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Tuesday, 2 July 2013

A bomber, a golf course and an uncle

Just before I come back to those things I trailed in yesterday's teaser post I wanted to say a little something about my remarkable uncle Basil Ambrose, who turned 90 recently. Few of those heroes who flew Lancaster Bombers in World War II have survived so long and there can be fewer yet who are still so active.

I've recounted some of his story here, adapted from a press release by the Goring and Streatley Golf Club, where Basil celebrated his 90th Birthday with a party and also by being on the course at 7.30am to tee-off: now that's what you call keen.

Basil in the local paper

Born 1923 in Derby Street, Reading, Basil still lives nearby in Langley Hill, Tilehurst. A golfing veteran, Basil started caddying at 16 years of age and was on the course the day war was declared. He didn’t hesitate to join Air Raid Precautions (ARP) as a messenger boy and remembers being on Langley Hill the day bombs were dropped.
I heard aircraft flying overhead and noticed a half circle of light. Suddenly it sounded like an express train coming though the air. I realised immediately what was happening and dived into a ditch by the side of the road. My family were frightened to death. Bombs went right up Langley Hill. We were lucky not to have had more casualties.
At 18, Basil resigned his apprenticeship as a metal turner and joined the Home Guard, and then later the Royal Air Force. Training at various bases in the UK, he passed out with top grades to become a Leading Aircraftsman. In his role as a flight engineer, Basil helped pilot huge 4-engine Stirling bombers, later converting to Lancaster bombers with 467 Squadron.
Avro Lancaster R5868
in the Bomber Hall of the RAF Museum London
courtesy Wikipedia
By 1944, Basil was flying daylight support operations over the Netherlands and night raids over Germany. Basil talked about one particularly difficult night raid.
We’d reached our target in Germany but the rest of the force had gone, so we were alone. As soon as we dropped the bombs, the rear gunner spotted a fighter coming in. He gave the instruction to corkscrew but the skipper knew that to lose the search lights he’d have to do something entirely different. He stood the plane on its nose and we dived 5,000 feet. I was pinned to the cabin ceiling. When we pulled up, I was forced to the floor. Then we dived another 3,000 feet. We took some flak and lost an engine but made it home in one piece.
Wearing his France and Germany Star, and 1939-1945 Star and War Medal at his birthday celebrations, Basil has certainly earned recognition for his bravery and service.
"I was there to do a job, we didn't want to let anyone down"
Basil Ambrose in characteristic style
At the end of the war, Basil returned to Langley Hill, working at Cook’s Dairy Farm Equipment using his engineering skills. He later joined the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment in Aldermaston as a mechanical safety officer and the Greater London Council as chief safety advisor, before taking early retirement.


Basil with his son David
Looking for a hobby, friends recommended Basil join Goring and Streatley Golf Club. He’s now been a member for three decades and his family are regular visitors too for family celebrations. Basil’s brother-in-law, Dennis Bartlett, had his 90th birthday party there and three Bartlett cousins jointly celebrated their 40th wedding anniversaries there too. Liz Bartlett, Basil’s sister-in-law, commented on how the family holds its ‘cousins’ lunch’ at the club every year, coming from as far as Shropshire, Somerset and the West County to join in the celebrations.



Cyril Bartlett
Basil isn't the only hero in the family either - he joined the Bartlett family when he married Jean, who's father Cyril Bartlett, my grandfather, was a soldier in the First World War and is the subject of a book and website that tell the story of his war through his letters to Jessica: the lady who was to be my grandmother.
As you might imagine, we're quite proud of our family heroes!