FROM THE FILES: Aircraft and the winter of '47

At the height of the Great Blizzard of 1947, the Leader-Post carried this story about a day in the life of an air ambulance aircraft and crew. Written by reporter Marjorie Jones, it ran in the Feb. 11, 1947 LP, under the headline, "Help from the sky".

A plane swept out of the dawning sky Monday, and from a work train, wrecked in a snowdrift, picked up three patients, at least one of whom had suffered a night of agony.

By mid-afternoon, the plane had delivered five other patients, about as many passengers and had taken several hundred pounds of emergency supplies to an isolated community. And still its work was not over for the day.

Tragedy has hovered over the prairies this winter and were it not for the provincial air ambulance and other emergency flights, it would have struck more often and more deadly.

In storm-tormented, isolated communities with illness and unsufficient food, life has depended on those trained and able people who fly.

And while those below look to life from the skies, those in the fuselage see life as it comes to them.

Pilot Julian Audette, Howard Murray, air engineer, and Mabel Gleadow, nurse, crew of one air ambulance plane, on Monday saw as much of prairie life and drama without the benefit of plush seats as the average theatre-goer might see in a lifetime.

They saw its stark realism. They saw suffering and want, all bars down. But they saw neighborliness, too, and hope and they must feel their task worth the hardship and risk when gratitude, seldom spoken, speaks loudly without words in the eyes of a mother or wife.

There's humor, too, sometimes, and today there is awesome beauty in the snowpiled land. From the air, it looked like a storm-tossed ocean, waves frozen in the swell and farms like pieces of driftwood in an eddy of white.

What once were roads can now be detected only by two lines of fence posts, and here and there's a hump with just enough showing to recognize it is a car. Railway lines are great billows of white and there, too, are stalled and helpless locomotives almost covered by snow.

Visible rural life amounts to a handful of slinking coyotes or frightened, hungry deer and a cluster of horses or cattle marking the vast endlessness of the snow. Not one patch of earth, only the village buildings break the whiteness.

But the people come in droves to the field where the pilot lands his craft and the startled horses stomp and chafe at their bits till the patient they brought roars off into the blue.

On Monday, this crew left Regina without seeing the sun. They skidded through a fence to get close to a stalled work train near Frankslake. The nurse eased the pain of the injured men, the crew carried one of them on a stretcher over the drifts that all but hid the telephone poles, to the plane, and then it was off before the long shadows of early morning filtered over the drifts.

Back to the Regina airport in a few minutes and, in as many more, it seemed, the aircraft had nosed over the hills to the south, picked up a small boy who had broken his arm when he had tumbled off a sleigh.

By now, the sun was high, the plane glistened as it banked over the Moose Jaw railway yards where the locomotives puffed purple vapor to go to the rescue of other iron horses that are quiet in their stalls of snow out in the country, or to get the people and freight moving again.

The ground ambulance was ready at the Moose Jaw airport, the patient transferred to it and the plane headed for Regina Beach. No patient to tend, the nurse picked up her book, but to her parka and placed the earphones on her head to listen to the midday news. A couple of circles and the plane landed on the lake, received its patient and some passengers and hit out for Regina.

Gullies you knew were there were level with the fields. One train hurried through the main line to make up lost days and then again came the landing field.

To the south this time, and a long trip, so the nurse had time for a doze. A patient was picked up at Radville and flown to Weyburn, where the plane was loaded to capacity with emergency supplies for Colgate, which, together with supplies brought the previous day, were expected to last another two weeks. Coal was another thing: the plane could not transport coal, so the Colgate people expected to bring it by sleigh 13 miles from Halbrite.

But thankfulfor the groceries again in their pantries, the Colgate people brought hot pumpkin pie and coffee to the crew, but almost before the last bite had disappeared, they, too, had disappeared in to blue yonder, where there was more work to do.