The Harrier Force Remembers


The Gang 2018

The splendid guys and gals of the Harrier Force

It was a crisp bright day when the members of the Harrier Force assembled on Horse Guards parade in London to take part in the annual remembrance parade on Sunday November 12th 2017.

This is the 2nd year that the Harrier Force has assembled to parade and to remember the fallen. It was all started by Craig Benton a resident of Germany since he left a Harrier squadron while based there 20 years ago, and went to work in the German economy. Craig thought it was about time that the Harrier was able to parade alongside other Royal Air Force elements. The Harrier was in service with the RAF and Royal Navy for over 40 years and during that time was one of the backbones of the defence of the British Isles. There have been hundreds of engineers, pilots, suppliers, air traffic controllers and myriad other trades who were involved in maintaining and flying the Harrier during its service life. Other RAF squadrons have been parading annually at the Cenotaph on the date set aside for Remembrance Sunday and Craig set about trying to find the men and women who served on any one of the Harrier squadrons which ceased service 7 years ago. The squadrons were: 1(F), 3(F), IV(AC), 20, 237 OCU, 800, 801. There were also other Harrier bases including Belize. This made us fairly unique, as we we are a group for an aircraft whereas most other RAF groups are single squadron based. Using social media it quickly became apparent that there was a great deal of interest in taking part in the parade.

Typical regalia

A Typical Regalia layout

Craig knew and kept in touch with many of his former colleagues on IV(AC) squadron based at RAF Gutersloh in Germany, and by posting on Facebook managed to capture many other people from other Harrier squadrons. In conjunction with the Royal British Legion via The Harrier Force Association, we were accepted and were able to attend the parade and march past the Cenotaph. Then there was a flurry of activity on Facebook which saw the word being passed rapidly to anyone who worked or flew on Harrier squadrons including MoD personnel. It was decided that the dress for the day was to be berets, Blazers with squadron badge and medals, white or cream trousers and shoes. The response was amazing and the enthusiasm was exponential. Traffic built up on social media and ex-Harrier people world-wide were clamouring to be part of the parade. Eventually we received the tickets, after providing essential information including service details, medals awarded, war theatres attended and many other aspects. Luckily all were accepted and plans were laid to get to London for 13th November. Hotels were booked, relatives were contacted for possible accommodation and journeys were planned. When we all assembled on Horse Guards parade, there was 67 of us. A marvellous result. The night before there was a gathering in a pub nearby and this was where old friendships were renewed and new ones formed. The next morning Craig and helpers waited at Trafalgar Square to issue tickets to gain access to Horse Guards, along with photo i.d. The wives and families attending were looked after as well by John Eaton, being taken to a good vantage point. Then the Force moved down to Horse Guards where Craig mopped anyone who couldn’t get to Trafalgar Square in time to issue the final batch of tickets, even though there were some no-shows. Waiting on Horse Guards for about an hour enabled all the people to say hello to all who managed to get there for the day. It was an emotional experience, we were there to honour the years of Harrier service . We have lost people in wars ranging from the Falklands to Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Bosnia. The Harrier was taken out of service by the government of the day in a straight competition with the Tornado which won the day and the Harrier Force was disbanded in December 2010, the aircraft being sold to the USA who were going to use them as spares donation assets. We have our doubts, but there doesn’t seem any sign that they are flying the 80 airframes we sold them. Luckily it seems that most of the guys and gals who were involved with the Harrier Force went on to further careers which were enhanced by their service on the Harrier.

Quote from Michael Mather:

‘Once again I was humbled to be in the presence of such fine personnel and family members from the Harrier Force. The camaraderie doesn’t diminish, in fact I think it grows stronger. I look forward to seeing you all at the next HEAR (Harrier Engineers Annual Reunion) or again next year in November.’

The Remembrance parade set off from Horse Guards and went into Whitehall and waited for 11 o’clock the time of the signing of the armistice on 11th November 1918 at 11.00 am. Small flasks were passed around to keep the cold out, and then the two minute silence signalled the laying of the wreaths at the Cenotaph. Then we were off! The march past the Cenotaph and down King Charles Street then down Horse Guards Parade was fantastic, the crowds applauding everyone who marched past, Turning into Horse Guards we approached the saluting dias where the salute was taken by HRH The Prince of Wales, it was eyes right, eyes front and onto the parade square where we were dismissed. It was agreed that we would meet in the Old Shades pub in Whitehall, where it was manic, absolutely rammed with humanity. We manged to get a drink, just, but our party went off elsewhere to find somewhere to eat. It was over for the first Harrier Force Remembrance Sunday Parade, and it was a huge success. It was a fantastic, emotional and energising experience.

