Watercress Line goes back in time

In a fit of feeling that perhaps we were, as a family, ignoring the wonders of steam we went to the Watercress Line’s ‘War on the Line’ event a couple of years ago. It’s one of the highlights of the year for the – ahem – army of re-enactors who spend their weekends in all weathers getting themselves all dolled up as servicemen and women and scaring small children with their impromptu renditions of Chattanooga Choo-Choo.

War on the Line is an annual weekend-long festival

War on the Line is an annual weekend-long festival

The Watercress Line runs through four immaculately restored stations between Alton and Alresford in Hampshire and features a number of specialist events, from Thomas & Friends for the youngsters to real ale weekends for chaps with a fondness for sandals and facial topiary. Or maybe Inspector Morse. However, for one weekend each year the entire line is given over to the sights and sounds of the Home Front in 1939-45.

And I mean the whole line…

Now come on - you don't see that every day

Now come on – you don’t see that every day

You never know who will be on your carriage

You never know who will be on your carriage

Once you’ve accepted that the 21st Century got left behind in the car park, things soon become startlingly normal, being back in the mid-1940s. One starts to wonder whether any of the people around you own a television. Or a pair of jeans. The thing is that after going to all the trouble of getting kitted out to the enth degree of accuracy, the allure of modern dress must dwindle significantly.

For one weekend a year, the trains are about the least historic thing on view

For one weekend a year, the trains are about the least historic thing on view

The ideal spot for a bacon buttie and cup of Rosie Lee

The ideal spot for a bacon buttie and cup of Rosie Lee

On our visit the American GIs were far and away the most numerous of all the social groups sculling around the Hampshire countryside. Perhaps it’s the desire to be over-sexed and over-paid, or the popularity of Saving Private Ryan. All that can be sure is that every member of the re-enactment congregation is casting an informed eye over their companions and quick to spot the slightest faux pas.

Lunch at the NAAFI wagon

Lunch at the NAAFI wagon

Shopping for those essential little details or a whole new outfit

Shopping for those essential little details or a whole new outfit

For anyone thinking of going to the Goodwood Revival, the dedication of the visitors to the Watercress Line is a salutary lesson. Not much here came from eBay or a joke shop. In fact one does feel a touch concerned in the summer sunshine that the pervading scent of mothballs might suddenly ignite into a ten mile long fireball…

Spivs selling nylons and other black market goodies are popular

Spivs selling nylons and other black market goodies are popular

Many photo opportunities are to be had at an event like this

Many photo opportunities are to be had at an event like this

Ryan's privates need saving again, I see...

Ryan’s privates need saving again, I see…

Going to an event like this and not being in period schmutter doesn’t feel altogether odd. Everyone’s just pleased to see you, delighted if you take an interest and getting on with getting on with their weekend. The Watercress Line is an astonishing venue because it filters out pretty well everything that you might expect of modern day-to-day life over such a vast expanse of this green and pleasant land.

I don't know where you get them from but, yes, I want one.

I don’t know where you get them from but, yes, I want one.

In case you were wondering, there are trains too

In case you were wondering, there are trains too

At every station there are things to see

At every station there are things to see

It really is a fantastic day out, with not a stick-on moustache in sight. Why not pop over to the Watercress Line and book your tickets for this year’s show? You never know where it might take you…

The jitterbug club stops for tea

The jitterbug club stops for tea

SAS call in for a cheap day return

SAS call in for a cheap day return

Knackered WAAF takes time out at the end of the day

Knackered WAAF takes time out at the end of the day

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The lone Parnall Elf

The birth of civil aviation after World War 1 was greatly assisted by the number of ex-military machines flooding the market and available for next-to-nothing. Types from the humble Avro 504k trainer to genuine fighter machines like the S.E.5a and Sopwith Pup were snapped up and flown privately, while larger reconnaissance and bomber types were put to work delivering mail and passengers.

Not until the late 1920s was a new generation of aircraft needed to replace these increasingly careworn machines on the grounds of maintenance cost if not outright safety or performance. The de Havilland company was at the forefront of light aircraft design with its Moth series, but rivals sprang up aplenty, among which was the Parnall Elf, designed by Harold Bolas and built by George Parnall & Co in their factory at Yate near Bristol in 1929.

