Friday 3 June 2022

I shed a tear as the Lancaster flew over Mill Hill for the Queen's Jubilee flypast

 Excuse me a moment. Yesterday at around this time (1pm on the 2nd), I took a short break from the office desk at Mill Hill Music Complex, grabbed a ladder and climbed on top of one of the storage containers in our studio car park. This has a great view looking South over London. I knew that the Battle of Britain flight of the RAF would be passing by. For me, this is always a moving sight. My Dad was an RAF Bomber pilot. He never actually flew Lancasters, his active service was on Wellington bombers for 40 Squadron in Italy and the Middle East. He also flew Oxfords later. He was a Flight Leutenant in the RAF and flew a tour of 40 missions, getting shot down in Rumania on his final mission of his Tour. He was a Prisoner of War for 68 days, escaping and seeing out the rest of the war in a number of roles, such as Pilot instructor and air accident investigation officer.

Seeing a plane of Bomber command flying over Mill Hill reminds me of my Dad. I always well up. He passed away in 1987. I was 24 and at the time I wasn't particularly interested in listening to his stories. He was great company and full of them, but my idea of fun was to watch a band with my mates. I have remarkably few regrets in my life, but not sitting down with my Dad and writing down his stories is one of the biggest. It pains me that I've written a blog of over 8 million words and so few are full of his wisdom, insights and amazing stories. Occasionally something happens that brings one to mind. Watching the Lancaster pass over, reminded me of a really tragic story he told. When he was an air accident investigation officer, he had to investigate the crash of a Lancaster. When he turned up at the airbase, the whole base was in mourning. Although he was used to the effects of tragedy, this was of a scale he'd not experienced. It turned out that the pilot was one of the best in the RAF. He had a penchant for doing aerobatic turns in his Lancaster. As a treat, he'd taken all of the cooks from the base up for a spin. As he was putting the plane through its paces, it had disintegrated, killing everyone. Not only were they mourning the loss of friends and comrades, there was no one their to cook dinner. 

I once asked my Dad if he regretted not flying Spitfires or Lancasters, which were the iconic aircraft. He said that at the time it hadn't really occurred to him. The RAF needed pilots and he was assigned to Wellingtons. When he joined 40 squadron, the vast majority of bombers and missions were undertaken by Wellingtons. He also loved the versatility and durability of the aircraft. He said a Wellington, due to it's geodisic airframe was far more durable than a Lancaster. The RAF legend was that a 'Wimpy would always get you home'. He was not overly sentimental about the equipment he used. If a new plane or engine made his life easier or improved his chances of surviving the war, he'd think it was better than something that looked pretty or was 'legendary'. When his squadron was equipped with Liberators, he was not keen. He told me the turbochargers on the engines glowed in the dark and gave the night fighters something to look out for. He was pleased his tour finished before he had to fly them.

All of this came back when the Lancaster flew over. I once asked him if he could fly any plane in the RAF, what would he like to try most. He gave me a considered answer. For the sheer speed, he'd have flown a Lightning. As an operational bomber, he'd loved to have flown the Vulcan mission to the Falklands that fascinated him and out of curiosity, he'd have loved to have flown a Harrier Jump Jet. He loved the idea of being able to land outside the house. 

All I have to remind me is a Lancaster passing over my head. Forgive me my little tear. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth is just about the last link I have with that era. Long may she reign. 

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