Updated: 14 Jan 12
1933 was to be the last year in which the Avro 504N performed at Hendon. The two flying instructors who participated in this extraordinary skilful event were Flying Officer P R ‘Buggy’ May and Sergeant V J W Bredenkamp, both of No 2 FTS. The presentation was in the form of a ‘new method’ of flying instruction, where the instructor and pupil each occupied separate aircraft, coloured red and blue. The instructor, Sergeant Bredenkemp, made some manoeuvre and the ‘pupil’ was required to repeat it. The repertoire was from take off, manoeuvres in the air and thence landing. Of course, Buggy May made a hash of everything, including careering in a tight circle on the ground for his takeoff, ‘hanging on the propeller’ in a stalled climb and landing with the Avro at an angle of 45 degrees with the tail on the ground. Although the event was eagerly anticipated by the public and always proved hilarious, it was an exhibition of superb flying skill. The practices for the event took place at Digby and whenever one was in progress, officers and NCOs were hard pressed to keep their men in their respective sections.
In July 1933 an incident occurred which was to lead to the court martial of 3 students. They were nearing the end of the course, all tests completed, and more or less putting in time till the passing out parade of the final course of 2 FTS. There were three colonial Acting Pilot Officers on course, Tomlinson from South Africa, Fear from New Zealand and Kennedy from Canada. At lunch they were talking together and learnt that they were all scheduled to fly at the same time that afternoon. They concocted the plan of meeting up in the air and flying over in formation to Skegness. However, Station Flying Orders laid down that pupils would not fly outside a 5, yes 5, mile radius of the aerodrome without authorisation.
Over Skegness, Tomlinson, who was leading the formation, decided to have a closer look at a pleasure steamer a mile or so out from the pier. He started to lose height and the others followed him down. At about 200’ they levelled off but he misjudged and flew right into the water. Tomlinson was thrown clear of the wreckage, and Mr Montague Grunnill, a lifeboat coxswain, who was in charge of the pleasure boat, Grace Darling, picked him up.
The three were not too popular as with the FTS closing down most of the staff had received a posting away. A General Court Martial was convened by order of AVM Longmore, Commanding Inland Area. They were charged with:
By the time the CM convened, 14 August 1933 they were practically the sole survivors on the station. As soon as it over they were shipped to Grantham under Close arrest.
The powers-that-be were kind; the sentence was loss of seniority and dropping so many places in the Air Force List and, of course, a reprimand. Tomlinson was also assessed some trifling sum such as £5 for damaging one of His Majesty’s aircraft!
In December 1933 the Flying Training School closed down and the Station was handed over to Cranwell. In spite of the rundown, the Station managed to win the Wakefield Trophy again!
Digby Oral Histories:
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