Among my favourite memories of having fun and trying to grow up in Ponoka was becoming a member of the local Air Cadet Squadron 65 in the 1950s.
In those days I learned to shoot a rifle that was just about as big as me, we got to go by train to summer camp in B.C., we marched a whole lot, and we got to hang out at the old armouries, which for many years was located at what now is the parking lot of Hamilton’s IGA Dave Spink, who joined the Ponoka Air Cadets in 1944 and fondly remembers playing in the first Air Cadet Drum and Bugle Band also recalls that the armouries were built around 1947 and would first serve as the headquarters of the 27th Medical Corp after the war.
The Air Cadets from the beginning
An article written in the 1946 to 1947 edition of the Ponoka High and Junior High Schools Quill and Shield Yearbook tells the exciting beginnings of our first Ponoka Air Cadet Squadron, and the longstanding experiences, benefits, and the affect that it would have on both the younger generations of our young lads as well as the growing town and surrounding districts.
It was back in the days before Pearl Harbour when the British Commonwealth alone was holding off the German horde where an idea was conceived that Canada could begin to prepare partially trained airmen from students in their high schools. What a year 1941 would be when the humble beginnings of the first Ponoka Air Cadet squadron allowed the local students to join up and enjoy lectures, drills, and other military related activities. There was very little equipment and uniforms available in that first year, but then in 1942 new hopes and ideas would arise, new officers were needed for qualification, and these excited new cadets could look forward to their first experience at camp. This is where our boys first learned the true meaning of ‘Over the fence’, ‘breakfast in bed’ and many other terms of camp life, and one needed only to ask Fred Whitman, Harold Christensen, or Donnie Innis to express the joy of this new experience outside in the Alberta wilderness. The year 1943 would see the tempo of the local Air Cadet program step up a great deal under the able command of Flight Lieut. John F. Gordon, and the results were truly amazing. It was always told that as our initial Ponoka Air Cadet graduates would later join the Royal Canadian Air Force, they found their early training in Ponoka of great value.
The annual outdoor inspection of June would bring memories of the Bugle Band, the Drum Major, and lots of mosquitoes. When August came the Canadian Pacific Railway would carry 42 Ponoka Air Cadets off to the wide open spaces, to McLeod to be specific, where Mr. A.E. Eastes was the paternal adviser and a wonderful campout was enjoyed by all. In the fall the drill and lectures would continue in earnest, and then in the spring of 1944 it was inspection time again, and by now there was no doubt that Adolph Hitler was now feeling the full effect of the Ponoka Air Cadet Squadron 65. The summer camp was held at Claresholm, where the usual lectures were secondary to the real thing, flying, and it was reported that many members of our Ponoka Squadrons got to enjoy 18 hours of flying time. Going into the fall the school session and lectures began in October and a very busy winter was spent in training as the organization had become well equipped and would welcome many new young members.
It was in 1945 when the War in Europe was over and where a unique and colourful opportunity would come to the members of the rapidly expanding 65 Air Cadet Squadron. As a group they were able to join in on Ponoka’s gala Victory Parade, where Warrant Officer 2nd Class Sutton also had the great privilege of playing the Last Post and Reveille. That summer saw the fall of Japan after a mighty blow of unified action by her enemies, while eight staunch local cadets attended the Penhold summer camp, but very sadly Squadron 65 would lose the faithful services of John Gordon, who along the way had seen many of his boys head off to serve their nation on every sea. During 1945 to 46 the training courses would follow more peacetime activities, and was climaxed by an inspection and trip to Paulson, Manitoba, with Mr. Granlund acting as the Pater.
The fall season of 1946 would start very quickly for the 65 Ponoka Air Cadet Squadrons, with many young local and district lads 12 years and up enrolling in the very active squad, which was now under the command of Wally Schierer, who had served so brilliantly in the RCAF. Prominent Ponoka businessman George G. Ranks took over 65 in October, and current activities for the boys would include boxing, frolics, drill, target practice, and hopes to quality for a summer trip to Patricia Bay on Vancouver Island, which yours truly will never forget. Under the leadership of countless commanders and support staff over the years, the cadets have always worked very hard to achieve their St. John’s Ambulance Certificates, and will always remember the annual Wallace Rankin Nesbitt Shield competition. In the 1950s the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 66 Ponoka took on the sponsorship of the local Air Cadet program, and have worked together to host countless year round celebrations and activities in and around the community.
For the past 78 years the Ponoka 65 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets have proudly served our town and county as a first class youth organization for thousands of boys and girls between the ages of 12 to 19. Their ongoing training and programs include direction and opportunities in citizenship, leadership, aircraft I.D., navigation, camps, meteorology, and physical fitness, as well as numerous social activities for cadets, leaders, and parents.
They meet every Tuesday evening at 6:15 p.m. at 4900-54th Street, new members are always welcome, and more information is always available at 403-783-4181.