Thursday, 24 January 2013

Seize the day boys, seize the day

By Mitch Stirling

When I look at the 1950 photograph of No1 Squadron Southern Rhodesia Auxiliary Air Force I'm reminded  of that great line from the movie "Dead Poets Society" when actor Robin Williams entreats his class of schoolboys to lean closer towards an old pre-war photo of past pupils... and listen carefully.

"Can you hear them?", he asks. "Come closer, listen carefully"... and in a whisper, "can you hear them?"
And then they heard them, those voices low, coming down through the years.. "Carpe diem, seize the day boys, seize the day."

Call me a sentimental old fool, but I loved that "bioscope"... with its powerful message of yesteryear. And it got me thinking about our Rhodesian families and about how many glorious days were "seized" by our own  old boys, our heroes of World War II.

In the year 1950 Captain Neville Brooks (seated R3 in the photo) lead a formation of Harvards over the Drill  Hall at the King's Birthday parade on the 8th of June. Jenny Taylor, daughter of Neville Brooks, writes:

"The photo below is absolutely fascinating and brought back so many memories. Most of those photographed were  very much a part of my childhood. It would seem that friendships continued even after those concerned were no longer Air Force colleagues. My sister Rilda was even named after Basil Hone's wife (Basil is back row R2 standing between David Barbour and Ozzie Penton). Parties and drinks seemed to have played a huge part in all the relationships in which we children were often unwilling participants and often  unnoticed observers! I can still see their faces and hear their voices."

The following stories were received from another of Neville's daughters, Wendy. She is researching her  father's part in WWII as a Hurricane pilot with 17 Squadron RAF. The squadron had been deployed in 1942  to defend the Burma Road, along with an American Volunteer Group flying those old Curtiss P-40  Warhawks - the Flying Tigers with the sharks' teeth emblem on the nose cowling and a winged tiger on the  fuselage.

"By that evening”, records Wing Commander Bunny Stone DFC of 17 Squadron, “Brooks, my Rhodesian  pilot, had not turned up. But he arrived the next day with an interesting story. Having mixed it with some  fighters north of Rangoon, he had to bale out. This occurred near a small Burmese village with a temple. 

 The locals, gazing at this 'globe' descending from the heavens (perhaps the equivalent of us seeing a UFO  today?) rushed out with any weapons they could find to where 'Brooky' was trying to disentangle himself  from his parachute harness. Thus surrounded by this rather terrifying horde of fierce-looking men, he  naturally submitted. They must have been equally astounded to find that the object was but an ordinary  white man. He was led off to the local temple and handed over to the Buddhist priests, amidst much excited  chatter. By this time 'Brooky' felt that he was about to become a sacrificial pig! After certain rights were  performed over him, however, he was given to understand that he was now an honorary priest - the only  pilot ever to achieve such an honour.  He was given a lift most of the way back to Magwe, near Rangoon, on a 17 Indian Army Division tank!”

Later, the Japanese nearly annihilated all of them at Mangwe in a sustained, 24 hour attack when they  dropped over 147 tons of bombs. One of the American pilots remembers:

“His engine on fire after an attack by Ki-27s, Hurricane pilot Neville Brooks tried to land in the middle of  one such attack. He came in fast and skidded, throwing flames and smoke in every direction ... the pilot  looked trapped for sure. But crew chiefs Fauth and Olson jumped out of their shelters and rushed to the  wreckage, breaking through and rescuing the RAF pilot from the burning mass. They put Brooks in a jeep,  which Olson drove off the field. Johnny Fauth was hit in the shoulder by a machine gun bullet and crazed  with pain he began running across the field. Frank Swartz – one of the Americans from the Flying Tiger  Squadron 'Panda Bears' – left his trench to sprint after him. One big bomb fell within fifteen feet of them and both were wounded badly. Each man lost part of his jaw and Fauth's arm was nearly torn off. Swartz's  throat was laid open.”

"Fauth and Henry Olson probably saved my father's life, wrote Wendy, "and reading that Johnny Fauth was  so badly injured after leaving his shelter to rush to the wreckage has had a profound effect upon me" (Fauth  died in India some weeks later). A fitting tribute to the AVG 2nd Pursuit Squadron “Panda Bears” from  Winston Churchill reads:

“The victories over the rice fields in Burma are comparable in character, if not scope, with those won by the  RAF over the hops fields of Kent in the Battle of Britain.”

Hurricane Mk1: early models in Burma campaign were fabric-covered, two-bladed wooden propellers,  320mph, Merlin engines, Eight .303 Brownings (four each wing) 

Nakajima Ki-27: code named “Nate” or “Abdul” by the Allies. Speed 292mph, 710 hp, two 7.7 forward-firing  machine guns.

