'They moved us from Waltham; it was a nice
station apart from a bump in the middle of it. Suddenly an AMO
comes out, typical this of Air Ministry, that all aircraft with
a runway of less than ‑ I forget what it was‑ seventeen thousand
feet, something like that, with all‑up weights of more than
twenty‑two thousand pounds should not land on airfields with
Well our airfield was only a small one,
especially with this bump in it, so they moved us to Elsham
Wolds. It wasn't too far away, but we had to share with another
Squadron there. It was a long runway, much easier. That was the
only trouble with Waltham, was this bump; I don't know why they
didn't take it out. But we were carrying quite heavy weights at
that time, a lot of the trips we used to do were nearly ten
hours. We needed a full load of about twenty‑two thousand
gallons of petrol, and of course with a bomb load as well, and
the crew and 'Nobby', he must have weighed a ton!
This bump, I can't tell you how it happened ‑ they may have had a bomb there at one time or another and just
filled it in ‑ it was a proper runway, mind. Anyway, what Sandy
used to do, he used to come up onto the apron ready to take off
. As soon as he got the flash to go, he'd got the brakes on, he
used to open the two inner speed controls right up through the
gate, that's the maximum power you see, through the gate. Before
he released the brake he'd pull up on the stick and lift the
tail up, and then release the brake and open these two (the
remaining throttle controls) and by the time he hit that bump
he'd probably have a hundred or a hundred and twenty mph,
something like that, but enough to be airborne.'
'Oh yes, because these
two inner throttles were right through the gate, full power on,
you could lift the tail up with the brake on, then you'd take
the brake off and she'd be away, almost at full speed!'
'All the chaps
would do that, otherwise if you didn't it was a gamble really,
with all that weight. One or two went through the hedge the
other side, you know, got airborne and came back down again and
couldn't get off then, after that. You'd no chance of stopping
because of course you were going hell bent to get off.'
'Fair play to
Sandy, it never did. I know we were a bit close now and again, I
was afraid that if we touched the wheels it might have done some
damage. But it was awful really, I'm surprised they allowed it
to work like that for so long. But it was a nice station, the
C.0. was magnificent. I can't remember his name, but he'd done
three tours; a tour was thirty raids, when you did thirty you
were finished, you know, well he'd done three of those. He
didn't bother us a lot. If he had a parade the only thing that
upset him was if we wore a scarf, he didn't like us wearing a
scarf, we had to wear a tie for him. He didn't worry about the
buttons, what colour they were ‑ not that we had much time for
polishing anyway, but he was good like that.
'What he used to do when we first went there,
we'd get in the 'plane and start up, and you'd find he was
there, he'd come with you. But he wouldn't tell you he was
coming with you, he'd just sneak into the 'plane. Not just the
same, but different ones, he'd go with them you know. In the end
the Air Ministry stopped him doing it because he was too
valuable, being the C.O. of the station! I mean he'd already
done three tours! He was brilliant, and such a nice man.'
'When we moved to Elsham Wolds he didn't come
with us, because I suppose there were two Squadrons there and
the other Wing Commander was in charge of that station, so he
was really in fact in charge of both of us, you know. He was a
big tall fellow. We didn't really get on with him, he was a bit
of a disciplinarian and we didn't like that much. It was funny,
when we used to go off on raids or anything he'd watch all his
lot, his Squadron go off, and he'd clear off when we were taking
off! I suppose he didn't like having us there either, I don't
know. But anyway, we got by, we didn't worry.'
'My Mother came up to her
Sister who lived in Pontefract Road, near the racecourse. Well
this bridge is not far from there. Very often - it didn't
always work out - but if I could get a little bit of time off
I'd try and arrange a compass‑swing, and then when we’d finished
the compass‑swing, I knew which house it was, bit of a hill
behind you had to watch, I'd say to Sandy "Give her a buzz,
we'll go and see her then!"'