Horse Guards Plan

The parade square layout

This year the same system of advertising the word on social media spread the net even wider. The same applications were made through the Harrier Force Association and the tickets were applied for. I think the final total on parade was 90 or thereabouts. There were some differences, based on the experiences learned in 2016. Chris Sprott liaised with the Union Jack Club near Waterloo Station and arranged for a dedicated room for us all to meet on the Saturday night to bond, and to pick up tickets. There was the usual banter and good-natured ribbing as the guys went up to collect their tickets from Craig, and put £10 into a pot to help pay for the hire of the room and bar staff. There were people from all over the place. Pat PV Voigt (ex IV (AC)) flew in from Hong Kong where he is a pilot with Cathay Pacific. Craig of course came from Germany and others came from all points west and east. The arrangements for the following morning were nearly the same except that Trafalgar Square was cordoned off, so Craig asked to meet the guys outside a Costa coffee shop, but this was too crowded so we changed this and waited outside Charing Cross Station instead. Then we all trooped off to Horse Guards to join the other 1500 or so other old sweats from the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. This time we turned left and formed up further back in the parade than last year. The hour or so wait until 11.00 am ensued and then we were on the move past Downing Street, down Whitehall and then right into Great George Street then right into Horse Guards Parade. The salute this time was taken by The Earl of Wessex. Then as before, dismissed on Horse Guards, and to the pub, The Old Shades which again was absolutely packed and after a quick drink we left and went further afield. The whole day was as good, if not better than last year, and next year Remembrance Sunday is 11th of the 11th 2018, exactly 100 years since the armistice was signed. This will make it a bumper year as everyone will be wanting to take part on such an auspicious occasion, so we’re hoping we can top 100 for the 100th. Hopefully the BBC will actually show us on television, unlike last year and this. As a footnote, hotels are being booked fast and space is running out if accommodation is required. Be warned if you want to take part, get your hotel booked quickly. Oh and on a personal note, if you need a blazer badge, I can get any squadron badge; I’ve already supplied over 60 to parade participants. Contact me for details.

In conclusion, we must give a big thank you to Craig Benton and his helpers (Shannon!). Without him the Harrier Force parade would not have happened, although he’s probably created a bit of a beast for himself. There’s always help from the rest of us Craig. Of course it goes without saying to thank all those who turned up and took part. Without that support it would not have happened. If you are reading this and want to take part, and served on a Harrier squadron, all the details are on the Facebook page, click on:

Harrier Force Remembrance Parade 2018

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And another one


It’s now getting scary.

Another friend and colleague has passed away, I think he was in his early 60s and died in his sleep. The cause was ‘excess fluid around his enlarged heart.’ This is scary on many levels.

I have an enlarged ventricular chamber, which is an enlarged heart, whether it is surrounded by fluid or not, I don’t know. But could this happen to me? I don’t know and I shouldn’t worry about whether it will or not, but I do. There are many ways that life is going to kill us, and it’s inevitable, but I’d still like to see it coming. Poor Chris didn’t wake up, which is maybe one of the best ways, at least he wasn’t in pain. He had a pacemaker but this apparently didn’t detect his heart problem, he was tall and had suffered from angina for many years. It’s all come as a huge shock to all his ex colleagues and I expect a huge turnout at his funeral. I send condolences to his wife Jan and his daughters Nicola and Emma. RIP Chris.

Just lately I’ve heard with horror about crime going up but detection and arrests are going down. Quelle surprise! Cuts in police budgets and poor sentencing by the courts, coupled with overcrowded prisons means that the majority (non criminals) are in fear of the minority (criminals) and neither the police or the judiciary have the means or wherewithal to do anything about it. The government is in crisis about many things, who’d be a minister or in government at the moment? Useless bunch are found wanting all the time, what with sex scandals and corruption. Countries going to hell in a handcart.

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The Final Frontier


We’re all in the same boat.

