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Long Look Back : RFC and RAF Experiences, 1913-196

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    Posted: 05 Jan 2014 at 15:55


RFC and RAF Experiences, 1913-1962

From Flight, 17th May, 1962


 CONDENSING 49 years' experience of visiting the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force into the brief space of a few pages of Flight International rather savours of the problem presented to the curate who proposed, in a 15-minute sermon, to deal with God and Mammon in the past, present and future. Many aspects can be dwelt upon only lightly.

 To set the scene as it was when joining Flight in October 1913. We were just emerging from the era of unclad fuselages; Claude Grahame-White's famous Henry Farman Wake Up England was a current attempt to get the British public and politicians to realize the importance of an air arm. The results of the previous year's Military Aeroplane Competition were still being discussed. "Parkes' dive," the first known case of a machine coming safely out of a spin, was exciting piloting circles. We were publishing, under the heading of "The Black Shadow of the Airship," maps showing the mileages between Heligoland and Cologne and targets in Britain.

 The price of Flight had gone up from one penny to threepence. Names of pupils published as having "secured their brevet" included Major W. S. Brancker, who later lost his life in the R.101 airship disaster (after he was knighted he became known as "Sir Lansdowne Wind"); Chris Draper, who nearly lost his ticket a few years back

for flying under miscellaneous bridges; and Capt Hugh Caswall Tremenheere Dowding, RA, later to be a man of destiny in the Battle of Britain. Central Flying School orders announced the promotion of Brevet Major Hugh M. Trenchard, DSO, Royal Scots Fusiliers, from an instructor to be Assistant Commandant (graded as a squadron commander), back-dated to September 23, 1913. Mr Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty had visited Farnborough and flown in both the Beta and Delta airships and had told the nation: "We have but a single aim—to make Great Britain absolutely supreme in the air." Short Brothers had produced an armed biplane with a quick-firing gun and the new air-cooled Lewis machine-gun had passed a 1,000-round continuous fire test at Bisley.

 Politicians were as reliable then as they are now. Colonel Seely, introducing the Army Estimates, stated that the Military Wing had 161 aircraft in possession; but according to Mr Joynson Hicks there were but 42, of which 32 were of the B.E. type—which, at that time, were grounded. Among our constructors at the time were Hewlett and Blondeau. The Hewlett end was a lady whose son went into the RFC and was the only Service pilot ever to receive ab initio flying training from his mother!

 The Concentration Camp at Netheravon in June 1914 provided me with my first opportunity of visiting the Service. The camp was attended by Numbers 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 Squadrons (No 1 and 7 were in process of formation at Farnborough). Many of the aircraft were in single tent-hangars. My own humble part of the act was to collect exposed plates from our chief photographer, "Pop" Smith, who was under canvas with the RFC, and bring them back to the office for processing. Obviously, the red carpet was not laid out for me; nor did they bother to show me around. But there was a flavour about Service flying which was going to stick for many a long day. I hung about for as long as I dared, envying every man who had anything to do with the aircraft—or even with the solid-tyred transport lorries. I did not know it then, but I was destined to meet many of the officers there in later years. They included Major Brooke-Popham, Major Brancker, Major Longcroft, Major Salmond and Captain G. I. Carmichael, from whom a letter was received only recently.

 This first visit to the RFC was also to be my last for a long time. A month later I went for 15 days' camp with the 1st Cadet Battalion, King's Royal Rifles, with whom I was then serving. While we were in camp the First World War broke out and some 100 of us aged 17 or over (I sneaked in by 17 days) volunteered for immediate service. One could not wait to get into the RFC. The war might be over before one got a chance to do some fighting. It is difficult to believe—now the slaughter it involved is known how

popular at its outset was the 1914-18 War.

 For the next two-and-a-quarter years, as a sniper in France and as a scout in Salonika and Palestine, my only contact with the RFC was to watch it in action through the biased eyes of the PBI, There was never enough of it and what there was never attacked my personal enemy in the opposing front line. Curiously, I never saw "contact patrol" operation. Mostly one saw artillery observation B.E.s spotting for our artillery. They, at least, had the effect of keeping down enemy shelling of our trenches, and induced the Germans to use an endless number of rounds of ack-ack ammunition—mostly to no purpose.

