When I moved to Newbury Racecourse two years ago having lived in Basingstoke for some forty years little did I know then what an added benefit it would be for me in the past months during ‘Lockdown’.
With an uninterrupted view overlooking the racecourse it’s a constantly changing landscape from early morning sunrise and mists to late evening sunsets and all the weather in between that I can see advancing over fives miles away from Beacon Hill direction – even where the rainbow finishes – no pot of gold though!
Breakfast time normally brings the daily flypast of geese in ‘V’ formation and a small family of deer grazing in the middle of the racecourse. Later in the day sees a variety of birds especially numerous red kites that rise on the thermals and circle without even moving their wings – some evenings the odd fox running down the racecourse – maybe I should place a bet as he always wins!
Now that some restrictions have been lifted and horse racing has resumed ‘behind closed doors’ I can enjoy my own private view of the races!
Newbury Racecourse have held a few ‘Pub in the Paddock’ events with plenty of outdoor tables and spacing with sporting events on the big screen – yes I have participated and enjoyed a few pints while watching the sports.
Recently they have held ‘drive in’ karaoke and theatre events in the middle of the racecourse to help improve their income. Around the racecourse there is always maintenance being carried out from grass cutting to watering the complete track as required.
One unusual sight this year has been in the middle of the course where the grass has been allowed to grow and a few weekends ago cut and made into bales of hay and then wrapped in plastic for storage – another source of income in these unusual times.
So although ‘Lockdown’ has meant I have spent a considerable amount of time in my apartment there is always a changing view and I have enjoyed my time sitting on my balcony watching the wildlife, eating and sometimes having a G & T or a glass of wine –
life can be tough sometimes but I’m coping in the circumstances and hope we can all meet up again soon when it’s safe to do so.
This summer is the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain when Churchill said “Never in the field of human conflict was so much was owed by so many to so few.” Most of the Spitfire and Hurricane pilots were very young men who themselves asked how they should live if you are twenty and will be dead by the end of summer.
Today the Probus Club of Basingstoke has several members who were “regulars” in the RAF. We have a Wing Commander, two Squadron Leaders, a Flight Lieutenant and Flight Sergeant and in previous years we have had two Group Captains. While the father of one of the current ex-RAF members was a Spitfire pilot during the early part of the war, none of the present day members are old enough to have served at that time although many of our mostly civilian members class themselves as War Babies and do have war time memories.
The presence of RAF Odiham does have a part to play on why some of these members live in Basingstoke following retirement. Although Odiham played a significant role during the war with a wide variety of aircraft types there were three airfields in Hampshire that operated Spitfire and Hurricane squadrons that contributed their efforts during the Battle of Britain. These were Boscombe Down (56 and 249 Squadrons Hurricanes) Middle Wallop (609 Squadron Spitfires and 238 Squadron Hurricanes) and Lee on Solent that was used by many RAF Spitfire and Hurricane squadrons during the Battle of Britain.
Today, one of these veterans is the Armed Forces Champion of Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council, and supports the local government in its covenant with all branches of the military, another was involved at a memorial service in Westminster Abbey when he was the usher to the chairman of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association and afterwards accompanied him to St James’ Palace for a reception with Prince Charles, a third joined the Queen’s Helicopter flight receiving a personal decoration from Her Majesty, the fourth was deeply involved in bomb disposal, and the most senior was involved with delta wing Avro Vulcans during the Cold War. All of them have been part of the array of interesting speakers at the usual monthly Probus Club lunch meetings.
10 July 1940 was the start of this first decisive battle in history fought entirely in the air. It is poignant that eighty years to the day was the funeral of forces’ sweetheart, Dame Vera Lynn and there was a fly-past of two Spitfires over her home. Both of these iconic planes were spotted over Basingstoke flying abreast back to their bases at Duxford and RAF Conningsby.
