By Ed Stozek
For the Herald
Early in October 1943, Group Captain (G/C) John C. Huggard took over the command of No. 10. SFTS Dauphin from Wing Commander C.F. Newcombe.
A veteran flier, G/C Huggard had served in the Royal Air Force in France from 1916-19. He was shot down over Belgium and became a prisoner of war on Sept.r 5, 1917.
During the peace years he was attached to the No. 112 Winnipeg auxiliary squadron and became director of the Winnipeg Flying Club.
During WWII he was responsible in opening the RCAF recruiting centre in Winnipeg, served as chief instructor at No. 4 SFTS in Saskatoon, was commanding officer of conversion training squadron at Rockcliffe, and served as commanding officer at Moncton.
No. 10 turned out to be G/C Huggard’s last posting as he officially retired on Aug. 31, 1944. It was noted that the announcement of his retirement had been received with regret by the entire personnel of the station.
“He leaves behind tangible evidence of the welfare of those serving under him.” (Aug. 31, 1944, Dauphin Herald)
A “tangible evidence of the welfare of the men” occurred on May 26, 1944, with a stage show sponsored by Coca-Cola airing from No. 10’s drill station. The Coca-Cola Company of Canada bought two half hour shows a week on CBC radio to present “Victory Parade of Canada’s Spotlight Band.”
Beginning in February 1943 and ending in December 1944, 200 programs were broadcast.
On the first leg of the third trans-Canada tour playing war camps and war plants, the show featured Mart Kenney and his Western Gentlemen performing their program for the officers, air personnel and guests at No. 10. Travelling from the Atlantic to the Pacific in a private railway coach the 14-piece band also made stops in towns and cities between Coca-Cola broadcasts to play for the public.
The show was scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. with the broadcast portion going on air on CBC at 7 p.m. The concert at No. 10 was the 138th stop for the Victory Parade. At this time 300,000 sailors, soldiers, airmen and war workers had been entertained. The tour had “rolled up 36,310 spotlight miles on the musical march across the country.” (May 25, 1944, Dauphin Herald)
In many cases the show played in out of the way places where top flight entertainment seldom reached the men and women there. Many letters of appreciation were received from Victory Parade audience members.
Mart Kenney and the Western Gentlemen were one of Canada’s big-name bands and were noted for their versatility and distinctive music.
At No. 10 a capacity crowd was in attendance and most stayed for the whole evening to dance to the music of Canada’s Spotlight Band. After the dance the band members were entertained at the officers’ mess before leaving by bus to Brandon. The program was a welcome relief from the usual daily activities involved in the training of personnel participating in the war effort.
Dignitaries also paid visits to the air base. On June 1, 1944, David Wilson, the New Zealand High Commissioner to Canada and his delegation were welcomed by G/C Huggard. Wilson initially was elected to New Zealand’s Labour party. Through membership of the Legislative Council he became a minister in the first Labour government and served as High Commissioner to Canada from 1944-47. In 1944, besides visiting Dauphin’s two airbases, High Commissioner Wilson also toured units where New Zealand airmen were stationed in Canada.
Of special local interest in Ochre-River, “On Thursday, May 18, the district was honoured by a visit from Hon. David Wilson, new High Commissioner from New Zealand at the home of his brother, Robert Wilson.” (May 25, 1944, Dauphin Herald) That evening, Robert and Selina Wilson entertained 13 friends in honour of their distinguished guest.
Entertainment and visiting dignitaries were always well received by the leadership at No. 10. as further evidenced at G/C Huggard’s retirement banquet with 150 officers and 40 citizens representing Dauphin in attendance.
Just prior to his retirement, G/C Huggard’s leadership skills were rewarded with an official pennant for station efficiency. The pennant was proudly flown on the headquarter’s mast.