Many thanks indeed to John Lee for taking the
time to talk to me about his career in one of the most dangerous
jobs that World War Two had to offer.
As is now custom, the Eastern
Region of the Spitfire Society laid a wreath at the Remembrance
Day service last year at the North Weald Memorial which stands
on the green next to North Weald Airfield Museum.
For those who may not be
familiar with the museum, it is based within Ad Astra House
which was the wartime gatehouse situated at what was then the
main entrance to the airfield. The airfield itself was home to a
number of squadrons during the war including two (331 & 332) of
the Royal Norwegian Air Force. The impressive monolith which
forms the centrepiece of the war memorial was donated by the
people of Norway and was unveiled on the 19th of June 1952 by
Crown Princess Astrid of Norway.
The weather on the day of the
service was patchy but, as on previous years, cleared up with
some sunshine for the ceremony. The Spitfire Society wreath was
laid by Co‑Editor of the Form 700 Newsletter and former Regional
Chairman Dennis Nichols. Thank you Dennis, and thanks also to
Eric Horwood for his assistance with our wreaths.
Spitfire Memorial Ruislip
As a member of the Thomas Cook Pensioners
Association, for some years I have been lunching every two
months at ‘The Orchard’ in Ruislip. In the front garden of the
pub was a memorial to the Polish pilots and airmen who served at
nearby Northolt, and who frequented the pub during the war
five years ago it was vandalised & upon enquiry by myself and
other ex RAF & WAAF members of my group, we were informed that
no restoration was planned and, in fact, all the framed
photographs of pilots and Spitfire ‘planes which were then on
show, were to be removed. Imagine my surprise, four years ago,
finding an advertisement in an aeronautical magazine stating:
‘Help Wanted! Orchard Spitfire Fund.’
I collected as much money as possible which I
sent to Mr Peter Burke, Chairman of the Memorial Fund, for which
I received a written letter of acknowledgement. I then awaited
results - which took four years, before enough money was amassed
and the new memorial designed and built.
Early in September 2007, I received a personal
invitation to attend the unveiling and dedication of the
Spitfire memorial at ‘The Orchard’, Ruislip on the 30th
September 2007. Unfortunately I was unable to attend, so I asked
Steve Williams if he would go in my place, as I thought it
appropriate that the Spitfire Society be represented –
thankfully he kindly agreed.
Steve Williams continues:
On Sunday 30th September 2007, courtesy of
Audrey Morgan, I attended the unveiling of the new Spitfire
memorial at ‘The Orchard’ in Ruislip. This is dedicated to the
Polish airmen who served at the nearby Northolt airfield.
On arrival I was quite taken aback by the large
crowd which had gathered for the occasion. This included a
number of veterans and several members of the Spitfire Society.
The appearance of the memorial is somewhat spoilt by being
completely surrounded by railings, but I fear that this is a
necessary evil as its position in a large pub garden would make
it an obvious target for people who are mindless, prejudice, or
legless - or possibly all three.
The event began with a recital by an Air Cadets
glockenspiel band which went down well. There was then a service
and the dedication of the memorial. This was followed by a
lengthy oration in Polish by a young Priest which left the
establishment's ordinary customers somewhat bemused. The day was
blessed with reasonable weather and I, for one, found it to be a
moving experience. Mr Peter Burke and his supporters, including
"our Audrey", are to be congratulated for bringing this very
worthwhile scheme to a successful conclusion.
Extract from the Order of Service:
‘We have come here today to unveil and dedicate
this memorial to all those brave men who flew out of RAF
Northolt during the Battle of Britain and in particular the
Polish airmen, many of whom did not return. We thank God for
their courage, bravery and determination.
