After literally months of meticulous planning and excited anticipation, plus, not a little worry (would the weather be suitable, would the aircraft be in check / serviceable, would the Instructor be in an amenable mood, etc, etc), the morning of the 18th May arrived as suddenly as a dust storm appears in a desert. I say the morning, but it seemed like the middle of the night to the bleary-eyed bunch of intrepid aviators that gathered round the Flying School kettle.
There was, though, an almost tangible frisson of excitement and enthusiasm that would, no doubt, have been familiar to the Lancaster crews prior to the Dambusters raid. Amidst nervous jokes and serious mass and balance calculations it became apparent that everyone’s biggest worry had come to nought.
We couldn’t have wished for finer weather, better still, we had a slight tailwind, better still, good flying weather was forecast to prevail all weekend!!
Amazingly, despite only minor technical problems, all aircraft and crews arrived on the unfamiliarly large runway at Albert, France, virtually on schedule.
In no time at all we were all on a bus starting the tour with a visit to the Lochnagar Crater.
The Somme side of events was expertly (no under-statement there) organised by Paul Rogers and Chris Cherry, who, if they are not celebrities yet, no doubt soon will be! These guys normally run tours of battlefields on motorbikes. To say Chris knew his stuff would be akin to saying Stephen Hawking had a sharp mind!
Altogether, we visited several battle sites, cemeteries, memorials, and museums in the Albert area of the Western Front.
Suffice to say the consensus was that it was all round a superb weekend if, at times, rather sobering when witnessing the battle sites and resting places of so many young combatants that will never grow old.
You can read history books and watch TV documentaries as much as you like, but actually being there and picking up 100-year-old shell fragments really brings it home, and stimulates the thirst for more historical knowledge.
The weekend was enjoyed by 18 of us in 8 aircraft from Fenland. Even before we were back, thoughts were being given to the next trip – Flanders and Normandy being 2 possible candidates for a future escapade.