Corporal Ronnie (Annie) Oakley RHF - Obituary


We all recall men or women of influence from our younger days. People who perhaps gave the right advice at the right time, who helped steer us on the right path or who bailed us out when things went astray. When then, all these years later we hear news of their passing we find ourselves being hurtled back to the memories of the heady exciting days of our younger selves. What days they were. What people we have known.

One such figure in my life was Corporal Ronnie ‘Annie’ Oakley of the 1st Bn Royal Highland Fusiliers who recently passed after a short illness. The epitaph ‘Legend,’ has become so overused that it’s efficacy as a testament has come to be diluted. Not so in the case of Oakers. While every battalion has its list of ‘Regimental Legend’s,’  Ronnie was special and held in high regard by everyone who soldiered with him.

Meeting Ronnie with 1 RHF, then stationed in Barossa Barracks in Hemer, BAOR, was not part of my life plan. Far from it. But then plans have a way of unwinding at the first hurdle. Mine did when a premature stab at the Commissions Board at the age of 18 left me with what they called a ‘deferral.’ What they meant was ‘go away, grow up and come back and have another try.’ When I arrived back at my Depot at Glencorse near Edinburgh the only advice I received was from a Queens Own Highlander major who said, ‘why don’t you take a banana boat to China and see the world?’ He could have been speaking ancient Aramaic. Of course, he was suggesting I do what would now be called a gap year. I piped up and said ‘I would like to go to a battalion Sir.’ ‘Oh dear,’ he said, ‘I’ll speak to the Adjutant.’ The next morning I pulled my feet in and reported to the Adjutant, a Captain Ewan Loudon of the RHF. It was a short meeting. ‘Report to 1 RHF in Hemer on Monday morning,’ he said, ‘get your travel docs from the clerk.’ I walked out stirred, shaken and stunned. I had entertained delusional visions of going to Hong Kong with the Black Watch but here I was heading to 1 RHF. You see, the Royal Highland Fusiliers, recruited wholly from Glasgow and Ayrshire, did not just enjoy a fearsome reputation in the British Army, it held true within the Scottish Division itself. Chastising myself for being really very stupid and wondering how I would survive in the cauldron of the RHF while trying to hide the potential officer label threw me into despair. Sympathy beers from mates in the NAAFI that night served only to darken the mood. It really did feel like the end of days.

As it transpired, my two years with 1 RHF was the most memorable and enjoyable time of my early life. I look back with great affection for the people I met, the life lessons I learned and the laughs we had. Those two years created the bedrock of my life in no small part thanks to the people around me. Men like Annie Oakley.

Oakers joined the battalion in Fort George in 1969 by way of the Merchant Navy. They say that pressure makes diamonds. He was an orphan with no family so the Commanding Officer was his next of kin. The battalion was his family. It still is. (quotes in italics are from fellow RHF soldiers).

There will be much said about him from everyone. I knew him from the first day I arrived in Singapore, he was asleep in the shower after a night on the Anchor beer. To say Ronnie was a character defies the word. He was larger than life and was known and liked by everyone in 1 RHF from the Commanding Officers downwards. He had his fair share of misdemeanours but was always open to giving a helping hand/advice to anyone. I knew him in various ways as a sportsman battalion goalkeeper, as a very fit soldier/NCO in A Coy, as a babysitter and as a friend. After his discharge from 1 RHF he was always involved in veterans activities/events. There are lots of parts to Ronnie Oakley but he always told me THE RHF IS MY FAMILY and he continued to say that to the end.
Ronnie at a friend's wedding

Ronnie at a friend's wedding

The sad thing about perusing veterans sites and Facebook groups is that one reads of the passing of many old faces. Never though, have a read so many notes of genuine respect and affection as I have seen for Annie. The ‘great and the good,’ don’t get the airtime that he has. He earned it. His tough early start to life didn’t stop him from having a warm, friendly, good hearted and generous nature. He always had a kind word of encouragement for newcomers to A Company, a ‘tap’ of 30 DM’s for someone short before pay day or some friendly banter when someone had some bad news. He was a father figure to many a young Jock and a source of wise words for newly promoted junior NCO’s or newly commissioned officers. As one of the many posts said,

RIP to the best Section Commander I have had the pleasure of working alongside. Booted your arse when you needed it then sat and had a drink with you after it, always there to help his guys when they needed it. A thing I always noticed was that CO’s listened to RSM’s, OC’s to CSM’s, Plt. Comd’s to Plt Sgt’s, but everybody, listened to ‘Annie.’
Annie, (left) NI patrol base.

