And so yet another six months have slipped by and once again it's newsletter time. Unfortunately because of decreasing numbers we did not have a Spring re-union this year but last month Bernard Hyde saw an advert from the Blunsdon House hotel where we hold our main re-unions in September offered a reduced price weekend. So we took advantage of this and eight of us had a very pleasant stay. Dot Harrison from Shrewsbury and Jennie Sheppard from Doncaster came to Coventry so we all went down together where we met Carlyle Fraser Brown, his wife Jane and Bernard and Marion Hyde. Whilst we were there we took the opportunity to visit the Four Pillars Hotel in the Cotswold Water Park, for last year we had a very pleasant re-union in Oxford in a Four Pillars hotel, which was excellent. However, although in a beautiful setting of the Cotswold Water Park, we decided to stick with the Blunsdon House hotel. The Blunsdon House rate this year will be £144 per room, dinner, bed and breakfast (phone no. 01793 721701). This year the date for our re-union at Down Ampney will be the weekend of September 11/12th. Don't forget to mention the Down Ampney Association to get the group rate. Whilst we were at Down Ampney we joined the families in a service to bury the ashes of three of our members who passed away recently. John Barrington, who was a wireless operator on Stirlings at Fairford and had been a regular attendee at our re-unions for his widow, Lynne was a WAAF at Blakehill Farm; the widow of Chris Trenchum, Inge (Chris died some years ago and his ashes are buried in our Garden of Remembrance); and finally, Pat Ainscow who was a very attractive WAAF from the OPS room and her name was LAWC Pat Yardley. I had hoped to include the ashes of George King, a 271 pilot but his family were either on holiday or just returned.
In my last newsletter I described the fascinating story of a Dakota FL510 which was issued to Lord Louis Mountbatten as his own personal aircraft. A very absorbing story it has turned out to be, for the original film crew from the USA went into decline so progress was halted for some time. Then suddenly it burst into life again with Donald Soldini engaging a new film crew which will now film the conclusion of this story. An arrangement has been made to make a filmed interview of Countess Lady Mountbatten giving her experiences of flying with her father, Lord Louis Mountbatten, in FL510 and apparently as I was instrumental in finding out why the name of Sister Ann appeared on the nose of the Dakota they have asked me to take part in this filming. I found out that Sister Ann was a Naval Aviation nurse stationed in Burma called Ann Ramsden and when Lord Louis went down with a severe bout of malaria she nursed him back to full health. Three months later Lord Louis contracted amoebic dysentery and became very ill. Sister Ann was called in again and she again nursed Lord Louis back to full health. To show his appreciated she had her name painted on the nose of FL510. Another interesting sequel to this story came in a phone call from Canada, a gentleman called Chris Bryant, to say that he had heard about our project and by coincidence he was writing an article for the Aeroplane magazine about Dakota FL510, for his father was a pilot and aeronautical engineer based in Burma, who heard about a Dakota lying abandoned on a Japanese island of Sado so he organised a salvage team, went to Sado, stripped the Dakota down and managed to get it back to his base in Burma, repaired the damaged sections, restored the Dakota to flying condition and used it as a base work horse. So that provided another interesting facet in this overall history. All I know then is that after the war it was sold as war surplus to Eagle Airways of England before eventually being bought by Laurentian Airways in Canada. It must have eventually finished up with a Cuban airline where if you remember at the beginning of this fascinating story was hijacked by Cuban drug runners and abandoned in Florida. It will be great to see the final documentary film of this Dakota FL510.
