A Personal Page
The now ghostly appearance of the old watchtower at the former site of RAF Ibsley, in the New Forest. This was my Uncle Albert’s place of work from late 1944 to August 1945, when the war in the Far East ended, Ibsley closed, and he was sent to nearby RAF Holmesley South to await demob. Ibsley is on the western border of the New Forest, approx. 4 miles from the market town of Ringwood.
I love disused airfields and railway stations. Both have an atmosphere that is hard to descibe. With regard to airfields, this is so well captured in the opening sequences of the film ‘The Way to The Stars’ – see link on the Flightpath WWII sections of this web site. When I think of building a diorama from our 48th or 72nd airfield buildings, it is not of building them as they were, but in a disused, abandoned state.
Of Uncles –
My late uncle Albert was born in July 1921. His father, Harry, had been a stoker on HMS Iron Duke and was at The Battle of Jutland. His father’s brother was killed on the Western Front, at Vimy Ridge. I still have his posthumous war medals. Albert’s cousin Jimmy, was killed in the Battle of the Atlantic. His name is on the naval memorial on the sea front at Portsmouth. In Albert’s later years we talked a lot about his own past and his war service, which he could recount with absolute clarity, even though he could not recall what had been said to him five minutes earlier. We spent a lot of time together in that way towards the end of his life – house-bound, blind, and in a lot of pain.
His hobby as a schoolboy was radio and electronics. One story he recounted was of a trip he and his father made when he was in his teens, to Lisle Street and then over to the East End of London, to visit some of the radio and surplus stores that held the same fascination for him as a model shop might for us.
It was on this particular trip that, quite by chance, they encountered a rally by The British Union of Fascists, led by that delightful human being, Sir Oswald Mosely – and where he witnessed a young Jewish man being attacked by Mosely’s ‘Brownshirt’ thugs. This made such an impression on him that when the war came, and finding himself in a reserved occupation as a trainee aircraft instrument maker, he gave up his job so that he would be called up. Hence he joined the Royal Air Force to train as a Wireless Operator.
In January 1944 when on Wellingtons, and by this time a wireless operator/air gunner based at RAF Hixon in Staffordshire, his aircraft sustained an engine fire en-route to France. He was one of three crew members to bail out of the aircraft, which was rapidly losing altitude as it passed over the Dorset coast. The first out landed safely, so Albert was informed. The last one out was never recovered from the sea, but Albert landed roughly on rocks at Lulworth Cove, fracturing two of his lower lumber vertebrae. The remaining crew were also lost when the aircraft crashed into the sea.
This injury led to him being made an honorary member of ‘The Caterpillar Club’ [I still have his badge] and of course, being grounded. This, given the average losses of Bomber Command aircrew at that time, probably saved his life, as he would often reflect.
When fit, he re-trained for air traffic control and was sent to Debden, and then to RAF Ibsley. At that time the base was home to an RAF Transport Command Glider Pick-up Training Flight, using C-47s and Waco Gliders [not Horsa gliders, as is often erroneously reported]. This was for training glider pilots in readiness for a possible land invasion of Japan, which of course, never needed to happen.
Ibsley was a happy posting for Albert, where his activities included playing pranks on the Fire Section by loosening the screws on the camp bed in their area of the control tower, and attaching a bell which rang when the bed was in use by one of the section members and a visiting WAAF – and also putting a grass snake under the bed covers. One member of the Fire Section, Roy, was an accomplished artist, and the remnants of two portraits of women that he painted on the wall of the central ground floor room were remarkably intact c.1961, but are now hardly legible in the much more recent photo below –
Another visitor was a colonel from the USAAF who in early ‘45 would park his P-47 next to the tower whilst visiting from mainland Europe for the weekend, in order to see the wife of an absent army officer in nearby Ringwood. To keep quiet about the mistress and keep an eye on the P-47, Albert was given drink & Lucky Strikes by the Colonel.
Every day, when walking from his site quarters to the watchtower – or control tower as he would always refer to it – he would pass a large rambling wooden house called ‘Forest View’. He approached the owner [an elderly spinster] and gave her his address in Hertfordshire, asking that should she ever sell the property, would she give him the first offer on it.
