Arthur Aaron arrived in Texas as part of a group of 50 student pilots allocated to No.1 BFTS. They travelled all the way in a coach which was hitched onto various trains along the way until they reached their destination. The seats were of wooden slats with no upholstery and there was a limited amount of cold water so their 72-hour journey left them rather scruffy and dishevelled.
From the railway station in Dallas they went by bus to Terrell where they received a routine welcome from the staff. They received a more enthusiastic welcome from the earlier 3, 4 and 5 Courses, some of whom had moved in from Love Field, Dallas where No.1 BFTS had started to function some six months previously whilst Terrell was being built. Thus was born No.6 Course.
Being a newly created airfield the accommodation was modern by RAF standards of the day. All the buildings were neat, wooden clapboard painted brilliant white. All 50 trainees of one Course lived in the one block. Bunk beds were down each side, one up and one down. Down the centre was a series of tables on which they did their studies and writing letters home. Well equipped, it was looked after by the numerous janitors.
“The camp itself is the most comfortable place I’ve stayed at. It’s the tidiest I’ve ever seen also. All the rooms are thermostatically heated; that is you turn a little dial until it reads the temperature at which you require the room to be and it is effective within a few minutes. We have no duties to perform, no drill or fatigues. In fact the only job we have to do is to make up our beds. ******* do all the other work (If you wanted they’d do the bed as well for 10 cents!). You will notice that in most of my previous letters I have devoted at least one paragraph to the eating problem. This time I could devote a whole letter. The Mess Hall contains nearly every type of food in existence. We have a very wide choice at every meal. Dinner and tea are started by drinking a glass of orange juice and finished by an ice. We get anything we want. I only wish you could share it with me. It’s quite small and it is under RAF Administration. The instructors (ground and flying) are all American civilians.”
They had various backgrounds – ex-U.S.Army Air Corps, ex-airline pilots, cropdusters, etc. and they wore U.S.Army-style uniforms. The aircraft were all on loan from the U.S.Army Air Corps. To the trainees the instructors all seemed competent enough despite having the rather brash opinion that all things American, including personnel, were vastly superior to the British.
“I suppose you’ll want to know something about the flying. The elementary trainers, which we shall be on for 10 weeks, are small biplanes, like the Tiger Moths only with radial engines. After 10 weeks we shall have some leave and then spend another ten weeks on Vultees and Harvards – very nice looking monoplanes and much faster. If we get as far as that we get our “Wings”. In the batch before us (No.2 Course) 34 out of 50 got through and this, I believe, is considered good. Apart from the flying, there is some studying to be done.”
As well as being given an introduction to the School, its aircraft and its administration the boys were obviously also given a sight of America outside the camp gates.
“No doubt you’ve heard how well British airmen are treated by the Americans here. It’s embarrassing at times, their generosity. The first night we were taken round the town in a large 35 h.p. car ( a modern, streamlined Chevrolet holding about 8 people). There is never any need to walk from the camp to the town – the only time we did we had to refuse about five lifts. A visit into a store means a stay of half an hour with the manager and a drink of orange juice all round. ( I can almost hear sarcastic comments from my elder brother, Frank, about weak-minded pilots who don’t realise that Americans are excellent salesmen. They are, actually, quite genuine and seem far more interested in taking us for rides than in selling us their goods).
I had said earlier that I was looking for an automatic lighter for you – you said that you would like one – and I’ve managed to get you one. You ought to get it shortly after this letter. It’s a very reliable one, Ronson’s are supposed to be the best. I shall get you another as one is hardly enough. Ken, one of the Architects, has bought a camera and I shall be doing the same shortly. I wish now that I had brought mine over, for one can take as many photographs of the aerodrome or aeroplanes as one wishes – Ken took a lot of us flying this morning and also of me in flying kit. Don’t try to send me my camera now – I should be halfway through by the time I got it.”
In a slightly different shade of ink under the dateline “Monday 8.12.41” the letter continues
“Today, we’ve just had our first trip. We had an hour altogether and I certainly expected it to be pleasant but not half so pleasant as it actually was. It was, of course, a lovely sunny day and the instructor took off and flew about 8 miles across country and then told me to take over. It’s a grand feeling, being in charge of a ‘plane. After that the instructor showed me what he could do, and I was duly impressed.
I’d already been warned that I’d have difficulty in understanding the instructor over the speaking tube in the ‘plane but after the first five minutes flying he decided that gestures and shouts were far simpler. Now he gives most of the instructions before the flight. The American accent is difficult to understand under normal circumstances but we are told we’ll get used to it.”
It is very probable that this was Arthur’s first true flying lesson. Whilst he was a member of the Leeds University Air Squadron only ground school subjects could be taught whilst he was there as it was not until December 1941, well after Arthur had left, that a Tiger Moth became available for Squadron use at nearby Yeadon airfield. Furthermore as his initial enthusiasm for flying had been generated by a “five bob flip” in an Avro 504 of Alan Cobham’s Flying Circus in the Lake District as a young boy this would hardly count as true flying hours.
You’ll hear from me in a few days. I’ll have plenty to tell you about the luxurious and peace-time pleasures in Texas (I don’t suppose that any of these will be affected by the news we’ve just heard about Japan and America being at war – and as far as I can see there won’t be any blackout). I suppose Frank will be starting work again for his exams. I hope he gets through OK
Love from Arthur
Ps I’ve just learnt that the customs don’t like petrol lighters going abroad through the post. Anyway, I’ll find out about it before I send them.”
Everything was obviously a revelation to Arthur in his new surroundings, bright lights, flying, plentiful food and the Texan drawl. He had arrived and started on the next phase of becoming a pilot, The easier bit was just beginning.