But what of the majority of members who either did their National Service or were just too young to be called up? They had busy lives in industry, commerce, medicine, law and science in the locality and overseas. They now have a fulfilling retirement helped by their membership of the Probus Club. Some are keeping fit by trying to do their 10,000 steps a day, others pleased to get back on the golf course and one keenly looking forward to being a cricket umpire. Others may be less energetic but have kept their minds active with other hobbies. Not for them the problem faced by many being on furlough with an increasing waistline but by not dining out so often has had a positive effect on their wallets. Photos were kindly supplied by Chris Perkins MVO (Badge and P/O Peter Watson) and the two images of planes from Paul Miller.
The publicity achieved in the July editions of the local magazines can be seen below. The Rabbiter, Kempshott Kourier and the Bramley magazines continued with their conventionally printed A4 size publications albeit with reduced pagination. Despite providing copy to the returning Villager magazine we did not appear – the editor has a great love of white space otherwise it cannot be said that there was not enough room for our report. Likewise, we did not appear in the Loddon Valley Link, Basinga (not even in their Extra – online version) or in the online Popley Matters.
We did feature in the quarterly A5 size Brighton Bell and Winklebury Way magazines. You will notice a close similarity in these publications and the reason being is that the same person is editor of both magazines – Andy McCormick, who is the leader of the Labour group of councillors at Basingstoke & Deane BC.
We featured in the Chineham Chat blog pages and they are planning the return of their printed version in August, as is the Link (Oakley) although they have changed their position in now planning a free issue to all households. This, so the editor claims, means reduced pagination, which she has warned may mean that they will not have space for our Probus reports. Popley Matters are considering their future as unless they obtain enough advertisements to cover the printing costs then they may remain purely a digital online publication.
Bearing mind that August means that the Rabbiter, Bramley and Villager do not publish means that we shall not have our usual coverage.
Shortly after football came back on TV, with empty terraces but with crowd noise, one Sunday afternoon I happened to see Nottingham Forest versus Huddersfield Town. Being from the Nottingham area I was pleased Forest won 3 : 1. While watching the game my mind wandered back to the time I played on that ground. In those days, in the mid-1950s, the City ground, as it is known, had a much smaller capacity. Although Forest won the FA cup in 1959 the glory days of winning the European Cup twice under Brian Clough and Peter Taylor lay many years ahead. One thing I do remember is that the only thing that separated the fans from the pitch was a low white wall.
At Meadow Lane, the home of Notts County, on whose pitch I also played that same year, it only had a wooden picket fence. The days of Health and Safety regulations were very far in the future.
Was I a budding football star in the making? Certainly not. My ancient grammar school played rugby (we used to call it rugger) and, except for Eton Fives and cricket, a round ball was not even permitted on the school grounds. So what was I doing playing on both of Nottingham’s famous football grounds?
I was in the band that played at half time. This was not any band but the Bugle Band Champions of the Nottingham Battalion of the Boys’ Brigade. And I was a proud bugler.
In those days whenever the Boys’ Brigade, affectionately known as the BB, went on a church parade the local populace of my town of Beeston, a short way from Nottingham, would come out of their houses to watch as the band led the company of over 120 boys. I was desperate to join and managed to gain entrance before the correct admission age of twelve, helped by the fact that my mother’s uncle was deputy captain.
I didn’t know then how the 17th Nottingham (Beeston) Company of the Boys’ Brigade would have a major influence on the rest of my life.
Having its own substantial premises the Beeston Lads’ Club had been founded by a local industrialist in memory of his son killed in WW1. Unlike most Boys’ Brigade companies ours was not affiliated to a specific church. With a fulltime warden, an ex-Grenadier Guards officer, always known as “Skip”, the building had both junior and senior games rooms with snooker and table tennis, a gymnasium, drill hall with stage used for sell-out pantomimes and upstairs there were craft rooms to teach Morse code, Semaphore and First Aid. There was a Bible Class room used for morning service on those Sundays we did not go on a church parade.
