Another Hooptedoodle - three on the bounce is normally a sign of something or other. On this occasion, it's because life is a little upside-down at the moment with my son's school exams - not a great deal of upheaval for me, since the Contesse is doing the organising and transport, but I have had a few days on my own at home. I've taken the opportunity to make decent progress with prepping more soldiers for the French Refurb, but I am reluctant to post yet more photos of bare-metal Les Higgins figures and the pervading mess. I could, of course, just keep quiet for a few days, but that could set a very dangerous precedent.
Yesterday I was reading about an incident I saw - or at which I was present, I suppose - when I was a small boy. On Whit Monday, May 21st 1956, I was taken by "Uncle" Duggie - a family friend - to the air show at Speke. Duggie was a Liverpool police officer, he was ex-RAF (he had been a middleweight boxing champion in the RAF) and he had more brass neck than you would believe, so he was an ideal man for taking you around - he seemed to know just about everybody, and he was quite happy to walk into areas which were supposed to be off-limits to the public.
|Valentin demonstrating some of his later wings, suspended from a scaffold. If anyone thinks this looks like a bad idea, please put up your hand. [This set-up was a pose for photos, one of which subsequently appeared on the cover of his book]|
Liverpool airport is at Speke, which then was outside the south end of the city. I remember being parched with thirst - no-one carried water in those days, for some reason, and queuing for a cup of industrial tea didn't seem such a great idea. I also remember that it was very hard to see much. If you were a small person, it wasn't a straightforward matter to see the sky between the adults. Valentin's flight was delayed - when he eventually made an attempt it was in a period when the crowd had started to wander around the airfield, and the events, which certainly did not last long, almost appeared incidental - many of those present must actually have been unaware of it. Valentin's approach run (with a new, larger style of wing, ferried up in a DC3) was pretty much unnoticeable (we couldn't hear the commentator anyway), his exit from the plane went wrong, he damaged one of his wings in the doorway, and I got a very brief glimpse (between adults) of Valentin, wrapped in his parachute, falling to the ground, maybe a mile away. There was a bit of a collective gasp, but a great many people around me never noticed.
A strange atmosphere fell over the place. It was one of those "nothing to see here, move along please" moments - the organisers obviously had to allow a slight gap for emergency reaction, but the show must go on. It was only when I got home (via the 82 bus) that I realised what had happened. I had simply assumed that Valentin wasn't flying today. In fact his emergency chute had failed, and he'd fallen 9000 feet into a cornfield, at Halewood. He was, of course, as dead as a door-nail. For some reason the local paper made a big fuss about the fact that his watch was still working. Someone missed an advertising opportunity there. Here's a nice little, rather homespun, video clip, to which I link with humble thanks and no permission.
Valentin had been a war hero, and was given a fancy military funeral in France - none of this reached the UK press. As far as I was concerned, he was really just another example of a common phenomenon of the times - you queued for hours to see something, and then nothing happened. Well, not for me - obviously things must have been a bit intense for him.
|I believe this is the actual Beverley, at actual Speke, on the actual day [actually]. I am not on board - not bloody likely.|
|When there was no airshow, the spectator gallery on the roof at Speke was quite a popular attraction. I went a couple of times - it was very windy up there, and there weren't many planes to look at, I can tell you. What a miserable beggar I was!|