Lysander liaison aircraft flying over the South Island during a World War Two training mission.

SOOKE HISTORY: Sooke a significant regional training site during Second World War

During the Second World War, two army training camps were located in our region, along with a number of lookout posts

Reconnaissance and clandestine missions were among the feats carried out by Lysander liaison aircraft during the Second World War, but the pair shown here flying over southern Vancouver Island were more likely target towing.

Based at Patricia Bay Airport, they were returning home from a mission in cooperation with the Army Training Camp at Otter Point.

During the Second World War, two army training camps were located in our region, along with a number of lookout posts. The Milne’s Landing Camp was near where Edward Milne Community School is today.

The Otter Point Camp was at the foot of Kemp Lake Road, where today you see dozens of closely packed vacation-type homes between Highway 14 and the beach, alongside a café.

This area, part of the Joe Poirier holdings, was open flat land that was used for horse racing and picnicking.

During the struggles of the Great Depression, the site had been set up as a relief camp for unemployed men before it was turned into a military camp in the late 1930s, when it housed the Canadian Scottish Regiment.

While the Canadian Scottish was the first, it was shortly followed by regiments from eastern Canada, such as the Sioux St Marie and Sudbury and the Dufferin and Haldimand Rifles.

We’re told by individuals like Velma Jessiman and Fred Shambrook who lived in Otter Point in those years, that many training operations took place at the waterfront and back in the hills, including at Robinson and Tugwell roads.

The two-seater Lysanders were designed by the British Army in the 1930s and by the late 1930s the Royal Canadian Air Force was having them built in Canada. While they are long gone now, a few have been pieced together and rebuilt in Canadian museums.

Fred Shambrook recalls as a youngster sitting on a stump watching not only the Lysanders but bombers such as the Bristol Bolingbroke, which would practice target bombing with sacks of flour.

An interesting facet of the Sooke Region Museum’s operations in the 1970s and 1980s was that veterans would come in from Eastern Canada and ask for help in locating the bases they had trained at during the Second World War.

Another interesting point is that several years ago when Liz Johnson and I were in Ottawa trying to do army research, we were told that there hadn’t been any training camps in Sooke, only in Gordon Head. Thank goodness for local, regional museums which record the actual history, and for people like Brian Butler, who gave us a map of the Milnes Landing Army Camp.

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Elida Peers is the historian for Sooke Region Museum.