22nd Reunion at the Peacock Hotel, Henton
19th to 22nd September 2013
A narrative of our 22nd Annual Reunion by Janet Burt
Thursday, 19th September
At various times during the evening, 10 couples arrived at the Peacock Hotel in Henton, Buckinghamshire, from all points of the UK. Martin, the owner, was on hand to greet us all and as usual, it was as if there was no 'one-year' gap since our last meeting and the catch-up talks began. Of course, none of us had changed or looked any older!
Friday, 20th September
After a good hearty breakfast with more catch-up chat we went our various ways to spend the day visiting local places of interest. John, Janet, Ivor and Margaret set off to visit Bletchley Park, the birthplace of modern computing.
Bletchley Park Visit
What an impressive and well preserved place to visit for those of us who understand the vital importance of the work undertaken at Bletchley Park during World War II. It played such an important part in our history because the code breakers deciphered seemingly impenetrable enemy codes and ciphers and their tremendous efforts are considered to have shortened World War II up to two years, thus saving countless lives.
The main house viewed from across the lake
Janet, Ivor and Margaret
The care that has gone into preserving the main house, surrounding huts and other buildings and replicating the various activities and events that took place at Bletchley Park during those dark years was mind boggling.
A fitting location to start our tour of the facilities
What brave and clever men and women they were, working in that secret location.
Alan Turing's Office in Hut 8
Of course the main topic of conversation during our tour was the brilliant Alan Turing and his team of specialists and the major contribution they made to the work of understanding the workings of German Enigma machines and then designing the Bombe and Colossus computers to speed up the process of decrypting and decoding the intercepted messages being sent by the enemy. The clever way these incredibly complex machines were conceived, put together and used so effectively is nothing short of amazing.
The German "Enigma" Machine - a very clever piece of kit!
The "Bombe" Machine developed by Turing and Welchman was used to break the Enigma settings to decode messages
The "Colossus" Computer - used to quickly decypher Lorenz messages
It's amazing that Bletchley Park was never detected and destroyed by the enemy. This is especially so because at its peak, around ten thousand people worked there and in the many associated out-stations such as Knockholt. The exact number is not known, even today.
Memorial to the Polish Code Breakers
A visit to Bletchley Park is a must just to get the full realization of what actually took place there during World War II. There are several projects taking place to improve the exhibits and park.
However, on a very sad note, we discovered that by the end of 2013 the huge and impressive privately owned Churchill collection will no longer play a part in future plans for the site. It will no longer be accommodated at Bletchley Park and has been purchased by American interests and as a result, it is being shipped to the US at the of this year! No comment!
The Churchill Collection - an amazing array of important historical items and memorabilia covering the life of our Great Wartime Leader
A trip to Bletchley Park means there is a lot of walking to do because there are many huts and buildings in the grounds surrounding the main house that still exists and contains fascinating insights into our "hidden" history. Many amazing stories have remained untold until recent times.
Although we had taken a 'tea and bun' stop about halfway through our visit, when we finally returned to the car it was a relief, just to sit down!
Back at the hotel we enjoyed another well deserved cup of tea and recalled our stories with the Entry Family and heard about other visits to nearby places of interest. The chatter continued over dinner and as more 'family' members had arrived, so the noise level in the bar and restaurant rose!
We were called to order by Ivor for an 8pm ‘admin’ meeting and to hear plans for the rest of the weekend, in time-honoured fashion. It's becoming increasingly important to do this early in the weekend because with advancing years it's the only way you can ensure that everyone turns-up in the right place at the right time!!
Ivor then invited John Burt to inform us of his delight at having secured a very interesting after dinner speaker for Saturday night. Squadron Leader Hazel Reed is a colleague of John's on the Royal Aeronautical Society Rotorcraft Group and, having seen her in action at the Bristow Lecture earlier in the year, he thought our members would be very interested in hearing Hazel's perspective on her career as an Engineering Officer in today’s RAF. Also to his surprise, Hazel mentioned to him that her Boss, Air Vice Marshal Peter Ewen, had also expressed an interest in meeting our Entry Family and John was quick to take up this opportunity to invite him to attend our dinner.
John also requested that members provide any corrections, service records, photos, write-ups, news of other members, etc. to be sent to him so that the website can be kept up to date and improved.
