[Received December 20, 1917]

The following letter is written on R.F.C. letterhead, with the R.F.C. logo and motto “per ardua ad astra” on the left. With an arrow pointing to the motto, Parr has written:

In case Father is down town this means “Through difficulties to the stars.” You’re welcome.

 Parr’s father had received an award for his Latin scholarship in his teens.

Royal Flying Corps,



November 23, 1917

Dear Mother:

Well I have a couple of letters to finish. Beginning with the oldest away back in Grantham. We packed up Sunday evening and loaded our luggage on motor lurries at sunrise Monday. The train for London left at 7:30. We had a 1st class compartment and read the papers and watched the scenery. We arrived at King’s Cross Station unexpectedly soon 10:45. Fred and Dud Mudge went up to Paddington Station with our luggage on horse drawn busses. Rorison and “Rit” and I started out to see London before we took the train for Northolt at 1:57 from Paddington.

None of us had any idea where we were or where we wanted to go. We found a subway station with a lovely chart of the system. This chart showed us some names we had heard of such as Piccadilly Circus, for which we took a train. More by good luck than good management this Piccadilly Circus where we got off is right in the center of things down town. We soon got a map and guide book and with their aid walked about all the immediate renowned streets as The Mall, Regent St., Trafalgar Square. We got a little lunch in a restaurant. We felt the effects of war here; were only allowed to spend one and 3 apiece so went away hungry. We took a bus to Paddington Station and saw a lot more of London from its top. (It was just like a 5th Ave. bus.) We had to change at a little town, West Ealing, about ½ way to Northolt and here we learned that we had 1½ hours to await the Northolt connection. We paddled about the town and shocked all the inhabitants by eating apples and candy and laughing like school girls on the street. English Officers are supposed to be dressed to an inch of their life and be very dignified. We got to Northolt about 4 and after visiting headquarters had tea in our mess and then got our billets and baggage arranged.

Everybody here are officers except the mechanics. There are about 150 men training, 2 elementary squadrons and one advanced. We 10 Americans (5 in the 2nd squadron and 5 in the 4th squadron) are ranked as cadets but are treated as officers.

The field is about ½ mile square. Lined on the north side are the hangars, large substantial corrugated iron ones, and behind them a row of shops and instructional rooms. On the adjacent side are the long low houses, so called huts. One group for the men and one for the officers. Also the headquarters, offices, and mess buildings. We live in nice, unfurnished rooms in the huts, 2 officers to a room and a man servant to each hut of 6 rooms. Ritter and I are together. The mess is the most satisfactory I have struck yet. The Major, the staff, flying instructors and all of us have the same mess. It is run on the buffet or cafeteria style. Breakfast and lunch can be had at almost any time and you don’t have to bother about somebody serving you. If you want to make your breakfast on oatmeal, all you have to do is go up and get all you want. We have eggs and bacon for breakfast and butter for every meal. Potatoes, cabbage and cauliflower, good meat and wonderful pastries and desserts. Also there are good baths and hot water.

In good calm weather flying goes on all day from sunrise to sunset with time out for the instructor to eat and have tea. The elementary squadrons use a very old type machine but one which they say is excellent to learn on because it has no inherent stability and must be flown (meaning controlled) all the time. In my flight there are two instructors (1st Lieuts with experience in France) 14 students and eight machines. We only fly in very calm weather. I have been here 4 days and have been up 3 times, total 65 minutes.

We are all supposed to put in a certain number of hours each week at wireless, machine gun, bombs, Art. Obs. classes. I go whenever I think there is no chance of going up, but do not stick to the prescribed schedule. They don’t do anything at the classes but fool away the time anyway. Today I got a little chance to shoot the machine gun on the range. A burst of 10 with the Vickers and 6 single shots and 2 bursts of ten with the Lewis. It is the first time I have tried the Lewis. It is great.

Today an S.E.5 speed fighting machine came to pay us a visit. It surely is a little beauty, very small and strong and beautifully streamlined.