In addition to getting involved with these interesting aspects of Dakota histories, I have now become involved as a speaker at various meetings of aviation groups, Probus, Rotary and old age pension groups. It all started at our Coventry branch RAFA, when one Wednesday the Aircrew Association secretary asked me if I knew a speaker because he had an aircrew meeting on Friday and he had failed to find a speaker. So as he was desperate I said that to fill in I would give the aircrew a talk entitled "Airborne Operations from the erks' point of view. I emphasised "erk" because it was the aircrew that were at the sharp end of operations whereas we were merely support. He accepted my offer so I gave this impromptu talk to about 20 aircrew about Down Ampney mainly how we trained up on Airborne operations ready for D Day and the invasion of Europe in June. The talk went down very well and the secretary referred to this in the in-house magazine Intercom which is circulated to all Aircrew Association secretaries. A month later I had a phone call from the Stratford-upon-Avon branch of the Aircrew Association saying that they had seen reference to my talk and would I give this talk to their branch in Stratford. So I agreed and duly turned up at the Falcon hotel in Stratford. To my astonishment I was taken to the dance hall where there were rows of chairs and over 100 people seated waiting for my talk. Although inwardly I died a thousand deaths, I managed to deliver the talk which was well received. So much so that in the audience there were members of Rotary, Probus and other groups which resulted in phone calls to give the talk to these groups in the Midlands. Last night I gave my talk for the first time to the Monday Club of Coventry and they turned out to be 30 elderly ladies. I must say that I felt apprehensive that my talk would interest such a group but again to my relief it was well received - indeed one elderly lady approached me after I had finished to say that she had been a WAAF Flight Mechanic (Engines) and she had worked on Wellingtons and Lancasters at RAF Wellesbourne after doing her FME course at Locking, Weston-Super-Mare, where I did my training, an intensive course on the new Sabre engine which powered the new Hawker Typhoon, then posted to Doncaster on Dakotas. Every year, as an honorary member of the Glider Pilots Association, I had the privilege of attending their annual re-unions and on the last one Arthur Shackleton approached me to ask if I was a war pensioner, which I am, for he told me about the Not Forgotten Association who arrange several functions for recipients of a war pension. I contacted these people and to our surprise we have received an invitation to attend a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace. I am looking forward to this for I have been to Buckingham Palace before when Pat and I were included in an invitation to our 21 Air Ambulance nurses in 1999 but on that occasion I was responsible for 21 elderly ladies and their carers so it wasn't exactly a relaxing visit. In a conversation with Jeanette Holm, an ex Down Ampney WAAF who became a Canadian war bride, I mentioned this visit and last week I received a very excited telephone call from her, who started off by saying that she would be meeting the Queen before we did, for the Queen would be visiting Canada at the end of the month and the Canadian authorities had decided that when the Queen visited Winnipeg it would be a great opportunity to invite a group of war brides to meet her and Jeanette would be in that group to meet the Queen on July 3rd. Our visit to Buckingham Palace is on July 8th. With all of this talk of meeting the Queen reminds me of one day at Down Ampney where we were constantly short of fuel, coke, etc, a group of us were on a lorry scavenging for dead timber in the woods and hedges. On one narrow lane we passed a stationary 15 cwt truck with its bonnet up and an ATS girl bending over its inards. So naturally we all wolf-whistled this ATS girl and as she emerged we saw that it was Princess Elizabeth. I often wonder when she appears at the Trooping of the Colour and the greeting she gets from the assembled troops is as memorable as our greeting on that country lane near Down Ampney.
I recently had a nice phone call from Mrs Patricia Challenger who was a WAAF MT driver, LACS Taylor, at Down Ampney. Recently she visited the church at Down Ampney and made enquiries in the village about the airfield and she was told about our association. Sadly I had to tell her that at one time I had several ex MT WAAF drivers - Vi Livingstone, Verde Guy, Thelma Bennett, Paddy Dowse and Kay Chalmers (Watts) but they have all passed away. If anyone remembers a Patricia Taylor as a DA MT driver, I have her phone number.
My wife, Pat, and the next-door neighbour, Sue, who very kindly types this newsletter for me, have put this letter on e-mail. If in the future you would like to receive newsletters this way, will you send me your address for our records? The newsletters are also on a website. So if you use a computer or have access to one (your local library) go onto Google, type in RAF Down Ampney newsletter and lo and behold it will appear on your screens and you can make a print of it. it will cut out a lot of addressing envelopes and also postage. For those without computers or who prefer to receive mail, it will be service as usual.
In relation to one of my earlier stories in this newsletter I have just returned from Ashford in Kent, for the American millionaire, Donald Soldini, hired another film crew from Canterbury to complete the filming for his documentary on Dakota FL510, Lord Louis Mountbatten's personal Dakota. My son drove me down where we were very well met by Countess Lady Patricia Mountbatten who welcomed us into her home. So we spent the afternoon being filmed on these interviews which concerned how the investigations were carried out and fill in the history of FL510 and also the Countess' knowledge of her father's experiences flying in this Dakota in Burma. So after nearly five years of preparation, interviews etc, we are now looking forward to seeing the final film which may be offered to the Discovery Channel TV.
