Visit the small museum at the Moncton International Airport and you will find a lovely tribute to Moncton’s role with the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. Much of the exhibit focuses on the local flying training that went on in Moncton as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. The museum also pays tribute to New Brunswickers who served in the Battle of Britain, a battle which saw the United Kingdom avoid defeat at the hands of Nazi Germany.
Somewhere between 88 and 112 Canadians flew in the Battle of Britain. The numbers aren’t clear because Canadian citizenship didn’t exist in 1940. It was possible for an airman to be born in the UK, immigrate to Canada, and return to the UK to join the Royal Air Force prior to or during the Second World War. It was also fairly common for those living in Canada to join the RAF instead of the RCAF in the pre-war years as the RCAF was small and had limited space for prospective pilots.
New Brunswick is a small Canadian province. Even today it numbers only about 750,000 residents. In 1940 New Brunswick was home to just over 450,000. Seven of its young men managed to find their way from communities throughout the province to the contested skies above Britain. I have briefly profiled each of these airmen below.
Some interesting facts can be examined in the aggregate. Five of the seven died during the battle. One was killed in a flying accident, while the remaining four were killed in combat. As it turns out, if the New Brunswicker survived the battle he also survived the war. The pair of flyers who survived went on to have exceptional wartime careers in the RAF. Both of the men served in Burma – one served in Italy – and ended the war as decorated senior officers.
Source for all: RCAF Association website (see Battle of Britain tab).
Flight Lieutenant Harry Raymond Hamilton of King’s County, NB was posted to No. 85 Squadron RAF as a flight commander for the Battle of Britain. Flying a Hawker Hurricane, he shot down a Me 110 twin-engine fighter on 18 August 1940. On 29 August he destroyed a Me 109 fighter before being shot down and killed. Harry Hamilton lies interned at Hawkinge Cemetery in Kent, UK. He left behind his mother and father, Nina Pearl and Walter Wesley Hamilton, of Oak Point, NB.
Flying Officer John S. Hart of Sackville, NB was born on 11 September 1916. During the Battle of Britain he flew Supermarine Spitfires with Nos. 54 and 602 Squadrons RAF, shooting down a Me 109 on 29 October 1940. Promoted to Squadron Leader, he went on to command No. 67 Squadron RAF in Burma from May to July 1943, and then No. 112 Squadron RAF in Italy from April to August 1945. John Hart was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in June 1945 for his leadership before leaving the RAF in 1946.
Flying Officer George Fellows McAvity of Little River, NB flew Hawker Hurricanes with No. 3 Squadron RAF during the Battle of Britain. The unit was stationed in northern Scotland to provide air defence for the Royal Navy’s base at Scapa Flow. On 19 October 1940, during an anti-aircraft exercise, Flying Officer McAvity lost control of his aircraft and crashed while attempting a slow roll. He is buried near Caithness-shire, Scotland. George McAvity left behind his mother and father, Amy and Allan McAvity, and his widow, Frances McAvity.
Flying Officer Alec Albert Gray Trueman was born in Sackville, NB in 1914. He flew Hawker Hurricanes with No. 253 Squadron RAF during the Battle of Britain. Trueman was shot down on 4 September 1940 and is buried in St. Luke’s Churchyard, Whyteleafe, Surrey, UK. Alec Trueman left behind his mother and father, Agnes and George Trueman, and his widow, Ethel Trueman of Lincoln, NB.
Pilot Officer Kirkpatrick MacLure Sclanders was born in Saskatoon, SK in 1916 but was brought up in Saint John, NB. He served in the pre-war RAF but was forced to resign due to ill health. Not initially accepted by the RCAF in 1939, “Pat” attempted to join the French Air Force and was in Paris when that country came under attack. He made his way to England and eventually joined No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron RAF in late August. On 9 September 1940 he was killed in combat with German Do 17s and Me 110s. Kirkpatrick Sclanders is buried in St. Luke’s Churchyard, Whyteleafe, Surrey, UK.
Pilot Officer Robert Roy Wilson of Moncton, NB flew Hawker Hurricanes with No. 111 Squadron RAF. He shot down a Me 109 on 2 June 1940 during Operation Dynamo, the exodus of British and French forces from the continent. He shot down a second Me 109 on 25 July during the Battle of Britain. He disappeared on 11 August 1940 when he failed to return from combat with German fighters over the sea. His name is on the Runnymede Memorial in Surrey, UK. Robert Wilson left behind his mother and father, Ivy and Roy Wilson.
Flying Officer Thomas Patrick Harnett of Moncton, NB flew night fighters with No. 219 Squadron RAF during the Battle of Britain. He survived, trained flyers in Canada as part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, and eventually rose to command No. 435 Squadron RCAF, flying Douglas Dakota transports supplying British Fourteenth Army in Burma. He was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross in October 1945 for his leadership. Thomas Harnett left the RCAF shortly after the war ended at the rank of Wing Commander. He passed away on 19 December 1985.
Source: RCAF Association website.