No. 269 SQUADRON R.A.F.
EASTLEIGH - ABBOTSINCH - WICK - ICELAND - AZORES - GIBRALTAR - BALLYKELLY - HEMSWELL
R.N. SEAPLANE BASES, PORT SAID & ALEXANDRIA
H.M. Seaplane Carriers "BEN MY CHREE", "RAVEN", "ANNE", "EMPRESS", AND "CITY OF OXFORD"
OLD COMRADES’ ASSOCIATION
Patron: Air Vice Marshal G A CHESWORTH, CB OBE DFC
President: Gp Capt H H ECCLES AE MA CEng FIEE MRAeS
The 269 Squadron Old Comrades Association held its 85th consecutive, and final, reunion dinner at the RAF Club on September 1st 2007.
The OCA has now ceased its formal activities.
A final Newsletter will be published shortly.
An account of the final dinner follows
No 269 Squadron OCA 85th Annual Reunion - President's After-Dinner Speech
Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen.
It is my pleasure to welcome our guests. But first, I must pay tribute to Air Chief Marshal Sir John Barraclough who has had to cry off at the last minute, having suffered a serious fall and being hospitalised. Sir John joined No 269 Squadron almost exactly 70 years ago and is certainly the senior pilot in the Old Comrades Association. He has asked me to pass on the following sentiment: “ To the changing body of 269 men who, through the years, have so amazingly kept the indomitable spirit and history of one of our finest air squadrons so vibrantly alive to add great lustre to our famous Service : With thanks and warmest good wishes and admiration to all our Old Comrades.”
It has only taken 85 years for us to come to the conclusion that ladies should be welcomed at our dinners. So, to quote the poet, tonight we have “a store of ladies, whose bright eyes rain influence”. Welcome to you all and welcome Peter and Marianne Owen. We owe a great debt of gratitude to Peter, who is the Club Secretary and who has never failed to provide a standard of service, par excellence, at every reunion dinner we have enjoyed these past many years. Never once has it been necessary to make even the tiniest complaint. With us here tonight is Malcolm Lewis, who has just written a book entitled ‘Tale of the Tankards’ covering the history of No 269 Squadron during the RAF Montrose and RAF Wick years. The title comes from Malcolm finding some ex-squadron tankards for sale in a bric-a-bac shop. The late and great JC Graham had assisted Malcolm in much of the subsequent research and had specifically asked for a copy of the book to go to the RAF Club. It is therefore my pleasure to hand it over to Peter with the hope that it will be placed in the club library. Thank you Peter and our thanks also to your ever courteous and reliable staff.
Later this month a memorial will be unveiled in Reykjavik with the inscription
“THIS TRIBUTE TO THE ALLIED AIRMEN WHO FLEW FROM ICELAND DURING THE BATTLE OF THE ATLANTIC WAS ERECTED AS A GIFT BY THE ICELANDIC AERONAUTICAL SOCIETY AND UNVEILED ON 12th SEPTEMBER 2007 BY HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS THE DUKE OF KENT. KG.”
For ‘Icelandic Aeronautical Society’ read ‘Arngrimur Johannsson’. Need I say more.
Representing this Land of the Midnight Sun is His Excellency, Mr.Sverrir Haukur Gunnlaugsson and, as we say in England, Mrs Gunnlaugsson but more formally Gundy Adalsteinsdóttir. Some of us have previously had the honour and pleasure of being your guests at Hans Street and so we certainly ‘owe you one’!
Back in late 1942 a unique constitutional position existed in Iceland, caused mainly by us, the invading Allies. A general election had produced a stalemate. So the Regent appointed a government of five men who were not MPs. The wisdom of this action can be seen today in the prosperous outward-looking way of life of the Icelandic people, in a country half as large again as Ireland with a population smaller than Coventry. Talk about boxing-above-their-weight!
However, I digress. Returning to wartime and the aftermath. Iceland was a vital base to us during the Battle of the Atlantic. Sadly, the present-day successor to the once mighty RAF Coastal Command is now an Air Commodore hidden away in RAF Air Command. RAF Kinloss is his one and only airfield and No 120 Squadron, represented this evening by Wing Commander Martin Cannard and Mrs Cannard, is one, of the only two, operational front line Nimrod Squadrons. No 120 Squadron has had a long association with Iceland. Formed in Northern Ireland in June 1941, it was supporting Russian convoys from Reykjavik a year later. The Nimrods, and their predecessors, have been regular visitors ever since. I am sure No 120 Squadron will, for the future, keep the spirit of No 269 Squadron alive.
