Military Ops





RCAF Streamliners Band

By J. Pinsent

A dance band emerged in the late summer and fall of 1941 at RCAF Squadron No. 1, 2 Wing in St. Thomas ON, when a few of new RCAF recruits, with musical ability, started up a band to entertain those living in the surrounding area. It was the beginning of the station dance orchestra and brass band.

In the USA, Glenn Miller joined the U.S. Army. He would soon convince the American military brass to send his swinging army band overseas to entertain the US Troops. Members of the newly formed RCAF group at the St. Thomas base were suggesting to the RCAF their orchestra and brass band, amidst the big band swing fervour that Miller and other American bands had created all over North America, should do the same.

Ten months later, both the brass band and the dance band would be posted to the RCAF base in Gander,Newfoundland. There they would not only entertain all those stationed at Gander, both military and civilian, but spend time rehearsing and playing gigs over the next year becoming, in the view of musicians in-the-know, one of the greatest big bands ever produced in Canada.

In early 1943, they arrived in St. John’s on a ship and traveled to Gander via train. Arriving in Gander the band settled in to a daily routine, soon picking up the name RCAF Streamliners. This is where it all came together; with much rehearsing, many dances and concerts. The fledgling ensemble had one advantage. While most bands got their music by acquiring stock arrangements, one of their group, Pati Ricco, was a gifted arranger, gave the Streamliners their own ‘Sound ‘

RCAF Station Gander had its own bi-monthly news magazine named ‘The Gander’. The Streamliners and the dances they played were the subject of a two-page photo-spread in the paper’s Christmas 1943 issue.‘The Gander’ reported: “One form of entertainment which is thoroughly enjoyed by the personnel are the dances. Our station band has also in its midst a dance orchestra and their efforts are sincerely appreciated by the station.”

In the May-June 1944 edition, ‘The Gander’ reviewed a show the band played for base personnel in the R.C.A.F. Theatre called “Music and Comedy.” In just three months, it was apparent the band was becoming a hit.“The sustaining feature of the program was our popular band, the Streamliners, featuring more of Pat Riccio’s derangements. (Now you know what I mean, Pat. For instance, when Phil tootles on his oboe in “Dancing in the Dark” – what it does to a guy!) .... among the band numbers, one with particular appeal was “Modern Rhapsody” by Pat Riccio. Based on the tune “Darn That Dream,” Pat gave us the works from nightmares to sweet dreams – and we loved it!”

Playing their music in Gander to the enjoyment of everyone, the band perfected their craft. The bands reputation became known by RCAF Overseas Headquarters in London England and the Streamliners received an overseas posting to the UK in order to perform for the troops there. After arriving in England their popularity grew playing their arrangements, sometimes in concert with Glen Miller. The Streamliners were described by the great Glenn Miller himself as “the best band in Europe...next to mine.” There were performances with major stars in the U.K. such as Vera Lynn, Stephane Grappelli, Gloria Brent and Anna Neagle. Other than performing for the citizens of Great Britain, they also played at several events in war torn Europe itself after D-Day, to provide the military personal with the moral and entertainment they most required.

The Streamliners continued to play as an orchestra up until 1946 but disbanded when they were released from military duty. Most of the band continued in the music world as individuals playing with jazz legends like Duke Ellington and Art Tatum. Two members of the Streamliner even recorded with the Beatles. Unfortunately the orchestra was a military formation that never received the popularity it deserved once the war was over. We are delighted that Gander airport played a role in the success of this band.


The RCAF Streamliners


We thank Andy Sparling, the son of one of the members of the Streamliners Band, Phil Sparling, for providing us permission to use information from his book 'Dance Through the Darkness'

listen too the band and hear comments from Andy Sparling

To read the book about the Streamliners 'Dance Through the Darkness' by Andy Sparling




Contributed by GAHS


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