Friday, 8 December 2017

William Storey Moore

(William Storey Moore, 1941. Private Collection, with thanks.)

Some time ago, Britain at War Magazine published my article exploring the service details of two Battle of Britain pilots. (‘Battle of Britain Revealed. New Information on Australian Pilots’, Britain at War Magazine, Issue 75, July 2013.) I had been curious as to why two pilots long acknowledged as Australian were not honoured as such by the Australian War Memorial. After deeper research, I discovered that one of those pilots, Peter John Moore, was indeed Australian and the AWM duly acknowledged his connection on their commemorative roll. I also discovered that William Storey Moore was Irish.
The article included the scant details of William Storey Moore’s short life and death; I later put them up on my blog. Recently, a family member contacted me and shared what she knew about the Irish airman. Importantly, she revealed the true nature of Billy’s Australian connection which may have contributed to his attribution as one of the Australian ‘Few’. With her permission, I now share it with you.   
William Storey Moore—or Billy as he was known to the family—was born in Dublin on 21 November 1916. His father was William Moore MA of 10 Frankford Park, Dundrum, Dublin. [Wikipedia tells me that it wasn't until Article 4 of the Irish constitution was adopted in 1937 by the government under Éamon de Valera that Éire was decreed asthe name of the state, or in the English language, Ireland.]  His mother Ruby (née Bedford) had been born in Rockhampton, Queensland.
Ruby came to Ireland in about 1911 to visit relations. Her family wasn’t able to meet her when the boat docked so a cousin asked his friend William to greet her instead. Ruby and William married and soon started their family: Hugh Bedford (27 April 1915); Billy; Sidney (later Sydney) Alexander (24 January 1918); and Ruby Bedford (13 November 1918).
Billy was schooled in Dublin until 1932, possibly at The High School, which his brother Sidney attended. He continued his education in Australia between 1934 and 36 and spent some time on a property at Kellyville, northwest of Sydney, NSW (known as Bob’s Ranch). He also perhaps holidayed at Aspendale Beach, near Melbourne. 

(Billy at Bob's Ranch. Private Collection, with thanks.)
Shortly after his return to the United Kingdom, he joined the RAF on a short service commission in June 1937. He began ab initio training on 24 May, was appointed acting pilot officer on 9 August 1937, and proceeded to 10 Flying Training School, Tern Hill on 21 August 1937. He was appointed Pilot Officer on 24 May 1938, service number 40007, and joined the FAA Pool at Gosport on 10 October. He was promoted to Flying Officer on 12 December 1939. Eire was officially neutral during the Second World War but Billy proudly wore his RAF wings. He had willingly sworn an oath to serve the English king and country. As a member of the Commonwealth, he also fought for his mother’s country, Australia.

(William Storey Moore, 1941. Private Collection, with thanks.)
Like other young men, Billy balanced love and family with service. At some point he met Celia Beck and they married on 4 July 1940, in St Peter’s Church, Over Wallop, Hampshire. Their son Liam (an Irish diminutive of William) was born on 9 November 1942.
(Billy and Celia, possibly on their wedding day. Private Collection, with thanks.)
When I discovered that Billy was not Australian, I reluctantly stopped researching his aerial career and focused on the young men featured in my Australian Eagles and Australia’s Few and the Battle of Britain. I thank my friend Geoff Simpson and his research for the most recent edition of Men of the Battle of Britain additional details of Billy’s service life.

Billy joined 236 Squadron at Martlesham Heath on 26 January 1940 (coincidentally given his Australian connection and heritage, Australia Day). There he flew Blenheims on anti-submarine patrols for Coastal Command (and, briefly, with Fighter Command). The squadron later moved to Mount Batten and, on 26 October, during the dying days of the Battle of Britain, he was appointed ‘C’ Flight Commander. On 19 November, Billy led his flight to RAF Aldergrove where it joined a flight from 235 Squadron to reform 272 Squadron. Billy was then appointed commander of 272 Squadron’s ‘A’ Flight. The squadron was originally equipped with Blenheims but later converted to Beaufighters. Billy flew his first sortie with the newly operational squadron on 23 November 1940. He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant on 3 December and then to Squadron Leader on 1 March 1942.

On 29 October 1943, Billy was posted to 143 Squadron, based at Portreath, Cornwall, flying Beaufighters. The squadron provided fighter support for anti-submarine aircraft operating over the Bay of Biscay. The 143 Squadron operations record book reveals that, at 9.50 a.m. on 24 December, six Beaufighters were detailed to carry out an interception over the Bay. They sighted two Heinkel He 177s. Squadron Leader Moore, who was flying Beaufighter ‘N’ JM160, engaged one of the Heinkels at 500 yards. It was his first combat since commencing his second tour. Billy closed, firing to 200 yards. Then, a vivid flash was seen in front of ‘N’, which broke in two and disintegrated. Billy and his navigator, Pilot Officer Philip Heslop Froment, were killed instantly. The squadron’s Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Edric Hartgill Hardy, later speculated in his combat report that ‘N’ was shot down because of its slow closing speed in the field of fire of the enemy’s rear cannon.
Wing Commander Edric Hardy’s sketch of Beaufighter ‘N’ JM160’s last moments. 143 Squadron Operations Record Book, National Archives UK, AIR 27/978
Billy and Froment are both honoured on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede and a brief outline of Billy’s life and service appears on
Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede. (Personal collection.)

(Battle of Britain Monument. Personal collection.) 
Billy’s death on Christmas Eve 1943, at the age of 27, was just one sadness which his family had to endure. Less than two years later, on 10 October 1945, his brother Hugh died. Then, on 31 May 1946, on the Isle of Wight, little Liam succumbed to peritonitis; he had been treated for gastroenteritis but had actually had a burst appendix. I can’t begin to imagine what Billy’s mother, Ruby, felt, losing two sons and a grandson in quick succession. Nor can I imagine Celia’s grief at the loss of her handsome husband of three years, and their cherished son, named after his father and grandfather. Celia later went to Australia, remarried a Mr McIntyre at some point, and lived in Brisbane. The Irish connection lost contact and knows nothing more of her.
So little is known about this young Irishman in the RAF who is numbered as one of ‘The Few’. But Billy lived well and served with courage. He is remembered within his extended family as a larger than life person who had been liked by everyone.
My concluding words of the Britain at War article where I revealed Billy’s Irish heritage were: ‘Now that William Storey Moore’s true nationality has been established, he can be honoured as an Irishman and commemorated as one of Ireland’s fallen. Hopefully, something more of his life and contribution—in particular his Battle of Britain service—will be discovered in his true homeland.’ Perhaps it has. I discovered today that there is a brief chapter about him in Ireland’s Aviator Heroes of WWII by John Mercer. 

