Cars In Books, September 1983



Cars In Books

I WAS INTERESTED to find in one of the books by the Rt. Hon. J. E. B. Seely, to which I referred in July, an account of how when Seely joined the Air Ministry after the Armistice it was arranged for him to investigate the practicality of using the Thames as a landing-ground for military seaplanes. A fast Short seaplane was put at his disposal and flown over the land from Medway to Greenwich and on to the intended landing place opposite “Big Ben” at Westminster. To his surprise, Seely, who had already put on his top hat for his trip by launch to the Speaker’s steps, was flown under Tower Bridge by the intrepid pilot “. . . about 20 feet above the traffic moving below us. The people on the tops of the omnibuses, I perceived, covered their heads with their hands as we roared through.”

Three minutes later they were at Westminster, where the pilot circled “Big Ben” three times.

He then landed safely and later managed the tricky take-off from between Westminster and Lambeth bridges. Seely says he had issued a recent stringent regulation against flying low over the Thames and that the flight under Tower Bridge resulted in a complaint from the Chief Constable of the City of London to the Lord Mayor. It was said that two men riding on a ‘bus had had their hats knocked off. Seely concludes by saying that the element of risk was exceedingly small, adding “I hope and believe this is the last time that anyone will fly through the Tower Bridge”. He had reckoned without Major Draper, DSC, who flew under more than just Tower Bridge, indeed under 15 Thames bridges, many years later first in a DH Pussmoth, then after the Warm an Auster, as described in his book “The Mad Major” (Air Review, 1962). I strongly recommend this book, which was reviewed in MOTOR SPORT at the time of publication, if copies are still to be had. There is no mention of Seely’s flight through Tower Bridge in it, nor can I find any reference to this in some of the leading aviation histories I have consulted, so it would be interesting to know if anyone remembers Seely’s flight, which presumably took place in about 1919. Major Draper has said of flying under Thames bridges that “a flight of this kind cannot be done on the spur of the moment just because one feels like it”. So it does seem odd that a pilot with a top-ranking Minister as his passenger should have done just that, in what was a fairly primitive seaplane. I wonder whether C. G. Grey made any comment? -W.B.