Roy Church

A trimmed flight history of Roy Church

Clifford Roy Winson Church, RAF, 1322370

17th December 1922 – 24th August 2012

Figure 1 Sgt Pilot Roy Church


This is a short history of Roy Church’s RAF training based upon a handwritten record [1] shown in references below. In this he compares his postings to one James K, who is probably the author of ‘Typhoon Tale’ [2], James Kyle. A third source is ‘Wings for Victory’ [3] by Spencer Dunmore, which describes the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). This joint military aircrew training programme trained over 130,000 personnel in Canada, including Roy Church. These books are quoted to add to the sparse facts of Roy’s recorded experience provided in [1].

The most acute crisis suffered by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has been want of pilots. In 1940 Churchill’s ‘few’ battled for Britain’s survival, and in the days that followed it was the RAF that carried the fight to fascism. These men volunteered for the hazards faced by aircrew and fought for freedom and democracy.

Roy Signs Up

Having volunteered and passed selection, we find Roy starting his service career at No. 1 Air Crew Recruiting Centre (ACRC) at Lord’s Cricket Ground, St John’s Wood in London. This was nicknamed “Arsey-Tarsey” by some students and provided a two week reception.[i]

James Kyle remembers his first day there: ‘By evening they were arriving in prodigious numbers, hundreds of young men who were processed for attestation and integrated into flights of fifty. There was much speculation and continual chattering… I lay there in my bunk that night absolutely mesmerized…and trying to sort out my reactions to my first day in…the Royal Air Force.’[2][ii]

Kyle was paid 2s 6d per day, far more than he had made as an apprentice.  In the 1940s a pint of mild might have cost 6d and pale ale 10d or a shilling.[iii]

Geoff Wright was at the ACRC in 1943: ‘The accommodation was in luxury flats in St. Johns Wood. They had been stripped of all their luxuries, but at least we had decent bathrooms and toilets and sheets on our beds. White sheets were one of the perks of aircrew… On the second day we all had a compulsory haircut. No comb and scissors affair, electric clippers straight over the top…
The food was good, but the discipline irksome and at times farcical. I remember one day coming out of the mess and putting my forage cap on as I stepped through the door. The RAF Sergeant waiting outside promptly ordered me to report for an hours punishment drill that evening for appearing in public bare-headed. You soon acquired a healthy respect for the powers of NCO’s.’ [iv]

ITW – Initial Training Wing

Aircraftman Church was then posted to No. 6 ITW Initial Training Wing, Paignton / Torquay in Devon, probably for about three months.

Kyle had been nearby, staying in an English Riviera hotel. ‘There were a great many parades, followed by intensive periods of drill and excessive amounts of physical training and organized games… I began the basic studies in all the subjects required for pilots.’[2][v]

Ab initio

After ITW, Roy was posted to RAF Sywell, near Northampton, home of No. 6 EFTS Elementary Flying Training School. An EFTS gave a recruit some hours of basic aviation instruction on a simple trainer such as the Tiger Moth. This was a two-seat biplane with Roy in the rear seat behind his instructor, Flying Officer Dixon.

Figure 2 de Havilland Tiger Moth, airborne and at RAF Sywell at the opening of No. 6 EFTS

Kyle remembers his first air experience flight: ‘As [the instructor] took off and climbed, I leaned over the side of the cockpit and felt a chill 80 mph wind whipping my face. I lifted my face to the sun, then looked down and around at the wide green expanse of the countryside below… exhilaration was bubbling within.’[2][vi]

During this time Roy made his first solo flight, perhaps after only a few hours of instruction.[vii]

‘The instructor clambered out of the aircraft and told [the student] to do a circuit solo. The great moment had finally arrived!… No student pilot took the occasion lightly; neither did his instructor, for the flight was as tough on the instructor’s nervous system as on that of the student. Most instructors sent their students off solo after eight to ten hours of dual flying.’[3][viii]

