I lived in North Walsham as a kid. RAF Coltishall was only about 6 miles away. We all grew up with the English Electric Lightning; the cold-war emblems, a sliver flash glossily belting past on high, occasionally breaking the sound barrier with that window-rattling, deep, sonorous boom they are famed for.
Ken Wallace lived near enough by to occasionally give us a glimpse of the eccentricities of his autogyros, and later came the Jaguars. Now RAF Coltishall is a Prison; HMP Bure, and a Solar farm.
Brightest in my memory, among the receding pictures of childhood in my head with the other remains of that bit of childhood around the ages of six or seven is The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. It too was stationed at RAF Coltishall in the late 1960s and early the 1970s, A Lancaster a Spitfire and Hurricane. At certain times, a week without seeing a Spitfire or Hurricane was pretty rare as I remember it. I’m older now, but still I’ll run outside at the merest hint of a Merlin or a Griffon, either a charger – the Spit, or a workhorse – the frankly amazing Hurricane, I don’t mind.
I try and avoid the places where there might be too many of them, because I honestly think overexposure to the sound will make me cry. I don’t know if it’s the nostalgia of childhood or the things they represent to some of us who grew up closer to the end of the Second World War than we were to now, a noise that still hasn’t quite been lost in the clamour of greedy nationalism like so many of today’s subverted symbols. Maybe it is just that sound, the throttling up, the whine of the superchargers. The cadence and lyricism of those cylinders, the tearing drumbeat of a turn, a climb or especially a dive.
My oh my, it still does things.
© Nick Stone. Photos RAF Marham family day 2010.