Vale Billy Moore, as we commemorate the 74th anniversary of his death.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Review of Australia's Few by Britain at War Magazine

Britain at War Magazine, April 2016
Of the many books covering the subject that were published across the 75th anniversary of the battle of Britain this is certainly one of the most readable and engaging titles of the genre and Kristen Alexander, the author, is to be highly commended on this valuable addition to the literature dealing with the history of 1940.
In this volume, the author has not only used exacting academic rigour to compile what is a fascinating and worthy account of those Australians who participated in the Battle of Britain but she has also produced what is a most readable and engaging book.
To the reviewer, immersed in the hostory of 1940, the names of all the men Kristen has covered were more than familiar - although not their individual stories. In this respect she had the reviewer's rapt attention from page one abd it is fair to say that this particular reviewer is sometimes hard to please when it comes to books on Battle of Britain related topics! Not so with 'Australia's Few' ... [which is]  pacey, well-written, superbly researched and historically accurate in detail.
In her assembly of the facts, Kristen has also produced a book which is full of genuine empathy for her subjects and she has managed to construct a piece of work that stands not only as testament to the Australian 'Few' but also as a most useful reference source. Additionally, and importantly, it is also a truly excellent read. It is certainly a masterful piece of work and is one which is sure to be well-thumbed on this reviewer's book shelf over the coming years.
Nicely produced, and with a selection of evocative accompanying photographs, this book stands head and shoulders above many published in the Battle of Britain 'genre' across recent months and stands very firmly as this reviewer's favourite. Britain at War Magazine has no hesitation in recommending most highly this lovely book. 

Missed a couple of lines in the scan but I think you get the general idea. Britain at War loved Australia's Few!

Thursday, 17 December 2015

2015 ACT Writing and Publishing Award

I am thrilled to announce that my fourth book, Australia's Few and the Battle of Britain won the nonfiction category of the ACT Writing and Publishing Award.

While I am fond of all of my books, I firmly believe that this is the best book I have written. It might even be the best I will ever write! It is testament to the men I wrote about, but also to their families who placed their faith and trust in me to tell their stories. 

I first conceived the idea of recounting the experiences of young Australians in the Battle of Britain in 2008. It was a hard researching and writing slog. Perhaps the hardest of my writing career. The first inkling I had that this book was something special was about this time in 2012 when my agent sent me an email headed 'Have reached end of ms...bereft'. As all good agents should, she then waxed lyrical about the manuscript's good points and I finally began to appreciate that Australia's Few was VERY special.  

It is always wonderful to receive praise for your writing. Apart from the boost to my ego, it also validates the stories of the young men who fought in the Battle of Britain. Their stories are important, they should be told, and the men should be remembered.

It was a truly proud moment as I stood listening to the judges comments. Not that I am biased or anything but I felt that they had the write tone and balance. The judges recognised not only what I had written and its importance, the intense research that had gone into it, and of course the personal connection to the story and my emotional involvement, but they acknowledged that it was a joint effort of writer and publishing house. The stories of 'my' eight young men would not have been launched if not for NewSouth who realised their significance. 

And here are the notes: 

This is a very well-researched, well-documented, well-structured and well-written book. It looks at the role of the ’30 or so’ Australians who took part in the Battle of Britain through the lens of the lives of eight young fighter pilots. Each man’s story is brought to life using letters, diary entries, official correspondence, public records and family reminiscence. The eight stories are interwoven and, taken together, give readers a detailed perspective of how this historical battle unfolded. The use of family photos reinforces the ‘everyman’ nature of the pilots and brings home the real cost of war at many levels: individual, family, community and national. It is a book that can be read both for its engaging and sympathetic portrayal of the individual men and for its consideration of a pivotal time in the history of World War II. The writing is always fluid and engages the reader intimately with emotion and pathos. The need to convey accurate information never hinders the flow of the narrative. The author has an exceptional ability to set specific material, such as quotations from original documents, into a broader familial, social and political context, and in this way inform the reader at several levels at once. In addition to the incomparable writing style, this book stood out because of its very high production value, with excellent use of subheadings, maps, photographs, notes, bibliography, contents pages, author’s notes and index. 

Friday, 17 July 2015

Death of an Aussie Ace. Pat Hughes

How thrilled was I when Andy Saunders, editor of Britain's best selling military history monthly agreed to publish my article on the Pat Hughes' last combat?
I submitted the piece on spec months ago, and words can't describe the excitement of finally seeing it in print.  
The layout is stunning. A real tribute to Pat, Australia's highest scoring Battle of Britain pilot. A true Aussie Ace. Thanks Andy.
Britain at War, Issue 99, July 2015

For Australian readers: signed copies available at

For UK readers: available at

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Aeroreview: Review of Australia's Few and the Battle of Britain by Aero Australia

What a fantastic Christmas present and the perfect way to start off the new year! A glowing review of Australia's Few and the Battle of Britain by Aero Australia (Issue 45, January-March 2015).

Can't read the squidgy writing in the photo? Never fear. I have lovingly retyped it.
The subject of Australians in the Battle of Britain has always provoked discussion as to home many were involved. The number has often varied, depending on the definition of ‘Australian’ in 1940. Even aircrew born here were defined as ‘British’ in those days and the issue is further complicated by many having British parents, or being born in Britain and then coming to Australia.

Kristen Alexander attempts to define ‘Australian’ in the context of this book and then instead of presenting us with a general and overall story covering all ’30 or so’ of them, selects just eight and tells their stories in great detail. It works well, and the different backgrounds, education, lives and careers of the eight provide a variety which in effect represents all the Australians involved in the Battle.
Alexander’s research is to her usual high standards and the book tells the stories of the eight from go to whoa, with as much emphasis on their lives away from the cockpit as in it. It draws on family documents and records, interviews and reminiscences and the result is a very different approach.

This isn’t to say the operational side of things is ignored—it is also covered in detail and there is considerable historical perspective, something I always like to see. The eight stories are not dealt with in separate ‘blocks’ but instead intertwined within a basically chronological structure. Again, this approach works very well.

The eight Australians covered are John Crossman, Jack Kennedy, Dick Glyde, Stuart Walch, Ken Holland, Pat Hughes, Bill Millington and Des Sheen, the latter the only one to survive.
I like the different approach Kristen Alexander has taken with this book. Perhaps it reflects—dare I say it without being shot down in flames by the ‘thought police’—more of a woman’s perspective. If so, that can’t be a bad thing because the result is excellent.  
If you haven't already picked up Australia's Few, follow the link to purchase a signed copy. Just ask if you would like a special inscription. 

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Last Christmas of the War.

As writers everywhere will tell you, the final product, whether it be poem, article, short story or history, often bears little resemblance to the first draft. My work is no exception.

One of my earliest ideas for Australia’s Few and the Battle of Britain was to have a chapter entitled ‘Last Christmas of the War’. For seven of the pilots, 1939’s Christmas would indeed be their last and so I wanted to highlight the poignancy of Christmas celebrations and expressed hopes for the future knowing full well their fates. Structurally, it would serve a useful purpose: bringing multiple stories and timelines to the fixed point of a shared experience on the same day.

