The Wartime Diaries of an RFC Officer

Continued from the Dec. 1979 issue

Before I commence another instalment of these old diaries I must refer to a letter received from a Mr. J. Ross of Brigg, in which he makes it dear that I have done our RFC pilot out of one type which he had flown by 1915. In his Log Book entries there is no distinction made between AW (Armstrong Whitworth)-built BE2c aeroplanes and FK3s built by that Company, the latter being entered simply as AWs, followed by the reference numbers. This is perhaps understandable, because the FK3 was merely a simplified version of the BE2c designed by Frederick Koolhoven. The fact remains that aeroplanes referred to by the numbers 5330 and 5331 in the earlier diary extracts were FK3 biplanes. Thus, by the end of 1915, after his return from brief Active Service in France, “X”, as I shall call this RFC pilot, had been aloft in Maurice Farman Shorthorn and Longhorn, BE2a, BE2c, RE8, and FK3 aeroplanes, as well as in the Depperdusin monoplanes which he either owned, or had borrowed, before joining the RFC. I am Indebted to Mr. Ross for pointing this out.

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On sick-leave from flying, in March 1916, X was still working at the War Office, enjoying the social round, and playing about with cars. He was anxious to resume use of his Adler but after paying a bill of f14.15,for repairs, to a person named Lagden, and sending his man Tollerton for it, the car wasn’t ready. So, after lunching a number of friends at Prince’s, X had to use Talbot’s Mercedes for getting about in London, which meant going to the Shaftesbury Theatre and then taking some “flappers” out to supper at the Piccadilly Hotel. The next day X went out to Cricklewood in person to get his Adler but it still wasn’t ready, and the Itala had gone round to Paddon Bros. However, this lack of motor cars was not allowed to intrude on X’s participation in the gaiety of war-time London. Leaving the War Office that day, X had tea at his flat, dined with his father at the Marlborough Club, and then fetched his mother and took her to a play, “which was rotten”, so they went on to see “My Lady Frayl” again, obtaining a box for hallprice. Zeppelins came over front the East Coast (it was March 31st 1916) and one of them was shot down at the mouth of the Thames by an RFC pilot. After a busy morning at the “War House,” X might lunch at the Cavalry Club. But one Saturday he got out the big Itala, on its fresh set of tyres, and after a visit to his doctor, lunch at the Batchelors Club, and a run home via the Thaxted House Club, where his friend Vernon failed to show up, X started down in the Itala for Lennoxwood, with his mother, Lady X. They returned after dinner, having spent a day there with friends, after which there was time to do some more work at the War Office. Then, on the Sunday, Tollerton first brought round the Itala and then went and fetched Trevors in the Mercedes and, after Archie de Pass had been picked up, the party lunched at Prince’s, before driving down to “Lennoxwood”. All X’s family were there and after dinner he started back with Trevors, staying with Col. Trevors until 12.30, “awaiting the Zepps”. (Whether this was out of excitement, or refers perhaps to a plotting task X did at the War Office, I do not know.)

There was apparently much to occupy X at his office at this time (April, 1916). Pat Pigott “reported himself”, and, the diary says, X, “got office in order and Jenkins moved out”. He was again on guard duty at St. James’s Palace. He had now got the Adler back and it would be sent to Perch him on mornings when he had to go to the War Office. On one such afternoon X drove, after lunch with some lady-friends at Prince’s, to Lennoxwood, and then on to Farnborough “in Doris Reynolds’ little Merk 2-seater”. Leaving after tea there, they got back to London at about 8.30 p.m. in time for a stint at the WO and dinner at Pratts Club. In mid-week X might send his assistant up to Nottingham, send his girl-friends back to Richmond in the Mercedes, dropping off “at the garage to see Lt. Cleghorn about cars”, before returning to his office, and then, after dining at Prince’s, driving out in the evening to Richmond and back in a little Berliet, to see the Trevors.

