The main building at Croydon Airport was, and is, of dark grey stone with the control tower surmounted by a large triangular aerial rising high above it, and it was to here the next day, now being a man of the world, I reported to Imperial Airways. Or at least I tried to! For it was difficult to get in, as the guardian of the swing doors, a certain Mr Hamlin, didn't approve of any one entering unless they were fare paying passengers. Having talked my way past him, I entered the main concourse which had a most distinctive and memorable odour, of O'Cedar floor polish wax. Surrounding the sides of this hall were the desks of the airlines with such romantic names as Air France, Swiss Air, Lufthansa and others as yet unknown to me. On the left was that of lmperial Airways, very soberly and discreetly labelled as befitted an imperial undertaking. Standing behind it was a rather splendid uniformed figure who, I realised at once, must be a PILOT. Probably the Chief himself, although a second glance indicated that he was probably younger than myself. Then I saw that be had two white midshipman-like patches on his collar, so the pilot part was out and I was probably permitted to speak to him. Politely I asked for Mr. Hatchett, to whom I had to report. This seemed to baffle him, and I repeated the name. Apparently he didn't know any Mr Hatchett! He then asked another uniformed personage passing by who barely looked over his shoulder as he muttered He means Chopper. Ah, turn to the right outside the doors, go into the first building on the right and take the first door on the right. This seemed simple, and following the instructions to the letter, I found myself in a modest sized office.
In it were two typists, a fair man in the left corner and an older one across the room. Introducing myself by saying that I was a new operator reporting for duty, I waited. At this, the older man who turned out to be Chopper glared, then addressing the typists said, Here's another bugger. I do wish he would tell us. He, I eventually gathered, was Sir Tom. With a look of resignation, Mr Chopper asked a few questions of me: where had I come from, had I a licence and so forth, concluding by enquiring whether I had anywhere to live. No, I haven't, so he then telephoned someone he called Mrs Handell and arranged digs for me there. When these formalities had been completed, it appeared that I was now employed by Imperial Airways, although formalities is not a correct description. By hearsay I found that my wages would be three pounds one and threepence a week, less stamps, two pounds nineteen and fourpence, plus a shilling an hour flying pay. A uniform would be provided and all was subject to my passing a medical examination.
Mr. Chopper then said that he would take me to the stand-by room where there would be someone who could show me round. This someone turned out to be the operator doing on-call duty, one T.C. Jones. He agreed to do his stuff and Mr Chopper departed. Let's go into the hangar ! TC said, and so we entered what appeared to be a large tin shed where I was introduced for the first time to that characteristic of aviation in those days, a strong smell of peardrops, the dope used to tighten and waterproof the canvas fabric covering the wings. The place seemed to be full of enormous aeroplanes, although I found out later that there were others around that were much larger. Pointing to a four-engined wood and canvas bi-plane he said, Here we are, this is an eightysix and I expect that you will be going supernumerary to renfroo in one, on razz. He usually does that. He I assumed to be Mr Chopper. As the aeroplane doorway was only about three feet from the ground, we were able to scramble in and I found myself in the cabin where it was possible to stand up fairly easily. In it were a few seats and a large wire meshed cage. The mail goes in there, and it will be your job to get the seeofgee right. If there are any passengers, some of it may have to go in the tail, but there is a chap at speak who will do it for you so you won't have to worry. All this was rather baffling. Eightysix, renfroo, seeofgee, speak! It was obvious that some new language was involved. By the way, are you from the raff? Royal Air Force? Oh no. From trawlers. So am I. You from Fleetwood or GY? Lets go and have a pot of tea in the canteen.
And so ended my training course. I never did discover what one did with the seeofgee at speak, even after I found out what it was.
At Mrs Randell's, about ten minutes walk away, I was fixed up with a bed for a modest weekly sum, and then told that I would be given the key to the front door. At this, being offered one so soon in our acquaintanceship, I felt slightly embarrassed. After all, I was a stranger. So I declined the offer, saying that I wouldn't be late and would just walk in. Then it transpired that unlike home where one could always walk straight in to a friend's house, here in Cockneyland a door wouldn't open without a key. Strange people, I thought.
