Ethel Wood

Ethel was born in Claresholm in 1926 and grew up on a miserable, rocky farm in Stavely, AB. Like many in the area, her parents were Swedish immigrants. Ethel was the youngest of three, by far.

As a child she was fascinated with airplanes, and when the weekly mail plane flew by she’d drop everything to stare up and imagine she was flying it. She was often in trouble for shirking her chores. The first time Ethel got close to a plane was when a pilot from No. 7 SFTS Fort Macleod force landed an Anson in their field. In exchange for buttermilk, the pilot let Ethel hang around.

BCATP flying schools were popping up everywhere. With a promise that some older girls from Stavely would keep an eye on her (and a little white lie about her age), Ethel went to work at No. 31 EFTS De Winton. She arrived in 1943, in time for Course 86 and stayed until course 102, when the school closed. She was a quick study with the tools and had the compassion, good humour, and listening skills that made her very popular with student pilots from all over the world.

One young pilot from England got her attention and in his five weeks at De Winton, they were engaged. The plan was to marry after the war and settle in Alberta (not Stavely) or London (not Ontario). Tragically, Ray was killed flying bombers in Summerside, PEI.

When De Winton closed Ethel intended to go to Ajax, ON to work in the munitions factory. Unfortunately her father was very ill and her mother needed help working the farm. By the time he was well the war was over.

Ethel and her friend Vi Hedin moved to Calgary to attend Garbutt Business College while working for their room and board. Later Ethel was hired as a comptometer operator, but then she was told they had to give the job to a man returning from the war. Ethel then took on various jobs, trying to earn enough to move her parents and take flying lessons. Her parents moved to Calgary in the late 1940s while Ethel was working for the Employment Office.

A promotion landed her in No. 11 Supply Depot where she met I.H. “Woody” Wood, an Air Force Flight Lieutenant and former football player. Although Ethel was going steady at the time, F/L Wood asked if he could call her later “in case she got stood up.” Well, she did and he did (foul play was never ruled out) and they married in 1951.

They were transferred to Montreal where Peter was born, and then to Edmonton (Namao) where Robert was born. Woody’s parents also came to live with them (1955-61), which still drives Ethel crazy. When Woody retired in 1960 they bought a house in Edmonton. Linda arrived in 1961, spoiling their plans.

In winters Woody managed curling clubs and in summers he was the odds-maker for the Western Canada Racing Association. Woody died suddenly in 1973 when Ethel was 48. She eventually got a job with AGT where she retired from the Fleet Maintenance Department at age 65. After retirement Ethel did a little travelling and volunteered at the Alberta Aviation Museum where she could be around planes and tell her stories.

In 2001, in recognition of 60 years of the BCATP Lieutenant Governor Lois Hole presented Ethel and a couple of war aces with the BCATP Pennant, now hanging at the Museum. Ethel was immensely proud to accept the pennant on behalf of the many civilian women who worked in support of Canada’s contribution to the War Effort. She commented that her time at De Winton was the best job she ever had.

In 2005 after some health challenges, Ethel stopped volunteering but remains an active, engaged member of the AAMA. Today, she still loves planes – especially Cornells – and watches every word she says in case it ends up in one of Linda’s plays.

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