Annie, (left) NI patrol base.

Ronnie wasn’t just a good guy to know. He was a very, very good soldier. Some infantrymen get to where they need to be through hard training and application. Some get there through luck and blagging their way through training. Some though, are born to it. Was there ever a more natural infantry NCO than Ronnie? Ronnie wasn't quite cut out for a drill instructors course but no one instilled more confidence on the ground than did he, be it in urban or rural environments. A friend reminded the other day about Ronnie patrolling in the Ardoyne; he wouldn't let anyone turn a corner without first scanning the streets, windows and shoot-throughs with his bino's. They didn’t teach you to use bino's on street patrols at NITAT (Northern Ireland Training Advisory Team), but then NITAT didn't have Annie Oakley instructing there. He instilled confidence in all around him and was completely dependable when ‘on the job.’ As young Jocks, we all respected his soldiering skills and his judgement in the field. Gaining his respect for our abilities was an aspiration for us all.

I wrote this in a previous post before I heard of Ronnie's illness, 'It is of course entirely normal for one generation of soldiers to look out of the window and think things have changed for the worse. It was ever thus. Back in 1980, after many hours waiting on standby in some side streets in Lurgan during the Hunger Strike riots, we got the order to move in and take over from the RUC who were taking a bit of a battering. As we moved forward a more experienced Corporal turned to me and said, 'Dinnea sweat it, this is nothing like as bad as the Ardoyne in '72.' I thought to myself, 'well a brick in the face or a sucking chest wound probably feel just as bad whichever postcode and time you happen to be in.'  That Corporal, 'Annie' Oakley, was incidentally, one of the best infantry soldiers I ever came across. He moved like a cat and had a natural understanding and affinity for his environment, whether on the streets or in rural areas.'

Since I heard of Ronnie’s passing I have struggled with how I would say “Stand Down” to this influential man. Ronnie was a very likeable guy, you couldn’t help but be enamoured by his look on life in the RHF, to most it was a vocation to “Be The Best”, to “Annie” as we all remember him it was learn as you go, do your job but don’t forget to enjoy your life, and Annie had a good life full of work and fun in equal measure. The respect he has been shown in the comments I have read make me feel I haven’t lived up to what it means to be a Fusilier. I was what is called a late developer only achieving entry to the WO’s and Sgts Mess at the end of my stint. But because of people like Annie and others I served with in the RHF I had a whale of a time.

Ronnie recently reminded me in a text exchange when he was in the hospital of a comedy sketch we did together at the Battalion Christmas concert in 1979 at the Globe Theatre in  Hemer. I described it as ‘the beginning, climax and last act in my stage career. We got a few laughs though.’ He replied, ‘I would say a standing ovation.’ That it happened at all was a surprise given the absence of any planning, script or rehearsal. He came to me a few days before the show and said,

The Globe Theatre in Hemer; we could have had a future in comedy Ronnie.........

The Globe Theatre in Hemer; we could have had a future in comedy Ronnie.........

‘Have you got a suit Davy?’

‘Yes Ronnie, why?’

‘I’ve got an idea for a sketch. You’ll be the interviewer and I’ll answer the questions, it’ll be brilliant.’

‘OK, have you got a script and when do we rehearse?'

‘Dinnae worry about all that Davy, we’ll ad-lib, it’ll be a cracker.’

We got away with it but only because of Ronnie’s infectious charm and native wit. Being the straight man was easy given as soon as we walked on stage Ronnie had them eating out of his hand.

Ronnie died peacefully with close friends from the Battalion at his side. He planned his own well attended funeral even paying extra to have the crematorium service on a Saturday, ‘so folk didn’t have to take the day off work.’ That was typical of the man. He gave more than he took in life and that is the mark of a life well lived and of a gentleman. I shall remember him with affection, respect and genuine thanks for making my life a better one to live. He was the very best of men and soldiers that Scotland produces.

