28th and 29th October 1943 – Timbaki


The morning after the fright with the 15 JU88s, Dad took the Ford van with ‘about a dozen chaps’ on board into Cyrene for a swim in sea, which was warm even though the sky was partly overcast.The road from camp at Lakatamia wound steeply over spectacular hills and required good driving skills. They got caught in a few rain showers on the way back, but everyone enjoyed the views and the trip out.


Dad was sharing a tent with Arthur Horsfall, a Canadian pilot about the same age, who was keeping his own diary notes. Arthur had also enjoyed the swimming outing, and names this Castle St Hilarion, commenting: “Some drive! Some Castle!”


In the evening, Dad set off again with the crowd for some night-life of Nicosia, finishing up at The Empire. Here, he found a little kitten shivering in a stairwell, so brought it back in his jacket into camp, where it spent the night at the foot of the camp bed. Arthur had stayed behind and gone to bed early, but Arthur’s own diary entry for that day mentions the arrival of the kitten! When Dad woke up on the next morning, Friday 29th October, the kitten was nestled next to his left ear, and Dad stayed in the tent writing up his ‘reserve’ log book, to help settle it in. He named it ‘Timbaki’, after a popular night-club singer from The Empire.

On days like these it must have seemed that the war must be a dream. But who knew what the next day would bring?

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27 October – 72 years ago

46 Squadron, Beaufighters, Idku, North Africa, October 27th 1943. My father had a rather busy day. I love the laconic entry of the first paragraph. If that had happened at the start of my day I think only three pages would suffice!

One of 252 Sqdn’s Beaufighters crashed on take off early this morning, about 200 yards from our tent, ammo going off for approx. 1 hour. Both got out OK.

Briefed at 2.30 pm for Naval escort to 1 cruiser and 3 destroyers off Castelrosso, which turned out to be quite exciting.

Four of us – F/Lt Dudley Arundel, F/O Arthur Horsfall, W/O Boswell and self – airborne at 16.15, me leading the second section with Boswell as my No 2. Found convoy OK, but at 18.00 hrs we were vectored by the cruiser for a ‘bunch’ of hostiles approaching from the west, and at 12000’ we climbed to 13000’ then we saw 15 (!!) JU88s in very close formation, heading towards us. We peeled off and attacked from the beam. Heavy return fire was observed. I only managed to get in one attack, before they all turned and headed for home at full throttle. F/Lt Arundel damaged 2, Arthur damaged one. I must have hit something, but didn’t claim anything. Returned to convoy to find a hostile dropped flares, but he buzzed off.

He also wrote about the incident later. This is how it appears in his memoirs, ‘Flying Blind’, which is published by Fonthill Media (2014) and also available on Amazon:

That same afternoon we were briefed at 1400 hrs for last light cover naval escort of a cruiser and three destroyers around Castelrosso Island, heading for the Turkish coast. Four of us in the flight, Dudley Arundel (leading), Art Horsfall, Boswell and myself, plus RO’s, were airborne at 16.14. I was leading the second section with Boswell as my number two. We found the convoy easily despite the bad weather, but as dusk fell, at 1800 hours, the cruiser in RT touch with us vectored us to a bunch of hostiles approaching from the West at 12,000 feet. Arundel immediately ordered the planes to fly at 13,000 feet. The bunch of hostiles came into view and, to our astonishment, we saw fifteen Ju 88’s in a very tight V-shaped formation heading directly to attack the convoy, a frightening sight. The four of us peeled off and attacked them from the beam and from behind. There was heavy return fire but all four Beaus fired their four cannons and six machine guns, causing such havoc among the enemy that they scattered and fled for home at full throttle the way they had come. Flt Lt Arundel and Arthur, the front pair in the attack, claimed aircraft damaged: Arundel two, Horsfall one. In the second wave I thought I may have damaged one, but owing to the confused state of the encounter I didn’t claim anything later. The light was very poor with lots of cloud about and I couldn’t be definite about it. We could not get close enough to follow up and split the formation: our Beau’s were too slow. However, we all felt satisfied that we had driven off a potentially dangerous group of bandits. The return fire from the Ju 88s had been heavy, and it inflicted some damage to two of our Beaufighters. WO Boswell had to return to base on one engine. In fact, it turned out that he had been particularly lucky: one bullet passed through the Perspex only one inch from his head. I was lucky not to be hit, but as far as I was concerned, it was the first time I had been fired at by the enemy, and it was quite an experience. We returned to the convoy to find a hostile dropping flares, but he saw us coming and buzzed off


