Dear Pa

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17-04-2021

Dear Pa,

Your first birthday in my lifetime when you’re not here. You’re all around me every day, but I miss our irreverent chats about anything, your smile across the table, a wink to let me know the food was good, frightening cyclists half to death when you were driving us to walk Fred in the mornings, (I don’t miss that bit), your thunderous sneezes that made Fred jump out of his skin, your idolisation of everything about Fred. I miss our little rituals, tea and toast at 9 after the dog walk, lunch time nibbles with a cuppa, tea and biscuits while watching All Creatures Great and Small, Lovejoy, any vet show in the afternoon. I miss you.

I haven’t been able to write since you left, still heartbroken that you suffered so much towards the end, and probably a fair bit before that, but you kept it to yourself. I thought I was strong until you went, then I knew I’m not, but you always were, right up to the last. Every single person I speak to that knew you, talks of you with a smile on their face, remembering the ever present smile on your face, and that reminds me what you were about. I need to face the world with a smile, the way you did, but in fairness I already did, wonder where I got that from. The smile left me for a while, quite a while actually, but hopefully it’s coming back, a little at a time. I’ve started looking at our recorded conversations, and they make me smile, especially the sound of your voice. I miss you. So much.

I’m not ready to write anything long yet, but hope you won’t mind me cheating, and choosing one of our recorded chats here, I picked out one about some of your flying experiences in the Navy. So even though I miss you so very much, you left me, and everyone else, a priceless set of memories. I tried to tell you how much you’d meant to me near the end, but you, said, “now now, none of that”. Well sod that you old bugger, you meant the world to me, I just hope you can hear me saying/thinking it.

Young Navy Pa

Pa on board either HMS Ranee or HMS Vengeance. Circa 1945/6/7

 

Pa’s flying experiences

(Pa was stationed in Ceylon for part of his service, but had been trying to get ‘in on the action’ from about the age of 13 while in Guildford. I have a lot of recordings, which I hope to put together eventually, but here is one recording for now, unedited, just transcribed word for word.)

 

Me:- Right, ok, now, you’ve told me in the past, about, erm, you’ve been up in aeroplanes, and I’m guessing the airstrip at Katakarunda, or Kalutara

Pa:- No in fact, it, erm, it was off the carrier

Me:- Oh blimey, you’ve, you’ve actually taken, been a passenger, taken off from the actual…

Pa:- I’ve got the flight plan, and I can’t remember where it is

Me:- (Butting in again) Well, no, that, that really doesn’t matter, I was ju…

Pa:- It gives you date, what happened, who was there..

Me:- (more butting in) No, I wanted to ask, I don’t want to see bits of information on a piece of paper (doughnut), I want to hear from you what it was like

Pa:- Frightening

Me:- Really? I thought you would have enjoyed it

Pa:- Oh, I did enjoy it. Taking off is a bit, you know, if you’re not used to it, cos you literally go off the bow of the carrier, which is slightly lifted like that, you go up like that, and then she drops down like that, and you see the carrier, if you’ve got a mirror, you can see the carrier, growing behind you because it’s just getting taller as you’re going down, and then the prop picks up, momentum, and she pulls away like that. That’s one thing, coming in, you’re coming in to the stern of the er, of the carrier, and you’re literally, you’re, you’re dropping down below it and you think, God Almighty, you’re never gonna get me over there, and then he gradually comes up, comes up, and then drops down. It’s er, if you’re not used to it, it’s quite worrying.

Me:- Yeah, so, I mean, I don’t imagine they, it’s er, it’s a Navy warship, I don’t imagine it’s, they send people up for no good reason, so how come you were there, in the, in the plane?

Pa:- Well, I was the Squadron Writer, and erm, I had a few perks, and they said to me would I like to go up, and I said yes I would, and they prepared me for it. Oh, the gear I had, I had them, putting it on, doing it up, putting it on, doing it up. I looked like Mr Michelin, mm, but nevertheless it’s erm, it’s quite an experience

Me:- Did you do it just the once?

Pa:- Ooh yeah, only did it the once. I, I’ve been up off the ground

Me:- So, whereabouts off the ground, was that in Kalutara, in Ceylon

Pa:- No, no, no, that was down here, in erm, in the New Forest

Me:- Oh, well, when was that then, was that when you were doing your, er, when you were trying to get to the RAF was it?

Pa:- Do you know I, no it wasn’t, no. It was in fact during that period of my trying to get in to the RAF, but erm, this came, um, South Holmsley?, can’t even remember, it was down in the New Forest, Holmsley South, I’m sure it was that

Me:- Do you remember the plane that it was that you went up in?

