Updated: 14 Jan 12
During 1926 the unit expanded and Vickers Vimys were added to the other aircraft. It had become so large that it now split into 5 flights: A and B Flights had AVRO 504s, C Flight Bristol Fighters, D Flight DH9s and E Flight Vickers Vimys. Later Armstrong Whitworth Atlases were added.
At No 2 FTS during the 20’s was a Wing Commander The Honorable C Cochrane. He always used to wear a monocle, and seemed to have been a bit of a sportsman - he had a dartboard in his office at which he used to throw darts during his spare moments.
He also played a similar game in the air. He used to take tennis balls into the air with him, and flying low over the married quarters, try to drop the tennis balls down the chimney of his quarter No doubt a direct hit would have helped to save on chimney cleaning bills, but would have been more than balanced by the cost of cleaning carpets.
A QFI of No 2 Flying Training School, Sergeant Snaith, was the only airman entrant in the Duke of York’s Cup. Nevertheless, he won the Trophy against the best flying opposition the RAF could muster.
During these early years the sports field was beginning to take shape. In 1926, Mr Albert Thorpe started as a groundsman. He was to spend 40 years at Digby looking after the sports ground which he originally started in 1926. At that time Wing Commander Tedder expressed a wish that there should be a sports field - and the best place was occupied by a turnip field.
However, such a wish was not to be denied and Mr Thorpe and his staff began to build what is now the Hockey, Cricket and Soccer arena. During this time a start was also made on the Tennis Courts, Garden and Sports Pavilion. Later on when new hangars were being built in 1935/36 some of the concrete from the floors of the old hangars was used to make the crazy paving on the garden paths.
The sports field saw its share of celebrities. Playing hockey for the station during the pre-World War II period was Flight Lieutenant Hampton and Squadron Leader Valsey, both of whom played for the RAF. The Olympic sprinter Donald Finlay (later Group Captain D O Finlay, DFC AFC) ran on the sports field. Sports day at Digby was a gala occasion; stalls were erected around 3 sides of the field, with lighting and bunting to make the scene colourful. All refreshments (solid and liquid) for Station personnel were free, paid for from the proceeds of the stalls and the day used to end with a firework display. People used to come from the local area for miles around to see Digby at play.
In 1926 the unit gained another ‘first’; this time two sergeant pilots, Snaith and Lowdall, became the first airmen pilots in RAF history to obtain A1 categories as qualified flying instructors. Incidentally, Sergeant Snaith, in 1927, as if to point out that he was not just a flier, also won the RAF ½ Mile Championship in record time.
A school for the children living in married quarters was opened on April 26th 1926, with 23 pupils. No story of the Station would be complete without the story of the School.
Also available from this time is a copy of Daily Routine Orders for 28th July 1926 issued by Wing Commander Tedder. They detail the Orderly Officer, Duty Officer of the Watch and the Duty Trumpeter. Chimneys were to be swept by the contractor, starting at 0600 hours. This order is now on display in the Station Ops Room Museum.
The Station Church Baptismal register shows that on 31 October 1926 the son of Wing Commander Tedder was christened John Michael by His Grace the Bishop of Lincoln. In the Church of St Michael, where the christening took place, there is also an Alms Dish given to the Church in November 1928, 10 years after Armistice Day. The donor was by Squadron Leader C A Ridley (OC Admin) and the inscription reads:
Mr Martin’s first instructor was a man called Bugge, which he pronounced ‘Bewgey’. Apparently, this was not his only idiosyncracy. The stick in the instructor’s cockpit was detachable, the idea being that it would not snag on anything when the aircraft was being flown solo by the pupil. On at least one occasion, Bugge terrified a pupil by apparently throwing away his joy stick (which was really just a spare) and shouting “It’s all yours.” He also used to connect his Gosport tube (the speaking tube between instructor and pupil) so that he could speak to the student, but left his ear phones unplugged so that the pupil could not retort! One day, one of his pupils was taken ill in the air, but could not explain this to Bugge. Bugge was apparently posted shortly afterwards, but we do not know if there was a direct connection between the 2 events
Daily life and living
However, life for all ranks at Digby was fairly spartan. The airmen lived in 1918 vintage huts, which each accommodated 48 men. (We have a copy of a 1918 vintage works drawing which shows that they were actually designed for 100 Airmen!) A partition ran down the centre, but it was only some 7 feet in eight, which left a wide gap to the roof. The 2 dormitories on either side of the partition were ‘heated’ by 2 pot-bellied stoves, but fuel was always a problem. Even if there had been the fuel, it would have made little difference; internal temperatures at the end of the huts were usually 30 - 40°F in winter. Regulations prohibited the banking of stoves overnight, as they were supposed to be drawn and cleaned externally each morning. If anyone was away from the Station, lots were drawn to ‘borrow’ a blanket in his absence. Ablutions were external to the huts, but were without hot water. Shaving was therefore a problem. Usually, a bucket filled with water was placed on top of each stove and one hoped for a mug of water - warm if not hot - the following morning. There were 3 or 4 bath houses each having 2 baths, but - as they only opened on 2 evenings a week - one had to be quick off the mark for a hot bath.
The pupil pilots had things a little better. Nevertheless, they had to attend a church parade each week. On at least one occasion, this was at Cranwell and was also attended by some officers of the Lincolnshire Regiment in pre-First World War full dress. Why noone to be too sure! Absence from Mess was permitted only twice per week, and there was a full-scale guest night once per week. Even had they had more free time, one doubts that they could have done much with it. Few had cars or motor bikes, and the attractions of Sleaford was restricted to ‘a third-rate variety hall called the Corn Exchange’. In any case, to get into Lincoln, one had apparently to hire an ancient Vauxhall owned by an enterprising local. So popular was this car, that one had to book it a month in advance .
Some of the officers had cars, One, a steamer, was constantly being taken by its owner into the MT Section for repairs - usually just as the airmen were packing up for the day. Unfortunately, this car mysteriously caught fire one night during a test drive by the MT staff. Another officer, undeterred by this, left his Calthorpe in the care of the Section while he went on a weekend pass. Naturally, the test drive happened to be on the Saturday afternoon, and, equally naturally, needed to be a longish one. Although the car was only a 2 seater with a dickey seat, 7 airmen managed to scramble on and in it. Possibly because it was so overloaded, the car began to boil in the middle of nowhere. There was no water to be had, and so the airmen decided to fill the radiator in a fashion which modesty prohibits me from describing in any detail. The car was waved down by a policeman on the outskirts of Lincoln, but apparently allowed to proceed because the smell was too much for him.
Digby Oral Histories:
- A History
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