Robert Arnett’s love affair with the internal combustion engine

Robert on the right looking casual, France 1917

Title: Robert on the right looking casual, France 1917
Description: Submitted by Sue Clifton by-nc

Submitted by Sue Clifton.

My father was in the Royal Flying Corps. He is Robert Henry Arnett, b 1895 in Whitby, but they came to Doncaster in 1911, living at first in Victoria St, Balby briefly, then in the newly built Queens Road. In later life he was well known as Bob Arnett, and ran the family auto-engineering firm, R&E Arnett.

We have a few tales of my father’s time in Whitby, and clearly they had a wonderful childhood there which later led to many holidays there until mum protested. Dad was probably a bit of a lad and up to lots of tricks. They used to lean out of windows and drop things on unsuspecting passers-by, used shovels for sledging down hills when it was snowy and learned to skate when the upper harbour froze over. The winters seemed to be colder then. They caught fish out of the kitchen window as they were at one time right next to the harbour. He must have been quite bright at school as he went to the Grammar School in Whitby, but his love affair with the internal combustion engine took over his life. There is a photo most certainly taken in Whitby, of him dressed up like a toff at the wheel of a Peugeot cycle car with Aunt Cis as passenger.

Robert Arnett, Dover 1914

Title: Robert Arnett, Dover 1914
Description: Submitted by Su by-nc

The move to Doncaster enabled Dad to get an apprenticeship in 1910 at Rhodes Motors, on the North Bridge which made electrical motors. One of the initiation rites was to catch apprentices going to the toilet, and then float burning paper down the drainage trough under the holes and burn their bums. His pay was 2/6, of which his mother took 2/- as board. Working there was an invaluable automotive experience, and when war started in 1914, Dad was able to be released a few months early with excellent references from the apprenticeship. He joined the Royal Flying Corps as a fitter in early 1915, number 3137 15th Squadron, which at the time was a branch of the Army. This was in the very early days of aviation and the planes were literally made of wood, paper coated with shellac, and wires. The object of the Corps was to do reconnaissance of the lines and trenches as the early planes were too light for bombing. The first posting was at Farnborough, then Hounslow, (now Heathrow) then they were based in Dover for quite a while. In Dover they worked endlessly, repairing the fragile planes and their engines. At one time they went to bed fully dressed for a period of three weeks and did not have time to take their socks off so they almost bonded to their feet. He was so tired one day that he fell asleep at the top of a ladder repairing a plane engine. There were tales of rats eating hard skin off the soles of men’s feet as they slept so they could not walk the next day. They were then told not take their boots off at night or they wold be court martialled. It was very common to smoke at that time and Dad’s reason was that the latrines smelt so bad it was the only way you could face going. At one point he was smoking up to 40 a day. They then went to France. Dad was one of the first 100 people to cross the channel by air which he did by sitting on the fuselage, nearly freezing to death in the process. In the archives of the squadron at the Public Record Office in Kew is the note that plane B E. 2c, 4116 Captain Jenkins flew a patrol for half an hour with Flt. Sgt. Arnett as observer. The report stated that it was unsuccessful, having been mixed up with reconnaissance machines. Dad highly regarded Capt. Jenkins who later became Lt Colonel, “a gentleman of the RFC”. Other papers there show when father was on guard duty. They were stationed for about 3 1/2 years all told in northern France at Courcelles and Lechelle. By the end of the war he was at Shawbury, and then spent time at Shotwick where he was training American mechanics. About this time there was a terrible flu epidemic and it was said that more people died of this than in battle. Dad got it, and was nursed in a hospital tent, and all those around him died. Meanwhile the RFC had become the RAF, and he left finally in March 1920, though was classed as a reservist.

Mum in her uniform

Title: Mum in her uniform
Description: Submitted by Sue Clifton by-nc

From his photo album and captions it is clear that he loved the planes and had great friends amongst his companions. Clearly they had some leave sometimes as there are photos of him at Queens Road in his uniform —later with his Flight Sergeant stripes. The impression is that the family were very proud of him, and Uncle Ed would have been quite in awe, and perhaps jealous, of his heroic elder brother.

After the war, he found work within three days at Cuttriss’s, who had a car and motor cycle agency and repair business in Cleveland Street/Baker Street, and his passion for the motor bike began to flourish. He had a series of many – twenty-two in all, and wrote an amusing article later in his life for a magazine about those days. He, Uncle Ed and his friends were fun loving and had many escapades with their bikes, cars and boats. They even made a car in the shed at Queens Road which had to be dismantled to get it out and also made two small bikes called Bizzie and Lizzie which were used at Sunday School outings to amuse the children. Each year they would go over to the Isle of Man for the T.T. races and there were races nearer home too. By this time Uncle Ed was into cine filming and so there is a good record of this era. Planes continued to fascinate, and the visit of Cobham’s Air Cir­cus to Doncaster was a real highlight.

Mum and Dad

Title: Mum and Dad
Description: Submitted by Sue Clifton by-nc

But some of this was about to be curtailed – Mum had come to Doncaster in about 1929 to do her nurse training and went to the Meeting where she met Dad. Love was in the air. In the file are two letters from Dad which show he was soppy about her. He took her out on the Trent in Miss Danum and she must have been bowled over by the energy and fun that surrounded the family.

He was fourteen years older than her, and his relatively late mar­riage was put down to the fact that he had been looking for some­one who was as sweet as his mother. Mum did not like his smoking, however, so he stopped – just like that. Also motorbikes were not in favour so he sold up and bought a Riley 9 for £29. They were married in Carlisle in 1933- captured on cine by Uncle Ed, and moved into a rented house at 21, Vaughn Avenue.

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