Pa:- Oh, it was a stuffy old Anson

Me:- Not, not a very impressive plane then I’m guessing

Pa:- No, no, they’re, they’re like, like. The old Avro Anson was regarded rather like a milk cow, she’s a maid of all works

Me:- Avro’s were set up at Shoreham for a while, for a long while

Pa:- But erm, that I believe was my time in the Air Training Corps, we used to get erm, not called up, but when we, we, put your name down, that you would be on holiday for that period, or you’ll be away from work for this period, and if during that period the occasion arises where they’re giving trainees a ride in an aircraft, then your name comes up, you go in

Me:- Oh right, so that would have been when you were up at Guildford I expect

Pa:- Yes that would have been Guildford, it wouldn’t have been, certainly wasn’t Brighton

Me:- No, because you weren’t in the ATC down at Brighton were you, in fact you weren’t in Brighton throughout the war (wrong again), after you’d moved back to Guildford

Pa:- No that’s true. Yeah, cos I moved back to Guildford

Me:- Well, you went to Egham first didn’t you, stayed with your dad and Dan Dan. But anyway, ok, so, erm. What was the, do you remember what the aeroplane, was it a Fairey, erm, Firefly, when you were on the aircraft carrier

Pa:- Yes, yeah that would have been a Firefly, erm, not much to say about them, a two seater reconnaissance aircraft

Me:- So, where, did he take you, so, that was, so were you nowhere near land when they took you up

Pa:- No not really

Me:- Oh, so you were out in the middle of, what, the Pacific Ocean, or, Indian Ocean

Pa:- It would have been the Indian Ocean probably, yeah

Me:- On your way, to,.. I’m guessing you must have been on the Vengeance then, or no, I suppose it could have been the Ranee

Pa:- No no, it was the Vengeance

Me:- It was the Ven.. yeah

Pa:- The Ranee was just a personnel carrier. The Vengeance was typified as a Light Fleet Carrier, and that’s really what it was

Me:- I just wondered whereabouts you might have been. Do you think you might have been on your way to Ceylon at the time, or coming from it, or..

Pa:- No, I’ve no idea about that. Oh no I don’t think so

Me:- On your way to Port said, or..

Pa:- No I think it was something that was arranged, when I was at Katakarunda probably, because I went up, the Padre went up at the same time

Me:- What, in the same plane?

Pa:- Yeah

Me:- What, there were three of you

Pa:- Well, they’re not tiny aircraft, a two seater could be a three or four seater really, if you want to make it that way

Me:- Oh, so the Padre was with you as well

Pa:- Well I had to have all safety covered

Me:- Ha, a word to the good above while you’re there. I suppose em, did you think to say nearer than God to thee to him while you were up there?

Pa:- Yeah, holding hands. No, it was treated as a training flight, hence the need for me to type up a flight plan, from my office, on my typewriter, under instructions from the C.O of the group

Me:- Oh, ok, so that flight plan, is actually the flight plan of when you were taken up

Pa:- Yeah, that’s right

Me:- Oh well, I’ll have to have a relook at that won’t I. Well, it’s quite something to have, to have  actually taken off from an aircraft (carrier) in the plane, as a passenger, I don’t imagine too many people would have done that

Pa:- Not strictly unusual, but, but, it’s a costly business and they don’t do it too often

Me:- Not a bad experience to get to have. Did you enjoy it?

Pa:- Yeah, yeah. It was quite, you know, once you get over the, sort of, the initial uncertainty, cos you know inwardly, you’re seeing take off and landings all the time, so you’re used to that aspect it. When you do it for the first time, it’s, it’s, it is a funny experience really because you’ve seen it done time after time, but when you come to do it yourself, it’s er, an entirely different kettle of fish. Yeah, and, taking off, I mean, I couldn’t very well say, no, I don’t want to go, haha, so I did, and I did enjoy it, yes. It’s not an experience that you can say is a good experience or a bad experience really. If I’d been doing it regularly, and I’d come up on a, on a, sort of, a freebie, it would have been a pleasant experience, I think, yes it would, but when you go up, a lot’s built up into it, you’re going up with the padre, you’re going up, the two of you are, are, airborne

Me:- Do you remember who the pilot was

Pa:- His name is in that flight plan

Me:- Oh, ok

Pa:- To be honest, no I didn’t. Didn’t take much notice of that, haha. I would have much preferred it if I thought I could fly the plane, is to fly the bloody thing myself

Me:- Ah well, I don’t see them letting you practice, not coming off an aircraft carrier

Pa:- Not with the Padre there

Me:- So that was your one and only time taking off from the actual aircraft (carrier)

Pa:- Yeah, yeah, it was the only time, it was the only chance I had

Me:- And your only time of going up in an aeroplane during your service

Pa:- Oh no, no, I went up off the ground, many times

Me:- Whereabouts

Pa:- Oh, down in the West country, and down in, erm, you know, Holmsley South was, that, that linked up with my Air Training Corps

Me:- You went up many times?

