Category Archives: Aviation history

Filton – pinning the butterfly?

I am struggling to start writing about my visit to the old RAF Filton. In January 1943, my father picked up a brand-new Bristol Beaufighter from the factory here and flew it to Africa. My guide in April 2015 was Oliver Deardon, a Trustee of the Bristol Aero Collection, and I was touched by his courteous, comprehensive and thoughtful tour of this complex site, personalising it specially for me along the way. “Your father’s Beaufighter,” he said, “Would have come out of the building at the top of the site up there, and been brought down that hill; the street is wide enough, as you can see, to accommodate the aircrafts’ wings. And then it would have gone across the railway tracks, the only instance of a level crossing for aircraft use. That would bring it down here where your father would have received it and finally taken it onto the runway here and taken it way with him.”

In his memoirs, my father wrote: ‘On 7th January, along with ten other crews including Joe Berry and Ian Watson, Ralph and I went by coach to Filton near Bristol to collect a brand new Beaufighter from the factory: no. V8633. It was like taking my old car to a car dealer and then part-exchanging it for a brand new one. I felt sheer delight in flying the plane back to Lyneham. However, the bad weather didn’t allow us to carry out the consumption test on it until January 13th: an all-round trip around the coast from Cornwall to Blackpool and beyond that took 5.05 hours. The results were good: petrol consumption 80 gallons per hour; air miles 2.44 per gallon; range 1,448 miles; and the full endurance of the aircraft could be 7 hours 36 minutes. All very pleasing.’

Now I stood on the side of the runway space where that exciting event in his life took place. Every airfield, I am discovering, has its own atmosphere, and this is no exception. The sense is of an industrial-scale site, where the wide runway leans upwards insistently towards the horizon. Concorde stands to the left at the far end, nose pointed to the runway like a silent sentinel, and on the sloping hill to the left of that, and running all the way in parallel to the runway, is the Airbus production site with its huge factory sheds both old and modern. Opposite me in the distance, across the wide expanse of the airfield proper, are some large old hangars, one of which is to be preserved to house the Bristol Aero Collection. Next to it a new building is to be erected to house Concorde.

This whole site and its history is surely one of the most important in the development of British aviation technology. Sir George White, the Bristol magnate and entrepreneur whose vision and business acumen founded it all before the First World War should be better known, but as he declined to give his own name to the company and to the aeroplanes it made, preferring to name them after the city of Bristol itself, his name is unknown by the general public.

This site impresses as a whole, and speaks as a whole by its visual layout and its scale. The line of connection between production and flight is clear to me as I stand here, taking it in. But already a tide of new housing appears on a rise at the far side of the airfield, beyond the designated hangar reprieved for the museum. When that tide breaks, it will overrun the grass, the concrete runways, and even that take-off point to my far left where the pilots, my Dad included, took their new aircraft into the beyond. For the future there will be an Aerospace Heritage Centre, housing an important collection of archives and exhibits. But it will be cut off by that sea of housing from the living production site on the hill. The wholeness and integrity of this site will be lost for ever. I laud the building of a new Centre to remember the past, but I can’t help lamenting the loss of the reality as it passes away.

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Filed under Airfields, Aviation history, RAF history, Second World War, Uncategorized

Itinerary Sat 16th – Fri 22 May: Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Essex

My NEW, REVISED schedule for next week (for the whole WTS Calendar go to SCHEDULE page:

Note, this is taken from my working spreadsheet. I am still waiting to hear back from Cranfield.

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RIP Flight Lieutenant James “Jimmy” Ward

This was moving for me. At Landican Cemetery I laid a cross on the grave of one of my father’s great wartime friends, Jimmy Ward, on Dad’s behalf. Jimmy’s son Howard wanted to be with me on the day but couldn’t make it because he was recovering from an injury at the time.  You can read about Jimmy Ward in “Flying Blind”.

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Jimmy Ward, Canada, 1940

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Jimmy Ward – with my father in the RAF from the beginning of training in September 1940 and serving together in 456 Squadron until Nov 1941

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A proud day in Moose Jaw: ‘Wings Day’ February 1941: L to R: Dick Bastow, Dad (Bryan Wild), Bernard Wills, Jimmy Ward

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(The wording is personal, so deliberately obscured.)