We pray for the various organisations that keep
alive the memory of those who served our country in the dark
days of the Second World War and who today continue to maintain
the spirit of comradeship, and care for those in need.
remember before God, those who laid down their lives in the
cause of liberty, that we in our time may be worthy of this
of Reg Skolfield
If you have not read Part I, you can find
When our posting came through we were flown by
BOAC in one of their Sunderland flying boats, from Cairo to
Karachi, with stop-offs at the Dead Sea, and Bahrain. It was
very hot on the Dead Sea, and we took a row boat to the
restaurant by the shore for lemonade. We stayed the night in a
smart hotel in Bahrain, the Shatt‑el‑Arab, in absolute luxury.
After a bath and dinner we slept soundly, only
to be awakened at 2am for the next stage of our journey! We
arrived at Karachi at night, and the sight of the harbour lights
was unforgettable as we approached and settled smoothly on the
water. Packing and unpacking our kit became so frequent it was
automatic, but here in India, we now had willing hands to take
over all our burdens. The sight of the slight figures of the
Indians carrying enormous loads on their shoulders was
astonishing, and there were so many eager hands to do the
slightest task for us.
The sheer number of humans was stifling,
especially in the heat of India, and train journeys were quite
primitive on wood seats. Those who could not find a seat hung on
the outside of the carriages. India was a revelation, a
completely different country and way of life to any we had seen
before, or imagined. The British had more to do with the
breakdown of the system than any other people. English became a
universal medium of communication amongst a confusion of some
three hundred differed tongues. Although the Untouchable Class
still persisted, there had been a subtle erosion: the English Raj had taken the place of the Maharajahs, whilst yet allowing
them to hold their places. Anglo‑Indians, (those mixed‑race
descendants of British soldiers of long ago) ran the Civil
Service, the Railways and the Post Office, though they were
snubbed by the Indian Upper Class and ostracised by the white
English. Amongst the Parsees, it was important to be
fairskinned, and many a fair‑headed youth was adopted by
Parsee gentlemen in the hopes that they would marry their
We were bound for Poona, and fortunately there
was not much flying to do before we were shuttled off to do a
Jungle Course. This was to teach us how to survive if brought
down in the jungles of Burma. We put in about five hours of
flying in Hurricanes, and the heat was exhausting. I once nearly
stalled when coming in to land, and felt it go the moment the
wheels touched. But when we reached Mahabaleshwar, the air in
the mountains was invigorating. One day we were taken in a truck
about twenty five miles away from Camp, and dumped by the
roadside. We had to find our way back by way of two mountain
ranges. Of course we, as British, had cheated and loaded our
packs with cans of food, even as much as sixty pounds in weight.
It was very heavy and on our first stop we slung the packs down
on the ground and flopped in the grass by a cool river. We were
supposed to live off the countryside but none of us was a hunter
and had no wish to be killing and skinning animals, though as a
boy I had skinned rabbits and plucked chickens.
In a party like this there is always some bright
spark one could rely upon to organise woodgathering, making a
fire and mashing the tea. And when we had eaten, there would be
another telling tall stories round the campfire. What would we
have done without our mates?
There were the mountain ranges to climb. We had
been instructed to keep to the ridges, so that one could look
down upon possible enemies and keep a watchful eye on them
before they got to you. Once in open ground we came upon an
Indian village, with women in bright clothes, so much that I
thought there was a wedding party. When they saw us they all
disappeared as though some conjurer had waved a magic
handkerchief. They must have thought we were a raiding party but
they had more to fear from their fierce northern tribesmen than
us, a gang of apprehensive British lads, whose only thought was
to get back to base camp as soon as possible. After four days we
actually did it, but the memory of the wild scenery of the
mountains, the mountain streams in which we bathed in the heat
of the day, the cold of the night, the forest we ploughed
through, the stars, the mateship of our companions, all are
lyrical as we look back upon it. We were really living to the
utmost though of course we had no necessity to kill any living
thing. We ate out of cans, and made tea from spring water. I
remember sitting on a ledge half way up a mountain, one of those
formed millions of years ago with layer upon layer of basalt,
and thinking, what an incredible country, and what ancient magic
possessed the land, and the people in their untold millions in
the cities with their philosophy so admirably described by Oscar
Hammerstein: The calm acceptance of the Inevitable, contrasting
with the triumph of good over evil of the West.
