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


Form 700    No. 53   Autumn 2008



From the Chair

General Announcements

In Memoriam

L. Dennis Nichols

Dorothy Stillwell

Reg Skolfield

The Handover of the Mew Gull

Why Not Get Involved?

Aviation Training - Part 2

Clipped Wings and Tail Draggers

25th Anniversary Calendar

The Memoirs of Reg Skolfield - Part 3

Photo Gallery


From the Chair

It is with deep regret that once again I have to inform you of the passing of four close friends in our region. Dot Stillwell and Ken Plumridge in June and Dennis Nichols and Geoff Lewis in July. The death of Dennis marks the end of an era that began with the formation of this region and continued to his final days. I personally feel that I have lost a true friend, a friend of total integrity.

Our deepest sympathy is extended to Dorothy, Len and Peggy and to all their families.

On to a brighter note, we are half way through our air show programme; to date all has gone very well. We still have two days at Duxford in September and the last show in October to come.

Once again many thanks to our committee and to all our helpers, that is what makes it all work.

I wish you all very good health and prosperity.

With very Kind Regards,

David Williams

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General Announcements

Sadly, we have in recent months lost two of our key members with the deaths of Dorothy Stillwell and Dennis Nichols. As the wife of long-time Committee Member Len Stillwell, Dots support over the years has been invaluable. As for Dennis and the myriad tasks that he undertook on our behalf it is no exaggeration to say that without him the Eastern Region would not be where it is today - in a strong position and looking forward to the future. Notices on Dennis and Dorothy may be found in this Newsletter.

The following is an extract from a letter sent to Len Stillwell from Vicky Goodman of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund; “Dear Mr. Stillwell, Thank you very much for your recent letter enclosing cheques totalling £95.00 from family and friends in memory of the late Dorothy Stillwell, a WAAF in Bomber Command, North Yorks., during World War II. On Behalf of the Chairman and the board of Trustees may I express our grateful thanks for this kind support for our work, which is so warmly appreciated.” The letter may be seen in its entirety on our Regional website. Len has asked me to convey his thanks to all those who contributed, and to add that a further £70.00 has now been received. The letter can be found on our Message Board.

Other members who have now passed away include former Spitfire Pilots Ken Plumridge and Geoff Lewis who were both were enthusiastic and active members of our region. Ken would attend events and air shows when able and would work hard signing prints and memorabilia to raise funds for our society. Geoff Lewis was an artist of fine calibre whose paintings of Spitfires were not only technically  accurate, thanks to his own first hand knowledge, but also very beautiful and evocative. Over the years he had donated several of these paintings to the Society to help raise funds. Also recently deceased are Form 700 contributor Reg Skolfield, and Southern Region Member Nick Berryman, both members of the Spitfire Society from its earliest days. Nick, as you may remember, gave a fascinating interview on the work of an Air Sea Rescue Spitfire Pilot to the Newsletter a few years ago; a tireless Society enthusiast, Nick would always give members a warm welcome at Tangmere Museum where he was a volunteer.

In other news, Gerard Crutchley has been busy with the Eastern Region Website (www.spitfiresocietyeastern.org.uk in case you didn't know by now!) and has installed a splendid Archives section where visitors may review some of the best items that have featured on the site and in the Newsletter, and also a Message Board feature which I think will prove to be very popular. If you havent visited the site recently do take a look, (I find the Links Section very useful, in particular the Duxford Update, which does what it says on the tin and has some splendid photos of their exhibits, including Jasons Airspeed Ambassador) and dont forget to tell all your friends about it. As ever, if you have any comments or feedback, or if there is anything you think could go on the Notice board, please do contact Gerard (Email and phone no. on back page of this newsletter). At this point it would seem opportune to say a special Thank You to Gerard who has been putting in a great deal of time towards helping get the Newsletter off the ground following the death of former Co-Editor Dennis Nichols. It is reasonable to assume that we will encounter teething problems, but it is with the aim in the spirit that Dennis always took, of doing the best job that we possibly can, that Gerard and I are proceeding, so thank you Gerard.

