[RFC; RAF] A pilot's wartime correspondence: From Royal Flying Corp Cadet to Royal Air Force Pilot, 1917-1918
'Here was I about 4 miles over Hunland, battling against a strong wind, fighting 7 Bosche scouts who were much smaller & faster than our old slow two seater. We were absolutely "cold meat" & they knew it.'A correspondence of exceptional interest and importance, in which Reader describes, in a series of 68 letters to his family, written over a period of sixteen months, his entire flying career, from the passing of his medical at Farnborough to his return from the Western Front. As the extracts given below indicate, at times the letters read like a Boy's Own Story, with Reader crashing his Armstrong Whitworth while on a training flight 'near the country residence of Lady Londonderry, & before I knew where I was I was hauled off to tea by Lady Moreen Stuart & her daughters'. At the same time he reports that he is 'now in the Specialist Section & do nothing but solo work & work which is not simply flying but such things as aerial photography, bomb dropping, working artillery shoots by wireless, & aerial gunnery. I am getting quite important.' The following month he survives a dogfight over the trenches, receiving congratulations 'sent through from the front line to the man who put up a plucky fight against 7 Fokkers. The scrap was apparently witnessed from the trenches. I have got one of the bullets out of my machine as a souvenir.' Only days before the end of hostilities Reader is hospitalised with 'a slight touch of nerves' - clearly a nervous breakdown. With the war over he returns to his unit, which is promptly disbanded. He is transferred to another, and the letters end with him employed in delivering planes back to Britain. On demobilisation he fades into obscurity: he may be the 'Leslie Reader, of York Square, Stepney', a commercial traveller sued for negligence in 1936 following a car accident.The son of William J. Reader of 19 Red Lion Street, Woolwich, Leslie Reader was born 20 January 1900, and shortly before the war began work as a clerk at the Woolwich Arsenal. He had clearly received a good education (he writes 'shew' rather than 'show') but his writing to his parents is effective rather than showy. In addition to the strong narrative qualities of the correspondence is the mass of detail it contains on all aspects of Reader's training. He is an intelligent and observant witness, and he writes in a vivid and eloquent style. In the early letters he gives a full description of food, kit and drill. And there can be few better first-hand accounts of a First World War 'first flying experience' than that given by Flight Cadet L. Reader on 17 June 1918: 'Should anybody have told me that on my first flight I should loop the loop, stall, nose dive, spin, side slip, roll & do Imellman [sic] turns, I should have classed them as fools who were simply talking to put "wind up" me.' Also included in the correspondence (as Item Seventy-Five) is a memorandum dating from 1919, in which Reader begins to describe 'interesting incidents which took place during my service in the Army during the Great War'. It is unfortunate that this breaks off after only four pages. The collection also includes, as Item Seventy-Four, a photograph of Reader at the controls of his Armstrong Whitworth, with his observer behind him, and five enclosures in Reader's letters, as Items Sixty-Nine to Seventy-Three.Reader describes his progress through the stages of his training, from St Leonards on Sea to Wantage Hall Field Camp, to the Spittlegate Aerodrom in Grantham, to Winchester, to the British Expeditionary Force in France: 7 January 1918: telegram informs his parents that he has passed his medical at Farnborough[2-22] 7 February 1918 to : at D. Flight No. 5 Squadron No. 1 RFC Cadet Wing, St Leonards on Sea, 51 West Hill, Hastings[23-34] 12 April to 14 June 1918. at School of Aeronautics, Wantage Hall Field Camp, Reading, Berkshire[35-46] 16 June to 14 August 1918. at Royal Air Force, Spittlegate Aerodrome, Grantham, Lincolnshire[47 and 48] 19 and 22 August 1918. at School of Artillery & Infantry Co-operation, Worthy Downs, Winchester 5 September 1918. at Officers Club, Boulogne 9 September at No. 1 Pool Pilot's Range | R.A.F., | A.P.O. S35 | B.E.F. | France[51-59] 11 September to 2 November 1918. at No. 10 Squadron RAF, BEF, France 6 November 1918. at No. 14 General Hospital, BEF, France 3 December 1918 'back once more in the land of ruins & where I was when I left my squadron'[62-65] 5 December 1918 to 19 January 1919, returned to No. 10 Squadron, France, reporting on 14 January 1919  that he has been 'on a course of gunnery for 10 days' 27 January 1919, one of eight pilots transferred to No. 35 Squadron, BEF, France 11 February 1919. Queen's Hotel, Folkestone. 14 March 1919. at No. 8 IDS Netheravon, WiltshireF = letter addressed to father; M = letter addressed to mother; MF = letter addressed to both mother and fatherAPO = Army Post Office postmarkOAS = On Active Service (written by LR at head of envelope)ONE. 7 January 1918. Post Office Telegraph from Parliament Street. Postmark Woolwich 7 January 1918. 'TO Reader 19 Red Lion St | Woolwich SE18 | Medically examined passed A.1 all clear for cadet school | Cheerio | Leslie'.TWO. [7 February 1918.] No. 1 RFC Cadet Wing, St Leonards on Sea. ACS. MF. 'Dear Ma & Pa, | Was sent from Farnborough to above on Wednesday. Had no time for anything private. Good food. All kit provided - equipped to-day (Thurs). Letter follows immediately. Cannot yet state my address. | Yours lovingly, | Les.' Postmark Hastings 7 February 1918.THREE. 7 February 1918. 'D. Flight, No. 1 Cadet Wing. | R.F.C., | St. Leonards-on-Sea.' 7pp., 4to. MF. The letter begins: 'Dear Mother & Father. | My experiences during the last two days have been distinctly varied to the last degree. As you will see above I am not at Farnborough but on the South Coast. I caught the 11.20 from Waterloo, as Dad will have told you & arrived at Brookwood about 12.40. At this station I met several, about 10, other fellows all bound for Deepcut & we were about to find the proper place to entrain when we were met by an officer who ordered us here. Given a warrant we therefore caught the next train back to Waterloo. We got there again about 3 o'clock & caught the tube to Victoria thence entrained for St. Leonards and arrived here just as it was dark. [...] We were first taken to a large house formerly a hotel & given an empty room at the top, facing the sea. Here we were issued with two small trestles about 4 inches high, three boards & four blankets. Sleeping on wood, I can assure you is not very comfortable but I shall get used to it. By this time dinner was ready so we marched to the cook house which consists of the first floor of this hotel. Dinner is served at 7 p.m. & we found places laid at table for us. For dinner we had plenty of lovely stew with great chunks of meat & vegetables followed by prunes & custard. After this we marched to a lecture hall & listened to a Sergt talking about military law and discipline. We marched back to our billets about 10 o'clock & went to bed.' The letter continues in the same vein, and includes a description of the issuing of his uniform and kit: 'Kit bag, containing knife, spoon, fork, razor, shaving brush, 5 brushes (boots, clothes, hair etc) tooth brush, button stick, blacking, lanyard, knife, housewife, holdall. Now as to clothes. - 2 pairs heavy army boots (about three sizes too large) 3 pairs socks (also too large) two pairs pants, 2 pairs trousers, 3 shirts, 1 pair braces, two tunics (one double breasted flying tunic, one service tunic), woollen cardigan, cap, & greatcoat. Just imagine the weight of the boots & greatcoat alone, then add the other things & you will have an idea how we were gasping and panting up the hill.' The letter also includes a list of meal times, with a description of the food; and a description of a visit to the medical officer ('Three fellows fainted but I was quite alright.'). Second of three postscripts: 'Excuse writing as we have no tables & chairs.' Envelope: RFC; postmark Hastings 8 February 1918. Numbered 1.FOUR. [11 February 1918.] 'D. Flight, No. 5 Squadron, | No. 1 Cadet Wing.' On letterhead of No. 1 R.F.C. Cadet Wing, | St. Leonards-on-Sea'. 3pp., 4to. M. 