A View From the Window…
On a Wednesday night I have what might euphemistically be termed a social life. Well an evening class. Creative Writing. In which I am one of 8 people who sit around a table in a classroom in a bland and nondescript classroom in an adult college in Oxford. It’s not quite what I expected it to be, to be honest, and I am not sure about it. I mean it’s a bit “pink and fluffy” for me.
Write about the world from the point of view of this shell. Or something. And then there’s the idea of writing poetry. Well that ain’t gonna happen, I can tell you. We got set homework this week, and a lot of it was about poetry – which, well for the first time in my education I am not going to do, because I have no intention of taking on the Vogons (or Paula Nancy Millstone-Jennings) as the writer of the worst poetry in the Universe. (A nod to Douglas Adams there…)
But in the email I got sent about the homework, was another task – write about sitting at a window. Describe the scene. Now THIS I like.
And I had the perfect opportunity to do so today, as I was in the Headquarters building by the main entrance to the base. I was there to observe how they went about their jobs and processes as the RAF’s Compulsory Drugs Team visited the station. They do all the organising and the collation of the plans and so forth. And I noticed today they have the best view out of their office windows.
Today the sky was a beautiful blue. With the odd fluffy white cloud that seemed to head upwards to the heavens. It was the sort of day that makes me think about flying and the time I flew in a Tornado. From this window the sun was hidden behind the clouds but there was no threat posed by them. They bubbled around and lay in the sky lazily, almost as though they were embarrassed to be there and looking for an excuse to wander off on their own lonely way.
The horizon was hidden by the trees bursting into leaf – and very green from the recent rains. Over to the left of the window the trees were more mature and were taller but they thinned out as they gave way to a grassed area before gaining height again over to the right. There the trees were older. Wiser. These were the trees over by the RAF Regiment section building, which had been around for a while. They’d seen things. They’d got the history of the station in their wood. With each burst of sap they could tell stories about the different aircraft that had graced Benson throughout it’s history. From the Spitfires all the way through to Argosy’s and then into the helicopter era. These trees knew it. In our time thousands of people had been through the station. Changes had been made. Commanders had come and gone. Marks had been made. But for them, it’d just been a few moments. Whilst we scurried around beneath them they had continued on their leafy way to the sky.
In the middle of the window obscuring the trees in the near ground was the guardroom. And it is still a Guardroom. Not yet a “Reception” that some stations have gone over to calling it. The RAF police are still based in that building, as well as the station guard force. Over on the left is the new automatic door that is still going through it’s teething troubles – opening by error as soon as anyone walks past, much to the annoyance of the two ladies who work behind the counter there issuing passes and permits to enter the station. Over to the right of the modern entrance to the building are five concrete pillars painted in a dull red paint. Almost a rusty colour, they frame four windows and a central double wooden door that is the entrance to the RAF Police Flight.
Like the trees, this building is old. One has the dream that it is the oldest building on the camp built first in the 1930’s when the RAF was expanding to counter the growing threat of war. Built to guard the rest of the station as that was constructed behind it. It’s fanciful to think of that. Fanciful to imagine all the people it has welcomed onto the station. To think of how many people in the wartime period it welcomed in but never saw leave – as they took off in aircraft never to return. How many people I wonder…?
In front of that history is a reflection of the modern world. A guard hut with a couple of airmen. Armed and ready. One checking passes, the other covering him in case of something -anything- untoward happening. Dressed oddly in green, black and brown combats and then with a high-viz jacket over the top, they stand by the barriers that rise and fall as cars, lorries and bikes come in and go out.
But these are not the things that dominate the view from the window. The two things that the eye are drawn to first of all are the full sized Spitfire gate-guardian that lets visitors know first and foremost that, yes it’s a military base – you are met with guys with guns, but most importantly it’s an RAF base. It’s a Spitfire in a dark grey – almost blue colour that signifies it was a photo-recce aircraft back in World War 2.
It’s not a real Spitfire. It’s a fibre-glass and steel model of an aircraft. A real one would be far to valuable to put on a pillar outside the entrance to a base. Once upon a time it would have been a real one…but these were removed years ago and models used to replace them. All bases have a gate guardian of some sort – even if, like at Cosford, the aircraft isn’t actually sited at the gate – and the aircraft must have some sort of link to the history of the station. And this photo-recce Spit shows that in World War 2 Benson was a photo-recce base. Not many people flew out of the base to fight – they flew out of it to find out how the bombers had done, or to look for targets. They flew high and they flew fast. And most of them flew in unarmed aircraft…
The other thing that dominates the view from the window is the flagpole. This is a huge mast affair that each day the RAF Ensign flies from. And of course today is no exception. There it is. Slowly fluttering in the breeze. A Union Flag in the upper corner, with a field of sky blue – oddly the same blue as the sky today – and on that field of blue is an RAF roundel. Red in the center with a with outer circle and then a dark blue ring encircling both.
This was the flag that the Navy did not want us to have, and fought against it in the early years of the RAF’s formation. But Trenchard, the ‘Father of the RAF’ was a friend of the King and by-passed the Navy committee and took the proposed flag straight to the King for his approval. The Navy could not refuse the King once he had already made up his mind to endorse the ensign…and so we gained a flag and a bit of a story that – to be honest – isn’t told enough. But it does exemplify everything the RAF stands for. Do it. Find a way. Overcome. Reach for the stars. By struggle if necessary.