What an amazing journey this has been so far and who knew what dad’s story would become. It had been circulating around our family for years after he died. He had sent it to his sister Ellen in New Zealand and it had been read by an actor on Radio New Zealand and although upset when he found that someone had tried to correct his English, was rather pleased that other people were interested in his story.
Twenty five years later my brother Bob and I find ourselves in East Kirby in a Lancaster Bomber with the engines running and Bob was talking to Peter Willey a very knowledgeable amateur enthusiastic wireless operator. We had made the decision to make a play from the story and had begun to do the research in the place where dad’s story had started.
Crawling into the fuselage of the Lancaster was a shock. The tight, cramped scale made it impossible to stand up straight. The rivets holding the pieces of metal together seemed inadequate for the job. The crude metal handles and the early Bakelite knobs seemed childlike. The primitiveness of the mechanics appeared like Meccano and the darkness and noise were oppressive. To think that these machines were the main tools in Bomber Command brought home the vulnerability of these young men. What happened in these planes through an average mission was mostly kept to themselves for the rest of their lives. Often only their wives would witness the effects of the trauma and the post traumatic stress.
The team of volunteers who keep this Lancaster airworthy chatted to Bob and Stephen Graham describing technical and operational routines. The procedural element of the play had begun to formulate.
I eventually crawled out and with Bob headed for the NAAFI for a cup of tea (a default position for a Baldwin ) and while sitting there musing over the events of the day I flicked through some of the books for sale. One was called ‘Through the Gate’ written by Kenneth Ballantyne and it fell open on a page of a picture of our dad! It was an incredible surprise and was in a way a sort of turning point of the project.
It appeared that Ken’s book was based on the diary and memories of 94 yr old Ted Watson who was the flight engineer in dad’s crew. We back tracked via very helpful Ken to find Ted! We were so thrilled that he was happy to see us and share his knowledge of those times.
He showed us the contents of his 1940’s suitcase of maps and log books and talked about our dad! What a wonderful treasured moment that was …. dad died in 1992 but for a few moments he was back with us .
Moving on to August 2019 and the play from dad’s story has just been a stunning success at Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It has sold out every day with five star reviews and the further performances in London are sold out too. Bob and Max Kinnings’ script and Thomas Dennis’s performance have created an incredibly important piece of theatre which does not shy from the horror of war or its after effects.
Dad never spoke of his memories of the war but as a fascinated child I used to make him sit next to the valve radio while I fiddled with the tuning to find some morse code for him to decipher. He didn’t want to do it but did for me. Looking back I think it probably brought back memories which were very uncomfortable for him to bear.
The abhorrence of war never left him and neither did a physical tick which I think came from his time in air crew but he mellowed slightly into a sort of obsessive pacifism.
As Bob said he joined CND and took fire wood to the Greenham Common women.
Many of his later years were spent in his shed. He carved ‘ Ban The Bomb ‘ and ‘ Give Peace a Chance ‘ signs and then gave them to us as Xmas presents
I wonder what he would have made of this play. He would have loved Hat’s and Stephens enthusiasm for it. He would have been so proud of Bob and probably a little embarrassed by the attention but happy that his children had finally understood ‘what he was going on about’ for all those years.