The annual RAF Defford Reunion took place in Croome Court on Saturday 17th July, at the same time as the National Trust’s ‘RAF Defford at 70’ themed weekend at Croome Park.
Veterans who had served at Defford gathered with their families and friends in the Court’s Tapestry Room to enjoy the event, which was organised principally by Graham Evans (Chairman of the Defford Airfield Heritage Group) and Albert Shorrock of the RAF Defford Reunion Association – Albert himself is a true veteran of RAF Defford having served there from 1942 onwards. A splendid lunch was prepared and served by Sylvia Evans and her team.
The Tapestry Room housed a fine series of display boards by Mike Dean of the Purbeck Radar Museum Trust, illustrating the development of aviation radar during and after World War Two. There was also a display of radar equipment of the Electronics Restoration Trust, organised by DAHG member Tony Waller, and other wall displays that included an introduction to the newly-formed Defford Airfield Heritage Group
Guests attending the Reunion mingled with National Trust visitors, who were also able to see a fine display by Graham Evans of photographs of the glory days of RAF Defford in the Dining Room, where also on display were three paintings presented to the Trust by Lloyd Griffiths, son of Group Captain Frank Griffiths, illustrating ‘The Walrus and the Submarine’ episode so memorably described by Frank Griffiths in his book ‘Angel Visits’.
Elsewhere, Albert Shorrock’s scale model of RAF Defford was on display in a marquee on the South Lawn, where Antony Whitehead and Dennis Williams of DAHG exhibited a variety of fascinating relics recovered from the Defford Airfield site, including Antony’s latest prize discovery, an almost intact radome thought to be from a Fairey Barracuda. Outside the marquee was the star of the show, the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine recovered from the crash site of Spitfire EN915, which Group Captain J.A. McDonald was forced to abandon south of Defford in 1945 after rudder control was lost.
In a ceremony after lunch at the Reunion, in the Saloon overlooking the South Terrace, Mike McDonald, the son of Group Captain McDonald, presented a framed copy of the superb David Shepherd painting of Spitfire EN915, which was accepted by Albert Shorrock on behalf of the Reunion Association and passed to Christian Walker of the National Trust for safe keeping and permanent display at Croome. Mike spoke movingly of his father’s time as Station Commander at Defford and his very hands-on approach to piloting the great variety of aircraft used for radar trials and development by the Telecommunications Flying Unit.
A second presentation then followed when Bill Sleigh, formerly Chief Engineer at the Royal Radar Establishment air station at Pershore, donated to the National Trust a Roll of Honour listing all those who gave their lives flying with the Telecommunications Flying Unit, and its successor, the Radar Research Flying Unit. The Roll of Honour is framed alongside an illustration of the Memorial Window at Goodrich Castle, which is close to where Halifax V9977 crashed in 1942, killing all eleven on board, including the gifted scientist Alan Blumlein. When making the presentation to Christian Walker of the National Trust, Bill Sleigh was accompanied by Squadron Leader Nic Shelley, who served at Defford as a navigator, and whose brother’s name is among those recorded on the Roll of Honour.
The displays for the Reunion remained on show to the public for the whole of the ‘RAF Defford at 70’ weekend, which included a rally of WWII vehicles, a brass band in the Temple Greenhouse, a re-enactment of an RAF Operations Room in the Long Gallery of the Court, and amplified music with a rather good lead singer, who performed songs from the 1940s on the South Terrace.
The weather for the event, with a southerly breeze, sunshine and high clouds, was perfect for the occasion. The only disappointment was the non-appearance of the scheduled flypast by the Lancaster, perhaps coupled with earlier regret that Lloyd Griffiths was not able to arrive, as had been hoped, in his autogiro which was out of commission – like Spitfire EN915 it had lost its rudder!
Altogether a great day and a great weekend, thanks to the hospitality of National Trust, supported all the way by DAHG and the Reunion Association, and all the volunteers who worked so hard to ensure a successful event.