The wartime diaries of an RFC Officer

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[Continued from the June issue] 

We left X, the RFC pilot who compiled these diaries, enjoying the Christmas of 1916, over which holiday period motoring was done in two Rolls-Royces, one of them subsequently crashed. The social round he was wont to indulge in continued unabated in the New Year, and included visits to the Drury Lane pantomime and theatre with various girls, one of the plays seen being “London Pride” starring Gerald du Maurier. A Vauxhall now figures as a car used in London but it was a Rolls-Royce in which X drove to his customary week-end at Newmarket on the first Friday in January 1917, this and the Howards’ Hillman going over to Cambridge on the Saturday evening so that the party could dine at the Varsity Arms before going to the pantomime. “The car ran beautifully”. In the morning the Rolls had been into Newmarket, getting back for lunch after X and a girl-friend had gone for a short walk and in the afternoon X went for a long walk with someone whom I think to have been his fiancee’s Mother. 

Life continued in this vein, with local runs in the Rolls, a visit to Newmarket cinema, shooting a hare, and one snowy day driving in the Rolls-Royce to Thetford to leave some of his family there before going on to Roudham to look up his old Flight (at the night-landing aerodrome there), before fetching his Flight-Sergeant, Tollerton, whom X had sent down to London that morning from Newmarket Station. A ‘phone call to Major Cameron at the War Office was sufficient for X to get extended leave. Who would have thought that terrible Somme offensive in which 867 British airmen had been killed, had so recently ground to a bloody stalemate? It left the RFC seriously short of manpower. 

After some duck shooting and more local motoring, X seems to have had to return to London as his leave ran out. On a cold but fine day, over slushy roads, the Rolls-Royce left the Newmarket area at 11 am and was in town in time for lunch at Ennismore Gardens. That evening X changed for dinner at the Ritz and a cheery evening with a number of friends, “Streamline” Davy amongst them. There was never a shortage of petrol, it seems. X was able to take his Mother and then his Father for drives around London. But all good things come to an end and one January Monday X noted : “Returned to WO feeling a bit depressed that my leave is over and young Jane going. However, I am a lucky devil to have had so much leave and seen so much of her. So, ‘No complaints, Sir’. . .” 

That same day X lunched at Princes with Phip Paddon and arranged to sell the Rolls-Royce. Work kept X at the WO until 7 pm the following day but he altered the room of his flat and felt more cheerful. X saw a war-film, “The Battle of the Aisne” at the New Gallery Cinema but thought it “not as good as the Somme pictures.” After lunch one day at the new RFC Club X went to Litchfield’s to see the Rolls, which was “getting on OK” – presumably the one crashed at Christmas. Perhaps needing a replacement, X went on the afternoon of January 19th to the Mercedes Co in London to look at a white 35/45 Mercedes, later sold, I think, to Bertie Eaton for £475, giving X a commission of £15. That was the day of the big explosion at Silvertown near Woolwich -” … saw it plainly from the Park”. On the following day, X was busy at the War Office until lunchtime when he met Peggy Rush, the fiancee of Lord Middleton’s son George Brodrick at the family house. He then collected Mrs Tate’s Imperial car which she had lent him and went to take another look at the white Mercedes· “Hear that there were about 2 000 deaths due to the explosion. Dined at Pratt’s Club . . .”

A January Sunday in 1917 saw X get the other Rolls-Royce out and start off from London for Newmarket with 1st Air-Mechanic Hirchell, -“over roads like ice and a hard frost.” Nevertheless, the journey took only about three hours. Later that day Capt. Foggin and Lt. Bion flew over, no doubt from Roudham in a Maurice Farman and gave flights to two of the girls X knew. That evening the Rolls was driven back to London and the next day the one that had been repaired: which had belonged to a Mr. Dickinson of Leicester, was sold to Paddon for £950, X’s commission being £225. Weekdays were occupied with work and the social round, the latter including lunch with Segrave at the Carlton, and going to see “Hoopla” before taking supper at the Savoy . … Or they might dine at home, go to the Chelsea Palace and on to the Gaiety, returning as a large party to X’s flat to cook supper over the fire.

X met Capt. Robinson, VC, who later came to one of his large dinner parties, took two girls in  the Rolls to the Royal Free Hospital to see Wilfred Ebsworh (a war casualty?), and then  dropped them in Regent Street, and saw  “Aristocrat” at the St. James’s Theatre – “Not very good, too much George Alexander”. He looked at cars with Segrave, including twice inspecting a Metallurgique in the Euston Road. In February there was skating on the pond outside  X’s girl-friend’s school at Harrow, the  Rolls-Royce in use for this and other runs such as — ”. . . crashed on to Wisley Hut and skated with Phil Paddon.” Among Xs friends at this  time were Eggar and the Hon Bertie Eaton, who  may have been related to later racing-motorists of those names? “Old Beanlands” had returned from  France and was dined at Princes, taken to “Chu Chin Chou” and on to supper at the Savoy. On a  February Saturday some girls were collected from  the Gaiety theatre in the Rolls and Mrs Tate’s  Mercedes and a party of sixteen people ”crashed  off to Brighton”, arriving there at about 2.30 am on the Sunday mornmg. They put up at the Royal York Hotel. The Mercedes broke down and was abandoned at a garage but the Rolls-Royce  made the run back on the Sunday in four hours.  Three days after this the indefatigable X went  home, changed into blue, and took Mrs Robertson out to dine at the Ritz … then went  to “See-Saw”, awful rot, and then on to the Savoy and met a lot of people, then dropped Mrs Robertson at her flat”.

