Roy Baker joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942 and became an Instructor with the BCATP.
After his initial training in Ontario, Roy came west to the Training School in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, where he learned to fly a Tiger Moth and the twin-engined Cessna. Roy became an Instructor in 1944 at the training school near Yorkton, Saskatchewan, where he taught trainees from all across the Commonwealth the finer points of flying.
Roy never did get to fly in active battle directly, but as a tribute to Roy and all the flying instructors in the BCATP (British Commonwealth Air Training Plan), they did experience the war through all those they trained and sent overseas to fly in the airwar during the Second World War.
Like many other young men between the ages of 18 and 24, September of 1942 found 20 year old Roy Robert Baker joining the Royal Canadian Air Force. The Canadian force was part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). This plan resulted from a signed agreement in 1939, amongst Commonwealth countries. The result was that Canada became what President Roosevelt would later celebrate, as the "Aerodrome of Democracy". The immediate task of the BCATP was to turn young rookies into skilful pilots. Pilots who would learn to conduct dangerous flight missions while protecting their lives and the lives of their crewmates.
The first step in Roy’s air force career was a four week posting at the Manning Depot. It was on the grounds of the Canadian National Exposition in his hometown of Toronto. There he learned military basics. Then he was sent to Ottawa for enhanced education in physics and mathematics. After that he was sent to the South West Ontario Flying School while waiting to be posted to an Initial Training School (ITS).
Here he spent three weeks guarding a downed Harvard. He was handed a rifle and assigned to the night shift. It remains a mystery as to why this particular plane needed to be under special surveillance in the middle of Canada. It certainly was a lonely first assignment for a rookie. Two young pilots did take him up in their Anson aircraft and showed him how they set their compasses using the county roadways as a guide. This was his first experience in the air. Roy was now more determined than ever, to fly.
In the winter of 1942 he was posted to an Initial Training School (ITS) in Edmonton, Alberta, living in Pembina Hall on the campus of the University Of Alberta. The eight week course concentrated on all aspects of basic flight skills, weather calculations, navigation, Morse code and many hours of "flying" on the Link Trainer, an early version of a flight simulator.
After graduating from ITS, in the summer of 1943, Roy was posted, to the Elementary Training School (ETS) in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan where he learned to fly on a Tiger Moth, a biplane with two cockpits one behind the other. It was a very humble "aerodrome", with no runways; it was just a large field of grass, with a few basic buildings and a lonely wind sock to help guide take-offs and landings.
The Tiger Moths were constructed in two parts of steel tubing, with topsides of plywood and covered on the sides and bottom with fabric. Needless to say many planes lost their tails or propellers as the fledgling pilots learned their craft.
Roy remembers one of his classmates landing on the roof of a building. The body of the plane was broken in two, as was the young pilot’s pride, when a "rescue" by his classmates with a ladder was executed. The Tiger Moth had limited instruments so, in large part, the pilots really had to "judge" how close to the ground they were. This made things "pretty exciting" when they advanced to night flying. Roy confesses that he was quite proud of being the first in his class to do a solo flight.
He continued on at Service Flight Training School (SFTS) at Yorkton, Saskatchewan where he learned to fly the larger twin engine Cessna Crane. Here, he also learned cross-country low level flying, night instrument flying and formation flying. Roy became an accomplished pilot.
In 1944, Roy was selected to become a Flying Instructor and so he was off to the Instructor’s School at Pearce, Alberta. This was quite an achievement! After a month at Pearce, he received a rare weekend pass to go to Banff where, to his embarrassment, he fell and broke his leg skiing. As a result he spent his convalescence back at Pearce, helping the tower crew with flight training from the ground.
Ultimately, Roy graduated from Instructor’s School and was assigned back to Yorkton to teach. His graduation certificate as a Flying Instructor attests to the stretched resources of the BCATP. They had run out of printed certificates for the Royal Canadian Air Force and so they just X'ed out the word "Australian" on another form, inserted the word "Canadian" and that was that!
Pilot training at Yorkton Saskatchewan in 1944 was truly an international experience. Roy remembers trainees arriving from various Commonwealth countries, including Australia and New Zealand. As well, men in forces from Poland and England, itself, made their way to Canada to be trained at the BCATP base.
Roy says that he only really "washed out” (totally failed) one student in his time. "The young man was deathly afraid of heights and could not look sideways out of the plane to see how close he was to another aircraft or to the ground. I wondered how he possibly got that far in his training", Roy recalled.
Flying Officer Roy Baker stayed in Yorkton until the field was closed down in September of 1945. He was then transferred to Brandon, Manitoba. The Brandon school closed on November 1945 with the end of the war and so Roy returned home.
Then, along with thousands of other young veterans, Roy returned to school and graduated with engineering degree from the University of Toronto. From being stationed there, the West was in Roy’s blood and so he returned to Alberta to pursue his engineering career. He became very successful in the petroleum industry.
It is a fitting tribute to Roy and all the flying instructors in the BCATP, who excelled as pilots and so were chosen to train others, that at the bottom of his instructors’ certificate it states:
"He has been especially chosen to teach eager men the primary stages of the practical method of delivering the bomb and the bullet to our objective--- The Enemy. His present work is vital; he will constantly do his best; his turn to go into active battle will come."
In Roy’s case, active battle did not come to him, directly, as the war ended. But it did come, proudly, to him through all those he trained and were sent off to the front.