The August edition of Aeroplane Monthly features 1264 no less than three times, including a seven page feature written by Ben Dunnell, and featuring the gorgeous pictures of Darren Harbar. Highly recommended!
A long, long time ago, Theo Willford went to Eardisley Primary School in Herefordshire, when his father was rector at the church just across the road.
Today, one of the teachers is my daughter, Mrs. Stone, and she invited me to talk to two of the classes there.
I wasn’t at all sure what to expect, but I had a wonderful afternoon, answering the children’s questions which were surprisingly insightful, and the afternoon passed in a flash.
Mrs. Stone set a competition for a couple of the classes, and as my homework I’ve been asked to adjudicate.
All of the pictures were very enjoyable, and it was clear everyone had worked very hard to produce their best work. I wish we could have awarded everyone a prize, but it wasn’t so here, in no particular order, are the winners…
Theo, Sue and I arrived on Thursday to rig 1264 and found the BAe Systems display team well stuck in. We met the event manager, Caroline Hurrell, together with her husband john who is a trainer for BAe Systems and flies the Shuttleworth aircraft.
Dodge Bailey had just flown in with the Shuttleworth’s Sea Hurricane, which, together with the Avro Anson, Blackburn B2, and DH Moth (all based at Shuttleworth, but owned by BAe Systems) and 1264, would form the static display illustrating BAe System’s heritage.
The three biplanes were housed in clear plastic tents, which were sufficiently substantial to give us confidence they’d withstand any weather over the weekend.
Rigging was done in a couple of hours, and we began the laborious business of trying to find all the necessary passes for accommodation, food and so on. This took much of the rest of the afternoon, and we retired to a local hotel.
The remainder of the show passed in a kind of blur. Friday was enlivened by the possibility of a visit by the Cambridges – William, Kate and young George – and indeed they approached us, the rope was lowered and we prepared to be introduced. But we were merely a shortcut to the Australian transport plane beyond, and we relaxed again.
On Saturday we got stuck for an hour and a half in the queue of traffic making its way to the show, but Prince Michael of Kent came to see us and we were able to update him on our travels since we saw him last.
Then at about midday we were joined by Rick And Marian, and it was great to be at full strength for the remainder of the day. We’d bought all our silverware with us, and took the opportunity to pose with it all.
One other visitor was Mark Horton, of TV’s Time Team and Coast programmes, and I took the opportunity to tell him how disappointed we were that the piece on the Coast programme about the recovery of the SS Great Britain from Dundrum Bay in Northern Ireland failed to mention our great great great great great uncle, James Bremner who achieved this remarkable feat, transposing him instead with a certain Isembard Kingdom Brunel. He had the good grace to look slightly embarrassed, and I showed him the model of the SS Great Britain, in which he showed a good deal of expertise and interest.
On Sunday we arrived in good time, thanks to VIP passes spirited up by the imperturbable Caroline, and spent a full twelve hours on our feet, talking to the visitors, telling the story, hearing theirs, lifting children in and out of the cockpit to have their photographs taken (as well as three Turkish technicians who invited themselves to sit in the cockpit. I wondered what they’d have said if we’d done the same to the aircraft they were here to look after).
We thought the European trip was exhausting, but this plumbed new depths of our energy levels, and Monday, during which we packed 1264 up, towed her to Yeovilton (getting stuck in a half hour queue on the A303 apparently caused by Stonehenge) and driven home, passed in a blur.
But it was absolutely worthwhile; it’s what we’re here for, to spread the word about the Bristol Scout and its importance in aviation history, and this was the best opportunity to do this so far.
And here are some pictures I took while we were there.
The trip home on Monday went as planned, though there was a slight degree of panic when we read the ferry documentation and realised the sailing was at 1715, not 1815, due to a mix-up with time zones. Nevertheless, we met the 45 minute deadline with 6 minutes to spare, thanks to the Willford brothers, who did the lion’s share of the driving.
We parked up at Theo’s house at well past midnight, and after a good night’s sleep, we went our separate ways – Noel back to somerset, and me to Fairford, where I dropped off the trailer at the BAe Systems display area, and – for almost the first time for six weeks – drove off with nothing behind. It felt very strange.
But with a day at home before we head back down to Fairford for the RIAT, it’s time to catch up with a few photos and videos, which I’ll put in the relevant pages with links here so you can find them.
Paschalis Palavouzis’ magnificent picture essay on the flight at Thassos is added here.
And the video put together by Stephen Saunders’ team for the formal presentation ceremony on 24 June is here.
And see here for evidence that I actually flew over the Thiepval memorial!
After the excitement of yesterday and the flight over the Somme to commemorate David Bremner, there was time today to find out more about him on the ground.
After breakfast we made a trip to the Thiepval memorial visitor centre, where a map showed us that David’s fatal injuries were received in trenches within the Newfoundland memorial park, and so we headed there.
Having Theo there, who had been before and knew the lie of the land and is a fund of knowledge about the events of that day, was useful, and I was so grateful to him for being able to explain the events of that day 100 years ago. All of us found this a deeply moving experience, and for me it was profoundly sobering. I was able to stand on the very spot where David was 100 years before, look at the support trench he’d been in at 0730, and the front line trench which they had to cross. We could see the German gunner’s position at no great distance and how easily David and his men would have been picked out on the skyline. We could see the remains of the barbed wire supports through which the Border Regiment had to pass and made them such easy targets. We could see ‘Y’ ravine which provided such excellent shelter for the Germans throughout the previous five days’ bombardment, enabling them to be fully prepared for the advance on 1 July.
Driving in this area, with carefully-tended cemeteries on every corner, you could not help but be aware of the gigantic scale of the struggle going on. But seeing this appalling killing ground, you suddenly became aware of the intimacy of the event at a personal level. David would have been able to see his enemies across the field close enough to be able to distinguish one from another. In this tiny space around 6000 men were packed into the British trenches, with more on the other side. And within an hour, the majority were dead or injured. The bodies of many of them still lie there.
David ordered his men over the top, knowing exactly what was going to happen to them. This was a sacrifice and a heroism of an entirely different order to that shown by granddad, whose war was more of a Boy’s Own adventure. And through an accident of history, because his neighbours in the trench a few yards further along were the Newfoundland Regiment, David and the 1st Batallion Border Regiment barely get a mention in the park or in the history books.
There are so many strange anomalies. David was lucky in that he was recovered and sent along the line to the hospital at Doullens, where he died a week later. Many of his friends and colleagues were not, and died alone and untended where they fell – and lie there still. Among the Newfoundland Regiment, who went over the top an hour later, were four brothers, all officers, all of whom were killed in that single assault.
That afternoon we went to the cemetery at Doullens, found David’s grave, and I left his photograph there.
It was a perfect conclusion to our European journey, to stand by the grave of he whom we’d come to remember.
It’s been an exhausting and roller coaster ride, this last couple of weeks.
The weather interfered profoundly with the Thassos trip, and left us a little frustrated that more wasn’t achieved, but delighted that so much was.
Yesterday saw myself and Theo plunged into gloom as the weather interfered with the planned flypast at the official Somme 100 commemoration at Thiepval, and by this evening were were back on a high, having achieved all our ambitions for the trip to France.
We’d identified today as the best possible day to get flying as the wind was perfectly aligned with the runway at Albert. We’d looked at alternative locations, but rejected them for various reasons. But this morning’s forecast predicted lots of showers and gusty conditions all day.
Nevertheless we went to Albert aerodrome at 0845 to find the place all locked up. As we waited, a small car arrived, bearing my french cousin Claude Michenau, who’d traveled 7 hours to see us and stayed overnight. With his assistance we managed to find a friendly staff member who let us in to the field, and between the showers we took 11264 outside and ran the engine with cousin Claude (who is an experienced pilot) sitting in the cockpit with a huge grin on his face.
Then the pilots of the other two aircraft turned up and started work on their aircraft; work which ended in both being grounded, although they did manage to run the engine of the Albatros, which kept cousin Claude happy too!
Then big showers came through, and we spent time chatting to them and looking out of the hangar doors watching the clouds chase past and the occasional downpours. We reassessed the weather and decided to stick it out, since there was nothing else to do, and things might improve in the afternoon.
Morgan-Jeffery Hugon turned up on his day off, and showed us round the three Dassault Flamant aircraft he’s maintaining.
Our friendly staff member showed us the grass strip which was occupied by the gliding club, and it seemed eminently suitable, and indeed the glider people offered us the use of some of their hangar space in case of further showers. But the better bet seemed to be to wait until 1800 when the aerodrome officially closed, and the showers and thermal would be likely to have finished.
