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Posts Tagged ‘Royal Air Force’


I’m going through a Shakespeare phase; while looking for inspirational quotes I find myself increasingly drawn to his works. Actually, I hope it’s not a phase because as Ben Jonson wrote about Shakespeare in 1623, “He was not of an age, but for all time!” I don’t know if I should be concerned that Macbeth seems to be quite prominent in my subconscious … the title of this post being a prime example. Hopefully that’s simply a result of my recent trip to The Globe.

 

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time.”

William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5, Sc 5.

While my life at the moment seems mostly to be a succession of days with a rather bleak outlook (although infinitely better than Macbeth’s) I’ve just had a busy, stressful, but wonderful week. A friend came to stay for four nights and we went out and about to various events, and I had to cope with a particularly tough event of my own. The theme of these few days has definitely been courage, either other people’s or mine.

 


 

A “German” soldier keeping watch from his trench. My photo.

 

On Saturday my friend and I went to The Victory Show, a tribute to World War II. The show is a step back in time to the 1940s with battle re-enactments, flying displays from World War II aircraft and a huge army encampment. I go mainly to see the aircraft as I can’t resist the lure of the Spitfire, Hurricane, Messerschmitt, B17 “Sally B” and countless others. This year we stood and watched the set-piece battle between the “Germans” and the “Allied Forces”. While it was done primarily for entertainment purposes, with a few tricks for the crowd like exploding water tanks that soaked anyone unlucky enough to be standing behind the hedges in which they were hidden and a “German” soldier being shot in the bottom, there was, of course, a serious side.

 
It’s not difficult to see how much courage was required on both sides of the real war. Watching the “Germans” crouching in their trenches like sitting ducks as the “Allies” advanced, and seeing the “Allies” face heavy bombardment from anti-tank guns and rocket launchers makes you think.

 

Where is your ancient courage? You were us’d
To say extremities was the trier of spirits.”

William Shakespeare, Coriolanus, Act 4, Sc. 1.

The “Allies” advancing on the “German” trenches. My photos.

 

Something else that gave me great pause for thought was the tiny confined space of the cockpit in each of the aircraft, not to mention the seemingly flimsy frame of these war birds. We paid a few extra pounds to walk the flight line and get up close and personal with the aircraft. You don’t realise how small a Spitfire or any of the other planes are until you’re standing next to the wing peering into the space which is less of a pit and more of a small hole with a view. The bravery and courage of the pilots who threw these aircraft around the skies is something I can barely comprehend. They must have found their sticking places, but sadly it took more than courage to ensure they didn’t fail. It took skill and a great deal of luck. During World War II air crew had less chance of survival than the infantry did in World War I. For many their fates were set as soon as they set foot inside the aircraft.

 

Our wills and fates do so contrary run
That our devices still are overthrown.”

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3, Sc. 2.

The cockpit of the Grace Spitfire (ML407). My photo.

 


 

On Sunday we went to the Shackerstone Family Festival. Shackerstone is a small village in Leicestershire best known today for the Battlefield Line Railway, a preserved steam and diesel museum that runs trains to Bosworth Battlefield. The festival brings together an eclectic mix of family attractions such as vintage narrowboats on the Ashby Canal, llama racing (seriously), lawnmower racing (again … seriously), dog agility displays, arts and crafts, steam traction engines, birds of prey displays, fairground rides and this year, and my main reason for wanting to go, the Red Arrows.

 

The Red Arrows displaying at the Royal International Air Tattoo in July 2013.
My photo.

 

The Reds put on a terrific display over the canal and for the first time ever I heard gasps of amazement from the crowd as the synchro-pair flew towards each other, seemingly heading for a collision. You never hear gasps like that at the big airshows because the majority of the crowd know what to expect. It gave me immense pleasure to be able to show my mum why I love the Reds so much. She was one of the gaspers and even professed to finding it really scary to watch. She did also say that she really loved it but having never seen them before was taken aback by their skill and courage.

 

To be a pilot with the Red Arrows does indeed take great skill and it’s something that only a very few RAF pilots get to do. Not only are they putting on a great display for the crowds but they’re showing us what the aircraft can do and showing off their own professional excellence. To do what they do, to do what any RAF pilot does, takes great courage, just as it did in the past.

 


 

On Monday morning I had to screw my own courage to the sticking place. I’m not going to go into the details but I had an interview for a job that was near perfect for me and one I truly wanted. I tried so hard to overcome my fear and be brave. I was determined not to fail and I don’t think I did. I didn’t get the job but I succeeded in overcoming my fear and finding some courage that a week before I truly didn’t think I had. This was a huge thing for me and while I’m disappointed at the outcome I was given wonderful feedback and now have some learning points to take forward for the next time. I must remember that while “brevity is the soul of wit” (William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 2, Sc. 2) it is not necessarily the best approach in interviews. In other words: expand, expand, EXPAND! Or, if you are going to be brief, at least be succinct and choose your words carefully.

 

Early in the morning before I left home for the interview I found a little inspiration thinking about Richard Armitage and his fear of water. If he can stand to be water-boarded, filmed under water in a sinking submersible craft, or stuck in a barrel on a fast-moving river then I too can face my fears.

 

My situation may not have been life-threatening but if you’ve ever had a panic attack you will no doubt know that it can feel as if it is. My biggest achievement was learning to control my panic and finding the courage not to let it consume me.

 
These quotes seem especially apt for me:

 

Our doubts are traitors,
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.”

William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act 1, Sc. 4.

Nothing will come of nothing.”

William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 1, Sc. 1.


 

On Wednesday we had the very great honour and privilege of being present at the screening of a documentary called “Finding the Pathfinders” at The Kinema in the Woods at Woodhall Spa.  The film charts the search by Douglas Percy Cannings DFM for his wartime crewmates. Percy, as he prefers to be known, is the father of a friend of mine and on 11th September, the day of the screening, he celebrated his 90th birthday.

 

Percy Cannings on his 90th birthday.
Source: The Kinema in the Woods.

 

Percy served in the RAF during World War II as a mid-upper gunner in Lancaster bombers. He completed two tours: the first with 100 squadron and the second with 97 squadron, the latter being part of the Pathfinder Force. The Pathfinders’ job was to locate and mark targets using flares at which the main bomber force could then aim so increasing the accuracy of their bombing.

 

Before the screening of the film Sean Taylor gave a talk about “A day in the life of a Bomber Command Lancaster Crew”. Sean is the Safety Officer and guide at the Aviation Heritage Centre in East Kirkby, Lincolnshire. Listening to the talk gave us a better understanding of just how remarkable it is that Percy survived the war especially when you consider that he flew 47 missions!

 

 

The film was made by Percy’s family and was poignant and moving. As each of his crewmates were researched and traced more and more moving stories were told, families were brought together, and the departed remembered. Their stories, along with the stories of all who served, must not be forgotten and I’m so proud to have been able to share in what was a truly wonderful day.

 

After the film had been screened one of only two Lancasters still flying (the other is in Canada) flew over the Kinema. The RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight very kindly agreed to the flypast and performed three passes each at a height of approximately 200 metres. The noise was incredible and she was so low she unexpectedly set off several car alarms. It was a very fitting tribute to a quite remarkable man.

 

If questioned about his bravery and courage Percy will undoubtedly shrug his shoulders and say something about just doing his job. But to me and to all who have had the privilege of meeting him he is a hero; someone who put his life on the line 47 times so that we might be free.

 

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 20 Aug 1940.

A trailer for the documentary can be viewed here:

 

Sandy blogged about her dad back in 2010:

I’m so proud of my Dad

and you can read more about Finding the Pathfinders by visiting Ermine Street Project’s blog here.

 
I think the following quote is true of so many people, especially those who were prepared to give the ultimate sacrifice.

 

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act 2, Sc. 5.

 


 

The Oxford English Dictionary cites courage as “the ability to do something that frightens one; bravery.” Courage is something that can desert the best of us and at the most inconvenient moments. It’s not a tangible thing; there’s no tablet you can swallow to take away your fear. Courage is something you have to find for yourself.

 

If I’ve learned one thing this week it’s that I have courage and that I can screw that courage to a sticking place and know that it won’t fail me. I can think of all those other people who’ve screwed their own courage to a sticking place and faced their fears and I can take strength from that.

 

I know that my fears pale in comparison to the others I’ve mentioned here but they are no less real. I know I can now breathe steadily and still my shaking hands and do what needs to be done. And, I will remember

 

But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we’ll not fail.”

William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 1, Sc. 7.

 

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