Archive for March, 2007

Flying at Booker – navigation

Apart from teaching our pupils the art of flying they were taught the art of navigating their way about the country. Use of the compass, the effect of wind etc. As the duration of their course at Booker was a fixed one the weather was often the limiting factor and sometimes we were unable to get our pupils up to the solo stage. But the war would not stop to suit our convenience, so we just had to do our best. It cost a lot to train a pilot up to flying a Spitfire or a Lancaster and if we could sort out the likely pilots from the unlikely ones at the beginning of their training a lot of money and time would be saved. Thus the grading scheme was started and a few instructors were chosen to carry it out. I was one of these. We were required to test all pupils who had failed to go solo and any others with whom their instructors had some doubt. Thus produced some interesting results including my only crash!

The pupil had not soloed but was considered ready but for poor weather. His general flying was good and his approaches and landings good. Normally I would have sent him on a solo flight, but there was something about him that worried me. I said to him “I am going to ask for one more circuit; you had it all your own way so far and I am going to give you a small problem”. I handed over to him on the start of the approach and final leg – but about 20 feet too high. He closed the throttle and started the approach at the correct speed there was plenty of airfield ahead – and I mentally relaxed and removed my had from the stick thinking ‘he’s OK’ when suddenly he pushed the stick hard forward. We hit the ground – the undercarriage crumpled and the propeller was quickly reduced to the boss. For some time after this I was known as ‘crasher Steynor’.! Another moment I remember was testing a pupil who had not soloed and after putting him through all the most fiendish positions to which he reacted as an experienced pilot would I said “I find it hard to believe you have never soloed. As far as I am concerned you can go solo whenever you want to”. I have a strong feeling that I was being tested by the Air Ministry as to my ability for this job as a grading officer.

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Flying at Booker – landing out

The country between Princes Risborough and Aylesbury was our low flying area and when a pupil had soloed we would send him there to practise his flying and so prevent the circuit becoming over crowded. There was a useful landmark in this area – the Chinnor cement works with its smoking chimney – and pupils were told to fly south when they wanted to return to Booker. If they failed to spot the airfield in poor weather they would soon see the river Thames. Then all they had to do was find Marlow and follow the road to the airfield. I remember when two of our pupils on the same day didn’t make it home. One of them turned left when he saw the river and followed it for miles and miles, finally landing at Hornchurch. The other one turned right and flew on and on until, as he said “I ran out of river and landed in a field”. The barrage balloons were up and the first one had flown through the lot. When asked if he had seen them he replied “Oh yes, but I kept well below them”!

If a pupil lost his way and ‘landed out’ he was instructed to phone Booker with as much information as possible and we would send two instructors in a single Tiger Moth to retrieve him My flight Commander Michael Harraway and I formed a rescue team and we had some interesting moments. A pupil had landed in a field at Pinner and the police had put him in the local Goal. My sister-in-law Betty lived in Pinner and I phone her and we met at the field. She was thus able to see our rescue team in operation. On another occasion a pupil had landed in a field next to the local vicar’s house. The vicar insisted we had tea with him before we left. The vicar had an attractive daughter and Michael told me to take the pupil back in the pupil’s Tiger Moth and he would follow later. This worried me a bit because Michael was very susceptible to young ladies and it was already late in the day and we had a forty mile journey ahead of us. I was met on the airfield by the CFI, Jackie Hicks, with “What’s happened to Michael?”. He arrived half-an-hour later as our CFI was about to get the Chance-light going. Before coming to Booker Michael had been adjutant to Group Captain Malan at Biggin Hill. He suggested to me that we could use our compulsory blind-flying time by flying to Biggin Hill. We went there in a Magister and arrived as their Spitfires were returning from a successful strike over France. A moment for celebration followed, and Michael was quickly drawn into the Officers’ Mess. I went to the Sergeants’ Mess and had some difficulty refusing most of the drinks offered me. But I had the journey home and I had doubts about Michael’s ability to fly when the time came to go. My doubts were justified and his friends had to lift him into the Magister. I needed a little help too I regret to say and I have no memory of the actual take-off. The first thing I can remember was that we were at 2000ft and my brain was clearing. I think Michael was then asleep. I was now faced with the task of locating the half-mile gap over the river which marked the only safe crossing if we were to avoid being shot down by the Army anti-aircraft guns. In my present state I knew this would be impossible. The alternative was to fly South until clear of balloons. It was a longer flight, but I was becoming more sober every minute and made a good landing back at Booker. Looking back at this episode I remember feeling confident that I would be able to manage. I put this down to the competence one achieves from a thousand hours of instructing. As Cecil Lewis says in his last book, All My Yesterdays, “In the First World War I had been accounted a first-class fighter pilot, expert in aerobatics; but there is nothing like instructing to teach you accurate flying. By the time I had been at it three months, I was flying far more skilfully than I had ever flown before.”

