WWII pilot whose flight changed the world

Jack Race heading eastward over the mountains of southern California, September 11, 1989

Captain Jack Race turns 100

May 30th marks the 100th birthday of Captain Jack Race, the American pilot who flew the Nazi General Alfred Jodl to Rheims on May 6th, 1945 to surrender the Third Reich and thus end WWII in Europe. It was an unlikely role for a young American pilot, but he was following special orders from General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery.

In 1944 Jack Race was a US Army Air Force pilot with the 326th Ferrying and Transport Squadron, Ninth Air Force, stationed in England, delivering fighters and medium bombers throughout the UK. Then he was assigned to C-47s and found himself delivering US generals to their destinations. When Eisenhower personally gave Montgomery a C-47, he promised him a pilot too, so Jack joined the British Twenty-first Army Group, “a Pennsylvania Yankee in King George’s service.”

Captain Race flew British top brass back and forth along the front line as they advanced through France and Belgium. But his most important mission by far was flying into Germany with Montgomery’s chief of staff ‘General Freddie’ DeGuingand to collect Jodl and the German surrender delegation in Luneburg and transport them to Rheims to sign the peace treaty. Upon arrival in Luneburg the young pilot watched from the cockpit as DeGuingand approached Jodl and the defeated general extended his hand. “I’m so glad that Gen. Freddie shook his hand,” Jack said. “He was extending his hand in peace.”

Jack in 1943 and 2020

When asked about his role in WWII, Captain Race said, “I was glad and proud to serve my country. But war never solves anything. It has been necessary through the ages to set things right, I know, but my hope is that someday differences between people can be settled peacefully, so there will be no more need for war. I know that sounds unrealistic, but it’s my fondest wish.”

After the war, Jack Race became a flight instructor, crop duster, bush pilot, instructor for Afghanistan’s Ariana Airline, consultant to Jordan’s Alia Airline, around-the-world charter pilot, and Pan Am jet captain. With Pan Am he flew DC-4s and DC-6s, was a training pilot, line training captain and DC-8 instructor. When he retired from Pan Am in 1981 he was a 747 captain and had logged 26,000 hours as an airline pilot.

Inspired to fly at the age of six as Charles Lindbergh flew the Atlantic solo for the first time, young Jack “hung on every scratchy word coming over our radio”. Years later when he captained a Pan Am cargo flight with his hero in the jump seat Lindbergh complimented him on making “a very nice landing” in New York. For Jack Race, hearing that “was like getting the Victoria Cross.”

When Captain Race retired from Pan Am, he became Chief Pilot for Project Orbis, a DC-8 jet converted into a state-of-the-art ophthalmic teaching hospital. For five years he flew Western doctors to more than 30 developing countries to teach sight-saving skills to host-country medical personnel. He endorsed Orbis’s goal of sharing knowledge for the good of others to promote peaceful international cooperation and good will. This suited his personal philosophy too, as he had been ordained a Baptist minister in 1981.

Jack before take-off, Clifford Airport, Pennsylvania, July 19, 1989

In the featured photograph Jack is in his red Waco open-cockpit biplane flying over southern California in 1989, using only a map and compass for navigation as he recreates Lindbergh’s epic 1927 US goodwill tour, a journey of 22,350 miles, with 78 stops in 48 states. Evoking Lindbergh’s plane ‘Spirit of St Louis’, Jack named his own plane ‘Spirit of Orbis’ and talked about Orbis and its sight-saving work at stops along his way.

Replicating Lindbergh’s flight had been a lifelong dream for Jack, but there can be no doubt that the three-month tour was gruelling. Charles Lindbergh was 25 years old when he completed it. Jack Race was 68. Wherever Lindbergh touched down, crowds gathered and heard him speak about the future of aviation. Wherever Jack touched down, crowds gathered as he spoke of Orbis and its work to benefit humanity.

By any aviation standards, the career of Captain Jack Race has been distinguished. Inevitably, one flight in 1945 to end the greatest war in human history stands out among them all.

God bless you Jack. May you have a very happy 100th birthday and many more to come.


With thanks to Holly Peppe, former Orbis Director of External Affairs, who assisted in the preparation of this article and treasures her many years of friendship with Jack.