But there are deeds that shall not pass away
And names that must not wither
(Byron, Childe Harold)

In Southern Rhodesia at this time there was another link in the Brooks family chain: one Alexander  Parkinson (Sandy) Singleton, who married Polly Brooks, Neville's cousin. A remarkable man of many  talents, Sandy Singleton (1914-1999) had been a very accomplished cricketer before the war. As a right nhanded opening batsman and off-break bowler, he played for Worcestershire and Oxford University and  faced the mighty Don Bradman during the 1930s Australian tour to England. With his impeccable manners,  on and off the cricket field, he was known to “walk” when he knew he was out, before waiting for that  “howzat” decision from up the wicket.

Text for above.
 Sandy Singleton

 Cricketer who captained Oxford and Worcestershire and played for Rhodesia

 SANDY SINGLETON, who has died aged 84, was a right-handed batsman and slow left-arm bowler, and  captain of Worcestershire in 1946.

 Alexander Parkinson Singleton was born at Repton, Derbyshire, on August 5 1914. After Shrewsbury and  Brasenose, Oxford, where he was a cricket Blue for three seasons and captained the side in 1937, he taught  at Repton.

 He made his debut for Worcestershire in 1934 and went on to make 58 appearances for the county. As  captain in 1946 he enjoyed an excellent season with the bat, storing 1,615 runs at an average of 37,55.  Altogether in his career he made 4,700 runs at 27,65 and look 240 wickets at 30,49.

 Singleton remembered vividly playing against Don Bradman, who never failed to score a double century  against Worcestershire, in the first match of Australian tours in the 1930s. Singleton recalled a moment of  hope in 1938; "I was fielding at leg slip when Bradman hit a ball my way and it just fell short of my grasp.
 He went on to score 258."

 In 1939, Singleton joined the RAFVR, and at the outbreak of war was called up into the RAF. Serving in  Rhodesia, he met his future wife.

 At the end of the cricket season of 1946 he emigrated to Rhodesia and took to farming - though he found  time to play for Rhodesia (1946-47 to 1949-50). Eventually, he returned to teaching at a hoys' school called  Peterhouse,at Marondera. In 1985 he and his wife went to live in Australia.

 Singleton married, in 1941, Polly Brooks; they had three sons arid two daughters.

John Reid-Rowland reports that Sandy's flying career began with the RAF VR at Derby, England in 1938-9.
And after moving to Southern Rhodesia in 1940 he attended No 25 EFTS (Belvedere) where famous  Rhodesian names in aviation began to appear in his log book as he converted to Tiger Moths - Flight  Lieutenants Jack Finnis and Keith Hensman (Mark's grandfather) among them. Harvards followed at 20 SFS (Cranborne), with John Lamplough mentioned (see photo below)

Then, as an instructor on a number of advanced war-time courses, Sandy Singleton flew Harvards, Audaxes  and Harts and more familiar names began to appear in his log book: Moss, Small, Downes, Hughes,  McDowell, Taute, Biddulph, Smith, Balance, McGibbon, Blackwell, Mollett, Rogers, Ritchie, Green,  Shepherd, Hughes, Creese, Franklin, Fraser (Scotty?) are some.

 By 1942 Singleton was at CFS 33 (Norton) and in the following year he unfortunately lost his flying licence  on medical grounds. But that didn't stop him becoming Chief Ground Instructor with a promotion to acting  Squadron Leader. John Reid-Rowland has a comprehensive list of students and war-time instructors from  Sandy's log book, many of whom ended the war with wonderful decorations for valour. Herein lies some  more happy family coincidences: John is married to Jane, one of Sandy's daughters and Polly's niece,  Merilyn Brooks, married Norman Walsh... so the link to aviation continues through the generations.

After the war Sandy captained Worcestershire and later Rhodesia. In all he made 4 700 runs and took 240  wickets in first-class cricket. As a teacher at Peterhouse School in later years he was always willing and able  to demonstrate his integrity and share his wonderful gifts with the boys in his charge. He believed in the old-school credo: “For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks not that you  won or lost but how you played the game”. It was a sad loss to the country when Sandy Singleton and Polly  emigrated to Australia in 1984, where he had the greatest difficulty adapting to the one-day cricket format  ... the “Pyjama Game” he called it!

Bibliography:  “Hurricanes over Burma” by Squadron Leader M C “Bush” Cotton DFC  OAM with quote from Byron. ITALIC “Flying Tigers”  by Daniel Ford.

    SALISBURY 1940 (Bill Teague says SAAF Harvards had different pitot tubes).

Photo credits with thanks to Rob Thurman, Jenny (Brooks) Taylor and John Reid-Rowland.


Thanks to Mitch for sharing his article with ORAFs, thanks also to Rob Thurman,
Jenny (Brooks) Taylor and John Reid-Rowland for thew use of their photographs.

Comments are always welcome, please mail them to Eddy Norris at

Recommended reading.
History of the Southern Rhodesian Auxiliary Air Force

(Please visit our previous posts and archives)

Ref. Rhodesian Air Force, ORAFs, Civil aviation

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