Notes on the Origin of BWAG
By Tony Dowland - Committee Member 2005-2019
With the Group’s AGM taking place on 2nd April, 2019 before the programmed talk, I decided to write an article for the Magazine section about the history of BWAG which I believe started as the ‘Aviation Enthusiasts Group’ circa 1998.
The earliest days were not fully remembered or records were not kept but, since our ‘Not-Quite-a-Committee’ (NQaC) took over in January 2005, we have kept a fairly detailed account of the way the Group has developed from that time onward.
To fill the knowledge gap of the period before the NQaC took over, I consulted Alan Inders – an early Member – who approached others involved and helpfully offered the following of their combined recollections:
The Early Days:
‘I have come up with nothing very certain, in spite of talking to Jon (Honeysett) and Martyn (Gingell). I think the first two meetings were small and very informal, at my house, just me and a few friends showing some slides of air shows. My work colleague Mike Long, plus Jon and Chris Willborne were there, I (we)think!
When the group grew we started to meet in The Stables on an occasional basis, at which point Martyn joined us. I booked the room and just charged enough to cover hire costs. We started booking speakers and put them into an occasional programme, and we found meetings surprisingly well attended.
Even then it was very informal – no committee or bank account! Martyn took over as Secretary, and I remember an early evening summer outing to Lasham, where Martyn used to go gliding, and I had a flight in a glider – my second and last (though I enjoyed it!). Jon and his wife and father-in-law were there too.
With his contacts Martyn was able to get enough speakers to have a monthly programme, and that’s when the BWAG really got going. But it was not until you, Gordon and Terry took over that it really grew into the enormously successful group it has become.’
Because of his business commitments, Martyn decided to stand down and there was a real prospect of BWAG – as it had become – closing down. This is the mention of possible closure in the September 2004 Newsletter:
Having been head cook and bottle washer for a
number of years now, I have decided that it is
time to pass the apron on to fresher blood in
order to move the club forward into the future.
This newsletter therefore covers the last season
of meetings that I will be organising for the
BWAG, and therefore invite any interested
parties to come forward to take over the reins.
Be assured that if no-one volunteers to take
over the running of the group, it will cease
Three of us present at the December 2004 meeting decided that BWAG should not close and we came forward to run the Group. By the way, the ‘fresher blood’ mentioned would now include two of us then over seventy! Thus, NQaC followed Martyn in January 2005 and a Newsletter as previously issued was continued in the same style and format. The front page of our first edition after taking over is shown below.
We set ourselves simple objectives. Over fourteen years later we can honestly claim to have achieved what we set out to do. And now we had a bank account!
So - who were in that ‘Happy Band’?
Gordon Hamilton – Chairman
Terry Giles – Treasurer and Events Organiser
Tony Dowland – Secretary and Newsletter Editor.
ably assisted by:
and Maureen Hamilton
Sadly, we have recently lost Gordon, Peter and John, and Maureen – Gordon’s widow – is now in long-term residential care. We are so grateful for all that they did to enhance our Group.
We have maintained a list of events from as early as we can find and the total is now in excess of 200 talks and visits. These latter since the early days have included such diverse places as : Brooklands, Coventry, TAG Farnborough, Lasham, Lee-on-Solent, Odiham. Shoreham and White Waltham; airfields and aircraft museums at Brooklands, Coventry, FAST Farnborough. BA Heathrow, ATA Maidenhead, Middle Wallop, Tangmere, Welford and Woodley.
The success of these arrangements is confirmed by the rising number of members now attending especially since we moved to our larger and better equipped premises from ‘The Stables’ which had served us well.
The NQaC decided to maintain an informal ‘Keep it Simple’ style. We didn’t have ‘members’ - we had (and still have) ‘attendees’. There was no longer any need to keep address lists, e-addresses or set a subscription. It was simply pay-on-the-night and mark your attendance on a list. This put us in a good position when the General Data Protection rules came in last year as we could honestly claim that our record-keeping was minimal – sufficient only to keep track of numbers and income.
BWAG has attracted numerous interesting speakers some returning by popular demand – and some coming back to speak as they like BWAG’s style. We were fortunate in hearing, for example, Peter Twiss, Peter Garrod, John Farley and not least Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown - all now lost to us.
We ‘found’ Eric by happenstance.
As a member of the RAF Historical Society I was sometimes alerted to various aviation events. One such - arranged by a business marketing aviation art in Bath - organised an occasional series of talks at a Bracknell hotel given by RAF and FAA veteran aircrew of the 1939/45 war. I attended the first and having told the NQaC and Peter and John how good they were we all decided to attend the next and subsequent talks.
