|The Rushden Echo, 28th May, 1943, transcribed by Gill Hollis
Jean Batten’s Pride in Royal Air Force
Memorable Opening of “Wings” Week
Opening the Rushden Area Wings for Victory Week at Rushden on Saturday afternoon, Miss Jean Batten, famous creator of world flying records, declared that she found the work of the R.A.F. a more interesting and inspiring subject than her own flights.
Slim and dark-eyed, and wearing a black coat and hat over a wine-coloured dress, Miss Batten stood on a dais in front of Rushden’s last-war memorial and took the salute from a long and smartly turned-out procession of uniformed organisations from Rushden and Higham Ferrers.
She saw more than a thousand men, women and young people march by, followed by a number of vehicles. With her on the platform were Coun. A. F. Weale, J.P. (chairman of the Rushden Urban Council), Ald. J. W. Barker, J.P. (Mayor of Higham Ferrers), Coun. H. Miles, J.P. (chairman of the Raunds Urban Council), and Flight-Lieut. J. S. Tennant, R.A.F.
In the procession which marched from Spencer Park to Rushden Hall Grounds the British Legion’s Union Jack was carried at the head, the escort being reinforced by members of each unit on parade. Then came an R.A.F. detachment, small sections of the 8th N.N. Battalion Home Guard, the S.J.A.B., Nursing Division, Air Scouts, Army Cadets, A.T.C., W.V.S., A.R.P. Services, N.F.S., G.T.C., A.R.P. Wardens, British Legion, and young people’s companies.
The A.T.C. buglers were playing as they passed the saluting point, but the other units marched to the music of the combined Town and Temperance Bands, stationed near the gate of St. Mary’s Church. The Salvation Army Band, joined by the few remaining Mission bandsmen, was also on parade.
Mr. A. J. Sturgess marshalled the procession and was accompanied by Police Inspector Valentine and Special Inspector Chamberlain.
Several thousand people lined the High-street.
At Rushden Hall Grounds, where the £150,000 savings campaign was opened from the bandstand, the paraders were drawn up in V formation, the young people having the inside positions.
Miss Batten, Flight-Lieut. Tennant and the civic leaders of the three towns were received by Mr. John White, the campaign chairman, Coun. Weale presided over the meeting, and a large “platform” was in support. The National Anthem was an impressive prelude.
Coun. Weale welcomed the special visitors and outlined the objects of the campaign.
“If,” he said, “we could cast our minds back to those momentous days three years ago when the Spitfire was playing its great part in the war against the Luftwaffe, we should all agree that the name will go down not only in the history of the R.A.F. and of flying, but in the history of the country.”
The present campaign was a great opportunity for paying tribute to the gallantry and courage of our airmen. The people of Rushden, Higham Ferrers and Raunds could say “Thank You” for the service the Royal Air Force had done, not only for this country, but in preserving the civilisation of the world.
Miss Batten Thanked
Flight-Lieut Tennant said that nothing could be more heartening to anyone than to see the wonderful procession he had just witnessed and to know of the enthusiasm with which Rushden and district was taking its Wings for Victory Week.
A second reason for pleasure was to be able, on behalf of all of them, to congratulate Miss Batten on the work she was doing. Day after day in many parts of the country she was doing this magnificent work, and they all thanked her for finding the time to visit Rushden.
He thought that when history came to be written they would find that the Battle of Britain, although it was fought in the air and not on the ground, would go down as one of the decisive battles in the world’s history.
At that time we were standing alone facing overwhelming odds. We had cut down our Air Force seriously, but Lord Trenchard and those in control at the Air Ministry had insisted that its personnel and material should be of the best. It was because of that, and because of the courage of only a few young but well-trained men, that we held the pass and saved civilisation. It was to those men that we owed our thanks.
To-day quite apart from its day-and-night offensive all over the world, the R.A.F. had many jobs. First and foremost, it had to deal with the U-boat menace. If we were beaten by the submarine menace, then we were indeed beaten, but instead of being beaten by that menace we were beating it. The R.A.F. could patrol the sea and pound the bases where the U-boats were made.
A second important job was to provide air cover for our ground troops. We did not want to see, and he did not think we should see, the enormous military losses of the last war, because we should be able to give, whenever and wherever we attacked, adequate air cover. That was going to save hundreds of thousands of British lives.
They had seen the way the North African campaign collapsed when once we were able to pound the enemy at will and to drive the Germans and Italians out of the skies. That must happen wherever and whenever we attacked in future; it meant almost unlimited air power.
