Why I am what I am (3)


I have always had a soft spot for the RAF because Fred was in the RAF and he talked about it a lot.

I have alway been fascinated by aircraft because Fred liked aircraft, ever since one of Sir Alan Cobham’s finest landed in Startin’s Field at the back of his house.

Fred always admired the Spitfire as the aircraft that saved England……

And he always said that the Wellington was “a reliable old crate”……

But he always reserved his most emotional words for the Avro Lancaster. “It would always get you back home, no matter what”, which wasn’t strictly 100% true, but it gave him sufficient faith to get into the aircraft in the first place……


I have always tried to do my duty and to carry out all of my obligations. This is probably connected with Fred’s belief that there were two types of men in the world. One kind was the fighter pilot who was mercurial and brilliant, but occasionally capable of great inconsistency.

In contrast, the bomber pilot was always dependable like some kind of stolid, courageous bus driver, who could always be relied on to deliver the goods, in considerable quantity, to the right place at the right time.

When I was young, I as always very upset when I was told  that I was the bomber pilot type. I always felt that Fred was saying that I lacked flair and imagination, that I was boring and that I was incapable of the type of success which is spectacular and excites people. Only in later years did I realise how from Fred’s point of view the bomber pilot was exactly what you needed. As one author has put it, the relationship between the bomber pilot and the wireless operator was that “his fate was my fate”. At least nineteen times, therefore, Fred entrusted his very life to a bomber pilot, and then had this faith rewarded by not becoming one of the 55,573 Bomber Command casualties…..

As a negative, I have always been partial to a drink, because Fred always used to have a drink when he wanted to. With his PTSD, though, he had a much better excuse than me.

Another negative related to this is my own great anxiety in the face of any future event or, especially, a journey to somewhere unfamiliar. Fred had exactly the same problems. In his case, I suspect that he still had that old fear of getting into his bomber and facing the possibility of an imminent and violent death.

I always felt great anxiety about being sacked from my job because Fred  always had the exact same fear. That was because he worked for a clay mining company before the war, and they did not hesitate to sack people. “One strike, and you’re out!” as you might say. Here’s Fred at Ensor’s, with the rest of the workforce. It’s around 1937…..

I have very little self-confidence because Fred was always very keen that I should never stand out from the common herd. He therefore prevented me from getting big headed by criticising whatever I did and at best giving it minimal praise. He would say “Never stand out. Never be different” because that was what the upper echelons of the RAF hierarchy wanted to happen. Unfortunately, to succeed, you need to stand out, and you will have to be different to do that.

Fred always used to watch out for me coming home if ever I was late. He would lean over the front gate as if by accident or coincidence. I absolutely hated it, and I could cheerfully have shot him. I hated the idea of being controlled. Now I have my own daughter, and although my methods have always been, I hope, a little bit more subtle, I have always done pretty much the same thing. Still, worrying about your child is better than just not bothering where they get to.

When I was a little boy, Fred took me to a local medieval church where I could see where Robin Hood used to sharpen the tips of his arrows on the stones of the back wall. I now live in Sherwood in Nottingham. Less than half a mile away is an ancient ford over a stream. This site has been seriously suggested in at least one book as the location of Robin Hood’s camp.

The local medieval church was St Michael with St Mary’s in Melbourne, Derbyshire. ……….

Some of the grooves for Robin Hood and his Merry Men’s arrowheads are visible in the bottom right of the picture. The church is Norman as is shown by the shape of the arch and the many concentric rings of decoration around the top of the door……..

The columns are stout and broad, just like Durham Cathedral, and the arches similarly rounded, not pointed. Notice the Australian flag which commemorates the links between Melbourne in England and Melbourne in Australia……

And finslly, as I slowly but surely morph into my own father, I have started telling the same old stories over and over again, just like Fred did.


Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, my Dad, My House, Nottingham, Personal

30 responses to “Why I am what I am (3)

  1. GP

    As much as we might try to be different from our parents, we learn later on what motivated them and we are happy to discover we have become more like them than we ever knew. (did I make any sense there?)

    • Of course you did. I think that most people, as they grow older, begin to understand why their parents did what they did, and what motivated them. And then they realise that they will have to act in more or less the same way, because their own problems are pretty much the same as the ones their parents faced.

  2. John, I imagine that this must be a liberating experience to acknowledge that you’ve become more like your father than you’d previously imagined. Whatever his flaws, he strikes me as a good man and father.

    • Yes, he was a good man and father. He would never see you penniless when he had a spare five pound note in his pocket. He would go out of his way to show you new things and places, and I realise now just how hard he tried to be a decent father……. within the context of a wage packet as a teacher which was, especially in the early 1960s, less money than the school caretaker/janitor used to receive.

  3. I’ve always thought the Spitfire was an elegant fighter – certainly did it’s job well.

    • You are 100% right, Andrew. For me, it is the most beautiful aircraft ever built. I think that you can look at it from any angle and it always, always, looks wonderful. And it flew like a dream, especially when it first appeared and served in the RAF alongside a selection of biplanes, all made from bits of stick, lengths of rope and old cardboard.
      The P-51 and the F-86 may push it close, but it will always be the Spitfire for me.
      (Initially, it was goinjg to be the Supermarine Shrew, but they changed it !)

  4. Your post is making me think about what I have inherited from my parents. Thank you for a very interesting post. What does your daughter feel about your parenting methods?

    • I’m glad you enjoyed my post, Lakshmi. It does all of us good to think occasionally where we come from and why we are what we are.
      My daughter is in her mid-thirties and she seems to vote with her feet. Every day, she zooms my wife and myself and we spend, usually, around an hour talking about things. She comes to see us for a few hours one day every week. In return, we offer her free advice, interest free loans and hugs when things don’t go right for her.
      As far as I can see, therefore, she is happy with our parenting methods.

  5. A wonderful post John. Well done.

    • Thank you, Andrew. I was always conscious of the fact that my Dad had his faults, but I realise now that he could have done things a lot worse. Most of all, he was never mean for its own sake. Sometimes, on wages of £6 a week in the early sixties, he could do nothing other than be mean, but in the late sixties, he was willing to shell out £28 for an eight volume set of encyclopedias. He couldn’t really afford it, but he could see that I was a keen A-level student, and once he had established with me that “If I buy these books for you, you’ve got to read them. You do understand that, don’t you?” he did not hesitiate to back me with his cash. He even paid out, in 1969, £120 for me to go to the Soviet Union for ten days, which was an enormous sum at the time.
      I like to think that, over the years, I have never really let him down.

      • And I am certain that you haven’t John.
        My dad was very similar, thrifty but never mean.
        At his work there was a tradition to buy cakes for birthdays. Dad never ate his cakes he always brought them home for mum.

  6. Our parents traits, whether good or bad, must surely mould us into who we are today. It’s been an interesting and honest series of posts about your fathers influence over you John. I’m sure he’d be proud of you and what you achieved with your life.

    • I certainly hope that my Dad looks down occasionally and approves of what choices I have made. To be honest, once he had a grandchild, she took all of his attention. He absolutely doted on her and she heard lots and lots of stories about his time with the RAF, most of them ones that I had never heard. Perhaps now that it was fifty years since he left the RAF, he thought it was OK to reveal things which at the time had been top secret.

  7. Chris Waller

    A very poignant post. Having just entered my eighth decade I find myself reflecting more and more on the past. I was never close to my dad – we were just very different people. But, like your dad, he had a sense of duty and did what he believed was for the best. He was, like your dad, like all of us, a product of our respective times and circumstances. Similarly, there were aspects of his behaviour that infuriated the younger me but I understand now his anxieties. My own reasons for having never married nor had children are complex but the fear of the irretrievable loss of a loved one is one factor. Our generation has had the great good fortune not to have to endure a war, and that was the great chasm of experience that stood between me and my parents. But in the end I hope I have absorbed some of my dad’s better qualities.

