Tag Archives: Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home. The Riduna Series

November 1914 ~ Anthony realises his dream to learn to fly ~Almost!

The following extract from ‘Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home‘ tells the story of Anthony who longs to learn to fly. Here he is sent initially to France as an Observer, taking photographs of the battle below.

I have used various techniques including letters, story telling, conversation and the arrival of Harry Harper, the air correspondent of The Daily Mail, to describe the changing lives of each of the Newton family.  Here I have used letters and good old fashioned descriptive story telling:

“12th November, 1914

My dear Sarah and little Timothy,

I hope that you are comfortable in your mother’s new guest house and that Timothy, you are being good for Mummy and Grandma. I have missed you these last few months and it’s been so quiet without you.

I have some exciting news for you. I have been transferred to Fort Grange and I am going to learn to fly in an aeroplane. It is a dream come true for me and I know that you will be so proud of your daddy.

I start my training tomorrow, but it may be many weeks before I get into the air. I need to learn all about aeroplanes first and as soon as I have more news for you I will write again.

Yours as ever,



The next morning, Anthony began his training in the makeshift classroom at Fort Grange. Initially he sat fighting off the irritation of irrational impatience, much like the other naive young men in the room. His experienced trainer had such a businesslike manner, but it was tinged with a down to earth sense of humour, which was in fact the best combination for a military instructor. Soon he had Anthony at his ease and had instilled in him a vitality and enthusiasm to excel.

The weeks passed quickly and Anthony passed his examinations, progressing on to the more practical part of his training: that of understanding and maintaining his aircraft. He found this more of a challenge but was surprised how quickly be began to understand the workings of the engine and to recognise irregular noises, suggesting a plausible diagnosis. The instruments inside the cockpit were still an irresistible mystery to him and he longed for the moment when he would one day take control.

The next part of his training was back in the classroom, poring over numerous maps and photographs, for initially Anthony was to be trained as an Observer, to sit behind the pilot on reconnaissance missions. So far Anthony had been at the Grange for several weeks and still he had not been up in an aeroplane but the day when he passed his last examinations was a cause for great celebration in the mess.

The following day he sat behind the pilot, nervously waiting for takeoff. The mechanic stood at the ready for the signal. As soon as contact was confirmed, the mechanic spun the propeller and the engine burst into song. It was certainly a tune familiar to Anthony’s ears by now and it filled him with anticipation in the depths of his stomach. Almost as soon as the chocks were taken away from under her wheels by the attendees, the aircraft started to taxi over the bumpy ground. The vibration of the engine in front of him was as startling as its deafening noise. The throttle was opened and they sped off across the turf. There was no time to take a breath because within seconds they had lifted into the air. He felt exhilarated and was almost distracted from his mission by the amazing sights around him. As they flew over Portsmouth Harbour he tore his gaze from the coastline. As they banked to the left, he began to note key features such as ships off the coast and sea planes readying themselves for takeoff on Haslar Beach and he was proud of himself when he sighted a ‘friendly’ submarine, just submerged below the surface of the water.

After a few more weeks of training, when he suppressed his enthusiasm to be master of the controls rather than seated as an observer in the front cockpit, he was relieved to pass all the tests and achieve a reasonable level of accuracy in target practice. He was given three days’ leave to visit family and caught the train to Woolston. It was an emotional reunion and he spent the precious few days with Sarah and Timothy, jealous of the times they shared with her family in the now overcrowded household. Keeping three rooms for Harriet’s fee paying guests left one room for Sarah and Timothy to share, and another for her sister-in-law Hannah and her child Phyllis. On the following Sunday afternoon, Ernest kindly agreed to take them to Hythe by horse and trap, borrowed from the drayman in Itchen Ferry village, where Anthony felt less claustrophobic and there they were able to spend a civilised few hours taking tea in his parent’s large garden. His mother was so proud of his single wing sign on his uniform with an ‘O’ which signified that he was now a trained Observer, although it was clear that she was unsure as to why her son was not yet a pilot.