I’ll Fly Away, by Jack Race with William F Hallstead is published by The University of Scranton Press, 2006, ISBN: 1-58966-113-3

“Flight to Surrender the ‘Thousand-Year’ Reich”, William F Hallstead, Aviation History, May 1999

The 11th SAS Battalion and the phantom Special Air Service

Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspects the 11th Special Air Service Battalion, April 1941

A grand British deception

Pictured, right, are members of ‘L’ Troop, 11th SAS Battalion, later to become 1st Parachute Battalion, the founding battalion of The Parachute Regiment. This official War Office photograph by Lieutenant L.A. Puttnam was taken on the day they stormed and took Norwich Castle as a training exercise in 1941. It was subsequently published in the British press to announce the coming British paratrooper. Corporal Reg Curtis is on the right. In the centre is Private Jim Crabtree, who later died beside Reg, killed by a mortar round, at the battle for Djebel Mansour in Tunisia in 1943. Reg chose not to write about this incident in his book, The Memory Endures. On the left is Private Fred Cutting whose fate is unknown but he is not believed to have survived the war. Various British press articles came out in the 1940s with headlines such as ‘Our paratroops are supermen’ and ‘Britain’s human bombs’. One entitled ‘I am a Red Devil’, with an account from Reg, still featured this image when they were fighting as 1st Para in 1943.

The attack on Norwich Castle was one of many such exercises during their unorthodox early training in Britain as the 11th SAS Battalion. Completely unannounced, they would assault Regular Army units, the Home Guard, Police stations, even the Military Police, ‘to sharpen us up and to keep them on their toes’, as Reg put it. To be ordered to do this in a time of war would, in itself, have been dangerous but these few men were to be the first of Britain’s elite troops. They may have been called the 11th SAS Battalion but the designation 11th, amusingly later described as a typing error, was simply a ruse to fool the enemy. The Special Air Service was otherwise a phantom force imagined by the War Office. It would be almost a year before David Stirling started the unit that grew into today’s SAS. Even then the subterfuge continued, as Stirling’s small unit was labelled ‘L’ Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade, when no such brigade existed. There was no connection between Stirling’s men and ‘L’ Troop of the 11th SAS Battalion. The Special Air Service was a grand deception.

Reg writes of the attack on Norwich Castle in The Memory Endures:

“Another interesting scheme, involving a drop, was the capture of Norwich Castle. After the drop, everyone mustered in their respective troops and sections and we set off in various ways for the castle. My section of ‘L’ Troop, which included Guardsmen Butcher and Crabtree, decided to commandeer a bus. Turfing off the reluctant bus driver and conductor, who had to be forcibly removed, we lay low on the floor of the bus and sped a little faster through the town than a bus normally does. As it was not exactly a bus route we were on and half of Norwich would soon notice, we thought it best to change tactics. Dumping the bus, we made our way through back alleys, gardens and side roads to avoid the main road. Then our lead scout came belting back to inform us with delight that there was an unattended ambulance around the corner, just waiting to be used for something or other. What luck!

“Randal, an Irish lad, slipped into the driver’s seat while the rest of us opened the rear doors and made ourselves comfortable inside. He started the engine with a key left conveniently in position. ‘Look sharp, Paddy’, someone whispered as he fought with the gears—he’d only ever driven a tram before. As two dismayed ambulance men came running out of a building, we lurched forward and tore off, some of us adding insult to injury by giving the victory sign! We could not dally too long as the authorities would soon be on to us. More than once we were flagged down but simply drove on. After a while, the castle loomed a short distance away and I could see other members of our ‘L’ and ‘H’ Troops getting ready for the final assault. Captain Bromley-Martin was already at the gates with a section of ‘L’ Troop. Parking the ambulance in a side street, we doubled off to join the remainder unopposed. We took the Castle.”

The Memory Endures

The Memory Endures by Reg Curtis is available direct from Pilots Publishing, established in 2014 to provide an imprint for the book. It was Reg’s wish to support soldiers who may be experiencing circumstances similar to his own, following the amputation of his right leg after the Battle of Arnhem in 1944. Before he passed away in January 2016 Reg bequeathed income from The Memory Endures to the Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces Charity ‘Support Our Paras’, and in his memory all profits go to the Charity. This will be continued by his family for as long as The Memory Endures remains in print. The current edition has a foreword by the Charity’s CEO Stephen Cooper and at the time of writing one thousand copies have been sold.