'To-day, now my fifth in the Army, has added considerably to my kit & I must send my ordinary clothes home to-morrow or very soon after. I have now received a Service rifle & bayonet, two belts, haversack & other general equipment. We also received about 8 books of fearful size & small print concerning such subjects as Military Law, King's Regulations, Field Service Rules, Map Reading, Infantry Drill & Engineering. [...] I am absolutely dreading the Air Board Test - the eye test is exceedingly stiff - to say nothing of all the nerve tests. Last week only 17 cadets passed out of 130. I'm afraid there's not much hope for me, & then I shall be thrown into the Training Reserve Battalion. [...] One Sergt. is a decent chap & we are [sic] like him but the Sergt Major is a beast. | This morning we marched behind the band to the hills where we were inspected by a big staff officer from the War Office. | We have had to change our quarters to another room & they [sic] are now 7 of us in the same room. We fight & row all day long but I rather enjoy it. [...] To-morrow I am Billet Orderly whose job is to light fires, clean windows & sweep floors.' Envelope: RFC; postmark Hastings 12 February 1918. Numbered 2.FIVE. 12 February 1918. 'No. 117953 Cadet L. Reader, | D. Flight, No. 5 Squadron, | 51 West Hill.' On letterhead of No. 1 R.F.C. Cadet Wing, St. Leonards-on-Sea.' 3pp., 4to. F. 'This morning we had kit inspection & two hours physical drill followed by a lecture. Arrangements are being made for games to-morrow. | We have just been informed by the officer that every cadet must pay 6d a week for damages & ¼ per month for hire of furniture in clubs. We have had to buy several things for equipment & already I have spent over 15/- on things such as gas mantles, candles, stationry, [sic] cane, ink & cleaning materials. I hope this won't go on. | This morning about 100 cadets went to London for the Air Board medical. I shall go shortly I expect. The food is still good - to-day we had roast beef, potatoes & greens followed by pineapple & custard. | I am billet orderly to-day - that is I am in charge of the billet & am responsible for the order & tidiness of the house. My first duty was to get a pail of cocoa & a tin of biscuits at 6 a.m. to be distributed to the fellows before parading at 7 a.m. I then had to sweep all the rooms, landings & stairs & clean the bath room as well as light the fire in the reading room. | The weather is much brighter now & I am enjoying the life. I shall be upset if I have to leave. I am feeling fit & have now got over the inoculation. Yesterday I had to get my hair cut & buy things like a soap box, matches.' Envelope: RFC; postmark Hastings 13 February 1918.SIX. [14 February 1918?] On letterhead of 'No. 1 R.F.C. Cadet Wing, | St. Leonards-on-Sea.' 5pp., 4to. MF. 'By the way, we were paid to-day. It was rather annoying to me. The Squadron of about 200 men is paid by the Captain in alphabetical order & as R is a long way down on the list I had to wait nearly an hour in the cold & then received 10/- for which I had to salute twice.' He describes the food they have had that day: 'Tea & Shortcakes 6 a.m. | Breakfast 8.15. Porridge (Two soup plates) Liver & Bacon Dripping & marmalade, Tea etc. | Lunch 1.0 pm. Three sausages, Greens, potatoes Blanc-mange & rice. | Tea. Jam, Marmalade, Cake, Bread Butter, Tea. | Dinner. Soup, Cold meat, Cheese, & pickles.' Envelope: RFC; postmark Hastings 16 February 1918. Numbered 3.SEVEN. 17 February 1918. St Leonards-on-Sea. 3pp., 4to. MF. 'I do not know how much longer I shall be here. You see the Air Board is next week very likely on Tuesday & if I fail I may be sent to the Infantry the next day. [...] it is, I have heard, the stiffest medical examination in England - on Friday one hundred and eleven went up and only eight passed. The rest were sent to join the Middlesex Regt. the next day. If I am thrown out I shall use every endeavour to join the H.A.C., though I believe we must join whatever they send us to. [...] This morning, being Sunday, we went to Church & were marched there in grand style - the band at the head. There were nearly two thousand of us & we looked fine. [...] By the way I have not told you about our officers. They are fine fellows. All have been wounded and nearly all have won decorations. Our Squadron Commander has the D.S.O. & the M.C.' Envelope: RFC; postmark Hastings 18 February 1918. Numbered 5.EIGHT. 22 February 1918. St Leonards-on-Sea. 1p., 4to. M. 'By the way on Wednesday I played football & strained my knee so that I could not drill yesterday. Consequently I had a day's rest & wrote my letters. To-day however it is much better & I was able to go swimming. To-morrow I am playing hocky [sic] for the Squadron.' Envelope: RFC; postmark Hastings 22 February 1918. Numbered 7.NINE. 24 February 1918. St Leonards-on-Sea. 5pp., 4to. MF. '[...] to-morrow we start the second of our 8 weeks at St. Leonards with a series of lectures. We are supposed to have completed our squad drill without & with arms although some fellows want another six weeks to make them smart. Several have been reported for slackness but although drilling for 5 hours a day makes you fearfully tired I have stuck it & come through alright. | Yesterday I played hockey for the Wing & although we lost by 3 to 1 I again excelled & scored the only goal. [...] I believe I shall be selected to play for the Wing in future matches. This is a great honour as there are over 1000 fellows in a Wing & to be one of eleven out of 1000 A.1. men is quite good.' He describes the 'difference between drill & physical training'. 'As there is no large parade ground (you see we are billeted in private houses & not barracks) we do all this in the street & sometimes have a crowd looking on.' He is writing from 'Club' and describes his surroundings. After discussing his financial position he concludes: 'Well the fellows are getting up a set for cards so will wind up now'. Envelope: illegible postmark. Numbered 8.TEN [enclosing SIXTY-NINE]. 2 March . St Leonards-on-Sea. 4pp., 4to. MF. 'We have started map-reading & the work I did at home before coming here has proved itself very useful. We are now undergoing a course in signalling & have started on the Morse Code, & transmitting with an electric buzzer.' Envelope: RFC; postmark Hastings 3 March 1918. Numbered 9. Enclosing SIXTY-NINE, a letter to LR from 'Len': 1p., 8vo. From Frith Hill, Blackdown, Surrey and on RFC letterhead. 28 February 1918. 'I am just writing to tell you that I have failed to pass the Air Board owing to excessive blood pressure.'ELEVEN. [6 March 1918?] 1p., 4to. Incomplete: the last of 4pp., signed, with lower strip torn from foot of preceding page. M. '[...] our work is still the lecture type & we have now started "The Theory of Aerial Navigation" I am sorry to say we are forbidden to say or write anything about this. It seems so ridiculous to learn all this when we may fail the Air Board.' Envelope: RFC; postmark Hastings, 7 March 1918. In envelope with next. Numbered 10.TWELVE. [6 March 1918.] Hastings. 1p., 4to. F. In envelope with last.THIRTEEN. [8 March 1918?] St Leonards-on-Sea. 3pp., 4to. MF. 'It has just gone eleven & I have just come off guard. Yesterday about 60 names were read out for examination at the Air Board on Saturday. They were in alphabetical order & they stopped at "R" but my name was not included. Some time later, about 7 a.m. this morning I was selected for the Wing Guard & consequently was sentry outside the Orderly room on the front. I have two hours "on" & four "off". [...] In the day time it is not bad for there is always somebody to see or salute but after dark it is not so grand. You have to be very much awake, ready to challenge anybody who approaches & turn the guard out if necessary. [...] We are turned out once by day & once by night by the Orderly Officer & makes a very keen inspection. We expect to be turned out at one this morning. We also have two prisoners for whom we are responsible. They must not leave the guard room except under escort & have to be kept under lock & key.' Envelope: RFC; postmark 9 March 1918. Numbered 11 in ink (see next).FOURTEEN. 14 March 1918. St Leonards-on-Sea. 5pp., 4to. MF. Envelope: postmark Hastings 15 March 1918. 'We have now been here over 1 month - half of our course at St. Leonards & on Saturday we are to sit for the hafl course exam which we must pass or be put back into another squad.' Numbered 11 in pencil (see last).FIFTEEN. 17 March . St Leonards-on-Sea. 4pp., 4to. F. 'I might say on Saturday I passed out of 82. On Friday we were examined by the Medical Officer for measles & 3 fellows were picked out for weak hears. I was one. So you see what with my eyes & weak heart I don't stand an earthly chance.' Envelope: RFC; postmark Hastings 18 March 1918. Numbered 13.SIXTEEN. 21 March 1918. St Leonards-on-Sea. 1p., 4to. M. 'I did not leave the Air Board until 6.30 & we had to parade at Charing Cross at 7.15. [...] The fellows who failed, & there were a great many of them, left to join the Middlesex Regt at Salisbury Plain to-day - I did feel sorry for them. | Of course I shall soon get my "joy rags" now but as the uniform has been changed it may take some time.' Envelope: RFC; postmark Hastings 21 March 1918. Numbered 14.SEVENTEEN. 24 March . 'No. 117953 Cadet L. Reader, | D. Flight No. 5 Squadron, | No. 1 R.F.C. Cadet Wing. | Hastings' 3pp., 4to. MF. 