LETTERS HOME FROM A LOVING SON – PART THREE
Each instructor would take four or five pilots under his wing and these, in military fashion, were usually grouped together alphabetically. Thus one of Arthur’s fellow students, Basil Amos, who went on to captain Elizabethan aircraft with BEA after the war, remembered going solo on Christmas Eve and he thought that Arthur probably did so also. What a Christmas present, being all those miles away from loved ones at home. On 1st January 1942 Arthur wrote home.
“For the last few days I’ve been “turned loose” in a plane. I’ve been allowed to leave the vicinity of the aerodrome on my own and fly around the countryside practising stalls, spins, turns and the like.”
Arthur’s letter of the 11th January told a little of the vagaries of the Texas weather.
“In my previous letters I told you that it was permanently sunny in Texas. It has rainy seasons as well and we seem to be in the middle of one of these periods. We’ve had a spot of snow despite the fact that two weeks ago I was sunbathing. Solo flights are out of the question owing to the state of the field. We are working hard as we’ve got to make up for lost flying time”
Officialdom also reared its head.
“I gather that the Texas summer is extremely hot and with the course being extended [CUT OUT BY CENSOR] there’s a chance that we shall sample some of it. By the way, I don’t think I mentioned in my last letter that this [CUT OUT BY CENSOR] extension ought to be known to the general public. Anyway, try to keep it to yourself. A word of advice for when you write to me. If any part of your letter is censored, it is cut out and not crossed out – so don’t write on both sides.”
But there was still time for relaxation. Although not allowed off camp during the week there was sport played on Wednesday afternoons and the students could use the Recreation Hall after completing their studies in the evening. Weekends were free from lunchtime until 1900hrs on Sunday. Arthur gave a hint of their pursuits.
“The two cinemas in Terrell have just issued us all with free passes. The films come straight from Hollywood – long before London sees them. The Station held a New Year’s Show in Terrell, then performed at Dallas, where a recording was made. This has now been sent to the BBC for broadcasting in England, probably on the “Ack-Ack, Beer-Beer” programmes. If you hear it listen for the band. My friens Ken Crowther of the LUAS Architects was leading it and playing the drums.
A few days ago I did my first cross-country flight, with the instructor. We went to Greenville, about 30 miles North of Terrell. Yesterday I flew solo to Sulphur Springs about 50 miles North-East. About 12 of us started off at intervals of 10 minutes, to make us use our navigation instead of following one another. Needless to say, one or two of them got together and flew one behind the other. It looked very funny. I passed them on the way back and felt more contented on my own. I managed it OK but someone gets lost every time. One chap landed at the airport in Paris, a small town nearly 100 miles away. Great amusement all round.
Sadly, Don Eastwood, one of the LUAS Architects, is “washed out” with nasal and eye trouble after flying at altitude. He’s very disappointed, having done 50 hours flying. We have exams in three weeks and finish the Elementary Course before some leave and then starting on the more advanced planes.”
On 17th February 1942, all of the Course had photos taken in Flying kit to go into a souvenir publication produced by the School, one of which would be given to each pupil completing the Course. Although being given a photocopy of the booklet belonging to the Secretary of No.1 BFTS Association, Martin sought for some 30 years to find an original copy. Eventually, through Harry Fisher, a W/Op who flew on 218 Squadron alongside Arthur’s crew, he was given an original of a later Course. Imagine Martin’s surprise and pleasure to find Arthur’s own original copy of this souvenir booklet amongst the file of letters home that were donated to him in 2013.
1st March 1942 saw Arthur preparing for a 10-day leave towards El Paso and the Mexican border. However, through someone they were introduced to Arthur and Ken were given a lift to Big Spring, some 340 miles west of Terrell. There they were introduced to a Vice-President of the Cosden Oil Company who invited them to stay with his family for a few days. Whilst there they were invited out to a ranch where they went riding and dressed up in the full Wild West outfits. From there they hitched south to San Antonio for a few days and then back to Dallas, an overall trip of over 1,000 miles and eight days of eye-opening sights and experiences.
“Of course, the crowning delight was when we were invited out to a ranch. They had a couple of “cow-ponies” waiting for Ken and I and we rode around for an hour or two. I soon had my horse galloping, leaving a large cloud of dust behind. We approached a large bush and I tried to make him go round but he was a rather frisky horse and took the bush at a jump. We took a lot of photographs and I will send them along.
We’ve now started on the second half of our course on the Vultees. We’ve really got something on hand flying these but I like them better that the Primary Trainers. Everything gets more technical. They expect us to be correct and accurate with all the controls, radio procedure and everything. Instrument flying becomes more important and students who do better at this than other things are often considered as potential bomber pilots. As you probably know I have a slight preference for smaller planes so I hope my instructor is not too impressed with my instrument flying. It is only a slight preference – the important thing is getting through the course.
Love from Arthur.”
This “slight” preference would soon apparently be reversed as Arthur became more attracted to the team aspect of a bomber crew. But that was still to come.