 At last, while facing Johnny Turk near Gaza, Palestine, came the opportunity to transfer from the Army to the Royal Flying Corps. Specialists were in demand. I went down on the newly laid railway line to Cairo, in a train drawn by a London and South-western Railway engine which used to power the 8 a.m. workmen's train from Earlsfield to Waterloo. In Cairo a photographic test was completed without difficulty, but I was not in yet. The following conversation took place with the RAF sergeant in charge. Sergeant: "Do you want to go back to the infantry?" Me: "Not particularly." Sergeant: "Right, then it will cost you ten bob." I handed over ten days' hard-earned pay and, as a change from being the lowest thing on earth in the Army, became the lowest thing on earth in the RFC and was posted to a flying training school at Abbassia, near Cairo.

 Here fortune smiled. The Near East, as it was then known, was about three years behind Europe in the supply of aircraft and I was able to get flights in the Longhorn Maurice Farmans and B.E.s still used out there for training.

 This sojourn at Abbassia was short and a quick posting came, to start up a photographic section at the artillery observation school then being formed at Almaza. Starting a photographic section was a simple matter: I was given two empty B.E. packing cases and told that one would be the darkroom and the other the stores and office. Saws and other tools could be drawn for use and engine cases would provide the necessary extra timber for benches. Getting the photographic stores was less easy. One indented in quadruplicate and eventually received an enormous packing case —empty, the Egyptian railwaymen having helped themselves very skilfully. Photographic materials were at a premium in Egypt then. Promotion came quickly. One evening I was on defaulters' parade; the next I was buying a drink in the sergeants' mess for [he same sergeant-major who the previous day had been making my life unbearable.

 The airfield was marked out with stones—a rhomboid, not the intended rectangle, subsequent air photographs showed it to be. Two, later four, Bessonnneau canvas hangars were erected to house the R.E.8s, B.E.2Es and, afterwards, D.H.6s. Finally a plan of the Belgian village of Wytschaete was laid out in stones on the desert to provide a target area. Smoke puffs were used in lieu of gunfire. Initiation to flying in an R.E.8 was exciting. Under hazy conditions it was difficult to assess exactly where the ground was when coming in to land on the desert. We flew straight in and finished upside-down. The R.E.8 had a bad name—largely because it was the first aircraft to have a trimming tail. Pilots took off with the trim wrongly adjusted, and because also it was a matter of honour to take off in a climbing turn it is not surprising that a high percentage stalled and spun in.

 If, while flying, anything happened to the pilot of an R.E.8 the observer was expected to cope by the aid of a supplementary joystick—which had to be inserted into a socket and then had only about 2in movement forward—and two cotton reels attached to the rudder cables where they passed through the cockpit. Utterly unlovely, the D.H.6—or Clutching Hand—was a wonderful aircraft. Robust beyond belief, it could be dropped from 15 feet on landing without doing much damage. On days when the Khamsin wind blew hard these aircraft were to be seen nose down, engine flat out, with no forward speed but getting lower and lower until ground crew could grasp the square wing-tips and tail and haul them down on to the sand.

 The change-over to the Royal Air Force on April 1, 1918, had little impact out in the Near East. General Allenby's campaign was successful and the RAF had trapped and bombed the retreating Turks in a ravine. The war began to fold up.

 Early 1919, back at the Flight office with a dullish period ahead. The war to end all wars was over and there was no need to re-equip the RAF. Although he had well earned the nickname of "Boom," Trenchard was quite determined to copy the Royal Navy in having a silent Service so far as the Press was concerned.

 No visits to units as such were allowed. There were, however, opportunities to fly in military aircraft and civil conversions which had just missed the war. Such devices as the twin-engined Central Aircraft bomber, which crashed because its elevator controls were reversed; the Blackburn Kangaroo, which should have been named the Giraffe because of the length of fuselage in front of the main planes; the Boulton and Paul Bourges which, it is said, took a fortnight to re-rig after Major F. T. ("Magic Hands") Courtney had taken me up for an aerobatic session to get a photographic impression of a spin. There was also the D.H.4. as converted for civil use. Two passengers were carried, face-to-face; the lid was a bare 2 inches above one's head and the exhaust outlet within 6in of one's ear. No wonder communication was by written note. Chief recollection of the modified Handley Page 0/400 is of wickerwork bath-chair seats.

