Tag Archives: Where They Served

RAF Portreath

From ‘Flying Blind’:

“I was shaken awake at 4.30 in the morning of 24th January. It was dark and cold. ‘Weather’s OK,’ said a voice, as I sat up in bed. ‘You’re all off!’ We were told to go across Portugal, down the border of Portugal and Spain. ‘5/10 cloud till halfway and then clear’, the Met. said.

We were all airborne about 6.00 a.m., but shortly after leaving Lands End, our RT packed up. The IFF (Identification Friend or Foe radar signalling) blew up, and the petrol cover flew open, so we returned. The message came through later that all the rest had reached ‘Gib’ safely.

The next day we were feeling rather down. Our kite was ready to go but the Met. said a front was expected the next day so we wouldn’t be going then either. We wandered into the village. Nearly all the locals were closed, it being a Monday, and we had to be satisfied with the remaining two dives. We came back on the liberty. I was not feeling too good, and looked forward to having a hangover in the morning.

4.30 in the morning, dark and cold, and once again I was shaken awake. ‘Weather’s OK,’ said a voice, as I sat up in bed. ‘You’re off!’ I groaned and turned over. ‘Go away! Leave me alone!’ I was shaken again, more roughly this time. ‘Get up, you idiot, you’re off, I tell you! The Met. was wrong: the weather’s going to be OK today.’

Ralph shook his head when we saw me. ‘You look rough!’

‘I’ll be OK,’ I said. I looked gloomily up at the sky. ‘Which is more than I’d like to say for the weather.’

‘It doesn’t look too good, does it?’ said Ralph. ‘Low cloud and continuous rain. Not what I’d call wonderful for flying, but apparently it should get better as we go.’”

On my visit, on a lovely day in June, it was still not too difficult to imagine my father’s Beaufighter, with navigator Ralph Gibbons on board, taking off into that dreadful weather, which must have cut across this cliff-top runway like a knife. Here, I’m pictured with Julia Smith, Flt Lt Wilfred Robert ‘Bob’ Peasley’s daughter, who was stationed here at one stage during the war; it is where he met Julia’s mother. He and Dad were in 46 Squadron together in Idku, where Bob nearly died when flying and shot down with Wing Commander George Reid in the defence of the Island of Cos. Reid died; Bob scrambled out of the plane under water. You can read the full story in Flying Blind.

Portreath1web

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Airfields, Aviation history, Royal Air Force

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.’

G2Uppingdon1

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.

photo G2Uppingdon2

1 Comment

Filed under Aviation history

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.

Leave a comment

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

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?

5 Comments

Filed under Aviation history, Second World War

Singer Le Mans Superb

Chattie_sunset

I drove the thirty or so miles back from Malvern’s militaria convention yesterday evening; the first really substantial drive I’ve ever had in Chattie, and certainly the first such drive since getting her back from Thetford Motor Engineering after her thorough overhaul. What a drive! What fun! She handles beautifully, brakes on request, starts without a murmur, and I’m now getting the hang of it all: the gear double-declutch shifts, starting after only a short while on choke (a couple of minutes only on choke, then catching with the throttle when I push it in, after which she ticks over obediently, waiting…), the understanding of where she’s happiest, and knowing when the car is telling me a gear change is needed, rather than me telling her where I think it ought to be – which means we are not having so many arguments about it!

To top it all, the sun set on my westward way home, providing me with at least half an hour’s free drive-through movie. You’ll be relieved to learn that I pulled into a lay-by to share this view with you.

The Where They Served tour?  Bring it on!

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized