Minchenden School

John Chard's Page

John Chard was at Minchenden before WW2 and found the site in mid 2009. Here is a fascinating story of John's life at school and afterwards. John found three amazing pictures of trench digging on the school field at the start of World war 2. Check them out at Minchenden Defences


While there are still some of us around it seems a good idea to outline the story of a life completely changed by WWII. This is in no sense a boastful story for the truth is I am very grateful for the wonderful experiences this has given me. To fly to so many parts of the world and get paid for the privilege was not a possibility I could have planned for myself. But that is how it turned out.
minchenden 5aI was at School in the thirties, a time when the age of majority was twenty-one and the age of innocence had a longer innings. Distractions such as Mobiles, Computers and TV were not missed because there were no such things. But I do remember that when Mr Bishop wrote the School Song: the original lyric had the line 'Scribes writ it fair in the Doomsday Boke' - the archaic spelling allowing a better rhyme. And 'though the Beech tree be felled and the Chestnut dead' will be more familiar to some than the version quoted.

This is a picture of Mr Packer's Class 5A which I took in the Summer of 1939. Using a tripod and a delayed exposure I was able to appear myself standing on the extreme right of picture.
Exceptional use was made of our large playing fields when on one exciting occasion a single-engined bi-plane used our grounds as an emergency landing field when it ran out of petrol! We all ran out to see this unusual sight - a rarity in those days! - and finally the staff gave up trying to order us back into classes. Pity I didn't have a camera with me that day. However, some of us were required to act as the brakes which the machine lacked: we did this by leaning back against the tailplane and digging out heels in. After the 'run-up' and when the pilot was ready to go with take-off power, we dropped flat and he sped across the field and into the air. Perhaps this event and time spent in the ATC persuaded me to join the RAF when the time came.

minchenden school fieldThe School ATC Squadron was lucky enough to benefit from having a basic glider with which to do ground slides in the field. Here is a picture from those days which I still have to show such an occasion. The lessons learned at school did not seem to have much relevance at the time but have had quite an impact in later years. Time spent in the woodwork shop proved invaluable when D-I-Y arrived.

A year attempting to learn German had an unexpected outcome when the Squadron moved into Germany. So good was the pronunciation we had been taught that on the strength of that 'richtige aussprechen' it was assumed that I was fluent. A degree of fluency came later but now most of that has gone. Mr Packer spend hours trying to improve my miserable marks for French homework - with little sign of success. Both he and I never did understand how I was awarded a 'B' for that subject! Thank goodness for Maths; that was my prize subject.

With the declaration of war in 1939 things changed dramatically. Of immediate impact were the trenches we dug in the playing fields under the supervision of the Major who decided we needed somewhere to take cover in the absence of bomb shelters. Then, although I was enjoying life in the sixth, school life came to an abrupt end when the necessary staff at Camera Craft were called up and an operator was needed to visit the many factories whose employees had to be photographed, in the interests of security, for works passes - things we call IDs these days. Sitting at home with the family I made the only possible decision; I would take on the job.

These were mostly aircraft factories; Hawkers. Short Bros, Gloucester Aircraft and others. In different circumstances it might have been daunting but when faced with the necessity of photographing some 10,000 people in just one Company it was a case of getting on with the job. I soon became accustomed to driving all over the country without the benefit of signposts or street lights. Even the headlamps were heavily blinkered. There were no speed limits but I do miss the courtesy that we enjoyed in those earlier years.

queueWe had a barely adequate ration of petrol and yet somehow we managed. When my original call-up papers arrived I was put on deferred service because of the security nature of the work and the unavailability of another operator. Life continued with the black-out and rationing and the world and his neighbour carrying gas masks all the time. Like many others we kept chickens in the back garden; but to buy food for them we had to give up our egg coupons! Rationing also lead to the establishment of an efficient jungle telegraph; when a scarce un rationed commodity appeared in a shop word flew around and in no time there would be a queue of hopefuls ready to buy the item. Such a situation arose at Camera Craft where film for private use would be unavailable for long periods. When it did come into stock the resultant queue would stretch down Osborne Road seen here: 

