Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Side Orders


The above group photograph includes my father (second row, end right), taken whilst serving with the RAF during WWII. Dad had enlisted in 1940, just after his nineteenth birthday and was trained as a flight mechanic, one of the unsung ground crew responsible for keeping the aircraft airworthy. The picture was taken in 1943 when Dad was stationed at RAF Swinderby in Lincolnshire. He'd previously worked on the Spitfires of 609 Squadron at RAF Biggin Hill, when the Battle of Britain was its height. Ground crew checked all aircraft on their return for damage, then they would re-fuel, re-arm, test engines, radio and oxygen supplies in the shortest possible time and using a rapid and well-rehearsed drill. The ground crew worked as a team with each man playing a vital part and enabling the whole squadron to be serviced within ten minutes. Aircraft were lost of course, and replacement aircraft would arrive and have to be made combat-ready by the ground crew.*  I wrote about the Spitfire and Dad's connection with it in a previous post, Their Finest Hour.

Dad next went to Coastal Command at RAF Silloth, and to Thornaby-on-Tees in NorthYorkshire from where he was transferred to RAF Swinderby, 1660 Heavy Conversion Unit to work mainly on Avro Lancasters (as above), but also with Halifaxes and Stirlings. The hours were long and hard as the country prepared for 'the second front' and the harsh winter of 1944 saw all hands deployed clearing the runways and dispersals of snow for days on end, as flying was abandoned. Dad remained at Swinderby until he was 'demobbed' in April 1946.

Sepia Saturday this week has a photo prompt of a group of Crimean War soldiers wearing their army caps at  a jaunty angle. It reminded me of the group portrait above, with Dad and his friends wearing their regulation forage caps at that same angle, as they were meant to be of course. They were also known as 'chip bag hats' as their shape resembled the greaseproof bag used to hold your portion of chips when you bought them from the fish and chop shop. Dad is 91 years old now, but he still has the very cap he is wearing in this portrait. the style of the 'side-hat' hadn't changed much by the time my husband was serving in the RAF in the seventies and eighties, although he  and his fellow officers mostly wore a peaked hat or, when in field conditions, a  beret. Co-incidentally he too was to have a connection with the Spitfires and Lancasters, which along with the Hurricane, made up the prestigious Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The BBMF came under his engineering responsibilities whilst we were stationed at RAF Coningsby.

Join others at Sepia Saturday this week to see where the picture of jolly, jaunty sergeants led them.


*With thanks to my brother, who has documented this part of Dad's life for the family memoirs.

25 comments:

  1. That group photo at Swinderby with the ground crew posing proudly in front of the bomber is excellent, and a perfect fit for the theme this week. I'd never heard of the term "chip bag hats."

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  2. I liked it when you said "whilst WE were stationed at RAF Coningsby". I mean, it was not just Daddy doing his duty, the whole family did. That was how it was felt, I guess. And although I cannot say this from my own experience you may tell your father that people in Holland loved seeing all his planes flying overhead. If there was any hope for better times, it was seeing the aircraft roaring east!

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  3. I never liked the chip bag hat, preferring my SD hat - the one with a peak. However, berets were more suitable in the windy conditions at Mount Pleasant in the Falklands - chasing a SD hat downwind was not dignified! I think the reason the chip bag was liked in WWII was that, when removed and folded flat, it could be secured under the shoulder strap of the battledress or "hairy blue" jacket.

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  4. That's a great photograph, and I'll bet your dad can still name a good many of his comrades grouped with him.

    No RAF members in this family, although my Grandfather served in the Royal Observer Corps during the war. He was always very proud of that.

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  5. Not only your father's cap, but also his pose is at a jaunty angle.

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  6. How did those chip bag hats stay on?? I enjoyed this tribute to the men who stayed on the ground in order to keep others in the air.

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  7. A fine post for this week's theme. A few years ago I went on a tour of WW2 era planes that were still in flying condition and had come to our local airport. The spartan interiors and the complex arrangement of mechanical and hydraulics controls were amazing. The care and attention that men like your father gave these planes was every bit as valuable to the war effort as that of the pilots and air crews.

