Victoria Wicks, the granddaughter of the famous fiction writer H E Bates recently visited the Museum to present her grandfather’s RAF Officer’s tunic. Her grandfather served at RAF Tangmere during the Second World War where he met and wrote about two famous No 1 Squadron night intruder pilots.
Herbert Ernest (H E) Bates was already a well-known writer of fiction by the beginning of the Second World War. He was commissioned in the RAF in October 1941 as a Writer and carried out his initial training at RAF Uxbridge before being posted to RAF Oakington, Cambridgeshire to mix with its pilots in order to gain material for future books and short stories. In March 1942 he was posted to RAF Tangmere. Here he spent five months at the station and was based at Shopwyke House, the RAF Tangmere’s Officers Mess, to gain material for a collection of stories to be written under a pseudonym of ‘Flying Officer X’.
One day at Shopwyke House Bates met a young squadron leader whose left hand had been replaced with a metal gadget to enable him to fly a Hurricane. This pilot was J A MacLachlan (‘One-armed Mac’), the CO of No 1 Squadron, a Hurricane night intruder squadron based at RAF Tangmere. MacLachlan had made his name in the Battle for Malta the previous year and Bates was later to describe how ‘Mac’ lost his arm in the short story ‘The Beginning of Things’. Bates was introduced by MacLachlan to a Czech pilot in the squadron, Flight Lieutenant Karel Kuttelwascher. How ‘Kut’ escaped from his country at the beginning of the war and joined the RAF is described in Bates’ short story ‘The Disinherited’. In his story, ‘There’s Something in the Air’ Bates later wrote about the night time successes of MacLachlan and Kuttelwascher (named in his story Anderson and Auerbach) and the leaving of the squadron from Tangmere