As with the best laid plans, circumstances got in the way of what I thought was a good idea. Too many words so I had to cut down the narrative (the final version is almost 3500 shorter). A full chapter dedicated to one day was a bit too much. Stuart Walch’s activities could not be totally pinned down although I thought I had a fair idea of what they were.

All in all, a different focus was needed. So, a drastic cut, a some rearrangement, and a new chapter heading. The poignancy is still there but it is not as emotional and there is probably a better blend of social and military history. But I still like that original version and the reasoning behind it so thought, as a tribute to the boys during the 75th anniversary of their last Christmas, I would share it. Readers of Australia’s Few will recognise much of it but I think they might also be interested in what was left out.  And if you have not read Australia’s Few, perhaps you might like to discover more about these young men.


Chapter Six: Last Christmas of the war.

Just another Working Day

When Dick Glyde returned to France after escaping from Borsbeek, he was greeted by Squadron Leader John Dewar, 87 Squadron’s new commanding officer who replaced Squadron Leader Coope on his posting to 52 Wing. It didn’t take Dick long to settle into squadron life after his internment, escape and enjoyable leave in London. He may have missed out on the royal visit of 6 December but he had a taste of the same sort of ceremony when the prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, visited on 16 December. It was a formal occasion. The Hurricanes were lined up on the tarmac, the prime minister inspected the facilities, and Squadron Leader Dewar, Sergeant Francis Howell and Dick were presented to Chamberlain.

Before Dick knew it, it was the first Christmas of the war. It was foggy so both flights were on 30 minutes availability. The day was celebrated in the traditional RAF manner, with the officers invited to the sergeants’ mess to drink the Loyal Toast. The officers and NCOs then served the yuletide meal to the ground crews who had kept the Hurricanes serviceable despite the best efforts of mud, rain and, more recently, snow and bitter winds. A show put on by the officers rounded off the evening. There is no record of Dick’s contribution to the festivities but fellow Australian Johnny Cock upset his audience in some way and left the stage ducking from a host of oranges pelted at him by the ground crew. Hopefully Johnny caught the oranges as the vitamin C-laden fruit would have come in handy over the next few weeks as one by one 87 Squadron’s pilots were brought low by colds, bronchitis and influenza. The French winter was almost unendurable and the warmth of Christmas cheer soon dissipated as temperatures decreased. It was so cold, recalled Pilot Officer Roland Beamont who had only arrived the month before, that the ‘huts became coated with sheets of glistening ice and the doors and windows were blocked with snow’.

While Dick Glyde had been tuning his new Hurricane to perfection in early November before his Belgian internment, Pat Hughes was again packing his bags. But it was not for France. He had been posted from 64 Squadron and Church Fenton, but he did not have far to travel. In fact, he was not even leaving Yorkshire. Like Des Sheen, he was going to Leconfield. RAF expansion had gathered pace during 1939 and fifteen new fighter squadrons were operational by the end of the year. Pat had been posted to 234 Squadron which had reformed on 30 October 1939.

Squadron Leader William Satchell took command on the 30th and the next day, his new flight commanders, flying officers John Theilmann and Howard Blatchford, arrived from 41 Squadron. Pilots, administrative staff and airmen came from all directions. But it wasn’t all one way traffic. Squadron Leader Satchell was injured in a motor car accident on 2 November and hospitalised and Flying Officer Blatchford returned to 41 Squadron two days later. ‘Thus’, as the squadron historian put it, ‘terminating what must have been two of the shortest command appointments ever’. Within days, Squadron Leader Richard ‘Dicky’ Barnett arrived, followed by Pat on 8 November to replace Blatchford.

Although most on his new station were Englishmen, Pat found that, like Church Fenton, Leconfield was home to many members of the Commonwealth. For example, Pilot Officer William Hugh ‘Scotty’ Gordon was born in Scotland. Pilot officers Cecil Hight, Keith Lawrence and Patrick Horton hailed from New Zealand (Horton, who was born on 20 May 1920, was a student at The Hutchins School, Tasmania from March 1932 until December 1933, and was about three years behind Stuart Walch.) And of course, Pat, who, like Jack Kennedy, had by this stage lost his accent, was Australian. There was no sense in this new squadron of the Antipodeans being treated like colonials. Keith Lawrence recalled that his British friends might laugh at someone’s origins, but it was all in fun and never to anyone’s detriment. They had many different backgrounds but they all got on well. 

The majority of 234 Squadron’s pilots had only just completed their flying training. As a flight commander, Pat was responsible for mentoring his new boys as they adjusted to life in a soon-to-be operational squadron. He had obviously proved himself capable of such responsibility on the occasions when he had stepped into the shoes of his flight commander at 64 Squadron. But now his new pilots were solely dependent on him to prepare them for operations. On the face of it, it might have proved a difficult task. Pat was almost the same age as Cecil Hight, who was born on 6 September 1917 and he was younger than some of his pilots—Pilot Officer Kenneth ‘Ken’ Dewhurst, for instance, was 25 years old and Pilot Officer Geoffrey Gout was 23. But the ages of the majority of his pilots, ranged from 18 to 20.

Pat took his role as flight commander seriously. By now he had notched up over two years experience in the RAF. He had matured considerably; he did not exhibit any of the boisterousness that had marked his Point Cook and Digby days. He may have mellowed but his leadership style was uncompromising. Even so, he soon commanded respect as the squadron’s ‘Australian mentor’. He was also, according to Bob Doe, ‘one of the lads’, and ‘was not a remote figure’. They could look up to him and share a drink at the pub. More importantly, he was a ‘cracking good pilot’, recalled Keith Lawrence. ‘What he could do with a plane!’

But what sort of aircraft? And, for that matter, what sort of squadron? Bomber or fighter? It was a mystery. Squadron Leader Barnett was in the dark and the only aircraft on the new squadron’s charge were two Magisters and no training aircraft, so no clues there. By 11 November, the complement had increased to three and the pilots took it in turns to clock up 2 hours 30 minutes local flying in them and 40 minutes in the link trainer. It wasn’t a good start to becoming an operational-ready squadron.

Confusion continued to reign when, on 16 November, one Fairey Battle—a single-engined light bomber—arrived, as well as three obsolete Gauntlets on loan from 616 Squadron which was also located at Leconfield. What would Pat have felt at the thought of ending up as a bomber pilot after disputing his initial categorisation at Digby? But still nothing was certain. Rumours started flying—and were reinforced by the arrival of wireless operator/air gunners—that perhaps they might be destined for Bristol Blenheims. Then an Avro Tutor biplane trainer turned up. The pilots put in hours of flying training and attended lectures on aircraft recognition, battle orders, radio telephone (R/T) procedure and, almost incredibly given the lack of fighter aircraft, air fighting tactics.

