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My approaching celebration

My children seem hard at work with schemes for celebrating my 100th birthday!

They keep asking me pointed questions about my life and who I have met so goodness knows what they are planning! All I know is there are to be “lots of surprises”

Escape from France

I am writing this at the end of the first week of the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow. The chaos there is considerable and we have first-hand experience of it because my daughter-in-law, Jane, used it on the way to visit her daughters, Harriet and Louise, in Switzerland. “It is amazing the authorities could make such a mess after having plenty of time to sort out any problems. Will they never learn?” were William, my son’s, words. With the benefit of my longer memory the answer to this question is “No”. It is part of our British ness – our sense of humour and our never-absent optimism.

Early in September 1939 two of my Banks cousins, Honor and Margaret, asked me if I would take them to France for their holiday. I could use their Austin 10 car and as they had never been out of England they were much looking forward to the adventure. It was to turn out to be rather more of an adventure than they had expected!

I was not too sure that this was a good idea with the political situation at that moment, but finally decided to ‘give it a go’. We went from Dover and enjoyed a leisurely trip to Cannes as is appropriate in an Austin 10 with its maximum speed of 50/60 mph. We stopped frequently and enjoyed the French food and when we reached Cannes – which didn’t impress us very much – we decided to explore the coast. Menton looked lovely and we decided to make it our HQ for a week before setting out on the journey home. It was while we were there that Hitler marched into Poland………….
I was extremely worried as I felt responsible for my cousins and told them that we must return to England at once. We decided to start at daybreak the following day with the hope that we would not be too late to get a boat back home. With my knowledge to the German mind after my two recent years in Berlin, I knew we had landed ourselves in avery sticky spot.
Our journey back was frustrating. You can’t hurry in an Austin 10 and the situation was, I think, rather over my cousins’ understanding. We kept going throughout the day, not stopping for meals, only to refuel. It was well after dark when we reached Calais some twelve hours after we started to be told we were too late, there would be no more sailings. They had cancelled all boats to England. However, they believed Dunkirk was still operating – but with no certainty that we would find a boat with space there.
We hurried on and with much arguing, and the fact that we had fully paid return tickets for the car and ourselves that finally secured us got us on a boat. This was blacked out and sailed zigzag in case there were submarines about.
I don’t remember what time we reached Dover, but life seemed so calm after the previous 24 hours and we had an unhurried journey to Great Witley to deliver the car and my cousins back home. A few days later we heard Chamberlain announce on the radio that “A state of war now exists between ourselves and Germany” after giving Hitler the chance to back down.

The subject of this addition to my website seems to have wandered a little. It started when, my daughter Linden described the journey she and her husband, Adrian, had just completed in a single day returning from the Scottish Isles, after their holiday there. I suggested it would be interesting to compare their journey, 400 miles, in a modern car with two drivers, motorways but far more traffic, with mine in 1939, 600 miles, in a car with a maximum speed of 60 mph and only one driver. Of course I had more urge!

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.”

Barry Tuckwell


In 1958 the great artist Barry Tuckwell blew into our lives when he married Ann’s cousin Sally Newton. This famous French-horn player is now a legend and he leaves many records of his genius for posterity. We became firm friends and still occasionally meet when he comes to England from his native Australia. We share a similar outlook on music and I treasure his confirmation of this when I played Godowsky’s ‘Alte Wien’ to him. This was the last time I played the piano before my hearing deteriorated to the point than I could no longer hear the piano as a piano but more like a xylophone and my two CDs recorded at the end of the nineties were now completely impossible for me to listen to.

Barry became chairman of thre LSO for several years before leaving to give more time to his solo playing. He occasionally spent a night with us and he once invited me to try and blow a note on his French-horn. I couldn’t make a sound!

We often went to London to hear him play and I remember the day he conducted the LSO in Elgar’s Enigma Variations and then coming on to the platform with hi French-horn and playing a Mozart Horn Concerto. A delightful reminiscence.

“Elle chante très bien derrière”

How interesting it is that a few words in a foreign language can take one back to a moment 80 years ago with a far greater clarity than one can remember yesterday’s date.

I was about 18 years old at the time and even half the words in the above quote will take me back with pleasure to a moment I will never forget.

In August 1927 Vernon Warner’s family had joined ours f or the summer holiday of four weeks. We were on our way through France to Switzerland in our two cars – Vernon’s Chrysler and father’s open 5-seater Buick. There was no need to book stopping places in those days and seeing a notice of a restaurant and Hotel a few miles ahead we thought we would make our night-stop there. It was a lovely evening for eating outside and the proprietor suggested we waited while he prepared a special meal for us. A few minutes later we heard a chicken squark and the proprietor returned to tell us he was cooking a chicken meal which would be ready soon!

