What the RAF did for me

As the 100th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions con­tinue, Nor­folk flier David Hast­ings shares his memories

EDP Norfolk - - Heritage -

This year our Royal Air Force cel­e­brates the 100th An­niver­sary of its for­ma­tion in 1918. Here in Nor­folk we have al­ways been proud of our close links with the ser­vice, in­deed at one point we were known as ‘The Royal Air Force County’ due to the large num­ber of bases in our midst, in­clud­ing our fa­mous Bat­tle of Bri­tain air­field at Coltishall as well as those at Hor­sham St Faiths, Neatishead, Marham, Wat­ton, West Rayn­ham, Lud­ham, Swanton Mor­ley, Foul­sham and sev­eral more.

My own links with the Royal Air Force be­gan in 1937 when my parents started to take me to the Nor­folk & Nor­wich Aero Club An­nual Air Dis­play at Mouse­hold aero­drome in Nor­wich. I mar­velled at the aer­o­bat­ics as well as the Fairey Bat­tles, Whit­leys and Blen­heims and I knew then I just had to fly.

Then came the war and we used to cy­cle out to RAF Coltishall to watch our heroes fight­ing the Bat­tle of Bri­tain which was to save our coun­try and in­deed the free world, a debt that we can never re­pay. Peace ar­rived and in 1950 a chance came for me to ac­tu­ally join the RAF as a Na­tional Ser­vice­man.

Sadly there were no va­can­cies for air­crew train­ing but a kind Wing Com­man­der, see­ing my dis­ap­point­ment, sug­gested I put my name down for a job in air move­ments which in­volved work­ing with air­craft.

He was as good as his word and, af­ter eight weeks of ‘square bash­ing’ at RAF Padgate, I was posted to the Bri­tish Air Force of Oc­cu­pa­tion in Ger­many at Bucke­burg at the height of the Cold War. I was over­joyed to find we had the last squadron still fly­ing Spit­fires as well as the com­mu­ni­ca­tion squadron, with their Avro An­sons, which al­lowed me to get air­borne.

With a move to RAF Wun­storf

I saw an­other side of the RAF which was the en­thu­si­asm for sport and I soon be­came the scrum-half for the sta­tion and com­mand rugby teams. Only a few miles away was Lake Stein­hude­meer with a great com­bined ser­vices yacht club and, as a Nor­folk Broads sailor, I was soon back to sail­ing and rac­ing with the RAF. The air force also taught me to drive! Cer­tainly I can never thank the RAF enough for giv­ing me such a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence as a Na­tional Ser­vice­man.

Af­ter de­mo­bil­i­sa­tion in June 1952 it was back to civil­ian life and in those days any­one who had served in the RAF had their name given to the lo­cal Royal Ob­server Corps.

A very nice of­fi­cer in the ROC called to see if I was will­ing to join the corps as a vol­un­teer and in 1954 I joined the Nor­wich op­er­a­tions room. It was great to be back in the air force blue uni­form and I en­joyed 33 years of ser­vice, in­clud­ing be­ing sta­tioned at RAF Neatishead for a year.

On the fly­ing side, Nor­folk has also en­joyed very close links with the RAF when pri­vate fly­ing re-started af­ter the war and the Nor­folk & Nor­wich Aero Club be­gan op­er­at­ing from RAF Swanton Mor­ley. Later came the found­ing of the Nor­folk Vin­tage Pi­lots, who were al­lowed to hold their an­nual din­ner at Coltishall, Neatishead or West Rayn­ham.

The mem­ber­ship rose to over 100 in the end and was a unique mix of ser­vice and civil­ian pi­lots who en­joyed 43 an­nual din­ners be­fore the group closed.

Group Cap­tain Mike Hob­son, the sta­tion com­man­der at RAF Coltishall in the late 60s, spoilt me with a flight in a Light­ning T4 so I could join the 1,000mph club. In later years the sta­tion also ar­ranged for me to fly in the Jaguar which was ex­cit­ing.

I was also asked to make a film on the Bat­tle of Bri­tain Me­mo­rial Flight which got me air­borne in the Chip­munk and the Avro Lan­caster. As a demon­stra­tion pi­lot for the Ral­lye air­craft I was lucky enough to fly at sev­eral of the Bat­tle of Bri­tain air shows at RAF Coltishall which was an­other unique ex­pe­ri­ence.

I be­came an hon­orary mem­ber of the mess at Coltishall and Neatishead which meant that my wife and I en­joyed many won­der­ful oc­ca­sions with the RAF. To try and re­turn some of their kind­ness we used to take new sta­tion com­man­ders for a trip in the diesel lo­co­mo­tive 2nd

Air Di­vi­sion USAAF on the Bure Val­ley Rail­way.

More sup­port from the RAF came in 1992 when Nor­folk de­cided that a B-24 Lib­er­a­tor bomber should re­turn to the UK as part of the 50th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tion of the ar­rival in Nor­folk of the 2nd Air Di­vi­sion USAAF in 1942. With­out the RAF, es­pe­cially from Air Mar­shal Sir John Kem­ball, that dream would never have been achieved.

They helped with our engine change in Ice­land, ar­ranged for Nim­rods from No.120 Squadron to es­cort us over the At­lantic and fi­nally how can we ever for­get the three Jaguars from No.41 Squadron at RAF Coltishall who es­corted us in ‘Di­a­mond Lil’ into Nor­wich Air­port on that mem­o­rable June evening when 15,000 Nor­folk peo­ple came to wel­come us home.

Fi­nally as the date for the clo­sure of RAF Coltishall ap­proached I was asked to film all the main events in the last six months be­fore the sta­tion closed in 2006. We must never for­get that Coltishall was the only Bat­tle of Bri­tain sta­tion to be in­volved in the de­fence of our coun­try for all its years of ser­vice and it clo­sure was a very sad day for Nor­folk.

The words of Win­ston Churchill that: “Never was so much owed by so many to so few” summed up the debt that we owed to the Royal Air Force when ‘The Few’ won the Bat­tle of Bri­tain but per­haps those words still ap­ply to­day when you look at what Nor­folk has re­ceived from the Royal Air Force; long may it con­tinue.

ABOVE: Light­ning air­craft at Coltishall

LEFT: The au­thor on board RAF 100 square me­tre yacht at Kiel

ABOVE: Royal Ob­server Corps and Dan­ish LMK (air re­port­ing corps) at Coltishall

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.