Experiences in the Royal Flying Corps by Lieutenant Antony Henry Whitford-Hawkey (1899-1918) (The Green, September 1913-20 June 1917). Published in The Shirburnian, November 1917.
When I left Sherborne to join the R.F.C. last summer term just before Commemoration I little thought what lay before me. I had visions of getting into a ‘bus and doing loops, tail slides, and bringing down Zepps.; but these soon disappeared when I got to Farnborough. I had just a week’s leave before going to the R.F.C. Depot, and on my way up I stayed the night at the Green. On my arrival at Farnborough Station I met the Rector of our parish, who had joined up as a chaplain and was stationed at a place nearby. After having lunch with him, I went to the camp, which lies on a sandy barren hill overlooking the Aerodrome, where I was directed first to one tent where a knife, fork and towel were given me, then to another where I got three dusty blankets or rugs. I was then given a tent. After a time a lot of other new arrivals came and we had eight in our tent. Farnborough at that time was an awful place and from all accounts it is not much better now. There were 1100 air mechanics and 600 cadets, and the washing accommodation was as follows: 12 cold water taps out of doors, and a shower-bath tent for cadets only. I remember we used to grouse at the shower at Sherborne ‘not coming down,’ but my word! These so-called showers were little tins with a rose and tap screwed into them. Before using them you had to fill from a tap, and then climb up a ladder with them and put them on the top of a stand. By the time you got it there it was nearly empty again. Oh, how I wished for the old Pavilion shower, even before it was mended!
The meals at Farnborough also were bad. My first tea gave me rather a shock. It consisted of lettuce and onions mashed up in a very battered tin dish and covered with vinegar, a slice of bread and some very questionable margarine, and a tin mug of tea shared with my neighbour. After meals, we used to rush up to the canteen to get tinned fruit. Instead of seeing wine-glasses piled up when I die (as in the picture) I shall see empty fruit tins!
The work consisted of drill parades in the mornings and afternoons; as there were no rifles, it was quite easy but very monotonous. We were allowed out after five o’clock in the afternoons, and that time was usually spent in either going and getting a good meal at a restaurant or in having a good bath. For the first few days a new arrival does not do much. He passes his time filling in forms, getting sworn in, and getting kit. He is inoculated twice and vaccinated once before he leaves. This is really not much to worry about, but you get the wind up because you are told that one chap had the needle stuck right through his arm, and another had the needle broken in his arm and the bit had to be cut out, but it’s all rot. Some people are so terrified that they faint even before they get into the medical hut. After being there about a fortnight a draft leaves, and, when more new recruits arrive, you feel quite a blood.
We had Saturday and Sunday afternoons off, and I used to go to Sandhurst to see a cousin and also all O.SS., of whom there are quite a collection there: A.T. Grimley [Arthur Tayler Grimley (1898-), day boy & The Green 1912-1916], J. Folliott [John Folliott (1898-1918) The Green 1912-1916], C.W. Warner [Clive Wynyard Warner (1898-1918) The Green 1914-1916], G.F.J.P. Stone [Gerald Frederick James Preston Stone (1899-) The Green 1913-1916], W.F. Brown [William Fuller Brown (1897-1930) The Green 1914-1916], C.A. Gregory [Cyril Arthur Gregory (1897-1975) The Green 1912-1916], Streatfeild [Thomas Basil Maryon Streatfeild (1898-1917) School House 1911-1916], etc. One day, when the Woolwich match was on, I met Stockton [Bryan Henry Basil Stockton (1898-1928) School House 1912-1916] and Scott [George Cuthbert Scott (1898-1978) Abbeylands 1911-1916]. They were all looking forward to the King’s visit, which was about to come off.
