258. 24 June. Thassos
General morning recon. Mist and light bad. Four bombs on Regie factory, results not seen. Rather bumpy. Pancaked a bit on landing.
Escorting H.F.s bombing crops. Good fires started W of Zinelli which blew towards village. Engine started very well, but dropped revs a little and began to vibrate. After dropping bombs vibration ceased and revs got better. About the best landing I have made. Came down faster and flattened out later than usual.
2016. Triumph and tragedy – averted.
It was immediately apparent that there would be no flying today, so Theo and I went up early to clean the aircraft and fit the bombs ready for the day’s events. A line of official cars parked on the strip indicated that we were about to receive a visitation, and as we worked a couple of helicopters arrived. We were just finished and wiping our oily hands on our overalls when the helicopter with the Minister of Defence and the Chief of the Air Force landed, and we were told by a lesser brass hat that he would probably like to take a look at us. I threw my flying suit on to cover some of my dirtiness, but poor Theo was left in his dirty tee shirt and shorts!
They were all very pleasant and when they had gone we nipped back to the hotel to change into glad rags.
From then on the day passed in a complete blur. As soon as we got back to the airfield, we were inundated by locals and tourists, all of whom wanted to ask a question or have their photograph taken. A one year old boy seemed very taken with me and preferred being carried by me than his father, while another one was absolutely mortified at having to have his photograph taken with me and howled the place down!
In among the scrimmage appeared the Greek representative of Aviator Watches, who presented us with No. 1 of a limited edition of special watches created for the event, and inscribed on the back with a map of Thassos and 1264. There was hardly time to thank him and have my photograph taken before I was back among the well-wishers.
Cameraman Adam had had a very exciting morning strapped to the doorway of a helicopter, taking shots of the hills of Thassos and of the airstrip and the crowds around our little aircraft.
After a couple of hours, the dignitaries arrived, including Captain Richard Pocock from the British Embassy in Athens, and the photographs and handshakes were renewed. It was quite impossible to spend any time with any one individual, and we did the best we could, but in no time at all, there was Panos at my side saying that I was needed for the ceremony, and gave me a lift to the conference centre at our hotel.
There I was sat in solitary splendour in the centre of the front row, where I was eventually joined by Capt Pocock, who was a comforting friendly face to talk to.
After some stirring music by a wind band, Despoina introduced a 15 minute documentary of hers about the activities of the Greek Air Arm in Thassos, and it was followed by a 3 minute compilation of our flight which drew applause for both the take off (which was good) and the landing (which wasn’t).
I was then called up to receive, on behalf of Grandad, the Hellenic Commendation Medal Star of Merit and Honour I was told that the only other holder of the medal in the room was the Chief of the Air Force, so it’s clearly a very great honour, and one which I’m sure Grandad would have been very modest about.
I was so relieved to find Sue and Theo and Noel in the audience, together with all the film crew.
I also received the freedom of the island of Thassos, and several other trophies and memorials, including one from the Kavala modelling club, who’d even made a model of Grandad!
So by the time we all sat down to lunch, I was loaded down with carrier bags full of goodies. Thankfully Sue was there to take charge…
After lunch we relaxed by the pool and listened to the very gusty wind which even blew over a couple of parasols until 1700 when Theo and I went to the tent to close the front flap.
What we saw when we got there took our breaths away.
The tent is two separate tents placed together, and the one covering the back of the aircraft was now 20 yards away in the reeds. Our hearts were in our mouths as we drove up and parked, but were simply astonished to discover that 1264 was complet
ely untouched. We still don’t know how that came about, but were very, very grateful!
Of course there was still imminent danger. The rudder, exposed to the wind, was slatting from side to side so we removed it. The majority of the aircraft was – thank God – protected from the worst of the storm by the trailer which we’d parked upwind of it, but the other tent was moving about furiously and was in imminent danger of shaking itself to pieces, at which point it would collapse onto the aircraft.
We made a frantic appeal to Panos to get assistance, and used what rope we had to try and reinforce the tent structure. There was no question of touching the aircraft itself, which would have been bowled away as soon as a wingtip met the full force of the wind. At regular intervals large dust storms came through making even breathing difficult.
Eventually the Deputy Mayor arrived, and we asked if he could provide a large lorry to park in front of the tent to provide a windbreak, and a secure attachment point for more guy ropes for the tent.
By the time all this was done, it was 2200, and while the wind was still strong, at least the dust storms with their vicious gusts had died back, and the Deputy Mayor agreed to rebuild the tent at 0800 the following morning, by which time the wind should have abated to more normal levels.
We retired to the bar for a beer and a pizza, and collapsed into bed, the extraordinary events of the morning having been almost forgotten in the near disaster of the afternoon and evening.
What a day!