Among the other boarders were two other Imperial operators: 'Jammy' Knowles and 'Buck' Stocker. It appeared that they had been together in the RAF, and according to Buck, Jammy was so-called because of his luck at cards. In other words, he usually won the money. Soon I received instructions that I was to be measured for a uniform on Friday afternoon, report for flying duties on Monday morning, and visit the Medical Officer on Wednesday evening. By this time, from conversations with the others, I was beginning to understand my new vocabulary, or at least some of it, for there was much more to come. Speke and Renfrew were the aerodromes at Liverpool and Glasgow respectively, razz meant R.A.S. (Railway Air Services), operated but not owned by Imperial Airways, seeofgee was Centre of Gravity. Eightysix was a De Haviland Type 86 aeroplane, and individual aeroplanes were known by the last two of their five registration letters.
My instructions were to the effect that I would go to Glasgow as a supernumerary with my new friend Jammy, returning the next day. So on Monday I started what in later years would be known as On The Job Training. First, cheek-in and sign the book, then collect the maps from the office and proceed to the aeroplane to check the equipment. The aircraft (getting the right terminology now) was VY, a DHS6 and one of the first three of the type built. These had a single seat cockpit, all the following models having two side-by-side seats. VZ, the other one of the same type that we owned, as Jammy put it, Had been bent at Renfrew by Foxy Finnigan adding, and I was on it.
The wireless equipment was located somewhere in the cockpit and controlled by a set of three motorcycle type Bowden cable levers mounted on the window frame of the front right hand cabin seat, together with the morse key. So the poor operator couldn't even see his set! I was to sit behind wearing a spare set of headphones. Two of the levers tuned the receiver, and the third, a curved one, was marked Transmit-Off-Receive. Peering into the world of the cockpit, I was confronted by an amazing array of mysterious dials, knobs and switches. The aerial is there pointing to a small windlass, and don't forget to wind it in. You can kill someone. Eh ? There are two aerials, a fixed one up top and the main trailing one that goes out through this fairlead. Just release the lever and the weights pull it out. Then you wind it in before you land. Let's run up now. Pulling the lever to R we could hear that the receiver was live, but also somewhat disconcertingly, it had also started up a small propeller on the upper wing. This was really a wind driven generator to provide current when in flight, but on the ground with the engines stopped, it turned by some reverse process from the main batteries.
Then the pilot appeared, resplendent with two gold rings and a briefcase. He was Captain John Pudney, sometimes known as Thousand Foot Pud, stemming from his very sensible and firmly held belief that one thousand feet was quite high enough for any civilised person to go, and that it was also a very reasonable cloud base under which to do a landing. In the meantime, loaders had been stowing bags of mail into a compartment at the rear of the aircraft and into the cabin cage. Then a couple of passengers appeared, the engines were started one by one, and we began to move across the aerodrome.
The surface of Croydon was, to say the least, somewhat undulating and from the tarmac (another new word) by the passenger building, aeroplanes would disappear from view as they crossed to the far side, only to reappear as they surmounted another ridge of the Croydon Alps. So our ride was not entirely smooth. Then we stopped, did a turn, all four engines roared and we were away. In a moment I saw that the blades of grass were getting smaller and smaller, and I realised that there was no longer any terra firma beneath me. Terrifying thought! Jammy contacted Croydon, then changed to Heston control as we saw the Thames, reached through the cockpit door to release the windlass brake, and motioned me to take over. He then opened the black oilcloth map bag and took out an eighteen inch square of rigid plastic encasing a map. Across its surface was painted a black line that I realised must be our track: Croydon, cross the Thames, pass near Birmingham and on to Liverpool. I was fascinated by the fact that there were several snap fastener holes in the sheet, and then noticed that they were at the positions of the radio direction finding stations; Heston, Hull, Manchester. Into these were then snapped clear plastic arms, engraved with degree and mile scales. Eureka, obtain bearings, turn the arms around in their pivots and where they crossed - your position. No drawing long lines on charts as I had been used to. Easy.
