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Air Force Assist

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Aviation Art Gallery

"Air Force Assist"

Description: This painting is a depiction of a fictional scene representative of an aspect of the Canadian military experience in Holland in 1944-45. In the painting a hockey game is taking place between a Canadian Army team from the Canadian 3rd Infantry Division and a team of Canadian airmen from a local allied airfield.

The game venue is a frozen canal in a newly liberated Dutch town. Spectators include Canadian soldiers and Dutch civilians enjoying the free entertainment. Depicted in the foreground are two soldiers of the division in a Universal (Bren) carrier, the workhorse of Commonwealth armies during WWII. The Bren carrier was a principal means of transportation for the army providing some protection and firepower to frontline troops as they advanced. Behind the carrier is a Canadian Military Pattern (CMP) truck, variants of which were produced in the thousands in support of the war effort by Canadian industry.

The game is buzzed by an unexpected spectator in the form of a Canadian crewed B-25 Mitchell bomber returning to the airfield from a mission. Many Canadians flew as aircrew with the 2nd Tactical Air Force, a formation of the Royal Air Force composed of squadrons and aircrew drawn from many Commonwealth and allied nations. The B-25 Mitchell squadrons supported the allied armies from the D- Day landings in Normandy through their advance in Northwestern Europe and the liberation of countries such as the Netherlands from the yolk of the Third Reich.

Bomber crews of this era typically decorated the noses of their aircraft with jaunty illustrations as good luck talisman’s that reflected the symbolic attachment of the crew to their aircraft. Often these illustrations, known as “nose art”, personalized the aircraft and represented as aspect of the personality and character of its human occupants. In this case, as it is a Canadian crew, a Beaver caricature brandishing a hockey stick and stick handling a bomb while dressed in the colours of the RCAF Flyers hockey team adorns the nose of the aircraft. The sudden a very low level appearance of the bomber over the game constitutes an airborne tactical assist as the Air Force teams advances on the army net, hence the painting’s title.

Medium: Oil on canvas, 24x36
Display: Displayed as part of the Okanagan Military Museum's Memorial Cup 2004 display entitled "Drafted!! - Hockey in the Canadian Forces".

Historical note:The history of the game of hockey is intertwined with our military history. Some of the first images of the winter sport that became a Canadian icon and some might venture an obsession; depict players in military uniforms cavorting on the ice ponds of eastern Canada.

The Canadian national character has been greatly influenced by the sport and so too has the character of the Canadian military. The tradition of sporting competition has long been associated with military forces, dating back to the origin of the Olympics as a contest of martial skills between the Greek city-states and to the polo fields that served as training grounds for British cavalry regiments. The Canadian equivalent has been the regimental, squadron, base and ship’s hockey teams that have competed with each other or represented Canada in international competitions.

Where Canadians have served they have taken their skates and sticks and found the time to play the game they loved since their youth in cities, towns and farms across the country. During the First World War Canadian troops played in their training camps both in Canada and on the Salisbury Plains of England were they trained before going to the frontlines on the continent.

During the inter-war period Canada’s soldiers, sailors and airmen played on bases and military camps throughout Canada. When the depression hit the country Canadians serving in relief work camps set up by the Canadian Army in the hinterland endured the regime of hard work aided by the regular hockey games held at the camps.

With Canada again at war during the Second World War the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who joined the Armed Services brought their enthusiasm for hockey with them to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan airfields, Army training camps and naval bases in Canada and then overseas as they carried the Allied war effort throughout the globe to final victory.

Canadians played the game with the same vigour, determination and spirit that they used to establish Canada’s enviable military record of achievement within the allied forces. Canadians could be seen playing hockey beside their barracks in England while training for their role in the liberation of Europe or beside their bomber and fighter aircraft on airfields that took the war to the skies over the Third Reich. After D-Day and in the winter of 1944-45 they played beside tanks in newly liberated Holland and from airfields in Belgium on the way to the final overthrow of the Nazi regime. In Canada, Axis POWs even took up the game and many returned to Canada to settle after the war making their contribution to the distinct and diverse post-war society that we have come to know.

After the war the Canadians stationed in Europe and Germany carried forth their love of the sport as ambassadors for peace and reconstruction in the war-ravaged continent and in the development of lasting friendships with the people around the Canadian bases in Germany. In 1948, the Royal Canadian Air Force team, The RCAF Flyers, won the Olympic Gold Medal for Canada at the St. Moritz winter games.

At home the game continued to be a part of life in the Canadian Forces on bases, stations and training establishments. The Royal Military College in Kingston continued what has become the longest standing international competition in the history of the game with their annual challenge to the West Point Military Academy in the United States. Indeed, some of the first documented hockey games in Canada took place in Kingston and involved Royal Military College teams.

Hockey continues to be a part of the Canadian military today and it is carried with our forces wherever they serve in the world. From Bosnia-Herzegovina and Afghanistan, to unlikely hockey venues in the desert climates of places like Eritrea and the Arabian Gulf, Canadian Forces members can be seen indulging in their national sport during off-duty hours with either a hockey stick in hand or watching taped games on TVs set up in their recreation tents and messes. In the process they continue to represent our national ideals throughout the world both at work, in their efforts to bring peace and stability to nations in turmoil, and at play in the universal language of sport.

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