Memorable Manitobans: Ambrose Bernice Shearer (1893-1952)

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Ambrose Bernice Shearer
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Military pilot.

Born at Lindsay, Ontario on 8 May 1893, son of William Thomas Shearer (1858-?) and Emmeline Bechtel (1867-1951), he accompanied his family to Neepawa at a young age and attended school locally before apprenticing as a garage mechanic during studies at the University of Manitoba. With the onset of the First World War, he was one of the first airmen candidates to leave Winnipeg, heading to Toronto, Ontario where he enlisted as a pilot. There he set a 4.5-hour flying record, and earned his license in only 320 minutes, faster than most of his peers (the average being 400 minutes). He departed for overseas service in 1915 and joined the Royal Naval Air Service, flying bombing missions over eastern and central Germany. Wounded in January 1917, he recuperated in Canada before heading back to England. After a few months, he was sent to Taranto, Italy, flying operations from the local base before being dispatched to Valona, Albania, as Commanding Officer (CO) of the Royal Air Force (RAF) No. 224 Squadron, a fighter-bomber unit and the only RAF unit to operate in Albania. During a 24 October 1917 bombing run, following an attack on an Austrian troop transport vessel in the Adriatic Sea, they set for the nearby Austrian base, their 13th sortie against the site. His Camel airplane was hit by anti-aircraft fire. His right leg was broken and an artery was severed. Despite being in shock and having only one leg to control his aircraft, he safely navigated back to Italy.

The 1918 Armistice was signed while he was recovering at the Italian naval hospital in Valona. He returned to Canada in April 1919, but only three months later joined the British Expeditionary Force dispatched to aid the White Russians against the Bolsheviks. Much of his time was spent operating from the aircraft carrier HMS Pegasus before returning to England in November, at which time he received a permanent commission with the RAF. A month after signing on, he resigned and returned to Canada where, on 24 January 1920, he married Neepawa native Florence Elizabeth Young (1895-?) at Chalmers Church in Winnipeg.

In February 1920, he joined the newly formed Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) as a Squadron Leader, with subsequent postings as CO at Camp Borden in 1925. He returned to England in 1928 and was involved with the Royal Navy, appointed Air Liaison Officer following staff courses at the Air Naval College at Greenwich. While spending time aboard battleships, aircraft carriers, destroyers, and submarines, he flew the R100 and R101 airships. Designed to serve for trans-Atlantic transport, he selected the site for an airship mooring mast at St. Hubert Airport near Montreal, Quebec. He resumed duties in Canada in 1932, now with the rank of Wing Commander, as CO at Jerico Beach Station (1932-1936) and the Ottawa Air Station (1936-1938) prior to being appointed Director of Works and Buildings for the RCAF in 1938. Having risen to Group Captain in advance of his April 1940 return to Winnipeg, he was appointed CO of the Air Training Command (ATC) No. 2 and tasked with the construction, administration, and operation of a vast network of military training schools across Northwest Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. A promotion to Air Commodore followed in June 1940. While serving in this capacity, he was appointed Air Vice-Marshal in June 1942, the first person from Manitoba to attain the rank. He continued in his CO role with the ATC until January 1943, when he was made Director-General of Economy, an RCAF position he held until his retirement on 15 March 1944. Within his 29-year service spanning both World Wars, he was decorated 13 times, including the Croix de Guerre with Palm for service in France, Italian Silver Medal for Valour, and Italian War Cross for service in Italy and Albania.

Around 1945, he moved to British Columbia and resided in Vancouver. While en route to a fishing trip, he died in an automotive accident and subsequent heart attack at Nicola on 5 September 1952. He is buried in a Vancouver cemetery.


Death registrations, British Columbia Vital Statistics.

Birth and marriage registrations, Manitoba Vital Statistics.

1911 Canada census, Automated Genealogy.

“Naval appointments,” The Times [London, England], 2 November 1915, page 12.

“Shearer - Young,” Winnipeg Tribune, 27 January 1920, page 5.

“Are seeking site to land airship,” Ottawa Journal, 13 May 1927, page 5.

“Squadron Leader Macleod to be transferred here,” Winnipeg Tribune, 13 October 1931, page 15.

“Squadron Leader Earl McLeod,” Winnipeg Tribune, 15 February 1932, page 3.

“Going to Trenton,” Ottawa Journal, 14 December 1936, page 15.

“Capt. A.B. Shearer given Western post,” Ottawa Journal, 18 March 1940, page 20.

“Three are promoted Air Commodores,” Ottawa Journal, 7 June 1940, page 12.

“Canada takes to wing,” Winnipeg Free Press, 27 December 1940, pages 1 & 4.

“Now it's Air Vice-Marshal Shearer,” Winnipeg Tribune, 8 June 1942, page 11.

“Air Commodore A.B. Shearer made Air Vice Marshal,” Winnipeg Tribune, 9 June 1942, page 9.

“Command changes hands,” Winnipeg Tribune, 5 January 1943, page 9.

“Shearer retiring from Air Force,” Ottawa Journal, 8 February 1944, page 1.

“Ex-Air Chief, A.B. Shearer, dies in car,” Winnipeg Free Press, 6 September 1952, page 37.

“Air Vice-Marshal Shearer of Vancouver found dead in car,” Ottawa Journal, 6 September 1952, page 1.

This page was prepared by Nathan Kramer.

Page revised: 28 December 2015

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

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