Peter Holgate, Honoured Guest. Mick McGrevy NFC President & Phil Curtis, NFC Chairman.
The National Flying Club is honored to have Her Majesty the Queen as our patron and each year at the presentation there is a loyal toast presented by the President of the club followed by a toast to the Ladies present and Guests. Subsequently there are a number of speeches and I thought it would be a gesture of appreciation to the speakers, to recount them here for all to digest.
Firstly our Guest of Honor, former Royal Marine Green Beret Commando, Mr. Peter Holgate took the stand. Peter himself used to race pigeons into Plymouth with his local club and recounted his beginnings in pigeon racing as a boy until, at the of fifteen he decided that village life was far too quiet for him and joined the Royal Navy.
At 5 foot 5 inches and 7 ½ stone wet through he went into a long basic training program after which he was given the choice of several career paths to follow which included a Photographer, a Meteorologist, a Naval Airman and an Aircraft Handler, although being a photographer seemed the most enticing to him and he decided on that.
After the first 12 years, serving all around the world on Naval ships with the highlight being the end of the Vietnam War with the Americans in the Far East. He worked in a four-man team on a small island in the Cantonese estuary with a week on the island followed by a week off. In total out of two and a half years in Hong Kong on this assignment he had been given a year off on forces leave which was “quite nice” most of the time they photographed North Vietnam ships going to and fro. The one thing that it did highlight at the end of the time in the Far East was that he could not go back to General Service, so he volunteered to join the Royal Marine Commando Special Forces, more commonly known as the Green Berets. For the next 13 years he belonged to the best fighting force in the world and once he had been given his bullet proof Green Beret, he was sent down to the Falkland Islands to land with the first wave at San Carlos with “Fourteen Commando”
In the landing craft, heading towards the shore, he looked around the blackened faces and the only comforting feeling was that he knew all the other guys had undertaken the same training as himself and although they were only four and a half thousand strong, facing an Argentine Army of twelve thousand dug in to defensive positions, he thought to himself “we are going to come through this”, and as they bobbed around in the landing craft he looked at the whole hillside ahead and it was lit up by Naval gunfire. It was just like being in an action movie only a lot louder and the realization that men on the hill were being killed! When the ramp went down he ran across the water so fast that he feet remained dry and once on land looked for the nearest cover as he had been standing for five hours with an 85lb kit bag on his back. He saw a small hillock ahead and dived straight onto a mound of chicken manure. The stench was horrendous so he ran back to the waters edge to wash himself down and took up his position once again.
Resting was short lived because the Argentines began bombing them from ten in the morning until two in the afternoon relentlessly, although the main target for the Argentine Air force was the ships. Listening to there small radios, which was their only contact to the outside world they found it annoying that largely, the reports were that no ships had been hit, when right in front of them they could see the ships sinking. During the Falklands War his briefing was to take as many photographs as possible, so from the battle of Goose Green he moved forward to Mount Kent to join the 42 Commandos and from there on to Mount Harriet.
He said you often hear the over used phrase “For Queen and Country” but when you are picking your way up a mountain side with heavy gunfire raining down on you, the last thing you are thinking about is either Queen or Country. You are thinking about the guy to your left and the one to your right. They are the ones you are fighting for because they are fighting for you too, the adrenaline kicks in and you are running on 80% fear and just about 20% bravery. You are going up there because your friends are going up.
The morning after the battle for Mount Harriet and the Two Sisters he moved forward again with 45 Commando towards Port Stanley, and on the way they had to pick their way through a minefield. Being very careful of where they placed their feet, they followed the footsteps of the guys in front, which created a big long snake of soldiers and as he look behind him the could see a guy who was carrying a Union Flag secured to the back of his backpack. It was hanging limply, they were wet and they were cold and he thought this might make a picture. So he stepped out of line and joined again behind him and as they walked down towards Moody Brook in the snow a breath of wind came and filled the whole flag. He took the picture and at the time he thought absolutely nothing of it, but when he processed the film and wired it back to the UK, it went all around the world and became famous for the Falklands War.
