November 25, 1929
The aerodrome that we occupied at Little Hampton was one that was being built, so we were informed, for occupation by American aviators. It was in a beautiful location, and while the nearest town of any importance was Little Hampton, there was a little town right on the edge of the aerodrome, called Yapton. We lived at the aerodrome in long huts that were divided into seven or eight rooms, and two fellows occupied each room. We had mess in the Village of Yapton, which was just down the road a hundred yards or so from the huts, and the mess was in an old country home. At the back of the house was a good sized greenhouse, and in this greenhouse there were grape vines on which those wonderful English grapes were grown. However, unfortunately there were not any grapes on them at the time. We were very comfortable at this place, and we were gradually accumulating machines, men and son on, including our transport, which consisted of several five ton lorries, or trucks as we call them in Canada; automobiles-that is, ordinary touring cars, and other automobiles that could be used to transport ten or twelve men. In addition to this, we had motorcycles, some with side cars and some without. We were doing quite a lot of flying, and used to fly over the Duke of Norfolk's wonderful castle at Arundel. The Duke, at that time, was just a boy, although I noticed in the paper a short time ago that he has now reached his majority. He is supposed to be one of the wealthiest noblemen in England, and in olden times used to be a real stonghold, and even today the approach is by a long straight road up the face of a hill, and they castle, of course, is on the top. We used to try and imagine how in olden times this castle would be attacked, and what means the defenders would use to beat them off.
From this aerodrome I was sent by the Major to Norwich, in company with another pilot whose name was Grant Baker. The mission on which we were sent was to bring two new machines from the air park near Norwich, but when we got there it was raining and it rained for a week. However, but when we got there it was raining, but it stopped so late that we could not get up to the aerodrome and get back to our aerodrome before dark so we waited till the next morning. Our last night at Norwich was rather exciting. The "Zeps" came over that night, and while they did not bomb the City of Norwich they cause quite a lot of excitement. All the lights were put out in a hurry, of course. The Zeps were at such a height that it was rather hard for us to realize that there was any real danger. You could not see them, and while the anti-aircraft guns were working for all they were worth and the search lights were up in the sky, we could not see anything to be afraid of. The next day we went up to the aerodrome and I went to see the Officer commanding, and when I looked at him I found that he was a boy that I had gone to school with-Frank Crang, by name. Your mother will possibly remember the Crang's on St. Clair Avenue. He was one of them. I told him what I came for, and he said, "I am going to give you the best machine you ever flew". I said, " I wouldn't expect anything less from you, Frank". We got away all right, but shortly after we left the aerodrome it started to snow and Grant Baker and I became separated. However, I came down within a few hundred feet of the ground and picked up a railway line. I followed this railway line until I came to a station and then I came down low enough to see the name on the station platform. I then picked out the place on my map and followed the railway lines. However, I got into more snow and hail, and I decided to take a compass bearing and fly blind. This I did, with the result that in less than an hour and a half I was out over the south of England on the coast. Norwich was about two hundred and some odd miles from the south coast, so you can figure out the time that I made. I identified my location by the pier at Brighton, which I have previously referred to, and from there it only took me a few minutes to find our own aerodrome.
By that time we had practically acquired all our equipment for Overseas service, and we got word that we would be going to France within the next couple of days. The squadron was divided into three "flights", being lettered "A", "B"and "C". I was in "C. flight" and our Captain's name was Harrison. We arranged for a farewell dinner at the Royal Hotel, Bognor. We had frequently been to Bognor, and discipline was not very strict and so we frequently used to stay there all night and go back to the aerodrome in the morning either by train or by bicycle. Nearly every boy in the squadron had rented a bicycle and so we used to be able to get from one place to another without waiting for trains. Of course, the distances were not very great, and the roads were splendid. It was a woman who ran the hotel at Bognor, which was a very fine hotel. You will possibly remember that the King after his very recent illness, recuperated at Bognor. It is a really beautiful spot and was picked by the King's physician as being the one at which he would have the best chance of recovering his health. Going back to the dinner that I Mentioned, I still have a souvenir of if by way of a menu with all the boys' signatures on the back of it who attended the dinner.
