Blue skies at the Shuttleworth Collection

When the sun is out, there’s barely a whisp of cloud in the sky and the breeze wouldn’t trouble a house of cards there’s really only one place to be: Old Warden for a flying display.

While the rest of the nation was shedding a tear of joy or two over Prince Harry’s nuptials, a decent sized crowd went to Bedfordshire. They came to savour not only the regular field of aeroplanes from the Shuttleworth Collection’s unique array of vintage and veteran stock, but also the official return to flying duties of its unique Spitfire Mk.Vc after 12 years under restoration.

Given that it was an evening show, the S&G wasn’t able to linger and enjoy the undoubted stars of the show, the WW1 and Edwardian machinery, take to the air on such a still and clear night. Nevertheless, there is never a day when one feels short-changed by seeing even a portion of the schedule at Old Warden, so here are the highlights.

First of all: what was to be found on the ground:

 

And here’s what was seen during the air displays:

 

As the long days of summer hopefully stick with us until the new academic year and beyond, it’s always worth keeping an eye on what’s going on at Old Warden, particularly with a brood to entertain.

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A lap of the Outer Circuit today

The S&G was alerted to this film by its maker last summer so apologies for the tardiness. However, for those who have read the post on finding your way around Brooklands and still can’t make head or tail of it, Andy Lambert has very kindly completed a lap of the old circuit from above, allowing you to find yourself if you get lost.

Watch, enjoy, marvel – and go and have a look for yourselves.

Sunshine at Brooklands

Make hay while the sun shines, is the saying. But this is not an agricultural blog, so we did the only sensible thing for anyone in the commuter belt and went to Brooklands.

Since the opening of the new Lottery-supported Aircraft Factory and the reopening of more of the Start/Finish straight for clubs and events, the old place has really taken on a new lease of life. For more information go to www.brooklandsmuseum.com to and plan a relaxing few hours filled with all sorts of educational nooks and crannies.

Don’t forget that on school holiday weekdays it’s possible to be driven round the banking on a replica racer for £1, while another £1 will get you a bus ride around Weybridge on a Routemaster, upon which you can pretend to be Cliff Richard and Una Stubbs – or possibly James Bond.

Be joyful that summer’s here and enjoy all the great things with wheels and wings that we used to do so well.

London’s Classic Car Show

It’s that time of year again. London’s Excel is throbbing to the sound of delightful engines and shimmering in the glow of highly polished coachwork. For the next three days, there will be many things to enjoy, from Phillip Glenister and a lot of TV cops’n’robbers cars to virtually every breed of racing Porsche.

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The London Classic Car Show and Historic Motorsport International are together in one gigantic hall. Up and down the middle is the Grand Avenue, where a vast array of cars from the 1920s to the 1990s will be running.

Star of the show will be Nigel Mansell, who will be on hand regularly throughout the public days. As well as the man himself, there’s also a goodly collection of his cars, such as the Lotus-Renault 95T that he pushed over the line at the 1984 US Grand Prix in Dallas and his mighty title-winning Williams-Renault FW14B from 1992.

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There are still plenty of tickets available to book online, which costs less than paying at the gate. In fact you can book online using your phone whilst you’re in the Excel and save yourself a few quid. The wonders of the Internet!

As part of the Historic Motorsport International experience there are a series of feisty forums in which those who build, race and occasionally attempt to manage the process of historic racing. So to find out what makes them tick, who’s got a GT40 with FRIC and why traction control on a Lotus Cortina is a very bad thing, then this is the place to be.

Here are some of the shiny things that caught the S&G’s eye while wandering. Do go along and enjoy the show.

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Farnham’s Flyers go Online

The racing community in Farnham – it’s not just that chap Hawthorn, you know – now have a website.

A lovely big twisty track, a CAMRA-recommended bar down below, live Jazz for the interludes – sounds exactly like the stuff of dreams for most regulars at the S&G.

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Detailing myriad classes for small racing cars of every vintage, with information about their rather lovely track and pretty much all you might wish to know about motor racing in misty Surrey hills, it’s a fun way to spend a portion of your lunch hour.

Go on, why don’t you? Here’s the link: Farnham Scalextric Club

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A campaign to preserve Biggin Hill St George’s RAF Chapel of Remembrance

The S&G doesn’t often get involved in campaigning, but the collective goat has been grottled and our dander has been dumbfounded with news that Biggin Hill St. George’s Chapel of Remembrance is facing partial demolition among numerous other indignities. There is not much to be added to the text of the petition, so feel free to read it below or scoot straight through to the petition here.

Regular visitors to the S&G will know that the official history of the Battle of Britain, as described in such colourful terms by Winston Churchill in 1940 and propagated for the 77 years that have followed, is open to a degree of question. In the eyes of the pilots in front line squadrons, the 14-week period through which the most intense air battles were fought over southern England, encapsulated by Churchill as the ‘Battle of Britain’, was simply part of an ongoing campaign that lasted from May 1940 to May 1941 and from which no decisive result between Britain and Germany could be claimed.

The Battle of Britain was not simply a story of clean-limbed boys climbing into Spitfires and Hurricanes to ‘see off the Jerries’ but it also involved almost every facet of the military, from Bomber Command pounding away at the German infrastructure to achieving aircraft production on an unprecedented scale to having the Home Fleet of the Royal Navy as the trump card: a force 10 times stronger than that of the entire German Kriegsmarine that could and would have obliterated any attempted a sea invasion.

For all that, the importance of that period is not open to interpretation, and is deserving of its place in our history. Britain did not capitulate to the tyranny that was being unleashed upon mainland Europe. It did not meekly accept Hitler’s offer of retaining control of its Empire in exchange for Nazism being enforced at home. Ultimately, the Battle of Britain helped to convince America to abandon its policy of laissez-faire – at best – towards Nazism and ultimately to bring its industrial and military might to help reclaim Western Europe.

If one were to look up the word ‘unprepossessing’ in an illustrated dictionary, a view of the RAF Chapel of Remembrance at Biggin Hill would most likely be lying in wait. It’s a bland, artless red brick thing. But it exists for a reason, and should not be troubled by the passage of time.

Given that very little has happened at Biggin-on-the-Bump without the approval of Bernie Ecclestone for the past few decades, perhaps it would be as well to simply drop a note round to Princes Gate. So many outwardly unexciting buildings in the area actually have a wealth of history to them and to deface one, or start charging fees to see it, would inevitably set precedents that might lay waste to this whole area in historical terms.

Here is the petition:

The London Borough of Bromley Council’s current planning application necessitates demolition of the Grade II Listed Vestry, which houses the Air Crew Association stained glass window. Also it requires change of use of part of the Nave (the St George’s Room) to provide additional space for the new museum, the overall design of which the vast majority of genuinely concerned people find appalling – an ultra modern, stark structure enveloping two sides of the Chapel.

Under these proposals, visitors to the Chapel will no longer be able to view the St George’s Room with its commemorative stained glass windows, including the St George’s Battle of Britain Memorial Window, without paying the predicted museum charge of £7.50.

A Museum is long awaited at Biggin Hill, but the situation is incredible because there is an existing highly praised approved design, by the Biggin Hill Battle of Britain Supporters Club, which in no way affects the Chapel, but could provide the same level of support and with vastly superior facilities at lower predicted cost. Importantly it doesn’t require the closure of the Chapel during the building works.

The new Council design will require the closure of the Chapel to visitors, also for services and the funerals of Veterans for over a year whilst building works take place. This was highlighted to great effect at the recent St George’s Day Service, when a 95 year old RAF Veteran, proudly wearing his Air Crew Association tie, rose to his feet and announced his days were numbered and he wanted his funeral to be in the Chapel and his ashes placed in the Garden of Remembrance. But he could not die to order, how could they consider closing the Chapel for over a year?!

Since starting this petition, the previously stated total closure of the Garden of Remembrance on Health and Safety grounds has been reviewed.

Other than those in the immediate locality of Biggin Hill, the many other interested parties, including ex-RAF personnel, and relatives worldwide of those commemorated, are in ignorance of these distressing plans!