For James Kyle, his first solo was a very positive experience. ‘I turned the aircraft and taxied out slowly for take off, tremendously excited and feeling great. Lining up accurately on the runway, I opened the throttle evenly and eased the [aeroplane] into the air. Climbing straight ahead to 500 ft, and checking the airspeed, I turned left, climbing to 1,000 ft. Then I turned downwind, noting myself parallel with the runway. One student at this point got lost and kept straight on, landing at another airfield some 30 miles away. Soon I was turning the aircraft on to base leg, continuing the turn on to the approach path, lining up and rounding out for landing. I was never worried and settled the aircraft for a smooth three point landing. Normally a first landing is a good one for everybody, not so some later attempts!’ [2][ix]

Geoff Wright describes his first solo at Brough, Yorks:  ‘I managed to go solo in 7 hrs 50 mins but had to make three circuits before I landed safely. On the first two attempted landings I was too close to the river bank and had to go round again. When I eventually landed I discovered that my instructor had hid himself in the flight hut as he didn’t think I was going to get down safely. In the innocence of youth, I was quite unperturbed. I had simply flown as I had been instructed.’[x]

Len Morgan saw one solo pilot stall from about thirty feet. ‘The fuselage bent in the middle, the wings sagged, the gear crumpled. Out of the cloud of dust the [aircraft] staggered on flat tires, wires trailing under the broken tail, smashed prop beating the ground. The student taxied to the line, swung around and parked neatly between two intact trainers, stiff upper lip to the end. He became a navigator.’[3][xi]

 ‘At some EFTSs custom called for the students who had soloed to be tossed into a water tank – or the shower, depending on the season.’[3][xii]

From the Aircrew Despatch Centre, a holding unit at Heaton Park near Manchester, Roy was sent to join the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) in Canada. The BCATP had originally been expected to operate until March 1943, but the war had run on past this date.[3][xiii]

Roy Ships Out

Roy was first sent to Greenock, Scotland where he boarded the SS Ile de France. The Ile de France, a famous French ocean liner, had been seized by the British in 1941 and was one of the largest ships employed in the Atlantic. They joined their convoy down the Clyde and sailed for New York, a journey probably lasting about a week.[xiv]

Figure 3 Ile de France[xv], famed in peacetime (left) for her art deco interior; and in her wartime livery (right[xvi])

James Kyle also crossed from the Clyde. ‘The indefinite wait aboard ship at Greenock Docks on the Clyde, with a full and overcrowded complement of men while the large convoy assembled nearby, had been frustrating… Then one night in late October, quite unexpectedly, she sailed. Goodbye Britain for a while, we thought… Before dawn the next morning the convoy had sailed into the teeth of a terrific howling storm off the northern coast of Ireland… The U-boats made their presence felt after some two days at sea… We watched the destroyers and other escort vessels chasing the submarines around the ocean.’[2][xvii]

All cadets arriving in North America were sent to the Personnel Depot at Moncton, New Brunswick, before being posted to flying schools. Roy duly boarded his train north to his first base in Canada.

Figure 4 New York, USA and Moncton, Neepawa, Oshawa and Centralia in Canada (Google Earth)

‘I remained in Canada for a week at a newly constructed but wet and cold camp called Moncton, New Brunswick.’, remembers Kyle, ‘It was so muddy that everyone was issued with Wellington boots… We were sorted into batches of fifty…[and] so we boarded our specially prepared Pullman trains, taking us to our very different destinations… The journey took us through miles and miles of vast stretches of barren country, where nothing penetrated the horizon.’[2][xviii]

‘The massive camp on the northwestern edge of Moncton would provide temporary housing for eight thousand aircrew at one time… Spending a few weeks in what was perceived as almost a wilderness environment, many of the British cadets were suffering from what later generations would refer to as “culture shock”. Everything was different!’[xix]

‘After the shortages of blacked-out Britain, RAF students found Canada a glittering haven of plenty… Ernie Allen, a Londoner, still remembers the steak and banana split he relished on his arrival at Moncton. “This was real living,” he says, “after two years of rationing in Britain.”’[3][xx]

‘It was soda fountains and malted milks and Big Band time on the juke box. Glenn Miller vied with Artie Shaw, Bing Crosby with Frank Sinatra.’[3][xxi]

 ‘While we were having a large breakfast the records changed, and the new tune of the decade was heard throbbing noisily every now and again. The “Chattanooga Choo Choo” was begging its pardon.’[2][xxii]

Roy would have been training in Canada when news was received that Glenn Miller had been lost over the English Channel. He had been flying in a Norseman, a type of aircraft used for training in the BCATP.