After a while, Jammy thrust a hardcover book into my hand, explaining that another job was to log certain instrument readings at regular intervals, the oil pressure gauge, the fuel tank contents, meter and other required information. Finally, he took over again at Speke, not forgetting to get me to wind in the aerial. At this place, another grassy aerodrome, I fully expected to have to juggle with the seeofgee thing. But no, a man in uniform said it was all right to just go and get a cup of tea from the stall. Then off again across the Irish Sea to Ronaldsway in the Isle of Man, on to Aldergrove near Belfast, and finally to Renfrew. There we stayed in some lodgings at Mrs. Mac's, and then back to Croydon in the morning. The wireless part of it was quite easy, certainly not so much work as I had been used to, but the rest was interesting indeed. However I was learning fast, for back at Croydon I was introduced to a most important aspect of the job - claiming expenses. About one and six for a midday meal away from base, and something in the order of six and six for a night stop in England. In truth, with the low wages paid, these were almost a necessity to live. Then over to Wimbledon for an examination by the company medical officer, Colonel Mackie, and ready for Glasgow again the following day.
This time our aeroplane was a later type of DH86, one with double seats in the cockpit. Again I sat in the cabin for take-off, but after a short time was allowed into that holy of holies, the cockpit. I was really getting on in the world. In a pilot's seat with the joystick between my knees! And ten days ago I was rolling around the North Sea in a trawler. Unfortunately for my ego, there was no joystick, but instead and serving the same purpose I presumed, there was an upright column with a V-shaped spread at the top and a sort of half wheel at the end of each arm. I saw that the pilot steered with his feet on pedals and kept the aeroplane on an even keel by moving the column to and fro and gently waggling the wheel. The one on my side also waggled. It seemed very simple. 0ver my shoulder, Jammy pointed out several new things; these were the throttles, these were the altimeters, two of them, and several others including a mysterious looking affair, the artificial horizon. For use when flying in cloud What! We actually fly in them? You can't see! Just you wait, we'll be in them soon The instrument itself was circular, and on its face it had an aeroplane-like silhouette, behind which was a horizontal bar that seemed to float up and down slightly and sometimes tipped one way or the other. Like a flash, I understood that it showed the attitude of the aircraft in relation to the horizon, though how it worked I could not see. Ingenious! But the compass interested and puzzled me. It was an overhead type but had no compass card. Instead, there was a pointer that turned, obviously the magnetic needle and a pair of parallel grid wires that could be set to a course against a verge ring. Keep the arrow parallel to the grid and you were on course. Simple! In the course of time, however, I began to think that airmen were an odd lot, for sometimes when we were clearly off course, the pilot simply tuned the grid to match the pointer. Very peculiar! Get off course, alter the setting and your conscience was clear, you were back on course. Somehow I did not think that a trawler skipper would exactly approve of that. It was quite a while before I realised how it was done. Just above the artificial horizon was another instrument, a gyroscope I was told, that the pilot set to read 0 when he was actually on the correct course. Then all he had to do was to steer to 0. Cunningly, they would alter course X degrees as required and then set the magnetic compass. What a lazy way of doing things, I thought.