It was there that we met ‘Winkle’. Gordon, who could be pleasantly persuasive, before long invited him to visit us. Eric and his partner Jean enjoyed coming to Bishop’s Waltham and it was our pleasure to invite him to become our first Patron which he graciously accepted.
Two years ago noted author and broadcaster Group Captain Paul Beaver also graciously agreed to become our new Patron - particularly appropriate as Paul was a close friend of Eric’s and is soon to publish a new biography on our first Patron.
Around the same time, at Gordon’s suggestion, Andy Rankine agreed to take over as BWAG Chairman with Gordon continuing as Vice-Chairman.
We have now reached another turning point.
The NQaC is to be no more. A new Committee will emerge at the April 2019 AGM. But we can be satisfied that our ‘members’ have been served well by getting value for money and having interesting and relevant talks by a wide variety of speakers on a broad range of topics.
I hope to continue running the Group’s web-site for as long as you will let me.
Although I became Web Manager in January 2010 after we decided to cease the Newsletter, I wish to pay tribute to Paul Godfrey – a.k.a. ‘Godders’ - with whom I collaborated. He did the original web design and subsequently came in to help when technical problems arose.
Thanks are also due to Tony and Di Hunt for their courtesy in ensuring good and regular publicity for BWAG's events in the Bishop's Waltham Parish Magazine.
I must also commend Terry Giles for his excellent contribution to the success of BWAG.
Our financial management has been in his expert hands as has the main work of finding excellent speakers. He built and maintained good relationships with the Parish Hall Management and with the other local aviation-interest groups.
It has been a real pleasure to work with him for so long and with so much mutual goodwill.
I conclude with an expression frequently offered with a grin and a firm handshake by our late and much missed friend - Gordon Hamilton:
The following article was submitted by long-standing friend of BWAG : DAVID LESTER.
The subject is an almost forgottten epsode in the history of the Royal Navy's Search and Rescue services which deserves to be re-told to a new readership.
DISASTER RELIEF - THE DUTCH FLOODS OF 1953
On the night of Saturday 31st January 1953, the middle of a particularly hard and bitter winter, a combination of gale force north-easterly winds and high spring tide breached the coastal defences on both sides of the North Sea. The sea flooded hundreds of square miles of the lowest lying land in East Anglia and the Zeeland area of Holland. Over 300 people were drowned in England and over 1,300 in Holland, with a huge loss in livestock. Thousands were made homeless, power supplies failed, water supplies contaminated and rail and road communications were disrupted. The Fleet Air Arm using their Dragonfly helicopters flew to Holland and rendered great assistance to the population. The Dragonfly was the Royal Navy's first operational helicopter, although small by modern standard performed excellent work.
705 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) Involvement
The first call for assistance came at 0630 on 1st February, for two helicopters to rescue a small party of people marooned on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. Two Dragonflies of 705 Squadron took off from Gosport at 0740 flown by Lt. Cdr Spedding (CO) and Lt. G. Perks. The weather was appalling, with high winds and very poor visibility in frequent snow squalls. After a reconnaissance of the Kent coast they landed at West Malling for the night. By now the full force of the gale had struck Holland breaking the dykes in numerous places and the sea flooded the islands of Over Flakkee, Schouwen and Tholen and large areas of the mainland. The Dutch government requested helicopter assistance. That night the air officer at Gosport received an urgent signal to 'prepare all available helicopters for service, four are to be prepared to proceed to Holland as soon as ready tomorrow for rescue service'. Two more to be retained for short notice, control of two already lent to be retained by C-in-C Nore.
Two more Dragonflies left Gosport for West Malling at 0730 on Monday 2nd February, the weather being so bad and having got lost that they had to descend to read the name from a railway station platform. At 0930 the CO and three others left for Holland, due to atrocious conditions got lost and had to land in a field and ask the farmer for directions to Gilze-Rijen, their destination. However bad weather diverted them to Woensdrecht, where they refuelled and ate cheese sandwiches. They flew to onwards to arrive at Gilze-Rijen at 1450;they were the first helicopters to arrive apart from a S.51 of the Royal Netherlands Navy and a Sabena airline Bell helicopter.
From reconnaissance flights it became evident that almost half of Holland had been cut off, communications between the islands and the mainland had been severed. During the first night 705 NAS maintenance personnel arrived and removed all non-essential equipment from the helicopters, for example passenger seats. On 3rd February the helicopters were loaded with food, drugs, medical supplies and radio equipment to take to the isolated communities. After that they went straight into rescues, winching up 40 people from rooftops and other high places. 705 flew over a grey desolate scene of flooded countryside with only high buildings above the water, corpses of animals by the hundreds floated in the water.
