Courage

Why do we – why do I – celebrate the past so much? There is a resurgence of interest in the first and second world wars. I know that I am drawn to the fact that ordinary people endured and acted with incredible courage in the most testing of circumstances. Some had a naturally daring spirit, and those people are particularly celebrated as heroes – they seemed to have a reckless bravado which propelled them into exultant action and drew others with them. But for me, that exceptional sense of defiant daring is not what I celebrate most. The majority of people did not have that positive desire for risk, that kind of madness. Even so, they did have a sense of adventure, they did experience the thrill of risk and action and wanted to come out of it well, whether they survived it or not (I speak for my father here, as I think that’s how he felt about it). They knew they could die at any time, but pushed that fear down and got on with things, doing the best they could and believing completely that what they were doing had to be done and couldn’t be shirked. The first world war saw thousands of people facing certain death day after day, for months and years, living in the most apalling conditions while in the trenches, bearing the loss of their comrades, the ever-present trauma of that warfare, and the hellish conditions. Staving off despair in the those circumstances – all that was courage, the courage of those days, the courage they were all called to embrace.

But this week particularly I been wondering about courage today and what it means for us to be courageous. Let’s not think that courage belongs to the past, or to those who serve in the armed forces or rescue services today. It belongs to all of us. It has been shown in France this week, and wherever there is an attack on freedom, there will be the courage that rushes in to help victims, combat the threat. It’s shown in the Ebola outbreak where people continue to put their own lives on the line to work in healthcare in those areas. This, too, is easy to celebrate. There is the required courage to speak out and not be silent when something is happening that one knows to be wrong; that is encumbent on all of us.

There is also courage shown in daily life that is not so easy to celebrate because it’s harder to see, and ‘celebration’ seems a difficult word. The shining courage of someone like Kate Gross, who faced dying of cancer in her 30s with such grace and openness and authenticity. The courage of those who get on with their lives after suffering bereavement; of those with long-term illness, or paralysis, and of those who look after them every day; of those facing loneliness in old age: these also are trenches where nobody wants to be; where the endurance seems to have no end in sight, and where, often, there is a sense of loneliness. Living hopefully and positively here is also a kind of warfare: courage on a slow fuse. Let’s not forget that courage of many kinds is around us in many guises; perhaps not to be ‘celebrated’ but recognised, acknowledged, respected: let’s support it in others where we can, and live it in ourselves where we must.

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New ‘FLYING BLIND’ website

A new website for all matters relating to my father’s memoirs,
‘FLYING BLIND: THE STORY OF A SECOND WORLD WAR NIGHT-FIGHTER PILOT’FlyingBlindCoverFront by Bryan Wild and Elizabeth Halls, with Joe Bamford
is now launched.

READ ALL ABOUT IT! CHECK IT OUT HERE!

URL: www.flyingblindnightfighter.com

Short link: http://wp.me/P5zBn5-1

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Singer progress

Chattie has been in the workshop of Crispin Thetford, who has done some good work in stripping the engine down and giving it a thorough overhall.  This is a work in progress.  For the petrol-heads among you, the engine before stripping looked like this:

Chattie-engine-Oct-2014

Obviously, with some modifications since 1935 but basically still the same old machine. Crispin’s report on the work so far is wonderfully detailed, but in summary:

  • New head gasket fitted nicely on the block and tightened down with a good ‘feel’.
  • carburettors stripped and cleaned – previous attention to throttle spines and butterflies means these are still in good order. Engine running nicely now.
  • Distributor contact sets replaced. Ignition timing didn’t need altering
  • Cooling fan (a post-war modified fan blade assembly) mounting studs were very poor – in danger of failing and the bearings were breaking up the fan pulley – fan blades were pressing on the outer bearing.  So Pin has machined the centre of the blade assembly and fitted new bearings and mounting studs. Need for further mods will now be assessed.
  • Sump taken off – a very wise decision as water seems to have been getting into the oil for a long time – the inside of the sump and oil baffle plate were very rusty and flaking. All cleaned up, treated and coated.  One big end cap inspected – good standard originally, some deterioration because of running with water in the oil, but probably good for another 10,000 miles. This is good news as my tour means I’ll do between 2,000 and 5,000, depending how much mileage I do directly in Chattie, and how much in the Sprinter with Chattie on the back.
  • New brake master cylinder fitted.  However, there are leaks on brake pipes due to previous use of  incorrect flaring tool having weakened the copper pipe.

