The Royal Canadian Air Force lost a special family member recently with the death of Flight Lieutenant (retired) Glen Rawson on March 5, 2016. He was 99 years old. Flight Lieutenant Rawson, who served in the RCAF during the Second World War and afterward, maintained close ties with the Air Force throughout his life, and was a beloved and special friend to RCAF personnel at 16 Wing Borden, Ontario.
By Liesha Millward
Flight Lieutenant (retired) Glen Rawson enlisted in the Canadian military in January 1940, beginning a long and distinguished career that unfolded alongside his beloved RCAF.
He trained at Camp Borden, Ontario (today’s Canadian Forces Base Borden), in 1940 and was a student on the very first pilots’ course conducted under the British Commonwealth Training Plan at 1 Service Flying Training School.
“Borden is much, much bigger now. The population is greater, lots of new buildings. A couple of the old hangars are still there. They were still building some of them when I came,” said Flight Lieutenant Rawson.
“When I first started here at Camp Borden, we had to use so much more care, because they were still building the airport. Some of our aircrafts ran off the end of the airport because some of our guys misjudged a bit, they would get stuck in the sand. We didn’t even have lights on the runway. They had little kerosene pots that they set out on the runway. When you took off, if you got to the side of the runway a little bit, the wind from the prop would blow the pots out and you didn’t have a light to land with. You had to wait until they got out and lit the pots again, so we tried to keep it right down the centre.
“First of all you would go up with a flying instructor,” he continued, speaking about his training. “In the Harvard [training aircraft], the flying instructor is in the back seat and you are in the front seat. We had no radios. He tells you what to do over the Gosport tube [a hose with speaking funnel on the end]. You put your mouth over it and yell. It was hard to hear. We had a helmet with earphones or little cups over the ears; the noise comes up the tube and into your ears . . . That tube ran to the backseat, the guy in the backseat did the same thing.
“When the instructor thought you had enough experience and could fly ok, he would send you solo. You did so much solo, practiced and so on until it was time to graduate.”
When Flight Lieutenant Rawson first started flying, most of the navigation was done either by charts, compass or simply by looking over the side of the aircraft.
“I remember, one day, right here at Borden, there was a layer of cloud on a reasonable day. My instructor sent me up to practice aerobatics solo,” he recalled. “I was afraid to practice below the clouds; there wasn’t much space. So I climbed through the clouds and stayed on top. I was having a ball up there playing around then realized I should get back. So I went down through the clouds, looked around and I had no idea where I was. My instructor said if that ever happened, to turn the compass on east, fly east until you come to a big lake, fly up and down until you see the big white cottage, when you get there, turn onto another heading and fly back to Borden. Sure enough there is Borden.”
In September 1940, Flight Lieutenant Rawson graduated from the course and got his pilot wings at a ceremony held on the Borden tarmac. Many who had begun training on the course were not there to graduate. Three members of the course had perished during the training and, later that year, his instructor, Peter Campbell, crashed into Lake Muskoka and died [editor’s note: Flight Lieutenant Campbell’s body was recovered from the lake and interred in Guelph, Ontario, in 2013]. Moreover, flying was not for everyone; some course members washed out and were sent to other trades.
The next course Flight Lieutenant Rawson took at Borden was advanced flying training, done in a Northrup A-17 Nomad aircraft. This included learning to dive bomb, and hitting targets with smoke bombs that blew up on impact.
“The Northrup A17 had that big perforated flap so you could get up to 20,000 feet and stick it on its nose. They had targets set out – a small building,” he recalled. “So I looked out over the side, and oh, there’s my building. I dived down, and had a good score, blew the building up. A couple of days later I was called into the commanding officer’s office. They had cameras in the plane, to take a picture and prove that you had hit the building.
“It was a farmer’s chicken house. I blew it all to hell and killed all his chickens,” said Flight Lieutenant Rawson with a laugh. “They just compensated him; anybody could make a mistake like that, particularly if it was hazy up at 20,000 feet.”
Flight Lieutenant Rawson went on to become an instructor, and later worked with search and rescue in the North. With his 22 years of service, and his continuing service to the Air Cadets, he has seen it all. He was awarded the Air Force Cross during the Second World War, the Queen’s Jubilee Medal, a Korean War decoration and an Air Force Fellowship award, of which only nine were issued for contributions to Camp Borden.
“The people are the same family people, but the jobs are, in some cases, more demanding,” remarked Flight Lieutenant Rawson. “The aircraft have changed, and the maintenance has changed. The people doing the repairs and servicing the airplanes are more technical, they know more than in the old days; it was a gasoline engine and that was it. Now with the jet engines it’s a different ballgame altogether.
“I think the type of people stand out the most. The type of guys, particularly the flying ones, you do something stupid and they would call you every dirty name in the book, but then they would put their life on the line the next day for you. It’s kind of a family situation; you stick up for each other. It’s a very difficult thing to explain.”
This article originally appeared on the 16 Wing Borden website on April 18, 2014.
Flight Lieutenant Glen Rawson’s obituary
From the website of Mighton Funeral Home, Ltd.
C.A. “Glen” Rawson, formerly of Hanover [Ontario] passed away at Winston Park Retirement Home in Kitchener [Ontario] after a brief 14-month stay, on Saturday, March 5, 2016, in his 100th year.
Born on January 17, 1917, in Brandon, Manitoba to the late Gilbert and Helma Rawson. Glen enjoyed a life-long career, excelling in everything he did. He was a career pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force and, upon retirement, became a probation and parole officer in Walkerton [Ontario] and just 14 months ago, he moved to Kitchener to be closer to his family. Actively involved with the Hanover Masonic Lodge as well as the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #130 Hanover, Glen always had a smile on his face and his hand extended to help out. He was a founding member of the Saugeen Stamp Club in which he enjoyed sharing his stories of his collections and enjoyed hearing of how they came to obtain various stamps. A man of strong faith, he was a supporter of all the programs that the church had to offer and shared many laughs and battle of wits with church members of Grace United Church, Hanover. For many years he was involved with the Hanover Air Cadet Squadron # 812 and served as chair of the Hanover Police Commission.
Survived by daughters Reverend Judith Springett of Kitchener and Nancy Rawson of Hunter River, Prince Edward Island. Amongst all his accomplishments were his four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren . . . Great grandpa had many stories to tell and enjoyed his great grandchildren . . . Family was important to him, as well as spending quality time together. Predeceased by his beloved wife Jean (née Leeworthy) Rawson and his sister Effie Fraser and brother William Rawson. A funeral service [was] held on Friday, March 11, 2016 . . . at Grace United Church, Hanover, [with interment in] Hanover Cemetery.
Source Royal Canadian Air Force