FLYING MEMORIES 4
Flying was more concentrated now and quite a lot of time was used doing cross-country flights, both alone and in formation. We would probably fly at least three times a day, and if formation was included in those flights your shirt and trousers would be soaked in perspiration, but I enjoyed every moment and longed to be backup there without a care in the world. Flying in formation at night took quite a bit of getting used to, you tucked inside the other planes navigation lights, but the flames coming from your own exhaust manifold could be most off putting. Only did about four-night formation flights, thank goodness!
May 16th 1942 arrived and I with others was presented with due ceremony, our RAF and American Pilots Wings (or Brevet), by an RAF Squadron Leader. American top brass with a full military band in attendance. Pleased and as proud as punch to be wearing wings.
This also meant an immediate increase in Pay as we had all become Sgt/Pilots or Plt./Officers if commissioned.
We were now all sergeant pilots except for the odd bod who had been commissioned before transferring to flying duties, but were offered the chance to remain in the States, take a short course and become a qualified flying instructor, on passing this course be automatically commissioned as Pilot Officer, or return home and hope to be posted to an operational squadron. Bill and Helen did their utmost to make me apply for the Instructor course, with Bill saying he would ensure I would have a good position with his Bank if I would return when hostilities had ceased.
Len, by this time had completed his training as a draughtsman, and had arrived in the States to begin his flying training. Another schoolboy pal called Alec Shipway, (who was later to be awarded the DFC and Bar for his exploits in Lancaster Bombers) had received his Wings at the same time as me, but at a Twin Engine flying school, joined me on a Greyhound Bus trip to visit Len at his Primary Flying School, wish him all the best, telling him that if we could do it, he would find it a piece of cake. Shortly after visiting Len and with 200 hrs flying time in my Log Book we set sail for home, this time three or four to a cabin and a pretty formidable escort. This escort consisted of a large Battle Cruiser together with four Destroyers proving that we were far more valuable now trained than when we came out 9 months previously, our convoy home consisted of far fewer ships than the outward trip. We arrived in blacked out Liverpool sometime in June 1942 and the following morning entrained for a long stop, start, journey through green and lush English countryside to Bournemouth on the south coast, where we joined hundreds of other trained aircrew awaiting postings. The weather was fine and Mum and Dad came down from Bristol to see their clever son, it was grand to be home and see my parents again even though we were not given leave passes.
Life in Bournemouth consisted of a parade early in the morning, during which the people who were to be posted that day or next were segregated, and the remainder dismissed to do their own thing until the next parade. I was billeted in one of the flats in a multi -storey block almost opposite The Royal Bath Hotel. I got to know quite a number of the Pubs and Hotels in the area, which came in handy when I was to return with my Squadron shortly before D-Day. After what seemed ages I was at last given 7 days leave and a railway warrant to report to RAF Watton, Norfolk on the 4th July. 17 AFU Watton was an advanced flying unit using Miles Master II aircraft to get us back into the feel of flying again, navigation and cloud flying was brand new experience in this country. Learnt more in one week about map reading there than in six months in Alabama, also our instrument flying was tested to the full, as more often than not you would have cause to enter cloud at sometime during your flight.
Towards the end of August I was informed that I had been selected as a possible flying instructor, and was to be posted to a flying instructors course in Scotland. It turned out to be at Scone, Nr. Perth. Although it was a beautiful place the aircraft I was going to fly were the open cockpit Tiger Moth Biplane. I was determined to do my utmost to fail.
Hopefully be posted to an Operational Training Unit.
It was not to be, I passed this part and was posted to 10FIS Woodley, Nr Reading to complete the course on Miles Magisters.
The chief Flying Instructor at Woodley would appear at the flight line and just decide with whom he would fly and test their progress. My turn came one fairly cloudy day and he asked me to do certain exercises which seemed to satisfy him, when he said that he had control and took over the flying. He proceeded to climb and informed me that he was going to demonstrate controlled spinning. He then circled checking quite correctly that the manoeuvre to be executed was not above cloud and no other aircraft were in the vicinity. Having done this he put the aircraft into a spin calling out Reading once, twice, Reading three times, each time Reading came into view, followed by Recover Reading, and sure enough there was Reading straight in front as we pulled out of the dive.
Control of the plane was handed back to me with instructions to copy his example. I climbed to a safe height and decided that this was my only chance to get off this Instructor course, but in climbing I had taken careful note that there were no other aircraft in the area.
I levelled out at height, just dipped a wing, with the aircraft pointing towards Reading and immediately started to spin calling out the drill Reading once, Reading twice, Reading three times, followed by Recover. Instead of Reading being directly in front we had Basingstoke. I received a severe rocket through the headphones and was ordered to return to base, he was most put out because I had failed to orbit before going into the spin, and within days I was on my way back to Watton being unfit to be an instructor.
I remained at Watton flying Master IIs until just before Christmas until I went on leave with instructions to report to 59 OUT Milfield, Northumberland. At last an operational training unit, I was going to fly Hurricanes. Good show!!!
I arrived at Milfield on 29th of December 1942 and had my first trip in a Hurricane on the 2and January 1943. The Hurricane was a single seat front line fighter at that time, and had been the main adversary in defeating the German onslaught during the Battle of Britain. There was no dual instruction prior to ones first flight, only a book on Pilots Handling Notes together with verbal instructions from a member of staff. Having signed a series of forms saying you fully understood the cockpit layout, the oxygen system, radio call signs and how to operate the undercarriage, you were sent off to familiarize oneself with the surrounding countryside, and get the feel of the plane. It was pure magic, and once you had mastered the knack of retracting the undercarriage, which entailed changing hands from the throttle to the control column, bending forward to activate the lever with the right hand, flying a plane that was so responsive, a joy to handle.
This was what I had always dreamed of doing and felt on top of the world. Within one week I had packed my bags and left 59 OTU Milfield and gone to 55 OTU Annan, Dumfrieshire, where I continued my training still in Hurricanes for the next couple of months. The latter part of which was at a place called Longtown that was a satellite drome for Annan. Longtown was used for the advanced part of the course where we did a considerable amount of low flying, plus quite a bit of air to air, and air to ground firing with our four 303 machine guns and many hours practice Dog - Fighting.