Monday, November 10, 2014

Research: Pioneers - On a further personal note …

In a recent post on Insall, one of the three RAF pioneers in aerial reconnaissance over the Airmail Route and one of the first to publish an aerial photo of a Kite, I noted that a decade later he was the Station Commander of RAF Abu Sueir in Egypt where my father completed his flying training in 1936. I had long regretted that my father’s training at a Middle East base which was explicitly intended to produce pilots for service in the East, saw him posted to India for several years. Three of the other new pilots were posted to Iraq and one to No. 14(B) Squadron at Amman (killed shortly after in an accident).

In is now clear that although my father was never stationed in Iraq and Transjordan, he twice flew along the Airmail Route in those two Mandates. Putting together a few brief entries in his logbook, a handful of small photos and a postcard he sent to his brother-in-law back on the Northwest Frontier of British India, the episode is definable.
The 'Flying Boat' 'AWARUA'
About 17 July 1939 he was sent to Heliopolis in Egypt to collect and ferry back to India, one of the new Blenheim light bombers with which the RAF was being re-equipped. He recorded the flight on an Imperial Airways flying boat from Karachi via the Gulf and Habbaniya in Iraq to Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee and finally Alexandria – a two day journey. A few photos of the flying boat and a postcard from Tiberias:

Postcard from Tiberius.
I am having a marvellous time on board this flying boat ‘AWARUA’. We have just had Tiffin at Tiberias on Sea of Galilee.

By chance, that same flying boat was transferred the very next month to service in Australasia with Tasman Empire Airways Ltd (TEAL) on its NZ to Sydney route. As it happens there is a contemporary account now online of that delivery flight including:
Rapid refuel and then off towards Palestine where we land on the Sea of Galilee at Tiberius (sic), and here the skipper fills a special bottle with Galilee water to take to New Zealand for the christening of his new baby.
From Tiberius (sic) until we pass down into the Persian Gulf this next stretch is invariably hot and bumpy and the pipe line desert below never looks inviting especially when in a flying boat, …

My father’s logbook records his own flight back to India in August 1939, piloting his Blenheim:
5 August: Heliopolis – Habbaniya
5 August: Habbaniya – Shaibah
6 August: Shaibah – Sharjah
6 August: Sharjah – Karachi

That first stretch of 4 hours on 5th August would have largely retraced the Imperial Airways route across the Jordanian panhandle following the track alongside the oil pipeline which seems to have replaced the initial RAF track around the southern edge of the Harret ash-Shaam lavafield. Sadly he took no photos – almost 60 years before my own first flights in the same area.

- DLK

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