Book details are at: pilotspublishing.co.uk/the-memory-endures

Charlie Chaplin – what a life

Charlie Chaplin

If ever there was a real rags-to-riches story, the life of Charlie Chaplin is it. From London workhouse boy to global superstar, he was one of Britain’s most successful sons. Charlie died on Christmas Day in 1977. It’s a good day to remember him.

I saw Charlie for the first time at primary school in the 1960s, when a man with a projector and screen came to show us a collection of short silent  movies in which he played the Tramp. We loved him.

He first played his famous character in 1914 at the age of 25. All his short films were made before 1922, so the handsome young man in this picture, taken in about 1920, was the real Charlie who made us laugh.

Charlie ChaplinCharles Spencer Chaplin was born in Walwarth in South London on 16 April 1989, the son of two music hall entertainers. They separated and he stayed with his mother. She was committed to a mental asylum, where she eventually died. Charlie was sent to live in a workhouse twice before he was nine years old and also lived briefly with his father, a chronic alcoholic, who died when he was 11. Life could not have been much harder for a boy.

Remarkably, despite his difficult childhood circumstances, Charlie began to act from a very young age. He said he first performed at the age of five. By the time he was ten he was touring English music halls as a member of the Eight Lancashire Lads, a clog-dancing troupe. He was with them for two years.

By the age of 16, Charlie had already toured in Britain three times as a solo performer and starred in a West End show. He joined a circus and became its star attraction. By 20 he was starring at the London Coliseum. At 21 he was touring North America, where he was described as one of the best pantomime artists ever seen.

Charlie signed with Keystone Studios in California to make his first films in 1914 and only a few months later was directing them himself. He developed the Tramp persona for his second film and every aspect of his work began to come under his control.

Short films were made at an astonishing rate, a new one every three or four weeks. Before long Charlie was acting, directing, producing, writing the scripts, and writing the scores. He moved into full-length features, and then from silent films to ‘talkies’.

Charlie’s portrayal of the Tramp continued into his feature films. One in particular shows him at his finest. City Lights was the last silent movie he made and tells the story of the Tramp’s love for a blind flower girl and his efforts to raise funds for her sight saving surgery. Here is the beautiful final scene. As usual he composed the music.

Charlie’s body of work was vast. His films became increasingly political, which ultimately hindered his career. The Great Dictator, released in 1940, boldly satirised Adolph Hitler and opposed the rise of fascism. It was well received and a box office hit but also drew criticism from some quarters.

The FBI began gunning for him and when he dared criticise the excesses of capitalism and argue against war in a film he was swept up in the paranoid purges of McCarthyism and accused of being a communist. He left the US in 1952 for a premiere in London and was banned from coming back. It was 20 years before he returned one last time to accept an Academy Award.

Charlie Chaplin was loved across the world and his Tramp was perhaps the most widely recognised character of all time.  His personal contribution to the development of the film industry was incalculable. He received many  awards and honours, and in 1975 was knighted by Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Remembering Sir Charlie Chaplin, who passed away on Christmas Day 1977, aged 88.

Roberta Cowell’s Story

Robert and Roberta Cowell

This week’s High Court judgement restricting the use of puberty blockers and all the hoo-ha since reminds me of someone I met a long time ago as a child of ten, when I read Roberta Cowell’s Story. The momentous nature of her gradual decision to change sex seems relevant.

More usually I would have read adventure stories back then, but this was on the shelf and something made me take it down. I remember first looking at the pictures: Robert as a World War Two fighter pilot and as a racing driver, both heroic occupations to a boy like me, and Roberta, also racing cars. I read it from cover to cover, straight off.

Robert was the first man in Britain to have gender reassignment surgery and become a woman. There was almost no support available to him and the social stigma was immense. The mental torment was the thing. It was easier to change his body than his mind, and a change of mind took time. It was surely the most difficult change that any human being could ever make.

I was gripped by Roberta’s story. At the time I had no understanding whatsoever of the subject and don’t believe I even knew what sexuality was. I feel fortunate to have read it when I did. I learnt a lot and perhaps avoided misconceptions I may otherwise have held. It’s not that I now believe in gender reassignment, I just don’t believe it’s wrong.

I would recommend Roberta Cowell’s Story to anyone for a lesson in bravery and strength. It can be found online if you look. Choosing the right pronoun to use is difficult here—she said so too. It’s her story, but his as well. I have long thought that the film of the book is overdue.

