One of the things that irritated PM McKenzie King and many in Canada was the British belief was that Canada was just fulfilling an obligation. When in reality the
Canadian effort was by pride a voluntary one. The British looked at the RCAF as a manpower bank for the RAF. The Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Army had
already kept their forces intact and not freely dispersed through out their British counterparts and Prime Minister King was bound and determined to have the
RCAF a separate force on it’s own.
The government of Canada strongly insisted on what became known as "Canadianization” towards the RCAF. The formation of separate a bomber group for the RCAF was a high priority for the Canadian government and highly fought against by the RAF including the head of Bomber Command Air Chief Marshall Harris. He and his chiefs first regarded such an undertaking as a “colonial” venture doomed to failure. But Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King wouldn’t let go. The establishment of No. 6 Group would serve as an important symbol of a independent Canada. The feelings of the RAF brass towards what they looked on as a “colonial” idea was to last long into the war.
It became noticeable for us that there were distinct differences between how the RAF and RCAF looked at their personnel while we researched the men of 419 squadron.
It became more apparent as time went on and the number of men researched increased. Background stories relayed to us about heated exchanges and worse between
Canadian airmen and their British counterparts pointed out that this was not something
we were just imagining.
I was guided to a book "Crucible of War" written by Greenhous, Harris, Johnston, and Rawling . Within the chapters is a long and interesting account of exactly these differences and condescending views of Canadians by the Air Ministry and others with in the RAF. Now as stated I do understand that generalizing the events and painting all RAF upper brass with the same brush is doing an injustice to the RAF officers who had a high regard for the Canadian airmen in their units, but there were those who still lived in the days of the old Empire, and to who North Americans were all "colonials". I should also mention at this point before continuing, that the Australians went through this same problem when they tried to nationalize all their squadrons, so it was not just a the RCAF or Canadian government who wanted changes made to better control their own nationals.
The treatment of Canadian airmen in the RAF came about from a number of sources, a small problem was initally expected by the Canadian government when the
JATP was put into place. The problem became larger then expected, the Minister of National Defense for Air Charles G. Power in very pointed letter to Prime Minister King drew attention to the fact that there
were over 5,000 Canadian airmen serving over seas and the moral responsibility for their comfort, protection and care rested with the Canadian government. And that this
was impossible under the current system and that the men were not some hired mercenaries of a country in which was not their homeland.
As if to emphasize this situation, a family friend of the minister had lost their son on an operation somewhere in Europe and were unable to obtain any information on the loss. Power even mentioned that he too would have been unable to obtain information for the family, he expressed the event to McKenzie King as an embarrassment for the government and expressed the believe that with the increased number of Canadian airmen being passed through BCATP is was something that could not continue. The Canadian government sent Power and delegation of others to Britain. Power wasted no time and in his first meeting and jumped directly to the point. Expressing the Canadian government's concerns regarding their responsibility to their airmen in regards to a number of issues, welfare and treatment especially that of the NCO ranks and the rights to post it's own airmen. Some areas including notification of next of kin, exchange of Senior Officers moved along easily. On the other hand, publicly acknowledging Canadian involvement in the air operations was blocked by the RAF, insisting that everything be expressed as an RAF show. The issue of promotions for aircrews was also heavily defended by the RAF. Power wanted to raise to fifty percent the number of officer commissions to wireless operators and air gunners. The RAF wanted to stay at their set level of only 20% of gunners and wireless operators could become officers. An unclearly defined compromise was reached, which did allow the RCAF to commision more of these air trades then the RAF allowed of their men and it clearly shows in 419 squadron records.
The RAF mind set towards leadership was more functional then competence, men had to be the "right type" to be commissioned was the opinion of those examining the operations of the RAF during this time. Trying to understand this "old school ties" approach over the RCAF preferred manner of selecting promotions based on the rank matchs the job done was a point mentioned not only in the book, but also those in the service as well. RAF top brass looked at Canada as a classless society which influenced the RAF perception of Canadians as unacceptable commanders.
To the RAF a Canadian's attitude towards authority was totally lacking, RAF’s attitudes towards formality, reserve and class distinctions came across to the
Canadians as very undemocratic and most despised the old tie network found within the RAF. Many officers at all levels in the RAF held the colonials in low esteem.
In a quote
from their book "Crucible of War" an RAF commanding officer's opinion was:
"I am of the opinion that the present system of forming Canadian stations manned entirely by RCAF personnel is a mistake, and I am not even convinced that it is good thing to retain RCAF squadrons as such my reasons are as follows: The influence of Canadians in a English squadron is excellent and I cannot help feeling that the converse is also true. Because of characteristic differences of expression in English and Canadian pilots- an English squadron having a number of Canadians pilots in it is vivid display of guts in a tight corner -which is of great benefit to the squadron as a whole. On the other hand, the presence of RAF pilots in a squadron which has a number of Canadians, tends to sober them down a bit and improve their discipline."
Well I am sure not all RAF officers thought this way, this one seems to think only "English" are up to the task, so if you were Scots, Welsh in this fellows unit you may as well not be there ! He also appears to think that Canadian airmen needed "English" airmen with them before they would show any acts of bravery, and if more "English" were in heavily Canadian posted squadron the "English" would make them a better group of men! Well is it any wonder how Canadians looked at some of these RAF officers as buffoons.
This was only one instance which was based on the same theme that plagued the Canadian government (and later the USAAF) with dealing with the RAF. At one point the Canadian government informed the Air Ministry that it would not send any more BCATP officers overseas until the demands were met. All in all it is an interesting story that clearly showed the differences between the two organizations. A read through this section of "Crucible of War" and many other of it's chapters is a very informative read of things that went on beyond the front lines and in the skies over Europe.