Preserving The Past For The Future: 17 Wing Celebrates Black History Month

2 Lt Gregory Kuhn
17 Wing Public Affairs

In honour of Black History Month, 17 Wing Winnipeg looks back at members, who despite incredible racial challenges, scaled the ladder of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) to become admired role models for future generations.

From the infancy of the RCAF through to the early 1950’s, black enrolment was limited to ground crew, and this was only after intense screening at headquarters; orders were specifically put into place that denied black enlistment in any of the aircrew positions.

Despite these barriers, during the Second World War two black airmen succeeded in breaking through the colour barrier and served as crewmembers on RCAF aircraft, both at home and overseas.

Warrant Officer (WO) Gerald “Gerry” W.A. Bell enlisted in the RCAF in 1936, joining No 19 (Bomber) Squadron Auxiliary and commenced flight training May 1937 on one of the four new deHavilland Moth aircraft.  The unit was later re-designated 119 Squadron and called to active full-time service on September 3rd, 1939; one week before Canada declared war on Germany.

Over the next 28 years, WO Bell would test new bomber aircraft, train bomber pilots for No. 6 Command and join 424 Squadron flying operations against the enemy.  Following the war, he served at bases across Canada and with No. 3 Wing in Germany before retiring at RCAF Station Trenton in 1961. Little information is known about the second airman, Flying Officer Alan Bundy.

Most reports state that he flew 42 operational missions in Europe and was discharged from the RCAF in the year following the war with little to no recognition of his military service.

As part of Black History Month the 17 Wing Defense Diversity Advisory Group, in conjunction with HMCS Chippawa and the Naval Museum of Manitoba, will be displaying the “Canadian Blacks in the Military” wall along with the book

“For the Love of My Country: Black Canadian Contribution to the Military” at 1 Canadian Air Division Headquarters (8-12 Feb), 17 Wing Headquarters (16-18 Feb), and the 17 Wing Logistics Building (1-5 Mar).