RCAF Ground Observer Corps. The Eyes and Ears of the RCAF
“Canada is many things to many people…but in all of us it is something precious enough to be protected”
This is a true story. And that statement was made in the St Maurice Valley Chronicle April 10, 1958. In the 1950s the world was a scary place. Our American friends to the South were convinced that the Russians would launch a nuclear attack coming over the North Pole. This made Canada’s unprotected North a priority in defense circles. The US lobbied Canada to install a massive radar defense shield across this huge expanse. This would take serious time and money and the perceived threat was imminent. Canada was forced to come up with an alternative plan. The “Ground Observer Corps” was born in 1951. The slogan was RCAF Ground Observer Corps : "The eyes and ears of the RCAF". At its peak 50,000 Canadian volunteers leant their eyes and ears to the effort.
A dedicated team recruited, trained and coached a team of volunteers from Canada’s native communities in the far North so watch the sky for planes. Identify them by their silhouette and report sightings via radio from the closest outpost, often a trading post or church. Detractors, particularly those in the South thought it could never work. People with pictures of Russian planes printed on paper, looking into the sky with bare eyes, running off by dog sled or on foot to find the closest radio in the event of an attack.
Did it work? One day in the late 1950s a call came in to the Filter Centre in North Bay, Ontario. A Ground Observer Corps member radioed in a report that a plane had gotten into trouble. The pilot ejected. He reported that it was not a Russian plane but a Canadian fighter on patrol. Impressed with the report, the officer taking the call asked the Corp member for coordinates where the pilot had landed. The reply came “Sir, I can’t tell you….He has not landed yet…..I’m still watching him come down.”
So on that day the non technical solution showed that billions of dollars of the latest technology can be made irrelevant by well trained, well meaning people with some basic tools? How do I know it’s a true story? The officer who took that call, was my father, Warrant Officer, Bill Scott.