Kyle was a novelty in North America, both for his accent and his appearance: ‘Boarding a bus in Houston I was astonished when someone offered me their fare. In my blue uniform with a [cadet’s] white flash on the side cap I had been mistaken for the conductor.’[2][xxiii]

EFTS – Elementary Flying Training School

According to his note [1] Roy took the train to his assigned EFTS Elementary Flying Training School. This may have been No. 20 EFTS at Oshawa, a journey of a thousand miles, or No. 35/26 at Neepawa, over 2000 miles from Moncton.[xxiv]

An EFTS was typically ten weeks in duration and was designed to get the “sprog” pilot to fly solo (which Roy had already done) and to build on that perhaps 50 flying hours on a basic trainer.[xxv] This trainer was the Tiger Moth, the same type of aircraft he had flown at Sywell.

Heavy flying suits and cockpit canopies were essential for flying during Canadian winters. ‘Most student pilots lost little time in struggling into their newly issued flying gear: leather helmet and goggles straight out of Hell’s Angels, a two-piece flying suit complete with fur collar…fleece lined boots, hefty gauntlet gloves.’[3][xxvi]

 ‘The Tiger Moths…, their wings spanning slightly less than thirty feet; [were] neat little biplanes with fixed landing gear and two cockpits enclosed by a sliding canopy to provide the occupants with a measure of protection from the elements. These diminutive trainers cruised at rather less than a hundred miles an hour and had a maximum speed of a little – very little – more. Painted bright yellow, as a warning to other traffic in the air and on the ground and to assist in locating the aircraft in the event of a forced landing, they were inevitably known as “Yellow Perils”.’[3][xxvii]

Figure 5 Neepawa today[xxviii](left) and Oshawa (right, Google Earth)

The traditional, triangular runway layout seen above, gave pilots six options to take-off and land into wind.

Kyle recalls ‘here a story about another student… being asked by his instructor… if he would like to attempt a slow roll of the aircraft. On hearing his remark the student reacted immediately, quickly put the aircraft on its back into a beautiful roll, whereupon the instructor fell out. The student had flown previously of which the instructor was unaware; and being unprepared he was not strapped in. Fortunately his parachute was on and he landed safely.’[2][xxix]

‘Students developed their own tests of aeronautical maturity. At No. 20 EFTS, Oshawa, Ontario, two prominent trees stood near the field, little more than a Tiger Moth’s wing span apart. No student could call himself a real pilot until he had flown between them. At No. 13 EFTS, St. Eugene, Jeff Mellon recalls that the initiation into the ranks of the stars was to do circuits and bumps on the nearby Montreal-to-Ottawa highway in the early-morning hours when no traffic was in the immediate vicinity.’[3][xxx]

Figure 6 Photograph of No. 20 EFTS with a Mosquito ‘beating up’ the airfield at Oshawa, Ontario[xxxi]

At the end of EFTS pilots might have sixty or seventy hours in their logbook.[xxxii] However, ‘one student pilot in four could be expected to fail EFTS.’[3][xxxiii]

Most of the EFTSs had closed by the end of 1944, only two remained open to the end of the war.[3][xxxiv]

SFTS – Service Flying Training School

On successfully completing EFTS, pilots went for advanced training at Service Flying Training Schools. ‘Now it was time for you to move onto the serious side of flying, with navigational and bombing exercises, night-flying and formation flying.’[3][xxxv]

Pilots u/t (under training) flew Harvards, an advanced single-engined trainer, and Ansons, a multi-engine trainer, on a twenty-week course.

