The Corporate Archives curates physical and digital exhibits from our collections to tell BMO’s story over the years. Our aim is to provide a better understanding of the defining moments in our history.

BMO and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF)

Since 2008, BMO has served as the official bank of the Canadian Defence Community (CDC) Banking Program. BMO’s relationship with the Canadian Military begins within a year of its founding in 1817, when the bank began providing banking services to the Governor of Upper and Lower Canada to finance administrative and military life – like the agency at Ile-aux-Noix, Quebec, which existed until 1870, serving British Troops stationed there.

Thousands of Canadian aviators served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) was formally established on April 1, 1924, after being granted royal title by King George V. As the RCAF celebrates its Centennial in 2024, BMO remembers its longstanding relationship with the RCAF.

Letters from the front

Nearly 1,500 BMO employees served their nation in the Second World War in different capacities, including as members of the RCAF. Their experiences are documented in letters to family and colleagues, excerpts of which were published in the bank’s Staff Magazine.

In the October 1940 issue of the Staff Magazine, RCAF Officer Alex P. Yule writes:

“I’m enjoying Air Force life very much and it’s certainly quite a change from banking […] The first week, we got our uniforms and equipment. We also got some military drill and got more or less used to shaving and showering in ice-cold water. I found it quite amazing just how much a person can put up with and still enjoy life. After [redacted] weeks in [redacted] I was posted to [redacted]. Here, we study very hard and do a great deal of flying. Of course the flying is the most interesting part but the most dangerous.”

Image: Excerpt from a letter written by bank employee and RCAF Officer Alex P. Yule during Second World War, Staff Magazine, October 1940.

RCAF Women’s Division

Among the bank employees who joined the RCAF during the Second World War, 86 served in the Women’s Division.

Image: Photograph of Kathleen Mary Payne, previously of the Winnipeg Main branch, serving as Leading Aircraftwoman in the RCAF Women’s Division, Staff Magazine, October 1943.

Support from the homefront

Bank employees on the homefront likewise contributed to the war effort, namely by sending much-needed supplies abroad.

At Montreal Head Office, several units were formed to knit for those serving in the armed forces. The unit under the direction of Miss D. Johnston was responsible for knitting for RCAF personnel. Less than a year after the start of the war, the unit had already knit 75 pairs of socks and 15 sweaters.

Image: Photograph of articles knitted by members of the war service units at Montreal Head Office, Staff Magazine, August 1940.

Remembering our servicemen and women

In 1950, the bank published Field of Honour, a book paying tribute to the bank employees who served in the armed and auxiliary forces during the Second World War.

Tributes to the employees who served in the RCAF can be found in this book.

Image: Front page of Field of Honour, 1950.

Field of Honour: Pilot Officer Douglas Joseph Eastham

“Born at St. Annes-on-Sea, England, on November 25th, 1908, he received his education at St Peter’s Boys’ School and St. Vincent’s High School in Saint John, N.B. Entering the bank in that city early in 1927, he was transferred seven years later to Montreal and there served at several branches. He was a prominent member of the Bank of Montreal English Rugby Football Club, apparently playing all positions with equal facility and skill. In September, 1941, while attached to Mount Royal Avenue & St. Lawrence Boulevard branch, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force with the rank of Pilot Officer, and shortly after proceeded overseas to serve as a Regional Control Officer with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. As he wished to take a more active part in aerial warfare he voluntarily sought demotion in rank and remustered to aircrew in October, 1942. On completion of training as an Air Gunner he was posted to 429 Squadron and with it took part in many sorties over enemy territory. After a raid on Kassel his plane once became lost over Germany, but notwithstanding damage to the aircraft, loss of navigation instruments, and the wounding of the pilot, the crew brought their Lancaster safely home with only three minutes supply of fuel left. He was subsequently attached to 405 (Pathfinder) Squadron and it was while operating with them on February 24th 1944, that his plane failed to return from a sortie. Continuous search for nearly five years at last revealed that the aircraft crashed at Bermeringen, France, killing the entire crew.”

Field of Honour: Pilot Officer Joseph Frederic Chevalier

“Born in Montreal, on February 21st, 1921, he received his education at Selwyn House School, Montreal and at Ampleforth College, Yorkshire, England. Entering the bank in August, 1938, he was first attached to Beatty & Verdun Avenues branch, Verdun, Que. and later served at Montreal branches and in Valleyfield, Que., before he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force from the latter office in November, 1940. He was a keen participant in sports, especially skiing, hockey, tennis and motorcycling and on entering the Air Force displayed the same enthusiasm in his new duties. After training at Regina, Sask., Debert, N.S., Macdonald and Rivers, Man., he received his Observer’s “Wing” at the latter centre in July, 1941, and his commission in August, shortly before proceeding to England. There he was attached to 61 Squadron, Royal Air Force, operating from North Luffenham, Rutlandshire, and with that unit took part in many raids against the enemy. During this time he became a member of the famous “Caterpillar Club”, the membership of which was restricted to those who had had to leave their aircraft by parachute. Following a mine-laying operation of Terschelling Island, near the coast of Belgium, on the night of March 29th, 1942, his aircraft failed to return and he was posted as missing. He is now officially reported as “Presumed dead” as a result of that operation.”

Welcoming our veterans home

After the Second World War, as our troops returned home, BMO produced advertisements for veterans to provide them with job opportunities and banking services to make their transition to civilian life easier. These services included providing loans to veterans purchasing the tools necessary to resume their pre-war trades, such as farming.

BMO is one of the founding employment partners of the Military Spousal Employment Network and is proud to offer career opportunities for service members, veterans, and their families.

Image: “As you step out into your post-war future,” Bank of Montreal pamphlet describing support services for discharged war personnel, 1945.

Providing banking services at home and abroad

Following the War, BMO partnered with the Canadian Defence Community to create branches on military bases at home and abroad to better provide banking services to our servicemen and women.

Branches were located at the RCAF bases at Penhold and Namao, the RCAF station at Portage La Prairie, the RCAF station at Metz, France, as well as the Baden-Soellingen and Zweibrucken RCAF bases in Germany.

At these branches, employees transferred funds to and from Canada, made personal loans, and issued travellers cheques in multiple European currencies.

Image: Photograph of RCAF personnel conducting bank transactions at tellers’ cages, RCAF base, Zweibrucken, Germany, c. 1956.

BMO and the RCAF today

BMO continues to be an active supporter of the Canadian Defence Community at home and abroad.

In addition to providing specialized personal and business banking services that help servicemembers and veterans make real financial progress, BMO also sponsors the RCAF Run, Navy Bike Ride, Canada Army Run, Invictus Games and Military Family Appreciation Days across Canada.

As a member of the Founders Circle of the RCAF Foundation, BMO supports their work to celebrate the RCAF through community engagement, education programs and commemorative activities.

Image: Photograph of the runway at 17 Wing in Winnipeg at the 2019 RCAF Run sponsored by BMO.