We get one day (from sunset before to sunrise after) off every other week and can go to town any evening we care to. Wednesday, three of us went in right after lunch. We met Fred & Dud in a military outfitters shop. After looking things over and helping two of us to buy coats we separated to return to the Piccadilly Grill for dinner. I wanted to purchase some things at Selfridge’s, look his store over and also to take some films to a certain place in that part of town. I took a bus to Hyde Park and walked about from there. Selfridge’s store is very large but not so classy as Wanamakers. I bought some Turkish towels, an eiderdown quilt, blanket pins, and looked over a bunch of their things.

I returned by bus to Piccadilly and met the party. We had a very good dinner (could have eaten two of them, but the ration laws prevented) for 6 shillings each. The tickets to the show were very expensive, $3 each (12 shillings). The show was Chu Chin Chow. It is considered here to be a wonder, but I could not detect its class. It never could get by in America. The costumes are too scanty, some of the characters were common niggers, and the music was commonplace, singing poor. We left early in order to get the 11:55 train. You cannot get time tables here; you have to consult the official chart in the station and remember it. It turned out that we were at the wrong station and we almost broke our necks getting to the other one just as the train pulled out.

I was surprised that I did not see any good looking females. You see very handsome pictures of them in the papers and magazines but I failed to see them in the streets, stores, theatres, or even in Piccadilly Hotel.

Last Tuesday they tried to fly a giant bi-plane at this field. Some man has made it and the government is furnishing him gasoline. The body of it is like a ship with a corridor and rooms. It would not fly, mainly because of lack of speed due to the inefficient application of its power.



John Lee Chadbourn Rorison, with whom Parr had palled around at ground school in Ohio, was from North Carolina. and had graduated in 1916 from the Engineering Department of the University of Virginia.139 He was in the same Ohio State University ground school class (graduating September 1, 1917) as Thomas Herbert, Robert Palmer, and Dudley Mudge, and was a member of the second Oxford detachment; he had gone with Parr to Grantham.140 Rorison is characterized in War Birds as “a serious youth and can figure out anything on paper with a slide rule” (entry of June 17, 1918).

The advanced training squadron was presumably No. 35 Training Squadron, which Parr mentions in passing at the end of his letter of December 13, 1917.141

Major Harold MacDonnell O’Malley was the commander of No. 2 Training Squadron.142

Parr’s Pilot’s Flying Log Book shows that throughout November and early December the very old type machines he was learning on were Maurice Farman S. 11 Shorthorns (serial numbers B2022, B4698, B4750, B4701, A4066), often referred to as Rumpties. These “pusher” biplanes (i.e., ones with the propeller mounted behind the cockpit) had been developed before the war and were used on the Western Front into 1915.143 Parr took two photos of one of these planes (photos 4.4 and 4.9), and in both photos the silhouette of a kangaroo on the nose of the plane is prominent; unfortunately, in neither photo is the serial number visible. The Australian pilot Walter Oswald Watt was known for his use of this emblem and had flown a Maurice Farman thus decorated when he was with the French on the Western Front in 1915. Perhaps his plane was now being used for instruction at Northolt.144

Art. Obs. is presumably an abbreviation for artillery observation, the branch of flying that assisted artillery on the ground by relaying to them from the air information about the location of targets and how to correct aim to ensure hitting targets.

The S.E.5 (a plane Parr may have seen earlier while at Grantham; see his letter of November 13, 1917) was a fast fighter biplane developed by the Royal Aircraft Factory. At the beginning of 1917, Germany was gaining superiority in the air, and April (“Bloody April”) took a very heavy toll on the R.F.C. By the summer, however, with the introduction of new planes, including the S.E.5, the situation in the air started to improve for the Allies.

Selfridge’s flagship department store in Oxford Street opened in 1909. Parr probably knew the Philadelphia department store, Wanamaker’s, with its twelve story building designed by Daniel Burnham, from his days at the Lanston Monotype Company.145

Chu–Chin–Chow was a lavish and very popular musical based on “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”; it opened in London in 1916 and ran for five years. The “scanty” costumes were part of the appeal to many of the soldiers home from the front and attracted the censure of the Lord Chamberlain.146 Here and elsewhere Parr displays a racism that would have been unremarkable at the time, although it grates on modern ears.

The failed plane Parr mentions was the “Kennedy Giant,” designed by Chessborough J. H. MacKenzie-Kennedy and modeled on the successful Russian planes designed by Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky. After its first, and only, test flight, it was left on the edge of the Northolt airfield.147