Early in April X went before another Medical Board and was given a month’s light duty, followed by sick leave, and they refused indefinitely to pass him for General Services. So all that was left was to return to the WO, lunch with friends at the Berkeley, and motor down to Brooklands, with Pigott and his brother-in-law, where “old Martin” gave the latter a joy-ride in a Maurice Farman Shorthorn. There was a Saturday when Wilson Thomas lunched with X at Prince’s and they went in his Rolls-Royce to the Ritz, after which X went home to change and with a party motored out to Hendon in the Itala, before going to the King’s Theatre, Hammersmith, to see “Raffles”, and finally driving Trevors home and leaving the Itala at the RFC garage.

Petrol still flowed freely, because one April Sunday, although the Adler was again “in dry dock”, the Mercedes was used for a happy jaunt, to lunch at Slough and go on to Maidenhead, Bourne End and Swinley Woods, before taking tea at Ascot. Almost every week-day X lunched at one of his favourite haunts, such as “the Berkeley with Col. Proby, the Baron, and another old buffer”, or the Carlton with “Stewie, Pussy, Major and Mrs. Evans, Pike of the Grenadier Guards, and Geoff Hart”. One day he motored down to Weybridge with Capt. Dugdale in the Itala and saw Gordon Watney’s works and “had tea with Gordon Watney himself” (It does seem as if the Itala was an official RFC vehicle and no doubt the Gordon Watney factory, where old Mercedes were formerly rebodied, was engaged on war work, but all these contacts no doubt were useful to X in his post-war racing activities,. To celebrate that meeting with Watney X fetched Mrs. Pigott from the Cadogan Hotel, for dinner at Prince’s, before seeing “Mrs. Manhatten” at the Prince-of-Wales Theatre, after which Lady X took Mrs. Pigott home, allowing her son to dash off to the Shaftesbury Theatre.

It is still April 1916 when we find X taking five Grenadier Officers by train to Brighton. They lunched at the Metropole. where they were met by the Itala, and it then took them out to Shoreham aerodrome, where Major Read showed them round. Tea was taken at the aerodrome and they returned to London on the 5.45 train. (Could this have been a move to persuade Grenadier Guards’ Officers to volunteer for the RFC?) It made X “very tired”.

X maintained his connection with the Mercedes Company, drawing £20 from them on one occasion and paying a £2 fee to Chamberlain (who figured in the post-war Brooklands scene. I think), when the Adler was being seen about, and a Rolls-Royce looked at. The mid-April Saturday saw X as best-man at Jack Mansfield’s wedding, after he had lunched with the bridegroom and his father, who was a Major in the RFC. The WO was used as a meeting place that afternoon and a party later saw “Joyland”. X then going on to Ronnie Wilson’s dance at the Grafton Galleries — “It was a great show. Met lots of old pals there. Got back about 3.30”.

The bad weather in the spring of 1916 made X feel ill but he contrived to motor in the Pala to Newmarket, to stay at his fiancée’s house, where her father had a Studebaker, which X and she used for local runs. The Adler was now having alterations made to its radiator and the Itala began to give “several small troubles”, so that the run back to London took from 11 a.m to about 4 p.m. (This might not seem too bad, over the roads of 1916 in war-time, but it did not satisfy X, although I expect it included time-out for lunch on the way.) He had been accompanied by “Olga and Gerald”, and after tea in London Gerald went off to Oxford to join the RFC and X got the Mercedes out and set off with Olga for Crawley, getting there at about 7.30 p.m although the “car was running badly”. They put up at the George Hotel “which was beautifully comfortable”, and “messed about all the evening and Olga played the piano”. The Mercedes survived to run them on to Brighton on the Sunday for lunch at the Metropole with Pat Pigott and his wife (probably the former had been posted to Shoreham) and back to London, calling at Crawley on the way for their luggage.

