Something had happened during my leave, everyone had a new rumour to impart. We were obviously on the move again and there was a new vitality in the air. I made a point of speaking to the adjutant but although he should have been the person to send the recall signal that I had received in Kashmir, he merely 'hoped that I had had a good time!'
The C.O. met me as though he could hardly wait to see me and greeted me as a long lost friend. "Ned. You did such a good job as signals officer, what would you like to take on next?' 'How about Imprest Officer?" (Responsible for squadron accounts.) I reminded him of my near pathological hatred of figures so he asked me to be education officer to which I acceded. "When we get to our own station what about taking on Mess Officer as well?" "Of course" I lied through my smile. Not a jot concerning the leave from which I had just returned.
As is often the case nothing happened and sapped of hints the rumours ceased. All returned to normal and I note from a letter home that I had better get a decent torch as four cobras had been killed in the last few days.
Suddenly all stations 'Go' again. The pilots were assembled and the CO looked triumphant. "The squadron is to go on a refresher course at Amarda Road.' We shall be landing at Lahore, Palam, Cawnpore, Allahabad, and Gaya." "Ned, I want you take W/O Lauder (Engineer Officer) with you in the Harvard so that you can arrange things for our arrival." This meant, of course, that we had to get to the destination in good time but this was no drag. We were very proud of ourselves as a squadron and we always took off and landed as near as possible in formation. Owing to the limited size of the runways this meant coming in as pairs. If landing at a new strip we were quite used to seeing strings of Red Very Lights fired at us to warn that we were landing too close. Being young and full of bravado it was something of a thrill to defy regulations.
There is an entry in my logbook (23rd July '43) noting a practice interception. The squadron scramble took 2min 54 secs; landing in 45 seconds flat. Not bad! It was imperative that our flying was to be as near perfect as possible, particularly at Amarda Road under the critical eyes of the instructors who would doubtless be ready for comment. Since it was to be a squadron move everything had to be taken along so instead of the usual twelve aircraft, all fifteen Hurricanes had to be impeccable. So it was; until one of the Hurries broke a tail wheel on landing at Gaya, the last stop before Amarda Road.
I volunteered to fly to Dum Dum on the outskirts of Calcutta to get another one and a few other bits 'n bobs and the engineering officer (fool that he was, he had been my passenger right across India!) demanded that he came with me. The weather was atrocious. I still have a copy of the weather report in my logbook:-
Here is a copy of my letter home:-
The letter is quoted verbatim because it reflects something of the feelings at the time, something difficult to recall at this remove. Any additions are bracketed.
The following day we arrived at Armada Road with our usual élan but they were either used to dicey flying or determined not to flinch because there was not one Very Light to warn us away. The Refresher Course was excellent and we were all ready to admit that we still had much to learn. The entire course took approximately three weeks and involved every conceivable form of combat flying including dive-bombing with Hurricanes and what were termed 'advanced attacks'. In this case, the enemy were Liberators: how sorry I was for those pilots. They flew as instructed, at altitude, or 'on the deck'; we surrounded them like angry gnats.
Our guns were not loaded and the camera films were projected and criticised by the instructors afterwards. Just after take off one day my windshield was suddenly clouded with spray. The canopy was still open and I was drenched. Some of it got through to my mouth because I was aware of the sweet taste of glycol. I was too busy with the course to make too many enquiries but it was plain that there was a major failure in the cooling system. I belted round the circuit and landed with the temperature gauge off the clock. Poor old 'B' for B*d was in for repairs and I was immediately given Hurricane 'G' to fly. Excellent aircraft but it was the CO's kite and he was loath to let anyone else fly it!
At this time we all expected to return to Risalpur and the luxury of a permanent Mess. However poor our food and accommodation there were compensations of a sort as reported in a letter home.
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Edward Sparkes ©1998-2002