    • Of course you did, Chris!
      I agree with practically everything you say.
      My Dad, like yours, was a product of his own times, and he certainly “did what he believed was for the best”.
      I would say, though, that he took a little bit too much notice of the way that the RAF conducted their affairs and even brought it into his family life on occasion. Even then, I can understand that. He joined up without ever having been anywhere except Blackpool for a week once a year. What view of th world would anybody have after spending their earliest years in such a tiny, limited, world?

  8. Your reference to grooves at local churches piqued my memory of a blog post on that topic. You might be very interested in Triskele Heritage’s discussion of “Arrow Stones” at https://triskeleheritage.triskelepublishing.com/mediaeval-mythbusting-blog-10-arrow-stones/.

    • Thank you very much for that. A lot of ancient churches had these grooves because by law all men had to practice the longbow, and the custom was to do it straight after Sunday morning services.

      • From your reply, I take it that you did not follow the link that I sent.

      • I did follow the link, but after I had written my thanks to you for sending me the link, rather than commenting on its quality. Personally, I don’t really agree with the author, although I recognise that after the best part of a thousand years, nobody will ever know for certain.

      • History is always interesting.

      • Yes, indeed, and it changes from age to age, perhaps as new archives are discovered or new scientific instruments are invented to analyse archaeological sites for us.
        Stonehenge is undoubtedly an unsolved mystery, and one of the books on sale in the giftshop contained the foreword, “Every age has the Stonehenge it deserves”. Such continual changes of opinion are the things that attract us to the subject.

      • I think we live in a wonderful time. With the increasing digitization of original documents, we have access to the past that we’ve never had. As a family history researcher, I sometimes find that information handed down over the years has no basis in fact. One client had a story in her family that land her great grandmother had homesteaded in Wyoming had been “stolen” by a neighbor. Digitized newspapers, deeds and tax documents revealed however that her great grandmother, unable to make a go of it, abandoned the property. Over ten years later, a neighboring landowner bought the property for back taxes. That was hard for the family to accept since they were so invested in an alternate history. They eventually decided that the original documents told the “real” story even though they didn’t like it.

      • Yes, indeed. I often wonder which of sometimes many truths is the real one and whether it will ever come to be the widely accepted explanation. I’ve just watched a TV programme about the Titanic where newly discovered photographs from the ship builders’ archives reveal that the Titanic most probably sank because of a fire which had raged in one of its enormous coal bunkers since the vessel left Belfast. The shipping company ignored it, but it would have weakened the steel in the exact place that the iceberg struck. It all seemed so very plausible and well known experts were all hailing a major breakthrough, but whether it will be widely accepted remains to be seen.

      • Such programs, to my mind, are similar to conspiracy theories. They contain a modicum of truth but can never be proved. Unfortunately, we have too many people in the world who see such as irrefutable truth.

      • That’s certainly true. I cannot believe sometimes the rubbish that some people find on the internet and then believe as the gospel truth. All that can be proved about the Titanic fire are the letters about it held at Harland and Wolff and statements made by the sailors who left the ship at Southampton and Cherbourg because they thought it was too dangerous to continue. Photographs also show discolouration and apparent buckling of some of the plates on the side of the ship where the iceberg would eventually do all the damage.

      • Was there any discussion of what the plan was to do with the fire after arrival in the U.S.?

  9. Not as far as the programme said. They were concentrating on the fact that the captain knew that they were fast running out of coal, and that was the reason that, contrary to specific orders, he was heading at top speed for New York, despite the fact that they were in an ice field.
    What convinced me that there was something in this was the fact that the new evidence was shown to people who had written books about the disaster, and they were enthusiastic that the evidence was genuine.

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