This Sunday (Sept. 22), up to 400 air cadets are expected in Ladysmith to celebrate seven decades of cadets in Ladysmith.
Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron 257 Ladysmith received its Charter from the Air Cadet League of Canada in February 1943.
To commemorate 70 years of air cadets in Ladysmith, the squadron is hosting a Vancouver Island Wing Squadron and Band Parade, followed by a Military Inspection at the Aggie fields and an open house at Aggie Hall, home to the Ladysmith Air Cadets.
Cadets from all the Vancouver Island and Powell River squadrons will form up at First Avenue and Roberts Street Sunday at 1 p.m. for a giant street parade to Aggie Hall. As they march along First Avenue, cadets will salute the reviewing officer, Rear Admiral William Truelove, commander of Maritime Forces Pacific, in front of the Royal Canadian Legion.
Following the parade, the cadets will form into squadrons on the Aggie fields for a Military Inspection. There will be guest speakers and band, first aid and drill demonstrations. Aggie Hall will be open to all to come and tour the upper hall, as well as the lower cadet hall, and there will be displays, cake and refreshments.
Event co-ordinator Cathy Gilroy expects the event to go until 3:30-4 p.m.
Gilroy says they wanted to bring all the Vancouver Island squadrons together after being inspired by old photographs.
“When we were deciding what to do, we had photographs from the early 1950s and inspections on Aggie Field with 50-60 cadets, and we decided we wanted to recreate the photos,” she said.
The 70th anniversary of the air cadet squadron’s creation also gave them a chance to showcase the history of the cadets’ meeting place, Aggie Hall, which was built in 1922 and was managed by the Agricultural Society, explained Gilroy.
When Squadron 257 Ladysmith received its Charter in February 1943, air cadets was a high school program. H.A. Thicke, a high school shop teacher and the driving force behind the program in Ladysmith, was the squadron’s first commanding officer, explained Gilroy.
Because the high school did not have a gym, the cadets used the Agricultural Hall as their headquarters for training and drills, she noted.
The first air cadet to receive his “wings” was Raymond Conti in 1949.
The air cadet program continued to be popular after the war, and girls started to join in the early 1950s – although they were not officially allowed to enrol until 1975, explained Gilroy.
The program grew and diversified, and today, cadets engage in a wide variety of activities such as power flight and glider training, sports, survival camping exercises, marksmanship, St. John Ambulance first aid training, drill and effective speaking. Citizenship trips and weekend exercises are offered throughout the year, and most cadets attend summer training programs in B.C. and nationally, noted Gilory, adding that cadets are very active in the community, assisting many service groups and organizations.
Gilroy says they have a very small group of cadets this year, as many graduated in June, but they’ve been very excited about taking part in the 70th anniversary celebrations.
“They’re going to be front and centre leading the parade with our squadron flags,” said Gilroy. “They are playing a hugely important role.”
One of the Ladysmith squadron’s senior cadets will lead the entire parade.
Gilroy believes the peak of the squadron was probably 1944.
“It was a high school program, and boys took air cadets,” she explained. “The purpose was to train them as pilots for World War II.”
Gilroy’s son graduated from the air cadet program three years ago, but she has remained involved in the organization because she values it so much.
“I just have a really good feeling with this program,” she said, noting there are a number of parents who have stayed involved once their children graduate. “We’re grateful for it.”
Gilroy feels her son gained a lot from participating in air cadets, including self-confidence; real, marketable skills and leadership skills.
Through cadets and through the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award program, Gilroy’s son also learned a lot about community service.
“He came to understand the importance of his role in the community and the role youth can have,” she said. “They help the food bank and the Legion … they do so much of that, and it teaches them how important community is.”
Anyone who is interested in joining the Ladysmith air cadets is invited to stop by Aggie Hall any Tuesday evening between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., or contact the squadron’s commanding officer, Capt. Karen Graczyk, by phone at 250-713-8096 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.