'Of course you know all about the Air Board. My glasses arrived yesterday & I had to go before the M.O. again. Of course the Army glasses sent to me were of an ugly & fearfully large pattern with round glasses & steel rims which fit round the ears. They are only to be used for flying & the M.O. said I must have a pair of rimless which must be worn frequently. Consequently he recommended an optician in Hastings & I am having them copied. [...] All the fellows who were turned down by the Air Board on Tuesday left here to join the Devons at Salisbury Plains yesterday. I felt quite sorry for them. [...] Just had bad news. A fellow in our billet has caught measles & we are to be isolated for 3 weeks under canvas. Groans! This will, if it comes off, put us behind in our course.' Envelope: RFC; postmark Hastings 24 March 1918.EIGHTEEN. [31 March 1918.] 'Hospital | 33 Church Road or | No. 9 De Champ Road | Hastings.' MF. 'I am not in a proper hospital but a converted empty house. Measles has got such a grip on the whole of the Brigade that they are all to go under canvas. [...] Only 13 out of 80 passed the Air Board last Tuesday week.' 2pp., 4to. MF. Envelope: RFC; postmark Hastings 1 April 1918.NINETEEN. 2 April . 'No. 1 R.A.F. Cadet Wing, | Hastings.' 1p., 4to. F. 'Pleased to tell you am back with the Squadron again being discharged from hospital yesterday afternoon [...] You will notice slight change in address. As you know we are now Royal Air Force.' Envelope: postmark Hastings 2 April 1918.TWENTY. [4 April 1918?] Thursday. No. 1 RAF Cadet Wing, Hastings. 1p., 4to. M. 'I believe you are all making too much of me at home & after all I am only a cadet. Anybody would think I am a full blown officer pilot the way you write & tell me about everybody's congrats. & wishes. It seems to me that unless I work exceedingly hard I shall have to be careful or I shall fail in the final exam which I hear is to take place next Wednesday week. If we pass we go to Oxford or Denham. If we fail we go to Infantry.' Envelope: RFC; postmark Hastings, 5 April 1918.TWENTY-ONE. [7 April 1918.] Sunday. No. 1 RAF Cadet Wing Hastings. 2pp., 4to. MF. '[...] my final examination here is to take place to-morrow (Monday). In the ordinary course of events it would be in about 3-4 weeks time but owing to the Big German Offensive we are to be rushed through our course. There is only one other fellow besides me going in for the exam from our flight of 60 cadets. This is because we two were best in the half course exam.' Envelope: RFC; postmark Hastings, 7 April 1918.TWENTY-TWO [enclosing SEVENTY]. [11 April 1918?] Thursday. Hastings. 2pp., 4to. MF. 'I am leaving here any day now either for Oxford, Denham, or Bristol. [...] As you will see by the enclosed I again applied for leave but was again refused. [...] I have got my glasses & they suit me very well. I have also bought a pair of breeches from a cadet. They are made by Burberry's & cost 4 guineas. I am giving him 30/- for them. All the fellows in my room have bought their joy rags from Burberry's on credit until they get their commissions running up a bill of about £20. A tunic costs £7 & a British Warm £9 - 10. So you see the folly. I have bought nothing I have not paid for except the breeches.' Envelope: postmark Hastings, 11 April 1918. Enclosing SEVENTY: ALS of 8 April 1918 from 'Cadet L. Reader No. 117953. D. Flight' to 'O.C. No. 5 Squadron, No. 1 Cadet Wing R.A.F.' 1p., 4to. Requesting 'leave to visit London [...] for the purpose of settling private affairs (Insurance & Banking)'. Denied, in large letters in red pencil across the letter: 'This leave cannot be granted as you are
to leave any day now | C. & P. &c'.TWENTY-THREE. [12 April 1913?] Friday. School of Aeronautics, Wantage Hall Field Camp, Reading, Berkshire. 5pp., 16mo. MF. 'The above is my new address. [...] Well I passed in my final exam at Hastings & only two fellows from our Flight including myself were sent away to-day. We arrived here at 4 p.m. & are under canvas. It is rather hard & crowded but we expect to have a fine time. Everything is clean & tidy. Every four cadets have 1 servant between them & unfortunately this means more expense. We have to pay 1/6 a week for this privilege. [...] I am pleased to say I have kept one fellow with me all through up till now but he is not in the same tent. The work here will be fearfully hard for me for it concerns everything about the engines & rigging of aircraft. [...] We rise at 5 a.m. here & drill until 7. This is all the drill we have. The rest of the time is devoted to lectures & study up till 10.30 pm. Leave is not granted but I can obtain a pass on Saturday or Sunday up till 33.30 on Saturday & 10 p.m. on Sunday so want you & Dad to come here for a day.' Envelope: postmark Reading, 13 April 1918.TWENTY-FOUR. [14 April 1918?] Sunday. School of Aeronautics. 6pp., 16mo. MF. 'Now to let you know the principles of my new life. I say new life because everything is different to Hastings. Everything is distinctly harder both the living & the work. To begin with we are as you know under canvas & no beds. The only bedding we have is 4 blankets & into these I roll myself as best I can & lie on the tent boards - no such luxuries as mattress or pillow. However we do not require superfluous bedding as it only takes up room & reveille sounds at 5 a.m. We then wash & shave (in cold water) & have an hour's drill until 7 when we breakfast. Food is quite good & orderlies wait on us. After breakfast we have lectures until 8 p.m. between 8 & 9 we study & copy up notes then to bed. Lights out is 10.15.' The work 'consists of wireless signalling, machine guns, engines & the rigging of aeroplanes. These are all exceedingly interesting subjects especially rigging when we go to the hangars & pull aeroplanes to pieces & put them together again. [...] There are 1200 officers here undergoing the same course & we mix & fraternise as one. We must always wear officers clothes but as mine have not been issued yet I am allowed to wear my ordinary R.F.C. tunic. As you will see by the address this is the School of Aeronautics & cadets are commissioned from here. Under the new system of the R.A.F. however I believe you must get your "Wings" before you get "pipped" but when you do, you become 1st. Lieut instead of 2nd. Lieut.' Envelope: postmark Reading, 14 April 1918.TWENTY-FIVE. [18 April 1918?] Thursday. Reading. 2pp., 4to. M. 'If I pass out of this school successfully I shall be graded as a "Flight Cadet" & receive 7/6 a day. The course here will last about 2 months so you see better days are coming. [...] there are 1200 officers at the school all undergoing the same course as myself. We mix together & drop all "sirring." In fact we are considered here as officers. By the way talking of courses, I am doing very well at Signalling & have passed a test for the Advanced Class. Unfortunately however I find other subjects such as machine guns, wireless & rigging, very difficult not understanding anything mechanical & up till now we have not touched engines.' Envelope: postmark Reading, 18 April 1918.TWENTY-SIX. 21 April . Sunday. School of Aeronautics. 3pp., 4to. F. 'About the financial position. Yes, the amount sent covered my debts & left a few shillings over which were expended in riotous living yesterday, i.e. high tea & cinema. About my own pay. You see as a Cadet I find I am not entitled to any separation allowance at all, the same as an officer. I do not even get a messing allowance as an ordinary Tommy does, but this will only be for a few weeks now. As soon as I leave this school I shall get 7/6 a day as a Flight Cadet.' Envelope: RFC; postmark Hastings 28 April 1918.TWENTY-SEVEN. [28 April 1918?] Sunday. School of Aeronautics. 2pp., 4to. MF. 'I had a letter from Bell & found he was stationed near me in Reading at a place called Coley Park factory. Consequently I thought it worth while to look him up & obtained two hours leave to go there. Of course he was impressed to see me & I caused a sensation in the factory. It is a school of rigging for men & when trained they become riggers of aeroplanes. What a funny thing if he some day rigs my machine. The factory is full of R.F.C. men but no cadets & when I strolled round it was Sir this & Sir that. Unfortunately we are not allowed out with men unless they are officers or cadets so it will be difficult for us to go out together. [...] I might say that nearly all of my money here is spent on food. The food here is good but not nearly enough of it & complaints have been made. Consequently about 2/- a day is spent on bread & butter cocoa etc. & the charges are exhorbitant [sic] If you could get a few things from Aunt Zoe to send me I should be pleased. Will you send me another box of cigarettes as soon as you can. They are charging the new tax already here. I must economise.' Envelope (marked 'Private'): RFC; postmark 28 April 1918.TWENTY-EIGHT. 