Having realised that I was on to a good thing, at least compared with my previous life, I was soon in touch with Jimmy Jubb, who joined me a few weeks later at my digs, having been accepted for a training course held at the staff school only a few minutes walk away. The glad news seemed to spread around the Humber ports, and there was quite a migration southwards. At their lodgings in Hull, two of my old pals woke one morning somewhat the worse for wear, the previous evening having been rather heavy. Much to their surprise, the landlady produced a telegram signed Imperialism offering them a training course. This was most mystifying. Who, why, what? Groping into the recesses of his mind between head throbs, Hughie Black suddenly asked Frank Mitchell Don't you remember that telegram we sent? Telegram? Who to? Then things began slowly to come back. Apparently, the previous evening's proceedings had started with a midday session during which they had been bemoaning their current existence If Allen Finch can do it, why can't we? So they rolled or reeled off to the Post Office, sent a telegram offering their services and promptly forgot all about it. So they too came to south. Others had come to Croydon before me of course, and so by mid- summer there was quite a colony of ex-trawlermen around. In one issue of the Aeroplane Magazine, the airport columnist reported that these days it is difficult to get into the tea bar for the cod and haddock being caught there.
Being an innocent in aviation, I naturally assumed that our great Imperial Airways was the very tops in airline flying, and the fact that all its aircraft were bi-planes while all the other companies used monoplanes was of no consequence. The Germans flew three-engined ones that looked as if they were made of corrugated iron, the French had high-winged blue coloured affairs, while the Swiss and Dutch used American Douglas machines. These, I knew, were considered to be rather good, having proved themselves in the Australian air race. Slowly however, the truth dawned upon me. We were positively antediluvian. Ours were slow, uncomfortable,, ungainly and inefficient, especially in bad weather, and even more so in icy conditions, when the leading edges of the wings, the struts and the support wires would be covered in ice - a dangerous state to be in. Ice too would fly off the tips of the wooden propellers, and on some aircraft would puncture holes in the canvas around the cockpit. Some months later at Copenhagen, a Swedish pilot I knew said that when we arrived in our string bag, everyone laughed at us. You are very brave men to fly in them, especially in bad weather. Whether that was a compliment or not I do not know.
The giant HP42's and the Scylla were often referred to as the aircraft with the built-in head winds. As the cruising speed of the 42 was about 95 mph, coming up the Kenley valley towards Croydon with a stiff head wind, the Green Line bus could pass us between stops. But even I realised that there were two particular machines that were quite beyond the pale. One was a Boulton and Paul machine with a very bulbous nose, a large and deep cockpit, and which carried about twelve passengers. It appeared to be used mainly for charter services to Le Touquet, particularly on Fridays when somewhat plummy voiced socialites went over for what everyone assumed were dirty weekends. The other was the one and only Vickers Velox, hopefully developed, I believe, to be a long range freighter. Sometime during that summer it was flown to Berlin on a survey flight for a proposed night mail service. One of the crew told me that when they went out to the aerodrome for the return flight, some German wag had tied a parrot's cage to the wing, presumably as a small brother to it. There was a similarity. Unfortunately, early one morning in August after a dawn take-off from Croydon, it turned back as something had gone wrong, and crashed into a house, killing the double crew on board. A few weeks later the B & P disappeared in mid-channel with the loss of the crew. Neither, combined with the crash of a flying-boat around the some time, added to our morale that summer.
The control procedures were in a bit of a confused state. In the UK we naturally used Imperial measurement: speeds in mph and height in feet. But in the Continental areas, speeds were in kph and height in meters. As our instruments were all Imperial, a quick mental conversion had to be made. A thousand feet was near enough 300 meters, but when advising a somewhat higher altitude, one had to allow a bit extra for each hundred or thousand, depending upon which way you were converting. The same had to be to done when considering visibility, quoted in meters, especially when it was poor. So when approaching Croydon from Liverpool, the unit system had to be changed for the short flight south of the river Thames.