Back at camp we were housed in rooms, two to a
room generally. I shared with Tommy Woodhouse. He was really
good‑looking, with blond hair, a small blond moustache, and very
blue eyes. He never missed a trick. He could talk all day long
if need be and a better mate one could never wish for. Usually,
I went to sleep with Tommy still talking. He had been trained at
a BFTS (British Flight Training School) in the US and had met a
girl working in Hollywood on propaganda films. She wanted him to
stay back there and could get him a job in the industry. By this
time he was hooked on a bottle of whisky a day, and was still
trying to get used to doing without when I knew him. But he had
a girl in England, a Roman Catholic sweetheart he wanted to get
back to. So he returned and married her. Poor Tommy! He went to
join a PRU Squadron flying Spitfires at 30 thousand feet. One
day he never came back from a mission over Malaya.
We arrived in Calcutta after a two‑day train
journey. The Aircrew House there was a godsend; so comfortable,
and the food divine, for the cook had been chef at the
Dorchester Hotel in London. Calcutta was brimming over with
people, with professional beggars sleeping in the streets and in
the railway stations. It was not really a good idea to go out at
nights, for if you were walking, you would be bombarded, whether
purposely or not we would never know, by rubbish lobbed out of
some upper apartment window. During the day, Firpo’s, in the main
street, was a magnet due to the excellent quality of the ice
cream served in that reputable establishment. It was in Calcutta
that I volunteered to be injected with bubonic plague. Both my
upper arms swelled up like balloons, and I felt thoroughly ill
for a month. I regretted it, for when posted I could not help
with the chores, and my companions must have taken a dim view of
me, and thought I was slacking. And there was an endless journey
in a truck, over a rough dirt road through the Jungle that I
remember to this day, I had such a thumping headache!
(To be continued)
North Weald Battle of Britain Memorial Service
As in previous years, the
Spitfire Society Eastern Region was at the Church of St. Andrew,
North Weald, on Sunday the 16th of September to lay a wreath at
the Memorial Cross during the annual Battle of Britain Memorial
The service was on this
occasion hosted by the Royal Air Forces Association. and a good
number of organisations attended to lay wreaths including the
local branch of The Royal British Legion, North Weald Parish
Council. And Members of the local ATC.. The weather stayed fine
and sunny, if a little chilly, for the service in that quiet,
peaceful corner of Essex, and the Spitfire Society wreath was
laid by Squadron Leader lan Blair DFM
The service inside the church
included the hymns “All people that on earth do dwell”, The
Airmen's Hymn, and Jerusalem. The Lesson (St. Mathew Chapter 5,
vs. 1‑12) was read by Cllr. G. McEwan.
The Address was given by
R.A.F.A. Branch Padre the Reverend J. Delfgou, the complete
transcript of which follows:
'After the fall of France in 1940, Hitler turned his attention to
Germany's sole remaining enemy: Great Britain. His plans to
invade Britain depended on crippling Britain's Royal Air Force.
In July the Luftwaffe began its attempt to bomb Britain into
submission, thus began the Battle of Britain.
Much of the battle was fought in the skies over southern England
in what became known as the 'Spitfire summer'. In June and July
German bombers began attacking convoys off the south coast and
making raids on the ports of Dover and Plymouth. The RAF's 700
or so Spitfire and Hurricane fighters were outnumbered, but
Britain had several advantages. Its radar was the most advanced
in the world, the Spitfire was a very effective fighter plane
and British industry had the ability to manufacture more planes
at an astonishing rate.
In August the terrifying aerial battles intensified. The
Luftwaffe began launching attacks of more than 1000 aircraft in
one day. They focused on our airfields and radar installations.