2 May . School of Aeronautics. 3pp., 4to. MF. Of his examinations he writes: 'my preliminary is coming off next Tuesday. It is more important than I thought at first & decides what course you will be put on or whether you will start over again. A good many do not pass. Well, the work here is still hard & tiring - reviellè [sic] here is at 5 a.m. now, & the lecture halls ½ an hours march away. We get no time at all & all leave has been stopped. [...] Did I tell you I had passed the exemption test in signalling? Also I have had "Phillips military rubber soles" fitted to my brown boots at a cost of 8/6 but they will never wear out.' Envelope: RFC; postmark 4 May 1918.TWENTY-NINE [enclosing SEVENTY-ONE and SEVENTY-TWO]. 5 May 1918. [Reading.] 2pp., 4to. MF. 'This is to tell you a little about our work here. You will see I have enclosed two cuttings [see below] which will interest you. The machine gun the King is looking at is the one I am working on at present. There are two Gun's [sic] to learn here - the Lewis & the Vickers. I have passed out on the Lewis & am now on the Vickers which fires 600 Rounds a minute. I went on the Range a few days ago & it was some sport firing real cartridge from a real live machine gun. The other slip shews good news & proves that if I get on well & work hard & unceasingly I may have a great future. A pound a day is worth getting isn't it - to say nothing of promotion etc. | I've just shared the sardines with the tent & chewed the remainder of the toffee - nothing else to do - pouring with rain. [...] Now one thing that is troubling me is my uniform. I am almost the only cadet in the camp without "joy rags." I was unfortunate in not getting them issued at Hastings as many did but the Govt. have now cancelled that order & we are told to get our own. Of course I can get them on "tick" but if I do this they charge heavily to cover the risk of fellows failing & not paying.' Envelope: RFC; postmark Reading, 7 May 1918. Enclosing two undated newspaper cuttings. The first, from the Daily Mirror, headed 'THE KING AT R.A.F. SCHOOL', with two photographs: 'Waacs of the school drawn up for inspection by the King' and 'Examining a machine gun designed for air work'; the second, from an unknown newspaper, of an article titled 'WANT TO BE A FLEDGLING? | How to Join the Flying Service.'THIRTY [enclosing SEVENTY-THREE]. 10 May . School of Aeronautics. 4pp., 4to. M. 'With regard to my exam held on Tuesday last the result is only partly known. The subjects were: - Rigging, Instruments, & Bombs, & up till now we have only heard about Instruments. I am pleased to say that in this subject I did exceptionally well passing out 5th. out of 200 officers and cadets, obtaining 81% with 1st man only 9% above. Instruments, in case you don't know include all the instruments used on an aeroplane such as, Altimeter, Air Speed Indicator, Compass, Rev. Indicator, Inclinometer, Camera, Pressure Gauge etc | I am now on the 2nd of the three stages of our course here namely Engines & find that it is not so difficult as I anticipated. With this course our work is more interesting but unfortunately of longer duration. Do you known I have never worked so hard in all my life as I do now. We have lectures & study 15 hours every day now including Saturdays. We are a bit upset as we cannot get a late pass now, on this course & have only Sunday afternoons. From 5 a.m. until 10pm is too much & I feel absolutely head-achey & whacked at nights [...] Of course we are still under canvas but now quite enjoy it & do not want to go back to billets. True the bed is hard but I am used to it now [...] On Sundays we can play cricket or tennis & I make the most of it. | Now to come back to the old subject of uniform. I am enclosing a notice from a local tailor [...] How do you get on now about "Air Raids"? I seldom see the papers now & wonder if you still hear "Screaming Lissy" [sic] bellowing forth her warning in the night.' Envelope: RFC; postmark 11 May 1918. Enclosing SEVENTY-THREE, printed price list of Gordon-Simpson & Co (W. P. Simpson), Victoria Chambers, 32 Queen Victoria Street, Reading ('Makers of The "Gordon" Trench Coat.'). 4pp., 12mo. Bifolium. With four articles of clothing marked by LR.THIRTY-ONE. [22 May 1918?] Wednesday. Reading. 3pp., 4to. MF. 'Awfully pleased to hear you are safe after Sunday's raid. [...] On Tuesday as you know I sat for my exam on Aero Engines & the result was made known to-day. I have failed as expected but only just failed & have been put on extra instruction for a week but I am only one of many & have really done very well for a great many (including two in my tent) have failed completely & have been put back for another course. [...] food has changed - to-day we had greens for the first time & at breakfast we had bloaters which we could not eat. We therefore called for the messing officer & made him taste them. He promptly spat it out & declared that no more fish should be brought into the camp. This certainly is a lovely war.' He describes ordering his uniform, including a tunic 'from Burberry's at a cost of £7 - 7 - 0 - exhorbiant [sic] I know'. 'I have started on aerial navigation now - the most difficult part of our course.' Envelope: RFC; postmark Reading, 23 May 1918.THIRTY-TWO. 26 May . School of Aeronautics. 2pp., 4to. MF. Envelope: RFC; postmark 26 May 1918.THIRTY-THREE. 31 May . [Reading.] 2pp., 4to. MF. 'My final great Air Board exam has been put forward & is to take place on Monday. If I pass I expect to go to an aerodrome a few days later. Anyway I shall be glad to get away from Reading - the work is now worse than ever. We now have to work every night including Sundays until 9 p.m. & instead of early morning drill now have lectures at 6 a.m.' Envelope: RFC; postmark Reading, 1 June 1918.THIRTY-FOUR. 14 June . Reading. 2pp., 4to. MF. 'Arrived here safely 3.30, having met several friends at Paddington. Reported to Orderly Room & discovered our various destinations. Unfortunately I have been separated from Greig & the others & am going to a place called Hartlington [i.e. Harlaxton] or something like that in Lincoln about 200 miles from London. Greig is going to Newmarket & the others to Scotland. Of course some cadets are going with me but I do not know them very well. However I shall get on alright so don't worry. I think I shall start flying on a D.H.6 one of our safest machines.' Envelope: RFC; postmark Reading, 15 June 1918.THIRTY-FIVE. 16 June 1918. On letterhead of Royal Air Force, Spittlegate, Grantham. 6pp., 12mo. MF. 'As you will see by the address I have not gone to Harlaxton & I am glad for no place could be better than this. [...] No longer are we under canvas but in huts divided into cubicles, two men in each. These are fitted with electric lights, stove, chest of drawers, wash-stand & above all spring beds. My batman called me this morning at 8 o'clock with my boots beautifully polished & hot water for washing & shaving. Then I went to breakfast. Of course we mess with the officers & the mess itself is a most curious hall beautifully decorated & tables daintily laid with spotless clothes & silver plate. The food which is of the best is in plenty, beautifully cooked & served to us by W.A.A.C.'s who are more attentive than a hotel waiter. All wines & drinks are paid for at time of order so I shall have no difficulty in that direction. The mess bill, so I have heard is extremely moderate working out to something like 2/- a day or 6d. a meal. | Our recreation rooms are grand - luxuriously furnished with carpets, pictures, mirrors etc. & a grand piano. | Only 6 cadets, including myself, came here from Reading so you see we are gradually being split up or separated. Aeroplanes are in the sky everywhere & I expect to start flying to-morrow.' Envelope: RAC; postmark Grantham 17 June 1918.THIRTY-SIX. 17 June 1918. 'Flight Cadet L Reader | No. 50 Y.S. | R.A.F. | Spittlegate Aerodrome | Nr. Grantham | Lincoln.' 7pp., 4to. MF. 