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© 2007-2010 The Spitfire Society and respective copyright holders.
Reg. Charity No: 299033


Form 700    No. 51   Autumn 2007



From the Chairman

In Memoriam:

Alex Henshaw

Pat Butler

Bert Harman

Jan Linzel Part III

Hawker Restorations Ltd

Historic Flying Ltd

Lancaster Navigator Part II


Purfleet Heritage Centre

Eastern Region AGM


Reg Skolfield



From the Chairman

In this, the second Newsletter of the Year, I am very glad to report a very good start to our Air Show Season; the five Events to date have each been very successful.

However, the biggest event to date is the Eastern Region taking responsibility for Spitfire Enterprises Ltd, the section of The Spitfire Society which manages our commercial activities. I am very grateful to Jason Amiss for taking on this very important job.

I feel sure that you will all be in agreement with me in wishing Eric Horwood a very quick and complete recovery after a serious eye operation.

During February we received the very sad news that Bert Harman had passed away. We offer our deepest condolences to Audrey, Sara and Jonathan.

May I also take this opportunity to thank you once again for your support.

David Williams

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In Memoriam

Alex Henshaw

There can be few men in the field of aviation who gain the high levels of admiration and respect which were conveyed upon Spitfire Society Vice-President Alex Henshaw who died in February of this year aged 94.

Raised under the wide, beckoning skies of Lincolnshire he began his flying career aged twenty and owned a succession of small aircraft including a Gipsy Moth, an Arrow Active and a Comper Swift, with which he achieved some air-racing success. But it was with the diminutive racing craft the Percival Mew Gull G-AEXF, with which he would forever be associated, that Alex achieved fame and his greatest victories, most notably the Kings Cup Air-race which he won in 1938 and the England to Cape Town solo endurance race a year later; in both events he broke records which remain unbeaten to this day.


In the early part of the war Alex flight-tested Spitfires alongside Jeffrey Quill at Eastleigh, the birthplace of the Spitfire, and in 1940 was appointed Chief Test-Pilot at the massive assembly-plant at Castle Bromwich. From here until 1946 he test flew well over two thousand Spitfires, accounting for around ten-percent of all aircraft produced and by far the highest number of individual Spitfires flown by any one person. As well as Spitfires, Alex also tested the mighty Avro Lancaster Bomber and is justifiably famous for rolling the aircraft on occasion as part of the test-programme, a feat which he would with characteristic modesty play down, describing such a manoeuvre as well within the capabilities of the aircraft.

The work itself was, of course, highly dangerous and on more than one occasion Alex came face-to-face with death, such as the occasion when his stricken Spitfire, sans wings and tail, ploughed through the garden of a terraced house miraculously depositing the still-intact cockpit into the householder's kitchen. For his services during the war he was awarded the MBE.

After the war Alex remained the man of action, whether rescuing victims from the great East-Coast floods of 1953 for which he was awarded the Queen's Commendation for Bravery, or risking life-and-limb traversing the mighty Congo as Director of Miles Aircraft (South Africa) Ltd.

To attempt to sum up Alex Henshaw's incredible life of adventure in these few lines would he futile, but his three books ‘Flight of the Mew Gull’, ‘Sigh for a Merlin’ and ‘Wings across the Great Divide’ go a long way to telling the full story. His love of flying stayed with him all his life, and it was only fitting that in 2006 Alex went aloft in Spitfire IAC 161 (PV202), spearheading above Southampton a flight of Spitfires celebrating the 70th anniversary of the first flight of the aircraft with which he was so closely linked.

As a man of such high profile in aviation, requests for his time were many and Alex was a leading figure in numerous organisations including the Spitfire Society and Eastern Region in particular. Not only was he a great benefactor to our Society but he was also very generous with his time, whether it be attending one of our events as Guest of Honour, presenting an award on our behalf, or simply spending time chatting to members at one of our functions; Alex Henshaw was a great man and a legend in his own lifetime, but to us he was perhaps above all else, our friend.

Few of us knew Alex as well as former Regional Committee Member Norman Lyons, who sent me these words:

"The sudden Death of our Vice-President Alex Henshaw: The loss of one of the greatest Aviators of our time; an individual who will be greatly missed by all members of the Spitfire Society. His support to the Society, and advice and help to our Region will be irreplaceable. His kindness and friendship to his friends was unlimited."

Well said, Norman; warm sentiments with which I'm sure we would all very much agree. On behalf of our Regional membership, we offer our deepest condolences to Alex's family.


Pat Butler

First Chairman of Eastern Region

Pat Butler was born on 17th March 1922 and volunteered for Aircrew duties with the RAF in 1941 when he was 18.  He finished his flying training as a pilot at 53 OUT, Llandow, flying his first Spitfire on 6th July 1942 – a Mk 1, R6914.  Operationally, Pat is best remembered for his time with 1435 Sqdn in Malta but he also served with 130, 256 & 153 Sqdns taking him through N.Africa, Sicily and Italy.

He was a Founder-member of The Spitfire Society in 1984/85 and made an offer to David Green shortly thereafter to organise an Eastern Region when the right time came.  As many current Members will remember, that time arrived in September 1989 when Pat organised our first Regional Meeting in the Mess at The Squadron, North Weald Airfield.