Spitfire Society Calendars

*The Spitfire Society 25th Anniversary Calendar is now on sale!Organised by our own Jason Amiss, with stunning photographs by Garry Lakin it is an absolute must for all members, family, friends and acquaintances.*

Next, I am very pleased to send special greetings to Sqn. Ldr. Ian Blair DFM who in July of this year celebrated his 90th birthday. The occasion was marked by a wonderful party organised by his family at the ancient and historic venue of the Officers Mess situated in the Grand House (former seat of residence of the Duke of Manchester then Lord Mandeville) at RAF Brampton Park in Cambridgeshire. As well as a large number of family and friends, the throng of people who came to wish Ian well included esteemed wartime colleagues from the Aircrew Association and representatives from various other oganisations such as the Blenheim Society and the Spitfire Society. Following a splendid lunch, guests gathered on the lawn making the most of  the weather on that fine sunny day. Suddenly two Spitfires, a Mk.IX and a Mk.XVI roared low overhead, wheeling and soaring in the bright blue sky in salute to a great pilot; what could be more fitting? Congratulations Ian, Many Happy Returns of the day.

Recent Events

 Eastern Region 2008 AGM, Old Warden

Following coffee in the Restaurant at Shuttleworth, the day began with the annual Pat Butler Memorial Awards made in memory of our Regions founding father. The proceedings were introduced by our Chairman David Williams, and the nominees introduced by Steve Williams. The ceremony was conducted, with his customary style and graciousness, by former Regional Chairman and 241 Sqn. Spitfire pilot Dennis Nichols, who sadly has of course since passed away. As in the past we had two exceptionally gifted awardees, namely Cadet Flight Sergeant Charlotte Emily Hunt, 2409 Halton Sqn, and Cadet Flight Sergeant Jonathan Maflin, 444 Shoreditch Sqn. Both of these remarkable young people already have c.v.s as long as ones proverbial arm, listing one success after another. We would not want to embarrass Jonathan and Emily by cataloguing all of their achievements here, though each Cadet has expressed a wish to join the Royal Air Force with a view to becoming a pilot and I am sure that everyone in Eastern Region would like to join me in wishing them every success with this and all of their future endeavours. We very much hope that you will continue your membership of the Spitfire Society in the years ahead and keep us informed now and again of the progress of your careers. (Photos can be found in the Pat Butler section.)

Following the Pat Butler Awards ceremony an aircraft-on-glass painting was presented by Steve Williams on behalf of the Committee and Helpers to David Williams as a token of appreciation for the relentless hard work that he does as our Chairman and Treasurer; Thank You David.

The raffle did very well this year, with over seventy pounds being raised, so well done and thank you to Audrey Morgan and Audrey Horwood. The prize - a beautiful framed picture of a Spitfire, of course, - was won by Audrey Morgan who very kindly offered it to be re-raffled, the eventual winner being, fittingly, one of our Awardees, Cadet Sergeant Charlotte Hunt. Well done Charlotte, we hope that it will remind you always of your association with the Spitfire Society, which we also hope will be for a long time still to come.

The meeting itself went well enough, the major queries being the problem of lunchtime Sales Stand coverage and the question of what direction the Spitfire Society may take under the new Management team. By way of something a bit different this year, Gerard Crutchley brought in a laptop computer so that those members not online could see what our Regional Website looks like, which was very well received. Gerard told us that the Website is going well, with a high number of New Visitors per week. Sadly, despite his commitment and enthusiasm and with well over a year under his belt now, Gerard was understandably disappointed that feedback from the Eastern Region Membership has been noticeably lacking - almost non-existent in fact. Gerard puts in a lot of time and effort on our behalf, so come on - lets give him some support and let him know our thoughts, queries, views, ideas and opinions on our Website.

Following the meeting we commenced our behind-the-scenes tour of the Shuttleworth Collections workshop hangers where a number of significant historic aircraft such as the Blackburn B3, Feisler Storch and Bleriot monoplane were undergoing maintenance. But it was the Mk.V Spitfire that everyone wanted to see, and we were not disappointed. The Aircraft was stripped right down to its main sections, with wings, tail, and engine all removed from the fuselage which, with paint removed, was a vision of gleaming bare metal. The components were all in different workshops through which, in two groups, we were given an extensive and unhurried tour by the Shuttleworth Staff, who patiently and thoroughly answered all questions put to them. With so much of the interior of the aircraft clearly visible this was literally a chance in a lifetime to study first-hand the workings of this magnificent aircraft; the last time AR501 had an extensive overhaul was in the early 70s, so by that standard it may be thirty or forty years before it undergoes another one. Thanks to Bob Schofield for organising the tour, and to the Staff at Old Warden for their kindness and hospitality.

