'Hughie' Showell's Story
As told by Jimmy Leggett in the book "A Boyhood in the Fleggs"
One of Clippesby’s "Sons of Repute."
I remember back in the 1950s when visiting my family I would often hear and see a Tiger Moth plane circling over the village, and later watch it land on a makeshift runway laid down on the marshes between the village and river. Looking over the marshes from my bedroom window I could also see an aircraft hangar in which the aircraft was housed, serviced and kept up to flying efficiency. The pilot and owner of this plane, as no doubt you have already guessed, was none other than Hugh Showell of Clippesby Hall who later moved down Hall Road a short distance and set up in business as a fruit grower.
Not only did Mr Showell watch over and service his plane, he was also a qualified engineer and flew with the Norfolk and Norwich Aero Club and previously was a flying instructor in the R.A.F. during the second world war. He had flown previously to Spain, North Africa, Tripoli and Italy. Also during June of 1953 and accompanied by a Mr K. Waldron of Ludham he flew to France and they were seventh among 42 entrants in an International air rally. He also worshipped at St Peter’s Church where for many years he was Church Warden and sat on various committees in the area of the Fleggs.
However, on Monday, 28th Sept. 1953 it was announced that two days later Hugh was to begin a 12,000 mile voyage to Western Australia, not by sea but by air and not in an air liner, which would take him there in a few days, but on his own in his Auster Aiglet plane. He had by this time changed from the Tiger Moth and he planned to reach Perth in 24 days. For some time Hugh found it was hard work coping with the many formalities which surrounded anyone contemplating a trip such as this one. Sorting out the many papers and documents necessary for a flight such as this he was continuously in the hangar ‘tuning’ up the Auster and as he said at the time, ‘This is not a pleasure trip but solely for business,’ and although flying was his main hobby there was a distinct element of adventure about it, no record attempt or anything like that. Nevertheless he believed his would be the first Auster to attempt this long flight, which would take him out of England as autumn approached and into an Australian summer.
He had immersed himself among the many papers and documents he had to take with him which varied from a certificate of air worthiness to a freight manifest and a licence to operate a small radio, this would be a radio-telephone which would operate within a fifty mile range, also many conversion tables. He suffered a hectic period during which he had often been to London to secure the visas he needed, to Cambridge for his yellow fever inoculation and to other places to arrange other matters.
At his many stops, for example, there must be petrol, and a petrol company had undertaken to see that this would be available at all his planned landing places, even if they had to lump it on the backs of donkeys. The silver and blue aircraft, which replaced his Tiger Moth, would carry sixty-two gallons of fuel, and to make room and space for extra petrol and everything else he had to carry, the back seats were removed. The Auster had a range of 800 miles and a cruising speed of 100 miles per hour.
Among the many items he had to carry were a Very pistol for signalling, a fire extinguisher, survival equipment including a raft, life jacket, emergency rations, medical supplies and the usual paraphernalia useful in the event of a forced landing, health certificates, spares and many other essentials.
He left Southend on Wednesday, 30th Sept. 1953 on the first stage of his journey. At Baghdad (fortunately long before the infamous reign of Saddam Hussein) the Auster would be subject to a fifty-hour inspection, then on to Penang where there would be a hundred-hour inspection. Hugh would be making his third visit to down under, having previously been twice by sea.
B.O.A.C. had arranged accommodation and hangarage for him on this long flight and he hoped he would reach Perth on or about 24th October 1953. He had provisionally arranged to begin his return flight on 16th Dec. 1953, but said he might change his mind about this date.
What a son of this small village of Clippesby he turned out to be and how every parishioner must have been proud of his flight and achievements when he was safely back in their midst, the little Auster aircraft once again in the hangar on the Clippesby marshes. I wonder with what joy and thankfulness they rushed out and glanced skywards as the pulsating drone of the small engine passed overhead to return to its home haven.
We all know that during 1926 the veteran long-distance pilot Alan Cobham flew a De Havilland biplane to Australia and back in 58 days and again in 1930 Amy Johnson at the age of 27 years was the first woman to
fly from Britain to Australia solo and again Jim Mollison also accomplished the same feat after which of course there wasn’t the romance of the 1930s and finally a splicing of wings. We all knew of course that the exploits of these pilots were made nationally known but our Clippesby pilot was not a man to bask in glory and little was heard of what he did, and without any undue fuss and bother he returned to his fruit-farming venture.
Hugh finished with apples and fruit in the early 1980s and left the shores of the river Bure, dykes and marshes for the more sunny climes of South Africa but without doubt his nostalgic thoughts are forever within a small hangar on the Clippesby marshes.
My sincere thanks to Mrs Henry Laxon, once a resident of both Clippesby and Fleggburgh for the information without which this story would not have been written.
Hughie Showell's little aircraft hangar on the marsh
Still standing in 1985 . . . .
. . . . but demolished soon after.