Antoine de St Exupéry - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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Antoine de St Exupéry

This piece was written on 4 January 2011

Something very odd happened last night, Monday 3 January 2011, when I was asleep in bed. (I thought that might grab your attention!) It was nothing to do with the minor earthquake (strength 3.6) that was felt over large parts of West Yorkshire – at least I can’t see how it could have had anything to do with the earthquake unless that is what woke me after I had retired early with the first symptoms of a winter cold. I sat up suddenly, switched on the bedside light and jotted down on a scrap of paper the words 'St Exupéry' – just like that, complete with the acute accent – I particularly remember writing the accent. I then promptly went back to sleep again.

I thought no more of the incident until the morning. I was having my first mug of tea of the day when I suddenly recalled making a jotting on a piece of paper. I was confused because I don't routinely keep paper and pen or pencil on my bedside table. I went back to my bedroom and searched but found nothing - no pen, no paper, therefore no note. I then searched all the upstairs and downstairs rooms but there was no trace of that scrap of paper. I still remembered the two words clearly, so I assumed I must have dreamt the whole incident – but why should I remember the spelling so exactly?

I had never heard of what at first I assumed to be a place in France, so I looked it up on the Internet. I found lots of references to “Antoine de St Exupéry” but I am convinced that I had never heard of him before that moment. It turns out that he was a pioneering aviator in the 1920s and 1930s but he seems to have been better known for his books and his aphorisms. Two quotes I found are very apt for the year 2011:

1.   Les grandes personnes ne comprennent jamais rien toutes seules, et c'est fatigant, pour les enfants, de toujours leur donner des explications. (Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.)

2.   Il semble que la perfection soit atteinte non quand il n'y a plus rien à ajouter, mais quand il n'y a plus rien à retrancher. (It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.)

After further searching I discovered that on 30 December 1935, when I was but a few weeks old, Antoine de St Exupéry had crashed in the Libyan Sahara desert after 19 hours 44 minutes in the air. He and his navigator were eventually rescued by Bedouin when they had almost given up hope of rescue.

In the late 1950s, whilst I was serving as a Sergeant Air Signaller on 38 (Shackleton) Squadron based in Malta, I flew several long sorties at low level over that very same area of the Libyan Sahara Desert. Two such missions, amounting to exactly to 24 hours flying, are shown below in an extract from my flying log book for April 1958 when we were searching for a missing Canberra light bomber. The pilot and navigator on that flight over the desert were never found.

I am still no wiser as to why I had, last night, dreamt that I had written the name of someone I had never heard of on a scrap of paper in the middle of the night.

Several times during my life I've had strange waking experiences as well as strange dreams that I could not explain - and I've still not got used to them. (Another such experience is on this website here halfway down that page.)




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