419 “Moose” Squadron honours WWII volunteer
Robert A. Pionteck, CD2, Squadron Historical Officer, 419 “Moose” Squadron NFTC – The Courier
The Heritage Preservation Project of 419 “Moose” Squadron is intertwined with the tale of a young Canadian World War II Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) volunteer.
Vince Elmer hailed from the agricultural town of Yellow Grass in southern Saskatchewan. At 18 years of age, he was one of 167 volunteers, from a population of 512, who heeded the call to arms and enlisted in the RCAF.
Vince’s journey began in the fall of 1941 when he boarded a Canadian Pacific Railway train from Yellow Grass to Toronto to enlist in the RCAF. His collection of photographs and mementoes became his wartime diary, and they are now part of a significant historical library.
Upon his return to Canada after the War, Vince continued to serve as “419 Squadron Historian Without Pay,” a title given to him by Lieutenant-Colonel Al “Red Lead” Brown at the reforming of the Squadron at Cold Lake in 1975. He attended and recorded the unit’s functions, parades, reunions and dedications ceremonies for 56 years after the end of WWII.
In May 2006, 419 Squadron dedicated a room in his honour to house his archives and library, allowing aviators old and new to access the rich history of 419 Squadron.
Vince also found time to volunteer as a member of the Royal Canadian Legion in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, receiving a certificate of merit as chairman of the Branch’s Funeral and Graves Committee. He died in Prince Albert in 2008.
The 419 Squadron Heritage Preservation Project was initiated by LCol Michael Grover during the squadron’s 75th anniversary in 2016, in collaboration with 4 Wing’s Integrated Personnel Support Centre. The project had a simple goal: digitize, catalogue and preserve Mr. Elmer’s WWII archives for squadron posterity and access by the Canadian public.
In just under two years, approximately 15 000 photographs have been scanned, uploaded and word tagged from the Vince Elmer library. These images include the pre-war training of 419 Squadron’s first Commanding Officer W/C John “Moose” Fulton, the presentation of the squadron’s crest by King George VI, and training flights in the current CT-155 Hawk aircraft.
The digitized archives are available for off-site use for reunions, lectures, research, and public presentations. They have helped family members find information about relatives who served with 419 Squadron, in addition to authors and historians who have used it for research. For instance, Canadian aviation historian and 419 Squadron Honorary Colonel Stephane Guevremont used the library to find previously unpublished images for his book on 419 Squadron’s history, published in 2016.
The cataloguing of Mr. Elmer’s collection is in its final phase, with periodicals, scrapbooks, notes and correspondence still requiring sorting and archiving.
Perhaps what Vince didn’t realize when he tucked his train ticket into his wallet is that this simple gesture would be the start of a historical archive. His collection documents not only his life’s great adventure, but also the history of one of the premier flying squadrons of the RCAF, now as was then, “Moosa Aswayita.”
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