May 5 2012
If it's Saturday it must be ...


Hello dear Friends from the historic Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth. Today we have the special treat of boarding MGB81 - a Motor Gun Boat - the last operational MGB from WW2 (although she is up in dry dock for some repairs at the moment). We have the great honor of accompanying John Squires, one of the original crew members of MGB503, and the family of Andrew Smith, who both helped rescue Robert Sweatt and a score of other allied airmen off a beach in Brittany in 1944.

It's in the 40's here today, cloudy, with a fine drizzle, and my jeans have just dried out. I've had to wash them in the sink to get out the vestiges of mud picked up when Charley and I decided to walk out to the now derelict old fort in Gravesend-Shornemead where he was a prisoner of war in 1946-7. Along the way we tried to find the house of a family who treated him as a son while he was he here, when he would break out of the enclosure and visit with the local people.

Unfortunately, their house is now gone, and its location can only be reached through a long hike through a nature preserve/firing range (interesting combination). We almost turned back after enduring about an hour of wet cold wind filled with peppershot pellets of rain but a random jogger encouraged us to keep going.

Finally, we found the spot, and then headed towards the fort, which had lost everything over the years but its outer shell. All the same, Charley was delighted to arrive and see it again. When we walked along the seawall on the Thames back to the car we sunk in mud to our ankles. Although it must have been 5-6 cold, wet, uncomfortable, muddy miles, Charley was so grateful to have the chance to visit the sites. We agreed that neither of us would have done that on our own, but the comradeship made it work.

Monday we had sun for our visit to Hethel air field (now a Lotus Cars test track), where Fred Squires showed us around his exhibit of 389th Bomb Group memorablia and the former chapel. A representative from Lotus let us climb up the control tower (now a staging area for photographers) for a spectacular view of the former field. After our tours we headed into Norwich to find the pubs Bob Sweatt frequented while an airman here (they are still, of course, pubs. It's only been 69 years!)

Tuesday we had a lovely drive around the countryside in Norwich until we found the estate of Ken Wallis, a British bomber pilot of WW2 and inventor of the autogiro plane. He's 96 and still flies his autogiros around when the weather is fine. Ken is a phenomenally interesting man who survived losing several planes - parachuting out on one occasion when he and his crew couldn't land due to fog, running into a British barrage balloon and subsequently crash landing on another. We probably could have stayed several days and just scratched the surface with Ken.

While working our way south, we then interviewed Major John Semken on Wednesday. The major, also in his 90's, is a Military Cross holder and Sherwood Ranger who served from Palestine before the start of war through D-Day, Holland, and breaching the Siegfried Line.

Never a dull moment and I'm sorry I must go - next: Bournemouth and dinner with some Sherwood Rangers and then Tuesday on to the Bovington Tank Museum.



<Begin      Next>