Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. RAF Cadet Memorial Service: 10 November 2019 [Updated Photos]

 

The town of Mesa, Arizona, hosted the annual Royal Air Force Cadet memorial service at 1045, Sunday 10 November 2019 in the center of the Mesa Cemetery. There 23 cadets died far from home, learning to fly before going to Canada to train in their warbirds.

The Caledonian Society of Arizona provided the bagpipes. The Commemorative Air Force of Arizona conducted flyovers in the basic (Stearman biplanes) and advanced trainers (T-6) used in World War II. A firing detail of seven American Legion members rendered a 21-gun salute in three volleys. British Last Post was played, on a British military bugle, followed by the U.S. version on U.S. military standard bugle. A Boy Scout troop handed out programs, British standard poppies (much larger and sturdier than the VFW “Buddy Poppy”), and cups of water (the temperature under mostly sunny skies heading into the 80s.

These are 23 British men fallen in the service of their country, remembered mostly by Americans these days.

Last year, I wrote about attending the ceremony, illustrating with photographs in “Remembrance of RAF Cadets in Arizona? Yes, and Therein Lies a Tale.” There were seven schools, operated for different durations, around the United States. 2,000 to 3,000 RAF cadets trained at Falcon Field, in Mesa, Arizona. That is a disturbingly vague number, but I have not yet found a better accounting. By that math, between 1:100 or 1:150 died in training at Falcon Field.

I was unable to find out, asking at the event and briefly searching online, if the last pilot who was able to travel was still alive but not able to visit. Stan Whalley has not made it over the pond since 2017. I was happy to find a Facebook page for the Falcon Field Number 4 British Flying Training School, sharing my Ricochet story from last year, with comments by family members of cadets, including a 98-year-old who is doing well in Britain. The page included birthday wishes to Stan Whalley on his 95th this past spring.

A local photographer wrote an informative blog post with photos of Stan Whalley in 2017, and “The Amazing Stan” in 2015. The Mesa Public Schools district reported on Stan Whalley visiting a classroom in 2013 to share his story:

Stan Whalley, from Stoke-On-Trent, England, visited with fifth-grade students at Keller Elementary to share wartime memories of Mesa. A pilot in the Royal British Air Force during World War II, he flew escort missions on raids over Germany in a P-51 Mustang.

Whalley was in Mesa to attend a Remembrance Day celebration at the Mesa Cemetery, where 23 pilots who died in training accidents are interred in the British Plot. He received his pilot training at Falcon Field in 1942.

Once again, the Mayor of Mesa, John Giles, called on everyone in attendance to bring someone from the younger generation next year, to teach them and keep the memories alive. He brought his 15-year-old son this year. The crowd, and it was a good crowd, was encouraging in the good mix of young and old.

Is there a seldom noticed memorial, from a marker to a statue, near you?

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There are 15 comments.

  1. Barfly Member

    Twenty-three seems a lot of guys to lose in training. I wonder how many British cadets were trained here in total – I couldn’t find the number with a lazy internet search. I suppose it’s anachronistic to apply modern casualty standards to WWII; there was a real war on then. It’s the scale of everything we did in WWII that arrests, but especially the way we spent lives. Basic flight training at an auxiliary location is all this was, and the Brits spent twenty-three young men of the upper crust on it. 

    • #1
    • November 8, 2019, at 8:51 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  2. RightAngles Member

    There was a bagpiper at my mom’s memorial service too. It’s quite stirring.

    • #2
    • November 8, 2019, at 10:03 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  3. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown Post author

    Barfly (View Comment):

    Twenty-three seems a lot of guys to lose in training. I wonder how many British cadets were trained here in total – I couldn’t find the number with a lazy internet search. I suppose it’s anachronistic to apply modern casualty standards to WWII; there was a real war on then. It’s the scale of everything we did in WWII that arrests, but especially the way we spent lives. Basic flight training at an auxiliary location is all this was, and the Brits spent twenty-three young men of the upper crust on it.

    No, this was not an “auxiliary location.” There was no chance of training pilots, or air crews generally, in Britain when the skies over Britain were hot, an active war zone. It was necessary to send their trainees, who were not, I assure you, strictly of the “upper crust,” to America (much better flying weather for many more months than Canada) for basic pilot training.