By the end of the month, the rumours were confirmed, and the air fighting lectures finally made sense. Eight Blenheim F1 fighter aircraft, as well as a dual-control Blenheim, arrived on 28 November, and another three were collected from a maintenance unit on the 30th. They were a fighter squadron.

Pat was now in his element. He had mastered the Blenheim at 64 Squadron and, like his former squadron leader, was an advocate of tight flying discipline. His B-Flight pilots took to the air to familiarise themselves with Leconfield and environs and became adept at flying their new Blenheims. By 22 December, 15 pilots had soloed on the Blenheim. And then the more complicated training began.

Keith Lawrence recalled that, when the miserable winter weather allowed, Pat insisted on drilling in the rigid RAF fighter attack patterns. Bob Doe recalled that they ‘were good at formation’ flying. They carried out many wingtip-to-wingtip formation exercises, constantly perfecting their technique. On one occasion, however, the Australian flight commander was accused of taking it too far.

Pat was leading and called his pilots to formate on him. Tight flying in a Blenheim is dicey as the engines obscure the wingtips. Even so, Pat’s men flew closer and closer to him. But it was not good enough. Pat kept signalling Keith to move in and then the inevitable happened. Keith’s Blenheim’s wing touched Pat’s. Pat promptly ordered his wireless operator to bale out while he fought for full control. He landed safely but it taught him there was such a thing as flying too close.

Pat and 234 Squadron were so busy there was little time off for his second Yorkshire Christmas. Officially, 23 December to 31 December was designated as the Christmas break but flying practice was carried out on three days during the festive season. At North Weald in the south, however, it was a different matter.

Stuart Walch and 151 Squadron had been grounded for three days. The fog seemed even thicker on Christmas day and, yet again, no flying was possible. But for once, Stuart and his friends did not seem to mind their continuing exile from the air. The squadron diarist, who seemed a bit of a wag, recorded that ‘today was one of the rare occasions when everyone was glad to see fog, and Christmas was celebrated by the squadron in the traditional manner.’ Festivities over, Stuart wanted to get back into the air. He carried out a standing convoy patrol on the 29th and that was it. The ‘nil report’ sortie just seemed to crown off a month with little meaningful activity where the enemy continued to elude him.

With so little operational action, had Stuart managed to escape from North Weald during Christmastide? The temptation, if he could squeeze a few hours off the station, would have been great. Colonel John Crosby Walch—Percival’s younger brother and Stuart’s uncle—was hosting a family reunion at his country home at Devizes, Wiltshire. John had joined the Tasmanian artillery at the outbreak of the Boer War and, in 1900, accepted a regular commission in the British Royal Horse and Field Artillery. After the Boer War, he was posted to India. He returned to England in 1909 with short postings to South Africa. Promoted to major, he served in France during the Great War. He had a good career. In 1917 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Mentioned in Despatches and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1918. His sister Catherine Minna, who had settled in England when she married, would be there, as would Stuart’s sister Brenda. Stuart’s mother, Florence, had returned to Australia in August, but Brenda had decided to stay and take up voluntary work. The Walch house party was shaping up to be a grand affair and Stuart would not have wanted to miss either it or the chance to catch up with his sister and the extended Walch family.

Meanwhile, Stuart’s old Point Cook classmate Jack Kennedy had big plans for Christmas and they didn’t involve hanging around Northolt. And why would he want to be tied to the station when 65 Squadron had had little to do since the so-called Battle of Barking Creek?

There had been no operational flying during October, after the move from Hornchurch, and none in November. Apart from the death of 26-year-old Pilot Officer Bryan Graham who hailed from Auckland, New Zealand in a flying accident on 25 November, all was just the ‘usual squadron routine’. Things appeared to be looking up on 2 December, when Flight Lieutenant Gerald Saunders led a section to investigate an unidentified aircraft. Then there was nothing to report, and no more aerial forays until 21 December, when Jack led a section to investigate an X raid—an unidentified aircraft reported by radar or Observer Corps which needed to be checked out—but it was only a friendly, as was the one he was called out to investigate on 22 December.

With so little happening at Northolt, it was an easy matter for Jack to be released over Christmas and he did not delay in hopping into his Lagonda and driving to Whitstable and Christine Jourd. When he arrived at Christine’s family home, he presented her with a huge box of chocolates. Not terribly romantic, but luxury items were already disappearing from shop shelves. Since ration books had been issued after National Registration Day on 29 September, and rationing of some essential items had been scheduled to start on 8 January 1940, rumours of hoarding were already rife. Chocolate wouldn’t be included in the first lot of rationed items but sugar, of which 70% of Britain’s supplies were imported, had been rationed in the last months of the Great War and so it did not take too much imagination to realise it would soon be on the restricted list. And indeed it was. As the war progressed, chocolate became darker, rougher, more powdery and less palatable than the pre-war variety. Jack’s luxurious gift was a boon for a sweet-toothed girlfriend. But more than the chocolate, Christmas 1939 was another fleeting chance to forget the war as the two young lovers rejoiced in their precious hours together.

‘A fine old English house’

Bill Millington was going from strength to strength at Tern Hill. He had his first flight in a Harvard, under dual instruction, on 10 October. Two days later, after only three hour’s dual, he soloed. Then, during a height test on the 21st, he broke his training squadron’s record, taking his Harvard to 18,000 feet. Bill’s initial aerial success was not surprising given the lessons he had taken at Parafield earlier that year. His dual hours clocked up in the South Australian skies might not have been many, but they had given him confidence and put him ahead of many of his training companions.

When not in the air, Bill visited local families, introduced via Lady Frances Ryder’s hospitality scheme, and kept fit on the squash court, which he thought ‘jolly good exercise’. He also played ‘scrum half for the squadron rugby team. We usually manage to scrape up at least one and sometime two matches a week’. In her most recent letter, his sister Eileen asked if went out at night. He cheekily replied ‘quite a bit—out into the blue’. He found night flying ‘rather tricky at first but becoming more enjoyable every flight, depending mainly on the weather’.

As October drew to a close, Bill had some time off and so visited his friend Glen Grindlay, who he had met at Lady Frances and Miss Macdonald’s flat in Sloane Square. When Bill received his posting to Reading, Glen had stayed in London until he was sworn into the RAF Volunteer Reserve on 8 August as an air gunner. Glen was enjoying the hospitality of Captain Codrington Gwynne Reid Walker and Bill was also invited to join the Reid Walker family at Ruckley Grange, ‘a fine old English house’, located about 20 miles from the training school. The handsome neo-Elizabethan house, built in about 1904, was surrounded by extensive grounds which included stables, plantations, water features and parkland. It overlooked a wooded valley and, harking back to his youth when he helped his father in the garden, Bill lost no time offering to help chop down trees and clear out the undergrowth. Not every visitor to a handsome country seat would immediately pick up an axe but Bill had a ‘pleasant time’. And then it was back to Tern Hill.

