UK – RAF Cranwell

23 July

Today we made our way from London to the base at RAF Cranwell.   On our way we stopped at Cambridge.

I had a bloody lovely time in Cambridge; it was a true pleasure!
Our visit started at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Museum, which was truly remarkable and moving. I didn’t necessarily expect to find a war cemetery in Britain, but here it lies, on land donated by Cambridge University. I think the Canadian History texts under play the role Americans played in the World Wars, but they do a really good job of teaching about Canadian contributions, and teach us to be proud which is important. Regardless this memorial and cemetery is dedicated to those US men and women who gave their life in WWII. I first visited the visitor centre to ground and familiarize myself with what I was about to see; a wall naming some of the missing army, navy, marine and air men and women for whom we don’t know their final resting place, a chapel and then almost 4000 graves.

Even witnessing this memorial cemetery does not help me fathom the sacrifices made by many throughout the world wars. So many men and women died, and so many more left at home, motherless, fatherless, parents, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, all making their own sacrifices to help support the war efforts.
From here we went into the town, proper. I started my visit at St Gilles church, then crossed the street for a pizzetta and gelato walked through the town having a great conversation with a local about weather and how similar Canadians and British people are in never being satisfied and grateful for the weather we have, but love to talk about it.

I crossed the river to see many people taking Gondola rides up and down the river. After walking through the centre of town, I then did a self guided walking tour of St John’s College to experience the history of academia in this city. I love places of learning, for which this town is well known for. The tour took me through several court yards and buildings including a chapel and Library, before finding the bridge of sighs. Wait, where am I? Pizza, gelato, gondolas and a Bridge of Sighs, it seemed very Venetian, but yet, oh so different!

 I then met up with a Shakespearean Actor who randomly came across some family friends so I took their pic, meet a professor and his student, went souvenir shopping buying myself a hand knitted bee (because you know, save the bees) from the same chap I discussed the weather with earlier. Apparently they are knitted by an elderly lady who volunteers at the tea room, and these are all the rage in Cambridge being worn on the backpacks of all the students. He then told me of one day, the busiest they had, they served about 80 guests as this young gentlemen was telling her how many people had visited she replied, “I know, I only knitted two bees today.” Instead of the 8+ she makes in a regular shift.

All and all it was a remarkable visit, and I feel I got a lot accomplished for just under two hours in town. A nice change of pace, and some time just to wonder and do what I wanted/needed.

July 24

Today the Canadians that did not go gliding yesterday got to go today.   We went gliding at RAF Cranwell.   It was nice to see gliders other then the  Schweizer’s.   These high performance gliders are pretty sweet.

Both days the cadets were winch launched which was new for some.   One of the sights had opposing winches instead of using a retrieval vehicle.  

Both sites were run by civilian gliding clubs and we were impressed.   The Air Cadets here do have their own fleet, however, due to a number of factors it sounds like they have been grounded for a few years, and the hope is to be operational this year, but only with a third of the glide sites.

It was a bit of a novelty to wear parachutes while gliding, as this is a requirement here in the UK.

The last interesting thing I learnt is that there summer gliding scholarships like the rest of their summer training is only a week long.   I am not sure how that works or what exactly the cadet walks away with.

July 25
Today we visited Chatsworth House. It doesn’t sound exciting but will be a highlight which I will remember for a long time to come.
Chatsworth House is truly a castle with garden grounds like nothing I have seen before.  It is the seat of the Duke of Devonshire and has been home to the Cavendish family since 1549.
The house was gorgeous and richley decorated with collections of paintings, tapestries, sculptures, rocks and so much more.

But it was in the gardens where my adventures truly started.
The gardens are 105 acres and consist of rock gardens, a hedge maze, pinetum, arboretum, grotto, coal tunnel, fountains, kitchen gardens, green houses, trout streams and ponds, gold fish, and various buildings, statues and sculptures hidden in amongst it all.

A ‘bucket list’ item for me has been to touch a Monkey Puzzle tree. I remember seeing a few of these from the bus the last time I was in the UK, but never got to inspect one up close. Today I did! I hugged 3 mature Monkey Puzzle Trees. I thought I saw the first one on the ‘Hundred Steps’ just growing out of the middle of the path while I was standing in the middle of the hedge maze, so I decided to swing by on my way back from the grotto. While in the grotto I realized that I walked under another one without even knowing. In the pinetum I did see one, passed under it and sure enough it was labeled. From here I passed back by the two I had seen earlier before finding a cove of immature Monkey Puzzle trees which allowed me to look at and touch the leaves up close that I had learnt about so long ago.

As wonderful as the Monkey Puzzle trees were they were nothing compared to the aroma above the kitchen gardens. The smell of the food being cooked in the restaurants bellow that was blowing up the hill and mixing with the smells of mature and ripe flowers, fruits, vegetables herbs and more was one of the best scents I’ve ever smelt and I wish I could have bottled it to share and smell again and again.
I did partake in one of my guilty pleasures, photographing flowers.