The world is now a sadder place with the passing of Ronnie Oakley. Ronnie, Annie, Oakers and goodness knows how many other names he was called touched the hearts of an entire Regiment, that included our wives and children. We were his brothers, sisters as well as an uncle to our families. He made me proud to be a Fusilier just as he was. Ronnie you brought a lot of joy and happiness to the Royal Highland Fusiliers. You have touched all our hearts. I’m sure we’ll met in another place sometime in the future. God Bless You Old Friend.

A Good Man


I note from posts on the Facebook that one of the great heroes of the Falklands War, Surgeon Commander Rick Jolly has passed away. 

Rick Jolly arrived in the Falklands in May 1982 where he was Officer Commanding Medical Squadron of the Commando Logistic Regiment Royal Marines. As such he was Senior Medical Officer of 3 Commando Brigade RM and commanded the field hospital at Ajax Bay. Jolly wore the green beret, having passed the Royal Marine Commando course and while offered a weapon, chose not to carry one on the basis he was there to save lives. At the hastily set up ‘MASH” style field hospital, in a disused slaughterhouse in Ajax Bay, he did just that. 


The hospital was situated next to an ammunition dump, as those were the only roofed buildings available of any size fit for purpose. Therefore, due to its position, Brigadier Julian Thompson ordered they were not to paint a Red Cross on the buildings to highlight the hospital due to the terms of the Geneva Convention. At the height of the battle of Goose Green four bombs were dropped in the area, killing five people as the hospital was swamped with severely injured soldiers. Two of the bombs actually got stuck in the ­hospital roof, but failed to ­detonate. Yet Dr Jolly and his team continued to operate despite fears that they could have gone off at any moment. “Then the casualties from Goose Green started streaming in. We treated 47 casualties, some with terrible injuries, but they all survived. After most had been treated I said, ‘By the way, we’ve got two unexploded bombs in the back. They could be on 37-hour timers, but we’re on 46 hours now so we’re all right’. Everybody roared with laughter.” Should you feel some frustration next time you find yourself sitting waiting in the local A&E for four hours you may care to reflect on that story. 

Rick Jolly interviewed

The conditions in the field hospital were poor and despite the dirt, poor lighting, air attacks and the presence of two unexploded bombs, only 3 of the 580 British soldiers and marines wounded in action were to die of their wounds and none while under the care of Dr Jolly. Days after it opened an Argentine Sky Hawk aircraft scored a direct hit with two bombs, which failed to go off and remained partially exposed in the building throughout his time there. To save lives the 120 military medical staff at the field hospital knew they had to act fast, cleaning wounds, amputating limbs, treating dreadful burns, removing bullets and patching up the walking wounded before they were transferred to a hospital ship, the SS Uganda. After the Sir Galahad was hit, killing 48 soldiers and crewmen, the tiny field hospital was deluged with more than 120 injured men.

“I was very proud to work with a great team I had trained," said Commander Jolly. “We lifted morale among the fighting soldiers because we were their friends and they knew it. Word got around that if they arrived alive at the field hospital they would leave alive. We had some brilliant successes. We treated many Argentine special forces as well and we even persuaded Argentinian soldiers to give blood to help us save their injured."

Casualties coming ashore from Sir Galahad

Casualties coming ashore from Sir Galahad

Jolly wrote the book 'The Red and Green Life Machine' about his experiences, later republished as 'Doctor for Friend and Foe: Britain's Frontline Medic in the Fight for the Falklands.'  He was awarded an OBE by the Queen in 1983 in the South Atlantic Honours List and was given the Orden de Mayo (Order of May) by Argentina, 17 years after the conflict, in recognition of the treatment given to the country’s wounded soldiers. Being a foreign decoration, Jolly had to write to Her Majesty the Queen for permission to wear his Order of May award with his other medals, to which she personally authorised him to wear the award "on all occasions" on behalf of the three hundred British Naval, Royal Marines and Army medics involved in the war. However, he has been nominated for this award for co-founding the South Atlantic Medal Association, a vital organisation for Task Force members who put their lives on the line or were part of the huge support operation for the conflict.