Figure 7 North American Harvard (left) and at Centralia (right[xxxvi])

To new arrivals to SFTS the Harvard was ‘a huge, all-metal creation with a tremendous 600 horsepower Pratt and Whitney nine-cylinder radial glistening darkly under an enormous cowl… There was a feeling of brute strength about it.’[3][xxxvii] Unlike the Tiger Moth, the student pilot took the front seat in this aircraft and had to deal with higher speeds, more power and remembering to lower the retractable undercarriage before landing.

Pilots destined to fly larger aircraft such as bombers or patrol aircraft, require training in two-engined aircraft. Roy went to No.9 SFTS Service Flying Training School at Centralia, Ontario and flew the Avro Anson Mk II.[xxxviii]

Figure 8 Avro “Annie” Anson[xxxix]

 ‘Most of the twin-engined trainers used in the BCATP were British-designed Ansons, roomy and good-natured, but still a big step up for pilots accustomed to the narrow confines and basic instruments of a Moth… Ted Johnston took advanced flying training on Ansons at No. 9 SFTS… He recalls his first flight there, a familiarisation trip: “The instructor took all his students up at once… We were shown how the Mark II Anson stalled… it flipped over on its back and went into an inverted dive. It took nearly three thousand feet to regain control. All of us were suitably impressed. We had a lot of respect for and not a little apprehension about our new aeroplane”’[3][xl]

‘In the winter, Centralia’s location on the shore of Lake Huron, in the “snow belt”, added to everyone’s difficulties.’[3][xli] Ted Johnston remembers a flight in worsening conditions. ‘I started back to Centralia. After about ten minutes, the snow really started. I didn’t want to fly completely on instruments, so I picked a good railway track going in my direction and flew lower and lower to keep it in sight. I figured I’d soon be through, and then I could get back on course. Intent on keeping the track in view, I suddenly jolted when I saw trees higher than me out the side window! I had pulled the classic mistake and had forgotten about the rising topography near Belfountain, my location. It was still snowing, so, with my heart pounding, I went on instruments and climbed out of there…

The rule at Centralia was, when lost, to fly west until you reached the shore of Lake Huron. If it ran north and south, you were to turn south until the shoreline curved west, then turn inland, look for the emergency field at Grand Bend, and then head home from there…

Everyone else had turned back, and when I reported to the navigation section, I got hell. Was I trying to kill myself? Wreck the aeroplane? What did I learn about navigation on a flight like that?

But back in the flight room, the flight commander made it all worthwhile. “I’m sure glad I have one trainee who isn’t a fair weather pilot,” he said. I was nineteen and who has any sense of fear at that age? Just luck!’[3][xlii]

Night flights transported aircrew, such as Len Dunn, into a different world, and ‘What a world! The black mass below, with its flickering lights, seemed to have no part in my life. What a sight! A full red moon dripped off my wing tip, constellations reached into infinity… After that venture into eternity, life was never quite the same again.’[3][xliii]

Figure 9 Hazards of night flying

However these new experiences were not without risk. ‘During night flying training two Anson… aircraft were performing “Circuits and Bumps” and were each being flown “solo”… The top aircraft was descending faster with the two aircraft coming together on final approach and landing as one unit. No one was injured and not even a propeller was broken. Two very lucky students.’[xliv]

Many of the stories passed on from these days seem lighthearted scrapes, but flying training remained a dangerous business. In the First World War training could claim a fatality for every 200 hours of flying and although by 1944/45 fatal accidents were less common, occurring approximately every 27,000 hours, incidents of all kinds were still prevalent. Those involving at least repairs occurred every 1062 flying hours in the powerful Harvard.[3][xlv]

‘For all student pilots, the high point of the entire training process was the wings parade, at which they would be presented with their cherished pilot’s badges… But before the great moment arrived, every student had to undergo his “wings test”, a demonstration of his prowess before a testing officer, often one sent from Trenton for the purpose.’[3][xlvi]

Figure 10 Ansons back a Wings Parade at No. 9 SFTS[xlvii]

James Kyle completed his training in Texas. ‘It was a great feeling to have passed the course… There was an excited silence as the wings award was made and the badge pinned to the chest. We marched off, resplendent in our blue winged uniforms, the culmination of our ambition and a proud moment for all of us.

