COLOUR BLIND

Cyril Pearce - Pilot
142, 70 Squadrons
Cyril died in 2006

In May 1936 I attended New Scotland Yard for a medical as I had applied to join the Metropolitan Police Force. The test for colour blindness consisted of a row of about twenty different coloured plaits of knitting wool, each about four inches long. I went along the row and identified each colour correctly.

I had been a police officer at Bow Street for three years when war was declared. All police forces immediately became reserved occupations. Early in March 1941 Air Vice Marshal Sir Philip Game, the Commissioner of the Met issued a Police order stating that he was prepared to consider applications from members of the Met for enlistment in the RAF or Fleet Air Arm as pilots or observers.* My application went in immediately. I received a notification from the Air Ministry to attend Euston House for examination on 17th April 1941.

On 16th April the air raid sirens started wailing at 9.00 pm followed shortly by flak bursts and searchlights weaving about. The first chandelier of flares was dropped about a mile away so I knew that we were in for a rough night. So it turned out to be. I lived in a Police Section House (accommodation for bachelors) about half a mile from Kings Cross Station. All the main line stations took a pasting and I spent most of the night putting out incendiaries.

The all clear sounded at about 5.00 am and I went to bed. I was up again at 7.30 am and I was on a very short fuse when I arrived at Euston House at 9.00 am.

After I had passed the sight test with 20/20 vision I was directed to a table for the colour blindness test. I expected the same kind of test that I had undergone at New Scotland Yard. Instead of which the RAF corporal handed me a card covered with a mosaic of coloured spots and said, “Tell me what letter or number is on the card”. I could not see any letter or number. I twisted and tilted the card, screwed up my eyes but still could not see it.

He then handed me five other cards all with the same result. My fuse rapidly became shorter and shorter. When he said, “You are colour blind”, I was incandescent with rage. I shouted, “Colour blind! I am not f------ - well colour blind, you great stupid p----. I am a police officer and when I had my sight test with the Met Police I had a proper colour test not these f------ useless cards”. I then swept all the cards from his table across the floor.

Hearing the rumpus, the RAF medical officer came across and said, “What is the trouble?” I started to go to town again but he stopped me and said, “I heard all that”. I told him that I had been up all night putting out incendiaries and that my colour vision might well have been affected. He took me to a room and sat me down.

On the wall in front of me was a device like the dial of a telephone. It was about a foot in diameter and had twelve holes in it each filled with a coloured filter. He switched it on and kept turning the dial from one colour to another repeatedly going back to red and green. I told him the correct colour every time. He took me back to the corporal and said, “This man is NOT colour blind. Pass him”.

I did my flying training under the Arnold Scheme with the United States Army Air Corps in the south-eastern states of the USA. My primary training on Stearmans was at Lakeland, Florida, my basic training on Vultees at Macon, Georgia and my advanced training on Harvards at Dothan, Alabama.

At Dothan we were given a mini medical – a mass chest X-ray, a heart test and a vision test which of course included the colour blindness test. The same cards came out and I failed them all. I started to go into orbit again but the Air Corps sergeant stopped me and said, “If you were in the USAAC you would be eliminated right now. As you are in the RAF these records will be forwarded to your authorities and it is up to them what they do about it.”

I graduated at Dothan on my 25th birthday. At the ceremony I was presented with a diploma stating that I was a qualified pilot of the USAAC, a pair of American wings and the RAF wings.

When we left Dothan to go by train the Moncton PTC in Canada, we were each given a large well sealed envelope containing all our records and told to hand them in when we got back to England. At Moncton I steamed open the envelope and read all the contents. The form that stated that I was completely colour blind I removed and destroyed.

I re-sealed the envelope and I am still awaiting the court.

Links & Notes

*1,696 officers of the Metropolitan Police Force became aircrew. Of these 383 were killed, their names being recorded in the Roll of Honour which now rests in Westminster Abbey http://www.met.police.uk/history/enemy_action.htm

Arnold Scheme http://www.arnold-scheme.org/

page last updated 2 June 2010: ACA Surrey Branch 2010