X next “saw a Rolls-Royce at the Mercedes Co, sent Dalziel his tyre to his Club by Tollerton, and met Barrington-White at the Mercedes Co and sold him the white Rolls-Royce .. .” This was car no 1693, sold on a commission basis for £775.

It was on February 19th that X went to his new office at the Hotel Cecil, to which his Department, the AOIB, had moved from the WO. Before that a week-end with the girl-friend had been snatched, up at Newmarket, using the Rolls-Royce, which “ran beautifully” although they had one puncture and had a bad drive after it got dark on account of fog. “Jane drove a good way” on the Sunday drive back. 

X found that he “rather liked new quarters at the Cecil”, which he rounded off by dining at Odinino’s and the next day acting as best-man at Cecil Griffin’s wedding at St Michael’s Church Chester Square. His girl was now using the Rolls-Royce but it was Lord Wilton’s Daimler limousine which X used to take a party home after an evening of cinema, theatre and dance. The following morning X “Got up very late, feeling like a stuffed owl.” However, he went to work, lunched with Col Hogg, RFC at the Berkeley, met Major “Lucky” Lanson, AFC, and then drove Col Warner back to the WO. Phil Paddon had X’s Rolls-Royce out on test and that evening Tollerton collected Paddon’s’ 1913 Rolls-Royce two-seater for X to try, which he went out in again after dining with Barrington-White. The next day X met Lord Wilton and tried his 70 hp Mercedes and His Lordship tried the Paddon Rolls. This was interrupted by lunch “with the Col and Tate, Lt-Gen Furze (Master of Ordnance) and ”another female” at the Carlton but the day after that X lunched at Barrington-White’s house and X sold his Rolls (No. 1463 -see previous page) to Lord Wilton for £850. It seems that X had paid that price for it, but had had four months’ full use from it on RFC business. After work X dines with someone called Bumble at the Picadilly Grill and “messed about in his new Rolls,” taking it to show it to X’s family at Ennismore Gardens. 

At this period X was much concerned in Rolls-Royce matters. He “went and looked at a Baby Peugeot with Pussy and also went to L’itchfield’s and saw about new body for Wilton’s Rolls cabriolet.” The agreement about the body was signed by Lord Wilton at the house of X’s friend Bumble,. with whom he had recently stayed, and later X went again to Litchfield’s and saw the two-seater body off Paddon’s Rolls-Royce, which he bought for Lord Wilton’s 1910 Rolls-Royce. Theatre-going, however, was not neglected; X saw “Zig-Zag” and “A Maid of the Mountains”, both considered very good. 

In March it seems that X’s Rolls-Royce was taken off the RFC list and he sent 18 petrol cans back to Ralph & Ewell and paid his petrol account. But this does not imply any lack of motoring activity. X was keeping an eye on the progress made with the body on Lord Wilton’s Rolls-Royce, was in touch with the Connaught Carriage Co, (perhaps about selling the old cabriolet body that the two-seater was to replace) and looked at cars at West Norwood (probably at Douglas Cox’s dump) and had been out in the Mercedes again. He also met people in the Trade like Dewis, MD of the British Mercedes Co, Charles Lane and Cummings, trying “the little Swift car” at Cummings’ premises and sent a cheque for a supply of Petrol Substitute. Jane would sometimes come and sit in X’s office at the “War House” while he finished his tasks, and early in March 1917 he bought the Swift for his fiancee. They got some petrol for it on the Sunday and drove round the Park on their way to lunch at Princes…

About this time X sold Paddon a Sizaire-Berwick for £450, messed about with the little Swift, and there is then an interesting entry, for March 1917, reading ” … saw Lady Wilton and she paid me the £250 owing for the Rolls-Royce No. 1463. Interesting, because this is the 1911 Rolls-Royce Holmes tourer now owned by John Bolster. It is a short-chassis Silver Ghost 40/50 with the 2.7 to 1 axle ratio. Photographs of No. 1463 in X’s photograph albums are captioned “The Best Rolls”. It seems likely that Lord Wilton purchased it to use while the conversion was being carried out on his other Rolls-Royce. In 1919 it was bought by a Mr Lastra while he was living in Buxted in Sussex, probably from X, to whom Charles Lane had sold it back, on April 5th 1919, for £1,650, X reselling on April 25th of the same year for £2,050, using it for some long runs, including going up to Scotland, in the meantime. At this period, for reasons best left to the imagination even if I knew them, the Rolls-Royce had an incorrect later Reg No LT-6207, but after Bolster had acquired it the car was registered as KN-3075.-WB 

When he returned to the Argentine, in 1923, Lastra gave his car and his hunter to the lady who had been living with him in a menage-a-trois with her husband. She put it in the back of her garage and it never turned a wheel again until John Bolster heard of it in 1945 and was able to buy it -in conversation then the name of X turned up and he was remembered by the lady as a quite remarkable fellow. . . .

