GENERAL ARTICLES

Glorious Phoenix

CHARLES W. STOKES November 15 1941
GENERAL ARTICLES

Glorious Phoenix

CHARLES W. STOKES November 15 1941

"V" as in Florida

The sunny south gave the British chaps a rousing welcome and a good time — then put *em to work!

A. P. COOKE

THE Whiskers FRIENDLY beckoned Old across Gentleman the Atlantic, with saying The —"Come on over, boys; we’ll start you off.” And so, during the summer of 1941, the vanguard of hundreds of Royal Air Force fledglings embarked from British ports for the treacherous Atlantic crossing to arrive in Halifax and later in Toronto, there to be shunted south of the border for their first steps in becoming the fighter and bomber pilots of tomorrow.

In most United States communities, the arrival of these young strangers was an event which reached the proportions of a civic holiday. Though much "secrecy” attended the preliminaries, residents were aware for days that the R.A.F. was coming! The arrival of the first contingent was scheduled for the small hours, but this made no difference to the people of Lakeland, Florida.

When the train pulled in the amazed British youths found the platform thronged by nearly 2,000 of the city’s 20,000 residents—at 3.30 a.m. ! There were laughing girls in summery cottons and silks, stockingless and sun tanned; there were applauding civic bigwigs; and there were other cheering hundreds—just plain folks in shirtsleeves.

As the train slowed a band added its welcome, playing — not American swing — but "There’ll Always Be An England,” and who could blame the new arrivals if they had to swallow hard to convince themselves it was real? Already they had the answer to their first and foremost question—"Will they like us out here?”

The sun beat its hottest against their pink and pale-skins as English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish lads poured from special railroad cars throughout the southeastern United States and answered, "Here, sir,” at United States Army Air Corps schools which stretched from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, deep into the orange groves of Florida. The United States students had been moved to other locations, leaving these southernmost, year-round airdromes open for the exclusive use of the visitors.

That the scheme has been successful is evidenced by the fact that arrangements have been made for

more United States schools to train the British students, with a goal in view of 4,000 pilots to be incubated annually in the U.S.A. As President Roosevelt could have said: "Another department has been added to the arsenal for democracy.”

What happens to these lads from overseas, dumped into a strange land to learn their fighting trade? How do they respond to the transplanting? How well do they progress? Where do they go from here? How are they received by their American cousins?

First of all, they find a bewilderingly hospitable acclaim of welcome. Then they find that elementary flight training is no picnic, no vacation at a Florida resort. They find it is work, work, work and more work, and it is to their credit that their "washout” or flunking percentage has been generally less than the averages for the United States Army Air Corps, under whose supervision they are being trained. While these schools, perhaps a dozen of them, are privately owned, they are operated under contract with the United States Army, and the instruction routine, the discipline, t^e barracks life are substantially the same as at Randolph Field, Texas—known in the United States as the West Point of the Air.

The period of elementary training is ten weeks, and is so arranged that there are overlapping classes, each one receiving about one hundred R.A.F. candidates every five weeks. At the end of the ten-week course, each Student wrho "graduates” has completed thirty hours of flight instruction and is ready for more advanced training. The average elapsed time to the first solo flight is about eight and one-half hours.

Broadly speaking, the British flying students in the United States represent a typical cross-section of life in Great Britain. At home, these chaps have been clerks, students, farm workers, civil servants. Or they may have been in some branch of the Army. Their ages range from eighteen to twentyeight. Some are married. Thot^eirom civil life have volunteered for the Air Force, and represent a selection of about one-out-of-four who have offered

for this service. Those from the armed forces have passed qualification tests and been found mentally and physically fit for flight training.

Before departure overseas, all are given several weeks of primary ground instruction in the I.T.W. —the Initial Training Wing. There they learn what flying is all about and most of them arrive at Halifax with the rating of LAC (Leading Aircraftman),

At the Toronto Manning Depot they are divided into contingents averaging one hundred each, and are bundled aboard a special train bound for their great adventure. Gradually, as the train progresses down the Atlantic seaboard, it is dismembered until, on reaching Arcadia, Florida—the southernmost school—there remain but two cars, which are attached to a regular train.

Mostly the winter weight Air Force uniforms are shed almost immediately on arrival in the ninetydegree heat belt and the more comfortable khaki coveralls of the U. S. Army Air Corps become the standard workaday costume.

