Monday, August 17, 2015

'Harry Tate'

The Vintage Aviator Collection built RAAF Museum' RE8 replica; incredibly authentic on the grass at RAAF Point Cook. This, I'm now sure, is the first ever R.E.8 to fly in Australia. 

Just out is the Part 2 of the feature article on the 'Harry Tate' in Flightpath magazine. Lot of graft that (I hope!) isn't evident in the final result which I'm pretty pleased with

As in any good article, once I got going I ended up with too much material, much of which had to be cut. Here's a couple of sections.

A great (RAAF Museum Archive) photograph by the great photographer Frank Hurley of a carefully posed group of 3 Squadron Australian Flying Corps R.E.8 crew taken, no doubt, on a big wood box camera with a Magnesium flare flash. 

These young men were both like us, in their humanity, and quite unlike us in their expectations. They flew these 'crates' which were the state-of-the-art then (equivalent to today's space station in their technical extremity of the time) and they took their chances. Skill and training and experience were all very limited.

Many were lucky. Many more were unlucky, and that cockpit with a fuel tank in the pilot's lap could quickly become a very nasty end. It's a trite euphemism; 'the fallen'. Many of these young men were literally 'the fallen' and there was nothing nice about it. It's a nasty way to die. Others were 'just' horribly injured. It was important to learn and write about them.

As ever, it was a collaborative effort. Big thanks to co-author Rob Langham, without whom... First time I've written an article where the other author will be pictured in it in his own Sidcot suit! Rob's take and input was decisive. A very big thanks also to Philippa Brotchie who kindly went to the Australian War Memorial archive, extracted the document that nailed down a key fact about a 'mystery'. And Brett Clowes provided some critical thinking and data. Michael Molkentin's book 'Fire in the Sky' was a core reference, with lots of good 'gen' - this might be a surprise to you, Michael! Peter Hart might also be surprised by knowing we used his 'Bloody April' and 'Aces Falling'. Thanks both.
 I've been spending some time in a virtual cockpit alongside some very normal young men, all now long gone. The cockpit is here illustrated by the very same replica R.E.8. 

Finally I'd like to let the one of these young chaps speak. That was one reward of this article. There's great first-hand accounts, and they certainly told their own stories better than I could. Nigel Love of 3 Squadron AFC, overlooks the 'archie'; enemy guns always shooting at him, and the ever-present enemy 'jaeger' (hunters) ready to shoot him down - the real 'huns in the sun'. He just says:
“Regular duty assigned to air crew of a 'Corps Squadron', was for continuous ‘line patrol’. It involved a machine flying up and down the whole of the Corps front, during daylight hours, at about 8,000 feet, taking photographs with a camera fitted to the observer’s cockpit. We used to call this patrol a ‘Spark Crawl’ – and would be about two and a half hours over the lines. When things were slow, we would drop down to zero level, emptying our machine guns on the trenches, or enemy transport behind the lines. This was somewhat ‘sticky’ business, but it was our job and it did break the monotony.” 

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