26th Reunion at The Golf Hotel, Woodhall Spa near Lincoln
14th to 17th September 2017
Before the Event
I had spent the first part of the week in Aberdeen on business and arrived back home late on Wednesday evening around 11.00 pm, much later than originally planned! This significant hiccup to my well laid plans for the week happened because, earlier during the day, British Airways cancelled my 16.35 flight to LHR T5 and put me on the 20.30 flight. On the way home my thoughts turned toward whether this unscheduled event would impact on Thursday's travel plans for the Reunion.
Thursday, 14th September
Having got a reasonable nights sleep and Janet being her usual very efficient self with packing our kit for the long weekend in Lincolnshire, we were breakfasted and the car was loaded for a noon departure from Guildford. The journey up to Woodhall Spa via the M25 and A1M was the usual dreary drive with a 'break' stop at the Potters Bar services and an arrival time in Woodhall Spa just before 17.00. Not bad really!
On arrival, we quickly checked-in and moved our kit to our room and generally got everything sorted out so we could focus entirely on meeting up with the other Entry Family members who had already arrived or were also scheduled to arrive on the Thursday.
The Golf Hotel
We first met up with Dave and Heather Stone in the foyer. They had come up early to play a round golf on the world famous Woodhall Spa golf course. Also, we discovered that we would be sharing the hotel over the weekend with several other hotel guests and these were mainly a group of 'very serious' golfers competing in the Annual County Champions matches.
As it turned out, the weather over the weekend would not be kind to the golfers or ourselves. Very simply, it was dull and overcast much of the time with occasional showers, some quite heavy. Not too cold though!
When Ivor and Margaret arrived around 8pm, Ivor briefed us about the news of Ann Wood's unfortunate accident overnight in Louth whilst staying over with Charlie (82nd Entry) and Maureen Dewar on their way down from Scotland.
Ivor also informed us that Dave and Jean Smith had cancelled at the last minute because Dave had damaged his back and was unable to drive the long distance up to Woodhall Spa for the Reunion.
We were all very sorry to hear about Mal and Ann and Dave and Jean's health woes and wished them a speedy recovery. In fact, it was said by Ivor that Ann was determined to come to the hotel to meet up with everyone but it will be a case of 'wait and see', depending entirely on what the medics advise!
The evening dinner was a casual affair in the dining room and, having had a decent snack at lunchtime (Kentucky Fried Chicken!) whilst travelling, Janet and I decided on lite bites. Mushroom omeletts with a few chips seemed to fit the bill but, when served, the portion size soon told us these were not going to be the usual lite bites! However, the food was most enjoyable.
So it was off to bed at a sensible time with the intention of getting an earlyish start on Friday.
Friday, 15th September
And so, having risen at a sensible hour and got ready, it was into the dining room for a hearty breakfast to set us up for the day. In January we had stayed at the hotel for the recce and we thoroughly enjoyed our breakfast on that occasion. As before, we were once again treated to an excellent 'Full English' breakfast, cooked to order.
The breakfast room was also the scene of an amusing incident involving one of the golfers and me. John and his wife (can't remember their surname) comes from Alton, near us in Guildford and we first had a chat last evening. Anyway, John had put his slices of bread in the toaster and gone back to his table and me, being a bit of a twit and not thinking, simply walked over to the toaster and picked up those two nice slices of toast and went back to my table. Janet realised what I had done and promptly told me I was an idiot and that I should go to the toaster and refill the machine with fresh slices of bread. As I got up from the table to 'right the wrong' I noticed that John the golfer was peering into the machine with a puzzled look on his face. It was then I told him I had unwittingly taken his toast and promptly inserted two new slices of bread for him. John took the event in good humour and we had a good chuckle about it.
Janet's research and forward planning for our weekend came firmly into play today with a visit to the National Trust property Belton House https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/belton-house . We were accompanied by Ivor and Margaret to save Ivor having to drive.
Belton House Visit
After a 45 minute drive down toward Grantham we came across the village of Belton and after a short, unintended detour we found the entrance to the very large and impressive estate. After parking up and going through the usual NT entrance ritual we then hot footed it to the nearest toilets to get comfortable for the visit.
The Gate House with ornate Clock Tower
The Big House - from the side!
The Big House - impressive from the front
The formal gardens
The Walled Garden and Orangery
Janet, Ivor and Margaret in front of the Gate House Archway
After spending a couple of hours enjoying a tour around all the rooms in the house and looking at the many antiques and artifacts it was time to sit down and rest our weary legs, whilst having a cup of tea and a cake in the cafe'. This interlude was followed by the inevitable visit to the NT shop and a well timed comfort break before we got into the car for the trip back to Woodhall Spa.