(To be continued) 

NB. Reverting to X’s visit to Mrs Bentley’s in Market Harborough, referred to last month, John Bland tells us he met her as a schoolboy and that she ran a London-registered Gladiator landaulette.  

Miniatures news 

On page 1005 some information is given about the obscure Barrington Motor Co. This long defunct firm has been acquired by David Filsell, a well-known VSCC member who often marshals at vintage meetings and who is a Clyno enthusiast, having owned four of these cars, including the Clyno Nine Saloon he still possesses. Through Barrington Motors at Llangynidr in Powys he is marketing car miniatures. These are mostly true miniatures, because he concentrated initially on those from the lesser-known makers of vehicles intended mainly for forming scenic backgrounds to gauge-OO and HO model railway layouts. 

Such miniatures of cars and commercial vehicles take up less space than the more usual 1:43-scale models collected by the majority of model-car enthusiasts and they can be quite fascinating in their own right, as I discovered after visiting Barrington Motors premises. The plastic and white-metal kits and made-up miniatures cover a reasonable range of makes, too. Ford fans are especially well catered for, with kits covering those from Model-T to V8. For example, the John Day white-metal kits cover a full run of Model-Y Ford Eights, in Tudor and Fordor saloon, tourer, van, truck and taxi form. With other Ford kits from America, such as 24 versions of the Model-AA commercials, Mountain State’s 1935 V8, Concor’s 1931 commercials, and the Wheelworks’ range of 1932 cars and 1934 commercials, the Ford world in miniature is very well catered for. Some of these kits should appeal to members of the Ford Side Valve OC and I remarked to David Filsell that anyone wondering how to effectively display such Fords might do worse than build a model of one of the stands at the pre-war Ford Motor Shows at the Albert Hall, which they took to cock-a-snoot at the SMM & T to which Ford did not then belong, and were thus not permitted to exhibit at Olympia.

Some of these tiny miniatures are only about an inch long, or less, but the detail in some of them is quite astonishing. For instance, the 1:86-scale Jordan Model-T Ford two-seater I was shown had dashboard instruments, number plates, and even pedals, although it needed a magnifying-glass (which many of those who study the Motor Sport small advertisements must surely possess) to see these! But such commendable detail in the smallest of motor-car miniature shows up many of the much larger models, which lack such attention to detail.

While the railway-orientated miniatures tend towards commercial vehicles, with Fords and Macks predominating, there are some notable exceptions. Thus Autoreplicas have a tiny, but very well-contrived F-Model Morgan Family three-wheeler, a Riley KestreI saloon and a Fiat van in their 1:76 scale (00 gauge) BKL series. In this fascinating world of inch-long miniatures, Dart Castings of Totnes do a kit for building a Reliant 3-cwt van, based on a full-size vehicle restored in 1973, Monmouth have a 1911 Daimler platform lorry, and Fleetmaster do a Morris Marina and Leyland commercials, etc. From America come a set of a dozen versions of 1929 Packard cars, in the National white-metal 1:86-scale (HO-gauge) National series. David ­Filsell has in stock miniatures from 40 different makers, representing a formidable total. He dispatches these against postal orders and issues his own catalogue, obtainable on receipt of an sae and mentioning Motor Sport, to Barrington Motors, Sycamore House, Llangynidr, Crickhowell, Powys, NP8 1NT. Incidentally, it is interesting that quite a number of model car makers are now located in Wales, taking advantage of factory facilities and so on offered in that area.

David Filsell can build up completed models from the kits he deals in, to customer’s requirements, and he has a large collection of his own models, which are not for sale. These cover Dinkys, Dinky-type substitutes, and a whole host of more modern car miniatures, from simple metal Gurney steam-carriage and early steam brewer’s dray to things like the fine Dugu 1:43-scale miniature of the 1911 S74 300 hp Fiat racing monster on which even the driving chains revolve. -WB.

“Oh Dear” Department

A confusion of pictures and caption led to badly crossed wires in last month’s VSCC Curborough story, the veteran with the 1908 GP Panhard-Levassor being, of course, Roger Collings’ very well-known 1903 Sixty Mercedes, not the 1908 GP Itala as stated and intended, and WB obviously should have said on page 820 that he was returning from London in the Citroen GTi along the M4, not to London.

On page 821 of the June issue Corner’s Ferrari Dino should have been described as the ex-Hoare car, not the ex-Horne car.

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