Journey

Everybody has a book in them, or so it's said. But it's something else again getting it onto the page and to a place where it might be shared.

I have been writing since I was a child. Always, my dream was to see my name on the spine of a book. Books gave me life, a dream to live by. Through their portals I could escape easily into other worlds. Books also saved my life ... yes, really!

This is the story of my books and my journey as an author. I hope it will inspire and give hope to writers young and old.

Getting published can be a waiting game. It's hard .. and it's getting harder. But then sometimes it happens in unexpected ways and suddenly, we are living the dream. And we realise that it isn't after all the winning that is important so much as the journey along the way.

I would love to hear from anyone who connects with what is written here. A signed copy of any of my books is available. You have only to write and ask:

janineharrington53@gmail.com







Friday, 21 October 2016

KINDRED SPIRITS

Squadron Leader David Butler, with cameraman Martin
Courtesy: Stuart Borlase, Living History Film Productions

It's an incredible feeling and special when someone chooses to share a personal experience. All the more so when that person is sharing for the first time ... unsure, wondering what kind of reception it might receive. People today tend to hold back, afraid of getting too close or involved, creating their own personal space, resentful if someone steps in. But then again, it has always been my way to reach out, drawing people in. How else can we know and truly understand what is going on around us? There is a vital human need to re-establish personal contact ... otherwise we become part of the problem of loneliness, especially where people feel broken, at odds with the world. I will openly admit I'm a 'huggy'. Nothing wrong in that! It comes from having lived past broken experiences in isolation, having no-one to share or ease the pain. I know how that feels, and if I can help and support someone through their own situation then I will. Listening and learning alongside them is the key. In turn, because it happens so seldom, it's become cause for celebration when people actually do come together to talk, to share, to build on what has happened to them in the past, especially during the bad times. Sadly, we don't live in a world where we receive a hug back very often, at least in my experience. People today are too quick to judge without understanding the situation. It's enough when asked 'Good Morning, how are you?' to proffer the conventional response 'I'm fine, thank you' before quickly walking away.

It has therefore proved an incredible journey these past two weeks as I joined a film crew in the process of creating a documentary, visiting and recording wartime veterans of RAF 100 Group. Having been in contact with this secret Group for the past twenty or so years, it was a thrilling prospect to finally meet for the first time many of those I have been writing to and talking with on the phone. I remain passionate about preserving their history and stories, and became a prime mover in pushing for this project to go ahead, providing material and contacts. To be actively involved was all the more special because it came at a time when I was feeling particularly low, having had my confidence and self-esteem knocked out of me by recent events, leaving me in the throes of another breakdown. Meeting at least some of my worldwide Family of Kindred Spirits was the best tonic in the world and certainly boosted my spirits, lifting me up out of a dark place. The greatest challenge was to come out of my comfort zone to live out a suitcase for two weeks, letting someone else plan the day ahead without any real knowledge about where we were going or who we might see.

In truth, I was a country bumpkin coming to town! It had been a long while since I had seen over yon hill in the village where I live. Since my husband left last year, and no longer having transport, my world diminished, now revolving around a few small streets leading down to the sea. It sounds idyllic, yes, but it can become a tad lonely, and especially in winter feel very isolated and insecure, especially when pain kicks in making it difficult to move.

So ... I was up for a bit of adventure in my life. However, little did I know then that this was to become a life-changing event ... the kind of journey which only comes once in a lifetime, twice if you're very very lucky!

 RAF 100 Group Crest
Courtesy: MOD

I have spoken before about RAF 100 Group. Under Bomber Command, during WWII, they were based on secret airfields in Norfolk, made up of fifteen Squadrons, with hundreds of men, women and aircraft. Brought together at the end of 1943, their primary role was to identify and jam enemy Radar using experimental specialist secret equipment with strange-sounding names such as Mandrel, ABC Cigar, OBOE, Window, etc. Until this Group came into being, we were in danger of losing the war with out-dated aircraft and equipment. Our one chance for victory meant bringing together everyone related in any way to the field of Radar, including Bletchley Park and the Y-Service, to harness ideas and produce new innovative ways of working for the future. RAF 100 Group were at the forefront of this vision, and became involved in a myriad of tasks, including 'Spoof' raids, misdirecting the enemy to believe the main thrust of an attack would come from a completely different direction, leading them on a wild goose chase; while the main bombing force took advantage and homed in on the real target. German-speaking individuals, such as Gerhard Heilig, a German Jewish man who escaped to England with his father and joined up with the RAF, to serve at RAF Oulton in 214 Squadron; used the language of the enemy to confuse German Controllers, intercepting their radio frequencies, to issue conflicting commands to pilots of enemy aircraft. Agents were also dropped and collected in occupied territory, working with the Resistance. RAF 100 Group did so much during 1944 and 1945 in living up to their motto: 'Confound & Destroy' they actually brought the war to an early conclusion, yet received neither recognition nor reward. It is as if they have been airbrushed out of history. Today, they consider themselves 'the forgotten heroes', too many taking their stories with them to the grave.

