- TERRELL – The No. 1 British Flying School: How the US played their greatest role
Who’d have thought that Terrell, a small city east of Dallas, with a population of 16,000, would be a significant pinhead of the Second World War.
In 1940 the Luftwaffe were bombing London day and night. The surrounding cities of Bristol, Birmingham, Coventry, Southampton, Liverpool, Manchester and others were also being hit by the overwhelming force of German planes that outnumbered the Royal Air Force almost three-to-one. The British war-machine production had stepped-up, but despite the many aircraft that were being produced and the great successes of the RAF in clawing-down the enemy planes, we lacked the pilots to join them. With London and the Home Counties being hit so violently, combined with the inclement weather, there was nowhere practical to train new pilots, those few were given brief lessons, many of whom died either in the air or crash-landing due to inexperience.
In August 1941, Winston Churchill met with President Roosevelt on-board HMS Prince of Wales. Against the many isolationists throughout America, FDR had ordered a step-up in flight production and training. Unlike his colleagues in Congress, President Roosevelt knew that were Britain and our new ally Russia defeated, America would be Hitler’s next focus. Churchill was desperate for the US to get involved as we needed munitions and manpower or we’d lose the war, but FDR’s hands were tied by the Neutrality Act. However, the President was clever, and he too saw the need of involvement. Therefore, on a cold morning on the Atlantic Ocean, Lend-Lease was signed, circumventing the Neutrality Act, while still keeping America out of the war.
Over the coming months ships, munitions and other supplies would be given to Britain on the understanding that at the conclusion of the war we would repay what we used. However, from this agreement sprung the greatest initiative of all, the training of Royal Air Force pilots in America.
Terrell became the first British Flying School, designated No. 1. However, in order to keep the appearance of neutrality, the school had to be run by civilians who were provided aircraft from the US Army, and those who arrived for training had to come through Canada, resign their commissions before entering the US, and travel and train as civilians.
Six schools were created to meet the high-demand of pilot training but today, only Terrell has a museum created from the memories of those who taught and those who went through a grueling trip to train with America’s best.
Over the coming weeks, I am going to introduce you the BFTS Museum in Terrell, Texas. I have photos both inside and out, and one with Eric Gill, the last surviving pilot who trained at Terrell. But of equal excitement for me personally I have photos and video footage of one of the planes, a Stearman, actually used for training at Terrell. I will also be sharing my experience in flying in that wonderful man-made machine that unlike much of our modern technology has survived over seventy years.
TERRELL: The No. 1 British Flight School – Where’s the school?
Jonathan Sandys, Private collection
BFTS Museum, Terrell