Friday, 17 May 2013

70th Anniversary Dambusters Flypast ‘My Ride of Respect’ 16th May 2013

There are certain events that take place once in your lifetime, the commemorative 70th Anniversary Dambusters Flypast of Derwent Reservoir by the very last Lancaster Bomber  from WW2, is just one of those occasions!

Derwent Reservoir Dam - Derbyshire

Lifting my head from the pillow the digital display burned 05:25AM into my retinas ‘I really do need to turn the brightness down on that damn clock’ shot through my mind. 

As  I’d been wide awake for at least three quarters of an hour already it did’t really matter what the clock read,  I was buzzing!  Pre ride excitement had taken over, my brain sprung into action even before my eyes had opened with thoughts about being late, parking, getting Lilie Rose off to school in good time to meet Lefty at the MacD’s on route. Having read online that there was a planned 20 mile Parking Exclusion Zone due to Health & Safety the run up to the event had been somewhat  fraught already. 

Donning my dressing gown, I picked up Chris Stewarts ‘A Parrot in a Pepper Tree’, the second book in his trilogy and my second in as many weeks. I was unable to put  ‘Driving Over Lemons’ down, A Parrot in a Pepper Tree is even better. I cannot wait to get started on ‘The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society’, but I digress.

I’d got two lots of riding gear laid out and as the sun was doing its best to creep around the blackout blind’s I knew todays was going to be a ‘Kevlar’ jeans and leather jacket day. Perfect!

Before I knew it I was dragged back from Andalucia, kicking and screaming ‘metaphorically speaking you understand’ by Jeannie walking around upstairs. It was 0700 hours, time to spring into action. With Sam’s bookmark replaced & I headed back upstairs to assist with the lift from bed to wheelchair. You see since February we’ve become a well oiled machine. Each having their own roles and responsibilities. Lilie Rose loves routine, it works for her and so it works for us.

Once Lilie Rose was safely installed in said wheel chair, I was off to perform my own ‘3 S’s’ morning routine.

At bang on 0755 hours Lilie Rose, somewhat in shock, at the speed of being fed, watered, washed and dressed was now sat in the living room waiting for the school transport to arrive, a whole 20 minutes earlier than usual. We even had time to ‘Tweet” a photo of Lilie Rose & I as we waited impatiently for the transport to arrive. ‘Come on get a move on will you’ I thought to myself. Happily the bus arrived and after dealing with a couple of bemused staff asking what my waistcoat was all about I was ready for the off.

By 0905 hours, see how I slip seamlessly into military speak with the times, I hope you'r suitably impressed, you should be its the only bloody thing I learned in 12 & half year in the Army (OH, & yes the half year is very important, to me at least).

Half way through devouring my Mac D. Double Bacon Burger smothered in BBQ Sauce, Lefty gave me a very smart salute through the window. Causing half the occupants to look at me as if I was something special! Thank’s for that Lefty, you can come again!

Lefty ready for the away

It’s only a 30 minute ride over the A57 Snake Pass, one of Derbyshire's more famous biker roads, to Derwent Reservoir. The ride was slow and uneventful until a ‘plonker’ in the car in front of me decided after just  one flash of the indicator to pull into the lay-by cafe which was full to bursting. There's no wonder the lay-by was rammed as it is situated just 200 foot from the left turn onto the road leading to Derwent Water Visitors Centre. 

The fact I was ‘gorping’ at 4 police motorcycles at that exact moment the driver turned in, almost caught me out! I wonder just how would that have gone down in court? Me ploughing head long into the back of a moving car with 4 bacon sandwich munching motorcycle police officer as witnesses. I don’t think I would have stood much of a chance in somehow! 

Pulling off the A57 onto the un-named road that runs up the lefthand side of Derwent Reservoir it became very apparent that arriving as early as 1030 hours  was a shrewd move. We had been passing cars parked on every verge and in every lay by for the past 2 miles and with another 2 miles to the visitors centre the right hand path was one continues  row of parked cars. Half on the road the half on the footpath, strangely enough all straddling the double yellow lines that ran the full length of the road underneath. The whole place was awash with high visibility vest wearing traffuic controllers  demanding that everyone turn right around and head back the way they had come. 

“Sorry lad’s you’ll have to head back down and see if you can slot in somewhere as its totally packed up there” the traffic controller said pointing up the 2 mile stretch of road.

“We’re Legion Riders mate, we need to be up there” I shouted over the sound of Mr T’s radiator fan whirring away below me. 

He insisted that we joined the throngs of cars turning back at the small island 2 miles from our destination. 

“I’m sure we can find a small space somewhere” I shouted again, backed up with my best big grin. I’d lifted up the front of my Shoei helmet by now.

“Listen, keep to the right, no overtaking and just slot in where you can, OK?”

“Cheers for that mate, we will” I shouted back (it must have been the big grin that won him over).

Lefty kept his head down and his mouth shut as he tagged on behind me. Well you don't ride a bike and then be expected to walk 2 miles, do you?

Following one of the Rangers Land Rovers we continued past 100’s of park cars, all the way down the right hand side. I bet there were a couple of  Off-duty Traffic Wardens sweating at the thought of being let loose with their little machines!

Pulling up behind someone in a Rover 45 I watched as he almost ran over an attendants foot. How he missed her I have no idea! 

