A Shocking Ignorance

 

 

The 60s was a wonderful decade to be young. I was 14 when it opened and married with fatherhood around the corner when it ended. So, for me, the 60's encompassed most of the key experiences that defined me for the rest of my life.

 

1962 was special – I was at a traditional boarding school near Ramsgate in Kent and had just moved up to the sixth form. The demeaning chores of fagging were past, I could put my hands in my pockets, shared a study with a few other boys rather than the Junior Common Room and at last had been able to leave behind those subjects that didn't really interest me. The year opened with Cliff Richard singing “Living Doll” at the top of the pop charts – the first record I ever paid to hear on a jukebox.

 

At St.Lawrence College we had no access to television and there was a single newspaper for each of the two Common Rooms, so discussion about current affairs was rare. However, I do remember exactly what I was doing when the news of Kennedy's assassination came on the radio and details about the trial of Adolf Eichmann which was in the papers remain vivid to me.

 

One of my privileges as a sixth former was to leave college after morning chapel on Sunday, be back for evening roll call and spend the day with an approved person. That person was my friend Mike Meredith, a day boy at the school who lived in the nearby town of Birchington.

 

In October it was still warm enough to cycle the 5 miles and I had made the trip most Sundays since the Michaelmas term had started. I would take a packed lunch and listen in to local radio hams on Mike's ex-Lancaster Bomber wireless whilst his family had their lunch. We'd then 'mess about' on mopeds and get up to other dubious activities.

 

On Sunday 28th October, my cycle ride took a little longer than usual. My route took me through a part of Manston airfield. This wartime base was known for its very long runaway, to take crippled bombers returning from raids in WW2. On this Sunday, I saw a policeman in the road ahead indicating that I should not proceed but take the signed diversion. I was not prepared for the scene beyond the policeman and it remains as an indelible image. There, lined up at an angle to the road, now a taxi way to the main runway, were at least four V Bombers – massive, menacing and white.

 

You will find no references to this event in the history of Manston airfield. However, world history records that the Cuba Missile Crisis was the closest we have ever been to destroying our civilisation. On the 28th of October 1962, I stood one hundred yards from the tools of that potential holocaust, a young man, oblivious of their significance.

 

Perran Newman

Manor 1964

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