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


Form 700    No. 56   Spring 2010



From the Chair

General Announcements

A Tale of Two Tails - Ray Johnson

Aviation Training Part 3 - Ken Bradley

A Ferry Story - Geoff Bates

Duxford Spitfire Day 2009



Commemoration of The Battle of Britain


From the Chair

At this time it is customary for me to reflect on the year that has just gone by, as well as looking forward to the New Year.

The last year has been a busy and interesting one for our Wing. Our attendance at eight air shows proved very successful. Let me take the time to thank all members who gave their time so freely and willingly. Your efforts are very much appreciated and greatly valued, not only on the financial side but also for the fellowship and pleasant company which is so important.

We earnestly look forward to 2010 and to be at Duxford for the seven air shows. We do so need more volunteer helpers; do please give it a thought.

I would like to end on a personal note and extend my special thanks to my colleagues on the Eastern Wing Committee. I thank you all.


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General Announcements

Welcome to Form 700

We are pleased to start this edition of the Form 700 with the good news that our dear friend the late Leonard Stillwell has left what is thought to be a substantial bequest to this wing of the Spitfire Society in his will. I understand that a similar amount has been left to the main body of the Spitfire Society.

For those people who may not know of him, Len, a former Spitfire pilot with 92 Sqn was one of the most dedicated members that this Society could ask for, working, for a great many years amongst other things, as a member of our Regional Committee and as a Sales Stand Helper.

Despite a serious leg injury inflicted by ground-fire whilst on a patrol over Italy in 1944, which caused him great discomfort right up until his death, Len worked astonishingly hard for us whilst at the same time, in recent years, caring for his wife Dot, herself a former wartime WAAF in Bomber Command. These were two of our most respected and loved regional members, and our current Chairman Sqn Ldr Leonard Dickson, who has taken a keen interest in Len’s bequest, has said that he would be the first to recognise that we set a standard in Eastern that enthused Len to leave this sum to us; by the time this number goes to print Committee Members from Eastern Wing, who have of course the advantage of many years experience in handling charity funds, hope to have met with Leonard to brief him on our strategy for utilising the bequest – we will of course keep you informed.

The air show season for 2009 went well with good takings at the sales tent despite numbers being down on last year and frequently unkind weather. Our Chairman David Williams managed once again to secure a place for us at all of the Duxford shows so well done and thank you David, and thanks also to our amazing group of helpers who work so hard for us, especially Committee Member Steve Beale who year in year out brings the marquee and sets it up, and without whom we would be lost.

A notable occasion last year was the Spitfire Day at Duxford which saw a number of well known aircraft displaying including ML407 piloted by Richard Grace and BM597 flown, as ever, by our Patron Flt Lt Charlie Brown. Also flying was Mk.IX, I.A.C.161, which in its former life as PV202 was flown during the war by one of our much missed members, the late Bert Harman of 33 Sqn. As well as some great flying there were a number of other activities including a talk by E.W. member Sqn Ldr Ian Blair DFM. It was a long day for our helpers particularly those selling raffle tickets so Thank You to them for their invaluable help at this and all our other air shows.

Many readers will be aware that Eastern Wing Member Howard Cook was seriously hurt in an accident in Canada involving a tiger moth and the ground back in August, when his engine failed shortly after takeoff. The good news is that Howard has gone on to make a remarkable comeback and is well on his way to recovery on what has been a painful but determined journey. He has had great support from his friends and colleagues both here and in Canada, and I know he would want me to make a special mention for his wife Peta who has been totally supportive. Keep up the good work Howard, we look forward to seeing you back in the air very soon.

This edition of the Form 700 Newsletter includes the final part of Ken Bradleys’ story (parts 1 & 2 may be found in issues 52 & 53 of this journal) where he gets to fly the Spitfire MKs V & VIII, a remarkable item which continues the recent theme of Spitfire tail-flights sent in by Lincolnshire member Ray Johnson, former armourer with 152 Sqn and the start of a new serialisation about the fascinating and varied work of the wartime Ferry Pilot contributed by Geoff Bates. As noted in the last issue of ‘Spitfire’ it was hoped that the Autumn edition of the Form 700 Newsletter would be going out to the whole Wing Membership but I gather that this did not happen due to the ongoing work co-ordinating numbers of members etc. However if anyone would like to read the Newsletter a version with extra photographs may be found on our excellent Eastern Wing Website www.spitfiresocietyeastern.org.uk - the site also features back issues of the Form 700 as well as lots of other splendid features including interviews, picture gallery, merchandise and much more.