At a subsequent lecture after the war he described being invited to the Pentagon to speak to the heads of the medical branches of each of the US armed forces. He described telling the Americans that each soldier had a syrette of morphine, issued because British forces weren't numerous enough to stop and give first aid to their wounded comrades. There was a stunned silence among the Americans. One of them pointed out that, had morphine syrettes been issued to US troops, there would have been none left by the time the troops landed.....

I recall that both during and after the war, the achievements of Rick Jolly and his team were rightly, a source of great national pride embraced by all. Good people, led by a very good man.

Red Robbo - Good Riddance

We learn today that the antediluvian and bombastic Dereck  'Red Robbo,' Robinson has finally popped his clogs at the age of 90. Responsible for pouring kerozene onto a badly impaired British car industry in the 1970's, by either organising or being involved with over 500 strikes at the British Leyland factory at Longbridge, the fully paid member of the Communist Party was eventually seen off by Sir Michael Edwardes, the combative South African CEO of BL and then he and his like were thoroughly excoriated by Mrs T leaving industry to breathe and prosper.

Courtesy of: Visual Capitalist

Who then would have thought all those years ago, that we would ever see a global customer satisfaction graphic like the one above. If Corbyn gets in, we might not see one again for another 37 years.

Joanna Seldon

I received some pretty glum news this week when an email dropped into my in-box from Sir Anthony Seldon to the broad Wellington College community to tell us that his beloved wife Joanna had come to the end of her very long journey with an incurable cancer. Joanna was a special person and will remain so in the memory. It was clear and evident to us all at Wellington that given Anthony’s legendary work rate and manic enthusiasm for all aspects of College life he could only have sustained his extraordinary efforts over ten years with the support and counsel of an extraordinary partner. Over dinner a few years ago, while on a parents trip to Auschwitz, I was chatting with Anthony about his soon to be published book about happiness and asked him, ‘Do you have a sort of editor figure who helps you plan the publication timetable and subjects for your books.’ Without hesitation he said, ‘yes, Joanna.’  What a wonderful team and I am proud that they had such a fabulous influence over my children and their education. Joanna though was much, much more than ‘wife of.’ She taught English. Well, she didn’t so much teach, rather she shared her love of English and imbued her natural enthusiasm for our language in her students. She championed and led creative writing, ran the Jewish society, was a close friend and confidant to many staff in the Common Room and opened her house to students, parents and visitors for informal fireside talks from guest speakers, pre match drinks on Saturdays, teas, lunches and any number of other events that Anthony dreamt up. Joanna was of course an accomplished writer and poet herself. Her website is well worth a visit. 

To deploy the tired cliche, ‘she lost her brave battle against cancer,’ would be idle, untrue and something of an insult. It seemed to me that Joanna treated the unwelcome news of her diagnosis with grace and equanimity but then approached the problem with an intellectual curiosity that was entirely characteristic of her approach to life. If you have a moment, the talk she gave at Wellington about ‘Living With A Chronic Illness,’ is very much worth listening to. After her diagnosis in 2011 Joanna dealt with the many discomforts and hospital visits with admirable matter of factness while her self deprecating humour quickly put the rest of us at ease in conversation. It was in fact common to be at a College event and Joanna would wander into the room carrying her drip with her without a hint of self consciousness. Rather, she exuded a nonchalant serenity and dignity that demanded our affection and respect all the more. We produce some very great women in this country and in my mind Joanna is one of them. She wasn’t large in stature, more Piaf-like but my she was a big figure in every other interpretation of the word. 

I offer my sincerest condolences to Anthony, Jessica, Susannah and Adam with warmth, love and respect. Joanna was a remarkable woman. There simply aren’t many of us that have lived a life so fulfilled. I remain, grateful to have known her and cherish her memory with affection. 

David Batcup

Many years ago, I stood outside a wedding marquee sipping some water and going over in my mind the best man's speech I was to give a couple of hours later. I had long since discovered the perils of imbibing too much before such occasions and was determined that this one would go well. A cheery fellow suddenly appeared and thrust a glass of champagne in my free hand,.

'How is it going, all sorted for the speech?'.

'Well,' I said, 'Yes, but I'm unusually nervous. Toughest crowd I've ever faced. I've never spoken in front of a couple of hundred solicitors, barristers, QC's and judges before.'.

'Don't worry old boy,' he said. 'Half of them will be pissed and the other half will just be pleased it's you and not them up there. It'll all be fine.... cheers!'.

That man was the irrepressible David Batcup. David was cruelly snatched from us last week, a casualty of a high speed hit and run incident in South London. To call David a close friend would be wide of the mark but I was fortunate enough to share many lunches and dinners with him over the past twenty five or so years with our mutual chum who was the groom that day. David was always a joy to break bread with. His ebullient presence never ceased to lift those around him and his unflagging enthusiasm and interest in everyone he met was an example to us all in how to behave and conduct ourselves. .

When I worked in an office close to the Old Bailey I would occasionally bump into him in the street, pulling along his case on wheels containing his robes and files as all the barristers tend to do. He started every sentence with, 'I'm late......' before spending the next ten minutes inquiring after my wellbeing and that of the family. David was an utter and complete gentleman. 'Life has been the richer for knowing him,' is a somewhat overplayed phrase but in David's case it seems totally inadequate. .

His loss is a wretched thing. I find no mitigation or comfort in platitudes. The memory of the man however, is warm and affectionate and will always be so.


Drum Major Ronnie Hughes RHF

Drum Major Ronnie Hughes and Pipe Major William Frame, Ronnie's friend who also recently passed away. That will be one heck of a smoker when they two get together.

Not many of you outside the RHF regimental family will know or of heard of Ronnie Hughes. He was a diamond of a man who passed away earlier this week. Ronnie followed Rosie's breast cancer updates poster here and despite his own frequent visits to hospital in the past months always dropped me an email after each post to wish her well. He was that kind of man. So sad that he just missed news of her improving situation. 

I thought, as did many others I'm sure, that he would bounce back from his latest illness just as he usually did. I didn't know Ronnie while I was with the Battalion; I was at the wrong end of the pay scales apart from anything else. I had though, got to know him better in recent years through his fast wit and enthusiastic support for small projects I have been doing. I enjoyed corresponding with him, mostly over email and reading his hilarious posts both on the regimental forum and on Facebook. His book 'Reflections,' is a Regimental treasure and should be given to every recruit and young officer joining along with the regimental history. The truth is, he embodied everything that is good about the RHF in particular and the Scottish soldier in general. I'm pleased to have known him in a small and quiet way. We lost one of the good things in our lives this week.

In 2014 I posted a piece about Ronnie and his book, 'Reflections.' Here it is. His poem, 'The Ballad of Brenda McGhee,' is just a timeless classic.

The Ballad of Brenda McGhee


Life’s not all bad, dull and dreary and as you know, here at Crumble we try and occasionally elevate matters by bringing something with a cultural bent along to feed the soul and cheer the heart. With that in mind I’d like to introduce you to what I firmly believe is a classic contribution to our nations literary heritage, the joy of which will far outlive me.

 A book dropped on the doormat this week and its no ordinary book. Just once in a while, from the many hundreds of thousands of men who rotate through the Army the odd one will commit his memories and emotions to paper and in doing so capture moments in time that would otherwise be lost for ever. Former Drum Major of the 1st Bn The Royal Highland Fusiliers, Ronnie Hughes has done just that and those of us who served at the same time are grateful that he’s done so.

In his collection of poems and short stories called “Reflections,” which he collated with the help of a friends student daughter, he’s nailed an entire Battalions rich humour and sense of collective being. I can honestly say that my formative years spent with 1 RHF were the funniest I've ever experienced. There were some not so good times but those were quickly forgotten in favour of the high points and Ronnie’s book has brought a flood of memories back for me and others who are chuckling their way through it. Thanks Ronnie.

This is my favourite;


The Ballad of Brenda McGhee 

In the town of Port Glasgow there lived a young lass, in a flat overlooking the sea, 
That’s where I first clapped my eyes oan the sight, I hope never again for to see. 
The ugliest burd in the whole bleedin’ world, yes folks you kin take it from me, 
Meet Brenda McDonald McFadzean Coltrane, Fitzpatrick McGregor McGhee. 