I had reached my objective and was now a qualified pilot, having completed a total of 166 flying hours, dual and solo, on three different types of aircraft. With the rank of sergeant I was on the massive pay of 13s 6d per day, a fortune for me.’[2][xlviii]

Figure 11 Centralia: No. 9, the band and the Final Graduation Dinner[xlix]

Figure 12 Final graduation dinner, 27th March 1945[l]

On the above course listing you can find LAC. Church, C.R.W. on Course 122. This was the final graduation dinner of the school with Roy on the final course. The base was operational until 30th March 1945, only a couple days later. Throughout the Commonwealth many of the training schools that had produced so many aircrew closed on, or about the same day.

Leading Aircraftman Church graduated at his Wings Parade, aged 22, to become Sergeant Pilot Church. He was one of 131,553 aircrew graduates from the BCATP, of which 49,808 were pilots and of these 17,796 were RAF or Fleet Air Arm pilots.[3][li]

Counting back, if Roy had been 30 weeks in Canada this would have put him there over the winter from at least August 1944 to early April 1945.

Roy of the RAF

‘In February 1945… the war in Europe had clearly entered its final days. Everyone expected to be discharged right after graduation.’[3][lii]

Roy was repatriated to the UK and after a holiday in Wrexham went on to fly Bristol Beaufighters and de Havilland Mosquitoes. This would probably have been at an OTU Operational Training Unit, before joining his squadron.

Figure 13 Bristol Beaufighter

Roy was posted to RAF Tangmere, near Chichester, and RAF Ford, near Arundel, both in West Sussex.

Figure 14 de Havilland Mosquito

Although VE Day (Victory in Europe) came on 8th May 1945 it should be remembered that it looked like the war against Japan would run for another year or more. In the event the Second World War was officially brought to an end  four months later on 2nd September 1945.


[1] A handwritten record by Roy of his training (2010), comparing it to that of James K:

Figure 15 Handwritten record of training by Roy

The left hand column is probably in reference to James Kyle, author of ‘Typhoon Tale’

[2] Kyle, James, ‘Typhoon Tale’, Alan Sutton Publishing, Stroud, 1989

 [3] Dunmore, Spencer, ‘Wings for Victory, The Remarkable Story of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Canada’, McClelland & Stewart Inc., Toronto, 1994, ISBN 0-7710-2927-6


Macte nova virtute puer: sic itur ad astra

Virgil, ‘Aeneid’, book IX, line 641, 29-19BC

[i] Guinn, Gilbert, ‘The Arnold Scheme’, Spellmount, Stroud, 2007, ISBN 978.1.86227.446.4, p.196

[ii] Kyle p.35

[iii] George Orwell, 1944 ‘Why should people who are used to paying sixpence for a bottle of wine visit a country where a pint of beer costs a shilling?’

[iv] Various experiences are recorded in the BBC archive, including some similar training experiences by Geoff Wright

[v] Kyle p.37

[vi] Kyle p.51

[vii]‘Brooklands Aviation won a War Department contract for pilot training for the Royal Air Force and opened No. 6 Elementary Flying Training School at Sywell on 10 June 1935, training pilots with a fleet of 20 de Havilland Tiger Moths, and in 1937 the RAF Volunteer Reserve School was set up at Sywell with a further 16 training aircraft.’

Some pictures of Sywell can be found here

[viii] Dunmore p.106

[ix] Kyle p.52

[x] Wright 

[xi] Dunmore p.109

[xii] Dunmore p.111

[xiii] Dunmore p.43, The original BCATP budget  was calculated to last until 31st March 1943

[xiv] These are sailings for the SS ILE DE FRANCE:

6 Mar 1944 – Greenock, Scotland to New York
3 Apr 1944 – Greenock, Scotland to New York
18 May 1944 – Greenock, Scotland to New York
7 Sep 1944 – Avonmouth, England to New York
26 Nov 1944 – Halifax, Nova Scotia to New York
30 Jan 1945 – Greenock, Scotland to New York
26 Apr 1945 – Greenock, Scotland to New York
22 May 1945 – Greenock, Scotland to New York

The May 1944 sailing is a strong possibility for Roy’s crossing.