'I must write to you to describe my first flying experiences. Should anybody have told me that on my first flight I should loop the loop, stall, nose dive, spin, side slip, roll & do Imellman [sic] turns, I should have classed them as fools who were simply talking to put "wind up" me. But nevertheless all of these stunts did I (or rather the Instructor) perform on my first official sally into the air.' His instructor is 'Capt. Woodward, a crack airman who has done exceedingly good work at the front & has been decorated. He is young, about 25 I should say & is considered to be one of the finest instructors going. In addition to the rank of Capt. he acts as Flight Commander.' In the course of a long letter he describes 'the procedure & my feelings', beginning: 'I donned my flying kit & clambered into the pilots seat of an Armstrong Whitworth & secured the safety belt at 8.55 p.m. precisely. Then, underneath my helmet I attached a pair of 'phones to my ears so that Capt. Woodward could talk to me in the air. This being done he climbed in behind me & ordered the mechanics to start up the engine (a huge thing with a four bladed propeller). Having tested the engine & ascertained that I am alright he raises his arm - the mechanics pull away the chocks from under the wheels & we taxy across the 'drone. After making sure no other machine is taking off or landing in the vicinity he opens the throttle & we race across the grass with our nose to the wind. When sufficient speed is maintained & our tail well up, he pushes the joystick forward & we leave the ground as lightly as a feather. When ample flying speed is ensured the stick is pulled back gently & we begin to climb. Capt. Woodward then speaks to me asking if I am alright & I nod in reply. He then says he is going to do a right turn & suddenly the machine rears on her side almost vertically & you see the ground at right angles to the machine. Slowly she straightens out & we are flying level once more.' Envelope: RFC; postmark Grantham 19 June 1918.THIRTY-SEVEN. 20 June 1918. Spittlegate letterhead. 8pp., 12mo. MF. 'I am writing this in the Mess after the most perfect & most peace-time like of late dinners. I wish you all at home could get food like I get here - it would do your eyes good to look at it & the worry of food cards & ration tickets would be dispensed with. We have about four courses each meal & the way it is cooked, served up & rendered
is too good for words. | I know it sounds fearfully "piggish" to write about food but then after Reading it is too much of a shock to pass without comment. So please don't send any more food parcels - I only wish I could send some of the little delicacies we get to No. 19. It is more like dining at the Savoy than being in the Army. Stroll in at what time you like, order what you like & as much as you like; have it served quickly & daintily by the prettiest of WAACs, with a great display of silver cutlery & cut glass dishes. So much for the inner man. [...] unfortunately the town of Grantham is so far away & is of such little interest that no one ever goes there, so were [sic] lounge in the mess or our rooms, read or play billiards & pass time generally by having a good time. Of course there are only a few cadets here & we are treated exactly similarly to the officers. It is rather strange to be "sirred" by everybody & saluted wherever you go especially by Sergt Instructors, who were looked upon at Hastings with awe. We usually do about two hours flying a day in practically all weathers. I was up this afternoon in a heavy rain & gale of wind. But when we are not on early morning flying our batman does not call us until 8 a.m. & when he does he brings plenty of hot water & your boots beautifully polished. If you want anything during the day or at any time all you do is to yell "Orderly!" & like Aladdin the genii spring to do your bidding. Oh! isn't it fine to be an officer. [...] My flying is not all that it might be & I am a little disappointed but my instructor, Capt. Woodward, says I am normal so I am not worrying. I expect to go up on my first solo in a few days time but at present can only fly the machine in the air & turn to the left & right. My chief fault is that I put on too much "bank" (i.e. turn the machine over on its side) when turning & consequently side-slip inwards. However I am improving & will soon be O.K. At first I experienced a certain amount of "air sickness" but this has worn off now and flying does not affect me in the least now & I enjoy it immensely. | Taking off and landing is my next course & perhaps the most difficult thing to learn in elementary flying for it requires good judgment & a certain amount of skill to land a machine in a certain piece of ground without crashing. Crashes, I am sorry to say are fairly frequent.'THIRTY-EIGHT. 28 June . Spittlegate letterhead. 2pp., 12mo. M. 'Am not going solo for a few days yet. | The boots are fine & I am quite envied, also the tunic about which I am going into Grantham to-night.' Envelope: postmark Grantham 28 June 1918.THIRTY-NINE. 30 June . Spittlegate letterhead. 4pp., 12mo. MF. 'Dear Mother & Father, | You can breathe again. My first solos are over & very good ones they were too. On Saturday evening I went up with Capt. Woodward & made several good landings. He then asked me if I felt confident enough to go up solo. I knew he expected me to, so up I went. Never have I enjoyed a flight so much as my first solo. Once off the ground it was great, circling over the town, then chasing a train, now diving on certain objects with no instructor to curse you if mistakes are made. The only thing I was windy about was my engine "conking out" but she ran beautifully. After being in the air 50 minutes I decided to come down & although the landing was not exactly "posh" I didn't break anything & the Capt. was quite pleased. I was the first of the six cadets to go up solo. | This morning I went up for another hour & made several landings. The air was very bumpy this morning & I had to keep a good look out for other machines. [...] To-morrow I'm going to fly by compass & map & go to the Wash. I expect to be up for two hours. | I'm what you might call "some pilot" n'est ce pas?'FORTY. 6 July 1918. Spittlegate letterhead ('Officer's Mess.'). 2pp., 12mo. MF. 'This morning did two hours flying in clouds & to prove how stable an aeroplane is I took my hands & feet off the controls & she actually flew herself for 15 minutes.'FORTY-ONE. 14 July . Spittlegate letterhead ('Officers Mess'). 4pp., 12mo. MF. 'I am quite a fair pilot & can perform most of aerial stunts known as "aerobatics". I took Capt. Woodward for a joy ride yesterday evening & he was quite pleased with the way I threw the machine about. I went on my height test this morning i.e. climbed to 8,000 ft. then shut off my engine & glided into the aerodrome without switching on again. Of course, it was luck more than anything else but I got in beautifully & made a posh landing. I expect to be shortly sent onto another machine of a more powerful type but will have several hours more dual on it before going solo. On Wednesday evening a storm suddenly came on me when I was some way from the 'drome. I managed to beat the wind & rain but when I got back every other machine was landing or had just landed & the 'drome was too crowded to make a safe landing. Consequently I made another circuit & then had another try. The wind by this time had developed into a gale & it was all I could do to keep a level keel. Three machines landed with me & one, caught by a sudden gust just as she touched the ground, turned completely over & stuck her nose into the ground. I nearly shared the same fate. In fact I did make a huge rent in the wing & demolished two wires & struts but I'm still here & am gaining more & more confidence every day.'FORTY-TWO. 21 July . Spittlegate letterhead. 2pp., 12mo. M. 'My flying is improving rapidly & I can now throw the old 'bus all over the shop [...] I've got an aerial navigation exam in the morning'. Envelope: RFC; postmark 21 July 1918.FORTY-THREE. 27 July . Spittlegate letterhead. 2pp., 12mo. MF. 'I have done my first solo on the more powerful machine & everything is O.K & promising. There is a rumour, & a very substantial one too, that 50 Squadron are going to Scotland shortly but nothing definite has been made known. | I went to the Camp cinema last night. It was quite good & promises many an evenings enjoyment.' Envelope: RFC; postmark 28 July 1918.FORTY-FOUR. 4 August . Spittlegate letterhead. 4pp., 12mo. F. 'On Thursday I was flying a large Armstrong Whitworth on a reconnaissance, & when near Oakham my engine suddenly conked out & the result was a nasty smash. Luckily I escaped with nothing more than a shaking but the machine was hopelessly done in & practically beyond repair. Fortunately for me I fell into good hands for the crash was just near the country residence of Lady Londonderry, & before I knew where I was I was hauled off to tea by Lady Moreen Stuart & her daughters. Her two boys home from Eton, were also there & I had the time of my life. After getting a guard for the machine & generally arranging for its removal I returned to Springfield for dinner. The smash happened about 4.30pm. & I spent two days in Oakham [...] I am now on the Sick List [...] The only drawback was the expense & it was lucky I had money with me. I could not impose on Lady Londonderry too much & so what with food, lodging & railway fares back & tips for the specials on guard I was pretty well cleared out. However I am not grumbling in the least for after all said & done I am lucky not to be injured or even killed. There will be a Board of Enquiry soon & I shall be cursed & reprimanded just as though it was my fault. [...] If all goes well I shall get my "pip" in about three weeks time, when I shall be sent to Winchester. I am now in the Specialist Section & do nothing but solo work & work which is not simply flying but such things as aerial photography, bomb dropping, working artillery shoots by wireless, & aerial gunnery. I am getting quite important.' Envelope: RFC; postmark 4 August 1918.FORTY-FIVE. 9 August 1918. Spittlegate letterhead. 