By the end of August, the RAF had lost nearly 300 fighters and
the Germans 600 planes. With the damage done to the radar
stations Britain was in a very vulnerable state. However
following our attacks on German industrial areas and Berlin
itself, Hitler shifted the focus of his attacks to bomb British
cities. It was the beginning of the Blitz. On the 15th September
more than 1000 enemy aircraft carried out day and night attacks
on London. By mid October about 1700 Luftwaffe bombers and
fighters had been shot down and Hitler had failed to establish
air superiority and his fleet of invasion barges, being severely
damaged by our bombers, caused him to postpone his invasion.
So today we give thanks and remember those 2936 brave pilots who
came from all walks of life, many were trained and experienced,
but most had come from civilian duties to become fighter pilots.
During that battle 544 of them lost their lives, many of them
killed in action, while others were never to be heard of again,
and officially listed as missing.
a poem by Frary Delfgou
This is my girl, my wife,
My scimitar, my shield,
This bit of metal that I wield
around the sky.
Trained to react, to search
with star clear eye.
Thumb, poised above the trigger,
Gun, primed to blaze.
Stick under hand.
Compass in my band
This small shuddering might
That through the moonlit night
Surges on its flight
Undaunted, gallant to the fray
from dawn till dusk, and into day
when, thick the carrion appear
and Death is drawing near,
I am ready far above
To turn, to dive, to fly, to fight
for those I love.
Jesus said 'Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down
his life for his friends'.
To love in the sense that Jesus speaks of here is freely to put
the interests of others before our own, for the sake of their
welfare. Love is not warm feelings. It is not acting in the
interests of others because we are being forced to do so. It is
not giving something to others for the sake of what we will get
back. When Jesus says that the greatest love is to lay down your
life for your friends, he is saying that the greatest love puts
no ceiling on what it is prepared to give for the sake of
When the greatest love goes into action, it lays down no limit
to how far it will go in purposeful self-sacrifice. We are not
talking about futile gestures. We are not talking about a
pointless death. Rather, this kind of love engages in purposeful
self-sacrifice, and the purpose is the good of others. The point
of it all is to save the lives of those we love. But the
greatest love is ready to give everything, even to die if
The greatest love sets aside self-interest and is ready to lay
down its life for those who are loved. Most warfare is conducted
with very mixed motives, but such love is at times exemplified
in the heat of battle. When an old soldier who had seen much
action finally died his obituary quoted the citation that
accompanied his award of the Military Cross. He was, it said,
"completely imperturbable under heavy artillery and mortar fire
and carried on his work with complete disregard for his own
safety, and he has been completely unsparing of himself.
And so it was for those pilots who fought for us in the Battle
of Britain that we give grateful thanks to, and remember today.'
On reading the account of
John Lee's aviation time in the RAF, it reminded me how similar
it was to my own re‑collection in the service.
I also joined about the same
time as John, under the P.N.B. scheme, and like so many others,
went to St. John's Wood for my introduction to life in the RAF.
My call up followed swiftly on the heels of John ‑ 22 February
1943 (also deferred for 12 months).
As it was in Geoff Lewis'
account (July 2006 Newsletter) we all experienced the medicals
etc. to the same degree, at Lords Cricket Ground and surrounding
Following this hectic
schedule of discipline, I too was posted to Aberystwyth (I.T.W.)
where, amongst other crowded programmes of study, lectures,
drills, RT, and further medical checks, I found time to become a
member of the band as a drummer for official parades. This could
be for the fact that I failed Navigation at the first attempt
and had to stay on a little longer to re‑take the exam,
regrettably losing touch with three friends I shared rooms with
in one of the commandeered 'Aberystwyth Hotels'.
After T.T.W and a spot of
home leave, I found my next posting was the same E.F.T.S. as
John, Desford near Leicester, we could have even had the same
instructor, F/o Witherow.
In the space of three weeks:
flying Tiger Moths with the instructor ‑ 12 hours dual ‑ the
great day came ‑ 10 minutes flying solo following an intensive 1
hour F.A.A. test.
