Wednesday, January 13, 2016

World War Wednesdays: No. 1 Technical Training School, St. Thomas

Cover of The Aircraftman, February 1943 courtesy of Elgin County Archives

     Many readers will immediately recognize the buildings in discussion this week for their current uses, but I'm sure not as many were aware that they served quite different purposes during the Second World War. Two of St. Thomas's most significant facilities, both located on Sunset Drive, once housed the No. 1 Technical Training School for airmen during the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Here's some photos of them during that time:

     The present-day County of Elgin building was once used as the officers' quarters for the school.
     What is more familiarly known as the St. Thomas Psychiatric Hospital was home to the actual school complex itself. This photo shows the most familiar part of the building located closest to Sunset Drive, which was once the school's administrative building.

     The only facility of its kind in Ontario during the Second World War, the No. 1 Technical Training School was established in 1939. It became the main source of ground crew, training some fifty thousand for active wartime service. Equipped for over 2,000 students at one time, it offered six-month courses for aircraft electricians and aero-engineers, airframe and instrument mechanics and specialized training for fabric and sheet metal workers.

     Here's an interesting article published in The Ottawa Journal on June 18, 1943 describing wartime conditions in St. Thomas, courtesy of a really interesting blog called "As Canadian As Can Be":
     St. Thomas Becomes Air-Minded
St. Thomas, Ont., June 18--
     Since the outbreak of the war St. Thomas has become an air-minded city, largely because there are in the immediate district three large schools and an airport, all part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. 
     Largest is the technical training school, housed in the $7,000,000 former Ontario Hospital building on the outskirts of the city, where thousands of young men from the Dominion and other parts of the Empire are being trained for ground crew, equipment, office and other R.C.A.F. duties. The number of graduates of this school, first to be established under the air training plan, now is nearing 30,000.
     Many of the men in training or on the school staffs have brought their families here, increasing the city's population bu 2,000 or more persons. This influx of population has created a demand, greater than the available supply, for small furnished apartments. Conversion of private homes into apartments has helped to solve the problem.
     As a railway city, St. Thomas is affected chiefly by the wartime increase in rail traffic. Three United States railway lines which have division headquarters here, are busier than ever before. Employment is at its greatest peak.
     So great is the demand for labor that boys just out of school and not eligible for military service are being engaged as firemen, brakemen and in other work.

     As great as the school was for providing a boost to St. Thomas's economy, the facility itself did not come without a few problems. Fingal Bombing and Gunnery School historian Winston B. St. Clair describes its major lack of morale efforts as the cause of large scale AWOLS (away without leaves) during the Christmas season of 1940. 

     However, efforts were made to create ways for recruits to occupy their time while they weren't in the classroom, and a number of different clubs and teams were established:
Tug of War Team, ca. 1940

Boxing Team, ca. 1940

Brass Band, May 22, 1941
     In addition, the school had its own monthly news publication called The Aircraftman.

     When the war ended in 1945, the school was closed and the complex was returned to the Department of Health. It is thus unique to the nearby Fingal school in that its buildings remain standing to this day, and largely unchanged.

Thanks for reading,

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