As usual it was with great foreboding when I was preparing our 36th annual re-union at Down Ampney, for as the years flash by and we are all getting older which often precludes travelling, I feel that the attendance will be very low and I will be putting Julia Job and the Down Ampney ladies to a lot of catering trouble to little avail. But to my great relief I found that my fears were unjustified for we had one of the biggest turnouts that we have had for a few years with nearly 200 in the church. The weekend started at the Blunsdon House hotel where over 30 of our members were booked in and we enjoyed a get together dinner on the Saturday night.
In making the preparations for the re-union my troubles doubled when RAF Lyneham advised me that because of the Afghanistan war, they would not be able to send a Hercules to our re-union, which they usually do in tribute to our Arnhem V.C. David Lord. So I cast around at Brize Norton, Odiham, to see if I could find an alternative but no-one could help; I suppose because flying outside service requirements is frowned on. Another disappointment was that on the day of our re-union, the Battle of Britain Dakota was in Scotland. When this happened before I contacted a friend, Glen Moreton, who is the manager at Kemble airfield and he was most helpful saying that they had an Air Show on that day and he would persuade the Mustang pilot who was taking part in the show to fly over to Down Ampney to perform an aerial tribute. Unfortunately over the ten miles from Kemble to Down Ampney the pilot lost his way so we didn't get a fly past. Sadly Glen could not help for there was no Air Show on that day but he pointed out that there was an airworthy Dakota in the hangar at Kemble and he gave the email address of the gentleman who flies the Dakota, Andrew Davenport. So, more in hope than conviction, I sent an email to Andrew explaining our re-union and the Hercules fly past to see if the Dakota would be in the air on that day. To my great surprise I had an email back to say that he would fly his Dakota over our memorial during our wreath laying ceremony. Needless to say I was delighted by this turn of events. So Sunday morning with bright blue sky and autumn sunshine we made our way to Down Ampney where once again I was flabbergasted by the great number of cars parked between the church and the village. Before the service started we interred the ashes of Leslie Peck, a 4271 SE Flight Mechanic; ex LACW Pat Ainscow (Yardley) who worked in our Ops room and also O'Neill Berry who was a most enthusiastic supporter of our Down Ampney Association because he was a bandsman in the 7th Kings Own Scottish Borderers and flew from Down Ampney to Arnhem where he finished up as a POW. For many years we had a superb group of 7th KOSB at our re-unions, dressed in their tartan trews. Sadly, now we are down to three: ex Sergeant George Barton, Geoff Roberts, and Lieut. Colin Ashley. Before our service I was contacted by Rozanne Colchester who was the sister of Alec Medhurst, one of David Lord's crew who was killed at Arnhem when David won his posthumous V.C. Rozanne expressed her wish to read a lesson at our service but unfortunately although this was arranged, on the actual day she was taken ill and could not attend. The service was taken as usual by our permanent sky pilot member, Captain Carl Kinghan MBE who gave us his usual humorous address from the pulpit. Carl was also assisted by Alan Aspray, a lay preacher who lives in Down Ampney. We were also very pleased to welcome the Rev Bert Brown who although he has been ill for quite a period, recovered sufficiently to get to Down Ampney even though he is now 97. Bert was a member of the 7th KOSB and taken prisoner at Arnhem. We were also honoured by the presence of a group of the Swindon Branch of the Parachute Regt Assoc led by their President, Colonel Mike Walsh with the Para Regt standard. The 47 Air Despatch Squadron from RAF Lyneham also attended with a wreath every year and they were represented by Capt. J. Taylor and Sgt. Major Dearing also with the standard of the Air Despatch. After our service we assembled at our memorial and this year I made sure that the gates leading to the airfield were unlocked for last year due to an oversight the gates were left locked which caused parking mayhem. As we were laying our wreaths I was looking in the sky towards Poulton, for this is where I suggested the Dakota should approach from for the best view of our gathering at our memorial but there was no sign of the Dakota, so I looked away and suddenly there was a roar of Pratt & Whitney engines and he was overhead. I made a grab for my video camera but by then he had gone and I didn't even see him so I must have been the only member who didn't see him. Fortunately I had arranged with a Mr John Green, who is the secretary of the Gloucestershire Video Club, who made a nice professional video of our 1993 re-union to make another film of this year's re-union and he captured it. I was also very fortunate that Mike Mettam, the son of the late Ann and Les Mettam, for he takes a very professional video and he captured the Dakota as it flew over so it appears on his excellent DVD which he has sent to me. If anyone wishes to see either of these DVDs please let me know for they are both excellent records of our re-union. A pleasant sequel to the fly over was that the pilot flew back to Kemble and brought his family and crew back to Down Ampney for lunch in the new village hall. Unfortunately, for the first time we ran out of food for so many members turned up in excess of our estimates. Fortunately the enterprising village hall committee in their wisdom had decided to build a village shop on the end of the village hall, which included a baker's oven so they were able to bake some baguettes so they catered for the last few with fresh cheese baguettes which included the Dakota aircrew party. We were also pleased to welcome a young pilot from RAF Brize Norton who had been to a wedding that weekend at Blunsdon House and became very interested in our activities so he attended our service and re-union. He had brought with him a painting by Anthony Cowland of a 48 Squadron Dakota. I have a print of the same painting which was sold at South Cerney by the Air Despatch Regt and along with several Air Despatch signatures there is the signature of Flt Lt Ray Hull, a pilot who flew with 48 Squadron and was a member of our association some years ago, now deceased. I was amused to see that the artist Anthony Cowland had made the same mistake in his painting as Wilf Hardy had made on his, that he had painted panniers being despatched out of the parachutists' door instead of the large cargo door. We can excuse the artists making these simple errors but if they had been one of the long suffering erks who had to keep on putting the rollers in place and then taking them out as operations were changed they would have been far more familiar. Lugging heavy roller tracks in hot September sunshine in a hot metal Dakota was not much fun and focuses the memory. As I write this, a large 20" x 15" parcel arrived and when I took off all the wrapping I was absolutely staggered to see that it was a picture of the Kemble Dakota in American markings on stretched canvas and signed by Andrew Davenport and his crew to the RAF Down Ampney Association with the date of the flypast. What a very moving experience to receive such a memento of a very memorable event. The picture will go to the Down Ampney village hall to be hung, I hope, in the Dakota room.