During the house tour we bumped in to Stefan and Jane Chmielowski who had met up with Janet and Margaret as they waited for Ivor and me to catch up. The ladies sent Stefan to find us because we had been a long time with one of the tour guides on one of the upper floors who was an RAF chap (wearing an RAF Aircrew Tie) standing guard over a huge silver wine cooler. Needless to say, several stories were exchanged between him and Ivor with me listening in!
On returning to the hotel more people were arriving so it was a case of much 'meeting and greeting' as folks emerged from their rooms and congregated in the bar lounge area to catch up with each others news. Then it was into the dining room for dinner ahead of Quiz Night in the function room.
Other visits had been made during the day to various local places and further afield. For instance, Ted and Jean Butcher and John and Rose Gardner made it over to Skegness to visit their old haunts.
Parish Notices and Quiz Night
Ivor in full swing with Parish Notices.
Ivor gave his customary Parish Notices and updated everyone on the news he had gathered about our 'lost and found' members. He also mentioned Ann Wood's accident and that we may get to see Ann and Mal sometime over the weekend if Ann is fit enough to travel down from Louth. Also, he told us about Dave and Jean Smith's last minute cancellation due to Dave unfortunately injuring his back to the extent he was unable to drive up from Kent.
Ivor went on to outline his attendance at the RAFHAA AGM and the various discussions about winding-up the RAFHAA and then raised the question of how we should now be considering leaving some form of Legacy to commemorate the 83rd Entry. Both of these items are covered in more detail under Notice Board 2017.
Inevitably, next year's Reunion came up for discussion and this is covered under Notice Board 2018.
I took the floor and asked members to support our website by sending me articles and photographs for publication. I also reminded those present who have yet to provide their Service Records to do so - they all know who they are!!
Prior to coming to the Reunion I had received an Email from Ken Butcher on 12th August which I shared with all present. Ken had sent his best wishes for the reunion and went on to say "Ngaire and I are sorry we will miss it, especially since we dined at The Golf on the occasion of our 3rd wedding anniversary in October 1966. We were in Coningsby’s married quarters in Tattershall Village, whilst I was on EO course at Cranwell. I recall the Mateus Rose was “corked” and a replacement was willingly supplied!!!" How's that for a coincidence?
Then it was time for the Quiz!
Angela and John Cheesbrough, Pat and Connie Butcher with Margaret collecting the Quiz entry money
Rose Gardner and Maureen Fairclough primed and raring to go!
Arthur Wray, Stefan and Jane Chmielowski and Mike Powell with suitable refreshments at the ready!
John Gardner, Jean Butcher, Brian Fairclough, Pam and Tony Miles
Mike and Mary Powell and Angela and Dave Taylor
Dave and Maureen Green and Angela and John Cheesbrough
Shared Quiz winners - Brian Fairclough and Stefan Chmielowski
Heads and Tails - Round 1
Heads and Tails - Round 2
Heads and Tails - Round 3 - Just a handful left!
Heads & Tails Winner - John Cheesbrough
Saturday, 16th September
Planning for our visit to the IBCC http://internationalbcc.co.uk started back in July following an Email and conversation with Sue Taylor, the Directors PA. We could not have wished for a more positive response and in a very short time Sue had our private tour of IBCC at Canwick Hill, Lincoln, LN4 2RF arranged and confirmed, joining instructions issued, Tour Guides organised and all that remained to do, nearer to the day, was to let Sue know how many of us would be doing the tour.
Leaving the Golf Hotel with the weather somewhat cool and damp, a convoy of 83rd Entry ex. RAF Halton Apprentices and their ladies wended its way across Lincolnshire in cars to arrive at IBCC for an 11.00 start. Other members and their ladies who were yet to check-in to the Golf Hotel for the Reunion had travelled direct to the site. Sadly, due to ill health Dave and Jean Smith we unable to come as were Ann and Mal Wood because of Ann taking a tumble whilst staying in Louth. However, we were all able to meet up with Derek and Sheila Bye for the first time since we left RAF Halton which was a really nice thing to do.
Turning off the main road into Lincoln just opposite the Travel Lodge Hotel, we followed the access road until we reached some cream Porta Cabins and arrived in the temporary car park. At this point it was clear to see that the IBCC was still under construction with the contractors working on site, as we had been previously told.
It was here at the IBCC that we first met with Derek and Sheila Bye who were attending their first Entry Reunion. As you would expect, Derek and Sheila were quickly embraced by our group and Derek later commented that he and Sheila regret that it has taken so long for them to get to a reunion and be included in the Entry Family.
