Documentary of Early Days of R.C.A.F. - G. W. Bell
Having checked for records of early Air Force experience, found that none were available at this time.
I was first accepted into the RCAF as an Airman Pilot along with four other civilian pilots. However, our duration was short. This was January 1932 and due to the Depression, the Force was reduced by 100 men including myself, about 80 Officers and over 100 civilians in March 1932.
1936 I signed up with 19 Bomber NPF Squadron, Hamilton, as ground crew. Taking Airframe and Aero Engine, was made instructor due to my civil Air Engineers Certificate. Due to having flying licences, I was told about Commission. In peace time an Officer had to have a considerable amount of wealth as nearly everything came out of their own pockets. In other words, paid for Commission. Most of them were of the wealthy type, however, I was permitted to fly often as pilot and took a casual instructors course. Instructors coming from Camp Borden on training aircraft received Wings.
When war started, I was temporarily assigned to civil flying schools in St. Catharines, and Mt Hope flying Fleets and later Tiger Moths.
Due to having two air infractions over several months, I was then sent on a link course and instructed on them at various stations, - a boring job.
I was sent overseas March 1943 to 6 Canadian Bomber Group. On return to Canada, I was with 12 Comm Flight and then transferred to 13 Photo Squadron operating in the N. W. T., Yukon and part of the Artic. (Arctic)
Left Air FOrce in latter part of 1946 and joined 424 Squadron Hamilton reserve then 1947 - 1961 Regular Force, travelling to Germany, Asia and other countries. I remained in Service until I retired July 1961 at the age of 52, a real good life, and a great experience.
A LITTLE DOCUMENTARY OF CIVILIAN LIFE - G. W. BELL
I attended Western University for 2 ½ years studying medicine 1928 to 1930. Gave up studies to take up civil aviation.
Served one season as a Special Constable on Six Nations Indian Reserve in Brantford. For R.C.M.P.
Started to take flying in 1928. Received private and commercial licence, late 1929, and was told that I was the first coloured pilot. I did Barnstorming and instruction. Also held an A & B Air Engineers Certificate.
Due to boxing in my earlier days, started as a mascot at 10 years old in Stockley Gym, and did a considerable amount of amateur boxing, also coaching the same, decided to turn semi-pro. Apart from boxing I took part in most sports and coached same. Due to eye injury, gave up semi pro boxing. At that time I was a lightweight.
I was sent over to Berlin Germany as one of the trainees for 1936 Olympics. On return continued flying and activities with 19 Bomber Reserve Sqdn. and instructing at flying club, and bush flying & Hamilton Aero Club.
Clipping from The Intelligencer, Friday, January 20, 1989.
Funeral today for Canada’s first black pilot
TRENTON - Funeral was held today for Gerry Bell, 79, who was the first black Canadian to get a pilot’s licence.
He died Tuesday in Trenton of Lou Gehrig’s disease - amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - a degenerative nerve disorder.
In an interview with The Intelligencer three years ago, Mr. Bell said his earliest ambition was to be a doctor but he discovered his love for flying after seeing an early biplane which landed near his home.
He said times were tough in the 1920s but he managed to save enough money to take his first flying lessons and he eventually became a pilot in 1929.
Mr. Bell said he never realized he was the first black pilot in Canada until the paper, the Hamilton Spectator, published an article on him.
He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1933 and served until 1961 when he retired as a warrant officer.
Mr. Bell then worked in Canadian aviation for another 13 years before retiring in Trenton in 1974.
Mr. Bell is survived by a brother, Earl of RR 1 Victoria Harbour and a sister Marvel Edmonds of Midland.
Burial was at St. George’s Cemetery in Trenton with Rev. Michael Read officiating.
Clipping from the Toronto Star, Friday, January 20, 1989.
Gerry Bell, Canada’s 1st black pilot
Gerry Bell was the first black Canadian to earn a pilot’s licence.
He died Tuesday at age 79 in Trenton of Lou Gehrig’s disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative nerve disorder. Mr. Bell was born in Hamilton, the son of a foreman for National Steel Car Ltd.
While his earliest ambition was to be a doctor, he was bitten by the flying bug when “this old biplane came whooshing over (the family home) and landed in a nearby field,” he once said.
Although times were tough, in the 1920s he scraped up $10 for two flights with Len Tripp, another figure in Canadian aviation.
Soon afterward, he signed up for flying lessons at Hamilton’s Mount Hope Airport and in 1929, received his private and commercial pilot ratings.
