I have just had a superb day at Old Warden watching the The Shuttleworth Collection’s last display day of the season. The weather was perfect for the full ensemble, most of the stars of this amazing flying museum raced across the turf with lifted skirts and made it into the air – memorable!
A major objective of the day was to bring together all the members of the team with an interest in Arthur’s story. Piers, Andrew and Rupert (Dent) were all there along with my friend, colleague and co-researcher, Syd Buxton. Syd spent part of the day with Tony Blackman at a book signing wedged into a chair gripping a pen whilst recounting his very interesting past.
The good news for us was that the SE5a, a Wolsey engined model that we hoped to photograph (up close) was to fly. Along with the Bristol Fighter, the Sopwith Pup and Triplane, this classic of the conflict on the Western Front was flown beautifully in the early evening light. Earlier, whilst the show was in its opening moments Andrew had bumped into a young lady called Tracey Curtis-Taylor, an Old Warden based pilot who was utterly charming and made us feel very welcome. After hearing Arthur’s story and looking into his tin chest she swept us into a privileged position near the control tower and introduced us to the guys flying the display. A lucky break for us….
When the SE5a returned to earth we were escorted ‘up close and personal’ to shoot take photographs and try a little alchemy. History takes on an immediacy when one of the principal actors comes alive in front of you, being so close to this living, breathing machine dripping hot oil fresh from flight leaves you on something of a high. Syd and I returned to my car parked on the flight line and divided up the photographic and written archive of Arthur’s life. We have now gone our separate ways to pore forensically through the evidence, record, scan and collaborate on-line.
When I last saw the material I gained an impression of the depth of detail available to us; after working more closely with it I now fully realise that the task is deliciously vast. All of the data will be arranged, appended to a time-line and integrated with other information we have from sources that reach from The RAF Central Flying School through to the principal UK museums dealing with the first great War in the Air. When we see clearly what we have, how it all relates and what it reveals about the man and his time the underlying story that we want to tell will emerge. Then the writing begins…
And now to close, a further word about Tracey and her mission to fly across Africa. I will be brief here – she will speak to you far better than I through her website, her short movie and evolving blog. I fly with talented ladies all the time and seldom fail to be impressed by their obvious enthusiasm and dedication – but this aviator is in a class of her own.