It was thrilling to be setting off on the 12,000-mile flight alone, to be heading into unknown adventures. For the first
2,000 miles I should be flying over, or near, desert, nearly the whole way. On the coast, there were occasional patches of vineyard and olive grove beside the deep blue fringe of the Mediterranean; otherwise, the brown desert stretched to the southern horizon. At El Agheila, 500 miles from Tripoli, I flew into a sand-storm with a fifty miles an hour wind from the south-east. The Moth sailed along through the murky sand-thickened air, drifting thirty-five degrees to port. The air grew thicker and thicker with sand, until I was down to 200 feet in order to keep a small patch of ground directly beneath the plane in view. I was fearful of its getting thick enough to kill all visibility, and I wondered how I should have got on at night if I had run into such a thing with no blind-flying instruments, because the air was bumpy. Fortunately the sand-storm lasted only for 100 miles, and I flew into the clear at Ghemines.
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I landed at Benghazi after eight hours in the air to cover 570 miles, and I spent an interesting evening with Chaffy, the British consul, Andre, the Swedish pilot, and a local farmer named Bazzan. Andre had lost his aeroplane in an unusual way. He had landed in a sandstorm south of Ghemines, and was holding on to his plane in a gale to prevent its being blown over, when suddenly the sea broke through a sandbank and gradually submerged the aeroplane until Andre had to swim to dry land. Bazzan was an interesting man who had a farm near Benghazi. His farmhouse was square, and a man with a machine gun kept watch all night at each corner. He said that the Italians had been bombing some Arabs just 10 miles from Benghazi the day before. Unbelievablely gruesome stories were told of what happened to pilots who fell into Arab hands. I wonder if Bazzan has survived the Second World War? In the morning Chaffy told me that my wife had died in New Zealand. This was a sad affair, which I could not understand, because although we had been separated for some years, I knew that she was perfectly well when I left New Zealand.
I left Benghazi at 6.35 with a good tail wind. After 550 miles I crossed into British territory at Es-Sollum. Although I was glad to have cleared the Italian territory after all the gruesome stories I had heard, and could now, presumably, survive a forced landing without being killed, the terrain immediately seemed less interesting. I had said that I would land at Mersa Matruh, which I reached at noon, but I reckoned that if I did I should be unable to reach the RAF airfield at Abu-Sueir, where a cousin of mine was stationed. I still had more than 300 miles to go, and I should be losing one and a quarter hours of daylight through flying east. By the time I reached the Nile Delta I had been flying for eight hours. The engine beat had drummed itself into every nerve of my body. I found myself squirming every few minutes to try to find a fresh part of my body to sit on. It had taken me an hour and twenty minutes to pump the contents of both the bottom petrol tanks up to the top tank between the upper pair of wings. While working the pump with my hand, I had to keep my feet absolutely steady on the rudder bar. My buttocks were sore and aching.
During the flight I had eaten dates, biscuits, cheese, sardines and tinned fruit, but by now I was too fatigued to eat anything. My brain was weary of so much country. It was like sitting on top of a mountain and watching the view for eight hours on end. From the air, the Nile Delta looked deadly dull, sliced up into countless tiny plots. I was glad when the desert reappeared, like a vast flow of lava invading the fertile delta. When close to Abu-Sueir I saw a tall column of black smoke rising from the airfield. Later, I learned that they were burning the debris of two planes that had collided there, killing four pilots. I landed after nine and a quarter hours in the air to cover 917 miles. When I taxied up to the hangars a small crowd of men stood motionless thirty yards away, as if I had arrived from Mars. This seemed strange after the Italian airfields. However, I clambered out of the cockpit, waddled over to them in my heavy flying-boots, and persuaded someone to look for my cousin.
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