As the aircraft coughed into life – initially flickering exhaust flame and billowing blue smoke before start-up rich mixtures burned off – then began to taxi out across the bumpy grass to line-up for takeoff on the infield near Woodcote Corner, those were real lump-in-the-throat moments.
The roar of multiple Rolls-Royce Merlin engines once again bounced back from Trundle Hill and Bow Hill. As – one-by-one – the aircraft climbed away between Lavant and Chichester, banking right to clear the town – the south-westerly sun flashed off cockpit canopies and tail fins. And – once assembled into their Section formations above Selsey Bill – each fly-by of three, four, six or eight radiated a sight and sound surely to be cherished.
Having spent long hours with specialist historian Andy Saunders verifying the list of Tangmere Sector’s losses that long-gone summer – the names were still flickering through my mind… Sergeant Eric Debnam Baker, Flying Officer Guy Raustrom Branch (Empire Gallantry Medal), Flying Officer The Lord Richard Ughtred Paul Kay-Shuttleworth, Flying-Officer Antoni Ostowicz, Sergeant Mervyn Sprague… and on… and on… and still further formations came winging in above us, more great classic aircraft wheeling low across the Aerodrome.
And looking up towards the Race Course one could see the crowds lining the crest of the hills – and out in the lanes all around were thousands more. This was simply a fantastic 75th anniversary tribute, and once home my young grandchildren were full of how, when leaving school, they had glimpsed the Spitfires and Hurricanes flying over, 25-miles north – and further accounts kept emerging from far and wide of how ‘they’ had been seen clear across the country, from Devon to Dover – absolutely the object of the commemorative exercise; mission accomplished.
Setting any Goodwood interest aside – what a fabulous event this was. And in such volume all made possible by private owners, private individuals, and private enterprise; certainly some of the freedoms those predecessors whose brief, brave lives we commemorate and honour, were defending in our skies, 75 long years ago.
Photography courtesy of The GP Library and Tom Shaxon