Tales from the slightly blunt end…. Part One

Well, only a couple more days until the redundancy letters get issued and then I find out my future. Do I get to keep the job I love but have to keep commuting at weekends, or do I get to live with my wonderful husband full-time and decide what I actually want to do when I have to actually get a real job? I still can’t second guess the decision either way, all I know is that there is an envelope with my name on it sat in a secure location, waiting for me to open it during an interview with the boss on Tuesday. Whatever the result, whatever the letter says, I hope the Wing Commander has a box of tissues handy as I’m pretty sure I’ll be in floods of tears!

Now I’m potentially looking at the end of my RAF career, I thought I’d have a look back at one of my most enjoyable postings, when I was the Command Photographer for Personnel and Training Command (now amalgamated with Strike Command to form the new Air Command), based out of RAF Innsworth, near Cheltenham. A brief explanation of Headquarters Personnel and Training Command (HQPTC) is on Wikipedia here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Personnel_and_Training_Command but in a nutshell it dealt with personnel administration and training, and I was privileged enough to be the main photographer for the Command from March 2003 until I went to the Falklands in September 2005.

During my posting there I was fortunate enough to get involved with photographing some pretty high profile events, and I’d like to go through a couple of the more memorable ones here, along with some of my favourite images taken during my time there. All of the images shown here are taken by me, and are Crown Copyright.

A day out at the Palace: I was asked to go along to Buckingham Palace with one of the reporters from the RAF News, to take photos at an Honours and Awards ceremony, where a number of RAF personnel were to receive decorations from The Queen, including these two pilots pictured below. I can’t remember exactly why they received their Distinguished Flying Crosses, it was to do with their work in Iraq, but I really like this picture, I thought I’d try something a bit different from the usual shot, and it worked really well. It was a good day out, it felt quite funny walking in through the gates at the front of the Palace, all togged up in my Number 1 “best blues” uniform, and strolling across and into the palace, with all the tourists taking photos of me!!

Ypres Retro Rally: I went to Ypres in Belgium for a couple of days with the RAF Motorsports team to cover their participation in an endurance rally around the windy roads, It’s a truly historic route, taking the cars around a lot of the war cemeteries containing those who didn’t make it home after the First World War. Pictured below is one of the drivers reflected in his wing mirror, and the Cloth Hall in Ypres (Ieper), which was totally destroyed by artillery fire in the Great War and rebuilt exactly as it had been, a stunning building. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloth_Hall,_Ypres

Warby: If you’ve read my blog post about Wing Commander Adrian Warburton https://rafphotog.wordpress.com/2011/12/11/sunday-afternoon-black-and-white-films-perfick/ you’ll know all about this guy, if you’ve not read it, please do as it’s quite a story and too much for me to write here! But we worked on the task, researching it and meeting those who knew him, for a fair few months before the reburial, these photos are some of the many that I took over the whole duration of the events.

Royal Air Force Association Annual Conference: I attended this event along with one the RAF Photographer who was the main MoD Photographer, covering both the conference and the parade and drumhead service on the seafront at Bournemouth.

Inter-services Tennis Championships: The year I covered this event it was held at All England Lawn Tennis Club Wimbledon, and at the same time they were also filming the movie “Wimbledon, the one with Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst, which was quite interesting to watch, peeking over the top of the wall between courts number 2 and 3!

Microlight Champion: A Wing Commander based at RAF Innsworth had been crowned the World Microlight Champion so I got a chance to go flying with one of his friends in order to take some air-to-air photos of the World Champion flying over Gloucester Cathedral. I was quite surprised at how safe I felt and it turned out to be a pretty good aerial photographic platform as there were no windows to deal with!

Reunited with the Wreckage of his Spitfire: In 1944 Leonard Williams had to bail out of his damaged spitfire over the Italian town of Montemurlo, where he landed in a (friendly) farmers field and was looked after before being collected and returned to his base. In 2002 the wreckage of the aircraft was unearthed, and then 59 years after the crash he was taken back to Italy where he was shown the wreckage. He also returned to the farm where he landed and was introduced to the daughter of the farmer who looked after him. She was about 6 at the time and had always told the tale of the “man who fell from the sky” which had become something of a local legend in the town. Leonard and his family also found themselves subject to a lot of local media interest and were hosted with a civic reception of around 200 people. Wikipedia entry on Leonard, who after his RAF career went on to become the Managing Director of the Nationwide Building Society! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_E._H._Williams Interestingly he told me that when he bailed out he had to turn the spitfire upside down so he could fall out (no ejector seats back then!), but his parachute pack got caught, so he had to climb back in to unhook it! Then when he did finally get out of the cockpit he actually slid along the fuselage and smashed into the tail of the spitfire breaking his legs. When he landed and was found by the farmer he forced himself to stand up through the pain and salute the farmer, who then took him into the farmhouse and fed him plenty of the local homebrew spirit to take the pain away!

Blue Peter: Liz Barker went to Linton-on-Ouse to fly backseat in a Tucano training aircraft to be filmed for an episode of Blue Peter. She was a nervous flier and I think this photo of her waiting for her flight shows it! But she did brilliantly, and loved it!

Basrah, Iraq: We went out to Iraq to do “Christmas messages” where personnel get the chance to record video messages for family back home, and we also took opportunity to cover a few more stories along the way. On the way to Iraq we spent a couple of days at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus and whilst we were there the news hit that Saddam Hussein had been captured. The Air Traffic Control Tower in Basrah Airport had used the Christmas lights sent out by the Air Traffic Control Officers mum to spell out the words “WE GOT HIM” at the top of the tower. When we got there a few days later I got them to reconfigure the lights to read RAF NEWS, to keep the RAF News boys happy!

Sweet Chariot Tour: When England won the Rugby World Cup, the Webb Ellis cup went on the “Sweet Chariot Tour” of the UK and it started off by being flown from RAF Wittering to RAF Cosford in the company of Mike Tindall (pre-royalty!) so I was lucky enough to go along and take some photos, I even managed to get one of me with the cup, although it can only be touched by players and the guy who escorted the cup, so I wasn’t allowed to hold it!

Well, I think that will do for now, later on, probably this afternoon, I’ll do part two!!!


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