By Christobel Mattingley
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Then he did his first cross-country lasting two hours. Each was longer than the last, extending into Victoria’s Western District. Night flying was another challenge. The flights lasted up to an hour, and included both instrument flying and some astro-nav. David loved the clear starry nights with the Southern Cross in different positions. But like everyone, he was deeply shocked when a fellow trainee was killed in a crash on a night flying exercise. It was a sobering realisation of the cost of pilot error.
He immediately eased back the joystick and opened the throttle fully. To his relief the Moth climbed away instantly. It was a valuable experience, proving that the Tiger Moth was ideal for training because it was so forgiving of beginners’ mistakes. As the young pilots became more proficient, aerobatics, a special thrill, were a regular part of training. They learned to loop and roll and do stall turns, which could be a useful manoeuvre in a tight situation. They learned the truth of the saying, ‘There are old pilots and bold pilots.
For some it would be their only time. indd 44 2/4/07 3:16:04 PM 3 Slow Boat to Britain SS Umgeni was a handsome five-year-old 7000-ton merchant ship with passenger accommodation, much more comfortable than a regular troopship, and David shared a first-class cabin with two others. A good sailor, he was untroubled by typical Bass Strait weather, which laid other men low and sent soup, glasses and cutlery to the floor. Speculation about destination ended. They were heading east. Surely bound for Britain.