It must not of course be thought that nothing had been happening in the Society during the middle years of the nineteen eighties:  Group Captain David Green was very much a hands-on Founder-chairman of the Society. In fact he and his wife, Diana, frequently and single-handedly set up a stand at Air Shows round the Country during those earlier days, to publicise the formation of The Spitfire Society and to sell appropriate artefacts to help fund its running.

Returning to Pat Butler and Eastern Region, Pat’s first task was to recruit Members to serve with him on the Regional Committee and, although it would be invidious to name individuals, it is very heartening to see how many of the originals are still around to help run the shop and to promote the Spirit which Pat first injected into this Region.  Even more importantly, younger Members are now willingly being recruited to fill important positions on that Committee.

Pat Butler, after battling with cancer for three months, died in hospital on 23rd May 1993.

L.D.N. (first posted on the Pat Butler Memorial Award page)


Bert Harman

Saturday the 31st March 2007 was a sad occasion for our Region, for on that day our dear friend Bert Harman died. Bert had been unwell since just before Christmas and was admitted to hospital in early March where, following an initial improvement in his health, he took a sudden turn for the worse about two weeks before he passed away.

Universally held in high esteem by all who came to know him, Bert's kindness and generosity knew no limits: his personal philosophy was to treat other people better than you treat yourself, and his Daughter Sarah and Son Jonathan recently, and with good reason, described Bert as "The Kindest Man they ever knew."

As a Wartime Fighter Pilot, Bert served with 33 Sqn. flying Spitfires and Tempests, and in 1945 after an emergency landing following engine failure aboard his Tempest, he was captured by the Germans and made a P.O.W.

Bert's enthusiasm for the subject of Wartime aviation stayed with him and was a theme upon which, along with many other things, he was immensely knowledgeable. It was a great source of pleasure for Bert that one of his former mounts, Spitfire IX. PV202, now based at Duxford, still flies regularly today, albeit in a post-war two-seat trainer configuration.

As a member of the our Society Bert brought that previously mentioned enthusiasm, as well as energy, creativity and generosity, always willing to sign a book or print, whether for an admirer or for the benefit of the Spitfire Society. I should also say that when visiting the Sales-Stand or an Eastern Region event, Bert was usually accompanied by his wife Audrey who is, of course, just as good a friend as Bert was. A regular contributor of interesting and diverse articles to our Form 700 Newsletter, Bert also gave us the benefit of his own unique wit, with humorous items and a constant stream of ideas for our cartoon page.

To try to describe the kaleidoscope that was Bert's life would take many volumes, so perhaps I can conclude this short tribute by saying that not only was he a wonderful man in so many different ways, he was also one of a kind; when Bert Harman was made they broke the mould. We shall miss him very much.
May I take this opportunity to convey to Audrey, Sarah, Jon and all of Bert's family and loved ones the sincerest condolences of all of our Region's Membership.


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Jan Linzel 

Part III

If you have not read Parts I & II, you can find them here:

Part I

 Part II

Bert Harman continues Jan's story:

Jan was not unique, many other Dutch young men made similar journeys, others did not make it to the U.K. Jan mentions the Swiss labour camp with 120 Dutch men waiting their chance to join the allied cause. The Dutch were our true allies at this time, many of our airmen managed to evade capture with their help. Jan joined 33 Squadron at Selsey Bill and flew on operations to France, through Belgium and into Holland in February 1945. It was then that I lost contact with Jan, resuming in 1998 after I corresponded with a Dutch man John Verhagenfrom Dinterloord This story I will tell at a later date. Jan now resumes his story in his own words in letters to me in 1998.

In June 1945 I had to leave 33 Squadron and I was posted with other Dutch pilots to 322 Dutch Squadron. I did not like it at all; we hardly knew anyone there and they thought they could treat us as beginners, some who had done a few not dangerous trips at the very end of the war were throwing their weight about.

The Squadron was disbanded in October 1945 and all were sent on indefinite leave. I got a posting to Pershore in Worcestershire where I was in charge of the Dutch Ferry Flight. All the aircraft bought by the Dutch Air Force came to me and I had a bunch of pilots who flew them to Holland. I had organised an Anson for myself to fly them back to Pershore. The Anson was a marvellous old aircraft. It flew by itself, though the winding up of the undercarriage was a bit awkward when I was alone.

In March 1947 I left the Air Force and studied at the Government Aviation School for a commercial pilot's licence. After the examinations I was for a while an instructor at the school, but I did not like the job and went back into the Air Force. I became a gunnery instructor on Spitfire IX B's at the Fighter School. In August 1948 I started on Meteor 11s with Jan Flinterman and Gerry Wansink; we were the most experienced available. We had no dual Meteors. In November 1948 No. 323 Squadron was formed, the first Dutch Meteor Squadron; Jan Flinterman was C.O. and I was flight Commander. In October 1949 I became C.O. until May 1950. I then started waiting for a long time for a course on Thunderjets in the U.S.A.

