When I was flying high over India, I read a book. We had no permits from the countries ahead of us on this route and had been advised to go to Simla in the hills, where the Government had retired in the hot season. We landed the Puss Moth at Ambala and hired a car to climb the 6,000 or 7,000 feet into the hills to Simla. When we reached a point half a mile below the Hotel Cecil, where we were staying, the car driver refused to go any farther. He proposed to dump our baggage there. I was so outspoken about this that he finally put the baggage back and drove up to the hotel.
The next thing I heard was that he had been arrested – only the Viceroy and the Governor of the Punjab were allowed to drive up to the hotel! After living in a modern young country, New Zealand, this looked like a piece of archaism specially designed to antagonise Commonwealth people. I went along to the Chief of Police and said if anybody was to be punished for the driver’s offence it was me, because I had forced him to drive up to the hotel. In India then, nothing counted but appearance and no value seemed to be attached to people’s actions. The British officials whom we liked best in India were the forestry men; they were efficient, quiet and interesting, whereas some of the army officers and administrative civil servants were sickening snobs.
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Dealing with them I sometimes squirmed like Stalky at Westward Ho.
The Persian Embassy in India refused to allow me entry with my existing passport because when I visited Chahbar in 1930 it had been signed by my host, ‘In political charge, Chahbar.’ To overcome that difficulty I was issued with an Indian passport. But when we reached Bushire in Persia the Puss Moth was arrested, and guarded by soldiers with fixed bayonets. We could not understand this, until we learned that they thought I was Lawrence of Arabia disguised with a beard, and proposing to proceed up-country to start a revolt. (I suppose they thought that Lawrence’s reported death was simply an astute piece of camouflage.) It was intensely hot at Bushire; Frank was very irritated by the heat and hated it. His irritation was aggravated by being shut up and surrounded by foreigners who could speak no English. After five days word came through from Tehran that we were to be released. On walking over to the aeroplane I slipped my watch between my belt and shorts instead of into the pocket, and it fell on the ground and broke. I took this for a bad omen, and considering that it was already 1.30, and that we had a 500-mile flight to Baghdad, I told Frank that I thought we ought to put off the flight until next morning. Frank said, ‘Let’s get out of this hellhole at any cost.’ The cost was nearly his life. We took off, and proceeded to the head of the Gulf, plugging into a steady headwind of 20mph I expected the wind to die away with evening, but the light began fading when we were half way between Basra and Baghdad, and the headwind showed no signs of dying down. We had now been five hours in the air, and I said to Frank, ‘We have not enough petrol to reach Baghdad unless this wind drops. What about landing somewhere for the night?’
‘Oh, let’s press on to Baghdad,’ said Frank. Night fell, it was dark, and there were no lights in the cabin; nor were any of the dashboard instruments luminous. I hung a torch round my neck and shone it periodically at the compass, the speed indicator and the revolution counter. Before we reached Baghdad the petrol gauge showed empty and I incessantly searched the ground below us for the best place to land if the motor cut. It was possible only to guess at the nature of the surface in the dark, but it is surprising how much one can deduce through experience.
But we did reach Baghdad, and I located the unlit aerodrome. I did not wait for any airfield lights to be switched on, for I was expecting the motor to die at any moment. I did not even circle the airfield, but changed my approach into a glide and landed directly. The Puss Moth rolled smoothly to a halt, and I said to Frank, ‘Take a torch, Frank, and walk ahead of the plane towards the hangar, so that I don’t taxi into anything in the dark.’ Frank stepped out of the cabin and I called, ‘Look out for the prop.’ The cabin door opened forward, coming up against the strut between the bottom of the fuselage and the wing. Frank walked round the cabin door into the arc of the propeller. To do this he had to turn sharply round the end of the door, and had it been daylight it could only have been done by a deliberate manoeuvre. I heard a sickening noise, and saw Frank stagger away to the right. I thought that he had been killed, and I had a desolate feeling of misery and despair. When I got to him, he was sitting on the ground holding his arm. His left forearm seemed nearly cut through, and I could see the bone ends. In due course a car arrived and he was driven off to a hospital.