By CATHY GILROY
To commemorate 70 years, the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, Ladysmith, 257 Parallel Squadron is hosting a Vancouver Island Wing Parade on Sunday September 22, with 10 Squadrons from Powell River through to Victoria attending. Squadrons and bands will parade at 1300hrs (1 p.m.) at First Avenue and Roberts St., along First Avenue to the Agricultural Hall and Fields. Squadrons will then form up on the Field for an Inspection, to be followed by speeches and Cadet demonstrations. The Aggie Hall and Fields will be open for the entire community to come out and enjoy the parade, displays, demonstrations and refreshments.
The Air Cadets have enjoyed a long history in Ladysmith and area.
In the early 1940’s the Royal Canadian Air Cadet Program was developed nationally to train young men for duty in the Canadian Forces during WW II. Squadron 257 Ladysmith received its Charter in February of 1943. “Air Cadets” was a high school program, with H.A. Thicke, a high school shop teacher and the driving force behind the program in Ladysmith, becoming the first Commanding Officer. Cadets used the Agricultural Hall as their Headquarters for training and drill as the high school did not have a gym. The first Air Cadet to receive his “Wings” was Raymond Conti in 1949. In 1951 Ray “Digger” Conti received his commission at the RCAF Flight Training Cente in Centralia, Ontario. He excelled in his training, qualifying as onr of four Flight Officers from BC to join the 439 Squadron stationed out of Uplands, Ottawa, to train on the new F-86 Sabre Jets. This was an elite position. Ray was to join a force of crack Canadian Pilots whose mission was to fly the F-86 jets to Luffenham England. The 439 Sabre Tooth Tiger Squadron made aviation history when they flew the first jet fighter aircraft across the Atlantic. They left Uplands Airport on the 30th May 1952 at 9.24 EST. It was “Mission Leapfrog 1” led by Squadron Leader C.C. Bricker with stops in Bagotville, Quebec and Goose Bay, Newfoundland, then via Greenland, Iceland and Scotland and finally to Luffenham, where they joined 410 and 441 Squadrons and waiting ground crews. From the Book of Remembrance we learned that “While stationed at North Luffenham, England, 15036 F/O Raymond “Digger” Conti of Ladysmith, British Columbia was killed when his Canadian F-86 Mark II Sabre Serial Number 19187 crashed into the North Sea while on a training exercise.”
After the war, the Air Cadet program continued to be popular. Girls started to join in the early 1950’s (although girls were not officially allowed to enrol until 1975). In the years to follow, the Squadron continued to thrive as the program diversified to better reflect the needs and interest of local youth.
Today Cadets engage in a wide variety of activities such as Power Flight and Glider training, Sports, Survival Camping exercises, Marksmanship, St. John Ambulance First Aid Training, Drill and Effective Speaking. Citizenship trips and weekend exercises are offered throughout the year, and most Cadets attend Summer Training programs in B.C. and nationally. Cadets are very active in the community, assisting many Service Groups and organizations such as the Royal Canadian Legions Branches #171 Ladysmith and #191 Chemainus, the Chemainus Harvest House Food Bank, the Ladysmith Resources Centre Christmas Hamper Program and many others.
Many prominent local citizens have benefited from the Air Cadet program over the years, with careers in Flight and Aviation, politics and business. Air Cadets is the largest nationally funded youth organization in Canada, with over 23,000 enrolled in 456 Squadrons.
Check out our Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/LadysmithAirCadets70thAnniversary and if you would like to be involved in this event, or can help contact Cathy Gilroy at 250-245-8119 or ladysmithaircadets70th [at] gmail [dot] com
To find out more about the Air Cadet Program, please visit www.cadets.ca, and to enquire about enrolling in the Ladysmith Air Cadet Squadron, contact Captain Karen Graczyk, Commanding Officer, at 250-713-8096, ladysmithaircadets [at] yahoo [dot] ca or stop by the Aggie Hall on Tuesday, Sept.10 from 6:15 -8 pm for Open House/Information and Registration Night.
Visit the Ladysmith Museum for exhibit on Ladysmith’s Air Cadets history.