While waiting I was sent to gunnery School on the Isle of Vlieland, the second of the Frisian Islands, to build a range for gunnery and bombing. I loved the job and the life in these small islands and I got fed up with waiting for my U.S. posting. The range became very busy with more and more NATO air forces using it and I decided to stay there permanently. Nobody else wanted the job; they were glad they had found a fool that would stay there, that's what they told me! Another reason was I was a bit too old for a fighter pilot at 36. I was still flying though, on Auster, Piper Cub, Harvard and Dominie. Old gentleman's stuff! Several times they wanted to post me as I was due for promotion, but I stayed on the job until I got pensioned off, as a Major, in 1973.


In 1958 I married a German girl, Marriane, and we retired to live in County Cork in Ireland.

So ends Jan's story. His story in more detail can be found in his book 'De Mei-Vliegers (The May-Fliers) by Peter Gerrise. It is in Dutch - no translation has been found. Any of our members fluent in Dutch: here is an opportunity to do a bit of translation, a publisher could be found. I have details of the original publishers.

Bert Harman

(This document arrived with me some months before Bert died, and sadly the other stories that he had to tell will now go untold. The publisher of De Mei-Vliegers is Bosch and Keuning.)


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Visit to Hawker Restorations Ltd

Members of the Spitfire Society Eastern Region were very fortunate to have recently visited Hawker Restorations Limited and Historic Flying Limited.

Milden in Suffolk is home to Tony Ditheridge owner of AJD Engineering and Hawker Restorations Ltd. Situated in stunning rolling countryside, this facility has borne some truly exquisite restorations. We were fortunate to be allowed behind the scenes to witness first hand the painstaking effort that is put into restoring their current projects.

Upon entering we were delighted to see an original SE5e under rebuild to fly. This aircraft has been progressing slowly for many years but has only recently arrived at Milden for restoration to full airworthy condition.

Next to the SE5 stands the partially complete fuselage of a static replica of the Mew Gull G-AEXF. This project was commissioned by the late Alex Henshaw who flew the original aircraft from London to Cape Town in just four days, ten hours and sixteen minutes back in February 1939. AJD Engineering restored the original Mew Gull G-AEXF after its crash at Shuttleworth and were the obvious choice to build a replica which will initially be displayed at the RAF Museum Hendon as a tribute to the record breaking pilots of the 1920’s and 30’s.

In a room to the side a Hurricane Mk1 Cockpit section, ‘doghouse’, is being crafted from plywood and Canadian Spruce. Timbers are selected following a rigorous visual inspection that aims to eliminate sections with too many knots or cross grain. A sample of those selected are subjected to crush testing prior to any timber being used in the reconstruction of an aircraft.

In a hangar adjacent to the airstrip three Hurricanes are concurrently being progressed to airworthy status. G-HRLI belongs to Hugh Taylor and saw RAF service as V7497, construction number 41H-136172, built in 1940 by Hawker Aircraft Limited. The aircraft was shot down over Kent in August 1940. All Hurricane airframe components are joined together using bolts.


G-ROBT is a Hurricane Mk 1 originally built in 1940 by Gloster Aircraft. Fitted with a Merlin 35, this aircraft saw RAF service as P2902 and is being rebuilt for Rick Roberts.

RCAF 5403 is a Hurricane Mk2B built by the Canadian Car Foundry Company in 1940 as construction number CCF/R20023. Now registered G-HHII it will be joining Peter Teichman’s Hangar 11 collection at North Weald once completed.

Thanks to Tony Ditheridge for providing access to his facilities and to Phil Parish for showing us around and answering our questions.

Tim Clark

Visit to Historic Flying Ltd

HFL’s hangar is dotted with Spitfire projects and spares. Mark Parr provided a fascinating insight into the work that goes on daily to restore Spitfires to airworthy status.

Work has commenced on the former Burmese Spitfire Mk IX, UB425, initially serialled in the SL63? range. Confirmation of the exact serial is expected shortly but it is known that it was one of three conversions to PRIXe configuration. The camera ports were added to the rear fuselage following her transfer from the Czech Air Force to the Israeli Air Force in February 1949. The IAF serial was 2042.

After operating in the photo reconnaissance role for 6 years UB425 transferred to Burma, and during overhaul, returned to LFIXe configuration. The aircraft was retired and displayed on a pole at several Burmese locations. By the time she was sold in 1999 only the bare structure remained and a Harvard tail section had been grafted to the rear. The future looks much rosier now with a new tail unit and replacement frame 5 already manufactured and her history now traced all the way back to construction.

PL344 is now one of Tom Blair’s collection of airworthy fighters based at both Kissimee, USA and Duxford, UK. Restored to airworthy status in 2000 this aircraft is currently undergoing a wing rebuild to install additional fuel tanks in the armament bays.

PL983 is currently under rebuild to fly following its tragic accident in Rouens, France in 2001. The aircraft was on static display at Old Warden from 1950 to 1983 and subsequently restored to airworthy for Roland Fraissinet. The rebuild replaced the original curved screen with an armoured screen; however the original was kept and is now being used in the current restoration.

A collection of boxes stacked on shelves represents the remainder of Seafire Mk III RX168. It is likely that these original components will be incorporated into an early mark Spitfire rebuild. A new build fuselage originally created for RX168 is also likely to end up in another aircraft.