All too soon it was time to leave for Southampton, where he would meet up with his new unit before crossing to France. Sarah was overcome as they had one last embrace before he caught the Floating Bridge and it was all she could do to hold Timothy to restrain him from running after his father. This time there was no hiding from this little man that his father was off to war and even in his young intelligent mind he had observed the tears from neighbours as men folk had not returned. Sarah held him firmly by the hand and encouraged him to wave as Anthony disappeared from view on the farthest shore of the River Itchen.

Anthony walked amongst strangers along the busy streets to the docks.  He was drawn towards the Bargate where shoppers were lining the streets to cheer regiment after regiment of infantry, some who had walked all the way from Winchester and were marching proudly to the docks. He also watched some Avro 504s being loaded on to a waiting ship. He was struck by the greyness of the multitude of vessels which was a bleak contrast to the usual colourful sight of ferries and liners in the port.

It was a smooth crossing and they disembarked at Le Havre, where they faced a long journey by train to the airfield at Amiens. He settled in to his makeshift world of Nissen huts, taking time to sort out his few personal belongings with the utmost care, in order to dispel the unease he felt at being near the Western Front at last.

After a fitful night he had no time to dwell on the danger of his position as he was scheduled to make his first sortie over enemy lines that very evening. He and his pilot were encouraged to make several flights that morning in order to regain their confidence in flying, to get to know each other and also to get their bearings so that they would be more familiar with landmarks pointing back to base. It was a bitterly cold November day. The wind was blustery, making flying difficult and the rain was piercing. Despite the inhospitable weather, Anthony was relieved to be back in the air again and the two men soon became an inseparable team, treating each sortie as an adventure, though they cursed the rain as an inconvenience.

It was late one afternoon, when they were sent on their first mission to cross enemy lines and report back the up to date positions of the Hun, that it really struck Anthony psychologically, almost as hard as a real bullet might have hit him physically. At first hand he witnessed the British troops in the muddy trenches below and the close proximity of the enemy. When he realised that a strange heap of muddy rubbish littering the sodden ground beneath him was in truth the remains of bodies, left where they had fallen, he almost vomited out of the cockpit, his instructions forgotten.

It was only the short sharp orders from his pilot which brought Anthony to his senses and he resumed his important task of recording what he had seen. His training came into its own at that moment and he concentrated wholeheartedly on his task, so that when they eventually returned to base, his Commanding Officer was pleased with what he had to report.

It was only late that night, when he longed for the oblivion of sleep in order to erase the vivid pictures still flickering through his mind, that he realised how wise it had been to test his resilience as an observer initially, rather than to waste time training him as a pilot in the first instance. As the idea closed on him like the shutter on his camera, he hardened his resolve and sank into a deep dreamless sleep.”

Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home is Diana Jackson’s second novel, set between 1910 and 1920 telling the stories of members of the Newton family as they embark on their own role on The Great War.

Leave a comment

Filed under Early Flight, The Great War, Woolston, WW1

Virtual Tour Beyond the Solent no12 ~ Guernsey ~ The Isle of Flowers


After pausing on Alderney I continue my journey to significant places features in the Riduna series and Guernsey features in both Riduna and in Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home.

In fact I knew of Guernsey long before Alderney and my first trip to Guernsey was at the age of seven.( I don’t count the visit when I was still just a twinkle in my mother’s eye, but I was there at minus two months so I’m told!) I have fond memories of this holiday, of walking along cliff top paths and down steep steps to secluded bays. I remember the boat trip from Fermaine to St Peter Port and getting about on busses, not to mention day trips to Herm and Sark.

Back in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was still more likely that travellers would visit Guernsey on their way through to Alderney and so that was my vision when I took a holiday over there to do some research back in 2002. I took the slow ferry from Portsmouth which took several hours, six I think, and then I spent many happy days researching in the museum and the Priaulx Library, fantastic places for anyone interested in the history of the islands.

I also borrowed many books about the island’s history from my local county archives at home and absorbed myself in the life and history of the times.

What interesting facts did I glean? It would be difficult to sum this up in one blog post but for Riduna it was the military presence with the Victorian fortification;the interesting rules of society, for example that an individual needed a formal invitiation to an island dance by a well respected local family; that the main trades at the time were importing tomatoes, stone and cattle, not to mention the tourist industry, which was vital for the island’s econony back then too. I was fascinated to read accounts of some of these visitors and one comment that struck a note was that the island’s poor seemed at least well fed, clothed and wore shoes. Whether this was true in the outlying villages I’m not so sure, but there seemed to be work during that period. All of these industries were labour intensive, even though the latter was, to a certain extent, seasonal.

