Rowland Ward's pilot training

 Having been accepted as fit for aircrew training in October 1942, Rolly was issued with a lapel badge to show his membership of the RAAF Aircrew Reserve and told there would be a wait of some months before his call-up. Shortly afterwards he received an issue of twenty one books which he was required to study; they covered mathematics, Air Force law, theory of flight and related subjects.

No. 10 EFTS Temora

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Temora airfield in 1942/3, with many of its 97 Tiger Moths on show.

In January 1943 he was posted to No.10 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) Temora, where he spent two months learning to fly in the de Havilland Tiger Moth. If there was any doubt at all in Rolly’s mind about just what he was getting into, it would have been dispelled in March with two fatal accidents involving members of his course. 

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Just over a week later, on 10 March, LAC Frank Brooker from Artarmon NSW took off in Tiger Moth A17-433 accompanied by his instructor Sgt Cyril Plisch, the latter having 527 solo hours on Tiger Moths.  At 10.15, the aircraft struck the ground 7 miles south-east of the airfield, bursting into flames and killing both occupants.  The cause of the crash was unknown, although it occurred in a low flying area so again pilot inexperience (Frank Brooker had just under 4 hours solo, though 14 ½ hours dual on Tiger Moths) could have been the reason.  Other accidents had been caused by severe down-draughts on the leeward side of hills in the area.

On 2 March 1943 19 year old LAC Brian Flynn from Waverley NSW, took off to do circuit and landing practices, he had just 1 hour of flying experience since his first solo.  As he approached the airfield on a gliding turn, the Tiger Moth spun into the ground killing Flynn instantly.  The probable cause of the accident was attributed to poor technique on behalf of the trainee pilot.

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Typical scenes at a Temora; a group of pupils and instructors in front of their Tiger Moths, and on a training exercise.

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Rolly's class of smiling trainees at the end of their EFTS course.  Rolly is on the right of the instructor.

No. 6 SFTS Mallala

Having survived the rigours of his first experiences in flight, and gained some proficiency as a pilot, it was time to move on to bigger things.  Rolly was posted to No. 6 Service Flying Training School Mallala flying twin engined Avro Ansons.

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Dan Conway explained in his book "The Trenches of the Sky" that:  "the trainees main worry was how they would cope with the twin-engined Anson, which until recently had been the frontline bomber and reconnaissance aircraft of the RAAF.  With two motors and a blind flying panel, it was a big step up from the Tiger Moth.  The fledgling pilots soon found however that the "Aggie" was a respectable dowager without a vice which, for example, when practising stalls, would "mush" down slowly without dropping a wing."

The Ansons of Mallala on display!

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The Anson cockpit

But there was no room for complacency, things could and did go wrong, from rather embarrassing landings:

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...to much more serious accidents....

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LAC Gordon Young was coming towards the end of his SFTS course in early July 1943.  He was on a solo cross country exercise, with 81 hours of flying time under his belt, when he lost control of the Anson whilst in cloud.  The aircraft was seen in a steep diving turn coming out of the base of the cloud at 800 feet.  The inevitable crash happened killing Young instantly.  Trainee pilots were specifically ordered to avoid flying in clouds.

Two weeks after this tragedy Flying Officer John Pettit, one of the instructors with 1232 flying hours logged, accompanied by 4 maintenance personnel took off on a 240 hour check flight in Anson W2556.  They failed to return.  The next day 29 aircraft conducted a search for W2556, small bits of wreckage were found in St Vincent's Gulf though no bodies were recovered.  Pettit and his passengers were listed as missing presumed dead, no cause for the crash was ever established.

LAC Cook, another fellow pupil on 32 Course crashed Anson AW262, he succumbed to his injuries and died the day before "Wings Day",  when successful pupils reached the end of their course.  Rolly is shown circled on this auspicious day, 23 July 1943.

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No.2  Embarkation  Depot Bradfield Park

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Having successfully completed his flying training in Australia, Rolly's next step was a posting abroad.  He was sent to No. 2 Embarkation Depot, Bradfield Park in Sydney. 

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After a short stay there, he embarked on a troopship for the United Kingdom on 11 August 1943, arriving in England on 16 October.

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All aircrew arriving from overseas were initially sent to a Personnel, Despatch and Reception Centre (PDRC) which were usually peacetime holiday towns such as Blackpool, Bournemouth, or in Rolly's case, Brighton.  He would have stayed either at the Grand or the Metropole hotel whilst all the paperwork regarding postings for further training was sorted out.

His first posting must have surprised, and perhaps dismayed him because he was sent to an Elementary Flying Training School equipped with Tiger Moths!

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This was 29 EFTS Clyffe Pypard near Devizes in Wiltshire.  He spent a month there, from 31 December to 31 January and he would have found the flying conditions very different to this he experienced in Australia in every respect, not least the weather and the landscape.  This really was a period of acclimatization.  The accommodation was a little different to the Grand Hotel, the ubiquitous Nissen hut with its infamous pot-bellied stove in its centre which roasted those whose beds were near to it, but whose heat couldn't be felt if they were at either end.  The acclimatization also extended  to the flying conditions, most notably navigating over the complex network of England, its fields, lanes, woods and villages with few notable landmarks.  He spent further time "kicking his heels" at No. 104 Personnel Despatch Centre RAF Hednesford in Staffordshire  before being sent on 21 March to No. 3 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit at South Cerney in Gloucestershire.