Eventually word came through that were to entrain and the whole squadron left one beautiful spring morning for Southampton. We arrived there about lunch time, or slightly afterwards, and later on that afternoon embarked on a Furness freighter. We left Southampton just at dusk and picked up several other boats out in the Channel, arriving at Le Havre the next morning at daybreak. The boat was just a shell, you might say. It had no doubt been built, like hundreds of other boats during the war, in a hurry and no unnecessary work had been put on her. I remember that I had an awful time getting dinner that night, as the accommodation was very limited and only about a dozen of us could get in the dining room at one time. There was no place to sleep, with the result that we crawled up in any corner we could where it was out of the cold- and it was cold, I can tell you. I slept in a companionway leading to the Captain's cabin, with two or three other fellows, and we were not sorry to get off the boat the next morning. We had a whole day in Le Havre, and spent some time looking around the city. The stringent regulations as regards food that were in effect in England were not in effect in France. We went up to an Officers' Club in the morning for breakfast and bacon and eggs, toast, with real butter, to say nothing of being able to have sugar for a change, were all on the menu. From Le Havre we entrained again for Rouen where we had another day-most of our travelling being done at night, as you will notice. At Rouen most of us spent some timein seeing the sights of the city, including the famous Rouen Cathedral. We had a guide take us around and he pointed to a brass, heart shaped tablet on the floor of the Cathedral, under which, he said, was buried the heart of Richard Coer de Lion. My knowledge of history-or rather my memory of history- did not permit me of repudiating or accepting this as a fact, but in any event, the Cathedral is very wonderful edifice. It was protected at strategic points by sand bags, etc., so that one could see its real beauty. We entrained again at night and the next morning when we woke up after the limited sleep that one could get on a train in France, we could tell by the look of the country that we were getting near the line. Evidences were visible at every station that we passed through of bombing and shelling, but eventually we got off the train at a place called Auchel. The aerodrome that had been allotted to us was not very far from the station, adjoining the Town of Auchel-the station and the town being some distance apart. Another squadron was already located in the aerodrome, but there was lots of hangar space for us too. We were billeted in homes in the town, and the billet that my observer and I were lodged in proved very comfortable. However, the very first night we were there German machines came over to welcome us to France with a few bombs. Altogether, the short time that we were at Auchel was very exciting. Every night about nine o'clock-and the German is nothing if not methodical- a few shells would come over which one could hear coming, of course, and would seem to land just behind the village. No-one seemed to pay very much attention to them, so after a few nights we didn't either. We had not yet commenced our bombing raids, partly on account of the weather, but principally on account of our awaiting of additional equipment. A supply of bombs had to be acquired and while waiting most of the boys were trying to get a knowledge of France from the air without coming too close to the line. Our machines were not very fast, and compared with the raster machines that they were flying, might have proven rather an easy target for them of German anti-aircraft batteries.
We met a Colonel who had charge of a Remount Depot down the road about a mile, and he was very kind in inviting us to go down there any time at all that we wanted to get a horse. My observer had been in the Lancashire Hussars and he was quite a horseman, and nothing would do but we should go down there and get ourselves a horse. I had not been riding a horse since I was a kid in Canada, and I had grave doubts as to my ability to sit on one. One day, after we had been out riding several times, he picked for me a better horse than the one I had been riding. We went up past the aerodrome and just as we got to the top of the hill someone started an aeroplane motor with result that my horse stood up on his hind legs and walked round in circles. Joe, my observer, whose real name was Percival Speakman, but whom I nicknamed Joe, for short, started his horse in a gallop across the aerodrome. My horse followed suit, without any instructions from me, and about half way across the aerodrome I began to think of what was at the other side and when I remembered the line of trenches I pretty nearly said "good by'. However, my horse knew more about it than I did, because when we came to the trenches he just cleared them as though they were nothing, and after a while Joe stopped his horse and mine went up beside him and stopped too. These were the little experiences that made life worth living in France, as we figured that flying was more or less an everyday affair and you had to do it anyway.
In my next letter I am going to tell you about our happy home at Auchel being blotted out and our being forced to move to another aerodrome in a hurry.