To say she wis ugly, wis putting it mild, as she sat by her windae aw day, 
Gazing longingly oot as the world passed her by, in the hope that a boy came her way. 
Twa bandy legs, and a wee crooked nose, Ailsa Craig wis the size of her rump, 
Wi’ wan squinty eye, and a 52 chest, not forgetting that she had a hump. 

Poor Brenda wis lonely, of that there’s no doubt, and boyfriends a no- no it seems, 
As I looked in her eye, and she gave me a wink, not me pal, aye jist in yir dreams. 
It seems such a shame, as I toodled aff hame, leaving Brenda alone at her sill, 
There’s some ugly burds that kin capture a lad, of course there are some never will. 

One day came to pass, this ugly young lass, left her windae ti’ go make some toast, 
When in through the windae a burglar he came, and very soon wished he wis lost. 
Wee Brenda she caught him alone in her room, as he rifled the loot frae her hoose, 
This is ma chance, thought wee Brenda at last, as her boobs from her bra she let loose. 

Wee Joe the burglar looked aghast, his face wis as white as a sheet, 
Of aw the hooses he picked ti’ tan, and whit a god awful sight for ti’ meet. 
Aw Christ whit is this, the burglar enquired, I only came in for yir loot, 
That’s OK son, said wee Brenda with glee, only two weeks ti go, then yir oot. 

The fortnight flew in and wee Brenda wis glad, at long last she’d captured a boy, 
Virginity gone and two weeks of pure lust, the burglar wid make a good toy. 
It’s fair ti’ say Joe didnae see it that way, he wis knackered and right puckered oot, 
He longed for the day, he had to escape, doon the pawn wi’ the ugly hags loot. 

Some years doon the line, wee Joe doing time, in his cell he jist let his mind wander, 
That time in Port Glasgow he robbed the wrang hoose, aye, whit a major blunder. 
Still sat at her windae wis Brenda McGhee, she wis smilin’ for aw she was worth, 
There by her side was her 5-year-old pride, a wan eyed humpy backit wee dwarf. 

This tale has a moral, and, yes it is true, ugly hags can get boyfriends, aye, even you, 
Don’t sit at your windae, watch life pass you by, go make some toast, or even a pie. 
Remember wee Brenda, the ugliest burd, that’s ever been this side of Oban, 
Just make sure that when you leave your room, that your windae on life is left open. 


Historical context from Ronnie,

"Let me enlighten you as to how she found herself on the end of my pen (so to speak)  When I was growing up in the East end of Glasgow at the end of, and just after WW2, I noticed that there was a dearth of menfolk in my area, thanks to a certain wee Austrian Corporal. When the weather was fine, 'wimmen-folk' would often be seen at their window sills, leaning on a cushion or pillow. Conversations would be passed up and down the street and many even went on round corners into different streets. Now, thanks to the shortage of men (young and old) who never made it home, women just had a hard time getting themselves a laddie, and every street had a "Wee Brenda" who came up a bit short in the 'good looking' stakes, so she had 'nae' chance (until I came to her rescue with wee Joe the burglar.)  I never met the mythical Brenda, and I certainly never frequented Port Glasgow, but when I put both together, it helped my words and the poem to flow." 



Winkle Flies Away

'Legend,' is something of an overused word these days. Not when used in the same sentence as 'Winkle' Brown it isn't.

A real old school hero of the 'they don't make them like that anymore,' class of gentleman passed away over the weekend.  Capt Eric Melrose Brown CBE DSC AFC, better known as 'Winkle,' Brown has died at the age of 97.

The Fleet Air Arm's most decorated pilot, his story is one that defies all odds. No-one has flown more types of aircraft (487) or performed more carrier landings (2,407) than Capt Brown, who met Hermann Goering at the Berlin Olympics in 1936… and then interrogated him after WW2.

His fluency in German meant he also questioned some of the senior Nazis at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, which was liberated by the British Army in April 1945.

The year ended with the test pilot becoming the first person to land a jet aircraft on a carrier – a de Havilland Sea Vampire on to the deck of HMS Ocean at the end of 1945.