4pp., 12mo. MF. 'Everything O.K. The Court of Enquiry was nothing very alarming & I don't suppose I shall hear any more about it. | We are going to Scotland next Thursday to a place called Craill on the Firth of Forth & it is rumoured that we are to fly a different type of machine. If this is so it means another course of about six weeks. However the only thing to do is to wait & see. A Cadet who came to Spittlegate exactly a week before me has got his commission & his wings. He has gone on draft leave to-day. | Yesterday I was transferred to the gunnery flight of the Specialist Section & went up with an instructor who had a fight with another machine our guns being loaded with films which take photographs instead of firing bullets. You can therefore see, when the films are developped, [sic] how many hits you obtained. This morning I went on real aerial gunnery firing a Vickers machine gun on ground targets. Its fearfully thrilling but it wants doing to pilot your machine & look after your gun as well. | I'm Station Orderly Officer to-day & have to mount the guard, inspect the men's rations etc. | On the whole I shall be very sorry to leave this 'drone for I'm afraid things have been made far too easy for us & I hear we are to go under canvas again. If however we still keep our old machines I shall not be there long & it will be nice to see Scotland.' Envelope: RFC; postmark Grantham 10 August 1918.FORTY-SIX. 14 August . Spittlegate letterhead. 2pp., 12mo. MF. 'Am not going to Scotland after all. I am the only one of the six who came here with me not going. I shall go to Winchester as I originally thought & shall be home on 4 days leave within a few days. I have finished my course here & have now graduated "B" & am now 2nd. Lieut., R.A.F.' Envelope: RFC; postmark Grantham 14 August 1918.FORTY-SEVEN. [19 August 1918?] Monday. '2nd Lieut L Reader. | Officers Mess. R.A.F. | School of Artillery & Infantry Co-operation | Worthy Downs | Winchester'. 2pp., 4to. MF. 'I arrived here safely about 2 p.m. Its a beastly hole, under canvas & 8 miles from Winchester, the nearest town. Reveille 5.30 & lectures all day again. It's as bad as Reading! Mess bill to be paid in advance, too. I'm sleeping on boards & am borrowing another officers camp kit, washstand etc. [...] I shall be paid as a Flt Cdt until my commission appears in the London Gazette.' Envelope: RAF; postmark Winchester 20 August 1918.FORTY-EIGHT. [22 August 1918?] Thursday. Winchester. 2pp., 4to. MF. 'Dear Mum & Dad, | Thanks for your letters & cigarettes. I haven't had time to reply before. Things here have not improved much but I shall be gone in another week. Before I go I have to report to the Air Ministry. [...] My name will be in the London Gazette soon, very likely next Saturday so if you get the Times you may see it! A draft went away to-day without leave & without finishing the course. [...] The draft going to-day (all A. W. pilots) think they are going to Italy. Wont it be fine if I go there?' Envelope: RFC; illegible postmark.FORTY-NINE. 5 September . 'Officers Club. | Boulogne'. 3pp., 16mo. MF. 'Had a fine trip over & when disembarked found we could stay here until 3 pm. to-day! We consequently put up at hotel (this club being full) & since then have been enjoying ourselves immensely. [...] Boulogne is quite a nice place, plenty of khaki, in fact it seems like England. I have no orders yet but expect to go away from here this afternoon.' Envelope: OAS; APO postmark 6 September 1918. Censor No.
16.FIFTY. 9 September . 'No. 1 Pool Pilot's Range | R.A.F., | A.P.O. S35 | B.E.F. | France.' 2pp., 16mo. MF. 'Late last night we arrived at our destination & were duly allotted tents & quarters. Until this morning we thought this place pretty bad, but everything is all O.K. & am quite content to stay here for many weeks to come. Most of the fellows here are from Grantham & have been over the lines. [...] Every day we can bathe in a river which flows near the camp & we can also play football & cricket. Soon I shall be posted to a Squadron & will proceed to the line, it may be in a fortnight's time - it may be to-morrow.'FIFTY-ONE. [11 September 1918?] Wednesday. No. 10 Squadron RAF BEF France. 1p., 4to. MF. 'Arrived at my squadron yesterday afternoon & no sooner did I see the aerodrome than I knew I should have a good time. Everything here is absolutely topping, the fellows are great & quarters good. We are in huts & I have met a fellow I knew at Spittlegate. We are well behind the lines & casualties are practically unknown. I am taking the place of an officer who is going to England to instruct. Leave is very regular - we get 14 days after each 4 months & in fact everything is just what one could wish. We can hear the guns all day but I shall get used to it just as you do at Woolwich. Unfortunately the whole squadron is leaving here next week - we are moving up on account of the advance. I shall go up with an observer to-morrow who will shew me the line & give me a few tips. Then I shall have my own observer & carry on with the rest.' Envelope: OAS; APO postmark 12 September 1918; Censor No. 242.FIFTY-TWO. 17 September 1918. 10 Squadron RAF BEF France. 5pp., 8vo. MF. 'The weather has cleared up & a lot of work has been done by our Squadron who were congratulated by the General yesterday. At night, air raids are quite common but I am used to them with all my London experience. We watched them bombing Dunkerque & Calais on Monday. We brought down a Bosche yesterday who crashed near our Aerodrome. He was quite dead & was buried near by. Yesterday the sky was black with the Huns "Archie" but he does not attack us by aeroplane unless he is far superior in numbers. I have been flying over the lines with an old observer just as I told you I would & am now getting used to the new landmarks & I know where it is dangerous &c. We saw two Bosche machines yesterday but they did not try to attack us & I left them severely alone. When we are fired at by "Archie" as we always are, I have to do vertical turns & try & dodge the shells. I have repeatedly told you not to worry so it is useless to keep telling you, but I can assure you I take no needless risks for I have a great responsibility - i.e. the lives of my observer & my machine. If anything happened to my observer through my carelessness I should never forgive myself.' The letter ends: 'Hallo here's Fritz coming over - I can here [sic] our "Archie". I must go out & see the fun - you remember I couldn't stay indoors at home when we had raids. | We sometimes go on bombing so I ought to have a chance to get a bit of my own back.' Envelope: APO postmark 18 September 1918. Censor No. 242.FIFTY-THREE. 21 September 1918. 10 Squadron RAF BEF France. 5pp., 8vo. F. 'Dear Old Dad, | I don't want to put wind up up [sic] or to frighten you in any way but you nearly lost your only soon yesterday. I will tell you about it. | The weather was dud during greater part of the day but it cleared up about 5 & I had to go on patrol at 6. First of all my engine wasn't running well but I took off & got over the lines about 6.20. We careered up and down the lines making observation & using our wireless & as far as Archie was concerned everything was fairly quiet. Well, it began to get dark & as we always have two bombs with us I decided to make a dash over, let them go & return home. We were about 6000 ft at the time with a strong wind blowing us right over Hunland. Just above us was a thin film of cloud. | We got over the Bosche line only too quickly & I'd just dropped my bombs & turned round to get back when "Archie" started. Shells burst all round us but that was not all. The firing suddenly stopped & out of the clouds 7 Fokkers came at us firing all the time. I only saw two at first & these dived straight at me nose on like this [drawing of three planes] Then they opened fire. I realised in the umpteenth part of a second if I dived steeply they would overshoot us which they did & their bullets when [sic] over us like this [drawing of three planes] Pulling her out of the dive (whereby I'd nearly thrown my observer out) I looked over my shoulder & saw five Huns diving on my tail. | Just realize the position. Here was I about 4 miles over Hunland, battling against a strong wind, fighting 7 Bosche scouts who were much smaller & faster than our old slow two seater. We were absolutely "cold meat" & they knew it. The wind was my greatest trouble, I could not get back over our lines, & they could do 100 mph faster than we. They then dived on our tail one after the