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  • 5045 Ralph Awrey Remembers: RCAF Summer Training/Navigation Training

5045 Ralph Awrey Remembers: RCAF Summer Training/Navigation Training

Above: 5045 Ralph Awrey fishing at the Summer Survival training camp near Edmonton.

Article by 5045 Ralph Awrey

After recruit year at CMR we were off to our first taste of summer training in 1957. The services went their separate ways; Army, Navy and Air Force. We were all kitted out as cadets in these branches of the military. Training was a misnomer as it was really a glorified orientation tour of some RCAF facilities. I suppose the purpose was to orient us to air force life. I remember it accomplishing something else.  It brought us together as military college types because it seemed the regular air force people we met didn’t like CMR/RMC cadets. Was it jealousy? Perhaps.

The first base we went to was RCAF Base Borden. I have no idea what we did or saw there. I do remember the shattered barrack’s door incident. One afternoon I was grabbing some zees on my bed adorned only in my underwear when 5046 Mike Black crept into my room with a wet mop and whacked me on the stomach and then ran. I chased him with the mop and as I was about to return the favour, he closed his door and the mop handle went through the door. A neat round hole through a cheap hollow wooden door. Much laughter until the base Administration Officer said that I’d have to pay to replace the whole door. It would not be repaired. I think it was to be over $75 which was a lot of money in 1957.  He wouldn’t relent so everyone chipped in money to pay for replacing the door. Fine says we, if you say you can’t repair it we’ll make sure of that. So we took axes to the door and demolished it. Well, that wasn’t good. The Administration Officer and the Commanding Officer were in a tizzy and took strips off us. But they may have learned not to bugger around with CMR cadets.

Next we were off to summer survival training in the foothills of the Rockies, somewhere near Edmonton. It was more like a few days at summer camp which I never experienced as a poor kid in Hamilton. We were driven to the area by bus and when we arrived the instructors had already set up our tents. We got a lecture on not chopping down green trees and then were let loose. Being from Hamilton I knew bugger all about the wilderness, camping, fishing or lighting a fire. Not to worry as we had some lads from the hinterlands of Quebec and New Brunswick who put together a raft for fishing and who knew how to light a fire and keep it going. It was no big deal as the instructors had the firewood ready and we had lots of matches and lighters. And food, lots of food. We had so much food that when the airdrops came we were overloaded. I swapped food for cigarettes. And for a survival course we all gained weight. To top it off the lake we were on was full of fish – pike I think. Even I had no trouble catching as many as I wanted. We got sick of the buggers. Put me off fish for years.

Just before or after the survival course I had the chance to visit with my sister Grace and Tom Mair at their Edmonton home. Tom graduated from Queen’s University in Chemical Engineering and his first job was with BA Oil in Edmonton. We had dinner at their apartment and then went out for beer. Depending on your point of view, Alberta’s liquor laws were either very primitive or very advanced. Men and women, regardless of marital status, couldn’t drink in the same room. So Tom and I imbibed in one room while Grace was in another.

At navigation school in Winnipeg we were bunked four to a room. One summer I roomed with 5097 Grant Mosher, 5003 Bob McLean and 5054 Duncan Thomas. Compared to the rest of us Dunc was a ladies’ man. We studied all week-end and our recreation was lying in the sun on the lawn or the roof and getting sunburned. During the week Dunc had dates and aggravated his roommates by coming in after midnight. We sunburned students were in bed by 10 p.m. and we woke up grumbling when Dunc returned. He had a girl friend named Marie from St. Boniface, who had her own car and would pick him up on Friday afternoons. We were all jealous! Dunc ruptured an ear drum somehow and that was the end of his flying career. On the positive side, the next summer he went to the RCAF School of Aeronautical Engineering at Aylmer Ontario where he met his lifelong companion Anne.

We went to Winnipeg for three summers of training and then after graduation from RMC to get our wings. The C45 Expeditor was the airplane used during our first two summers of training. Two engines, noisy, smelly and it bounced all over the sky during flights over the prairies during summertime. I was airsick every flight. There were two of us in this category, Bob McLean and me. Naturally they isolated us from the others and we always flew together. I was so dispirited in second year that I went to the CO and asked to be transferred to ground crew. He refused and told me that once I moved from Expeditors to a more stable flying platform the air sickness would go away. He was right. Once we started flying in DC3s the airsickness did go away. Air sickness like sea sickness is a terrible thing. You just want to die and get it over with.


  • Peter Dumbrille

    February 25, 2020 at 5:30 pm

    I should have joined the Air Force Ralph. My first summer training was scrubbing decks, slinging micks and shining brass in HMCS ONTARIO. I didn’t put a hole in a door though. My singular feat was ripping a hole in the Quarterdeck awning on presenting arms during morning colours as part of the honour guard. Our Chief GI (Gunnery Instructer) was not amused. It was then I started to aquire quite a sailor’s unique vocabulary directed, of course, to me.
    Peter Dumbrille 5135.

  • Len Kubas

    March 2, 2020 at 4:45 pm

    Ralph — Your tales of summer training parallel those of the RCAF cadets in the class one year ahead of you. Our first summer training included most of your accounts (Camp Borden, Summer Survival near Edson, AB) but also a flight to Whitehorse YT in a C119, where we were able to purchase overproof rum and visit the “marge on Lake Laberge where they cremated Sam McGee.”
    When we completed our third summer at Air Navigation School, we were awarded our Air Navigator’s Wings, but RMC would not permit us to wear them with our uniform while at the College.

    With more than 5,000 flying hours later as a navigator, I’m now reading a book– “Nadir to Zenith” — An Almanac of stories by Canadian Military Navigators — written by G/C (Ret’d) Bill Hockney and Colonel (Ret’d) Moe Gates.

    Aircrew, especially Air Navigators would find the stories contained in this book of interest, since it coincides with the flying careers of many post-war RMC graduates who learned how to find their way in the world, before they invented GPS and Waze.

    The book, is available on Amazon.ca — new or pre-read, and will bring back many memories for those of us who remember the Motto of #2 Air Navigation School, Winnipeg — “Man is Not Lost”.