In Pin’s words, ‘The end result is a car which drives again – and it goes very well indeed’.  That’s the story so far.  There is a ‘But’ – but this post has been long enough, so that appears in the next update! There is also much more to assess and decisions to be made as to what other modifications we wish to make.

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RAF Coltishall days remembered in the Eastern Daily Press

An article appears today in the EASTERN DAILY PRESS about Flight Lieutenant Bryan Wild’s memoirs of his time in East Anglia with 26 Squadron from October 1944 to June 1946.

To buy a copy of ‘FLYING BLIND’ on AMAZON UK CLICK HERE

To buy a copy of ‘FLYING BLIND’ ON AMAZON WORLDWIDE CLICK HERE

To buy a copy of ‘FLYING BLIND’ from the publishers FONTHILL MEDIA CLICK HERE

 Sophie Wyllie interviewed me over the Christmas holidays, and asked particularly what it was like to read my father’s diaries for the first time:

Mrs Halls, 56, from Herefordshire, said reading his diaries was like meeting her father when he was in his 20s.

She said: “Diary entries are very different to how people present themselves. It was quite extraordinary reading my father’s diary. When I was growing up he never talked about the war. When I read the diaries I felt as though I was with him in the cockpit.

“He was young and adored flying aircraft. The RAF was a family for him.”

Before arriving in Norfolk, Flt Lt Wild flew with 46 Squadron from Egypt and Cyprus between 1943 and 1944.

While at Coltishall between October 10 and October 27, 1944, he flew Mosquitos which he described as breathtaking.

“He liked East Anglia, its pubs and friendly local people. He was very happy there,” Mrs Halls added.

Read the whole article HERE

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New Year’s Eve RAF party 1943

Booing out the old year and bringing in the new at 46 Squadron’s New Year’s Eve party, 1943:

‘The night before there had been an ENSA show, and many of the members stayed on for it. Together with the wrens, this made around seventy guests in all, and the biggest Squadron party ever. As before, after helping to decorate the Mess, I drove over to Alexandria with Jack Barnes and collected some of the wrens from the Sacre Coeur in Alexandria. It was a splendid evening. There had been a lot of rain over the previous weeks, so a large marquee was erected, and there was a huge bonfire outside. Once again the RAF Dance Band from Aboukir played for us. As midnight was counted down, Doc MacDonald made a dramatic entrance through the front door of the Mess dressed as an ancient old man, representing 1943, and was booed and heckled as he made his way through the crowded room and out at the back door. He was in fact the oldest member of the Squadron and, as it happened, I was the youngest. I therefore landed the job of representing the New Year, 1944, and, as the Doc exited bang on midnight, a flaming punch was served, and in I came, dressed as a baby with sheets for a nappy, and cheered to the nines. Not my finest hour, and no one from ENSA took my details for future bookings, but great fun all the same. We just about managed to squeeze everyone into a huge circle to sing Auld Lang Syne. It was 1.30 in the morning when Jack Barnes and I took our three wrens back into Alex. As Jack snoozed on the way home, I reflected on a year full of strange and powerful experiences. As I turned the car into the camp at 3.30 a.m., I knew that despite all the difficult things I had seen and been through, I was actually having the time of my life.’

From: ‘Flying Blind: The Story of a Second World War Night-Fighter Pilot’ published by Fonthill Media

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Happy Christmas

A happy Christmas to you all.  Keep following the star.

Christmas-Card-2014-for-web-Happy-X

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Christmas Officer’s Mess party 1943

Extract from Chapter 8: ‘Christmas and New Year in North Africa':  Some of you may recognise Charlie Peace, featured in the previous photograph, seated cross-legged on the floor at the front of the throng.

