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.
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.
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.
A new website for all matters relating to my father’s memoirs,
‘FLYING BLIND: THE STORY OF A SECOND WORLD WAR NIGHT-FIGHTER PILOT’ by Bryan Wild and Elizabeth Halls, with Joe Bamford
is now launched.
READ ALL ABOUT IT! CHECK IT OUT HERE!
Short link: http://wp.me/P5zBn5-1
The 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!
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I’ve noticed quite a few people from Australia have been viewing my blog recently. This could be because of a current visit to the UK by Jo Watson, who I knew from Berkeley Castle days, and with whom I’m hoping to meet while I’m at the Royal International Air Tattoo in a couple of weeks.
This brings to mind the fact that my father’s first operational posting was with 456 (Australian) Squadron at Valley in Anglesey in 1941. He teamed up with an Australian gunner who became one of his best friends in the war: Stanley Wheatley Greenwood, from Melbourne, Australia, known as ‘Ack’ to his friends. This lovely man was killed in a flying accident during an exercise over Lytham St Anne’s in North West England in 1942, while my Dad was away on detachment elsewhere, and Dad was heartbroken about it. The Defiant, flown by Pilot Officer Olney, flew too low over Fairhaven Lake along the shoreline and crashed into the sands. Both pilot and gunner were killed instantly.
Stanley ‘Ack’ Greenwood. Died 7 Feb 1942
I have been asked why I pictured my father with a Spitfire when he flew Mosquitos during the war. There are two answers to that. The first is that Dad flew 14 different aircraft altogether (not including different marks of aircraft). The second is that it’s not a Spitfire, it’s a Defiant. Boulton Paul Defiants flew in the Battle of Britain, but were better designed for attacking slower bombers than interception in fighter combat. Yes, there is a similarity of outline to the Spitfire, and this meant that they could masquerade as Hurricanes or Spitfires in a crowded sky but were marked out when German fighters found them on their own, and shot down easily. The tell-tale giveaway is the perspex blister behind the cockpit on top of the fuselage: a gun turret housing the gunner, which means that is therefore a two-man plane not a solo job like the Spit and Hurricane. Defiants suffered heavy losses in the Battle of Britain, see http://www.raf.mod.uk/history/boultonpauldefiant.cfm , but the time Dad flew them in July 1941 in 456 Squadron at RAF Valley in Anglesey, and then 256 Squadron at Squires Gate, Blackpool, they were being used as night-fighter planes, defending cities in the North West from German bombing, for which they were better suited. There were still problems with them, however, and they were not universally popular.
The photo shows pilot Bryan Wild and his gunner, Stanley (Ack) Greenwood, preparing for take-off in a Defiant at Squires Gate, December 1941.
Dad also flew Hurricanes and a few Spitfires in his time, as well as the aforementioned Mosquito. ©Elizabeth Halls 2014