Friday 2 October 2009

All things must pass

My old Dad died last month. I wondered if I should even blog this and upon sober reflection decided that it wouldn't be a bad idea if only to record the passing of another from that wartime generation. So no mawkishness, just a brief remembrance. If there was such a thing as a 'good' war my old man had one. As an RAF aircraft mechanic his task was to follow the advancing forces through North Africa and Italy repairing, rebuilding or destroying (if necessary) any disabled aircraft that came his way. Whilst still in Egypt the combined forces thought it would be a jolly wheeze to let the chaps blow off a bit of steam by forming an inter-services speedway league. There was no shortage of workshops, mechanical skills and materials so to the likes of Dad who'd been a grass track racer before the war this was Nirvana. By the time they got to Brindisi things were properly organised with cinder tracks being laid down and specialist motorcycles in full production. Of course everything was make do and mend and engineering ingenuity knew no bounds...from robbing ex-Wermacht BMWs for their prized overhead valve top ends to stripping despatch riders' bikes to virtually nothing, the lads were away. Here's a picture of Dad on his particular mount which followed as closely as could be the design of pre-war speedway machines. Competition was fast and furious and it wasn't unknown to recruit professional riders like Split Waterman as 'ringers'.

Post-war came peacetime flying in Dakotas, Viking, York, Hermes, Britannia, VC10 and 707. The logbook is one of three which covered his career. Remarkable entries in the late 40s carry such matter-of-fact comments as 'coal into Templehof' (airport during The Berlin Airlift) or 'emergency landing, port engine failure' or 'return to Blackbushe twin engine failure'. But I know of dozens of other situations that he was expected to remedy as a flight engineer far from home - I mean even allowing for the fact that most passenger aircraft are now jets, can you imagine persuading the passengers to disembark and yank on a rope attached to a propellor in order to start the engines? He did...the fact that the passengers were all squaddies on a trooping flight home and were marshalled by a barking Sergeant Major doesn't lessen the achievement in my eyes.

A quiet accomplished man, he had more intuitive engineering talent in his little finger than I could ever hope for. Never boastful, always ready to disembowel and put right my mates cars and 'bikes, he was extraordinarily free with his time and knowledge. I appreciated him, I loved him...but did I really know him? I don't think I really did. Should I have made more effort? - you bet. Happy landings.