I also found the meaning of the mysterious ZZ mark on the so called route maps. When bad weather QBI was in force, wireless operating had to reach the peak of efficiency, for delays by aircraft on final approaches was not acceptable as others could not wait for ever - petrol would run out. So one had to be slick; the QDM's must be obtained quickly and accurately. When lookouts at the aerodrome heard you approaching, Noise of engine in such and such a direction would be sent, followed hopefully, by Motors Overhead. At this, depending upon the cloud base, the pilot would do a tight turn and hope to see the aerodrome, or else he would steer away for a few minutes in a defined direction, turn 180 ° left and demand yet more QDMs. Putting the nose down, one would then expect to see the aerodrome ahead and be able to land. A refinement of this system was to have the d.f. station located a short distance away from the aerodrome, usually down the best approach path. Then, when the lookouts heard the motors and the approach seemed to be in fair shape, ZZ would be sent, which meant put the nose down and you should see the landing area straight ahead. But ... if you were not accurately on the path, JJ would be transmitted. This to us meant PULL UP PULL UP and quickly at that. A further refinement was to have a subsidiary d.f. station away at right angles to the approaches, and by simultaneously taken bearings, you could be given the distance to go. Using these methods, landings could be effected in quite bad conditions, especially with respect to visibility. There were quite a lot of codes available for use: Motors over the top; Can see you; Descend below the clouds; Do a left hand circuit; Permission to land without one, and others. Not unnaturally, under these conditions things could be quite exciting, not to say hectic, and course some pilots were better than others. Or to put it another way, there were some with whom you felt happier than with others.
Croydon had none of these refinements, the d.f. station being on top of the control tower, and in any case, there was not really a clear approach path due to the terrain and the houses thereon. When the clouds were low, quite often the Control Tower would order all motors and engines to be switched off so that the lookouts could hear. Croydon was not a very popular place with pilots during periods of bad weather. It was said that the best way to get in was to go over the top, steer north easterly for a few minutes until you could smell the Waddon gas works, do a left hand turn, put the nose down and when you smelt the scent factory, you were there.
The new aeronautical language had a visual aspect as well as an oral one. The thumbs-up sign for Okay was new to me, and I also discovered that bending slightly forwards with a sideways wave of the arms meant Wheel chocks away. Naturally a quick circular motion with the hand meant Start the engines, while a salute to the Captain in the cockpit signalled Clear to taxi away. Orally, I learned to understand such expressions as In a flat spin Old Boy or There I was, ten thousand feet. upside down and nothing on the clock. Understand, did I say ? Just ex-fighter pilot's Line Shoots (another new expression).
Most of the pilots had been trained in the Air Force, some had even been in the Great War, and of course had been among the earliest civil pilots. There were a number of quite colourful characters among them, as there had been among the trawler skippers. In the more senior group, there was that famous and dignified Captain Kettle of the Air, O.P. Jones; Captain Kettle was a fictional character who sported a short pointed ginger beard and was a bit of an adventurer. Leslie Walters was always known as Daddy Walters, why I do not know, for he was not exactly a paternal or avuncular type, while Bo Perry was so called as he was rather deaf and tended to swing around to his good ear saying What say Bo?. Horsey was a famous practical joker, and Will Cockney Rogers was a forthright and straight forward Londoner who always wore a blue RAF shirt when in uniform. Apparently this was permitted, but he seemed to be the only one to do so. With three or four others, they formed a small group of senior ranking three ring pilots who were the only ones to fly the 42s and the Scylla, although they also had to take their turn on the smaller aeroplanes.
Before long, life had settled down into a somewhat blase routine. Day returns to here and there, hours spent lazing around on stand-by duty, and frequent nightstops away as a bonus. The best of these were at Budapest; Cologne was dull, Brussels the same, although one Sunday I did visit the field of Waterloo, while the arrivals at Paris were rather latish. There, for some reason, our hotel changed to the St. Petersburg, a very respectable family type near the Madeleine, and sadly I lost touch with the chorus girls. But soon, for other reasons, I took to staying at Le Bourget. It was a little cheaper, although that was not the main consideration, which was the avoidance of the long drive into the town and the early start in the morning. There was also convivial company around; the stewards stayed there as they had early duties to perform before departure, there were several ground engineers of various nationalities, a couple of ex-English soldiers who worked at the aerodrome and several very cheery bar owners. I stayed at a hotel with a rather grand title - The Astoria, although it was a very modest place kept by a Pole who employed a young waiter called Joseph, of the same extraction, who spoke extremely colloquial English. The food there was very good, and when we were on an overnight turnaround trip it was possible to dash over the Route Nationale 2 to The Astoria to snatch a quick meal. So with the company I met, a very pleasant time was had, and over the next year or so I began to feel somewhat like a local.