Since I first began working with them, becoming a part of their network, accepted as their worldwide Secretary of the RAF 100 Group Association and Editor of our quarterly 'Confound & Destroy' magazine; I have been passionate about preserving their history and wartime experiences so that these wonderful people be remembered for the future. It should also be said that, having signed the Official Secrets Act as they were recruited into RAF 100 Group, most have never spoken of the vital work in which they were involved, or the Group of which they were proud to be a part. Not even the main RAF today are aware they ever existed at all. And perhaps more importantly, neither do their loved ones. It is only in memorabilia left behind in attics, gathering dust, that family members come to realise there is a part of their history they don't yet know, asking questions, beginning to uncover secrets and truths.

It is for these reasons I made a promise to them to bring their history and stories together under the one cover just as they were in wartime under Bomber Command. It took many years to complete, but finally came to fruition in the publication which Austin Macauley brought out on 15 December 2015 entitled: RAF 100 Group - Kindred Spirits.


As a Wordsmith and trusted member of the Association, through the years I have been sent a wealth of material written by veterans, together with photographs and other forms of memorabilia, sharing their wartime experiences before it was too late. The book is a weighty volume ... but it represents a promise fulfilled. Just as they were in wartime, within its pages they are once more brought together under each of the Norfolk airfields they called 'home', and through these personal accounts we can learn so much more about the war and what it meant for those who took part and whose role fell under this secret Group. It also enables us to remember those who did not return, and the true cost of human life.

Richard, myself and Janice, Woodman's Farm
Courtesy: Living History Film Production

My incredible journey began in the north of England where I live, travelling by train to Norfolk where I met up with my good friend Stuart, Director of Living History Film Productions to settle in a wonderful B&B hosted by Janice and Richard, above. We received a warm welcome from our hosts, both lovely people who have become firm friends. We knew them well, having stayed there a couple of weeks earlier this year, following the annual RAF 100 Group Association Reunion in May. But it still felt strange those first few days, stepping outside my comfort zone, waking in a different room, walking through to breakfast, meeting guests, sharing and talking to strangers who quickly became friends. Soon, joined by camera crew, we were on the road, driving first around Norfolk, before reaching further afield, taking in a whole host of different sights and sounds, people, places and experiences. It became a pleasure to leave behind technology for the duration, and an absolute delight to finally meet in person those I had been in almost daily contact with for so many many years.


Sgt Barbara Bradshaw

As a WAAF, a young Barbara Bradshaw
As Barbara and I finally met, hugged, drank tea, nibbled biscuits and shortbread her daughter had made, talking, laughing, sharing; pictures of the past rolled into the room, drawing us in. This slip of a girl, initially in charge of the Officers' Mess at Blickling Hall, went on to become a WAAF Sgt with responsibility for the Sergeants' Mess ... a place brought alive by the antics of airmen, while Barbara maintained decorum as best she could, together with discipline of staff catering to airmen needs ... ensuring cook and cleaners knew their timetables, when to prepare meals, clean up after, serve drinks ... taking care of upset WAAFs dating those who did not return.

She was right there for the filming of The Wicked Lady starring Margaret Lockwood and Patricia Roc, responsible for the actresses as ogling airmen vied for their attention in the Mess. Many airmen became 'extras' in the film, and she can be seen in the picture below, peeking over the right shoulder of Margaret Lockwood.

Barbara seen peeking over right shoulder of Margaret Lockwood


 WAAF Winifred Seeley (nee Tomlinson)

Actress Patricia Roc with WAAFs, including Winifred Seeley (nee Tomlinson)

Win was also around for the filming of The Wicked Lady starring Patricia Roc (as seen above). As a young girl, Win started her wartime career as a Balloon Operator before becoming an MT Driver, responsible for driving crews to their aircraft before an operation.

