April 28, 2015
In 1943, night-fighter pilot, Bryan Wild, collected a brand-new Bristol Beaufighter plane V.8633 from the Filton Works, Bristol, ready for a trip to North Africa.
Now, more than 70 years on, his daughter Elizabeth Halls is in the county, and has been visiting the old works as part of a personal nationwide tour to honour her father’s military career.
The Filton site is earmarked for the new Bristol Aerospace Centre, and Elizabeth, a heritage consultant and counsellor, from Herefordshire, met the Trustees of the Bristol Aero Collection to learn about the region’s rich aviation history and its plans for continued world-class developments in aerospace.
Filton is one of the first stops of her journey which takes her from Cornwall to Scotland between now and September, in a 1935 Singer Le Mans Nine Special sports car, almost identical to one her father had back then.
She is no stranger to the county having worked as the Director of Berkeley Castle between 2001 and 2004, during which time she carried out a complete review of Castle operations leading to an infrastructure upgrade, a doubling of visitor numbers and a ten-year archaeological project by the University of Bristol.
After Filton, she will be visiting the old RAF sites at Hullavington, Colerne, Lyneham (previously the home of the RAF’s Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft), North Stoke (now Bath Racecourse), Whitchurch (now a sports centre, surrounded by housing) and Lulsgate Bottom (now Bristol Airport), before heading back home to Stansbatch in Herefordshire on Thursday.
Hullavington housed the Central Flying School for instructors during World War II, and is now the 621 Volunteer Gliding Squadron and Army Barracks. Here, she will meet Sq Ldr Officer Commanding Dave Woolcock MBE.
At Colerne, where the old runways and control tower are still standing, she hopes that her host, Sqn Ldr Barry Ervine, Officer Commanding Bristol University Air Squadron, will join her for a ride in her beloved car.
Bryan Wild was at old RAF Lulsgate Bottom in 1944 on a training course, teaching pilots flying single-engine aircraft how to convert to the heavier Beaufighters. Here Elizabeth will meet PR & Comms Manager, Jackie Mills.
Finally, a visit to the county would not be complete without calling in to Berkeley Castle, before making the journey back home.
After her father’s death in 2012, Elizabeth compiled and published her father’s memoirs with the help of aviation historian, Joe Bamford.
‘Flying Blind: The Story of a Second World War Night Fighter Pilot’ (Fonthill Media), features many tales of Bryan Wild’s memories of his time in Bristol, and Elizabeth is extremely passionate about the area and its history herself, so Bristol was a must on her busy schedule!
She says: “Dad flew 13 types of aircraft during his career, but he loved the Beaufighter (a twin-engined heavy fighter plane), above all others, applauding its versatility and sturdiness and describing it as “a bulldog straining to be let off the leash.”
Bristol was a major centre for the development of British aircraft of course, and Sir George White founded the Bristol Aeroplane Company in 1910. The Bristol Fighter was the staple of the First World War, and the Bristol Blenheim was the first British aircraft to fly on a reconnaissance mission.
Dad’s memoirs tell the tale of being stuck at RAF Lyneham in bad weather in January 1943, and trying, unsuccessfully, to fly to Portreath in Cornwall, before deliberately diverting to Hullavington where he knew the food was good, the quarters were cosy, and breakfast was something of a grand affair!
It is wonderful to be visiting all the places he knew so well, after all this time.”
The ‘Where They Served’ Tour coincides with the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and is sponsored by Brightwells Auctioneers and Thetford Motor Engineering. It will also raise money for the RAF Benevolent Fund, to whom Elizabeth’s family is grateful for the help they gave Bryan Wild, during the last years of his life when he contracted Parkinson’s disease.
Elizabeth’s car, ‘Chattie’ is similar to one her father owned in 1944. Its number plate; CHU 944 recalls the year Bryan bought his own two-seater, and his favourite wartime song, The Chattanooga Choo Choo.
Through the tour, Elizabeth plans to share her father’s experiences of night flying, the intensity of wartime action and the devastating loss of friends in combat along the way.
Above all, she is keen to tell the stories associated with some of the airfields and those who served there, and demonstrate the unique sense of connection which existed then, and still exists now, between small communities and the airfields they ‘hosted’ during the war.
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Bristol Beaufighter – Bryan Wild collected his brand-new Bristol Beaufighter, number V.8633, from the Filton works in Bristol on 8th January 1943. He did a five-hour petrol consumption test on 16th January 1943 to Blackpool and beyond, which showed it did 2.44 air miles to the gallon, had a range of 1488 miles and an endurance of 7 hours 36 minutes: highly satisfactory.
Bristol Aerospace Centre – designed to:
- showcase and celebrate the region’s continued world-class achievements in aerospace,
- promote the uptake amongst young people of science, technology, engineering and mathematics
- inspire the next generation of designers, innovators and engineers
- conserve the region’s rich aviation heritage, including Concorde, and help people learn about and participate in this heritage.
‘Flying Blind – The Story of a Second World War Night Fighter Pilot’ was initiated and encouraged throughout by aviation historian Joe Bamford. It is available to buy directly from the publisher Fonthill Media or on Amazon and Kindle. www.flyingblindnightfighter.com
Fonthill Media is an independent publishing company with offices in Oxford UK, and Charleston SC USA. Its catalogue includes over 250 titles covering a variety of subjects including Archaeology and Ancient History, Aviation, Biography, Local History and Heritage, Military and General History, Sport, Transport and Industrial History. www.fonthillmedia.com
The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund is the RAF’s leading welfare charity, providing financial, practical and emotional support to all members of the RAF family. It serves former members of the RAF, as well as their partners and dependents, whenever they are in need. It helps members of the RAF deal with a wide range of issues; from childcare and relationship difficulties to injury and disability, and from financial hardship and debt to illness and bereavement. www.rafbf.org