The Wartime Diaries of an RFC Officer

(continued from the January issue)

In June 1918 X, the flying officer who kept these war-time diaries, returned to No. 1 Group as a Flight-Commander. He had just bought a Straker Squire and was also running the racing Coupe de L’Auto Sunbeam. Both cars were used for a run into Hunstanton from Newmarket that summer, after X had worked on the Straker Squire. X drove to Sedgeford aerodrome with his fiancee to see Major MacLaren, the RFC still having a military flavour at that time, and they later sat on the beach, X writing up his diary and the girl bathing, before it was time to fetch the Major and his wife and take them back in the Sunbeam to dine in Hunstanton. Petrol would be obtained at Sedgeford and a run down to London and on to Oxford in the evening was considered routine, “Sunbeam running magnificently”.

The social round we have come to espect went on, with a visit to the Show “Tails Up”, and after getting his new posting properly fixed up X went to Cummings, selling him a G.N. and buying an old Flanders car. On the day of that purchase, X set off from London to Newmarket, with friends in a Vincent (this is the first reference to such a car, which is a puzzle to me – Ed.) and an Uncle in the Flanders. They lunched at Hatfield and X “went round by Cambridge” and picked up his fiancée. “Rained a bit. Cars ran well excepting Flanders. Caught fire once”. But they made “The Moat” by 10 pm.

Apparently X thought the Flanders unsatisfactory because the next day, after a visit to the Newmarket races in the afternoon, he returned to the house in the Straker Squire, did a few odd jobs, and then drove back in the Flanders which he sold to Crisswell for £80, which seems to be what he had paid Cummings for it, but this time he took a little 7.9 h.p. Swift two-seater in part-exchange, which he collected after dinner with his friend Gerald as co-driver. X was not having much motoring luck at this time, because when he started off for London, Gerald in the Swift and X and Kelly in the Straker Squire, the Swift soon broke down and had to be towed back to “The Moat”, and then when they re-started the Straker “ran very badly”. However, X was able to see his girl at Shelford and to report to Col. Shelmedine at No. 1 Group by 3 a.m. X and Gerald were posted to London Colney, first taking the old Sunbeam to Moss Bros. to be repainted, as it had been sold to the Colonel. That day ended with dinner at Claridges with Lady X and friends, Gerald going off to stay at Shenley.

The first day of the new appointment was occupied with calling for his friend after lunch at home in Ennismore Gardens with his mother and driving in the Straker Squire to report to the Acting Squadron Commander at London Colney. The weather was too bad for flying, although they waited until after tea, when X drove his friend back to Shenley and the Squadron Commander to London via Barnet. X was obviously keen to do some more flying, because on the third Sunday in June 1918, after going to Mass with Lady X, he drove to the aerodrome after a quick breakfast. However, at 1.30 a.m he and Gerald pushed off in the Straker Squire for Newmarket, a run that took only 2 1/2 hours – “Had a very good run”. In fact, they had intended to return to London after tea in the Swift but it “again conked out”, so they stayed the night, although the little car was game enough to get X into Newmarket to telephone his mother about the change of plan. The return to London was accomplished on the Monday, after a “tremendous breakfast”, Gerald in the little Swift and X and his fiancee in the Straker Squire. He left her at Shelford and caught up with his friend just before Royston, where they stopped for a drink. X then drove the Swift to Baldock, stopping for lunch at the Rose & Crown, and on to Hatfield. He had a burst tyre so left the car at a garage and both continued the journey to London Colney in the Straker.

The next day X went round to the 18th. Wing to see Elliot and then, perhaps with future leave in mind, “went to the Dogs Home and bought a little black Aberdeen terrier which I eventually gave to the M.O. at London Colney.” From his flying Log Book it is apparent that X had already been up again, from that aerodrome. Two days earlier he had lunched at Prince’s with Hewlett and Briggs, gone to see Dewis about a Rolls-Royce, and had then gone down to London Colney in the Straker, where Capt. Thomas took him up for quarter-of-an-hour that evening in a Monosoupape Avro (D.4372), climbIng to 2,500 feet, afterwards dining at the Mess. On another occasion X “lunched at the Berkeley with Elliot, Musher and Charles Jarrott and had a damn good lunch”, before driving to the aerodrome to dine there. He then got to London Colney early, paid the men at the Pay Parade (it was Friday) before taking the Walkers “to a girl school play at St. Albans — rather amusing. . .”

At this period the usual runs up and down between London and Newmarket continued, but X was mostly otherwise at the aerodreme. There was some talk with his father about a motor accident case and one day, from the aerodrome, X was taken with his fiancee and Gerald by Capt. A.L. Keller MC, “to lunch at the De la Rue’s, excellent lunch, lovely place”. This lunch was returned the same day by X, who took Keller, Mrs. le Gros and his fiancee to dine at the Berkeley, afterwards going to the Bachelor’s Club, Keller staying the night at Ennismore Gardens. X also knew Ruth Keller. The following month Capt. Keller was killed while flying a Sopwith Snipe. A play he and his girl saw at this time was “Going Up”, at the Gaiety, Keller took X up in an Avro (D25) and they flew from London Colney to Hendon, in 35 minutes, mostly at 3,000 feet, where a Staff-car picked X up and drove him into London to lunch with Col. Shelmedine and X’s fiancee at the Bachelor’s. He then caught the 4.55 train to Portsmouth, staying at the Queen’s Hotel. On the Saturday a party caught the 7.50 a.rn. boat to The Isle of Wight for breakfast at “Seaview” and “a priceless bathe, had lunch on the sands, messed about all day, and had a priceless time, after dinner went to a Show and then a dance”.