After being at Farnborough five weeks, I was drafted to Winchester. The day I left it was pouring with rain. We had had a bad night, as our tents leaked like sieves. We had to hang about on a parade ground two inches deep in mud for roll calls, and then we marched two miles to the station. A draft arrived the day our’s left, and J.D. Wyatt-Smith [John Drummond Wyatt-Smith (1899-1918) Abbey House 1913-1917], of all people, was put into the tent I was leaving. Hayter [Frederick Charles Edney Hayter (1899-) School House 1914-1916] was also at Farnborough. On our arrival at Winchester we had to march five miles in the rain to Hursley Park Camp, and by the time we got there everyone was wet through. Oh! The joy of arriving at a place where there were some buildings, instead of there being only tents. We had a jolly good meal and were waited on by waitresses, and given four huge new blankets, and those who wanted them, dry clothes. The next day we were given tents, and we had bedboards and mattresses to sleep on, which was better than sleeping on the bare floor at Farnborough, which, by the way, we had to scrub out ourselves.
When we got to Winchester, we naturally thought we should learn something about flying. We did machine guns, infantry training with rifles, map reading, which, thanks to the O.T.C., I knew something about. At Farnborough we saw a lot of flying, about the best there is, but at Winchester it was rare to see a machine. The camp was on the side of a valley, and in wet weather it was a difficult job getting to one’s tent, as the soil was chalky. We were free on Saturdays and Sundays after 12 o’clock, and, as I had friends in Winchester, I went there as often as possible. I was not impressed with the College as much as perhaps I ought to have been. It was after the same style as Sherborne, but of course, as I am an O.S., Sherborne is best. The Cathedral is lovely and a little larger than Sherborne Abbey. When I had been at Winchester three weeks, A Squadron was going on to Oxford, but, as some people were kept back, they wanted 25 more to complete the 200. By good luck, I was among the 25 who were to go, not having had a final exam. The following day we went up to Town to the Cecil Hotel for our medical exam.; only two failed to pass.
On our arrival at Oxford, we were dealt out to different colleges. I was sent to Queen’s, which is the best in many ways. After a week some of us were moved round to Brasenose, which was not nearly as nice. We got up at 6.15, and lights out was at 11. At last we had come to technical work, as engines, machine guns, bombs, instruments, rigging machines, aerial observation. The latter was very interesting: you go up in a gallery and on the floor is a model of the Ypres Salient. You see guns flash, and you see the shell burst and a puff of smoke rise; you then send down by wireless a message to the Battery. In your fifth week you have tests; in the sixth, the final exam., which, if you pass, you become a 2nd Lieutenant, and, if you fail, you go back to Farnborough as a 3rd class air mechanic! So it pays to work.
At Oxford, I shared a room with R.T.T. Waring [Rupert Thomas Tremayne Waring (1899-1968), Lyon House 1914-1917] for a week, and it was nice to talk over old times together. He is now at Shoreham trying to break his neck. I saw Mr Ross [Alexander Hamelin Trelawny-Ross (1884-1967)] for a minute in Oxford. I hope he sleeps better at night now than he did when I was in his French set.
At Oxford, I put down my name for Shoreham, but of course no one got what he wanted. I was posted to Netheravon, or ‘the end of the world’ as it is known to the R.F.C. You get quite a decent time here, but you can’t get any leave, and it is miles from anywhere. Spurr [Norman Franklin Spurr (1899-1956), Harper House 1914-1916] and Carey [Robert Benson Carey (1898-1976), Harper House 1913-1916] are both here. Spurr is doing advanced work, and Carey, I believe, is to become an observer, as the Staff think he will be pushing daisies before his time if he is a pilot. The second day I was here I went for my first flight. The sensation was ripping going up, but one had a queer feeling when the machine suddenly dropped twenty or thirty feet in a ‘Bump.’ Also going down made me take a deep breath, just as you do when you start going down in a fast lift, but one soon gets used to the feeling, and after a time one begins to like it. The motion on a bumpy day is similar to that of a small boat in a swell, but one doesn’t feel sick because one sees no waves. I hope to be going solo soon, and that’s when the fun begins. Hoping that I have not taken up too much precious space.
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Posted 26 July 2017 by Sherborne School Archives.