The Aircrew Association

The Aircrew Association – Biggin Hill Wing.

 

Public Relations Exercise – Autumn 1999

 

The Aircrew Association is an Organisation whose membership is composed of aircrew and ex-aircrew of all three armed services and all Allied nations.  Not all are of 1939/45 vintage but the great majority are now over seventy years old and, in some cases, very much older.  All of these people have led extremely interesting lives and very many of them have had careers in military aviation which, had they happened today, could well have been the stuff of television documentaries and even films.  The thing that virtually all of them have in common is an attitude to their achievements that is modest to the point of being self-effacing.

 

In view of this situation the ACA’s Committee decided that there should be a central archives, an Aircrew Museum, dedicated to the achievements of its membership in general, and incorporating verbal reminiscences on tape from as many as possible.  This bank of taped interviews would form a huge base of first-hand personal experience from aircrew who had participated in military aviation over several decades but particularly during the period of the second World War.  Linked to this would be personal memorabilia relating to the flyers of those times, from whatever source available.

 

The Biggin Hill Wing of the ACA began to participate in the Archive project during the summer of 1999 and, as the Wing Archivist, I began to interview members and get their stories onto tape.  Last autumn, our PR Officer, Geoff White, submitted a photograph of some of the Wing’s one hundred and eighty members to the Press and included a short piece about our project.  Many of you now reading this will have seen that piece and you will be pleased to hear that it was a great success.

 

I received almost fifty responses from people in areas as far apart as Enfield and Reigate.  Not bad for the local papers!  Obviously the majority of these came from the Biggin Hill / Bromley / Orpington areas.  Many were from relatives or wives of men who had flown from the local airfields, Biggin, Kenley and a couple I had never heard of which were probably small sattelite airstrips.  I had offers of pilots’ log books, uniforms, medals plus photographs, newspaper cuttings, books and publications too numerous to mention.  One lady kindly donated a white silk flying – scarf which had been given to her mother in 1944 by her friend who was flying on a New Zealand bomber squadron at that time.  Inscribed in black ink “To Molly, All the best in your life.  From Red” it carried hand-written details of every mission that he had flown over enemy territory, thirty in all, totaling some two hundred and fifty hours.  What a memento, and what a splendid record of one man’s tour of duty.  Sadly we have no idea who he was as we only have the name “Red” to go by.  Another lady sent me her ticket, won in a local newspaper competition in 1932, for a flight in an aeroplane with Sir Allan Cobham.  Not strictly a military memento, but one which must carry many memories.  It is sobering to think of the acts of grim determination, bravery or even heroism which resulted in the award of some of the medals which were donated so willingly.  The uniforms hold a particular poignancy, especially the flying badges, or brevets as they are properly known.  Anyone who has ever qualified for one of these will remember the amount of effort, study and determination that it took to be able finally to sew that bit of embroidered cloth onto his uniform.

 

I received several photos of complete squadrons, mostly with only just enough information to identify one or at most two of the young men posing self-consciously for the camera.  Some pictures were of a single crew, apprehensive before taking off on a raid or showing smiles of elation at being safely home again.  Some bore scribbled notes on the back.  “My old crew.  All killed over Aachen when I was in hospital” or something equally as heart rending.  On the brighter side there were also several war-time Service publications sent to me.  Pilot Officer Prune seems to have stayed forever in the memory of many ex-RAF types.  The only item that I had to decline, reluctantly I must say, was an incendiary bomb that one gentleman kindly offered!

 

Someone found a Pilot’s logbook, Certificate of Competence, photos and several personal documents in a skip in Penge and passed them on to me.  I tried to trace the owner, even making a trip to the Family Records Office to track down as much information a s possible about him but the trail went cold and I had to give in at last.  All of the items which were donated will be lodged with the ACA central archives under the control of Air Commodore Brian Pitchfork, each with its own back-up documents bearing the name of its donor amongst other details.  I also send to every donor a letter acknowledging receipt and stating what has been handed over.  I have been asked from time to time to value medals or other items but I cannot help in that respect.  The ACA undertakes never to dispose of items donated and accepts all items with the sole aim of displaying them in its museum.

 

The most rewarding aspect of the whole exercise has been the amount of interest that the public has shown and the support we have had from people.  We hope to get another piece published in the coming year in order to keep our project in the public eye.  I hope that the residents of the Biggin Hill area will continue to support us as well as they have done this year and I thank everyone who contacted me for their kindness.

 

Bob Hinds, Hon Archivist, Biggin Hill Wing of the Aircrew Association.

 

15.4.2000

 

5 thoughts on “The Aircrew Association”

  1. I was exploring the internet to find information on RAF links to Biggin Hill when I came across the ACA website.
    How disappointing is it that it is being used almost entirely to complain about the building currently being constructed around the wonderful RAF Chapel of remembrance set up by Sir Winston Churchill.
    My wife (and I) and a number of other volunteers have been working to keep the Remembrance Gardens tidy, cutting grass and even removing old roses and replanting new. There have been a number of ashes interred in recent times too. As well as this a group of volunteers have been in the Chapel at various times cleaning, and removing wax from carpets.
    It is the hope of many that services will eventually be able to continue in the chapel as well as the occasional musical event organised for the community. The historical nature of the Chapel is still there, with all its ‘other windows’ and RAF information for all to see.
    This is what should now be the focus of our energies, not continuing a campaign of endless complaints about a building that will inevitably be completed and used by the public, despite having no aesthetic appeal.
    What a waste of all the efforts of the volunteers it will be, if the chapel is allowed to be incorporated into a museum, albeit a ‘free part’ of the museum, rather than for the purpose which I am sure Sir Winston Churchill intended.
    There are those who are walking away from the heritage of Biggin Hill and walking away from those to whom the Chapel was built, many who gave there lives for peace and freedom. Why?
    Because they object to the building and the processes that led to the situation we now have and can do nothing about.
    It is my personal view that The Archdeacon Paul Wright should be personally fighting for the Chapel and growing its links to the community and keeping its links to the memories of the RAF personal who died for their country.
    Senior RAF personnel, such as Wing Commanders and Squadron Leaders, who are deciding to retreat and wave a white flag by giving up on the fight to keep the Chapel a living place of worship, do not have my respect.
    It is my understanding that there is to be a service at the Chapel on Sunday 11th November 2018 to mark the 11th hour, the 11th day and the 11th month and, what is more, to commemorate 100 years of the RAF; turn up if you are able.
    You give up if you wish, but I and many others will go on fighting until the Council, the Trust and the Church force us into total retreat!

  2. Flt Ricards, ex Berlin Airlift pilot was CO of the Sandbanks Bombing Range, Cuxhaven, N. Germany in 1952-54 ….. I was a Radio Operator on an Airsea Rescue Boat that kept the shrimp boats away from the range. Due to the oddities of the day, I was also his driver and spent much time in his company. I have my record of my time in the unit and wonder if any of his family (?) might be interested in both it and some photographs of him. I would be very surprised if he’s still alive. Would your Association have any record of him or his relatives?

    1. Hello there. I have asked around for you; advice given is contact British Berlin Airlift Association. Write to them, give them the information that you have; they will let you know if they have any record useful to you. They would also be interested in what you have for their archives if you can’t find family. Hope this is helpful.
      You can contact me further if I can be of any more help. Margaret W.

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