Smashing the Hun
Another great task was to smash up the war production of the enemy. In the lifetime of some people this was the fifth occasion when Germany had wantonly and brutally set about her neighbours, and we were determined that it should not happen again.
The way to ensure this was to see that the fight finished up in Berlin. Meanwhile we had to smash up the enemy’s war production.
We were deliberately going only for targets of military importance, and our Prime Minister had warned the Germans that it was time for them to get out of their centres of production, because we should continue the blitz in ever-increasing degree.
Another work was the freeing of the suffering millions. The world had seen the calculated slaughter of the Chinese by the Japanese and the enslavement of millions in the Far East. We wanted to end that as soon as possible and those who supported the Wings Week were taking one of the surest ways of ending it. It was all very well smuggling a few thousand refugees out of the enslaved countries, but that was only touching the fringe of the problem. The way to salvation was to smash the Nazis.
Flight-Lieut Tennant spoke of the Spitfire as an invaluable machine and of the Lancaster bomber as “almost a companion of the Fortress so ably used by our gallant American allies.” He stressed the heavy cost of a raid in which 20 bombers might be lost nearly £1,000,000 and probably 160 men.
This showed how important the Wings for Victory weeks were, but he asked for support on the ground of thankfulness also. In thankfulness for God’s providence in sparing them from so much that other countries had suffered they must do everything in their power to see the war to a successful and speedy conclusion.
Cheers for Air Heroine
Introducing Miss Batten, the chairman said the great service she had rendered to flying would become history in this country. Her great pioneer work from 1934 to 1937 her solo flights in some instances being of 9,000 miles would never be forgotten.
Received with enthusiasm, Miss Jean Batten showed high ability as a speaker, and her voice had a deep and attractive quality. She said:-
“I do first of all want to say how very pleased and happy I feel to have this opportunity to visit Rushden and have the honour of opening your great Wings for Victory Week for you.
“As you know, we have all gathered to-day for a very great and noble purpose to show our admiration and our gratitude to the men the pilots and the crews of the Royal Air Force, by supporting this great Wings for Victory Week which opens to-day.
“As you know, I am at the moment on a great Wings for Victory tour of Britain, and I visit many different towns. I had the honour of speaking on the opening day in London, and since then I have been visiting towns and villages all over Britain.
“These, of course, differ in population, as they do in Wings for Victory targets, but there is one thing that remains the same, and that is the wonderful enthusiasm which attends these weeks.
“The question on everybody’s lips in every place is not whether the target is reached or not, but by how much will that target be exceeded.
From The Empire
“You will know that I come from New Zealand, and that hundreds of thousands of pilots and crews are coming from every part of our great Empire from Canada and Australia, from South Africa and from my own country.
“They are leaving their homes and families to come here, in some cases to travel 14,000 miles, and they have left everything that is dear to them and given their very all for us.
“You must, as I frequently do, ask yourselves how we can ever repay these men for all they do for us. We know we can never repay them in full, but there is one way in which we can help them, and that is by giving them more and still more aeroplanes.
“I know I feel confident and sure that you will not just achieve your target, but that you will exceed it by a handsome sum.
Always On The Job
“I suppose even now, while we are gathered here, aeroplanes of Fighter Command, possibly Spitfires, are flying out over occupied Europe, upsetting the enemy’s centres of war industry and dislocating their transport, while aeroplanes of Coastal Command are flying over miles of ocean, bringing the merchant ships to Britain and with planes of the Fleet Air Arm destroying the U-boats. In the Pacific they are seeking out and destroying the bases of the fanatical Japanese and keeping at bay the increasing threat of the invasion of Australia.
“I suppose to-day the planes of Bomber Command hold our attention more than any other branch of the service, and I cannot sufficiently pay my tribute to the wonderful way in which the pilots fly hundreds of miles over Europe to bomb their targets with such unerring accuracy.
“As a woman I look on at their achievements with admiration and genuine pride. I know the risks and the hazards they run, because I know many of the countries where the Royal Air Force is carrying out this offensive my own flights having taken me over them.”
Miss Batten recalled her flights over the Holy Land and the deserts of Syria and Iraq to India in two days nine hours from England, across India to Singapore, four days out, then along that fascinating island chain, the Dutch East Indies to Australia in 5½ days from England, to Sydney, a week out, and across the Tasman to New Zealand, across the Sahara to West Africa and over the South Atlantic to Brazil.
