RAF 100 GROUP 75th ANNIVERSARY
1943 - 2018
There are many events countrywide happening this year in the UK to mark the 100th Anniversary of the Royal Air Force. Meanwhile, RAF 100 Group, just as they were in wartime, remain in the shadows. Serving under Bomber Command, they never received official recognition, nor were they rewarded by way of a medal for the vital part they played to keep the enemy from our shores. Yet 2018 represents the 75th Anniversary of the creation of RAF 100 Group. They are rightly proud of their heritage, proud they served their country, proud they became the Guardian Angels of bombers, flying above them while identifying and jamming enemy Radar using secret experimental equipment carried on board their aircraft. It was this hidden Group which gave birth to Electronic Warfare, working with Bletchley Park and the Air Ministry.
Every year we meet in May, and every year is different.
Last year, was an historical Reunion because for the first time since the Second World War, veterans from the original 36th Bomb Squadron, 8th Air Force, came from America to join us ... as did the current 36th Electronic Warfare Squadron bringing the historic wartime flag. It was something very special to see so many young men in blue uniforms throughout the weekend mingling among our own. They revere veterans, and take time with them to listen to their wartime stories. The words of Lt Col Tom Moore still ring in my ears as he spoke about what it meant to him: '... we stand upon the shoulders of giants!' His voice came strong and firm and sure. It is difficult to know what to say when asked why we don't do more for our veterans in the UK.
This year, what made our Reunion different were the many new members who have joined in recent months, making the journey for the first time - families of loved ones who served in RAF 100 Group coming from the States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia as well as the UK. Our strong connection comes from a shared passion that the Group's history and stories be preserved for the future, that these men and women are never forgotten or airbrushed from history simply because we never hear about them either on documentaries or in the news. They remain a secret entity, just as they did in wartime ... and it's wrong when they are taking their secrets, their stories, their moments of courage to the grave!
We remain a worldwide Family of Kindred Spirits who respect, admire, and love these humble brave warriors who survived the war, ensuring that those who never made it home remain in our hearts!
Veterans: Arthur Reid & Stan Forsyth DFC, Bernie How & Andrew Barron
In May, as I cross the border into Norfolk, it's like passing through a portal in Time.
I have only to close my eyes to hear the air thrumming with the sound of Merlin engines, black shapes of aircraft darkening an otherwise clear cloudless sky. The once concrete runways and buildings of an RAF Base team with airmen and WAAFs, energised by the common threat of an enemy intent on invasion. It's a different mindset. One we cannot even imagine if we don't listen to people who were part of this story ... people working together for the common good. Each day for them then was a new beginning with fresh challenges ahead. Each night a possible end, when they would never see loved ones again, or get to pen the letter being written in their mind, waiting for the right off-duty moment.
It is easy to close my eyes and almost become one of them having listened and learned so much from stories shared through the years, the pattern of lives changed forever by the death of a loved one, or another listed as 'Missing Believed Killed', with no final resting place or known grave. There are many who join me on this annual Pilgimage carrying their own unique story, still seeking pieces of a puzzle which remain lost in Time, but which might provide a sense of closure, or at least explain what happened to someone they knew and loved.
FRIDAY 18th May
The City of Norwich Aviation Museum at Horsham St Faith is open for 10 am to welcome early visitors through their doors, while during the afternoon, in the New Frost Hall at Foulsham, the main Association Committee holds a two-hour meeting in preparation for the Annual General Meeting taking place the following day. We then join the chattering, laughing throng gathering around the Foulsham village sign and Memorial where wreaths in reverent silence are laid in memory of all who served in wartime at RAF Foulsham. It is here, especially here, where I swear I can hear the voices of Navigator/Special Operator Flight Lieutenant Vic Vinnell, Mum's wartime fiance, and his Canadian Pilot Jack Fisher, who both disappeared on the night of 26/27 November 1944 in Mosquito DK292 ... their deaths still a mystery to this day. Their final resting place remains unknown. One story is that they had engine trouble on the way home that night and made a forced landing on the coast of France, not knowing the beach was mined ...
A reflective walk up the road takes us to the Memorial Plaque commemorated last year in memory of the USAAF/RAF crash in 1943 where both crews were killed, apart from two survivors of the B-17. The Rev Leslie Wilman presides over the Memorials, while Stephen Hutton lays a wreath in memory. Stephen represents the 36th Bomb Squadron, 8th Air Force in which his father Iredell served. They did the same work as RAF 100 Group in wartime, flying combined operations against the enemy, using the same specialised Radar-jamming equipment on board their aircraft instead of bombs with the aim of confusing the enemy. Today, the Squadron is still active, now flying under its true colours of the 36th Electronic Warfare Squadron. Many of their 'Gremlins' as they were known, I am proud to say are valued members of our Association.