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Chattie waits under the Cherry blossom.

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“To the dear memory of a beloved husband, Flt Lt JAMES WARD RAF, who died 7th November 1952 aged 52 years…”

 

 

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High Ercall – graceful in retirement

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The old infrastructure of RAF High Ercall (Shropshire) is still evident among the rapeseed and the ploughed fields. It still has an identity as a whole in the landscape, though the remaining buildings are dotted here and there, across a field, through a gate, atop a hill in the distance from the road; and in between is well-tended agricultural land. The control tower and surrounding buildings are in business use, and well cared for, visible through a wire perimeter fence. Elsewhere, you have to look, but the evidence is there blending gently into the surroundings. High Ercall today is like a widow who has lost her husband but has got on with her life, taking the memories along with her.

Dad was posted here in February 1942, as a ‘rest’ from operational flying, to help out the Air Transport Auxiliary, No 3 Delivery Flight, who were short of their usual civilian pilots. These were the teams who delivered aircraft of any type to the places where they were needed; after they had been to the maintenance units, for example, and were being returned to their squadrons. Dad agreed because it gave him a chance to fly different aircraft. There may have been an added incentive in that many of the ATA pilots were women. Here he flew his first Spitfire. I know this because he has this picture of it in his album, captioned ‘My first Spitfire’. That’s Dad on the left, ready to fly. That was on 7th May. The next day he flew a Spitfire down to Llandow near Cardiff, and nearly died through an accident with his goggles – the full story appears in his memoirs (see http://flyingblindnightfighter.com or on Amazon). For more photographs of High Ercall today, visit my Facebook page WhereTheyServedFBCoverSpit

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RAF Atcham – ‘Uppingdon’ demystified

Shropshire, like my beloved Herefordshire, is a beautiful rural county, and I counted myself blessed this morning wending my way round winding lanes lined with bright dandelions, primroses and peeping bluebells in the banks. I started out early wearing – wait while I count – 6 top layers because it was cold, and as the day wore on was left with just my light polo-neck, wishing it had been a short-sleeved T shirt.

The Uppingdon mystery now resolved into RAF Atcham, I turned into the business park there to meet Graham and Amanda Lycett of GA Promotions, and the site owner, Terry (who turned out to have lived a couple of miles away from us here). Although it looks a thoroughly recent business park, Terry took me into one of the buildings to reveal the original 1940s hangar behind a modern facade. It looks almost new; as strong-looking now as it would have done 70 years ago. ‘They built them to survive the war,’ said Terry, ‘But I reckon it’s lasted a bit longer.’

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Graham and Amanda have an interest in the history of the place. They run the Malvern Militaria Fair and other similar events. In their offices they showed me an American International vehicle that looks absolutely pristine. They took it to Normandy last year.  Thanks to them, I was able to understand that the road beside the business park is actually one of the old runways. So I lined Chattie up for take-off and could picture Dad doing the same, behind the joy stick instead of behind the wheel.

I left Atcham pleased to know that the history of this place is not forgotten by those who work here. It still means a lot to them.

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RAF Valley and the start of my Where They Served tour

It’s quite a feeling to drive up towards the flat horizon, knowing that beyond the little village of Valley is the airfield where Dad first flew as a night-fighter pilot in 1941 (456 Squadron). I wondered which of the older little terraced houses might be the one where a lady made a bit of extra cash by serving home-cured ham and fresh eggs in her front room, which Dad and his friends used to frequent. They kept it as secret as they could from the rest of the Squadron. It was quite a feeling to drive through the Station and then for Chattie to be lined up with a Hawk jet for our official photograph. Valley_CO_T2As I shook hands with Station Commander Group Captain Peter Cracroft I couldn’t help picturing my Dad’s amazed reaction if he could have known that this would be happening. He was always proud of serving at Valley. The Station Commander told me that the highest risk at the Station was still that of vehicles straying onto the runway. Seventy-four years after Dad hit that stray cook-wagon while trying to land at 110 miles an hour, it seems that potential hazard has not changed! Valley_CerysThe lovely Cerys, who supports my efforts from the RAF Benevolent Fund, had flown up from Cardiff in the morning; my thanks go to her, and to Darren at RAF Valley who escorted and guided us throughout our stay. After leaving the Station, and I said goodbye to them both at the ‘spotters’ car park’ nearby, a jet thundered by right over our heads. ‘I would like to say I had arranged that for you!’ said Darren. From that car park, I sat a little while looking over the airfield. From here, in a way, it is easier to get a feel for it as it was in 1941. Just the grass between the runways, and a few older hangars and airforce buildings over to the right. In front of me, Darren had pointed out a red light in the grass, where the perimeter track turns in towards the live runways. ‘That is the same system your Dad would have known – that is what the cook wagon ignored when your father was landing his Defiant.’  A strange feeling to finish with, contemplating that red light nestling in the grass, and thinking how close a shave it was that day for my Dad when he crash-landed on the one remaining oleo leg and finished up in the dunes beyond my line of sight. If he had been only 11 feet off the ground when he hit the cook wagon, instead of 12 feet, he would probably not have survived. Then I wouldn’t have been here to visit RAF Valley in a 1935 Singer Le Mans, that’s for sure.