The sole surviving Parnall Elf at its Old Warden home

Like the Moth, the Elf was a two-seat light biplane. Although relatively conventional in construction, with a wooden airframe and a combination of plywood and fabric covering, Bolas placed great emphasis on making the Elf user-friendly with inbuilt sturdiness, ease of operation and cost-effective maintenance.

Its wings therefore featured struts in the form of warren girders to avoid the requirement for wire bracing, which needed a seasoned rigger to maintain, and they could be folded for storage. They were also set well forward on the fuselage as a feature to assist crew escape in an emergency – still an extremely common occurrence.

The first example, later registered G-AAFH, was powered by a 105 hp Cirrus Hermes I four cylinder in line engine. It made its public debut alongside a number of new aircraft at the Seventh International Aero Exhibition at Olympia in London in 1929. The purchase price of the aircraft was between £875 and £890, depending upon whether the owner opted to upgrade to a uprated 120 hp Hermes II engine.

Doing what it does best – the Elf has little razzmatazz but lots of style

Orders were few and far between, however. Unfortunately the prototype received a less than glowing report when tested at Martlesham Heath, and although an Elf came fifth overall in a field of 88 in the 1930 King’s Cup air race, de Havilland was making headlines the world over with its Moth series, setting new world records in the hands of both men and women pilots.

The Elf was not a record breaker, nor was it ever intended or cleared to perform aerobatics. It was quite simply a touring aeroplane, intended to allow private pilots unruffled progress from A to B. With no great feats to add to its sales pitch, only two more Elfs were built, registered G-AAIN and G-AAIO, both fitted with the uprated 120 hp Hermes II.

Both the prototype and G-AAIO were destroyed in separate flying accidents during 1934, caused by the Elf’s reliance on a fuel pump rather than the simplicity of a gravity-fed system. This left G-AAIN as the sole survivor when it was bought by Lord Apsley at Badminton, who flew it until World War 2 and then put it into storage, emerging briefly in 1946 before being mothballed until the Shuttleworth Collection team restored it in 1980.

Today the Elf stands as a reminder of that gentler age and that while air shows thrive on high adrenaline there is always a place for a gentleman’s carriage of the skies.

A rare and graceful sight: the Elf in action

Gladiator Survivors #2 – The Shuttleworth Collection

It’s rather a startling thought that one particular aircraft has been entertaining the nation for more than half a century as a relic of the last peacetime days of the 1930s. And yet there she is, the Shuttleworth Collection’s celebrated Gloster Gladiator, L8032, describing graceful arcs and sweeping climbs above Old Warden just as she has since 1960…

L8032 on a trip to Duxford's Flying Legends air display

L8032 basks in the sun on a trip to Duxford’s Flying Legends air display

L8032 was the last Gladiator I airframe built from the initial order made in 1935. All the components were built in 1937 but not actually assembled until 1938. Like her sister aircraft from this final batch, now on display at the RAF Museum, the completed L8032 immediately went into storage as the more modern Hawker Hurricane monoplane and soon-to-arrive Supermarine Spitfire took precedence in Fighter Command’s attention.

In the autumn of 1943 L8032 was brought out of storage and sent to 61 Operational Training Unit in readiness for a new job with a film unit called Independent Producers, which was to use the aircraft to shoot scenes for a film of the book Signed With Their Honour. This was to be a ‘factional’ retelling of the story of 80 Squadron and its Gladiators which fought to the last man and the last aircraft in the retreat from Greece and Crete in 1941.

At home at the Shuttleworth Collection’s airfield, Old Warden

Remarkably, all three complete surviving Gladiators – including The Fighter Collection’s N5903 – had an active role to play in the movie and were assigned to 61 OTU while the film was made. Two Gladiators were lost in a mid-air collision during filming but the survivors completed their tour of duty as stars of the silver screen before being mothballed once again.

L8032 would emerge once more in 1946 when she was put on display in Hyde Park. On 16 March 1948, L8032 was struck off the RAF’s charge list and bought back by the Gloster aircraft company along with N5903. Clearly the ailing Gloster company had no real idea what to do with these old machines and in 1950 both the Gladiators were delivered to Air Service Training for use as instructional airframes at Hamble and Ansty.