Mk XVI RW386 coded NG–D is a recently completed restoration which has since be flown to a new owner, Biltema corporation in Sweden. Now registered SE-BIR, she left Duxford on the 29.5.07 piloted by Bertil Gerhardt.


Spitfire LFIXc MJ271 which has the spent the last 60 years in Holland, has been acquired by HFL for restoration to airworthy. The wings will soon be going in to one of two sets of wing jigs. A set of wings typically takes a year to rebuild. With two jigs HFL are now able to undertake two major restorations consecutively.

Battle of Britain veteran Spitfire Mk 1, P9374 is under rebuild and when finished will be the oldest airworthy Spitfire. There are many components that survived being immersed in sand and salt water on a Calais beach, following the crashed landing after being shot down in May 1940. The parts are either being cleaned up and utilised in the rebuild or are used as templates.


During the tour HFL‘s Spitfire IX(T) ‘H98’ and Tom Blair’s Spitfire XVIe piloted by John Romain and Cliff Spink respectively, returned from a training sortie, and buzzed the airfield. Tom Blair having clearly enjoyed his experience in the rear of ‘H98’.


Thanks to HFL’s owner Karel Bos for providing access to his fascinating facilities and to Mark Parr for being on hand to explain what the parts were and how various processes work.

Tim Clark

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Lancaster Navigator,

W/0. John Lee

Part II

Interviewed by Peter Wesson

If you have not read Part I, you can find it here:

Part I

Onto OP'S

'One of the most marvelous things I've ever seen; I took part in a couple of Thousand Bomber raids. Daylight they were; you've never seen anything like that. You imagine, a thousand 'planes! There were planes above you, planes below you, planes out to both sides and we were always told when you're flying on raids, or anything, you mustn't get off the track more than three miles, if it's more than three miles you've got to D.R. and alter course. Very often the German fighters used to patrol on the outside. They'd wait for somebody to get out there and they'd jump on them. They wouldn't come into the stream because there were so many guns there, you know.

This day was something different, you couldn't get them all in a stream anyway, a thousand of them, they were coming from all over the place.'

I asked John what the destination of the raid was and he checked the details in his Log-book:

'Hamburg. That was on the thirty-first of the third 1945. The idea was that apparently there's a bridge over the river in Hamburg and of course by this time the invasion had taken place and the troops had moved well up, and they wanted this bridge blown up. So they got, I think they were Halifaxs and they'd made this ten-ton bomb. Of course the biggest we had was about five or eight tons we probably carried in the Lancaster. But his was a ten-ton, there was no shape to it - just like a big dustbin - and they took the bomb-doors off the Halifax and slung it sort of underneath, in the bomb-bay.

We were doing the raid with the Halifax's but they took off before us because of all this. They weren't as fast as a Lanc anyway, nor did they have the ceiling that a Lanc did, so we took off later and met them as they were going in to the target. When they released it well, I couldn't believe it, it didn't go down like a bomb, it just went like this.' (John gestures straight down with his hand, P.W.)
'But for some reason I don't think we hit the bridge at all. That was the only drawback with the Lancaster or any of the 'planes, our bomb-sites were shocking, they were really Heath-Robinson affairs. We had no Smart-bombs like you've got now, you know, you just let the bomb go and it finds it's own target. But we did our best.'

The other Thousand Bomber raid that John went on was to Dortmund on the thirteenth of March 1945. The Squadron was based at Waltham near Grimsby, and he recalled that their pilot 'Sandy' Taylor's first Operational Sortie was as the guest of a different crew..

'He went on a raid with another crew as familiarisation, just to show him what it was like, you know, it would be a bit of a shock if you went on a raid and they started firing at you and you'd never seen that before. He went on the Dresden raid with them, but we didn't go.

Well then, the next raid was Chemnitz. That's quite close to Dresden, and that's quite a long trip too, a complete round-trip there was nine hours and thirty five minutes. There was a story behind that one too: we always had a Met. Briefing before we went, and you'd get Met. winds (what you could expect them roughly to be.) That's to enable you to make out a complete flight-plan, so that if anything happened to the Navigator, the Pilot could get hold of that and he could probably fly back on it. Quite sensible really. Anyway we started off, and they never made it simple, you could never go straight there, oh no, that's too easy. You'd go out, first leg there, you'd get the turning point and you might go over this way so far, another turning point there. Now all these turning points had to be made within about a minute, so you'd be on your toes all the time, you'd be "slow down a bit, open up a bit, slow down a bit, alter course!"

The idea was that if you just went straight there, like the Americans did a lot of that, the Germans could more or less estimate where you were going to go and of course they'd be waiting for you with the fighters. Anyway, we set off, and we were supposed to get a hundred mile an hour headwind on the down-leg into the target area. Well I got a wind of a hundred mile an hour tailwind! So that means that instead of doing about two hundred miles an hour groundspeed, you've got something like three hundred mph ground speed, and by now we're getting close to the target. So I said "You've got to slow down!" We were about ten minutes earlier than we should have been. He (the pilot) said "Well, I can't slow down any more," I said "Put your wheels down or something," and he said "You've got to be joking, I'm not putting my wheels down at this height!" We couldn't just go in and drop the bombs because the Pathfinders had to come in and drop the markers down to bomb. So there's only one thing you can do; you've got to go through the target and go round. Well it finished up that they all were doing this, it was like a circus! And it was night-time by the way, and of course you couldn't see any other aircraft, the only time you knew there was an aircraft anywhere near you was if he was somewhere near the front of you you'd feel the vibration from the slipstreams. Well, we all came round, and then you've got to get back into the stream sort of thing, and then by that time, the Pathfinders had been in and dropped the flares down.