On the way out I saw a rock formation that reminded me of Pride Rock from the Lion King and decided I needed to let my inner lion out!

Getting back on the bus the Commandant mentioned every time he saw me today I had ‘a grin from ear to ear’, and that is because I had a wonderful time.
July 26th

Today most of us spent the day at a high rope adventure course participating in orienteering, archery, and the rope bridge course which included some zip lining too.

Those who did not partake spent the day visiting 45 (R) Squadron where they got to fly the flight simulator for he King Air.

After these activities it was time for our formal dinner here in the UK.   It was not truly a mess dinner due to the amount of countries participating, however it did hold elements of a mess dinner.  

The guest of honour was Air Commodore Dawn McCafferty; Commandant of the Air Cadet Organisation. 

July 27th

This morning, we started at the Newark Air Museum.   It is incredible to realize how many air bases there are in such a small area.   Also, how many surviving air crafts there are preserved in museums such as this one.

We did manage to find a Canadian connection with a Cherry Tree planted to honour Sgt KC Glinz and his crew of WWII who were killed in action on a training flight.   They were in a Stirling on 4 Dec 1944 and were airborne at 2030 from Winthorpe to practise recovery from unusual angles of flight. aircraft entered a bank of CuNim cloud at 2055, and crashed onto Breeder hills 4 miles west of Grantham after presumed icing. The crew perished and consisted of;  F/O G.R. Campbell RAAF KIA, F/S D.J. Standring KIA, Sgt L.G. Diggins KIA, Sgt W.L. Howarth KIA, Sgt E.W. Heaton KIA, Sgt A.L. Terry KIA, Sgt A. Winn KIA, Sgt B. Stowe KIA, Sgt K.C. Glinz RCAF KIA.

In the afternoon we got to put our marksmanship skills to the test using the electronic shooting system Dismounted Close Combat Trainer (DCCT) shooting the SA 80 at a variety of targets.   I must have been excited to get to shoot as I didn’t even take any pics.

After supper it was into the city of Sheffield to watch a football game (or soccer as we call it).   Sheffield United was having a friendly game against Derby County, it sounds like it is like an exhibition game.   It was a good game even though Sheffield lost.

I can’t fathom that this team has been playing since 1889.   Most of our buildings at home aren’t even that old (while in Dryden, no building is that old).   

We all had fun watching the game.

July 28th

Today is our last day at RAF Cranwell.   Today Prince Edward was on base for a graduation parade of new officers from the Royal Air Force College.   We did not see him as we were off to RAF Coningsby.

We started at the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.  (Think flight as an organizational group, several flights make up a squadron, yeah?)

This flight is dedicated to preserving aircrafts that would have flew in the battle of Britian and the stories there of.   Although there were not a lot of aircraft, the ones they had were pristine and in working order, often taking part in air shows.   

Again we found some Canadian connections.  The first was Dakota ZA947, a DC3 which was owned and operated by the RCAF from Sept 1942 – 1971 at which time it was declared surplus and was sold to the UK.   

The next was Huricane PZ865, painted to honour Canadian pilot, Flight Lieutenant Jimmy Whalen DFC who lost his life on 18 April 1944, 5 days before his 24th birthday, during the Battle for Kohima. He had carried out 176 sorties against the enemy, 107 being over enemy territory and 23 at night. He had to his credit 3 ME-109s destroyed and 1 damaged whilst flying from England and 3 Japanese Navy Val Type 99s destroyed over Ceylon.

But the gem of the collection was a Lancaster.  This bomber recently was joined by the only other working Lanc from Canada in 2015.   It had been 50 years since two Lancasters have flown together, and to get the only two left flying together was quite the feet, but a great way to honour this who served in one of the most dangerous services of WWII; Bomber Command

The Canadians of course took a picture under the bomb bay doors of the Lanc.

From here it was off to visit 29 Squadron who are responsible for flying one of the most advance fighter jets the Typhoon.   This will be the highlight of our trip for many.  We’ve all had those once in a lifetime moments.   Well this one of of those that most will never have as we got to climb up on, over and I the Typhoons. Truly remarkable!

There were many more Typhoons out on the Tarmac, flying around and practicing maneuvering.   As well we saw some AWACS on the Tarmac.

We finished our time at RAF Cranwell with some bowling.   We also traded and gave away some Canadian Swag.   I must admit it felt like a mini Canada Day to see so many people decorated with red and white, and playing with red and white balloons decorated with maple leaves.

All in all we had fun during this leg of the trip.  It was a relaxing schedule compared to our time in London, but full of fun, history and aviation.   It was hard to say good bye to half the group that will be traveling to Wales while we travel north to Scotland.

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