The shape of Holland had radically altered with complete islands and towns submerged, with groups of people huddled together on high ground waiting for rescue. Helicopters flew to the town of Osterland where many of the houses were almost submerged; first on the scene was Lt Ron Crayton 'It was a sight that I shall never forget, the whole countryside was under water as far as the eye could see, with dykes sticking up here and there. Quite frightening'.
Early difficulties encountered by 705 were maps, unfamiliar landscape, which in any case was flooded, and pick up locations and destinations. It was unfortunate that some families got separated as a result.
There were difficulties with the language, it was disappointing for the helicopter crews to land in a village where help was needed to find the Dutch could not make themselves understood. Many country people had never seen a helicopter before, the young were fascinated and the old people terrified. The problem was resolved when English-speaking Dutch naval officers went along as interpretors. The pilots tended to look on roof tops or for people waving from windows, priority was given to the injured, mothers with babies, the very young and the very old.
At the end of the first day, some 200 people had been flown to safety and nine helicopters had flown 63 hours. Generally flight distances were quite short, people were delivered to the nearest place which had communications with the sea, for example Rotterdam. People were quick to learn and cleared areas for the helicopter to land, sometimes using white strips to indicate a suitable landing site.
On Wednesday 4th February helicopters took off at dawn with food, medicines and radio equipment, on landing they would search for survivors concentrating on the island of Schouven, two villages being evacuated. A total of 210 people were rescued, about 40 by winch, in 64 flying hours.
Not all helicopters were fitted with winches, a winchless helicopter coming across a situation would radio for a winch-fitted helicopter to assist. There were harrowing stories of families or members of families dying from exposure, surprisingly there were few accidents associated with rescue attempts. Every available helicopter in Europe had flown to Holland to lend a hand.
On Thursday 5th February, the aircraft were airborne once again at first light, only one went unserviceable with severe rotor head vibration. Some 200 people were rescued from the village of Nieuwe-Tonge, on the island of Over Flakkee. There were only 3 landing sites in the village so about 20 helicopter were circling overhead waiting their turn to land, it was rather like Piccadilly Circus! Because of bad weather conditions by midday flying was cancelled in the afternoon.
The sole accident was on 8th February, a helicopter piloted by Lt. Clayton landed on ice and the wind blew the aircraft backwards damaging the tail rotor against a post, spinning it around and landing in about 12 feet of water. The crew had to get into the rubber dinghy and were rescued later in the day by an American Sikorsky S.55.
By Friday ‘Phase One’ was complete with 705 NAS having flown 225 hours 55 minutes, rescued 734 people, three dogs and one cat. By the end of the week everyone cut off by the floods had been rescued, although plenty of livestock were still dying of starvation and thirst.
All the usual constraints on flying were disregarded for these rescue mission, more passengers were carried in this grossly under-powered helicopter, the usual number being 5, although one mission had 8 people, three were children. Flying in such consistently cold and uncomfortable conditions was very tiring, with no cockpit heating and the doors were always open. Every pilot had flown up to 8.5 hours per day in a helicopter that was very difficult to fly in those very bad weather conditions for hours on end. 705 discovered what a very robust helicopter the Dragonfly was, often pushing it beyond its limits; Lt. Dick Turpin remarked’ so long as you had oil pressure and the rotors would go round you flew from first to last light of the day’.
In the Royal Navy at this time there were only a handful of helicopter pilots, some of the pilots flying in Holland were still students on their initial course with 705 NAS. Men like commissioned pilot Richard Williams was a student, but by the end of February was flying search and rescue missions over Holland. He was thrown in at the deep end and had to evolve his flying techniques as he went along.
On February 9th Dick Turpin had the honour of flying Queen Juliana on a tour of the flood-devastated areas, which gave her chance to see the plight of her people, this was her very first helicopter flight. At the request of the Dutch government 705 NAS stayed until 19th February because of high spring tides were expected again and the main dykes had been weakened so there was a possibility of more flooding.
NAS 705 ‘s contribution in the Dutch Foods was magnificent when you consider all the conditions as described above, with over 800 people being rescued and a total of over 400 hours flying time.
It had yielded priceless experience in handling SAR helicopters in bad weather over unfamiliar territory, away from a properly equipped base. 705 were the pioneers for the procedures and techniques that are in effect today, they would go on to fly the larger and more powerful Whirlwind, which could carry up to ten people at over 100mph.
Reference: FOR THOSE IN PERIL- 50 YEARS OF ROYAL NAVY SEARCH AND RESCUE by John Winton. 1996/76(7).
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