Roberta died in 2011. By coincidence, I learnt of this in a newspaper article written by my friend Matthew Bell for The Independent two years later. Remarkably, his was the first report of her death in any newspaper, and even her two children were unaware of her passing at the time. Had I known, I might have attended the funeral myself.

Reading Matthew’s account again now is sad, but it’s good to be reminded that someone who impressed me so at such an early age was eventually remembered, especially by a friend.

The challenges faced by this brave individual were beyond what most of us could match. Flying Spitfires in combat, taking a direct hit over enemy territory and crash landing, enduring harsh captivity by the enemy, eating raw cats to survive. These are no mean feats. Competing in a Grand Prix is likely something we would dream of but never achieve. How many men would have the balls for his ultimate act of courage?

Roberta’s story is one of strength but also a cautionary tale, and in respect of this week’s High Court judgement, I am in favour of it. It rules that only those above the age of 16 have the ability to consent to medical treatment and restricts the earlier use of puberty blockers. Such caution seems eminently sensible to me.

I think of what my mother taught me through her use of wise adages: It is better to be safe than sorry; measure twice, cut once; good things come to those who wait.

A remark in the heat of battle

Reg Curtis and Geoffrey Holland at the Airborne Cemetery
With my uncle Reg Curtis at the Airborne Cemetery in Oosterbeek, September 2014

Some time ago I wrote an article about my memories of my uncle Reg Curtis, a member of the 1st Parachute Battalion in World War II, and experiences with him during annual commemorations of the Battle of Arnhem at the Airborne Cemetery in Oosterbeek. I included a remark heard from one of his fellow Veterans during my first visit with my brother Mike in 2004 for the 60th anniversary. We had arrived in the nick of time. Everyone had already taken their positions, including all the seated guests. The place was absolutely packed. Thousands of people surrounded us. Prince Charles was there.

“With only five minutes to go before the service began, as Mike parked the car, I pushed Reg down the grass towards the front where space was reserved for Veterans in wheelchairs. I was serious, concentrating hard and hoping there was a space for him when the voice of one of his pals called out from the gathered ranks: ‘Reg, you lazy bugger’, followed by much laughter, not least from Reg. I knew I had nothing to worry about. This was their day and the camaraderie didn’t stop just because they were in a cemetery.”

I never knew which Veteran made that remark, but its timing and the speaker’s disregard for polite convention really stuck in my mind and has made me chuckle often since.  A sense of humour in the face of adversity is precious.

Whilst leafing through my late uncle’s papers, which I am endeavouring to curate, I have come across another Veteran’s remark, even more memorable for its humour, given the circumstances. It is written in a letter to Reg from a man alongside him when he was shot, a serious injury which led to the amputation of Reg’s right leg.

The letter is long, unfortunately undated, written following a visit to one of the earlier Arnhem commemorations, which had clearly been enjoyed. He lists the names of various comrades met, who along with Reg he had not seen in a very long while. In fact, he says, “It was sure good to see you after all these years in the wilderness”.  It may have been his first return.

Included, these words..

“I hope Reg: I’ve been forgiven for the time you got it in the leg, and I helped to get you under cover, when I said, Some Bastards will do anything for a rest.”

I’m just imagining that said by a young man in the heat of the Battle of Arnhem.

This is my England

Still from the video 'Regret Not Me' by Dora Darling
Photo: Mickey Richardson, from his video ‘Regret Not Me’ for Dora Darling

Regret Not Me by Dora Darling – no English song more beautiful than this

For those of us who love our England, its place in our hearts is beyond compare. Perhaps we feel it most where we are born and bred, but the whole is precious and there can be nowhere more magnificent, more steeped in our history, than the ancient Kingdom of Wessex. Driving west to Glastonbury from my home in Canterbury last week was a magical journey through this land, and by the time I passed Stonehenge I couldn’t love my country more.

I was going to visit my friend Rosie. We share a taste in music and last year she introduced me to a voice I had not previously heard, a voice that really touched me and stirred my sense of Englishness. Rosie sent me a video, recorded where she lives on the Somerset Levels, of a song crafted with care from a poem by the quintessential English poet Thomas Hardy, a man of Wessex, who through his work did more to keep its name alive than any other.

The title of Hardy’s poem was ‘Regret Not Me’, and the voice that turned it into song belonged to Dora Darling. Even her name sounded perfect. Hardy’s words could be on any English language syllabus and enjoyed in print alone, but in such sweet song I found their beauty mesmerising. I have played the song over and over and it resonates so deeply I could have it on a permanent loop.