After the Grading course and
some home leave, we were to report to Heaton Park, Manchester,
to await the results of our training and the all important
selection panel for further instruction (waiting was the
operative word). A final kit inspection, we eventually assembled
in the main hall and my name came up for pilot training. This
was just what I wanted to hear! (Obviously, my Navigation didn't
reach the required standard).
I was included in the group
heading for South Africa, others were posted to the USA and
Canada. We went by train and marched through the streets of
Liverpool to the docks and, finally, on board the troopship
"Orion" destined for Durban via Gibraltar and the Suez Canal.
Eventually, following a journey of six weeks, we arrived in
South Africa to a warm welcome, dry land, sunshine and a 'Royal'
special reception from the famous 'Durban Lady in White' who
sang a welcome at the dock entrance as she did to all the
troopships arriving at the portside.
Disembarkation swiftly took
place ‑ what a relief! ‑ then to the transit camp and medical
check, a nice shower and some fresh fruit for a change.
After a week or two we were
sent to Johannesburg for E.F.T.S. and the local airfields dotted
around the city. Others were posted to Rhodesia for their
Flying at 6000 ft above sea
level felt strange at first, but with the Tiger Moth we soon got
used to the different altitude and enjoyed the experience with
the South African instructors who were absolutely great to all
Spitfire 161 / PV 202
These days, it is very
rare to find a new 'old' picture of an airworthy Spitfire.
There are books, magazines, web sites & forums all dedicated to
these wonderful pieces of history and most have been the subject
of serious research.
We were, therefore, very
happy when Martin Byrne contacted us in January to say he
thought we might like to have a copy of a picture he found:
'Hi Gerry, while
searching for information on Spitfire No.161 I came across your
Society website. I came across this B&W print in my parents'
house. The picture was most likely taken at Baldonnel Airfield
just outside of Dublin. I hope this twin seater will bring back
some memories to flight crews who flew and maintained them. I
see that this machine has been restored in Duxford and is now
Martin Byrne, Carlow, Ireland'
Peter Wesson got in touch with Martin and
explained that our dear friend, the late Bert Harman, flew in
this very Spitfire (before the post war 2 seat conversion).
Just read your email, I am glad that the photo will be of help
in your archives, sorry that it came too late for Bert to see
it. I have printed out your pictures and will put them beside
the B&W one that I sent to Gerry. My family has a large
background in both the Irish and British Forces. I am not too
sure how that B&W print came to being in my Mother's house;
there are no file details or rubber stamps on the back of it, so
I would presume then that it was not an official photograph.
Here in my
town there is a small museum relating to the Military of
numerous countries, it concentrates on Irishmen and women who
served in the Irish Army and those of other countries and the
historical side of things. Some of the first tanks for WW1
were produced here in
Ireland in Carlow - they even have some of the original drawings
for them on display, as far back as the U.S. cavalry and general
Custard, his 2 I/C was from Carlow. There is a section on the
Irish Army Air Corp and its Aircraft and I will see that the
Pictures of 161 and those of Bert are put on Display. The museum
is not due to open again till at least Easter time, so I will
take a few pictures and send them to you then.
As I said to Gerry in my email , I have been to many war
cemeteries across Europe and have many pictures of graves
-amongst them are RAF ones. I must look and see if I have any
relating to Spitfire Sqn pilots. My great Uncle was a ground
crew member for a Sqn operating Lancasters. If I have any more
pictures I can gladly send them on. (My Grandfather died on the
Rhine Crossings on April 5th 1945 near Kleeves, Germany about 10
miles from Arnhem).
Anyhow Pete ,thanks for getting back to me and I am glad that
the pictures will fill in some more gaps on a long history of
Martin Byrne LIPPA / NUJ
Carlow, County Carlow, Ireland'
Thank you to Martin
for getting in touch and sharing this with us.
is produced by Peter Wesson and Dennis Nichols.
The previous issue of
Form 700 (#51 Autumn 2007) can be found here: