They drove back with the old man from the funeral in the last car and parked on a grass verge close to the airfield. He’d been stationed there during the warBack then the airfield was bombed several times. A Messerschmitt Bf 109 was shot down by ground fire during one attack and had crash-landed near the terminal building.
They helped him out of the car and waited for his words. He looked through the fence, past the runway and the low buildings in the distance. His gaze was on the village and when he spoke it was about his wife and family; of how everything had been less built up, more rural back then.His son in law nodded and talked of the landing area being entirely grass until a tarmac runway was built in 1981 and went on about how a B-17 Flying Fortress had crash-landed at the airfield after being damaged during a raid on Germany and pointed to the damage to the old guardhouse on the north side of the airfield that was still visible.On their way back they passed people with binoculars and long-lensed cameras and notebooks heading to the airfield.
When they reached home it was on the television that as many as 20 people were feared dead after a vintage RAF Hawker Hunter plane had smashed into the A27 dual carriageway at the event.
The next day the old man reached for his glasses and read: Shoreham air crash: Is Display Flying Just For Rich Show-Offs?
The writer didn’t appear to posit this as a rhetorical question and couldn’t have foreseen the contradiction of a former charity worker complaining that the airshow disaster had “ruined his early birthday treat” and could he ‘get a refund for four tickets’. The man went on to claim that his father desperately needed the money after spending £72 on the day out.
When his daughter brought the old man a cup of tea he said to her,
-You know what love I swear on your mother’s grave that folk, whatever they do, they don’t change much.
*Tim Robinson, the Editor of AEROSPACE, the flagship magazine of the Royal Aeronautical Society in London
*Tickets to the Shoreham Airshow cost £18 in advance and £22 on the day for adults, or £5 in advance and £8 on the day for children.