Lakeland Was First

IN A NUTSHELL, here is how the business of a privately-operated, army-directed flight school is conduced: The school, as contractor, provides the barracks, food, instructors, airdromes, hangars and airplane maintenance. The U. S. Army Air Corps provides, the planes—the latest in training equipment—as a part of the Lend-Lease Bill. The Army Air Corps furnishes supervising officers who check daily the progress of the students and who give the final word as to the success or failure of each candidate’s endeavors. When such a school "goes British” it is merely a matter of bookkeeping in Washington, for the British Air Commission, rather than the United States Army, pays for the flight training, under an entirely successful entente cordiale.

So that w^e may peer more intimately behind the scenes of this immense training project, let’s follow that special train to Lakeland, Florida, where the school airdrome is ringed about by orange groves and is bounded on one side by the blue waters of a lake. The Lakeland school enjoys two “firsts" —it was the first to receive British students in June and in August it was the first to “graduate" an elementary training class. The “graduation" event was regarded so significantly that the Governor of Florida, Mr. Spessard Lindsey Holland, came three hundred miles from the capital at Tallahassee to present, in person, certificates to the Lakeland trainees.

Governor Holland, himself a Yankee pilot in France in 1918, told the youngsters this: “We think of you as eagles, going out to fight for right.”

They cheered him to the echo and when the brief informal exercise was over, the trainees rushed out to the broad lawn, formed an immense human “V” and tossed their caps in the air in boyish jubilation. They had crossed their first bridge.

The Lakeland school layout includes two huge steel-and-concrete hangars, each large enough to accommodate two regulation hockey rinks. It is here that the fifty-five training planes assigned to the school are kept. They are technically known as Type PT-17—the latest in Stearman biplanes, powered with 225-horsepower Continental or Lycoming motors. If the British students had taken their elementary training in Canada, they would have flown the 130-horsepower Gypsy Major Engined Tiger-Moth or the Kinner-powered Fleet of 125-horsepower. The Stearman is somewhat larger than either the Moth or the Fleet.

Not far distant from the hangars at Lakeland are the barracks, administration offices and mess hall, laid out in much the same quadrangle formation as you would expect to find at a university. The mess hall is high ceilinged and beamed in the Tudor manner. It seats 250 at refectory tables. All buildings are of hurricane-proof construction, painted in restful colors, inside and out, and were erected, according to plans of the U. S. Army, for tropical posts. Each building is tightly screened and there is a ten-foot-wide esplanade around each floor, so that there is a cooling breeze on the hottest day or night. A heating system is available for winter use, if needed.

While some of the schools chose a housing system of placing four students in a suite, the Lakeland plan is based on the community principle of thirty boys to a barracks.

“It makes for sociability," explained Albert I. Lodwick, owner-operator of the school and a leading figure in North American aviation for twenty years. “The boys have a chance to talk over, in townmeeting style, their problems, and their day’s work, in barrack-room discussions which they would not otherwise have. It is more democratic and, we feel, more conducive to good fellowship."

The students’ day begins at 5.30 in the morning with reveille, roll cail and formation. Then there is half an hour of calisthenics. Breakfast follows and by 7.30 o’clock, those assigned to “morning flight"

are on the line with their instructors. Those assigned to morning ground school are in their class rooms, absorbing principles of aerodynamics, theory of combustion engines, meteorology or any of those “book" subjects the modern pilot must know.

This group will fly in the afternoon.

The morning and afternoon flight periods are alternated weekly and for a reason. Any Florida pilot will tell you there is as much difference in the “lift" of the morning air and the afternoon air in Florida as there is between the Sahara and the Arctic wastes.

The entire school knocks off for lunch at 11.30 o’clock —not the conventional lunch hour, but remember, they have been up and at it since 5.30 in the morning. Lunch is a bountiful meal, served under the vaulted ceiling of the mess hall by impeccably neat colored waiters in white coats.

Butter Victims

THE FEEDING of these British visitors offered a few gastronomical problems in the early days of training, but they have been solved now. The school’s steward at Lakeland, a hotel man of wide epicurean experience, believed it would be a treat to provide his guests with kippers for breakfast. At least, that’s what the steward thought! The first kipper offering was eaten politely, no questions asked. But next day, when kippers appeared again there was a collective groan. Not impolite, you understand, but one which seemed to say, “When we got to America, we hoped they had never heard of kippers.” Enquiry revealed they were quite fed up with them at home. “Okay," the steward proposed, “what would you like?” Echo answered, “kidney stew." They’re getting it now —twice a week, and no kippers!