When this arrived it was getting dark so we pointed our cars at the tables outside and enjoyed a lovely meal in the lights of our cars’ headlamps.

While we were eating there was the sound of an approaching sports car and a young French couple called in for a drink and a snack. The car was a Bugatti with an enormous exhaust pipe. We made friends and discovered he was a famous opera singer. When they had finished eating he suddenly broke into song. He had a lovely voice and listening to it in the open air under the cars’ headlamps was a scene I will never forget. They were moving on and as we bid them farewell Vernon pointed to the Bugatti with the words that started this reminiscence.

Jasper Plummer

It is difficult to give an impression of Plummer’s face. It was an unfortunate one – plain rather than ugly. As if the doctors had been forced to use abnormal strength with their forceps to save his mother’s life. I remember a cartoon in Punch where a motorist leans out of an open window and asks a pedestrian ‘Leatherhead?’ to receive the reply ‘Fishface’. Plummer was about my age and came to Stowe in 1923 at the start of Grenville House, as I did tool We had not had time to develop uncivilised behaviour and Stowe had a Headmaster who was resolved to see that strange habits did not develop amongst his charges. I regret to say Plummer’s face did not encourage friendships and I guess his was a lonely life, but with plenty of kindness from all of us. He was not much good at lessons or sports. But Providence had not finished with him yet and we were soon to realise he possessed a super-human gift for mimicry. At times it was uncanny. A new master would arrive and within a few days Plummer had every mannerism summed up. I will never forget the moment when a new History master, Ian Hunter, came to Stowe; he had a glass eye and this would ‘bore into you’ when he talked to you. A few days later and Plummer would look at you in exactly the same way – he did not need to say a word – in that instant he became Ian Hunter. He had a quick wit as well: We had all been splashing about a lot in the bathroom when our housemaster looked in and addressed Plummer with “Where did all this water come from?” “Out of the tap Sir” was the immediate reply” “That’s cheek Jasper” he said followed by a slap on the face. Plummer enjoyed using this God-given gift amongst his fellows, but he was naturally a shy boy. But his reputation spread and at an end-of-term concert he received a deputation from all the masters to give a demonstration of his gifts – but nothing would make him do so. The last I heard of Plummer was that he was a vicar of a village in Cornwall. I wonder if he is still amongst us, but if not, he will have left this world a happier place by his presence.

The Phantom 1 Rolls-Royce

Our Phantom 1 Rolls-Royce was getting low on petrol and spotting a sign saying Petrol Pump a mile ahead I decided to get filled up there. We were in Ireland where we had rented a small bungalow near Rosscarbury just above the Long Strand. The Rolls Royce had a 40 gallon petrol tank which befitted its 10mpg and the gauged showed it was now on the last gallon.

Petrol pumps were often found attached to small shops and this was one of them. In 1958 all pumps were manually operated and quite tiring to work. After the attendant had been pumping away for some time I could see he was getting worried. At one moment he stopped pumping and, on his hands and knees, examined the ground under the back of the car. He then returned to his task and gave the pump a few more strokes. Again he stopped and peered under the car!

Scratching his head he looked at me imploringly. I told him to carry on! But instead of doing so he walked back into his shop which, like all shops in Ireland, had a bar and I had to go there to get him back to finish filling the tank. Well resuscitated from the pint of Guinness I found him finishing he returned to complete his task. It was only then I let him into the secret of how much the tank held!

More about Sudoku


There are many different ways to solving these puzzles and I do not suggest my way is best. But it does enable me to solve the hardest (Fiendish) puzzles from The Times fairly quickly. This is what I do:


I divide each puzzle into three phases:


  1. Copy the puzzle on to a Sudoku pad with its larger squares using a Red pen.
  2. Starting with the top left Block with its nine small squares and pencil in the possible numbers with small figures. Start at the Top left square and moving from left to right until all nine small squares of this top left block have their possible small numbers written in. Proceed to the next top Block on the right and treat it in the same way, and so on until all nine blocks have been filled.During this ‘Exposition’ you will probably find one number in sole possession of its square. Write this number in full size and then look for a similar number in its COLUMN, in its ROW and in its BLOCK and rub them out. During this process you will uncover some more single numbers in sole possession of their squares and can be therefore raised to full size and should be treated like all full size numbers and will have similar small numbers deleted throughout their COLUMNS, ROWS or BLOCKS. By the time you have reached the last BLOCK you will find you have almost completed the solution of the easier puzzles.