Our evening meal at The Plough, Marsham, a favourite haunt; is our first real chance to come together informally and simply relax and enjoy one another’s company. Val and Roger Stock, Proprietors, always make us welcome, and we share a wonderful meal amidst the renewal of friendships, much laughter and conversation.
One table of many where RAF 100 Group Association
enjoy one another's company at The Plough, Marsham, Norfolk
SATURDAY 19th MAY
We knew from the start today would be a full-on day, yet the programme offers so much to keep us interested and involved. The Annual General Meeting is held in the Mission Hall, Horsham St Faith, opposite the church, while those choosing not to attend take the opportunity to meander around the grounds of the Museum, intrigued by stories of exhibits. Many spent Friday travelling. This is their chance to catch up on latest developments here, especially as a circular maze of new roads can make for an interesting and unplanned journey!!
SATURDAY 19th MAY
A buffet lunch generously provided by volunteers of the City of Norwich Aviation Museum provides time for fun and frolicks as this pair below reveal. Dear Stan Forsyth DFC and good friend Stephen Hutton from the States, make the most of the sunshine, sitting outside among an array of aircraft from times past. It’s a wonderful setting, with collections of memorabilia and photos inside of a bygone age, offering the chance to talk and share with both Association and Museum members. People wander at their own pace, until comes time to make tracks for Oulton and a veritable feast of delights awaiting us!
Through the years, Oulton villagers have provided a rich and tempting display of home-baked fancies, coupled with a constant supply of tea/coffee. Many of us call this a ‘Death by Chocolate Experience’ and this year is no exception. A Marquee has been set up in a farmhouse garden where we are welcomed with smiles, quickly becoming part of new friendships forged, familiar faces remembered. Warmth and love is almost palpable. I sit next to dear Arthur Reid who travelled all the way from Edinburgh with his son and daughter-in-law. Arthur served with Stan (above) in 192 Squadron, RAF Foulsham, and he’s back for the first time! Chris Lambert, our Oulton Representative, counted in excess of 100 people present in total, officially welcoming everyone, particularly those who travelled from faraway places – Australia, Canada, USA and New Zealand. We remember absent friends such as Phil James MBE (Association President) & John Gilpin in Ireland, and those no longer with us: Sidney Pike & Dr Peter Lovatt: a constant presence in previous years. Chris then introduces and pays tribute to our four veterans present: Andrew Barron, 223 Sqn., Stan Forsyth DFC, 192 Sqn., Arthur Reid, 192 Sqn. and Bernie How, 199 Sqn. North Creake, who each stand in turn to receive the honour they so richly deserve for their role in wartime.
Finally, we gather at Oulton Memorial, villagers actively participating in a United Act of Remembrance with the haunting notes of a bugler, and wreaths placed in memory.
RAF 100 Group Memorial at Oulton, Norfolk
courtesy: Stuart Borlase
Chris Lambert, as our Oulton Representative; takes the lead, offering a note of introduction and welcome, saying that most of us present are family members of loved ones lost while serving in RAF 100 Group during wartime:
‘We, the villagers who live here, also remember with you. We want you to know we also care and remember.’
This year is also the 75th Anniversary of the ‘Dambusters Raid', and to commemorate the occasion, villager Rob reads an extract from Herr Clemens Mols’ Memoir. Herr Clemens Mols lived downstream of the Mohne Dam in the town of Wickede. The words are taken from an interview during October 1945 about events which took place on 17th May 1943:
‘When in the night from 16th to 17th May, air raid was given by the horn. Nobody could guess what hours of terror were to come for the lower parts of Wickede. It was about 11.30hrs, the sky was clear, the air was calm. I was with my wife on the way from Wiehagen to Wickede/Ruhr when the horn set in. When back home (Post Office) my wife, who manifested a strange restlessness, asked me to listen where the English planes were. I could state this from a warning line which was connected with the Post Office. The Report I listened to ran as follows: ‘Enemy aircraft flying, low above Arnsberg and the Mohne Lake’. As Arnsberg lies not far off from Wickede, I had the inhabitants of the neighbouring house wakened. While my wife was doing this, I stood at the open window in the first floor with sight to the Mohne Lake. The humming of the planes came from a distance. Suddenly an unusually loud detonation was heard, and I saw in the direction of the Mohne Lake a high column of water or smoke soaring …’
Veteran Stan Forsyth DFC of 192 Sqn follows these poignant words by reading ‘For the Fallen’:
‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them’
Robert Laurence Binyon
Into the silence then falls the haunting notes of the ‘Last Post’ played by bugler John Landymore. A two-minute hush follows, before ‘Reveille’ interrupts the mood. Faces gaze up expectant as Veteran Andrew Barron of 223 Sqn speaks the ‘Kohima’:
‘When you go Home,
Tell them of Us and say:
For your Tomorrow,
We gave our Today.’