Although X had a “very dud cold” and was “still feeling very ill”, this did not prevent him from driving to Newmarket again in the Itala, after a Corporal had brought it round. They “had a glorious run there, lunching at the Rutland Arms Hotel”. They looked at horses, had tea with X’s fiancée’s parents, and left at 7 p.m. but dined at Saffron Walden, where they left the car and came on by train (Was the Itala giving more trouble?) The theatre wasn’t neglected but “The Show Shop” at the Globe is described by X as “the rottenest show I have seen”. Work involved him in going down to Weybridge on duty, with Gordon Watney, Pat Pigott and his wife (after lunch, of course, at the Berkeley Grill-Room), in the Berliet, having tea in Weybridge, and then returning to the WO to see Col. Warner, to whom X was reporting about his WO job and promotion.

At about this time he sold the Adler to Lt. Frenchville, RN, for £125, lunching with Frenchville at Prince’s and afterwards seeing about bodies for the car, and also going to the RFC garage to see that the Itala’s axle had been taken down. There was a Saturday when X changed for dinner after seeing a matinee performance of “The Bing Boys Are Here”, dined at Prince’s, went to a supper-dance at the Savoy, then “changed back into ordinary clothes and left for Oxford at 4.30 to 5.30, in the Berber. Had a topping run and got there at 7.30 a.m.” Yet after breakfast, Mass, and lunch, X drove back to London the same day — “Had lovely run. Glorious day, had tea at flat”

On May 1st X went again before the medicos and was still passed unfit, although he would be flying again before the month was out. Meanwhile, I intend to spare you some of the repetitive social whirl in whch he existed. One Wednesday he had gone to Newmarket by the 12 o’clock train, having the Berliet brought up for the return journey. They started this after dinner but “had poisonous run, and lost our way twice, and eventually broke down in Ware and had to leave the Berliet, and hired a car and got back at 4.30 in the morning.” Later there was a trip in the Itala to Hounslow to persuade Major Bradley to lend X a BE2c so that he could fly to Newmarket at the week-end! Capt. Anstey was seen and that evening X’s doctor, Dr. Swann, was dined at X’s home, with his mother — “Very nice little evening, and think Dr. Swann enjoyed himself.” Most of one day was spent in the garage getting the Adler fixed up but X also “saw O’Mally in Col. Holt’s office) about the BE2c”.

(To be continued)

V-E-V Odds /4 Ends.—According to Lanciana, journal of the American Lancia Club, Vobril, a Czechoslovakian who left his native country in a 1923 Fiat some ten years ago to settle in California and make a living out of his skills in woodworking, has rebuilt the Vanderbilt Lancia Kappa, literally from baskets full of dismantled parts. Owen Wyn-Owen has acquired an early two-cylinder engine with automatic inlet valves, that had been in a boat for many years, and wonders if anyone can identify it? — see accompanying photograph. Our apologies to Miss Leslie Sayers who helped to repaint the BL Heritage Daimler featured in the November Motor Sport but whose name, and sex, were incorrectly quoted in the story. Foden’s are again to sponsor the HCVC’s Commercial Vehicle Brighton Run this year. Entries apparently close on January 5th and a three-day rally is planned to coincide with the finish of the Run in Brighton. The Railton OC is continuing its campaign against ridiculous prices being asked for this make of car: its current Bulletin contains a picture of Carbodies Railton tourer owned by a Swiss enthusiast. From Flutenews, issued monthly by the Vauxhall OC, we learn that a 1929 Vauxhall R20160 tourer has come to this country in roadworthy order, after having spent most of its life in Ceylon.

A reader has sent us an interesting invoice relating to a 15 h.p. Napier, No 484, ordered in 1904 by a Miss Talbot of Margarn Park, Pin Talbot, from S. F. Edge Ltd. This “Napier Motor Carriage complete with four-cylinder engine, electrical ignition apparatus, accumulators, petrol tank, Napier Hydraulic Air Regulator, Inducted draught system of water cooling, four speeds and reverse, brakes, sprag, etc.”, and with a wood-and-aluminiurn Roi-de-Belge body, cost her £900, “the whole to be finished in the best possible manner, painted in standard Napier green, black mouldings and fine white lines, upholstered in scarlet leather, and complete with five lamps”. S. F. Edge offered to license the car with the London County Council. Incidentally, speed-trials were held at Margarn Park after the war, I believe. — W.B.