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I had a licence to drive on my fourteenth birthday, and cousin Tommy, who was a schoolteacher, occasionally gave me a terrific treat by letting me ride his lovely Scott, that splendid twin-cylinder, water-cooled two-stroke which was a bit of unique motorcycle engineering in its day. I was mad on motorbikes. I pestered my long-suffering parents so much that they actually bought me a 1926 Scott Flyer for £22 in 1929, whilst I was still a schoolboy. It had so much wrong with it mechanically that, by the time I finished with it two or three years later, I reckoned I knew everything there was to know about two-stroke engines. A popular advertisement for a well-known shampoo in those days proclaimed ‘FRIDAY NIGHT IS AMAMI NIGHT’. With that old Scott, Friday night was taking-to-pieces night. I later progressed to a 500 c.c. Rudge Special which I had up at Oxford in my final term and, a year or so after that, when I was a University Apprentice with United Steels at Rotherham in 1934, to a beautiful, brand new 500 c.c. Rudge Ulster. It cost £73.50 in decimal terms and really could fly. With its hemispherical combustion head, four valves and over-square, short-stroke engine, it could reach the 100 mph figure, backed by marvellous acceleration and handling. I only fell off it twice. Yes, I loved petrol engines and what they could do for you.


But to come back to the OUAS. It seemed that undergraduates seeking to make service with the Royal Air Force their career had the very best chance of being accepted as members of the squadron. And this is what I decided I would like to do. The idea of actually getting paid for doing something I would have been glad to pay to do, had I been able to afford it, was rather attractive. I knew nothing of Service life, but I did know I loved handling things, and the thought of handling something in a three-dimensional world sounded exciting. I duly made application – that would be in the summer term of 1933 – and was accepted as a non-flying member, confined for the time being to study the theory of flying and navigation under the tutelage, mainly, of Bob Acres, the NCO who became our guide and friend of those first weeks in the Squadron. There were written exams to pass. I did pass them, and, looking back over those years, I remember I was never placed lower than third in any group in any RAF test I had to take.


It was at the start of the next term, in October 1933, that I was promoted to flying membership. Before that, I had to have a medical examination. The doctor nominated for this lived up St Giles, just by the Lamb and Flag pub, and he was a bit concerned that on the right of my neck I had an enlarged gland, which had been there for years without causing problems. He thought that, since we were flying in aircraft with open cockpits, the low temperatures at altitude might stiffen my neck so that I would be less able to look around, which would be a hazard. The doctor suggested I had the gland removed and I went into the Acland Nursing Home on the Banbury Road to acquire the three-inch scar I have worn ever since.


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