[xv] Seized by the British after the fall of France, the SS Ile de France was returned to New York in 1941 and made several crossings from the northeast as a troop ship


[xvii] Kyle pp.41-43

[xviii] Kyle pp.44-45

[xix] Guinn pp.198-200

[xx] Dunmore pp.215-216

[xxi] Dunmore p.84, quoting Bill Martin

[xxii] Kyle p.47

[xxiii] Kyle pp.59-60

[xxiv] It seems possible that Roy trained with one or more Training Commands in Canada, as No. 20 EFTS does not match with Neepawa. It may be that having already flown solo in the UK, Roy was fast tracked through EFTS; or it could have been the closing of EFTSs in 1944 that resulted in him being reposted. Neepawa closed in August 1944. Of the two Oshawa seems the more likely as it was open until December 1944 and because it was part of No. 1 Training Command, as was his SFTS.


No. 20 EFTS Oshawa, Ontario, 21 June 1941 to 15 December 1944, part of No. 1 Training Command (Relief Landing Field located at Whitby, near Camp X.), flying Tiger Moths

No. 35 EFTS Neepawa, Manitoba, 30 March 1942 to 30 January 1944, part of No. 2 Training Command (‘The aerodrome at Neepawa was originally opened by the Royal Air Force when No.35 EFTS, originally founded in Moncton, re-located to Neepawa on 30 May 1942’), flying Tiger Moths

Note No. 26 EFTS – formerly 35 EFTS – part of No. 2 Training Command, was based at Neepawa, Manitoba, 30 January 1944 to 25 August 1944, flying Tiger Moths


No. 9 SFTS Summerside, PEI, 6th January 1941 to 5th July 1942, No. 3 Training Command

Moved to Centralia, Ontario in July 1942 becoming part of No. 1 Training Command

No. 9 SFTS Centralia, ON, July 1942 to 30 March 1945 (No.1 Relief Landing Field located at Grand Bend. No. 2 Relief Landing Field located at St. Joseph), flying Harvards and Ansons. This location is now Huron Industrial Park.

Most information from Dunmore, Appendix A : BCATP Organisation, additional information (in brackets)


[xxvi] Dunmore p.85

[xxvii] Dunmore pp.89-90


[xxix] Kyle p.53

[xxx] Dunmore p.112

[xxxi] Friends of Durham Military Heritage

[xxxii] Dunmore p.122

[xxxiii] Dunmore p.100

[xxxiv] Dunmore p.342

[xxxv] Dunmore p.130

[xxxvi] With thanks to Wally Peter Fydenchuk

[xxxvii] Dunmore p.123 quoting Len Morgan

[xxxviii] In his note [1], Roy writes “Ansons-Harvard” which may have meant he had some flying time on the single engine type. However he was a multi-engine pilot. From correspondence: “Roy trained on the Mk. II Avro Anson at Centralia”, Wally Peter Fydenchuk.


[xl] Dunmore p.124 ‘Not until later did Johnston and his fellow students learn that their Anson, due to a fault in trim, had behaved with a violence uncharacteristic of the type.’

[xli] Dunmore p.154

[xlii] Dunmore pp.154-155 quoting Ted Johnston on a winter’s cross country flight from Centralia out toward Toronto and back. Original emphasis

[xliii] Dunmore p.144 quoting Len Dunn on his first solo night flight

[xliv] Incident at No. 18 STFS 1944/45

[xlv] Dunmore WWI p.22 ‘In 1917, the RFC in Canada experienced one fatality for every two hundred hours of training’, WWII Appendix C

[xlvi] Dunmore p.159


[xlviii] Kyle p.72

[xlix] There is information and a number of photographs of Centralia at

W. P. Fydenchuk is author of ‘Before the Battle – Life on a RCAF Station During World War II’, the story of RCAF Centralia


Roy’s name is also listed for Centralia by W. P. Fydenchuk

[li] Dunmore, Appendix B

[lii] Dunmore p.163

Written in 2012