Over the next few weeks, Bill worked hard and, as in October, had little time to fill in his diary, apart from outings with new friends, the odd game of golf and a tour of some ruined castles. He put in time in the link trainer and generally progressed well in his training except for a mishap with Harvard N7030 on 25 November when he landed with the undercarriage retracted. ‘Rather bad show’ but, fortunately, there was ‘little damage except to airscrew’. He studied for the exams which marked the conclusion of his intermediate training.

He received 86% in armament and 90% in signals but his airmanship results of 57% let him down. Overall, he was ranked 22nd out of the 29 officers on the course, with an average of 71%, just below the officers’ average of 73.5%. Results in hand, he was off. First to Ruckley Grange again for a few days tree felling and shooting, followed by a trip to London to visit his relatives and Lady Frances Ryder, and to catch up with Captain Reid Walker at the Cafe Anglais and Boodle’s, a gentlemens’ club in St James’s Street.

If anything outstanding happened training-wise in the last weeks of 1939, Bill didn’t record it. His last diary entries were devoted to his Christmas leave. At midday on 22 December, Captain Reid Walker picked him up from the mess and drove back to Ruckley Grange where, by this stage, Bill was feeling quite at home. Almost immediately, he rolled up his sleeves and attacked the rhododendrons. Over the next few days he worked in the pine plantation and the sycamores, and spent more time pruning the rhododendrons. He was pleased to see Glen Grindlay again. Since they had last met, Glen had completed a course at the gunnery school at Manby, and was just about to finish operational training at Upper Heyford.

Bill liked nothing better than being with family and friends, and with the Reid Walkers he had both. He was embraced by a large, welcoming family who did not stand on ceremony and his first Christmas in England since he was a lad was a warm, happy affair en famille. He had ‘a very enjoyable time’, full of ‘hunting, felling trees, shooting, skating and tobogganing’. He particularly took to ice skating, which he thought ‘a lot of fun and I was duly initiated into the art, taking a number of falls in the process. Actually I find it much easier than roller skating, but have to glide into somebody or something to stop’. And then it was Christmas morning.

Bill and Glen leapt out of bed at 1.00 a.m. and sneaked downstairs. They quietly let themselves out of the house and, securing axe and rope, dashed through the snow encrusted grounds to a strand of trees where they selected a well-shaped Christmas tree and then chopped it down. Alternately dragging and pushing it, they returned at about 2.30 a.m. and managed to erect it in the ‘large room set aside for the festivities’. As silently as possible, Santa’s most recent helper elves decorated it. With the last fragile bauble trembling at the end of a branch, they scooted back upstairs to sleep the sleep of the not-so-innocent.

When everyone awoke and gathered by the tree, Bill was ‘given the job of Father Christmas’, to hand out the parcels and ‘things went off exceptionally well’. Then, he and Glen ‘explored the old attics and lumber rooms where we unearthed a number of old costumes, uniforms etc dating back to the eighteenth century’. Christmas dinner was to be in fancy dress and so Bill selected ‘the mess kit of a colonel of the Prince of Wales Volunteers which was originally the property of my host’s grandfather’. Glen chose something a little more feminine, and Bill thought he ‘made a very prim Victorian miss until something ripped, when he was promptly christened “Loose Lucy”’.

Bill’s first English Christmas since childhood ‘was a grand affair’. He and Glen settled down to ‘ten courses, followed by crackers etc. We finished off the evening with dancing in the ballroom.’ It was a happy day and riotous evening and, when they finally turned in about 2.00 a.m., ‘Glen was too tired to remove his war paint’.

Glen had to return to his station the next morning and ‘was horrified to find that the lipstick was unmovable’. No matter how hard he rubbed, it would not budge. The sight of him, ‘at breakfast in full uniform with bright red lips’, elicited gales of laughter from Bill and their hosts. After breakfast, with Bill offering encouragement over his shoulder, Glen ‘spent an hour with hot water, scrubbing brushes and numerous jars of cleansing cream removing the indelible lipstick. He vows he’ll never be caught again’.

In contrast to the good times and laughter at Ruckley Grange, the final day of 1939 was a quiet one for Bill. He arrived back at Tern Hill just before midnight on the 30th and spent New Year’s eve writing letters. He did not celebrate the waning of 1939 and the dawn of 1940, but retired early.

 ‘I’d hate like hell to go back a failure’

Every service pilot dreaded being ejected from his training course, and John Crossman was no different. When he arrived at 9 Elementary Flying Training School at Ansty in Warwickshire on 30 October, he immediately felt the pressure to fly quickly and well. He was in the air that afternoon, and took over the controls of a Tiger Moth almost as soon as his instructor, Sergeant Webb, cleared the aerodrome. He then flew ‘35 minutes strait and level. At least I tried hard to do that. It was great’. He marvelled at the sights from the dual cockpit: ‘The aerodrome and buildings are wonderfully camouflaged and to see the ‘drome from the air it looks as though it is all fields with hedges dividing them off. England from the air is just like a patchwork quilt, all shades of green and the roads look like white ribbons.’

Next morning, he was in the front seat of Tiger Moth N5472. Under Sergeant Webb’s careful guidance from the instructor’s seat behind him, he taxied into position to take off. When they were airborne, Sergeant Webb said, ‘You’ve got it’. John then ‘took over and flew it straight and level for a while and then the instructor brought it down and I taxied back to the tarmac’. It was a grand moment for John. After 65 minutes total dual, Sergeant Webb was pleased with John’s progress and the young Australian hoped to advance to turns the next day. As it happened, he had two training sessions on 2 November, again practising straight and level flying as well as climbing, gliding and stalling, and, finally, medium turns. He was quietly pleased that his ‘climbing and gliding is quite good now and also my turns’.

John progressed satisfactorily in his first flying week. Sergeant Webb told him he was ‘doing quite well and wants me to do some more landings and a few spins and then go solo’. Despite this vote of confidence, and the fact that ‘I have had no trouble flying up to date’, John was a perfectionist and wanted more dual hours under his belt. In particular, ‘I feel I’d like to do a few more landings myself ... and get fairly proficient at it before I do go solo. But as the Point Cook boys had found, the pressure was on to solo as fast as possible but the English weather more often than not conspired to keep him out of the air. And when John was grounded, his impatience grew. To make matters worse, like Pat Hughes, he did not take to the English weather. ‘This place is a damp, cold and miserable one (I mean England) and at times I’d give anything for a good old Australian sun. We wouldn’t mind so much if the weather didn’t stop our flying.’

On top of all that, he experienced pangs of homesickness. ‘Have you bought the piece of land you were talking of for the new house?’, he asked his parents in a letter home. ‘If you do build again make my room a big one please, because when I do come home I’ll be bringing lots of things.’

