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Thursday, 23 October 2014

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‘Truly glorious’, says RAF veteran as he soars again

A 92-year-old member of Cockermouth RAF Association stepped into a small plane – and back in time – during a recent remarkable day out for war veterans.

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AIR TRIP: War veteran Douglas Newham, centre, of Cockermouth RAF Association, with pilot Steve Harrison, of Border Air Training, Carlisle, and Liz Waller, of Cockermouth RAF Association

Douglas Newham, of Sandale, Boltongate, has been a member of the town RAFA since he moved to the area in 2006.

He survived two tours of operations as a navigator in Bomber Command.

He participated in the invasion of Algeria, later operated in India and Burma, and was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Through the Cockermouth association he heard about Project Propellor, an annual reunion for World War Two aircrew, to which they are flown from all over the UK in light aircraft by volunteer pilots.

He contacted them earlier this year and was signed up for June’s reunion at the old RAF Staverton airfield, now Gloucester Airport.

Mr Newham was flown there from Carlisle airport by Steve Harrison, who lives in Northumberland, in his small single-engine Piper Warrior.

“The weather was superb and the visibility near-unlimited – truly glorious,” said the veteran.

At Gloucester there was a steady stream of 103 planes, delivering a total of 163 veterans for the reunion.

Mr Newham said: “We were served refreshments and tended our every wish. Some of the guests were, of course, less mobile than of yesteryear, but there was help and kindness everywhere.

“I know of one old veteran who disembarked by wriggling out of the cockpit on to the wing on his hands and knees (we won’t mention names – but the knees of my slacks are now grubby!).

“I met three other veterans from my last squadron – they had been air-gunners, and we all had similar feelings of gratitude to all those involved, particularly the owner-pilots concerned.

“I doubt there was a single one of those pilots who, at some stage in the flights did not let his passenger do the map-reading or again take the controls and fly the aircraft!

“Wonderful! Thank you! Back to old times!”

He was delighted by the spirit of comradeship amongst veterans.

Mr Newham said: “We arrived as a group of white-haired old men, no one under the age of 88, living quiet sedentary lives, many of us living alone, and yet within less than an hour the atmosphere had changed completely.

“We became more talkative and we became instant friends and colleagues with those whom we had never previously met.

“The language reverted to that of 1939-45, technical and tactical jargon and slang was evident, and the whole social atmosphere became reminiscent of life on an operational squadron.

“We had common experience. It was amazing how the intervening years had slipped away.

“And we all knew how incredibly fortunate and lucky we were to still be alive – and to enjoy that reunion.”

There was a low fly-past by a Hurricane and Spitfire of the RAF Memorial Flight.

“I have no doubt that there were tears in the eyes of those veterans who had flown such aircraft in operational battles,” said Mr Newham.

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