    I’ve updated the post to reflect estimates of the total number trained at Falcon Field, one of six locations in the U.S. The casualty rate works out to 1:100 to 1:150. What I found especially telling were two grave markers side-by-side. The two cadets died in separate crashes one day apart. Now, imagine you are in that class and told you are to go up the next day. Gut check time.

    I found it noteworthy that members of the classes of cadets had been flying back to Mesa for three decades, their numbers dropping to one survivor healthy enough to travel and remember his comrades in the past four years.

    Oh, and the flower of British aristocracy, the “upper crust,” had been blown away by German machine guns and snipers as they were the first over the top in every stinking charge across no mans land in World War I. They did their duty and died dutifully.

    • #3
    • November 9, 2019, at 12:24 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  4. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    Barfly (View Comment):

    Twenty-three seems a lot of guys to lose in training. I wonder how many British cadets were trained here in total – I couldn’t find the number with a lazy internet search. I suppose it’s anachronistic to apply modern casualty standards to WWII; there was a real war on then. It’s the scale of everything we did in WWII that arrests, but especially the way we spent lives. Basic flight training at an auxiliary location is all this was, and the Brits spent twenty-three young men of the upper crust on it.

    Including training and other accidents (see, for instance, the B-25 which crashed into the Empire State building), about 10,000 American serviceman died in air accidents in the U.S. during WW2, so the British casualty count does not surprise me. One of my Dad’s best friends died hitching a ride on a military transport which crashed.

    • #4
    • November 9, 2019, at 6:10 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  5. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    Also, if you are visiting the Phoenix area the Commemorative Air Force museum at Falcon Field is well worth a visit.

    • #5
    • November 9, 2019, at 6:12 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  6. EB Thatcher
    EB

    I remember your post from last year. I shared it with friends in England and they were quite touched that these boys were still remembered.

    • #6
    • November 9, 2019, at 6:36 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  7. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    I have been reading a series of well researched novels about the RAF , and in WWI the RFC, and find that RAF training early in the war was very short and the survival of the novice pilots in combat was about a week. I have not read a history of the RAF on this so perhaps they decided on a lengthier training period later in the war.

    • #7
    • November 9, 2019, at 8:06 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  8. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown Post author

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment):

    I have been reading a series of well researched novels about the RAF , and in WWI the RFC, and find that RAF training early in the war was very short and the survival of the novice pilots in combat was about a week. I have not read a history of the RAF on this so perhaps they decided on a lengthier training period later in the war.

    This looks like a good start point to answer your questions:

    https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/research/online-exhibitions/taking-flight/historical-periods/second-world-war-flying-training.aspx

    They did change, lengthen training in 1941 after bad results. They recognized the aircraft had become more technical, requiring more in depth courses.

    I have not read it, but this seems to be the book on RAF training in America:

    https://untpress.unt.edu/catalog/3658

    • #8
    • November 9, 2019, at 2:44 PM PST
    • 1 like
  9. Mountie Member

    My father had an odd history. Born and raised in Alabama, he left the Univ Of Alabama in 1939 to go to England and join the RAF. The RAF promptly sent him to Ponca City, Ok to do his flight school. 

    • #9
    • November 9, 2019, at 10:17 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  10. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown Post author

    Mountie (View Comment):

    My father had an odd history. Born and raised in Alabama, he left the Univ Of Alabama in 1939 to go to England and join the RAF. The RAF promptly sent him to Ponca City, Ok to do his flight school.

    That sounds like he joined the Eagle Squadrons. He was violating U.S. law, while we were neutral, with a huge wink and nod that concluded with a special law, restoring U.S. citizenship to everyone who had volunteered to fight with our allies before we entered the war, passed by Congress and signed by FDR in 1944.

    • #10
    • November 9, 2019, at 11:49 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  11. Mountie Member

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Mountie (View Comment):

    My father had an odd history. Born and raised in Alabama, he left the Univ Of Alabama in 1939 to go to England and join the RAF. The RAF promptly sent him to Ponca City, Ok to do his flight school.

    That sounds like he joined the Eagle Squadrons. He was violating U.S. law, while we were neutral, with a huge wink and nod that concluded with a special law, restoring U.S. citizenship to everyone who had volunteered to fight with our allies before we entered the war, passed by Congress and signed by FDR in 1944.