Back in November, I was pleased to receive a phone call from former Central Region Chair, Stella Rutter, who rang to compliment us on our little Newsletter and to put forward one or two suggestions for future issues, which we have adopted. As regular visitors to our website will know, earlier in the year Stella had been attending book signings for her splendid publication ‘Who Goes Where?’ which tells of her remarkable wartime career which included high-level work at Supermarine and special duties detailed to her by Montgomery himself! A very fine book which comes highly recommended.

In other news, wreaths were again laid last year on behalf of the Eastern Wing at the North Weald Airfield Memorial and the Cross of Sacrifice, St. Andrews Church N.W. on Battle of Britain Day and Remembrance Sunday. The wreaths were laid by David Williams and Sqn Ldr Ian Blair DFM.

The Southampton Roundel Group had a busy time last year with 2 events held at the internationally renowned Banister Park Bowling Club in Eastleigh (group coordinator and esteemed Society photographer, Mike Bayliss, is quick to point out that this is a sedate bowls and jack bowling club and not the noisy ten pin variety!) The first, a July lunch at the club with aviation legend, Peter Twiss and his wife Jane as guests of honour, and the second a Christmas luncheon. Mike tells me that both were well attended, congenial affairs with excellent service provided by the restaurant staff, and that for the summer lunch, Alyson Farr prepared a special cake to mark the occasion. Future planned events include a visit to the impressive National Air Traffic Services control centre at Swanwick in Hampshire. The Southampton Roundel meets on the second Saturday of each month. Further details may be obtained from Mike Bayliss on 02380 844877.

The Eastern Wing Helpers and Committee Christmas lunch was once again a splendid occasion and we were, as ever, well looked after by our friends at The Squadron. We were pleased to have with us as ever two of our most loyal and hardworking supporters Audrey Morgan and Ian Blair, as well as Ron Scott who when not supporting Eastern Wing is busy looking after the Blenheim Society. Our guest of honour this year was Wg Cdr Peter Ayerst DFC who spent time chatting with members and stood up to say some very kind words after lunch. Peter is a great ambassador for the Spitfire Society who, as well as representing the finest values of all that we stand for, is always so kind and generous with his time – Thank You Peter, it was a pleasure and an honour having you with us.

For this year we are already looking ahead to the new air show season, so if you’d like to help out do come forward, your support will be greatly appreciated. Hopefully we will be able to organise some visits, though events organised for last year were sadly not well attended. There is currently a vacancy on our committee for an Events Organiser, so again if you think you can help, get in touch. As ever your Committee here at Eastern Wing is enthusiastic and optimistic for the year ahead so best wishes to all our members for a happy and fruitful 2010.

If Roundels Clubs or Wing Members have news or information which they would like to see in the announcements pages of the Newsletter please contact the Editor, details on back page.

Peter Wesson

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A Tale of Two Tails

Ray Johnson

The stories that we have published recently about incidents of ground crew unexpectedly riding on the tails of Spitfires has prompted another response on the subject, this one from Ray Johnson in Lincolnshire; many thanks Ray.

As well as being an active and enthusiastic member of our society Ray is also closely associated with the 152 Squadron website, www.152hyderabad.co.uk, who have kindly sent us some photographs. It’s a splendid site, well worth a visit and where you will find pictures of Ray in his Spitfire Society tie as well as some photos of our good friend, the late Ken Plumridge, whom Ray mentions in the item below.

I joined 152 Squadron (Spitfires) at Acklington in January 1940 as an armourer AC1 and stayed with the Squadron throughout the rest of WWII reaching Sergeant in September 1944 in Burma.

At Acklington, No. 72 Squadron C.O. Sqn Ldr Ronnie Lees joined us. This was a very bad winter weather-wise, heavy snow and blizzards. 152 had become operational on Spit’s in January but we were forced to continue op’s on our remaining Gladiators until about March. But the grass airfield was still very tacky and ground crews sat on the tails whilst taxiing, banging the fuselage with their hands to signify them leaving. One day at this time a 72 Sqn Spit’ took off still with a ground crewman on the tail, did a circuit and completed a good landing with no injury to the passenger. This incident reached the national newspapers, but not through the official channels, much to the stationmaster’s anger.