 The bar put up against visiting operational stations did not extend to training establishments. Forty years ago Cranwell was Cranwell plus Halton. Uxbridge was just Uxbridge, perhaps even more so.

 A civil/military exercise in June 1921 provided a day out in the airship R.36, to control the Ascot traffic. There were road-traffic jams then as now. Although bearing the civil registration G-FAAF, R.36 had tricolour control surfaces and was commanded by Major Scott, who had taken the R.34 across the Atlantic and back, with Captain Irwin as his second-in-command. Both these officers later died in the R.101 crash.

The day was full of interest, from climbing the 120ft mast at 6.30 a.m. to negotiating it again in the beam of a searchlight at 11 p.m. Apart from the hazards of embarking and disembarking this was air travel in excelsis. Plenty of room to walk around, very little noise, practically no vibration and the products of an excellent kitchen to enjoy. In the 14.5 hours R.36 was airborne, some 580 miles had been covered.

In the 1920s a closer link with the RAF came each year at the end of June, when the RAF Aerial Pageant, later called the RAF Display, was held at Hendon aerodrome. It was at these shows that the famous pair, Flight Lieutenants Noakes and Fogarty, first introduced crazy flying. They were a wonderful team and 30 years later in Malaya, when Air Chief Marshal Sir Francis Fogarty was AOC-in-C Far East, he knew immediately who I meant when I enquired after "the other chap."

In 1924 started an association with Group Captain P. W. S. (George) Bulman, then the new Hawker test pilot. Over the years he was to provide me with some of the very best "photographic" flying of Hawker military types and we made many visits to squadrons together. Notable among these were Numbers 1 and 43 Squadrons, which for years shared hangars at Tangmere.

Although the bar was still up on visits to individual squadrons we were privileged to attend the big Army manoeuvres in 1925. The Army co-operation squadrons taking part were Numbers 2, 4, 13 and 16. No 16 was commanded by Squadron Leader J. O. Archer, who had been my CO at the Artillery Observation School at Almaza and No 4 by no less a person than Squadron Leader J. C. Slessor, later to become CAS.

These squadrons were flying Bristol Fighters. Two fighter squadrons, both with Gloster Grebes, were present. No 25, who then had the spot aerobatic team, known as The Cuckoos, was notable for having got off in eight minutes; and No 56 for its ability to pack up and shift camp quickly. The incredible thing that struck one was that the Army, after experiencing five years of mechanized slaughter, was still adhering firmly to the employment of cavalry.

By 1926 the RAF had opened its heart just the tiniest crack by allowing me to ride on some of the practice flights for the RAF Display. This gave an opportunity for flying in a Liberty-engined D.H.9A of 39 Squadron.

A particularly interesting Service visit in 1926 was to Pulham again, to witness the launching of Gloster Grebes from beneath the airship R-33, which had just recovered from a broken nose consequent upon breaking away from the mooring mast. We all stood anxiously wondering, not knowing what the R.33 would do when suddenly relieved of over a ton weight—the equivalent of 40,000 cubic feet of lift. The outcome was most unspectacular, the R.33 going on its corpulent 30 m.p.h. way apparently unaffected. The first Grebe, flown by Flying Off Mackenzie-Richards, gained sufficient airspeed for control in the first 100ft or so. The second Grebe, flown by Flying Officer R. L. Ragg, had some starting trouble but eventually got away safely.

 In May 1927 came the exciting attempt by the RAF on the world's long-distance record. The Service modestly called it a "flight towards India"; and that is what it proved to be. The attempt ended with a forced landing in the Persian Gulf after 3,419 miles had been covered. There were no runways in 1927 and Cranwell was selected for the take-off of the much overloaded Hawker Horsley. How overloaded can be judged from the fact that while it was standing outside the hangar a tyre burst, causing the fuel tanks to overflow. A new wheel was fitted and Fit Lieutenants Carr and Gillman took the Horsley off—not, as was intended, along the top ridge of Cranwell but more or less out of control southward. Very close to the perimeter the undercarriage hit a gully, one wheel making an indentation ten inches deep, and this bounced the Horsley into the air, where it stayed, missing the perimeter wall by the thickness of the proverbial cigarette paper. The world's record was taken and held for a few hours; it then passed to Charles Lindbergh, who had flown from New York to Paris in his Ryan, which was completely "blind" forward. The second attempt, a few weeks later, provided a busy day. Again a Horsley was used with Flight Lieutenant Carr as pilot; his navigator this time was Flight Lieutenant Mackworth.