It was all of 11 years later, in 1956, that he received a letter from her! He travelled down to Hampshire, purchased the house for the princely sum of £1,200.00, and so it was that he, and my mother and father, and a snotty three year old called David moved to the New Forest – and is key to how I came to grow up against the back-drop of RAF Ibsley. Moving from a North London council estate to such a location would have huge consequences for my own life chances that obviously I could not comprehend at the time!
When operations ceased at Ibsley, he was transferred away to RAF Holmesley South which was quite busy with Avro Yorks coming back with personnel from the far east. After the war, Albert went into electronics and ran his own business until the age of 70. His back problems, as a result of his war injury returned for a prolonged period of over 20 years, when he suffered extreme pain – but he kept his business going throughout it all.
This photo depicts Albert at the [then] recently installed memorial to RAF Ibsley and those who served there, pointing out his former place of work. It was taken a few years before his death in March 2018, just short of his 97th birthday.
Of Aviation –
I suppose many can pinpoint what seed germinated their love of aviation. For me it was certainly clear. It was spending my childhood just a few minutes’ walk from the site of the former RAF Ibsley. Unused by aircraft since 1945, it lay there as an exciting playground for myself and my friends. Many of the covered blast shelters were there and accessible, as was the tyre dump. We even appropriated a rusted sign that said ‘STOP HERE’ in stencilled lettering. This was kept behind the brick wall of the village chapel cemetary and was used to stop the ice cream van each Saturday evening!
The runways were largely intact at that time too, but the main attraction was, of course, the control tower – my uncle’s former place of work. We would stand on the [apparently unique] concrete veranda and pretend we were serving members of the RAF! Both floors were completely accessible as well as the roof and it was a place literally dripping in atmosphere to a young mind raised on a handed–down copy of Jane’s, All the World’s Aircraft, 1942 – which I still have.
Like many in the hobby, who have developed a life-long interest in aviation [or anything else], there are often several events from childhood that stay with you and implant themselves forever.
One such day was visiting RAF Upavon [now Trenchard Lines] in 1962, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary display of UK military flying. In those days there was flying over the crowds [and low], not like the nondescript distant grey specks to be seen now at the annual RIAT display. After the display proper was over, a Hunter and the prototype P.1127 [forerunner of the Harrier] were beating up the field together, flying directly over our heads. An awesome sight to a youngster, and something that is still clear in my mind today.
One other anecdote about this day in 1962 stands repeating – the seating arrangements. Instead of sitting on the grass with everyone else, my father, uncle and myself wandered over to a section of elevated grandstand seating, complete with a brown paper carrier bag containing our sandwiches and flasks. I can remember that many of the people seated there wore medals and much braid. We joined them, and after a while a Whirlwind helicopter landed in front of the grandstand, with the pilot waving from the cockpit – a slow ‘Royal’ wave. HRH The Duke of Edinburgh emerged from the machine, and took his seat [perhaps six rows in front of us].
Obviously, it was by now apparent that we should not have been there, but we could hardly get up and walk out on royalty! My uncle fell into conversation with one of the dignitaries, being ex-WWII Bomber Command himself. At the end of the show we got up and left with everyone else – no one had questioned us, or asked for our credentials. Imagine that today!
Other things too cemented my interest. Visits to the Farnborough air shows, and seeing the ‘Black Arrows’ and the ‘Firebirds’, not to mention the Vulcan Scrambles. Visits to the many RAF Battle of Britain ‘At Home’ displays, together with Navy Days at Portsmouth and Portland Bill, plus Open days at Bovington Tank Museum, and other Army Days. All intensely exciting stuff.
Of Railways [and a bit of aviation] –
My Uncle had zero or very little interest in, or knowledge of, railways. He could not tell an LNER A4 pacific from an LMS ‘Jinty’ tank loco! It was my father Joseph who was the railway enthusiast of the family.
