Cutting a channel through the chalk of the North Downs from its source near Sevenoaks to where it joins the Thames near Dartford is the River Darent. Retaining the river’s old spelling the Darenth Valley, particularly in its southern reaches, is a pleasant place to be. Whether I’m walking, cycling or cruising in a classic car it never fails to refresh my mind and blow the cobwebs away.
In common with other such relatively unspoilt and tucked away areas it has its fair share of historical minutiae. In the village of Shoreham is a small, privately owned aircraft museum. Concentrating on the Battle of Britain in the local area, Biggin Hill being on the crest of the Downs just to the west, one of its undertakings is an ongoing project to erect memorial stones commemorating pilots who lost their lives within a ten mile radius.
As the opportunity arises and purely for my own interest I have been photographing these for a few years. The image I took of the stone in Woolwich, “outside the barrack gates” as the the museum describes it, has a story attached.
The Woolwich Memorial Stone
For a reason that escapes me now my partner Josie had to go the Woolwich. As she was recently out of hospital and still feeling delicate I offered to go with her. I wasn’t being entirely altruistic because while she was doing whatever it was that she had to do in the town I set off for the barracks to look for the stone. Needless to say, I started looking in the wrong place and on the wrong side; the barracks is huge. Luckily most of the time you can use a path across MOD land that takes you between the playing fields and the parade ground as a shortcut from one side to the other.
I wasn’t expecting the stone to be so near the gates, a few yards at most. No sooner had I found it and started to eye it up for suitable shot than my phone rang. It was Josie.
“I’ve finished already.”
“Oh! I’ve only just found the stone.”
“That’s OK. I’ll come to you. I’d like to see it too.”
“You’ll never find it. I’ll come and fetch you.”
So back into the town and return, slowly, with Josie in tow.
With Josie looking on, I decided that the gate itself gave too fussy a background. Crouching down and shooting between the railings with the gate partly hidden behind a handy tree might be the best way to do it.
“He’s watching you. He’s wondering what you’re doing.”
Sure enough, the armed sentry on the gate had taken a step forward. I suppose it did appear a bit suspicious. I’d been looking around before. I’d got on my phone. I’d returned with an accomplice. And now I was crouching down while my accomplice kept a look out. Was it my imagination or was his finger moving towards the trigger?
Taking no chances I stood up into plain sight, held the camera above my head and pointed at the stone. He gave me a nod and stepped back. That, my friends, was my Don McCullin moment. Something he must have been used to and done many times.
Flying Officer Waterston
The inscription on the stone reads:
IN MEMORY OF
OF NO. 603 SQUADRON AUX. A.F.
WHO LOST HIS LIFE
NEAR THIS SPOT
ON 31st AUGUST 1940
IN SPITFIRE X4273
HE WAS 23 YEARS OLD
ONE OF CHURCHILL’S FEW
MEMORIAL DEDICATED ON
29th SEPT. 2009
SHORHAM AIRCRAFT MUSEUM
F/O Waterston is also remembered at Edinburgh’s Warriston Crematorium which has memorial panels commemorating 145 servicemen and women whose remains were cremated there.
Minolta SRT-101b / Rokkor 35mm f2.8 / Yellow filter / FP4+ / Rodinal
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