber Squadron, was the second permanent force stationed at Jerico Beach. The Squadron had arrived from RCAF Station Trenton late in October 1938, and at the outbreak of war in 1939, their Squadron designation was changed to (BR) Bomber Reconnaissance. This reflected the new role they were about to play in countering the threat of a silent enemy - the Japanese submarine.

The Squadron had five pilots on strength: Commanding Officer S/L AH Hull, S/L EA Springall, F/O MG Doyle, WO2 Horner, F/S Ready; and three sergeant pilots under instruction: A/Sgt Austin, A/Sgt Hoospith, and A/Sgt Morris. These men joined fellow airmen from No. 4 (BR) Squadron in gunnery, bombing and flight training programmes to prepare them for duty at their wartime stations. When the aircrews were not training they took part in daily patrols of the Gulf of Georgia to identify ships and report on their movements. S/L Hull initiated patrols from Gabriola Island south to Pender Island, and down the west coast of Vancouver Island from Ucluelet to the Straits of Juan de Fuca. On Sepemeber 12, 1939 all aircraft were ordered to stand by as a striking force. Patrols immediately ceased, with orders to carry on only if a definite object was reported. This policy remained in effect until the spring of 1940.

During the first year of the war most of the RCAF Shark aircraft were serving with No. 6 (BR) Squadron on the Pacific coast. The Boeing-built Sharks were assembled in a hangar at Jericho Beach, and as one airman remembers, "We kept crashing them just about as fast as they could turn them out". The Shark crews - a pilot, a rigger or fitter, and a wireless operator carried out gunnery exercises and practiced dropping dummy torpedoes to familiarize themselves with the idiosyncrasies of their aircraft. Under the energetic and efficient command of S/L Hull the Squadron achieved a very high standard of proficiency. By the end of February 1940 the Squadron had reached its maximum strength of fifteen Sharks. S/L Hull was promoted to Wing Commander and posted to Western Air Command Headquarters in Victoria, and S/L Wray assumed command of the Squadron.

While the RCAF slowly and methodically prepared for the defence of the west coast, the war in Europe accelerated. Germany invaded Norway, and on April 10, 1940 No. 6 (BR) Squadron received orders to "bomb up" two Sharks, #517 and #524, and "stand ready" to intercept Norwegian ships in the ports of Vancouver and Chemainus. Pilots were ordered to drop their bombs in front of the ships if the Norwegians attempted to clear port and head to sea: however, the Norwegians remained calm until the situation was clarified, and no action was necessary.

The Squadron received orders on April 27, 1940 that it would move to its war station at RCAF Alliford Bay. The Squadron's Shark aircraft were waiting for take-off on the morning of May 13. Wireless operator Harry Galbraith was flying with F/O Mike Doyle, who was to lead the flight of Sharks up the coast to their new home. Galbraith recalls that:

"we didn't even get away from the bouy to which we were moored because the first two aircraft that took off crashed shortly after take-off. We tried again the next day and this time everything went okay, and we had an uneventful flight to our new home"

The majority of the Station personnel were transported on the navy vessel HMCS Sans Peur, and the remainder arrived by coastal steamer.

The station site at Alliford Bay had been carved out of the dense forest that claimed the rocky terrain down to the edge of the ocean. The challenge of bringing in construction equipment and material to this isolated bay had been compounded by the Queen Charlotte's wild and unpredictable weather. Now the Squadron found themselves a long way from anywhere at a station that was far from complete. The pier, the hangar, and some of the equipment buildings were in a half-finished state, but enough housing was complete to allow the Squadron to sleep under a solid roof - a luxury fully appreciated by those members of No. 6 (BR) Squadron who, in the fall of 1939, were detached on coastal patrol duty out of Ucluelet and had lived in a makeshift assortment of canvas tents.

Under the command of S/L Wray, effectively assisted by his adjutant F/L AH Cocking, Squadron personnel were divided into work parties - more frequently referred to as "Bull Gangs" - and the men took over the hard work of completing their station. All ranks yielded an axe or a shovel. Working side by side they built a sea wall, set up technical equipment, and carried out all the mundane, small jobs that were necessary to get the station fully operational. Strong friendships were forged and a spirit of cooperation developed amongst the men which sustained a high morale in spite of the fact that Alliford Bay was the most isolated of all the RCAF coastal Flying Boat Stations.

