Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Flying Dutchmen

Overheard in the caravan:

Chairman: “I see some woman is on trial for taking her patients’ pethidine. Isn’t that the Truth Drug?”

Hay: “That’s sodium pentothal, although there’s no such thing as a Truth Drug really; it just relaxes you and you lose your inhibitions. Alcohol could be called a Truth Drug.”

Chairman (simulating a drunken slur): “Have I ever told you that I really, really love you? I want a kebab!”

While visiting my brother over the weekend he showed us a DVD of a documentary he’d recently seen on TV about 322 Squadron, a highly unusual WWII RAF squadron comprised entirely of Dutch airmen. The pilots of 322 Squadron flew Supermarine Spitfires and were employed in shooting down German V1 Flying Bombs before they could do any damage to (presumably) Liverpool docks. In recognition of their wartime service, 322 Squadron was reformed under the auspices of the Royal Dutch Air Force at the end of the war.

Now 322 Squadron was based for a time early in the war at RAF Woodvale, which is just outside Southport and where my mother lived. She joined the WAAF at the outbreak of WWII, was posted to RAF Woodvale and actually appeared in the documentary for a few seconds.

Here’s a still from the documentary showing mum resplendent in her WAAF uniform and sporting the blondest hair I’ve ever seen. She must have been around 20 when this was taken and had obviously cornered the wartime market in peroxide coupons. She was engaged in a bit of horseplay with the airmen and one had just knocked her cap off.

My bother and sister-in-law showed me their wedding video from 1974, which they had also had transferred to DVD. An 18 year-old Chairman Bill appears briefly. Ignore the long hair - it was 1974 after all. (Warning, this report may contain flash photography).

Today is their 36th wedding anniversary. As you can see from the image below, the vicar, who rejoiced in the name of the Reverend Howard Starr, was a stunt double for Gregory Peck in his role as Capt. Ahab in the 1956 film adaptation of Herbert Melville’s Moby Dick. The white streaks in his hair and beard were genuine.

It’s a pity I didn’t manage to sneak into this shot below, as it was the only opportunity to get a picture of me, my old man and my brother all in uniform at the same time. From this time onward we were never all home simultaneously.

Mum looks as if she’d be more at home standing alongside Leonid Brezhnev on a balcony in the Kremlin reviewing the massed troops and armoured divisions of the USSR in Red Square during a 7th November parade. I also seem to remember there being a lot of mullet haircuts and dark blue velveteen suits being sported by 20 something men. The video contained numerous long dead aunties swathed in enough animal skins to send PETA into paroxysms of apoplexy. The future first Mrs Chairman was a bridesmaid, but I daren’t show you what she was wearing.

Talking of videos. primatologists have given video cameras to a bunch of chimps and the video they shot is to be screened on TV tomorrow evening. I was under the impression that had already been done and the result was Big Brother. Big Brother went even further by having chimps actually watching the TV show in their homes around the country.


  1. My paternal granny lived just half a mile from Woodvale until her death in 1981, and she used to tell us about the "foreign gentlemen" that flew Spitfires from there during the war. She used to say that they were very brave when flying - and like little boys when they weren't!

    I'm assuming that your stance in the 1974 photo shows you doing "The Funky Gibbon" which must have been released sometime around then?

  2. Good grief Chairman! Straight out of Carnaby Street! Obviously no 'hair touching the back of the collar' reg's there then! ;)
    Interesting line up of pic's. I remember my uncle (rear gunner, Lancasters) telling me a tale of fighter pilots known to have disposed of V1's by flying alongside them and 'tipping' the wings causing them to veer off course to detonate in a 'safe' area.

  3. I find myself drawn to the lady in the pink hat, who captures the essence of the seventies.
    Everyone loves a man in uniform.