Looking through some DVDs I came across a DVD which had been filmed by the son of one of our deceased Air Ambulance nurses, Ann Mettam. Michael has made a very good DVD starting with the Blunsdon House hotel, then in the church and finishing up with the buffet lunch in the village hall and the Hercules and Dakota fly pasts. If any one of my members who for some reason has never been able to attend one of our re-unions then this is an excellent way of seeing a re-union via this excellent DVD. I will have two or three copies made of this DVD so if anyone wishes to borrow one, please let me know and I will send it on the strict understanding that as they are being circulated to perhaps many members, they are returned as soon as possible otherwise it will become an expensive operation. Also if anyone is interested I have a DVD of the BBC2 film called "Coventrated" about the Coventry blitz in which I was involved as an ARP messenger and also on the same DVD is a recording of my talking to the class of a Coventry school about the Coventry blitz. The BBC at Bristol has been on the phone as they are doing a programme to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Blitz which happened on November 14th 1940. They wish to interview people who were involved. The BBC is also going to make five 45 minute programmes for a Remembrance Week in September and wish to include the Air Ambulance nurses.
Since my last newsletter we have lost the following members: Mrs Joan Hoy from California, the widow of ex pilot Ian Hoy; Janet Winter, SSQ Broadwell; Frank Warne, a 271 Squadron navigator from Plymouth; Freda Hughes, who was Group Captain Gilbert Howie, our Station Commander's secretary and member of the Down Ampney Concert Party; Leslie Peck, a 4271 SE fitting - his widow is Doris nee Chiles, an MT driver mainly on the ambulances on the Casualty Evacuation Centre; and finally, one of my longest serving members, Kay Smith, who died at the grand old age of 96. Kay was a Sergeant WAAF on Passenger & Freight section. We were regularly in contact and I shall miss her. On the brighter side, I welcome new members Major Terry Dance, the son of the late Reg Dance, an E Squadron Glider pilot; Thomas O'Brien, an ex 48 Squadron pilot - Tom lives in Minnesota USA; Dan Mason, an ex Stirling pilot; and finally Jeff Straw, who was a 48 Squadron radar mechanic. I took Jeff by surprise for he made contact with me on the web site. So before I phoned him back I took out from my files the 48 Squadron Movement Order which listed every single person who went to Chittagong in August 1945. I was able to quote his Service number and trade and some of his oppos who served with him as radar mechanics. It took him by surprise. I also enrolled a David Smith, an Air Despatcher, and Ray Sheriff, the parachutist who was blinded on the first day at Arnhem. Ray has been a veteran jumper at Arnhem every year jumping in tandem. We welcome him to our association.
After a long hard winter during which the church roof was replaced and the cleaner had finished their work, the church in all its pristine glory was handed back to Sheila, the Church warden, and her band of hard working supporters. Kneelers were unwrapped, the silver cleaned, pews polished and when done, in the spring sunshine it looked so bright and beautiful. The Garden of Remembrance will be landscaped when the lawns and footpaths have recovered from the scaffolding, cement mixers and the ravages of a wet cold winter and workmen's boots. Come along in September and see for yourselves.
Every year I receive a RAFA Trad sales brochure of items relating to the Royal Air Force - badges, mugs and caps etc. And especially Xmas cards and every year I complain to them that there is never any item which relates to the Dakota. However, this year has brought success for the Benevolent Fund have commissioned an artist, Patricia Forrest, to paint a Dakota coming in to land on a snowy airstrip. Pat has sent me a picture of it and it is absolutely superb. So if you are sending Xmas cards I can recommend them. Anyone interested in buying these Dakota Xmas cards should write to: RAF Charitable Trust Enterprises, Douglas Bader House, Morcott Hill, Fairford GL7 4RB, enclosing £4.95 per pack plus 95p p&p.
In writing about the completion of the church roof repairs etc. I omitted to mention that the Down Ampney village hall committed heading by Mr and Mrs David Job have just about finished a building a new shop at the end of the village hall. Down Ampney has been without a village shop for many years, so the very enterprising villages purchased a Portacabin after the Gloucester-Swindon bypass was completed, turned it into a shop and man it most successfully on a voluntary basis. The shop will also include a Post Office.
Since starting this letter Pat and I have returned from the Not Forgotten Association's Garden Party at Buckingham Palace. A most enjoyable afternoon with about 1800 guests from all walks of military service who are War Pensioners. As the Queen was in Canada, selected groups were introduced to the Duke of Gloucester - aircrew from Bomber Command, the Goldfish Club, McIndoe's Guinea Pigs and Glider Pilots. The band of the Welsh Guards played throughout the afternoon (they must have been rather hot in the summer sunshine in those Busby hats). So helped along with lashings of cucumber sandwiches and strawberries & cream, we tried to spot the celebrities who were there. Esther Rantzen and someone said that Jimmy Perry was there, the writer of Dad's Army. So ended a memorable visit.
So that ties up our newsletter which we hope you find of interest and look forward to seeing as many of you as possible in the church at Down Ampney on September 12th at 11 a.m.
Alan and Pat