Forty-eight hour passes were never issued - the "outside" was too far away and too inaccessible. Adding to the lonliness, the men's wives were not allowed to live on the base. The closest pocket of civilization was a Haida Indian village across Skidegate Inlet. An airman with a highly developed sense of humour dubbed the station as "Eveless Eden", and the nickname was aptly represented by a memento in the Officer's Mess. Behind the bar reposed a pith helmet of the type used in a bygone era in Egypt and the Middle East. Under the helmet was the inscription "The Second Most Useless Thing in Alliford Bay". Two years later, a young flying officer established an exception to this general ruling. The Station Diary records that: "With Station Padre F/L FA Springborn officiating, F/O PA Vatcher and Miss Margaret Craig were married in the Officer's Mess, 14 June 1942."

Recreation programmes and an entertainment schedule was the responsibility of the YMCA representative who was posted to the Station. Some of the profit from the canteen went to buy sports equipment, and from these small beginnings the men organized a basketball team that quickly earned respect on the "local circuit". Air Frame mechanic Tom Colbeck remembers his team-mate George Siborne, a member of the Account Section, as "one hell of a basketball player, a really aggressive and talented player." They were playing the Haida Native team and the coach told Colbeck to go in and substitute for Siborne. As Siborne passed him, Colbeck hissed - "who's your check?" and Siborne shot back - "the black haired one." Out on the floor and ready for action, Colbeck suddenly realized that they all had black hair. A quick look at Siborne: "he was on the outsides busting a gut laughing." However, the team's record shows that they played serious basketball, winning 10 straight games against the Canadian Scottish Army on base, the Haida team, and a team from RCAF Station Prince Rupert.

After several months of concentrated effort the "Bull Gangs" were making progress, and an organized Station was taking shape. This meant that flying patrols could begin on a limited basis. Om May 30, 1940 Shark #524, with F/L Gill and crew, completed the Squadron's first operational patrol. But an unexpected event occurred in the following month that sent the "Bull Gangs" into frantic, dawn-to-dark construction on the Station's defence systems.

On June 21, Western Air Command ordered the Station to establish a 24 hour watch. Half an hour later a second signal ordered them to go on full alert: all ground defences were manned. and aircraft and crews were standing by; guards were doubled, and a complete blackout was ordered - all the necessary precautions were taken to prevent a surprise attack. The nest day the Sharks went up on patrols over Graham and Moresby Islands while the rest of the men filled sand bags to reinforce the defence positions, and construction crews rushed to finish the machine gun emplacements. Nothing happened - Western Air Command cancelled the alert as suddenly as it had called it, but the importance of being able to stand ready at a moment's notice was taken very seriously. The fever pitch of activity continued until the Station's defence systems were complete.

Four days later ground defence for the station was in the capable hands of a contingent of Irish Fusiliers. Lieutenant Brown and 72 other ranks, under the command of Major Cannon, arrived on the naval vessel HMCS Sans Peur. The Fusiliers knew their job. During the night on July 7, and RCN vessel entered the Skidegate Inlet without giving the Daily Recognition Signal, and it was immediately fired upon. Following this incident all surface craft were careful to comply with the order to identify themselves by flashing the Daily Recognition Signal.

A cryptic description of the weather was entered into the Station Dairy on July 13, 1940: "This is the 8th day in the past 63 that it has not rained." Regardless of the weather the Station had gradually settled into the regulated order of daily routines. The odd, unexpected departure from normal duties kept Station life interesting. On one occasion, three Sharks were ordered to the Rose Harbour whaling station to conduct a search for secret radio equipment. The raid did not discover anything, but the officers and other ranks who attended, and the managers of the whaling station, all enjoyed the diversion.

The Station's Sharks were a valuable resource to the civilians living in small, detached communities scattered around the islands of the Queen Charlottes. No matter what the situation was, RCAF Station Alliford Bay always did everything they possibly could to help out. Emergency calls were frequent when the logging season was in full swing, and the Sharks went out on many mercy flights to deliver injured loggers to the hospital at Prince Rupert. Fishermen in distress knew they had a chance of survival when they heard the roar of the Shark's engine overhead. Not every call was an emergency: the BC Police requested to be flown to the mouth of a river where a fisherman was known to be engaged in illegal fishing. Repeated attempts by the police had failed to catch the man in the act, but as the Shark taxied up to the fishing boat the man, eager to break up his day with a little conversation, waved at them in friendly recognition - until the officer "popped" up.

The Shark was rugged and strong. In a crash its hull would take an incredible amount of punishment, and there were many aircrews who owed their life to this strength. The love/hate relationship between pilots and Sharks was softened by a general feeling of confidence inspired by the aircraft's excellent manoeuvrability, reliable engine, and first-class groundcrew maintenance. There were only two problems: starting, and landing, but once airborne there wasn't a pilot on record who didn't agree that the Shark was a pleasure to fly.