After the war Michael Harraway became our solicitor. Ann and I were fond of him and he often stayed with us. He lost his life at a fireworks party given by Diana Dors when some fireworks exploded inside the house and set fire to it.

Flying at Booker

Early in 1942 an American, Finlay, came as pupil to B flight. America had not yet decided to help us. Finlay had soloed in America and he just felt the urge to help us in the war. We all wanted to do our best for him and his training was taken in personal hand by our flight commander, F/Lt Davey who had been a pilot in the 14-18 war and, like Cecil Lewis, had re-enlisted. But Davey failed to get Finaly up to solo in a Tiger Moth, and he asked me to see what I could do. I see from my log Book I took Finlay up seven times covering 2 hours before sending him solo on March 10th 1942. I remember Davey’s words when I gave him this news. “I think our troubles have just begun.” How true this was to prove! Finlay could fly safely enough, but his navigation skill was nil. I gather that in America there are straight lines everywhere. Like our own pupils Finlay was required to do several solo cross country flights. Even if he landed at another aerodrome he was supposed to phone Booker to get someone to guide him back home. After a few such flights Finlay decided to do it his way “I have caused enough trouble already”. I think he arrived at his last destination, but the return to Booker beat him. We receive a call from Pershore airfield “ We have just sent off your LAC Finlay having pointed him in the right direction.” Now Pershore is about an hour away but he only made it back after some three hours. Next morning I marched Finlay before Davey in our flight hut. “Why did you take so long to get here from Pershore?” Davey asked him. “Well Sir, I had to stop to re-fuel”. I saw Davey drop his head and cover his face with his left hand whilst indicating ‘get out of my sight’ with his right. I marched Finlay out of the hut and found Davey crying with laughter, tears running down his cheeks. America was now in the war with us and Finlay joined them.

Berlin

During my two years in Berlin (1935/6) I went to most of Edwin Fischer’s concerts, some of them with his Chamber music Orchestra. During one of these a dozen storm troopers burst onto the stage with the words “There are some Jews in this Orchestra: Throw them out; we want to hear German music.” In the end of ten minutes of discussion the Nazis withdrew with “We’re sorry, we were sent to the wrong hall.” It was good to see that the entire audience was against them.

At another concert with the same Orchestra we noticed the piano was barely audible and at the end, when the usual acclaim was at its height, Fischer walked up to the piano to give his customary encore and the first thing he did was to lower the lid of the open Steinway and then sit down on the piano stool to gasps of “Good. I thought he was telling us to go home.” He then played Schubert’s A flat Impromptu to softly and beautifully he had the entire audience completely in his grip. Some were openly weeping and there were many handkerchiefs visible. It was an amazing occasion. In the artist’s room afterwards we, his students, saw him dancing about saying “I knew that would get them” and then to us “Didn’t you notice how soft that Steinway was. I chose it specially with a view to the Schubert at the end after the very loud Bach”. I can applaud such showmanship!