One major disappointment at this years AGM was that despite an appeal in the March Newsletter for Regional Members to support the meeting, the attendance this year was even worse than last years record low, with a total of thirteen people present including the Committee. Only Mr. and Mrs. Cooper, who support the AGM every year, represented the non-committee/helpers membership. We are of course aware that there are many people who for very good reasons are simply not able to make it to the AGM, but in a Region of nearly four hundred people there are obviously just as many who could if they so wished. Following this recent downward trend it seems likely that unless we receive significant positive feedback from the Membership, next years AGM will be held at a much smaller, less costly venue.

The trip in March to RAF Bentley Priory was a great success, made all the more poignant as with the sale of the station for redevelopment this may well have been the last chance to visit this most historic site, at least in its present form. Bentley Priory was of course the nerve centre of Fighter Command during the war, and our guide Cindy McCabe gave us a superb, unhurried tour of the house and grounds which included Air Marshal Dowdings beautifully preserved office. The tour gave a real and tangible insight into the history of the priory and illuminated less well known aspects such as the numerous ghosts said to walk the halls and gardens at night. There was a good attendance of around forty people on the visit, and we were once again pleased to welcome guests from Southern Region. Our thanks to RAF Bentley Priory for their hospitality, to Ian Peak for organising the visit, and to Cindy for a wonderful tour.

There can be few governments in the world with as high a level of disrespect and disregard for National Heritage as that of this country; for whos government but ours would let such a significant treasure as Bentley Priory fall into private ownership to be turned over to luxury accommodation? The good news is that there is a lobby by The Bentley Priory Battle of Britain Trust to have part of the building preserved as an education centre and memorial for the benefit of future generations. The trust has a superb website, www.bentleypriory.org  which I would strongly recommend readers to visit.

The get-together at Brooklands in May went well although numbers were a bit thin on the ground. Regular supporters of our visits Mr. and Mrs. Camp turned up in force with their family, and we were also pleased to see our great friends and Sales Stand helpers Irene and Norman Pascall. The weather was splendid, the sunshine adding to the nostalgic atmosphere that Brooklands evokes. For those people who went on the Concorde Experience Im told this was very interesting indeed, other people choosing to just wander around the historic buildings and hangers enjoying the countless wonderful exhibits.

The museums Hawker Hurricane restoration is progressing well, and of course Brooklands is home to what many people would regard as the jewel in their crown, Vickers Wellington R for Robert, late of Loch Ness. This was a really grand summers day out spent in the company of good friends. Thanks to Bob for organising it for us.


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In Memoriam

L. Dennis Nichols

Dennis Nichols was born on the 16th of January 1924. On the 1st of June 2008, following a short illness he died, and on that day we lost one of our closest and most well-loved friends.

The Spitfire was always close to Dennis’s heart having flown the Mk.IX version of this wonderful aeroplane over Italy with 241 Sqn. during the war.  Dennis was also one of the initial members of the Eastern Region of the Spitfire Society working in the early days alongside founder Pat Butler.  Dennis performed many roles on our behalf including Treasurer, Secretary, Newsletter Editor, Sales Stand Helper and of course, Chairman.

In all of the tasks that he undertook for us Dennis was always supported and often assisted by his wife, our dear friend Dorothy Nichols. Much of the work that they did went unnoticed by the majority of our members, such as assembling all of the content for the Form 700 newsletter, getting it printed, and then the long hours spent labeling up and packaging the hundreds of copies to be posted. But such was Dennis’s nature that self-promotion of any kind was the furthest ever thing from his mind. Not only was he concerned with getting the job done, he also made sure it was completed to as high a standard as possible, a philosophy which he reflected in all aspects of his life.

Of course Dennis had many other interests besides Spitfires; his love of motor cars was widely-known (who can forget his appearances at Old Warden Members’ Days in the beautiful vintage Lagonda which he himself had restored?), and with his passion for computers he was an acknowledged expert in the field. Slightly less generally known may be that he was a member of the local Barber Shop Choir in Harlow, or that having worked for many years around the world in the field of telecommunications he had adopted a fondness for old and antique telephones of which he had assembled a large and beautiful collection.