I think its been said by many well known quotation makers that there is nothing more sure than death and taxes. Well while some be able to get away with not paying the latter, the former is inevitable and unavoidable. A friend has just passed away unexpectedly, who was only in his early sixties. There was no known previous medical history and the medical people tried to save him for half an hour, to no avail. What this sort of sudden death always does is to bring into sharp focus your own mortality, it puts you firmly in your place that despite all the joking , all the bravado, eventually we’re going the same way. I like the old Facebook quote that often comes up: Don’t go to your grave quietly and in full health, slide in kicking and screaming ‘hell, what a ride’ in your knackered worn out shell. It probably has more impact on you if it’s a contemporary who you’ve known for some time, than say your parents or grandparents. But this is not meant to be a downbeat eulogy about death, just an essay on the effect others passing on you.

Yes we all know we’re going to go, some of course make it easy for the grim reaper to wield his sythe, by trying to do themselves in by indulging in dangerous pursuits. Others do by inhaling or ingesting stuff that is definitely not good for you and may hasten your demise. And then some follow all the rules, live healthily, eat sensibly. keep fit, don’t do mountain climbing or whatever and still peg out for no apparent reason. That’s the scary one; we could just drop down and never get up again. At least you wouldn’t know anything about it. I don’t know which I would prefer; as if I had a choice, but peacefully surrounded by your loved ones sounds the best. None of us can predict which way it will be though, and when someone you know passes away suddenly your mortality gene suddenly kicks in and you think about your own lifestyle and loved ones. The devastating part about it is the ones you leave behind in a ‘sudden’. One minute you’re there and the next your’re not with all the heartache and hassle that goes with it.

So this is a tribute to my friend Lez, RIP mate.

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The Men’s Shed


Some three months ago I was at my monthly Repair Cafe in Farnham ( see other posts) when a chap called Ed, who was there to repair furniture, needed a electrical heater repaired. It belonged to a friend who is a ‘hands on’ practitioner of some sort of alternative medicine and the heater was used in her surgery to keep patients warm. It was an easy fix, I just by-passed the useless timer mechanism and it worked great. He brought it to my house, and asked me to drop it at his place. Over coffee we got in to a conversion about my life, retirement and what I did all day etc.

Well, it turns out he was recruiting for a ‘Men’s Shed’. These have been springing up all over the country, and are places where mostly retired men, can meet and chat or fix things or mess around with wood or whatever. It’s better than going down the pub, which to my mind is totally boring unless you are meeting up with others, and there is a common bond of friendship and working together, all voluntarily. Let me explain about the one I go to every Tuesday; It’s inside a furniture warehouse called ‘Furniture Helpline’ which is a charity that collects furniture from wherever it can get it, house clearances, unwanted household items, and sells them on to people who are having a hard time financially. As their website says:

We collect good quality, donated furniture from local residents and offer it, free of charge or at low prices, to people in need.

We are a food recycling hub for the local area, providing good quality, surplus food to organisations such as lunch clubs, day centres, school breakfast clubs etc.

As an environmental body, our activities reduce the number of items going to landfill and through our workshop (that’s the Men’s Shed) we are able refurbish some furniture.

They also raise money transporting refuse to various places for local councils. So they have vans available to collect the household goods and they bring that back to the Furniture Helpline building, which is incidentally an ex-military police station, and if it doesn’t need any refurbishment, goes straight out onto the showroom floor for sale at very competitive prices, i.e. very cheap. Many other charities do the same sort of thing, the British Heart Foundation is one that springs to mind. The Furniture Helpline is based in Bordon, Hampshire and has quite a good turnover of furniture and domestic appliances in good condition. If its not, that’s where the Men’s Shed comes in.

We meet every Tuesday and Friday inside the Furniture Helpline building in a small workshop which is equipped with a wide range of hand tools and machinery.

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It can safely accommodate at least five people, although there are only two benches. Some of the work is carried on furniture on the floor.  We have a band-saw which has many uses, and a belt sander along with electric drills and hand held sanders .

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We are currently in the process of constructing new small display wheelbarrows for sale in the FH sale room and been well received; three having been sold. We also refurbish and repair a wide range of wooden furniture, usually cosmetically and sometimes replacements parts have to be manufactured. The men currently  taking part in the men’s shed are all retired and over a certain age, but that is no barrier, and experience or knowledge is not required either. There are plenty of able hands willing to instruct and assist. But it’s not all work, work, work. There is a lot of banter and jokes. Tea and coffee are available. We meet between 1.00pm and 4.00pm in Hampshire House, Hampshire Rd in Bordon (the old police station). Come along if you like to tinker with ‘stuff’ and have a hankering to make a difference to the community.