Here again the wireless had to be operated by Bowden cable levers that were screwed to the wooden framework of the cockpit. The equipment itself was on the bulkhead behind the pilot and fortunately was get-at-able, just, for when changing from trailing to fixed aerial, a small tuning adjustment had to be made, termed finding the dip as you observed the movement of a small ammeter. My mate took back his seat for the landing in order to demonstrate another job to me. Behind the pilot's seat was a long handle, and after touching down, he would shout Flaps whereupon the handle had to be pumped rapidly to extend some airbrake flaps on the upper wing. After this, I was allowed to sit in the cockpit all the time, both for take-off and for landing until we were approaching Croydon, when Jammy took over. For the dreaded QBI was in operation, in the vernacular, Quite Bloody Impossible. This meant that the weather was bad, poor visibility or low clouds and the Control Zone Regulations were in force, that is, no aircraft were allowed in or out except under strict wireless control. At main aerodromes, for these QBI conditions, there was a special low powered d.f. station using a separate wavelength. Approaching the destination, instructions would be given - the turn for landing, maintain a certain altitude, perhaps wait at some position if that was possible, or just keep above or below the clouds. Then when turn number one came, a change of wavelength took place, the aerial wound in with alacrity for there would be no time for that at the last minute, and then a series of QDMs obtained. These were The magnetic course to steer to reach me with zero wind radio bearings, to be shouted to the pilot as quickly as possible, for he `had to mentally judge the effect of the wind on a constantly changing course in order, hopefully, to see the aerodrome lights appear ahead. I was interested in observing all this, for I had only done it before in theory during my examination. Now it was the real thing. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a let down, for the weather wasn't too bad and we saw the ground quite quickly. Little did I know what was in store for me in the years to come.
Monday came again and off to Glasgow once more, but this time I learned the truth of the adage quoted by Buck Stocker over tea one day Never get into an aeroplane without taking a nightstop bag !. For when we arrived at Ronaldsway, we picked up enough passengers to fill all the seats and I was flung off, flew to Manchester in an even smaller machine, and thence back to London by train the next day. By this time, Mr Chopper felt that I was clearly cut out for the job, so a day or so later I was off by myself, taking a supernumerary with me as well! But although his experience of wireless operating was small, he knew a lot about aeroplanes, and many years later I met him again. By this time he was a very distinguished senior captain, by name Peter Bressey. It was on this trip that someone in Renfrew gave me another piece of good advice. Always carry a lump of soap with you. Continental hotels never have any.
For the next couple of weeks l continued, with my glamorous exploits, feeling quite important although they were becoming just a little routine. Flying along at five hundred feet was quite fascinating, learning how to map read, recognising familiar places and so forth, and at one place wondering if the bus would be late. For as we approached a particular crossroads somewhere in the Midlands, a bus was due to appear, provided of course that we were running to time. With Thousandfoot you would often see it, but not so much with the other pilot, Larry Larmouth. This one even went up into the clouds, and then I found out why the blind flying instruments were there. One of the DH86s had an unusual configuration on the control column. Instead of the V top with two arms, it was lopsided with only one arm, although this could be swung over to either side seat as required. One day in this particular machine, crossing the Irish Sea in cloud, Larry suddenly said It's all yours, pulled a blanket over his head, snuggled down in his seat and apparently prepared for sleep. From this, I gathered that I was to broaden my experience still more, and become an Assistant Pilot. Yes, I had to actually fly the thing! Get me back to Bear Island at once.' Nothing abashed, I placed my feet firmly on the rudder pedals, my trembling hands on the wheel, and prepared to fly. I assumed that it would feel something like a bicycle, but no, nothing so steady. The steering part was all right, but there seemed to be invisible forces working on the control column, trying to push it back and forth and also trying to turn the wheel both ways - all at once, of course. I knew what to do, steer on 0 and keep the little aeroplane level on the bar. But immediately that started to do tricks. The bar cocked to one side, the aeroplane drifted downwards and from the altimeter, I knew that we were losing height, fortunately quite slowly. Steady now. Just move the column and the wheel and all will be well. Unfortunately, there was one gap in my knowledge. Did you bring the bar down to the aeroplane or the aeroplane up to the bar? In other words, did you push or did you pull? Slowly, by trial and error, I found out and all seemed well. To be honest about it, Larry was peeping beneath the corner of his blanket and grinning broadly.