No worries, we were met at the gate and greeted very warmly by our two Tour Guides Peter Cunningham (71st Entry) and Liz Prissick whose father and husband are both ex Apprentices. There followed a quick briefing and after 'comfort breaks' we split into two groups under the direction of Peter and Liz, who, by the way, had also served as a WRAF Officer and off we went to start our tour.
The following images and brief captions will hopefully give an impression of the IBCC and the amazing facilities it will have when it's finished and open to the public in 2018.
The Chadwick Visitor and Learning Centre - Almost complete - Being fitted out inside
One half of our party on the Memorial Walk in front of the Spire.
L to R: Stefan Chmielowski, Maureen and Brian Fairclough, Maureen Green, Guest, Guest, Janet Burt, Guest, Dave Green, Guest, Margaret John, Peter Cunningham (Tour Guide - 71st Entry), Ivor John, Dave and Heather Stone and Jane Chmielowski
The magnificent Spire that is as high as the wingspan of a Lancaster
The impressive array of memorial panels set around the Spire with, just visible in the background, some of the many trees that have been planted to represent the relative locations of the WW2 bomber bases in Lincolnshire during WW2.
A close look at the circular array of Memorial Panels
A close-up view of one of the sets of Memorial Panels showing old and new poppies that have been left as tributes to those named.
Close-up of details on Panel 076.
The poppy tribute against the name Morgan RHD and the named Cross at the base (see above image) were placed on behalf of my friend Robert and his family to commemorate their Uncle Rhedge Haydn Durham Morgan who was a Flight Sergeant WOP / AG on Hampdens and failed to return from a minelaying (gardening) op off the coast of France in 1942. The entire crew were lost without trace so, until their names appeared on the IBCC panels, the only place they are commemorated is on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymead at Englefield Green, near Egham in Surrey.
The Runnymede Memorial is dedicated to some 20,456 men and women from air forces of the British Empire who were lost in air and other operations during WW2. Those recorded have no known grave anywhere in the world, and many were lost without trace. The names of each of these airmen and airwomen are engraved into the stone walls of the memorial, according to country and squadron.
Looking through the base of the Spire across Lincoln at the iconic Cathedral landmark . It will be a lot better image when the construction site fencing is removed!
A closer view of Lincoln Cathedral from the Memorial Spire.
Apart from wanting to make this visit to IBCC because of my time spent in Bomber Command and having a very good understanding of the often unheralded work carried out by Bomber Command during WW2, Janet and I also had a personal family duty to attend to.
Janet's cousin Joe, a Pilot Officer, was a No: 61 Sqdn Lancaster Pilot 'Killed in Action' over Holland on 23rd August 1943, aged just 22 years; on his 3rd operational bombing mission. We know the Lancaster was shot down by a Luftwaffe Bf 110 Night fighter over Holland on the way back from a raid on Leverkusen in Germany. Joe died with 5 members of his crew and is buried at the CWGC Cemetery in Hei-En-Boeicop (Heicop). The Bomb Aimer was able to bail out and was taken POW. Having Joe's name on a memorial in the UK provides the family with a home based focal point to pay our respects in tribute to his short-lived RAF service career.
Panel 100 - A small tribute left for Janet's Cousin Joe (Spencer J A)
At the base of Panel 100 - A picture of Janet's Cousin Joe alongside the named Cross
Close-up details of the laser cut panels
IBCC don’t charge a ticket price for Memorial Tours, however, the Lincolnshire Bomber Command Memorial Trust has significant running expenses and needs to raise another £1.5M to complete the IBCC project so, on completion of the tour we said our sincere thanks to Peter and Liz and made donations to assist with the funding.
In summary, the feed back I received clearly showed that the visit was very much enjoyed by everyone in our group, despite the indifferent weather. Peter and Liz did a marvelous job of guiding us around the site and telling us about the original thinking behind the memorial, its location, the panels, the architecture and planting, etc. Clearly they are both very well informed and very enthusiastic about the IBCC and what it stands for, not least the amazing legacy it represents. It was warming to know that Peter was in the 71st Entry of RAF Halton Aircraft Apprentices and Liz is married to an Ex. Brat of the 103rd Entry (hope I got the Entry number right). Clearly, construction at the site moves on at a pace and it is gradually coming together and we can see from the quality of the work being done that the finished job will be a fantastic memorial to all those that served in Bomber Command in WW2 and were sadly lost.
Janet and I are waiting in anticipation for our next visit in the Spring of 2018 when everything will be open to the public.