Parking up we de-bagged and started chatting to a couple of leather clad lads that had just arrived from CMC  Motorcycles in Clay Cross where they’d met for breakfast. A small world or what?

Who said there was no parking spaces?

After a quick dash to the loo followed by a short lineup to buy a drink, Lefty & I walked the 150 foot across the flat land that runs behind the dam wall. After a brief pointless debate over which side to go up we chose to head up on the right hand side of the dam. There was absolutely no justification for our decision other than we were already heading in that direction anyway! After a further 50  foot struggle up the steep muddy path. We eventually emerged at the side of the right hand tower. This was were we got our first glimpse of Derwent Reservoir and the whole of the Dam in all its splendor. 

The reservoirs bank was fairly busy already at 1045 hours but not as manic as the far side looked. Fate was looking after us rather well, what with me just missing the turning car, the friendly traffic attendant letting us past plus the glorious weather,  clear blue sky with just the odd cloud here and there.

After climbing over the small metal fence we clambered down the first 4 foot drop to get a lake side ‘seat’. We were followed by masses of visitors all laying claim to their own piece of gravel. Then we waited and waited and waited some more. 

You can see this Union Jack flag
on Granada TV Report
(you have to look very closely mind)

It's fun people watching, some sitting, some standing, others walking about looking for the perfect spot. To our left a camera man, complete with TV Style boom mic and tripod, was already well entrenched right at the waters edge. Any further to his left and he would have been paddling. Lefty & I had about 15 foot of space in front of us. I heard a coupe talking to the camera man, he’d been there since just after 0900 hours, now that really was commitment. 

1230 hours saw another camera man arrive and set up stall some 20 foot in front of the original camera man, just to our left. I heard the newcomer speaking to a colleague in German before watching his very high spec TV Camera start to slide precariously off the top of its case where the cameraman had laid it. It was heading straight towards the water.

“Vorsicht!” I said instinctively!

At 1245 hours you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife.  We were all so focused, listening for the first rumblings. 

It was 70 years ago that the Lancaster Bomber and the Spitfire, which we were about to see with our very own two eyes, had both been involved in active service over Germany. 

Without any prompts or warning everyone just began to stand up. There were two TV helicopters, hovering above the dam, they both flew the full length of the dam, Dambuster style. All of which just added to the crowds anticipation of the impending arrivals.

The German camera man asked a lady some 10 foot in front of him if she would’t mind moving back from the waters edge as she was in his shot. I won’t repeat her reply. She’d been there since 0900 hours and basically told the cameraman what he could do with his camera having only arrived a paltry 30 minutes earlier. Needless to say, a number of German TV News viewers will have a fleeting glimpse of the back of her head tonight.

UK TV & German TV 
One a little happier than the other!

Then, from the very far end of the reservoir came the rumble of the Lancaster's  engines. I started to shake, the feeling’s of pride, happiness and nervousness just rushed through my body all at once. Everyone around us focused all their energies visually searching the sky in order to get the first glimpse of this most wonderful of machines, the Lancaster Bomber. Masses of cameras, mobiles and iPads, all scanned the far end of the reservoir. 

It's Show Time

Finally the Lancaster Bomber appeared from behind the tree line, what an amazing sight. On the first fly past I took two photo’s of the Lancaster Bomber and then two of the Spitfire that followed very close on the Lancaster’s tail. The Tornado’s came past so fast I could only get one photo. It was simply mind blowing. I could quite easily have burst into tears right there and then. Even as I type this blog my eyes are filling up,  it was such an emotional experience and one that I will never ever forget. The sight, the sound, the huge murmur of the crowd as the Lancaster Bomber came into view from around the tree line all in unison, was breathtaking. A tremendous feeling of pride washed over me like a never ending wave of euphoria. I loved it.

Lancaster Bomber


Finally the Tornados
What an unforgettable sight

The fact that the Lancaster Bomber, Spitfire and two Tornados came back over the dam wall and then did another flypast was just fantastic. I tried my best to video the final flypast with my camera. The results are not of TV broadcast standard but it will remind me for a very long time of the feelings I had that day.

70th Anniversary Dambusters Flypast

What those pilot must have felt when they trained in 1943 to drop the Bouncing Bomb designed by Barnes Wallis back in 1942 over the very spot I was standing some 70 years later is just unthinkable. It makes me so proud to be British.

On the 16th May 2013 there I was standing on the banks of Derwent Reservoir watching an actual World War 2 Lancaster Bomber and Spitfire fly over the dam in exactly the same way it had done 70 years ago. 

With the third and final flypast complete they were gone. Heading over to Chatsworth Park were I’m sure just as many well wishers were waiting to see them.

Lefty and I strolled back to the bikes, said our fair wells and set off back into what can only be described as ‘traffic carnages’ but in this situations two wheels cannot be beaten, no matter what you drive. Within 10 minutes I was clear of the traffic and meandered back along Snake Pass, admittedly at a much reduced speed due to the sheer number of cyclists on the road.

As they say in Jamaica
"Grid Lock"

All in all, and I’m sure Lefty will agree, we had an absolutely unforgettable day. It’s just a shame Oggy was not with us to take some of is exceptionally good photo’s. 

The events of 16-17th May 1943 ‘Operation Chastise’ are  so well documented that I would not propose to go into here but please feel free to click on the following links to learn more about the Dam Busters.

"Lest We Forget"

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