#6 British Flying Training School
Ponca City’s history has many facets, of which World War II played a major role including the Darr School of Aeronautics, located near the Ponca City airport. Harold S. Darr, of Chicago, entered into an agreement with Ponca City for the purpose of training British cadets for the Royal Air Force under the Lend Lease program, set up by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
One of seven flight schools established in the United States, # 6 BFTS existed for 33 months and trained 1,113 British and 125 American combat pilots. They received six months of intensive training before returning to fight the German Nazis. At the time, the Royal Air Force had every existing air base in their homelands geared for actual war time activities – thus the need for a safe place to train its new recruits.
Darr School, known as a "little city in itself" contained 17 buildings, a swimming pool donated by Lew Wentz, a canteen and recreation center, barracks, a post office, library, and barber shop. Meals were served in a mess hall and a hospital infirmary cared for any minor illnesses that occurred. One student dropped out due to the contraction of the dreaded polio virus. Classrooms were a vital part of the school, including link training.
Groups of fifty young men for each course arrived in Ponca City and were greeted by the citizens with warmth, hospitality and generosity. Many wrote letters to their adopted Oklahoma families for years after the war. The men enjoyed sharing their sports, including cricket and soccer, with Ponca City’s citizens. They loved the abundance of good food, including steaks, hamburgers, malts and sodas, bacon and eggs. Cuzalina’s Drug Store was a favorite hangout and they enjoyed dancing at the Club Lido.
Sadly, a large percentage of the first courses died in combat after their return to England. Seven young men who died during their training in Ponca City are buried at the I.O.O. F. cemetery and honored each year on Memorial Day with a special ceremony.
Under the direction of the Kiwanis Club and W.D. "Bill" Edwards, local citizens raised $988,000 in series E.F. and G. bonds during its fifth war bond drive. The citizens exceeded their goal by a margin of $250,000 above the cost of the plane named "Miss Ponca City". According to Truman Smith, Miss Ponca City entered combat in the summer of 1944 before it could be christened because of its dire need in the war against the Nazis. Sadly, its crew chief, flight engineer Sgt. Merlin D. Summers from Ponca City, was one of the six crew members lost when the plane was shot down over Berlin on September 12, 1944 while conducting her 55th raid. Three others were taken prisoners of war and held captive until April, 1945.
Through the generosity of Lillian Taylor, a link instructor at Darr School, the Friends of Marland’s Grand Home was the recent recipient of #6 British Flight Training School memorabilia. Because of her knowledge that members of FMG, were interested in the history of the Darr School, they were the natural choice for the donation. The collection is currently being displayed in the Heritage suite located on the second floor of Marland’s Grand Home, 1000 East Grand.
Included in the memorabilia is a collection of original photographs of the British students, a woolen dress uniform, various silver insignias and embroidered patches, and much written history of the unique group. One piece of the collection was a large picture, "Miss Ponca City", the Flying Fortress B-17 bomber drawn by Don Welch, a former judge for Kay and Noble Counties. At the time, Welch, a fifteen-year-old sophomore, was too young to serve in the war but a great patriotic booster. The picture originally hung in the window of Smitty’s Men’s Wear store during a war bond drive to purchase the plane. Because of its deteriorated condition, the actual picture has been digitally restored.
Lillian gathered most of the collection as she visited former students in England and as they visited Ponca City for their reunions. Life long friendships were established. Lillian and her family keep up correspondence with a number of these former fliers. For more information contact Paula