As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
From The Tempest, Act 4 Scene 1
Alan’s photo prompt for this week’s Sepia Saturday gives us ‘sleeping' or ‘rest’ for a theme, if we choose to do so. Alan was confident that we themers could pluck something from the thinnest of air, cleverly referring, I’m sure, to the words above, spoken by Prospero in Shakespeare’s ’The Tempest’.
The picture I have chosen is of Spitfire pilots resting during World War Two*, whilst waiting for the call to ‘scramble’ their aircraft. Last Sunday was ‘Battle of Britain Sunday’, an occasion marked by church services throughout the country, including Westminster Abbey. This year also marks the 75th Anniversary of the first flight of the prototype Spitfire, the remarkable aircraft which played such a huge part in the Battle of Britain, a turning point in the war.
My own father was serving in the RAF at that time, having enlisted in July 1941, the month of his 19th birthday. He was one of the unsung groundcrew, who made sure that the aircraft were serviceable, and put in long and exhausting hours, often in extreme weather conditions. Dad suffered frostbite whilst stationed at RAF Silloth in Cumbria in one of the bitterest winters on record 1941-2. However, prior to that was stationed at Biggin Hill with 609 Squadron during part of the Battle of Britain, and knew many of the young pilots, for whom he has a deep and lasting respect.
I’m not going to detail facts and figures about the aircraft as, these can be found by simply clicking a button and searching the web, but in 2006, marking its 70th birthday Jonathan Glancey’s book ‘Spitfire, the biography’ was published, which gave a very readable account of the aircraft and its life above and beyond the war.
The book is full of detail, anecdotes and stories, and I am indebted to it for the further information I gleaned from it. Glancey quotes the famous poem ‘High Flight’, by John Gillespie Magee, a young American Spitfire pilot who had crossed the border in order to join the Canadian Air Force. In a letter home, he wrote:
"An aeroplane, is not to us a weapon of war, but a flash of silver slanting the skies; the hum of a deep-voiced motor; a feeling of dizziness; it is speed and ecstasy.”
Glancey reminds us that Magee was tragically killed in an aircraft collision, just a few days after America joined the war. He was just nineteen.
We took Dad to Biggin Hill a few years ago, and he was very moved whilst visiting the chapel, and old wartime memories were stirred.
‘Their finest hour' comes from the famous speech made by Winston Churchill, making reference to the Battle of Britain which was about to begin.
* RAF Pilots with Beaufighter and Spitfire at Malta 1943, UK Government via Wikimedia Commons
Update on this post: My father, who died in November 2012, would have been very upset to hear recently that the MOD did not think St George’s Chapel (seen in the photos above) was worth maintaining any longer. Luckily, in January 2015, Biggin Hill Airport stepped in to make up the £50,000 per year shortfall in running costs.