Childhood recollections from Swavesey 1914 - 1918

By F.C.Wood B.A. Cantab

Part 2 - The forced landing

Another wartime episode affecting our school routine was a forced landing of an aeroplane in a field off Ramper Road.A rumour had gone round all morning that a plane had come down. As we came out of School for midday dinner a steady stream of people was going down the road to Boxworth End and most children joined the crowd. After dinner,despite protests,1 was sent from School House to afternoon school. When I got there 1 found that, in addition to the teachers, there were three of us present! Mr. Hicks acting on the principle that "if you can't beat theme join them", at once declared an afternoon's holiday and off we all went to find the aeroplane.It wasn't difficult - you just joined the crowd which was still moving along and now included half the population of other villages. We turned down Ramper Road and found everybody assembled like a football crowd in a grassfield about a quarter of a mile along the road on the left-hand side. The plane was a Bristol Fighter, single seater biplane all wires and canvas. It had run out of fuel and landed in the fields but on the run in the pilot had failed to notice a shallow grass-filled ditch across it.

Bristol Scout Single Seater Trainer

The plane had tipped forward with its tail in the air. By the time we arrived a service team had arrived by lorry from Wyton aerodrome near St. Ives. The machine was pulled clear of the ditch and found to be undamaged. It was refuelled and as we arrived preparations were under way for take-off. Eventually the pilot climbed into the cockpit and strapped himself in, his figure muffled in his leather flying suit and helmet and goggles showing chest high above the fuselage. A mechanic-hero proceeded to grasp one end of the single-bladed propeller in one hand while his other hand on his outstretched arm was grasped by the hand of another mechanic - the leading man of a team of five or six hand in hand in a line. The pilot shouted "Contact'', the leading mechanic heaved down on the propeller blade, his mates hauled him unceremoniously clear, there was a loud bang, a puff of blue smoke the propeller oscillated back and forth and then silence. The process was repeated - with the same result. At the third try the initial bang was followed by a series of hesitant explosions and then suddenly, the engine took up with a roar, the propeller became a shimmering circle and the whole plane shook and vibrated. Two mechanics held the tail down, two removed the chocks, the pilot revved his engine to a maximum and the little plane began to wobble across the grass tufts until it out-ran the accompanying mechanic rose into the air, and flew off into the -gathering mist. It was probably during late autumn, as 1 remember it was beginning to get dark, the mist was gathering over the fields and we all went home.

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