Sunday, 26 October 2014


Opening the door and stepping into the house, you could almost believe that nothing has changed. The rooms appear just the same, and those words of the famous poem so often read at funerals: ‘I have only slipped away into the next room’ seem to be true. But something has made a subtle change. Another hand has drawn the curtain; an unopened letter lies on the floor; a ruck in the carpet has not been straightened. Yet it is not these things which, in our grief-enhanced colour-sensory vision we notice. It is the silence, the complete absence of human sound. The clock may still tick, and the house may shift restlessly, as though it too feels struck by the silent yet devastating explosion which is the death of someone we have loved. It is the hardest adaptation, which only time can ease, to get used to never seeing them again. Sometimes it is impossible. You may go for years, thinking you are over it, you are fine, life is back to normal – and then some tiny thing moves in a far corner of your mind and you are right back at the start again, overwhelmed by loss. That we mean so much to one another surely gives some kind of meaning to life itself? Years afterwards I no longer feel guilt at forgetting him for a while, but I sometimes shed tears when I remember...

Tuesday, 9 September 2014


I recently found the following letter amongst some old paperwork of my late father. Kenneth was one of his friends, all of whom were of the generation whose lives were completely changed when they enlisted during World War II. Kenneth joined the Royal Air Force, and the letter has been written during the course of his training at Cranwell. I have left it word for word. The opinions are his, like them or not, and they died with him. It gives a rare insight into the thoughts of a young man who has become accustomed to hiding his real feelings with a kind of false jollity, but who will share some of his thoughts with his friend.

No 25 Course
Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, Lincs

19th June, 1941

Dear Noel,

Many thanks for your screed. I had been meaning to write you but was not sure where you would be now. The unconfirmed rumour as to my whereabouts is quite correct and Cranwell is proving, in the balance, very satisfying. It is now just an S.F.T.S. fundamentally like any other except that we all live in the college, have a batman and use the officers’ mess. Usually about 60% of the chaps pass out with commissions though it all seems very chancy. There is oodles of bullshit in the shape of ceremonial parades and conventions of the college but it is a treat to be served at meals with good food instead of ladles of spoiled food. Fortunately they don’t seem to have heard of rationing. The work though is really frightful, and at times I really wonder that there are any qualified pilots at all. This is by far the most concentrated part of our training so far and I really can’t imagine why we didn’t start some of the stuff before. The navigation syllabus seems pretty colossal and in addition there is armaments, (including Browning Guns, Vickers G.O., Revolver, Bomb sights), Theory of bombing & Pyrotechnics, Theory of flight, airframe & engine construction and maintenance, signals and wireless, Airmanship, Meteorology, Link Trainer and of course actual flying by day and night below, in and above cloud and formation flying.  
Airspeed AS10 Oxford
After Magisters [trainer aircraft] these Oxfords are rather dull. They cannot be acrobated but, of course, they are comfortable to ride in, and we certainly get around the county. Most of our cross country flights have been down in Somerset, Oxford and Bucks. We do quite a lot of flying with other pupils which proved excellent opportunity for going where we wish. Last Monday my sparring partner and I got off our map and lost, and finally had to land in Hertfordshire being short of fuel. We managed to get 110 gallons of petrol but no lunch and consequently arrived back here jolly hungry. Our best effort really was losing the tail wheel of our machine when low flying. We hit a goods train, I think, though we cannot be sure because we felt nothing at the time.

I can’t imagine myself now on the ground (P.B.I.). I should be scared stiff at the prospect of attack from the air and the Army has no air arm of its own yet, and I really cannot see that it is likely to have during this war unless the RAF is pretty seriously weakened which would be pretty disastrous. The RAF are doing now a hell of a lot more than is generally thought and every plane is wanted. I really think that the Army wants tanks even more than air support, and that certainly the latter without the former would not help a lot. What it all seems to boil down to is simply that everybody wants RAF assistance.

I wonder what Turkey has been up to lately. I don’t distrust her, but I think she is and could be damn all use to us. Those poor money-grabbing Frenchmen could be more helpful but I don’t envy their position. Russia, too, would not help us much, I fancy. Hitler would smash them just as Hindenburg did if they start anything, or oppose him actively. Well, all this chatter is really nonsense. I find that nowadays there is little enough time to do just what one is told to do in the way one is told to do it, and I expect it will be the same when I get on to operations. I expect you find that politics in the mess is barred. We have to be content to gaze at a solitary tree in this bloody forest.

I hope to get a week’s leave about the middle of July: to be precise 19/7 – 26/7, when we are finally finished here and, with luck, get our wings. Can’t you arrange to get your leave then? It would be grand to have a reunion at home and go places once more. Lord knows, though, a week is not long. Fortunately we can, if lucky, get air transport to sundry places when going on leave which saves no end of time.

Well, I must get to bed. I am perpetually tired these days.
All the best and hope to see you soon. I suppose you haven’t an aerodrome near you where we could land and meet for a chat?

Keep smiling
Yours ever