Open five weeknights I headed there after finishing my school “prep”, joining several classes which required commitment as badges were only awarded after two or even three years of application. And not only that, the benefactors had presented the club with its own sports field for football and cricket. The Scouts and Sea Scouts, who had their own boat on the River Trent, just could not compete, especially with not having a band.
Repeating the success of being Bugle Band Champions I was also a member of the drill squad that became Battalion champions which resulted in me becoming a member of our Colour Party. By now I had gained various promotions, was a sergeant, and had recently been awarded the Queen’s Badge. This highest honour then gained me my position as a management trainee with a large and famous printing company in the city. I didn’t know at the final interview that the managing director was the President of the Nottingham Battalion of the BB.
And that commercial printing company had involvement with just about every other industry in the country. Consequently, the graphic arts kept my interest for the next forty-nine years. Over this time, working in various parts of the country meant my three children were all born in different counties. My last position as a salaried employee, with a grand title, took me around the world three times but it came to a shuddering halt with a world financial crisis in 1992/3. I arrived in Basingstoke for the last twelve years of my working life, as the owner of my small business, Kall Kwik Printing, which stood at the corner of Winchester Street and New Street.
But the interest in all industrial and commercial undertakings was maintained because there were very few businesses in Basingstoke, and also the great and good, that we did not have some relationship with over the years. And none of it would have happened if I was not the holder of the Queen’s Badge in the Boys’ Brigade.
There is no doubt that anyone who knows Geoff Twine, who was Probus President 2008/9, is also aware that he was in uniform for many adult years. Probus members of a certain number of service years heard the remarkable story he told at one of our meetings some time ago about the three years he spent in the depths of a slate quarry in north Wales where, as member of the RAF Bomb Disposal Unit, he was literally defusing and disposing of thousands of bombs that were stored there after WW2.
Perhaps being in uniform has always had a fascination for Geoff because it has emerged that when he was ten years old he joined the 1st Southbourne Sea Scouts. His family ran a farm close to Chichester so the sea was commonplace to him as were boats. At the time it was 1942 and due to wartime security measures private citizens were barred from using their pleasure craft – but not the Sea Scouts whose headquarters were adjacent to Chichester harbour. Because his Sea Scout group were affiliated to the Admiralty at Portsmouth not only did they row or sail most weekends using a selection of boats but the Admiralty gave them a whaler for competitive activities in Portsmouth Harbour.
With the adjacent RAF Thorney Island home to various wartime aircraft there were occasions when disasters occurred and the Sea Scouts could leap into action in rescue bids trying to save stricken aircrew from Printsted Harbour. A Wellington bomber taking off northbound was cut in two by a Mosquito flying east to west. The rear gunner and his turret fell into the mud but although two members of Geoff’s Sea Scouts, only 14 or 15 at the time, waded out to attempt a rescue, unfortunately, the crewman was dead.
Another occasion was when an RAF Beverley crashed into the sea short of the runway at RAF Thorney Island. A fellow Sea Scout used his father’s boat and saved a number of the crew for which a special thank you parade was held for him
Geoff made his own canoe which saw him load it up with camping gear and paddle from Itchenor to Birdham Lock and then hike to Wittering for an overnight camp and then reverse the journey the following day. As a fourteen-year-old, it was expected then that such solo adventures were needed as markers on the path to becoming a Senior Scout.
It was as a fifteen years old Senior Scout that in 1947 Geoff attended the first post-war international Scout Jamboree at Sens in France. Still memorable was the devastation caused during the war that had ceased only two years earlier. Geoff still has his identity badge issued for the Jamboree together with many other badges swapped with Scouts from other countries.
After the Jamboree Geoff seemed to lose his enthusiasm for Scouting, but that may be because he discovered girls. And anyway, National Service was approaching and a lengthy career in the RAF became a chosen path with some experiences that could form a story for another day.