Then my uniform arrived, blue serge belted RAF Officer style, two breast pockets and two patch ones, all with brass buttons that had to be polished. Arming myself with a new briefcase to hold my licence, logbook and nightstop kit, and stuffing my bible, the Q Code into a side pocket, I was ready for bigger and better things. In preparation for this debut, I had been given a set of instructions on the bad weather approaches to as many aerodromes that could conceivably be used. Instructions is perhaps not an exact description, for all they consisted of were a couple or so sheets cyclostyled on a jelly machine, showing a few rough hand-drawn outlines of the aerodromes and the direction of the bad weather approach line. Some also had a mysterious mark, ZZ beside them, but I was not told what it meant. Apart from the courses marked on the route maps, these were the only instructions we carried, for I do not think that the pilots had any more.
Sunday came and I had to go to on a day return trip in a contraption called the Scylla. Theoretically, it was an airliner. In actual fact, it was just a square sectioned passenger coach with two large wings stuck on the top, four engines and two landing wheels. At any rate, it carried about 40 passengers and a steward in some comfort. Comfort that is seatwise, although not in other respects, for Scylla wallowed around like a ship in a seaway. The cockpit, with an entrance by a door high up in the nose reached by a special ladder, was extremely spacious. So much so that if the operator wished to pass a message to the captain, be had to leave his seat and walk over. The seat was a Lloyd Loom basket chair, quite comfortable and entirely unsuited for the job, not even screwed to the deck, and consequently was liable to tip over in turbulent conditions. The first pilot was a well known character, Captain Dizzy Dismore, and my own mentor was Jock Campbell whose first job was to show me how to take down the flag. This was the civil air ensign that flew on a retractable mast protruding through the rooftop. The flag served two purposes. It was the national symbol and when flown on arrival, indicated that Free Pratique was requested, that is, quarantine clearance, no sickness onboard. Once, several years later, we came to a stop on the tarmac, but no one came to us, all the staff and the customs officer standing at a respectable distance. In response to our frantic signals, they pointed to the absence of a flag. We had forgotten to push it up - they really thought that we had infective illness on board.
In the previous week or two's flying across England, the level of communication had been quite low, never more than two or three stations on the air at the same moment. The wavelength used was in the longwave group, which meant that stations nearer were loud and those farther away were weaker. But now we were on the international trans-Europe wavelength, and things were different. There were so many stations working within hearing distance, and so many aircraft trying to jump in to speak to someone, that the airwave was full of high pitched chattering noises. Altogether one great cacophony of sound.
Our arrival at Le Bourget was quite colourful, as the whole of Paris seemed to have arrived for a Sunday afternoon outing. While Croydon had a purpose built passenger terminal, Le Bourget seemed to manage with a collection of odd huts, although the official offices, meteorological, control, customs and so forth, were in what appeared to be a converted villa. Our arrival home was after dark, and I experienced my first floodlit landing, for the grass surface was illuminated by large contraptions called Chance Lights. As we came in over the boundary I was terrified when a large fire suddenly appeared, hanging below one of the wingtips. I then found that it was a magnesium flare set off by the Captain to provide more illumination for his touchdown.
Tuesday saw me rostered for a day return trip to Zurich via Basle with a pilot named E.R.B. White, always known of course as Erbie White. The aircraft was again a DH86, and we left in company with a second one, as the service to Switzerland was very popular and Imperial Airways had no large aircraft to put on the route. This time, as we were Clearing for Foreign, the flag had to be flown and it was attached to a small rod that had to be pushed out of a window and stuck into a small holder. For aircraft in those days had opening windows, at least in the cockpit, and useful they were at times. Crossing the Channel, France did not seem very much different from the England I had observed from the same altitude, but as we progressed inland, changes appeared - not so many small and neat fields, for instance. Then as we started to cross the old battle fields of the Great War there was nothing but desolation. No grass. No trees. Just poisoned earth with the zigzags of abandoned trenches, and whole areas nothing but a wilderness pockmarked with shell craters. And I wondered, was it for this that my Uncle Alfred died, for he is buried somewhere there.