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Dear Chattie

Dear ChattieChattieSpitConingsby

I just want to say how wonderful it has been travelling with you on our 7,000-mile journey. 3,181 miles of that trip have been just you and me together, and on the back of the Mercedes Sprinter you have enjoyed at least another 4,000 miles of scenery. You have been on 60 airfields, stayed with friends, made new friends, including two Battle of Britain pilots who loved you at first sight, travelled in convoy with other Singers (including many Le Mans); you have been photographed like a celebrity, and waved and tooted at by children on the streets and cars on the road (remember that grey Ferrari on the way down from Scotland?); and you have have constantly brought close to mind my lovely Dad, as if had been sitting next to me and enjoying the ride with us both. Sometimes, once or twice, it seemed we were both driving you together.

You have been an absolute joy to drive. I confess that, at the beginning, there was a time when I thought we would not get on, and the whole thing would be a difficult and rather gruelling challenge, simply from the driving point of view. How wrong I was! Once Pin had shown me how your crash gear box worked, and he and Ground Control had taught me on the road, it all fell into place, and now one of my greatest pleasures is slipping into my seat behind the wheel, starting you up with that ‘whoomp’ of the engine, and taking you out on the road, double-dee-clutching like nobody’s business and loving those moments when, coming down from fourth to third, that little ‘vroom!’ in momentary neutral clicks your gears down smoothly to take us round the bends.

We have had our moments! As when, coming back through the Welsh mountains, I came all the way down the steep pass without understanding you needed me to hold your gear stick physically in gear down the hills – a hairy moment or two, there! But you never failed me. Well, only once, and the starter-motor cable was such a minor matter, and we managed it to the garage using a piece of string. Hardly worth mentioning. The flat tyre doesn’t count, as that could have happened to anyone.

You have been a delightful faithful companion on the road –  and a complete revelation to me. Chattie, what happens now? Ah, that is the question…


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Flying Blind: RAF Valley 1941

They come in threes, here, the stark boundaries.
The rim of airfield’s ringed around with dunes;
To West and North the ever-waiting seas;
South, three thousand feet of wall, the mountains.

Tripartite runways trangulate all these
Amidst the flat, safe grass. By day, the sun’s
Light spills and shows the haven, Anglesey’s
Low arms of land spread wide in welcome, home.

But you were flying blind. At night you crossed
The air without a moon too many times
To count. Three times your boundaries were lost
In landing where there were no landing lines;

Three times survived. ‘Not yet,’ but how nearly
You turned this plain into death’s dark valley.

© Elizabeth Halls 2015

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Battle of Britain Hymn 1943

In 1943, the Dean of Liverpool, Frank Fletcher, wrote a hymn for the forthcoming commemorative service in celebration of the Battle of Britain, to the tune ‘Darwall’s 148th’ (often used for ‘Ye Holy Angels Bright’):

O Thou that hearest prayer
Our brothers shield and guide,
Who through the spacious air
On high adventure ride,
To watch or fight
Near and afar
On wings of war
For truth and right.

Give skill of hand and eye
And quick discerning mind
Through lonely wastes of sky
Uncharted ways to find,
Nor faint or fail
Nor evil fear,
But know thee near
Whate’er assail.

And as that hero band,
The young, the few, the brave,
To shield our menaced land
Their eager manhood gave,
Nor turned aside
From danger’s call,
But for us all they dared and died.

So unto us to-day
Thy strength and aid impart,
Our country’s call to obey
With brave unfaltering heart,
Till war shall cease
And victors come
Rejoicing home
On wings of peace.

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Remembering the Battle of Britain – or not?

Today is Battle of Britain remembrance day: 15th September; but when was it first celebrated as such?

As early as 1942, there were official discussions as how – and whether – this tremendous achievement of the war should be officially remembered. Already the Battle of Britain was considered to be of huge importance to morale, and the courage and sacrifice of the young men who fought in the battle was already legendary, but opinion was divided as to how it should be treated.

In the summer of 1942, Captain Bruce Ingram, OBE, MC, of the Illustrated London News, offered to present a scroll of all those who participated in the Battle to Westminster Abbey, but this was fraught with administrative difficulties. ‘It is not only a matter of looking up names in records;’ wrote The Secretary of State of Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair, ‘We should have to ascertain what pilots from distant Squadrons were detached to take part in the battle and even what pilots in units concerned actually took part in the fighting. Some may have been sick, others for various reasons beyond their control may not have taken part in the actual fighting. Moreover, the labour of compilation, quite apart from the difficulties of deciding where in fairness the line is to be drawn, would be immense and would take time which at the moment can ill be spared from the conduct of war.”