 I had arranged with George Bulman to have a second Horsley ticking over ready for us to follow the record machine the moment I had photographed the take-off. An emotioning take-off was duly recorded for posterity and I ran back some 900 yards to my Horsley, getting on board in a state of near-collapse. Almost coincidentally with George getting into loose formation with Fit Lt Carr the record Horsley was seen to be leaking oil. We tried to get close alongside, and momentarily succeeded, but in the bumps on this hot June day the heavily loaded aircraft was only just able to stay in the air; two or three times it looked as if Carr could not remain airborne. By now the Horsley was glistening with ejected oil and a long blue plume extended from its tail.

 Despite  its gross overload, Flight Lieutenant Carr put the machine down at Martlesham Heath—not the best of airfields—with a perfect three-pointer. The trouble had been caused by a scavenger pump being unable to cope with oil which frothed because of overheating. George had landed a few seconds earlier in case our help might be needed.

 If the RAF was not successful in this attempt, leeway was made up later in the same year at Venice, where the Service team flying Supermarine S.5 and Gloster IV aircraft won the Schneider Trophy race. This was a wonderful assignment, spent in motor launches going to and from the Lido, picking up bits of news and avoiding buying very expensive drinks in the Excelsior Hotel. It was marred only by the mishap to the Short Crusader in which Fit Lt Schofield tried to take off, not knowing that the aileron controls had been reversed. An interesting sidelight on the accident was that the magnesium crankcase of the Crusader's Bristol engine was completely dissolved by the salt water of the Adriatic.

 The RAF Display showed a major breakthrough in Service-Press relations. Flight was invited to fly in the Fairey IIIF formation to obtain pictures for publicizing the display. I flew with 207 San, commanded by Squadron Leader Graham. One of the interesting machines at this display was the Beardmore Inflexible—promptly nicknamed the Brittle. It was reputed to have room for 50 troops; nothing was said of the fact that it was doubtful whether it could take off even with half that load.

 Having won the Schneider Trophy in 1927, the RAF were hosts to foreign competitors in 1929, at Calshot and Ryde. We had a wonderful team: Waghorn, Atcherley (Batchy) and D'Arcy Greig. What remarkable days these were—apprehension, rumour, disappointment and elation each coming up in turn as competitors did or did not arrive, aircraft were or were not ready, and the English weather did or did not behave itself. A splendid win with a world's speed record to follow.

 "Boom" retired from his post as Chief of the Air Staff in December 1929. This meant that visits to individual squadrons became a possibility. We were very quickly off the mark to No 33 (Bomber) Squadron (first to have the then astounding Hawker Hart), then to No 4 (Army Co-operation) with Armstrong Whitworth Atlas and No 17 (Fighter) with Bristol Bulldogs.

 The Atlas was remarkable mostly for its lack of power reserve. Fully loaded, it was difficult to handle in the 80s and its theoretical top speed was only just over 100 m.p.h. On a visit to CFS later, I was foolish enough to remark upon this before flying in one with an instructor. To my consternation he proved that it could be flown quite low down at 45 m.p.h.

 A side of the Service which has now disappeared was the Auxiliary Air Force, many of whose pilots were the sons of wealthy merchants. In addition to flying AAF Westland Wapitis and D.H.9As, many of them owned private machines. When Service flying was over for the day, the real battles started, opposing camps being bombed with flour and toilet rolls.

 A visit of particular interest this year was to the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious, equipped with Fairey IIIFs and Flycatchers. It is sufficient for the present generation to be told that there were no arrester wires, no brakes and no catapults. The Flycatchers were lined up diagonally inside the forward hangar, engines were started, doors opened and, at the drop of a flag, each in turn took off from the fore deck. What flying speed was not gathered during the short run on the deck was gained as the aircraft sank towards the sea. Next squadron on the list to be visited in 1930 was No 43, then commanded by Squadron Leader C. N. Lowe, the England rugby player. They were flying Armstrong Whitworth Siskin HIAs. Apart from ordinary formation flying, they demonstrated for my benefit their ability to fly and land tied together. No 43 is almost a spiritual home for me. I have flown with them when they have had Siskins, Furies and Meteors, during a period stretching well over a quarter of a century. Only a fortnight ago the squadron held a reunion in London.