Having surprised everyone with the dinner guest news, Ivor settled us down for the now customary and well enjoyed Pub Quiz which has become an annual event.
The assembled 'Entry Family' eager to show how knowledgeable they are!!
The highest mark achieved out of 30 was 20. This was not our 'finest hour' even though there were cries of ‘I knew that’ when the answers were read out! The winners were Maurice and Pauline Raven. Ivor presented Maurice with an 83rd mug (especially commissioned for the occasion).
Next, there was a ‘raffle with a difference’ called 'heads or tails' and this was won by Mike Powell, who also received an 83rd mug.
Dave Taylor had kindly donated a painting of a Spitfire for auction. It was painted by a local artist where Dave lives and the picture was finally ‘won’ by John Burt. John is 'slowly' building a six foot wingspan radio controlled model of a Spitfire Mk 8 in his garage and as a result he has a soft spot for all things to do with Spitfires.
Saturday, 21st September
Once again, a good breakfast was enjoyed by all in the restaurant and then it was off to the Halton Triennial for most of the chaps. Those remaining went to various local places of interest or made nearby family visits.
Basildon Park Visit
On recommendation from Stefan and Jane Chmielowski, John and I visited Basildon Park, about a 40 minute drive from the hotel in the Benson direction. This was an impressive estate and house built between 1776 and 1783 by Sir Francis Sykes who made his fortune working for the East India Company in Bengal.
After a chequered history, the house was used variously as an army convalescent home during the First World War and requisitioned during the Second World War to accommodate troops, clerks, labourers and prisoners of war who were billeted around the grounds. All this contributed to the house being badly damaged and in 1952, it was purchased by Lord and Lady Iliffe who transformed the house and gardens into a wonderful home, paying special attention to the details when restoring it. In 1978 they generously gave the house, park, pictures, furniture and a large endowment to the National Trust.
In recent years the house and grounds have been used as the set for the TV series "Pride and Prejudice". You can easily see why they chose this perfect location for the TV series.
Basildon Park House
On return to the Peacock Hotel the men who had attended the Triennial came with their tales and news from catch-ups with old friends. This is always an occasion of remembrance for those who attend and Ivor has contributed his thoughts on the day in the notes in the Triennial 2013 section of this website.
Dave and Heather Stone arrived early evening for the Reunion Dinner but sadly, we heard from Ivor that John Walker would not be able to attend because Ann had been taken ill. Our thoughts and best wishes were with them both.
We were a party of 34 for the reunion dinner and our two guests AVM Peter Ewen and S/L Hazel Reed arrived right on cue to enjoy a pre-dinner drink and meet our family. Peter and Hazel were introduced to everyone and spent time chatting with each of our members and ladies. The chatter in the bar grew by the minute.
John Gardner and Dave Taylor enjoying a chat with AVM Peter Ewen
Janet, Bill Green and Dave Stone enjoying the company of S/L Hazel Reed
After nearly an hour of socialising, we were called in to dinner. Johnny Walker has always piped us in to dinner but, it was not to be on this occasion. Rather hurriedly, we had been able to find a recording of suitable pipe music so we could carry on this tradition, albeit we did miss the live music. Desperate for a solution we found a CD in our car; Spirit of the Glen by the Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. Eventually, with "Braveheart" selected we played it through the AV system in the dining room.
Once we had taken our places at the tables, we were called by Ivor to remember our fallen comrades and those members not present for this evening. Ivor then asked John to formally introduce our dinner guests.
John started by saying "we olden’s hold dear our service heritage and we always like to hear and be informed about what’s going on in the RAF these days. Having long since finished our RAF service we do tend to ‘carp on a bit’ about reduced RAF manning, reduced numbers of airframes and capability, etc. in the modern Air Force The two guests at our Reunion Dinner tonight are here to reassure us all that the RAF is still in safe hands; but more of that later. It gives me great pleasure to introduce two people who, in my opinion, have truly distinguished themselves in today’s modern Royal Air Force".
