Stirling To Essen

Stirling To Essen Book 7My book 'Stirling to Essen' was officially launched at the Flying Legends Show at IWM Duxford in July 2017, Fighting High Publishing had their usual tent and as a good ex Northerner would say I felt well 'chuffed' to be there signing copies. In reality it had actually been launched a week earlier at my 2017 Godmanchester Bomber Command Veterans Day, a close run thing as they arrived on a pallet at 8am with the event opening at 10am. 

How did the book come into existence? Well my talk 'The Godmanchester Stirling' had been well received by a number of local history societies and its 'fame' spread by word of mouth. Soon I was being booked by what seemed every local history society for miles. Eventually I was booked by the Huntingdon Local History Society, they loved the story and approached me to see if there was enough to turn it into a book ? Well of course there were reams of photos and stories that I could not cram into the one hour talk, so the answer was simple... Yes! I was then asked to submit a Goodliff Award application, which I was subsequently granted, an amazing £1,000, adding money I had raised (another £1,000) and we were under way. Finding a publisher was not difficult, I was already working with Fighting High and knew Steve Darlow well. My work could not have been in better or more professional hands. 


ABOVE: The Goodliff Awards presentation evening and the renowned TV Historian Doctor Simon Thurley presenting the £1000 grant towards the book.

I had a veritable mountain of information, stories and a wealth of unique and amazing photographs. The problem now lay in intertwining them and sifting them into a chronological order. This was the most difficult job, knitting them together into a coherent story. This would take 18 months of writing, jigging, re-jigging, double checking and correcting before I was in a position to submit the initial draft. Some time later Steve came around to do a check on 'errors' that were in the manuscript. In essence, although there seemed a lot, I was told it was quite normal and many of the queries related to what does this mean, what does that stand for etc. Off it went again for a final check and proofread. 


ABOVE: 'Stirling to Essen' lands at the Comrades Club, Godmanchester with two hours to spare! Steve from Fighting High Publishing gets to grips with the pallet wrap and I cast my eye over 6 years work.  

At that point one event brought two chapters to a stop, the discovery of the family of Sergeant Noel 'Johnny' Spalding in Ohio, USA. I had been frustrated in not knowing more about 'Johnny', and felt that his story couldn't just stop at his death. What became of his his widow and son?, well thanks to Facebook and couple of very skilled and resolute 'diggers' they were found and a torrent of information and photos streamed across the Atlantic. Two chapters had to be rapidly rewritten to include 'Johnny's' story.


ABOVE: The 'Official' launch at IWM Duxford at the Flying Legends weekend in July 2017. In a world dominated by Lancasters it was well received by those with a wider interest. And there were also a good few Short Stirling fanatics there.

I cannot express enough my gratitude to the families of all the airmen mentioned in the book. Every one of them has been incredibly supportive, willingly sharing memories, documents and photographs, all of which helped make the book a more personal account of 'their war'. I made a promise to myself that I would do all I could to spread their story as far as I could, so I organised numerous signing events where the money raised was transferred to The Godmanchester Stirling Fund, and then donated onto to support local and national charities and causes. In 2017 the Fund was able to donate over £3,000, in 2018 this rose to over £4,000 , mostly from money raised from the book. In February 2018 the book had its first reprint, having sold out just before Christmas. I hope to be able to raise another £3,000 in 2019, but the fund will shrink as stocks dwindle. Although there is the possibility of a paperback edition which would open the story up to a whole new audience. Meanwhile another book is possibly on the horizon, based on stories from Farm Hall in Godmanchester, an SIS Secret Establishment during WW2, I have discovered some amazing stories of both those who ran it and those who passed through its doors.

ABOVE: A hugely treasured photo of myself at the 2017 Godmanchester Bomber Command Veterans Day and the wonderful 'Johnny' Johnson (617 Squadron Dambusters) holding a copy.

I must also give praise to all those who helped with the research, some of whom I've never met, their expertise helped me no end in piecing together the story and ensuring that it was accurate and their enthusiasm to help was heartwarming. All kinds of museums, groups and historical societies etc contributed to a greater or lesser extent. Too many to mention here, but they are all acknowledged in the book, and rightly so. One gentleman I must thank is Steve Bengree, he's a wizard with computers and led this 'old dog' by the nose through putting together this website. So thanks Steve, you're a gem and I absolutely couldn't have done this without you.   

Finally I must thank my wife, Michele, who has been incredibly supportive throughout this long process, thankfully Sunday night TV is not for me and she loved the programmes. I lost count of the number of times I'd run down the stairs excited about yet another amazing story or coincidence and exclaim 'You'll never guess what I've discovered now' and she would hit the pause or mute button. She's been a rock, and I'm very grateful for her support. 


Family Day 2014 with Flypast

Having spent two years tracking down the families connected to the Godmanchester Stirling story I decided to organise a day where they could all meet, chat amongst themselves, discover more about the story and learn more about the Short StIrling Bomber. It would also give the town the chance to connect with the story as well. I contacted the Battle of Britain Memorial flight to see if a fly past was possible, I was told it was very short notice, but a week before I received a phone call to say that they could not miss such an event and would therefore divert on their way to Duxford and do a 'fly through', basically one pass. It was to be a marvellous day for everyone. Here Roy Palmer, the owner of Drummond's 1930's Supercharged Squire gave the families a short history lesson on the car which Drummond used to rally all those years ago. This was followed by a trip to Ben Sansoms fantastic, and famous, 1940's house which gave us a real sense of life back then.



Yours truly with the Stirling Project team, they are building the front piece of a Short Stirling and showed some of their work.  


I gave each family the opportunity of putting up a display of their airmen's memorabilia, here two tables cover the service of Navigator Clifford Reeve and his skipper Squadron Leader Drummond Wilson.



After lunch Pino Lombardi of The Stirling Project gave a talk on the Short Stirling, whilst I covered what had been discovered so far regarding the Godmanchester Stirling story.


Two very special photos, Drummond Robson (son of Pilot Officer Norman Robson) meets Drummond Thorne (son of Drummond Wilson). Their fathers trained together and became great friends, so much so that Norman named his son after his best friend. This was the first time the sons of two wartime best friends had met. Not long after this event a third Drummond, Drummond Orr, was found. Another one of Drummond Wilson's relatives. In the other photo Phillippa Kirby receives a small piece of metal that came from the MacRoberts Reply her late Grandfather, Edgar Gould, had flown in.


Presentations in full swing


 The Stirling Projects display and the niece of Sergeant Len Gornall stand by the side of his dress uniform, now owned by Tempsford Museum and Archive. 


And right on time over she came, this wonderful photograph was taken by Peter McGuire, hundreds turned out to watch her fly over and she even delayed a wedding at St Marys. Alas the Hurricane that was supposed to accompany her failed to turn up due to the Spitfire breaking down she had to divert elsewhere.


 More wonderful shots of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster passing over The Causeway



Afterwards I made short speech at The Chinese Bridge, remembering all those who had flown in the Godmanchester Stirling, especially those who lost their lives during the conflict. We also raised some money for the fund by passing buckets around. I was ably supported by my wife, Michele, and also my so James and daughter in law Hayley, as well as number of other volunteers who helped it to be the success it was.