The notoriously bad landing characteristics of the Shark were exaggerated in glassy water landings, which caused the Squadron's first flying accident on July 19, 1940. Shark #525 was making a fast landing in calm water on the mirror-smooth surface of the bay. Just as the Shark skimmed the surface the float tips dug in and #525 overturned. The aircraft was a total write-off but the crew managed to escape without serious injury. The second accident occurred eight days later, but three Squadron members on a dive-bombing exercise in Shark #517 were not as fortunate.

The Shark was designed with dive-bombing capabilities, therefore this practice was a standard part of operational training. On July 27, 1940 the use of Sharks in dive bombing practice ended with tragic finality. A No. 6 (BR) wireless air gunner flew as crew in #517 while different pilots practiced dive-bombing a small island, and he recorded the events that took the lives of his fellow airmen:

Each pilot had his own flying characteristics. F/L Ready had the gentlest dive and F/O Halpenny, a former bush pilot, the roughest. In one of F/O Halpenny's dives he threw the plane into a 45 degree dive nearly throwing me out. I had to jam my feet into stowage holes and grab the sides of the plane.....As the dive settled down I relaxed and was nearly thrown out a second time as Halpenny threw the plane into a vertical dive so as not to overshoot the target.....Then the pull out began. I was sitting on a little seat and I was pressed down so hard it felt as though my stomach was flowing out onto my lap. Little did I know how close to death I was until the next day. The next day (27 June, 1940) I was putting on my parachute harness to go up with F/O Halpenny again....As I was getting ready my signals officer, F/L Al Simpson, tapped me on the shoulder and said he was going up instead, and Richardson was going along for the ride. I took off my harness and went about my business. Suddenly someone yelled out and I looked towards the bay and there was a great flame where the plane plunged in and I saw part of the plane still in the air. It looked like an aileron rolling and spiralling down."

As Shark #517 has started to pull out of a full power vertical dive, the horified observers saw the upper wing twist and break up, and the aircraft crash into the sea. The three Squadron members on board were the first airmen to lose their lives in the crash of an RCAF Shark.

Sharks #519 and #521 were immediately flown to No. 3 Repair Depot Vancouver where an inspection of the upper wing revealed rib buckling and main spar movement. The remainder of Alliford Bay's Sharks were ferried to Vancouver for modification, leaving No. 6 (BR) Squadron with one aircraft on strength - a single Norseman utility aircraft. The decision to attach two-foot strengthening sections to the upper wing spars at the points where the interplane struts were joined to them, was time consuming. The wing had to be stripped, which meant a great deal of stitching, doping and fabric work. Despite No. 3 (RD) personnel working three shifts and an unusual amount of overtime, it was months before all the Sharks were completed. The strengthened sections prevented any recurrence of the upper wing weakness, but never again were RCAF Sharks used as dive-bombers.

S/L LE Wray was posted to Patricia Bay as Commanding Officer on November 6, 1940, and F/L MG Doyle was promoted to Squadron Leader and assumed command of No. 6 (BR) Squadron. The Squadron adjutant, F/L Cocking was posted to the Repair Depot at Calgary on December 7, and his position was filled by F/O GE Huggett.

Effective January 1, 1941 a Western Air Command policy came into effect whereby Alliford Bay and other isolated locations would exchange personnel after 6 months in isolation. This policy was greeted with enthusiasm and resulted in a positive injection into the Station's morale. Forty-seven airmen from Alliford Bay were exchanged with Vancouver and Patricia Bay, followed in February by a further twenty-three.

On February 19, 1941 three officers and 75 men of the Rocky Mountain Rangers arrived to relieve the Irish Fusiliers in the defence of the station. They were in turn relieved five months later by Lt. Mollison, Lt. Lees and 56 men of the 2nd Battalion, Canadian Scottish.

The Squadron training officers made good use of regular training programmes to boost energy and raise morale. Bombing and gunnery exercises continued, but the men were also exposed to a wide range of information through training lectures. An intense schedule was drawn up with lectures given on armament and anti-gas procedures, maintenance and repair of W/T sets, aircraft engine maintenance, as well as reconnaissance procedure and enemy intelligence. Each section was responsible for setting out a schedule of training for its personnel.