Making the introductions John went on ..."First, in reverse order of seniority, please give a warm welcome to Squadron Leader Hazel Reed who is an Aeronautical Engineer and in her current appointment is Military Assistant to the Director Air Support at Defence Equipment and Support at MoD Abbey Wood. Later, Hazel will give us an insight into her fascinating military career and I’m sure this will have resonance with all of you. Welcome Hazel ……………
Please also give a warm welcome to our other distinguished guest; Air Vice Marshal Peter Ewen, whose current appointment is Director Air Support at Defence Equipment and Support, MoD Abbey Wood. And yes, you’ve guessed correctly, Peter is Hazel’s boss.
Very briefly, I’d like to list some of Peter’s achievements that are highly relevant to his invitation to dine with the 83rd Entry family tonight. In 1976, Peter joined the RAF at Halton as an Aircraft Apprentice in the 128th Entry. He graduated in 1979. Clearly he went on to forge a great career in the RAF and Peter is currently the senior serving ex. RAF Halton Apprentice in the Royal Air Force today. Peter’s previous appointment as Chief of Staff Support and Senior Heritage Officer clearly suggests he is very interested in RAF history. At our venerable age and disposition, members of the 83rd Entry are definitely of historical interest! Finally, a fact about our distinguished guest that I’m unable to overlook, is best disclosed by way of a gentle reminder to all present. Peter is the junior entry here tonight!! Welcome Peter ………"
Peter and Hazel received warm applause from the assembled members and ladies and needless to say, there were several shouts of "Rook", in the time honoured tradition.
Introductions were followed by grace expertly delivered in Scottish prose by Mary Powell after which, we sat down in anticipation of a good meal and much chat (Click to see the Menu) . At this point the chatter and banter accelerated to a high level!
L to R: Rose Gardner (just visible), Ted Butcher, Janet Burt, John Burt, Hazel Reed, Peter Ewen, Ivor John, Margaret John (picture taken by Jean Butcher)
L to R: Jean Butcher, Ted Butcher, Rose Gardner, John Gardner, Peter Ewen, Ivor John, Margaret John
L to R: Mike Powell, Jane Chmielowski, Dave Taylor, Angela Taylor, Dave Stone, Heather Stone, Angela Cheesbrough, John Cheesbrough, Jean Smith, Dave Smith, Mary Powell, Stefan Chmielowski
L to R: Maureen Green, Dave Green, Maureen Fairclough, Brian Fairclough, Gwyneth Frost, Mike Frost
L to R: Pauline Raven, Maurice Raven, Anne Wood, Mal Wood, Pam Miles, Tony Miles
L to R: Mike Powell, Jane Chmielowski, Dave Taylor, Angela Taylor, Dave Stone, Heather Stone
L to R: Angela Cheesbrough, John Cheesbrough, Jean Smith, Dave Smith, Mary Powell, Stefan Chmielowski
The dinner was excellent fare, just as we have always experienced at The Peacock and it was efficiently served by Martin and his team of lovely waitresses. After our extremely filling dinner Ivor declared a comfort break whilst the tables were cleared and the well laden cheeseboards and a first-class Port were served.
By the way, it didn't go unnoticed that John couldn't resist having a quick sip of his port as it was served. He knows very well that this goes against mess etiquette but spending a lot of holidays in Portugal, he really does like a drop of good port. Clearly, as a connoisseur he was making sure it matched the occasion!
Mr. Vice for the evening was Dave Taylor who expertly led the loyal toasts to the Queen, to lost comrades, to RAF Halton and the 83rd Entry.
Mr. Vice - Dave Taylor leading the toasts
Coffee was then served.
At this stage Ivor did the customary Entry admin telling us about friends departed and those that had been in touch this past year but who could not be present at our Reunion for various reasons.
Ivor then called Martin into the dining room for a presentation of our Entry Plaque in appreciation for the way that Martin and his staff at The Peacock have looked after our members this year and in previous years. To warm applause, Martin promised to hang our plaque in a prominent location in the bar.
Martin receiving the 83rd Entry Plaque
Ivor then passed the "gavel" over to John for him to do the introductions for the after dinner speeches.
