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New book goes inside Camp Picton: Wartime to Peacetime

Layout 1From the dark clouds of battle that hovered over Great Britain and Europe during the Second World War, to a warm welcoming in Canada, thousands of young men trained in Prince Edward County on a variety of aircraft at two of more than 100 air bases constructed across the country.

The biggest, best-known and largest of those built under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan more than 70 years ago still stands largely intact on a plateau overlooking Picton.

Expanding on articles he wrote over the past decade, starting in County Magazine, journalist, researcher, historian and author Ian S. Robertson spent more than four years digging up more details, anecdotes and images for his book Camp Picton: Wartime to Peacetime.

Newly-published by County Magazine Printshop in Bloomfield, it focuses on how and why No. 31 Bombing and Gunnery School, RAF Picton was established, what purpose it served during and after the war, plus its current status.

Ian Robertson

Ian Robertson

Through personal recollections, official sources, plus stories from local and regional news outlets, the author introduces readers to some of the people who came and went from “The Hill” – including six who, tragically, remain behind forever, honored by veterans and Royal Canadian Air Cadets each Remembrance Day.

While kept extremely busy throughout the days and nights, during warm and wintry weather, members of the Royal Air Force from the UK, other Commonwealth countries, Europe, the United States, plus a few Royal Canadian Air Force comrades, took to the skies with an accompanying roar of high-powered engines.

Their stories include lives lost, near-misses, romance — more than 100 wed local young women — and occasional humour. The book also reveals that a future aide to Queen Elizabeth, plus the son of a future British prime minister, were briefly stationed in Picton.

With the winds of war changing in favor of the Allied forces by 1943, officials closed many of the RAF stations. Picton, which at its height had more than 600 men, became a mothball base for war surplus aircraft, then was an active Canadian Army base with varying functions, until 1969.

Two years later, the 232 Permanent Married Quarters and large barracks buildings built by the local H.J. McFarland Company became a provincial government facility for mentally challenged adults.

Since Prince Edward Heights closed in 1999, both the old army section and the original base have undergone major changes, which Robertson describes in detail in his first solo book.

In addition to telling the story of “The Hill” or “Camp Picton” as the site has long been known, including interviews with some of the soldiers who served there in the 1950s and 1960s, this heavily-detailed, highly-illustrated book also describes other military sites throughout the County.

Included are Canadian Forces Detachment Mountain View, the County’s second wartime RAF station — where well-known astronaut Chris Hadfield qualified as a glider pilot in his teens — a communications facility at Point Petre, at which models of the 1950s ill-fated Avro Arrow jet interceptor were tested near a Canadian Army range where soldiers created non-stop thunder with artillery guns over several decades starting in 1938, plus the large Carrying Place communications facility.

Robertson also describes several movies and documentaries made at Camp Picton, plus one at Mountain View where he witnessed a surplus jet blown up for a Peter O’Toole drama. The names of several well-known stars who visited the County during filming are included.

Copies of Camp Picton: Wartime to Peacetime are available for $25 each at County Magazine Printshop, Main St., Bloomfield. It will also soon be available by mail at countymagazine.ca.

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  1. This looks like an interesting book.

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