LONG CAREER: Gerry Bell spent 28 years in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
In an interview with The Star three years ago, Mr. Bell said he didn’t realize he was making history by taking to the air until the Hamilton Spectator published articles calling him “the brown birdman” and “Canada’s only Negro aviator.”
He had lived in Trenton since retiring in 1974 after 45 years in Canadian aviation - 28 of them with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
He joined the air force in 1933 as an airman and served on several aircraft before retiring as a warrant officer in 1961.
After leaving the forces, he began a second career as a quality control inspector, first at de Havilland Aircraft in Downsview and later at Spar Aerospace.
A funeral was to be held today in Trenton.
Name that Plane
The identification of this pictures seems to have been a combined operation in 10 Hgr, Alex Fox, WO Hinds and Bob Edwards all agreed that the plane was an FC2 Fairchild and the pilot was Jerry Bell. Maj Ron MacDonalds and Moe Fortin came up with the same answer. One other caller was right about Mr Bell, but guessed wrong on the plane.
Mr Jerry Bell has been a familiar sight around Trenton Air Base. A former pilot with the RCAF before and during WWII, Mr Bell, a commercial pilot has been doing quite a bit of flying lately for the RCMP. We hope that one of these days he’ll write us a story about his adventures.
The FC2 Fairchild introduced in 1926, commonly called the “Razorback”, was one of the first cabin aircraft to operate successfully in Canada. Instead of producing a completely new aircraft each season, the Fairchild Company followed a clever system of gradual improvement of their types, so that old parts could be exchanged for new ones, thus no aircraft, however old, ever became “orphans”. Power: 220 hp Wright “Whirlwind” engine.
Speed (max): 118 mph.
Clipping from the Toronto Star 1985.
Canada’s first black airman is still in love with airplanes
By Stan Josey Toronto Star
TRENTON - When Gerry Bell became the first black Canadian to earn a pilot's licence in 1929, he didn’t think it was a big deal.
He didn’t even realize he was making history until the newspaper in his native Hamilton referred to him as “the brown birdman” and “Canada’s only negro aviator.”
Bell, 76, now lives in retirement in Trenton, chosen because it is the site of Canada’s biggest and busiest military airport and home to many flyers who became friends during his 28 years in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
And with a 45-year career in both military and civilian aviation behind him, Bell delights Trenton residents with tales of his career and tells Canadian Forces pilots that “flying ain’t what it used to be.”
“The pilots don’t fly the planes any more, the planes fly the pilots,” says Bell, who earned his first set of wings in a twin-wing Tiger Moth biplane at Hamilton’s Mount Hope Airport in 1929.
During his military career, Bell served on bases across Canada in peacetime and during World War II trained bomber pilots in England for four years. When he retired from the military in 1961 at age 52, he held the rank of warrant officer.
His small, comfortable apartment in a Victorian house in downtown Trenton is crowded with souvenirs of those days, air force flags and crests, and photographs of Bell bside various planes he has flown or in which he has flown.
But the place of honor, over his dining table, is reserved for a large photograph of a Lancaster bomber, the workhorse of World War II and one of Bell’s favorite planes.
(INSET) Gerry Bell: Trained pilots in England for four years and retired from military in 1961.
The Lancaster “could carry 10 tons of bombs and could fire 1,200 rounds per minute from her turret-mounted machine guns,” Bell says. Two of those menacing, six-inch, .5-calibre machine gun bullets stand on a nearby bookshelf.
Bell, who wears the official shirt of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Foundation, is helping with the restoration of a Lancaster at the Hamilton airport and expects it will be airworthy by this summer.
While Bell is pleased with today’s military aircraft, which are bigger and faster than those he flew, he’s not so happy with other aspects of modern military life.
“There are too many promotions too quick and not enough discipline in the ranks,” he says. Bell is concerned, too, about the sophisticated equipment of some of the modern flying machines. “I look inside one of those new F-18 fighter planes and the pilot was hard pressed to show me a flying gauge - they’re all video displays now.” With all that equipment, “over your head and under your seat . . . there is hardly room to move.”
After Bell left the military in 1961, he began a second career as a quality control inspector for the military, first at de Havilland Aircraft in Downsview and later at Spar Aerospace. He retired for the second time in 1974 at age 65.
His active life has been slightly curtailed recently “by a bum leg.”
The last time he was at the controls of an aircraft was three years ago - on a Royal Canadian Mounted Police plane flying out of Ottawa.
“I was in the co-pilot’s seat and it was a lot of fun,” he recalls.