If you want a treat, you can hear his story on the Desert Island Discs archive on BBC iPlayer. Capt Brown did the programme's 3,000th edition. 

Tom Clancy - Legend

Tom Clancy; Guy's Guy; April 12, 1947 – October 1, 2013

They don't give literature prizes to writers like Tom Clancy. They should. 

His just announced passing, in a Baltimore hospital, will leave a gap in every commuter's briefcase and every Dad-on-holiday's Kindle. It's a guy thing.............. half an hours simple escapisim from the world's noise. Don't try and understand it, just accept it; the same way we did with Bridget Jones.

Obviously, without the potential intervention of Jack Ryan, Washington will now be thrown into a whole new world of vexed confusion about Syria and the Russians. Don't laugh, the intersection of fact and fiction can be a curious thing.

Many years ago, I took the then FMF, (Future Mrs Flashbang), to see Patriot Games in the Fulham Road ABC cinema. The movie, starring Harrison Ford as the fictional Tom Clancy character Jack Ryan, burst into action from the start with an attempt by the provisionals to abduct the Prince of Wales. 

The then FMF and I popped in on a midweek afternoon when the cinema was fairly quiet. Just after the lights went down though, two men came in and stood by the exit while another escorted a young lady in who sat in front of us, on her own, for the performance. That's the closest I've ever been to Princess Diana. Bit sad really.

Perhaps it's time to step forward, fill the gap and write the real story about our brave boys from Plockton............. 


Wing Commander Kenneth Wallis

Following yesterdays post,  "Made of Different Stuff," we learn from today's Telegraph that we've lost another grand character hewn from different DNA from the rest of us and from a different age. Our world is the poorer with their passing.

Wing Commander Kenneth Wallis was certainly different. Wartime Bomber Command pilot, inventor, engineer, Bond stuntman........ actually he seems to have been somewhere between inspired genius and fully paid up barking mad nutter. 

One interviewer observed that if a screenwriter had invented Wallis, with his air of derring-do and rakish white handlebar moustache, they would have been told to come back with a more realistic character.

You couldn't make this fellow up. Among other achievements, he set a record in 1975 (now superseded) for the longest flight in an autogyro when he flew the entire length of the British Isles (“I’d have gone further, but we ran out of land”).

Enjoy the read. 

An extract from my documentary on Wing Commander Ken Wallis 

Made of Different Stuff

A Captain Robert Campbell drops into our lives this morning from a bygone era. The Great War in fact when, if the facts are considered, many might have thought him from a bygone era of medieval chivalry even then.  Newspapers carrying the story, which was dug out by historian Richard Van Emden, inform us that Capt Campbell, was captured at Mons, became a prisoner of war but was released on parole to visit his very sick mother in 1916. The only condition being that he returned and indeed he did. Surprising though it is, the logic was if he chose not to then other prisoners would probably be denied the privileged in future. 


All of which brings to mind the farewell we collectively said a month ago to another wonderful character, the like of whom there are so very few left. Squadron Leader Peter Tunstall was a serial escaper in the Second World War, who had the notable claim to fame of having spent longer in solitary confinement than any other Allied prisoner, a total of 412 days. The Germans court martialled him five times and like many of his ilk, he eventually found himself in Colditz.

A leading exponent of the art of “goon baiting,” he devoted his energies after capture to both escaping and creating as much time wasting irritation for the Germans as he could muster. A figure straight out of central casting, it’s something of an embarrassment that he was not to be decorated for his conduct as a POW, (it’s a common misconception that most prisoners fulfilled their duty to attempt to escape; Unlike the Squadron Leader and his chums, most did not). His obit in the Telegraph is well worth a read.

Peter Lunn; He of the High Caste

 Peter Lunn - third from left

"He went on to serve as head of station in Bonn, and during the 1960s in Beirut, where he enjoyed skiing at The Cedars, a resort where, as he recalled, discipline in the lift queues improved dramatically after an attendant shot dead the two worst queue jumpers."

Absolutely classic line in a classic obituary of Peter Lunn in the Telegraph ; another of those high caste of gentlemen characterised by being mad as a box of frogs.