Updated: 14 Jan 12
Digby had been maintained on care and maintenance since 1922 until June 1924. In this month, No 2 Flying Training School came to the Station from RAF Duxford.
At Duxford, No 2 Flying Training School had been equipped with Avro 504, Bristol Fighter, and Sopwith Snipe. It trained pilots ab initio in fighter-type aircraft. On its arrival at Digby it was commanded by Wing Commander Sidney Smith DSO AFC who returned in 1929 as a group captain to command the Station again. Wing Commander Smith, incidentally, was known on the Station as ‘Crasher’. This allegedly stems from his habit of landing his aircraft very firmly - rumour has it that on one memorable day he ‘bent’ no less than 3 aircraft!.
All the aircraft were painted (or, more accurately, doped) an aluminium colour. The distinguishing mark of No 2 FTS was a red centre section. In accordance with the then general practice, the wheels were painted in different colours. When a pupil pilot went solo, bunting streamers in the flight colour were attached to the outer struts as a warning to other aircraft in the vicinity that the aircraft might do something unconventional! One cannot imagine anyone in his right mind getting too close to an FTS in full swing. On a fine and flyable day, there would be 30 or 40 aircraft buzzing around doing circuits and bumps.
The Flight Commander of the Bristol Fighter Flight was Flight Lieutenant Gardiner. Gardiner was something of a martinet, who always wore spotless white overalls, white gloves and a white silk scarf when flying. He insisted that his aircraft were always polished as though for an AOC’s Inspection. In the mid-summer of 1925, the AOC made an unofficial surprise visit to the Station. As he arrived in a Bristol Fighter, this was naturally parked outside the Bristol Flight. The Avro and Snipe Flights were inspected first, and all went well. The AOC, however, seems to have been irked with Gardiner’s trident self-satisfaction at his Flight’s splendid turnout. He therefore searched harder than normal for a defect. At the end of the line he found it, and told Gardiner that he expected all the aircraft to be properly prepared. Poor Gardiner could hardly complain that the offending aircraft was the one that the AOC had arrived in a little earlier!
At around this time, the ‘gate guardian’ was a German AA gun.
With the Flying Training School when it came from Duxford was AC Parselle, a postal clerk. He set up the Postal Section on the unit, operating first on a bicycle and later progressing to motor cycles and cars. He was demobilised in 1929, but came back in 1930 for a spell as a civilian driver. Back in uniform at the beginning of the war, he renewed his acquaintance with Digby; he again became a civilian employee after the War. (This time he was a clerk.) He finally retired from RAF Digby, where he was working as a messenger in 1970, 46 years after he first arrived.
It was during Wing Commander Smith’s time that one LAC H Harding arrived at Digby. The exact date was 25 June 1924. He tells us that the CO of the time was very keen that all his airmen should have flying experience. (Whether this was Smith or Tedder is not clear.) Apparently, an individual would be selected at random and asked why he had joined the RAF. The usual replies were that the man wanted to follow a trade or to travel. The CO would have none of this. "You joined to fly. Follow me, boy !" The hapless airman would be dragged off to a waiting aircraft and subjected to half an hour’s acrobatics - often with unfortunate results!
Many of the then current aircraft had to be started by means of a ‘Huckstarter’. This was based on a model T Ford chassis, and was a mechanical starting handle. In 1924 and 25 there were just 3 of these contraptions at Digby. One day, a driver who had just started a Bristol Fighter went forward, instead of backwards, when the aircraft’s engine fired. The result was a smashed propeller and a badly bent horizontal shaft on the starter. One of the other starters was having its engine overhauled. The other was something of a rogue. The steering was badly worn, and it was possible to wind the wheel round to such an extent that reverse steering was possible. Having heard of the earlier accident, the sergeant in charge of MT detailed his favourite driver to take the rogue out and show the others how things should be done. Some wag had, however, left the steering in a critical position; sure enough, the favoured driver tried to sweep out of the hangar with a flourish, and demolished a brick wall! The amusement of the others was short-lived; the sergeant detailed them to work all night until both damaged machines had been made serviceable.
Sidney Smith was fallowed as Unit Commander by Wing Commander A W Tedder, later to be Marshal of the Royal Air Force, the Lord Tedder, GCB, DCL, LLD.
1924 also saw the death and burial in Ashby de la Launde Church Cemetary of Pilot Officer Hall.
Digby Oral Histories:
- A History
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