As time passes so quickly nowadays and our memories become more and more unreliable, I am faced with getting out another newsletter. After every issue I make a resolution to make notes of things happening with regards to our association and every time I forget, so when I pick up my pen I haven’t a clue what we did 6 months ago, so I think the best way to start this letter is a superb recent happening, whilst my memory is fresh. A couple of weeks ago I had a phone call from Mr Andrew Davenport who is a pilot and manager of a DC3 Dakota at Kemble. He told me that the Dakota had now been sold and that it would be going to the USA. However, before it disappeared he invited me to bring about nine of my members to Kemble to fly in the Dakota over the Cotswold airfields, Down Ampney, Blakehill Farm and Broadwell. As RAF Lyneham is closing down, the 47th Air Despatch Regt was holding a Family Day and Andrew had arranged to do a couple of circuits as a greeting to them. All very exciting and then the problem arose – which of my members would be interested and wouldn’t have too far to travel. I was fortunate because my son had offered to drive me to Kemble so naturally I included him on the list of passengers. There was a misunderstanding with the arrangements for I thought that Andrew only wanted veterans which excluded wives, so that presented a little problem as some of our members rely on their wives for driving and as a lot of our members are now too old to travel, it presented problems especially with fitness and ability to travel. I was most surprised when a close friend of Alf Bone, Paul Keely, who lives near Lincoln, offered to bring Alf to Kemble despite being in a wheelchair. Alf was a 271 Squadron pilot and did all of the Arnhem operations. I applauded the valiant efforts of Paul and Kevin Carson to get Alf safely aboard up those narrow rickety aluminium steps. Kevin Carson volunteered to bring his father, Kit Carson, who flew as a navigator with 512 Squadron based at Broadwell. Also joining us was John Marshall. John was an LAC Flight mechanic on “C” Flight 271 Squadron and after the war rose to be Chief Engineer with British Airways. So including myself we represented the ground crew who were at Down Ampney.
Over the years Ken and Marjorie Cooper have worked on our behalf organising the catering in the village hall at our re-unions. Pat and I had been invited to open the Down Ampney village fete last month and when I told Marjory about the flight, she said how much Ken would like to go on the passenger list, so I included Ken also.
Over the last few years, David Job has done a superb job as chairman of the village hall committee and has served our Down Ampney Association well, so I included David. I invited ex Glider Pilot Captain Ron Johnson as a veteran of the Arnhem battle but at the last minute he went down with an infection which precluded him from flying. I also included Dan Gurney, for as he lives locally and was an ex RAF fireman at Lyneham. Dan does us a good service by keeping a weather eye on our Garden of Remembrance, our memorial and seat on the airfield. Recently a Swindon member, Jimmy Cowe, an ex “B” Flight 271 mechanic sent me an article from the Swindon Advertiser about Down Ampney and Jimmy Edwards being shot down at Arnhem. This article was so accurate and detailed that I phoned the Advertiser to see who had written the article and I was put in touch with a journalist, Steve Wakefield, who told me that he had looked through the archives and found this detailed article about Jim being shot down at Arnhem which contained some very detailed and explicit details which I thought only I knew after a long discussion with Jim himself at our re-unions. Steve asked me what was my connection with Jim and Down Ampney and when I told him about the history of the Down Ampney Association he became very interested and felt that on this information he could write a series of articles about Down Ampney and Airborne operations, so he came to Coventry to visit me. I agreed and next morning at 10.00 he was on my doorstep. He brought his camera and tape recorder and he interviewed me for nearly 4 hours, covering our training at Down Ampney on glider towing, paratrooper dropping and the magnificent work of our Air Ambulance nurses, who brought back 100,000 casualties from Europe after D Day to our Casualty Air evacuation centre. Steve then submitted four articles which were printed in the Swindon Advertiser. I have a couple of sets of these articles and if anyone would like to read them, let me know.