Bernie How, 199 Sqn, lays a wreath on behalf of RAF 100 Group Association, with another placed alongside on behalf of Oulton Village. Elsie lays flowers on behalf of children of the village. While another wreath is laid by the Witts family in remembrance of their father, Peter Witts, who served at RAF Oulton.
A villager then reads a poem: ‘When I come Home’:
WHEN I COME HOME
When I come home, dear folk o’mine,
We’ll drink a cup of olden wine;
And yet, however rich it be,
No wine will taste so good to me
As English air. How I shall thrill
To drink it in on Hampstead Hill
When I come home!
When I come home and leave behind
Dark things I could not call to mind,
I’ll taste good ale and home-made bread,
And see white sheets and pillows spread.
And there is one who’ll softly creep
To kiss me, ere I fall asleep,
And tuck me ‘neath the counterpane,
And I shall be a boy again,
When I come home!
When I come home from dark to light,
And tread the roadways long and white,
And tramp the lanes I tramped of yore,
And see the village greens once more,
The tranquil farms, the meadows free,
The friendly trees that nod to me,
And hear the lark beneath the sun,
‘Twill be good pay for what I’ve done,
When I come home!
Finally, concluding this moving ceremony, Roger Dobson (Association Chairman) reads the words:
‘In friendship and in Service one to another,
We are pledged to keep alive the memory of
Those of all Nations who died
In the Royal Air Force, the Air Forces of the Dominions,
And the United States Air Force.
In their name we give ourselves to this noble cause.
Proudly and thankfully we will remember them.’
The air around us is suddenly still, silent, sombre. Words we hear and share this day are powerful, meaningful, moving. As I read them again here, they are enough still to produce tears for The Fallen, names easily coming to my lips, held deep within my heart.
We WILL remember them!
Finally, Chris Lambert thanks everyone for sharing, including villagers, in this short bitter-sweet period of remembrance. With Time moving on a-pace, we take our places for photographs to capture stilled images of these precious moments together:
Stan Forsyth DFC in a quiet moment of reflection
Copyright: Stuart Borlase (Australia)
Pilot David Nock explains about his aircraft prior to performing a Flypast lasting several minutes:
‘My aircraft is a North American Harvard, built in 1944, painted in the colours of the 353rd Fighter Group based at Raydon in Suffolk during 1944-1945. Although the Harvard was only used as an advanced training aircraft, many Fighter Groups utilised aircraft of this type as a Station ‘hack’. I shall be overhead at Oulton for 5pm. It will be a great honour for me to do this for the Association, not least for my long-standing friend Phil James MBE and 192 Squadron who were based nearby at Foulsham.'
Taken at Old Buckenham prior to take-off for Flypast
Copyright: David Nock
SATURDAY 19th MAY
At 7 pm we take our table places in The Halifax Suite at The Holiday Inn, decorated in red, white and blue. The atmosphere is electric! Time to sit back and enjoy a medley of wartime songs already wrapping us in a warm blanket of memories … I may not have been around during the war years, but I still treasure times I played these songs for hours at a stretch on our piano at home, my parents dancing and singing to the music. It was my passion even in my growing years to collect the original music scores of old songs and melodies ...
Heather Marie & husband Matthew provide the music
As the evening moves on, replenished from our three-course meal, we offer a warm welcome to our Speaker for the evening Major Gary Walker with two ATC Cadets: Sergeant Adam Bocking and Corporal Erin McGonigle. Our programmed Speaker, Fl/Lt Pauline Petch, CO of Kings Lynn ATC Squadron, was unexpectedly invited to the Royal Wedding in London. She could hardly turn down what promised to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Gary is taking her place and outlines the Aviation Heritage Project in which they are involved, showing a sample of one of the large model aircraft being made by Cadets in fibre-glass, strategically placing them on BT telephone poles (with BT’s permission!) linking all Norfolk wartime airfields, including those under RAF 100 Group, Bomber Command. Aimed at commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Royal Air Force, the Project received funding to make it happen. It was excellent to hear from each of the Cadets about what being involved means to them … in turn, bringing past, present and future together!