The arrival of the auxiliary cruiser HMCS Prince Henry, on the 30th of July 1941, provided the Squadron officers with an opportunity to add a little variey to the training schedule. The cruiser was anchored in the bay for two days, and during that time the officers organized a cooperative operational exercise. Several of the Naval Officers were taken on flights over their ship to give them an idea of the type of target they presented to enemy aircraft. When the ship left the harbour two days later, the Squadron staged an interception, and aircrews carried out practice air attacks. Several more interceptions and attacks were made when the Prince Henry was in the vicinity again on August 18.

Training had prepared the airmen to defend their station and their patrol area against the enemy - many wished for the same confidence in their equipment. The RCAF Squadrons on the west coast had gone into the war under less than desirable conditions. The aircraft acquired by the Department of National Defence were out-dated at best - they were, in fact, obsolete. Although aircrews had found the Supermarine Stranraers to be a very seaworthy flying boat its range was considerably less than the Catalina and Canso's range. But for reasons of economy the Canadian government had purchased the Stranraer, and the same could be said for the Blackburn Shark. If the Shark had been used in serious defence of Western Canada it would not have done well against aircraft such as the Japanese Mitsibushi Zero, or its float counterpart the Rufe. The best that could be said for the Stranraer and Shark was that they were there, and both aircrew and groundcrew did a magnificent job of doing their best with what they had.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941, brought orders from Western Air Command to adopt No. 1 Alert procedures. Blackouts were enforced in the whole area, including Queen Charlotte City and the Indian village at Skidegate. Station personnel reacted swiftly: aircrews went on immediate standby, and maintenance crews worked all night to ensure that every plane was ready for service; aircraft patrols were intensified, the station defences were manned, and surprise drills were called to test the men's efficiency in dealing with a gas attack. The Squadron's one Stranraer, which had been taken on strength in October, was on patrol throughout the next day, while the Sharks waited patiently - all bombed up but no where to go.

Operating an effective front line of coastal defence relied heavily on the ability of No. 6 (BR) Squadron air patrols to track the enemy's movements far in advance of the coastline: the demands of the situation had moved beyond the capabilities of the faithful Shark. They flew on their last operational patrol for No. 6 (BR) Squadron on December 9, 1941. A formation of five Sharks flew over the station in a final salute, and two days later the Squadron watched with mixed feelings as five Sharks were ferried out to No. 7 (BR) Squadron at Prince Rupert. There was a slight touch of irony in the release of Shark #550, which followed the other Sharks to Prince Rupert a short time later. It seemed appropriate that the last Boeing-built Shark was the last Shark to be taken off strength.

A group of airmen, posted to RCAF Station Alliford Bay that December, arrived just in time to see the last Shark transferred out. LAC Henry Tate, posted in from No. 12 SFTS Squadron in Brandon, Manitoba, recorded his first impression of Alliford Bay and the Station:

The bay and surrounding area look beautiful after the Prairies - the bay is open on one end and surrounded by low, heavily wooded mountains on three sides. The camp is built among the tall trees. There are two large hangars and a single slipway at the inside end. The mess hall, barracks and Officer's Mess are about a quarter of a mile east on the south shore. The loading ramp for the supply boats is practically in line with the airmens' mess.....There are some compensations in Alliford because of being isolated - the food is excellent as we have the best flight sergeant cook on the west coast. The officers are glad to get orderly officer duties as that is the only time they really get good meals."

Tate, an aero engine mechanic, was assigned to aircraft maintenance and got caught up in the excitement of the arrival of Stranraer Flying Boats which replaced the Sharks. Air frame mechanic Tom Colbeck also remembered some excitement involving a Stranraer that ushered 1941 out with a bang.

On New Year's Eve, the aero engine mechanic in the bunk above Colbeck got a call to go down to the hangar and fix the engine on Stranraer #922. The crew had been to get fireproof lights to replace the coleman-type lanterns used for working on the planes at night, but there was no sign of them so far. Colbeck said:

So, my bunk air engine mechanic was draining gas out of the engine, and the riggers were fixing a patch on the right wing below - BOY! did we have fire works that night - New Yera's Eve and all. The ammunition was exploding, the old aircraft burning - and the Crashboat over in Charlotte City trying to get provisions. By the time they had a line on her, the aircraft was starting to be a sub and slowly sank.

