English Pilot: A Letter

WE had a grand day on Friday with three patrols. On the first we had a glorious dogfight with about nine Messerschmitt 110’s which caught a proper pasting: I must admit they were heavily outnumbered. On the second trip we had an uneventful brush with some Messerschmitt 109’s. It was the last trip which was the most fun. About twelve Junkers 88 bombers came in, and, after losing two from anti-aircraft fire, were set on by some Hurricanes. As we climbed up to them we had the pleasure of seeing one dart past us, hotly pursued, large chunks falling off it and the starboard engine on fire. When we were at last in a position to attack, there were only seven left, four in front and three behind. They looked just like beautiful expensive crochets flying along. We had a real field day, making attack after attack; a few Messerschmitt 109’s turned up, but did not hinder us. The Junkers 88’s went down all over the place. The scrap started at 13,000 feet and the bombers just pushed their throttles wide open and screamed downhill in a vain attempt to get away. We bagged the lot, the last three coming down in the sea. My ammunition ran out at about 2000 feet, so I was unable to administer a coup de grâce, but it had been a great day.

Saturday was not quite such a success from my point of view, as on our third patrol I lost my aircraft. We were at about 21,000 feet when we got involved with a squadron of Messerschmitt 109’s. They got me before I even saw them, which is very annoying. I first felt a kind of funny bump, and as I turned to see what was up my controls suddenly felt funny, a lot of red sparks and black smoke appeared round my feet, and a cloud of white smoke, probably glycol, began streaming back from the engine. The aircraft began going downhill fast. I slid back the hood and began to get out; my goggles were shipped off and my helmet began to lift up in the slip stream. I realized I hadn’t undone my straps, so I pulled out the retaining pin and stood up, standing on anything which came handy (the seat, the instrument panel, or the stick — I don’t know really). The air seized hold of me, there was a wrench as my oxygen tube snapped off (I had forgotten to undo it), and I shot out into the sky. The aeroplane disappeared.

It was nice and cool falling. I was head down, of course, but found the position quite comfortable; there was no sense of speed or feeling of falling. I had a look at the clouds below (they were about 4000-5000 feet) and then collected the odd bits of my helmet and had a look round. My parachute was still on my seat, both my boots were on, and I did not seem to have lost anything except my goggles, and a handkerchief and map which must have fallen out of the pockets in my knees when I first went upside down.

After a while I thought about pulling the rip cord. ‘What about giving the old “brolly” a try-out?’ I thought. I seemed to have fallen a goodish way, so I pulled. The canopy streamed out, there was a hard jerk, and there I was right side up, quite comfortable and floating slowly — oh, so slowly — earthwards. I was about 9000-10,000 feet, so I had fallen free for about 8000 or 9000 feet (from about 18,000) and might have fallen farther with advantage.

When I looked up I could see a shining white canopy above me, and little silver specks having no end of a dogfight in the clear blue. A Spitfire dived down past me with a high-pitched whine, but that was the only disturbance.

The parachute began to swing me about, and it wasn’t long before I felt sick — very sick, in fact, by the time I landed. It was fun going into the clouds, as the sun played a sort of ‘spectre of the Brocken’ effect on my shadow as I approached them.

When I emerged, the countryside looked pleasantly open, and after drifting quite a way I thought I saw where I should land. Two farm hands had the same idea. We were all wrong, as, in spite of attempts on my part to avoid it, I came down in a spinney of young oak trees, pulling up short about twenty feet from the ground, hanging in my harness. I managed to get hold of a trunk, pull myself over to it, get out of the parachute harness, and climb to the ground, where I remained quite still until I was found.

The army soon took charge of me, gave me a drink and some lunch, and drove me back to the airfield.

The only damage I sustained was a hefty bruise on my right shoulder from hitting the tail as I jumped, and a bruise on my leg, and a torn trouser from the somewhat unceremonious descent through the upper branches of the oak tree.

Now I go about with my arm in a sling, feeling particularly good as I have been given a week sick leave.

[This letter came to us through the kindness of Mrs. Mary E. Carnegie, of London. In her accompanying note there is this sad postscript: ‘Thus far we have, on the whole, been very fortunate, though a young great-nephew of mine, Ralph Hope, who was a pilot, was killed the other day trying to save his plane from crashing over the houses in London. This he succeeded in doing, and it fell in open ground, but alas, poor boy, he paid for his care with his own life, for when he bailed out he was too low for his parachute to open in time to save him. I think it may interest you to see an account which he wrote of an experience a few weeks earlier, when he bailed out at a great height and came safely down, for it really is a very accurate account of what happens, and shows the fine courage of his Service.’ — THE EDITORS]