No. 152 soon went overseas in October 1942 to North Africa, ‘Operation Torch’ and was operating from Souk-El-Arba airstrip in Tunisia along with 72 and 111 Sqns Ronnie Lees was now commanding the Wing. 72 and 152 were airborne on an operation and I was one of two or three left at dispersal whilst the rest went for a meal and a wash and brush-up. A Spitfire took off (conditions were very bad, like Acklington 1940), and I saw the airborne Spit’ behaving very erratically. I realised that someone was on the tail and rang Aerodrome Control from 152’s tent and told them. I was told to hang on and he presumably looked outside; he came back and said “Bloody Hell, you’re right!” or words to that effect. The Spitfire did a wheels-up landing and the passenger broke an ankle.

In November 1944, by which time 152 was the first squadron to re-enter Burma, a replacement pilot joined us, Ken Plumridge who had been with 111 at Souk-El-Arba. Many years after the war Ken confirmed to me that the pilot in North Africa with the tail-passenger was Tommy Tinsey, and much later I discovered the passengers name was L.A.C. Donaghue.

I suppose witnessing this twice could be something of a record!

Colin Cregg has contacted us with news of a site he has set up in honour of his father, Eric Clegg, who flew Spitfires with 152 Squadron in Burma:


'This web site tells my father's story of his Royal Air Force service during World War 11 He was one of many unsung heros who volunteered to fight for his country to defend the rights of everyone to live in a free and democratic society.

I have in my possession my father’s flying log book and photographs which document his R.A.F. service from Pilot training in America through to active service flying Spitfires with 152 Hyderabad (F) Squadron in Burma. I have used these documents as a starting point to tell his story.

Through my research I have been able to reunite my father with old comrades from 152 squadron with which he served  in Burma 1944-1945.'

Thank you Colin for getting in touch.


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Aviation Training

Part III

Ken Bradley

If you have not read the first 2 parts, you can find them here:

Part I

Part II

No. 73: O.T.U. Fayid

No. 3: R.F.U. Poona

28 February 1945

Following our arrival at O.T.U Fayid, and, settled in new quarters, it was not too long to wait before being allowed to look at the aircraft that, for the next three months, we were going to fly - "the MK V Spitfire"   - and, for the first time, alone in the cockpit with only the pilots notes for company, the thought was a bit daunting!

However, prior to that first flight, we had to practise a few cross-wind landings in a Havard, with an instructor. With the narrow undercarriage on the Spitfire, it was a necessary capability, in view of the single runway at Fayid.

Having completed all the checks successfully, and, two weeks after arriving at the airfield, the great day for that initial flight came along!

The difference between the two aircraft was amazing and having to adjust the handling of the Spitfire after take-off, changing hands to operate the hydraulic lever on the under-carriage, was not easy. (I felt sorry for the left-handed pilots with this problem)! After a time, it became second nature. Nevertheless, it proved a bit tricky for the first few exercises.

For the following three months, and on most days, it was quite a hectic programme to fulfil. With increasing confidence each time, we carried out the task that was set. Air to air, formation flying, (with the result shown on film,) and live firing on the ranges with machine gun and cannon.

One exercise involved an oxygen climb to 30,000 ft or so, to feel the effect on the controls at high altitude, making sure to turn on the oxygen supply before take-off.

On rest days, we went swimming at the "Blue Lagoon" lido on the great lake nearby at Ismalia.

In a recent newsletter, an article described the removal of the Spitfires ferrying them away from 73 O.T.U. I noticed that, six of those listed appear in my Logbook, bringing back a few memories of a beautiful and, most enjoyable time at Fayid with the "MK V".

The next phase included a stay in Cairo and a transfer to India via Karachi, then on to No. 3 R.F.U. Poona, to include a jungle surviving course at Bhopal, and a change to the more powerful Spitfire MK VIII for high dive bombing and straffing exercises. Thankfully, the instruments were the same as the MK V, although a more powerful engine size! (Merlin 66 series).

However, the ending of the Japanese war came during the course, and VJ Day arrived, thereby, we were unable to join a squadron of the kind we had trained for. This came as a complete surprise, as was the visit of a high ranking Naval Officer, none other than Lord Louis Mountbatten whilst serving in the Burma campaign in S.E.A.C. prior to the ending of the war in that region.