Eggs provided another problem. Scrambled eggs, often regarded as an American breakfast delicacy, were looked upon with distrust. Meekly and apologetically a committee of students enquired: “Could we have fried eggs?” The answer, of course, was yes. As any bride knows, it’s far easier to fry eggs than it is to scramble them.

Then, in reverse, there was the problem of butter. Butter? Genuine creamery butter? Not margarine? There it was, being served without stint in the

quarter-pound prints so familiar to every North American housewife. Butter, butter everywhere, and all of it to eat! Result? The lads from overseas gorged themselves those first few days on butter— even to the extent of providing infirmary cases for stomachs unused to the richer fats.

The flight surgeon, a U.S. Army Medical Corps officer, and the steward put their heads together. For a time, they decided, they would serve only the thin chips of butter seen in restaurants, until the newcomers’ systems could better absorb the heavier protein. * Mayonnaise on salads, an American standby, was discarded in favor of plain vinegar. Giant carcasses of prime roast beef did not meet with the expected enthusiasm and the lads hinted that a saddle of mutton would be more delectable. Mutton is not common in Florida, but the big meat packers in Chicago obliged.

Lest any etiquette-purist accuse these guests of ineptness or of inability to make the most of things in their new surroundings, it should be said that the school took an entirely sympathetic view and acted accordingly. As Mr. Lodwick himself expressed it: “It was an experiment in which we were anxious to please. To exaggerate: it would be the same as if you and I were suddenly thrust into the middle of Tibet and made to eat native fare when our mouths were watering for corned beef and cabbage.”

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"V"as in Florida

Continued from page 11—Starts on page 10

Clearly, the old adage of all work and no play operates at a flying school, too, and there is time for recreation and relaxation. It is spotted here and there throughout the day in half-hour periods—at intervals to permit “unwinding” from the keyed-upness of their training.

At those times the lads lounge around the recreation rooms, playing their inevitable games of darts. There are facilities for table tennis, bridge; there are pianos, phonographs and short-wave radios and reading rooms with magazines and plenty of desks for writing.

Outdoors there are fields for baseball and cricket, volleyball courts and shuffleboard courts, and in the afternoon play periods you will see these sun-tanned Britishers stripped to the waist in bathing trunks or track shorts—more the color of Javanese divers than clerks from Nottingham.

Saturday afternoons and Sundays are always “free.” It is then the students mingle with the residents of Lakeland, line-up at the drugstore soda fountains or journey thirty miles for a dip in the Gulf of Mexico. Eager hosts are always ready with transportation. Sunday mornings find most of them at church, and their Lakeland welcome has been extended to the point where many are singing in the various choirs. Invitations from townspeople are checked up discreetly and if everything doesn’t look quite right to the school authorities, a gentle hint is dropped to the student and polite regrets are sent.

Yet, each and every one is glad to see Monday morning roll around again. They are one week nearer their objective—to get back home, get on with the show and give Jerry what’s coming to him.

“These Are Our Boys’’

MENTION the subject of accidents around the Lakeland school and all within hearing distance wäll search for a piece of knocking wood before replying. The almost unbelievable answer is that, at this writing, there has not been a single fatality or a single injury, and only negligible damage to any training plane. This record is largely true throughout all of the British training schools in the United States. At Arcadia, a student flying alone got himself into an uncontrollable spin, bailed out with his parachute, landed four miles from the field and was in the air again with his instructor within thirty minutes. A Scottish trainee was drowned in the Gulf of Mexico while swimming. At the Albany, Georgia school, a student was killed in an accident on the field.

Where do they go from here? Their future course has been charted for them in some detail, dependent, of course, on their ability to continue through the advanced training. Their thirty hours of elementary training in their first ten weeks will be followed by an equal amount of advanced training in the regular U.S. Army Air Corps training centres, where they will be sandwiched in with their American cousins. For the present, they are being sent to Cockran Field, Macon, Georgia, and Gunter Field, Selma, Alabama. When those periods of instruction are finished, when they have mastered faster and more powerful planes and instrument flying, the pilots will be pushed along another notch—either at the U.S. Army’s advanced and tactical school at Barksdale Field, Louisiana, or at the U.S. Naval Air Station at Pensacola, Florida. They will be seniors then, ready for their wings.

When the pilots have finished Barksdale, they will be ready for what the Army calls transitional training—meaning that they will learn the feel of • the multi-engined planes of all sorts and sizes. After that? A stretch at Camp Borden, near Toronto, most likely, and then —homeward bound!

