From motorbikes to spitfires

Fylde veteran John Hare was among several alumni to join the AKS service of remembrance, but the only person who still remembers some of the school's pupils listed on the war memorial.

Friday, 2nd December 2016, 9:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 3:40 pm
Henry Hare, 1938

Now 94, John – of Fairhaven – was eight when he joined King Edward VII School in 1930. Following in his brother Henry’s footsteps, John was a model pupil and even entrusted with ringing the school bells at break-time.

His brother Henry left school in 1937 to serve in the Royal Army Service Corps – firstly as a reserve and later as a despatch rider in France. John recalls how Henry had been caught for three days on the beaches at Dunkirk in 1940, each day wading into the sea to queue in an orderly fashion for a rescue vessel while being strafed by the Germans. He still has some of the aerograms Henry wrote to him from the border of India and Burma, where he was later posted and narrowly escaped capture by the Japanese.

Henry left behind his motorbike, giving John the chance to service its engine and prepare for mechanical work with the RAF. John enlisted in 1941 and trained at Blackpool Aerodrome while billeted, 48 to a room, at a nearby hotel on Dickson Road – it was so over-run by mice he found a dead mouse in the custard one day.

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John was posted to various bases in Yorkshire, where he worked on Rolls Royce Merlin engines in 102 Squadron Bomber Command.

John was in C Flight where planes were prepared for operations and pilots were re-trained to fly four engine aircraft, in place of twin engines, or ‘kites’ as they were known. Later John trained as an engine fitter and became a leading aircraftman, serving in Malta and Egypt.

During five years’ service, John kept a diary and wrote weekly letters to his parents on Cyprus Avenue. Still in meticulous bundles, the letters and diaries were shared with some senior AKS pupils after the Remembrance Service.

In letters from 1942, he described his very long working hours and the responsibility: “When you are dealing with the lives of eight men and a kite worth £100,000, you can’t afford to be careless.”

Whenever possible he took the chance to act as a flight engineer and reported on a simulated attack in one letter, “a bit of excitement when a Spitfire started shooting us up. Our pilot took avoiding action, I never knew they could throw bombers about like he did.

“I was standing up at the time and I felt myself suspended in mid-air with my back pressing on the roof and I fell violently to the floor.”

In 1943, John celebrated his 21st birthday at RAF Rufforth and wrote to thank his parents for their postal order:

“I fully appreciate the sacrifices you have made in order to give me a good up-bringing, a good education and such a better start in life than any of you had; may God make me worthy of it.”

After de-mob, John worked as an accountant in Blackburn where his father, Charles Henry, was a stockbroker.

John’s sons, Nigel and David, also attended King Edward VII School.

John’s story has been recorded for use at RAF Hendon and his experiences will be used to educate local young people via war-time educational packs, being produced by AKS archive volunteers.

For more information, contact Liz Bickerstaffe on (01253) 713850 or email [email protected]

• With thanks to John Hare and to Liz Bickerstaffe, AKS archive volunteer