FLYING MEMORIES 11
It was very amusing at the Demobilization Centre Wembley in so far that all the people being processed with me at that time, had to strip naked for an FFI (Free From Infection) examination. This took place in part of the stadium which had high windows, outside of which were rows of seats overlooking the football pitch, it only needed the people watching a game in progress at that time to turn round to observe several dozen chaps in their birthday suits. As luck would have it the Football was the more interesting. After being certified clean and healthy we were kitted out with our demob clothing, I chose a sports jacket and trousers in preference to a pin striped suit, given a railway travel warrant to our nearest home town station, to be sent out into the world of civvy street with our service uniform wrapped up in a brown paper parcel under our arm.
I returned to Normandy for the first time in June 1984 for the fortieth anniversary of D - Day, having been badgered by both Denis Sweeting and George Sheppard to join them for at least a couple of years. As the Queen was going to be present at the ceremonies I finally agreed, and have since been re visiting Normandy, on a yearly basis. On the Fortieth anniversary I persuaded a work colleague called George Tucker to join us for the event. George was a Gunner in the army during the war and was delighted to be asked to join our party particularly as he also was involved in the landings of D - Day and like me had never returned to Normandy. We all had a wonderful reunion, meeting people we had not seen since we left the forces and also experiencing the moving and solemn moments of the very well organized ceremonies. The hospitality of the people of Normandy had to be seen to be believed, the whole area bedecked with Union Jacks and flowers and wherever you went complete strangers would come and shake your hand and offer a drink. Unbelievable!!
Quite a number of ex-Typhoon Pilots decided to organize our own trips and this was entrusted to Denis Sweeting DFC who became Red Leader until his sad death in 1996. Denis was more than efficient and a grand time was had by all, so much so that the village of Martragny presented him with a Tricolour- sash in recognition of his efforts.
Between the 40th anniversary in 1984 and the 50th on 6th June 1994 I returned to Normandy on a yearly basis, with my fellow pilots from 198 Squadron, for the very moving remembrance services held in that part of France.
We also travelled over on special occasions when our presence was requested for ceremonies that included military funerals for two ex 198 pilots whose remains had been recovered, Reg Thursby 39 years after he was shot down and Don Mason 49 years after a French farmer admitted knowing that a pilot had crashed on his land. This farmer mistakenly thought that Don had shot up and killed his father, (to be informed after all these years that Don had not been the cause of his father's death.) The farmer had now decided to sell his farm and retire but felt he had to tell the French authorities about the crashed aircraft in 1944. Don Mason and I were great pals and shared the same tent with another first class chap called Bill Stratford, he also was shot down and killed during the invasion and is buried in N. France. (All the Pilots of 198 Sqd buried in France are shown on my Map with my photograph album.)
The people of Normandy together with all TYPHOON pilots subscribed towards a magnificent Monument in memory of the 151 Typhoon Pilots killed between May and August 1944 which is situated at NOYERS BOCAGE.
A 198 Pilot called Ernie Linter who died after the war of natural causes, his widow requested that his ashes be scattered on the flower borders at the Typhoon Pilots memorial at Noyers Bocage. Denis Sweeting talked George Sheppard into collecting the urn from his home in Glastonbury in order that we could transport it to Normandy for the 50th ceremonies. You can imagine the banter going on telling everyone we met on our journey over to Normandy and up to the day of the ceremony, that we had Dead Ernie in the back - - even got some French Military types who were controlling the parking of veterans cars to mount guard while we were all attending another ceremony. When the day came for the ashes to be scattered, the service conducted by the local priest was very moving. But I do know that Ernie would have enjoyed the laughter, as he was one of us and would well know that we were not being cruel or callous.