Prev. Exp: 53 hrs solo
Irene was one of those ordinary working-class girls who, by sheer enthusiasm and determination, and with the help of the subsidised Civil Air Guard Scheme, learnt to fly in the years before WWII. She managed to amass over 50 hours solo between 1937 and 1939. Amy Mollison (Amy Johnson as was, and she were only the daughter of a fish merchant in Hull) once snootily dismissed someone as "the typical CAG Lyons-waitress type".
You've probably met someone like Irene; bubbly, a bit cheeky, innocent, irreverent - 'high spirited', if you like that sort of thing, a complete pain if you don't - and probably exactly the sort of person who would get right up Captain The Hon. Margie 'Mrs Cold Front' Fairweather's nose. Which she indeed did - and of that, more later.
Anyway, in her first letter, dated 11 Mar 1941, having heard Lord Londonderry's appeal on the wireless the night before, she applied: "I wish to put forward the following for your approval, and I will be most grateful to hear from you if you think that my services could be of use in connection with the ATA... I was studying for my 2nd class navigators certificate and intending to take a 'B' licence but the war stopped all that I'm afraid.
I am 25 years of age, height about 5ft 4. I would very much like to get into the ATA, particularly as my fiancé is a prisoner of war in Germany (Flt Lt lockyer) and as he is no longer able to fly his beloved spitfires, if I can carry on his good work I would love to do so. I am swotting up all the information I can get hold of with regard to v.p. airscrews, superchargers and boost pressure, as we did not have any of those on our poor old gypsy moths, hornet moths etc!"
She closed by "Hoping I can do my bit for our dear old country."
They invited her for a flight test, and on the 31st March she wrote:
"Dear Mr Wood
He sent a telegram back which (even before the days of auto-correctign smartphones) managed to read "Tiger Mothers for initial test".
She was well into her stride now. Here she is, writing to ATA Adjutant Kitty Farrer on the 9 Apr 1941:
Believe me Mrs Farrer, this job of work I am going to do, & I shall do my utmost to do it well, means an awful lot to me, I told you my fiancé F/Lt Lockyer is a prisoner of War, & to me now, every 'plane we can deliver to the Great Lads of the RAF, means one day nearer to the time he will be home, & everyone carefree & happy again. You don't know Tommy, but he is a grand fellow, & a damn good pilot, he has over 3,000 to his credit! My record is a mere detail beside that isn't it?
Forgive me for taking up so much of your time with this letter please, I started it with the intention of being very business like! but I'm afraid it's got to be a personal letter in the end - hasn't it?
Hoping to be with you all very soon.
She wrote back to Mr Wood to say thank you, and that "I passed the flight test successfully - in fact, I did very well indeed, so I was told by the Adjutant afterwards - she said "Your test was excellent". So you may guess I felt quite proud of myself!
Nothing happened ...
20th April 1941, to Kitty:
"Dear Mrs Farrer,
Nothing continued to happen ...
5th June to Kitty:
"Dear Mrs Farrer,
Nothing still continued to happen; eventually Irene took herself off to another job, so she must have been amazed to finally get the call to report on 1 August 1941.
She completed training (although she bumped into another aircraft when landing on the 11th August, due to 'bad airmanship'), went on to ferry work, and progressed through the ranks; she was promoted to Third Officer on 5 Feb 1942, then Second Officer on 1 Jul 1942.
On the 24 Feb 1942, ATA Senior Commander Pauline Gower invited Irene into her office to discuss a rather delicate matter. Irene was typically ... forthright:
"Interview with 3rd Officer Irene Arckless
Reference the accusation made, and presumed to concern myself i.e. that at a certain aerodrome (unnamed) an unnamed duty pilot is reported to have said to me - when I requested the delivery chit to be signed - "I will, if you give me a kiss first".
I wish to emphatically deny these words, as never, on any occasion, has such a familiar attitude been adopted by any duty pilot wherever I have been.
Irene demanded a full and detailed enquiry, and went on,
"I would like to add that recently at a number of aerodromes visited, & by a number of people, I have been mistaken for another female member of the ATA, whether there proves to be any connection with the charge made & the above - will do doubt, after investigation, come to light.
Pauline (no doubt muttering under her breath 'For goodness' sake, calm down, woman'), replied:
... and that appears to have been the end of that.
The very next month (March 1942), however, a more serious matter came up, and she was grounded. Without boring you with all the tedious details of 'She said to me, so I said to her', etc, what happened was this:
On the 15th March, Irene ferried an aircraft from Catterick to Prestwick, via Carlisle. As she landed, who should be watching but Margie Fairweather, and she was not pleased by what she saw; "I noted the circuit and approach of the machine which ultimately turned out to be piloted by 3rd Officer Arckless. The final turn into the slight wind which was blowing, was done in a series of jerks, in the nature of flat turns, and the machine was then under-shooting by several hundred yards. The engine was now used to recover, and height was again gained. Thereafter the machine made a perfectly good landing on the grass. I was shocked to discover the pilot was 3rd Officer Arckless who is known to have some experience."
