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Extracts of letters written by Geoffrey Hall to his parents
from 1940 to 1943 while training and as an RAF bomber pilot

Extracts from wartime letters written by Geoffrey Hall to his father and mother (who were themselves temporarily separated when his schoolteacher father was evacuated with his SE London school).

Joining the RAF Volunteer Reserve at 19, Geoff did all his elementary training at Croydon from March to May 1939 in a Miles Magister, taking about 10 flying hours over six days to go solo, and a further 50 hours to complete the course and pass the RAF Test.  Extra flying on Harts, a Hind and an Audax came to an abrupt end when war was declared.

He was called up in January 1940 and continued flying training at No 12 FTS Grantham, joining No. 7 Intermediate Flight Training course.

2nd Jan. 1940. 

Dear Dad,  ...It certainly looks as if we shall get a lot of flying here, because we have a machine to each instructor and two pupils at a time to fly in it.  There are still plenty of machines left over which can be used solo whenever we like.

I had my first experience of twin-engined aircraft this afternoon when I flew an Avro Anson for 45 minutes.  I was actually up for 90 minutes but my friend flew it for the other 45 minutes while I sat behind in the navigator’s place.  ...Ansons seem very strange after Harts - they are colossal things, having a loaded weight of over 8,000 lbs, and everything is big and heavy.  They are very comfortable as you might expect, and you can walk about in the cabin, which is nearly as big as the kitchenette.  We don’t wear our helmets, just forage caps, boots and Sidcots, as you can converse quite easily with the instructor without earphones.

The engines are two Armstrong Siddeley Cheetahs, seven cylinder radials of 375 hp each.   With only one engine operating you can climb quite well, so that you can afford to have one engine fail without being unduly worried about it.  I hope to go solo in a day or two, as these things aren’t really as difficult as they first seem to be - of course, the retractable under-carriage and a special type of landing flap make it more complicated than a Hart, but I was doing good landings before I finished today...



14th Jan. 1940. 

Dear Mother,  ...We have been prevented from flying for several of the days due to bad weather - there is an appalling fog blanket which hangs around here, and although it generally stays in the valley, it sometimes sweeps across the aerodrome and we have to land in a field nearer the East coast.  

Yesterday I went up by myself in an Anson and climbed to 15,000 feet for a height test.  My word, you can see a long way from 3 miles up.  It was unfortunately misty to the west and south, although I could see Peterborough factory chimneys through the haze.  To the east and north I could see all round the Wash and up the coast-line past Spalding and Boston, right up to Grimsby.  Of course, I was bathed in brilliant sunshine, and although it was freezing on the ground, at about 8,000 feet the temperature was 57ºF.  By 15,000 it had gone down again to well below freezing point.  The sea looked so blue that I should like to have had a swim, though I should probably have changed my mind on reaching the ground.  It is rather a strange feeling to be up so high, for of course, it is as high as you can safely go without oxygen unless you are used to great heights.  Even at 15,000 it is an effort to move your feet from the rudder bar or raise your arms above your head.

When I decided to come down, I forgot that there is a motor horn behind the pilot which goes off when you shut off the motors, as a warning that the undercarriage is still in the up position, and I got such a fright.  However, I shall remember it in future...



21st Jan. 1940. 

            Dear Mother,  ...Things are progressing normally, but our flying hours are not mounting as quickly as I should like owing to frequent days with low visibility and fog.  Lately of course, there has been a great deal of snow in these parts, and last night we had 17 degrees of frost recorded on the aerodrome.  This makes it very difficult to start up the motors in the morning in spite of the precaution of covering them overnight, as we have too many aircraft to keep in the hangers.  It is sometimes 12 o’clock before they are warm enough to take off, so you see how it prevents flying even if the weather is clear.

            As some of the lecture rooms are on the chilly side, I have worn my flying boots continuously for the last seven or eight days, apart from the time spent in bed.  They are extremely comfortable, having a sheep’s wool lining throughout, and I use them as bedroom slippers as well...



Officer’s Mess,  Grantham.
5th March 1940. 

            Dear Dad,  ...Having resumed flying once again after the rains of February, we are being worked to death with lectures and P.T. thrown in - you might not think that a 250 mile cross-country flight is hard work, but it jolly well is when you aren’t used to it.  We certainly are rattling up the hours now, as the weather is absolutely perfect for flying.