What did I know from snippets passed down through my family? That they owned a small guest house; that my great grand mother could ‘dance on a sixpence’ and so she must have gained an invitation to the dances even though they were certainly not a well to do family; that my great grand mother from Alderney was literate but my great grandfather who was born on Guernsey was not;  that my great grandfather was a skilled gold leaf painter and he travelled to France for the pigment. All of these gems helped to weave the story of Riduna as Harriet, the leading lady was exiled from Alderney at 15yrs to stay with an aunt.


The links with Guernsey did not stop at Riduna but continued to weave through the Ancasta too. It was on Guernsey (Sarnia) in my novel that Sarah, Harriet’s daughter was first made aware that her father had another life far away from Woolston, Southampton. Not only that but he also had a family of whom he rarely spoke. Here is a short extract from Ancasta:

“They strolled in companionable silence down the short cobbled slope of Well Road, between the rows of harbourmen’s cottages. The road narrowed and turned, the way ahead being covered with shadows, before suddenly emerging into the sunlight, with the harbour in front of them. Small boats mingled, chattering messages as they fidgeted against the glittering water. They dodged a Hansom Cab racing towards the jetty and joined the wave of people walking towards the waiting steamer to England. A few were carrying their own bags but most were following on the heels of one of the many barrow boys, who frequently turned their capped heads to smile or make some light-hearted and humorous comment to check that the owners of their burdens were not too far behind. Sarah heard glimpses of conversations: sad farewells, fond recollections of their stay on the island, exciting plans for future visits or the journey ahead as she tuned in and out between the channels of her own thoughts and the reality around her.

                Rose led Sarah to an area above the waiting ship, where wooden slatted seats were occupied by folks enjoying a rest or admiring the view. They found a place to sit beside an elderly couple with lined, contented faces, walking sticks leaning at their sides and wrinkled hands clasped together in eternal love and friendship. The couple beamed as the ladies joined them and it struck Sarah just how similar their features had become as they had aged together.

                Sarah sighed.

‘It’s difficult to explain. Suddenly I feel that I hardly knew my father at all. Here is a world, a place I have barely heard him speak of, the beautiful home of his birth and where he grew up; family, friends and a life I have very little knowledge or understanding of. It’s disconcerting, to say the least.’

                Rose thought for a few moments, wishing to give the right words of comfort to this confused young woman. The day had been a long one. That morning Joe Newton had been buried according to his wishes in a grave alongside his parents, far away from his home in England.

‘Your father was many people: father, husband, son, brother, cousin and friend. Each facet had its own character and its own life, just like a different scene in a play. In each scene he was a special man and lived to please the people around him whenever he could.’

‘I understand what you are saying. During the long journey here yesterday I had time to think. I was wracked with guilt that my father had come over here on a visit and died alone, so far away from his family. His heart attack had been so sudden. He was tired when he left but I never imagined he was ill.  I had visions of him being so far away from my mother and his children, just when he needed us most – but it wasn’t like that at all, was it?’

‘My poor girl! You must rest assured that he had his sister and many members of his family nearby. Also the nuns up at Les Cotils are very loving, caring people. He could not have been in better hands.’ 

There was another silence as they watched basket after basket of tomatoes and luggage hauled effortlessly on to the waiting ship and stowed securely by the stevedores, the line of laden carts queuing at the dock edge gradually dwindling.’

It was on this trip that Sarah’s love of the islands was ignited. Guernsey is an island of contrasts from the busy streets of St Peter Port to protected coves of Petit Bot Bay; from stunning clifftop walks to long open sandy bays; from busy restaurents to quiet cafes; from stately homes to little intimate museums, places to visit and of course the quaint shell church. Whereas I visit Alderney for quiet, that ‘I want to get away from it all moment,’ I visit Guernsey for a more lively retreat where I know I can also find hidden places to escape to.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alderney, Ancasta, Channel Islands, Riduna, Virtual Tour of the Solent and Beyond