Sheila could not reconcile herself to, such as having to fetch the milk at the gate down the road because the milkman would not bring it up to the house; having to manage with little help in the house; and being unable to dine later than 6.30 in the best hotel in New Zealand. I tried to convince her that New Zealand led the world in social revolution, and had pioneered things like women’s voting and baby care, also a National Health Service and State Insurance. I tried to explain that what was happening in New Zealand then would take place in England in twenty years; I said that if I was running a country like Britain or America I would place an astute observer in New Zealand, because world trends and development were apparent there whereas they would be disguised by prejudice and proximity in the principle countries concerned with them. It was no good. Sheila detested the life we had to lead in New Zealand. Apart from that, I found myself in a difficult position; there was not enough income from our business to justify my staying there without another job.
Considering that war with Germany was looming in Europe, and that I would be taking part in it, we decided to move back to England. I made an arrangement with Geoffrey to look after our business, and we returned to England in the Christian Huyghens, via the Dutch East Indies. On board the Christian Huyghens was Field-Marshal Von Blomberg, who had been until recently the Minister of War in Germany. He became friendly to me, and we spent many hours talking: I have a snapshot which shows him bringing his fist down on the table between us to illustrate some point he was making. During the voyage he outlined to me the future history of Europe for the next ten years, and I do not think that he made a mistake. The chief point that impressed itself on me was that if we did not make friends with Germany, the German scientists and inventors would be absorbed by
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Russia, which would make Russia an overwhelming world power. One interesting thing he told me was that in the First World War, the British invented tanks and tried out three in the front line. These got stuck in the mud, and were captured by the Germans. He, Blomberg, was one of three German generals who had to decide whether to make these tanks themselves. He said that Germany had not enough steel to make all the shells they needed, as well as tanks, and it was his vote which was responsible for the tanks not being made at the time. Maybe he made a mistake there.
When I reached England, I applied to join the RAF as a fighter pilot. I thought that my flying experience, combined with my capability at shooting, would be just what they wanted. I was surprised and chagrined to be told that I was too old. I was thirty-seven, and the idea of being too old for anything had just not occurred to me. So I set about job-hunting. I felt that life was too precious to be used up for the sole aim of making money, and I wanted something creative or congenial, something, if possible, to do with instruments, or navigation. I tried to form a company for making instruments with Paul Goudime, Henry de Laszlo and Douglas Johnson, but we could not raise the necessary capital. Later, Paul started Electronic Instruments on his own, which he recently sold to Cambridge Instruments for three quarters of a million pounds.
I went on looking for a job, but could find no opening. There were not many jobs available in England then, and I think I did not fit into the English pattern. It was six months before Arthur J. Hughes made a post for me in Henry Hughes and Son, as a navigation specialist. One of my jobs was to help with the development of the bubble sextant. This involved many hours in the air taking sights, and on the ground checking instruments. One day I was taking off on a flight in Canopus with Don Bennett, the Australian pilot of Imperial Airways whom I regarded as one of the world’s finest navigators. We were walking down to the hard at Hythe on Southampton Water to board Canopus for a long experimental flight. There was a fuelling launch alongside the flying-boat, and as I looked I saw a flame run along the hose-pipe to the flying-boat’s hull. A tongue of flame licked the air from the nose of the flying- boat, and in a few seconds she was burning fiercely. That was the end of that flight.
I found it strange to be an employee of an English firm after having been a boss of my own business since I was twenty-one. My salary was £8 13s a week, which did not pay the rent of our flat in Chelsea. I found it a strain to defer to the opinions of my seniors, and not to be emphatic about my own. The jockeying for power and precedence in the big English firms was a surprise to me. Men were apt to be jealous if their colleagues were successful, and resentful if a junior showed more ability, skill, or enterprise than themselves. I had expected to find more teamwork, everybody trying to hurry work on, and to improve methods. I found my life restricted, and pondered how I could break through into a bigger life. There seemed to be no possibility of doing this. I was also restricted physically. In New Zealand I was used to open-air sport being easily available; in England, the countryside seemed crowded, even the roads seemed narrow and tortuous. I became so desperate for some outdoor activity that during one weekend spent with friends on their half an acre of land, I stood all morning in a deserted tennis-court among some trees waiting hopefully for a pigeon to fly over and give me a shot which I never got.