But above and beyond all else Dennis’s greatest love and commitment was to his family; his wife Dorothy, children Helen and Richard, and to all of his grandchildren, and to them we send our heartfelt sympathy for their loss.

Dennis was a truly remarkable and wonderful man. With his intelligence, insight and keen eye for detail, his dry and dexterous wit was legendary. Generous, warm and kind, cool and collected in all situations, Dennis was a man of great strength and integrity and was always, without fail, a true gentleman. We shall miss him very much.


Dorothy Stillwell

In June of this year we lost one of our dearest friends with the death of Dorothy Stillwell.

Dot, as we all knew her had been, along with her husband Len, a supporter of Eastern Region since it’s earliest days and together were always to be found at Society functions, meetings, or helping on the Regional Sales Stand at air shows.

As a WAAF during the war Dot was a camera technician responsible for installing camera and film on bombers prior to an operation, then removing the instrument after the sortie and processing the results. Of course without this vital work the true accuracy of raids would not be known. One of the aircraft types that Dot worked on was the Wellington, and it was with great sadness that she spoke of the heavy losses suffered and of the young men who went out and never came back. The three ‘Heavies’ were also to benefit from Dot’s attentions, and it was with some glee that she would recall being taken aloft unexpectedly on a test-flight on more than one occasion whilst working on equipment in the nose of the aeroplane (also a delight for the crew, I’m told!).  Of the big three it was the Halifax, for its ruggedness and reliability, that Dot liked the most.

After the war Dot continued in the field of photography as a teacher and also in the specialised field of airbrush photograph retouching.

In recent years various aspects of Dot’s health had started to decline and in the face of mounting difficulties Len never wavered in his single-handed determination to care for her and that, for the most part, except when Len himself was taken unwell, Dot did not have to leave her home which was her great wish.

As a supporter of Eastern Region, Dorothy Stillwell was highly treasured and a true inspiration to many younger members such as myself. We have lost a good, kind, generous and greatly loved friend, and we will remember her always.

To Len, may I on behalf of the Members, Helpers, and Committee of Eastern Region offer our condolences and kindest thoughts.


Reg Skolfield

It is with great sadness that I have to report the death of former 28 Sqn. Pilot Reg Skolfield, who passed away last year.

Reg had of course contributed extracts from his memoirs for serialising in the Form 700 - Part Three appears in this issue. The evocative and atmospheric stories detailing his adventures around the wartime Mediterranean - both on the ground and in the air flying Hurricanes and Spitfires - will have stirred the memories of those who served in that theatre and the imaginations of those who did not. One can only be grateful that he was able to put these recollections to paper so that people such as myself who were born long after the war finished may have some glimpse into what it was like, at least for one airman.

One of the founding members of the Spitfire Society, Reg was an enthusiastic supporter of our region and would come along to air shows and events whenever possible. A man of clear insight and very attune to current affairs, Reg and I would while away many an hour on the ‘phone ‘Putting the World to Rights.’  I will also remember Reg’s great sense of humour (which I think is quite evident in his memoirs), his evident sadness for friends and colleagues who never came home, and of course his deeply rooted affection for the Spitfire.


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The Handover of the Mew Gull

In a prestigious ceremony at RAF Hendon Museum on April the 17th, the replica of the late Alex Henshaw’s record-setting Percival Mew Gull G-AEXF was formally handed over. The replica was accepted by the Director General Dr. Michael Fopp from Alex Henshaw Jr. and builder Tony Ditheridge of A.J.D. Engineering. The aircraft has been re-created in tremendous detail.

For a short period the Mew Gull was on the floor with a mannequin of Alex sitting on a Lloyd Loom chair. The replica will later be suspended from the ceiling with its ‘pilot’ in the cockpit. It will be in the ‘Milestones of Flight’ gallery.

I felt that it was my special privilege to receive an invitation to this great event and for that I very sincerely thank John and Daniel.

David Williams

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Why Not Get Involved?

If you are a member of the Spitfire Society and would like to get extra from your membership, why not get more involved?

One good way to start is as a volunteer helper on our Airshow Sales Stand; it’s a great way to meet like-minded people with an interest in Spitfires (and every other type of classic aircraft!) including the people who built, maintained, armed and of course flew these magnificent aeroplanes. It’s a splendid day out with a great atmosphere, and you will of course be doing vital work helping to raise the funds upon which your society depends. It’s also a very good place to make contacts and in recent years our helpers have benefited from privileged access to areas not usually available to the general public and as well as all of that, regular helpers are granted reduced cost entry to air shows! The work itself is very straightforward, consisting of either manning the Sales Stand or selling raffle tickets, and it’s all done in a friendly, informal way. So if you think it sounds like fun, why not give it a go - we can always use more help.

