This is the first episode of a serialised batch of correspondence sent home to his parents by Arthur Louis Aaron VC DFM, who served in 218 at Downham Market from April to August 1943. The letters have been given to Martin Cocker by the surviving Aaron family and cover his experiences in training to fly, firstly in Texas then at OTU back in England. Arthur Aaron was hoping to become an architect. He had completed his Diploma Course at Leeds School of Architecture before call-up into the RAF Volunteer Reserve. Having been one of the inaugural students in the newly formed Leeds University Air Squadron (LUAS) he hoped to turn his keenness in flying into becoming a pilot. In September 1941 Arthur made the long train journey from Leeds to King’s Cross in the company of 5 others from the Air Squadron to report to the No.1 A.C.R.C.in Regent’s Park by Lords’ Cricket Ground.
Arthur and three of his colleagues from the LUAS, Don Eastwood, Ken Crowther and his close friend John Wilsden were accepted for pilot training and in November found themselves in a storm tossed crossing of the Atlantic aboard the SS “Tamaroa”, a former refrigerated meat carrier, converted to carry human cargo to the safer and clearer skies of North America for training.
Most wanted to contact their families to confirm safe arrival. Western Union offered telegrams at 5d (2p) per word or, especially for HM Forces, any three selected phrases from a list of 142 for 2/6d (12.5p). Arthur chose “All well and safe”, “All my love”, “Writing” for his telegram transmitted at 10.00 a.m. on 26th November 1941. His first letter home, written on the previous evening, was headed “From 1458181 LAC Aaron A L, PD Wing RAF Moncton, New Brunswick.”
As you can see I’m now in Canada, waiting to be sent to the States. We got here late last night, feeling very dirty and tired, so this morning was spent in having showers and baths, changing clothes, etc. There were few opportunities on the boat for keeping clean. We all had to sleep in our clothes and we were packed a little tight. We slept in hammocks and during rough periods if one wasn’t flung out one was rocked to sleep fairly quickly.”
One of Arthur’s travelling companions from the LUAS commented that at the height of the storms they were battened down below decks for safety, except when several of their number were delegated to go to the galley to bring back their hot meals in two buckets, one of stew and one of a hot pudding. There were about 1,500 of them altogether and they ate at long tables bolted to the deck and in the wild swaying of the ship plates would slide along the table and one would not know who’s half-eaten dinner would slide back. There was no shortage of food aboard ship.
Arthur went on:
“I spent a lot of money at the ship’s stores (except when I was sick). There was no rationing of chocolate although the individuals who bought a dozen blocks and ate them all usually paid the penalty and lost it all again in the sea. I’m rather ashamed to admit that my sickness was probably not so much due to the rough weather as to three large tins of Nestle’s milk which I consumed in one day.”
But, eventually the weather relented and a large escort of US warships met them to lead them into Halifax, Nova Scotia from where they travelled by train to a holding Depot at Moncton to await allocation to the various destinations where they would commence training. Arthur’s architectural eye was keen to take in all of the new scenery that they passed through.
“I found Canada just as I’d imagined it – long, sweeping planes (sic) and thick woods of fir, spruce, etc. Even the architecture is a little reminiscent of the Wild West – wooden houses just a little like Switzerland. They’re all clean and bright-looking and possess the same smell inside as that of the Chalet Ruedihaus at Kunderstag.”
With his mother having Swiss parents it was easy for Arthur to relate to home scenes to describe his first impressions.
“The train which took us from Halifax last night had one of those large engines with a cow-catcher on the front and a whole array of whistles, bells, hooters and the like stuck on top of the boiler. We tore across long plains and through brilliantly lit towns at about 70 mph. Moncton is quite a nice town. We’ve been round it already during the evening and of course everything is a blaze of lights. We bought grapes, chocolates and cigarettes and went into a restaurant and had ham and eggs, puddings, buns, cakes, tea and an ice all for 50 cents (2/-) (10p).
It is possible that our batch will be split up into several different parties and become separated when we leave here. They’re still the original crowd – University Air Squadron chaps, sons of Rear Admirals, even Archibald Sinclair’s son is in with us. It appears that when we get to our station we will do a course of elementary flying lasting 10 weeks, have a fortnight’s leave then come back to more advanced training. I should be back home sometime early in May, have a bit more leave and then continue with the training on operational planes. That’s roughly the programme if I don’t fail the pilot’s course – and it seems that plenty do.
All the best and a Happy New Year
Love from Arthur
Ps. Don’t send anything to this address at Moncton”
Following the separation into 6 groups of 50 students they were sent to the 6 British Flying Training Schools in the southern States of the USA. Arthur’s destination was No.1 BFTS at Terrell, a small town some 30 miles east of Dallas, Texas. The train journey across the continent went to St. John’s, then to Montreal, along the North of Lake Ontario through Detroit, Indianapolis and St. Louis to Dallas. Because of the sudden change of temperature crossing from Canada to Texas many caught a slight chill. They left Moncton at 5 degrees below zero, that is 37 degrees (F) of frost and three days later found Dallas to be 85 degrees (F) in the shade.
They arrived at Terrell on 4th December 1941, three days before the attack on Pearl Harbour brought America into the war. On Saturday 6th Arthur wrote an 11 page letter home which will be serialised in the next episode.
Although all of the envelopes containing these letters home were opened and two of his letters are censored where he refers to how long the course is taking it is of interest that this first letter home seems to have escaped censorship where he refers to his expected time of return home.