A couple of times I went to Brindisi, which is right at the heel of Italy on a mail service that connected with the flying boats leaving there for the Far East. This was not a popular trip, as it was usually a six am take-off, had an overall time of about twelve hours and a return the next day. Fortunately this duty did not come round very often, though even this had its consolations as I was able, on my second trip, to make a first visit to the Eternal City.
There is a story, the truth of which I cannot vouch for, that Captain O.P. Jones was driving to Croydon for this service early one morning, when his car broke down. With great dignity be raised his hand to stop a passing milk float, explained that he was on his way to fly the Royal Mail, and proposed to requisition the cart to take him o the airport. So the great man arrived down Purley Way standing beside the milkman in his pony and trap.
One trip that should have been a simple weekend stop at Cologne turned out to become a six day epic. Bill Jennens, the pilot, played rugger for Blackheath and didn't like Saturday duties. On looking at the weather forecast, Cologne being wide open, he commented that even he couldn't cancel on that. If the cloud base had just been as high as 500 feet I could have, and played rugger this afternoon. So off to Cologne we went - but - the forecasters were wrong again. As we approached, the weather got worse and worse, with the clouds almost down to the deck. We had two stabs at getting in, but even though we were given the Motors Heard signal, we couldn't see the airfield. Then, on the third attempt, as we were doing a very tight left-hand turn, through the murk I spotted a boundary light on my side. Over here I shouted. Which side is the airfield ? came the reply, as we did an even tighter right-hand turn. The other and as we were now heading towards the light I'm going in. So, without any knowledge of how we were in relation to the wind, or even which part of the aerodrome, we landed. Down wind - in direct contradiction to all concepts of good flying.
Having recovered and secured an hotel, we went to a small respectable beer hall to test the local brew. Sitting nearby was a group of army officers, or maybe they were party members, for both wore fancy uniforms. With them was a somewhat older gentleman, not in uniform. We were intrigued to see that some of them actually carried swords, although most had hung their weapons and belts on the coat rack. Whether they noticed our quizzical looks and obvious comments I do not know, but soon we realised that some earnest conversation was taking place and they started to give us rather fierce glares. In fact they were getting rather het up about something or other - US probably. Calling for Noch ein bier, we were asking the English speaking waiter what it was all about when we saw that the elderly gent was unhooking a sword from the wall. At this, the waiter decided, and we concurred most whole heartedly with him, that perhaps it was better that we left. Which we did, rapidly! We gathered that the old boy was either going to draw his sword on us democratic foreigners, or challenge us to a duel. I shall never know.
Naturally enough, the next day the weather was quite fine and we had a very pleasant Sunday walking, crossing and recrossing the Rhine by each of the city bridges. After lunch, we were wandering around the city centre when we came across a procession headed by a band - probably a party rally. When the Swastika flags came by, everybody raised the right arm high in the air, mumbling something that sounded like ille itler and probably was. Of course, we didn't see the point of all this and kept our hands in pockets. Quite interesting I thought, just like the news reels, and we turned to pass through an arcade that led to a narrow main shopping street, probably the busiest in town. Then we found that the procession had also turned into this street and by now was passing the end of the arcade. When it had gone by we ambled along the middle of the road behind it, together with a few others taking the advantage of the traffic free conditions, still with hands in pockets. Then we became aware of three or four rather tough looking individuals in brown shirts closing up on us, and looking rather fierce. We assumed that it was something to do with the fact that we had not saluted the flag, which we had again failed to do as the procession passed us at the exit from the arcade. Or perhaps we weren't marching in proper style behind it. There was only one thing to do. We bolted into the nearest bar, an already open night club where we had spent a few Deutschmarks the evening before, after our escape from a duel.