THe son of a foreman for National Steel Car Co. in Hamilton, his earliest ambition was to be a doctor. But he got hooked on flying when “this old biplane came whooshing over (the family home) and landed in a nearby field.”
Times were tough in those days but Bell scraped up $10 for two flights with Len Tripp, another legendary figure in Canadian aviation history.
A short time later, Bell signed up for flying lessons at Mount Hope Airport and in 1929 received his private and commercial pilot ratings. But planes were scarce in the ‘30s and flying was expensive. Bell knew his best chance would be with the fledgling Royal Canadian Air Force. In 1933, he joined the 19th Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron, based in Hamilton, as an airman.
Famous bomber: Gerry Bell, the first black Canadian to earn a pilot's licence, holds a model of the famed Lancaster bomber, the workhorse of World War II and one of Bell's favorite planes. Bell is helping with the restoration of a Lancaster and expects it to be airworthy by this summer.
STILL FLYING - A former RCAF pilot, Jerry Bell of Trenton who arrived at Trenton’s airfield in 1939 views the last Anson from World War II still flying, and so is Jerry. Mr. Bell has continued his aviation career, flying for the RCMP. - Staff Photo.
Clipping from The Trentonian, Tuesday, September 8, 1981. 7A
Aviator Jerry Bell Remembers
Base bustled during pre-war years
By Ronald Gibson
A veteran pilot and athlete, Jerry Bell, of 114 King Street, Trenton reminisces of the early years of aviation at the Trenton Air Station.
Mr. Bell began flying in 1929 and has continued to fly even after his retirement. The pilot, now 72, appears very fit for his age. He is able to fly and is called on to fly frequently by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
He is preparing his own twin engine amphibian aircraft for flying in the Trenton area some time in the near future, when modifications are made to his craft. The outstanding resident has a lengthy number of flying and athletic achievements.
A former boxer, he won a number of fights during his career with a record of 63 fights and only four losses. He won boxing events in Buffalo, Cleveland, and the Detroit circuit. His boxing career ended with a serious eye injury in 1934. The injury concluded perhaps a very promising light-weight career.
However, he has not only been involved in sports and flying but studied medicine for about two years, at the University of Western, Ontario.
While at university he developed his interest in flying and received his private and commercial pilot’s licence in 1929.
He recalled the early years at RCAF Station, Trenton with — thousands of people coming through Trenton during the British Commonwealth Training Program.
“Trenton was a number one station.”
He said there is no doubt that the air station is the spiritual home of the RCAF.
When he came here, there were no runways just a field. He recalled 2,500 to 3,000 airmen coming here for training as pilots, air gunners, bombers and navigators. There were also air crewmen trained at Trenton.
They came from New Zealand, Australia, Southern Rhodesia, along with a few Americans. However, the Americans were not in the war at the time. He said quite a few Norwegians were here. Most of the instructors were brought in from England, within the Royal Air Force.
“We had a few actual fighter aircraft when we went into the war,” he said. “We had the training aircraft such as the Wapiti, Tiger Moths, Ansons, and Norsemen.”
It was a very significant base for training during the war. Many of the distinguished combat pilots were trained here at Trenton prior to going overseas in World War II. The station here was strictly for airmen. The security at the base was enforced tightly during that period with discipline a key factor. Trenton was chosen as one of the areas for the Commonwealth Training Program, because of its location. The schedule each day would involve the squadron reporting to the parade square. Everyone would then march on to work following the flag raising.
(Inset) Jerry Bell, as a flyer in 1931 at RCAF Station Trenton.
Aircraft was flying in and out of the base 24 hours a day with training held throughout the Trenton area constantly with bombing and gunnery exercises over Consecon Lake and Presqu’ile. “It was not uncommon to see the yellow peril (Harvards) flying above Trenton. There was both day and night flying going on, he recalls.
The Air Armament Flight School was located at Trenton, as well the service people from these different places and countries such as New Zealand and Southern Rhodesia were overwhelmed with the hospitality of the local people.
In fact the erection of the memorial gates at Trenton was a gesture from the governments of the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand to commemorate their partnership with Canada in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and the service of the airmen who helped bring victory to the allied cause in the Second World War. The gates were opened following the war on September 30, 1949.
So many things were happening at the air station all the time during the war period. Mr. Bell said following a stay here as an instructor he went overseas with the 6 Bomber Group in Yorkshire England. He had served with the 119 Bomber Squadron Hamilton which was activated when the war came. Although he had joined the RCAF in 1931 as an airman pilot, a major cut was made to the newly formed RCAF with 180 officers and airmen had to leave.