Towards the end of the trip I experienced something that was to become more and more prevalent as the years went by - a Prohibited Area. For instead of heading straight for Basle, we had first to make for Belmont and then turn left :to the aerodrome in order that we should not pass too near the Maginot Line, whatever that was, for I had not then heard of that useless monstrosity. Flying rather low after the turn, I noticed something that seemed to be a regular feature of France in those days - blue paint. This was used extensively on large buildings such as factories, warehouses and hangars, particularly on glass roofs. Perhaps it was some form of blackout in anticipation of the storms to come.
Basle aerodrome was a small triangular field literally on the bank of the Rhine, with France on the other side and Germany just around the bend at the back of the nearby forest. From Basle it was only a half-hour hop down the valley to Zurich. On the way back Erbie began to fidget a little, and asked me to obtain the latest forecast for Croydon. As this was not too good, be altered course for Paris, and we arrived at Le Bourget in company with the other aircraft. There we found that the afternoon service for Croydon had not left, and we were soon joined by the incoming one. Eventually, all four pilots decided that Croydon was indeed going to be Quite Bloody Impossible and cancelled.
This, of course, meant A NIGHT IN PARIS. I was in the Big Time! This was the life! Oddly enough, when I had been thinking of giving up the sea for the air, I had not realised that this sort of thing was thrown in for free. Fortunately, I had taken heed of Buck Stocker, and had my night stop kit with me, plus a piece of soap. All the crews stayed in the Bohey Lafayette Hotel, which appeared to be used regularly by Imperial Airways. The three other wireless bods had been to Paris before, so I tagged along with them. As we had not expected a night-stop we had no change of suit, and therefore had to go out, against regulations, wearing our uniforms. This meant no drink. Then I found that wine didn't seem to count as such when in a restaurant, and so I tasted the stuff for the first time. Surprisingly, the waitress spoke pure Cockney, having, been brought up Just be'ind Victoria styshun.
After that we went to a Music Hall where I was introduced to yet another feature of France, that of Serveece, for the lady who showed us to our seats got very irate when we didn't tip her for the effort. This term was also the high spot of the only sketch we could understand in the naughty French Music Hall show. A man was in a hotel bedroom, and asked the waiter to provide him with a girl whose type was graphically described by gestures. When she was produced, the waiter demanded his Serveece. After some goings-on behind a screen, the girl departed. Then the man wanted another. And another. After about the fourth, he was completely on his benders and broke. So when the waiter again wanted his Serveece, he was given the girl !
After this, I did a couple more return trips to Basle and Zurich, and began to understand that this flying lark was not all beer and skittles, or more precisely, not all night-stops in Paris. These particular DH86S held about ten passengers who had to sit in the narrow cabin for about three and a half hours, and there was no steward service. Fortunately for them, there was an Elsan in the rear, but for us at the front it was a matter of holding tight. Perhaps not so bad for me as I could go aft if necessary, but the poor pilot had to remain there come what may. So the flask of coffee that we usually carried in our briefcase had to be used sparingly.
As these flights were longer than those on the RAS route, it was possible to fly higher in order to try and get clear of some of the bad weather. This meant that often we were stuck between two layers of cloud, or perhaps floating across a plain of shining white, dazzled by the reflected sunshine. Having to wear sun glasses in these conditions was somewhat incongruous, seeing that we were muffled up against the cold in our glass enclosed cockpit, probably wearing gloves even to write with, and certainly with half-frozen feet. These were considered to be good conditions. Often we would have to plough right through the black cloud through rainstorms, through the turbulence. As the sliding windows were never quite watertight, we were wet as well as being cold, bounced about unmercifully, and probably half the passengers would be sick. During these conditions, wireless came into its own. As the ground would be out of sight, all the navigation would have to be done by radio bearings. Having obtained a couple of them, I would plot them on the plastic map and show them to the pilot, who would then fiddle with a circular device called a Course and Distance Calculator. From this, he would work out the actual wind and ground speed and then make any course corrections necessary, as well finding the estimated time of arrival at distant points. All this, of course, was in addition to the normal operating duties, which could be quite heavy at times, plus acting as flight engineer, and with experience, unofficial second pilot. For in time, I found that having become known, I was expected to take quite a share in the straight and level flying. At least Number One could consume a sandwich and have a sip of his coffee.
