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British Training

(Some excerpts from The Albany Herald, Sunday May 3, 1992, an article written by Janet Bean, then curator of Thronateeska Heritage Foundation.)

In 1940, following the fall of France, the U.K. found itself alone in the battle against the Axis powers. After the RAF victory in the Battle of Britain, there was a desperate shortage of pilots. Some U.S. government officials realized that America would likely face Hitler's hordes alone and woefully unprepared unless some way could be found to skirt this country's peacetime neutrality laws by furnishing the Allied cause with substantial help.

U.S. Army Air Force General "Hap" Arnold was one of the far-sighted officials who understood the critical necessity of helping Britain. Largely as a result of his efforts, the Arnold Scheme, a program allowing the use of American Air Bases to train RAF pilots, came into being. Other programs for training British pilots existed in the southwestern and western U.S. However, the Arnold Scheme was confined to air fields located in eleven cities in the southeastern part of the country -- Albany, Macon, Americus, and Valdosta in Georgia; Camden in South Carolina; Selma, Dothan, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa in Alabama; and Lakeland and Arcadia in Florida. The British who trained at these locations are known as Arnoldians. They learned to fly in the U.S. Army Air Force planes, with USAF markings. Their flight instructors and most of the ground personnel were Americans.

When the Arnoldians first came to this country in the spring of 1941, they went directly to primary flight training fields. Shortly thereafter, however, it was realized that something was required to lessen the culture shock of coming from war-torn Britain with severe shortage of everything, along with its blacked-out and burning cities undergoing the Blitz. These very young men arrived quite suddenly in a warm part of the world that still was enjoying the full fruits of peacetime. There was no shortage of anything. The cities were ablaze at night with light and an ambiance that seemed to deny the existence of the life and death struggle raging in Europe. Strange local foods and customs added to the confusion, so an orientation period was added, lasting several weeks preceding primary training. One orientation program was located at Turner Field near Albany, Georgia, which city was also the site of a primary field, Darr Aero Tech (now the Albany AirPort) where many Arnoldians received their wings.

As in the other southeastern U.S. locations, the British cadets were received in Albany with great warmth and affection. (see the quotes of Albany residents below). Most of them were in their late teens and early twenties and many were mothered and fathered in local homes. All were highly visible, even though prior to Pearl Harbor they were not allowed to wear their uniforms off base for fear of offending neutrality sensibilities. During their time in America 1941-43, they became an integral part of the community, as they were welcomed in businesses, clubs, churches, homes and recreational facilities. Communication by mail was continued after their departure and many people were saddened to learn of war deaths and wounds sustained by these young lads.

In 1941-43, however, good natured understanding ruled the day as Brits and Americans adjusted to differences in customs and language. Both sides were sometimes shocked and then highly amused at the use of certain words that had entirely different meanings in British and American English. To the Brits, it was nothing less than sacrilege to ruin tea with ice cubes and then to consume it not only in the heat of summer, but all year round. To Americans, hot tea was used mostly to help when one was feeling puny or when one just wanted to be hoity-toity.

The areas of antagonism between the British and the American pilots came about due to the methods of treating the cadets by the two different governments. The British cadets, unlike the Americans who graduated as officers, were enlisted men. The American enlisted men on base exhibited some antagonism toward the British because these cadets received the same rank privileges as the American officer pilot cadets and also a higher salary than the American enlisted men. Much of this antagonism abated when Congress raised the pay for the Americans.

The only other disagreement between the British and American forces at the training base was over what the British declared to be the inordinate amount of importance the Americans placed upon military discipline. By the time the cadets reached the advanced training stage, they came under the jurisdiction of the Tactical Officer, whose duty it was to enforce military standards of behavior upon the cadets. The British were used to a much more relaxed attitude towards military authority than were the Americans, and did not appreciate having to come up to the American stricture of discipline. (These last two paragraphs were taken from the article in the Herald cited in the introduction.)

Seven British cadets perished in flight training accidents while based at Darr and Turner. Two of these were 19 years of age. The remainder were in their early 20s. They were buried at a local cemetery, each grave marked at the time with a dignified granite pillow, engraved with the name of the deceased, identifying him as a RAF cadet and showing the years of birth and death.

In early 1991, several local people became concerned that in future years no one would know why RAF cadets were buried here and that this unique and colorful period of local history would fade into oblivion. This group is now known as the RAF Albany Committee. By chance the local committee learned that the former British cadets had formed a group in England called the Arnold Scheme Register. This discovery, in October 1991, led to a return visit to Albany by some of the surviving British pilots who trained in Albany, Georgia at Turner Field and at Darr Aero Tech.

The British cadets were accepted into the community, the homes, churches and businesses. Along with their youthfulness and lovely British accents they became a part of the lives and hearts of Albany residents. After a brief two years, they were just as suddenly gone and it almost seemed in later years as though it never really happened. But it did, and many people still treasure fond memories of these young men and the color, richness and spice they brought into the lives of Albanians.

 

Turner Field Project
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