Motoring Memories

Some of my friends collect old cars. But they don’t always keep them in good running condition. This can lead to uncomfortable moments. There was a meeting at the Bull and Butcher in Turville, 4 miles away, of a vintage car club to which I was invited. “I will collect you as there will be many vintage cars there and not much room”., Peter collected me in one of his several cars while it was still daylight and it never occurred to me to ask him if the old car’s lights were working. It was a pleasant evening that went on until well after dark. And then, of course, we had to get back home and I discovered the car had no lights. This did not worry Peter in the slightest. “ I have a torch which you can hold” he said. The road between Turville and my house are not very wide and the prospect of standing up holding a torch in an open car did not appeal to me. Peter failed to persuade me to give it a try – it was pitch black night and no street lights. In the end Peter got two club members to box us in and in this way we got home.

I have said little about my time with the Bond mini car apart from the moment when I left it at Stocks, 20 miles away, and was persuaded to use Miss Forbes-Dunlop’s Austin 10 when an emergency call from Ann required my immediate return home. This Bond was the first of a range of Bonds that sprung up in the early days after the war. It was a clever design – a 3-wheeler with the single steering wheel in front which also carried the engine, in this case a 148cc Villiers giving some 5HP and a maximum speed of about 30mph on the level. It had 3 speeds, all part of the engine unit and it would average about 100mpg. With seats for two it could manage a 1 in 6 gradient or a 1 in 4 if the passenger walked. It was a reliable and economical and that meant a lot in those difficult days. Germany produced the Messersmidt and Heinkel – both 3 wheelers, both of them with more powerful engines, faster and more expensive to boot if I may use such an expression for vehicles with little luggage carrying capacity!

I ran a DKW for a time. This had a small two-cylinder two-stroke engine with a dynastart which is a dynamo with its armature an extension of the engine crankshaft and therefore permanently engaged. It turned itself into an almost silent starter when you pressed the starter button. But there was a snag; the armature required very fine clearance and any appreciable wear in the engine crankshaft bearings and it wouldn’t work and demanded an expensive overhaul.

Motorcyling

After my motorcycling days were over the only time I returned to two wheels was during the war. Each of our five flights at the aerodrome had about 12 Tiger Moths all moored in blister hangers. These would only start if the carburettor was flooded until petrol dripped from the overflow pipe. It did not seem wrong to us to collect these drippings in an old cocoa tin for use in our motorcycles – until we were threatened with Court Martial if we continued to do so. The other custom was to empty the entire contents of the Tiger Moth’s 20 gallon petrol tank onto the grass if it crashed. This so annoyed me that I wrote to the Air Ministry about it. I don’t remember being thanked for my letter, but the practice was stopped – damaged petrol going to the transport MT in future. In the meantime Villiers had much improve their design and range of engines. They had gone over to flat-topped pistons which had improved engine balance and efficiency. Their 148cc engine now gave about 5hp with no cooling troubles. After the war I tested this little unit in a Bond minicar which I used for a time to travel to Tring where I had taken a job of music teacher. This leads to another facet of my life which I may cover if I do not run out of steam meanwhile.

MGs

I have always been devoted to MGs. The first one was a MG. M – a two-seater with boat-shaped tail. The engine was the Morris Minor OHC 850cc and it delivered about 33hp. With its single S.U. carburettor. I bought it about 1935 and when War came I stored it in the open in our shrubbery at Berwyn, Malvern.

After marrying Ann in 1943 I decided it would be nice to have it at my house at Lane End. My brother Martyn and I set forth in Ann’s Austin 10 to fetch it. The MG’s body had rotted away from the chassis and was beyond repair, but the radiator with its badge was saveable so off we set on the 110 mile journey with my brother in the Austin and me in the bare chassis. I had managed to get the engine running before we started which was to prove vital as the clutch on the Austin was on its last legs and would start slipping if provoked. So whenever we came to anything more than a gentle rise I would start the MG’s engine and we would complete the climb with the tow rope slack.