other firing continual bursts. Bullets zipped & ripped out canvas & I was terrified lest my observer should be hit. But he got his gun going & blazed away at them regardless of his own danger. I could see the bullets going in a stream past my head with a little green flame. The dirty skunks used explosive bullets. I then did a collossal [sic] side slip to the left making for our lines all the time but we still were a long way from home & the Hun still persisted. One fellow came straight for us from behind, diving at about 200 mph, firing like fury. I thought he was going to ram us but when only about 30 ft away zoomed up & over us. Then my pal got in a lovely burst & he went down in a nose dive below us. We dont know what happened to him but we didn't see him again & this morning I am trying to find out if he crashed. My only chance was side-slipping & diving & so great was my speed (about 170 mph) that I expected my wings to fall off under the strain. | The whole thing lasted about 10 minutes & we shook them over no mans land. The dirty funks wouldn't follow us any farther otherwise we should have been absolutely shot to pieces. As it was, my tail had about 30 bullets through it & was almost shot away. It was now quite dark & my engine was conking. The petrol tanks under my seat were hit & I had to come home on the Emergency. To make things worse I lost my way & had to fire very light which were answered by our 'drone & I made a good landing. My observer had his glove ripped open by a bullet but otherwise we were both unhurt. I went to look at the bus this morning & it was worse than I thought there were 59 bullet holes in various parts of the machine. What a lucky escape we had. | It only goes to show what a dirty lot the Huns are. They won't attack us unless we are over their lines & they are in greatly superior numbers. Even when they had us cold they turned & ran as soon as our Archie got them over No Man's Land. One against 7 what do you think of that & a much larger & much
artillery | Well, thats about all & please do not let mother know unless you think it would not upset her.'FIFTY-FOUR. 23 September 1918. No. 10 Squadron RAF BEF France. 2pp., 12mo. M. 'We have gone to our new aerodrome which is quite decent & have soon settled down again. Unfortunately it is much nearer the line & we are shelled by day & bombed by night. Last night I had wind up badly but have only to think that the Infantry get it every hour, so why should I worry? [...] At the present moment, everything is quiet but plenty of flying. The Hun machines have been very active lately & I have heard that congratulations had been sent through from the front line to the man who put up a plucky fight against 7 Fokkers. The scrap was apparently witnessed from the trenches. | I have got one of the bullets out of my machine as a souvenir. The bus was so much damaged that she had to be sent to the base to be repaired.'FIFTY-FIVE. 30 September [1918.] 10 Squadron, BEF France. 1p., 8vo. MF. 'I had a letter from Dad last Friday but he does not, by the way he writes, seem to have had my letter which is perhaps the most exciting I have written. I wonder if the Censor stopped it. But then we censor our won letters, as officers. | I was orderly officer a few days ago & had the beastly job of censoring all the mens' letters home.' Envelope: OAS; APO postmark 1 October 1918; Censor No. 242.FIFTY-SIX. 5 October 1918. 'France Saturday'. 2pp., 8vo. M. 'Things are going well out here, but unfortunately the Hun is taking stringent measures with our aircraft & I am sorry to say we have suffered casualties. I have had another lucky escape my machine being hit by machine gun fire from the ground when on contact patrol. You see it is up to us to find out if certain trenches are occupied by the Bosche & of course to do this we have to fly very low & he takes advantage by putting as many bullets into us as possible. In air fighting the average Hun is a coward & he will never attack unless in greatly superior numbers. | Yesterday one of our poor old 'buses was attacked by eleven Fokker scouts but he managed to get away & to-day one was, worse luck, shot down fighting at the odds of 16 to 1 - It seems hard to realize these odds but they are true. | I saw one solitary Hun yesterday but he left me severely alone & well he might for after my scrape with seven I consider myself a match for one.' Envelope: OAS; APO postmark 6 October 1918; Censor No. 242.FIFTY-SEVEN. 12 October . 10 Squadron, France. 4pp., 8vo. M. 'Owing to the push it is quite likely that we shall have to change our quarters again - its such a nuisance just as we get settled but of course we have to follow up the Infantry. [...] It seems strange when we are flying on the line to think that if we fly over that farmhouse or this road we shall get shelled for it is extremely difficult to actually see the Hun but I was lucky enough the other day to spot movement in a dilapidated house. Taking courage in both hands I dived to within 500 ft of it & emptied 150 rounds into it. As a result I got "shot up" but only slightly & nobody was hurt with the exception of the canvas in one of my wings. | My flight commander, Capt Chapman has been awarded the D.F.C. for general good work, & he deserves it too. He has done things too numerous to mention but when I get round the fireside of No 19 won't I be able to spin some yarns. | Did I tell you about my photographic stunt. Well there was nothing much in it except that we had to go over the line & take photos of certain Boche trenches. The first expedition was a failure owing to 12 Fokkers appearing & interrupting the programme. There were only two of us & I was lucky, two attacked me & 10 went for the other machine, but we both got back safely. Consequently we had to go again next day & this time we were lucky. Some of our scouts came along & escorted us& with the exception of umpteen "Archies" the trip was uneventful & I myself secured 75% of the photographs required. One "Archie" burst a bit too close to be pleasant however & the concussion nearly turned the old 'bus over & all but threw my observer out. | Yesterday was a day of joy & sorrow for me - for in the early morning I was detailed to take up a new machine & test it. This I did & found her to be top hole in every way. Imagine my joyful surprise when my flight commander told me I could have her all for my very own & nobody to fly her but me. This means a lot for a pilot out here because he can have any alterations made he likes & has no fear of anybody interfering with it in any way. Imagine my feelings however when a few hours later some idiot takes off across wind & crashes into it breaking both machines hopelessly & nearly his neck. It might be weeks now before I get another. Oh well the war is nearly over'. Envelope: OAS; APO postmark 14 October 1918; Censor No. 242.FIFTY-EIGHT. 23 October . No. 10 Squadron RAF BEF France. 3pp., 8vo. MF. 'Sorry I haven't written but we have had another move - in fact over 20 miles in advance from our last 'drone so you can tell that the tide is now turned. This time last week our new 'drone was in the hands of the Huns but they burnt down their hangars & mined the ground. However its in working order now & we are getting settled down again. | We are now billetted in what were once private houses & I and my observer have a house to ourselves. The roof of course is about half gone but the ground floor is quite decent. We have two ripping rooms & a bed room & a drawing room beautifully furnished. [...] The town we are now in is quite near the 'drone & is so far behind the old Hun lines that it is practically undamaged although there are very few civilians left. Consequently the houses still contain a certain amount of furniture. After an hour or two's work & rummaging we he have managed to find marble topped washstands, old mahogany dressing table, two large plate glass mirrors, carpets, pictures, arm chairs, piano, oil lamps, curtains, settees & the like, so you can imagine we are quite at home - in fact as I write this a beautiful old grandfather clock is ticking merrily - a glorious log fire is burning brightly, pictures decorate the walls & everything is quite homelike. One could almost forget the war if it weren't for the dead Huns lying about almost everywhere. [...] I'm glad really we've left the other 'drone for our huts became infested with horrible great rats & we couldn't sleep. One night one was on my table & leaning out of bed I shook it & the horrid thing jumped onto the bed just by my pillow. I couldn't sleep again that night. | The same night my tunic (the old one) was hanging on the back of my chair & in the morning I discovered the whole of one pocket eaten away & some biscuits gone. The tunic was practically ruined but I got the squadron tailor to put in a new pocket & he has made the best of a bad job.'FIFTY-NINE. 2 November 1918. 