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Letters of [Clarence] Terry Dawson relating to his time as an RAF Cadet at Downing College, 1941-09 - 1943-05

Reference Code: GBR/0269/DCPP/DAW

Scope and Contents

Copies of original letters from Terry to his "very, very dearest" Cynthia, which are often incredibly romantic but contain much information and details about life as an RAF cadet in Cambridge and (social) life more generally at Downing College during the Second World War. His first letters from Downing in November 1942 describe a dance with girls from Homerton College, rowing with the Downing College Boat Club, military training and exams (on a Sunday as the 'Varsity sports' were on the Saturday). By the following month, they describe his frustration with the 'Varsity' work, which is "out of place study, study which I fail to see has anything to do with flying a military aircraft". Notable letters include: (6 Dec 1942) views re the war and Britain joining too soon; (2 Jan 1943) concerns following a lecture by the Commanding Officer re plans to remove the role of 2nd pilot in bombers, meaning fewer pilots may be needed; (9 Jan) description of his draughty rooms in College [K11 - modern day M staircase], with the study on the corner - stuffing gowns under the doors "doesn't stop wintry winds raging round"; (12 Jan) Peter had flown over the College at 5,000 ft with an instructor doing two flick rolls; (21 Jan) excited by his first flight in a Tiger Moth with a Canadian instructor; (5 Feb) rowing in the 1st Boat temporarily when "Tubby" [V. J.] Carlton accidentally put his foot through the bottom of the boat, causing a leak, then he later went boxing, although he can't spare the time to train properly; (9 Feb) "very jolly" coffee with [Master, Admiral Sir Herbert] Lord and Lady Richmond, including a word game where "certain words made by the REs and RAF were hardly presentable before the peerage!" and a bottle party in his room afterwards; (24-28 Feb) description of the five 'Varsity' exams - British Empire, Physical Geography, Present Day History, British Constitution and English Economics; (5 Mar) describes rowing in Lent Bumps 2nd Boat for Downing, with details of the event and College flags and pennants hanging from the boathouse, and plans to attend a play put on by the College's Fellows that night ["wasn't too bad but I have seen better at school"]; (9 Mar) RAF exams and results in 'Varsity' exams, award of rowing colours and may be called early to Grading School, meaning he will fly solo in a few weeks; (10 Mar) College dance at "the Dot" [The Dot cafe and ballroom, now Waterstones] and (11 Mar) dance at the Rex ballroom, description of a flight around Ely and Newmarket and Peter's stag party; (15 Mar) Cynthia had visited to attend his passing out parade and he had received his RAF buttons and badges; (16 Mar) last day at Downing, which he will miss - he had chosen air bomber as his second preference if he was not chosen as a pilot; (23 Apr) at the ACRC [Air Crew Receiving Centre, Regent's Park, London]; (24 May) at the RAF Municipal Airport, Wolverhampton, he had been moved to another hut after an outbreak of scarlet fever. The file also includes three copy contemporary photographs of Terry in uniform, in a jacket with a high fur collar and with Cynthia on their wedding day in 1944.


  • Creation: 1941-09 - 1943-05


Conditions Governing Access


Conditions Governing Use

Copyright retained by the family, with permission for promotional use by the College Archive.

Biographical / Historical

Clarence Dawson (known as Terry) was born on 2 January 1924 in Ilford, Essex. He matriculated at Downing College as an RAF Cadet in October 1942 and completed two terms' residence while completing the short course for cadets and training with the Cambridge University Air Squadron (D Flight, 3 Squadron). He rowed in the 1943 2nd Lent Boat and obtained his colours for representing the College, also boxing occasionally. After leaving Downing on 16 March 1943, he left for Canada in July to complete his training, initally based at the RAF depot in Moncton, New Brunswick, before crossing Canada by train to the training base in Bowden, Alberta near Calgary to qualify as an RAF pilot. Following his training he returned to the UK and flew bombing missions over Germany. He married his fiancee, Cynthia Ainsworth, on 23 April 1944 and their first child was born the following year. He had hoped to return to Downing to complete his degree after being demobilised in 1947, but family commitments resulted in him pursuing a career, initially in teaching, before joining British European Airways as a pilot (later Captain) from 1951. He died on 18 January 1970.


52 item(s)

Custodial History

These letters were kept by Terry Dawson's widow, Cynthia, and were passed on to her children after her death in early 2020. Her corresponding letters to her husband have not survived.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Copied from originals loaned by David Dawson (son), with permission to add to the College Archive. 2021-22/008

Existence and Location of Originals

Retained by the family.

Related Materials

Letters from 1943-44 covering Terry's time with the RAF in Canada, also in the possession of the family, were not copied for the Archive. The index for the collection, compiled by Mr Dawson's son, also includes these later letters.

DCPH/2/5/12a - 1943 photograph of RAF Cadets from D Flight 3 Squadron at Downing College (Terry is pictured 6th from left, front row).

Seachable index prepared by Mr Dawson's son available.

Repository Details

Part of the Downing College Repository

Downing College Archive
Downing College
Cambridge Cambridgeshire CB2 1DQ United Kingdom
+44 (0)1223 762905