Skip to content


JUser: :_load: Unable to load user with ID: 291

A Spot Forever England

Written by Tom Killebrew.

Black-and-white photographs line the walls: photos of young men, of white wooden buildings, metal aircraft hangars with old-style curved roofs, and airplanes with radial engines. The young men in the photos are wearing British Royal Air Force uniforms, but the aircraft are U.S. Army trainers, and the setting is a typical North Texas town of the 1940s.

“Welcome to the No. 1 BFTS Museum,” is the warm Texas greeting from Henry Madgwick, a tall gentleman with gray hair and a decidedly British accent. This unusual museum, in Terrell, 35 miles east of Dallas, is dedicated to a little-known aspect of Texas history during World War II.

In early June 1941, six months before the United States would enter the war, young Englishmen, most of them no more than teenagers, began arriving in North Texas to learn to fly. Part of President Roosevelt’s efforts to aid Great Britain when England stood alone against Hitler’s might included an offer to train pilots desperately needed by the Royal Air Force (RAF). One training program utilized American civilian flight schools, which became known as British Flying Training Schools (BFTS). Officials located the first of six schools in Terrell (the other schools were in Florida, Oklahoma, Arizona, and California). Known as No. 1 BFTS, Terrell’s school was operated by Major William F. Long, a World War I Army pilot and well-known Dallas flight-school operator. During its four-year existence, No. 1 BFTS trained 2,200 young men, of whom 1,470 graduated, including 138 U.S. Army Air Forces pilots.

Today, the museum occupies an 8,500-square-foot building at the Terrell airport, the site of the original school, whose construction William Long oversaw in the summer of 1941. Henry Madgwick, the museum’s acting director, is quick to point out that the museum is very much a work in progress. In the past few months, volunteers have finished a new exhibit that features a fully functioning Link trainer. Closely resembling a penny arcade ride, the Link is a small plywood enclosure, complete with aircraft instruments and controls, mounted on a short pedestal and connected by electrical cables to an operator’s con-sole on a nearby desk. The forerunner of the modern flight-simulator, the Link saw widespread use in WWII as an instrument trainer.

Henry trained in Terrell in 1945 and flew with the RAF. After the war, he returned to live in the United States, married, and went to work in the insurance business. He served as Terrell’s mayor from 1998 to 2002.

Numerous photographs here depict each of the 27 classes trained at the school, the civilian flight instructors, and other school personnel. (The last two classes did not finish in Terrell, because the war ended.) Other exhibits display uniforms, equipment, logbooks, maps, and a model of the school and airfield as it was during the war. The detailed model includes the school buildings, three large hangars, two runways, and miniature aircraft on the flight line. The original radio set from the airfield’s control tower is also displayed, and visitors get a good idea of the technological advances over the last 60 years when comparing the large bulky radio to the much smaller and more powerful radios of today.

Visitors can also see a wall map made from several WWII-era aeronautical charts. This map duplicates a wall chart that originally hung in the school’s ready room. A transparency with the outline of Great Britain, Ireland, and northern Europe covered the map of Texas and surrounding states. From this map, cross-country flights were planned, with Terrell in the same relative location as London (Terrell-to-Des Moines=London-to-Berlin). The idea was to simulate flights to countries surrounding Great Britain. (The New York Times even described the map in a May 1944 article.)

The museum is currently negotiating for a North American AT-6 Harvard advanced trainer, the same aircraft used at No. 1 BFTS. The Harvard (known as the Texan in the U.S. Army and Navy service) was the most widely used advanced trainer in World War II. The museum is also working on a small theater, where visitors will be able to view the museum’s extensive collection of films from the war years. The archives here, available to researchers, include materials such as official reports and documents from the school. A small nondenominational chapel dedicated to all servicemen who gave their lives in the war occupies one corner of the museum.

Another area of interest to visitors, although not at the museum, is the RAF section of Terrell’s Oakland Memorial Cemetery. With its extensive history as a colonial power, involvement in numerous foreign wars, and small land area at home, Great Britain had long since decided that their servicemen would be buried where they fell. The RAF plot in the Oakland Memorial Cemetery contains the graves of 20 young Englishmen who died while training in Terrell. Marking the site is a small stone memorial, dedicated in 1942 by Lord Halifax, the British ambassador to the United States, and inscribed with British poet Rupert Brooke’s poignant words: “Some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.”

The No. 1 BFTS Museum is at 119 Silent Wings Blvd. in Terrell. To reach the museum from I-20, take Texas 34 north for 1 3/4 miles to Airport Blvd., turn right on Airport, drive 1/2 mile to Silent Wings Blvd., and turn right. Hours: Wed and Fri-Sat 10-4, or by appt. for groups and special occasions. Admission: $3; $2 age 55 and older, ages 8-18, and students; free age 7 and younger. Call 972/524-1714.

Oakland Memorial Cemetery is on the south side of US 80, on Terrell’s west side, a mile west of where US 80 and Texas 34 intersect. Memorial services are held at the RAF site twice a year, usually on the Sun. closest to Memorial Day and Veterans Day (Nov. 13, 2005).

From the November 2005 issue.

Back to top