The Wartime Diaries of an RFC Officer
(Continued from the November issue)
WE HAVE reached the Diary entries of “X”, the RFC Officer who became a well-known racing motorist after the war, for December 1917. He was met on December 14th by Bush and his Crossley, in which they went to the War Office and later net off for Wyton, arriving by lunchtime. Lady X was staying near Ely so her son visited her before going on for the night to his fiancee’s parents’ house at Newmarket, “The Moat”, which had a real moat round it — has it survived, I wonder? Next day Bush went back after dinner to London in the Crossley, presumably an RFC car, taking Acting Sergeant Tollerton with him, but X remained behind to shoot. He had to return on the Sunday, but this was no hardship, as the 4.11 train from Newmarket was met and X was driven home in time for dinner. At this period there would be much work to do at the War Office, but this did not stop X from working until 2.30 one morning on the Vauxhall. Girl friends would meet X at his office but if an air-raid started they would go to the Sr. James’s Hotel. “Charley’s Aunt” was the play to see, at this time.
X was inspecting Red Cross vehicles and RFC Transport at Chichester, the hitter inspection involving a train journey that ended 11/2 hours late because of the fog, but this did not prevent X and Bush from obtaining lunch first, Tollerton and Rowson having met them at the station in the Vauxhall. After which it was into Brighton with a girl, staying at the flat and going to the Hippodrome. The next day Transport was inspected at Shoreham. Back in London, X did some odd jobs at his office on a December Saturday morning, lunched alone at the Bachelor’s Club, then got out the Vauxhall and drove to Newmarket, arriving in time for tea — “Car ran quite well”. What would be a memorable vintage-run in 1980 was just routine to X in the war-time winter of 1917. . . . Just before Christmas the snow came. )( had fitted a carburetter off another car to the Vauxhall and had made a sledge to tow behind it, when it was not in use for going down to the Post Office in C.heveley to do some telephoning. There was also skating on the aforesaid moat. The snow was thick in Newmarket, so after the festivities X returned to London by the 9.32 train. After going to London Colney and Hendon aerodromes with Col. Small, and to Northolt in Gen. Platt’s “gin-palace”, it was time to attend the carefully-planned New Year’s Eve dinner/dance, described by X in his diary as “. . this Huge New Year’s Bend”. After lunching at the Ritz he changed and went to it, taking two ladies, for Gen. Salamond. “All the Generals came. Generals Longcroft, Higgins, Jenkins and Hogg”. (One of these ladies was Esti. Bentley, a sister of 911. 0. Perhaps?) The dance ended for X at 6 a.m.. so not surprisingly he “Got up very late” on New Year’s Day, 1918. He went straight to Claridges in Dewis’ black Rolls-Royce limousine, to fetch a Party for lunch at Palace Place with General and Mrs. Hogg. The conscientious General was then taken to his office by X, who returned to say
goodbye to his girl friends at Claridges before himself going to his office, seeing Dewis “about radiators” on the way. These were radiators for Sped aeroplanes, which the Mercedes Company was presumably making or repairing, X later taking Major Bush to see about them. Time does not seem to have pressed unduly as the war entered into its final bloody year. For example, early in January X caught the 2.35 train from London to Ely, and had time to take tea at “The Lamb” before going out to the 26th Wing, Rowson bringing the Vauxhall up there, for a journey unto King’s Lynn. It was so cold that X was drinking rum. We find him motoring into Sedgford in the Vauxhall in deep snow, for Officers of the 7th Wing to be photograph.. After lunching with Major Nichol they pressed on to Felnvell and arrived at Newmarket in time for dinner, in spite of stopping at Barton Mills for tea — “Vauxhall going much better”. That new carburetter,
One January Saturday the Vauxhall was motored down to London, dropping Gerald at Hatfield and arriving at Princes by 1.30— “Had indifferent run”. The purpose was to introduce X’s fiancée to the General and Sybil Leach, at the St. James’s Palace Hotel. After dining there Allan Knight and the girls went to see “Brewster’s Millions” and “had a cheery time, too cheery, and went home to bed.” On a Sunday X might be Duty Officer at the Brigade, which did not stop Gerald, Archie and Toby Tillie joining him there, nor them all dining at Prince’s. About this time, although continuing to dine at the Carlton and the Ritz, X’s pany moved to the Hyde Park Hotel, “having found the St. James’s Palace so expensive.” It seems that marriage was looming, because X consulted Sir Charles Russell, and was examined by his doctor, which cost 14 guineas. He also drove in a Clement he had bought from Cummings for £60 to soothe Padre at London Colney. He dined at Prince’s with one of his Transport Engineer Officers called Bayer and sent the General’s Crossley saloon into Northolt for repair. Is seems that the Clement could also have done with such treatment, because when it was taking X’s fiancee and her mother from Crickkwood, where she was staying, to Kilburn it broke down and they had to continue their journey in a taxi. However. “the old Clement” took X to the Brigade the next morning and he went to we Cummings, probably about the breakdown. His fiancee was now ill with
suspected appendicitis in Newmarket and X went by train to see her. Having contacts in high places had its advantages, because the General gave X leave to go to her again directly he was wanted. In the meantime, there were visits to Hounslow with Waddington.