A Raffle and Silent Raffle then takes place, before Heather Marie continues the evening's entertainment with her wonderful voice filling the room with sound, unlocking a portal into past times.
Janine with Mike Hillier (Haveringland)
Courtesy: Stuart Borlase (Australia)
Finally, everyone gathers on the dance floor to join in the words of the timeless melody:
‘We’ll meet again … don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again one sunny day …’
Those words echo in my heart. The hour is late. Already we are into the early hours of Sunday morning. But I know without a doubt, memories of that evening will remain with me always.
New-found friendships are obvious with veterans Arthur Reid & Stan Forsyth DFC
both of whom served in 192 Squadron, RAF Foulsham, Norfolk
SUNDAY 20th MAY
Service of Remembrance & Thanksgiving
Presided over by Peter Holness
We wake to glorious blue sky and a bright summer’s day, some of us more energised than others! It was a late night … dancing sapped much of our strength. Yet here we still are, in the beautiful land of Norfolk, where the portal remains open into Times Past, and we scurry to join the throng entering Horsham St Faith ‘St Mary & St Andrew’s Church’, where Anglicans and Methodists worship together.
It must be said that Peter, a dear friend for many years, felt daunted at the challenge which lay ahead. He explained their new vicar had only arrived a couple of weeks previous, and felt it unfair to presume on her for this auspicious occasion. It was agreed therefore that Peter is the ideal person to lead the proceedings, having shared this Special Service of Remembrance for many years … while I agreed to light one of three candles and speak the required words.
Aylsham Town Band plays us in through the doors before the Standard is presented by Rod Vowler. They play throughout the service, accompanying hymns, providing a stirring performance at the end which is uplifting and memorable, just the kind of note we need to set forth to our next destination.
Aylsham Town Band
Courtesy: Stuart Borlase (Australia)
It was a truly special service. Everything fell into place beautifully, and Peter's words were moving, evocative and uplifting. Roger Dobson read words of Scripture, and despite my own misgivings about fire … having recently set a menu alight in a restaurant while inadvertently resting it against the candle on the table … all went to plan. We came out unscathed to share tea/coffee and biscuits with villagers, before making our way through sleepy villages, down narrow lanes with high hedges either side, to Haveringland, known in wartime as RAF Swannington.
SUNDAY 20th MAY
St Peter’s Parish Church, Haveringland
Picture courtesy of Mike Hillier, taken of the Avenue of Remembrance
Haveringland is steeped in history. It is a place where Churchill secretly visited a relative in wartime, hence the change of name to Swannington where 85 and 157 Squadrons were based under RAF 100 Group, Bomber Command. The name change was meant to confuse the Germans. Many families attended a Remembrance Day held in November last year, when an Avenue of Remembrance was planted in memory of brave airmen who served here. Mike Hillier, now a member of our Association Committee, instigated the Remembrance Day Event, and for today put a great deal of time and energy into bringing together displays to denote Swannington’s history and stories which became a valued part of its heritage. We also share the joy of waiting, listening for and watching a bi-plane fly across the still blue sky to honour those for whom this place became Home in wartime.
Bi-plane during a Flypast
Copyright: Stuart Borlase (Australia)
It is an extraordinary feeling, standing in a place caught in Time. No matter how many times it happens, it still goes through my mind about in whose footsteps I might be standing, what might be their story, what became of him ... or her. Questions to which there are no answers. We can never know exactly the way it was. However, gathered with us are families who attended the Remembrance Day in November 2017, relatives of loved ones who served at RAF Swannington, now talking and sharing with others in a like-experience, wanting to know and understand more about the kind of life their relatives led. The atmosphere is poignant, the air still, almost holding its breath as we gaze across the scene, taking in silent fields which once spoke of men and machines, the noise of engines filling this now empty space in Time.
St Peter’s Church is the only building still standing, and within we discover rich treasures from the past … pictures, stories, paintings, books of a bygone age. So much suddenly to see and then to hear as John & Chrissie who make up ‘Timescape’ fill the air around us with songs of the day.
'TimeScape': John & Chrissie, Vintage Entertainers
Copyright: Stuart Borlase (Australia)
A team of villagers have laid on a wonderful tea, with so many home-cooked goodies to tempt us we can’t help but reach for a plate and cuppa. Both duly filled, we take a ‘pew’ to enjoy a refreshing drink and cake, letting the rich wonderful music wash over us.
