Katy Pritchard, granddaughter of Frank Pritchard, attended the reunion (3rd to 5th July) and wrote about it here.
I attended the 60th Anniversary Weekend during the weekend 11/12/13 July 2004 based at the Lawns Centre at the University of Hull. This was a very special occasion as there were visitors from Australia, Canada and Belgium who had come to mark the 60th Anniversary of operations of 550 Squadron from North Killingholme in Lincolnshire against Nazi occupied Europe. My connection with the event was that my father, Richard Frank Pritchard RAAF, who is now deceased, was one of the founder members of the Association. He was a mid upper gunner and served between 1944 and 1945. We, as a family, ensure that he is represented at each reunion and will strive to do so as long as the Association is in being. In addition my son, Jack Pritchard, is the Webmaster for the 550 Squadron Association Website. Jack was unable to attend as he was on a cycling trip in Brittany, France and he asked me to demonstrate the latest version of the website.
My mother and one of my sisters also attended and we arrived on Friday afternoon in Hull. Once we had signed in we were delighted to meet up with our friends from Westerlo in Belgium who had arrived earlier. Once we had unpacked we took some of our friends from Westerlo into Cottingham, which has the boast of being England’s largest village. It must be big as it has a Safeway supermarket. They were horrified at the cost of the beer which was not unexpected (I know I am), and strangely the cost of potatoes (something that I’ve not often considered) which made me consider bringing a sack or two back next time I venture to Belgium.
The first night was an informal dinner and before and after this I demonstrated the website to anyone who was interested in a side room which is set up with displays and memorabilia throughout the weekend. In the absence of my son I did my best to answer technical queries and also took details of personal queries to publish on the website. These ranged from, a request for two daughters who wished to find out more about their father who was killed on the 30/31 March on a raid on Nuremburg, to operational questions about a mid-air collision around Christmas 1943 when 550 Squadron was forming. These questions can be found here.
The evening finished for me about 11:15pm although I noted that many of those slightly older than me seemed to have much greater staying power.
The events on Saturday are the main elements of the weekend, comprising of a service at the Memorial Stone complete with a Lancaster fly past, a service at St Denys Church in Killingholme followed by teas in the Village Hall provided by local people, and finally, a formal dinner in the evening at the Lawns Centre Hull.
Prior to these events the Amethyst Hotel hosted a buffet lunch which was, as ever, of very high quality. A fine example of the strong links between the Squadron and the local people was the fact that the owners of the Amethyst had been present in Westerlo in May 2004 for the memorial events surrounding the Hinde crew who were shot down over Westerlo 60 years previously.
For me the most moving element is the flypast by the Lancaster of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. To see hands outstretched towards the aircraft as it flies over, and the strange silence that falls on the gathering of both young and old people, other than the immense sound of the four Merlin engines, is something beyond words to properly describe. Those gathered together become one, joined as travellers in time, space, and memory, during the time the aircraft circles the North Killingholme airfield. It seems to me that we possess a very strong folk memory of the importance of what these aircraft represent in terms of our freedom and in our collective psyche.
The service at the Memorial Stone was conducted with great dignity with Susan Hodzic playing the trumpet including the Last Post. Fortunately the weather was very kind for this element of the service and, although slightly overcast, the weather was dry. The grounds around the Memorial Stone had been refurbished and this work was wonderfully executed. In addition, I understand the local Authority, under some considerable local pressure, had repaired the adjacent footway. There was a good attendance by local people not directly connected to the Squadron Association.
A service was held in the Church with the congregation being greeted by the local band ringing the church bells. I feel Mike Page-Chestney eloquently expressed our emotions and our gratitude to the members of the Squadron and also was able to express the obvious esteem the Squadron members felt for the local people and the visitors from Westerlo who had presented the church with a metal plate to mark the occasion. Mike said he would seek dispensation from the church Authorities for this to be displayed with other items in the Church.
Following the service teas were served in the Village Hall and a cake, especially made for the event, was cut and shared out. The association had paid for a pair of new doors for the Hall and these had recently been completed. Although I’m not qualified in such matters these doors seemed to be very well made. I’m sure the teas were of the usual high quality but unfortunately I was not able to partake in them as I had to go to the Lawns Centre to make some preparations for the evening event.
I am a semi professional musician and songwriter and had made a short CD recording of some songs which I wanted to present as a gift to those who attended the event. I had miscalculated the numbers required and thus spent a hectic couple of hours burning additional CDs, and with the help of the staff of the Lawns Centre, reproducing the artwork, albeit not in the original colour. When the task was completed we set out a disk at each place setting for each family or couple in attendance. I hope people did not think this was presumptuous but I hoped to be able to show my admiration for all those who had gathered and contributed to the occasion.
Once we had finished sorting this distribution out, which took much longer than I had expected, I again made the website available to those who wanted to try it out. This was very interesting as it gave me the opportunity to meet people on a “one to one basis” and show the full extent of the website. In addition several Squadron members shared their memories with me; my regret is that I did not have a tape recorder with me to commit these to paper.
The Dinner went really well, with the staff of the Lawns giving their usual attention to detail and displaying considerable efforts in looking after all those present. Jack Harris made his usual amusing and touching speech and I was delighted that he mentioned the contribution my father had made to the original establishment of the Association. There were several presentations and, in some cases, three generations were present at the dinner. Afterwards I again demonstrated the website for a short time but for some strange reason was drawn to the bar where I sat with the Belgium contingent. I can’t recall much more for obvious reasons. All I can say is if you want to have a good time find some Belgians to go drinking with, they are very great fun. Although I have to say I suffered a bit the next morning.
The next morning was the AGM which I will not cover in detail here, and once this was over we departed for home. I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to those who travelled so far to be there, those who worked so hard behind the scenes to organise the event especially Jack Harris and Mike Leeman, and to the staff at the Lawns who are so attentive to the visitors. Hopefully next year we will be present at this event.
1991 – 2008
If you’re interested in writing a report on any of the historical reunions or have photographs, please email 550squadron [at] live.com or leave a comment with contact details.