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15 October 2014
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But, Death Brings Hope’

by Market Harborough Royal British Legion

Flt Sgt Pilot Geoffrey Appleyard1921-1942. Having refused a commission he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal.

Contributed by 
Market Harborough Royal British Legion
People in story: 
Kathleen Davies, Flt Sgt Pilot Geoffrey Appleyard
Location of story: 
RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
A4121579
Contributed on: 
26 May 2005

Some reflections on my life by
Kathleen Davies

I have lived a long life and, during that time, I have been asked many questions, but three stand out. Why did I join the services? Why did I marry a parish priest? Why am I disabled? The first two are comparatively easy to answer.

A famous aerodrome was situated not many miles from my home and my sister and I knew many of the airmen at RAF Coningsby. They were being shot down, reported missing or becoming prisoners of war. My pilot friend was in love with his Lancaster and he loved flying. The excitement of fear got his adrenaline running and he wanted his night’s operation to be successful. I always knew when he was going on ‘ops’, he would phone me using a secret code, simply saying, "I’m happy". I would hear the planes going over about midnight and I was always anxious.

We were both twenty years old, carefree and happy. He and his crew would often stay the night at my home. He would put on my pink pinafore, make egg and chips, and raid my parents’ drink cupboard. One special concoction he named after me, a cocktail he called ‘Kath’s Folly’!

My sister Joan and I would take breakfast up to these boys in bed, usually five or six of them, and my Mother would shout out, "don’t be long in there, you girls, it only takes a few minutes to pop a tray in". Joan and I were very naïve, we’d had a fairly sheltered upbringing and there was excitement in the air. They taught us to smoke, to drink, to dance with them and to skate in the gliderdrome. We had fun. My parents were strict, but considered there was safety in numbers, and they were really a great little crowd. I remember one evening when a young airman came to meet me to tell me my air-gunner friend had not ‘made it’ and he was taking me out. This was true comradeship.

I was sending parcels to various Stalagluft camps and I thought of the German pen friend I’d had before the war. He had often sent me picture postcards of German cities and Hitler Youth camps. The cards were sent to the War Office after I had listened to an appeal on the wireless. He was a Hitler Youth leader and in my innocence I thought it was rather like the Boy Scout movement. In one of his letters written in perfect English — and better than mine — he asked me to send him English newspapers. My parents had refused to let me. He also asked if he and a friend could come and camp in our garden, but again they refused.

The night of July 26th 1942 will live with me forever. I was awoken by a terrific noise and looked out of my bedroom window to see the sky was a brilliant red glow. My heart sank and somehow I seemed to know what I had so often feared. My parents and I dressed quickly and went to the scene only a mile away on the North Sea coast at Benington, near Boston. I didn’t know then, but the crashed Lancaster bomber, loaded with bombs, had a mechanical failure.

The pilot, Flight Sergeant Geoffrey Appleyard, had done several sorties and 1000 bomber raids. He was wearing my pink pinafore, his air gunner carried his girlfriend’s bra, and other crew members had their mascots.

A friend wrote the following epitaph

IN MEMORY OFFlight-Sergeant PilotGEOFFREY APPLEYARD, D.F.M.106 SQUADRON, R.A.F.DIED JULY 26th, 1942.

A gallant lad in every way,
Whether at work or at play,
Time will pass and memory dim,
But somehow, there will be thoughts of him
Come stealing into the mind unbidden
Of brave deeds done, which were always hidden,
In a laugh, a joke, a kindly gesture
To fellow men, who shared his pleasure,
Losing such as you is hard.
We salute you, "Geoffrey Appleyard";
You gave your life for Freedom's sway.
In grateful remembrance, this tribute we pay.
M.E.G.August 22nd, 1942

I go to that ghastly sea bank sometimes, the concrete look-out post is still there, and a lot of barbed wire, too. I look out on the stillness of that countryside-cum-coastline and simply ‘Remember them’. I also used to visit the little cemetery at Coningsby, lying alongside the aerodrome. Five of the crew are buried there and at peace in that little part of England. I feel sure they had died as they had lived, happy, brave, even carefree young men when not flying, doing their duty that we might live and remember them.

But death brings hope, and it has brought me pleasure. I became acquainted with Geoff’s relations at the funeral and his Mother became Godmother to my son. His niece, who was born some years after his accident, is my Goddaughter. Recently her husband and son visited me. I had a few tears after they left — sixty-two years on and they remembered me, as well.

I joined the services, the Women’s Royal Naval Service in fact, to do my part for the war effort, as those fine young airman friends of mine had.

Now, back to the questions and the next one is easy. I didn’t marry a parish priest, who became Canon of Lincoln, but a handsome young officer in the Welch Regiment. We were in each other’s company for a total for just nineteen hours before our marriage, and then had over fifty-one happy years together. He saw action in North Africa and Italy, returning with malaria, dysentery and shell shock. But, fortunately not too shocked to marry me, although I think my Father-in-law would have preferred a Welsh girl!

The last question is better not answered. The reason for my disability is unknown, but in my twilight years, life is not as easy as it was during my years in the Wrens -and they had their moments! But that’s another story.

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