In the first six months of 1942, postings and promotions occurred in rapid succession. Squadron Adjutant F/L Huggett was posted to Patricia Bay on January 31, and P/O WA Murrey assumed his position. A Station Headquarters was established in February under the command of S/L BN Harrop who had replaced S/L Doyle as Squadron Commanding Officer late in August 1941; F/L WM Emery was assigned officer commanding No. 6 (BR) Squadron. Adding to the new faces at the Station, the Edmonton Fusiliers arrived on March 3 to replace the Canadian Scottish detachment on aerodrome defence duties. On April 1, 1942 F/L Emery was posted to Pat Bay, and S/L HJ Winney, OBE arrived to take command of the Squadron.

S/L Winney had a reputation for being the Squadron's finest flying boat pilot. Groundcrews could always tell when Winney was flying the aircraft - "you would see the approach and the rear part of the hull would just gently begin to ripple the water and then spread it out." The CO's skill as a pilot, his quiet, sincere manner and natural friendliness gained him the respect and loyalty of his officers and men.

At the end of June 1942 W/C Harrop received a posting to Western Air Command, and a farewell dinner was held in the Officer's Mess. Squadron CO, S/L Harry Winney, was assigned as Officer Commanding the Station, and F/L AC Neale took temporary command of No. 6 (BR) Squadron, until S/L GC Upson assumed command on August 25. On that date S/L Winney's position as Station Commander was made permanent, and two months later he was promoted to Wing Commander. Postings and promotions were an accepted part of the system, but later that fall an announcement from Western Air Command had a major impact on the entire Squadron.

On October 11, 1942 Western Air Command ordered the posting on exchange of NCOs and airmen who had been at the station for more than 12 months - this affected over 80 men. Some were anxious to be closer to their families in southern British Columbia, and some were restless, and eager for a change, but all of them felt a sense of regret as they left Alliford Bay. It was another reminder that, in spite of their isolation, in spite of the weather and all the other hardships they had gone through, they would miss the close friends and spirit of comradeship that set RCAF Station Alliford Bay slightly apart from other Stations.

Station life resumed its normal pace - which lasted less than a month. On November 16, acting on orders from Western Air Command, No. 6 (BR) Squadron moved to Bella Bella and No. 9 (BR) Squadron moved from Bella Bella to Alliford Bay. The purpose of the exercise was to "practice active mobility, in case of an emergency". Number 6 (BR) Squadron returned to Alliford Bay on December 3, and began preparations for the third Christmas at the Station.

On December 13, S/L Upson was posted to No. 4 Group Headquarters at Prince Rupert, and S/L VA Margetts assumed command of No. 6 (BR) Squadron.

1943 began tragically with the loss of Stranraer #935 and its crew. On February 14, while on a training flight, the Stranraer crashed in Skidegate Channel between Maude and Lina Islands. P/O DS MacLennan, P/O LG Thompson, P/O FW McConkey, Accounts Officer CT Fields, Sgt JO Gilmour and Cpl JP Spraling were all killed. Squadron members sent out to investigate the crash site found a lot of debris and a large number od dead fish floating all over the area. From the evidence they concluded that the aircraft's four depth charges had exploded on impact.

Any accident involving loss of life understandably lowered the Squadron spirit. But it was at time like this that the airmen talked about the many episodes where they had skirted death with a twist of fate and quick thinking on the part of a fellow airman. Tate, now a Corporal, recounted one of these episodes:

"One of the hazards of flying in the nose or tail turret in rough air was the possibility that you might lose the aircraft during a downdraft and find yourself 2000 feet above the sea without even a proverbial paddle. One day I was on another test flight and one of my air gunner friends went out into the tail turret to relax, put up the gun and have a smoke. In the front and rear turret there was a "G-string" attached to the floor that was to be clipped to your parachute harness to prevent you going overboard in rough air. Benny proceeded out to the tail and had been there for a while when the air became exceedingly rough. The radio operator and I wondered how he was making out. I couldn't see his legs so I went back to investigate. It's lucky I did since Benny had not hooked up the G-string and he went out, but grabbed the gun. He was banging onto the gun, head down, with only water below him a couple of thousand feet away. I tried to pull him in but was unable to with the slipstream, so I left him, got the RO, and between us we yanked Benny back into the aircraft."

The seaworthy Stranraers had served the Squadron well. Their arrival in 1941 had pushed the elderly Sharks further back into the dusty archives. Now the Stranraers were the "ancient machines", and they moved into the shadow of the long awaited Canso "A". By July 10, 1943 there were three Cansos and three Stranraers attached to RCAF Station Alliford Bay. A notation in the Daily Diary priased the new equipment: "Now it is possible for the station to carry out longer patrols and training that is consistent with modern up-to-date operational requirements. It is able to fulfill its service responsibility now that it has proper equipment." However, many of the airmen voiced a different feeling: The Stranraer was a real rugged airplane it could be landed and taken off on open ocean if the swells were reasonable. It was much more seaworthy than the Canso and the Catalina and could absorb consierably more punishment without staving in the hull." Another airman held the opinion that: The Stranraer was the best biplane boat built and we all loved her," - and, There was something about the Stranraer that you couldn't resist. I never felt the same way about the Canso."