Monday saw us back en route for Croydon, with an intermediate stop at Brussels. Unfortunately the weather at Croydon was bad and the outcoming service did not leave, so we had to operate back to Cologne in its place. For some reason we had a clear day there before leaving again for home. But still the weather pattern was bad. Brussels was awful and Cologne closed down behind us. We were flying below the clouds, quite low in fact, and bumping about in considerable discomfort. At least the two passengers didn't know what was going on, and we weren't in a much better state ourselves. Suddenly Bill shouted that he knew of an aerodrome somewhere around here, and if he could see it, he would jolly well land there. At that moment I spotted it, and we did a quick turn to make an approach while I signalled Brussels that we were landing at Hassalt, and somewhat rapidly wound in the trailing aerial. The aerodrome was clearly on the small size, and we had no information on it. However, in we went. Bill came in carefully but the strong gusty wind caused us to balloon as we touched down, and we proceeded to execute a couple of hearty bounces. Then to my horror I saw the boundary fence approaching rather rapidly. Fortunately, we did another good bounce and jumped clear over it; after a few smaller bumps we came to rest in a field that seemed to be full of small trenches. The wing tips had actually touched the ground, but after hastily jumping out, we were relieved to find that all was well. We pulled the wire fence to one side and taxied over to a small hut to make a formal entry into Belgium; fortunately we'd landed at a customs post.
Having got our passengers away by train, we two stayed the night in a local hotel. The next morning an engineer arrived to check out the aeroplane, and we eventually arrived back home that afternoon, five days late. Later, Captain Jennens had a much longer stay in Germany, for he became a Prisoner of War, having returned to the RAF. He was the Camp Adjutant when the Great Tunnel Escape took place, and according to Bricknell's book, the Camp Commandant, in fear and trembling, had to wake him up to break the news. I can imagine this, as when necessary, Bill could have quite a commanding presence. In the early fifties, I saw him once again when the RAF had a ceremonial parade in Hyde Park before the Queen. Now a King-Commander, he was the parade marshall, still with his commanding air, for on this occasion it was a requirement.
I had another somewhat scary incident around the Cologne area. Coming in from Leipzig with a low cloud base, we were edging downwards very gently through the cloud when I noticed that the murk below us was changing colour to brown. As the pilot at that moment pulled up somewhat sharpish, I realised that beneath our wheels had been the tree tops. Such is life and luck.
During these months I had the good fortune to visit the wonderful city of Budapest six or seven times, and even had a couple of weekends there. I was fortunate too in having such good friends there as Hollis, Lambert and Bill. Lambert was especially helpful as he spoke fluent Hungarian as well as German, and told me many interesting details of the country and its customs. Through them, I was able to make the acquaintance of many aspects of life there. The term City applied to Budapest is of fairly recent origin; until about I8I0 there had been two or rather three separate towns. Buda, the oldest part, is set among the hills on the right bank of the curving Danube, Obuda just a little farther upstream, and the more modern part, Pest, on the plains of the left bank. Buda itself is dominated by the Castle and St. Mathias Church and near them is a seemingly medieval promenade, the Fisherman's Bastion. In reality this is of quite recent origin, about the turn of the century, as is also the mock Gothic Houses of Parliament on the opposite bank. The Castle showed pockmarked scars of the fighting during the liberation from the Turks. Pest, with long curving boulevards and wide avenues, held the theatres and the cinemas. Here on the river bank between the Angol, or English, Bridge and the next one down, the Elizabeth, was a fine river walk lined with restaurants, bars and cafes, most with outside terraces. This was a favourite place for an evening stroll for the better class Budopesians, including countless officers in gorgeous be-medalled uniforms, almost invariably with a fashionably dressed beauty on the arm. If not, they were probably looking for a suitable fashionably dressed one.
Any poor benighted soldier who was misguided enough to trespass on this preserve would find that his arm would be at the salute for almost the entire length of the promenade. During the summer mouths, the evening air was just about body heat, and sitting out on a terrace eating, drinking or just idling away the time with a coffee was unmitigated delight.
Just a few minutes walk upstream was Parliament Square, with a broken column at each corner. According to Lambert, these represented the four lost provinces of Hungary, lost that is by the Treaty of Triannon. Or stolen according to the Hungarian version of history. Another feature of Pest was the Underground railway, the oldest one in Continental Europe. It is there to this day, although the rolling stock has been replaced. Not before time either!
