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An extract from Britain's Airline Entrepreneurs - Silver City Airways

In 1946, Zinc Corporation, the London-based mining conglomerate, appointed Air Commodore Griffith James ‘Taffy’ Powell as a special advisor. The company had important investments in the Australian outback town of Broken Hill, where rich deposits of lead, zinc and silver had led to the nickname Silver City. Minerals are frequently found in remote, inaccessible locations, and aircraft can be the only practical means of servicing them. To this day, mining companies often operate large fleets of their own aircraft. With Taffy’s aeronautical knowhow, Zinc Corporation set up its own airline, based at Langley Aerodrome, and named Silver City Airways. British Aviation Services (BAS), the airline holding company, became one of Silver City's shareholders, initially buying a 10per cent stake, but later taking full control. Taffy was appointed Managing Director of both companies and with him came several ex-RAF colleagues who had served with him in Ferry Command and Transport Command. Ex-RAF aircraft could then be bought for a song, and Silver City acquired four C-47s (Dakotas) and three Avro Lancastrians (the 13-seater civil version of the Lancaster Mark 3 bomber). Two of the Lancastrians had originally been ordered by the short-lived British South American Airways (BSAA).

Silver City during the Berlin Airlift

The Berlin Airlift had been a baptism of fire for Freddie Laker and Harold Bamberg, but Silver City would come of age during another, quite different, political and humanitarian crisis. In 1947 the British Government decided to partition India, prior to granting independence. What had formerly been British India, now became two independent dominion states, the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan. The partition displaced somewhere between 10 and 12 million people along religious lines, creating a massive refugee crises and sickening violence. Historians estimate that somewhere between several hundred thousand and two million people may have died as a result. The numbers of refugees were mind-numbingly large: the population of undivided India in 1947 had been approximately 390 million. After partition, there were 330 million people in India, 30 million in West Pakistan, and 30 million people in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). About 14.5 million people crossed the borders seeking what they hoped was the safety of a religious majority. The violence and bitterness caused by partition has plagued relationships between India and Pakistan to this day. Lord Louis Mountbatten, who had been Viceroy at the time, was later criticised for rushing the partition process and failing to tackle the migration and communal violence that followed.

In October 1947, the fledgling Silver City Airways was asked to urgently airlift thousands of Hindu and Muslim refugees between Pakistan and India. They began with four Dakotas, but such was the urgency the authorities soon allowed Silver City to carry up to 52 passengers on aircraft designed to carry only 28. At the height of the crisis, Taffy heard that one of the new Bristol 170 Freighter demonstrators was standing idle at Filton Airport and he leased the aircraft (a 40-seat, all-passenger Mk II 'Wayfarer' registered G-AHJC) and flew it to India. There it created a record by lifting 1,105 people and their baggage in nine days. On one flight, it carried 119 people after all the seats and fittings had been removed.

The airline's Bristol Freighter fleet soon expanded to four aircraft. Taffy, who liked to holiday in France driving his beloved Armstrong Siddeley Lancaster car, realised that the Bristol 170, with its 'clamshell' nose doors and substantial cargo hold, could easily carry a car, and by June 1948 Silver City had operated a proving flight from Lympne (near Hythe) in Kent to Le Touquet on the French coast. The cargo had been Taffy’s car plus a set of loading ramps, and the airfields had been chosen because they were the two closest cross-Channel civil airports, being only 47 miles apart. Le Touquet, with its fine beach, casino, golf course and luxury hotels, had been a popular destination for Britons in the years before the Second World War, and had been served by Imperial Airways from Croydon. The Silver City Air Ferry service was born: wealthy Britons who fancied a day or two of golf and gambling (then illegal in Britain) could now fly to France for the weekend taking their Rolls-Royces, and chauffeurs, along with them. The service would remain popular until the advent of car-carrying hovercraft.

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