So there was little let up in the gay life! During July 1918 X sold the Straker Squire and bought a Metallurgique. He sold a G.N. for £25 at Cummings’ sale, where he acquired an old De Dion Bouton for 95/-. It seems that this or perhaps the Metallurgique gave trouble all the way to the aerodrome one morning, so X bought a 65 hp Napier from Barker’s for £150. On the way home from the aerodrome he met Clifton, with whom he had dined at his Radlett house the previous evening, in his Hispano Suiza, in which later X had lifts between the aerodrome and London. One Saturday in July, at about 1 o’clock, they got out an Avro (D.112) and Major Clifton, who had come over to 56-Squadron, flew X to Cassiobury Park for lunch with Sym Wilton, Lady X and a sister of X’s. Inspite of rain they, “Had excellent flight and some stunts. After lunch we got in machine again and looped, spun, falling leaf, rolled, etc. and then back to London Colney. Unfortunately crashed on landing and slightly damaged another Avro on the tarmac.” Thus X was able to add another 180 minutes to his Log Book, the height recorded being  4,000 feet. After that pleasant interlude he got out the Metallurgique that evening and drove in it to Newmarket in 2 1/2 hours, including calling for Gerald at Shenford on the way. The usual back-and-fore journeys continued and in mid-July X sold the Metallurgique to Major Clifton for £575, and they also disposed of the Hispano Suiza to Cummings for £475. X was not above going to the aerodrome in a sidecar outfit belonging to 18th Wing. He was also not averse to motor-coping, taking Raper’s 45 h.p. Renault home and the Napier to Moss Bros. to have a body put on it. Going in the Renault to the aerodrome a bullock ran into it at Shenley and broke its leg. X also used a Cadillac four-seater that he had on trial from Cummings to drive to the aerodrome, where he would take tea. The play, “The Boy” was seen and one rainy Saturday X had two more flights from London Colney, first with Major Elliott in an Avro (D100) for 20 minutes, but only at 200 feet, and then for 45 minutes with Capt. Thomas in Avro (D4395), who climbed to 2,000 feet but kept the landing ground in sight. That evening X did some landings, as he had not flown for two years, and then he went up in a BE2c.

On the last but one Sunday in July X messed about all the beastly morning on the aerodrome but set off in the Cadillac for Newmarket at 3 p.m. He had “a troublesome run” but arrived about 5 p.m. Hard work the next day paid off, as X “had a very good run”, leaving about 11 and getting to the aerodrome in time for lunch. X next bought back his old Rolls-Royce (No.1463) for £875 from a Mr. Schaposchinikoff. This meant catching an evening train to Brighton but after getting the car out they motored back via Burford Bridge where X and the late owner dined, and leaving him there, X got to London by 12.30. This Rolls-Royce and Rolls-Royce No.1522 that had been at Barker’s were both put to immediate use by X. (No.1463 is the 1911 40/50 h.p. tourer now owned by John Bolster — see Motor Sport, July and August 1980, pages 1011 and 1182— it would be interesting to know whether the other Rolls has also survived). The Cadillac was taken to Dewis, presumably to be sold, and the Renault went to Moss Bros. for alterations. The Rolls was then left for Barker’s to collect but X was using his Rolls-Royce for runs to the aerodrome, where he “messed about with it”.

A Col. Jenkins flew down to lunch with X and late in July 1918 Rowson drove some of the Officers in the Rolls to the aerodrome, from where X went in a Crossley tender with Capt. Thomas to Chingford, with the intention of bringing back a DH6 (No.2650). “But weather turned out too bad, so abandoned it”. Later in the evening X drove to Newmarket via Shenford dining at Baldock, in the Rolls in an overall time of 3 1/2 hours “. . .a perfect run”. On the Sunday X drove to Newmarket aerodrome and had a joy-ride in a DH6 with Capt. Edgar for 25 minutes, at 1,000 feet. He seems to have had a fast run back to Shenford afterwards, going on after dinner there to London Colney to see “Tommy and the DH6” and then home. The Monday saw X and Gerald off to Hampstead for a Medical Board. X got two months’ Home service with flying, having then sold a 38 h.p. Minerva from Barker’s to his friend Gerald for £85 he immediately went off to London Colney to become a pilot again, taking First Lt. Gerald Howard for two joy-rides round the aerodrome of ten minutes each, in DHd No. 2650, after which he took First Air Mechanic Rowson up in same machine for 15 minutes, but without exceeding a height of 800 feet. — W.B.

(To be continued)