Baird, Gavin Gibson

Letter
Date:
November 23, 1929
To:
Angereau
From:
Gavin Gibson Baird
November 23, 1929

Dear Angereau,

The Royal Air Force, or as it was known at the time, the Royal Flying Corps, had aeroplanes and training depots all over England, and Scotland, and a few depots in Ireland which were not used for training purposes but more for defense purposes. Different types of machines were flown at different aerodromes and training stations. For instance, at one aerodrome pupils would be instructed in flying Scout machines- that is, a single seater, and used exclusively for offensive patrols. Other aerodromes trained pilots to fly day bombing machines, which were two seaters and used primarily for offensive work in bombing depots, ammunition dumps and other strategic points. Then again, at other points pilots were trained to fly at night, and of course, the machines that were used at night were used exclusively for bombing purposes, with the exception of a very few scout machines that were used to attack large German bombers who might come over to bomb London, or later on in the war, to bomb our lines of communication, etc., in France.

There were about 50 boys went over on the boat with me, and we were all split up into little sections, and so many were called in at a time and were told that they were to report at such and such an aerodrome to learn flying "camels";S.S.5's, or some other scout machines, and so many were called in to go on day bombers, etc. When my turn came we were told we were to go down to Salisbury, where w3e were to learn to fly the De Haviland 4's, which were large, fast, day bombing machines. These machines were capable of flying at extreme heights, and their engine and propellor were so made that they could make faster time at that height than practically any of the German machines. We felt, to use an expression we used while Overseas-"bucked up"- at being luck enough to fly one of these machines.

We were given transportation from Waterloo Station in London to Salisbury, and it did not take us very long to get down there as the train service was exceptionally good. When we got to Salisbury we had to phone out to the aerodrome. They then sent a car in for us, and after getting out to the aerodrome we were told that we were to use an unoccupied country home as our living quarters. This was in a little village by the name of Berwick, St. James. It was about a mile and a half from the aerodrome and the little village itself was very picturesque. It was getting on in the fall by this time, and the weather was quite cold, but on the whole, we were fairly comfortable. We used to go over to the aerodrome in the morning and take our training in flying, and in machine gun and actual firing practice and so on, and then after dinner at night at the mess, we used to go back to the old house. All this time I was learning to fly a day bombing machine, and was very surprised to be called in to the Orderly's Office one night and told that I had to go to King's Lynn, which is in the northern part of England on the eastern coast, to fly night bombers. I thought that the Major had signed my death warrant when he allocated me to learn to fly at night, but as it turned out, it was nothing to worry about and as I said before, it was possibly a good thing that I was flying at night. Two other boys went up with me, and there were only about seven of us at this particular little aerodrome- that is, outside of the mechanics who looked after the machines. It was on the coast, as I have said, in a direct path with the zeppelins and Goethas that used to come over from Germany to bomb England. We were supposed to be a defensive outpost and upon receiving communication from the destroyers in the channel that the Germans were coming over, we were supposed to take to the air and get up at such a height as possible to intercept him, or to make things at least uncomfortable for him. During the time that I was at this particular aerodrome we had no raids, so I had no chance to show what I could do in attacking a "zep". In learning to fly at night you first of all got a good command of the machine by flying it through the day, and then as you felt confident as to your ability you took the machine up late in the afternoon and kept on making landings until you were actually landing in the dark. This sounds rather difficult, but it really isn't. One becomes accustomed to the dusk first, and then to semi-darkness and then darkness itself, and of course as it gets real dark flares are lit on the aerodrome to show you where to land. We had a perfect time at this little place called Tydd St. Mary's, about 16 miles from the large city of King's Lynn, and as there were so few of us there, we could have things on a higher scale than we could have had at an aerodrome where there were forty or fifty in training. We of course had a piano, and by reason of my being able to play I soon got well acquainted with the rest of the fellows, and it wasn't very long before we were all singing around the piano as though we had known one another for years. I spent Christmas at this aerodrome and a very joy one too. We gave a dinner to all the mechanics, etc., connected with the aerodrome and had a concert after it. OF course, I do not question that the people in Kentucky would be shocked at the amount of drinkables that was consumed at the dinner, but no-one seemed to be any the worse of it. Shortly after Christmas I was moved again to take up a little higher training in night flying, and this consisted of bombing from the air and hitting lighted targets on the ground from heights of 500, 1000 and 2000 feet. This aerodrome was at a little Village called Liarham, and there we had to do cross-country flights to different parts of England. Sometimes quite a distance too, and you can quite readily understand that there are no sign posts at night, particularly when a country is at war and liable to be bombed, you might say, at any time. The country was almost in complete darkness and you had to use railway lines, which are sometimes visible at night, or waterways, which are always visible at night, and thus be able to get from one point to another without getting lost. One of the tests was to make a trip about eighty miles, as I remember it, and to come down to a height of 500 feet and fire your Very's pistol. This made quite a light, and if you were fortunate enough to identify the place that you were supposed to locate, then you would be answered from the ground by a light of a similar color. I had no forced landings in England at night. I passed all my tests at Liarham and then received my certificate as a fully qualified pilot, ready for service in France as a night bomber.

I was given a short leave which I spent in London and then reported to the Air Board again and was allocated to Squadron 148, which was being formed for a secret mission. As a matter of fact, we found out afterwards that what we were supposed to do was to bomb Berlin, but the machines with which the trick was to be done were expensive things to build, and on account of their size and carrying capacity were very expensive. Before the plans materialized to such a point where the pilots could go on these machines and fly them, our mission was changed and we were given the F.E.2 B', which was a machine with about 48 feet wing spread, and a 250 horse power engine. I was one of the first pilots in the Squadron, and after waiting around London for a few days and collecting some more observers, pilots, etc., we were moved down to Andover in the south part of England. While we were at Andover we collected some more pilots, observers, mechanics, etc. Each day there was an addition to our family. We were billeted in regular homes at this little town, and I was fortunate enough, with Bill Perry of Montreal, whom I saw the last time I was down there, to be billeted with a dear old lady whose san had been missing for about nine months, I think. She was very decent to us, and as a matter of fact could not have treated us any better had we been her own boys. She had two maids in the house, which was a very nice old English home, and every night before we went to bed she used to make sure that the maid had put hot water bottles in our bed. These are not the hot water bottles that you are accustomed to use, but as your mother will no doubt remember are made of crockery. We had many happy little incidents at Andover, but there isn't very much of interest to tell. We only had two hangars for our machines, as we did not at that time have our full complement, but there were many other hangars on the aerodrome, and at Andover I met many Canadian boys whom I had known in Canada, having trained over here with them. We had been separated when we were sent to different aerodromes, as I mentioned before.

Our next move was to the southern coast of England. Our aerodrome adjoined the little town of Little Hampton, just a few miles from Brighton which, as you possibly know, is a very famous watering place, as they call them in the Old Country, and has a pier that stretches out about half a mile into the Ocean.

Sincerely yours,

Gavin
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