Another way to get involved is by contributing to the Form 700 Newsletter; we are always on the lookout for new material such as reviews, articles, anecdotes, in fact anything our readers may be interested in. The ’700 is of course reproduced in an extended format on our Regional Website, so your handiwork may be viewed from Tintagel to Timbuktu! And of course our Webmaster Gerry is always open to suggestions, feedback, and possible contributions for the site.

Perhaps you would like to get involved with the actual running of the Region and feel you might like to become a member of our Committee? If you think you have something to offer, step forward - we don’t bite!

So there we are, a few ideas and suggestions - if you’d like more information just get in touch with any member of the Committee.

You are a member of one of the finest aviation societies in the world, but remember it doesn’t run itself, so if you are able to, why not:

Get Involved Today?

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Aviation Training - Part 2

Ken Bradley

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

Aviation Training

Having successfully completed E.F.T.S., we were sorry to leave it behind us, and the many delights of the city of Johannesburg, but we wished to find where the next stage of our training would take place, namely, S.F.T.S. This, in my case turned out to be No 27 Air School, Bloemfontein, in the Orange Free State, where we quickly settled in to new quarters to the sounds of the aircraft we were to fly, the Pratt & Whitney radial engined Harvard - a sound all of its' own - soon to become very familiar and reassuring, once airborne.

Introductions swiftly took place, firstly to the lovely aircraft, then, more importantly, to our instructors for the course. I was assigned to 'A' Flight Group and F/O Cotterell, to whom I owe a great deal throughout for his flying instruction.

Following initial tests and approximately six hours dual, I was allowed to fly an hour solo, to include a few take-off and landings, with the instructor nearby keeping a close watch each time. It was incredible; the difference in power and handling to the Tiger Moth, but it was absolutely fine. The aircraft has no vices at all and the visibility from the front seat, just great.

(October 1944) For the next four months, including intensive course work, we were airborne for 2-3 hours each flying day. This consisted of general flying, aerobatics, formation, cross-country, night flying air to air, air to ground and instrument flying - a very full programme indeed. This was all made possible because of the ideal weather conditions in South Africa. With final test looming towards the end of January, my training, along with other trainee pilots, proved successful.

The great day arrived mid-February - Wings Parade - a couple of weeks prior to my 21st birthday. What a present, awarded the R.A.F. Flying Badge and no-one in the family to share the excitement with!! We did, however, have a great party in the mess following the presentations.

Following on from the success of the course (and the party), a few of us had some leave and went to Cape Town. On our return, we heard that someone had dropped out from a posting to the Middle East for further training at O.T.U. At the time, they were waiting in Durban and I was selected to join them so travelled by train from Bloemfontein (not a lot of scenery by the way!). Once there, we changed into civilian attire (for some reason or other) and we boarded a B.O.A.C. Short Sunderland flying boat for the journey up through the Horn of Africa and the Nile Delta, taking a couple of days at leisure, landing at Suez, and finally on to No 73 O.T.U. Fayid, near the canal. Little did I realize that only 9 months or so earlier, I was on the ship going the other way to Durban!

The next day, following the initial welcome and pep talk, we were taken to the dispersal point, and the aircraft we were to fly for the next part of our training. For me, this was the most exciting part.

...... to be continued

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Clipped Wings and Tail Draggers

Many wartime British Fighter Pilots went across the Atlantic to do their Initial Training, and the aircraft favoured by our American cousins for this purpose was the Boeing Stearman; a fine, sturdy biplane - a good number of which may still be seen flying today.

Former Regional Committee Member and current Stearman Association Member, Ron Gould trained on the Stearman and sent us the following item; unfortunately the photographs were too faded to reproduce, but I’m sure you will still find it very interesting.

‘During Primary Training at Darr Airfield, GA, USA, rumour had it that an earlier cadet had ridden the tail of a Stearman. His instructor not having a good time after a heavy night out, demonstrated his wrath at his pupil’s efforts by slamming the stick forward, and out popped the cadet. This was never confirmed, so the rumour appeared to die.