My previous advice to visit the Chapel is no longer relevant as the London Borough of Bromley has now CLOSED THE CHAPEL TO VISITORS. People arriving from a distance, perhaps even from overseas, will find the gates chained, at present with no explanation!

Please direct your comments on the closure to the Trust’s email address: hello@bhmm.org.uk

Finding Mannock

In case you’re wondering where the S&G has been of late, the answer is somewhere between October 1917 and July 1918. It’s been a protracted stay but well worth the making.

In the spirit of those times, therefore, feel free to enjoy a documentary made by the BBC in 2009, based upon the rather excellent book Aces Falling by popular historian Peter Hart. It’s a little bit schmaltzy in places and frankly re-enactors gazing meaningfully into the camera can make one a bit queasy at times but all in all it does Hart’s work, and that of Joshua Levine, some justice. Plus it’s always nice to see the Shuttleworth Collection’s S.E.5a aloft…

The most important point raised by the film, and about which nothing has continued to happen, is the pressing need to formally identify the body of the aviator ‘Known unto God’ that has lain in Row F, Grave 12 of Laventie Military Cemetery since 1920.

Edward Mannock was a unique individual, a gifted tactician and, quite possibly, the most successful Allied fighter pilot of the Great War. As one of only 19 airmen of the Great War to hold the Victoria Cross, any opportunity for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to right a very obvious wrong can and must be taken before the centenary of Mannock’s death.

Mannock’s body was retrieved and buried by the Germans some 300 metres away from Butter Lane near Pacault Wood. The body of the airman in Row F, Grave 12 was exhumed from a grave 300 metres away from Butter Lane near Pacault Wood.

The German Army’s very precise record of where they buried the body does not tally exactly with the location where the CWG first found him, which has been the major reason cited as to why no further investigation has been carried out. But then the CWG was using a British trench map. By using a German trench map of the same area, the description given takes you pretty much to the original grave site.

The body exhumed in 1920 had no identification about it. The Germans took all of Mannock’s personal effects and identification from his body before burial, which were eventually returned to his family.

Modern science is a wonderful thing. It helped identify King Richard III where he lay beneath a municipal car park in Leicester some 527 years after he fell. To the best of the S&G’s knowledge there should be sufficient living relatives of Mannock to be able to get a DNA profile, exhume the airman in Row F, Grave 12 and confirm, one way or another, who he is.

Only two other candidates remain; these being Sopwith Camel pilots shot down a couple of months before Mannock. Neither of these men deserves to remain nameless any more than Mannock, although the evidence linking them to the German grave at Butter Lane is circumstantial at best.

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The evidence all points to this being Edward Mannock’s grave. Let’s have a definitive answer.

There are other clues to be found, no doubt. For one thing, accounts from local history state that the British aircraft that crashed by Butter Lane was there until 11 November 1918, after which it was pretty swiftly tipped into a shell hole and covered over. Perhaps removable parts were taken as trophies but a dial, a plate and certainly a Wolseley Viper engine would make itself fairly obvious to ground surveying equipment.

For all that, there might not be any need to go and find any remnants of S.E.5a serial E1295. For the body in Row F, Grave 12 to be that of Mannock, it needs to be the remains of a gangling six-footer who stood out a mile from most of his fellow aviators. In addition, the aircraft was well alight when it crashed and Mannock’s dread fear of burning caused him to keep his Webley service revolver readily to hand in order to end the agony. Even after 100 years, the sort of damage that a .455 bullet does to a skull is clear to see.

‘Mick’ Mannock led by example. He cherished the lives of his men and gave them every possible chance to see the peace that he was convinced would not be his to savour. Yet he flew on, staring his horror of being set alight full in the face until the nightmares became a reality.

He died alone, afraid and practically unheralded. Yes, it would cost money but it would be worth more than 100 of the self-serving commemorations that this country has organised to mark the centenary of the Great War. Worth more than a wild goose chase across Asia looking for buried Spitfires. Worth more than pulling the unrecognisable hulk of a Dornier out of the Goodwin Sands for even the slightest chance to give this most human of heroes back his own name.

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