1 - Early Stirrings

I must have been eleven or twelve years old when I first caught the aviation bug. Prior to the attack by this virus, my aim in life had been to fulfill a desire to become a professional footballer, an ambition shared by the vast majority of young Scotsmen and, for a non-Catholic like me, it had to be Glasgow Rangers or bust. I had a bit of a head-start on others as I could boast that my father had been a professional with Coventry City. Also, I had been a pupil at a junior school on the southern border of Glasgow and had been said to be one of a trio of dead-cert football 'pros' in the making - the other two being Bobby Mitchell and Johnny Gould. A year younger than me, Bobby was in the class below and eventually played for Third Lanark, Newcastle United and Scotland, while Johnny Gould, one year older and in the class above, played for Celtic around the 1939-40 period. We three were what Scotsmen know as 'tanner-baw' players, learning our dribbling skills with a sixpenny ball in the close confines of the school playground amid dozens of boisterous boys. At the end of World War Two, I nearly became a pro-footballer too, but by then football had a competitor for my services.

A couple of years before I got the aviation bug, I began to have an urge to get better equipped educationally, probably spurred on by reading about the adventures of Harry Wharton & Co, Billy Bunter and the Bounder etc in the Magnet every week. Two schoolboy neighbours of mine, both about two years older and sometimes requiring an additional body with some sporting ability, invited me to join them occasionally. Both were of a different mould than the mostly working-class offspring population of my junior school. Jimmy McNeil's home was the germinating ground; his father was a well-respected joiner with what appeared to be a sound business (he owned a car, for example, when few others could) and his son Jimmy was attending Hutcheson's Grammar, one of Glasgow's élite schools, providing first class education for sons of parents with money to pay the fees. Tom Fulton was the other, a fresh-faced blond-haired boy who was regarded as a lad with the likely future of a brilliant product of the Scottish education system; he was of a family which did not have the wherewithal to buy his education. But Tom was attending Allan Glen's, a boys' fee-paying school, yet one which allowed scholarship entry at no cost. Tom had won a scholarship to Allan Glen's and was on his way. Listening to the finer quality of conversation in this company and to be able to take a halting part in it, made me want to attend this 'Greyfriars of the North', a school with a high (some would say the highest) reputation in Scotland for its output of scientists and engineers. Both Jimmy's and Tom's were rugby-playing schools however, so there was a bit of a tug-of-war in my family as to my intentions, since I suspected that my father had visions of his footballer son playing for Rangers and Scotland. Anyway, when the Qualifying Examination (the Scottish 11-Plus) was approaching, a decision had to be made. My main junior school mate and I were fairly bright academically and we were the 'pets' of 'Pa' Wright, our schoolmaster, who put us forward as candidates for the Allan Glen's scholarship examination. We were both successful in the competition, so the time ahead saw a shift to academic areas hitherto not thought of - one being, in my case, aerodynamics.

My aviation career started to take shape when I persuaded my parents that my next combined Christmas and birthday present (I was born on Christmas day) would be acceptable only if it was a Frog model fighter aeroplane with an 0.005hp elastic-driven power unit! I tried unceasingly to position ailerons, elevators and rudder to achieve the sort of flight profiles I wanted - without any significant success I have to admit. But it had set the ball rolling and a year or two later my family began to rent a 'gite' annually at Prestwick, on the Ayrshire coast, for our summer holidays. They were not aware that in doing so they had cemented my interest absolutely, since just up the road from the gite was Prestwick aerodrome, then a green field with a scattering of Avro Ansons. On a subsequent holiday in 1938, Hawker Hurricane fighters of No 602 'City of Glasgow' Squadron hurtled around from Abbotsinch, beating up the beaches on the Firth of Clyde at low level and high speed. If only I could ....... !

Copyright Ó William C. Wood 1997.