A well-loved letter from my uncle’s collection led me to look more closely at Vincent Massey’s contribution to the Canadian war effort during World War II.
Charles Vincent Massey served as High Commissioner for Canada in London from 1935 until 1946. His wife Alice (formerly Parkin) served by his side fulfilling formal niceties, such as presenting Canadians to the King and Queen and writing letters to the families of fallen soldiers and those who went missing, like my uncle.
The letter she sent to John Mathieu the day his son went missing reads in part:
Dear Mr. Mathieu, This is meant to tell you how deeply my husband and I feel for you since we heard that your son is missing. – we know what these days of anxiety and doubt will mean to you.
Do know with what understanding and sympathy we are both thinking of you.
The note remained within the keepsakes the Mathieu family retained long after the war.
Since then, I’ve discovered that Vincent Massey was one of the key people behind Canada’s participation in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). The scheme brought 136,849 people to Canada during World War II to train as aircrew and enabled Canada to become a leader in the aviation industry.
Massey was not officially considered a founder to the plan after the fact; but he was the first person to propose the idea in writing. In a 1936 report to Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, he credits the idea to British Air Minister Lord Swinton.
After Swinton’s proposal was turned down, proposals about the same idea came from other players.
During a 1937 trip to London, for instance, Canadian Minister of National Defence Ian Mackenzie received a memorandum in favour of airmen trained in Canada from RAF Group Captain Robert Lekie.
That memo led to King agreeing to train 15 RAF soldiers within Canada. Proposed trainees increased to 50, then 120, then 135, before King backed out in 1938.
The following September, Massey joined Australian High Commissioner Stanley Bruce to meet with officials in the British Air Ministry and Treasury. The month is described in detail by F.J. Hatch in a Department of National Defence publication called “The Aerodrome of Democracy.”
Hatch questions why Massey didn’t attend the last crucial meeting in which Bruce proposed the project to Harold Balfour, Britain’s Under Secretary of State for Air. As Hatch wrote:
Why Massey was not at this meeting is not clear, but his absence has led Bruce’s biographer, and Balfour himself, to give Bruce the full credit for originating the BCATP concept.
If Massey backed off to ensure that there was no hint of his promotion of the idea to King, his methodology worked.
Over the next three months, King’s government negotiated an agreement with the Australian, British and New Zealand governments to create the (BCATP), which was signed in December 1939.
Implementation in Canada began with the Royal Air Force renting out space for schools across Canada to train recruits before they went to Britain.
I believe my uncle Charles Mathieu was probably one of 5,296 people who trained at one of these. A manuscript passed to me by him begins in 1940:
That same night I was an AC2 on the Midnight train to St. Thomas along with twenty other lads from Montreal. We were assigned as G.D.’s [general duties] to help open up the Technical Training School for Air and Engine Mechanics … I spent six months at St. Thomas doing guard duty and being General Duty Joe, however, my last month spent there was decidedly my best.
There is a question about the status of St. Thomas because it doesn’t appear in a list of 152 installations outlined by Dunmore nor in similar lists detailed by Hatch. It does appear on a bigger list of 231 BCATP facilities found on Wikipedia.
 Mathieu, John Charles, personal documents, letters and keepsakes.
 The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 1939-1945: An Historical Sketch and Record of the Ceremony at R.C.A.F. Station Trenton. Ottawa: Edmond Cloutier, 1949.
 Dunmore, Spencer. Wings for Victory: The Remarkable Story of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Canada. Toronto, Ont.: McClelland & Stewart, 1994, pp24.
 Hatch, F. J. The Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 1939-1945. Ottawa: Directorate of History, Dept. of National Defence, 1983, pp13-14.
 Hatch, p14 quoting three sources: Edwards, Cecil, Bruce of Melbourne, Man of Two Worlds, London: Heinemann, 1965, p 279; Air Ministry, Notes on the History of RAF Training, 1939-44 (London, 1945), p 126; Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force, p 79; Balfour, Harold, Wings Over Westminster, London: Hutchinson, 1973, pp 113-114.
 Mathieu, John Charles, personal documents, “All of This Heaven Almost” manuscript, 1947-1950, p1.
 Dunmore, Spencer. Wings for Victory: The Remarkable Story of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Canada. Toronto, Ont.: McClelland & Stewart, 1994, pp349-360.
 Hatch, F. J. The Aerodrome of Democracy: Canada and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 1939-1945. Ottawa: Directorate of History, Dept. of National Defence, 1983, pp207-212.
 List of British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Facilities in Canada, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_British_Commonwealth_Air_Training_Plan_facilities_in_Canada,” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 12 July 2015, accessed July 23, 2015