A Hawker Hurricane and a Pilgrimage.
A Hawker Hurricane and a Pilgrimage.
There’s a place north of London that is special to me for many reasons. I first visited there decades ago but have returned time and again. It was the airfield where I launched my first book, “Down to Earth”, and I even spent time there on our honeymoon. Yes – our honeymoon. It is a village in Cambridgeshire known as Duxford and it is home to a World War Two airfield of great significance.
At the height of the Battle of Britain, Spitfires took to the skies over England to ward off the German foe. Today, the Imperial War Museum calls Duxford one of its many homes and the array of aircraft is astounding. Consequently, when I recently found myself in London for 52 hours, there was no doubt that I would make the trek northward once again. It was a short layover and the temperature was -2 degrees Celsius as I made my way to London Bridge rail station but that didn’t dampen my anticipation.
On previous visits Kirrily and I had sat on the flight deck of the Concorde and listened to the soothing sigh of myriad Merlin engines overhead as Spitfires, Hurricanes and Mustangs cast their shadows below. Still, one of the most moving memories is when I launched “Down to Earth”…and not because it was my first published book. Rather it was the esteemed company with whom I sat. Among the long line of World War Two pilots signing books, I felt out of place – an imposter. And yet, a finer group of gentlemen you would never meet – polite, humble and generous with their time. They made me feel most welcome, although sadly they have now all passed.
My book told the story of one such pilot, Squadron Leader Kenneth McGlashan, or as I came to know him, “Mac”. Mac had flown in the Battle of Britain, in support of the raid on Dieppe and on a clandestine mission the night before the D-Day landings. Even so, it was the tale of being shot down over Dunkirk that was of particular interest as his Hawker Hurricane P2902 had been recovered from the French Sands in 1988 and begun a journey to restoration. The story had been covered by Robert Penfold at the time and highlighted the reunion of Mac with his aircraft, although at that time I had no idea that the tale would play such a significant role in my life.
The original owner after the recovery was Rick Roberts, who commenced the restoration and registered the aircraft G-ROBT. I visited Rick and stayed at his home where his occasional neighbours included Phil Collins and Robbie Williams. I was fortunate to sit in Mac’s former fighter and received reams of research material regarding the aeroplane. In time, the Hurricane found its way to the incredible workshops of Hawker Restorations and a new owner and ultimately made its first flight since 1940 in June 2017.
It would be a further six years before I found myself on a northbound train through England’s green and pleasant lands and entering the Imperial War Museum at Duxford. In conversation with one of the very helpful volunteers, I discussed the two folders of research material that I had relating to the Hurricane that was currently in residence at Duxford. This led me to being introduced to Graham Rodgers and the rare opportunity to see P2902 from beyond the barriers, as the aircraft was tucked away in the corner of one of the very full hangars at Duxford.
As I approached Mac’s former steed, I gazed at the cockpit an imagined him strapped in there, helmet on and goggles atop his forehead – a small detail that played a part when he was shot down. The aircraft was immaculate with its paint scheme and markings down to the finest detail, albeit that much of the airframe has been manufactured in recent times. Even so, I pondered the chance meeting with Mac that led to the book. The hours of interviews with a small tape recorder and a hot cup of tea. Recordings that found their way to the written word and a journey and friendship that far outlasted the publication of the book. In fact, Mac didn’t live to see the publication of his story, although his wife Doreen made it to Duxford to see the book come to life. For some years after, I would visit Doreen, usually finding her in her front sunroom with a newspaper spread out across the table.
Writing has become such a huge part of my life. And while it may have begun with small articles in industry journals that grew into published pieces in global magazines, it was that first book, “Down to Earth” that remains special to me to this day. Forever bonded to that passion is a small single-seat fighter, camouflaged and with DX-R, emblazoned on its flanks. To be in its presence and relive the memories that are inextricably tied to that book was more than just a visit to a museum – it was a pilgrimage.