However as the war approached the former squadrons were reactivated once again with thousands of Canadians being recruited.
The prewar days at Trenton saw thousands of Canadians trained on many oder types such as Tiger Moths, Harvards, Anson, Hudson, Fleet, Fairey Battle, Yale and others.
THOUGH TOY-LIKE in looks, this simulated Link Trainer was no toy for the men who learned aviation during simulated flights. Here, Jerry Bell is pictured in the cockpit in 1940. He was an instructor at RCAF station Trenton prior to the outbreak of war.
The Trentonian clipping.
Vol. 28 - No. 40 Trenton, ONT., Monday, April 2, 1984
MUSEUM GRAND OPENING - - A special guest of honor, Sir David Evans, Chief Air Marshal, Royal Air Force (retired) cuts the ribbon to the new RCAF Library and Museum Sunday at CFB Trenton. He is assisted by Col. Garry (Sky) King, base commander, left; Jerry Bell, right, former flying officer. - staff photo.
At CFB Trenton
RCAF flag flies high
CFB TRENTON - - A special ceremony held in the South Side Recreation Centre, Sunday marked the 60th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Air Force, with a base parade, flag unveiling and ribbon cutting ceremony.
A new Air Command flag was unfurled during a special ceremony commemorating the anniversary by Col. Garry (Sky), base commander who presented the flag to Lt. Col. G. Edwardson. The ceremony marked the first air command flag since, the retirement of RCAF Ensign in 1968.
Col. King explained the importance of the flag in preserving our air tradition.
“We welcome the new Air Command flag which will be flown in front of the base headquarters building.”
The new Air Command flag is similar to the former RCAF Ensign, with a blue background, except the Canadian flag is in the right hand corner. The former RCAF flag had the Union Jack in the corner.
The new flag was turned over to the base color party. Col. King paid tribute to the airmen like a Trenton man, Jerry Bell, now 75 years-young, who without their dedication loyalty wouldn’t have been a Royal Canadian Air Force.
The RCAF Museum-Library opening added to the special occasion with Col. King, assisted by special guest of honor, Sir David Evans, Air Chief Marshal (RAF retired) taking part in the ceremony, along with Jerry Bell.
The special guests, dignitaries viewed the library-museum containing numerous artifacts depicting the complete era of the RCAF from pre-RCAF to the present day Canadian Armed Forces. The museum is not only of interest to people having served at CFB Trenton (RCAF Station) Trenton but to anyone served in the RCAF and Canadian Air Force.
The museum contains a variety of air related items and memorabilia covering this colorful span of air force history and nostalgia. He said much of the displays cover the early era of the RCAF. The museum could be expanded further with further work which will ultimately result in other stages of development for the museum.
“The aim of the RCAF Library-Museum is to preserve and pass on the heritage of the Royal Canadian Air Force to the younger generations of service personnel and Canadians. CFB Trenton is considered to be an ideal location for an RCAF Memorial since we are the accepted home of the RCAF and are centrally located.”
“The Museum-LIbrary will be dedicated to honor those who served before us and will contain memorabilia of a significant historical nature such as paintings, uniforms, decorations, battle honors and other items.”
The aims of the museum and library are to preserve RCAF artifacts and books, thereby ensuring the preservation of the RCAF heritage, to display RCAF heritage for everyone to enjoy, to establish rotating displays and to collect RCAF literature for the library. Also, it is to establish a display of significant historical RCAF Memorabilia for the 60th Anniversary of the RCAF.
The displays will be rotating from time to time, with special exhibits such as the ones provided by the National War Museum in Ottawa being provided, Capt. Earl Hewison explained.
Capt. Hewison, a coordinator for the exhibits, said the displays are a focal point for the birth of the RCAF. It covers from the Silver Dart in February 1909 - - displays of the Royal FLying Corps, the Canadian Air Force – to the special designation of “Royal” given by King George V on April 1 1924.
Gerald W. A. Bell's Canadian Owners and Pilot's Association (C.O.P.A.) card.
Jerry W. Bell
Commercial I.F.R. Pilot C.O.P.A.
114 King Street, Apt. 4, Trenton, Ontario K8V 3W3
Gerry Bell speaks to Grace AOTS Club
Grace United Church AOTS Men’s Club held their February meeting Monday, dinner being served by Unit three of the UCW. The president, Percy Green, welcomed guests and members and appointed Lorne Mysles as Sergeant-at-Arms. Arnold Cronkwright led the group in community singing, and business included reports of committees on visiting the sick, projects, publicity, youth work, and the coming pancake dinner, Feb. 22.
