The Royal Air Force Trains in Texas

In March 1941 the United States and Great Britain established a secret operation 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 attacks during their training and the scheme remained a secret because of the neutrality laws in the United States.

No. British Training School Logo

No. British Training School Logo

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 a field used by a small flying club that Terrell’s town council offered to install all the facilities at no cost.  The first fifty future pilots were flown to Canada where they were decommissioned by the RAF, given a six-month U.S. visitors visa, and outfitted in civilian clothing.  From Canada they were flown to Terrell where they were welcomed with open arms.  Their training began on August 11 and as each group completed the two-year program, which was compressed into about twenty weeks, more students joined the school until it reached a capacity of 200.

Terrell Air Field

Terrell Air Field

One account says the pilots had some difficulty understanding “Texas talk.”  For instance, when they visited in local homes, which they did often, the residents upon departure kept saying,  “Ya’ll 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 a welcome for future visits.  Many of the Brits had not learned to drive a car or been in an airplane before they arrived in Texas to learn to fly 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 secret.   The student pilots, who were finally able to wear their blue RAF uniforms, continued training, and  were joined at the flying school by American Aviation Cadets.   Every few weeks as each class completed the course, the pilots returned to Great Britain ready to take part in the war.  By August 1945 when the program ended, more than 2,000 cadets had earned their wings and many life-long friendships had been established with the residents of Terrell.

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 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, keeps alive this little known chapter of World War II history.  The museum collection includes logbooks, training materials, WWII memorabilia, and uniforms.   Tom Killebrew’s book, The Royal Air Force in Texas: Training British Pilots in Terrell during World War II, shares the history of the Terrell Aviation School.

Oakland Memorial Park Cemetery

Oakland Memorial Park Cemetery

Tom Killebrew's book: The Royal Air Force in Texas

Tom Killebrew’s book: The Royal Air Force in Texas

BRAGGING

I’ve decided to send this note to all my blogging friends.

Legacy is finally out in paper.  To take a look, click here:  http://tinyurl.com/6pmdvvs.

Legacy is historic fiction set in 1945 in a Texas coastal town.   It is the story of a family in turmoil, told from the point-of-view of Miranda, age twelve, who struggles to protect the people she loves, understand the changes in her own body, and make sense of a world at war.

I’ve had a few readers ask if it is my story.  It is not.  I grew up in an apartment near downtown Houston.  My father was absent before the divorce.

My second historic fiction, a tale set in old Indianola the thriving Texas coastal town that blew away in the 1886 storm, is finished.  When the proofreader gets it back to me, I’ll try to figure out the next step.

Thanks for your continued support and encouragemnet.

WWII Memories

I don’t remember Pearl Harbor.  I only remember a few things about 1945Roosevelt’s death creates a vague memory, and the end of the war meant that my uncle stayed with us for a while and screamed at night when an ambulance passed.  The most dramatic recollection, the one that stays with me and continues offering a haunting image is the photo essay in The Saturday Evening Post of the naked bodies stacked like tumbling cordwood and the half-burned humans in a yawning oven of a concentration camp.

In an effort to protect me, to keep me from seeing the horror of those photographs, my parents put the magazine away and refused to let me see what they pored over with such intensity.

I was not an openly rebellious child.  In fact, I grew up in the pre-feminist era when it paid handsomely to play “sweet little Myra Jean”.  That was my public façade. However, I always had contrary opinions and views that I instinctively knew should be kept to myself.  That’s why I did not hesitate for a nanosecond to go downstairs to the drugstore on the corner of our apartment building, sit on the floor-to-ceiling magazine display, and examine very carefully the forbidden photographs.  The paralyzing horror of those scenes seared that day in my memory and jolted me into awareness of events I struggled to understand and never forgot.

Although my family did not discuss it with me, I knew that men classified as 4-F for some medical reason did not serve in the war. Although many of them worked in shipyards and other war-related industries, they couldn’t find work after the war because veterans were given priority. I overheard whispered discussions about men who came home “shell-shocked” and were quietly moved to places where I never saw them again.

My interest in history spurred my looking back at the war years, and led to my first novel evolving into the story of a family held in the grip of its powerful legacy.  As I explored how families at home coped with the war news and waited for word of those missing in action, my novel developed from the wide-eyed point of view of Miranda, a young girl struggling to make sense of the turmoil in her life.  Her growing up parallels the loss of innocence that this country experienced with the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  You will find Legacy at http://tinyurl.com/3pcyx8a.