The name of Glastonbury is known far and wide, if not for its Tor and ancient legends, then certainly for its famous music festival in nearby Pilton. English history, belief, and culture old and new are very deeply rooted in the area. William Blake’s words to ‘Jerusalem’ immortalising the supposed visit by Jesus as a child to Glastonbury have stirred many millions of English souls. How often have we sung about those feet in ancient time?

As I came close to Glastonbury last week and turned off the A303 just past Sparkford, who should be on Glastonbury FM Radio, being interviewed and singing songs from her forthcoming album, but Dora Darling! The broadcast could not have been more perfectly timed. Better yet, I was about to meet Dora, though I didn’t know it then.

It was good, as ever, to see Rosie and I shouldn’t have been surprised when Dora turned up with her two adorable young children because Rosie is like a magnet. But what an unexpected pleasure it was to meet the voice I’d heard and so enjoyed for the past year. I was also delighted to discover that ‘Regret Not Me’ is included on Dora’s album, The Quest, released later this month.

I have since heard the album and it is, of course, divine. Details of its release will appear on Dora’s Facebook page and website. English music festival organisers please listen and invite her to your stages when they resume.

There can be no finer English poet than Thomas Hardy and surely no English song more beautiful than this by Dora Darling.  This is my England.


Video by Mickey Richardson:  http://www.mickeyrichardsonproductions.com

To buy digital downloads of Dora’s music: https://doradarling.bandcamp.com

Regret Not Me by Thomas Hardy, as sung by Dora Darling

Regret not me;
Beneath the sunny tree
I lie uncaring, slumbering peacefully.

Swift as the light
I flew my faery flight;
Ecstatically I moved, and feared no night.

I did not know
That heydays fade and go,
But deemed that what was would be always so.

I skipped at morn
Among the piles of corn,
Thinking it good and glorious to be born.

I ran at eves
Among the piled-up sheaves,
Dreaming, “I grieve not, therefore nothing grieves.”

Now soon shall come
The apple, pear, and plum
And hinds shall sing, and autumn insects hum.

Again you will fare
To cider-makings rare,
And junketings; but I shall not be there.

And gaily sing
Until the pewter ring
Those songs we sang when we went gipsying.

And lightly dance
Some triple-timed romance
In coupled figures, and forget mischance;

And mourn not me
Beneath the yellowing tree;
For I shall mind not, slumbering peacefully.

Rice Harvest at Mick’s Centre

Young cast: from left to right, back: Emily Tran, Tam Ann Dao, Khai Dao, Hanny Dao, Peter Tran, Andrew Tran; front: John Tran, Quan Minh Dao, Grace Tran

The Mick Jagger Centre in Dartford has a focus on musical education. It stands alongside the singer’s former school, Dartford Grammar School, and Sir Mick funds the Red Rooster Project, providing children’s music tuition at the Centre and in several local schools. On 24 and 25 October last year the Centre hosted the first two performances of Rice Harvest, a new musical produced by Keith Hale and William Dashwood for Parasol Music Productions. Most of the cast members are from the surrounding area and of school age.

Rice Harvest is the fruit of a project that began in 1978 in a recording studio in London, when Vietnamese ‘boat children’ were housed in Kensington Barracks, having just been rescued at sea by a British ship. They were traumatised and invited to the studio, where they sang and made friends. The experience became part of the life’s work of musician and composer Keith Hale, culminating in Rice Harvest – the musical.

This Facebook video is from the performance at the Mick Jagger Centre on 25 October. The producers give particular recognition to the Vietnamese families, especially the children, who have worked hard to make the show a success. Plans are underway to continue the journey of Rice Harvest together.


Anything is Possible

Rice Harvest – the musical, a production involving children and young people from 20 schools between London and the Medway towns. Rice Harvest is inspired by real life events. It tells the story of child refugees fleeing the Vietnam War and finding safety after being rescued in the South China Sea by a British ship. Composer: Keith Hale Rice Harvest website: riceharvest-themusical.co.ukPilotsPublishing

Posted by PilotsPublishing on Monday, 2 March 2020


Keith Hale has a rich history of musical projects, from working with David Bowie on Bromley’s iconic free open-air rock concerts in the 1960s to playing keyboards internationally with Ginger Baker and writing hit records with Toyah Willcox. He writes and arranges children’s musical productions and teaches music in Kent schools.

