Another year, another reunion weekend. This is Katy Pritchard’s account of her weekend (4th and 5th) in Hull:
This was the first squadron reunion at North Killingholme that I had ever attended and I was somewhat daunted at the prospect. However any fears I may have had were quickly waylaid by the warm welcome I received when I arrived on Saturday morning. Eve Dolphin and I were met at Hull station by Sam and Pam Lipfriend (who I met at Westerlo and have been in contact with ever since) who drove us straight to North Killingholme for the buffet lunch at the Amethyst hotel. The coach service between the university and North Killingholme had been cancelled as there were to few people to make it economically practical. Eve, Sam, Pam and I quickly settled down at a table with Mike Cross, where I proceeded to stuff my boots (I think Grandpa would have approved).
After lunch (the chocolate cake being my personal favourite) we gathered on the green and marched, following the Immingham Air Cadet band, towards the memorial stone, which had been bedecked with flowers for the occasion. The sun was beating down as the Lancaster flew over, cleverly approaching in a way that provided for maximum photography opportunities (if I hadn’t forgotten my camera)! I have never seen a Lancaster before and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, despite people prepping me with lines like ‘nothing else sounds quite like it’ and ‘it still brings a tear to my eye- even now’. At risk of sounding like a blubbering mess, the overwhelming sense I experienced as the Lancaster swooped down was a feeling that my grandpa was up there. I was sad to see the plane leaving, and leaving Hull the next day, as I passed along the Humber, I vividly imagined a squadron of Lancasters spiralling around; little black dots above the flat Lincolnshire skyline.
Events swiftly proceeded with the service at the memorial stone, which was most rudely interrupted by lorry drivers. I was distraught by the absolute lack of respect of these individuals. If it had not been for the sacrifices made by these men we would not be here to enjoy the freedoms we take for granted. After the ceremony wreaths were laid and there was a quick photo opportunity at the memorial stone. The procession then marched back to St Denys’ Church where a service was held but only after the air cadets had had their chance to show how much hard work they had put into their performance. After the service Sam kindly took the time to talk me through the stained glass window, which was more beautiful than I imagined it would be. My only regret from the church was missing out on the marmalade!
After the service we headed in to the village hall, where the foyer has been set aside as the 550 Squadron museum; although it was somewhat minimalistic having only just been completed, there is much potential and I look forwards to seeing it next year. Over a cup of tea I did my best to eat as much cake as I could in the time available, but found myself distracted by the easy conversation of the new people I was meeting. As I rushed off to catch my lift back to The Lawns, I was accosted by lots of people asking after my family (I have passed on best wishes to my grandma from many people!) and I resolved to speak to as many people as I could that evening.
This year, contrary to previous years I am told, Hull University housed us in the bungalows. Whilst this seemed a little primitive, I quite enjoyed re-living my days in university halls and had to repress the urge to knock on the other doors in my corridor! Having picked up our rooms keys there was time to fight our way through the shower and change before dinner.
We gathered in the bar before dinner, where I got terribly distracted chatting to the veterans and was a little disappointed when it was time for dinner- however the food quickly made up for this: breaded fish, followed by cheese and biscuits. Jack Harris led the after-dinner speeches and presentations, after which we moved once more back to the bar. It was in this period that I felt that I really got to understand how the Squadron functioned as I was painstakingly lead through the complexities of the structures of flights and tours etc. Some time later I decided to head to bed, saying good bye to the locals who were heading home and wishing I had a come on the Firday night as the time had flown.
The next morning I woke up, packed and left shortly after a hearty breakfast, missing the AGM. I was touched that so many people asked me if I had enjoyed myself and wanted to know if I, or the family, would be back next year – which I certainly hope to be. I am really glad that I finally made it to the reunion, and wish that I had been able to come in previous years. I will make every effort to keep coming, and would urge anyone else to do the same. Although I was nervous, what I had been told was quite right: the squadron is like an extended family, waiting with its arms wide open to welcome you, and if my experience is anything to go by, the welcome quite often involves good food!
– Katy Pritchard, July 2009
Did anyone else go? What did you think?