The Wartime Diaries of an RFC Officer



The Wartime Diaries of an RFC Officer

(continued from the October issue)

THESE diaries of the Irish Guards Officer who had joined the Royal Flying Corps, whom I am referring to as X, are now at the October 1917 stage. X had collected a Sunbeam racing car from Mr. Dewis, who was Manager of the Mercedes Company in London at that time. This Sunbeam, which could well have been a 1913 Grand Prix car or OM of the successful pre-war Coupe de LAI. Meer, was used by X to go to the Air Board Office in London one ‘Saturday, after which he drove it to Brighton. It must have been quite a quick motor car, because X was back in London by about 6.30 p.m., after having lunched with his mother, run out to Shoreham to see a Squadron there (thus, one imagines. justifying the petrol used!), and called at his flat: This fairly substantial piece of muttering in an open car in the October weather had not apparently tired the .young pilot, because he then “. . . got clean, ‘dined at Prince’s with Channery and Capt. Hartley, met some friends at Claridges and had supper at the Savoy with Hartley. to bed at 1.30.” This was a prelude to both men getting up early on the Sunday, a glorious day, and setting off in the racing Sunbeam for Newmarket. At Potters Bar “the clutch broke” and they had to return and resume the journey in a Daimler, probably the staff car. That went badly. too, but they were able to lunch at the Bachelors Club and still arrive by 4.30 p.m. On the Monday Hartley seems to have had enough of motoring, as he returned to London by train. The Daintier was still going badly, no X returned from the station, telephoned Tollerton, who figures so frequently in his diaries, and they went off in the afternoon by train to London, picked up the stricken Sunbeam and towed it home, working on it that evening. X used the Daimler to get to his office and after lunching at the Berkeley with Col. Small, whom he had contacted at the 18th Wing, which was presumably in London, they “. . . went down to Hounslow in his staff Crossley gin-palace”. X was seeing Dewis and Zborowski a good deal, lunching onc Wednesday with the young

Count at Prince’s, and at Moss Brothers, where he neat to see how the Napier was getting on, he met Phil Paddon. That evening, after dining with Bahs Heineky and Fanshawe, with whom he had been running around in the Daimler. X went to are “The 13th Chain”, which he thought “very 1.9d”. At about 12.30 in the night an air raid started — the date was October 31st/November 1st.

The round of lunches and dinners continued, With the General and friends like Hartley, Hedges, Col. Small, Bob Kennedy, Tango Petyman, Segrave, Col. Warner .d Krabbe. etc. Tollerton went to the Baker Street Bazaar with X — no it seems that there is nothing new about Autojumbles. even in the war-t.ime London of 1917′ Maybe it wasn’t all for and games for X. For instance. one beastly November Saturday

‘ .florning he took the 11.45 train to Stamfoird, where Needham. the Adjutant. met him with the Etigineer Officer. and after they had had lunch at “The 4ienrge”. X was “very busy inspecting”.

until he caught the 7.50 p.m. train from Peterborough back to London. On the Sunday X thought nothing of calling out a Dr. Rose, when his nose felt stuffed up, after which he spent most of the rest of the day at the Bachelors Club. On the Monday, after they had lunched with his fiancee at Prince’s, X and Phil Paddon went down to Hounslow in a staff Crossley from 18th Wing, but X made sure he was back in time to take his girl and her mother to a performance of “Arlette”. There was a large dinner party given by the young bride-to-be the following day, at Prince’s, and another visit to “The 13th Chair”, which most of the aforementioned friends attended, including Segrave and Mrs. Segrave.

A Vauxhall, almost certainly an RFC staff car was used to take the girl back to her school at Harrow, X then going into Northolt but returning for dinner at the Carlton before going on to see “Boy” at rho Adelphi, another “very good” play. Perhaps petrol was becoming less easy to obtain, because we now find X going by train to Newmarket with his girl and her mother. But he got back to London with another girl his sister, perhaps?) in the New Herbert light-car, which he very soon “tried tO get rid of’. Work apparently consisted of visiting Hendon, London Colney (lunch with Captain Elliot) and then Potters Bar, where X returned the two lamps and tow rope he had borrowed when retrieving the racing Sunbeam. He also “sent whole lot of rubbish rotund to Cummings”.

