All my life, my father has regaled me with tales of his time in the Royal Navy, or more specifically the Fleet Air Arm. Whenever I see him these days, there is always a new story I haven’t heard before (in among the ones I had heard many times!). I was brought up to do two things – to eat proper pie and mash and to cheer for the FAA Field Gun Crew at the Royal Tournament (minnie minnie moo AIR!!!). One of the happiest days of my life was seeing FAA beat Portsmouth in the last ever running of the real Field Gun competition in 1999.
Dad served in 800 Naval Air Squadron, officially as an aircraft handler but in fact as a kind of extra body for various unspecified duties. Essentially the squadron’s odd-job man. Which, if you know him, you will agree suits him. He joined in the late 40’s and sailed on HMS Triumph and HMS Eagle before settling down at RNAS Ford. He saw the Malayan emergency and the Korean War at close quarters, he saw the ultimate Spitfire (FR.47) in action and saw the first British naval jets into service (Supermarine Attacker). He has flown laying on his front in the sharp end of the experimental Prone Meteor, he has been the subject for a very early helicopter air sea rescue, he has been shot up the Martin-Baker ejection seat tower, he has stood guard at the funeral of King George VI and at the coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth, he has been shouted at by HRH Prince Philip. He has seen and done things about which he still won’t talk. He is my hero.
I used to build Airfix kits. I fell in love with aeroplanes. Dad and I used to go to air shows all over the place. But then I got older, other things came into my life, I got married, got a job in the photography business and that was pretty much it for many, many years.
Then the Daily Mail, of all companies, did me a favour.
They had an offer for a free Airfix kit of a Spitfire. My wife Maria picked one up. Would we give to our granddaughters to make? Would we hell! I made it, painted it, and remembered how much I liked making kits.
The first of the several – the Spitfire kit that made me want to build more…
The result is the 800 Squadron Project. To honour my father and the brave souls who served with his squadron before, during and after his service, I will build a collection of 1/72nd scale models of everything the squadron has flown since its formation in the 1930s.
I hope he likes it!