Sunday, 10 October 2010

A quilted comforter to commemorate the Battle of Britain 1940

Yes, it may be a strange thing to do, but I had never made a patchwork quilt before, and I figured it would be a pleasant pastime to combine the fabric colours and prints into a padded picture to mark a remarkable wartime achievement 70 years ago, in August-December1940.

A few of my squares are now printed with photos of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, army General Montgomery, my Luftwaffe aerial photo of the Reigate area and the corresponding map that the German navigators had from the 1930s. It covers Redhill, Dorking, Leatherhead, surrounding villages, golf courses, roads, railways and countryside. They identified the golf courses and the Merstham rail tunnel but a lot more was well hidden underground! There is even a Spitfire and a Hurricane, with a British airman looking up wistfully into the air.

The squares are arranged to represent the pale blue sky, the North Downs with chalk scars and green vegetation. Below that are a rich variety of oak leaves (representing Surrey and the ancient Vale of Holmesdale), beech woods, barbed wire and undergrowth where our allied soldiers, especially Canadians, would be grouping and training in their hundreds of thousands. Meanwhile, manmade caves and tunnels were hastily being adapted for wartime purposes or constructed afresh - invisible to the enemy from the air.

As I peer at my small cotton squares and think of a talk I shall be giving next year to a group at St Paul's Church, Dorking, it is inspiring to think of all those flying aces, swooping and looping overhead. A Reigate girl actually married one of them - Tony Eyre from Churchill's Own - the 615 Squadron based at Kenley aerodrome. He did well to survive the war from 1942-45 in a PoW camp but then as Wing Commander was killed in a flying accident in 1946. His Welsh gravestone was almost forgotten until this year. A contemporary of his in 234 and 238 Squadrons, Old Reigatian Battle of Britain ace Wing Commander Bob Doe is well-remembered with a blue plaque on an exterior wall of Reigate Grammar School. Thankfully, he survived those war years for another 70 years until February 2010, aged 89, and is noted for some wise words: "We do not want to be remembered as heroes, we only ask to be remembered for what we did....that's all."

It is really intriguing to spot on the scraps of old map, some of our local country estates which Churchill was so familiar with:

The Deepdene - a fabulous estate where he and his brother Jack used to visit their aunt on many occasions - how exciting it must have been for them to explore all those sand caves in their youth and wonder about their potential in times of need - how right they were;

Reigate Priory, again, that 'dear old house' as his mother Jennie had described it - with sand tunnels connecting to local houses and the old castle caves a veritable tourist attraction;

Polesden Lacey - the euphemistically-called grand "country cottage" where his autograph is permanently on display in the visitors book, along with that of "Christine Churchill" - who knows who she was? (I think it was his wife Clemmie's sense of humour);

Cherkley Court, where Winston Churchill was lavishly entertained by his newspaper baron/Air Ministry head - Lord Beaverbrook - yet slept in a bedroom there where you could "barely swing a cat";

Juniper Hill, where, I am told, Churchill used to go and watch secret air reconnaisance film footage in the undergound cinema;

Norbury Park, which by then was the sumptuous home of Marie Stopes, the reformer whose book on "Married Love" was lent to Clemmie by Jack's wife Goonie in 1918 and she wrote about it in a letter to her husband Winston - they already had three children and two more were to be born to her;

Oakdene at Holmbury - a mansion previously owned by Augustus Perkins, who I have since discovered was a Colonel and 'grandson of Boston's merchant prince of the China trade'. Churchill's parents appear to have been friends of the family which is not surprising considering his mother was American - his father sometimes stayed there at Oakdene and travelled by train back to London;

and Headley Court, which was chosen for the recuperation of RAF wounded airmen - not surprising, because this is a beautiful part of the world.

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