True or false?

A reader has reminded me that many years ago I referred to the ancient Caudron aeroplanes owned by that well remembered racing-driver and inveterate record-breaker, Capt George Eyston. Eyston first flew in a BE2c in 1916, just prior to the Battle of the Somme, when he was taken up as an Artillery Officer, the better to see how the gun emplacement entrusted to him might be concealed. The following year, when on a photograph course, the future racing-driver was taken up in an AW Scout.

Gunners were not encouraged to join the RFC but after he had been wounded and was recovering, Eyston took his Pilot’s Certificate, having learned to fly from a field at Winton, Bournemouth. After the war was over Eyston bought a war-surplus Caudron G3 biplane with a Renault V8 engine, G-EALY. He kept it at Brooklands but it never had a c-of-a. When these became compulsory Eyston decided it was not worth the expense of converting the engine to dual ignition, one of the requirements, and he put the Caudron up for sale. Our correspondent recollects that it was purchased for a very nominal sum by Bill Webster. Apparently he kept the aeroplane in his back garden in the Sutton Coldfield area and taught himself to fly it by taxi-ing faster and faster round a nearby field until he became airborne. It is said he sometimes landed on Wolverhampton race-course.

When he decided to sell this ancient machine, with its tail plane out on booms behind the nacelle he advertised it in a London paper for around £10. This led to a bowler-hatted gentleman calling to see it, so the story goes. He agreed to have it, paying the “tenner” and the price of a full tank of petrol. Then, taking helmet and goggles from his briefcase, he stowed his rolled umbrella and bowler in the cockpit and started to take-off from a field adjacent to the garden. Alas, at about 50 feet the tail-unit broke away and the Caudron came to earth in a cloud of dust. The new owner climbed out unhurt, resumed his bowler-hat, retrieved his umbrella, and asked the time of the next train to London. Examination showed that the tail-unit had been secured by four 2BA nuts and bolts! This must have happened in 1920, as G-EALY was recorded as being scrapped that September.

Bill Webster is said to have been quite happy, having learned to fly on the machine, which he had then sold at a profit and the petrol tank of which was still full after the accident! He ran a car-sales and self-drive hire business and kept a photograph of the Caudron in the caravan that served as his office. He is believed to have become a member of the Blackpool & Fylde Flying Club, to have flown when in his ’60s, and to have died in the 1960s, at an advanced age. We do not doubt our correspondent, who is a keen MOTOR SPORT reader; but it was all a long time ago and we wonder if anyone else remembers Bill Webster? As for George Eyston, who of course broke the LSR three times, taking it to 357.50 mph by 1938, he used his own DH Hornet Moth for a time for business journeys, such as to Orly when record-breaking at Montlhéry Track, and at the age of 70 took his seaplane licence at Lee-on-Solent, in a float-equipped DH Tiger Moth. WB