Mal and Ann Wood Visit
When Ivor and Margaret arrived at the hotel late on Thursday evening, one of the first bits of news they gave us was that Ann had had an accident whilst staying over with Charlie and Maureen Dewar in Louth. The question was whether Ann would be fit enough for Mal to bring her to the reunion as they had planned. Sadly, it wasn't to be BUT, Ann being a stalwart Scot, got her way and paid us a brief visit at the hotel on Saturday afternoon along with Mal, Charlie and Maureen.
Needless to say Ann, Maureen, Mal and Charlie were made very welcome on their arrival at the hotel and the ladies promptly made sure that Ann was seated comfortably on the couch in the bar. Clearly, Ann was in a lot of discomfort but I think the visit with the Entry family lifted her spirits as it did for Mal who was really concerned about what had happened, and rightly so! Mal's thoughts were obviously focused on Ann's injured lower back and how he was going to manage Ann's condition for the long car journey back to Scone in Scotland.
In the meantime it was a great opportunity for the ladies to have a good chat with Ann and catch up on all the news. Likewise for the men.
For me it was great to have a chat with Charlie whom I had not seen since 1959 when we were both in the 3 Wing Pipe Band, and we also did quite a number of Station Pipe Band engagements together. Charlie was a Drum Major and being tall and slim he always had a good swagger about him and was very handy with the Mace. It appears that Charlie kept going with the Mace after he left RAF Halton and joined a number of bands as he moved around in the service. He says he gave it up a few years ago but clearly he always enjoyed being out front twirling the Mace. Good one!!
Eventually we bade Ann and Mal and Charlie and Maureen farewell and wished Ann a speedy recovery.
L to R Standing: Pat Butcher, Ivor John, Mal Wood, Charlie Dewar, Tony Miles, Arthur Wray and Brian Fairclough
L to R Seated: Janet Burt, Margaret John, Ann (supported by strategically placed cushions), Pam Miles, Connie Butcher, Maureen Dewar and Maureen Fairclough
After our trip to the IBCC Ivor and me got down to the business of overseeing the Function Room preparations with Mina and her staff. All pretty straightforward stuff because the room and table layouts had been predetermined ahead of the day.
The only thing that remained was to put the RAF Ensign and Entry Banner in place and after some discussion about how they could be securely fixed without damaging the decor it was left to Stuart and me to make it happen. Needless to say, Stuart as the hotel handyman, took charge and did the necessary fixings and achieved a neat job. As an aside, at the time, Stuart was in the process of applying to join the RAF as an Air Traffic Controller so we wished him every success.
The Function Room prepared with RAF Ensign and Entry Banner in place. Very neat!
Staff photo: Mina (The Boss), Sandra and Jayne (in the centre) with Raj (far right) and Super Chef (far left), kitchen team and waitresses
Stuart in place and ready for a busy night in the bar
At the appointed time our members and ladies started to arrive in the bar for our pre-dinner drinks and to order wine for the tables. Along with the golfers staying in the hotel the bar and lounge area soon became a very busy place as drinks were served and many conversations took place. Add to this there were more 'meets & greets' with members who were arriving for the Reunion dinner.
The action side of the bar!
Arthur Wray, Pat Butcher and Sylvia Canton enjoying a chat
Janet, Heather and Pam in good spirits
Derek and Sheila Bye enjoying their first reunion alongside Angela Taylor, Jane Chmielowski (with magnifying glass) and Maureen Green looking forensically at our Entry Photograph Folder.
Maureen and Brian Fairclough waiting in anticipation for the call to dinner
The call to dinner to the accompanying recorded pipe music (no Pipey again!). In the lead is Stefan Chmielowski closely followed by Sheila Bye, Arthur Wray and Sylvia Waddington with Angela Taylor and Jane Chmielowski bringing up the rear!
Once everyone had taken their places (no place names this time just table groups!) and after Ivor had called the room to order, he asked Mary Powell to say Grace.
As always, Mary with her Scottish lilt and accomplished delivery provided us with a thought provoking grace which was duly appreciated and responded to by all present.
Mary delivering Grace
The table plan this time was four large round tables seating up to eight people in groups predetermined by Ivor. This worked out very well with everyone enjoying a comfortable space and able to enjoy good conversations, when not eating.
The food was excellent quality produce that had been expertly prepared and cooked and served piping hot. To give an idea of the choices on offer, see a Copy of menu by clicking on the link. A measure of the satisfaction can be judged by the many positive comments made about how delicious and tender the Char Grilled Sirloin Steak was. That's a real challenge for any Chef to get right at a large function! Final verdict - Great food enjoyed by everyone.