‘The next week was the Officer’s Mess Party on 10th December. This was a big affair for the Squadron, with around fifty guests invited to a dance and a buffet supper. Owen’s Cairo West detachment was now closed and all the aircraft returned to base, so the Squadron had its full complement. We spent all morning decorating the mess with whatever we could find; mostly palm leaves, which looked marvellous, I thought. OfficersPartyDec43In the afternoon I put on best blue and went into Alex int he CO’s car, with Dudley Arundel, Jenx, Jack Barnes and Atkins. We had a few drinks at the Cecil to get in the swing of things and then picked up the invited Wrens from the ‘wrennery’ and took them to Idku with us in style in the three-tonner.  The party was one to remember. There were plenty of girls and eats to keep us all happy. The RAF band had been brought in from Aboukir and we danced the evening away in the open under a brilliant moon. It was a magical setting.’

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Session in the Mess

46 Squadron held a lot of parties and was famed for its good spirits – not only its Cyprian brandy. Doc Macdonald’s daughter kindly sent me this great photograph of a ‘session in the mess’, on the back of which Doc had written the following caption:

‘taken after a lunchtime session.  I am on the piano with Sheriff Muir behind me and Oscar Wild standing up. Charlie Peace with Fritz in the foreground.’ 

session

Sherriff Muir (Squadron Leader Gilbert Alexander Muir DFC) was a Canadian, who, as a special signals officer in 46 Squadron, had devised a means of controlling night-fighters from the warships they were escorting. Charlie Peace had been with my father in 256 Squadron back in the UK in 1942.  He had adopted Fritz after the Dachshund had been left behind by the retreating Germans. Charlie was killed in action in early 1944, and Dad looked after Fritz from then on.  ‘Oscar’ was Dad’s nickname in the Squadron. I was very moved to receive this photograph in 2013, and wrote the following poem.

There’s my dad standing at the back,
Clapping or playing rhythm spoons,
Next to the smiling Sheriff Muir;
While the Doc bashes out the tunes

on the old Joanna, festooned
With flowers, as if they’re in Hawaii,
Not Egypt, under a desert moon.
In front of the draped Union Jack

Two chaps stage right are obviously
Dancing, pounding the boards, a blur
Of movement in the camera’s eye.
Charlie Peace, self-styled conductor,

With his back to the players sits
Waving his right arm frantically
And on his knee the Dachshund Fritz
Wags his tail and grins ecstatically.

The picture’s still, there is no sound
For me: no honky-tonk music,
No spoons’ percussion clacks, clapped hands,
No feet-taps or the dog Fritz’s

Barks, no creaking boards. I can’t smell
The frowsty, beery, tented air.
The Doc’s playing but who can tell
Now what song?
I see but can’t hear.

All these chaps are gone: weeks later,
Lost in action, Charlie died out there,
His final resting place unknown;
My dad in Derbyshire, last year.

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Owen Hooker

Owen-Hooker

Here’s a photograph of Owen Hooker taken by my father in 1943 or 1944, at Idku. Owen is holding Fritz, the 46 Squadron mascot.

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Clobbered

ejhalls:

A mention of Squadron Leader Owen Hooker in this blog about Flt Lt James Evans Jenkins

Originally posted on Flt Lt James Evans Jenkins:

Clobbered was a word Dad used often, usually referring to some rugby match where the team he didn’t support lost. But during June 1943, we find clobbered has a much darker meaning – because another squadron clobbered an enemy aircraft and a New Zealand pilot was injured. I initially thought this pilot had died but some research proves otherwise.

June 1943 was Dad’s third month with the 127 Squadron, having joined on April 7, and we find him buzzing around in a Hurricane IIB, as the sole pilot. Logbook entries for June 1-16, 1943 show him undertaking more convoy patrols. I have to admit I don’t know what these convoys were all about but I guess they were Allied ships coming to the North African theatre of war with fresh troops and supplies. And so the 127 Squadron was providing air defense and I think night defence of Egypt. I…

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