Archive for the 'Cecil lewis' Category

Booker Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS)

I enjoyed my years at Booker Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) for three reasons – I loved flying – I loved teaching and I loved my home comforts. All three came together when I married Ann in 1943.

Booker airfield was all grass in those days, and we took off and landed into wind. We commenced flying at 8.00am and flew until 12.30 or 1.00, had some lunch in the mess and returned to our flying at about 2.00pm. At 6.00pm we left the flying to the night boys. Those of us who were flying that night would finish day flying a bit early or might go straight on to night flying and have the following morning off. A busy life but I loved it. There were plenty of challenges to be mastered for we flew in all weathers compatible with the aircraft we flew, Tiger Moths and Magisters. I think most of us became extremely good pilots – as Cecil (Sagittarius Rising) Lewis wrote in his book “All my Yesterdays” ‘There is nothing like instructing for improving one’s flying’.

I had many good pupils and rarely failed to get them up to solo flying. I remember one interesting case of a pupil I had to fail on account of his night flying. The glide indicator at the beginning of the approach used three lights – green, amber or red. If you were too high you saw Amber, if you were too low you saw Red and Green was the correct one. The Amber meant closing the throttle to lose some height. The Red meant open the throttle further until you could see Green. This pupil consistently closed the throttle when the red light appeared and I am pretty sure he had no suicide tendencies. He passed all tests for colour blindness. Once when we were three miles away over the valley above Wycombe and the red light showed I had time to ask him ‘What colour do you see?’ He answered ‘Red’. ‘And what does that mean?’ ‘We are too low’ and he opened the throttle a little which I immediately increase to full throttle and hoped I was not too late!

Later in the war I remember I was with my pupil over Maidenhead when I noticed the sky in the West almost completely blacked out by aircraft. They were on their way to Arnhem. They were also towing gliders and approaching at 140 mph or so in a line so long that I knew they would reach me in a few moments. More worrying was that they seemed to cover the air from almost ground level up to 2000ft. I was at 1000ft and knew I couldn’t fly round this armada or out-climb it. There was only one way left – get down to tree height as quick as you can. It was a frightening few moments as I aimed the Tiger Moth at the ground in a vertical dive and levelled off brushing tree tops at 100 feet or so, as the masses of tugs and gliders, some of them flown by pilots I may have personally trained, swept by. The lowest of them was only some 200 ft above the ground and they kept on coming for the next ten minutes while I crept back to Booker! Obviously we couldn’t be warned to expect this attack on the bridge at Arnhem.

Life was sometimes frustrating. Trying to instruct on a very busy circuit with a pupil almost ready for solo encourages us to fly to one of the nearby fields we used for forced-landing practice. Such a field was within the river bend above Henley. This field had been a mushroom farm and I remember the times we instructors would go there, park our Tiger Moths around the edge and instructors and their pupils would be seen picking mushrooms and packing them into the Tigers’ lockers. We would get going early and our CO. O’Donnell soon found that his practice of standing on tarmac with his stopwatch at 8.0’clock to check any late starters was no longer necessary. Unfortunately the seeds of doubt started hatching – Why? He asked our CFI Jackie Hicks to get airborne early to discover what we were ‘up to’ – in this case ‘down to’ is more appropriate for he discovered all his instructors on their hands and knees at this field picking the best of the mushrooms, and rather than joining us he decide to put a stop to the practice we had enjoyed.

Some of us did not have to fly beyond Booker to increase our wartime rations. I landed on and killed a hare. I did not know I had done so but another instructor had seen it and added that as he was eating in the mess he had no use for it. Ann turned it into a superb ‘jugged hare’ which we much enjoyed – likewise a partridge which my flight commander Davies had killed but forgot to take with him when he went on leave.

For solo cross-country training we used Fairoaks, Sywell and Cambridge aerodromes and it was on one of these exercises we came into contact with the cable of a drifting barrage balloons which I have already mentioned.

One of these cross-country exercises my pupil consistently got lost and I wanted to see what he would do. He said he would land at the first airfield he saw and ask them where he was. I told him to go ahead as I wasn’t sure myself. By a few gentle suggestions I was able to get him to go towards Booker as I told him that most airfields were built to the same pattern. We finally arrived at Booker and I told him to go to the control tower to find out where we were while I remained in the cockpit. He returned with a broad smile on his face!

This reminds me of Finlay who was an American who joined us before the Americans entered the war. He was solo in America but had considerable difficulty in flying a Tiger Moth. His solo flying had been on tricycle-equipped aircraft. We were all very fond of Finlay and our Flight commander at that time was S/Ldr Davey who, like Cecil Lewis had been a pilot in the 14/18 war. He decided to take on Finlay but could make very little progress with him and handed him over to me. After a week I manager to get him solo and I remember Davey’s words as with remarkable hindsight he said “Oh dear. I feel our troubles have just started.” And indeed they had! Although Finlay now flew the Moth well he would lose his way as soon as he strayed any distance beyond the circuits at Booker and we were often picking him up from airfields miles away. I well remember his last flight when we received a phone call from Pershore Airfield, near Worcester. “We have just sent off one of your pilots – a fellow called Finlay – we refuelled him and pointed him towards Booker.” So in about an hour he should have arrived. But it was three hours later that he turned up – as we were just about to stop flying for the day. Davey told me to march him into the Flight hut first thing the next morning. I did so and witnessed the following interview – Davey: “Finlay can you tell me why you took off on your own when you know you are not allowed to do so?”

Finlay “Well sir I had caused so much trouble in the past that I felt one more would make no difference.”

Davey “ Can you tell me why you took so long to get to Booker?”

Finlay “ I had to stop to refuel at Eastleigh” (An airfield on the South coast)

At this point I noticed Davey suddenly drop his head onto the desk and indicated with both arms that he wanted me to march Finlay out of the Flight hut. I returned to find Davey literally weeping with laughter. The next few days saw the Americans enter the war and Flinlay left us to join them.

S/Ldr Davey often took us up above the clouds where he demonstrated leading several aircraft with his hand signals as they did in the last war. He once told us to follow him to Booker as a a formation and make a formation landing. “ I shall be in trouble for this” he said after we landed because we were not allowed to practise formation flying. And indeed he was posted to other duties soon afterwards. The CO and the CFI thought he was getting too old and should be given a less demanding job. Davey turned up once at Booker flying a Tiger Moth from the front seat! He told us he was mapping out many airfields with the idea of possible extensions. As for his front-seat flying he said “It’s warmer and I can smoke my pipe!”

After the war Ann and I took Davey to lunch in London and I feel I might include on of his experiences when surveying airfields after he left booker. It has nothing to do with me but is typical of an older man who possessed great skill in map reading and mathematics and who would often put himself on the night-flying stint if the weather was specially bad and he noticed a junior instructor there. He told us “I decided to visit an airfield on the Welsh border. When I was approaching the Welsh mountains the cloud level began to drop. I was gaining height at the same time, I was following a valley and soon realised it was too narrow to turn in so press and with my map and my watch I calculated the moment when I had to make a turn to the right. The right wing-tip brushed the top of the trees – I had been a bit early in my turn – but I was now clear and only had to climb on full throttle to get clear of the surrounding peaks. When I knew I had enough height I flew West until I was clear of the coast. I then descended to sea level, found where I was and then found the airfield and landed. The place was empty and in the watch tower they asked me ‘where have you come from?’ I said I have just landed here. ‘What do you mean? We have been shut all day.’ It took them a while to accept the situation.”

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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.

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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