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Empire Air Training Scheme

27 NOV 1939: World War II and today sees the inauguration of the Empire Air Training Scheme. Over 37,000 Australian airmen trained under the scheme, in Australia, Canada and Rhodesia, one of the Commonwealth’s greatest achievements in wartime.

The Empire Air Training scheme was a programme implemented during the Second World War to train aircrew from the nations of the Commonwealth for service with Britain’s Royal Air Force.

Realising it did not have the resources to maintain the RAF at an adequate strength to confront Germany, the United Kingdom proposed in September 1939 that 50 elementary flying schools be established in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

The graduates of these schools would then receive advanced training in Canada and proceed to Britain for service with the RAF. A conference was held at Ottawa, Canada in October 1939 to discuss the proposal. After several weeks of bargaining, an agreement was signed on 17 December 1939.

Australia undertook to provide 28,000 aircrew over three years, which represented 36% of the total number of aircrew proposed to be trained under the scheme. Under Article XV of the agreement it was proposed that each country’s aircrew would serve in distinct national squadrons once they arrived in Britain.

The first basic flying course started on 29 April 1940, when training began simultaneously in all participating countries and the first contingent of Australian airmen embarked for Canada on 14 November 1940.

The agreement was renewed for an additional two years in March 1943 although the RAF already had a large surplus of aircrew.

Throughout 1944 Australia’s contribution to the scheme was wound back at Britain’s instigation, and it effectively ended in October 1944 although it was not formally suspended until 31 March 1945.

By this time, over 37,000 Australian airmen had been trained as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme. Despite Article XV, the bulk of these aircrew served not with the designated Australian squadrons, but with RAF squadrons. Photo; Empire Air Training Scheme Airmen enroute for embarkation via the ‘Awatea’ for Canada, in 1941.

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