 
214 Squadron, MT Section, Blickling Hall, Oulton, Norfolk
Back Row: ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, Walter (Curly) Houghton from Scunthorpe; ?, Corporal Barlow, 'Sparks' ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, Corporal Sidery; Doreen Roebotham
Next Row of 2: ?, Corporal Scholes
Middle Row: Corporal Dorothy (Dot) Butler; Hazel Robbins (m Southgate); Connie from Fakenham, Corporal Somerset; 'Paddy' Stevenson from Ballymena (m Smith, London); Nan or Nen Mainwaring; Winifred Elizabeth Tomlinson (m Seeley); Olga Miller; Elsie Shultz; Janet Hodges (m Moyse); ?
Front Row: Sergeant: Warrant Officer; Flying Officer Salew; Sergeant ('Snitch'); Sergeant;
Courtesy: Win Seeley

A vibrant lady with such a warm and loving personality, I quickly nicknamed her: 'Margaret Lockwood' much to her amusement. She had been shy of the camera and attention, yet had so many wartime experiences to share. We had come to the home of her daughter, Anne ... and even as I write this now, the telephone rings and it is dear Win wanting a chat, thanking me for the gift of my 'Nina & Vic' book I sent her. I know she will love it, and identify with so much of what it says. Our conversation is easy now we know one another more. She's a lovely person, and her call has truly made my day! Thanks Win xx Talking with her brings back treasured memories of precious time spent in one another's company. It makes all the difference in the world coming to know each of these wonderful people in person. So much better than carrying an image of what I believe they look like if I don't have a photograph to go by. I always said that, if ever I come into a large amount of money, I would do whatever it takes to bring RAF 100 Group together again, under the one roof, for a weekend of memories, stories shared, merriment, and anything else we can dream up along the way!!

Stuart with cameraman James, while Win nervously waits in the spotlight
Nervous at first about being filmed, Win soon relaxed into the role as I reminded her to think of Margaret Lockwood and to simply be herself. Afterwards, it felt as if we had known one another all our lives ... kindred spirits through and through xx

Thanks Anne for all your help and support, and Win, I hope I hear from you again very very soon. You truly are a valued and much loved soulmate.

Janine with dear friend Win

Leading Aircraftsman Joe Sayers

A young Joe Sayers seen back row, third from left
Joe is a gentle young soul who, still today, speaks humbly of his wartime experiences. He worked at Foulsham, in a Special Operations Group, responsible for installing and positioning aerials and linking them to specialised equipment inside aircraft. Joe and his wife are lovely people and made us so welcome. We left with warm memories of time well spent in the company of kindred spirits. I hope we will have the opportunity to meet again soon.

Janine, Joe & Mary Sayers


WAAF Margaret 'Peggy' Pollard

Peggy preparing for filming, watched by son Geoff
Peggy is another lovely lady, a true kindred spirit, who found it hard to believe she could have anything to say which would be of interest all these years after the war. And yet it is because her stories have not been recorded, there is a very real danger they will be lost without the sharing of them which only she can do. It was after a hesitant start therefore, and a lot of encouragement and loving support, that she began to talk about her life as a WAAF based at the Headquarters of RAF 100 Group: Bylaugh Hall, Norfolk, where she was a Clerk GD Shorthand Typist to Group Captain Porte. She was doing the same work as my mother, a WAAF to Group Captain Brownie at RAF Wheaton Aston, and it was intriguing to hear stories of what went on behind the scenes. Amidst much laughter, she recounted the arrival of the U.S. Eighth Air Force whose U.S. 36th Bomb Squadron flew in partnership with RAF 100 Group in wartime, involved in the same kind of secret work. Their GIs dated many of the WAAFs and local girls, and always, there were eyes turned towards the skies, counting the aircraft as they returned. She still keeps in touch and visits today a few who married and went to live in the States.

Thanks Peggy and Geoff for making us so welcome, and for spending time sharing memories.

Peggy & Janine ... kindred spirits


 WOP/AG Peter Woodard

Peter Woodard, right, with Stuart and Cameraman Martin
Peter is a quiet, gentle man, and again, I found myself wondering how, as a young man, he could fly as a WOP/Air Gunner ... a dangerous job, amidst a sky filled with enemy fighters trying to bring them down. Quietly spoken, it was difficult for his wife Irene and I to hear much of what was going on, confined to the next room because of space. But seeing some of the footage after, I know the filming went well.

Peter served in the lead 192 Squadron under RAF 100 Group, which flew day and night operations, no matter what the weather, and had a greater role to play, linking direct with Bletchley Park. He completed and survived 30 operations in total with Squadron Leader B. M. Fawkes in A Flight as his Skipper, and again, I can only admire his diligence and courage. His experience no doubt shaped and defined his character as well as his future life, and it was lovely to spend quality time with two such caring, loving people.

Showing off their collection of teddies with over 100 in total!
Thank you both for your time, hospitality and love.
 