But it was hair-raising that night, you just didn't know where anything was, you know. And of course another thing was, the system they had; we used to bomb from different heights. So you'd get some in top height, some in the middle and some below. Well you'd be given a height, so you'd have to bomb at say twenty thousand feet, that's the top height usually, or eighteen thousand and another thousand below that. Well quite often they'd get a bomb come through the wing or something like that, oh yes, it used to happen ... we had incendiaries go through, into the front of the plane! It's not until you do a daylight raid that you realise all this, because on a daylight one you can see the 'planes around you. Well I mean, when you're coming into the target there you look up and there's a plane up above you, you know! And he opens his bomb doors, he can't see you but you can see him! And he lets the bomb go, a five-hundred pounder, and it just missed the tail, and I said to old Nobby (Rear Gunner) "Did you see that?" he said "See it, I could have struck a match on it!"

Did you ever encounter problems with enemy fighters?

'No, we didn't actually; we've seen a few of them, in fact one night on a night raid I saw a jet that was flying then; it was the first, the early one, for the Germans. They were before us. I was looking and I could see this like a flame coming out, and I said to Nobby "What's that?" and he's had a look, "Don't know," because of course we hadn't heard about these things. Anyway, it didn't come any nearer, it didn't go for us. But we used to see them, they'd patrol on the outsides more often. If you stayed on course, on this three-mile path like they told you to, it was pretty good really. But there was one raid, we weren't on it, I forget where it was but we lost a hell of a lot of planes. What they did, the Germans, they'd altered their tactics. Instead of patrolling up and down they came in on the side, into the stream like that, and they shot down a hell of a lot of them in that particular raid.'

Looking through his Log-book, John recalls that in one month alone he went on eight raids, including Kassel, Paderborn, Bremen, Misburg and Hannau:

'I thought they were trying to get rid of us!'

The aircraft which his crew used most often was code-lettered 'K', but other Lancasters in his Log book include D, P, J and H.

'In between this lot (the bombing raids) they used to send us on cross-country and high-level bombing practice. And air-to-air firing.

One more notable raid, on the ninth of the fourth we had a raid on Kiel, it was a night one, and that was six hours and twenty minutes, and the idea was to go and bomb the U-boat pens. When we got there we started the bombing runs and I'd finished navigating; it's all over to the bomb-aimer then, you know, I said "There's the target, it's yours now," and he used to take us in. And I'm looking out of the windows over the top of Sandy, and there's these rockets coming up, big clusters of them. I thought "Well that's funny, it's not like Anti-aircraft fire." Anti-aircraft fire's quite pretty if it doesn't hit you, it's different colours, like fireworks.
Anyway when we got back, and of course we'd taken photographs with the Photoflood and so on, and they put them up on the wall and they said "A poor raid, a very poor raid. But you sank the Admiral Scheer!" The Admiral Scheer was in there and we didn't even know it was there! We'd turned it over! Not me personally, I don't know whether we'd hit it or what, we could have - it was in harbour. They were most annoyed because we hadn't hit the pens, but then the blooming Scheer had got turned over!'

Looking back down the years, John recalled an amusing item regarding parachutes:

'In the Parachute Section, you used to go over there to collect your parachutes, and you'd go there and there's a big notice over the door and it said "If your parachute does not open, bring it back and we'll change it!'

Wartime Lancaster operations were not always belligerent, as this trip to Leiden in Holland on the 29th of April 1945 shows:

'What they'd decided to do, they'd send some Lancasters not to bomb it but to fill them up with food and stuff like that, because in Holland they were starving. Well we were chosen along with another five from Waltham to go on this drop. Now what had to happen was, we had to go in and they'd light a fire in this field, the Resistance or whoever it was, and we were supposed to go in at a hundred feet. Now that's pretty low for a Lancaster a hundred feet, and at a speed of a hundred miles an hour! Well the only way you could get a hundred mile an hour is to drop your wheels, so we had to drop the wheels and put part flap down as well. Well we didn't mind dropping the food, but we thought "That's a bit off, a hundred feet," anyway, we set off - I'll never forget this one - and we went over the Channel, it was only a short trip as you can see (referring to Log-book) it only took three hours and five minutes, hedge-hopping all the way. You could see they'd got overhead electric train cables or something, we were just over the top of them, and I'll never forget, there was a Dutchman there riding on his bike and we came along just over the top of him and he fell off, he couldn't believe it, you know! By the way, we'd been told "Whatever you do, if you see any Germans don't fire at them. If they fire at you you can fire back, but otherwise, don't fire at 'em." So anyway, we get there and we come in and we had the door open at the side and the stuff didn't have parachutes on, we were just chucking it out in big sacks, bags of flour and salt and all sorts of things. We came out up over Amsterdam, I've never seen anything like it; windows open, all waving, waving big sheets at us, it was tremendous, but there were no shots fired, nothing. As we came out crossing the coast, there was a company of Germans marching up and down the promenade and they sort of looked at us and we looked at them!'

As part of 'Operation Manna' John made a further three trips, this time to Rotterdam, with the same crew. 'Sandy' Taylor was now a Flight Lieutenant and would later be promoted to Squadron Leader.

To be continued .....

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If you're reading this then you have already discovered our new website - so not much more to say on that subject. However, I still need feedback from Spitfire Society members (and any other visitors). So please let me know what you think of the site - and what, if anything, you would like to see changed, removed or added.

I look forward to hearing from you.



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My Trip to the Purfleet Heritage Centre

On 25th March after a very enjoyable and interesting visit with the Spitfire Society to the 11 Group H.Q. Group Bunker at Uxbridge, I made my way, accompanied by Steve Williams, to a pre-arranged Book Signing that was to take place for Service Personnel who had served at RAF Hornchurch, that afternoon at the Purfleet Heritage Centre.

On arrival at the Museum we were warmly greeted by Richard C. Smith and his grand group of Helpers, after which I was escorted to another building by Richard to meet eight other Hornchurch Veterans including lan Blair and Peter Ayerst. We spent the next couple of hours signing books in between the general chat about our experiences and our service life at Hornchurch.

After the signing we were presented with a copy of the book we had just signed and an unsigned print, followed by a photocall.

On returning to the Museum we were warmly greeted again by the Helpers and a group of singers singing wartime songs! This is a wonderfully well-stocked, well-organised and very friendly Museum and I recommend you pay it a visit.

We finished our day with an enjoyable meal at the Purfleet Hotel followed by coffee in the Lounge overlooking the Thames.

Audrey Morgan

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Eastern Region AGM

Old Warden, April 14th 2007

This years AGM went as well as could be hoped for under the circumstances, despite the speaker being taken ill, one Pat Butler Award nominee failing to materialise, and a record low turnout from the membership. However, we pressed on regardless, with Sqn.Ldr. lan Blair DFM, RAF (Retd) kindly stepping in to give a talk around the famous Skae Brae incident or the "Tussle in the Stratosphere" as it has become known, where he and his wingman, flying pressurised Spitfire Mks. VII and VI respectively, intercepted at high altitude an Me109 reconnaissance aircraft over Orkney.

Chasing the '109 into a dive lan Blair destroyed the aircraft, the resulting debris causing engine damage to his Spitfire, which he was obliged to put down in an emergency landing on the tiny island of Stronsay. This short summary merely covers the basics of the story and is a very poor substitute for hearing the account first-hand; many thanks to lan for a riveting talk. Next on the agenda was the Pat Butler Memorial Award, which is granted each year to two outstanding ATC Cadets in memory of this Region's Founding Chairman. The Award was this year presented by our Newsletter Co-Editor and former Regional Chairman Dennis Nichols to ATC Warrant Officer Antoni Otulakowski of No. 134 Sqn. (Bedford). An outstanding cadet, Antoni has served in the ATC for nearly six years and has flown in a wide variety of helicopters and tutor aircraft and last year completed his Gliding Scholarship, flying solo in a Vigilant powered glider. He has several times represented his Region at athletics, and two years ago was the ATC's cross-country representative. On top of all this Antoni has been a guest at both 10 Downing Street and Buckingham Palace. Antoni hopes to go on to join the Royal Navy as a Warfare Officer. Congratulations on your achievements Antoni, and the best of luck with your future career. Do please stay in touch, as we would very much like to know how you get on.

After the ceremony Group Captain Ford, head of the ATC in our Region gave a short address thanking the Spitfire Society for it's continued support of the ATC.

The AGM itself went ahead after lunch, with David Williams being officially elected as Chairman, and the current Committee re-elected. David welcomed Alyson Long who once again joined us from HQ. The tone of the meeting was upbeat, with David welcoming members Jason Amiss, Gerard Crutchley, Robert Schofield and Paul Plummer onto the Committee. David also took the time to thank Dennis and Dorothy Nichols for the work they put into producing and distributing the Newsletter. Much missed were Len and Dorothy Stillwell, Peter Cunningham and Norman Lyons who for reasons of health were unable to make it this year. A moment was also taken to remember our friends Harry Griffiths, Philip Insley, Alex Henshaw, and Bert Harman, who all passed away recently.
On an optimistic note, David told us that we are booked to appear at all six Duxford Airshows (new Sales-Stand Volunteers always welcome, it's for a good cause, and we don't bite!) plus the two Special Events. Organised visits included HFL at Duxford and Hawker Restorations in Suffolk, with more in the offing provided there is support from the membership.

In spite of the poor attendance, the raffle still raised a healthy £73.00, so well done indeed to Audrey Horwood and Audrey Morgan. Special thanks also to raffle-winner Gerry Crutchley who very kindly returned the prize, a handsome signed, framed print, to the Society for future use. Thanks also to Steve Beale for arranging the use of the hall at the Shuttleworth Collection for us.