John explained that he first met S/L Hazel Reed about 3 years or so ago at the Royal Aeronautical Society when she was appointed RAF representative on the Rotorcraft Specialist Group. At that time Hazel was a Flight Lieutenant and since first introductions they have attended meetings, corresponded and worked together within the group, particularly to organise the very successful 2013 Bristow Memorial lecture in April this year. Hazel led the group of three RAF ladies who delivered their lecture "Contemporary RAF Rotorcraft Operations: the female aircrew and engineer perspectives". It was one of the outstanding lectures that John and Ivor have attended at the RAeS and was presided over by Jenny Boddy, the first female President of the Society in 140 years. It certainly got the attention of a lot of people and was an excellent advertisement for the RAF. Since their first meeting it didn’t take long for John to realise that Hazel has a fascinating tale to tell about her military career and the hurdles she has successfully negotiated so far. John invited Hazel to take the floor.
After completing a HND in Aerospace Systems Engineering at Coventry University in 1997, Hazel told us that she worked briefly in helicopter engineering in civvy street. In 1999, she decided to join the Army (the REME) and undertook training as an aircraft technician at the School of Electrical and Aeronautical Engineering, Arborfield. Early in her service she worked on the Gazelle and Lynx helicopters of 5 Regiment in Northern Ireland and it was in October 2004 that Hazel transferred to the RAF and undertook her Initial Officer Training at RAF Cranwell, before training as an engineer. In 2006 Hazel was appointed Deputy Project Manager of the Hawk Future Support Project and when promoted to Flight Lieutenant in 2007, Hazel served as JEngO on the E-3D Sentry Maintenance Squadron at RAF Waddington. In 2009 she was selected as the Aide-de-Camp to the Deputy Commander of NATO Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum, the out-of-Theatre operational focus for the ISAF mission in Afghanistan and it was during this tour she completed her degree in Engineering Management with Lincoln University. In early 2011 Hazel was appointed OC Support Flight on 28 Squadron at RAF Benson, responsible for second line support to Merlin operations in Afghanistan. Promoted to Squadron Leader in 2012 hazel was posted to HQ Air Command as SO2 Performance Management and in August 2013, took up her current MoD appointment.
Apart from a very busy service career Hazel is a sub-aqua diving Open Water Instructor, a Girl Guide leader and member of the RAeS Rotorcraft Group and still finds time for her other interests which include travelling and The National Trust.
After Hazel’s speech John preceded the vote of thanks by drawing attention to the fact that Hazel clearly has a very demanding day job and an active social life and her fascinating personal story as an Aircraft Engineer in the RAF today has real resonance with all present. It was a real delight to be treated to an insight into her very busy and rewarding life and this was very evident by the extended applause Hazel received from everyone present.
John then presented Hazel with an 83rd Entry mug to which she responded with appreciation and the quip that "she would think about our Entry family each time she used it".
John presenting Hazel with her 83rd Entry mug .
Ivor then turned the tables on John by having Hazel present him with an 83rd Entry mug for services rendered to the Entry Family, in particular managing our Entry website. That came as a total surprise to John and rendered him speechless - for a change!!
Moving on - clearly the presence of Air Vice Marshal Peter Ewen as our other dinner guest was too much temptation for John to resist, so he invited Peter to say a few words should he wish to confirm or deny any of the information presented during the initial introductions.
As you would expect, Peter being an ex. RAF Halton Aircraft Apprentice, immediately took up the challenge and although unprepared for delivering an after dinner speech on this occasion, he was immediately at ease as he treated us to a fascinating tale about his service career since leaving RAF Halton.
After graduating from Halton, Peter served as an Aircraft Technician attaining the rank of Sergeant. At this point in his impressive career he was selected for commissioning into the Engineering Branch and clearly, there followed a career path with a series of appointments that have resulted in him achieving Air Rank at a young age. Peter attributes his success to the values and discipline initially acquired as an RAF Halton Aircraft Apprentice, which was the perfect foundation for his challenging but very rewarding RAF career.
Undoubtedly, Peter's Halton Apprentice background is something that all of our members can relate to so this placed him in a unique position to provide us with a very good and informative insight into today’s RAF. Clearly Peter is also a strong family man and he fully understands that our Entry family has long been detached from day-to-day RAF life. To say that all those present were enthralled by his expert and very relaxed personal recollections is probably an understatement.
