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.
Highlights of the Wildman Poster collection of authentic WWI & WWII informational, propaganda and recruitment posters, now on exhibit in the theatre at Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.
A collection of documents, objects and photographs relating to wartime production and manufacturing in Canada in the 1930's and 1940's. From aircraft manufacturing to armaments, this collection deals with goods produced and life in the factories on the home front during World War II.
A collection of items worn and used by RAF and RCAF pilots in the summer and fall of 1940 during the Battle of Britain.
A collection of documents, objects and photographs of Americans who enlisted in the RAF or RCAF during World War II.
American interest in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) was clear in 1940-1941 with the number of young recruits that came from the USA to join the RCAF. Although there were no restrictions on recruiting American citizens living in Canada the recruiting of American nationals in the USA to fight in foreign wars was a violation of the Neutrality Act.
Recruiting of Americans was achieved through the Clayton Knight Committee, a somewhat secret organization established by World War I fighter ace Air Marshal William Avery Bishop and his American friend Clayton Knight.
There were a number of opportunities for Americans with flying experience. If they wished to remain civilians they could work at elementary flying schools or as civilian staff pilots at training schools. If joining the air force they became flying instructors at service flying schools or staff pilots at bombing and gunnery schools. Those with airline experience were offered more lucrative positions with Royal Air Force Ferry Command (RAFFC) flying bombers across the Atlantic.
Under the auspices of the Dominion Aeronautical Association in 1941, American recruits continued to be sent to training schools as staff pilots as well as raw recruits for the RCAF, and as a recruiting agent for the RAF, sent overseas to fly with the Royal Air Force.
A collection of documents, objects and photographs from World War II of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
With the outbreak of World War II, the people of Hamilton came together at all levels of society to support the war effort. Men, women, the elderly and the youth of the "Ambitious City" worked in factories, collected scrap and salvage materials, and participated in many community led initiatives.
Army, air force and navy personnel travelled from all parts of the country and from abroad by rail, air and by ship. The growth of industry and people was great, and the city of Hamilton welcomed both the changes and the soldiers with open arms. The citizens opened their doors and their hearts to the young men travelling far from their homes, billeting with families, attending dinners with their new friends, and opening canteens to provide food and comforts to make Hamilton feel like home.
The city produced munitions and war material, built wartime housing, increased food and agriculture and held Victory Loan campaigns to raise funds to see Victory achieved.
Olive Estelle Creasor joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1943 and trained as a Wireless Operator in Montreal. After her training, she became an instructor for wireless Air Gunners on stations in Ontario and Quebec. Upon discharge from the RCAF, Olive returned to Hamilton to work as a school teacher. She attended night classes at McMaster University and summer classes at University of Toronto during the late 1940's and early 1950's.
Flight Lieutenant Andrew Neilson Orr
On April 17, 1943, F/Lt Andrew Neilson Orr’s Halifax bomber was shot down over Stuttgart, Germany. After bailing out of his aircraft and free falling in the slip stream as he struggled with his parachute, Orr was unable to walk after landing. He was picked up and taken to a German internment camp and eventually to POW camp Stalag Luft III.
F/Lt Orr would spend the next two years at the camp and was an active participant in what is famously known as The Great Escape. Orr would help with some of the digging for Tunnel Harry and contributed largely to the forging of approximately 400 identification passes, perfect in every detail, each of which bore a head and shoulders photograph.
Luckily, Orr was not one of the men chosen to go through Tunnel Harry on the fateful escape night and remained in the camp until he was moved at the end of the war. The Russians had surrounded the camp and wouldn’t release any prisoners. One day an American jeep full of officers came into the camp and F/L Orr, who had always kept his uniform in pristine condition, jumped in the back of the jeep. Because he didn’t have the appearance of living in a POW camp for two years, the Americans assumed he was entitled to do so and drove off with him in the back. The camp was finally liberated three weeks later.
Flight Lieutenant Philip Gray joined the RAF in 1942 and underwent training at No. 4 British Flying Training School (BFTS) Falcon Field, Arizona, USA. Posted to 186 Heavy Bomber Squadron at Stradishall, Suffolk, UK, where he piloted Avro Lancaster I & II bombers. Philip flew 16 operations with 186 squadron, later transferred to 622 Squadron, Mildenhall. With 622 squadron he participated in the food-drops to the people of The Netherlands as part of Operation Manna, transporting former Prisoners of War (POWs) from France to Britain under Operation Exodus, Operation Baedeker, the low-flying observation of the bomb damage of Germany, and Operation Post Mortem in June 1945 testing the effectiveness of German air-defence radar.
After the war, Philip flew with Fighter Command on the Island of Sylt, West Germany as a staff pilot, flying Hawker Tempests, deHavilland Mosquitos and Gloster Meteors on air-to-air firing ranges.
In 1971 Philip Gray and his wife immigrated to New Zealand where he scripted a book titled 'Ghosts of Targets Past' (Grub Street, 1995) which he finished after immigrating to Canada in 1990.
Philip Gray became a member of the Canadian Air and Space Museum in 2000, and made ten annual visits to the Duxford Air Museum, UK.
In August 1940, on his 18th birthday, William Frank Kenwood joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and after many months of training, began flying Spitfires on sorties from England into enemy territory in Europe. He would usually return at night, guided back by a radio operator at the base. That voice in the darkness soon became the light of Kenwood’s life. He married the operator, Winifred Woods, in England on January 3, 1942. The newlyweds were separated after only six months when Kenwood was transferred to the North African Theatre of operations. Shortly after his transfer, Kenwood’s plane was shot down and he was captured and incarcerated by the Germans. Shipped to Prisoner of War camp Stalag VIIIB, near the Baltic coast, Kenwood would spend the next thirty-two months, taking up the saxophone in the prison band, studying mechanics in a prison class and trying his best to fill the passing time. The British army finally liberated Kenwood and the rest of the camp in 1945. After a brief reunion with his wife in England, the two returned to Kenwood’s home in Westmount, Quebec to finally begin their lives together.
Kenwood would rarely speak in detail about his experiences as a POW. His family would witness a few extremely rare episodes when the mental scars of that time would reveal themselves, but otherwise that chapter of his history was kept secret. However, not long after his death at the age of eighty-two, his children discovered a locked away cache of hundreds of well preserved items relating to this pivotal part of their father’s life. The collection of photos, clippings, drawings, notebooks, documents and letters were donated to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in 2005.
Mount Hope Station was part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan at Mount Hope, Ontario during the Second World War. Three training schools were located there between 1940-1945;
- No. 10 Elementary Flying Training School from October 14, 1940 - August 31, 1942.
- No. 33 Air Navigation School from June 9, 1941- October 6, 1944.
- No. 1 Wireless from Sept 14, 1944 - October 31, 1945.
By the end of the Second World War, the BCATP had turned out more than 130,000 trained airmen and personnel from Canada, Britain, New Zealand and Australia. The BCATP grew to almost 100 schools at 231 sites across Canada, and included 10,840 aircraft.
This collection features items pertaining to the training schools, trainers and trainees from Mount Hope to the theatres of war.