            Yesterday I was flying to Wyton and Rugby on a triangular course, and met low clouds soon after leaving.  I kept well above them and having checked the drift and corrected the course before losing sight of the ground, I carried on as per schedule.  At the time I was due at Wyton, I altered course for Rugby, and again at Rugby I changed course for home, still flying by instruments.  Much to my delight, when half-way home, I spotted Leicester some five miles to port, which meant only a very slight change in course to bring me back directly over Grantham.  About ten miles from home, the clouds completely disappeared, so I rolled home in brilliant sunshine.  Good piece of navigation, don’t you think?  We expect to start night flying next week...

Your affectionate son, Geoff. "P/O" (Potential Officer)




Dear Dad,
 I'm afraid my last letter to you was a trifle premature in view of the present circumstances - everyone here was fed-up about losing their leave, especially the fellows who had been given 10 days off prior to reporting to Squadrons. 

However, we didn't have a bad time, as we were busy fitting guns to our aircraft and practising revolver shooting on the range with our Enfield .38s... 


There is not much more to be done on this course, and we are starting various tests. I have completed my two navigation tests, Pilot-Navigator and Observer-Navigator, getting 90% and 88% respectively.  I did well on low-level bombing, and things are going pretty well at the moment.  I hope they will continue to do so, as there will be more chance of getting the type of aeroplane I want if I get a good assessment.  It appears that the course ends on the 1st of June, having been cut down by a week in view of events.


 Two of the fellows on the previous course went to Sutton Bridge for 3 days, where they learnt to fly Hurricanes, and then were posted straight to France.  The fighter boys here have just gone for a few days to Rissington to fly Harvards preparatory to flying Hurricanes and Spitfires when they reach their squadrons.  ...they seem quite pleased with the prospect of flying Hurricanes, and no wonder, judging by the success these machines have met with in France.




Sergeants' Mess,
R.A.F. Upper Heyford,

Dear Dad,
 It appears the Grantham Commissions have not yet come through so I am quartered in a Barrack Block and Sergeants' Mess once more.  This is indeed disappointing.  To begin with, it is only an Operational Training Unit instead of a proper squadron, and our first w
eek's work consists of lectures from 8.30 am until 7.30 pm.  For the fortnight after that, we do Navigation flights in Ansons, and eventually we learn to fly the Hampdens.   We later go to Porthcawl, S. Wales, for air gunnery and bombing.  ….




…..  I had a reminder the other day of the lovely holidays we used to have in Devonshire, and the motor trips to Cornwall.  I saw Lundy Island from a somewhat different angle - took a running fix on it with a bearing compass - and flew back low over Dartmoor, past Exeter, from Bodmin to Yeovil in Somerset.  The country looked marvellous in the sun, and the sea - we went about 100 miles out - was just grand.  I wish we could have got out for a walk along the shore - actually we landed at St Merryn, which is right on the coast, near Newquay, but there wasn't time to go down to the shore.  I wonder when we shall next get a holiday in Devon - not long, I hope.
 Cheerio now, love to all, from Geoffrey (P/O, almost).




Officers' Mess,
Upper Heyford.
28th June 1940.

Dear Dad,
 We are getting plenty of flying in at the moment, chiefly night flying and instrument flying on Ansons prior to the change over to Hampdens.  I expect to fly solo on a Hampden by the weekend, having been sitting in a partially dismantled fuselage getting to know the positions of the various knobs and levers, of which there are plenty.  It is not possible to fly dual on these aircraft, as they are too narrow to allow another seat and set of controls in the pilot's cockpit.  All we get is an hour's demonstration by a staff pilot, and off we go solo.


 However, if you watch things carefully, there is not much difficulty about flying them, although they are so much bigger and heavier than Ansons.  They also have a bit more power - about 1700 horsepower between the two motors - and fly at higher speeds.  I am told that they are very pleasant to handle once having got the feel of them.  Anyway, I am looking forward to them, and will let you know all about it when I have flown in them solo.


 Our night flying programmes have been curtailed every night so far by air raid warnings, and eighteen bombs were dropped about four miles away the night before last.  They dropped in a large field used as a bombing range, so I expect they wanted a bit of practice. 

I hear you have had a stay in the shelter this week, and I suppose we must expect that from now onwards.  However, they have lost more than they have gained up till now, and I hope it will remain so.  At any rate, I am sure we shall be able to do better in our Hampdens over Germany.


Well, I don't know whether I shall get home again, but it may be possible later, perhaps when I leave here.


Cheerio for now, love to all,
from Geoffrey.




