This Week in History (1941): U.S. Army comes to town

The roar from the skies that afternoon must have been deafening. At 1 p.m. on Thursday March 27, 1941, eight U.S. Army bombers rumbled into Prince George and circled the town, landing one by one on the municipal airfield.

Photo of a U.S. Army Douglas B-18 Bolo bomber.

A U.S. Army Douglas B-18 Bolo bomber. Eight of these planes landed in Prince George on March 27, 1941.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Douglas B-18 Bolo bombers and their combined crew of 37 American airmen were travelling from Tacoma, Washington, to Anchorage, Alaska, on a military exercise.1 The bombers landed in Prince George to take on fuel — 2,000 gallons of it — but the routine stop became a two-day layover when inclement weather prevented the airmen from proceeding to their next landing point in Whitehorse, Yukon.

The stranded servicemen were well cared for by local officials and citizens, who crowded the airfield to welcome the planes and now sprang to action. The Prince George Liberal Association treated the airmen to dinner at the popular Shasta Cafe on George Street, while officials of the Board of Trade invited the men to a dance that evening at the Elks Hall. The airmen sang and danced the night away alongside a capacity crowd of Prince George residents, who capped the night with spontaneous renditions of “America” and “God Save the King,” led by Mayor A. M. Patterson, before the doors closed at 2 a.m.

Friday’s entertainment included car rides, parties, and an epic screening of some 800 feet of film shot by big-game guide and river freighter Dick Corless Jr. during his travels in the northern territory between Prince George and Fort Ware. Corless pointed out landscape features that the airmen might see from their planes once they took to the skies again, which they did at 8 a.m. on Saturday March 29.

The visit had been a novel one for Prince George, and the local paper noted that the “happy camaraderie” between Prince George residents and the American airmen exemplified the “unity of purpose which is daily growing between citizens of Canada and the United States in their joint effort to assist Britain in her fight against the Nazis.”2

By the time July rolled around, however, war planes had become a common sight in the skies around Prince George.

“So many bombers, military and other planes stop at Prince George nowadays there is little news value in mentioning them,” reported the Prince George Citizen on July 17, 1941. “Crowds, however, continue to visit the municipal airport when American military planes stay overnight.”3

Photo of U.S. bombers at the Prince George airport, March 1941.

Prince George residents and U.S. Army airmen gather around eight U.S. Army bombers that landed in Prince George on March 27, 1941. The bombers and their crews remained in town for almost two days.
(Photo: The Exploration Place)

Notes:

  1. The United States did not officially enter World War II until December 1941. In 1940, however, the U.S. Army began actively expanding its armed forces as a precautionary measure.
  2. “37 U.S. Army airmen receive welcome here,” Prince George Citizen, 3 April 1941, page 1.
  3. “U.S. bombers refuelled at civic airport,” Prince George Citizen, 17 July 1941, page 1.

Sources:

  • “37 U.S. Army airmen receive welcome here,” Prince George Citizen, 3 April 1941, pages 1, 4.
  • E. F. Ted Williams History Centre @ The Exploration Place. Accession P982.30.10 (Photo titled “Squadron of American bombers, Prince George, B.C. on March 27, 1941”).
  • “U.S. bombers refuelled at civic airport,” Prince George Citizen, 17 July 1941, page 1.
  • Wikipedia. “Douglas B-18 Bolo.”
  • Ibid. “Military history of the United States during World War II.”

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