BRITS LEARNED TO FLY IN TEXAS

In March 1941 the United States and Great Britain agreed on a secret operation under the Lend-Lease Program to train Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots in six civilian U.S. aviation schools. The plan was instituted in order to locate the RAF pilots out of danger of constant aerial

Courtesy, British Flying Training School Museum, Terrell, Texas

attacks during their training and the scheme remained a secret because of the United States’ neutrality laws.

Terrell, a town of 10,000 just thirty miles east of Dallas became the first and largest British Flying Training School. Local residents were so delighted to take part in this patriotic mission by allowing the pilots to train at the site used by their small flying club that Terrell’s town

Young British Cadets receiving their BFTS uniforms.

council offered to install all the facilities at no cost. The young, future pilots were flown to Canada where they were discharged from the RAF, given a six months U.S. visitors visa, civilian clothing, and then flown to Terrell where they were welcomed with open arms.

One account says the pilots had some difficulty understanding “Texas talk.” For instance, when they visited in local homes, which they did frequently, the residents often said as the students left, “Y’all come back,” which resulted in the young men turning on their heels and returning immediately. After some explaining, the pilots understood that no one meant for them to return that instant. The expression was intended as a welcome for future visits. Many of the Brits had not even learned to drive a car before they arrived in Texas to learn to fly airplanes and they knew nothing about Texas. They wore wool clothing, which they quickly abandoned. They expected cowboys and Indians and were surprised to discover ordinary folks.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the United States entry into World War II, the training was no longer kept a secret. The young men donned their blue RAF uniforms and continued training. The two-year program was compressed into about seven months, which required flying seven days a week from five A.M. to ten P.M. Upon completion of the course, the pilots returned to Great Britain and another class took their place. By August 1945 when the program ended, more than 2,000 cadets had earned their wings and established many life-long friendships.

More than one-third of the graduates were killed in combat. Twenty died during the training exercises and Terrell residents, who adopted the young men as their own sons, buried them in part of the Oakland Memorial Park Cemetery, which is maintained by the Terrell War Relief Society. Terrell’s No. 1 British Flying Training School Museum, the largest of its kind in the United States, displays log books, training materials, WWII memorabilia, and uniforms.

The Royal Air Force in Texas, Tom Killebrew