My Dear Mother, -
If my wire got through you will know that I am in the Flying Corps by now. Before leaving C.M.S. Crowborough Freddie Freer (Sask. U.) put the notion into my head to try and get into this. I had thought of it before but didn't know exactly how to go about it. Freddie went to London and saw Colonel Obed-Smith, Canadian Emigration agent, who arranged an interview with the R.F.C. people for Freddie. He was warned for France the next day and so didn't get his transfer but is over in France now. He came over here with 196th. He gave me Col. Obed-Smith's address and I wrote him and he did the same for me. First I obtained permission from the reserve unit (P.P.C.[?]). The Major of the R.F.C. said he would take me on as an observer. It is the Pilot who drives the machine and the observer observes and does the firing with Machine Gun at the Huns. So since March 1st I have been attached to the R.F.C. and have been receiving instructions as a Corps observer and doing quite a lot of flying. A Corps squadron, which I will go to in France is the one which is in close contact with the Infantry and helps them a great deal. That is what I like about it. We will observe for the Artillery when it is firing on Hostile battery positions, trenches, strong points etc. etc . Also will fly over the Infantry when they are attacking and send word by means of the wireless to the artillery and Corps & Divisional H.Q. concerning the difficult the Infantry are having, what places should be heavily shelled, where the enemy are massed etc. etc. It is rather difficult to give you the details as I remember how vague it sounded to me when first commencing the lectures.
For the first few days we were at Reading where we received a few lectures on the Construction of the Aeroplane and one on the changer camera, which takes photos from the air. Then we went to Brooklands. This is the place where most of the auto racing is done in England and where a great many records have been made. The Aerodrome is in the centre of the 3 mile paved & banked track. Do you get that? At Brooklands we received lectures on Map Reading took Morse till we could receive 8 words a minute and send the same number. Because we use the instrument a great deal in the air. Lectures on Reconnaissance, Contact Patrol, Machine Gun & practice on the ranges.
By the way, one afternoon I made the beat group for the squad, that only happened once. We were billeted in Weybridge a small place about 20 miles from London and I was up several times. Our billet was in a park and a large country house owned by some wealthy gent. There were several Canadians in the school and we passed the time very enjoyable. Reg. Stone, do you remember him, went to St. Andrews & R.M.C. He and I with another Toronto fellow chummed around a great deal together. Had one or two swell drives in the evening in a car. I drove it for a while one night and was surprised to find that I hadn't forgotten how. Could hit it up pretty well.
Just before I left Brooklands Gordon Gauld came down and I only saw him a couple of times. I was sorry I was leaving because we only had one little talk about things at home. He was saying what funny incidents this war brought about and if the folks at home could only see us. Gordon is taking the same course as I have and perhaps will be lucky and get to the same squadron in France, who knows. It is almost two years since I saw him here in England.
You'll want to know what it feels like to be flying. I'm looking forward to the time when I'll have the pleasure of taking you and Pa up. Perhaps you think that you would never be a high flier but it isn't at all impossible. In fact now to me it is only a matter of a few years till Aeroplanes are as plentiful as autos. You have your doubts about the 1st and 2nd times but after that it is a pleasure and you experience far more pleasant sensations than auto riding.
The first time I went up I didn't like to look over the side and see the ground falling away from you and the pilot didn't make any quick turns or banks but flew very straight and I was thankful. The ground looks like a painted picture and you seem to be floating over it at a slow rate. It is difficult to explain what the ground looks like. The higher you are the further you can see of course. I have been up at 6000', above the clouds several times. At that height it is fairly cold and you see very far and the smaller houses & land features seem.
Mon. May 7/17
Saturday morning the three of us who came up together from Brooklands went over to Lark Hill Artillery school and were told something about gunnery also watched the guns firing. We came back last night. This morning I was up flying for an hour taking photos at a height of 7000'. It is a warm day but when up high you are glad that you wore a coat helmet and gloves.
We will be here till Thurs 10th May then have leave till 14th and suppose to leave for France on the 15th. That makes it 1 day over 11 months that I've been in England, so there are no complaints and I have been mighty fortunate. I may get a warrant to Glasgow and go up for a day am not sure.
Have seen Mrs. Fraser Stewart, Mrs. Dwight Dawson & a Mrs. Porter, all from Regina. Mrs. Porter is Dan Maclean's Aunt he took me around to their place. They are all living together. Their Husbands are in France.
It seems a bit peculiar to be going back to France but I still feel lucky and my chances are a little better than in the Infantry. At least I think so.
I sent Willie a parcel with underwear & powder about a week ago and hope he gets it O.K. Must send him some money. He asked for it. By the way I have a credit of about Â£18 so after being a little more kit may have to get an advance or borrow a little from Mr. Reid. I'll make up my mind between now & Thurs. whether it will be Scotland or not. Likely not, because I'd rather see some of the fellows. I told you about being over to Witley Camp and seeing Geo, Porter, Chas, Bayne, Kenneth Hamilton. All of the 128th etc. Earle Longworthy was away on a course so didn't see him. Will write & perhaps go down there for a day.
Your letters come fairly regularly once in a while held up. You haven't been sending papers have you so your letters say. I'll get some of your letters and answer anything that needs it and then will certainly write once a week from now on.
About parcels - have received all the parcels and the socks are still going strong. The chocolates in one were dandy, surely I've told you about all the parcels by now.
Remember me to Major McCara. He is a good head, and use to look me up when out of the trenches. The day before I left the regiments in France He was over and left word with one of the fellows that I was to be sure & cable home. I was away getting a feed at the time. I was sent down the line next day.
I went around to see Miss Tench about two weeks ago. She is quite an invalid and only gets up for a few hours each day. I was to go for tea but haven't been up to London for a while. She asked about you all. Mary & Arthur she remembers well. I got thru the officers' course at Crowbow in good shape. Have my certificate will send it to you shortly, no room in this envelope. Will try to get a Photo taken. Must have over fifty letters of yours here am destroying them after reading.
I had a Service Card from Tom Yorath. He said he was being sent down to the base. Perhaps he is having a rest. Almost two years of it for Tommy. I have read through all those letters so will try to answer yours as they come in. Will likely cable when on leave.
This place is on Salisbury Plain, quite a distance from any town. It is a school for Pilots and only the 3 of us as observers for further instruction. We were lucky to be sent here for we have had twice as much flying here as at Brooklands and most of our class were sent overseas from these. I will write & tell you the squadron I am going to in France as soon as I know but address letters i/c Mr Reid. I always get them direct. I see him once in a while.
Must close for now. I have been very careless in not writing and don't realize at least forget how anxious and how you worry. I'll certainly do a great deal better from now on.
I hope you are all well. Tell me how Reg. is getting along. Stone wished to be remembered to him. Mary and Arthur are well?
With Much Love
Your affect. son