So nine of us boarded the Dakota where also on board were a group of teenagers obviously very excited about the prospect of the flight. So in glorious sunshine we thundered down the runway, the roar of the Pratt & Whitney engines making conversation impossible. First of all we flew to Cricklade and Blakehill Farm and then circled Down Ampney airfield surprisingly in good condition with the dispersals, runways and perimeter tracks clearly visible. We were unable to overfly Broadwell as it was in Brize Norton air space. We flew on to RAF Lyneham where the 47th Air Despatch was holding a Family Day to mark the closure of their stay at Lyneham. It was great to fly over their gate guardian Dakota FZ626 which was painted in the markings of my aircrews Dakota YS-DH which was shot down at Arnhem. The Dakota will be taken to Brize Norton, their new base. So ended an exhilarating flight with our landing back at Kemble to the obvious enjoyment of Alf Bone, who piloted a Dakota on the Arnhem operations and Kit Carson who was a navigator on 575 Squadron flying from Broadwell to Arnhem. I feel so lucky in this modern age of computers, e-mails, DVDs etc, when my son sent me a DVD of the film he took of the flight. Also on board we had a Martin Hodgson who had served in the Royal Air Force as aircrew for many years – he also sent me his DVD. I have a contact with the Swindon Advertiser, a Steve Wakefield, who was going to fly with us to do a report for the Advertiser but unfortunately Steve was unable to fly so he nominated Martin to take his place and Martin was delighted at the prospect of flying with us and was delighted to be included. As a permanent record of our flight I am having some DVD copies made and to help with some of my costs I will offer them at £5 each which will include postage.
I find it very disappointing that after all of these years because of declining numbers we did not have a Spring re-union this year which begs the question of how long can we keep going? The encouraging feature of our re-unions in September is the amazing size of the congregation who turn up so regularly and so as long as we can attract so many I shall continue to arrange them. This year we will meet again at the Blunsdon House Hotel on Saturday September 10th where the charges will be for dinner, bed and breakfast: 1 night £134 double/£119 single; 2 nights £129 double/£109 single – they are executive rooms with en suite and use of leisure club facilities. The phone number is 01793 721701. Rose Forder is booking co-ordinator. The rooms are available until 1 August – please remember to mention the Down Ampney Association when booking for our special rate.
On Sunday September 11th the format will be as usual, the service will start at 11am and after the service we shall retire to the memorial on the airfield where we shall hold a wreath laying ceremony and a short Remembrance service. At this stage especially because of the cut backs and availability it is doubtful whether we shall get a fly past this year especially as RAF Lyneham will be closing down, with the Hercules being dispersed to Brize Norton.
Sadly we are losing a lot of our members recently and it would appear that the Reaper is amongst us. I am receiving many requests to have ashes buried in our Garden of Remembrance and we recently interred the ashes of ex 271 pilot George King, where his wife Val is also interred. Also interred were the ashes of Major Roy Ainscow where his wife, Pat Ainscow (nee Yardley) is buried. Another of our stalwart members was Reg Faber whose ashes were placed with his wife Ina. I had a phone call from Australia to say that ex Sqdn Ldr Rex Daniell, DFC AFC had died and his wife Betty sent his ashes also to be buried at Down Ampney. Rex was the only pilot at Down Ampney to have looped a Dakota and I was delighted when Betty also sent me a copy of the autobiography which Rex wrote of his Air Force career, which as an ex erk who always thought that officers always operated in extreme comfort with many creature comforts, came as a great shock to me to read of the arduous conditions Rex was flying in South Africa, Takoradi, Tunisia, Middle-Far East and the many hardships they had to live with and overcome. The book’s title is a saying that his grandchildren would ask – “What did you do in the war, Poppa Rekka?” If any member would like to read Rex’s book and pay the postage (our funds are not very high) I would be pleased to forward it. After the war Rex purchased a couple of Dakotas and set up a local airline called Spanz and it was quite successful until Qantas, fearful of the threat of this little successful airline, closed him down. I understand that his son, Peter, may come to England in September to attend our re-union. Also in Australia, we have Paddy Joyce who with her late husband organised the first Casualty Air Evacuation re-union in the Connaught rooms in London in 1947. Then we have Margaret Wilson, who was LACW Munns, an Air Ambulance nurse. We also have Betty Minnear from Stokes Valley, New Zealand. Betty was an MT driver at Down Ampney, LACW Reeve. It will be a great pity when our great world wide Down Ampney family ceases to be but I think that you will all agree it has been great whilst it lasted.