Our thoughts of returning to the UK were swiftly dashed, when the next posting was to the same area! Firstly, a trip to a transit camp in Calcutta, where we were able to sample the delights of the famous Indian Restaurant - namely 'Firpos' and their delicious ice-cream. We managed, at least, a couple of visits there! Then on to Rangoon to join Transport Command and, in my case, 194 Squadron at Mingaladon as second pilot on Dakotas, the most famous work horse for transport throughout the war in the Far East area, and for some considerable time afterward.

However, barely a month or two at Rangoon with 194 Sqn, a few of us were posted to Singapore to join up, again as co-pilot, to 31 Sqn S.E.A.C who were short of aircrew needed to maintain strength prior to the entire move to Batavia (Jakarta) in Indonesia. This was in support of the disagreement over control of the country, between the Dutch and the Indonesian governments, known as the Dutch East Indies (until the occupation by the Japanese).

The carrying capacity of the Dakota was fantastic and, once the two Pratt & Whitney engines roared into life, rarely let you down. Toward the end of the operation, we were bringing out from the interior Japanese soldiers for repatriation back to their homeland, and they looked as though they were only too pleased it was all over. We never had any cause for concern, especially as we had on the aircraft a Ghurka army soldier every time we made the trip back and forth to the assembly point at Bandoeng Airport.

Having completed my time with 31 Sqn and, along with a few others, I flew to Singapore to join the P&O liner Ortranto to embark for the journey back to the UK. From the warm weather to the cold winter followed by disembarkation at Southampton in mid-December 1946.

Following a spell of home leave, I received notice to proceed to Blackpool for demobilisation back to civilian life.

Two years of this and I missed flying. Therefore, I decided to re-join the VR and found myself at Cambridge, with other part-time volunteers, flying from Marshalls airfield with 22 RFS on weekend and annual training flights, around the beautiful Cambridgeshire countryside flying Tiger Moth and Chipmunk aircraft - most enjoyable!

In fact, looking back, I enjoyed the experience for the whole time during my R.A.F. service, in particular, the time I had with the remarkable Spitfire.

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A Ferry Story

Geoff Bates

On completion of my pilots course in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), a number of us were flown in a Lockheed Lodestar to Cairo where we expected to be posted to fighter squadrons.

After ten days in a huge tented transit camp outside Cairo we were transferred to a transit camp in Gaza in Palestine where a week later we were moved to an aircrew transit in Jerusalem where we discovered how much religion was commercialised. For example, for just under a pound one could buy a piece of the actual cross on which Christ was crucified! You knew it was genuine because a certificate was given with it saying so!

After lunch one day we were told that we had been posted to Transport Command and were going to Bilbeis near Ismalia in Egypt to convert on to fighters to become ferry pilots. Most of us were disappointed at the news as we saw the joining of a squadron as the ultimate step after training. Three of us were granted an interview with the CO to request that we be posted to a squadron. The CO, having given each of us the opportunity to have our say, said:

1. A ferry pilot’s job is as vital to the war effort as any squadron pilot as squadrons rely on deliveries made by ferry crews to ensure their strength is maintained and that aircraft requiring major overhauls can be flown to maintenance units.

2. You will probably have the opportunity which normally is not available to squadron pilots of ferrying many different types of aircraft and that experience will no doubt make you very proficient pilots.

3. You will find that the world of ferrying produces its own excitement, pleasures and satisfactions.

4. Finally you have all been in the Royal Air Force long enough to know that you obey orders, so off  you go and be proud of the fact that you are doing a very worthwhile job.

So off to Bilbeis where we converted on to Spitfires, Hurricanes and Kittyhawks followed by a posting to one of the four aircraft delivery units (ADU’s). I was posted to No 1 ADU which was housed in blocks of flats in Heliopolis on the outskirts of Cairo.

No 1 Aircraft Delivery Unit

The job of single engine pilots at No 1 ADU based at Heliopolis was to ferry Hurricanes from Takoradi on the Gold Coast (now Ghana) to Karachi in India (now Pakistan) where another ADU would fly them to squadrons operating against the Japanese.

We used to fly in convoys of six where the leader also had to act as navigator. However, when flying over the sea or hazardous land masses e.g. rainforest or a large expanse of dessert, we were led by a twin engined aircraft so that if a pilot had to ditch or force land the leading aircraft could send out a mayday (SOS) to facilitate the recovery of the pilot. Because of the nature of the route from Takoradi to Cairo single engined convoys were always led by twin engined aircraft.

