© Guardian photo by Nigel Armstrong
Author Larry Gray speaks recently at the Confederation Centre Library about his fifth, and most recent, book called Red Roads to Runways: The Story of the Royal Canadian Air Force at Summerside.
Larry Gray is no stranger to penning military history, but he sure took his time getting around to his own.
He had four books under his belt — We Are The Dead; Fathers, Brothers and Sons; Canada’s World War II Aces; and Canadians in the Battle of the Atlantic — when a friend directed Gray’s attention to a story that really hit home.
Ron Hatton, who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force with Gray, asked his comrade why he had never gotten around to writing about the history of the Air Force in Summerside.
“To be honest, it never occurred to me,’’ says Gray.
“The others I was asked to write.’’
Gray served in the Royal Canadian Air Force for 24 years, including eight years, from 1970 to 1978, in which he was based in Summerside.
He spent the past two-and-a-half years researching his latest book, a task he truly relishes, and writing, which he calls the “drudgery of the exercise.’’ He also leaned heavily on his wife, Gloria, a retired high school English teacher, to edit the copy.
The result is Red Roads to Runways: The Story of the Royal Canadian Air Force at Summerside.
The 140-page book is a detailed account of the significant events in the history of the Canadian Forces Base Summerside from its establishment and use as a wartime Air Force Station as well as a peacetime navigation school.
Gray, 76, hopes his book conveys just how much the servicemen gave to the community, as well as just how much they derived from working in Summerside.
“It was very much a two-way street,’’ he says.
His attachment to Prince Edward Island has seen Gray and his wife spend their summers in Stanley Bridge for the past 10 years.
“We just love the Island,’’ he says.
He believes the market for his fifth book is “P.E.I. really or any ex-serviceperson who served in Summerside.’’
When the Second World War began, Summerside was a town of approximately 5,000 people. During the war years, it became a temporary home to thousands of military personnel who worked and trained under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. The plan was developed to prepare men from all over the Commonwealth for Air Force duty.
The training facility that was built on farmland in North St. Eleanors became known as RCAF Station Summerside. It was also referred to as the Station, the Airport or the Port.
In addition to these generic labels, it was named in the press by the training designations. The schools were the No. 9 Service Flying Training School, the No. 1 General Reconnaissance School and the No. 1 Reconnaissance and Navigation School.
After the war, the federal government continued to use the site as a military air base until 1991.
Local companies Curran & Briggs Ltd. and M.F. Schurman Co. Ltd. carried out the construction of runways and buildings for RCAF Station Summerside in the summer and fall of 1940.
Training started in January 1941, three months ahead of schedule and before the completion of the facilities.
The station was closed in 1946 but reopened in 1948 with the formation of No. 1 Air Navigation School, a NATO training facility.
In 1949, the base housing was completed and named Slemon Park in honour of Air Marshal Roy Slemon.
During the Cold War, the base was home to anti-submarine and coastal patrol aircraft such as the Lancaster B.X., CP-122 Nepture, CP-107 Argus, and CP-121 Tracker.
AT A GLANCE
What: Red Roads to Runways: The Story of the Royal Canadian Air Force at Summerside is on sale at Avonlea Book Store in Summerside and at the Bookmark in Charlottetown.
Who: The author, Larry Gray, served 24 years as a radio officer/navigator in the Royal Canadian Air Force, including eight years based in Summerside.
He had tours of duty in Germany with NATO forces and with the United Nations in the Middle East and Africa.
Gray went on to work for the Royal Canadian Legion pursuing disability pension claims for injured veterans and ex-servicepersons.
He was appointed to the Veterans Appeal Board and then the Veterans Review and Appeal Board in Charlottetown.
Gray and his wife, Gloria, spend their summers in Stanley Bridge, P.E.I., and the rest of the year in Carleton Place, Ont. They have three adult sons.