The RAF is gearing up to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, one of the air force’s most decisive victories during the Second World War. At the time, my grandfather was serving in the Desert Air Force in the harsh plains of North Africa and the Middle East. Among other duties, he was the delegated RAF Press Officer, recording and describing the lives of his friends and fellow officers, aircrew and fighter pilots, immortalising their courage and fortitude in the words of a battle-hardened journalist. The following is an article that he published on 21st December 1941, describing a bombing raid and subsequent dogfight between the Desert Air Force and the Luftwaffe aggressors.
Night Fighter Bags a Dive Bomber
By an RAF Press Officer
It was supper time at our advanced bomber landing ground in the Western Desert when the Luftwaffe paid us their first visit. From time to time they dropped flares, hopelessly trying to find at night the aerodromes that our own pilots can scarcely find by day.
They screamed down at intervals, these JU88s, and sent their thousand-pounders whining into the desert, while we in our dug-in mess tents just turned up the radio a little higher and wondered when Jerry would stop being such a nuisance.
Then a new sound smote the air, the high-pitched snarl of a Hurricane night fighter. “This,” someone said, “is more interesting.” And we all went out into the icy desert night and watched the flares the raiders were dropping. Suddenly the dark canopy of the sky was rent by a streak of tracer shells from our fighter – one, two, three long bursts. We heard a cough and splutter from one of the raider’s engines, and then the aircraft itself came into dim silhouette, with masses of smoke clearly discernable in the starlight.
A Mass of Flames
Ten seconds later the JU88 was a mass of flames somewhere out in the desert, and the crew were being gathered up by South African troops, dumped in a truck and escorted to a squadron’s orderly room. All had bailed out in time except the gunner who had been wounded by the fire from our fighter. He died in a short time.
The other three, surrounded by curious South African pilots, were arrogant and truculent in the extreme. They demanded cigarettes and the good-natured Union airmen handed them over with broad grins. The German pilot had a broken leg and a splinter wound in the shoulder, and when he received medical attention he proved himself anything but stoic.
Meanwhile, two RAF officers and an army officer went to examine the burning aircraft, only to find themselves the target for the other raiders who were apparently under the impression that the fire had been caused by one of their bombs. For ten minutes these three unfortunates lay flat on their faces while 1,000lb bombs crashed down within 200 yards. Masses of debris were flung great distances and the car in which these officers had come to the scene was badly damaged. The officers agreed that the experience was most uncomfortable.
The next morning, an RAF Sergeant came into his own. He has never been in an aircraft, except as a passenger, and his service trade is that of armourer, but he is the NCO in charge of a bomb disposal squad that has already done some magnificent work.
To mark the Battle of Britain anniversary, Henrietta Lovell of the Rare Tea Company has created a bespoke loose leaf tea in honour of the RAF pilots and crew who risked their lives for their country in WW2, and for those who continue to do so today. Available from 1st September, RAF tea will be on sale at 300 Sainsbury’s stores nationwide and online at www.rareteacompany.com. Inside a few tins, golden tickets can be found with prizes including a flight in a Spitfire and dinner with a Battle of Britain veteran.
A mainstay of our national culture, tea has played its role in our darkest hours; calming in times of national peril, fortifying when courage is required. Henrietta has gone to great lengths to create a tea fit for heroes. This is a very traditional British tea of the like we haven’t seen for many years. It is made by farmers, not by vast agri-businesses. The leaves are not processed by machines but crafted by skilled men and women committed to using sustainable practices to benefit both the land and the people who live on it. The result is a leaf tea full of flavour, refinement and elegance. As our national drink has always done, it will both stiffen your resolve before the conflict and restore you to peaceful calm when the battle of the day is won.
Henrietta commented, “It’s an honour to be asked to mark the incredible work the RAF do through my tea. I wanted to create something that would reflect our proud history as a tea drinking nation. It demonstrates tea’s vital, invigorating strength supported by great depth and subtlety. This is our national drink as it always was and should be today. The blend creates a drink that is powerful yet easy to love – a brew for heroes I hope we can all be proud of.” 7% of the sale price of each tin goes to the RAFA Wings Appeal, repaying just a little of what so many of us owe to so few. 3% goes to supporting the RAF Museum.
Henrietta set up Rare Tea Co. in 2004, and she personally sources the teas in the range from her travels across China, India and Africa. Henrietta believes that the best tea is loose leaf tea, not out of some arcane snobbery, but because good leaves need room to swell as they infuse. A far better brew is achieved loose in a tea pot rather than being strangled in a tea bag. Such high quality leaves mean that less tea is required for a delicious cup and it can be infused several times.
Henrietta’s dedication to creating a premium pot has resulted in many accolades, including Best Independent Retailer at the OFM Awards 2009, as well as support from some of the UK’s top chefs including Heston Blumenthal, Angela Hartnett, Tom Aikens and Mark Hix, all of whom serve her Rare Tea in their restaurants.
For a chance to win a set of luxury teas including the RAF blend, along with a speciality glass tea pot and cups, please enter the Rare Tea Competition.