His grandfather was based at Camden Depot and used to drive the royal train for King ‘Teddy’. To say his grandfather liked drink would be an understatement, and it was a much handed-down story within the family, that often his colleagues would carry him to the loco sheds and ‘pour’ him into the relevant locomotive! Still, I imagine driving a steam loco pretty soon sobered you up in comparison with that of a modern-day diesel or electric locomotive.
In any event my father loved railways. And so with his influence, and that of my uncle present at all times, it is little wonder that I developed an interest in railways as deep as my one in aviation, and to this day, they have kind of remained in balance.
Like many, I started building Airfix, Frog, and Aurora kits from around the age of eight and instantly knew what I wanted my future career to be. I couldn’t have articulated it at the time, but somehow I knew. The kits I mainly made though were not the usual Spitfires or Lancasters. I was a particular fan of the Airfix OO railway wagon kits and subjects like their ‘Drewry’  shunter and Park Royal Railbus kits.
Some of the first kits I made were the Lindberg 1:96th ‘V’ Bombers, with their moulded on engravings for the roundels and underwing serials! The very first Airfix kit I saved up for from my two shillings and sixpence per week pocket money [12.5p now] was an aircraft too – the Airfix Bristol Mk.32 Superfreighter, which we would see being loaded with cars and taking off from our nearest airport, Hurn [now Bournemouth].
This was a place we visited almost weekly to see Tiger Moths, Austers, Dragon Rapides [my first air trip along the local coastline], DC-3s, Handley Page Heralds and Viscounts, in addition to the Superfreighters. There was also the Airwork Services/Fleet Requirement Unit on the other [military] side of the airfield, which had black Seahawks, Scimitars, Sea Vixens and, on occasion, that Gentleman’s Aerial Carriage, the Canberra. Pure heaven.
Then it was on to Hinton Admiral [for Highcliffe-on-Sea] railway station for some trainspotting, and often, a short train trip to Boscombe station and a walk up to visit ERGs [the then famous basement model shop]. Then, on again by train, to Bournemouth West for some more spotting, before returning to Hinton and maybe seeing Mr. Dunne, the signalman in his box at the western end of the up platform, as he oversaw the passing of the up ‘Bournemouth Belle’ pullman at around 16.50 hours. And, if you were lucky and the boat docked on time, the Weymouth Quay-Waterloo ‘Channel Islands Boat Express’ would pass soon after.
All this made school seem totally irrelevant, and once at secondary school and with steam finishing on the Waterloo-Bournemouth line, I just didn’t feel I had the time for school attendance! I needed to be out on the trains every day, getting as much Bulleid Pacific-hauled milage under my belt as possible.
Of course, all this occurred in the years when I was 12-14, and I didn’t tell my mother that I went from Bournemouth to Waterloo and back at least once a week, my Sunday paper round money by then more than covering the 15 shillings and sixpence [78p] return fare. You may be interested in my short story ‘The Spotter’, which draws on these experiences and includes some reminiscences of the old ERG model shop in Roumelia Lane, Boscombe, as a footnote. It is available as a download from Amazon at this link –
Of Model Making –
My father opened a model shop in 1968 and I left school that same year and had started work in my uncle’s business as a trainee wireman and printed circuit board solderer. This stood me in good stead later on when I became a full-time model maker, with soldering by then second nature to me. I started out building some of the very first Ratio rolling stock kits on the market in my evenings. I put two in my father’s shop and a customer purchased them the very next day, and asked me to build more. So I placed an advert in Model Railway Constructor magazine and got over £400 worth of commissions. I then splashed out on a larger advert and got almost £2,000 worth of orders. I never had to advertise again.
It was around 1972 that my father started stocking ABS Models 4mm cast metal wagon kits in his shop. Building and selling these became a staple of my income in that period and I met the owner, Adrian Swain. I later realised he was the same Adrian Swain who had written an article for Model Railway Constructor magazine on detailing the first two vehicles for his parcels train in the mid-1960s.
I can remember being enthralled by this article and reading it avidly on a Bristol Lodekka bus, when returning from an arduous day’s trainspotting at Bournemouth Central. Now, all these years later, we own many of his ranges, purchased since his untimely death in 2020. We knew each other for some 47 years, and shared other interests. Such as in reptiles.