Margie confronted Irene, criticised her turns, the height at which she circuited the aerodrome, minutely cross-examined her on her knowledge of the valley, and queried Irene's explanation of a fuel leak for the large quantity of petrol taken on at Carlisle; (she asked for a 'Snag Report' and said "If it's found to be alright, it will be too bad for you", or words to that effect"); she also told Irene she clearly didn't know how to work an altimeter. Margie summed up her opinion of Irene in no uncertain terms: "Her whole bearing during our conversation convinced me, that her extreme confidence in herself as a pilot has no justification."
Irene, in turn, wrote, "Personally I feel that there is some personal prejudice existing in the whole of Captain Fairweather's attitude" and ended her report by stating, "my one ambition is to be an asset to A.T.A. and not a menace!"
As it happens, Irene came up with convincing arguments against all Margie's criticisms; nevertheless, she was sent back to School for a Check Flight, with the Chief Instructor, no less. I wonder if she could resist a slight smirk when the report came back:
19 Mar 1942
To be fair to Margie, she was just doing her job, and she was absolutely right to be concerned; the 15th of March 1942 was one of the worst days of ATA's existence, with 6 people dead in 4 separate crashes. Plus, Margie was a very experienced pilot and instructor; if she had concerns about the way Irene was flying, she was aprobably right. But in any case Margie and Irene's personalities and backgrounds were so different, they were perhaps bound to clash.
Pauline thought it best to transfer Irene anyway, with this note in her file:
"Miss Arckless suffers from over confidence and I am not at all satisfied with her ability as a Class I pilot. I should be grateful therefore if you would keep a careful check on her flying and general airmanship."
Irene's next mishap turned out entirely to her credit; on the 20 Aug 1942 she took off in a Mk I Hurricane, and the port undercarriage leg failed to retract. She wrote "I flew around for about 30 minutes trying to get port leg up, or starboard down, by the emergency methods... nothing happened, in any of these directions, the port leg remained down and starboard up.
After this I circuited the aerodrome, wiggled my wings, and made very amazing other actions. By amazing actions I mean: I trimmed aircraft to fly hands off as well as was possible under the circumstances, took both hands off and feet off everything and tried brute force to move the selector lever... during this period the aircraft certainly appeared to perform some remarkable antics!
I then did a further circuit and went in to land. Port wheel fortunately retracted and I made a normal crash landing."
She went back to School, but this time on a conversion course. Her final report was, again, positive:
"from A G Head, Temp. O.C. Training Pool
She had another accident, on 21 Dec 42; her Airspeed Oxford developed low oil pressure in its starboard engine and she had to force land. The incident was investigated and she was found 'not to blame'.
Sadly however, her next accident - less than 3 weeks later, in the same type of aircraft - was fatal. On the afternoon of Sunday 3 Jan 1943, her Oxford V3888 crashed onto a house on the outskirts of Cambridge when an engine cut during take-off. She was taken to Addenbrooks but pronounced dead.
I don't think Pauline Gower ever warmed to her, actually; rather than the usual fairly positive summary, she managed to damn Irene with faint praise: "her conduct and general character was satisfactory and she performed her duties conscienciously"
Buried Stanwix Cemetery, Carlisle. ATA pilot Ronald Porter (q.v.) is buried in the adjacent plot.
The Inscription reads:
"UNTIL THE DAY BREAK
Treasured Memories of
Second Officer ATA Ferry Pilot who was accidentally killed
at Cambridge while on Service 3 Jan 1943 Aged 27 Years
Beloved Daughter of William and Fanny Arckless
Also William Arckless Dearly Loved Husband of Fanny
Who Died 18 Dec 1965, Aged 74 Years
Also Fanny, Beloved Wife of William
Who Died 11 April 1987, Aged 92 Years"
The ATA Benevolent Fund went to visit her parents, to offer assistance, but reported back:
"Mr Arckless is an ordinary working man, being an organ-builder by trade and I understand that in recent years he has not been fully employed, hence the reason that I deemed it advisable to interview the deceased's parents on the question of the Fund.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Arckless have requested me to thank the Organisation and the Committee for the consideration shown to them, but they feel that, although their daughter contributed considerably to the home, they cannot under the circumstances avail themselves of any monetary allowance which the Committee may have sen fit to grant them as they feel there must be many more deserving cases, namely young widows left with small children."
Cairns Post, 15 Jan 1943; "Irene Arckless, daughter of a Carlisle organ-builder, was known as "the flying school-girl." She realised her school-girl ambition to emulate Amy Johnson. She made her first solo flight when she was 21. She was killed on the day after her 28th birthday [sic]. She had just returned to her station from four days leave. She was engaged to Flight-Lieutenant Thomas Lockyer, a prisoner of war in Germany.
Lockyer's father said last night "Tom and Irene had known each other since childhood. She took flying lessons as soon as she left school. When Tom joined the RAF, she was determined to get her 'wings as soon as he.”
She joined the RAF ferry service in October, 1941 [sic], after she heard that Lockyer was a prisoner. 'One of us must keep flying, she said'.”
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