    During this ‘EXPOSITION’ stage keep any eye out for ‘matching pairs’. If you see two numbers left in a square and the same two numbers left in another square and both pairs are in the same column you can rub out any similar numbers in that column. The same rule can be applied to a ROW or a BLOCK throughout the puzzle.

    This ‘exposition’ stage is where most people (including me) make mistakes, so it pays to spend extra time on it. I am still learning after several years with Sudoku. To prove this point I advise you to check the whole puzzle by subjecting every red figure to the COLUMN, ROW and BLOCK test. If you find no mistakes to correct you are a genius!



Perhaps the best advice I can give you is to get a book on solving this clever and demanding puzzle and then work out your own way of meeting the challenge. As you get older it will prevent your brain from becoming addled.

Vignettes of an Instructor’s life

All instructors had to maintain a high standard of blind-flying ability. We flew in pairs for this exercise – one as ‘look-out’ and the other under the hood. I often used this exercise to visit my brother at White Waltham where he was stationed flying for the ATA. My flight commander at one time was F/Lt Davies who possessed a bristling moustache. He and I decided to see what the food was like at Henlow which was the RAF medical centre and training hospital. The officers’ Mess was the lovely Rothschild house near the aerodrome. We walked into a large room packed with high-ranking officers – Squadron Leaders and above and not one of them with RAF wings. Davies looked them over rather pointedly – his moustache bristled and having got their attention said “bloody penguins” in a loud voice. They didn’t seem to mind and we had a good lunch.

At one time pressure was put on all instructors to sample life at the sharp end where many of our pupils would be going. We were given the option of a trip in a bomber or a Sunderland Seaplane. I chose the latter and was posted to Mount Batten, near Plymouth, for a week. My crew were enthusiastic Australians and I enjoyed their company. When we couldn’t find a U-Boat we would drop a smoke bomb and try to sink it before it expired naturally. A story going about at that time concerned a Wing Commander instructor who requested the Captain of his Sunderland, who was only a flight lieutenant, that he be allowed to take the controls. The humble F/Lt let him do so but became worried when the Sunderland headed inland and started to loose height, and alarmed when he commenced a circuit of Hendon airfield, the W/.Cs own airfield. He spoke very abruptly to the W/C and they headed back to Mount Batten where they landed. The F/Lt was worried that his abrupt words to a superior officer might do him no good. He apologised and the W/C accepted this and added “Yes, it was rather foolish of you to think I could mix up a landplane with a seaplane.” He then opened the door and stepped straight into the water!.

We lost a respected instructor when Sergeant Needham did not return from a bomber raid. Instructors also cost a lot to train. Altogether not a well thought out scheme I fear.

Tiger Moth solo

One should never fly a Tiger Moth solo from the front seat. I have only once seen this done and that was when my flight commander Davey flew in to see us after he was consigned to another job. He was also smoking his pipe! “It is so much less draughty in the front seat” was his explanation. While he was with us at B flight he never shirked any of the routing jobs; taking night-flying in the foulest weather and often taking the place of any new instructor who he considered should be broken in gently. He delighted in meeting half-a-dozen of us above cloud and re-enacting formation flying as they did it in the last war with hand signals. We were not allowed to practise formation flying and I well remember the day when he got us to do a formation landing. “I shall be on the mat for this” he said. But I think it was his age and the fact that he often wheezed that made our CFI Hicks post him to a less demanding job. His new posting was surveying airfields all over the country for possible enlargements. Ann and I made contact with him after the war and we often met. He was wonderful company and some of the trips he did on his surveying business were hair-raising.

On one of these trips Davey was told to survey an airfield on the coast of Wales near Snowden. He started off with his carefully studied map of the area and his stop watch. As the ground rose as he neared the mountains he decided to follow a valley which did not place too much strain on the climbing ability of the Moth. But mist and clouds were descending and forcing him lower and lower until he was flying at treetop height. The valley at this point was too narrow to permit a turn and retreat. This left the option of climbing through the clouds. He knew exactly where he was and he also saw that in another mile he would have to make a 900 turn to avoid rising ground that was well above the Moth’s climbing ability. Out came his stopwatch and mental calculations told him when to turn. He was only a few seconds out and his right wingtip missed the ground by inches. But he was now free to climb until he was higher than any peak ahead. He then headed West until he was clear of land before descending to sea level. He then returned to the coast, located his position, found the airfield and landed there. He found no-one about and those in the control tower told him “We have been closed all day so you can’t have flown in”. “Well, I just have” Davey replied and had to show them his Moth before they would be satisfied!

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