10 Squadron RAF BEF France. 1p., 12mo. F. 'Dear Dad, | Just a few lines to let you know that I shan't be flying again for a few days & perhaps weeks. I had rather a nasty time with the Fokkers again which ended in a smash just in our lines. My observer was shot also my controls & engine, & when landing in a ditch turned turtle & was thrown out. I'm not at all hurt so don't worry but am shaken up & am going to Boulogne to a convalescent home to-morrow. I may be in England soon. Who knows? | Love | Les.' Envelope: OAS; APO postmark 3 November 1918; Censor No. 242.SIXTY. 6 November 1918. No 14 General Hospital BEF France. 2pp., 12mo. M. 'Dear Old Mother, | I don't want to alarm you or in any way put you out but I am coming home very shortly in fact expect to be in dear old No. 19 by Saturday next. For three whole weeks too. I shan't know what to do with myself by the end of the second - just the same as when I was at school. Strange to relate there is practically nothing the matter with me - only a slight touch of nerves. But I mustn't tell the people here or they won't let me come. | Well, so long. | No more news until I am safely in dear old Blighty. | Yours lovingly, | Les. | P.S. Don't worry about where I'm to sleep for I shall bring home my bed complete with blankets & pillows etc. So please don't think of turning Miss Giles out of MY room. Its still mine you know although I don't use it. | Les.' Envelope: OAS; APO postmark 7 November 1918; Censor No. 3008.SIXTY-ONE. 3 December . 2pp., 12mo. M. 'Here I am back once more in the land of ruins & where I was when I left my squadron. But sad to relate the aerodrome is deserted & I am destitute. Some infantry took pity on me who are billetted in M - & am stopping with them until I hear from Major Murray to whom I have wired. I believe they are somewhere in the region of Brussels anyway they only left here two days ago.' Envelope: OAS; APO postmark 4 December 1918; Censor No. 6756.SIXTY-TWO. 5 December 1918. No. 10 Squadron RAF BEF France. 2pp., 12mo. MF. 'I am once more back with the old squadron though it's personelle [sic] has chagned considerably while I have been away. However some of the old fellows remain [...] We have not moved so far from M - after all, & expect that we shall stay here for some time. Anyway we are not going into Germany. | There is very little flying done now but I shall just go up for a joy ride to-morrow.' Envelope: APO postmark 7 December 1918; Censor No. 242.SIXTY-THREE [enclosing SEVENTY-FOUR]. 26 December 1918 ('Boxing Day '18.'). 10 Squadron France. 2pp., 12mo. MF. 'What do you think of the enclosed snaps? Rather good I think, what? [...] we always fly in the morning & play footer in the afternoons.' Envelope: OAS; APO postmark 28 December 1918; Censor No. 242. Enclosing SEVENTY FOUR, an 8 x 13 cm photograph of a pilot and observer staring out from the seats of a grounded RAF Armstrong Whitworth in front of hangars.SIXTY-FOUR. 14 January 1919 [misdated 1918]. 10 Squadron RAF BEF France. 3pp., 12mo. MF. 'I've been on a course of gunnery for 10 days [...] Everything seems more or less in a muddle out here now. Practically all of our observers have gone to other Squadrons on the Rhine & are not being replaced & nearly all pilots are going to various places for courses of instruction. Some say that only a certain number of pilots are to be left & these are to fly the machines to England shortly. Others say that we shall be transferred to other squadrons on the Rhine & fly a different type of machine. You see the old A. W. is now obsolete & will not see any more active service. [...] Did I tell you that we have now got a Fokker biplane - the same kind which shot me down? It is a wonderful machine & up till now only three people have flown it, the C.O. & two flight commanders.' Envelope: OAS; APO postmark 15 January 1919; Censor No. 242.SIXTY-FIVE. 19 January . 10 Squadron RAF BEF France. 4pp., 12mo. MF. '[...] in a week's time 10 Squadron will cease to exist. On Tuesday we are to fly our machines to the aircraft base (not to England unfortunately) & the Squadron will be disbanded. I quite expect we shall be sent to different squadrons on the Rhine. | I have made up my mind to apply for a permanent commission for two years or possibly four so that by that time things will have settled down in England & I shall have a considerable sum of money when I do come out. [...] Yesterday I went for a long flight & went to the coast flying over the sea from Ostende to Zeeburgge & back to Menin via Bruges. I saw the mole & the old Vindictive still blocking the entrance to the harbour.' Envelope: OAS; APO postmark 20 January 1919; Censor No. 24
.SIXTY-SIX. 27 January 1919. No. 35 Squadron RAF BEF France. 4pp., 4to. MF. 'I told you in my last letter that we had delivered our aeroplanes to 35 Squadron to fly to England but as they were short of pilots eight of us were transferred from 10 Squadron. We are now near Cassel & as soon as the weather clears we shall fly a machine to Lympne, near Hythe, on the south coast & fly back in a Handley Page on the same day. I expect to make about four trips across the channel. Unless anything wonderful happens I shall not be able to get home. We simply land in England step out of one machine into another & fly back to France. As soon as this job is finished this squadron will be broken up & we shall be sent to the Rhine. No. 10 Squadron no longer exists [...] I have applied for a permanent commission & was interviewed by the General a few days ago, & have reason to think it will be granted. [...] will be about £60 at the end of the month. Not bad for about five months commissioned service, eh?' He describes his clothing requirements, including a 'tunic at Jackson's - I will try & describe it. Price 30/- 2nd. Lt. stars on sleeves, heavy material & I think Artillery buttons. Jackson has my measurements so he can make sure & you can get R.F.C. buttons & badges put on not R.A.F. I am at present wearing my RAF tunic which is in everyday use & consequently getting dirty.' Envelope: OAS; APO postmark 28 January 1919; Censor No. 201.SIXTY-SEVEN. 11 February 1919. Letterhead of Queen's Hotel, Folkestone. 2pp., 12mo. MF. 'Here we are again - once more back in Blighty. [...] Had extraordinary luck getting to the 'drome from Boulogne - found a tender going all the way. All my kit is alright & didn't get into the least trouble. In fact I was back before my flight commander. Left again yesterday morning in beautiful weather at 9 a.m. Had a jolly good machine & landed safely at Lympne about 10.30 am.' Envelope: postmark 11 February 1919.SIXTY-EIGHT. 4 April . No. 8 IDS Netheravon Wiltshire. 1p., 4to. MF. He finds Salisbury 'quite a decent camp & quarters but miles & miles away from anywhere. Had the option of immediate demob, Army of Occupation or Permanent commission, so signed on for army of occupation. Not likely to be sent overseas again just yet & have heard nothing about Russia. | Apparently not much to do here except parades & cleaning machines. There is a cinema, also a concert party'. Envelope: RF; postmark Salisbury, 5 April 1919.SEVENTY-FIVE. Memorandum dated 'Netheravon, Wilts. | 14. 3. 19 [14 March 1919].' 4pp., 8vo. 'I am going to attempt to describe briefly, interesting incidents which took place during my service in the Army during the Great War. The object of this work is to record now, certain episodes which I remember, but which in a few years may be forgotten. [...] others may gain a little knowledge of the existing conditions of the Army generally during the year 1918. Some of these anecdotes contain tragedy & death, which bring to me & possibly others sad memories of the past, while many of these stories on the other hand may provoke smiles at their quaint humour. | I propose to commence this semi-autobiography by recording a few incidents prior to my donning His Majesty's uniform & then to relate experiences in the Cadet Wing of the Royal Flying Corps, both at Hastings and Reading, to be followed by a short description of my adventures in my training squadron & finally, after graduating as a pilot, mhy life overseas, both in France and Belgium. | It was in the summer of 1916 I had my first "joy ride" in an aeroplane. At that time I was exactly sixteen and a half years old [...] I had been in Brighton just about two hours when, with a deafening roar an aeroplane passed overhead scarcely higher than the apex of an ordinary church steeple. | Now this was a wonderful sight to me, for in 1916 aeroplanes were not to be seen frequently & if you were lucky enough to see one at all it was generally many thousand feet high and appeared a mere speck in a vast ocean of blue. [...]'With three empty envelopes, all OAS and with APO postmarks: one 25 October 1918 (Censor No. 242), one 19 December 1918 (Censor No. 2
) and one with date torn away (Censor No. 6000).