Flying Cheetahs in the Eastern Cape!
Updated: Mar 25, 2021
It is with pleasure that I introduce Robin Stobbs. Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Africa. Robin first scouted Cannon Rocks when there were three visible houses here, in 1972.
I'll hand over the pen....
The Kingswood College 1943 Yearbook records that my brother and I were pupils in Junior House as 'Wartime Refugees from Kenya'. Being sent to live with our maternal Grandparents in Grahamstown for two years, at the time when it appeared that Italian forces might easily invade Kenya from bases in Abyssinia, apparently earned us the dubious title of 'refugees'
I'm sixth in from the right, back row up there
A personal highlight of that time was the ever present aerial activities of (mainly) twin engined Airspeed Oxford
And Avro Anson training aircraft from 43 and 44 Air Schools. These aircraft were the stalwart trainers for budding Air Force pilots, navigators, air gunners and bombers
Under the Commonwealth Training Scheme, 44 Air School was established in Grahamstown in November 1941. This Air School functioned as a navigation-training centre. 43 Air School was (and still is) based at Port Alfred and began training operations in 1942. They too flew twin-engined Avro Ansons and Airspeed Oxfords, and trained air gunners
The Oxfords did the drogue towing, while the gunners in the Anson dorsal turret, firing single .303 Lewis guns, tried to shoot them. We often watched their antics in the sky with that feeling that had we been just a little bit older we might also be 'enjoying' ourselves up there! The dreams of an eight year old!
Our Grandparents often took us to stay with friends in a house in Kenton On Sea, overlooking the Bushman's River. We would use the rowed ferry boat to cross over the river in order to watch the aerial gunnery practise from the vantage height of the dunes there
One day we were all sitting around the table in this house when we heard a different sort of aeroplane engine noise - a very unhealthy , staccato and angry sounding noise. We looked out just in time to see an Anson bounce off the top of a few sand dunes and come to rest on a narrow sand shelf, just a few yards from the Bushman's River. Of course we crossed the river as fast as we could, and stood around gawping at this sorry looking aeroplane. We discovered afterwards that the crew all escaped with only minor injuries, but the aircraft had left bits of itself on the crest of some seven or eight sand dunes. Many, many years later I discovered in a history of South African Air Force is an entry: 'Avro Anson, Serial 4341, delivered to SAAF on 13th April 1943, reported crashed (write-off) following engine failure - forced landing on beach at Bushman's River Mouth. The pilot was Lt. Palmer, R.M."
I think I must have gone back to Grahamstown, or to our Aunt and Uncle in Southwell soon thereafter because I cannot recall how or when the wreck was removed. I can still clearly visualise in my mind, the wreck of that poor airplane so close to going for a swim in the river, and the dazed crew standing about being gawped at by curious, sympathetic onlookers
Bombing practise was another aerial event we would watch with excitement. On some farms in the Southwell area, the military had erected small concrete pyramids surrounded by a circle of open grassland. Outside that circle were two observation towers, from which observers were able to triangulate the accuracy of bomb 'explosions'. In their bombing practise the aircraft would fly over these targets, and drop bombs which consisted of canisters or bags containing a white powder, thus making it easy for the instructor / observer to assess the accuracy of the drops. We grew up with the 'knowledge' that these bombs were bags of flour, but were more likely to have been bags of white clay from the quarries near Grahamstown. One of these bombing targets was situated on the Stirk's farm at Southwell (Colin Stirk of farm Woodlands) and is still there today!
Sadly, of all the many hundreds of these aircraft built, there are no flying Oxfords and only one airworthy Anson, though there are a few complete earth-bound exhibits of both types
Finally, as an interesting sideline - the Avro Aanson was designed by Avro's chief designer Roy Chadwick who also designed the famous Lancaster Bomber. The Oxford was designed by RJ Mitchell who designed the equally famous Spitfire!
It might be of interest to note that the Anson was the first RAF aircraft with retract undercarriage. No fancy hydraulics then: it was all done manually, as I discovered decades later when I worked holiday jobs with Caspair Airways at Nairobi West Airfield. I had been one of a group working on their Anson, and as a reward was taken up on the trials flight. What I didn't realise was that the 'reward' was to sit on the floor alongside the pilot and wind that darned crank handle - 144 times each way!!
Oh! The Flying Cheetahs? They buzzed around the sky all and every day - they were the 7-cylinder radial engines that powered both the Oxfords and the Ansons