I started writing on navigation. Flight published a set of articles describing a system of navigation I evolved for bombing pinpoint targets by star navigation. I used to get up at 5 a.m. and write hard until I had to leave the house to get to my office at 9 a.m. I wrote four small volumes on astro-navigation. These were instructions on how to navigate by the sun and stars. I tried again to get into the Air Force, but was turned down once more.
War came in 1939. Sheila and I were motoring across country, and when all the sirens wailed we decamped from our car and crouched in a ditch while three puny biplanes of our own Air Force came in to land at Hendon.
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With another man in the Royal Aero Club, I tried to form a squadron of experienced pilots who were considered unacceptable to the Air Force because of lacking a leg, or for some similar reason. The object of this squadron would be to bomb valuable pinpoint targets in enemy country, flying in alone by precise navigation. The idea was turned down. I believe that this would have shown the value of a pathfinder force, and brought it forward by a year or two. I was disgusted at the turning down of my third attempt to do something with the RAF, and said, ‘If they want me after this they can damn well come and get me.’
Factories had been asked to work long hours, seven days a week, and at the Hughes factory at Barkingside production was gradually slowing down in consequence of this silly and hysterical demand. On a hot sunny Saturday afternoon that autumn, I went out into some neighbouring fields with my gun after a pheasant. There was a big German bombing raid, and our fighter pilots were attacking overhead. Cartridge cases and bullets were falling near me, and I sat in a ditch watching the battle overhead. Several pilots who had baled out were on their way down, their parachutes gleaming white in the sunshine. This was the first time I had seen a successful parachute jump. I had seen three jumps made in New Zealand and America, and in each case the parachutist had been killed. In New Zealand the man had gone into the sea with his parachute unopened, and a single column of water had shot up which looked 100-foot high.
I wrote a book called The Spotter’s Handbook, which, although it contained a good deal of nonsense, was a bestseller. And it may have helped to cut down the time wasted through stopping work unnecessarily when enemy bombers were on their way. I think that the book did something to give people confidence to go on working until it was really necessary to take cover. I need hardly say that I was an active member of the Home Guard squad of our factory.