Dr. Robert Clark used verses from 1 John as a basis of his devotional remarks on Christ, the Light of the World. He stressed that Eternal Life is not just a mythical, far-off place, but is here and now, and, as it is real, we can be certain of its continuance in the future. According to John’s word, there were three points to consider: 1- The Source of Light Which is God, a present reality through Christ; 2- its Dimensions; i.e. God loved the world (all people), and whoever believes may have eternal life; and 3- its quality, which derives from God, with love, makes us bound to care for the needy anywhere in the world, and to share with them. This boils down to the Club’s motto- As One That Serves.
Frank Tabbert introduced the guest speaker, Gerry Bell, a graduate of Western University now living in Trenton, who spoke for a few minutes on his varied career, which involved athletics, running in the Olympics against Jesse Owens, boxing, both amateur and professional, flying, including bush piloting, instruction and training in sports, but chiefly in flying. His service with the Armed Forces (RCAF) included two years of service, interrupted by some flying for the RCMP. Then returning to the technical work of the service.
After his short talk, he presented by audio-television, two episodes of CAVALCADE, which was made to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the RCAF. The first episode consisted of pictures and descriptions of the early beginnings of Trenton’s air base (1931), and its growth following. The second section involved the evolution of training under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, from recruitment to training at LTS, and then to assignment in the various divisions of the flying forces.
The audience, because of their familiarity with the station, and the fact that many had lived while the events occurred, were delighted to see and hear this interesting review of the history of the station nand its personnel, which has meant so much to Trenton and Belleville. Allen Anthony thanked Mr. Bell, and Dr. Clark closed the meeting.
ANCHOR, JEEP AND WING (c. March 11 1953)
By John Envers
Sgt. Gerald W. A. Bell, 43, of 43 Frederick Avenue, is leaving for Germany this week with 413 (fighter) Wing’s No. 3 Squadron. (Several R.C.A.F. units are off to Zweibruecken and a number of their Hamilton and district members will be featured in this newspaper).
A son of Florence Bell and the late Ernest A. Bell, Sgt. Bell is an ex-member of 119 (bomber) Squadron. After joining the Air Force early in World War II, he became an instructor and in 1951 was transferred to his present unit at Bagotville, Quebec. He is a flight engineer on multi-engined aircraft.
The sergeant, who has just ended a leave at home, is a former Hamilton athlete and was one of the first Hamiltonians to enlist in the R.C.A.F. Reserve (1936). He learned to fly at the local Aero Club in 1929. Before the war he was employed at the Royal Connaught Hotel.
Photograph of a funeral procession of airmen lifting a Union flag draped casket down a flight of steps. Gerry Bell is first on the right as a pallbearer.
Hamilton, April 8. - "Flying doesn't come hard - if you're willing to do a lot of studying." Attended university as a medical student, athletic champion, total abstainer and Canada's only negro aviator. Hamilton's brown bird-man, whose hero is Joe Louis and whose model is Col. Charles A. Lindbergh, hopes that some day he will be winging his way over ---
WITH R.C.A.F. - Jerry Bell, former Hamilton athlete, was one of the first Hamiltonians to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. He enlisted with No. 119 Bomber Squadron in 1936. He learned to fly at the Hamilton Aero club in 1929 and received stripes soon after his enlistment. He was formerly employed by the Royal Connaught hotel and is now stationed at Fingal, where he is engaged with a special crew for testing bomber planes.
Photograph of Gerry Bell in his R.C.A.F. uniform and peaked cap.
Portrait photograph of Gerry Bell in his R.C.A.F. uniform.
Photograph of Gerry Bell in a uniform.
Colourised portrait of Gerry Bell in a suit and tie.
Smiling portrait photograph of Gerry Bell in a suit jacket with the Royal Canadian Air Force crest on his left breast pocket.
Photograph of Gerry Bell in his R.C.A.F. uniform and leather bomber jacket next to a Canadair Sabre Mk. 6 at R.C.A.F. Station, St. Hubert, Quebec, Canada.
St. Hubert Que
Sabre A/C MK 6 1175
Photograph of Gerry Bell in track and field clothing in front of a field tent. The R.C.A.F. crest can be seen on his shirt front.
Photograph of Gerry Bell on horseback in riding attire, holding a riding crop in his left hand. Another rider can be seen to Gerry's left.
Photograph of Gerry Bell at Six Nations Reserve, Brantford, Ontario
Six Nation Reserve