The picture became known as “The Yomper” and he feels very lucky to have been there at the time as it is every photographer’s wish that he is remembered for either an image or his work. Some ten years later it became a ten foot statue placed in memorial on South Sea seafront and it is his proudest achievement. The guy in the picture, who wondered why he had moved out of line was reunited with Peter for a press interview which resulted in them becoming great friends and he is now called “The Yomper” himself. After 25 years in the services the Navy decided he was too old at 42 and he began his own business in Plymouth and began racing pigeons again. Two fanciers, Bert Stevens and Ron Ribble helped him out with a team of youngsters and for the next fifteen years he enjoyed his pigeons until recently the Peregrine took too much toll on his hobby and he decided to start in Event Horses and he reinforces the fact that you only get out what you put in.
Peter Farrow, Loft Manager to Her Majesty the Queen called for a toast to the National Flying Club and wished all the best for the future followed by Mick McGrevy, President of the National Flying Club, who said it had been a very tricky and difficult year for the club, but the evening was about celebration and congratulations. Racing had been difficult for all clubs up and down the country with holdovers and even 9 days in the baskets for one race but the birds had been looked after very well by the convoying team, being in very good condition once the race had taken place. Some say our transporter is the best there is but Mick would agree that there are non-any better. He praised the convoyer along with Peirce’s Transport who have two dedicated drivers and was pleased to announce a gentleman’s agreement that they would continue for the next two years.
He said we have a Chairman in Phil Curtis who has been the most proactive Chairman that the National Flying Club has ever had, and has to be thanked for the introduction of the new sections, one in Wales another up in the North East, Cumbria and Cornwall along with splitting of section E. He said some will be pleased but others may not, but you cannot please all the people all of the time, so lets give it a chance. He spoke of Social Media being a double-edged sword and referred to the Committee being totally made up of active fanciers so they would do nothing that would be detrimental towards our birds.
He wanted to make sure that the marking stations understood that although they are run by very helpful and proactive people, we should make sure that everything is done as it should be done so there are no opportunities available for those who would take advantage. The President felt that a lot of people do not appreciate the amount of work our Secretary Sid Barkel has to do. When he took the position the National held three races, Nantes, Pau and the young-bird race. Now we have six races and he cannot possibly pay out the prize money until the result has been in the press for three weeks by which time we are into our third race. It takes a lot of time and a lot of work, so Sid tries to pay out all the Old birds races together in one check, which saves the club a lot of money in postage. He thanked Sid who received a round of applause and went on to thank all the sponsors and announced the additional sponsorship by House of Aarden along with Zib Pol who have provided a ten foot loft, fully fitted out to be presented to the Champion of Champions league winner. The President thanked everybody for coming to the presentation evening and looked forward to a better year to come before handing over to the Chairman Phil Curtis.
Firstly Phil commended the decision to move to a new venue for the presentation evening in Torquay by the President as it did the National Flying Club justice, he went on to thank the Committee for their support in a very difficult year. The Chairman went on to report the first race at Fougeres received and entry of nearly 9000 birds, and as a sign of things to come, a holdover. The following morning the weather was brighter with south west winds was a good day for Section B taking 6 of the first 10 open positions. Other good birds were timed by Mr. & Mrs. Wright, Gelder & Son and Mr Gant up in the longer flying sections and the eventual winners in section F were J & P Parker who were overjoyed at their first National win.
Two weeks later at Messac and another holdover for the 6500 pigeons. Liberation took place on the Sunday with easterly winds and it was no surprise that the westerly lofts came to the fore with many lofts making multiple timings, but the team performance of the day went to a man who Phil has been accompanied by on many trip to Kassel over the years, Eddie Bateman, who timed 3 of his entries in five minutes which all featured in the top 14 of the Open. The winner however went to section D in the West Country, being an ex-committee member Paul Pym, wife Elaine and son Richard and since the dinner Paul has been re-elected onto the committee.