Suddenly, there is a flurry of activity as people rush to the windows, spying the bi-plane performing a flypast, clearly outlined against a perfect blue sky. It’s a thrilling sight! Another reminder of times past. As it passes from view, people gather outside for a brief but poignant Memorial Ceremony led by Mike Hillier and local minister, Rev Andrew Whitehead alongside the Memorial Stone:
Rod Vowler (RAF 100 Group Association Standard Bearer)
with Rev Andrew Whitehead
Copyright: Stuart Borlase (Australia)
The sun is hot. The air alive with voices, sharing memories of loved ones, exchanging details to keep in touch. Laughter and love are tangible. These are precious moments. I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the emotion of the day. Final hugs and goodbyes are shared as people begin moving towards their cars and for many a long journey home. Martin Rouse attracted a great deal of attention and interest with part of the Merlin engine from Mosquito MM677 (RS-U) he acquired in April last year which he brought with him. It was from an aircraft of 157 Squadron, based at RAF Swannington. He continues to research both the aircraft and its crew, while carrying out sympathetic restoration of the engine, removing as much Norfolk mud and corrosion from it as possible and re-assembling it using as many original parts as he can find.
Merlin engine from Mosquito MM677 (RS-U)
Courtesy: Martin Rouse, photo: Stuart Borlase
Gradually, the once-home of RAF Swannington empties of people. The Reunion is sadly over for another year ... but not quite yet for some.
For Stuart Borlase from Australia and I this marks the beginning of a different journey as the ensuing two weeks are spent exploring the countryside, driving further and further afield, visiting veterans in their own homes, especially those who can never travel to join one of our annual May weekends. It's always a pleasurable and leisurely experience, catching up with old friends, making new ones, the drive spent in deep and lively conversations.
There is also the unexpected waiting!
This year, we were able to find a new veteran wanting to share his wartime experiences, wishing he'd known about the RAF 100 Group Association before. Next year, for sure, he will be joining us with his son. We also got to put in contact two wartime friends who lost touch through the years. Both were WAAFs serving at RAF Oulton. They were best friends. It was as Stuart gave her a DVD he had put together of last year's Historic Reunion when the Americans came over to join us, that Win took one look at the cover, and immediately sparked off names, including that of her friend. She then happened to mention her friend lived in a village not far from my home. Immediately we made plans to visit, taking with us both wartime and present-day photos to share with her on Stuart’s laptop. In turn, her friend was delighted to hear about her friend, and Win’s daughter is arranging for the two of them to come together for a visit soon.
A wonderful crescendo to our harmonious journey through Time!
FEEDBACK FROM VILLAGERS OF HAVERINGLAND
‘I felt honoured and privileged to be a part of this truly Special Occasion.
Our normally peaceful ‘church in the fields’ was vibrant, resplendent with colour, stained glass windows brought alive by the sunshine, brasses glowing in candlelight, atmosphere enhanced by music from the 1940s, the sounds of people coming together and sharing their stories.
All this added a human side to the facts and figures we already knew about the history of the airfield surrounding our church. Here were people whose lives, or the lives of their relatives, had been touched by our village during World War Two. I found it particularly moving to see the broken engine from the training aircraft which left RAF Swannington only to crash in another field in Norfolk. Lives full of hope and expectation, extinguished before their first battle with the enemy had even been fought. I enjoyed hearing stories from those who had been stationed here, meeting the families of those whose names had hitherto been part of a list, learning little details about life here in the 1940s. The simple service brought real poignancy to the event. The Standard Bearer, the laying of wreaths, remembering those who had served our country during the silence that we can enjoy due to their war efforts.’
‘It was great to see so many people at this event, and especially the three veterans; two fine gentlemen and one Merlin engine that came from RAF Swannington! You’d all be very welcome to come and see us again next year.’
‘To me it was an honour and privilege to meet such a brilliant group of people who were entertaining, especially the Scottish veteran (Arthur Reid). It was nice to see the different generations together. I also felt it was a lovely gesture to remember those who did not return, followed by a two-minute silence.’
‘Just to say it felt wonderful to be able to give something back and to be part of such a lovely day. Our little church is raising its profile and visits such as these all help to put it on the map. Everyone who came spoke so highly of the church, for some it felt like coming home. I feel these days are really important because they help to keep the spirit of the airfield alive.’
These words shared by villagers of Haveringland are echoed by many involved in our Reunion. It’s always difficult to answer the question: ‘What is a Reunion like?’ These words express so eloquently what it means to so many. But you really have to be there to know! Meanwhile, for those who cannot travel the distance, or who have an interest in stories of the past, and related events; I have done my utmost to share what happened, and the treasured memories we carry home.
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM!