Cecil Lewis

During the early years of the war Cecil Lewis came to Booker as an instructor. Cecil, who wrote ‘Sagittarius Rising’ about his flying experiences in the 1914/18 war, lived at Frieth, half a mile from where Ann and I lived, but apart from this our lives came together in a somewhat dramatic way. Apart from my flying duties I had taken on the job of entertainments officer and Cecil loved producing sketches. I got to know him well and he chose me for some of the more exciting flying duties he was also involved in. One must remember that there were moments in the war when the possibility of stuka attacks were quite likely and the powers-that-be decided a simulated attack by our own home-based aircraft would not do the citizens of Marlow any harm A programme was arranged by Cecil who asked me to accompany him in another Tiger Moth. The proceedings started by a ‘bomb’ dropped by me at 8.30 am on the Pedestal at West Wycombe. I did this exactly on time to complete silence. I expect the fellow with the matches was still asleep! Half an hour later Cecil and I found the RP post in Marlow – at Quoiting Square – and by repeated dives almost down to ground level, we quickly cleared it. I flew as his ‘inside left’ position with my wingtip only a few feet from his fuselage. We then flew up the High Street at dangerously low level before flying close to Henley and then back up the river with our tailskids inches from the water. Then came a moment I will never forget.

Would Cecil or would he not fly under Marlow bridge? We had no radio in those days but I had decided to keep close to Cecil’s Tiger and we approached the bridge as almost one unit (there was another Tiger Moth in our dive-bombing unit – a F/LT Shepherd – but he had remained well outside to the right throughout). Just short of the bridge Cecil pulled up in a climbing turn to the left and we then faced the church spire: Cecil went to the right of this, but I could see there was just no room for me between Cecil and the spire and I pulled away and went to the left of it. But it was far too close to have been planned. I thought then, and still think over sixty years later, that Cecil had forgotten that I was tucked under his left wing as it were. He preferred not to talk about it afterwards. But I never let him forget it.

To this day I still look at that magnificent church and its spire with especial affection whenever I am in Marlow.

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