The training of these young strangers in a strange land involved, at

the outset, an interesting two-way experiment in psychology. First, the American school operators had to overcome a certain shyness on the part of the new arrivals. The schools had to convince them they were welcome in the States; that they were not transitory side-show specimens to be gaped at and forgotten. Then they had to be convinced that the citizens of the United States were sympathetically with them.

It would be equally embarrassing if a misguided, misinformed or indifferent American public should say, “Why don’t they teach ’em back home? It’s their war, isn’t it?” Fortunately, American public opinion isn’t geared that way. It would be more accurate to report this attitude: “These boys are over here learning how to fight. They’ll be fighting for us, too. We’ll treat them as if they were our own.”

How did the Britishers respond? Just before the first class completed its elementary training at Lakeland, the members got together and published a “memory book.” They called it “Solo Land,” illustrated it with their own intimate snapshots, and left a mark for other classes to shoot at. Every line reflects the happy days of their ten weeks spent at Lakeland. An anonymous contributor penned a “valedictory,” and here is one paragraph:

“Flying is a job dependent very much on atmosphere and trouble-free minds. We must acknowledge that you, the people of Lakeland, have done much to take the bumps from a strange atmosphere. You have welcomed us into your homes, your churches, your clubs. Everywhere we have been deeply touched by your spontaneous kindness and openheartedness. Above all, we appreciate the sympathy that so many of you extend to those we have left behind and the love of Britain you share with us.”

When the first class was graduated from another school at Arcadia, Florida, the mayor of that little city said in his farewell to them: “You have made us feel that you are fighting our war and from now on, every man and woman in Arcadia will take a personal interest in every mission of the Royal Air Force. In time, as we read about your exploits, we shall say to ourselves, ‘These are our boys; we watched them strive for their wings.’ ”

The supercurious may ask: “What change comes over these British chaps who will spend almost a year in the States, and what do they find which impresses them most?”

Let’s take the last first. The main thing that impresses them is the plenitude of gasoline, the number of automobiles, mechanical refrigeration in the homes and the wide variety of labor - saving kitchen gadgets used by the American housewife!

As for changes that come over the visitors, the answer is simple. It is principally lingual. They have begun to slough off their broad A’s, for example, and “Okay” has taken the place of “right-o.” In August, during a transatlantic broadcast between some of the R.A.F. fledglings and their folks overseas, anyone could spot the lingual changes in a jiffy. One mother in England said to her Continued on page 50 son, “I hear the American people have been marvellous to you.” Did he reply, “Oh, quite,” or “Indeed they have”? He did not. He said, “You’re telling me!” and he said it with the vehemence of a Brooklyn Dodger fan.

"V"as in Florida

Continued from page 47-—Starts on page 10

Vancouverite’s “the Boss”

NO ONE leaves the Lakeland school without meeting two distinctive personalities, Flight Lieutenant W. W. Watson, of the R.A.F.— and Washout, a lovable nondescript dog who is the school mascot.

His former neighbors in Vancouver need no introduction to Flight Lieut. Watson. At forty-six he is a veteran of two World Wars. He served as a flying officer in France through most of the first, was demobbed and returned to Vancouver. Came 1939 and Lieutenant Watson offered his services to the R.C.A.F. But the powers that be tapped their collectivechinsand remarked, “Fortysix is a hit old, isn’t it, sir?”

Undaunted, Lieutenant Watson signed on as a fireman aboard a freighter, worked his way three fourths of the way around the globe and ultimately was in London, where the R.A.F. gave him another chance. His service record shows he was one of those to wriggle out of Dunkirk and live to tell about it—which he doesn’t.

Now he is the R.A.F.’s administrative officer at the Lakeland school. He’s a three-way liaison man—the contact between the British Air Commission and the school, and between the B.A.C. and the United States Army Air Corps. These are his “official” duties. In his spare time he is guide, philosopher and friend to the sometimes homesick British students; their house mother and their father confessor. Plump, jolly, understanding and sympathetic, he is the school’s Mr. Chips.

Close at his heels, tail wagging, tongue distended smilingly, is Washout—a snow-white dog of uncertain ancestry.

His sly expression seems to taunt the students with a paraphrase of the Hoosier poet, James Whitcomb Riley, “The R.A.F. will get you, if you don’t washout.”

Washout is a knee-high dog who walks much of the time with the measured tread of a tired elephant. He stands reveille and all formations with the boys, barks at latecomers and would answer “here,” if he could.

There is a terrible, nightmarish superstition at the Lakeland school that if Washout isn’t given a weekly bath by the lower classmen, someone in that class is certain to flunk out, ere Sunday. Needless to say, Washout is spotlessly clean.