Now for the keynote part of my speech. Some twenty odd years ago we were compiling the squadron history and had got to 27 August 1941, the day of the U-570 action. This was the first time in the war that a U-boat, alone in the middle of the ocean, had been crippled by an aircraft. Previously surface forces had always been present and thus, whenever a U-boat was abandoned, there was always someone to rescue the crew. When the crew of the U-570 arrived at Grizedale Hall prison camp (less the captain who had been sent to a different camp), an unofficial Court of Honour was set up by the other prisoners. In his absence, the captain was found guilty of cowardice. In the post-war years, with the benefit of hindsight and possession of a detailed technical report, the members of No 269 Squadron Old Comrades Association considered that this verdict was unfair. The gallant Kapitänleutnant Hans-Joachim Rahmlow was literally between the devil and the deep blue sea. At the very moment of surrender, he was faced with an aircraft circling round, firing machine guns at the crew who were all on deck with no hiding place, no means of retaliation and unable to re-enter the boat because, as they reasonably assumed, it was full of chlorine gas. The depth charge attack had plunged the boat into darkness and caused an inrush of salt water. Salt water on contact with battery acid produces chlorine. With the aicraft coming round for a second pass, there was little time for decision. A white flag was displayed.
After the war, Kapt Lt Rahmlow was ostracised by all his fellow submariners. Recognising the relentless misery and unhappiness this would have caused him and his family spurred us on to clear his name. We wanted the captain to be our Guest of Honour so we could say so. Correspondence with the Naval Attaché at the German Embassy got us nowhere, as did our other efforts. Then we learned that Captain Rahmlow had died and the trail went cold. Later, when we decided to wind up the Old Comrades Association, a final effort was made to trace his next-of-kin. We now had the internet. A brief note was put on a website and, joy of joys, Axel Sahner responded. He not only knew that Hans-Joachim Rahmlow had a son and two daughters but was in personal contact with one of the daughters. With much persuasion he managed to get Antje, despite being none too well, to accept our invitation. So it is with enormous pleasure that I welcome our friends from Germany. Frau Antje Rock and her daughters Anja and Nicola and the man who made it happen, Axel Sahner and his friend Anne. If Antje will be so good as to stand up, I have a little souvenir for her to take home.
Here is a wall plaque with the badge of No 269 Squadron and, underneath the squadron motto, is inscribed in German “In memory of courageous Kapt-Leutnant Hans-Joachim Rahmlow U570”.
In our view, the record has now been put straight.
Finally I turn to our Guest of Honour. You all know him as our esteemed Patron George with his wife, Betty. However, for the purpose of maintaining a little decorum, I will tell you a few things you do not know about Air Vice-Marshal G.A. Chesworth, CB, OBE, DFC, Justice of the Peace. When I first met him in 1963 we were working together on the Nimrod Project in Operational Requirements at the Air Ministry. Like all good Coastal Command types George could do everything asked of him. During his service career and in retirement he certainly had a varied life. From the Air Training Corps, he started his RAF service in 1948 as one of the rare National Service pilots, obtained his commission and stayed on. On completing flying training and converting to Sunderland Flying Boats, he joined No 205 Squadron in the Far East. He flew many operational sorties against the Chinese in the Korean War for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He might also have qualified for an endurance medal in holding the record of taking three months to ferry a Sunderland back to the UK and return. His next move was as a Flying Instructor on piston Provost aircraft at RAF Hullavington, followed by a ground tour, then RAF Kinloss as a Shackleton Instructor and finally back to squadron life as a Flight Commander with No 201 Squadron. For the next twenty years it was onwards and upwards, culminating with a triumph in supervising at Ascension the RAF raid on Port Stanley during the Falklands Campaign. Code-named 'Black Buck', this was an astonishing feat of arms by any standards. It was the longest operational bombing mission ever attempted, a 6,000 miles round-trip from Ascension Island and the effect on the aviation and political world was shattering.
George retired from the RAF in 1984 and a year later was the Chief Executive of the Glasgow Garden Festival, followed by appointment as Lord Lieutenant of Moray until reaching compulsory retirement age a couple of years ago. In the midst of all this he very kindly agreed to help No 269 Squadron Old Comrades Association out of a hole by becoming our Patron at very short notice. This he has done for the last twenty years or so and has always been a wise and trusty counsellor, frequently travelling from Scotland to be at our dinners.
Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen: George Chesworth.