On January 15th X received news that the appendix operation on his fiancée was over and that she was all right; before that he was “nearly off my head with anxiety”. He spent the day of the good news returning 20 gallons of petrol to the Brigade garage, lunching at the Ritz with General and Mrs. Shelmedine, afterwards driving her home in the Clement, seeing Tom Lithgow, working in his office, and doing a car deal with Dewis. In order to see the patient X bought a 25/30 h.p. Mercedes all-weather for 1300 and after lunching Lady X at Prince’s he renamed to the Brigade, met his friend Gerald, and they set off for Newmarket. It was a hazardous journey. Outside London they ran into thick snow and “had an awful run”. The Mercedes ran out of petrol five miles from Whittlesford, so they had to walk to the station there, get a train to Cambridge, then one to Newmarket, arriving at 11 p.m. Here they knocked up Crisswells Garage, hired a car, took a supply of petrol out to the Mercedes, which was presumably more thirsty than X had calculated, arriving back at the garage at 4.30 a.m. Maybe Gerald wished he hadn’t bumped into X at the office! For they now slept in the back of the Mercedes; “it was snowing like blazes and thick snow”. They woke up at 8 a.m. and got the car going, driving it to X’s fiancée’s parents house, where he was permitted to see her for five minutes. . . . X naturally spent much time with his fiancée. Her medical advisor, Dr. Wilkin, borrowed the Mercedes during the day and in the afternoon X “messed about” with the Padre and in the garage. He also went down to the aerodrome (Thetford?) and saw Sowrey and Egerton. After a few days of this and more “fiddling about with the car”, X drove the Mercedes back to London and reported to the General. He then sold the Clement to Newman (George Newman, later to race Salmsons, perhaps?, picked up Sybil Leach, Gerald and Rowson, and drove in the Mercedes to London Colnev to “get juice”. This made possible yet another expedition to Newmarket, arriving at 11.30 p.m. X made this journey possible by doing jobs at Thetford aerodrome, from where he was
taken “in the Thetford Crossley” to Harting Road, the night-landing ground I believe.
The family car at Newmarket was now a Hillman, but it was the Mercedes that fetched Tollerton from the station and in which X had a “very good run” back to London, going eta Saffron Walden, in about 31/2 hours. One Sunday, petrol obviously being available, X did some social calls with Lady X in the Mercedes, which included taking a lady-friend to Hounslow, where X went to the aerodrome (to justify the fuel?), after which it was to Harrow fortes at the “King’s Head” and home to London via St. Albans. Air raids on London were still happening. There was one on January 28th, just as dinner at Claridges had started, and “which went on until nearly 1.30″, but this did not prevent X from taking his party to a dance at the Marble Arch House and driving them all home, in the Meek”. That day X had “got 6 tins of petrol”, and the next day he went down to London Colney, back to Watford, and at 8.30 picked up Lady X and motored to Crawley in about two hours, when they heard another air said taking place on London. On his way back in fog the next day X called in at Croydon and inspected the Transport before going on in the Mercedes to the Brigade in London. He then tried to make Cassiobury Park but the fog called shalt near Watford. The rounds of the aerodromes continued, with Staff Crossleys meeting the train, and X would be driven down to Cassiobury Park by Tollerton in the Vauxhall to stay there — “Lovely old place”. He was resisting a posting to Winchester at the time. The Vauxhall was then driven to London — it “went awfully well” — where it was sold to Hartley for £275, the new owner departing in it. So X had to borrow Syirn’s 12 h.p. Rover for runs out to St. Albans and Cassiobury Park. Then it was a case of going by train to Maidstone to the 6th Wing with the Engineer Officer Curtis and on to Wye (in Kent), with a call on Count Zborowski at Canterbury, bathe was out. The Mercedes was sold to Deeds to £310, a profit of £10, and Newman called to show X a Renault landaulette. Dewis had lent X an Austin two-seater which he demonstrated, and a 45 h.p. Mercedes was collected from the saner source, and X also took a GN to Lichfield to be sold. The new red Mercedes
“was not running too well”, but it, and the Austin driven by Gerald, found their way up to Newmarket. This is interesting because this refers to the racing Austin “Pearley” which Percy Lambert had raced very successfully at Brooklands. The diary entry for February 8th, 1918 says: “Both had good runs”. The ex-racing Austin was used to go to Brandon and it got Gerald and X there by lunch-time, in spite of a burst tyre. After lunching with Capt. Waring and his wife they were driven in a Crossley tender to Feltwell. On the run back the Austin burst another tyre at Barton Mills, so “Olga came out to fetch us in the Meek”. They got home in time for dinner. Next day they all started off in the Mercedes to retrieve the Austin but had a breakdown. So they resumed for lunch and then set off again in the family Hillman, Tollerton (who sounds to have been a tower of strength) having arrived on his Badge motorbike. In this fashion the return to London was made, Tollerton in the 45 h.p. Mercedes which he took back to Dewis the next day, X and Gerald in the
racing Austin with lunch at Hatfield and a call at London Colney. X then bought the famous Austin for £100.
I am aware that these extracts may seem rather repetitive to some readers. But as “period-pieces” I consider them well worth recording — after all, Evelyn Waugh’s Diaries seem similarly repetitive to me yet The Sunday Times thought them worth serialising and Wiedenfeld and Nicolson published them in an edited volume running to 814 unillustrated pages (I extracted the motoring episodes at the time of publication, in 1976, largely for the benefit of Frazer Nash folk), and presumably these Waugh Diaries delighted the literary world. So I will continue with X’s equally-period accounts, especially as the aeroplanes he flew should, I think, be recorded and after he had been promoted to Flight Commander at Thetford, which must have been very much to his liking, he flew again, in June 1918. — W.B. (To be continued)