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Firstly, hearty congratulations to Gerry Crutchley who has now got our new Eastern Region Website up and running; it really is a marvellous, professional-looking site and I can highly recommend it.

Well done also to Jason Amiss who is now doing wonderful work handling the Spitfire Society's stock, and to Bob Schofield whose first organised visit for us, a trip to Historic Flying at Duxford, went magnificently; great stuff, lads, keep up the good work.

The next big piece of news is that the 2008 SPITFIRE SOCIETY CALENDARS are now in stock! Alyson Long at H.Q. has put a great deal of effort into preparing these calendars, and it shows; with superb first-class photographs of Spitfires (all taken by Spitfire Society Members!) on every page, the whole thing looks terrific and would make a splendid addition to any wall, whether for yourself or as a very special and unique gift. (A particularly nice touch in my view is that each month carries, in its bottom right-hand corner, one of Pete Wesson's fine Cartoons L.D.N) So, priced very competitively at £10.00 (or £12.50 including postage) I'm sure they will sell very quickly. As they say, "ORDER YOURS NOW TO AVOID DISAPPOINTMENT!!") The calendars will be on sale from our sales-stand at air shows, or you may order directly from Jason Amiss: jasonamiss@spitfiresociety.org.uk

To tie in with the article by John Lee on his days as a Navigator in Bomber Command, a very small number of A4 sized prints of a drawing by Peter Wesson depicting one of the Lancasters that John flew on are available to Spitfire Society Members on a first come first served basis.

Signed by John Lee, the prints are £6.00 each inc, all profits to the Spitfire Society. Please contact Peter Wesson for details: peterwesson@spitfiresociety.org.uk

As you will have read in the latest 'Spitfire' journal there are still posts within the Society that urgently need filling, perhaps most importantly Office Assistant and Treasurer. The latter position has been held for many years with great success by Peggy Alien, who is now long overdue to retire from the post, and has been hanging on in the hope that someone would come forward to take over; this situation cannot continue and it is of the utmost urgency that the position be filled, so if you feel that you or someone you know may be able to help with this or any other job at HQ, please contact the Executive Committee.

You will also have read of the threat by developers to our HQ premises at Southampton, and again, if you have any ideas or suggestions for a new location do please come forward.

On the subject of extra assistance, Eastern Region are becoming increasingly involved in assisting HQ in various areas, and we are still very busy raising funds at air shows. We are always pleased to welcome new helpers (or indeed, welcome back previous helpers who may have drifted away) on to the Sales Stand. There are lots of benefits to being a helper, for example, the work is most rewarding, you get to meet lots of interesting people who have an interest in the Spitfire (frequently including people who may have flown or worked on them during the war!), and there is great satisfaction in helping with such a good cause. It can also be a lot of fun, so if you think YOU might like to get involved with this, or indeed any other aspect of Eastern Regions' activities including Committee work, then PLEASE contact the appropriate member - we look forward to hearing from you!


Committee members' emails can be found here:

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Fool! I said "organise a Sparrow-shoot!"

Pete Wesson, from an idea by Bert Harman



Extract from the Memoirs of Reg Skolfield

Night flying in Peterborough was unnerving. There was no radio beam and you had to keep radio silence. You had to be damn sure you kept that tiny airfield with its dim flares within your sight, or else.

Although there was a blackout everywhere, the glow of the cities was quite easy to identify. Even so it was dark with menace in the air. On the same evening that I was night-flying, a fresh-faced young Army Lieutenant, seconded to the RAF, was shot out of the sky by a German night raider. The threat of death was very near, all the time. On the ground we lived it up. Jack was the very devil. He was quick-witted and charming to the Nth degree. All he had to do was to say Chug-a-lug, and everyone would immediately down their pints in one go. On one of these occasions I overdid it, and when leaving the Mess, found the ground falling away from me like the deck of a storm-tossed ship. I was put to my bed by Jack, and Bud Draper tried to pour a bottle of whisky down my throat. The bed was absolutely soaked in the morning. Poor Bud Draper, he was killed in Wales on a drogue-towing exercise. And John Raynes too. He was with us at Eagle Pass, and a sweeter natured fellow you would never meet in years. He was killed in an accident when flying a Hurricane. His father and my father had known each other in Quorn, Leicestershire in early days. Never once did I have the temptation to fly low over my father's house in Lincolnshire; I felt I would have done something stupid like hitting the telephone wires, or the church steeple next door to us.

When our posting did come it was a bit of a shock. From September through to May we had coasted along and even in the hated Master I had put in almost seventy hours. Now we were to be sent East, not to Europe, but East. We sailed on the Britannic from Liverpool, first out to the Azores, then joining a convoy of twenty ships through the Mediterranean. The contrast in weather was startling. Everyone, including the many WAAFs started out wearing our blue uniforms and even greatcoats. By the time we got to the Med. everyone stripped to the minimum in the heat, and the prim and proper WAAFs of our homeland changed overnight into seductive sirens. Once I noticed men going up and down a stairway, but studying carefully a girl sitting at the top, just to one side. I climbed up this stairway and soon saw the reason for this curiosity: the girl was not wearing anything under her dress, and the way she was sitting on the deck revealed all!

