Grounded history: Second World War plane holds decades of history for Estevan and region

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Grounded history: Second World War plane holds decades of history for Estevan and region
WATCH: An unexpected find in a field near Estevan is shining light on the area’s dark history – Feb 5, 2021

Pheasant hunting is a favourite pastime for Garry Leslie. During a recent trek in a field near Estevan, Sask., hidden amongst the remains of old equipment, resided a decades-old object of historical significance to the area.

Leslie said the friend he was hunting with suggested that they walk through an area where the skeleton of a Second World War training plane rested.

“The fellow I was hunting with (Jerry Seipp) was the previous owner of the land,” Leslie said. “His son now owns it. In the process of walking through his yard, he said we will walk around the old plane.”

Even after several decades of battling Mother Nature, a large portion of the plane still remained.

“It became clear as you looked through the grass to how complete (the plane) really was,” Leslie said. “I was amazed at how intact it seemed to be.”

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Leslie adds he knew after being briefly informed on the background information on the discovery that he had to call local military expert Lester Hinzman. Members of Hinzman family fought in previous wars, with a couple of them dying as a result.

After roughly six feet of a tree that was growing through the middle of the plane was removed, it was transported to Hinzman’s property. He said he first received permission from the landowner and 15 Wing Moose Jaw.

Hinzman said this is a rare find for the region.

“This is apparently the first one that has been found in quite a few years,” Hinzman said. “Forty to 50 years. Some in Alberta and Saskatchewan.”

Hinzman said the plane was used solely as a training plane at the Estevan airport, which no longer exists. He added that pilots used them mainly for gunnery, bombing and general flying practice. Because the materials were common and war-friendly, the planes were built out of things such as wood and cloth.

“It was covered with a cloth-like material similar to what a flag is made out of,” Hinzman said. “You can see it is basically tubing, kept it together. The motor was a Jacob engine, or shaky Jake.”

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South East Military Museum president Craig Bird said the planes were constructed in a way that was pretty forgiving to fly.

“The fuselage was made out of plywood and then it would have a canvass type covering over the rest of the plane,” Bird said. “They were economical to build.

“They could only carry about 300 to 400 pounds worth of equipment… They were generally manned by three or four people.”

Bird said the Estevan airport airbase was chosen by the British Commonwealth for Canadian troops to use the aircraft during the Second World War. It was one of 20 airbases throughout the province and hosted roughly 1,200 soldiers.

Hinzman says that shortly after the base opened, it was given the nickname ‘death valley’ due to the runway overlooking a valley and because of an accident that happened in 1946.

“Twenty-one airmen died in a single accident,” Hinzman said. “They were shuttling planes back and forth between Minot (North Dakota.)”

Hinzman was involved in making a monument in Estevan that serves as a way to remember those who died in that crash.

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Bird said that after the war, the training planes were often sold off as parts. One reason the frame of the plane was found where it was, was missing pieces.

“A lot of the aircraft, after the war, was sold off as surplus. A lot of the farmers and flight-related people in them bought the aircraft for parts or scraps.”

Hinzman and Bird agreed the plane holds no financial value, but it does possess significant historical value. While it would fit the mould and be a great piece in the South East Military Museum — which opened on Nov. 11, 2020, and features historical military memorabilia from Estevan and the surrounding region — because of how fragile it is, the plane stays on Hinzman’s property and will be used as an education tool.

“I’ve got the land here to do it. It’s a nice place,” Hinzman said. “This valley has a lot of history.”

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Hinzman added that Estevan has a rich military history that the plane fits into.

“This is my history, this is your history. Everybody that is Canadian, this is their history and they have a right to see it.”

Leslie said the plane is a key find.

“It’s an important piece of history for what the story that Lester is trying to tell about the training of the airmen in Estevan.”

Bird said it gives a person a fairly good look back at the ’40s.

“I think we some photographs and some of the history in the area, to put a pretty good presentation together and use that as an educational tool.”

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