Things changed for me in 1943 and I joined the RAF in March of that year. Before November was out I was in Canada to start a training course. Rumour had it that we would be at the PDC for some months so when the need arose for an operator for the camp cinema I jumped at the opportunity. While there I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting (separately) two other members of my class who were on the way home! Spring came and with it a move to the prairies for an elementary flying course on Tiger Moths to be followed later in the year by a wings course on Ansons at Vulcan, Alberta - near the foothills of the Rockies. Then, in 1945, my next posting was to an OTU in Nova Scotia and a conversion to Mosquitos. Then home again at last where thankfully the European war was over. But not the rationing! 
After a full OTU I was sent to 107 Sqdn which operated Mosquito MK 6's - a powerful fighter- bomber version which was a joy to fly. The Squadron was part of 2nd TAF and within a day or two of my joining in Brussels we moved into Germany where I also learned the delightful art of sailplaning; Once I even managed to stay airborne for five hours without an engine while ridge soaring at Scharfoldendorfe. Not a record by any means, but hugely exciting for a pilot used to noisy engines! The next day the Mozzie sounded extra loud.

DH mosquito

By now the image had changed and here is a picture taken about that time. And that is also me standing under the port engine - fourth from right. Gives you some idea of the size of the MK6.

It was also around this time that I took out Life membership of the Minchenden Old Pupils Association and duly paid my three guineas.
It is not part of this story to relate the exceptional experiences I had either in the RAF or in the civil aircraft I flew over the following years. They are recorded elsewhere. Sufficient to say that the total hours I spent in the air add up to more than two continuous years of my life while my flying career lasted for over thirty-five years. Yes, there were unusual situations and yes, I have seen an undoubted UFO in flight!
minchenden old pupilsHowever I would like to report how Albert, the French Controller at Aoulef-el-Arab in the Sahara had me speaking French in a few days; an achievement that would have been envied by Mr Packer. Quite simply, on a southbound stop he handed me some papers with the announcement "Commandant, from tomorrow and the next day when you come again, I speak to you no more English on ze R/T. Here are ze phrases of English and French which you must learn!" Telling him the idea was crazy, I nevertheless accepted the sheets of paper. But he wasn't finished; "Here is the alphabet phonetique which you must use." This time I was on safe ground, or so I thought: "Alber' we all know the alphabet phonetique because we have just changed from 'Able, Baker, Charlie, etc to Alpha, Bravo .." He interrupted me: "Non, Commandant, eet is Anatole, Bertrand, Celestine, Desiree, Emile, Francois, Gaston, Henri. Irene, etc." .A few days later as we approached on the northbound flight I called him on the R/T - "Good morning Alber'" "Ah non, Commandant! En francais s'il vous plait!" He won! From then on future calls were in that language. You may have guessed that we had a good relationship.
The first Civil aircraft I flew were Vikings and the flights mostly charter operations. The Berlin Airlift was an exception. Can you believe we had only ± /5 secs to arrive over the approach beacon in Berlin or be prevented from landing. Those landings took place every three minutes with an aircraft taking-off in between on the single runway at Gatow. In really bad weather the interval was increased to five minutes. I also flew Dakotas on a number of flights until converting to DC6's - an aircraft you could land so smoothly that it was all but impossible to say just when the wheels touched. Britannias were my introduction to propjets and finally the Boeing 707 saw me through the last sixteen years of my flying career.cabin

On the more personal side, there was a hostess (cabin staff these days) whose company I enjoyed. We married in 1952, raised a family of two girls and two boys who, between them have given us twelve wonderful grandchildren.
Betty was working on Dakotas before we met; she was to be seen like this











Not much has changed we are just much older and truly blessed