You can get up close at any time when the Shuttleworth Collection opens to the public

When RAF Ansty closed the two old aircraft were bought by Viv Bellamy for a nominal sum and L8032 was restored to flying condition using the engine from N5903 and the civilian registration G-AMRK. In 1956, Gloster decided that it wanted its aircraft back again and bought them from Bellamy, refitting L8032 was in full military specification and painting her in 72 Squadron markings, albeit with the fictitious serial K8032.

When Gloster Aircraft finally closed for business at the end of 1960,  L8032 was presented to the Shuttleworth Collection for safe keeping – and has remained there ever since. After many years of service she was completely overhauled in 1990 and repainted in a camouflage scheme of 247 Squadron, the only Gladiator unit to take part in the Battle of Britain. She wore these colours until 1996, when another new skin saw her returned to pre-war silver in hue – albeit in Norwegian markings for another film appearance.

Ready for another season in 2013: one of the longest-serving display aircraft in the UK

Finally in 2007 L8032 re-appeared in the colourful blue and yellow flashes of K7985, a 73 Squadron Gladiator that was flown with memorable vigour by the future WW2 ace ‘Cobber’ Kain at the 1937 Hendon Air Pageant. It is these colours which she carries to this day, and which are about to be replicated by a new model kit by Airfix.

The Scarf & Goggles proudly salutes this fine old girl and all who care for her. Here’s to another 50 years in the air over Bedfordshire…

 

Airfix encouraging kids to build Spitfires

Not content with extending its range of ever-better kits with the new Lancaster, Airfix has now created a project to give schools and youth groups a chance to build its recent and highly acclaimed Spitfire Mk.I

Home-made hangars and airfield accessories complete this group

Home-made hangars and airfield accessories complete this group

Project Airfix allows schools and recognised youth groups and organisations to buy 15 kits, 18 pots of paint, 23 brushes and 15 tubes of glue for just £39.99 inc. UK postage. Not only that, but for as long as stocks last there will be 15 Messerschmitt Bf109E kits thrown in for good measure – so that’s 30 kits with paint and glue for less than £40.

The 'new tool' Spitfire kit is one of Airfix's latest acclaimed releases

The ‘new tool’ Spitfire kit is one of Airfix’s latest acclaimed releases

Sounds like an entirely brilliant scheme to us… so if you have a school or youth group in need of some constructive entertainment, point them in this direction: Project Airfix

project_airfix_logo

Opinions aren’t what they used to be

Sir Stirling doing his best to rev up readers of The Guardian once again!

Sir Stirling doing his best to rev up readers of The Guardian once again!

Poor old Sir Stirling Moss managed to heap scorn upon himself from the ‘point and shriek’ brigade of Fleet Street who like to pose as motor sport journalists when he suggested that, in his view, women simply didn’t have the mental setup to race a grand prix car.

“I think they have the strength, but I don’t know if they’ve got the mental aptitude to race hard, wheel-to-wheel,” he said – although the full context in which he said it has never been published.

Cue a tidal wave of blistering bile for an elderly gentleman who had accomplished more in his first 40 years on Earth than most of us will if we reach 100 – with the most particularly bilious attacks coming from the left-leaning, supposedly inclusive and tolerant British broadsheets.

Now, if Sir Stirling had said “Well of course girls can’t drive because their knockers get in the way of the seatbelts,” then there may have been some eyebrows raised. But what everyone overlooked in their faux-outrage were two key points:

1) Sir Stirling has no axe to grind when it comes to women drivers. His late sister was just about the most successful female competitor in the history of the sport, including outright victory on the Liège-Sofia-Liège. 2) In the 63 years of the FIA Formula One World Championship there have been only five women to enter the series, of whom only two have even qualified for a race.

All five women to have taken part in Formula One were exceptional talents who starred elsewhere in the sport but not in grand prix racing. Women have repeatedly challenged and beaten assumptions and achievements of men in rallying, drag racing, powerboats, aviation and almost any other branch of petrol-powered sport except in grands prix. In Sir Stirling’s view the glass ceiling above them in this one discipline is not physical and must therefore be mental.

It strikes me that his fundamental point remains to be disproved. In this day and age, with billiard table track surfaces and all mod cons in the cockpit, there is even less reason why a woman can’t manage the physical side of the sport as well as a man. Danica Patrick has made serious inroads both in Europe and America, and someone with the dedication and physical fitness of an Olympic athlete would undoubtedly put the cat amongst the pigeons if they were focused on going racing… but as yet that simply hasn’t happened.

