A son's memories

I think my Dad was destined to leave a substantial legacy from his earliest days in the RAF, and since his premature death at 84 in 2008, I am proud to have responsibility for a remarkable inheritance. In 2012 I took his log book, medals, certificates and book to the “Antiques Road show” in Eastbourne to get a second opinion. Impressed as they were, they decided not to televise this unique collection as they thought he had told the whole story through these artefacts.


And he has. I have meticulously ordered and annotated photos, newspaper cuttings, letters and reports too. As a youngster, I remember being captivated by military aviation; the miracle of flight, the fascinating aircraft designs, airfield runways, powerful piston or turboprop engines, the smell of kerosene, the pilots and their kit, the club-like camaraderie. I would sometimes, secretly hidden in the garage, sit in the car, bone dome and oxygen mask on and take the imaginary controls. For I had observed many of the aircraft he had already flown such as the Harvard, Hurricane and Meteor because we would piece and glue together the Airfix plastic versions and then, with the steadiest hand, paint them in the RAF colours authentically marked with one he had actually flown.He completed models of all the types he flew in later life, and now they are displayed in the Southampton Aeronautical Museum, having been shown at The Imperial War Museum for a while following a particularly memorable celebration of his career in 1993.


It was quite something to see all his dedication spread before us.His tight grip on life further impressed me when, in his late 70’s, he not only mastered the use of a computer having said to me he was too old to do something like that, but he also wrote “Born to Fly”, which I consider to be an important little jigsaw piece in the history of The Cold War. The book was hard work for him, although he had done a fair amount of writing for some military magazines and books such as “The Dart Herald in Malaysia” and “The Whispering Giant”, David Berry’s history of the Britannia.

Much of this material contributed to the books stories. The first draft was strangely written in the third person as if it was not really him but my mother-in-law (thanks to her for all the typing, retyping, organising, computer work and advice!) and I persuaded him his personal experience would be much more effective. He did not relish the huge task of changing every “he” to “I” in the whole book! Explaining technicalities and RAF jargon has made it a truly accessible real life adventure story, one that he was lucky to survive in some instances by the way.


Aside from some very dangerous moments, the sheer variety of experiences and places seen would excite most of us. Those civilians who have read the book say how much they really enjoyed it. I count myself lucky that two tours to Malaysia, with the RAF at Changi, Singapore, and the other seconded to The Royal Malaysian Air force to train young Malay pilots on the Herald, gave my sister and I some wonderful teenage experiences. Two school holidays a year would see us flying BOAC to Kuala Lumpur to be with Mum and Dad and get absorbed in the Far East, not to mention the tan and swimming skills to brag about when we returned to UK. At that time I used to win all the school swimming and diving competitions thanks to those holidays.


But tours abroad and to stations in this country took their toll too. The family became dislocated and it was necessary for us children to be educated at boarding schools. My Mum complained that we moved 25 times in 25 years and often felt she was secondary in an era when women felt there was much more emancipation to come. She could have had a very fulfilling career in different circumstances.However, so much travel, adventure and many achievements culminated in some special rewards in his retirement. He was very proud to display his medals along with his Guinness Book of Records and Guild of Master Pilots certificates at home in Formby. But to the family he was Dad or Granddad, who loved his gardening, dogs and friends. As for flat pack furniture assembly... he had to call upon assistance but I guess he never tinkered with those Bristol turboprop engines either.

To my kids he was Granddad Fish because he had a small pond in the back garden. He took a lot of interest in his grandchildren and was very ambitious for them. It’s sad that he has not been able to see them embark on what will become successful careers.


Finally, in his last few years, he felt pressure to hand over the long distance driving to Shirley, avoiding a category F assessment result after a long drive. Some years earlier must have sown the seeds for this. Before kids came on the scene we visited him one summer. As Commanding Officer of the Air Experience Flight at RAF Woodvale he manipulated some joy flights with him at the controls of the Chipmunk trainer used to give cadets air experience.


Although never comfortable flying, Vicki, my wife, could hardly refuse this chance. From the start the pre-flight briefing left her somewhat bewildered and bemused – don’t touch this or pull that, click this to speak through the intercom, hit the seat belt lock and roll back the canopy to bail out in an emergency – all this after having waddled awkwardly up to the aircraft, parachute strapped to her behind like an overweight khaki coloured wasp. “Comfortably” strapped in, Dad began to taxi to the runway ready for take-off. Like Shirley, she was not impressed by his driving. When the tail plane was swung from left to right during the taxi to the runway, she became alarmed, thinking that he could not even drive the thing straight. At the end of the sortie she was dutifully informed that the only way to taxi and see ahead was to do this. Needless to say she had refused the opportunity to do aerobatics and circuit and bumps when airborne but accepted the rather large whiskey in the Officers’ Mess afterwards as a peace offering!


So here is some of his legacy on this site. I am sure you will enjoy looking at his very unusual life.