June 1st, 2017
Imagine for a moment. It’s 1939. A momentous agreement,
known as the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, is signed between the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and Canada to rapidly increase the Allies’ air combat resources. Canada is chosen as “The Plan’s” primary site because of its ample supplies of fuel and industrial facilities, its wide-open spaces and the unlikelihood of an enemy attack.
During its five-year execution, the Plan exceeds all expectations with the training of more than 130,000 aircrew and some 44,000 ground crew including 17,000 women. Of all the newly trained pilots, half are Canadian.
It’s a life-altering event for 231 training sites, across Canada, which are invaded with the constant drone of aircraft, and menand women from all over the country and the commonwealth.They all come together, bound under one purpose…to win the war in the skies.
They said goodbye, and went away to fly.
Sir Winston Churchill would later refer to the Plan as Canada’s greatest contribution to the Allies’ victory.
And now the year is 2017. We have come together to create a monument to honour the 10,000 men and woman who trained here at this airport that has a new name, ‘The Victoria International Airport’ but is linked forever to a military past. Five years ago the last remaining building from that heroic ‘Air Training Mission to win the war was about to be demolished. It was a two story brick building that contained classrooms, recreation rooms, a mess, steep staircases, mahogany hand rails, and an impressive entrance.
Some sensitive people could imagine the sound of voices. Voices and accents, serious and laughing, in moments of learning or in moments of relaxation and frivolity, from all over the British Commonwealth.
Many of these brave souls would perish in the war and some during training. People from the Airport Authority, from the Heritage Commission of North Saanich, from the Aviation Museum and others formed a ‘Working Group’ to reach a satisfactory decision concerning ‘heritage values, conservation, purpose and a legacy for tomorrow.’
At first the ‘Working Group’ attempted to save the building and to repurpose it. The restored and repurposed building would become an historical monument for educational purposes. When the cost estimates demonstrated that a restoration would be impossible financially, the ‘Working Group’ decided that memorial aspects of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan could still be attained beautifully and appropriately by saving a quantity of bricks from the building to incorporate them into a lasting monument, The Lost Airmen Of The Empire memorial monument.
I want to extend my thanks to Mr. Geoff Dickson, and to Air Port Authority, for financing this most magnificent monument, and to extend appreciation for the dedication of the members of the ‘Working Group’ and to all those who helped along the way to completion.
My father, Wing Commander George Walter du Temple, the first commanding officer of this Air Station wrote this into his diary:
“On this day, the 26th of October 1939 the RCAF flag was hoisted over the Patricia Bay Air Station for the first time and a suitable ceremony and parade was conducted to commemorate this occasion.”
My father would be proud of all of you on this day because of the opening of this memorial monument that honours the brave actions of the finest men and woman of the past, from all countries of the British Commonwealth.
‘The Lost Airmen of The Empire Monument’ teaches an historical message that will inform future generations. Until the steel feathers rust away, or the sun ceases to rise, or some tragic eclipse, the names of each veteran cut through the feathers will whisper in the wind, each differently according to the family monikers, as breezes and light move through.
Soon let us sit, stand, look and listen in silence, shattered only by Sea Kings, Nanchangs, Buffalo, Canso and Auroro aircraft. Soon this will be a place for challenged meditation.
Finally, I give thanks to our architect, Mr. Illarion Gallant, for his creation of this monument. The “Lost Airmen of the Empire” acknowledges the contributions and sacrifices these men and women made in the service of their country. Twenty-five, 12-foot high, Corten Steel, Cooper’s Hawk Feathers stand erect in formation on the ridge of Hospital Hill. Symbolically, the Cooper’s Hawk feathers relate to the spirit of these fighting men and women who were training to be our nation’s airborne service. This is about lofty ideas and the romantic desire to fly. The erratic placement of the feathers within the formation highlights the random crash sites contrasting the ordered precision of military life.