And so, rather than hop on the bandwagon, let us salute Sir Stirling’s ongoing horror of political correctness and for never being shy to voice his own opinion.

Has the Revival jumped the shark?

The best of all worlds? The Revival is a fancy dress race meeting.

Where should the Fancy Dress end and the race meeting start?

“That first year I was working on our car on the grid and I got the damned thing started and I looked up… well, it almost moved me to tears. I mean there simply was not a hair out of place among the cars, the mechanics, the marshals or the crowd. Apart from the drivers’ helmets you could have been standing there in about 1958 or 59.”

So said a veteran of the inaugural Goodwood Revival of 1998 who has been a regular ever since, courtesy of the fairly exotic assortment of ancient automobiles that he knows how to cajole into competitive life. But my friend won’t be on the grid or, indeed, among the crowds this year.

“It’s got bloody silly, really. It’s become some outlandish sort of theme park that bears no resemblance to the Goodwood I remember,” he said trenchantly. “You can’t see the cars for all the bloody vintage supermarkets and so on, and it’s a very different crowd these days.”

Kinky boots, kohl and psychedelic swirls - someone's idea of the 1960s

Kinky boots, kohl and psychedelic swirls – Goodwood’s reincarnation.

The phrase ‘jumped the shark’ is one used in the TV industry when a series has toppled past its peak into an often irreversible slide. It stems from an episode of the comedy Happy Days, when its nostalgic look at 1950s family life was becoming a little over-familiar to the audience, prompting a key character to waterski and jump over a live shark for no obvious reason.

Can a motor race be compared to a sitcom? Well, both are in the entertainment business. Fickle public affections have afflicted motor sport, such as the decline of the British Touring Car Championship from its late 1990s boom to today’s pale imitation. The apparently relentless expansion of NASCAR in the 2000s appears to have been well and truly checked, while endless Audi dominance has dented the lustre of the Le Mans 24 Hours.

The Revival was all about the racing for many years

The Revival was all about the racing for many years

The Revival is different because it is an occasion, rather than a contemporary racing series. It is a celebration of the past – albeit a past which increasingly few people remember. Yet it has also been brilliantly marketed and become a fixed point in the social calendar: a place where Glastonbury togetherness meets Last Night of the Proms Englishness with a bit of Rocky Horror Show dressing up thrown in.

Back when the Revival started, Lord March brought together the best parts of the original International Historic Festival at Silverstone, mixed in some of the best air display pilots and machines and put them out to a small but well-informed group of fans and veterans of the period with very fixed ideas of what was about to take place.

If you wanted to park in the circuit you had to have a car registered before 1966, the year when racing originally stopped. If you wanted to get into the paddock then a jacket, tie and shoes were mandatory for men and a frock was preferred (with or without hat) for the fairer sex. Period accessories were smiled upon. All was well.

Ray Hannah's famous 1998 flypast, as seen from the grandstand

Ray Hannah’s famous 1998 flypast, as seen from the grandstand

In those early years there were magic moments, such as the late, great Ray Hannah flying the ever-fabulous Spitfire MH434 below the height of the pit garages and the appearance of Bernie Ecclestone’s Vanwall VW5 on the grid of the main event.

The problem is that racing genuine period cars on a genuine period track inherently brings with it genuine period safety concerns. The Revival has survived numerous scares such as the 1998 accident which saw Neil Corner ejected from a barrel-rolling Ferrari 246 Dino, Sir Jack Brabham’s injurious crash in 2000, Willie Green’s bone-crunching 2005 collision with a TV camera in a vintage Maserati and Jochen Mass being pinned under a Lancia D50 in 2008.

How many more of these incidents the Revival can sustain in the increasingly litigious and invasively nannying world of the 21st Century is open to question. Racing cars crash and, when they do, 1960s standards are no longer palatable. Add in the precedent of  ‘bend it and mend it’ court action witnessed earlier this year when a journalist was effectively bankrupted for blowing an historic engine and the day might yet come when racing is legislated out of the whole show.

Presumably it was this reality which prompted Lord March to team up with fashionista Wayne Hemingway for the 2010 Revival to create Vintage at Goodwood as the theme for the Revival. The grand plan was to merge the worlds of fashion, film, music, art, design and photography to celebrate five decades of British cool (the 1940s to the 1980s) as a backdrop to the traditional Revival meeting.