I had only been at No 1 a couple of days when my name appeared on orders to go to Takoradi. We were flown to Accra West Africa in Ensigns of BOAC. There we had to change on to a Lockheed Hudson of the Belgian Airlines (Sabena) to take us on to Takoradi. One thing we didn’t like about being ferry pilots was the amount of passenger flying we had to do to pick up our aircraft or return to base after having made our delivery. Sometimes we had to fly with pretty ropey pilots to get back to base. I logged 469.35 hours as a passenger. En route to Takoradi we stopped at Khartoum. I wasn’t feeling too well so decided to go to sick bay to get something to settle my stomach. I was discharged from the sick bay three weeks later having had yellow jaundice! The powers that be decided that I must have a weeks sick leave when all I wanted to do was to get airborne again. I was sent to Alexandria.

To digress for a moment, when first called up we were based in luxury flats overlooking Regents Park. As a treat we were all marched to the open air theatre in the park to be the audience in a film starring Vera Lynn called ‘Till We Meet Again’. At times the cameras would sweep across the audience. It so happened that Vera Lynn’s film was showing in Alexandria so naturally I went to see it. Imagine my surprise when the camera panned along the row in which I was sitting. I saw my Corporal; I wasn’t sitting very far from him so any second now I would see myself. Just then, someone behind me tapped me on the shoulder. I turned round to hear a young lad say “Me got nice sister, very cheap!” I told him to clear off (or perhaps stronger words), and reverted my gaze to the screen, by which time another part of the film was being shown!

                                                                                              To be continued…

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Duxford Spitfire Day 2009

Despite being a hot and humid day with the occasional threat of rain, the weather stayed dry and allowed for some excellent flying.

The first Spitfire to take to the sky was ML407, piloted by Richard Grace, who gave a thrilling display of this much-loved aeroplane. I understand that this was Richard’s first public appearance displaying the Grace Spitfire and this fine performance was a great credit to his mother, Spitfire legend Carolyn Grace, and to his father Nick Grace, the man who restored ML407  to flying condition and who is, of course, sadly no longer with us. We wish Richard a long and happy future flying this wonderful and iconic aircraft.

Next up were Mk Vb BM597, piloted by Spitfire Society Patron Flt Lt Charlie Brown, and Mk IX’s PV202 and MH434, soaring above first in three-vic formation followed by spectacular tail-chasing, the precision flying a marvel to behold. Last to appear was one of the formidable Griffon-engined Mk XIX’s of the Battle of Britain Memorial flight. This powerful aircraft gave a spirited display, the sunlight glinting on the wings as it wheeled and turned showing to perfection all angles of its graceful airframe.

The four Spitfires spent the rest of the day parked near to the spectators’ barrier which afforded splendid opportunities for the public to take photographs. Also stationed nearby was the awesome B.17 bomber “Sally B”, and coming and going throughout the day giving pleasure-flights were the delightful Tiger Moths and DH Dragon Rapides based at Duxford.

A number of distinguished visitors came and spent time at the Spitfire Society sales-stand including Flt.Lt. Charlie Brown, our good friend Peter Ayerst who is, of course, a veteran of the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain, and Sqn Ldr Ian Blair DFM who gave two talks in the Main Hanger lecture hall that day. Ian is a staunch supporter of our Society and a regular contributor to this magazine.

There was a steady stream of customers to our stand and we did very well in raising significant funds for the Spitfire Society. The raffle prize was a fine Robert Taylor print signed by a number of famous Spitfire pilots. The raffle was drawn by young Jemima Wesson who also spent time selling raffle tickets. As always our volunteers worked extremely hard and special mention should go to Doug Bland who spent several hours standing outside under the sun selling raffle tickets; thanks to Doug and to all our helpers.


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Irene Pascall

In August 2009 we lost a loyal and dedicated friend when Irene Pascall passed away.

Irene, or Renee as we knew her, was one of our regular helpers on the Eastern Wing sales stand and, since the early days of Eastern Region, could be found along with her husband Norman working hard at air shows come rain or shine, from morning until evening, raising the funds upon which our Society depends; one may only guess at how many thousands of pounds she helped generate for us.