Squadron Leader David Butler
Lancaster 12 Sqdn Ops Unit, RAF Wickenby 1943/44

David Butler serving in 171 Squadron, RAF North Creake
David has been a dear and valued friend for many years. It was an absolute delight to finally meet him and his lovely wife Edna, and share wartime memories. He first served in 12 Squadron on Lancasters at RAF Wickenby, before being transferred to RAF North Creake, Norfolk, under RAF 100 Group; involved in a total of 30 jamming and bombing operations. His numerous medals prove his tenacity, strength and courage, and as we sat down to tea and cake together, it was surreal having shared his wartime experiences. I found it incredibly difficult to imagine this lovely gentle man as one of a crew in an aircraft, caught up in dogfights amidst swirling cloud, fighting the enemy in the skies, watching friends shot down in flames, surviving a war. Since those years, in the true spirit of reconciliation, David has even attended a Luftwaffe Night Fighters event at Frankfurt, Germany.

David at Luftwaffe Night Fighters Event, Germany

As I said at the beginning, this was an incredible journey for me ... in body, mind and spirit. It is impossible to walk away from any one of these veterans without being affected by all I saw and heard, more so when we were meeting for the first time in twenty years of being in contact. But then, that's how it should be in sharing. It is only through sharing experiences that we come to learn more about one another and establish and maintain the connectivity between us.

To share with someone is a gift of self.

Each of the people we met on this incredible journey was an ordinary person who had done extraordinary things in their lifetime ... and survived despite the odds stacked against them. In passing them on the street you would know nothing at all about their lives. Only through taking that leap of faith, accepting people just the way they are, prepared to simply listen as they share, can we hope to learn who they really are, and how their life has been to bring them to this moment in time.

The words of their sharing sucked me in. It was impossible to walk away unaffected. But more than anything else, it was the warmth, the love, the compassion and connectivity we felt like a living, breathing entity in the room; that became a comfort blanket wrapped around us, binding us together, leaving us with the most incredible sense of peace and love. I don't know anyone within RAF 100 Group Association who harbours bad feeling, or thinks badly about the war. They had a job to do, which they accomplished to the best of their ability, knowing that freedom was at stake. The enemy needed to be pushed back to its own shores before they could go home and somehow pick up again the threads of family life. Then again, not everyone made it home. Bomber Command took the highest number of casualties, and within RAF 100 Group, it was 192 Squadron which had the highest fatalities as the lead Squadron. War does terrible things. A terrible price is paid. Everyone is affected. No-one remains the same after.

Every one of these people had had a vital role in RAF 100 Group during the Second World War ... their work so secret that, for over seventy years, they have kept their experiences silent, even from husbands or wives and family. Yet every one of these veterans has a story to tell, one small piece of a trillion-piece puzzle making up the reality of what otherwise remains a mystery of the Second World War.

It seems incredible that the wider world still has no idea about this Group, including the main RAF today. It is my mother's wartime story which continues to inspire me to campaign on their behalf, engaged as she was to Flt/Lt Special Operator Henry Victor 'Vic' Vinnell who served under the lead 192 Squadron. It is these veterans today who drive my passion to preserve both their history and wartime experiences, and let their voices be heard. Too many secrets have already been taken to the grave, lost forever. Through writings and film lies the chance to set them free. People otherwise will never know the high price paid for the freedom we take so much for granted in this country today. Besides, there are still the many friends and colleagues who did not return home, who we need to continue to remember.

I feel very privileged and honoured to be a part of this Group in peacetime, and to bring them together for annual Reunions each May in Norfolk, their wartime home, keeping in almost daily contact, involved in one another's everyday lives. At the heart of our worldwide Association today are the veterans, these wonderful people, some of whom I have now had the pleasure to meet, to talk with, to share. Membership is also open to their families and friends and anyone interested in wanting to know more about them, their wartime experiences, and all that they achieved. Every single one of our members is valued as an equal part of the whole.

This journey has meant so much to me, more than words can ever say. It serves to remind me the reason I first began writing, and just how vital it is to share personal experiences with the wider world. Only by doing so can we come to accept one another just the way we are, defined by all we have lived through. Regardless of whether we come from the same family, whatever our creed or colour, ethnicity or religion, or the place we hold in society; people need to share experiences with one another, to let their voice be heard, to be accepted, and at the same time, be assured that through that sharing we are slowly but surely laying a path which leads to trust, to compassion, to love, to peace ... and a better brighter world.

In the spirit of a quotation I have long lived by:

'To deny one's experience
is to deny one's self' 
Erica Jong 




WE WILL REMEMBER THEM!






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