Dick Forsythe

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Those Magnificent Men (3) – The Journey Back to the Somme

Those Magnificent men

Both aircraft start first time with the BE2 on a prop swing and the Albatros on the Magneto exciter and we are off. We have just 5 minutes to get to Caterpillar Valley Cemetery for the NZ Commemoration of the Battle of the Somme. We have been briefed to be at the holding point to the west of the cemetery to await a flare to indicate two mins to run in. On arrival we are already late against the estimated time over the cemetery. My respect for the BE2 observers of yore is growing by the second as even at 55 mph trying to read a map when you are head and shoulders out of the open cockpit squinting through oil-smeared goggles is challenging – let alone having to defend yourselves with a pintle mounted Lewis gun without safety stops.

As our fuel margins are tight for the next leg to Abbeville, and we are now 5 mins past our briefed time over target, I point John at the Cemetery (our only means of communication) and off we go. We can see Keith in the distance hurtling to join us. I am now focussed on the wind direction, a brisk southerly, as shown by the flags behind the Memorial Stone. We do one orbit just to see how the land lies and can see the audience waving at us. I point to John that we need to extend upwind on the second orbit to drop the poppies and start adjusting the laundry bag for the drop. I imagined that the poppies would take some time to leave but in the event it was more like a huge suction pump when I opened the draw string and they all went at once…. .C Cemeterypoppies

Those Magnificent Men (2) – The Journey Back to the Somme

Those Magnificent men

On his way to join us at Albert is Keith Skilling flying the Albatros DVa.  Another Kiwi paying his respects to his forbears with a similar number of hours. Keith’s flying Belugacareer started in the RNZAF in Vietnam and he is one of two Kiwis cleared to fly the Mosquito.  Albert is home to the Airbus Industries factory that makes nose cones for the Airbus and as such is surrounded by Schedule D Airspace to ensure the safe operation of their Beluga Transporter.  Enter the Royal Air Force and their generous loan of 2 Tutor aircraft flown by Frenchie Duncan and Martin Skeer equipped with radios and transponders to talk to Air Traffic for us and to provide individual escort to each aircraft because of their different straight and level speeds – 55mph/80mph.  Both the Kiwi pilots were unstinting in their praise for the professional service and ‘can do’ attitude of the RAF throughout the deployment.

Both the BE2 and the Albatros are managed in UK by the WW1 Aviation Heritage Trust, operated by The Vintage Aviator Ltd of New Zealand, and engWAHT Logoineered by Martin and Steve of Flying Restorations near Sandy in Bedfordshire.  All of whom worked very long hours on our week’s deployment in France to ensure the aircraft were ready to deliver the poppies.  Not to mention the support at Albert (Morgan Hugon) and at Abbeville (Patricia and Jean-Jacques Monvoisin). Dodging around the arrival of Prince Charles, the Albatros is towed across the airfield from grass runway to be refuelled and to be security checked.  The timings are getting very tight as the Gendarmerie pose for pictures in front of the Albatros cutting our margins still further.  I have now attached the bottom of my laundry bag to my harness so it does not leave with the 10, 000 poppies and am raring to go. ….

Those Magnificent Men (1) – Their Journey Back to the Somme

Those Magnificent men

At the start of the Battle of Somme on the 1st July 2016, some 400 Be2s are shown on the posted strength of the Royal Flying Corps. Long past their sell by date and their initial deployment with the British Expeditionary Force in Aug 1914, and soon to be earning their spurs against the Zeppelins in the skies over UK, the BE2 crews were the embodiment of the offensive spirit of the RFC demanded by their Commander, Brigadier Trenchard. You have to fly in one to understand the incredible sense of duty required to get airborne in a fragile construction of wood and linen powered by arthritic sowing machine which threatens to immolate the front cockpit occupant in a miasma of hot oil, let alone to go to war in one with the Eindecker and later the Albatros trying to kill you.BE2

Fast forward to 15th September 2016, and I am sitting in the front cockpit of BE2e (A2767) at Albert Picardie Aeroport waiting to get airborne in one of the most incredible and moving flights of my life. My grandfather flew BE2s in 1916. My 5000 hours of flying RAF helicopters pales in to insignificance when you consider that the pilot in this occasion is John Bargh who has come all the way from New Zealand with his wife Penny to pay his homage to the NZ fallen and has 25,500 hours’ crop-dusting under his belt. John as almost everyone in New Zealand has a relative who volunteered to join the British Empire’s fight against the Hun. John’s grandfather fought at Messines Ridge and somehow survived the horrors of Passchendaele.

 

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