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They say you should never meet your heroes, but I’m happy to say I was blown away last week when I met Roger ‘Dodge’ Bailey. As chief pilot of the Shuttleworth Collection, he’d been generously responding to myriad detailed questions by email on flying the F.1 Camel. His technical knowledge is unrivalled, and he’s one of the mere handful of living pilots who can claim to have grappled with the little beast powered by a proper rotary engine. Last week he let me get acquainted with the Collection’s D1851 at Old Warden, and I can only say Dodge is one of the nicest, most welcoming and most patient of hosts imaginable.
How I wish I had enough time to keep my Blog up to date! For many moons I’ve been intending to note that I have a publishing contract with Air World (an imprint of Pen & Sword) for my biography of Captain D.V. Armstrong which will be titled “Camel Pilot Supreme”. The text is delivered, and right now we’re working on the images.
I’m pleased to say they’re on board with my proposal for over 100 photographs integrated with the text. In addition we’ll have a 16-page colour section, which will include artwork by the renowned aviation artist Lynn Williams depicting some of Armstrong’s legendary performances (or ‘stunts’ in the jargon of the day). One of them will illustrate Billy Bishop's description of DVA leading his Flight in a tailchase under the bridges of the Thames. Yes, they were underflying bridges as early as World War One!
With any luck the book should be out next summer.
Before getting excited about finding a modern comparator whose mtDNA would be the same as Edward IV's sons (the 'Princes in the Tower'), there are several reasons to proceed cautiously ...
1. We don’t know how many individuals are represented by the bones in the Westminster urn, which contains animal bones as well as human. When discovered in 1674, the bones were thrown on a rubbish heap where they lay for an unknown period. They were subsequently handled, and other material probably substituted, an unknown number of times. The urn was opened again in 1933 and the entire contents once more subjected to extensive handling and examination. They are therefore thoroughly contaminated.
2. To identify Richard III’s remains (which had lain pristine and undisturbed for five centuries) the only successful DNA retrieved was from a tooth.
3. The only way to make reliable DNA comparisons from the urn would be to test every human bone it contains. If you test only the teeth, the ‘mystery’ is not conclusively solved: there will always be dissenters who will claim that the princes’ bones are present but never yielded DNA samples.
4. When John Ashdown-Hill submitted his first mtDNA comparator for Richard III, the laboratory refused to accept it without double-checking and finding their own mtDNA donor. They even insisted on doing research to find a Y-chromosome donor to cross-check against the remains. Is this going to happen with Glen Moran’s discovery?
5. It’s a temptation to want to solve a mystery – the chaps in 1933 thought they were doing that. But they hadn’t enough scientific knowledge then, and neither do we now, if DNA testing is all we have.
The good news is that my biography of Captain Armstrong is almost complete. On the other hand, after four months I am no nearer to a publishing contract. At this point the old adage about eggs in one basket comes into play <sigh>. If it's to appear in time for Armstrong's centenary in November this year, it looks like I must talk to other publishers. Here goes!
It’s time I updated my website. Way past time in fact. A busy person’s work is never done, and since November I’ve been working full tilt on my biography of Captain D.V. Armstrong, DFC, RAF, whose centenary is coming up this year.
But first I had finish my promised checking and general assistance with Dr Arthur Kincaid’s revision of his magisterial edition of Sir George Buc’s The History of King Richard the Third. He contemplated this as a project in the autumn of 2015; it was commissioned in February 2016; and eventually Arthur’s proofs arrived on my desk in June 2017, a remarkable rate of productivity for such a huge work. Scholars will welcome this revised edition, which updates research on this subject to our present state of understanding, and includes a wealth of material not present 40 years ago when the original was published.
My work on checking proofs finished at the end of October, and it’s now with the publisher. Watch this space for a publication date!
In November I returned to my pilot, aware that time wasn’t on my side. Then I had a stroke of luck. In the course of my research I came across an editor at an aviation publisher who immediately said he’d like to publish the biography. By this time I had a vast accumulation of notes which I’d set aside for five months, and I quickly had to cobble together a draft ... which he liked. We have a meeting planned in mid-February, when I hope we’ll reach an arrangement.
The biography is very much a photographic essay, as I am using Captain Armstrong’s own WWI photo album which has a lot of interesting material. Anyway, research and writing has proceeded non-stop with only a couple of days’ relaxation over Christmas, and I think a final draft will come together in time. Grateful thanks to all who have helped, and especially to Rob Fletcher in South Africa who has been invaluable in his advice and help.