An incredible day. As I’ve written, mum gave me dad’s log books years ago and I’ve read through them several times, but so much of what he recorded makes sense only to others in his situation. The Wing Commander and the former curator of Tangmere, now volunteers, sat down with me and we worked our way through his books, with explanations easily provided.
Turns out, the few stories of his war experience that dad shared (and that I’ve managed to remember) are there in his written logs. This meant a great deal to me as it assured me that my memories were correct even though so many years have gone by. We followed dad’s story from his pilot training days in Ontario to his arrival in England, his subsequent training and becoming familiar with the area and then his many months spent flying gunner trainers up for target practice. After that, he had his choice of where to go and what to fly and that’s when he chose 91 Squadron, flying Spitfires. His Squadron moved around a lot, including a brief time in France. He flew the whole range of Spitfires, including the XXI, the fastest. Even more interesting are his records in the column labeled “Duty,” where he described in a word or two, the reason for each flight. This is the “lingo” column, so it was really great to have these terms explained.
These men were impressed with the flight route map the flight team of my VA Dreamliner gave to me (described in an earlier post), which shows that even surrounded with so much war memorbilia, they still truly enjoy and admire the world of flight.
Following this, I was turned over to Eric, who would give me a demo of the Link trainer, the type of trainer used for instrument navigation training during dad’s training. Tough work! Then, he was determined that I would try my never-before tested skills of flying a simulator – this time of a Lightning fighter, a RAF fighter of the Cold War era. Let’s just summarize by saying that between us, we managed to land in one piece 🙂 Although, he kindly said that I had apptitude for this and when I said that that was a generous statement, he said he wouldn’t say it if he didn’t mean it, so that was nice!
Time for tea and a delicious scone with strawberry jam and then I had an hour left to look at the museum collection before my bus back to Chichester. Eric showed me an amazing colour film, made at the air base during the war of Lancaster Bombers being loaded with bombs, the crew being briefed, the planes in flight, bombs being dropped, and the planes returning…all except one, at least at that moment in the film, and the crews’ debriefing. He said that this is the only colour film of this activity remaining from the war.
Among the collection I saw some items that have come my way over the years…dad’s pilot’s silk scarf with a map of Europe on it (I’ve often wondered how useful that could really have been given the scale and the Wing Commander confirmed – not very), a black model of a plane used to learn plane identification and other items. Again, good to have my memories confirmed as correct.
Among all the things we talked about, one item especially stood out. When I explained that dad had passed away in his seventies, the Wing Commander said that many WWII pilots had passed away at that age. He said that after the Korean War studies were done, post-mortem, with pilots as they also were passing away fairly young. He said the studies showed that war time pilots had hidden maladies…things such as harden arteries…that were attributed to hours spent in the air. He said no one knew or considered the effects of flying back then, nor, of course, could they.
That was it. Time to leave. My bus pulled up just as I got to the bus stop, so there was no turning back. I could have spent much longer…there was more to see…more to talk about. The base itself is completely different from my visit in the mid-seventies. At that time it was deserted…the in-between time when it was neither a base nor a museum. Then, a guard named Syd Shepherd met me at the door and after hearing why I was there, invited me into his guard office and shared his lunch of a meat pie with me. I had a good look around the base after that and took photos of the buildings to show dad (which the museum has asked me for as there are not many from that time). All of those buildings are gone now. The museum is housed in a building dated 1950 and moved to this site. Much of the airfield is built up into housing. I asked about Syd and it turned out that the current day treasurer is a Mr. Shepherd, but when I explained my story of Syd to him, there was no relation and no familiarity. Time surely marches on.
Quote from my dad: “There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots!”