The next job was to find a body for what was still a perfectly good chassis. At that time in the war most large fields had scrapped cars dotted about all over them to deter enemy forces from using them. There were many such fields within our operating range as a training airfield and I asked my fellow instructors to see if they could spot any old Morris Minors amongst them. We had luck, although not in any of these fields. An instructor found what looked promising on the front of a small garage in Haslemere, the other side of Wycombe. I investigated and discovered it was a Morris Minor with an open 4-seater body. It had been dumped there and I was told I could have it for £10 if I would take it away. I bought it. It was a McEvoy Morris. The engine in it was the SV Morris which I didn’t need. It fitted my chassis perfectly and only required a new canvas hood – which Ann made.

It was on this car that the development of the Verdik petrol economiser was carried out and it was in this car that we set off for our first holiday abroad after the war – to Switzerland where we met Mr Frey, the head of Scintilla Magnetos who arranged to manufacture the Verdik for me.

I remember selling this MG vividly – we had moved to Colliers Corner, so the date must have been after 1951. We got £58 for it and never before or since have I seen one of my cars go away and found uncontrollable tears in my eyes.

Several MGs followed and all were enjoyed, especially the 6-cylinder Magnette with Wilson pre-selector gearbox which Ann loved to drive. Our last MG was a Midget which was bought by Linden’s Best Man at her wedding (Dave Harris) and he had many years of happy driving in it before selling it fairly recently. I sold it when I had an opportunity to buy an Alfa-Romeo Spider. This was a car I had always wanted but could never afford. It was a 1986 model entirely rust free and with a low mileage and in Alfa Red.

If I have any regrets it would only be that it did not have power steering. But perhaps this is why I was able to afford it! But it was the lack of power steering that made me sell it as I became older and had to face the fact that the time was coming when I would have to stop driving altogether. But I have enjoyed a wonderful life of motoring – over 70 years and free of accidents and insurance claims and one cannot ask for more.

Motor Cycling

My motorcycling started in 1924, in imagination only, when the chemistry ‘lab-boy’ offered to sell me his 147cc belt-driven Francis-Barnett. I can’t remember what I paid for it but it must have been very little. I had very little money in those days. I asked permission to drive it home at the end of term, but was, quite rightly, refused – it was some 70 miles. So my motorcycling days started at Malvern Link railway station. The thrill of the mile, all uphill, to our house is something I still remember 82 years later. The F-B remained with me for the next 4 or 5 years during which I learnt all about the construction of the Villiers engine and its ability to run quite effectively in the reverse direction if its flywheel magneto was over-advanced. The engine is tough, utterly reliable and ideal for powering a beginners first motorcycle. With only two gears and an unbreakable and light frame and belt final drive. I enjoyed those early years before moving on to more serious motorcycling in the form of a 172cc Super-sports James, still with a Villiers engine with 5 ½ hp (instead of 3 ½ hp of the F-B) and its ability to seize solid if one failed to treat it the right way. (For those who like curious facts or co-incidences: from 1930 onwards I used to look in at Goodchilds Garage in a village called Lane End to pick up a gallon tin of Duckhams R Oil for my James. Apart from this I was unaware of Lane End’s existence and yet ten years later not only was it to be my nearest village but later I was to buy Goodchilds Garage and turn it into a successful DAF car agency.)

I joined the British Two Stroke Club in 1929 and entered several of its reliability trials after being graded as ‘expert’! One of these trials started in south Bucks and finished at Madresfield Court near my home at Malvern the next day. The airship R101 Had crashed at Beauvais during the night. That dates this day accurately.

I saw an advert in some motorcycling journal for a Villiers engine new and in its box asking for offers. I phoned to find out details. “The only mark I can see is a Y stamped on it crank case – I’ll take a fiver for it”. I hurried to collect it from him. The Y engine was the 172cc Brooklands racing engine. It was supposed to give 8 hp. It had a padded crankshaft and aluminium fins on the upper part of the cylinder. Otherwise it was a standard 172cc Super-Sports and fitted easily into my James. But my trials days were ending; I wanted something more social and I had my eye on a Morgan 3-wheeler. I bought a 1924 “Aero” with S-V Blackburne engine for £24 and a new experience began.

