Anthony Brooke Woodley
Author: Aristide Woodley
Spitfire Mk.VIII MT560 of No. 145 Squadron RAF. This plane used Anthony Woodley during some operations.
Fuselage marking letters are most likely blue (with white bordering), because their color match to the blue on RAF roundel seen on historical B/W photo.
My grandfather wass born in Lüderitz in what was South West Africa (now
Namibia), on the 5th of February 1921. My grandfather’s uncle was Dennis
Labistour, who was the third pilot to be trained in South Africa. He was exposed
to aviation at a young age, and used to fly in the family De Havilland Dragonfly
with Dennis, to take the farriers out to look after the horses on their family farms
in Kwazulu Natal.
hen the war broke out, my grandfather joined the South African Air Force, and
became an instructor under the Empire Training Scheme. He amassed rather
a lot of flying instruction experience on Tigermoths, Harvards, Miles Masters
etc, before being posted onto operations in combat. He was posted to a B-24
Liberator conversion course in Libya, and then I believe finished his conversion
at 34 Squadron SAAF. He was then posted to 9 Squadron SAAF, based in Egypt.
He had no memory of the travel between Libya and Egypt. When he arrived at 9
Squadron, he was asked to do a quick familiarization flight in a Harvard. Then he
was shown a Spitfire and told to go and fly it. He had never even seen a Spitfire
before, let alone completed a conversion course. He told me that he walked
around the aircraft slowly, and then jumped in with the attending aircraft ground
crew. He asked them where certain controls in the cockpit were, and after
receiving very strange looks from the ground crew (again, they all assumed he
had just finished his Spitfire conversion), he started up and off he went. This all
seems very strange, but I guess in a state of war, anything goes. The truth only
came to light about 2 weeks later, when the Squadron realized he had never done
a conversion course. The story is traced in the flights in his logbook. While at 9
Squadron, he flew one of 4 specially modified IXcs, which were kown as SHFs,
specifically MA504. He also participated in the trials of a radar guided search
light, at night. The test had previously claimed the life of a young lieutenant.
He was subsequently seconded to 145 Squadron RAF in Italy, where he flew with
the likes of Neville Duke.
He always spoke very
fondly of the Spitfire,
especially the VIII with
the extended wingtips.
He often said of the
Spitfire and Merlin, that
they were the finest
aeronautical pairing to
ever grace the skies.
I firmly believe that
I can trace my own
passion for Spitfires and
Merlins thanks to him!
I grew up looking at
the photograph of him
sitting in the cockpit of
Shots from the described flight.
He had a few notable incidents during the war, but survived unharmed. He
later became involved in the car manufacturing industry and motor racing scene
in South Africa. He had a never ending passion for vintage motorcylces, and I
will always associate the smell of petrol, oil and hot motorcycle exhaust with
him. He also visited Italy once or twice after the war, visiting a family that he
had befriended during the fighting. My grandfather passed away on the 4th
of February 2012. I had chosen to follow in his, and my father’s footsteps in
becoming a pilot. I had the joy and privilege of taking him flying shortly before
he passed away, and that flight will always remain my most treasured memory of
him. I recall him sitting with his hands beneath the control yoke, ready to fly, so I
asked if he wanted to fly which he said ‘No my boy, you fly’. A few seconds later,
I asked again, and received the same response. About a minute later, I simply
handed control to him with a firm ‘You have control’. His hands gripped the yoke,
and he responded ‘I have control’... and he handled the aircraft perfectly, having
not actually flown an aircraft in a number of decades
I am blessed to have had him in my life, and I treasure the memories and stories
he shared with me, I only wish that I had been able to record him telling them.
I inherited his flying logbook (which he unfortunately did not really look after,
once he left the military), as well as his uniform tunic, with a 145 Squadron pin,
that he made out of a jam jar lid. He lived his last years, retired in Plettenberg
Bay, working on vintage motorcycles, including a 1913 Royal Enfield motor cycle,
which was passed down to my father (which he still rides periodically). His stories
and experiences exist now only in the fading pages of his logbook, and in the
stories he shared with me. I would like to humbly thank Martin Ferkl, and the
Eduard team who have given me an opportunity to share some of his legacy and
stories with the world. I am certain he would have enjoyed it.
Anthony Woodley in Spitfire cockpit; No. 145 Squadron RAF.
INFO Eduard - April 2018