Rice Harvest is Hale’s collaboration with William Dashwood, for many years a teacher of mime. Dashwood studied with ‘the father of modern mime’, Etienne Decroux, and has performed worldwide, written and produced numerous shows and worked as movement director in children’s television.

Directed by Matthew McDowall, who teaches at both Italia Conti in London and Liz Burville Performing Arts in Bexley, Rice Harvest is a love story in a war zone. It is based on real life events, when as many as 800,000 Vietnamese refugees fled by sea, often in un-seaworthy boats, during the civil struggle that continued after the fall of Saigon and the departure of American forces at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

The cast includes lead actors Emily Tran and Khai Dao, playing teenage classmates in a small village school attacked by soldiers during choir practice. They make a perilous escape by boat, their story one of love, innocence and hope in a world of bitterness, divide and conflict. Saved by the crew of an offshore oil rig, they meet further danger before being picked up by a British ship bound for England. The choir finally reconvenes in a London studio, where they are invited to sing.

The original 1978 Rice Harvest recording is here. The children who appear in it and their story of survival against the odds inspired this musical.

Parasol Music Productions is established with the aim of working with schools and professional musicians and actors to produce and perform modern musical theatre, and to foster an appreciation of music and the performing arts, especially in schools and among young people. Theatres and others who wish to support the project are invited to contact [email protected]

More songs on the Rice Harvest website. Follow Rice Harvest on Facebook.

Memories of my uncle

Reg Curtis,  No. 2 Commando,  11th  SAS,  1st Parachute Battalion     

My childhood memories of Reg Curtis are not of a paratrooper but of an important member of my family, a happy, smiling man and the life and soul of the party. Reg was married to my cousin Betty but as they were more than thirty years older than me they were always known as Uncle Reg and Auntie Betty. Reg was very tall and I remember being fascinated by the way his right leg thrust forward and clicked as he walked. At some point I learnt that this was an artificial leg, and later still that he had lost the real one in the war.

Reg and Betty were a kind and welcoming couple and when I spent a week with them at age eleven my memory is of one of the best holidays I ever had. I loved their garden, which to a small child seemed the longest garden in the world. Reg built a new house at the end of that long garden after selling the old house to pay for it. He did most of the work himself whilst he and Betty shared a tiny gipsy caravan on site. Nobody could fail to be impressed by such a man who, despite the loss of a leg, was not only earning a living as a landscape gardener but also building his own house. My brother Mike tells the story of arriving at the new house to see Reg shinning up the roof tiles to fit the chimney pot.

As a boy born in the 1950s I had seen a lot of World War Two memorabilia changing hands, especially in my own back garden where Mike and his friends, six years older than me, conducted a brisk trade in British and German helmets and much more besides. It seems remarkable now that all this stuff was circulating freely but ‘war comics’ were a must-read for every schoolboy and the war itself was still being played out in our imaginations, although it was never taught to me in school and I don’t recall adults ever talking about it.

I knew nothing much about Reg’s military service until he published his first book, Churchill’s Volunteer, by which time I was already 40. I now know that in the intervening years he had been returning regularly to Arnhem, where he had been shot and lost his leg, but it was not until 2004 that I went there with him myself, together with brother Mike, for the 60th Anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Arnhem. It was then that I at last began to understand the significant part that Reg had played in the war. Not that Reg ever described his role as special—he would simply say that he had ‘done his bit’.


What struck me immediately in Arnhem in 2004 was that Reg was treated with such extraordinary respect, almost reverence, by the local people. My uncle and his fellow Veterans were the centre of attention and people of all ages wanted to speak with them and shake their hands. Here in Arnhem they seemed more important than movie stars and it was a joy to witness this and to see in Reg that the depth of feeling was mutual. To discover that after sixty years such love was felt and friendship treasured was a real eye-opener to me.

