Another Christmas on the horizon and another year almost gone - I hope 2011 has been kind to you and yours. I send you seasonal greetings and my best wishes for a peaceful and happy year to come. Although the news is full of doom and gloom, we must make the best of it. Austerity is not necessarily all bad – it makes us appreciate things money cannot buy.
This past year has been a more than eventful 365 days. My second book, dedicated to the WAAF of the Filter Rooms of Fighter Command was published initially in an exclusive limited soft back edition in January by Candy Jar Books of Cardiff. This is a young company run by Shaun and Justin, two enterprising young men with media and photographic backgrounds. On my 90th birthday, it was launched as a hard back edition at RAF St. Athan. That day I shared my birthday with the Commanding Officer, Wing Commandeer Williams, the only difference being that he was half my age and twice my height!
We toured the camp in a jeep called Queenie, designed like a Popemobile for our Queen when she toured Berlin for the first time. Then we inspected the troops on the Parade Ground and finally in the Mess were presented with two enormous birthday cakes, decorated with the RAF insignia, to be cut up and shared with the RAF, MOD and local council representatives – a memorable day and all of which was filmed by HTV and shown on the evening news. The following weekend I was taken to meet the Air Officer commanding the whole of the RAF in Wales at the Swansea Air Show. The following day, the first sunny one in weeks, I held a party for fifty-six friends in the garden of Picquets – it was great to welcome them all.
Candy Jar are great publicists and this has led to so many activities. I have given twenty-six talks to varying groups, ranging from a wonderful class of eight year olds in a Primary school in Barry to a bunch of Radio Hams; and from Bletchley Manor, where I was presented with the Freedom of Bletchley and a veterans badge as a member of a Bletchley outstation, to Rotary clubs and Cardiff University.
I have enjoyed them all. I was invited to the St. David’s Day dinner in the City Hall in Cardiff and then honoured with a visit to my house by the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones who wanted to view the Filter Room film of a watch at Fighter Command HQ, taken in November 1943. There have been several interviews with both BBC TV and Radio and ITV but the most interesting was the invitation to appear on BBC Breakfast on September 7. I have always been a fan of this show and was delighted to meet Bill Turnbull and Chris Hollins. Sadly Sian was not on that day but I met Louise. I even received a passing nod from Craig Revel Horwood! Wales’ answer to Terry Wogan, Roy Noble has invited me twice to be on his show and I am due there again for the radio broadcast on Christmas Day – obviously recorded beforehand.
A recent visit to Aces High Aviation Gallery in Wendover, Bucks saw me signing vast numbers of aviation memorabilia for aeronautical fans in the company of four wonderful Battle of Britain fighter pilots, one of whom was Geoffrey Wellum, the author of First Light, two WAAF airwomen, and four great American Mustang pilots. Our ages totted up to almost one thousand years but everyone was “with it”! There was also a short appearance in the fourth episode of Channel 4’s saga, entitled WW2 - the Last Heroes and another one in a series for ITV. But what I have enjoyed most is all the interesting people I have met during the year, including several WAAF colleagues who have made contact again after all these years. One of these is Patricia Robins who writes both under that name and also Claire Lorrimer. She has written 80 books and is still doing so – definitely puts me in the shade. I have been thrilled to talk to Emma Soames, Winston Churchill’s granddaughter who contributed a foreword for One Woman’s War, and to make contact with Dame Vera Lynn who contributed an endorsement.
The final surprise for the year has been finding again the little girl Hélène, then five years old, to whom together with her two brothers I taught French in Contrexeville in the summer of 1938. This was the year of the Munich crisis when Chamberlain, Hitler and Mussolini met and signed the non-aggression pact. Due to the threat of war, I had to leave the family and France suddenly and return home. A French author, with whom I have worked recently, managed to trace her after all these years. She is now 78 years old and living in Grenoble. I have learned the story how her father, Marcel Boucher, a Deputé in the French parliament, after France was invaded by Germany, joined the Vichy government and became a pétainiste – a collaborator. He fled France with his family in 1944 when he realised Germany were losing the war and reached the Argentine. Hélène after many adventures finally returned to Europe and is living in Geneva.
I doubt whether such excitement and activity as this has brought me will ever be repeated in my lifetime! So if this letter arrived by email, please forgive me, I have not had such a busy for many years. I only wish Peter, Clive and my brother Dennis were still here to share it with me. Sadly my grand daughter Tiffany lives in Florida and travelling is more difficult for me now – I have not seen her for at least eight years. Recently Don her husband, a gourmet chef, has now opened his own business and Tiffany is part of it although she is still working as Deputy Accounts Controller in a Florida resort. They call it Iguana Isle in the British Market Place and sell Caribbean delicacies and sauces together with the things British residents and visitors miss in the USA – such as Cornish pasties, Marmite and Yorkshire Puddings!
Thanks to the wonderful care of my eye surgeon, Chris Gorman, we have managed to keep Wet Macular Degeneration at bay but it is a constant battle. I have just had my 30 eye injection with the drug Lucentis. I must admit I walk like an old woman but I keep my brain active, if not my body. I thank my many friends for their support and their kindnesses. Without some of them I would be unable to get to the venues to show the film and give the talks. Some are on hand to pick me up if my alarm buzzer goes and others are always there with a phone call or a visit. Thank you all.
Have a lovely Christmas and New Year celebration.