There was of course a varied selection of restaurants and cafes to be visited, although for quiet entertainment the Britannia was a favourite, chiefly because of the orchestra. After a few visits I was able to observe the cunning technique of it all. Normally the leader would stand with the other players; three violinists, a cellist and a cymbalon player, a cymbalon being something like a stringed xylophone and is what gives gypsy music its characteristic sound. Most of the tunes played were traditional ones, played from memory, and the leader had only to strike a couple of soft notes for the rest to take up the melody. When he did his wandering act, the number two would rise, so that be could catch the leader's key note When the leader had moved further away still, number two followed at a distance, and number three stood up. By the time a lovely lady at the far end was being serenaded, there was a musical relay across as each new tune was started. The orchestra was placed near the exit, and by them was a small table with a plate and a notice: Zene - For the music. Into this plate, as one left, a few small coins were dropped, each gift being acknowledged with a nice smile by the cymbalist. If, however, the offering was a little more then the usual token one, the smile was increased to a half bow. A really large one received a musical acknowledgment, and once I saw a group played out through the door. On this occasion it must have been a celebration party, from the liveliness around their table. Needless to say, those who had been more quietly serenaded were also expected to leave just that little more than usual.
The members of the Britannia's orchestra were somewhat more than just gypsy fiddlers, and played not only to earn their living, but also because they enjoyed it. Although most of their offerings were the traditional folk melodies, they would also play more classical works. Once, for some reason that seemed to be for the benefit of Lambert, Bill and myself, they struck up one of Listz's Hungarian Folk Dances. At the time, I did not understand the Magyars intense patriotism for Hungary, their own Hungary, their own soil (even though they had not actually governed it for centuries) and as the music came to its triumphal conclusion, I could somehow feel the intensity of the feelings generated. Bill told me that the band rarely played this music, even though it was frequently requested by tourists. So it was quite an honour for us, and naturally called for a handsome contribution to the Zene plate.
One restaurant to which I was taken was the Apostolok, so called because the interior was, and still is, composed of elaborate carved wooden alcoves, each named after an Apostle. Further up the same avenue was a very large cafe, the Cafe Ostende, whose feature was a gypsy band composed of about thirty boys. This was a very popular place for an evening's idle, although it was not exactly at the highest level in society. One evening, Bill took me to a fish restaurant in Kispest, a suburb of Pest, where the proprietor would give a bottle of champagne to anyone who found a bone in his fish, most of which were carp from Lake Balaton. He had never to date given any bottles away. It was here that I first tasted BulIs Blood, the strong red wine from the Egir district. And it was on draught too!
On arriving at any restaurant or cafe, the first thing to happen was the placing of a glass of water on to the table. This, I was told, was a remnant of the Turkish occupation, a custom so that you would never be without the hospitality of the house. Even if one drank it up, it would be replaced. But its chief function by now was that it was a sign that the bill had not been paid. When it was, the glass would be removed. All very convenient! Another feature was the breed boy. On arrival at your table, you would be attended by the waiter, or even the head one, and then a small boy came up with a tray of bread. When leaving you would pay the bill, give the waiter the customary tip, and leave the small coins on the table for the bread boy who would be hovering around. I believe that this was their sole source of income until they graduated to the status of assistant waiter and had a proper share of the tips. The language was a problem as it has no affinity with any other, except for a very slight connection with Finnish, the traditional Suomi, not the Swedish variety. German was widely understood, not surprisingly, as Hungary had been dominated by Austria for so long. A few words of that language helped, although in most restaurants, at least one waiter would have a good command of English, more than likely having worked in London at some time or other. It was George, the Head Waiter at our CarIton Hotel, who taught me in his accentless English that most estimable of skills, the ability to lift vegetables from a dish using a spoon and fork with one hand only - it has served me in good stead ever since.
Budapest was a city of great contrasts. On arrival through the doors of our hotel, we would be greeted with deep bows from the head porter, the head receptionist and his assistants, and any bell boys who happened to be around. A similar thing would happen when one entered a good restaurant. The fashionable boulevards would be crowded with well dressed citizens, yet beggars abounded. There were also barefooted peasants carrying baskets of fruit and vegetables for sale, or perhaps taking them to the market. In the evenings, there were plenty of small boys around who would rush up and start playing on a violin, often a small sized one, in the hope of collecting a few coppers. The coppers, incidentally, were Hellers, a hundred of these forming a Pengo, the basic coin, then worth something in the region of one and sixpence.