Mike and I repeated our journey to Arnhem with Reg four times in subsequent years, our last being for the 70th Anniversary in 2014, and each visit has its special memories. One moment etched in my mind is when pushing Reg’s wheelchair on the pathway by the Airborne Museum in Oosterbeek a woman of Reg’s age suddenly appeared and threw her arms around his neck, greeting him with affection and giving him a gift from ‘an Arnhem girl’. In my mind’s eye, and no doubt in theirs, they were in their twenties back in 1944, though this was now 2010. I gripped the handles of the wheelchair, trying hard not to intrude on their embrace. On another occasion, we were in the Airborne Museum in front of one of the large black and white display photographs and Reg was naming the men depicted. When he named his friend Wally Baldock a woman behind us asked incredulously, “Did you know my father?” She had never known him and this was her first visit to Arnhem. She came to our hotel and talked at length with Reg.

Nothing prepared me for my first Sunday ceremony at the Airborne Cemetery. I had previously only visited cemeteries when people I had known had died and had never attended a mass remembrance. It was clearly going to be a sober occasion and we had dressed accordingly, Reg well turned out with medals on his blazer and wearing his original beret with cap badge polished. With only five minutes to go before the service began, as Mike parked the car I pushed Reg down the grass towards the front where space was reserved for Veterans in wheelchairs. I was serious, concentrating hard and hoping there was a space for him when the voice of one of his pals called out from the gathered ranks: “Reg, you lazy bugger”, followed by much laughter, not least from Reg. I knew I had nothing to worry about. This was their day and the camaraderie didn’t stop just because they were in a cemetery.

Photo by Mark Ramsey

Being the 60th Anniversary, it was a bigger than usual affair in 2004, complete with the presence of Prince Charles as Colonel-in-Chief of the Parachute Regiment. But it was the way the local people surrounded the place en masse and the intensity of their appreciation that stood out for me. When it came to the annual laying of flowers by hundreds of schoolchildren, to describe this as a moving experience does not begin to do it justice. Tears ran down my face and at the end of the ceremony as I stood beside Reg while he privately saluted his fallen comrades at the monument, I found it the most poignant moment of all.

When, back in England after our 2010 visit, Reg asked if I would help him prepare a new version of his story, first told in Churchill’s Volunteer, how could I refuse? He wanted to be more concise this time, without all the appendices and with a text accessible to readers of all ages. We worked on it for two years, initially at his kitchen table at home in Chestfield and later for several months at his bedside as he recovered in hospital from a nasty fall. We decided to title the book The Memory Endures, which it most certainly did for Reg. I remember the meeting when he dictated his Author’s Preface, from which some heartfelt words in particular have always touched me deeply:

“Between 1939 and 1945 we took part in the greatest conflict in human history. We won the war, of course, and back home in Britain have now had almost 70 years of peace, for which we can all be grateful. What a shame it is, though, that even the vast scale of suffering we went through was not enough to finally put an end to war itself. I don’t suppose there will ever be one way of agreeing about everything but I can’t help hoping that things will eventually get better for everyone, not just us.”

Photo by Lt. L.A. Puttnam, War Office photographer – Members of ‘L’ Troop, 11th SAS Battalion, Norwich, 1941. Left to right: Private Fred Cutting, Private Jim Crabtree, Corporal Reg Curtis

As far as I can ascertain, at the time of his death in January 2016 Reg was the last surviving member of the original 1st Parachute Battalion, the men who volunteered to join No 2 Commando in 1940, re-designated the 11th SAS Battalion, and which became in 1942 the founding battalion of the Parachute Regiment. Reg and his comrades will forever have that unique place in military history, forged at a time when extreme circumstances called upon them all to do their bit.

Each time we visited Arnhem together I stood beside Reg in front of that monument in the Airborne Cemetery as he gave his personal salute to his lost friends. On the last occasion in 2014, just before I wheeled him there, Reg turned to me and said, “Shall we go and give our salute—we like to do that, don’t we.” To be so included in this his most precious of moments was such an honour. I shall return again and salute my Uncle Reg whose memory for me will always endure.

God bless you Reg and may you truly rest in peace.




book cover

All profits from the sale of the The Memory Endures go to the Reg Curtis Fund to Support Our Paras, administered by Support Our Paras, The Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces Charity, providing mobility equipment and disability conversion of vehicles, remedial courses to assist those recovering from wounds, vocational courses to help soldiers transition into civilian life, and more. It was Reg’s wish to support soldiers who may now be experiencing circumstances similar to his own, following the amputation of his right leg in 1944, and his support to the Charity continues in his memory. Please click the Reg Curtis Fund link above to see how much has been donated so far. Copies of Reg’s book are only available direct from PilotsPublishing in order to send all the profits to the Charity.