Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Squadron Leader John Pattison, thank you

I read this obituary in the Telegraph today while I was traveling into work on the train. What an amazing chap. And a Kiwi.

Squadron Leader John Pattison, who has died aged 92, was one of the few remaining New Zealanders who fought during the Battle of Britain, during which he was shot down and severely wounded; he recovered to have a distinguished war, being awarded a DSO and a DFC.

Pattison arrived in Britain at the end of July 1940, and with the RAF short of fighter pilots he was rushed through battle training in a few days. With just a handful of sorties flying Spitfires, he joined No 266 Squadron at Debden, Essex, during an intense phase of the Battle on August 26.

On his first operation the squadron intercepted a force of 40 enemy bombers and their fighter escort. Pattison became separated from the rest of his squadron, ran out of fuel and made a wheels-up landing in a field bristling with anti-aircraft obstacles. He was greeted by pitchfork-wielding farmers who took him for a German. Two weeks later he was posted to No 92 Squadron, based at Biggin Hill.

At this point the Battle was reaching its climax, and the squadron was operating at maximum intensity. The pilots were flying three or four sorties each day.

After the major engagements of September 15, the Luftwaffe switched its attacks to London, and on September 23 Pattison was attacked by a Messerschmitt Bf 109 over Gravesend. He received serious wounds to his right thigh from a cannon shell and crash-landed as he attempted to come in at West Malling airfield. He spent the next eight months in hospital, but recovered to rejoin the squadron in June 1941.

John Gordon Pattison was born on January 27 1917 at Waipawa and educated at Wanganui Collegiate School before going to work on his father's farm. As a young man he joined the Civil Reserve of Pilots, and learned to fly Tiger Moths at the Hawke's Bay and East Coast Aero Club. With many others of his countrymen he volunteered for service with the RAF the day after war was declared. He completed his training and sailed for England.

A month after returning to operational flying following his serious injury, Pattison was made an instructor. A dashing pilot, he did not always set a good example to his students. He was not averse to some daring escapades and once "borrowed" another pilot's Hurricane (without his knowledge) to get himself to a party. Later he was reprimanded and lost three months' seniority for flying his Spitfire under the Severn railway bridge. In April 1942 he returned to operations, joining No 485 (NZ) Squadron, one of three that made up the Kenley Wing.

On April 26 he was taking part in a sweep over northern France when his formation was "bounced" by a force of Focke-Wulf 190s. Four of the New Zealanders were hit and two were lost. The engine of Pattison's Spitfire was damaged, but he managed to glide across the Channel before bailing out near the Sussex coast. After 90 minutes afloat in his dinghy, he was rescued by an air-sea rescue launch.

Over the next 12 months he flew on many sweeps and low-level strafing attacks against transport targets over France. In July 1943 he was awarded a DFC for his "determination, zeal and courage".

After a spell as the chief flying instructor of a fighter training unit, Pattison returned to operations in March 1944 with No 66 Squadron. Armed with bombs, he attacked targets in his Spitfire IX during the pre-invasion offensive, including the new V-1 sites in the Pas de Calais region.

On July 6 he was flying an offensive support mission when he intercepted a Messerschmitt Bf 109 near Chartres. He attacked the enemy fighter and registered hits before the German pilot bailed out. A month later he was flying a similar operation when he engaged and shot down a Focke-Wulf 190 near Montrichard. The squadron had just moved to a makeshift airstrip in Normandy, where Pattison flew many armed reconnaissance sorties armed with bombs and cannon.

Pattison was appointed to command his old squadron, No 485 (NZ), in September and he led it with great verve and tenacity as it supported the advancing armies through France and Belgium into Holland. He destroyed many enemy vehicles. When No 485 was withdrawn from the front line to convert to the Tempest, Pattison was rested and given a staff job with HQ 84 Group.

On March 20 he was awarded a DSO, the citation concluding that "he has set the highest standard of skill and courage and shown the finest qualities of leadership both in the air and on the ground".

After being discharged from the RAF, in January 1946 Pattison returned to New Zealand. For the rest of his life he farmed at Waipawa before retiring to Havelock North.

Fearless in combat, Pattison was the epitome of the colourful fighter pilot. He was never afraid to enjoy himself or to take on authority, and his sense of humour remained sharp and direct throughout his life. When asked about his wartime flying he commented: "Wonderful times to have lived through, and with fantastic mates."

He remained a champion of the 485 (NZ) Squadron Association, rarely missing their annual dinners. At the reunion of 2005 he was presented with a working scale model of the Spitfire he had been forced to abandon in April 1942. He noted that its miniature engine did not give off the sound of "the Rolls-Royce Merlin 12-cylinder symphony", but agreed that it was like meeting up again with a faithful friend.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of D-Day in June 1994, President Chirac appointed him to the L├ęgion d'honneur.

John Pattison died at Hawke's Bay, New Zealand, on September 11. He is survived by his wife and four sons

Monday, September 28, 2009

Walking on the Felbrigg Hall estate

We spent a few hours exploring the estate grounds of Felbrigg Hall (also haunted). The highlight of this leisurely walk - besides Sam, Georgie and Richard and two rabid 13 year old boys who like to poke sticks at things, was the little brown frogs that leaped about in the grass at your feet, and of course, the stunning forest complete with "story trees". These trees carry stories about a love long gone etched in them; who the author is, is unclear. The stories have been there for a very long time.

The Haunting of Blickling House

Legend has it that on the 19th of May every year, Anne Boleyn’s headless ghost is driven up Blickling Hall’s main driveway in a carriage pulled by ghostly horses. On the same night, the ghost of her father is pursued by demons across 40 Norfolk bridges, all which he must cross between the hours of midnight and cock crow.

East Anglia is legend rich, and indeed, the pagan beliefs of the English still surface today - in today’s paper, there were reports of a huge, dark cat - a “panther” stalking domestic cats and tearing them apart in Southwest London. Horrified neighbours talk of seeing the huge padding shape of a beastly cat in the night shadows. It's akin to the demon dogs of English mythology (see the beast of Bodmin Moor).

Anyway, we visited Blickling Hall on Sunday, Sam and I and his father’s good friend Richard, (who has the loveliest smile - we were so well looked after). This was Anne Boleyn’s childhood home and it’s well over 600 years old. The gardens were beautiful in the late afternoon light. We had cream tea near their yew hedge, found the secret garden and wandered the paths at closing time.

Kingston to Norfolk

Kingston to Norwich, Saturday 26th September, 2009

It’s taken us two hours to get from Kingston, where Panos and Michelle live, to Stratford where we’re due to catch the express train to Norwich, East England. The Jubilee line is down forcing us to catch the DLR from Canary wharf. I’ve never been to Canary wharf before, the key banking and business district in London, from what I caught as I rather gumpily made my way through was a rather soulless glass and steel square, cordoned by canals. Catching the DLR was more interesting. One elderly white woman got on with hair dyed a flaming pink and purple. Two pretty, fat ladies got on and sat opposite, one white, one black, each with fussily painted nails and huge forearms that brushed cat hair off their black trousers. At Stratford, a young man dressed as a gorilla walked by with his family. Stratford is home to all the new Olympic 2012 development, so the area looks a little like a wasteland of cranes and spiny structural shapes emerging from the ground. You pass brick buildings, 10 stories high, with generous windows and open plan offices that look simultaneously bright and derelict.

The express train to Norwich is quiet and empty. The English countryside, glorious. Picture perfect. The sunlight at 1:29 in the afternoon softly washes in through the windows, it’s so diffuse, totally unlike NZ’s bright interplay of sudden drama. The trees are all beginning to turn and I think about Robin Hood, and the forests of Nottingham. I’m yet to see a fox, although Sam’s seen two. I also want to see robin redbreasts.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Autumn blackberry picking at sundown, Norfolk

Not sure it can get better than this. Above, Stef and Richard's home, pictures by Sam. Very old restored barn on a picturesque 'b' road. Bats, owls, frogs: check. Very happy. I want to move to England.

Swan Lake

Hanging with the cousie bros on the River Thames... it's fresher's week, so Kingston is full to the brim with stoned, drunk students in very short skirts. x

train pause

moments from a train window...

Goodwood Revival, Chichester

Here you go, the rest of the photos from the Goodwood revival last weekend in Chichester. Super day! Everyone got dressed up.. so for example, all the press photographers were in English tweeds roaming around. Buzz Aldrin was there, Mark Knopfler was racing, Stirling Moss was honoured by the crowds. Highlights were the mini race and the Vulcan Bomber flying overhead. Lots of pics of me courtesy of Mr. Peacocke. Got to say the English summer is still holding on!

Sunday, September 20, 2009