The Military Museums

Ken and Patricia Rivers

Ken Rivers was born on February 12th, 1916, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Ken and Patricia Rivers

Ken Rivers was born on February 12th, 1916, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Ken and Patricia Rivers

After graduating from High School, Ken moved to England where he continued his studies and travelled extensively across pre-war Europe. When the Second World War broke out he joined the RAF Ferry Command as an Observer, to assist in the transatlantic delivery of new warplanes from North America to England.

In 1944, Ken returned to Canada and married Mary Patricia Affleck-Graves on December 20th, 1944. Following a trip to Saskatoon to introduce his new bride to his parents, Ken and "Paddy" made plans to return to England. They secured their passage by serving as chaperones for children who were returning home to England under the Children’s Overseas Reception Board (CORB).

Wartime Evacuations

Soon after war had broken out in Europe, British children were evacuated from the country in order to escape the bombing of London and other British cities.

The Children's Overseas Reception Board (CORB) was established in July 1940, and helped to organize the evacuation of over 2,600 children to Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Over 1,500 children were evacuated to Canada alone.

However, the program met with disaster on September 17th, 1940 when the ship, City of Benares, was torpedoed by a German submarine on its way to Canada. Seventy-seven children died in the lifeboats from exposure while awaiting rescue.

Although evacuations ceased after the sinking of the City of Benares, the CORB remained active to maintain the records of the children who had been evacuated. In early 1945, evacuated British children began returning to England once the perceived threat to Atlantic shipping from German U-boats had diminished.

It was on one of these repatriation journey's that Ken and Paddy Rivers found themselves in early 1945 as volunteers with the CORB escorting over 100 British children back to England. Having been recently married back in Canada, this turned out to be their honeymoon.

The Allies Respond

At the beginning of the Second World War, aircraft built in North America traveled across the Atlantic by boat. The prospect of trans-Atlantic flight was daunting and considered by some to be impracticable. Yet, the shipping was needed elsewhere and Canadian and American factories were beginning to turn out aircraft en mass.

Something had to be done and so Lord Beaverbrook turned to the Canadian Pacific Railway to organize a ferrying service. CP responded with its Air Services Department in July 1940. Headquartered in Montreal, CP worked with civilians and servicemen from Canada, Britain and the United States and sent over a hundred multi-engine aircraft across the Atlantic. Yet their success rate was marginal and so by July 1941, the ferrying service had been transformed into RAF’s Ferry Command.

Ferry Command made use of a series of airbases spread out in a vast arc across the North Atlantic. From Newfoundland to Iqualuit and on across Greenland and Iceland to Scotland, the "Crimson Route" saw thousands of aircraft make the journey to their operational bases in Europe.

Ferry Command and its successor, No.45 Group of RAF Transport Command, eventually delivered more than 9,000 warplanes to supply the Allied air forces which proved so instrumental in defeating Nazi Germany.

Ferry Command

By early 1940 England was alone in Europe facing the Nazi might. It was desperate for all types of aid, especially aircraft. These could be procured from America, but obtaining delivery was a problem. Because of its neutrality policy, the U.S. could not ship aircraft direct to England. Red tape was circumvented however by a novel process. As long as aircraft were not flown to England or a Commonwealth nation, delivery could be effected by other means.

Thus a scheme was initiated whereby aircraft were flown to airports in the U.S. near the Canadian border. From these sites they were then towed or pushed into Canada!

Meanwhile the CPR had organized its Ferry Command Department to deliver aircraft overseas. It procured crews and trained them, especially in celestial navigation. It must be emphasized that at this time trans-Atlantic flying was still in its infancy. Except for Imperial Airways' and Pan American's proving flights in the late thirties little experience had been gained in flying the Atlantic.

On November 10, 1941 one of the historic events of the Second World War took place when Air Vice-Marshal D.C.T. Bennett led a flight of seven Hudsons from Gander, Nfld. All of the aircraft arrived safely in Ireland, showing that trans-Atlantic ferrying was indeed possible.

