Saturday, 06 March 2021

Henley Probus Club

THE club’s 450th meeting was held at Badgemore Park Golf Club in Henley on January 8.

After the normal business had been completed, club member Peter Durrant gave a talk about his “Long-term career in aviation”.

He started by recalling that in 1940, when he was a young boy, he and his mother were evacuated from the Home Counties to Devon as the Luftwaffe began its bombing campaign in south-east England.

In 1944, with the evacuation over, they returned to the family home in Beckingham, Kent.

No sooner had they arrived home when Peter heard an approaching cacophony of sound and ran outside to see a Luftwaffe Messerschmidt, followed by two RAF Spitfires, flying over at treetop level.

This started his fascination for aviation, which led him to apply to and then join the engineering branch of the RAF at RAF Halton in Buckinghamshire in 1948. He was just 16 years old when he joined and passed out in 1952.

Peter’s first posting was to Northern Ireland followed by a spell at a NATO training base in Germany. His hands-on engineering and training experience was on the Hawker Tempest fighter aircraft (formerly known as Typhoon II).

More importantly for Peter was that he was exposed for the first time to commercial (as opposed to military) helicopters with the Bristol Sycamore.

His next posting was on the Royal Navy helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, which was then the fleet flagship of the Royal Navy (more recently she was an amphibious assault ship until her decommissioning in 2018). Peter told various stories of his time on board including the use of the ship by the Royal Marines during the Suez crisis.

In 1958, he left the RAF by paying £200 for a voluntary termination and then went into industry and, in particular, helicopters.

Until then, helicopters had only been seriously utilised in a military environment but were now starting to be used in a civil/commercial environment by a small number of entrepreneurial businesses.

In the early days of commercial helicopters their primary usage was in crop-spraying.

Peter told stories of his engineering exploits in his initial period of deployment in Jamaica spraying bananas as well as in Panama, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic and many other countries.

In this phase of his career he spent eight years employed by Bristow Helicopters, a British company established in 1955 by the entrepreneur Alan Bristow.

The next phase of Peter’s aviation experience was with the Air Registration Board, which effectively became the Civil Aviation Authority in 1972.

He spent almost 27 years with the ARB/CAA before his retirement in 1992. At this point he had completed a long career in aviation, which is a sector he is still hugely enthused about.

At the close of the meeting, Peter was thanked by the members for his talk, which triggered many members to reflect on how the aviation sector had developed since the Second World War.

Henley Probus Club meets at Badgemore Park Golf Club on the second Tuesday (morning) of each month. If you are interested in coming along, please call Roger Griffiths on (01491) 575137.

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