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.

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