Officers' Mess,


Dear Dad
 Thanks for the letter received this morning…..
We are doing formation flying these days, which is jolly hard work, due to the intense concentration required to keep at a constant distance from the other aircraft - it necessitates constant juggling with the throttles, and perspiration runs down your face after half an hour of it, particularly if there have been a lot of turns executed.


 We have finished night flying for the time being, and will not do any more until in Advanced Training Squadron, which will be some time in April.  I am piling in the hours now, and have already passed the hundred mark. 


I am glad to hear you are digging for victory in the back garden, but be careful not to plant flaming onions by mistake.  We have had today free, and it makes a very pleasant change.  …..




Dear Dad,
 Yesterday, I had a busy day as Duty Pilot, and received two Air-Vice Marshalls, and dozens of Squadron-Leaders who were massing here to attend a conference at 5 Group Bomber Headquarters.  Of course, the D.P. is a very important man, and commands great respect from the visitors - I was saluted by a Flying Officer, and a S/Ldr called me "Sir".


 I flew last night from 12 o'clock until 3.30, (doing 10 landings in an Anson), and got to bed at 4.30.  In fact, I have only recently arisen, and it is practically lunch-time now.  Tonight we have a Guest night for members of the previous course, mostly P/Os, who are all posted to squadrons, and I expect it will be a bit of a riot.
 Anyway, as far as Whitsun is concerned, expect me when you see me.

Cheerio, love to mother and boys,  from Geoff.





Complete letters:-


2 Jan      Digging-in at Grantham; Sergeants' Mess; Avro Anson.
14 Jan
    Fog problems;15,000' in Anson.
21 Jan 
   Fog, frost and snow problems; flying gear.

25 Feb   Officers' Mess; Meals. 

5 Mar     Cross-country flight navigation; Officer Cadets.

24 Mar   Formation flying; Black Boy Hotel, Nottingham. 

9 May    Duty Pilot; Guest Night.

21 May  Navigation tests; Fighter crews to squadrons.

26 May  Farewells; Future assignments; Commissions.
6 June    Upper Heyford O.T.U.; Pistol shooting.
17 June  Commission problems; Devon and Cornwall flight.
28 June  Night, Instrument flying Ansons; Hampden preparation.
1 July     Hampden Solo; Picnic near Bicester.
8 July     Training in Herefords; Picnic in Oxford.

17 July   Training continues.
7 Aug    Finishing OTU course; anticipating 21st B'day.
19 Aug
  Dance band at Finningley and 21st birthday surprise.
25 Aug
  Comfortable accommodation and birthday presents.
8 Sept
   Confined to base following London bombing
12 Sept Bombing operations started.
28 Sept  Poor weather operation and fuel management
9 Oct     Poor weather cancellations - entertainment in York
14 Oct
   Bad weather - returned to foggy base with bomb-load!
30 Oct
   Posted to 61 Sq.Hemswell; bought MG Magnette
5 Nov
    General news; asks what 'Per purum tonantes' means.
11 Nov
  Weather problems, general news and Lincoln visits
21 Nov
  Severe icing on Hamburg raid; Turkish military attaché
1941:-    (awaiting digitising)  
1942:-     (awaiting digitising)  




        Flying Experience        Geoffrey Hall (18/8/1919 - 18/9/1986)  

1933, June: (age 13) his maths teacher reports that he should stop dreaming of planes all the time so he can make better progress with the work.
1939, March: (age 19) learns to fly in the RAF Volunteer Reserve at Croydon, on the Miles Magister, instructor F/O  Morrison. Also flies Hind, Hart, Audax and Moth.
1940, January: (age 20) joins the RAF and begins multi-engine pilot training at Grantham on the Avro Anson.
1940, June: converts to Handley Page Hampden; experience on Hereford.
1940, Sept: begins operational flying on the Hampden (106 and 61 Squadrons).
1941, March: converts to Avro Manchester; flies for official photos and shows Royal family over it.
1941, June: begins operational flying on the Manchester.
1942, March: trains pilots on the Wellington; experience on Defiant and Lysander.
1943, Jan: converts to Avro Lancaster at 1654 OTU
1943, Feb.: begins operational flying on the Lancaster.
1943, June: training at 1661 OTU, on Lancaster, Halifax V, Stirling III.
1944, June: (age 24) joins BOAC and progresses through DC3, York, Canadair (Argonaut), Britannia, 707 and 747.
1973, December: (age 54) retires as Senior Captain flying Boeing 747 for British Airways.