The staff Vauxhall would be used, despite the November fog, for going down to Joyce Green. where X had “a errs’ cheery lunch with Major Maxwell and Geach”. the latter no doubt the driver who had driven at Brooklands in a variety of cam before the war and who was to crash a 5-litre Indianapolis Sunbeam while racing at Brooklands in 1920. The re-bodied Napier was now ready, SO having borrowed £75 against the sale of the New Herbert, X took delivery and used it one Saturday to visit Northolt to “look at Squadron’. and then went on in it to Newmarket. arriving just before the winter dusk cies. in. The Napier was used for RFC chores, like visiting rho Harling Road. Thetford, aerodrome, (“. . had cheery lunch at the 7th Wing”) and Sedgford, where tea was taken with Gen. Hogg, Col. Board and Major Jackson, after which the Napier arrived at the Sandringham Floral in time for dinner and a dance at the Town Hall. Next day there was much work to do at the aerodrome, lunch being taken in 72 Squadron’s Mess at Dockery with a Major von Polcnitz, who went with them for a cheerful evening of piano-playing in King’s Lynn with “a Naval fellow Dods”. The Napier continued with this rotund of visits. punctuated with lunches, girl-friends, and shows. X meeting up with old friends at such places. The new 26th Wing Headquarters at Ely were on the itinerary, before arriving back at the Brigade in London. One Saturday X went to Palmer’s Garage in Tooting (they had imported the Bedelia cyclecar bolero she war) and sold a Main, Main a 40.’50 h.p. Darracq chassis for £35. before returning to the Brigade. prior to taking in Hounslow in the staff Vauxhall. Iris apparent that

in 1917 Palmer’s Garage was a Red Cross Depot, where X would go to look at the ambulances. However, he might also be called in to a conference at the Brigade on a Sunday, or he would have cold rides to Northolt in the Vauxhall, when, on one such occasion, Hedges overtook them in his Rolls-Royce, bringing X back in it. The diary entries now include items like buying a magneto, dining with Monet Maury (the post-war Bugatti driver) at the Berkeley. and going to a dance in the Albert Room at the Savoy. How difficult it is to separate X from rho social whirl. Late in November 1917 he sold the Napier for £550. to Dewis, taking the Vauxhall in part-payment (025). It seems that a sale might be effected without delivering a car, because at the time X was still working on the Napier. He also seems to have been undecided about the car he wanted, because he “went down to Hendon in Austin racer for trial”, one weekday. The Vauxhall would make dashes down to London Colt, when work was pressing. The first of December fell on a Saturday, which X spent at his office, breaking off to lunch at the Ritz, then returning to she office before dining at Prince’s with Gerald and Isobel Eisen, they had “the Chef d’Orchestre round to Sr. James’ Palace Hotel and it played until I went to Ronnie’s dance”. That did not deter X and his friend Gerald from starting off quite early on the December Sunday in the fourth year of the warn the Vauxhall for Newmarket. It broke down at Hatfield and they had to have it towed into London Col,. They then walked a long may before one of the girls from Newmarket came down and fetched them in the family Calthorpe, so that the day’s travel did not end until 11.30 p.m. At this time X, whose new batman had arrived, was supposed to have left Dover with Major Bush hurt bad cold prevented this. no he looked at cars instead and dined with General and Mrs. Platt. On December 6th, at 5.30 a.m., an mr-raid was reported. X had got up at 4.30 but he went back to bed when it was over, at 7 o’clock. Two aeroplanes were brought down. After sleeping that off, X went to the Mercedes Company and left the Herbert there, getting ours 1915 40/50 h.p. Alpine Eagle Rolls-Royce. This car was then used to go to the Brigade, and then to take Major Bush to London Colney and on to Newmarket; “Rolls ran magnificently”. It was still “running well” after they had driven in it to Thetford, Attleborough, Harling Road and Norwich. The following day they continued to Narborough, lunching at Swaffenham, but were delayed by plugs oiling up and running out of petrol, before arriving at the Rutland Hotel in Newmarket for the night. Although this was December 1917 and the weather was bad, such an early start was made for London on the Monday that they were in town by 10 a.m. —”beastly day, but had lovely run”. The diary entries now tell of X lunching at the Ritz with Capt. Fraser of the Division and going to the Mercedes Company with Major Bush — was this Company commandeered during the war and made to service RFC transport, perhaps? A rather nice period-touch is provided by a description of a run, in Major Bush’s Crossley, with his driver at the wheel, from Brigade headquarters in London to Croydon when X was accompanied by Totten.; after going “up to the Aerodrome” (which would, I think, have been called Wadden in those days) they went back ma the Red Cross Garage at Tooting and the Battersea Dogs Home, where the Major purchased two wire-haired terriers, while X acquired a “ripping little Sealyham terrier” for his fiancee. continued