That is until 1998, 56 years later. Out of the blue, a Canadian, having learned of our Assn. sent a newspaper cutting dated Feb. 8, 1942 from the New York Sunday News; he thought that we would be interested to see the photographs and captions. Proof that Derek Sharp not only rode the tail of a Stearman at Tuskaloosa but later that week, climbing from the cockpit after landing his ship, another, also landing, sheered off his upper starboard wing. I have since heard that Derek was killed on Lancs, but cannot confirm.  R.G.’

New York Sunday News, Feb. 8, 1942;  ‘Close Shave Again.’

‘Lucky. Twice in a week RAF Cadet Derek M. Sharp of Yorkshire, England, in training at Tuscaloosa, Ala., missed death by a whisker. This his latest exploit; he was climbing from the cockpit of his plane when another ship, coming in for landing, sheered off a wing. Sharp, unhurt, grins as he inspects the damage. Luck then, too. Cadet Sharp, the flying Yorkshireman, shows how he rode the tail of a plane to a safe landing. He was thrown from his seat during a training flight but managed to straddle the fuselage and get a kind of grip on things until the instructor landed the ship safely.’

Steve Williams adds: '... sadly, I can confirm that Derek Sharp's luck finally ran out on the 26th June 1943. He was the pilot of Lancaster R5740 which was 'lost without trace'  on a mission to Gelsenkirchen. Derek and his crew are all commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.'


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25th Anniversary Calendar

Now Available!

The superb calendar for 2009 is now obtainable, featuring sumptuous glossy pictures on every page of everyones favourite aeroplane by renowned photographer Garry Lakin.

The calendar has lots of space for daily appointments, with all twelve months of next year included and even Bank Holidays thrown in for free!

Measuring nearly 10” by 15” (open), this item would really look great on any wall, so why not be the envy of all your friends and be the first in your street to own one? (In fact if you really like your friends, why not buy them all one, or at least put a few by for Christmas presents?)

The price is an incredibly miserly £5.00, plus a pound for p&p, and as you know, it all goes to a very worthwhile cause. Please see the Merchandise section to purchase, or avoid p&p by buying from the Sales Stand.


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Memoirs of Reg Skolfield

Part III

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

Part I

Part II

We were posted to 28 Squadron, on Tactical Reconnaissance in support of the Fourteenth Army, flying Hurricanes armed with four 20 millimeter cannon, and two cameras, one oblique, one vertical. The Hurricanes had been sent from the Middle East and were well-used. However, with excellent servicing they were quite acceptable, though slow. We personally were very fortunate, since the Japanese had been pushed back from their thrust to Imphal, when they had hoped to conquer India itself. So in the main we swept down to Rangoon step by step during the following six months.

We were flown out to Imphal, then Tamu, then Kalaymyo by the ubiquitous DC3, the Dakota so named by affectionate crews. It had been a pre-war American airliner, and the devotion inspired by this remarkable aircraft by those fortunate enough to be involved with her (I say her because it must have been a 'she') was extraordinary.

It was at Kalaymyo that we began our flying. The Squadron was commanded by Squadron Leader Henry Larsen, with two Flights, ours being B, with Flight Lieutenant Ken MacVicar in charge. Here the Hurricane was equipped with two long range fuel tanks, giving a flight time of about three hours. Our instructions were to fly tree-top height or below. The problem with that is you could not spot very much at this level, and if you flew higher it was ten to one you would be shot at. Indeed on one of my first trips over Maymyo, a favourite hill-station for British diplomats before the War, I had a couple of bullets in the petrol tank on the port side. The damage was quickly sealed over by the material used, but I caught an alarming whiff of petrol.

One of the first trips I had was with a senior experienced Canadian. He attacked a train, and I followed suit, all guns blazing. He told me afterwards that I had not allowed for the pull-out after the dive, and nearly hit the train with my tail. The idea was to have two planes go in partnership, one to spy out the land, the other to give support. I used to watch him circling about at some fifty feet, because he was so thorough and a most excellent pilot. One day he did not return. The next trip was with our Commander Henry Larsen, he taking photographs near Mandalay at 5000 ft, and I circling above. On that occasion we had flak, but not very accurate, and we got away with it. Henry Larsen later went to Headquarters as Wing Commander, and we missed him greatly, After the War he was testing the Flying Bedstead, and was killed when it crashed from about forty feet. They were developing the Harrier. Our next chief was Squadron Leader Pannell. He only had a few trips before his plane was brought down. In the last to be seen of him he was clambering out of his plane and running into the bush.