In the same year, a member of the Air Council, entitled ‘Discipline, Morale and Leadership’, proposed a massive celebration in a paper entitled ‘Discipline, Morale and Leadership’ :

“The immediate object of this paper is to call attention to an opportunity of stimulating pride of service and so improving discipline and moral in the Royal Air Force. The means suggested of doing so would, it is believed, have a far reaching effect on the status of the Service after the war.”  (The writer is denoted by the initials ‘A.M.P’. If anyone can shed light on who this might be, please let me know.)

The Battle of Britain, he claims,

“is being compared in importance to Waterloo and Trafalgar; and has above them the unique value of being the first decisive battle fought in the air. It can be compared with the Armada in that it defeated the invasion of this country by an enemy which would have put an end to its existence. There is perhaps no event in history which equalled it in reviving the spirits of those throughout the whole world who until then believed that the hope of freedom was about to be finally extinguished since England was certain to be conquered.”

However, others questioned the sense of certainty about the Battle’s status in the war as a whole. “When history came to be written, battles would be seen in their true perspective, and it might well be that another day would stand out even more predominently in the history of the RAF than September 15th 1940.”

Even more forcefully W R Freeman, Vice-Chief of Air Staff wrote on 14th July 1942, ” The historical precedents for self-congratulatory celebrations in the middle of a war are not very happy. Belshazzar held a banquet whilst the enemy were outside his gates; he lost his throne the same night.” He continues, “The so-called Battle of Britain consisted of a series of successful defensive operations by Fighter Command. It is true that the R.A.F then saved this country from defeat, but in my view it is a misuse of words to refer to ‘our victory’ or ‘our deliverance’. Victories are only won by offensive action; and deliverance must be permanent to give much cause of junketing.'”

R H Melville, Private Secretary to the Secretary of State, concurred:  “I must say that I personally should feel that it was inviting Nemesis if we were to celebrate our deliverance while the war is still on…”

Freeman also complained, ‘If we once start commemorating individual successes in the war, where are we going to top?…I contemplate with dismay a future in which the active prosecution of the war is almost crowded out by prayers, thanksgivings and parades.”

The question arose again the following year, and notes of a meeting on 25th June 1943 quote “A.M.P” again as saying: “…our aim should be to consolidate in history a place for the Battle of Britain, the first great victory of the war…and the mot decisive.  There was a widespread demand, both inside the Service and outside, for the commemoration of that victory.’ The example was given that signals had been received from Air headquarters, India, asking not whether celebrations of the event would take place but what form they would take. “Last year,” the note continues, “Our omission to give official recognition to the celebrations…had led to adverse press criticism.”

Nevertheless, a purely RAF ‘Battle of Britain’ day on 15th was ruled out, and it was deemed an appropriate celebration for the Service ‘if on that one day the flag were hoisted and parades were held’ at Royal Air Force stations and the Air Training Corps. The commemoration of the Battle in 1943 was therefore incorporated into what had already been designated ‘Civil Defence Day’, and which was now to be designated as a national ‘Day of Thanksgiving’. This took place with a service on the morning of Sunday 26th September, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, with a parade in the afternoon outside Buckingham Palace at which the King would take the salute. A special hymn was written for the occasion.  The same year the Eastern Chapel in the Henry VII Chapel of Westminster Abbey was designated as a memorial to the Battle of Britain: a private rather than a public tribute, financed by funds from a public appeal.

A similar remembrance service took place in 1944, but again, on a nearby Sunday, not 15th September itself.

MossiePaintingBBwebNot until after VJ Day in August 1945 was it possible to hold the full-scale celebration of all that the Battle of Britain meant to the nation. That is why, on 15th September 1945, my father, bursting with pride, took part in the very first Battle of Britain Remembrance Day flypast over London, in his Mosquito ZK-F for 25 Squadron, with 300 other aircraft let by Douglas Bader in a Spitfire. Today, as I see the greatest memorial flypast of recent decades, I will think of him, and wish he was here.

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For Dad. Now it’s all over

It’s the morning after the 60 airfields before, and before I continue with other posts, filling in the many, many gaps I’ve missed over the last six months, I want to dedicate one post to Dad himself, because although this was all about the RAF, the wartime bravery and sacrifices, and all about the RAF Benevolent Fund and saying ‘Thank you’ for their care for Dad in his last few years, this is actually all about him, the best of dads. Dad, we did it together: thanks for the memories! And for everyone else, please excuse the indulgence. I’m feeling a bit sentimental today.