 

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40? Not possible!


My daughter passed a milestone age last week, she turned 40 years old. I’ll avoid the cliches of ‘where did that time go’, because those sorts of comments are boring.

I would like to discuss how the hell I could be the father of a 40 year old when I’m nowt but a kid myself, at the mere age of 66! When I was at school my maths teacher was ancient at about mid 40s and was in the war, and frankly looked and acted that age, possible because of the war, not despite it. Nowadays it’s not 40 that’s the new 30, 60 is the new 40; but with caveats: you may get to 60 but it doesn’t mean you can do everything you could do at 40. When I turned 40 I was at the half way point of my working life, now I should think it’s well short of half way what with later retirement ages and all. I still feel that I could pass for 40 in most aspects except for strength, energy, staying power; you name it. But at 66 I can still ‘get down with the kids’ except for anything requiring exertion! My daughter thinks I should be treating myself with kid gloves and I admit it’s difficult to pull back doing some things, but am equally grateful that there are things I still can’t do. Back in April there was a 90 year old man doing the marathon, there is nothing I would less like to do. Running is anathema to me; cavemen did it to catch prey, but in the modern age it’s only necessary to escape a deadly danger, if at all. Walking is s different matter; I love walking and could probably do it all day. But I equally love to sit down, whenever I can. 

So, the question is do I feel my age? Well, yes and no. Ailments and chronic illnesses are sometimes the proof of getting older, and I admit I have a few of those without dwelling on them. So, a few minutes ago I was 40, how long will it take to get to 80, or beyond. Does anyone think about that far into the future, I don’t unless I’m discussing it in this medium. I’m not actually afraid of death, mainly because thats for other people not me. I suppose when it comes to my time, I’ll accept it’s the end, but like most people I don’t want to think about that time. It’ll happen whatever I do.

Right, maudling bit over, back to the subject. When my daughter was born, in a military hospital, she was my first born and very special as all new borns are to all new parents. We have a great though sometimes sparky relationship because we are so close in personality. No influence from me and that’s what I find interesting; is it in the genes? I am, in deference to my surname, very handy with my hands, so is my daughter (I should say ‘eldest’ daughter because she has a younger sister), and so was my dad. I don’t  remember my dad specifically teaching me woodwork, electrics, mechanical repairs etc but I must have been taking notice when he was doing these things, and they must have rubbed off. Likewise my daughter has the same attributes and also picks things far quicker than I remember doing  the same. I’m proud that she is good at most practical things and having moved recently into her new house she has lots of work to do, all requiring the aforementioned skills. So the image of being 40 had changed over the years. We’re all living longer, so 40 is more likely to be middle age, where it was 35 years ago. 35 is hardly run-in!

But back to Charlotte, my 40 year old daughter, whose birth I remember so clearly and who has made her way so well in the world. I’m so proud of what she’s achieved on her own, and she has created a lovely life for herself. Rock on babe! X

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Like a bunch of kids…


I’m referring to the debacle of the ‘Leaders Debate’s on TV last night on BBC1. I switched off after the introductions and the the first ten minutes. They all talked at once, didn’t say anything of import, and generally acted unlike anyone who could potentially run this country.

Why anyone would want to enter the bear pit that is the political debating chamber is beyond me. The politicos who were on duty last night seemed to want to further their own cause by shouting louder than the previous, or in some cases, at the same time as another speaker. No wonder new and wavering voters don’t know who to vote for, they all seem as bad as one another. Whereas in the Blair/Brown era, who were Tories in red coats, there is at least more than a fag papers width between the two main parties today. Corbyn is a more left wing Labour leader than has been seen since the Wilson era, and May is moving the party more to the left as we watch the manifesto being unveiled. In my humble opinion I wish every ballot paper had ‘None of the above’ as a choice as well as the candidates from the political parties. I’m guessing ‘None’ could win the election. So then what? May’s vision of ‘strong, stable leadership, or Corbyn’s ‘For the many not the few’. Both have merit and downsides; May has only been in office 5 minutes and hasn’t won an election, hardly a long term experience level. Corbyn won the leadership almost by default because the other candidates were nonentities, or McDonald, and he’s never held a capital post in government, May has at least been home secretary. The others are also rans; the Lib Dems have had it, UKIP forget them and the Greens, well need one say more?