I shall never forget the ships steaming in two columns, in line astern and we in the middle sailing into the glorious sun atop blue, so blue waves. We docked at Port Said with traders everywhere in small boats trying to sell us their wares, so different from the ports in Britain. We took a train to Cairo, and by nightfall were comfortably established in a room in the Heliopolis Hotel.

Jack and I visited the Pyramids, the Cairo museum, the Zoo, the Sphinx, Shepherd's Hotel, where the rulers of Empire would gather, and relaxed by the Hotel pool, watching beautiful girls in the sun. We were invited to a party by the wife of a well-to-do Egyptian. She had two good-looking daughters and the next day I telephoned for a date. The mother asked me over for coffee, and I found myself escorting her to a movie for the afternoon. She was American, about forty years of age and very very nice indeed. From that time on we were quite close and used to go to the smart Gezira Club and drink gin and vermouth, or go to cinemas. She would prepare for me at home rice with fried egg plant which was delicious after several gins. When we were posted to Palestine, she told me she would give me a thousand pounds after the war so that I might tour the world. I did not keep in touch with her after we left Egypt, but when I was in Canada three years later I contacted her through her Bank, which address she had given me. I saw her in Springfield on my way to New York, and she was in love with a local writer, one of whose stories had been made into a film for Gary Grant. She wrote me in New York saying that on the way back from the station where she had bade me farewell, she cried.

With Mary too, back in San Antonio I had not kept in touch, but she wrote me in Burma, saying she had met a man she liked and would I be going back to Texas? If so she would wait for me, but this chap had asked her to marry him. I replied saying that I could never be sure that I would ever get out of Burma, and that she should go ahead. Much later someone said to me 'Oh that was a 'Dear John' letter. But I am sure Mary had a much more fulfilling life than she would have done with me. Jack fell sick and was two weeks behind in our posting to 74 OTU, in Petah Tiqvah, Palestine. But in consequence he was eventually returned to England, and with Jamie Morrison, who was an instructor at Petah Tiqvah, he flew Tempests and according to them both in their speeches at Jack's 50th Wedding Anniversary celebrations, they had one hell of a good time in Germany (probably riotous). Jamie was best man at Jack's wedding.

The course in Palestine was about Tactical Reconnaissance, and we were carefully trained in navigation, sector recces, vertical and oblique photography, air to air gunnery, air to ground gunnery, formation flying, low flying, and so on. We flew Hurricanes, Harvards and Spitfire V's. These were the ones with clipped wings. They were undoubtedly delightful airplanes, and so easy to fly. Accurate too and I was able to fly on one occasion at 5,000 feet near to Damascus where the air was balmy, with my wing resting atop another. But the Spitfire was not suitable for desert work for, with one small radiator, you had to be quick about getting off the airstrip: If you were too slow the temperature would rise rapidly and you had to switch off and be towed in. I was very good at practical work in taking photographs in the air, in fact I came out on top, which qualified for a prize. However, I didn't get it because I came out bottom in class on theory!

One time I set off in a Hurricane low level along the valley to Nazareth. As I circled the town I came below a steep hill, and have thought since, was that the hill where the angry local inhabitants tried to throw Jesus down? There was also the mail run, which everyone had to do on the Course. This meant flying to Cairo, stopping off at Ismailia, delivering mail there and flying to Heliopolis, where we stayed the night (I well remember this, it was in an adjacent hotel with bed bugs crawling all about, and I was obliged to keep the light on all night), returning to Petah Tiqvah the following day. I do not know of anybody who really enjoyed this caper.

A New Zealander named 'Robbo' shared a room with me. He was swarthily good-looking, and a wow with the ladies. He shared many stories with me, one of which involved his seduction of a Jewish NAAFI girl. He was making love with her when he looked up and saw people watching them as they leaned against the iron railings above. This was at the pier, and quickly Robbo and the girl rolled over and over in the sand, still linked together, underneath the Pier. Poor Robbo. He was a delightful fellow, full of entertaining stories, but for him, it was a short life and a gay one. He was killed in Italy, he and his Hurricane shot down over the mountains.

When in the Spitfire. I flew low over the water opposite Tel Aviv. Jack said later that he had been on the beach with a friend and they had waved and shouted out: "Lower, Lower." I had never been confident over water, and found it difficult to estimate one's height, and was frankly scared of dipping the prop.

At a party in town, we were served prawns. The next morning the whole camp, it seemed, was ill. The pain was horrendous, and it was as though one's stomach was being squeezed relentlessly in a vice. There was absolutely no control over body functions, and I eventually sat on the floor under a hot shower for an hour at least, not caring whether I was scalded, as long as the agonising pain in the abdomen was eased, however slightly. We had alas forgotten the wise advice of Moses. Awaiting the posting to India soon after in tents near Cairo, the effect still lingered, and the sands of the desert covered a lot of what we were totally unable to control.

Reg Skolfield

(to be continued)

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Form 700 is produced by Peter Wesson and Dennis Nichols. Photographs by Peter Wesson, Tim Clark & Eric Horwood.


The previous issue of Form 700 (#50 Spring 2007) can be found here:

Form 700 No 50