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Archive for the ‘Battle of Britain’ Category

Some things make you think

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Today is the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain. I’d quite forgotten that I was once asked to write an article, called Last Orders of the Day, about the importance of the pub and beer to airmen in 1940, which was in a publication to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the air battle.

In it there is a quote from Air Vice-Marshall Sir Cecil Bouchier, Commander of Hornchurch Fighter Sector.

He said: “My most enduring memories of those days are not of the battle itself, but rather of the pilots, their thoughts, hopes and fears and the way in which they bore themselves in moments of failure and triumph or deep tragedy.

“Mostly my memories are centred around the mess, for this was their home – the only place each night where taut nerves could unwind and body and mind find refreshment…I remember how the chaps, the lion-hearted Douglas Barder, Al Deere, Stanford Tuck and a host others used to flock up to the mess at the end of each day’s fighting, flop down on the hall floor – and call for their tankards.

“This was their great relaxation at the end of each day – the beer they had dreamt about all day. In those days no-one drank anything but draught beer…..

“In their very real world of the quick and the dead two half cans (half-pints) was usually their self-imposed ration. This was the brief spell they all looked forward to each day, as squatting side by side against the walls they would lap up their beer and swap experiences of the day…….

“Often a Leader bringing his Squadron home just before dark and fearful of being late, would radio me from halfway across the Channel: ‘Please keep the bar open Sir, we we’ll be down in 20 minutes.’ Alas there were many deep personal tragedies and these were always concerned with the unaccountable loss in combat of a friend. Sooner or later during a lull in the general chatter, a voice would anxiously ask if anyone had seen ‘Jimmy go down’.

“The painful silence was usually broken by someone saying ‘come on chaps drink up’ – lets go and eat and they would all get up and file into the mess for supper. Quickly and quietly they would slide off to bed – greedy to grasp the bare four or five hours of sleep available to them before coming to readiness again at dawn.”

Humbly, I think I might enjoy my beer tonight.


Written by timhampson

August 20, 2010 at 6:20 pm