Back from the past
It’s no practical solution to anything really, but sometimes when I’m not sure what to do with ‘airscape’ I just sit back and see what serendipity brings…
Sure enough, last week whatever Great Spirit you choose to believe in stepped up with an out-of-the-blue email from Gander, Newfoundland. I showed my kids how almost exactly on the other side of the world that is.
Brian Williams, who works for the Town of Gander, had been browsing old airscape posts and found my double piece on the BOAC L-049 Constellations of the late 1940s which, of course, would land gratefully at Gander like weary seabirds after hours of droning across the North Atlantic since Shannon, Ireland.
In truth, the L-049s were strong and fast for their day. The Atlantic crossing may have stretched their reserves on occasion – but it was more likely the passengers and crew who were grateful to see the wet and windswept concrete at Gander after so many hours.
In his account of a trip aboard G-AHEL (built as c/n 1977 and dubbed Bangor II by the airline) in June 1946, Maurice Smith recalled the bright white sandwiches that greeted the weary passengers in Gander’s mess hall. On the return trip from New York, they were treated to strawberries and cream, with fruitcake.
The town’s terra firma must have felt like welcome mat after their roaring metal cocoon, and the food would have seemed extra superb after the privations of still-rationed Europe.
Welcome to Gander
Gander remains famous for the way it welcomes ‘plane people’ to this day. Not so many aircraft stop, of course, but when they need to for whatever reason, the people of Gander (and Newfoundland) are there for them. (More on that topic for another post, perhaps.)
In the same spirit, Brian sent me this photo of the same L-049, G-AHEL, being refuelled at Gander some years later, from the town’s archives. The date is uncertain, but the aircraft is still in her natural metal and royal blue livery, which predates the white top scheme BOAC applied from about 1951. (Incidentally, the aircraft’s name was truncated to simply Bangor at the same time.)
You can read a full history of the aircraft here.
I thought about cleaning the photo up, deepening the blacks, removing some of the marks… but then I realised what a mistake it would be. As it stands, the moment glimmers through the years like a light through fog. There’s nothing to “restore”.
Back to life
A direct counterpoint to that thought is the latest project by New Zealand film director and WW1 aviation enthusiast Sir Peter Jackson.
In a special partnership with the Imperial War Museum, Jackson and his team have restored around 100 hours of original World War One footage from the museum’s archives into a watershed documentary called ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’.
The restorers painstakingly colourised some of the footage, using detailed expert guidance and references.They also removed years of damage from every frame and corrected the rambling speed variations of the original hand-wound cameras.
Jackson even used the IWM’s sound archive recordings of survivors recalling their experiences (mostly from the 1950s and 1960s), and the skills of forensic lip-readers, to give the men their voices back.
The result isn’t just remarkable; it’s positively haunting.
Spare a thought for the men who carried those cameras to war instead of rifles, and saved their comrades for over a century. Jackson’s title honours their service as much as anyone’s.
Our media diet teaches us that long ago was monochrome and jerky and, equally, that more recent events are smooth and colour rich. So this restored footage makes World War One seem like yesterday.
As they march, eat, laugh, and confront the horrors of industrial war, those soldiers finally look all too real.
Familiar, in every sense of the word.
I’m not sure if there is restored aviation footage in the final film. That would be the ultimate treat. According to this New York Times article about how the footage was restored, the IWM gave Jackson the 100 hours of footage he would work with. Given his specific interest though, if there was any aviation footage in there I’m sure he’s given it the royal treatment.
I can’t wait to see the whole thing.
Back to it
Meanwhile, I don’t have a lot else to report. I’ve been flying some more, and working towards getting turned loose in an aircraft again. However last weekend I had one of those days when I just couldn’t do anything right. It was reminder that, along with everything else, flying teaches you patience. Either that, or it will try your patience until you pop a vein in your neck!
Having figured out what I was (probably) doing wrong, I now have to wait four weeks to redeem myself, on account of various factors that I’ll bundle up as ‘F—’ …I mean, ‘Christmas’.
The holiday period is never a very productive time for airscape, but I’ll do my best to get through the depths with a few more short posts, before bringing back some meaty content in the New Year.
Best wishes until then.