“I do not talk very much about my own flights these days,” she said, “because I have a more inspiring and to my mind more interesting subject in the work of the R.A.F. As each day goes by we realise more and more what we owe to them and to the famous few who took part in the Battle of Britain. They proved beyond doubt that there is no limit to human endeavour. Without those famous few we would not be here to-day, free people in a free country.
“I am going to ask you and I know my words will not fall on deaf ears to support this great Victory Week. When you think out what your own contribution is going to be, don’t make it just what you can spare something you will never miss. Try and make it something that we all know we owe to the men and the crews of the Royal Air Force.
“I am going to look forward with tremendous interest and enthusiasm to hearing the result, and I do appeal to all the inhabitants of Rushden, Higham Ferrers and Raunds to support this week and make it something to be remembered, so that even in 100 years to come, when people gather in this famous park, they will look back with pride and say “Well done, Rushden!”
Stamps for Bomb
Mr. J. H. Carratt, Commandant of the Rushden G.T.C. Company escorted Miss Batten to the 500 lb bomb which reclined in a trolley near the bandstand and presented her with a savings stamp which she autographed and stuck on the middle of the case.
Mrs. Robert Denton representing the Robinson-road Savings Group whose 40 members had each bought and autographed a gift stamp, raising £10 in all was called upon to affix these stamps. Another incident at this point was Miss Batten’s delighted acceptance of a bouquet from Mavis Bodaly of the G.T.C.
Moving thanks to the speakers the Mayor of Higham Ferrers (Ald J. W. Barker J.P.) observed: “I have been wondering what would happen if we could have a Women’s Air Force composed entirely of people like Miss Batten. They would certainly get a move on!”
The Mayor declared that Miss Batten had charmed the people of Rushden, Higham Ferrers and Raunds.
Seconding, Mr. Harold Miles J.P., chairman of the Raunds U.D.C. said they had watched Miss Batten’s flights with admiration and realised how much the nation owed to such pioneers in the realm of flying. They realised that she was an excellent airwoman and a great speaker as well.
In a further word Miss Batten said it had occurred to her that Rushden people had arranged for their campaign to coincide with the Tunis victory.
“I do not know whether this was pre-ordained, and you knew all about this victory but surely you can have no greater inspiration than the great victory in Tunisia and the wonderful news we have had lately of the success of bombing raids over Germany.”
Before she could leave the platform Miss Batten found herself surrounded by autograph hunters. She cheerfully complied with all demands and signed many of the special souvenir cards bearing her portrait and details of her record flights.
Afterwards Mr. and Mrs. White entertained many of the campaign workers and their ladies to tea in the Hall, members of the “Impregnable” office staff waiting at the tables. The host and hostess were thanked by Coun. Weale, who emphasised that a great deal with regard to the success of the coming week rested upon the shoulders of Mr. White.
Good Financial Start
“I can tell you,” said Mr. White, “that I feel very optimistic. There are some quite large sums which take us a good way towards our target. We may not have to come for such a purpose again, and let us hope to God we don’t. We are all optimistic and for once we have reason for our optimism.”
Those on the platform at the opening meeting included Coun. W. E. Capon (campaign secretary), Lt.-Col. Swoger and other U.S.A. officers, Flt.-Lt. Hillery, R.A.F., Mr. C. W. Horrell, J.P., C.A., Mr. F. J. Sharwood, C.C., Mr. Walter Tarry, Mr. A. H. Whitton, Mr. O. A. H. Muxlow, Couns. Dr. R. W. Davies, Mrs. Muxlow, W. J. Sawford, A. Allebone, J.P., C.C., T. W. Cox, E. A. Sugars, F. Green, J.P., J. T. Richardson, J.P., T. J. Swindall, J. Allen, J. E. Dilks, A. H. Bailey, H. Waring and J. George (Rushden), Coun. R. W. Janes (Higham Ferrers secretary), Coun. A. C. A. Colton (Higham Ferrers), Mr. Robert Heap (Town Clerk of Higham Ferrers), Mr. E. F. Poole (Raunds secretary), and Mr. J. Coles, J.P., C.C., (Raunds).
Praise For Rushden
In a chat with the “Echo and Argus” representative, Miss Jean Batten said that those taking part in the parade were “a very fine lot of men and women.”
“You have a fine Civil Defence here, and I was also very pleased to see so many young people in the junior organisations.”
Miss Batten thought the Hall grounds must be a great asset to the town. “It was a most inspiring setting, and it was a pleasure to speak in such delightful surroundings.