The following Monday evening, I was off again to Paris in one of those Grand Old Ladies of the Air, a Handley Page 42, the Hannibal class, that carried about 40 passengers in great comfort at the magnificent speed of 95 mph, and were greatly loved by all. They were great high bi-planes with four staggered engines, and they did not actually take off in the manner of more common machines. Instead, they simply rose upwards into the air. Legend has it (and it is true) that given a fresh wind in the right direction at Croydon, they would be airborne before leaving the parking area in front of the terminal, well before reaching the correct area, the grass. Even now, fifty years later, if I happen to mention (or boast) in company, there will always be someone who will rush to exclaim Really! I remember as a boy being taken to Croydon by my Father, to stand in Purley Way and watch the aeroplanes. Tell me, did you ever fly in ... Yes I did, knowing what the question was going to be, in Heracles itself. My moment of glory ! In this aircraft, I sat beside the cockpit door to the outer world below, all secured by a simple brass bolt. It also had a small sliding window to let in a draught.
Then came a night-stop service to Brussels in my old friend the Scylls, and on arrival there I was paid a compliment by the pilots. The Captain was Jimmy Youell, the First Officer Joe Shakespeare, and as we were getting into the car to go to the city one of them commented that I must be new as they hadn't seen me before, and wondered where I came from. This was an understandable question, for in many respects their safety depended upon my skill, especially in QBI conditions when things could become very hectic, as I found out in due course. In any case, I felt that I had acquitted myself quite well during the approach to the aerodrome, when the weather wasn't awfully good. Are you from the RAF ? No, from trawlers. That's good enough for us. Later, I found that trawlermen were quite well thought of, as they could be relied on when good radio operating was required and conditions were rough. Just like home in a manner of speaking.
Later when we had changed into civvies, they took me for a beer to a bar kept by an English ex-soldier who had married and settled down in Belgium after the war. I cannot remember his name or that of the bar, but apparently there were quite a few others who had done the same thing. Arriving back on Friday morning, I had Saturday off and from Sunday was rostered for a week of evening return services to Paris, leaving Croydon at seven o'clock, return the next morning to arrive just before midday, a couple of hours rest and back again, finishing the tour the following Sunday morning. As the pilots' roster did not coincide with ours, I was soon making the acquaintance of a fair number of Captains and First Officers. On my first night-stop there, we had arrived in the centre of Paris in the late afternoon and so there had been nothing unusual in going out for the evening, apart from the newness of it all.
Now, on these scheduled flights, it was ten or later before we were deposited by taxi at our hotel, again the Bohey. This of course was late by English provincial standards, when all the pubs would be closing and the only places left were fish and chip shops. Here, everything was going - bars and cafes open and lively, with restaurants still available. Doubtless I took it all as a matter of course, seeing that it was a foreign country where they ate frogs legs and were not quite up to proper civilised standards. So I was introduced to a more cosmopolitan life, and as it was necessary to eat and drink, I had to accept it. How I managed I do not know, as I spoke not a word of French and still don't; fortunately I was guided a little into the methods of coping with the strange language and food. Soon I was brave enough to venture out alone. On my eleven shillings allowance I could obtain a room, some supper, and have enough left for coffee in the morning before an early start by taxi out to Le Bourget. The morning always seemed to be a little greyish, and one of the memories of those taxi trips, apart from the French driving habits, is of seeing the street hydrants turned on and the water rushing down the gullies to clean the road. One evening, being shown the sights, I was taken to a bar in the Rue Pigalle, which like the one in Brussels was owned by an expatriate English soldier, Fred Payne, after whom the bar was named. There was another, I found out later, of similar origin but more fashionable, Harry's New York Bar. Ask the taxi driver for the Roo Sank Danoo! said the advertisements, presumably for the benefit of American tourists. We of course knew where it was!
