Monthly Archives: September 2015

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…

9 Comments

Filed under Aviation history, motoring, RAF history

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Airfields, Poetry, Second World War

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Aviation history, Battle of Britain, Second World War

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.

DadSchoolboywebDadbrothersbikeWebDadCricketBoywebDadCricket1940BJW_wings_closeup_FB034DadgunwebDadChessWebDadCarWebDadPicnic

065DADAN151DADLI095DADASDad1Dad Mum Castle

DadGraysParcel Dad60th2

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized