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We'll Give All We Know - The Moe Fraser Story

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Broadcaster and writer Tom Brokaw called them “The Greatest Generation”.  More than sixty years ago, during the turmoil of the Second World War, they were young men and women in their twenties and thirties; some of them were still in their teens.  Now, those that remain with us are in their eighties and nineties.  This is the exceptional generation that endured the privations of the Great Depression, went off to war – and literally saved the world.   We are humbled when we remember the courage and selflessness of those who risked their lives and especially when we think about those who suffered and were lost.  We must also remember the sacrifice and dedication of those who toiled behind the lines.  Honouring all our veterans is tremendously important.to Vintage Wings.  Sharing the aircraft in the collection with veterans and their families is our highest goal and a unique privilege.

A few months ago, Vintage Wings had the pleasure of giving a tour of the collection to the son and grandson of the late Moe Fraser.  During the war, Moe Fraser did yeoman service as a flight instructor.  Like the other unsung heroes of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, he made a vital and under-recognized contribution to the war effort.  Cameron Fraser, brought his twelve year old son Alexander, nicknamed “Zander”, to the hangar to see the airplanes in the collection – and to remember Zander’s grandfather.  Like all aviation enthusiasts, they were naturally drawn to the sleek and powerful fighters:  the Spitfire, Mustang, Corsair and Hurricane.  Cameron had learned to fly on a Citabria; they were delighted to see one on display.  But the highlight of their visit was giving Zander the opportunity to see examples of the Tiger Moth and Harvard that Zander’s grandfather flew during the war.

Zander brought several precious reminders of his grandfather’s wartime service which he has generously allowed Vintage Wings to put on display in the hangar.  These include the wartime log books that detail the early years of Moe Fraser’s flying career; a vocation that spanned nearly half a century, from the late 1930s to the mid 1980s; from fabric covered biplanes to jets.  Ultimately, Moe Fraser amassed a staggering 36,000 hours flying time!  One of his wartime log books has been left open to display a typical wartime month’s flying, with entries that reflect his instruction work on such types as the Tiger Moth, Harvard and Cornell as well as the Link trainer.


When Moe Fraser graduated from No. 1 Service Flying Training School, he received high praise from the commanding officer. Many students figured such praise would make them a shoo-in for fighters and action in Europe. Instead it was a ticket to Flying Instructors School. Throughout Moe’s career as a flying instructor, he always held out hope that he woud be transferred to operational duties - it never happened.  Log book entry via Cameron Fraser

Moe Fraser was a gifted instructor who made an enormous difference in his students’ lives.  He had a unique ability to guide his students through the agonizing “learning plateaus” and crushing moments of defeat and self-doubt that plague many students.  He was the type of instructor that would give his students the time, attention and insight that they needed.  One of Moe Fraser’s grateful students built a model of the Harvard for him.  Over the many years it has been battered and bruised and its once shiny yellow paint is now dull and chipped.  But the care and attention that went into the model’s making are still very evident.  This model is displayed along with a wartime flight computer.

Zander also brought us many of Moe Fraser’s photos and several souvenirs from his days as a BCATP flight instructor.  These include a well preserved leather helmet, with zippered earpieces for a gosport tube (a voice tube which allowed instructors to communicate with their students).  One of the photos in Moe Fraser’s album shows him wearing this very helmet while flying.  His beaming smile reveals the joy that he felt in being airborne!  Another souvenir on display is a well-worn copy of the book Dat H’Ampire H’Air Train Plan, a light-hearted explanation of the BCATP that was published during the war.

