[Received November 19, 1917]

Exeter College

October 31, 1917, 9 P.M.

Dear Mother:

Well we do not get any furlough and we have to continue going to classes. That chance of seeing London at least served the good purpose of awakening me to seeing some of the sights here in Oxford. Instead of rowing in the afternoons hereafter I am going sight seeing.

This fellow Stratton is a high-brow from Harvard, studied Greek, Sanscrit, etc. and made a fine companion on the trip this afternoon through the famous Bodleian Library. I cannot give even a hint of all the wonderful things we saw. It is steeped in history and seems to have all the original manuscripts of the Bible and the old philosophers that exist. The original library room built in 1445 is still used and the book racks and desks built in 1556 are in daily use. Stratton made a wonderful stroke of trying to get access to some special manuscript on Aristotle and a Dr Cowley took us all over the library and showed us and told us about all of its most valuable possessions. This Dr. Cowley is evidently quite some scholar as he could read Greek and Egyptian manuscripts and had a lot to do with obtaining some of the rare ones. He showed us some Egyptian writing on papyrus of 450 B.C. I have a visitor’s guide book of Oxford and since looking it over I find a great quantity of things I want to see.

Today while at classes our squad was used to take some official pictures for the air board. So if you see any pictures in the N.Y. Times of American cadets in English flying schools, “swinging the prop” in the engine running shed, (crank the engine over by twirling the propeller around) standing in front of a hangar or sitting in a lecture with a skeleton aeroplane longside, look them over to find my mug sticking about.

This afternoon we had a fine general lecture on contact patrol, by a lieutenant who has been on the job. It is the most dangerous job and requires more brains and real generalship than any others. It is the work of the aeroplane during a big push, in which it acts as the eyes of the commanders, telling them where our men have advanced to, what they need, where the resistance is strongest, where artillery bombardment is needed, where to move the barrages to, and transmits the messages from the infantry to the headquarters. As the work of these contact patrol machines is very valuable to us, the Huns make special efforts to bring them down, and as they have to fly pretty low to get some of their dope, the Huns have pretty good success. Also they have to fly thru our own barrages and at times swoop down and open machine gun fire on the Hun trenches.

Well, tonight is hallow e’en. I believe it was originally an English holiday, but I don’t believe much is going on outside tonight.

Sir Arthur Ernest Cowley (1861–1931), a distinguished orientalist, was sub-librarian of the Bodleian’s oriental collections beginning in 1899, then Librarian of the Bodleian from 1919 until the year of his death. Osler and Cowley shared interests, and perhaps it was Osler—who as Regius Professor was a Curator of Bodley—who ensured that Parr and Stratton were shown the collection by someone so senior. Cowley was also apparently very outgoing and “ready with advice and help when asked,” so it may simply have been in his nature to go out of his way for the two young Americans.110

Thursday, 4:45 P.M. November l, 1917

This morning we went up to classes as usual and bored thru them. In regards to us not getting off, it developed that the school authorities and the U.S. Air Board were in favor but some one at the Embassy at London said no. When they took us from the Italian Detachment they were supposed to have room for us at English flying schools, but it turns out now that they have not.

However, I believe we will leave here this Saturday. They will post about 10 of us who have done solo flying in English flying schools. They have gotten 20 of us who want to be non-flying officers, viz. equipment officers, inspectors, etc., and they are sending them to an English administration school. The rest of us (I being one) are to be sent to the gunnery school at Grantham to learn how to shoot straight with a machine gun. Then we hope to get to a flying school.

I have just eaten a most wonderful pear. Fruit is a bit hard to get and expensive, but I have been eating a great deal. This pear was a real prize 6″ high and 4″ in diameter, grown on a tree trained up on a stone wall. It was red and deep yellow, and of a delicious flavor and very juicy.