She had a wonderful way of engaging the public with her friendly, kind and cheery disposition and was a truly outstanding representative of all that is good about the Spitfire Society. Renee was also a marvellous supporter of our visits and events and was active in all aspects of running our region. She was greatly loved and we will miss her very much. When we set up our stand on those bright, crisp, sunny mornings at Duxford the warmth of her memory will always be with us.

We send our heartfelt condolences and kindest thoughts to Norman and family.



Last year the son of R.J. Mitchell, Dr. Gordon Mitchell died. Much has already been written about this remarkable man who campaigned for official recognition of his father, the man who of course headed the design team responsible for the most famous combat aircraft of all time. Paul Plummer presents this personal tribute.

Dr Gordon Mitchell

We lost one of our greatest Spitfire icons in July 2009. His departing brings to an end the hands-on close up Spitfire Connection.

As the son of one of the greatest designers of aircraft he could have been overshadowed, but he took a different line in his career and was extremely successful. I meet him in The Hall of Aviation one wet cold night, when he unveiled a statue to his father. Among this crowd was Jeffery Quill, Alex Henshaw and many other people of note. We had an interesting talk and I found him most fascinating. I remember he felt this country had not recognized his father as it should have and spent many hours trying to remedy this.

All the facts and figures can be read in his book Schooldays to Spitfires, but to you all it is the man we are interested in.  I can tell you he was kind and generous and had time for everyone, be it children or Royalty. He also had a knack of seeing through the time wasters and reprobates and would dismiss these with a glare and a few well chosen words.

We all send his family our sincere sympathies and a part of him lives on in all of us who had the good fortune to meet this remarkable man.

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Let's start with 2 lovely photos sent in by our own Howard Cook. Here he his flying the Hurricane and Nimrod from the Historic Aircraft Collection. Details of Howard's progress can be found in General Announcements.

Although we have featured Len Stillwell's Spitfire Mk VIII before, here's a photo from Peter Wesson that some of you may not have seen:

Recently discovered by our Chairman, here's a group of signatures from 1994. Many old friends here and a surprise guest!

Do you have any photos that you think might interest us? Please send them to me at gerrycrutchley@spitfiresociety.org.uk and I will post them here for all to see.


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This address originally appeared in an earlier Form 700. I would like all our visitors to read it and I am in the process of finding a permanent 'home' for it on our site.


Commemoration of the Battle of Britain

2008 address by the Rev'd Frances Drake

It is a great privilege to be here today - and I thank you for the Invitation - to share in this Service of Commemoration and Remembrance - of the Battle of Britain. As the words in the 'Act of Remembrance' remind us that:

'We are remembering before God ....... those who fought and died in Service - in the Battle of Britain - treasuring memories - and pledging to keep alive the memory of all those who died in the Royal Air Force - and in the Air Forces of the Commonwealth.'

My own knowledge of the war is very limited - although not entirely non-existent. I am a war baby - but along with many others of my generation over the years - I have listened with interest and admiration - to accounts of various war time experiences - including the Battle of Britain.

Living relatively locally to here - at Navestock - with a Father who was in charge of a 'Home Guard Unit' at Stapleford Abbots - and living in a family - where my sister Joan - my parents first child, was killed in 1940 - during the Battle of Britain - and as the direct result of a jettisoned German Bomb - I have experienced and heard a great deal about war time events - and what people lived through - both in the Forces - and in civilian life.

I almost 'cut my teeth' on what have become immortal words from Winston Churchill. 'Never in the field of human conflict - was so much owed - by so many - to so few'

My parents would often speak of Churchill's speech to the House of Commons in the June of 1940: 'You ask', he said - 'What is our aim? I can answer with one word - Victory' - and he went on to say. 'Victory at all costs. Victory in spite of all the terror. Victory, however long and hard the road may be. We shall not flag nor fail. We shall defend our island to the end - with confidence - strength and courage'.

So today - we remember those who led and inspired - as well as those who fought. And we remember those civilians - who kept on going - in spite of the pain - the terror - the deprivations - and death itself.