S/L LA Harling was now temporary Officer Commanding the Squadron, and his position was made permanent in September 1943. S/L CC Austin had been assigned to succeed W/C Winney, OBE as Commanding Officer of the Station. W/C Winney was posted to Ucluelet in May, and before his departure the Officers and the Sergeants Mess each made a presentation to him.

In July 1943 Alex Crombie was posted to Alliford Bay after being at Pat Bay for a short period. One of the first jobs he was given, along with other riggers and fitters, was to get one of the last Stranraers airworthy enough to fly to Jerico Beach. By March 1944 No. 6 (BR) Squadron had seven Catalina flying boats, two Canso "A"s and only one Stranraer.

Catalina and Canso crews continued a rigorous schedule of bombing and gunnery practice, and during some of the exercises the misfiring of machine guns caused more damage to the aircraft than the enemy ever got around to doing. Twice Crombie recalls a Catalina landing and the air gunners scrambling out of the Blisters and up on the port side wing. "They had shot one or two 50 calibre holes in the starboard float and they were trying to keep it out of the water until we could beach it." Another time startled ground crew members moved quickly aside as a Canso came roaring up the ramp. This time," Crombie said, They'd put the 50 calibre machine gun in the storage position and for some reason it fired and put a hole in the hull." Practicing with live ammunition had its disadvantages, and a couple of incidents involving depth charges and Cansos gave everyone a few anxious moments. The aircrew ran a Canso up on the tarmac and the depth-charges fell off the wings; and once during a maintenance inspection in the hanagar someone hit the wrong switch and down came the depth charges. Crombie summed it up - Thank God for safety rings."

On April 21, 1944 No. 6 (BR) Squadron received orders to begin a move to Coal Harbour on Holberg Inlet on the north end of Vancouver Island. The move was completed on April 23rd.

Corporal Harry Tate wrote the final word on RCAF Station Alliford Bay: "Alliford Bay was a terrific place - we had the best food, the best CO - Harry Winney - and the best morale on the coast. AND we flew more hours." But the narrative would not be complete without mentioning the station deer.

The deer, a species peculiar to the Queen Charlotte Islands, were very small, weighing about 90 pounds on the hoof. They were docile little creatures who roamed freely wherever they wished because they had no predators on the islands. They had no fear of the airmen and gradually developed an idle curiosity in the station. With a straight face, airmen from Alliford Bay tell of having to chase the deer off the rifle range before target practice could begin.

Over time, there were several deer who became very friendly and were "adopted" as station pets. The airmen called the deer Kwuna, and gave it the full privileges of the station, including the Officers' and the Sergeants' Mess. On invitation, or simply because the door had been left open, Kwuna would wander in, searching for one of its favorite tidbits - cigarette butts. Next to that, it was passionately fond of licking the leather coverings of the armchairs. The deer became an integral part of station life and was incorporated into the official Station crest.

As No. 6 (BR) Squadron completed their move to Coal Harbour, No. 7 (BR) Squadron under the command of S/L R Dobson, moved to RCAF Station Alliford Bay. During their year at the Station the Squadron aircrews set several records.

On June 14, 1944 a fisherman sighted a submarine in Dixon Entrance, just off Zayas Island, 50 miles north-west of Prince Rupert. S/L Dobson launched four patrols. A target was detected with anti-submaribe equipment but due to the heavy fog the crew was unable to establish visual contact for an attack. Again on June 24, S/L Dobson was in command of a Canso that completed a night patrol of 20 hours and 40 minutes - the longest patrol in Western Air Command records.

On June 27, 1944 S/L Dobson was posted to Western Air Command and was replaced as Commanding Officer by S/L JA Neale. On July 26, W/C JW McNee succeeded W/C Austin as Station Commanding Officer.

Number 7 (BR) Squadron completed its last mission on July 14, 1945. F/O Craddock and crew flew Canso A 10070 from Alliford Bay on an anti-submarine patrol. The Squadron was disbanded at Alliford Bay on July 24, 1945 and the Station was reduced to care and maintenance basis.

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Updated: February 27, 2004