At our camp we were housed in tents, one of which I shared with Bob Sheppard, still the immaculate Englishman smoking his pipe. He was probably one of the most efficient people on the Squadron. The next tent down a small incline was inhabited by Dave Williamson and Gavin Douglas. Duggie I had met while at the Heliopolis Hotel in Cairo. He was a Britisher serving with the Indian Army, and seconded to the RAF. He had a family in Bangalore. The latrine in the jungle filled me with horror, for it was one big hole surmounted by two boxes side by side. And the mess down below was swarming with flies. I could not face this ordeal and started to take a spade with me into the Jungle, a much more efficient operation I believed. Duggie reported me to the Medical Officer, who ought to have known better about hygiene. The only thing to do was to use this abominable place after dark, which I did most of the time thereafter.

It was easy to forget to switch over to main tanks once the long-range tanks were exhausted. During a forced landing one fellow hit his head on the gun sight, placed so prominently in front of the pilot, and had to be sent to hospital, never to return to duty. Then MacVicar and another Canadian, Johnnie Johnson, were brought down and had to walk back through the jungle, one taking eighteen days, the other twenty-two days to get back to base. Talk about the jungle school in far-off Mahabaleshwar.  They both existed on something like a couple of Horlicks tablets a day. I saw Johnnie when he returned and he was as thin as a rake. He was dispatched to Aircrew House in Calcutta to recover, and in a month had put all his weight back on, and more besides. How they ever made it is something to wonder about, and says much for their courage, fortitude and tenacity. After the war, Ken MacVicar became a minister in the Presbyterian Church in Scotland.

Low flying suited me best. I had not liked it at all when, during a high-altitude test on oxygen at Dothan, 1 found myself at 20,000 ft all alone in this thin aluminium shell, looking down at the ground ever so far away. And in the Decompression Chamber in Poona, I was not comfortable at 27,000 ft. The old Hurricane was marvellous, and I felt very confident in it.  With our armament we could set a whole village on fire if we wanted, but we didn't want. Once climbing up a hill side the temperature went up to 120 degrees, while the airspeed was merely 110 mph. But still the old bird got to the top. Once we attacked a Jap gun post, and it was the oddest thing to see men draped over their guns, while in the river a few hundred yards away our soldiers bathed, their bodies so white, as though it was another world they were in.

I had tipped my propeller and bent the blade on a tree once, but on one occasion I had been flying along a road when I looked ahead and saw a giant tree right in front of me, I frantically jerked the stick into my left side and shot through the tree at an angle. When I looked at the wing the lights were smashed and wires were hanging out. I went up to a 1000 ft and tested for stalling. The old Hurricane was just the same, but I flew back to base as fast as I could. When safely landed the Engineering Officer came to take a look. ‘Good Lord’ he said, ‘you were lucky. The oil cooler has been swiped off, and you've only about a pint of oil left’. I had been inside Japanese lines by about a hundred miles.

                                                             .... to be continued

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Photo Gallery

On the 14th of September 2008 a new stained glass window commemorating the 90th Anniversary of North Weald Airfield was unveiled by Lord Tebbit at Ad Astra House, the North Weald Airfield Museum.

Dedicated to all those who served at North Weald during it’s years as an RAF station, the window depicts an airman rushing to ‘Scramble’ and a selection of  aircraft which flew from the airfield including the Hunter, Meteor, Vampire, Typhoon, Hurricane and of course Spitfire.

Eastern Region visit to Peter Teichman's Hangar 11 at North Weald:

A lovely photo by Peter Wesson of the old beacon at Hatfield Airfield:

And this one by Cliff Wesson - the B17 at Duxford:

A photo sent in by Simon Foster of the MKVII at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum:

We appreciate the photos you send us and endeavour to reproduce as many as possible - so please keep them coming.

And finally our air show raffle prize winners - congratulations to all.

And thank you to our young volunteers for picking the winning numbers - featured here are Alfie and James:

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Form 700 is produced by Peter Wesson and Gerard Crutchley.

The previous issue of Form 700 (#52 Spring 2008) can be found here:

Form 700 No 52

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