065DADAN151DADLI095DADASDad1Dad Mum Castle

DadGraysParcel Dad60th2


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Adventures on the road



Chattie had to tackle Lincolnshire and Yorkshire on her own without the Sprinter. We did a splendid 619 miles. The weather was wonderful. It was ALL wonderful. Ah. Except for a few little hiccups on the way. We travelled the first 170 miles to Steve and Heather Hardwick’s house near Lincoln. Then Chattie refused point blank to start when I tried to put her in the garage. She was as relaxed about it as the cat, but something needed to be done.

A piece of string connected to the starter motor lever and a quick trip to MG Raw’s excellent garage, where they fixed the problem for no charge – may they prosper! – enabled me to make the three fantastic visits to RAF Scampton, Coningsby and Digby.


Yorkshire2webThen to Yorkshire, where on returning from seeing Ack Greenwood’s grave with friend Roger Gill, we spotted a flat tyre.

No problem, there was a Kwik Fit garage nearby. We pumped in enough air to get her there; but this was a fast puncture and she wasn’t going to get me to Church Fenton or my evening accommodation. The wheel had to be changed, and I had no jack. “We can’t touch it” was Kwik Fit’s response. I explained that the wheel spinners could be knocked off and I had the correct copper hammer in the car, but didn’t have a jack. “We can’t do it,” was the response, “We don’t know the correct torque setting, and can’t let you go without that because the wheel might come off.”

“My understanding,” I said, “Is that the spinners tighten themselves as the car moves forward, though I haven’t done it myself.”

“Yes, but you don’t know the torque setting so we can’t touch it,” was the response

“Would you just jack it up for us so my friend here can do it?”

Again, the torque argument came again and Kwik Fit felt they would be responsible if the wheel fell off. I asked if there was perhaps an older KwikFitter who might have had some experience with wheel spinners in the past, but the present KwikFitter took it as a personal insult to his expertise and ability; which is not what I had meant at all.  In the end, he did put some air in the tyre for me so that Chattie could limp further down the road into the shade of a tree while I called out my excellent breakdown service. While we were waiting, a gentleman came out of the house behind us, offered help, gave us a cup of tea, gave a donation to the RAF BEnevolent Fund. He had served in the RAF many years ago. How nice that was.

Yorkshire1Then the breakdown van came. Callam, pictured here, was the absolute opposite of Kwik-Fitness, and said, ‘Wow! What a lovely car! I’ve never done one of these, but it’s great to have the chance.’ I offered the copper hammer, but he was already reaching for a rubber hammer in the van, and had the wheel off in no time. Turned out he had two family members in the RAF, and he also donated to the RAF Benevolent Fund before he went. (He didn’t bother about any mythical torque problem, being younger and wiser than the Kwik Fit man.) May his career prosper!


Yorkshir5wdb Yorkshire4webSo, saying goodbye to Roger, I set out under a brilliant blue sky for Church Fenton, and thence to Jennifer and Ian’s house for the night. Jennifer is Deryk Hollinrake’s Goddaughter (Dad’s Radar Operator during the war), so I guess that makes us Godsisters. Half way there, the sky blackened and soon I was in the middle of a raging – and I mean raging – thunderstorm; lightning flashes like strobe lighting, and monstrous rain slapping and bouncing off everything; the air thick with it.  Like almost every other car on the road, I got off it as quickly as I could, taking refuge with the crowd in the doorway of the Sweet Basil restaurant at a service station (though I think I was wetter than most!). Would they serve anyone coffee while we waited out the storm? No. Though there were tables aplenty, though the conditions outside were freakishly impossible and continued so for about an hour, they would only serve those eating a meal. Thumbs down, Sweet Basil.

Yorkshire3webI only had about 20 minutes’ driving to go. I set out in a break in the rain, only for it to pound down again. My all-weather clothing didn’t cope with this and soon I was drenched. A little basin of water sat in my lap where I had draped a plastic cloth. Remembering my lovely ‘Aunt’ Monica, who was daunted by nothing the weather could possibly do, I sang my way there, working my way through rain songs and laughing at the sheer scale of the drenching. I was a drowned rat when I arrived. Jennifer set a bath running straight away and lit the bathroom with scented candles: what a fantastic greeting! It was just lovely to stay with her and Ian, and talk about our two Dad’s and their wartime friendship. The sun smiled on us: metaphorically speaking, for our evening together over a LOVELY meal; and literally in the morning.