Table 1 - Ivor and Margaret John, Rose and John Gardner
Table 1 - Jean Butcher, Dave Green, Ted Butcher and Maureen Green
Table 2 - Mary Powell, Heather Stone and Mike Powell
Table 2 - Jane Chmielowski, Angela Taylor and Mary Powell
Table 2 - Dave Stone, Arthur Wray, Dave Taylor and Stefan Chmielowski
Table 3 - Janet Burt, Sylvia Waddington, Tony and Pam Miles, Brian and Maureen Fairclough
Table 3 - Tony and Pam Miles, Brian and Maureen Fairclough
Table 3 - Janet Burt, Jim and Sylvia Waddington
Table 4 - Derek Bye, John Cheesbrough and Bryan Canton
Table 4 - Susan Canton, Connie and Pat Butcher
Table 4 - Sheila Bye, Angela Cheesbrough and Derek Bye
Following our excellent meal and delivery of the Cheese Board and Port, Ivor asked Dave Taylor to perform the role of Mr. Vice and lead the Toasts; as is custom and practice at our Reunions. Following Dave's lead we raised our glasses to HM The Queen, RAF Halton and those members of the 83rd Entry who had left on their final postings and those who were unable to join us.
Dave Taylor, our own Mr. Vice and Toastmaster in full swing
I have to say I personally like a nice drop of port after a special meal, preferably a good LBV from one of the premier Caves (e.g. Taylor's) in the Douro Valley of Portugal. Anyway, Ivor told everyone that I had donated the port (to overcome the impasse during his negotiations with Raj for the dinner costs) and I was delighted to enjoy a good port and also hear the many compliments from the tables. Clearly the hotel picked the right vintage for us to enjoy.
A Present for Rose Gardner
During coffee, Ivor called our gathering to order to pay tribute to Rose Gardner who was, in effect, the first person to get the Entry Family together for a reunion in Bath on the occasion of John Gardner's 50th Birthday, back in 1989 (see Photo Gallery images). This initial gathering led directly to the first formal 83rd Entry Reunion in Sheringham in 1992.
To show appreciation, Rose was presented by Ivor with a set of handmade necklace and earrings expertly crafted by Sandra, Ivor and Margaret's daughter. The surprised and delighted look on Rose's face say's it all. It's not often that Rose is rendered speechless!
Ted Butcher took the floor and told us that he had received a message from Pat O'Shea to wish everyone an enjoyable reunion. Included in the message was an assurance that Pat and his family were all OK after Hurricane Irma had hit and passed through Sanford in Florida. It was a relief to hear this news, for those of us who each year follow the hurricane season in the US and stay in touch with friends living over there.
At this point in the proceedings we did a 'whip-round' to show our appreciation to the staff. The proceeds were handed over to Sandra in a large linen serviette to distribute.
The Group Photo
Then came time for the annual group photograph to maintain our visual history!
As a result of some pre-planning, a larger well laid out room and help from the hotel staff, we were quickly able to set out the chairs and equipment for the group photo. After taking several shots on other peoples cameras to record the occasion, I settled down to get a good range of images, despite the usual barracking, hoots and roars.
I normally take a group of test shots before joining the group and then, using a timer or remote control I join the group shot, usually at the side. This time I was instructed to sit in the middle because the ladies had made some space for me. As you can see the space was a little on the tight side, hence my somewhat upright appearance whilst trying to operate the remote control. Hey Ho!
Sunday, 17th September
It is departure day, which starts with another Big Breakfast, paying bills, thanking the staff, packing-up and loading cars, saying many good-byes and finally getting on our way to all points of the compass. Pat and Connie Butcher and Dave and Angela Taylor were staying in the area for a while longer to visit friends, etc. so they were there to wave us all off.
In his October Newsletter, Ivor said he has marked 2017 83rd Reunion as a success, but that is only his and Margaret’s opinion. Ivor went on to say thanks to all those who attended and he was sorry that Dave and Jean Smith and Mal and Ann Wood could not attend, due to injuries. Mal and Ann had travelled down from Scotland and were initially staying with Charlie and Maureen Dewar (82nd) when Ann fell over and needed to go to hospital for treatment. Dave Smith had hurt his back just before the Reunion and was unable to drive.
In a note sent to Ivor, Dave and Heather Stone said many thanks to him and the team for organising a most enjoyable weekend at Woodhall Spa. He went on to suggest a venue for 2018 (See 2018 Notice Board).
Janet and I received lovely notes of thanks from Dave and Maureen Green and Brian and Maureen Fairclough, along with flowers chocolates and Champers.