Each of those who fought - and who are remembered at this time - has won a glorious grave - not that grave of earth wherein they lie - but the living grave of everlasting remembrance - wherein their glory is enshrined. A Remembrance that will live on the lips - that will blossom in the deeds - of their countrymen - the world over. For the whole world is the tomb of heroes. Monuments may rise and tablets be set up to them in their own land - but on far-off shores there is an abiding memorial - that no pen or chisel has traced; because it is graven - not on stone or brass - but on the living heart of humanity. Let us take these men as our example. Let us like them - remember that prosperity can only be for the free; that in the words of Pericles of the 5th Century - 'freedom is the sure possession of those alone - who have courage to defend it'.

We are to take these men for our example. There is always a danger however - that things - events - memorials - even our own Christian faith - can become purely nostalgic - a memory of past things - sometimes becoming distorted and false in our memory -something that older people do - and young people tolerate - but the true meaning and value is lost in time.

History can become an empty husk - fragile - and eventually meaningless. But our celebration today is far from an empty husk - and if we seek to understand it properly - it transcends a particular time in history - or even the RAF - or our nationality - because it is about the men and women who made the history. It is about their values - their courage - their sacrifice - and their characters.

This is what is valuable. This is what should be our treasure - not merely as nostalgia - but as an example of something real and substantial. For they have lived the values - that should still be relevant today - and everyday after today. The values we celebrate in a Service such as this - do not change. They are values for every generation and nationality - that those who wish to live their lives to the full - will recognize and acknowledge - and take for an example. This is not nostalgia - but is rather - real and abiding - and something worthwhile to pass on from one generation to the next.

The facts of the Battle of Britain are simple. In 1940 - out numbered, and fighting for their lives - a few stood up to the many - and said - 'You will not pass. You will not overcome. You will not break our spirit'.

What we celebrate - what we admire - is the courage and character of those young men - that gave them the strength - to put themselves between the enemy and their homes and families - and achieve the apparently impossible.

And what are these values? They are sacrifice and service. Values that are also central to the Christian faith; for Jesus came into the
world - not to be served - but to serve - and give his life as a ransom for all. And for heroes - these values appear in all aspects of their lives.

Some years ago - I was called out to attend to an elderly man who was dying. It turned out he had fought in the Battle of Britain. He had been ill for some time, and over the course of three years - both his legs had been amputated - not in one operation - but during a number of these.

As I knelt beside him - ready to give him the last rites - just as he wanted - he could see that I was upset. He took my hand and said - 'Don't worry Vicar - I've been going to heaven in instalments'. Sacrifice and service runs through a person's life - just like a thread through cloth. For that wonderful elderly man - it was there as he fought in the Battle of Britain. Sacrifice and Service was there - as he and his wife worked to make a home for their children. It was there when he nursed his wife through a long and painful illness. It was there when he arranged her funeral. And - it was there - as he himself died whilst offering comfort to a young priest.

So these are the values that we celebrate today. Courage; Service before self; Integrity and Bravery. It is all these things - and so many more - but the most important is Self Sacrifice. Sadly - they do not appear to be valued very much by the world. But to me they are everything. They are the difference between a life well lived - even if it was cut short - and a selfish life. They are the gifts of God - what I would call grace - or the gifts of the Spirit. They are the values that help us walk beyond our natural desire for self-preservation - to meet instead - the needs of the common good - of others. What we can all agree on is - that they are at the pinnacle of what it means to be a human being - for they are the values that we see lived out perfectly in the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

And as we think about them - we see in their reflection - that the values so dearly loved by this world - are only shadows - they are like sand that passes through the fingers and is gone - but that the values we celebrate today - are solid and hard won. They are often scorned by those who are weak and self serving - but equally eagerly embraced by those who see beyond themselves - those who have the courage to sacrifice their lives for others - who they do not even know. Those men and women are those - who recognize what is truly good - and who have the courage to defend it against all odds.

So let us continue to tell the story of the Battle of Britain to our children and grandchildren. Let us tell them - how the Luftwaffe had to destroy the Royal Air Force - before it could invade. Tell them - how at the beginning of the battle - 2,790 German aircraft were sent against 650 aircraft of the RAF - who struggled day after day to survive. And then - when your children ask you how they managed and won - tell them that the adversity had exposed their true character - and it was solid - and gave them the courage to lay down their lives - not because they wanted to - but because they recognized that there are some things - which are more important even than life itself.

'Never in the field of human conflict - was so much owed - by so many - to so few'


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Form 700 is produced by Peter Wesson and Gerard Crutchley.

The previous issue of Form 700 (#55 Autumn 2009) can be found here:

Form 700 #55

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