Thursday, February 26, 2015

British Flying Training School

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College (www.panola.edu) in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce. 

BFTS plot at Oakland Memorial Cemetery
A few years ago I toured the BFTS (British Flying Training School) Museum in Terrell, while researching my book East Texas in World War II (Arcadia Publishing, 2010).  I first visited this museum when it housed exhibits on the U.S. Military Glider Program and its role during World War II. But this collection moved to Lubbock, where it may be toured as the Silent Wings Museum. Meanwhile, Terrell converted its airport museum to a local story, the 1941-1945 activities of the British Flying Training School, headquartered at Terrell’s Municipal Airport east of town.

With Museum Curator Mike Grout
BFTS Cemetery Memorial
Early this month my wife Karon and I, while returning to Carthage from a trip to Dallas, revisited the No. 1 British Flying Training School Museum and Terrell’s Oakland Memorial Cemetery, where a military plot is maintained for the English cadet pilots who were killed in training mishaps. I wanted to feature in my blog this little-known story of World War II. By 1941 Great Britain was standing virtually alone against Germany’s Nazi war machine. The United States began providing material assistance to the British while building up U.S. Armed Forces. To facilitate assistance to the increasingly cash-strapped British, Congress gave President Franklin D. Roosevelt the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941, which authorized “loaning” or leasing war materiel to the embattled Brits. 

It was under Lend-Lease that the British Flying Training School program took shape, and the principal training base would be No. 1 BFTS in Terrell, Texas. Facilities were erected under Lend-Lease, and two of the wartime hangars still stand. Royal Air Force pilot cadets were transported by ship from England to Canada. The first cadets arrived in 1941, before the United States entered the war. The cadets changed into civilian clothes (until after Pearl Harbor) before traveling incognito by train across the United States to Terrell. After arriving at the new training field, the cadets were issued BFTS uniforms.

There were 28 “Courses,” or Classes, of cadets between 1941 and 1945. Out of more than 1,400 RAF cadets (and 138 U.S. Army Air Force pilots) who earned their wings at No. 1 BFTS, 19 were killed in training, one died of natural causes, and three flight instructors also were killed. During each 28-week training period, cadet pilots spent far more time in the classroom than in the air. Ground-school courses included meteorology, mathematics, navigation, maps, airplane engines, and airplane identification. The Link Trainer was a flight simulator, a key element to pilot training. The cadet pilots progressed from biplanes to the AT-6 Advanced Fighter Trainer. More than 4,000 of these excellent planes were manufactured in Dallas, and the AT-6 began to be called the “Texan.”

Link Trainer
When off-duty, the RAF cadets organized a soccer league, and a championship trophy is part of the rich collection at the No. 1 BFTS Museum. The cadets were permitted to go into town on Wednesday evenings and Saturdays and Sundays, and often they were hosted by ladies of the Terrell War Relief Society. Romances sometimes developed, and after the war several Terrell women traveled to England for marriage. A few of the couples later returned to Terrell.

Karon and I were hosted at the museum by Curator Mike Grout, a retired Air Force pilot. There is an introductory film, and exhibits – ranging from log books to BFTS uniforms – are displayed in a large hangar. There are class photos of each of the 28 Courses. The No. 1 BFTS Museum stages a number of events, including WW II-style hangar dances, featuring the music of the Terrell High School Jazz Band. The BFTS chapter of Texas history is largely unknown, and a trip to the No. 1 BFTS Museum offers a rich experience for history buffs.
There are photos of all 28 BFTS Courses.

At reconstructed sentry post
For more information:  www.bftsmuseum.org

2 comments:

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  2. Mr. O'Neal, I found your blog about our Museum while searching for information about the other BFT schools located in the States. I would like to invite you to stop in when in the area to see our interior remodel. Rudy Bowling Sr. President, No.1 BFTS Museum

    ReplyDelete