Canadian Air Force (1920–24)
The Canadian Air Force (CAF) which was formed on 17 May 1920, was one of Canada's early attempts at forming an air force. When the Air Board was formed in 1919 to manage Canadian aviation, one of its responsibilities was air defence; the CAF was formed to meet this responsibility. The CAF would exist until 1924 when the prefix "Royal" was added, and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) was officially created.
Prior to 1920, Canadian airmen flew with the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. Canada had tried to implement two other relatively independent "air forces" before 1920. The Canadian Aviation Corps, consisting of one aircraft, was formed in 1914 to provide service in Europe during the First World War. In 1918, a contingent of two squadrons known as the Canadian Air Force was formed as another attempt to provide a Canadian military aviation presence in Europe during the First World War.
This new CAF began as a small non-permanent air militia managed by the Air Board. Its purpose was to give refresher flying courses to veterans and operated at Camp Borden. The training scheme was short-lived, however, and training was stopped in 1922. When the Air Board was absorbed into the Department of National Defence in 1922, along with the Department of Militia and Defence and the Department of Naval Service, the CAF became responsible for all flying operations in Canada, including civil aviation.
The first Air Officer Commanding of the Canadian Air Force was Arthur Kellam Tylee with the formation authorised an initial provisional strength of one Wing Commander, one Flight Lieutenant, one Warrant Officer, one Flight Sergeant and one Sergeant. In June 1920 the provisional strength of 1.340 officers and 3905 airmen (non commissioned officers and other ranks) was authorised.
In 1922, the CAF's Inspector-General Sir Willoughby Gwatkin began advocating for the "Royal" prefix. In 1923, after the CAF was reorganized when the Department of National Defence was formed, formal application was made and the title was granted in February 1923. The Canadian government finally approved of the title thirteen months later, and on April 1, 1924, The Royal Canadian Air Force became official.
The original uniform was a dark blue serge cut in Army style with white shirts worn by officers. Army metal rank insignia and chevrons were worn but used Royal Air Force titles.
Cap & Collars
The 1919-24 era of the Canadian Air Force (CAF) saw the introduction of newly designed metal insignia. In total, there were 10 major varieties; 6 cap and 4 collar types. One can further break down the insignia into distinct styles for Officers and NCO’s. For both cap and collar badges, the Officers issue consisted of a copper base overlaid with a copper maple leaf and die struck oxidized silver wings of fine detail. In addition, a silver “CAF” monogram overlaid the maple leaf and was either soldered and/or riveted to the copper base. Except for the silver CAF overlay, the NCO issue was cast as a single component in silver gilded metal which generally remains bright and crisp today. A distinguishing feature of all Officers badges of this era is a red material in the crown. It consists of red woven silk wrapped around a multi strand cotton warp to give a ribbed effect in the overall weave. The material was sandwiched in between the copper backing and the crown. The NCO badges were never designed or issued with this red material.
It is generally accepted that there are two types or issues of the CAF cap & collars; either with or without the motto (SIC ITUR AD ASTRA). The initial issue of these badges, thought to have been designed and available in late 1818 or early 1919, was without motto. It is believed that sometime in early 1920, dress regulations were revised and the insignia began incorporating the motto into a scroll at the bottom of both cap and collar badges.
The collar insignia mirror the construction of the cap badges (with or without motto). Cap badges were designed for either the wedge (field service) cap or the peaked cap for service dress. The first issue (Type 1) for both Officers and NCO’s cap badges (without motto) had a crown that was only mounted to the top of the maple leaf at a single point and precariously separate from the wings. The 2nd issue (Type 2) for the wedge cap for both Officer’s and NCO’s had the crown attached to the wings for additional support while in the peaked cap versions, the crown was again free floating and pined or soldered to the back copper plate. All cap and collar insignia were initially backed in black felt material. Cap badges were fastened with double loops which were held in place with a cotter style pin. Officer’s models for the peaked cap utilized a brass metal support strip under the crown wire to strengthen the badge and to keep it flush against the cap. Both 1st and 2nd issue Officer’s collars had a single screw post to fasten onto the uniform whereas the NCO versions were manufactured with double loops.
|Photo #||Initial date of manufacture||Type (Issue)||Style||~height (mm)||Officer or NCO|
|2 (NA)||1919||1||Wedge cap||57||Officer|
First authorized and issued in late 1918 or early 1919, this pilots’ double wing was made in a style similar to the Officers cap and collar badges. It consists of a copper back with overlays of two silver wings, a silver “CAF” monogram superimposed over a copper maple leaf. A black felt material (which is often missing today) covered the back and to help strengthen the whole structure, a brass metal support strip was added under the post and nut fasteners. The design of the wings made the structure quite fragile and many of the wings found today often show signs of repair or are broken.
Varieties are known to exist, the most distinct having drooped wings relative to the central portion. Some versions are marked with the name of the manufacturer, “CaronBros” on one wing tip of the back copper plate.
Two examples are illustrated, neither with any Maker Marks and both 2nd issue from the collection of AVM (ret.) A.E. Godfrey during his tenure with the CAF. He had one set gold and silver plated probably to be worn on a dress uniform at the time.
It is also noteworthy that a replica set of several of the early 20’s insignia patterns were manufactured in 1967. It is believed 150 of these sets were made. The strike quality does not match the originals but to the untrained eye, they can appear to have originated from the 20’s production. The pilots wing in this replica set retains the hallmark.
Heads of the Canadian Air Force
The following officers served as heads of the Canadian Air Force from 1920 to 1924:
- 1920–1921: Air Commodore A. K. Tylee (as Air Officer Commanding)
- 1921: Wing Commander R. F. Redpath (as Officer Commanding)
- 1921–1922: Wing Commander J. S. Scott (as Officer Commanding)
- 1922–1924: Wing Commander J. L. Gordon (as Director)
- Roberts 1959, p. 33.
- Milberry 1984, p. 21
- p.10 Shaw, S. Bernard Photographing Canada from Flying Canoes General Store Publishing House, 2001
- Roberts 1959, p. 54.
- Carroll, Warren. “Eagles Recalled”. Schiffer Military History, 1997, p.48,71
- Johnson 1998, p. 16.
- Milberry, Larry, ed. Sixty Years—The RCAF and CF Air Command 1924–1984. Toronto: Canav Books, 1984. ISBN 0-9690703-4-9.
- Roberts, Leslie. There Shall Be Wings. Toronto: Clark, Irwin and Co. Ltd., 1959. No ISBN.
- Johnson, Vic. "Canada's Air Force Then and Now". Airforce magazine. Vol. 22, No. 3. 1998. ISSN 0704-6804.
- Carroll, Warren. “Eagles Recalled”. Schiffer Military History, 1997. ISBN 0-7643-0244-2