Pa:- Well, probably about half a dozen

Me:- Before you joined up, when you were in the ATC

Pa:- Yes

Me:- And was it always in that Avro Anson, or did you go up in different planes

Pa:-We went up erm, that was the popular plane. The pilots used to find it easier to take a load of youngsters up, and you could put quite a load in to an Anson. It’s like a Dakota, it’s a maid of all work, and you can stuff it with lots of young people, take em up, swing em round and round and round and put them down, and they’ve had a fine time. Other types of aircraft you can only put so many people in, and you’ve got to do it more often, so it’s more costly

Me:- Just to check whether you’re air worthy I suppose, apart from anything else

Pa:- Well, up to a point yes, it was a perk from our point of view, particularly in the Air training Corps days, I mean, everybody used to scramble to try and get down to one of these airfields

Me:- Did you shoot down there on your bike?

Pa:- No, no no, I went down there, erm,

Me:- I thought perhaps you might have been able to take your Velocette down there

Pa:- That would have caused a problem wouldn’t it. I would have had all the air crew chasing round trying to get a ride on my bike

Me:- And doubtless wondering what a youngster like you was doing riding one like that

Pa:- Well, I don’t know, I’d been riding a motor bike for many years then. I mean, I’d been a despatch rider in the Civil Defence, I’d, you know, albeit underage obviously, but, I had my first licence in 1940, can’t remember, was it ’41 or ’42, only about 14 or 15 at the very most, when I had my

Me:- Shame you haven’t got that licence, that would be priceless wouldn’t it

Pa:- Well, I’m not sure I don’t have it, erm, I’ve got a little pack of licences in my desk drawer here. I’ve never checked to see what dates they are

Me:- Well, I’ve been through your, I’ll have to have another look. I don’t, I would have thought something like that would have stood out to me. I shall have to check

Pa:- I wouldn’t know for sure, but erm, I had a licence to drive, ooh, before I went into the Navy. When I came out of the Navy, I couldn’t renew it, it had lapsed, so I had to take a driving test and get another one, which I did, but er. Yeah, I always found that strange, that the licence I had, which I had to hand over when I joined the Navy, erm, yeah, strange, I never thought about it before, because it predates my Navy days, by probably a year or two.

Me:- So, did you have, you had to wait until call up to actually go into the Navy eventually didn’t you

Pa:- Eventually yes

Me:- So that meant you had to wait until you were 18

Pa:- That’s right

Me:- So you finally got into the Navy when you were 18 years old

Pa:- Yeah, three years after I’d been trying to get in. If I’d done it from 17 onwards, backwards rather, I could have got in anytime. In the Navy, you can join the Navy at sixteen.

Me:- You were busy trying to get into the RAF at that point though weren’t you

Pa:- Yes I was, I was ignoring all the obvious possibilities for getting into the service

Pa:- Just so you could get into the RAF

Pa:- Turns out, I would have been far better trying to get taken into the Navy

Me:- Ah well, hindsight’s a wonderful thing

Pa:- Yeah

Me:- But sadly, you only get hindsight after the event

Pa:- It was very sad really, because there were so many things I could have done, I wasn’t able to do because of my age. If I’d gone for the Navy before I’d even thought about the Air Force, I’d have been in, because they take boys in, in the Navy, or they used to

Me:- Yeah, but it’s understandable, given that you spent part of your time living in Hendon Way, right opposite an airfield, erm, there was no history, your cousin was in the RAF, you know, it’s really quite easy to understand why it was that you aimed for the RAF, that probably, you were in the Air Training Corps as well. Everything was aiming towards the RAF, I doubt it was even on your mind to even think of the Navy, until at least you’d exhausted the other possibilities

Pa:- Yeah, it’s only when I was shunted down the steps of the ladder, and finally got to the bottom, and realised it was the Navy or nothing

Me:- That’s, that’s just fete, it can’t be helped

Pa:- Yeah, but I would have done much better to have started off by going straight to the Navy

Me:- Yeah, but the only way that would have happened is if everything else about your life had been different up to that point. There was no way you were going for the Navy given everything that had happened to you, and that you were part of, you don’t join the ATC so you can get in the Navy do you, you join the sea cadets

Pa:- Yes, You know I don’t know if the Sea Cadets had even been formed by then

Me:- Well even if it had it I don’t imagine they’d have one in the middle of, haha, inland, haha, somewhere like Guildford.

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