By 1976 I was full-time on model building, and was taken on as one of the carriage builders for Col. Ronald J. Hoare – who was building a very large layout in a purpose-built and secure room at the rear of his car dealership premises in Branksome, Bournemouth. This was all in ‘O’ gauge and I don’t think I’ve built a 4mm railway kit since 1975.
By 1979, one of his fellow coach builders had been charged with building a rake of Stanier Period III LMS coaches*, and having just built ten Pullman cars for the Colonel’s ‘Queen of Scots’ rake, he did not want to repeat the tedium of scratch-building them! I noticed he was drawing parts with Rotring pens in black, blue and red! Having by now built many etched kits as commissions, and having thoroughly enjoyed them, I realised instantly what he was doing. I asked him which company would etch them and he told me.
* Strangely enough we now own these Stanier coach kits too, as they then formed part of the Cavalier Coaches range, and were sold to us as part of our purchase from the ABS Models estate.
Anyway, I contacted the etching company the very next day and got all the parameters they needed, got myself some drawing equipment and set forth. Within six months I’d launched my first 7mm etched kits and stopped all commission work. The truth was that I’d been tiring of commission building for a little while, even though, by the reckoning of many friends, I had a ‘dream job’.
The old parable of ‘the continually bleeding buffalo’ comes to mind. You complete one commission build and get paid – great. That’s one buffalo killed and the meat stored away. Only trouble was that [with family responsibilities by then] I had to go and kill another, and another, to keep things going. This was not what I wanted.
I was looking for the gift that kept giving easily and without very much effort! And I found that in producing kits. Throughout the 1980s we lived very well and in 1988 I sold my first kit range of 96 railway kit subjects to Col. Hoare, who by that time wanted to own a kit manufacturing company too!
The sale enabled me to purchase a house on the north Pembrokeshire coast, with an adjacent annexe/workshop, overlooking the sea, and to start a new range of kits. I stayed there for some 32 years and only in 2020, did I move to a barn conversion in Ceredigion, with a largish area of land, to feed into my other life interest, wildlife and conservation – which I share with my wife.
The kits we started producing in 1988 in Wales were not just railways however, and began to include aviation, military and ship subjects. I could see even then that it was financially a good idea, and more interesting too, to diversify. My broad areas of interest, as outlined above, helped with this.
To bring things up to date and with the purchase of so many of the ranges from Adrian Swain’s estate, we have well over 800 products on this website, with possibly in excess of 550-600 still to be released or re-released.
With regards to model making itself – I look at the work benches of many other modellers online. So many look nothing at all like mine! For one thing, a soldering iron/soldering station seems NOT to be central to their set-up. Neither is a Dremel and stand. And there seems to be a distinct lack of what I would call engineer’s tools. In short, I realise that this is because I am becoming a dinosaur! But that’s OK as they lived for 140 million years, and until that bloody meteorite hit, were incredibly successful.
Now 3d printing is providing another ‘meteorite hit’ for the hobby. It is still comparatively early days – but it will totally transform it in my opinion. On the down side, I have built two 3d printed kits for my own use recently. Well they weren’t kits really, as one had one part only, and the second had just two parts! They looked OK, but there was zero satisfaction in them for me. In fact, I didn’t build them did I? The designer built them.
For me, [and this is only my view], if I buy a kit I want to be presented with a set of parts to form up, shape and assemble, so that my build has the scope to stand out from, or at least be very individual from, any other modeller’s builds of the same kit. For me, it’s the same with pre-coloured etchings. I cannot get my head around them! It is the forming, assembling, fitting and painting of the parts that is the fun – not simply sticking them onto a model.
Anyway we have the good fortune to share a hobby which is multi-facetted and inclusive, and caters for all tastes. If you don’t like working in etched and cast metal, or resin, then there are many, and an increasing number of, alternatives available. The main thing is that you enjoy your hobby. It is a true blessing in these troubled times in which we now find ourselves!
Thanks for reading, and I hope you might have found some of the background to all this to be of interest.
Happy Modelling and Best Wishes to all.