Stocks

I became the teacher of the piano at Stocks (a girls’ boarding school at Albury near Tring) in the early fifties, succeeding Vernon Warner there. We had played Cesar Franck’s Symphonic Variations, Vernon playing the orchestral part on the second piano, as a way of introduction for me. I remained there for the next fifteen happy years, teaching charming, delightful and well-mannered girls the art of Chopin, Brahms, Bach and Beethoven. At the end of the day I would play to the whole school and ask them if there was anything they particularly wanted to hear next week. I once was asked for the “Moonlight Sinatra”! I asked the girl if she meant the one by Franck, but she didn’t know what I was talking about.

The school once decided to enter a local piano competition. We put up three entries – one of which was Brahms Intermezzo played by Elizabeth Lingard-Guthrie and we obtained the first three prizes, together with a warning “These three girls have obviously been taught by the same teacher; they should develop a more individual way of playing”! I consider this as a compliment!

We had lunch all together in the large dining room I sat at the end of the long refectory table with the head-mistress in the middle, with the girls each side of her. She would often announce interesting news from this position. She once caused me intense embarrassment: “Jane, who went to finish her education in Paris has just sent me a real French letter”. It was a difficult moment!.

Towards the end of my time at Stocks I had difficulty in maintaining an interest in classical music and I often received requests to teach their daughter the latest pop craze. Besides hating this kind of music I hadn’t a clue how to teach it. But that apart, my garage business was absorbing all my time, so finally I gave it up. One memory of Stocks I will never forget was when Miss Forbes-Dunlop (the headmistress) was called out of my end-of-day playing and returning in a hurry to call me to the phone (I was playing Brahms’ G minor Rhapsody) and it was Ann telling me to come home at once as our son, William, aged 5 was dangerously ill in hospital after a tonsils operation. I was using the Bond mini car at the time and Miss F-D at once insisted I take her own Austin 10.

Willain was very ill, but he soon recovered. When Miss Forbes-Dunlop retired Stocks was bought by Mr Heffner and The Bunny Club took it over. Miss F/D was invited back to celebrate her 90th birthday and so were Ann and I as part of the old staff. A number of old pupils also turned up and I heard many comments about bedrooms being turned into Jacuzzis. How times change!

Reminiscences

Between 1959 and 1961 we all went to Ireland for our summer holidays. We went in our Phantom 1 Rolls Royce and had adventures from the start: None of the dockyard staff could drive the car and they had to break the rules and allow me to drive it on to the platform and to remain behind the wheel whilst we were lifted by crane some 20 feet into the air and lowered into the ship’s car-hold. And, of course the same procedure in reverse when we arrived in Ireland.


Other memories during these lovely holidays there are bass-fishing on the Long Strand, the friendly and delightful people, the lack of any urgency at all times and the incomprehension when I pulled up for petrol. Petrol pumps were hand-controlled in those days, so filling up the Rolls’ 40 gallon tank could be a tiring and lengthy process. On one occasion the fellow at the pump stopped half-way through and came to the car and had a good look underneath to make sure petrol was not going onto the ground and on another occasion he stopped altogether and disappeared to be found in the local pub refreshing himself with a Guinness before returning to the job.

We had rented a bungalow on the hillside above the Long Strand. We had to fetch our drinking water from a nearby spring on the hillside which also supplied the few people living nearby. We made friends with a family of ‘five’ holidaying in a tiny caravan nearby. It was Inspector Reynolds and his family, all friendly and good company and typical of life in a country as yet unspoilt by the sophistication of our own. We enjoyed some excellent bass fishing on the Long Strand and Lobsters on Galley Head, and pony riding for Linden.