A One Shot Story For Battle Of Britain Day

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:

ON 31st AUGUST 1940
29th SEPT. 2009

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

Shoreham Aircraft Museum Local Memorials Project
Commonwealth War Graves Commission Find War Dead

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8 thoughts on “A One Shot Story For Battle Of Britain Day”

  1. Peter, that is a very interesting piece, and the photo is indeed well done. As a passionate (amateur) of history, I do find this an excellent example on how the current generations can learn from the past.

    Thank you for posting it, really inspiring !

    1. Thanks, Julian.
      I glad you found it interesting. These sort of historical reminders are all around us, we just need to look.
      The tragedy of course is that many don’t. Or if they do they fail to read the lessons they teach.

  2. Peter, what a piece full of happy ends! Finding the stone, not getting in trouble with Josie, not getting shot and feeling like Don McCullin! And a great picture to show for it – what more could you ask for?

    On a more serious note, the one thing more to ask for is peace. In the war my fatherland was Robin McGregor’s enemy. Let me express my admiration and gratitude to him and his fellow allied servicemen. I would not imagine a world in which Germany had won that war. Yet how horrible Robin and so many more lost their lives. He was just twenty-three, a year younger than my son is today. I can’t imagine the grief of his family.

    Today I wonder why mankind just doesn’t learn the lessons of history and repeats the tragedy over and over again.

    Thanks for posting!

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Stefan.
      I’m sure Robin and the German airman who shot him down would have been the best of friends in happier, peaceful times.
      I know of a couple of cemeteries here in South East England where English and German airmen are buried side by side. It is an terribly poignant sight.
      Mankind’s tragedy is that ordinary folk get pulled into senseless power struggles, whether political or religious.

  3. Really enjoyable and poignant piece, a reminder that so many cut their lives so short for our freedom. That freedom enables us to photograph so many things without fear, but the article still serves as a reminder that our cameras can get us into trouble. Glad it ended with a nice shot and a tale to tell.

    1. Thank you, Paul.
      Freedom has indeed been hard earned but still needs to be protected. Hence there can be occasions when someone touting a camera may be viewed as suspicious. I’ve no doubt that in many places to so much as lift a camera outside a military establishment would result in a very different outcome.

    1. Thanks, Bob.
      Please pay a visit. A remember a WW1 battlefields guide telling us that the chaps on memorials or beneath a CWGC headstone appreciate it.
      I’ll post a couple more on RPF shortly.

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