To mark the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Royal Air Force, we look back to one particular club associated with them which met in Leeds in 1959.
Known as ‘The Goldfish Club’, it was exclusively for pilots who had ditched into the sea.
Back then its ranks included those who had fought in both first and second world wars, all with amazing stories of survival to tell. In 1959, there were some 30 members of the Goldfish Club, many from this area.
Alan Ward, from Tinshill Road, Leeds, was a navigator and bomb aimer forced to ditch through engine failure off Tripolitania (a former province of Libya). The impact knocked him out momentarily. His aircraft hit the water tail first, one section breaking off. He came round to find himself chest deep in water and had to paddle half a mile to shore.
Jack Hoult, from Fairbrood Road, Kettlethorpe, Wakefield, was a wireless operator in a Walrus flying boat, which ditched 19 miles off Northumberland, whose aircraft ‘porpoised’ (nose of aircraft buckling up and down) in heavy seas and crash landed, despite taking off and gaining 200yds. He was trapped with no escape hatch but managed to squeeze through a window (a feat he found impossible to repeat on land). He spent all night and part of the next day adrift.
Colin Johnson, of Tong Road, Leeds, was an air-gunner on a Wellington, whose aircraft was hit by flak, sinking almost immediately after hitting water. They spent hours in freezing conditions clinging to the side of a dinghy.
Ken Woodroofe, of Fixby, Huddersfield, spent four days without food or medical kit in a dinghy, being ‘rescued’ by a Dutch fishing boat but then spending four years as a prisoner of war.
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Another members was Harold Leadbeater, the club’s oldest member, from Prestwich, Cheshire. He was coxwain on the Non-Rigid Airship No. C 20 during a routine patrol off the Scottish coast in December 1917, when he ran out of petrol. He also attended the Leeds reunion.
The navigator sent out distress signals and a destroyed stood by. The airship lost altitude and ended up in the sea and was picked up by the destroyer but the tow-rope snapped. The pilot decided to deflate the airship and take their chances in the sea. The destroyer rammed the front of the stricken vessel in a bid to bring about a swift deflation. The five crew were later rescued.
Compare that to John Squire, who ejected from his supersonic fighter on October 1, travelling at 1,250mph at 40,000ft. He fell 10,000ft before his parachute opened and when he did land, he plunged 30ft into the sea, drifting for 30 hours before landing on the Scottish coast.