After the Down Ampney re-union is like coming down the slide of a huge helter-skelter where the long uphill is making every arrangement and meeting all of the problems. Each facet, small in its own right, like estimating numbers and catering, hotel queries, the interment of ashes and getting inscriptions and ground preparations, liaising with Sheila Burgess and Captain Carl Kinghan, so at the end of the day when everyone has performed so well and everything has gone so smoothly, the slide down the helter-skelter is most welcomed for my trip to Arnhem arrives two or three days later. I was very pleased to be contacted by Warrant Officer Ian Shackleton to say that whilst he was unable to attend, a small contingent from RAF Waddington would be bringing a wreath to lay at our Aircrew memorial led by Squadron Leader Steve Welchman, Corporal Chris Breen, airman and WAAFS - a party of around ten altogether. The weather fortunately was fine for the very crowded gathering in the Garden of Remembrance at the foot of the Arnhem Bridge where all of the embassies and military units lay their huge wreaths as the Scout Band play suitable music throughout. At the end of the wreath laying, the veterans form up and march through the streets lined by clapping and cheering crowds of Arnhem people to the Council Houses where a concert had been arranged. Every year I have a jocular confrontation with the band conductor that we always start off with the Parachute Regt March In, for I have to remind him that the Royal Air Force were there; in fact without us there would not have been any Airborne Operations. Some years ago the bandmaster told me that they could not play the Royal Air Force March Past because they did not know it. So I purchased a full band score from Boosey & Hawkes and sent it to the bandmaster but even then they did not play it at the next pilgrimage because they did not have enough time to practice it. I am pleased to say as we took our seats, the band opened up with the Royal Air Force March Past, greatly appreciated by everyone there. Even Arnhem Burgomeister Pauline Krikke gave me a thumbs up when she heard it. After the concert we enjoy the hospitality of the Arnhem Council with nibbles and a free bar, the part the RAF played in Operation Market Garden is always recognised for Pauline always seeks me out to have a chat about Down Ampney and our activities. Then things went sour for I had arranged to meet the RAF group at their hotel, go in their vehicle to Ginkel Heath, watch the drop and get back to Oosterbeek in time for lunch at the Schoonerd and our wreath laying at 2pm. Unfortunately the Burgomeister of Ede had decided to combine the Air Drop with an Air Show so he closed the road to Ginkel Heath and made everyone go onto buses. We tried to get a priority at the bus station but they would not accept that these were RAF Servicemen on duty and we had to board their bus after a group payment of £35. On arrival at the bus terminal we found that we were faced with a long ¾ mile walk on soft muddy sandy soil which made heavy walking so by the time we got to Ginkel Heath we had barely an hour before having to leave. We were lucky to get a friendly coach driver going back to Oosterbeek who agreed to take us. It was rather disappointing to see over ½ mile of commercial stalls alongside the Heath. They have turned the principle of a para drop tribute to a commercial enterprise. I will think long and hard about going next year. At Ginkel Heath I met Lloyd Bentley, an ex 48 Squadron pilot who lives in Brantford, Ontario. Lloyd was second dickey to Sqdn Ldr Rex Daniell who was the only pilot at Down Ampney to loop a Dakota. Sadly Rex has just died in Australia but his wife Betty has sent a parcel of his ashes to me and we shall inter these in our Garden of Remembrance at Down Ampney. I have advised the Station Commander at RAF Lyneham that we are burying the ashes of a Squadron Leader DFC AFC and inviting anyone from RAF Lyneham to attend. I await a reply. Going back to Saturday lunch at Oosterbeek where the RAF group gathered, we went along to our memorial for a wreath laying where a piper from RAF Rheindalen was waiting. Also about a month before Arnhem I had the idea that we always lay wreaths to the aircrew who died trying to get supplies to the 10,000 Airborne on the ground, 60 miles behind enemy lines, so I thought it would be appropriate to invite the Airborne who are now based at Colchester. Unfortunately they were all on embarkation leave prior to going to Afghanistan so there was no-one to talk to, so I left a message on the answerphone about my reasons for contacting them. So on Saturday I was so surprised to see striding towards us Lt Col John Handford OBE which to me was unbelievable that despite making preparations to move the whole Para Regt to Afghanistan, a top brass officer should join our wreath laying party. It was nice to have in our party the family Carson, Ken an ex 575 Flt Lt navigator. Once again, Arnhem Vitesse, the local league football team, had