The Wartime Diaries of an RFC Officer

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(continued from the February issue)

Having resumed flying duties, X. as we know this RFC Officer, had a busy day at the Aerodrome at London Colney in July 1918 before dining there preparatory to going to the Hanbury’s dance in London, for Arthur Upton, which X attended with his friend Gerald. He got up “feeling very boiled”, to do more odd jobs about the Aerodrome. On August 1st the week-end was occupied at Newmarket, to which his Rolls-Royce was driven; it “ran magnificently”. However, having gone to the Aerodrome (Thetford?) on the Sunday morning with Rick Keller, the run back to town with his fiancée was nearly a disaster, as “. . . one of the back wheels came off and nearly had a bad spill”. However, they made Claridges almost on schedule. Thereafter there was much work to do on the Aerodrome. X was able to get a tin of petrol from Cummings that enabled the Renault to be towed back to Moss Bros., after which Rowson started off for Leamington in the Mercedes to collect the touring body off the racing Austin.

Meanwhile Keller’s Crossley came round, driven by Parker, and X took it to Barker’s, before using it to go to the Dog’s Home and on to London Colney, bringing the Coupe de L’Auto racing Sunbeam back to London from the Aerodrome in the evening. The racing Sunbeam was later sold to Keller for £50 and his Crossley. At London Colney, Lines reported that Rowson had arrived there with the Mercedes and that work had started on the Rolls-Royce, the start perhaps of X’s post-Armistice motor business. But it was still August 1918, and we find X sending the newly-acquired Crossley, which was a Shelsley model, to the Mercedes Company in London. He tested a Brown chassis at Moss Bros. (this was presumably the London-made car, also known as the Albruna, one of which I found near Reading during WW2), bought a fox-terrier, and went down to London Colney on this hor Saturday in the Rolls, lunching in the Staff room and then “messing about the sheds”. He also put in half-an-hour’s flying in a DH6 (No. 2650), sharing it with Lt. Milne and he “gave Willie Eyre a straight across the Aerodrome”, before driving back to town to dine at the Hyde Park Hotel.

Arriving at London Colney a few days later X learned that Keller had been killed. The next day he drove to the Aerodrome in the Mercedes and was busy “fixing up poor Keller’s personal effects”. In the evening he met Count Zborowski at the Park Garage. The Rolls-Royce was then in commission again for a run to Portsmouth, the party lunching en route at Cobham, as X was attending a dance at the Pier Hotel at Seaview, Ryde. On the Sunday the Rolls met the boat and it was back to London, to dine at the Hyde Park Grill. Not all X’s wartime motoring went so smoothly. On the Monday following his seaside visit he went down to the Aerodrome for Keller’s funeral — “. . .a very impressive funeral, with full Military honours” — and then up to the De la Rue’s “and handed over all his personal effects to his people”. After lunch at the Aerodrome X drove back to town with Leonard Geach (the post-war Sunbeam driver?) and from there took Col. Shelmerdine down to Billericay in Essex for dinner, but starting back X ran out of petrol and had to walk three miles into Romford for a can, getting home at 5 in the morning, “dead beat”.

The social round included lunching Charles Jarrott at the Savoy, meeting Martin, the London Colney Adjutant in the “Red Lion” at Radlett and driving him to London, and going in the Rolls with Lines to Lymington via Romsey for lunch, to get to a fancy-dress ball at Seaview, from Yarmouth, with a bathing party the next day lunching at the “Crab & Lobster” at Bembridge. A Swift was sold for £40. The Rolls was used for a “lovely run” back to London, where X got the Fiat out, from the Mercedes Company, for Lines to work on, after a list of all that was wrong with it had been sent to Dewis. It was soon fit to drive from Newmarket to London Colney, where X contrived for Lines to take the Sizaire he had bought in the former town for £40, from Crisswell’s Garage, to the Aerodrome for sale to a Lt. Dyson.

There was much swopping about of cars. Stuart de la Rue’s Straker Squire tourer being borrowed while the Fiat was still in dock, X changing it for the Rolls while Lines returned the Straker and brought back the Fiat. X would attend Mess meetings and a court martial in his capacity of Flight Commander, and at home he held ”the very dickens of a dinner party and dance and got the Prince’s band round”, the guests including Chas. Jarrott. X was able to borrow a Crossley from the Air Board to take his luggage, when he drove with his girl-friend down to London Colney. The Rolls was about to be sold to Croall for £860, through Cummings, so X had obtained an Austin landaulette. Skipping the unending social whirl, during which X lectured his pupils on discipline after dinner one evening, we find him paying Moss & Sons £117 for doing up the Renault and on September 16th, 1918 starting work officially in No. 1 Group, RAF.

The new post involved reporting to Col. Shelmerdine in London and getting his new office ready but did not stop X from lunching with the Colonel at the Bachelor’s Club and after dropping him, selling Dewis a Calcott coupe for £330 that he had bought from Major K. K. Horne for £300. Horne also had a Prince Henry Vauxhall, sold after the war for £350. An old 25/30 Mercedes 4-seater was obtained from Dewis, for a shared re-sale. Meanwhile, Lines had the help of a Cpl. Burnham in dismantling the Austin’s engine. X did a lot of RAF office work but late in September we find him going in Col. S’s Crossley to Chingford to fetch a DH6 for Capt. Barney: “Wind blowing too strong and machine not ready, so did not take it”. The ancient Mercedes was sold for £110 and a Sizaire to Newman’s for £27, and X tried an Adler, although the Austin was running again. X then went down to Chingford in a Staff Crossley with Barney, who flew a DH6 (No. 2614) to London Colney. On the car-coping side, X sold two Peugeot chassis to the Mercedes Co. for Cummings and made £10 profit by selling the Austin back to Dewis.