No. 3 (P) Advanced  Flying Unit,  South Cerney

Time at the Advanced Flying Unit began with three or four weeks of ground school, somewhat frustrating for eager young pilots most of whom had been kicking their heels for months at aircrew reception centres.

AFU training was designed to achieve three objectives: to improve the general flying still thereby taking an additional step toward the standard required for flying on operations; to give the experience to maintain that standard under worse weather conditions than students had previously been permitted to fly in, especially by those pupils who had been trained under the EATS/BCAPT scheme; and to teach the flying characteristics and feel of heavier aircraft.

(Murray Peden - "A Thousand Shall Fall")

"..so many pilots found the flying conditions in the wartime UK air space were completely different to the safer and general clearer skies of Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  What with so much more cloud, winter fogs, industrial smog, thousands of small villages and hundreds of cities, railway lines and roads everywhere, and barrage balloons and anti-aircraft guns all over the place as well as thousands of aircraft and hundreds of airfields scattered about every bit of ground, the newly arrived crew from overseas found the UK flying conditions very foreign and stressful, and accidents were becoming too high."

Ian Campbell - "Thinks he's a bird" and David Duxbury RAF Commands

 Here Rolly learned to fly Airspeed Oxfords; twin-engined aircraft like Ansons but with a "less well mannered" temperament.  Compensation had to be made for a pronounced swing on take off and a marked but not predictable tendency to suddenly drop a wing prior to a stall.

The AFU programme comprised three sections of flying skills;  initially to learn to fly a multi-engined aircraft competently and confidently, secondly to learn how to land the aircraft at night or in poor visibility daytime conditions such as fog, and thirdly to fly increasingly demanding cross-country exercises both by day, but predominantly by night.  At all times during these phases there were checks, test and exams which had to be passed in order to proceed to the next phase.

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Trainees on any new type of aircraft had to become conversant with the pilot's notes for that type:

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The cockpit and its instruments was a significant step up from the Tiger Moth!

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The early flying programme at the AFU.  Many exercises are repeated several times in order to ensure complete familiarity with the aircraft before proceeding with more demanding exercises.

BAT course

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Beam Approach Training (BAT) was essential for bomber pilots who would have to return to their bases in the dark in often less than ideal conditions, where visibility could be marginal.  The beam approach system relied on two audible signals, Morse A (dit dah) and N (dah dit) which were transmitted from different parts of the airfield.  Listening to the signals through his headphones, the pilot was able to determine from which side of the airfield he was approaching.  When he started hearing both signals at different strengths, he was aware of how close to the runway centreline he was.  When both signals merged and became a continuous sound he knew he was "on the beam", perfectly lined up.

Rolly joined Course No.45 on 3 May based at nearby Bibury, the home of 1539 Beam Approach Training (BAT) Flight, starting with a lecture at 07.30 hours by F/Sgt Taylor.  An hour later 3 aircraft were flying in good weather until 17.30.  This pattern continued until the end of the course on the 8 May; it was a very intense course mostly consisting of the aircraft taking off up to 100 feet or so at which point the instructor pulled a screen over the trainee's side of the cockpit, blacking everything out.  From that point onwards flying was by instruments only, guided by the radio beam until in the final stage of the approach for landing the screen was removed.  During this course Rolly also passed the General Instrument course on the Link Trainer, a rudimentary but effective flight simulator.

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Canadian borne F/Lt Harry Cave was an instructor at Bibury before becoming operational as a Lancaster pilot.  "Bibury," Harry said, "was the most beautiful town in the whole of England, but the meals were foul, never worse, terrible!"  Rolly was probably thankful that the course only lasted a week.

A significant emphasis on AFU flying was becoming used to flying on instruments, and night flying.  The introduction to night flying took place in the daytime, this was termed Day/Night flying.    The pupil pilot wore a device on their heads which could be described as a cross between a gambler's eyeshade and a welder's mask which was designed to cut out virtually all light except the tinted glow from the instruments and the rays from special runway lamps.

Murray Peden

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An Oxford prepares for a night time exercise

The dangers of flying at night weren't always confined to being in the air....

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......but the ever present danger of a mistake whilst flying could prove to be fatal......

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Sgt Mackay was Australian-born, like Rolly, though hailing from Melbourne where he was a Senior Sales Clerk before applying to join the RAAF in 1938.

The findings of the Court of Enquiry are clear enough: pilot error through inexperience.

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His death led to the inevitable notification to his next of kin:

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Following the successful conclusion to blind approach training, it was back to South Cerney where night flying and associated navigation intensified.

Each airfield in the country had a red flashing light called a pundit light, it flashed a unique sequence of flashes for that airfield.  Many of the night flying and navigation exercises involved finding and flying a course from airfield to airfield .  The examples in the logbook to the right involved flying over most airfields but landing at one or two.

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The next period of training was at an Operational Training Unit, significant for a further increase of the complexity of training, of the aircraft he would be flying, and of meeting people who were destined to be his crew, and he their "skipper".