By 1916, the First World War was claiming the lives of Royal Flying Corps pilots faster than new pilots could be trained in Great Britain. New recruits and training grounds were needed and the British War Office looked to Canada to fill the deficit. A unique program was established, with the agreement of the Canadian government, by which the Royal Flying Corps would establish training camps here and arrange for the manufacture of aircraft for the training squadrons. The Imperial Munitions Board identified suitable locations for the training camps in Southern Ontario, organized the building of barracks and aircraft hangars and established the Canadian Aeroplanes Ltd. Company to build the training aircraft that would be needed for the program.. In January 1917 the Deseronto area was chosen for two camps, while others were established at Borden, Leaside, Armour Heights and Beamsville in the same year. Deseronto proved to be an ideal centre for pilot training. The Rathbun Company’s industrial heyday had passed, leaving useful office and warehouse spaces in the town itself. The former head office of the Rathbun Company became the headquarters building for 43 Wing in May 1917. Rented sheds in Deseronto were used for repairing aircraft engines. Land on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory to the west of the town and on the former Bay View Ranche farm (owned by the Rathbuns) to the north of Deseronto was suitable for conversion into pilot training airfields. The first became Camp Mohawk, the second, Camp Rathbun. Construction started on the sites in April 1917 and the first flights at Camp Rathbun got off the ground on May 1st. Camp Rathbun had accommodation for 53 officers, 246 cadets and 330 other ranks. Its water was provided by the municipal system of Deseronto. It straddled the Boundary Road at the east end of town, with hangars and the airfield on the western side of the road and other buildings on the eastern side. In the winter of 1917/18 the training operations moved to Texas, to take advantage of the warmer climate. The Deseronto camps re-opened in the Spring of 1918 and ceased operations in November, after the Armistice had been declared. Over 1,300 pilots were trained at Camp Rathbun during its period of operation, with nearer 2,000 at Camp Mohawk. The influx of such a large number of cadets, trainers and support staff had a considerable impact on the town of Deseronto and surrounding areas. Some local families treated the airfields as a free source of entertainment in the summer: bringing a picnic and settling down to watch the airmen train. The camps were also an important provider of work, with 230 local women employed at the Deseronto camps, mainly as mechanics. Training could be hazardous: 30 airmen lost their lives in the Deseronto camps during the war. Crashes were a regular occurrence, as the aircraft of the time were primitive by today’s standards. Seven of these men are buried in Deseronto Cemetery. C. W. Hunt’s recent book, Dancing in the Sky, gives an excellent overview of this fascinating period of aviation history, with many references to the Deseronto camps.

(Click on the image above for a closer look.)

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By 1916, the First World War was claiming the lives of Royal Flying Corps pilots faster than new pilots could be trained in Great Britain. New recruits and training grounds were needed and the British War Office looked to Canada to fill the deficit. A unique program was established, with the agreement of the Canadian government, by which the Royal Flying Corps would establish training camps here and arrange for the manufacture of aircraft for the training squadrons.

The Imperial Munitions Board identified suitable locations for the training camps in Southern Ontario, organized the building of barracks and aircraft hangars and established the Canadian Aeroplanes Ltd. Company to build the training aircraft that would be needed for the program.

In January 1917 the Deseronto area was chosen for two camps, while others were established at Borden, Leaside, Armour Heights and Beamsville in the same year. Deseronto proved to be an ideal centre for pilot training. The Rathbun Company’s industrial heyday had passed, leaving useful office and warehouse spaces in the town itself. The former head office of the Rathbun Company became the headquarters building for 43 Wing in May 1917. Rented sheds in Deseronto were used for repairing aircraft engines.

Land on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory to the west of the town and on the former Bay View Ranche farm (owned by the Rathbuns) to the north of Deseronto was suitable for conversion into pilot training airfields. The first became Camp Mohawk, the second, Camp Rathbun. Construction started on the sites in April 1917 and the first flights at Camp Rathbun got off the ground on May 1st.

Camp Rathbun had accommodation for 53 officers, 246 cadets and 330 other ranks. Its water was provided by the municipal system of Deseronto. It straddled the Boundary Road at the east end of town, with hangars and the airfield on the western side of the road and other buildings on the eastern side.

In the winter of 1917/18 the training operations moved to Texas, to take advantage of the warmer climate. The Deseronto camps re-opened in the Spring of 1918 and ceased operations in November, after the Armistice had been declared.

Over 1,300 pilots were trained at Camp Rathbun during its period of operation, with nearer 2,000 at Camp Mohawk. The influx of such a large number of cadets, trainers and support staff had a considerable impact on the town of Deseronto and surrounding areas. Some local families treated the airfields as a free source of entertainment in the summer: bringing a picnic and settling down to watch the airmen train. The camps were also an important provider of work, with 230 local women employed at the Deseronto camps, mainly as mechanics.

Training could be hazardous: 30 airmen lost their lives in the Deseronto camps during the war. Crashes were a regular occurrence, as the aircraft of the time were primitive by today’s standards. Seven of these men are buried in Deseronto Cemetery.

C. W. Hunt’s recent book, Dancing in the Sky, gives an excellent overview of this fascinating period of aviation history, with many references to the Deseronto camps.