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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Book recommendation: Six Weeks of Blenheim Summer

Six Weeks of Blenheim Summer by Alastair Panton and Victoria Panton Bacon,  is a memoir written by a second world war pilot which has been compiled and edited by his granddaughter. The account was written down by Alastair Panton for his son originally, and it is thanks to Victoria Panton Bacon, who found the manuscript after her father died, that it has been brought to publication. As she says, ‘If I hadn’t discovered the transcript of Blenheim Summer in my father’s dusty garage it might never have come to light.’

Alastair Panton’s writing is clean and elegant; he is a good writer, which is perhaps most clearly demonstrated in the accompanying short stories, based on his own experiences of POW camp and escape attempts. His style is spare but full of humanity and telling detail, wry humour and a sense of immediacy. His appraisal of his own abilities and actions is both honest and modest, and he has the ability to take the reader into that brief world of French summer before the Germans broke that fragile idyll apart. He depicts the French countryside and its people and their sometimes difficult responses to both British presence and German invasion, as well as the warmth and courage of those who put their lives and safety on the line to help the British who were caught up in the action.

This is a good read, and difficult to put down.

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Meeting with the RAF Benevolent Fund

I will be meeting the regional fundraiser for Wales and the West of England, Cerys Sadler, together with Simon Foster from ‘HQ’ on 9th December to go through all aspects of my tour and the schedule.  I’ve spoken with the helpful Cerys (lovely Welsh accent, Cerys!) many times on the phone, and am looking forward to meeting her in person. I already met Simon at RIAT last year.

If any of you are thinking of joining me, or undertaking fundraising in connection with Where They Served and would like any help with that, perhaps you could let me know before that date.

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Defying the Laws of Gravity

1940

1940

The first chapter of ‘Flying Blind’ follows Bryan Wild’s progress in his flying training from first joining up in the summer of 1940:

‘I was young but very keen,’ he writes. ‘…the Corporal had to bully me to hold my  breath long enough to hold up the mercury in the tube.  I was tallish, rather pale, and on the thin side.  To my utter delight, the man whose job it was to gauge my fitness shook hands with me and wished me luck.  I was in.’

He learned to fly on Tiger Moths.

‘Sgt. Allan glanced at his watch. “Right. It’s now one-thirty.” He patted me on the shoulder. “You’re the first off. Be here at two and park yourself in the rear cockpit. I have to say it: don’t forget your chute. We’ll be in the air for approximately thirty minutes – in this kite, BB795. OK?” I nodded and was immediately aware that my mouth had suddenly dried up. The sky was now clear apart from a few clouds; a cold but pleasant autumn day. I noticed a skylark and gulped as I realised that in a short while I too would be airborne and defying the laws of gravity.”

By the end of that flight, he wrote, ‘I could hardly wait for the following day to arrive; a sure sign that I had most likely become hooked on flying.’ 

A good job, as he would spend around one thousand nine hundred hours in the air over the next six years.

Buy the book direct from Fonthill Media or via major online bookstores.

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Remembrance for lost RAF friends

On my tour, I will be making special additional visits to pay my respects for some of Dad’s wartime friends who died.

On this week of remembrance, I would like to list them (in no particular order):

Stanley Wheatley ‘Ack’ Greenwood 
Killed during a training exercise off Lytham St Annes in February 1942. He is buried at Hessle Cemetery, Hull.

JimmyWardChair_extract

Jimmy Ward in 1941

Flight Lieutenant James ‘Jimmy’ Ward
Died in a flying accident in a Gloster Meteor for the RAF in 1952. His remains are interred at Landican Cemetery, Birkenhead.

Squadron Leader Joe Berry DFC**

Joe Berry, courtesy of Graham Berry 2014

Joe Berry, courtesy of Graham Berry 2014

Killed in October 1944, shot down in Holland by small-arms fire. Joe is buried in Holland, but Eden Camp Museum in Yorkshire has an exhibition featuring him, and the V1 bombers he combatted: Joe Berry had the highest number of successes in shooting them down.

Pilot Officer Kurt Kenneth Keston Pelmore
Killed with his Wellington bomber crew on a mission to Dusseldorf on 27 December 1941. Keston founded the Bentley Owners Club, and I will be visiting their museum near Banbury.

And finally:
Sergeant Pilot Tommy Hunter, who died on returning from an intruder operation over the continent in September 1941. His plane, a Whirlwind fighter, ditched in the sea and no trace of him was ever found. He has no grave, but is commemorated at the Monk Hesleden (Blackhall Colliery) cemetery in County Durham. I will also visit Predannack, from where took off on his final mission. A moving memorial at Predannack has these words, so very apt for Dad’s friend Tommy Hunter:

Tommy Hunter 1941

Tommy Hunter
1941

This memorial honours all ranks and nationalities
that served here during World War II.

 While casting your eyes on this memorial
spare a thought for those who flew from here
and failed to return, many have no known grave.

“Like a breath of wind, gone in a fleeting second,
only the memories now remain.”

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We have a schedule!

The schedule for the Where They Served tour, April to September 2015 is now out.  See it on my SCHEDULE page. Dates will change, as various airfield venues are consulted and the RAF Benevolent Fund and the various RAF stations have all had their say – but the shape of it should work. It includes 6 airshows and 13 currently-serving RAF Stations or training facilities. I have also added some stops which are not on Dad’s list of airfields, but they are perhaps some of the most important, as they are there to pay tribute to some of his closest friends who did not live to see the end of the war.

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All-weather wear

Elizabeth is modelling Ground Control’s proposed solution to wet-weather driving without a hood: a World War I (we think) dispatch rider’s coat, which belonged to GC’s late brother, who probably bought it at a classic car auction somewhere in the dim and distant past. It’s so stiff and heavy it virtually stands up on its own.  It smells of old canvas.  The sleeves come almost to her knees. Elizabeth refuses to wear it for driving, and thanks Liz Heyer for her excellent alternative suggestions!

sartorial-horror

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