The staff member, whose name I never got, invited us to their canteen for coffee and we watched the end of the first leg of the Tour de France on the television.
More waiting, watching the gliders circling overhead in the afternoon thermals.
Finally we rolled 1264 out of the hangar and hitched her up to the electric tractor manned by Morgan-Jeffery who towed 1264 up to the grass strip which was by now uninhabited. the wind was down to around 10kt, straight down the strip. The cameras were all attached and the camera crews positioned down the strip.
Theo primed the engine, I strapped in, and at 1909 she started first pull and I lifted off. All seemed well, and I headed off to the Thiepval memorial, clearly visible only a few miles away on the skyline. The lowering sun was magnificent and the memorial truly spectacular. I went around it two or three times, hoping the cameras were doing their stuff.
Then I headed on to the Newfoundland memorial, close to where David Bremner fell, and looked at his picture in the cockpit and thought of him as we circled around. Then is was back to the aerodrome and a few beat-ups and manoeuvres before landing after about half an hour. It was a huge relief to have achieved this much, and one of my most enjoyable flights.
The film crew wanted another circuit which I did, and then Theo got into the hot seat and completed another ten minute flight which left him as exultant as me.
We towed 1264 back to the hangar and retired to the Buffalo Grill for a celebratory meal, knowing that we’d finally achieved success in our mission. Amazing!
It’s been a manic few days.
On Tuesday we arrived at Ancona in the late afternoon, but were more or less first off the ferry. But we hadn’t even got off the ramp when the customs wanted to see inside the trailer. And so we delayed a whole ferryful of vehicles while they took a look inside, and got their mates round to have a look as well, and the local reporter took a photo for the Ancona news, and so on. Still, we were away in reasonable time, and headed off to Parma.
Despite having spent most of the day lazing in the sun on the ferry, we were tired by the time we reached Parma, and the hotel was very self-effacing and had no obvious advertisement, so we drove past it and did a large detour before a nice young lady came out waving at us as we drove slowly past to assure us we’d arrived!
Parking the trailer was an issue as always, but the rooms themselves were excellent, and breakfast in the restaurant downstairs was great.
Wednesday was a lovely drive through the Alps, in better weather than on the way over, and we were snapping away all the time.
We got to Montagnat in reasonable time, where the hotel was a fairly routine chain, but met our requirements.
I cracked the whip for the following morning as we had a huge 600km to cover and wanted to get to the airport by 1500 in order to get 1264 rigged ready for the BIG day on Friday. In the end, we achieved it pretty much exactly on time, thanks to sterling efforts from Theo and Noel, who did the vast bulk of the driving.
Getting in to Albert was something of a challenge, but we met Dick Forsythe of the WAHT there who helped guided us through the security stuff, and the operations manager Morgan-Jeffery Hugon enthusiastically showed us where we could rig, and there was sufficient space alongside the WAHT’s Albatros DVa and BE2e for storage.
As we were packing up, many hundreds of coaches were lining up on the hard standing ready to ship people into the ceremony the next morning.
Rigging complete, we headed off to Cambrai, where Stephen Saunders (who had re-appeared having come back out from the UK in his car) had found us accommodation.
We set the alarm for 0530 in order to be at the airfield by 0700, but were delayed by half an hour by the multitudinous road blocks in place because of the tight security.
Eventually we got to the hangar, and found the pilots of the BE2e and Albatros DVa preparing their machines. We set to with ours, and were soon ready to go.
Radio Bristol rang and wanted a short chat on air, just as the Royal Family landed to go to the ceremony. We noted the snipers on the roofs around us…
At about 1130 we all headed off to look at the windsock to decide whether it would be possible to fly, and unanimously decided it wasn’t. Although the speed was acceptable, it was too far off the runway line to be safe, when considered with the limitations of the strip itself.
Although we’d been expecting this for more or less a week, the final decision was a very bitter blow, and left all of us thoroughly deflated – and Theo and I absolutely exhausted.
We headed back to the hangar with our heads low, and helped run the engines of both the Albatros and BE2e – both of which appear to have problems which will preclude them flying home until they are resolved.
All in all, a very downbeat end to what might have been an absolutely unique, unforgettable day.
Still, the weather tomorrow morning looks as if it might serve, so we might get flying yet…