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Date added: 27 Feb 2015
On behalf of Nora Brookes:
My Sam’s story
When I first became involved with Sam Brookes, I knew nothing whatever about him. He was just a very nice man who had recently come to live in the village and he and his wife Ada came to the whist drives that I ran in aid of the Bowls club. As I got to know him better I discovered what a great character he was.
As a small boy, he was taken by his father to a show by some sort of flying circus. Unfortunately, the cost of a trip in a plane was too much for his father’s meagre pocket, but from then on, his one burning ambition was to fly. This ambition was put on hold and he left school at fourteen to work as a cashier in Martins Bank. When war broke out a few months later, his reaction was rather different from that of most people
“Will it last long enough for me to fly?” It did!
As soon as he could he joined the RAF, hoping to be a pilot, but when he discovered how long the training period was he opted for Wireless Operator instead, which would get him in the air more quickly. Then, when the Powers-that-be discovered that he had learned German at school, he was whisked away for intensive training to become ‘special duties’. In a very short time he was trained, sent to 101 Squadron at Ludford Magna near Lincoln, commissioned and in the air. Now his job was to sit in the body of a Lancaster with his eyes and ears glued to three screens listening for anything in German and jamming it so that fighters were unable to receive details of the bomber stream. For some reason, this body of men was known as Air Borne Cigar but they had no official insignia. Ever resourceful, and being handy with a needle, Sam designed and made his own ABC badge which he sewed on the underside of the lapel of his blazer. I have it still. Sam completed the regulation 30 missions just before the war ended.
Demobbed, he returned to the bank and exchanged his Pilot Officer’s salary for a humble cashier’s wage. However, being the man that he was, he quickly rose through the ranks in the bank and ended up as manager of a flagship branch of Barclay’s in the City, with a staff of 120, during which time he hardly gave a thought to his RAF years. Some years after his retirement, he was introduced to the Air Crew Association by a chance met fellow 101 member and when he attended his first meeting of the Maidstone Branch, found that the secretary was actually Syd Gray, a gunner in his crew.
Via the ACA, other doors were opened. He became involved with the RAF Museum at Shoreham and was put on their ‘signing list’. By this time, Ada had died and he and I, both in our eighties, were married. The marriage took place on December 10 in the presence of my daughter, Sam’s daughter and their spouses – and Radio Kent! The reception was held the following February and our ‘honeymoon ‘ was a cruise in April.
Our first adventure was a 101 anniversary and a trip to Brize Norton to meet the Prince of Wales. He had expressed a wish to meet a couple of veterans, so Syd and Molly, Sam and I were chosen and we had a great time. The Prince was charming. He spoke personally to each one of us and knew our names.
It was a few months later that we were collected by taxi from our home in Paddock Wood, Kent and taken to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford for a TV programme. It was here that we first met Harry Irons, a great character, for he and Sam were to walk around the Lancaster bomber that formed part of the exhibition and reminisce about their flying days. As it happened, there were two or three parties of school children on educational trips and the two men were mobbed.
“Did you really fly in one o’ them,mister? Cor!”
On the day that the Bomber Command Memorial was unveiled, Sam was asked to appear on screen with Carol Vorderman, but our taxi got caught up in horrendous traffic jams and we arrived too late for that. However, we had named seats and people carrying cameras etc kept walking by calling his name and the newspaper they represented. The one I most remember was the New York Times. It was a very hot day and by the time we got home we were exhausted. A few days later we went up to see the Memorial properly. Sam was wearing his 101 Squadron blazer, so once again he was mobbed, and I was too. I cannot count the number of times in our years together that he had his hand shaken with the words “Thanks, mate”
Then came the big one! A phone call from a lady RAF officer asked him if he would like to go to Downing Street and receive his newly produced Bomber Command Clasp from the Prime Minister in person. Would he! We had just one week’s notice, not even time for me to think what to wear, let alone buy anything new. What a day that was. We indulged in a taxi to take us to the RAF Club in Piccadilly to find that Sam was one of 25 to be honoured in this way. We were surprised to find that there was no-one there that we knew, although there was another 101 veteran. We were then bussed to Downing Street, right up to the door of No 10 and we entered that famous black door. Once all the niceties had been observed, we were ushered into a prepared room where the veterans had named seats on one side while their companions – wives, carers etc – were led to seats facing them. When everything was ready, David Cameron came in and made a short speech – without notes – and the presentation began. Each man was greeted by name and given a box containing his clasp. When it was over, we went back into the room where we had assembled and found tables laid for tea. The PM came to each table in turn – carrying his chair with him – and chatted to the ladies. Myconversation went like this
“I sat so near you while you were talking, that I could have picked your pocket”. He replied ” I talk too much .That’s my problem”. To which I answered “I know the feeling.” Great stuff. After a trip to the loo – as one veteran said, ”We’ve got to be able to say we peed in number 10, haven’t we ?” the black door was opened for us and we were back in Downing Street. As we left, Sam coaxed one of the press photographers to take a picture of us holding hands under the 10 on the door, using Sam’s own camera. It is now one of my proudest possessions. I contacted our local paper and a photographer was with us within the hour. We had half page pictures on the front cover and a full page inside Sam was hailed as a hero, which he refuted, saying, “I just did what had to be done”. I revelled in being ‘the hero’s wife’
Every year, on the first weekend in September, he attended the Squadron Reunion in Lincoln. The first time I went with him I was so impressed that I wrote a poem which I called Out of the Shadows. Sam loved it so much that he asked if, next year, he could propose the toast ‘To absent friends’ and recite my poem. This continued until his death, and I was expected to produce a new poem every year. As writing poetry comes as naturally to me as breathing, it was no trouble. Sam loved them all but none so much as the first one, which always made him cry. I read it for him at his funeral.
There was so much more to this wonderful man. He was, for several years, the Commodore of the Wilsonian Sailing Club on the Medway at Hoo and, although we had no naval connections, we became members of the Wednesday Club at Greenwich.
I could go on, but I think this is a goodplace to stop. He was a darling man, always ready to give help where it was needed and quick to recognise the need. I loved him dearly – I still do – and I miss him dreadfully.