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



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.


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

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!



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Thetford engineering, all-weather hoods and questions

Today Ground Control and I drove Chattie, on the back of the Sprinter, to Thetford Engineering, where Crispin Thetford will be working on the car to get her into sound order for my tour next year.  My mileage is estimated to be somewhere in the region of 6,700 miles in the 7 months from April to September next year.  We don’t know whether Chattie will be baking in tremendous summer heat or drenched in wet summer conditions – and Chattie means me, too.  After talking to Crispin (Pin), he told me that his mother always drove her vintage Alvis without an all-weather hood; took it out daily and managed to stay dry with the right clothing. We have debated the all-weather-hood issue long and hard, and have talked to other Singer and vintage car owners about it.  At pre-war Prescott someone kindly demonstrated their own hood to me.  The knowledge of the right actions and the skill required to get it put up and down look similar in difficulty to playing the violin, or solving the rubics cube – at least that’s the impression I got.  Once up, the view is obscured, as the windscreen for the Singer is very low and the dark hood comes right down over ones normal field of vision when sitting upright in the seat.  They are not entirely waterproof, either.  Pin said the water often comes down on the inside of the windscreen and drips nicely down the dashboard onto your knees.  So all in all, Ground Control and I are leaning towards keeping the car open, while I wrap up seriously well in industrial-quality waterproofs – watch this space!  I have had a very helpful discussion with Liz Heyer, who commented on my Airfields page. She has just completed a 2,000 mile jaunt in her Singer Le Mans, also hoodless, I think – though she may correct me on that. Liz – I need to ask you how you keep dry!

Other aspects of the car to be looked at are the head gasket and its long-standing problems, the brakes (currently non-existent), and the engine cooling system, which currently wouldn’t stand up to crawling along in traffic. Pin told me that today’s petrol heats the engine more than was the case in the1930s, and of course traffic conditions were very different then.  A electric-powered system to keep the engine cool can be installed for my own driving, but this can be easily reversed in future in order to return the engine to a condition nearer to an original if required.  Pin thought the Singer Le Mans cars were a cut above the rest when they came out. Chattie was probably considered fast and racy compared to many of her contemporaries.  She still turns heads today. No wonder Dad loved his own green Singer Le Mans so much.

We’re looking forward very much to Pin’s initial assessment of the car.


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Flying Blind publication

FlyingBlindCoverFrontThe book of my father’s memoirs, ‘Flying Blind: the Story of a Night-Fighter Pilot’, is now at the press and is likely to be available from mid-October.

The book is published by Fonthill Media.

Watch this space!

Or if you would like to subscribe to my email newsletter ‘Flying Blind’ to keep up to date with developments on the book, its publication and feedback afterwards, just complete the following form. I only send newsletters from time to time when there is something to impart, and you can unsubscribe easily at any time using the link at the bottom of each edition.

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£200.00 in donations

I have now collected a total of just over £200.00 through the Where They Served project, some of which has gone to the RAF Charitable Trust as part of the Pre-War Prescott ticket donations, but the majority of course is for the RAF Benevolent Fund. My thanks to all those who have donated so generously so far.

It may seem as if things have gone quiet at the moment, but in fact it is all very busy behind the scenes. The airfields tour proper is scheduled to start in April 2015, and currently Ground Control and I are working on the itinerary, which is quite a big job.  On the vehicle side, Thetford Engineering have booked Chattie into their vintage car workshop for a complete assessment and overhaul, which will happen, hopefully, at the end of September, and work on the car will I suspect be continuing throughout the Autumn months, as we also have to try and fit her with an all-weather hood.  I am also working on raising sponsorship for next year.  If you can help with this, or are interested in sponsoring Where They Served for the national tour next year, please get in touch.


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Serving in the beer tent


It just shows how careful one has to be with photographs.  Here’s Where They Served – right in front of the beer tent!


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