This Week in History


Canada's Sky Explorer

For the week of Monday, August 3, 2015

On August 3, 1995, the celebrated bush pilot, Clennell Haggerston “Punch” Dickins passed away. Dickins had a long and distinguished aviation career, serving in both World Wars, mapping the northern territories during the 1930s, and helping make Canada a leader in frontier aviation.

Stamp featuring a Fokker Super Universal bush plane. The plane pictured, serial number G-C ASK, was Punch Dickins’ plane
© Canada Post Corporation 1982. Reproduced with Permission.

Dickins was born in 1899 in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. He enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1917, before transferring to the Royal Flying Corps. Dickins served the rest of the First World War as a bomber pilot, flying more than 73 missions. He is credited with seven kills, making him one of the few bomber pilots to become an ace! For his service, Dickins was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After the war, Dickins served in the Royal Air Force (RAF) until 1928, when he resigned and became a bush pilot for Western Canadian Airways. One of his first assignments was to chart the area between Baker Lake and Stony Creek in the Northwest Territories. During the trip, he flew more than 6,000 km over unmapped territory! Later in his career, Dickins flew the first prairie airmail circuit and was the first person to fly the length of the Mackenzie River.

Portrait of Clennel Haggerston “Punch” Dickins
© City of Wetaskiwin Archives, 88.7-35-54.1- Clennell Haggerston "Punch" Dickins, Wetaskiwin, Alberta,1935

When war broke out in 1939, Dickins was considered too old to fly for the Royal Canadian Air Force. Instead, he managed six of the navigation schools created by the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) to train men from the Commonwealth countries as aircrew for the war. Beginning in January 1941, Dickins also managed the Atlantic Ferry Operation, which delivered North American planes to Great Britain. He co-ordinated the deliveries from American suppliers, and oversaw the training, maintenance, and operations at the ferry bases in Montréal, Gander, and Bermuda. Dickins ran the ferry operation until the RAF militarized it in July 1941, and afterwards continued managing the BCATP schools until their closure at the end of the war.

For his contributions to Canadian aviation, Dickins was made an Officer of both the British Empire and the Order of Canada. C.H. “Punch” Dickins is a National Historic Person, and his fellow Bush Pilots of Canada, along with Canadian Participation in the Royal Flying Corps and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan are National Historic Events.

To learn more about Canadian aviation and the World Wars, please read The Daring Aviators of the Far North!, Pioneer of Bush Aviation, The Canadian Military Reaches New Heights, Aerodrome of Democracy and The Power of Flight in the This Week in History archives. Celebrate Canada’s contributions to the First and Second World Wars by visiting the Government of Canada’s World War Commemorations page.

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