Embry Riddle Field, Clewiston, Florida and Royal Air Force Cottesmore, England. Somewhat different
airfields united at RIAT 2001. The theme - Flying Training. In the VVIP Enclosure
were over 200 old, bold pilots, all of them now in their seventies and eighties,
and their families - members of Nos.1, 3 and 5 British Flying Training Schools
(BFTS). On a blisteringly hot day we watched the flying, shoulder to shoulder
sharing their memories of days gone by.
1940 and the world was at war. Europe and Scandinavia had fallen. Britain stood
alone against Nazi Germany. Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal had already
made the decision that in the event of war, flying training in the United Kingdom
should be abandoned. "It would be fraught with problems and danger. The
British Isles were cramped, vulnerable and subject to bad weather." Imagine
instructing cadets in Tiger Moths in the hostile skies of Britain! RAF training
had to be relocated if we were to secure a constant supply of pilots with which
to defend our Realm. The wisdom behind this was highlighted on 16 August 1940
when the Luftwaffe in a single attack on RAF Brize Norton destroyed 46 training
General "Hap" Arnold, Chief of the US Army Air Corps, supported Britain and largely due to
his efforts, flying training began in the USA in early 1941. What he did enabled
more than 11,000 pilots to graduate there - about one in six of RAF pilots trained
overall during World War Two. Through mutual cooperation between President Roosevelt
and Squadron Leader Mills DFC, two schemes were set up. The Arnold Scheme operational
1941-1943 and the BFTSs operational 1941-1945.
My interest lies with No. 5 BFTS who were based at the Riddle McKay Aero College, Embry Riddle
Field, Clewiston in Florida, where my father, Keith Clanzy, received his training
in 1942. Almost 50 years later as a student pilot, all those surrounding townships
became as familiar to me as they had been to him. Belle Glade, Pahokee, Arcadia,
Okeechobee (I never could spell it!) and a mysterious place called La Belle
hidden amongst the trees whose only purpose was to serve as a place you hopefully
recognised on cross-country sorties.
Each BFTS was built to a general specification. The airfield itself was to be one mile square with
2 runways and a control tower. Hangars and maintenance equipment were provided
for the PT17A (Stearman) and AT6A (Harvard), together with emergency facilities,
parachutes, and accommodation for ground instruction, administration, dormitories,
dining halls and Link training. The work had to be carried out by Contractors
within 60 days of signing the Contract!
BFTSs were RAF establishments in that the Commanding Officer, Adjutant, Chief Flying Instructors
and Physical Training Instructors were all RAF personnel. The cadets were subject
to RAF law and British Flying Regulations were strictly adhered to around the
airfield, except on long cross country flights when American Law had to be observed.
These schools were unique in WW2 by offering ab initio to wings training at
the same airfield. American civilians became instructors trained to RAF standards.
Syllabuses for flying instruction greatly reflected the RAF's needs as war progressed
and included night flying, instrument flying, long distance cross-country flights
and formation flying. No longer concentrating heavily on aerobatics as was previously
Back in England the would-be pilots made their way to the Aircrew Reception Centre (ACRC) in
St. John's Wood, London. They would then be sent on to Initial Training Wings
and Grading Schools (GS) located throughout Britain. GS's were thought to have
been introduced because of the high rate of elimination being experienced under
the Arnold Scheme. They provided the would-be pilot with 10 hours on Tiger Moths,
offering a further refinement in the aircrew selection process. If successful,
it was on to the Aircrew Despatch Centre (ACDC) at Heaton Park, Manchester.
There to be assigned a passage to the US usually from Liverpool or the Clyde.
A constant stream of relatively fast unescorted passenger ships crossing the Atlantic, kept the
cadets enrolling in 5BFTS at the rate of 100 every nine weeks. The ships had
a good safety record made possible by naval intelligence obtained from the ultra
secret Enigma code-breaking carried out at Bletchley Park near Milton Keynes.
Even so, it required excellent seamanship to avoid contact with the 120 U-Boats
operating in the Atlantic on any one day in 1943! One such crossing was dramatic
however in May 1941. The "Britannic" was carrying cadets destined
for the Arnold Scheme. Unknown to the cadets the ship was being used as bait
for the German battlecruisers "Bismarck" and "Prince Eugen".
It worked and the German warships sailed into the ambush prepared by the Royal
The air cadets
training lasted 27 weeks. PT17A's (Stearman) were the primary trainers with
one instructor and four cadets assigned to each aircraft. Early courses until
the end of 1942 had a period on BT13A's (the Vultee, nicknamed the Vibrator)
as a basic trainer. However, from Course 10 onwards the Vultee was dropped.
AT6A's (Harvard) made up the advanced flightline, having more power than the
primary trainer and panels suitable for instrument and night flying.
But it wasn't all hard work! The local people of Clewiston and Moorehaven, on the banks of the
big Lake, into whose midst these training schools were thrust, treated the RAF
cadets with overwhelming hospitality taking them into their homes at every opportunity.
Dances, barbecues and cosy evenings at home were organised and many a lifelong
friendship formed. It was hard sometimes to imagine the war torn Europe to which
they would return and play their part.
The City of Arcadia in South Central Florida became the pivotal point for 2 Schools; No 5 BFTS at
Embry Riddle Field and the US School at Carlstrom Field. Between August 1941
and September 1945, some 1325 cadets graduated from Embry Riddle Field to receive
those coveted silver wings. But 21 young airmen died in training, 19 of which
were aircraft accidents. They are buried together with 2 cadets from Carlstrom
Field in a British Plot in Arcadia's Oak Ridge Cemetery, never to be forgotten.
Each year on Memorial Day, now the last Monday in May, they are honoured in
a service made possible by the town's Rotary Club.
In May 2002, I hope to stand alongside the people of Arcadia, British veterans (including my
father) and former instructors to pay my respects to these young men who never
flew in combat but simply " crossed the river to rest in the shade of the
* * * * *
Since writing this article, I did indeed attend Memorial Day (27 May 2002) at Oakridge Cemetery
with my father and my husband, Eddie. It is a great tribute to the generosity
of the people of Arcadia that this ceremony has been performed with such dignity
for the last 46 years. John Paul Riddle himself now lies alongside his cadets
beneath the trees - it was his wish to be so.
I wasn't born until August 1946 but I am forever mindful that British servicemen fought for my freedom
and that of all future generations. So I feel extremely proud and privileged
to be able to join 5 BFTS as a Family Member, at their annual reunion each Autumn
and I am without doubt richer for knowing them all.