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. As 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! The 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.
Tag Archives: Aviation history
Nearly 8500 Polish airmen ended up in Britain in 1940, after first fighting losing battles in Poland and then France. They called Britain ‘The Island of Last Hope’. My father remembers serving alongside the Polish and I remember him saying that they were good pilots and fighters; he said this with feeling.
After visiting raf Valley tomorrow I will be travelling to the site of the old RAF Penrhos, where many Polish servicemen were demobbed after the war. 2408 Polish airmen lost their lives fighting for freedom. The Polish Squadrons played a vital part in the Battle of Britain, showing tremendous valour and determination. Yet the peace they fought for, and won for the rest of Europe, didn’t come for their own country until half a century later. The Polish Housing Society, a charity set up in 1949, bought the old airfield and today it still runs a care home on the site. Here I hope to meet at least one Polish resident who served during the war. That would be a great privilege.
In his memoirs ‘Flying Blind: the Story of a Second World War Night Fighter Pilot’, my Dad writes:
“On July 10th 1941, with Jimmy Ward on the pillion of the good old motorbike, I reported to RAF Valley, near Holyhead on the coast of Anglesey, where the single-engined aircraft in residence was the Boulton Paul Defiant…As the two of us entered the main gate, we realised immediately that this brand0new aerodrome with its hastily erected buildings was situated literally on the coast. The triangular form made by the runways criss-crossed the sand dunes. The usual Nissen huts of simple brick construction looked austere and, as we discovered later, so was the food and living accommodation. But it was midsummer and the weather was fine and warm.”
On Friday, I also will be reporting to RAF Valley; not on a motorbike, but in my 1935 Singer Le Mans sports car, just like the car Dad drove and loved later in the war. It will be a moment to remember, and I know he’ll be with me in spirit.
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.
This 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.
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.
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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