As Pat Hughes had found before him, flying lessons—when they could have them—were often a case of one step forward, and four backwards. After 10 hours 50 minutes dual, John carried out a solo test on 15 November and, if this went well, he would be able to graduate to the next stage of his training. But it did not go well. ‘Landed all over the place again. In the air I fly well but am gone 30 feet from the ground.’ Flight Lieutenant Williams, who took the test, kindly put John’s poor performance down to a problem with his eyesight but a check-up revealed nothing wrong. Perhaps John would benefit from another instructor? And so, under the guidance of Pilot Officer Underhill, John continued dual instruction until 20 November when, with 14 hours 35 minutes notched up—10 minutes less than Pat Hughes at Point Cook in March 1936—he retook the solo test, again with Flight Lieutenant Williams. This time he was successful and was allowed a 10 minute solo flight. Not only was it good not to have someone telling him what to do when he made a mistake, but ‘it is absolutely marvellous to think that at last I’ve flown a plane on my own as I’ve wanted to do for a very long time now.’

There was no time to rest on his solo laurels. As Des Sheen had discovered at Point Cook, the progress of trainee pilots was carefully scrutinised by their instructors. Three days after John’s first solo, his course lost two trainees. John was lucky that Flight Lieutenant Williams had given him a second chance, as those unhappy chaps both ‘failed their flying tests and will be leaving for Australia soon’. And the reason? ‘They were both taking too much time to go solo and after being taken up for tests were told they were not fit for flying.’

Although John was ‘awfully sorry’ for the ‘poor beggars’ who had to pack their bags, it was hard not to put aside his own dread that he too would be passed out: ‘I don’t know what I’d do if I were given the order of the boot. It would look as though I were letting everyone down when really to stay in the RAF a fellow has to be able to fly almost from the word go.’

Although he told his parents there was ‘no dishonour in being ousted like this’—perhaps softening them up in case he had to join his friends on the return passage to Australia—he believed there was something shameful about being turfed out: ‘I’d hate like hell to go back a failure.’ 

With the ejection of the two Australians from the training school, ‘not a few of us feel very apprehensive about it as the course is very rigorous’. John did not often dwell on the past, and he would never have dared, under normal circumstances, to criticise his father, but his apprehension got the better of him and, in a letter home, he admitted that ‘I have never regretted anything more in my life than not learning to fly before I came here. It would have made all the difference in the world.’ John was not the only one to rue his father’s stubborn insistence in withholding permission to fly. A few weeks later, his Aunt Ann chided her brother on this very point: ‘If only we could see ahead or rather that you had been able to, Ted. He would have trained young and would now be instructing at a good salary and not so likely to have to fight’. In less than 12 months, Ted would bitterly regret his obstinacy.

If John could not change the past, he could at least exert some control over the present and he and his friend Jack Burraston determined that they would not return home with their tail between their legs. They had again arranged to share quarters and, as they had on the Orama, spent extra hours studying. ‘I am lucky in having such a decent chap as Jack with me and each night we go over the day’s work and test each other on what we’ve had.’

Their hard work paid off. One more was scrubbed from the course but the places of the remaining trainees were secure: ‘We feel awfully sorry about it, especially as he was so very popular and such a great fellow. We will all miss [him] very much. It wasn’t his fault, he just could not fly well enough. We all feel very relieved now as we hear that there won’t be any more as the weeding out is now finished.’

Pressure off, John put away his homesickness, impatience and fear of receiving the order of the boot and settled down to enjoy life and training. He took advantage of the hospitality of some of the local families, courtesy of the Dominion and Allied Services Hospitality Scheme, was fitted for his RAF uniform—which required the assistance of a batman to cope with the buttons—and gained in confidence and ability as he increased his solo flying hours. On 19 December he ‘did some more low flying ... It’s great fun and is in fact just about the best there is’ and, one month after his second solo flying test, ‘started forced landings today. Had to cut out motor at 2000 feet and land in forced landing field which is very small. Successfully accomplished it each time.’

The flying days whizzed by. ‘We haven’t been allowed to do much slacking as the Air Ministry is rushing us all through at a great pace.’ John ‘thought we’d have to work over Christmas and now we find we have a week off.’ After his warm welcome by Ann and William Brawn at Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire shortly after he arrived in England, he had initially planned to spend Christmas with them if he had time off. But, not realising the young Australian had family he could go to—and without John disabusing him of this belief—the training school’s commanding officer organised John and Jack Burraston to stay with: ‘Mrs Parkes at Stratford-on-Avon. I have met her and she is very lovely and tells us she has made all sorts of arrangements for us. I will probably be going down to St Giles on the Wednesday or Thursday and will spend the rest of my leave with the aunts. We are all trying to make the most of this leave as it will probably be the last we will get for a long time.’

What John did not realise was that his aunts had ‘looked forward and prepared for Christmas but his letter written on the 21st did not get here till Christmas Day.’ Despite their disappointment, they put aside the little treats they had prepared for him and waited while John enjoyed Mrs Parkes’s hospitality.

Like Bill Millington, John was welcomed by his hosts and happily fitted into their Christmas preparations and festivities. Mrs Parkes, known to all as ‘Granny Mary’, was ‘a wonderful woman and awfully kind’. The family were well off, running ‘a big Buick and three Standards and have a staff of servants. It must cost 40 pounds a week to run that house’. He enthusiastically embraced the comforts of his affluent Christmas billet and was in danger of letting them go to his head. ‘We sit at dinner and drink champagne and look absolutely it. There’s no doubt how these people do live well.’

Mrs Parkes had ‘a very wise daughter of 19 rejoicing in name of Diana. Really quite a decent kid’ and, on Christmas Eve, John and Jack accompanied her to the local hospital, where she was working as a Voluntary Air Detachment. There, they helped decorate the tree for the servicemen inmates. John became quite fond of Diana, who reciprocated his brotherly feelings towards her, later inviting him to her wedding. In Mrs Parkes he saw almost a surrogate for his mother and he later told Mick Crossman that ‘you’d love her, Mother, she is a wonderful woman and I’ve never yet had anyone but yourself be so good to me’.

John enjoyed his time with the Parkes family and, on Christmas Day, he and Jack both had: ‘An awfully good time, although not so terribly wild, in fact, we had a very quiet time. You’d have loved to see Burry and I sitting down to Christmas dinner with a terrific array of knives and forks on each side of us and being asked by the butler what we’d have from champagne downwards.’

Despite the excitement of his first English Christmas and ‘the wonderful kindness the Parkes’ are showing us I feel awfully homesick for Australia and the folks and Pat’. Two days later, he was at Chalfont St Giles for an all too brief belated Christmas with his aunts. Soon after he arrived, Aunt Mabel took him for a long walk about the village. As well as the local sites such as the meeting house of the first Quakers and grave of William Penn, she took him to the parish church. Coming from such a young country, he was impressed by its age, ‘over 600 years old and Cromwell’s daughter is reputed to have been married there’. They walked through the churchyard, and Mabel showed him the grave of her sister, Florence, who had died in November 1935. She regularly tended the grave, clearing weeds away and cleaning the carved headstone.