 Photographing 101 (Bomber) Squadron with their new Boulton and Paul Sidestrands in 1931 provided me with a last opportunity of flying in a Bristol Fighter. When some measure of doubt was expressed whether these two dissimilar types could keep in formation it was pointed out that the Sidestrands could fly in formation at 85 m.p.h. and that the ancient Brisfit could do 90 m.p.h. Away we galloped and all would have been well if the Sidestrands had not got their 85 m.p.h. by climbing. As it was, we could only get within shooting distance by cutting the corners and making intelligent guesses as to where best to make an interception. That Bristol Fighter sure was out of breath.

 In 1931 one o many periodic visits to CFS was made. It was then at Wittering, on the Great North Road. An exciting element was the inverted formation flying by five instructors on D.H. Moths, and the visit also provided an opportunity of witnessing blind flying for the first time. And very convincing it was. Flying Officer W. E. P. Johnson (now a technological consultant) sat himself solo in a Lynx Avro, started up, pulled down the hood, took off, climbed, did half a circuit, put the machine into a spin, recovered and only raised the hood for landing.

 Of quite exceptional interest was the visit to the submarine aircraft carrier M.2. Originally, M.2 mounted a 12 inch naval gun, the idea being to surface near an enemy shore, carry out a bombardment and then submerge before being attacked—Polaris forty years before its time. After the war the gun had been removed and a small hangar substituted. In the hangar was a Parnall Peto seaplane with folded wings. Clearance in some places was less than an inch; engine oil was kept warm by an immersion heater. On surfacing the hangar door opened forward and downward, the Peto was pushed out, unfolded and catapulted off. The door then shut and M.2 submerged Back on the surface, the Peto's pilot had to find the M.2, land alongside and be taken on board by crane. Later M.2 was sunk with all hands, a most tragic accident.

 Flying in 1932 in a 40 Squadron Fairey Gordon provided an excitement. We had finished taking pictures and my pilot pointed out that we were then at 9,500ft—did I mind a stall turn ? He waited while I packed, tucked my shoulder under the cockpit coaming, held tight—I was not strapped in—and gave him the OK. He promptly turned the Gordon on its back and left it to find its own way right side up again. An observer's chute was hanging within a yard of my hand. How I wished it had been clipped on. On a flight shortly afterwards this pilot became detached from the squadron formation and was never seen again.

 North of the border, the same year, we visited No 100 (Torpedo-Bomber) Squadron and flew in their Hawker Horsleys. To drop a "mouldie" the drill was to get into position at about 5,000ft and then dive to 15ft in roughly 7 seconds, levelling out before dropping. My pilot had no torpedo on board and felt it incumbent upon him to spin his wheels on the water at the end of the dive. In addition this dive managed to break one of my eardrums. But it was worth it. The target was Champion, the only ship in which I have suffered mal de mer. This happened when it was being used as a grandstand to watch Agamemnon, under radio control, being bombed from 8,000ft.

 It was in 1932 that I took the first infra-red pictures from the air. Brooklands and a 33 Squadron Hart provided the targets. In Flight I speculated on the possibility of making the rays visible—which is exactly the principle now being used in the infra-red gun sight.

Back to gasbags in 1933 with a visit to the Balloon Centre at Larkhill, where observation kite balloons were still in existence. I used the trip as an opportunity to do some more infra-red photography. My pilot was Squadron Leader Gordon, OBE, MC, DFC, who had had the misfortune to lose a leg. No fancy Desoutter artificial limbs for him. He wore a genuine Long John Silver peg leg, which he could cock over the edge of the basket with the greatest of ease. Some good pictures of Netheravon were obtained.

 In September 1933 George Bulman took me down to Tangmere in Hart G-ABMR, to visit No 1 Squadron. This was a real photographic foray. The squadron Furies were depicted in vee, squadron echelon, Hue abreast and, most important of all, as a figure 1. Some 21 years later, from the same Hart, "MR," I photographed the same numeral formation—this time made up of Meteors. It was while we were on the latter flight that Neville Duke came alongside in the prototype Hawker Hunter—and oh, how out of breath poor old MR got, trying to keep ahead.