But there's more. A 'true measure of the man' was Peter's gracious invitation to members to ask him questions. After admirably handling a pretty intense Q&A from several of our eager members and ladies, Peter eventually got to sit down amid much applause and words of appreciation.
Peter taking questions from members - all eyes were on Dave Green as we awaited his enquiry about today's RAF
On cue, Ivor rose to lead a vote of thanks and summed up Peter's fascinating speech by paying tribute to the way he had responded to the many detailed questions from our members. After summing up and as a memento of this special occasion, Ivor then presented Peter with a book on the History of RAF Rotorcraft, written by John Burt.
Ivor presenting AVM Peter Ewen with the RAF Rotorcraft History book
The two excellent insights into today's service life given by Hazel and Peter produced enthusiastic agreement from all members present that today’s Royal Air Force is still in safe hands! Among the many complimentary words overheard from the members and ladies present was, ‘but they are so young’! And that's a sure sign you are getting on in years!
It was around this point in the proceedings that Janet briefly explained to our guests that our reunion weekend and dinner are nowadays tinged with some confusion and rowdy behaviour because when you get a lively bunch of septuagenarians in the same room for any length of time, then it can quickly descend into a shambles and bear resemblance to ‘one flew over the cuckoo’s nest’. However, we think on this occasion that both Peter and Hazel were content to accept that our Reunion Dinner, although loosely following traditional lines, was quite a change from the formal mess functions they frequently attend!!
Ivor closed the dinner and invited everyone to help the hotel staff to re-arrange the tables and chairs to make space, before they joined in the traditional group photograph.
With the flurry of chairs being moved, comfort breaks being taken, etc. several of the assembled company were beginning to show signs of weariness and wanting to go to bed. We have noticed over the years that we are simply no longer capable of staying up until 3am before we turn in!
But wait, we hadn’t quite finished and at last John was ready with his cameras to take the annual group photograph. The usual mayhem followed for several minutes as our resident photographer made sure he had taken several images to be certain of getting a least one decent shot!
The Traditional Entry Reunion Group Photograph
(Click on the photo to enlarge and see the names).
Time was marching on so It was time to say farewell to our guests Peter and Hazel, who had to travel back to High Wycombe. On parting, everyone agreed that they had thoroughly enjoyed a very good evening and it had been a memorable occasion.
The meal was excellent and we found out later that this had been produced on a replacement oven as there had been a breakdown we were not aware of. Martin, the Chef and all the staff were excellent throughout the weekend and we were truly sincere with our thanks.
Sunday, 22nd September
After another hearty breakfast it was time to pack the luggage into our cars, pay our bills and say our farewells for another year. It's always sad to say goodbye to the Entry Family once again, but from the comments we received it had been a most enjoyable weekend for all. This is a tribute to Ivor's efforts to make our Entry Reunions happen each year and we all hope that we can carry on for many years.
Of particular note as we were departing was to hear that three of our couples had 'clocked-up' a remarkable record. The couples had met each other whilst the chaps were at RAF Halton and then they spent their first posting at RAF Cranwell. These three couples went on to marry and bring up their families and after all these years they are still together so by anyone's standards, I'd say that's a pretty amazing achievement.
L to R: Tony and Pam Miles, Mal and Anne Wood, Margaret and Ivor John
On leaving the Peacock Ivor and Margaret headed off to Wendover to meet up with Tony Collins (79th) and his wife Brenda. They had served on secondment together in Malaysia. Meeting up as planned they took a stroll around Wendover but Ivor directed Tony and the ladies to the “Aces High” studio. They specialise in aircraft paintings and prints.
As the group walked in they were met by an offer of tea, coffee or champagne. Apparently, they had hit upon the day the studio had invited members of 617 Squadron (Dambusters) to assemble to sign paintings and prints. The veterans were not all from the 'Dams' raid and squadron members from the “Tall Boy” raids, etc. were also there. Ivor reckoned this chance encounter was the icing on the cake and the weekend couldn’t have been better planned.
Good memories - a view of the Chiltern Hills from the Peacock Hotel
2013 was certainly a Reunion to remember and as we write this missive, planning for 2014 is already underway.
As is customary and good manners, we sent letters to Peter and Hazel to thank them for joining us for our Reunion Dinner and for their much appreciated personal contributions to a most enjoyable evening.