On their way home, John experienced his first ever snow fall, and was astounded by the ‘wonderful sight. Everything so still and white and clean’. Ann Brawn looked on bemused at her nephew’s reaction to something so mundane for them. ‘He was like a child about it. Could have eaten it, scooped it up and must have a few snowballs.’ Knowing her brother would want a full report of how his son was faring, Ann also turned a critical gaze towards John. She noticed that he was ‘the picture of health. If anything not quite so thin’. She judged that, despite chattering about his family, he was not pining for his life back in Australia. ‘Don’t get any idea into your minds that he is homesick. He is not. Everything is so new. He is more like a child, wondering what is around the next corner and everyone is wonderfully kind to him.’ John was obviously becoming adept at hiding his occasional yearning for home.

Ann was also pleased to report that John ‘wanted to know every detail of your young life, Ted, and said more than once that he never guessed that he should miss you so, but he did. I think he begins to see your point of view, perhaps hazily so far’. On the negative side, she noticed a tendency to contrariness in her young nephew, similar to her sister Mabel’s—‘If anyone ever tells me to do a thing I simply don’t’—and she felt that John would benefit from more discipline. She also saw that he was developing spend thrift ways but realised much of it had to do with ‘meeting a class of people whom even the regular English would not’. She was astounded at ‘what he spent on smokes. Approximately what I have kept the home on (not  counting Mabe) for the last four months ... I’ll tell you for your comfort he is not fooling away his money’. But he was.

Like his friends, he purchased decorative wings for his mother, had visiting cards engraved, bought lavish Christmas presents for the Parkes family, his aunts and Uncle Will, and spent freely when on leave. But Ann saw nothing of a problem that would haunt her in less than twelve months and, despite some mild criticism, she saw only the good in the nephew she had already come to love. ‘He has a GOOD heart’, ‘never speaks an ill word’ and ‘has no vices’. Above all, ‘he will be all right. Neither of you need worry. His head is screwed on just where he wants it.’

Despite his earlier intention to spend the rest of his leave with the Brawns and Aunt Mabel, John returned to London on the 29th. There he met up with Jack Burraston and Diana Parkes at Paddington and they caught the train to Stratford-on-Avon together. Before he left Chalfont St Giles, Ann Brawn wanted to assure herself and her brother that John was indeed happy with his new flying life. She ‘asked him if he likes it. He said it was the thing. The one thing he has always wanted and he is as keen as mustard’.

Flying was indeed the one thing John had always wanted to do and he had finally achieved his life’s ambition. He returned to Ansty at 8.30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve and, as others wondered what 1940 would bring, he reflected over the last few months in England and the joy he experienced whenever he took to the air. His dreams had come true. He was flying, but there was an element of make believe to it all, as if the bubble of his dream could burst at any moment. ‘New Year’s Eve. I didn’t think I’d be spending this one in England at an RAF Station.’

 Oh my diary who records my hopes and fears’

Ken Holland spent two months at 3 Initial Training Wing, Hastings. A few days after he arrived on 2 October, he moved from his original 13-bed apartment in the Marine Court Hotel to the ‘comparative luxury’ of a six bed room. Making the most of the view across the English Channel, he ‘bagged a bed by a window, plus window sill in a quiet nook’. It was, to Ken, ‘très bon.’ Life was full—drilling, attending lectures, and playing ‘rugger’. The food looked all right, especially kidneys for breakfast, but more often than not it was foul, and on one occasion some seemingly good jelly gave him a severe stomach upset. He occasionally took himself off for a meal in town, on at least one occasion enjoying a ‘superb’ grilled sole. He made friends and, when it was time to let off steam, he joined in on the ‘very objectionable scrum in our part of the room’. One of those friends—though not a roommate—was Charles Palliser, from West Hartlepool in Durham.

Charles who at 5 ft 6 in was known as ‘Tich’, was almost exactly a year older than Ken. They bumped into each other in the mess one day and started chatting. Tich talked about his Yorkshire childhood and Ken told him all about Australia. He also spoke of his experiences at Airspeed Aeronautical College. Although neither had flown at that stage, Tich thought Ken a nice boy, who was particularly knowledgeable about aircraft generally as well as the aircraft industry.

Ken enjoyed his time at Hastings but he occasionally suffered from his isolation. Despite the circumstances of his home life in Australia, he dutifully wrote to him parents. He had not heard from his mother for some time and perhaps thought she welcomed the lengthy separation from the son she had not wanted. His loneliness at times became so intense it crowded out the feelings of rejection he harboured, and he was delighted when he finally received a long overdue letter from Ina Holland which revealed that none of his had reached Sydney. Always welcome were ones from his guardian, Major Hugh Ivor Emmott Ripley, known as Toby and his girlfriend, Seina Haydon. He pounced on Toby’s and fretted if Seina Haydon was tardy in writing: ‘No word from Seina—believe she has a cold—God forbid she has met someone else as I believe she is the girl for me for always now. Being alone amongst so many one thinks more about people. T. is dear to me as always and his letters help a lot but if my darling leaves me... .’

Ken drew his uniform on 24 October. So many of the other boys had ill-fitting tunics and trousers but his fit well enough. Lectures, drill, sport. The pattern experienced by Bill Millington a few weeks earlier varied little, relieved only by a trip to ‘Melorne’ at the beginning of November. And then back to ‘routine drill’, ‘routine lectures’ and rugger. ‘Life very dull’. So little was happening, in fact, that Ken took to recording the war news in his diary to fill up the pages and counted the days since he had received letters: ‘No letter from T.—Nothing from S. for 12 days’.

As November drew to a close, even his new friendships began to pall. The young man who loved to spend quiet afternoons riding his motorcycle and reading poetry was ‘so fed up with the crowd’ in his apartment and the new trainees arriving all the time that he moved into a single room so he could at least have the evenings to himself.

On 1 December, Ken wired Toby to meet him in Tavistock, in Devon. He also hoped to catch up with Seina. Once there, he and Toby intended to stay at a pub for a couple of days but the next morning a telegram arrived recalling Ken to Hastings. Plans shattered, they shared a ‘super but slightly mournful lunch’. Then Ken rushed to ‘Garmoe House’ to ‘see my darling Seina and hold her in my arms for a minute’ before dashing to nearby Launceston to catch the train back to Hastings. He could not get a through train so changed at Salisbury, hopped off at Portsmouth and gate-crashed a friend’s 21st birthday party. Somewhat making up for his ruined weekend, he caught up with ‘the old gang who looked fit’ and stayed the night.

He was up early on the 3rd to catch the 7.10 train and arrived back at Hastings at 10.00 a.m. He reported to the orderly room and discovered he was posted to 11 Elementary Flying Training School, Scone.

