My old Dad is 91, he will reach 92 in January. In his lifetime; he watched the R-101 Airship fly over his home county of Kent in South-East England, just before it crashed so tragically in France later that day. He stood and watched a Spitfire shoot a German Dornier Do-17Z down, over his village of Farningham, in that fateful summer of 1940. He later saw two B-17's of the 381st Bomb Group collide over their base at Ridgewell in Essex in 1944, watching in horror as the two stricken ships fell back to earth.
Ever since I was a young lad he has told of that collision, and one day in the early 70's we went back to stand somewhere near that spot together. A shared moment. He stood with my late Mother, with all those gathered at Sta.131 on that day in 1982 when we dedicated the memorial to the 398th BG. Last week he asked me if I would take him to see the memorial at 131 once again. He has not been there since about 1984 time.
It was wet, very wet yesterday - but fairly mild temperatures. My Dad lives at Romford in Essex County, just 12 miles from London. Joyce took a day off work, and we set off on what was to be a 200 mile round trip, well for us anyway.
Much later, as we approached the village of Braughing (Russ Abbey
territory) on our way to 131, we came alongside a field and startled a magnificent Stag, which proceeded to gallop alongside the car with it's antlered head held so high. Then all of a sudden it darted in front, for which I was prepared, and ducked down into some bushes and was gone. A magic moment which may never be repeated.
Now you all know what is coming next - right - OK - it was warm and dry in The Woodman, blazing log fire, good food, and Dad was so surprised at the structural changes and the display of 398th memorabilia. As we finished lunch it stopped raining - well just enough to pose Dad by the memorial for snaps of him and Joyce and him and me. "Do you remember that day in 1982" he asked? "Will we ever forget" I replied. So we reminisced for a while. Up to the main runway then, the newly sown seeds already bursting through the fertile soil of the surrounding fields, giving them that faint green hue, no more field walking this year.
We had a quick look at Tony Barker's HQ buildings from the dryness of the car, then round the little road encircling the old dispersed living sites, and up to the road back to Anstey. We called in to St Georges Church of course, for Dad has never seen the window there. Whilst taking some snaps outside, Peter Brookes pulled up in his car and got out for a quick chat, that is what makes these visits so special when you meet good friends like him.
We walked through the churchyard to the moat and told Dad of our visit there the previous Friday. The wreath is now tucked into the bank opposite the moat, a small branch has gone over the little white rose in the corner of the wreath and firmly secured it to it's mooring. The white flowers which form the 'W' are fully open in the cool water, thus it bobs up and down slowly fading in tribute.
Time to get Pops home, and we made it safely back to Cambridge by 1800. Dad called us at 2030 - "Thanks for a great day Son, it brought so many memories back - what about seeing that Stag - thanks for the lunch - the memorial looks wonderful - the window is beautiful - all those country lanes, that's all I shall see when I close my eyes tonight". It's good sometimes, to share such things together, and see 131 through my old Dad's eyes.
Cheers Pops - Keep 'em flying.