Last night I was privileged to be invited to a special fundraising dinner, along with a writer friend, as a guest of The Sentinel newspaper. For those of you who might not know, the creator of the Spitfire plane, Reginald Mitchell, hailed from Stoke-on-Trent, where my father was born and where I live now. The Spitfire played a crucial part in the Battle of Britain, and in helping the allies win the Second World War. In 1969 the city of Stoke-on-Trent was gifted one of the last remaining Spitfires as a memorial. I can still remember, as a child, passing the glass house that it used to sit in and staring at it in awe. It is now housed in the Potteries museum in Hanley for people to visit. The purpose of the fundraising dinner last night was to help raise money for its upkeep, and to build a new, more fitting way to exhibit it for future generations, something that would keep its memories and significance alive.
So, regular visitors to my blog will wonder why I’m being so serious about this when I’m usually casually flippant about most things. Well, last night was a special night for more reasons than a posh dinner. The guest of honour was a 94 year old ex-pilot who flew a Spitfire during World War II. We were shown actual footage of a mission he flew on. To be in a room with such a man was humbling. It is true to say that, without this man, who risked so much for people he had never even met, and thousands of his comrades, I would not be sitting here writing this post now. My maternal great-grandparents were Polish Jews and, had the war taken a different path, our family would have almost certainly been wiped out.
The funny thing is that, as I sat laughing and chatting with the people at my table (getting a bit squiffy, if truth be told), none of this really occurred to me. My great-grandparents are dead and gone and my grandmother doesn’t really talk of those times much, despite the fact that there are many more stories to tell (her family narrowly escaping a blast during the blitz once they had fled to Britain is just one of them). And my life now is full of such current concerns that I don’t really think about how fortunate I am to be here, how so many lucky coincidences conspired to enable my birth at all. It was only when I got home last night that it really began to hit me.
Being in the same room as that gentleman is something I will remember fondly. We will never see his like again, and I sincerely hope that we never have to.