19 Wing Comox has had it’s share of servicemen arrive and leave since it was opened in 1943 as part of the BCATP. As a result, many have retired here, and have donated items related to their service to the museum. In 2002 The Comox Air Force Museum was the fortunate recipient of some of W/C Bryant’s Service Memorabilia.
Harry’s years of service spanned the era of the R.C.AF.’s role of aiding in development of the North in the late 1920’s, until his retirement in 1959 in the time of the Cold War. His last Command was a Radar Squadron, R.C.A.F. Station Edgar, Ontario, and coincided with the R.C.A.F.’s 35 th Anniversary. There were many unique assignments and first’s in Harry’s career and much of it is noted in his many log books, journals, photos, speaking notes and interviews. We have compiled a short biography from his notes, journals, and other sources.
Harry had read in the paper that recruits were wanted for the R.C.A.F. “Apply in person to the Commanding Officer at Jerhico Beach” the add said. Times were pretty tough then and Harry thought it might be worth a try.The R.C.A.F. was not quite three years old in March 1927 when Harry Bryant was interviewed by the Commanding Officer, S/L Earl McLeod. He passed his medical and was asked by the clerk when he could leave for Camp Borden.”Tonight” he replied.
Harry returned home and announced to his Mother that he had joined the Air Force and would be leaving that evening on the 9:00 P.M. train out of Vancouver to commence training in Camp Borden, Ontario.
“She just about had a heart attack” Harry said. “I was 17 years old, under age, I had shoved my age up”. She immediately sent a telegram to his Father, a CNR Roadmaster based at Edson, Alberta with orders to get him out of the Air Force and back home.
Harry met his Father in Edson, AB and they travelled together as far as Edmonton where they parted with his Father’s blessing and a ten dollar bill, “ because, his Father said, he had to eat”.
This was the beginning of a career of more than thirty-three years. He began as an AC2 Standard. His trade was Carpenter Aero Rigger (aircraft were made primarily of wood construction then) and he soon qualified as Fitter (Aero Engine Mechanic) as well.His regimental number was 249. “There were so few of us” he said “that we felt we were falling behind if we didn’t know every person personally”.
His journal from 1928 to 1932, relates excerpts of his life as an Airman in the days when the R.C.A.F. had no defined military role. There were aircraft, but little money so the means had to be found to utilize them. Members of the R.C.A.F. were up for anything to pay their way and so it evolved into new roles for the Air Force.
They flew Fisheries, Forestry and Fire Patrols, pioneered Aerial Photography, Mapping and Surveying. They did Rescue Missions and Evacuations and assisted Law Enforcment and Customs Services.
The “Bush Pilots In Uniform” led the way for commercial air service to open and develop the North. At the time it could only have been done by men like them and the airplane.
He writes of camp life in the summer of 1928 working at the end of steel for the Department of Railways and Canals surveying for the Port of Churchill Manitoba. Their aircraft were unloaded from box cars assembled and serviced. They erected hangars, repaired boats, hunted and fished to supplement their dry rations. The men operated totally on their own and had to be innovative and self-sufficient. Harry was assigned an extra duty as the Camp Clerk and made an Acting Corporal.
In 1930 Harry was selected by his C.O. for pilot training, one of 4 Airmen selected that year. He had 69 hrs. 45 min solo time when he received his pilot’s wings and his promotion to Sergeant April 1931.
Flying that winter at Camp Borden in an open cockpit aircraft was touturous. “There were times even after a 25 minute flight that you had to be lifted from the cockpit because you were so cold but the goal was worth it “ he said.
In July that year he flew in the first airshow to be held in Vancouver.
He passed the Air Force’s first Blind Flying Course and became the first instument qualified pilot in the R.C.A.F.
The following year saw him in Ottawa as part of the experimental ship to shore Imperial Conference Mail Service.This route between Red Bay Newfoundland and Rimouski Quebec involved some of the hairyist flying of his career. Ninety percent of it being in fog, “coast crawling” a few feet off the water.
There were times when lack of visibility forced force them to put down on the St. Lawrence River in the shipping lanes and wait for the fog to clear. On the water he and F/L Mawdesley would take turns ringing a “school bell” to warn any ships of their presence.
On one occassion they were towed within taxying distance of a safe port by a “Rum Runner” boat. Ironically the following year would find Harry in the Maritmes pursuing these same boats for the R.C.M.P
Harry assigned with the R.C.M.P. In 1933 to “Preventative Patrol Duty” in search of Rum Runners. Based primarily in Sydney Cape Breton, the patrol coverage area stretched from Yarmouth N.S. to Gaspe Que. Their role was to find the boats and force them to stay off shore until law enforcement boats could intercept them.
Harry married his wife Laura in 1934 and moved to Dartmouth N.S. where remained on R.C.M.P. Patrol Duty until 1936.
Sgt. Bryant then graduated the Flying Instuctors Course with an A-1 Flying Boat Instructor rating.He was promoted to Flight Sergeant and assigned the position of Assistant Chief Flying Instructor at the Flying Boat School at R.C.A.F. Station Trenton, Ontario.
Harry said that as an Instructor he had flown as many as seven different aircraft types in one day.His log book showed 54 different type aircraft flown by the time he retired.
Prior to the outbreak of WW2 F/S Bryant was one of 52 Non Commissioned pilots in the R.C.A.F.
With war looming he along with other Non-Coms were promoted to Flying Officer and given a Non-Permanent Commission with the promise of a Permanent Commission if they survived the War.
Glimpses into Harry Bryant’s war time with the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and Overseas service will follow in a future article.