At last at Ancenis there was Saturday liberation for the 5000 birds and a steady race followed with many of the sections timing good birds. Notable team performances were Darling and Ede of Southampton, timing 2 birds in the first 10 open and Stokes & Son with two together to win the Grand Canaria One Loft nomination and Chris & Debbie Neale, UK agents were present as guests. Another couple of notable performances were Shackleton & Son who were 2nd in section K with a pigeon which had also won the section from Messac and flying right up into the north east, one of our new members of section N, flying over 500 miles was John Rumney who finished 70th Open. The overall winner was down in Bristol to the loft of Chris Harding.
He then moved on to Saintes, which was held on the longest day in June, and 3000 birds enjoyed the best weather of the season but with a later liberation of 9am a lot of the longer flyers did not get day pigeons. As always in the NFC there were some exceptional performances, one being Roger Sutton taking first and second Section flying 517 miles but the result was dominated by the southern fanciers with Bill Edwards winning the day with the first bird that was actually clocked and he held off Mark Gilbert who was 2nd and 3rd open and had an exceptional day with many birds in the top of the Open result.
Leaving Tarbes until last and moving on to the Coutences young bird and old bird results, Phil reported that it was personally difficult for him as it was his first race as Race Controller. There followed a few days holdover and lot of 4:30am starts, they were always optimistic for a following day liberation but it did not happen until the Wednesday, and the pigeons were up in a East North East wind which does not help youngsters flying the channel for the first time.
But as always there were notable performances, one being right up into section N flying nearly 400 miles, to John Best & Sons winning the Section and taking 14th Open old hens. The old hens winner was down in Somerset flying to John & David Staddon which rounded off an exceptional season for the Father & Son partnership.
In the young bird race a good performance yet again by Roger Lowe taking the first three positions in section E, Peter Hagland in Section K took the first two and in an east wind some creditable performances were put in by Gladwin, Jarvis & Family in the south east and to Dave Downing in Newmarket. But with three in the first eight in the open the overall winner was Nigel Templer who has had a truly wonderful season flying into Bristol.
Finally on to the Tarbes Grand National, and where does one begin with such a wonderful race for the NFC members. It was always going to be a tough race especially with the head wind with extreme heat being experienced in Northern France meant only 6 truly gallant pigeons pigeon made it to the home lofts on the day and each deserve a mention, Tom Williams, Mr. & Mrs. Gower, Nigel Templer, Mel & Sue King, John & David Staddon and Pete & Leon McMahon, truly fabulous pigeons to have made home on the day.
A very early timer at 5am the next day to Bob and Anthony Besant was something they will never forget and in section I Alwyn Hill and Keith Bush both timed early birds. But there were 4 more gallant birds heading home into Yorkshire, (at which point Phil’s voice broke a little) two going to Pete and Barry Winter, one going to Nick Adshead and another going to Phil’s own loft to take first Section K. A large round of applause ensued as Phil composed himself to make a special mention to the North East flying over 800 miles, to M Anderson & Sons winning section N.
But the race was still on and the one to catch was Mal Hope in Telford who timed his British Barcelona Club Bordeaux winner which was then followed a anxious few hours to see if he could actually win the Tarbes Grand National, but it was not to be as Micky Locke right up in the Wirral who timed a really wonderful little hen to win the day. Phil’s friends in the Wirral had told him that Micky had been so confident that he was going to win the MNFC Bordeaux race with his pigeon he had been practicing what he called his “Bordeaux Walk” to collect the trophy. But on the Saturday Micky had flown from Vire, and in his own words he did not have the best of races, so on the Sunday morning it was with a little trepidation that he waited for his pigeons from the longer races. He need not have worried because he timed his pigeon to win the NFC Tarbes Grand National and the Bordeaux walk became “The Tarbes Walk”.
The Chairman then closed his speech by proposing a toast for all the winners in the National Flying Club races of 2016.