Gerry Bell Collection

Item set


Gerry Bell Collection


Gerald "Gerry" W. A. Bell

b. February 17 1909 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
d. January 17 1989, Trenton, Ontario, Canada.

Gerry as he was known to his friends was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario. The son of a foreman at National Steele Car Ltd, he was a superb athlete who was studying medicine at Western University. While at home one afternoon “this old biplane came whooshing over and landed in a nearby field.” And from that point on, his interest in flying began. Gerry quickly scrapped up $10 and bought two flights at the Hamilton Aero Club. It was 1929 and Gerry decided to leave university to become a pilot. By December of that year he had accomplished his goal with both a private and commercial pilot license. As a result, Gerry Bell had become Canada's first black pilot. Gerry also obtained his A and B Air Engineers Certificate.

In January 1932 he decided to sign up with the Royal Canadian Air Force. In the midst of the Depression, the R.C.A.F had to scale back on officers and personnel. Gerry was discharged and returned to barnstorming and bush flying.

Since flying had to take a backseat Gerry focused on his athletic training and coaching. Gerry was regarded as one of Canada's top amateur boxers and track athlete, fighting in the preliminaries at major events in the Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit circuit and attained a record of 63 fights and only four losses before an eye injury cancelled his chances in a light weight career. On the track he ran the 100 and 200 yard sprints, competing against the likes of Jessie Owens, Gerry became one of the chief trainers for Canada’s 1936 Olympic track team.

Returning to Canada Gerry was once again in the Air Force with 19th Bomber Reserve Squadron here in Hamilton, flying Tiger Moths and instructing technicians in air frame and aero-engines.

At the outbreak of World War Two, the Squadron became active and Gerry was reassigned to Flying Training Schools in St. Catharines and later Mount Hope. During the years of 1943 to 1946 Gerry was active with the 6th Canadian Bomber group in England. By war’s end Gerry returned to Canada and did some short stints in the Northwest Territories with No. 12 Comm Flight and No. 13 Photo Squadrons.

In 1947, Gerry joined the 424 City of Hamilton Squadron Reserve, and later returned to the regular force in 1951. Over the next 10 years Gerry served overseas again in Germany, Asia and various other countries. In 1961 Gerry retired from the R.C.A.F. at the age of 52.

Gerry continued to fly through bush flying and instructing until 1966. At this time he became a quality control inspector for de Havilland and SPAR Aerospace. Retiring for a second time in 1974 Gerry ended a 45 year career in Canadian aviation, 28 of those with the R.C.A.F.

In retirement Gerry kept himself in peak physical shape and remained involved with various air force associations and was even an avid supporter of the CWH Lancaster Restoration. He was a person who didn’t consider himself historically significant, he was simply a man who loved to fly.

Gerry passed away of Lou Gehrig’s disease on January 17th, 1989 only a few short months before the CWH Lancaster flew again.

View the photographs, objects and archival documents to learn more of the inspiring story of Gerry Bell, R.C.A.F.




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