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Two of the souvenirs from Moe Fraser’s days as a flight instructor; the well- preserved leather helmet has zippered earpieces for a gosport tube.  The gosport was a voice tube which allowed instructors to communicate with their students.  The book Dat H’Ampire H’Air Train Plan was a light-hearted explanation of the BCATP that was published during the war..  Photo: Rob Kostecka


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Alexander "Zander" Fraser, proudly wears his grandfather's wartime leather flying helmet as he sits in the Tiger Moth. During the war, Moe Fraser, Zander's grandfather spent thousands of hours instructing in Tiger Moths, Harvards and Cornells.  Photo: Rob Kostecka

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Freshly created AC2s - Aircraftsmen Second Class (Acey-Deucies) fresh from manning depot in Toronto. A serious Moe Fraser is standing at right. Photo via Cameron Fraser

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Moe Fraser’s life long enthusiasm for flying is clearly evident in his smiling face as he taxies his Fleet Finch during his Elementary Flying Training. Starting right here, Moe would go on to amass a stunning 36,000 hours of flying time in a long career  - a total that very very few aviators can claim.  36,000 hours equates to more than 4 years aloft - a breathtaking tribute to his skill and luck. Photo: via Cameron Fraser

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Moe’s Initial Training School class at Avenue Road in Toronto. Moe is standing in the back row - 6th from right. One can sense the pride these young boys and men have in wearing their new RCAF uniforms.

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Moe Fraser photographs another Harvard from the front seat during Service Flying Training over the Southern Ontario landscape in winter. Photo: Moe Fraser

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Harvards and Yales festoon the ramp at Camp Borden while families of newly winged graduates take their seats for the Wings Ceremony - taken perhaps from the control tower’s balcony. Photo: Moe Fraser

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Sitting in the cockpit of another Yale, Moe Fraser shot this photograph of Yale X9 3416 at Camp Borden’s No 1 Service Flying Training School. In the background stand maintenance and instructional buildings. Photo: Moe Fraser

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Though Moe Fraser may have longed for operational flying against the enemy, there were plenty of ways to get hurt as a student at No 1 Service Flying Training School. Here a student has tipped Yale 3424 over on to her nose on the icy runway at Camp Borden.  Photo: Moe Fraser

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In this photo taken by Moe Fraser, North American Yale No. 3360 warms up on a frigid Canadian day at No. 1 Service Flying Training School at Camp Borden, Ontario. The bare metal finish on this example was employed early on and included a yellow dorsal patch (visible here as black) just behind the cockpit as well as on the wings - this is the result of the use of orth-chromatic film which causes certain colours such as yellow to appear darker than they are.  Photo: Moe Fraser

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A colour shot of a Yale of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, Ontario for the purpose of understanding just how the Yale in the previous photo looked in service.  The Borden Yale would have been bare metal whereas this example is painted silver to simulate the polished aluminum. Photo: Hongyin Huo 

Like most wartime flight instructors, Moe Fraser minimized his vital contribution to the war effort.  He never wore the medals that he was entitled to.  In fact, he never even collected one of them.  He desperately wanted to fly overseas and was bitterly disappointed when a rumored posting to fighters failed to materialize.  His outstanding instructional skills kept him in Canada, and away from the operational flying that he longed for.

An insight into the feelings and frustrations of this veteran flight instructor can be found in a poem that he transcribed in the back of one of his logbooks…

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The two pages from one of Moe Fraser’s many logbooks where he has transcribed a poem or perhaps a song called Flying Instructors’ Lament. Moe was bitterly disapponted that his exceptional skills were not put to the use he wanted. Instead, they were put to the best use possible - teaching hundreds of pilots. His contribution to the war effort is unestimable and Vintage Wings of Canada humbly thanks Moe and his fellow instructors for what they did - and the very clear sacrifices they made.


Postscript.  On the same day that this article was published, we received a photograph of Moe Fraser's grandson Alexander "Zander" Fraser who had just joined up and received his new Air Cadet uniform. Moe's son Cameron stated that his son was inspired in part by his visit to Vintage Wings of Canada where the story of his grandfather's career came alive. With a little Photoshop work, we can draw a straight line from Moe to Cameron to Zander. At Vintage Wings we have three goals - to educate, to commemorate and to Inspire. It is indeed a "perfect storm" when we can achieve all three in the course of presenting Moe's story. Photo: Cameron Fraser 


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