I have a contact in the USA called Ed Davies who first contacted me many years ago when he told me that one of our Down Ampney Dakotas KG389 was servicing a Greenland Expedition which a rich American was mounting to try to salvage a P38 Lightning, one of six which the Americans were attempting to fly to Prestwick via Gander, Goose Bay, to Iceland, Greenland, to Prestwick in Glasgow. Apparently the squadron of 6 P38s led by a B17 Flying Fortress ran into a violent snowstorm off Iceland, ran out of fuel and force landed in Greenland where the whole flight was abandoned and a US ship picked the crews up and returned them to the USA. Forty years afterwards this expedition was mounted and after many setbacks, not the least being that over 40 years of snowfall and the moving glacial ice, the P38s were found a mile away from the original location and 250 feet beneath the surface. Pat Epps and his men managed to extract one P38, restored it in Florida to pristine condition and it has been christened “The Glacier Girl”. Thanks in no small measure to our 48 Sqdn Dakota KG389. It would surprise my readers how many wartime Dakotas still survive throughout the world and are still earning money after over 70 years of flying. Recently Ed told me of yet another Dakota which had turned up in the States and when he told me the C/N number I was able to tell him that its wartime number was KG587 and not only that but this Dakota flew with 48 Squadron at Down Ampney and not only did it fly on the Arnhem operation, Market Garden, but the pilot who flew it on that mission as 2nd pilot was our member Eddie Leslie. This caused some excitement with the new owners for they asked me to supply all of the aircraft markings etc as they were going to restore it to wartime livery. I sent them a print of a painting of which I have stocks of a number of 48 Squadron Dakotas dropping paratroopers at Arnhem. Although this painting by Anthony Cowland is exceptionally good, it is incorrect because all of our 46 Group Dakotas 48, 271, 233, 512, 575, 437 RCAF, all took gliders on the first two days and the USAAF Dakotas or C47s as they called them, took our 1st Airborne Division. After the Dak is restored to flying condition the new owners intend to fly it to England in September, pick up Eddie Leslie and take him to Arnhem. What a story!
Sadly to conclude I append the members who have passed away since my last newsletter. Bill Randall, a very popular member who has been with us since he and his late wife Joy joined us in the beginning in the early 70s. Bill was the wireless operator shot down with his skipper Flt Lt Jimmy Edwards on the Arnhem operations; Joy Williams, a WAAF MT driver; Sylvia Bull who trained as an Air Ambulance orderly; Stan Clark a 271 Sqdn R&I fitter; and another great loss ex Corporal Elsie Vann who was one of our best known Air Ambulance nurses. We are also sorry to report the loss of Ralph Barker, 271 and 48 W.O.P. They will all be sorely missed.
When I check on my membership cards to make sure that all of the addresses are up to date, one member that I checked on was St Colin “Ash” Ashley. Sad to say I was advised that he had just died at age 97. A couple of years ago whilst standing near our Aircrew memorial near the Hartenstein, a gentleman stopped in his wheelchair and to my great surprise I discovered it was Ash. Ash was an officer with the 7th Kings Own Scottish Borderers and another member, ex Sgt George Burton also with the 7th KOSB, spoke very highly of Ash as their officer. He will be missed.
When I first started this newsletter I felt that my aged memory would not provide enough material to be of interest and that it was only going to be a very short one but as usual Down Ampney events have proved me wrong.
As I have a lot of space left I would remind our members that I have a number of DVDs available for members who would like to see them. Our last flight in a Dakota from Kemble, my visit to the home of Countess Lady Mountbatten of Burma when we were filming for a DVD on her father’s Dakota in Burma FL510, the presentation of the Air Ambulance wings to our nurses at the RAF Club before going to Buckingham Palace, the presentation of the Florence Nightingale statuettes by Camilla the Duchess of Cornwall to our Air Ambulance nurses at the Royal Hospital at Chelsea, the filming in the RAF Club in Piccadilly for the US millionaire Donald Soldini who purchased Lord Louis Mountbatten’s Dakota FL510. In 1951 an Air Marshall from New Zealand wrote a long and very interesting article for the Saturday Evening Post about his experience with this Dakota FL510 which featured very vividly in his dream about flying in this Dakota back to his demob in New Zealand – this article which borders on the occult is also available. I went on an interesting trip with the Coventry Parachute Regt Assoc to Ypres and Bastogne which features the last post played by the firemen at the Menin Gate. There is also a DVD of an interview I did in Oosterbeck for Popcorn films about our Dakotas at Arnhem. Some time ago BBC2 did a film about the bombing of Coventry called Coventrated which is quite interesting. Also, a DVD of the dedication of our Aircrew memorial in Arnhem is available. If any of these DVDs are of interest, please let me know.
So that’s another newsletter completed which I hope is of interest to you for I must admit that at 86 it becomes harder to remember what happened yesterday and I know that you of the same age bracket will sympathise but as we used to say “Press on regardless”. See you in September.
See you in September
Alan and Pat