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  8. Love this, Nell! That term "chip bag hat" was so appropriate. I had never heard that before, and it made me smile.

    Did you ever see the series, "Spitfire Aces"? It was really amazing. The interviews with the pilots who actually flew them was the best part by far - brought a tear to my eye on more than one occasion.

    Kat

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  9. Yes, I agree jaunty all the way. What a treasure, your first photo is just remarkable. My mother did something with so many of my father's days in the Navy and I only hope to recover them all some day. I have to laugh too, did they use bobby pins to hold those hats on? Enjoy your weekend- any fun art museums planned for the weekend? I'm still forming my plans for today! This time of year there are so many festivals around, it's hard to pick where to go!

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  10. Those hats had a lot of names...my Dad called them "life boat" hats. I won't tell you what my husband called them.

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  11. I have visited Swinderby and Coningsby many times Our home is less than 10 miles from where Thornaby airfield use to be. I wrote about the Thornaby Spitfire in a Sepia post back in April and a book called Kipper Patrol (based on wartime flying from Thornaby) back in 2010.
    The Swinderby group picture is superb with the plane behind the men. Keeping planes in the air was an essential for our success in the war - thanks to men like your father. The aircrew billeted with us were always singing their praises.

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  12. Chip bag hats, love it! I note some of them don't have their hats on, they'd be put into the brig for that wouldn't they? Or whatever the equivalent is in the Army :)

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  13. What great photos these are! And I had the same question as Wendy (great minds you know). Just how did those chip bag hats stay on at that jaunty angle?

    Please thank your dad for me for his military service.

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  14. It's neat that your dad still has his chip bag hat from so many years ago. I think it would be a fun idea to take his picture wearing it now to contrast with the photo of him wearing the hat as a young man.

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  15. He is so young and so cute in these pictures! As I was reading your description of what he did, it reminded me of what the pit-crew does in a NASCAR race. Except, of course, it wasn't a sport. Wonderful post, and I learned a lot. Thank you.

    Kathy M.

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  16. Every time I read one of your posts about your father repairing aircraft in WWII, it reminds me of my Dad who also serviced aircraft in the US. By the time he was old enough to enlist, the airplanes were held together by bailing wire and whatever bits and pieces they could scrounge together to keep them going. To this day, my father avoids flying saying "They can't just pull off to the side of the road when they break down."

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  17. They did a good job! Without them the war would have turned out totally different ...

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  18. Really enjoyed your pictures and the stories behind them! And glad to hear that you still have your father with you!

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  19. My husband, who was a helicopter pilot always talked about the importance of the mechanics who worked on his plane. He would always try to get the very best ones assigned to him. So your dad did a vitally important job for the country. I'll bet at 91, he's very proud and you are proud of him too.
    Nancy

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  20. Nice homage to the ground crew without whom,
    none of it would have been possible [for long].
    Judging from the angle of their hats,
    do military men have a sense of humor?...
    Hmmm...
    :D~
    HUGZ

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  21. What a wonderful photograph! The ground crew was kind of like the pit crew at today's car races but with a much more important task - to ensure the safety of the flight crew and help win the war! Very interesting back story, I really enjoyed it.

    Teresa

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  22. Yes! I Never Thought About It Before but your right about the fashion for wearing caps at an angle I have photos of my Dad (Polish Free Airforce) & My Uncle (RAF) & they both wear them the same.The backdraught of the planes??!!:)

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  23. I love that picture of your Dad and his jaunty cap. He looks so young and handsome!
    Barbara

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  24. What an amazing time that was in all of Europe and of course had it not been for men like your dad, our lives would be quite different. Great photos and story.

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  25. my grand dad was also a flight mechanic although from huntly aberdeenshire, came to work down in lincolnshire, looking at his vague records he went around a few of the camps. but swinderby was his main one. so i look at the picture thinking one could have been him. sadly he died when my nanny had just become pregnant for my dad so we know nothing more about him. but i would love to get something for my dad to know something about his dad

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