However, on other days X would be very busy in his office. Having sold his Austin, he looked at a 6-cylinder Wolseley, tried a Renault coupe for Dewis, and a 35/45 Mercedes 4-seater for himself. He didn’t buy it but did take an 18/22 Armstrong-Whitworth landaulette from Cummings for £95, but sold this immediately to Newman for £107/10/-. Lunch was now sometimes at the RFC Club or the Oxford 81 Cambridge Club, and Major Darley would drink champagne and stout at the office with X. Having two Courts of Enquiry to hold at London Colney did not prevent X from going via the Euston Road in the Staff car and selling the old Weigel to Newman for £35, or selling Burney’s Minerva to the same person for £110 on the run back! That same day the 6-cylinder Wolseley landaulette had fetched £550, of which £12/10/was X’s commission.

A Perry was collected by Lines from de la Rue’s in the City, X danced at the Grafton Galleries, and then, on the last September Sunday in 1918, a Staff Crossley fetched X at 7 a.m. and took him to Hounslow, where Major Darley, who had been staying with X, got out his BE2e, the Crossley then “crashing off” to London Colney, from where X took the DH6 (No. 2650) to Newmarket with Cpl. Burnham as passenger. They took off at 9.10 and arrived over the town at 10, “Machine not flying too well”. X was aiming for his fiancee’s house, “The Moat” but lost his way. Darley had force-landed and when X perceived this he landed alongside, after a 70-minute flight at mostly 5,000 feet. Darley for some reason then taxied X’s machine across the field but ran into a horse-rake, which damaged the leading edge of the starboard lower wing.

Undaunted, Major Darley got into the BE2e again and flew with X to the house, where they discovered that Major Brandon and Weaver were just landing, in another DH6. All had lunch. It then came on to rain, so Darley flew the BE2e to Newmarket Aerodrome, where they all spent the night, the DH6 having to be fetched from the Aerodrome. Next day X and his Corporal returned by train, X going on to his office and then to see the “not bad” spy-play “Live Wire”. Darley remained behind, presumably to fly the BE home. That was the last entry in X’s Pilot’s Flying Log Book. . . .

X bought back the grey 25/30 Mercedes limousine in October, was Late Duty Officer at Group, made journeys with Col. Freddy Minchin in a 45 h.p. Mercedes, and used 6th Wing’s Crossley “gin-palace” with lady driver to do inspections in Kent. Gen. Murphy, DSO, MC, was having his Straker Squire done up at Moss & Sons. A Zenith carburetter was purchased, as X was “tickling up” the big Mercedes. His father had been reported slightly wounded, in France. It was in October that X and some girls took Schaposchinkoff’s Mercedes Ninety down to Brighton, handing it over at the Grand Hotel, where they stayed for the night, getting to bed at 4 a.m., and next day driving the same owner’s 45 h.p. Mercedes limousine back to London. The Fiat was later used to go to a Court of Enquiry at Eastbourne Aerodrome with Minchin; they had magneto trouble going down. Minchin then flew back to Maidstone but when the Fiat gave more trouble on the run home he came out for X in his Crossley saloon. X’s father returned from the BEF on October 17th. X himself remained very busy at Group but managed to see “Freedom of the Seas” — “an awfully good Show” — and sold the Perry to Mebes & Mebes for £315. X went out in a 3-seater 45 h.p. Sporting Mercedes with Col. Jenkins, paid £650 for Rick Keller’s Sunbeam racer (the Coupe de L’Auto car, I think), sold the Renault, and bought a 15/30 Stoewer (replaced after the war by a £120 12 h.p. Brazier, that required reboring), and went to Wickford in the Fiat to stay with Col. S, whose de Dion Rowson had driven to London, going missing on the way so that Lines had to search for him, Col. S having a Sunbeam which X put right for him. In November X began work at the SE Area, RAF, tactfully buying Col. Jenkins a dog after lunching with him at the Ritz. X was working hard at his new tasks when the war ended — “We have won the war — Germany capitulates. Cheeryho”, says the Diary entry for November 11th. It continues: “At 11 o’clock. All the guns went off. Bells rang. Crowds cheered. Bands played. The Armistice has been signed and the war is morally over . . .  lunched with Archie at the Bachelor’s. The crowd was amazing”. X went to the Mercedes Co. but it was shut, and on to the Area, but Col. Jenkins was not there. Although these Diaries were continued until well after WW2, this seems as good a place as any to stop. — W.B.

Footnote After helping with the November election, for the Unionist party, X, taking 398 voters to the Poll in the faithful Fiat, became a racing motorist, his first racing car being a rebodied Shelsley Crossley. He also started a business in reconditioned ex-RFC/RAF Crossley tenders. A VCC member tells me that when he was at Farnborough in 1918 a colleague had managed to put a V8 Hispano Suiza aero-engine into such a Crossley. X was to use such an engine in a well-known racing car from 1921 onwards and one wonders if the engine came to him as part of the Crossley business? — W.B.

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