Henry Williamson and Francis Chichester




gf chichester    

Francis Chichester (1901-1972) was a cousin of HW's wife Loetitia, and a man who led an adventurous life. After leaving school, at the age of eighteen he emigrated to New Zealand in 1919 and built up a prosperous property, forestry and mining business there, only to lose heavily in the Great Depression. He became interested in flying, and soon came to public attention for his record-breaking solo flights in a de Havilland Gipsy Moth in the early 1930s. The first of these was from Croydon to Sydney, between December 1929 and January 1930, not long after he had learned to fly – this made him only the second person to make a solo flight from England to Australia. He then flew the first east-west solo crossing of the Tasman Sea between March and June 1931, during which there were two intermediate landfalls on tiny islands – Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island – requiring absolute pinpoint navigation; no easy task when flying alone in a small open-cockpit biplane.


This was followed by Chichester's epic flight from Sydney, Australia to  Katsuura in Japan, between July and August 1931 – the first solo long distance flight ever made in a seaplane, and the first ever solo flight between Australia and Japan (he had fitted his Gipsy Moth with floats for the purpose).  Five years later, with a companion, he flew in a de Havilland Puss Moth from Sydney to Brooklands in the UK – diverting via Peking (now Beijing).


Chichester's navigational skills were supreme, and during the early years of the Second World War he wrote several works on the subject, to aid RAF bomber pilots and navigators. He even developed an instructional game called Pinpoint the Bomber, published in 1942, with three variations (The Black Game; The Red Game; and the Green Game). The General Description introducing the game states:


PINPOINT THE BOMBER describes a new form of game, and a large map of the territory from Kent to the Rhineland is provided. The player is given the necessary clues to his position, and must tax his skill and ingenuity to deduce from them exactly where he is, in other words to "pinpoint" his bomber on the map.


To players who have no direct interest in flying, the test of their ability has all the fascination of a detective story or cross-word puzzle. At the same time they will be thrilled to read of the difficulties besetting an air navigator on an operational raid into Germany, by following the progress of the raid on a map exactly to the same scale as the maps used by our navigators when raiding Germany, and by studying actual air photographs of enemy territory.


Players who hope one day to become air navigators can learn more about the art and principles of map-reading from two hours with the game than from two hundred hours' air experience if untrained.


This was at a stage of the war before the development of external navigational aids such as Oboe, based on radio transponder technology, and H2S, a radar system; bomber navigation at that time depended on dead reckoning and map reading, both notoriously unreliable when it came to the accurate bombing of targets at night.


After the war ended Chichester founded a successful map-making company, and then, in 1953, took up long-distance sailing, with a series of yachts all called Gipsy Moth. After being diagnosed with lung cancer (subsequently thought to be a misdiagnosis for an abscess on the lung), he took part in the first transatlantic single-handed race from east to west in 1960 in his new Gipsy Moth III – and won. 


Today, Francis Chichester is probably best remembered not for his pioneering aviation exploits but for the first solo circumnavigation of the world from west to east in 1966/7, with only one stop in Sydney, in his 54-foot yawl Gipsy Moth IV. His intention was not just to complete the circumnavigation but to race the times taken by the tea clippers of the nineteenth century. This epic voyage captured the imagination of the British public, not least perhaps because he became an old-age pensioner while at sea. Chichester was feted as a hero on his return to Plymouth, which he had left just 226 days earlier, and he was knighted by the Queen shortly after; she used the sword with which Elizabeth I had knighted Francis Drake. Since Chichester's death in 1971 Gipsy Moth IV has been on permanent display at Greenwich, next to the tea clipper Cutty Sark.




When the time came for HW to write the climax of The Gold Falcon and the scenes of Manfred's ill-fated attempt to fly the Atlantic, it was natural therefore that he should turn to his wife's cousin, whose aviation exploits had been so recently feted in the press, for advice on the practical details about flying and navigating a small aeroplane. Francis Chichester was accordingly invited to stay at Shallowford for a few days; the Visitors' Book shows that he stayed for two nights in July 1932, and doubtless during his visit HW gleaned as much information as he could:


gf chichester2


In the Literary Archive there are several hastily written pages of notes on flying, perhaps jotted down while the two were in conversation:


gf flying1




gf flying2a




gf flying2b




gf flying3




gf flying5




gf flying6



Following his departure from Shallowford, Chichester evidently received a further question from HW regarding the precise details of the course that Manfred would use, for on 28 July he sent this postcard from Instow:


gf chichester3


gf chichester4




Cannot work out G.C. course without Raper's Practice of Navigation which is in the very room once mine at Shirwell. Personally would fly such a distance by Mercator. In which case bearing of Land's End from Cape Race appears to be roughly 83½ degrees true. Mag[netic] Var[iation] on the other hand very important. Allow 29º west on the course till 35º W. long[itude]. 27º west till 30º W. long. 25º till 25º W. long. 23º till 20º W. long. 21º till 17º W. long. 19º till 13º W. long. 17º for the rest if he ever gets as far! Go and take Raper if of any use. Sorry I can't help you exactly as required. C.  P.S. No pilot ever heard of the world being ROUND.


Just over a month afterwards, on 10 August 1932, HW's diary entry reads, ‘Completed G.F. at 2.30 p.m.'




That HW and Francis Chichester remained friends is evidenced by this Christmas card sent by Sir Francis in 1969, in which he celebrated the fortieth anniversary of his epic flight to Australia:


gf chichester5


gf chichester6








Shopping Cart


Cart empty