My decision in joining up with an armed force was made after due consideration and soul searching. The army did not appeal because of the prospect of fighting at close quarters. Arising from several crossings of Cook Strait by ferry steamer, a call of the sea was non-existent.
As one of the young of that day. I had followed with avid interest the published stories of pioneer aviators blazing new air routes. Really only one course of action seriously figured in my mind.
Early in May 1941 I received instructions to report to the Initial Training Wing at Levin. Towards the end of six weeks of this initial instruction tests were applied to ensure suitability in respect of further training. The preliminaries in training, having been surmounted the progression was son to trials determining aptitudes for flying duties. For the next six weeks we were very fully occupied with flying training, usually taking to the air several times each day. We were given a choice either to go to Canada under the Commonwealth Training Scheme, or remain in New Zealand for intermediate training. A decision of this sort could have implications concerning one’s eventual fate. I elected to go to Canada, mainly I think, for additional overseas experience.
Those of us choosing Canada were sent on embarkation leave carrying necessary warrants. My period of embarkation leave exhausted. I proceeded accompanied by my family, to Auckland the port of departure, and reported to air force embarkation quarters. Formalities there included a medical examination, which I passed despite having a slight unrevealed sore throat.
The mode of conveyance to Canada was a fine modern ship, the Capetown Castle. After a day or two (in Halifax), a pair of Canadian airmen, with transport, conducted me to the railway station. A train was about to pull out, so I was quickly thrust aboard and handed travel warrants. The tickets indicated a destination of Dunnville. My schoolboy geography lessons had not included mention of such a place, so evidently I was all alone without knowing where I was going. However, darkness turned to light when a middle aged Canadian airman, also in the carriage, out of friendliness introduced himself to me. He knew of the air force station with Dunnville almost on a shore of Lake Erie, and quite adjacent to the Niagara Falls. Two changes of train would be required to be made to get there. He was proceeding to Toronto, so I would have his company for much of the way. The present train would take us to Montreal. It was a long journey, even to Montreal, and the time involved enabled casual friendships to develop with counter discussions about Canada and New Zealand taking place. A community of interest through membership in the British Commonwealth was evident, at least with some of the passengers.
Passing through Toronto and Hamilton, both substantial cities on the shores of Lake Ontario, a branch line took me to Dunnville which turned out to be a small town in flat farmland, but also with the air force station nearby. Being conducted to the administration block my mind was still in a whirl. It had been a long journey, but probably I had more varied experiences than others, of my unit who travelled together and separately from me.
Quarters were in a long hut with double tier beds. The hut had a central stove and windows were double glazed signs of weather to come, but not necessary in the autumn. The camp was surrounded by about a six foot netting fence I hoped, to keep strangers out. Food in the mess tended to be strange to me and this applied particularly to the sausages. A sealed surface open space was out front, and several times we were called on to attend parades. Study classes were, conducted and for the first time aircraft identification was scheduled for our unit.
Dunnville Air Force Station was the home of No. 6 Service Flying Training School. It was the temporary home, not only of our New Zealand contingent, but also of Canadian trainees. Among the Canadians was an American from Texas who I became friendly with. He had a very nice car which he had driven from his home State. He filled me in on driving conditions in the U.S.A. and we went for a drive or two.
The flight arrangements were expansive, with several great hangers and long sealed runways. The aircraft were single engined monoplanes. Harvard’s and Yale’s, indicating in a general way the types of service we were destined for. We were now converting to modern aircraft, steel construction, more powerful, with canopied cockpit and retractable undercarriage. The fewer Yale’s, although appearing generally similar, were lighter, less powerful and had fixed undercarriages.
As trainees and still raw, much care was taken over the teaching for familiarization of the larger and more complex aircraft. An instructor spent, much time in the other cockpit. Before flying solo the aspirant pilot signed a certificate that he understood the fuel, oil, ignition systems and the ancillary controls of the Harvard aircraft.
In still weather, which was common at the time, the atmosphere was hazy due to areas of heavy industry being thereabouts, and particularly on the American side of the border, Nevertheless flying conditions were pleasant.