Around at that time was another Englishman who was something in the journalistic line. Or so he said! For all I knew he could have been from MI5, for he spoke very fluent Hungarian, as well as German, and a year or so before, for some reason or other, had lived in Vienna, and again for some reason or other, now lived in Budapest. In Vienna, he said he once had a girl friend who worked in one of the large departmental stores. Her day off was Monday when the shops closed, and it was the custom for her to visit him at his flat during the afternoon. Being extremely proud of the fact that her boyfriend was an Englishman, she insisted that they had a real English afternoon tea, complete with toast, before retiring to bed.
Once, having prepared the tea things and thinking that she would be there at any second, he also made the toast. Then the door bell rang, but it was not her. Instead it was a girl who obviously came from the country, fashions not at that time being universal. I'm Trudi, Helena's cousin. She is sorry, but she cannot come this afternoon. He then remembered rather vaguely something Helena had said, as the girl continued I'm on holiday, staying with my auntie, Helena's mother, this is the first time I have been to Vienna. I like Vienna very much the weather has been fine and I hope that it will remain that way as I do not want my holiday spoiled and so on and on and on, he didn't think that she would stop talking. Then he remembered that there were two lots of toast ready, and asked her if she would like some. She would, and came in. Very soon, he continued, she made it abundantly clear that it was more than toast she wanted, and that was that. So for the rest of the week it was tea and toast every afternoon. To explain her solitary absences to the aunt, she quickly developed a keen interest in churches, and he had to acquire a guide book so that she could be adequately briefed for her return.
Her story was that she was to be married in a couple of weeks time to a man twice her age, and whom she actively disliked. Arranged marriages were the custom in the countryside, and there was nothing she could do about it. So with some difficulty, she had persuaded her parents to let her have just one week's holiday with her mother's sister before she started her life as a country housewife, expected to rear a large family.
The following Monday, Helena arrived as normal and gave the explanation of her absence the previous week. However, in a somewhat intimate moment a few weeks later, she whispered Am I better than Trudi ?. What are you talking about ?. Come along, I thought that you were never going to invite her in. I was afraid that you would see me peeping round the corner. Then the story came out - when Trudi arrived, she confided that this was to be her only chance of freedom before the life of misery before her, and she was determined to have an adventure so that she would have something to remember for the rest of her life. Being in full agreement with the idea itself, Helena was nevertheless alarmed at what could happen, and saw that there was only one thing to do. She brought Trudi to the door. So you knew all the time !. Oh yes. She told me everything. Everything ? Yes, everything. All the details.
Over a year later, he continued, there come through the post a copy of an out of date newspaper. A small provincial one, just the paper, no letter, no note. His first reaction was that someone had sent it because there was something in it that he could use in his journalistic or other activities. Searching carefully, he found nothing of interest. He even had to look up a gazetteer to find where the town of publication was. Then, faintly, he seemed to recall that Trudi had come from somewhere around there. But he could not check with Helena as she and her family had moved away from Vienna and he no longer had contact. In fact they had quarrelled and broken up sometime before. Still mystified, he re-examined the paper closely, and saw what might be a pencil mark. On the other hand, it could have been just an accidental spot. Then the penny dropped. For the mark was against an Announcement: Herr und Frau so-and-so were happy to announce the arrival of their firstborn, a son. And the paper's date was just right following Trudi's departure. So I seem to have a son up in them thar hills.
On one of my weekend visits, I wandered up the hill one Sunday morning to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony, held in the quadrangle of the Castle. The square was already lined by spectators and tourists with cameras at the ready, all kept in place by spaced out guardsmen in full dress, topped by somewhat curiously shaped spiked helmets. There was the usual clatter of stamping feet and shouted orders as squads of soldiers took up positions. Then came the sound of distant martial music, and suddenly a band appeared marching through the archway. The bandsmen struck a rather incongruous note, at least to my English eyes, as they were dressed in field grey uniforms and wearing German bucket style steel helmets. I thought that perhaps the helmets would get in the way of their playing. However all was well until the tail end of the band come into sight. Maybe it was quite all right, maybe it was the custom, maybe it helped the player, for the big drum was born on a small wheeled trolley and pulled along by a pony.