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I was there for four lovely summer days and the bill was £33, quite a sum for my parents to disgorge at that time. But it was less than the bills we faced when both John and Colin were born in the same Nursing Home in 1941 and 1944. I now got a clean bill of health from the doctor, which was somewhat significant in view of later events. And I was now eligible to be one of the 75 flying members of the Squadron when my third year at Oxford began in October 1933. We flew from the RAF aerodrome at Abingdon and the cadets normally managed to get in one scheduled flight weekly. There were often times when they had to cancel their scheduled turns and it was always possible to grab one of these vacant sessions by telephoning the Squadron HQ and asking to fly. I did this very religiously and contrived to get in more flying hours, I believe, than any of the other cadets.


The Squadron C/O during my time was Wing Commander Keith Park. Later on, when the 1939 War came, Keith Park achieved considerable fame. He commanded 11 Fighter Group during the Battle of Britain and was, eventually, promoted to the rank of Air Chief Marshal. I think he retired to his native country, New Zealand. The Chief Flying Instructor was Squadron Leader Dalzell and my own flying instructor was Flying Officer Bates, another New Zealander. The aircraft we all flew at the time was the Avro 504N. It was a fabric covered biplane, fitted with an Armstrong Siddeley Lynx radial engine of 180 h.p. It had been designed as far back as 1912 and its nine bare cylinders lacked even a Townend Ring around them, so that sitting behind a Lynx the pilot could see the valve springs of the top cylinder popping rhythmically up and down as the engine achieved its less than 2000 r.p.m. The Avro climbed at about 75 m.p.h. and cruised in level flight at 90. Even to carry out a simple loop meant diving to about 110 m.p.h. but, with that speed limitation, it was still a perfectly useful aerobatic aircraft.


It looked ancient beside the aircraft of the operational squadrons also stationed at Abingdon, the Fairey Battles which were light bombers, and the Hawker Hart biplane fighters, whose pilots we all envied. My first flight, just 35


Flying Officer Bates at RAF Abingdon, 1933


minutes of passenger flying, was on the 16th October and I was excited enough to be sick immediately we


17


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