Eulogy For An Airman
Royal Airforce Trainer, the famous De Havilland Tiger Moth.
Today I attended a funeral.
Welcome to Eulogy for an Airman
Today I attended the funeral of a friend, a man who I quietly admired and liked from the moment we first met around eleven years ago. At that time we were both young old men, he seventy, me seven years his junior; both retirees, men who lived the ‘seven day weekend.’ But, oh, what adventures we’d both had preceding our meeting. But this Hub is about Bryan, my buddy, so I’d like to tell you a little about him.
A RAF Argosy freigther. The heavy weight in the transportation of goods.
His father was a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. Bryan joined the RAF.
Bryan was born on 6th March 1929 in London. His father was a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps in World War One, His mother, a quiet, gentle woman who sang and was loved by her extended family. Tragedy came early. His father committed suicide when Bryan was six. His mother died just a year later. Moved from ‘pillar to post’ among various relatives, he eventually found refuge with an uncle in the town of Hastings (you know, where William the Conqueror stormed ashore with his Norman Soldiers in 1066 A.D)
The Harvard Trainer.
Hastings was right on 'Luftwaffe Alley.'
By the time he was ten World War Two was underway. The Luftwaffe were proceeding right over Hastings on their way to bomb, first British airfields prior to their intended invasion, and then London (where I happened to live) The Battle of Britain book place overhead. By 1944 the bombers had given way to the V1 ‘doodlebug’ or ‘flying bomb.’ All this action only stimulated his interest in Aviation even further. As mentioned, his father had been a pilot in the Great War. Bryan been into building model aero planes and cadging rides on aero planes since he was tiny. By the time of War’s end he knew with absolute certainty what he wanted to do: be a pilot in the Royal Air force.
A Royal Airforce Vampire Fighter.
Eulogy for an Airman.
The fact that he wasn’t of rich parents made becoming a RAF officer somewhat difficult. The fact that he was brilliant at school, made it a little easier. In 1947, at age eighteen, he enlisted in the British Air force and two years later was a Flight Sergeant.
Everything from Tiger Moths to Canberra Jet Bombers.
Bryan flew all manner of aircraft: trainers like the Tiger Moth, the odd Spitfire, then moved on to Meteor jets, Vampires and, eventually, Canberra Bombers. He also flew gliders. He not only flew aircraft, he taught others to do the same. Moreover, he was often called upon to do test flights on aircraft that had had modifications done on them. In other words, he was a test pilot. His career took him to Germany (Remember the Cold War was at its height, the Berlin Airlift had taken place only a year earlier. He then went back to England, then Scotland, then off to the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean. After that, Aden in Yemen. Lot of hush-hush, high altitude flying in Canberras. 40,000 feet – they were up there with the U2 spy planes.
Another RAF fighter - the Glouster Meteor.
He had more than one or two narrow escapes.
He had more than one or two narrow escapes, harrowing landings, like when he couldn’t get a nose wheel down, and another time when they made it back with so little fuel you could wipe the wing tanks out with a sponge there was so little aviation gas left.
A Royal Airforce Canberra Bomber.
Bryan and his young family moved to Sydney, Australia in 1967.
It was quite likely these high-level flights, plus a very dicey childhood: nearly dying of appendicitis, malnutrition and rheumatic fever as a lad, that led to his having serious health problems quite early in life. His pituitary gland gradually packed it in. From then on he could no longer pilot aircraft, but he could go out and oversee various RAF operations. So his adventures continued with airlifts in the Middle East, the African Congo and various other places. Eventually, though, he knew he’d be moved permanently to some sort of desk job. So after twenty years: 1947 -1967, as soon as he realized he could get an Air force pension as some sort of back up, he and his wife, Janet, whom he’d married in 1954, moved with their then young family to Sydney, Australia. They’d been used to moving about. Now, perhaps they could settle in one place, a new life in a new land.
The Cockpit of a Canberra. Lots of things to look out for.
Eulogy for an Airman.
Naturally, he sought employment in the Aviation Industry. So he gained employment with Hawker de Havilland where he stayed until he retired. I’m told he loved his work.
All of this is remarkable in itself. But now that he was retired he could really get into things. It was quite well known at that time that if you were a retiree there wasn’t much set up for you to keep your brain active. Bingo parlours and basket weaving seemed to be the name of the game. Either those or carpet bowls down at the club. No wonder people were going prematurely senile. Bryan, with wife, Janet, set up the Greater Western Sydney Branch of the University of the Third Age (U3A) (Third Age meaning retired) U3A was already sweeping the world, having started at Orleans University in France in the late 1960s. It arrived in Australia in the late 1980s.
The long range glider. This was REAL flying, and the sort of flying he loved most of all.
Bryan started a U3A Aviation History Class. It's still going....
Bryan started a class in Aviation History. It ran for sixteen years – and will continue on now, even though he has passed on. He involved himself with Hospitals, with Theatre, with Conservation. He joined a number of Aviation and military organisations. You’d see him on universities campuses attending lectures and at the Power House Museum. He was a fount of wisdom and seemed to have endless enthusiasm and energy...
And then came a fall. Bryan was hospitalized. He recovered, yet...
He was nearly eighty when he began to make mistakes...
He was nearly eighty and it was then it could be observed that he was making mistakes, forgetting things, and it was getting worse. The Aviation Classes continued. The other interests gradually waned and eventually drew to a close. Another fall. Hospital again.
Bryan was at his classes, smiling, happy and cheerful, even though now his friends were actually conducting the sessions. Even in late November he was still there, still enjoying, still involved.
The huge crowd that turned up for his funeral is testimony to a life well lived.
Then the sudden demise. It happened so quickly. I visited him just prior to Christmas 2010. He went into hospital a day or two later, and died at 8-30am on Boxing Day – respiratory failure. His funeral was today – the day I write this. The scores of people that turned up was testimony to how much he was loved. I certainly loved him. Still do. The likes of such men pass our lives but rarely. So, my readers -enjoy your friends. Give them your love. It’s really all we can do.
I hope you enjoyed Eulogy of an Airman.
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