|by Paul Holden, PRO|
15 March 2005
MEMOIRS OF ONE OF THE ODDS & SODS
At the March meeting, Woking Branch Vice-Chairman Laurie Taylor OBE FRAeS thoroughly entertained with a light-hearted look back on his extensive career in aviation.
Laurie started flying during the war with initial training on Tiger Moths in the UK before moving to Canada for advanced training on Harvards. At this point the USA joined the war, and US aircrew in the Canadian Air Force returned home, leaving a shortage of instructors and staff pilots in Canada which was filled by newly qualified pilots like Laurie. Much to his dismay, he was posted to be a staff pilot on a gunnery school. The accepted way to escape back to the real war was to be caught doing something against the rules, like extremely-low flying along river valleys. Unfortunately, he met another aircraft coming the other way and ended up being court martialled instead of repatriated. After a punishment tour in Air Traffic Control, he returned to flying Stirlings in 38 Group doing supply dropping, glider towing and other transport duties in Europe.
As war was ended, he flew many missions repatriating released prisoners of war, a particularly satisfying activity reinforced by looks of pure joy on passengers' faces as they approached the UK coast. Other missions at this time included ferrying a large consignment of gold bullion and banknotes to Prague immediately after the Russians liberated it. The aim was to bankroll the liberated Czech government, but the whole cargo was unloaded onto a Russian army lorry under supervision of Red Army soldiers and driven away, never to be heard of again.
After extending his RAF service by 18 months, Laurie completed conversion courses at Air Service Training, Hamble to gain his civilian pilot and navigator licences before joining BOAC, initially as co-pilot and later as captain. While with BOAC he flew types ranging from the Argonaut and Douglas DC-7C with piston engines to the jet-powered Boeing 707 and 747 later on. In the early days of jet flying, the Boeing 707 had very smoky engines. This led to a Viscount pilot cleared to take off after a departing Boeing 707 responding "Only when the visibility has improved", to which the 707 pilot replied "Don't worry sonny, you'll be allowed to smoke as well when you grow up".
BOAC routes in the early days took aircrew to some exotic destinations that had yet to become familiar to tourists. He recalled one memorable flight to Rio (noted for the beauty of its young ladies) whilst carrying a very senior politician. At a reception in the High Commission, after a drink or two and with the music playing, the politician espied a vision in a red dress on the other side of the room. Sidling up behind, he asked for a dance - only to be greeted with the immortal "I will not! You are drunk. This is our national anthem. And I am the Archbishop of Rio."!!
During his time with BOAC Laurie became interested in BALPA, the airline pilots' Union. This led to membership of the Council of the Air Registration Board and the Airworthiness Committee of ICAO. Laurie rose to become Chairman of BALPA and then vice-President of IFALPA, the International Federation of Airline Pilots, whose main role is standardisation of flying rules and procedures to facilitate international air travel. During his term, highjacking became a major issue. IFALPA spearheaded a campaign to seek agreement from all 180 aviation nations to measures to curb future highjacks, which led Laurie to address the General Assembly of the United Nations on the subject. Laurie later retired from BOAC to become Chief Executive of IFALPA for an extended term.
Geoff Packham proposed the vote of thanks to Laurie for a most enjoyable and entertaining evening, whilst the monthly raffle raised £95 for charity.