From here on aircraft began streaming across the ocean from Canada and Newfoundland to Britain. New routes were developed across the ocean, one being the "Crimson Route". It originated in Vancouver and headed northwest through stopovers like The Pas, Churchill, Southampton Island, Baffin Island, then on to Greenland, Iceland, and Prestwick.

For an aircraft flying Vancouver-Prestwick via Dorval nearly 5,400 miles would be covered compared to 4,400 miles via the Crimson Route. Information courtesy of Military Aviation.

Women of the Air Transport Auxiliary

Early History

In 1939, as the Battle of Britain raged in the skies over southern England, Britain needed every plane and every capable pilot it could muster. As a result, the Royal Air Force (RAF) couldn't spare pilots to deliver newly manufactured or repaired planes to air bases throughout England. Instead, by the end of 1939, a civilian organization—the Air Transport Authority (ATA)—had taken on that job.

Initially, the ATA served as a delivery service, ferrying mail, medical supplies, and patients throughout England. But by early 1940, the ATA switched to strictly ferrying aircraft. By hiring civilian pilots who were too old or unfit for war-time service, young and able pilots were free to join the RAF. But as the need for pilots grew, the ATA began hiring women who held a pilot license.

The ATA started with eight female pilots in January 1940, and before long, it had built an all-women's section, Ferry Pool No. 15, stationed at the Hamble air base in South Hampton in southern England.

By the end of the war, 166 women — including four Canadians: Marion Orr, Vi Milstead, Helen Harrison, and Elspeth Russell — were flying for the ATA, while another 600 women served in other positions, including four female flight engineers.

War Service

At first, ATA pilots, both men and women, were required to have 250 hours of flying time to join the ATA. As the war progressed and the need increased, the hour requirements were dropped to 150 and then 100. At first, the female pilots only flew small trainers, but by the summer of 1941, they got the approval to fly fighters and bombers.

Before long, ATA pilots, including female pilots, flew all types of aircraft, including trainers, fighters, and bombers. They didn't know what to expect until they received their assignment for the day.

"One of the delights, or fears, of the ferry pilot was that we never knew what we were going to fly or to where until the next morning of any particular day. We might have any type, from a tiny Puss Moth to a twin-engine Wellington or four-engine Halifax," said Mary Ellis, a British ATA pilot, who signed up in October 1941.

During her time with the ATA, Ellis flew seventy-six distinct types of planes to 210 airfields throughout Britain. She also accumulated 1,100 hours of flight time during her service with the ATA. As part of that, she delivered 400 of the famous Supermarine Spitfires, along with Wellington bombers, the light and fast Mosquito bomber, which she described as "twin-engine Spitfires". Ellis also flew an American P-51 Mustang and a Gloster Meteor III, the RAF's first jet-engine fighter.

The most remarkable part of the ATA was that pilots received no specific training for each aircraft they delivered. Instead, they received more general classification training as aircraft fell into six classifications, such as "advanced single-engine" and "four-engine."

So, when the ATA assigned them an aircraft they had not flown before, pilots had to rely on their experience and their wits, and the all-important Ferry Pilot Notes (known as "the Blue Book") that featured a page of information about each aircraft in use. Along with not knowing what they were going to fly from day to day, they didn't fly with radios or have instrument flight training. If something went wrong, they were on their own.


ATA pilots certainly lived up to the organization's motto: "Anything to anywhere." In all, the ATA, which had sixteen ferry pools (only one of which was the all-women pool), ferried over 300,000 aircraft of 147 varieties. Fifteen women died flying for the ATA.

In recognition that they were doing the same work as male pilots, female pilots received equal pay for their work. However, as all women in uniform discovered, when the war ended, they lost any gains they had earned. Following the war, most women returned to a domestic life at home.

Despite their incredible skill set, the female pilots of the ATA could only find work as flight instructors or bush pilots. Even though they could fly the tiny Tiger Moth, the nimble Spitfire, and the lumbering Halifax all on the same day, the government would not permit them to fly with the air force or the civilian airlines. In 2008, Britain awarded surviving ATA veterans a special Veterans Badge in recognition of their work.

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