 From the Coast Defence exercises of 1933 a small secret can be revealed. Without going through official channels, Squadron Leader Murray-Philipson, MP, who commanded 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron, had alterations made and special radio fitted to one of the squadron Wapitis. The pilot was told to fly on a steady course until recalled by the ground station. You have guessed already—the ground station broke down and frantic repair efforts were necessary before the unfortunate Wapiti got to the point of no return. I flew in one of the less exciting Wapitis.

 Flying-boats had a charm of their own; it is a pity modern conditions provide no place for them. My first visit to 201 (Flying Boat) Squadron—the old Naval No 1—was in 1934 at Calshot. They were flying "metal" Southamptons, as distinct from the earlier wooden variety. The wooden ones were interesting in that, despite the greatest care in manufacture and varnishing, they would soak up some 6001b of water, which was roughly their disposable load. The metal Southamptons merely corroded away.

 During the war, as Flight's war correspondent, I visited 201 on its 30th birthday. The party, of no mean dimensions, took place on my return from a 13 hour anti-submarine patrol in a Sunderland over the Atlantic. One needed to be tough.

 Air Exercises in 1934 provided a major disappointment. I travelled down to Manston to fly in the tail of a Vickers Virginia on a raid on London, hoping to get exciting pictures when the Virginia was picked up by searchlights. We need not have bothered; no searchlight would come near us and when we tried to fly into them they were promptly doused. Those who now lord it in Vulcans and Victors will be interested to know that the then defender of the bomber, the rear gunner, sat alone in the tail, watching the sparks from the engine exhausts go by. His only means of attracting the attention of the rest of the crew was to catch hold of the elevator and give it a waggle.

It was in 1934 that the Air League put up the suggestion that Empire Day should also be Empire Air Day. This provided an opportunity for us to visit stations to get previews. This went on for a number of years, the present editor of Flight International and I toddling off in a little fabric-bodied Standard Nine to do the rounds of Martlesham Heath, Felixstowe, Biggin Hill, Kenley, Calshot, etc. Those indeed were happy days. It was on one of these trips that we saw the new (keep it dark) Avro Anson, resplendent with its dorsal gun turret and undercarriage which was wound up or down by 200 turns of a handle. [Yes. And I managed to wangle a flight in the Anson.—Ed.]

Getting pre-publicity for the 1935 RAF Display gave a chance of flying in a two-seater version of a single-seater fighter. It was in one of the few two-seat Bulldogs that I went formating, with the Gauntlets of 19 Squadron. If it be thought that formations are tight today, let it be remembered that at the time under review the Air Ministry had to issue an order forbidding pilots to nudge each other's ailerons—doing so caused too many forced landings. We did no nudging but I sat as close as possible to the opposite side of the fuselage. C. N. Lowe, whom I had last seen as CO of 43 Squadron, I next met as chief instructor at Oxford University Air Squadron in 1935. The pupil he took with him when putting up a formation of three Tutors for photographs became a wartime instructor himself and later a Pathfinder. He is now the Editor-in-Chief of Flight International. [J. Y. will forgive me for recalling that this was one of the very few occasions in his long experience of air photography when he dropped a clanger. Wielding a camera in an open cockpit —even in the relatively luxurious and spacious one of an Avro Tutor—was not easy. At some time during the flight, left-to-right  in the plate carrier became right-to-left and he landed back with nearly all his plates carrying two exposures on top of each other. By the time the awful truth had been established most of the pilots had gone off for the weekend, as was the custom at the end of a summer camp course. Somehow another formation was got together on the Saturday afternoon; a member of the ground crew stood in for me—a pupil in a white helmet—and Fit Lt Knocker took the controls of K4798 for the individual portraits.—Ed-in-C]

The RAF Display, held at the end of June 1936, started the craze for reviving early types of aircraft, several of which had been borrowed from the Shuttleworth collection. It was interesting to see modern pilots trying to fly such devices as the Bleriot with fan type Anzani engine. What they had difficulty in realizing was the complete absence of any reserve of power: take-off, cruising, maximum and landing speeds were all the same. Ceiling roughly 12-15ft —a touch on the elevator to climb higher promptly brought off a landing.