    No he wasn’t Eagle Sqd. He was too tall at 6’3” to fit in the cockpit. Literally. He wangled a solo in a Spitfire and spent the whole flight with the top of his head pressed down by the canopy. He figured that wasn’t for him. He flew bombers instead. One interesting thing though. British officers periodically had to pledge allegiance to the Queen. When meetings were known to end with the pledge my father and the other Americans were told to sit in the back of the room and quietly leave the room when they stood for the pledge. Back then a pledge of allegiance to a foreign power was tantamount to renouncing your citizenship. 

    • #11
    • November 10, 2019, at 3:41 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  12. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown Post author

    Mountie (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Mountie (View Comment):

    My father had an odd history. Born and raised in Alabama, he left the Univ Of Alabama in 1939 to go to England and join the RAF. The RAF promptly sent him to Ponca City, Ok to do his flight school.

    That sounds like he joined the Eagle Squadrons. He was violating U.S. law, while we were neutral, with a huge wink and nod that concluded with a special law, restoring U.S. citizenship to everyone who had volunteered to fight with our allies before we entered the war, passed by Congress and signed by FDR in 1944.

    No he wasn’t Eagle Sqd. He was too tall at 6’3” to fit in the cockpit. Literally. He wangled a solo in a Spitfire and spent the whole flight with the top of his head pressed down by the canopy. He figured that wasn’t for him. He flew bombers instead. One interesting thing though. British officers periodically had to pledge allegiance to the Queen. When meetings were known to end with the pledge my father and the other Americans were told to sit in the back of the room and quietly leave the room when they stood for the pledge. Back then a pledge of allegiance to a foreign power was tantamount to renouncing your citizenship.

    Actually, enlisting may have been enough, but that was completely remedied in law, in 1944, for everyone who had gone over to fight for the Allies. Current law is interpreted as assuming you do not intend to renounce citizenship unless you took up arms with someone to fight against us. The burden, in the statute, is on the government to prove you intended to renounce U.S. citizenship:

    (a)person who is a national of the United States whether by birth or naturalization, shall lose his nationality by voluntarily performing any of the following acts with the intention of relinquishing United States nationality—

    (1)obtaining naturalization in a foreign state upon his own application or upon an application filed by a duly authorized agent, after having attained the age of eighteen years; or

    (2)taking an oath or making an affirmation or other formal declaration of allegiance to a foreign state or a political subdivision thereof, after having attained the age of eighteen years; or

    (3)entering, or serving in, the armed forces of a foreign state if (A) such armed forces are engaged in hostilities against the United States, or (B) such persons serve as a commissioned or non-commissioned officer;

    • #12
    • November 10, 2019, at 9:28 PM PST
    • 1 like
  13. Jeff Giambrone Coolidge

    We have a similar ceremony each year in Jackson, Mississippi to honor the 30 Dutch pilots who died in training at the Royal Netherlands Flying School at Jackson Army Air Base during World War 2. The Dutch pilots who died are buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Jackson, and have a beautiful monument honoring their sacrifice.

     

    Dutch Pilots Memorial at Cedar Hill Cemetery, Jackson, Mississippi
    • #13
    • November 11, 2019, at 3:22 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  14. philo Member

    Clifford A. Brown: There 23 cadets died far from home, learning to fly before going to Canada to train in their warbirds.

    In Fort Worth too.

    So much rich history fading into distant memories. One of the neatest tangible parts of this history (for the time being) is this aerial bombing target just north of Fort Worth that is still visible on Goggle Maps.

    I have not trespassed out to see it yet but I am told it is essentially a concrete trough that was filled with water so that pilots could see the “splash” as they practiced.

    Given the heavy development in the area, I fear this one won’t be around much longer…

    Thanks.

     

    • #14
    • November 11, 2019, at 4:20 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  15. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    My cousin, 18 years older than I, did his bombardier training at Randolph Field after he washed out as a pilot. My mother and his sisters all went down for the ceremony which was about 1942. He did 50 missions in the 15th Air Force from north Africa. One of his buddies sent me his medals at the time. He was shot down before they arrived.

    Wearing them.

    • #15
    • November 12, 2019, at 11:00 AM PST
    • 3 likes