Initially, particularly, much attention was given in training to the more critical elements of man engineered flight, namely taking off, turning and landing again. Basics satisfied, other manoeuvres of operational and combat significance were taught and practised. Many of the manoeuvres culminated in aerobatics which figured quite largely towards the end, padding to thrill and enjoyment.
A satellite aerodrome. Welland, was used from time to time, particularly for night flying and for practise in landings within a confined distance. The Welland aerodrome was situated alongside the Welland Canal, later to be upgraded for sea worthy vessels to ply between the lakes Ontatio and Erie. On one occasion, returning to Dunnville by road from night flying our party decided to have a late supper at the Dunnville drug store which remained open all night. This occasion was especially notable in that I ordered coffee and then found that the sugar bowl had been filled with salt.
Apart from actual flying experience. I spent twenty hours on simulated flying in the Link Trainer. This would have taught, directly or indirectly, awareness and practice of procedures needed in coping with particular flying situations.
The course at Dunnville was reasonably exacting, but a deal of time was made available for us to become acquainted with the immediate part of Ontario and its people. Toronto, a large and attractive city, had special appeal, and I spent two weekends there. In the first week end I booked into the Royal York Hotel to sample the luxury of the place. The people were hospitable and invitations to homes came readily. One day, sightseeing by tram I made the acquaintance of a French Canadian girl. She was attractive, and we later went to a show together. I would have liked to get to know her better, but my future had much doubt and involvement in any form appeared to be inappropriate.
At the time I, exhibited religious inclinations, although not strongly tempered by any orthodoxy. Most of my extra Station activities would have been accordingly determined. On one occasion, with friends I attended a service of the United Church of Canada. While I was not aware of the histories of traditional Christian denominations in Canada, it seemed that processes of Union may have been more advanced in Canada at that time. On another Sunday several went to a country church not far distant from Dunnville. This was pentecostal in character, with certain words and phrases repeated from the congregation. It was all strange to me, and I thought the country side looked rather poor by New Zealand standards.
I enjoyed two further week ends on pass. Conveniently I had an invitation to join with a young people’s group at Niagara, and so an opportunity was available to view the Falls with its great, mass of water tumbling over the brink and coursing away down a I narrow gorge. On the other occasion, three, of us were hosted, in St. Catharines by a family, the father figure of which owned and operated a well-known hand tool manufacturing enterprise. They were a fine family with a superior home, and in the autumn. St. Catharines showed itself off as a truly lovely city.
The American reaction to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour was intriguing, . Their rapid spoken radio broadcasts were clearly heard where we were, and indicated incomprehension and almost disbelief. The almost sleeping giant was prodded into action, fully entered into hostilities, and was to have a critical influence in the outcome.
My last flight in Dunneville air space took place on 21 December. Flying testing was completed, and a certificate appeared in my log book that L.A.C. Lowman I.S. had passed all tests required for Pilot's Badge as laid down by A.F.A.0. A.51/2.
Christmas was almost upon us and for the festivities on the day I shared an invitation to the home in Hamilton of one of the Station Officers. Winter had set in and the road to Hamilton was icy and slushy another experience for me. A traditional Canadian meal comprised turkey and cranberry sauce followed by blueberry pie and cream. Later our party went to an ice hockey stadium, some of us to attempt skating.
The course was essentially ended. For all of us an immediate goal had been reached for the instructors who had brought each one of us through to an acceptable standard of proficiency, and for us who had achieved just that. A dinner in celebration was held at a hotel in Hamilton, and that was followed by a boisterous party. Finally the whole troop was mustered into a large hangar where graduating airmen received rewards as earned. I was one of a larger group promoted to sergeant pilot. A proportion were commissioned as pilots. I was content with my promotion which was as expected. When my log book was returned it was there confirmed that I was rated as average as a pilot and in navigation. Strangely to me I was considered above average in instrument flying. I had now completed nearly 150 hours flying time.
The duties assigned to us for Canada were completed. Passes were made available for the period until we had to come together to join a ship to Britain. Three of us, newly decorated with wings and stripes, made out way to Montreal where we booked into one of the, better hotels, others had taken the opportunity to have a brief look at New York. (Excerpts from Ian Lowman diary)