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Filed under Aviation history, RAF Benevolent Fund, Second World War, Singer Le Mans

Stop Press – ‘Dad’s’ Tiger Moth is back!

The Tiger Moth in which my father learned to fly in 1941 is going to be coming to PreWar Prescott again this year – WEATHER PERMITTING.  I am therefore CHANGING MY SCHEDULE TO MEET IT.

I will therefore now be attending the Royal International Air Tattoo on the Sunday only, 19th July.

The rest of that weekend will be as follows:

Friday 17th July – Kemble Airfield to meet Tiger Moth, (followed by pre-Prewar Prescott get-together)
Saturday 18th July – Prewar Prescott + evening Battle of Britain Victory Party and BBQ with flypast: not only ‘Dad’s’ Tiger Moth but also aerobatics display from a venerable Battle of Britain Hurricane aerobatics – see http://www.prewarprescott.com/

Last year the heavens opened for Prewar Prescott and the Tiger Moth couldn’t make the journey from Norfolk. This year it’s bound to be a beautiful weekend, and therefore all being well I look forward greatly to what will be a touching occasion for me.

Tiger_M_6276130_origThis is a photograph of the actual Tiger Moth in which my father flew in 1941, now owned and flown by Paul Harvey. Amazing! I have taken it from the Prewar Prescott website – please let me know if there is a problem with my using it here.

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Schedules for Wales and Shropshire/Cheshire

My schedules are now in place for Group 1: North Wales (16th to 18th April) and Group 2: Shropshire/Cheshire (23rd and 24th April).  Please look at my Schedule page which gives the itinerary for each of these tours followed by the link to the most up-to-date overall tour schedule.

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Mystery airfield solved?

With a little help from various friends, including Graham and Amanda of GA Promotions (Militaria Fairs). I think I have now identified Dad’s ‘mystery’ airfield. On his list, I picked out the 60 UK airfields where he landed during the war, all except ‘Uppingdon’. There were several contenders for this, including ‘Uppingham’ north of London, suggested by several people. But this didn’t open until 1943, and it’s pretty clear (because he listed them in chronological order) that Dad’s visit to  ‘Uppingdon’ took place in 1941-2. It was in the list next to RAF Shawbury and RAF High Ercall, so I identified the nearby village of Uppington as a possibility. But…no airfield at Uppington.  However, RAF Atcham, also a US air base at one stage, was in the same parish district, only a few miles away from Uppington village.  My father wrote his airfields list neatly in the back of his log book at the end of the war, and he might well have known the airfield by the name of Uppingdon/Uppington as well as RAF Atcham. Besides, what more natural that in recording a single stop-off at Atcham, he remembered it by an evening in the pub at nearby Uppington?

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New ‘FLYING BLIND’ website

A new website for all matters relating to my father’s memoirs,
‘FLYING BLIND: THE STORY OF A SECOND WORLD WAR NIGHT-FIGHTER PILOT’FlyingBlindCoverFront by Bryan Wild and Elizabeth Halls, with Joe Bamford
is now launched.

READ ALL ABOUT IT! CHECK IT OUT HERE!

URL: www.flyingblindnightfighter.com

Short link: http://wp.me/P5zBn5-1

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