 In the early days of flying, time in the air went very slowly. One looked over the side and the particular piece of landscape down below appeared to be stationary. The first time the ground seemed really to move backward was in 1937 when flying in a Blenheim of 114 Squadron at Wyton. Apart from the joy of riding in what was then the fastest bomber in the world, the trip was no small scoop for Flight. I came down from Wyton to Hendon in about 12 minutes. Terrific. It was round about the same time too that another example of the speed of "modern" aircraft impressed itself.

George Bulman and I at Brooklands were going to do some formation stuff with the Gloster Gladiator. He phoned Jerry Sayer at Brockworth and they arranged to meet over Didcot in 15 minutes' time.

 The move towards war became evident—however much we protested to the contrary. High-ranking German officers visited the RAF and did not believe that what was shown them could possibly represent our state of preparedness—or unpreparedness. We could scarcely believe it ourselves. They were shown the gunner's cockpit of a Handley Page Hampden from which the one poor Lewis gun had been removed and the fixing pillar covered with a square of green baize. When he thought no one was looking, one of the German officers lifted a corner of the baize to have a quick look at our secret gun mounting: perfidious Albion! For exercise purposes Wellington bombers had their roundels covered by a white cross and came in over the east coast to represent the enemy guess who.

 Few remember that when the 1938 crisis was at its peak some of our front-line fighter squadrons were still equipped with biplanes. This provided an opportunity for another trip in MR with George to 43 Squadron. If the lethal qualities of the Furies did not impress our potential enemies at least the piloting abilities must have done so. 43 put up a quite remarkable 12-aircraft line abreast formation. Visits to Numbers 4 and 16 (Army Co-operation) Squadrons gave an opportunity of flying in the Lysander—the "Lizzie" of blessed memory. That its low landing speed and short take-off qualities were to be used to their limit later in planting and picking agents in Occupied Territory was not then known.

 A prime memory is of pilots even more than usually keen on their squadron type, and of ultra-close line-ahead formation. worked up an anxiety complex concerning one's prop and the other chap's tail. To watch the automatic camber gear in operation was a revelation. Lizzie was a fair lady without any help from Bernard Shaw.

Came the war and a change m Flight's staff. The younger members went off to join the Services, leaving the older element to cope with producing an issue each week. Kaiser Wilhelm had not managed to stop Flight and we were going to make sure that no paranoid corporal was going to do any better. A remarkable fact about the wartime RAF was that, despite the heavy watering-down by civilian intake, its character remained the same. A wonderful tribute to those responsible—mainly the peacetime flight lieutenants, the salt of the earth. To go into any degree of detail concerning visits to the Services during the war would be quite outside the scope of an article such as this. I led a double life for quite a while, in the office from Tuesday to Friday, spending the weekends at the war as Flight's correspondent.

One highlight was an 8,000-mile visit to North Africa, Sicily, Italy and up to Salerno. Travel was in a Dakota rejoicing in the name of The Galloping Gremlin. I shall never forget the talk on the war situation given by the late Air Marshal Coningham in a Sicilian olive grove one evening. His ability to give a complete picture was remarkable. More exciting, but less clever, was our inability to obtain the "colour of the day" so that we could fly into one of the forward Italian airfields. They would not give it over the telephone and we had to get it by sneaking in round the side of a hill, hoping not to be shot down in the process.

During the tour I was fortunate in visiting the War Room, near Tunis, to meet General Eisenhower and his deputy, Air Chief Marshal Tedder, whose famous bombing "carpet" had played a big part in the North African campaign. While in the War Room, Gen Eisenhower leaned over and tapped me on the knee, observing: "I shouldn't copy too much off the walls"—and there was I thinking I was getting down the true operational ranges of all the Allied and enemy aircraft without being seen.

A desire to give publicity to those who had one of the more thankless tasks led to a few days at Tain to see the Liberator Arctic patrols in operation. The idea was to share their experiences so that I might write with full knowledge of their severe conditions. I was defeated. On arrival I was told that, because accommodation on the station was rudimentary, a comfortable room in a hotel had been booked for me. It would have been ungracious to refuse.

I was then informed that there was a party in preparation, would I care to join in? I have never in peace or war seen tables more loaded with more excellent comestibles and I had come, full of pity, from the land of two pennyworth of corned beef and an ounce of cheese for a weekly ration. It was all explained by the fact that a Czech squadron there boasted amongst its members most of a complete hotel staff.