Staying at the hotel were a number of English chorus girls who were appearing at more or less respectable music halls. On the first night of my week's duty, with a small bevy of these girls, we repaired to one of their rooms for a cup of real English tea, a drink much favoured by them after a sbow. How daring, I thought. It was all a bit of a squash in the room, for it was small (and inexpensive). Then I really began to feel that I had reached the peak of sophistication and licentiousness when the owner of the room decided that she wanted to change her frock. And don't you look she cried, draping some sort of shawl around herself , and proceeding to undress and re-dress beneath it. Or almost beneath it.
As the girls tended to drift back from the theatre around the time we also arrived, it was usual to meet up with one or the other of them. I got quite friendly with one of them, probably because we both came from the North Country. On about my last night of the week, becoming more and more emboldened, I ambled around the streets and was astounded to hear a cry of Allen! and this same girl rushed out of a cafe-bar. Apparently, by chance I had passed her theatre, the Casino, just after she had left. So I had a drink with some of her friends and after that, the point of this anecdote, I was introduced to that very strange contraption, a Paris bus, where everyone crowded on to the back platform that was permanently sagging downwards and seemed about to break off at any moment.
There was no day off for me this week, for on the Monday I was due to go to a place called Budapest, the only thing I knew of it being that it was somewhere in the middle of Europe. When I mentioned this at the digs, Buck Stocker murmured somewhat mysteriously, Ah! Buda. In time, I knew just what he meant. Jammy said that I would be 0K, as Holly Barchy would look after me. Take a copy of the Times for him and you will be all right. You can even mention my name without fear. So off to this Buda place I went, with a pilot named Jimmy Orrel, again in an 86, calling at Cologne, Leipzig, Prague and Vienna. Such was the versatility of our morse communications that this mixture of languages in a few short hours presented no difficulty whatever. Which was a good job, as once or twice we had to go through some pretty tight local control zone procedures. It was just like talking to each other in my own language, with a Northern accent at that.
Our hotel in Budapest, the Carlton, was on the banks of the Danube, which of course is not the colour immortalised by Strauss. On the contrary, it is somewhat dirty brown. My copy of the Times immediately came in useful, for it led me straight to a rather distinguished looking gentleman who I found out was indeed Holly Barchy. His real name was Hollis, and he was the mid-Europe Representative for the Trinidad Lake Asphalt Company. A roof builder by profession, he seemed to have lived in every part of the world, and there was hardly a place you could mention that he did not know, even sometimes the name of the Vicar. He was a good friend of all the visiting crews for many years. There were also one or two other English residents who were friendly. One, Bill something or other, worked for Shell, and another was a writer named Lambert.
On my first evening, these two took me to the Hotel Britannia for a beer. It seemed late to go out, about ten thirty or so, but then I did not know Hungary. In the hotel lounge was a five man orchestra, all dressed in white voluminous sleeved blouses and brightly coloured embroidered waistcoats, playing some dragging soulful music with haunting melodies. Greeted with a smile by its leader, who seemed to know my companions well, we sat down at a small table and ice cold beer appeared. Sitting there absorbed in the glamorous and animated scene, I noticed that the orchestra leader wandered around the tables playing his violin. Just like the films! All it wanted was Douglas Fairbanks to leap in waving his sword as he swung Mary Pickford into a swirling dance. Feeling quite relaxed by now, and beginning to enjoy this new type of music, I realised somewhat vaguely that it was getting rather loud. And not only loud, also rather near. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw the violinist standing quite close, and then, to my absolute horror, he bent down and actually played into my car. Feeling rather embarrassed, I just had to sit and take it. A few weeks ago I was gutting fish at Bear Island, and now this! Much to my surprise, the other two were taking no notice at all, being engrossed in conversation. But my embarrassment was complete when a peasant lady came along and offered to sell me a rose. However, I survived all this and after a few more visits to this and other similar cafes, began to feel slighted if the violinist didn't come over to our table. PEMOK