Monday, June 17, 2013

Bonding with the British

In my previous post I recounted my dad's first experience at being a soldier.  He made the fateful decision to NOT re-enlist and instead go back home and marry his honey.  Life was good.

Before long he heard of a very good job opportunity with Dallas Air College, owned by a "Major Long".  It was 1940, the Brits were at war with Germany, and things were looking grim.  The US officially professed neutrality, but our sympathies were definitely with our English cousins.

The British desperately needed pilots.  Theirs were getting killed faster than they could train replacements.  Problem was, the skies over England were a war zone.  There was really no safe place to train.

That was when the plan was hatched to very quietly send Royal Air Force (RAF) cadets to the US to learn to fly.  They were first de-commissioned by the RAF and sent to Canada where they were issued visas to come into the US, 50 at a time.



Major Long, probably because of his previous military experience and connections, was chosen to establish Terrell Aviation School about 30 miles east of Dallas for the purpose of this clandestine training.   They needed flight and ground school instructors, dispatchers, etc, and dad was hired as a navigation instructor and flight dispatcher.  It was very intense training, with 2 years worth of school compressed into just 7 months.

In his off hours the instructors taught dad to fly, but his eyesight wasn't up to par and he couldn't be considered for formal military pilot training.  (I obviously inherited his eyesight DNA.)

The Brits were here as civilians until December 7, 1941.  After that time we were officially wartime allies, uniforms began being worn, and the operations at Terrell became No 1. British Flying Training School, one of 6 set up in the US.  At Terrell alone they trained 2,300 RAF pilots.  Many were later killed in action, several became Air Marshall's (Generals), and at least one won the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest military honor.  Dad became good friends with many of the British instructors and cadets, and I think this is why my dad (and I) became serious Anglophiles.

Although proud of helping the British get through those tough days, dad eventually tired of the training role and joined the US Army again, hoping to become an Air Force (Army Air Corp as it was then called) gunner.  He wasn't accepted as a gunner because he was under weight.  Imagine that!  (That is one gene I definitely did NOT inherit.)  Because of his previous military and flight school experience he was sent to Sheppard Field (Today Sheppard Air Force Base) NW of Dallas to....train American pilots.

He was heartbroken at the time, but considering the mortality rate of pilots and aircrew, in retrospect he probably cheated death once more.   To his credit, Dad pointed out that during his time at Sheppard Field not one enemy plane made it north of Wichita Falls.  ;)



In later years the No 1. BFTS Association was formed comprised of all the Brits and Americans who worked and trained together at Terrell during the war.  They had yearly reunions, alternating between festivities in the UK and here in Texas.  Once I used my Confederate Air Force connections to have a number of WWII-era T-6 Texan ^ training aircraft give rides to our now elderly RAF friends.  It was great seeing all those smiling British faces.

I have a No 1. BFTS scrapbook full of photos, but it's buried somewhere deep in my warehouse.  Maybe some other time I'll attempt to uncover it.

So dad survived, I'm here, and now you're stuck with me.  :)  

S


9 comments:

  1. Whew that was a close call. It was silly all the games FDR had to play to help the British while supposedly being neutral. Gives some credence to the idea that he knew about Pearl Harbor beforehand.

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  2. YAy! Great story!!!

    K

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  3. Sometimes it's hard to believe our parents had lives without us. I enjoyed reading about your dad. As you know my dad was also into airplanes and I like that we have this in common.

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  4. Ditto above, very interesting!

    And I'll say it if no one else will...we're glad we're stuck with you Scott.

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  5. Yeah I'm glad you're here - I like being able to open one of your posts & see what questionable conclusions you'll reach today. (just kidding - ha!)

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  6. It's nice to read about the interesting background of our fellow blogger whom we are stuck with.

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    1. My blush just crashed and burned. ;)

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