This morning my legs were still large but had softened up a bit. I wore my English wrapped woolen puttees today and they were more comfortable. Just before dinner I got arbitrarily told that I had to run the quarter mile race for Exeter College in the track meet at 2 P.M. You know what trouble I have to make my legs work fast enough for a long slow race. Well the quarter is that far famed distance that you are supposed to sprint all the way. I thought I would be hopelessly slow but did not mind so much because I thought it would help get last Sunday’s stiffness out of my calves. I was late getting to the field and barely got into the last heat before having time to get my uniform off. I got off my coat, puttees, and changed my shoes. My legs surely did feel funny trying to run fast. The race seemed ridiculously short and yet I could not seem to get to the finish. I managed to get a bad second which put me up for the finals. That was my first quarter mile race and it made quite an impression on me. I thought I could manage myself a little better next time. For the finals I got my running togs on and jumped the English starter for a lead of two yards. I managed to keep a fair stride around the curve and lead for half way. Then on the straight away home some fellow passed me for 2 yards and at the sprint I couldn’t seem to get speed and another nosed ahead. But I believe I had the better of them for strength and we all three forced the race at the finish within 6″ of each other. I got second. I have gone into a lot of foolish detail about this because it tickles me a lot more than you might imagine. You see it was one of those quick reflex jobs that I am supposed to be “dud” (very English) at, and then too I am quite an old man to be racing without any practice. After the two heats I felt like I had not done anything, in the work line, so I took a little jog around a field and along a path and back. Now I feel in great shape.

We are not going to any more classes here, thank Heaven. This afternoon they are issuing us our flying clothes. Our squad was out of luck at the toss up and they will probably all be gone before our turn comes around as there are only 150 suits and the 50 men that came here before us and went to flying schools last week took 50 of our suits so 50 of us will go minus. But it means less to lug around while at the gunnery school, and I guess we will get some before we get started at flying.

I had what I expected to be a very wonderful date to meet Miss Wright Sunday afternoon at Lady Osler’s tea and then take her to the choral song service at New College and return to her house for dinner and the evening. However I will go to see her tonight and see what luck I will have.

Continue my address at the Embassy London. I have not received any mail from you except those letters forwarded from Mineola. Margaret’s letter was addressed to Italy.



Had a nice letter from Knud. He received the pencils. Thanks.

In her account of flight training during this period, Cameron remarks on the lack of room at British flying schools: “British training squadrons were overtaxed because of bad weather and equipment shortages, so delaying the start of American training may have offered one solution. By early October, British squadrons began to absorb cadets. Sixty-six entered a shortened flying course at No. 1 Training Depot at Stamford, Lincolnshire. The rest took a machine-gun course at Grantham.”111

The entry for November 6, 1917, in War Birds goes into some detail regarding the “about 10 of us” who were now to go directly to flying school: “Springs and twenty [men] have gone to Stamford to learn to fly. Springs had to pick the twenty and naturally every one wanted to go. . . . He took only those who were ready to go solo and Deetjen, Garver and Dietz because they have done a lot of hard clerical work for the detachment”; the choice caused some hard feelings. (Philip Dietz and Roy O. Garver had been in Parr’s ground school class at Ohio State University.) Marvin Skelton, in his annotations to George A. Vaughn’s War Flying in France, provides a list of seventeen men “ready to go solo” who may have been chosen by Springs.112 They were all Princeton men who had gained actual flying experience. Prior to the entry of the United States into the war, the Princeton Aviation School, a private effort, had secured an air field and four Curtiss JN#x2013;4Bs (“Jennys”), and the students there, the majority of whom then went on to form the first graduating class at the government-sponsored Princeton School of Military Aeronautics, were exceptional in having had flying experience in addition to their ground school training.113

The “50 men that came here before us” were presumably the men of the first Oxford detachment; most of them had gone from Oxford to No. 1 Training Depot Squadron at Stamford on October 20, 1917.114

 Knud Sehested—mentioned in the Introduction as a fellow employee at New York Ship and the man who gave Parr a camera—was born in Denmark in 1886. He trained as a marine engineer and worked at the Danish shipyard of Burmeister & Wain before university study and work in Glasgow from 1907–1910; he came to the US in 1910 and was a superintendent at New York Ship when Parr knew him.115