Waiting to go to Arnhem meant a few days in a sealed camp at Fairford. A few things stand out—a padre with an amazing aptitude with a 0.22 rifle—no foraging rat was safe; a scrum of paratroops, arms linked and heads down, charging piled furniture in a "mess war"; climbing piled tables to put one's initials on the ceiling and then sliding down a hot chimney pipe. But of the real job in hand. The sight of all the Stirlings and Horsa gliders ready for take-off; the long ground run; the fantastically beautiful sight of the aerial armada streaming across the North Sea—a modern crusade; the cruelty of the flooded polders of Holland; flak over the dropping zone; and the quiet contentment of the fireside at home that same evening.

Save us from our friends. At the crossing of the Rhine, Bomber Command nearly got me. We had lost our way and had got much too near the target area of Wesel when the RAF arrived and put down some 700 tons in a matter of minutes. Debris from the nearer bombs flew over one's head, and the impact of the heavier missiles was like hammer blows to our feet. When the dust died down, Wesel was no more. Almost immediately a barrage of 1,200 guns started up and continued for the next 17 hours.

The actual Rhine crossing was witnessed from the observation tower of a Luftwaffe bomb dump. When the excitement was at its zenith Mr Winston Churchill arrived to watch the proceedings. Came peace once more, and with it that sad run-down of the RAF—pitiful to watch. At the time, I was engaged in writing for Plight a series of histories of the more well-known squadrons. Conditions were so bad that on occasion a unit would have to borrow both aircraft and personnel to make a showing at all.

The Auxiliary Air Force, now with the prefix Royal, returned to its pre-war status and many were the visits made before the squadrons were disbanded. Numbers 600 and 615 at Biggin Hill were great rivals. No 600 had the Queen Mother as Honorary Air Commodore and 615 had Sir Winston Churchill. When the Queen Mother first flew in the pilot's seat of a Comet she caused a telegram to be sent saying: "Today I have flown higher and faster than any of the pilots at Biggin Hill." On another occasion when Sir Winston Churchill was at Biggin he called over the CO of the enemy squadron and asked him to send a telegram to the Queen Mother saying:"I have today presented to my squadron the Esher Trophy." It was a great joy to me to be made an honorary member of 615. They were equally good at work or play. I remember visiting them at summer camp at Horsham St Faith. After the day's flying the squadron funds were raided and launches hired on the Norfolk Broads. At one or two selected stopping-places the adjutant went into the nearest hostelry and to the consternation of the locals ordered 86 pints and four lemonades.

Much of what has happened since the war is too recent to have any great degree of historical interest. There was, however, a wonderful Service trip out to see where the atom bomb was dropped at Hiroshima, stopping-off to bomb bandits by Brigand in Malaya. Crossing the Indian Ocean with fire-warning lights showing added interest to the journey, as did an 80 m.p.h. wind, which necessitated a long detour and 22hr flying in one day.

After a visit to the decompression chamber at Bassingbourn, it was thought I was still in good enough shape to be allowed up to 50,000ft in Canberras. Numbers 9 and 18 Squadrons supplied the aircraft, the idea being to get some more infra-red photographs—humbly started at 3,000ft in a kite balloon. Persistent cloud at round about 37,000ft defeated the attempt to get the whole of Britain in twelve pictures.

It was during a visit to 18 Squadron, on the occasion of a guest night, that I again met Group Capt G. I. Carmichael. As Capt Carmichael, he was at Netheravon when I went to the Concentration Camp in 1914. He, too, flew in a Canberra.

So the wheel turns. Exercise "Starlight" in 1960 in Libya provided an opportunity of flying on artillery observation again, only a few miles west of where I had been doing the same thing over 40 years before. The performance of the R.E.8 and Auster, almost identical; but modern cabin aircraft save aircrew the trouble of donning leather overcoats and helmets with ear rolls!

It would be churlish not to mention the many happy times spent with the RAF Small Arms Association at its annual meetings at Bisley, where in 1914 I became a marksman, and for that was entitled to an extra 3d a day; or to mention that indefatigable body, the Royal Air Forces Association, who do so much good. Their annual conferences, at which there is always a fair sprinkling of RFC ties, both on and off the platform, always provide a wonderful study in sincerity of purpose.

Retirement comes this year. May I say, with Omar Khayyam :

"And in thy joyous Errand reach the Spot

Where I made one—turn down an empty Glass l"

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