‘Vintage’ added concerts by Sandie Shaw, The Wailers and The Buzzcocks, with a period street featuring vintage John Lewis stores and beauty parlours where women could get made-up in the style of the decade of their choice. While aficionados came to see Norton versus Moto Guzzi and Ferrari versus Jaguar on the track, a whole new crowd appeared for the catwalk shows, Burlesque evenings and dancing lessons.

Behind the Grandstands a new world has emerged in recent years

Behind the Grandstands a new world has emerged in recent years

The relationship with Hemingway lasted only one year but the effect on Goodwood was profound. The movie set of period shops, streets and fashions has become the major selling point for many at the Revival, putting the racing in the back seat for many visitors. As m’colleague Mary, over at WeHeartVintage, puts it: “I loved all the vintage fashion, and the boys in my family loved the cars and planes, so we were all happy!”

Quite probably Mary is in the majority on this, but in return it means that the perception of the Revival is increasingly less that of a race meeting and more of a fancy dress party. This has left many purists, such as my friend quoted earlier, feeling somewhat adrift. They are not alone: the letters pages and online comment boards of the classic car press are stuffed to the gunwales with protest at punters turning up in wigs, moustaches, psychedelia, Dad’s Army uniforms and Thunderbird outfits, with trainers on their feet and iPhones clamped to their ears.

Certainly this chap, pinched from WeHeartVintage wouldn’t pass muster either based on the old dress code or as a re-enactor:

Stick-on moustache and mobile phone: double no-no, surely?

Stick-on moustache and mobile phone: put that man on a fizzer, sergeant!

I shall be going to the Revival this year but I shall be paying very close attention to what people believe is appropriate dress for a race meeting in the period 1948-66. While I’m sure that some outfits will titillate, it is to be remembered that it was the Morris Minor, not Union Flag-bedecked E-Type Jags or Mini-Coopers, which was the best-selling car of the era and psychedelia came a long way behind taupe in the fashion stakes.

That’s not to say I’m a curmudgeon. Lord March and the team at Goodwood still have the rosette for best in class when it comes to the welter of classic car events that fill almost every weekend of the British summer these days, from Chris Evans’s ‘CarFests’ to the bijou gatherings around London’s more elitist environs.

In the meantime, the Scarf & Goggles will be maintaining a series of features on how to get the most out of the Revival, the do’s and don’ts and the must-not-misses, in readiness for a weekend that remains unique.

Last Dornier Do17 to be raised next month

The Goodwin Sands, a 10-mile sandbank off the coast of Deal in Kent, have always been a place of mystery. Shakespeare declared that ‘the carcasses of many a tall ship lie buried’ on them – and now it seems the last Dornier Do17 ‘flying pencil’ bomber is also there too.

A Dornier Do17z 'flying pencil' in flight

A Dornier Do17z ‘flying pencil’ in flight

The bomber was discovered in 2008 and confirmed as a Do17 in 2011. It has been confirmed as Dornier 17 Z-2, serial number 1160, of number 7 squadron, III/KG3, which was shot down by a Boulton Paul Defiant of 264 Squadron on 26 August 1940 and made an emergency landing in the sea.

Two of the four crew members died and two – including the pilot – survived to become prisoners of war. Three of 264 Squadron’s ‘turret fighters’ were also shot down in the engagement by defending Messerschmitt 109s.

The tragic story of 264 Squadron is key to the Goodwin Sands aircraft

The tragic story of 264 Squadron is key to the Goodwin Sands aircraft

Despite the water being only 50 feet deep, the Dornier turned turtle as it sank and came to rest on the bank. The sands quickly covered it and there it has lain in tranquility – until now. The RAF Museum is preparing to raise this last surviving ‘Flying Pencil’ and conserve the wreck in its current state.

Subject to weather and equipment serviceability the operation to recover the Dornier will take place in May-June 2013, from where it will be transported to the RAF Museum’s Conservation Centre at Cosford. A bespoke lifting frame will be employed to retrieve the Dornier from the seabed, with the modular structure also being employed as a transport cradle.

The RAF Museum's plan of how it will raise the Do17

The RAF Museum’s plan of how it will raise the Do17

Very few Do17s survived the war and those which did were quickly scrapped. The Finnish air force retained several until the 1950s but these were also scrapped, making this the last of the type left anywhere in the world.