invited the veterans to see their match that evening and they sent a coach to various pick up points,. When we arrived at the ground we were met by a Scottish Bagpipe band who played us into the ground where a huge standing applauding crowd waved and cheered us into our seats. I sat next to an elderly Dutch lady who insisted on talking to me throughout the whole match and normally I would have been very annoyed about this for I am a soccer fanatic. However, she was most interesting for it appeared that she was a well known sculptress and she had made a 15' x 15' square sculpture of the Airborne Cemetery. There were rows of gravestones all about 3" high, upon which you can see the regiments or service of the person in the grave legibly carved. After the first two rows, soil appears in front of some of them, then on the next row an arm appears then a leg until as you look towards the back of the sculpture the dead Airborne and RAF are climbing out of their graves and greeting each other, either sitting on the graves or embracing each other. Unbelievably this sculptress obtained pictures of the servicemen who had been killed and some of the faces on the subjects are recognisable. It is a most remarkable piece of sculpture and the artiste, Fransje Povel-Speleers, is hoping to raise enough contributions to purchase a vandal proof cover to enable her to put it in a permanent place in the grounds of the Hartenstein Airborne Museum. Fransje Povel-Speleers has a Dutch address: Joubertweg 4 6861 DN, Oosterbeek, The Netherlands. If anyone in England would like to send her a small donation towards this cover she will be most grateful. I will send a donation on your behalf from our Down Ampney funds. Fransje incidentally was an English teacher and her English is perfect. If you have any questions, her phone number is 0031 26 3390653. What a coincidence that she lives in Joubertweg for our late Commanding Officer of 271 Squadron was Joubert who killed himself when he lit a homemade Very cartridge firework on VE Day. After the match we all trooped over to the Supporters Club who once again received us with great enthusiasm and regaled us with a river of beer. The pipe band also came in and what with the hundreds of supporters and the pipe band playing in a confined space, it all became pleasantly chaotic. I was most surprised when the Burgomeister sought me out to exchange pleasantries and our Down Ampney activities. I was also very pleased to be joined by Lloyd Bentley who had travelled over from Brantford, Ontario, as mentioned previously. Lloyd was Rex Daniell's second pilot and navigator on the Airborne operations. So ended yet another very pleasant visit to Arnhem which was most enjoyable despite the shortcomings of Ginkel Heath, although I believe that next year they will revert to the normal programme.
Sadly, since my last newsletter we have lost the following members: Les Howard, a Glider Pilot; Joan Quain an SHQ telephonist; Arthur Jones a 271 Flight Mechanic; John Hart MBE, SHQ clerk; D Dignan, a 48 Sqdn instrument mech; W/C Michael Watts, a Dakota pilot; Willie Wemyss, 271 navigator; Arthur Winstanley, an Arnhem veteran parachutists; Joe Hine, a 271 Squadron engine fitter (one of my B Flight friends); George Vince, a 271 Sqd pilot. On the plus side we were pleased to welcome a newcomer to our Association, Pat Challenger. Pat was an MT driver and married an airman at Down Ampney, was married in All Saints church at Down Ampney and had their honeymoon in the White Hart in Cricklade.
So that wraps up another newsletter which I hope a lot of you will read on email and although there will not be an organised re-union in the Spring I will write another newsletter before our next September re-union.
Wishing you all Merry Christmas and a very Healthy and Happy New Year.
Alan and Pat
As a postscript to my newsletter, on November 28th despite the snow I travelled to Down Ampney where I met George King's daughter (Rosamund) and others of George's family to inter his ashes. Also waiting in the church was Flight Lt. Edward Eldred, a Hercules pilot from RAF Lyneham who had agreed to inter the ashes of Squadron Leader Rex Daniell DFC AFC. As efficient as usual, Sheila Burgess, the church warden, had had the holes prepared despite the frozen ground and standing by, the lay preacher, Alan Aspray. After the interment, very kindly George's family invited Sheila and I to join them for lunch at the Spotted Cow in Meysey Hampton, where to my great surprise and pleasure George's son gave me a DVD of a film called 'Perpetual Motion - the DC3' which was shown in 1993. It has great coverage of the Dakota in various places throughout the world and especially in British Columbia where an Air Transport Dakota flying local produce and passengers was flown by a very attractive young lady, who allowed George King to fly it. George also gave an appreciation of how valuable the Dakota was in all of the world's war zones. I will get a couple of copies made of this DVD if anyone would like to borrow one.