Ken and his fellow trainees arrived at Perth station at 7.00 a.m. on 4 December. It had been a long, bitterly cold trip, but he had managed to doze on the train by laying tables across the seats in his compartment. A coach was waiting and ferried them to the aerodrome at Scone, a small village a short distance away. First off breakfast, and the shock discovery that a four months course had been cut to eight weeks. (As it happened, this would not be the case). Then, he was off to stores to draw parachute, flying kit and books. Next, the trainees assembled and to meet the instructors. They described the training syllabus and told their new pupils there would be regular examinations and if they did not achieve the designated pass mark they would fail. And then, day just about over, Ken was taken to his billet, a comfortable one, he was pleased to note, with ‘good food and a super bed’. He wrote a letter to Seina, ‘had a quick bath and turned in at 22.20 and slept like a top.’

Work started the next day for Scone’s No. 23 Course. Ken was introduced to Flight Lieutenant Holmes, his flying instructor. Holmes was a calm, serious but pleasant man. He was ever tolerant of his pupils, and paced them carefully. As far as Ken was concerned at least, he was also long-suffering with the patience of Job.

Like Bill Millington and John Crossman, Ken quickly acquainted himself with the Tiger Moth. Holmes took him up for 25 minutes so his new pupil could develop a sense of the effect of the controls and become familiar with the cockpit layout. Over the next few days he practised taxiing and flying straight and level, medium turns and navigating through the mist. He moved onto gliding, climbing and stalling. He blitzed his first navigation test, scoring 14 out of 15. He marked the passing of the 100th day of war on 11 December and the next day was ‘up and spinning’.

As John Crossman discovered, RAF training had its ups and downs, and after his earlier success in the air, Ken encountered some failures. He attempted his first landing but ‘V. bad indeed. Got a ticking off.’ He received almost full marks in the next navigation test on the 13th but ‘made a hell of a mess as usual’ of his spinning and circuits lesson. He kept ‘making silly mistakes’ on the 15th and, when he spent most of the 16th trying to perfect his circuits and bumps, he managed to leave the patient Holmes ‘hairless’. There was no improvement on the 17th—‘absolutely hopeless’—and Holmes threatened to ground him. Ken didn’t record his feelings in his diary that night but it would not be surprising if was worried. Tich Palliser had soloed the day before, the first on their course to do, and after only 6 hours 35 minutes in the air. Others were also champing at the bit, and perfectly capable of taking the controls on their own. Tich recalled that the ‘atmosphere on the course was really exciting’. For everyone but Ken, perhaps, with the threat of expulsion hanging over him.

But Holmes didn’t ground Ken. Just as Flight Lieutenant Williams had given John Crossman a second chance, Holmes must have seen something in his bright young pupil who diligently went back to his billet most evenings—you couldn’t expect a young man to stay out of the pub every night—to study. On 18 December, Ken took his solo test with Flying Officer Sayers. He practised spinning and circuits and when they landed, Sayers sent Ken up on his own. It was ‘a great day’ for the young Australian. His ‘FIRST SOLO’.

Unlike Pat Hughes, Jack Kennedy and John Crossman who seemed to regress when they first soloed, Ken gained confidence. A naturally keen and vibrant young man, he positively thrived after his successful effort and bristled with new found skill and enthusiasm. With Holmes back in the instructor’s seat on the 19th, Ken followed up his successful first solo with sideslips, circuits and bumps and medium turns. Holmes came out of it ‘in good nick’ that day and Ken was allowed to solo for 45 minutes. On the next day’s solo session, he carried out ‘a lovely left hand [turn] from 4000 to 1000 [feet], not easily pulled out of.’ He passed some more tests and on 21 December he had a ‘grand’ dual session of low flying and map reading and delighted in seeing deer and a duck on the River Tay. To top it all off he received the happy news that he had eight days of Christmas leave. Life was indeed looking up as some of the trainees were not permitted home leave. After notching up another 25 minutes dual flying and map reading on the morning of the 22nd, he caught the train, final destination, ‘Melorne’. ‘What a joy to be going home.’

Ken had a blissful Christmas. He and Toby exchanged gifts and then had Christmas dinner at the Elliott Arms. They went to ‘Garmoe House’ for a party that evening, and Ken did the honours as Santa Claus. His darling Seina gave him socks, perhaps not the most romantic gift, but they would come in handy in the worsening Scottish winter, as would the furry slippers and scarf from Toby.

Ken and Toby walked home together and Ken could not have been happier. He had had a wonderful Christmas with Toby and Seina, but incredibly, Boxing Day was to bring even more joy. After a morning spent chatting and sipping sherry with Toby’s brother Guy who had come to visit, he went on an afternoon shoot. He hadn’t lost his eye, developed taking pot-shots at rats with his air rifle during his Bondi childhood, and was pleased to bag a snipe. It was all ‘good fun’. He then took Seina, who ‘looked stunning’, out to dinner and a dance. Afterwards, they returned to ‘Melorne’ to discover that Seina’s parents had stopped in for a few drinks. While Toby entertained the Haydons, Seina quietly told Ken that her mother had asked if she were fond of Ken. Seina confessed to the young man that she had initially hedged before answering truthfully that she was. She did not, however, admit the cause of her hesitation. Ken had earlier visited her at Torquay and had proposed. She did not accept, as ‘I wasn’t very sure about it’. But as the war progressed, and ‘as life was becoming so uncertain, I felt that perhaps it was the right thing to do’. After gentle probing from her mother regarding her feelings and apparent closeness to Ken, Seina decided she should marry the young Australian because it would give him ‘something to hold on to in a very uncertain world’. And so, for perhaps the wrong reasons, she told Ken she accepted his proposal.

Ken was overjoyed. ‘S. said yes!’. And even better, the Haydons ‘were pleased!!!!’ Despite his humble origins, it seemed Toby’s guardianship gave Ken a social cachet over and above that of poor Alex Hutchison who had been deemed such an unsuitable match. But of course, Ken know nothing of that sad affair and was delighted to record that ‘tonight they (mère et père) came into ‘Melorne’ and asked T. if he approved and T. said yes in an indefinite sort of way and vaguely said 25! i.e. my minimum age on marriage.’

Ken did not explain why he had to wait until he was 25, but regardless of the reasons, the young couple would have to wait some years. And perhaps Seina knew this when she accepted Ken’s proposal. She would not turn 21 until 20 May 1940 and her fiancé was still a few weeks shy of 20. Wait aside, Ken was happy. He believed Seina loved him and her parents were delighted with the match. Most importantly, the only child, who was not wanted by his own parents, was being welcomed into a large family, with the approval—of sorts—of the man he looked upon as his father.

Ken was due back at Scone on the 29th so did not have much time to spend with Seina. Despite his joy, he had a small niggle of fear that his dreams for the future might not eventuate.

Oh my diary who records my hopes and fears. I wonder will you see me a P[ilot] O[fficer] RAF—married happily to S. and living at ‘Melorne’ with T. smiling benignly at us and still retaining his love—pray God this last and most important will ever last.