Every airfield has its surprise, and so had the journey down to my mother’s house in Ilkeston. I set the SATNAV to avoid motorways. What a pleasant trip that was! Down country roads, old long Roman roads almost empty of traffic, through towns and villages, while occasionally I could see the motorway running parallel to my left or right, chock-a-block with cars. Negotiating Doncaster was a doddle. Along the way I had the sense of the country and its life: what was farmed in the fields, the type of villages, the different stone, the variation between rustic or industrial, the old mining towns and villages. On the motorway I would have had the monotony of that plain tarmac ribbon cut off from the world. I don’t know if I’ll ever travel that horrible stretch of M1 again after this.

BestwoodwebBut the greatest surprise was when I suddenly and completely unexpectedly found myself in Bestwood Village, and there was ‘School Lane’ and the primary school where my father was headmaster for many years before he retired. I hadn’t seen it since the 1970s. A man walking a dog was kind enough to take the picture, and for my mother and me both, this last adventure of the road brought a tear to our eyes.

Back home. Chattie, you are full of gifts and surprises. We did it, girl, and what a great journey!


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Airports and Stations – Liverpool, Lancs and Cumbria coming up!

This week’s tour of four airfields, starting tomorrow, 7th August, includes two modern, active airports and an airshow. Two of the four where my father’s serving stations in 1941-42:

Friday 7th: Liverpool John Lennon Aiport and the Crowne Plaza Liverpool – John Lennon Airport Hotel

Saturday 8th: RAF Woodvale, where my father was stationed as a night-fighter pilot from June to December 1942

Sunday 9th: RAF Silloth in Cumbria, where my father landed in January 1942 in a Boulton Paul Defiant.

Monday 10th: Blackpool Air Show – Chattie will be on display on the famous Promenade, overlooking the beach where, according to a report from the man who was in the gun turret at the time, my father in his Boulton Paul Defiant ‘hedge-hopped the piers’ below the height of the Woolworth’s clock!

Tuesday 11th Blackpool Airport (ex-RAF Squires Gate), where Dad was stationed from November 1941 to June 1952 – in the company of aviation historians Russell Brown and Joe Bamford (both extremely knowledgeable about 256 Squadron and RAF Squires Gate), and Graham Berry, who is 2nd cousin to WWII ace Joseph Berry DFC**, my father’s close friend in both 256 and 153 Squadrons.

It promises to be packed with memorable experiences.  See SCHEDULE for timings.


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RAF Lossiemouth

My overwhelming impression here is a sense of direct connection with the fighting spirit of the past in a modern world still sadly filled with uncertainty and threat. Having close-up tours of the Typhoon and Tornado brought to the fore that unbroken link of innovation and development which means that, surprisingly, I can now see as many of the similarities as differences between these fast jet fighters and the Spitfires, Hurricanes, Beaufighters, Defiants, Typhoons and Tempests of seven

Sgt Stuart Smylie, presenting me with a print of the Typhoon behind me, signed by crew of II (AC) Squadron.

Sgt Stuart Smylie, presenting me with a print of the Typhoon behind me, signed by crew of II (AC) Squadron.

decades ago. At first, it seemed to me that all had changed and the old planes were unrecogniseable in the new, but beside the computer screen displays in the Typhoons, you open a tiny flap to discover three small instruments dials, by which the pilot can bring the plane home if the computer system should fail. The glass screen that displays green-lit information between the pilot and the bubble of the cockpit canopy are showing him the old instrument information in a different visual format, generated by computer, but still the same information, albeit with loads of other stuff available at whim.

My father wrote a long description (in Flying Blind: The Story of a Second World War Night Figher Pilot, Fonthill Media) of chasing a Heinkel bomber across the English Channel, with his Radar Operator, Deryk Hollinrake, struggling to keep its ‘blip’ on his small radar scanner; and the desperation to get a visual on the aircraft, as this was the only means of shooting it down. The old Mark I Eyball, as they say. Today, suffice it to say, it’s very different indeed. As the amazing technology was explained to me (a little), I kept thinking, ‘What would Dad have said to all this?’


Controls, Beaufighter 1943


Controls Typhoon 2015

One thing has not changed in all the years: the RAF family here – and elsewhere – has made me feel I belong, even though I know that belonging is because of my dear father, because of those years he served in the 1940s, and for whom it really was a family in more than just name.


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