So what happens on 9th June? It’s going to be close, and will be a hung parliament in my opinion. There will be ‘talks’ between Labour and the SNP, but can anyone see that working? I thought not. So it will be the useless leading the under achieving and making a hash of it. If Corbyn does wrest power, his sincere demeanour will fool no-one, he has the potential to be dangerous and May will I think be found wanting in many areas, and despite the Strength mantra will not be as strong as we would like. The trouble is none of them actually listen to the electorate, they only hear what they want, and don’t take notice of ‘ordinary’ folk. So it will be interesting to see what horse trading and amalgamations take place over the weekend of 10/11th June, although they might not be needed. It always seems close in the run up to polling day, then things happen quickly changing what the outcome is; look at Blair’s landslide in 1997, predicted but not expected. Thatcher’s landslide in 1979 was expected because Callaghan’s reign collapsed amid three day weeks and power cuts. So who can tell? Personally I hope Corbyn and co don’t get in, but I’m not a true blue Tory flag waver either. They need to change their act to appeal across the board, so I think they are the least worse option. We could even go back to the days of 1974 when there were two elections in one year! Let’s see.

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The 6th May 2017


Saturday 6th May 2017 was a day of contrasts in two main ways: marriage and rugby.

Many months ago we were invited to the wedding of good friends John and Sue Wells’ daughter, Hannah. The wedding was to take place in a church in Repton Nottinghamshire, and we were invited to attend the evening reception at the Donington Park Farmhouse Hotel near the famous motor racing course. We accepted and booked to stay in the hotel where the reception was being held. So far so pleasurable.

For those who follow this blog, you will know I’m an avid supporter of Farnham Rugby Union Football club (FRUFC) based in Farnham Surrey; and have been for about 4 years. This season they have fond particularly well in the London South West 3 league and intact have only lost 1 game all season. They started their RFU national senior vase run earlier this year and battled through, after a thrilling semi final to secure a place in the final at headquarters, Twickenham to play against Droitwich in the Midlands somewhere apparently. I think you can guess where this is going, the final at Twickenham was to be played on 6th May. Groan, oh no why the same day.? There was no possibility of cancelling the wedding reception, that was booked first, so I wondered what I could to at least see a recording of the match, someone might video it from Farnham. After enquiring with the club, I was told that the match would be streamed by the RFU themselves in full. Result! It only now remained to work out if I could watch the match before we left home (it’s a three hour + journey to get the the reception), or wait until afterwards? I worked out that I could use my phone data to stream the match and send it to my tablet to watch it en route. Double result! This would of course entail memsahib Fran to do all the driving while I watched the match on the way. This worked great for the first half hour, by which time Farnham were 7-10 down. Then the worse happened, the signal dropped out and I couldn’t get it back, missing the rest of the first half. Eventually I got the signal back and saw the rest of the match with Farnham comfortable winners. Of course I’d have preferred to be there but choices have to be made.

The rest of the long weekend went very well. We arrived at the Donington Park Farmhouse Hotel right next door to the eponymous motor racing circuit, and settled in waiting for the evening reception to meet the bride and her parents who we have known for a very long time. We managed to catch up a bit on the night but obviously they were very busy with the goings on. They told us hey had booked in for the Sunday night specifically to catch up with us, and we were flattered. The next day we had decided to go to Sudbury Hall and Children’s Museum near Dperby, a National Trust property. On the way however I spotted the tail of a Vulcan bomber near to East Midlands Airport which was adjacent to the hotel. Following it I found Donington Airpark, a museum. Well this had to be done and Fran is used to me visiting aircraft museums so there was no protest from that quarter. There were many aircraft exhibited which I had been associated with during my RAF career and it was nice to see them in good condition, especially the Vulcan. There was also a Buccaneer, a cut down VC10, several Hunters and other ephemera.

The Buccaneer

Later we left and went to Sudbury Hall and Children’s Museum near Derby. It turned out to be a very hot and the Hall and Museum were a delight. The hall was given to National Trust by the family that had owned it for 400 years. It was left with a lot of the furniture and effects they owned. It is a magnificent building and well worth a visit.

Sudbury Hall from the rear.

Then the children’s museum which is next door, if fact part of the Hall is used and contains a lot of artifacts which invoked many a memory. They have a cafe there and a large area of grass which on the day we visited was being well used.
The main gallery in the hall.

The whole day was rounded off by meeting John, Sue and Ashley back at the hotel for dinner and a catch up. A lovely day all round.

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