West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
 
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Pontefract Local History

THE VULCAN CLUB
ROYAL AIR FORCES ASSOCIATION


PONTEFRACT BRANCH

Vulcan Club Pontefract branch Royal Air Forces Association

The Vulcan Club is the home of Pontefract Branch, Royal Air Forces Association,
Carleton Close, Carleton Road, Pontefract.
This account of the branch’s origins and history has been compiled and submitted by
ex-President's Mr. H. B. Robinson and Mr. D. G. Clee.

The Royal Air Forces Association was formed in 1943 to provide welfare assistance to R.A.F. and ex-R.A.F. men and women and their families. Originally there were three classes of membership.

Full Members: Any person who has served for three months or more in His / Her Majesty's Royal Air Forces.

Associate Members: Near relatives of a full member

Friend Member: Any person proposed and seconded by a full member, whose application to join is passed by a Branch Committee of the Association.

At the beginning of 1997 the status of Friend Member was dispensed with and those members are now included with Associate Members.

The R.A.F.A. is one of the leading service charities in the United Kingdom and overseas. Some branches have Honorary Welfare Officers who provide support for ex-R.A.F personnel and their families at home and overseas. The Association supports homes for permanent care as well as for short-term recuperation and sheltered housing. The Pontefract Branch was formed in 1945 under the Presidency of Mr. A. R. Donald and Chairmanship of Squadron Leader Davis.

The list of Presidents is as follows:

1946-49 Mr. A. R. Donald
1950-52 Mr. A. Warrington
1953-54 Mr. A. Washbrook
1954-55 Mr. T. Corlett
1956-58 Mr. J. Griffin
1959-61 Mr. C. M. Tait
1962-64 Mr. S. Fiske
1965-67 Mrs. S. Blackburn
1968-70 Mr. S. Fiske
1971-73 Mr. F. Jones
1974-76 Mr. D. Atkinson
1977-79 Mr. J. Bowden
1980-82 Mr. G. Thomas
1983-85 Mr. R. Murfin
1986-88 Mr. P. Guy
1989-91 Mr. R. Wadsworth
1992-94 Mr. H. Senior
1995-97 Mr. H. Robinson
1998-00 Mr. H. Johnson
2001-03 Mr. J. Fennell
2004-06 Mr. G. Clee
2007-09
 
Pontefract Branch Royal Air Forces Association Branch President Mr D.G. Clee Pontefract Branch Royal Air Forces Association Ex Branch President Mr H.B. Robinson

Mr. D.G. Clee is depicted on the left and Mr. H.B. Robinson on the right.

For about forty years, Presidents have been nominated to serve a three-year term of office but the General Committee is elected annually.

The Branch’s first meeting place was the Queen's Hotel, Pontefract, and at that time many members were serving personnel of the R.A.F. stationed at Pollington and Church Fenton. Mr. A. Warrington became the first civilian chairman.

In June 1947 the Branch moved to a room over Montague Burton's shop in Market Place and from there to Johnson's Rooms in Beastfair in 1949. Later the headquarters moved to the Red Lion Hotel.

Around 1953 the number of active members reached its lowest level and a meeting was called for the purpose of closing down the Branch. Surprisingly, about forty members turned up and this led to the resurgence of interest and activity.

In 1958 the meeting place was moved to the Black Boy public house in Market Place. About this time, and with membership growing, the Branch decided to purchase its own premises. After inspecting several buildings it was decided to purchase a property owned by the late Mr. Norman Wilkinson, at the rear of his house off Carleton Road. The property had previously formed stables and garages and the conversion to a Branch Clubhouse entailed a lot of hard work. It was fortunate that several members were skilled in the building trade. The unskilled did the more menial work such as chipping mortar off bricks and straightening bent nails!

The original beer cellar was dug out by pick and shovel resulting in many sore hands and aching backs. Several years later the cellar was extended but this time with the help of a mechanical digger!

It was decided to call the new Headquarters "The Vulcan Club", as this was the name of the leading British bomber at the time. The Vulcan Club was officially opened by the Mayor of Pontefract, Councillor Violet Pritchard, on the 20th October 1961. Following the ceremony there was a special midnight matinee at the Crescent Cinema with a showing of the film, "Reach for the Sky", the story of the legendary fighter pilot Douglas Bader.

In the early days of the Club, the bar was run by a rota of members but later, when funds allowed, a paid steward was appointed. Hanging over the bar is an oil painting by Bill Selby, who went on to become an artist of national fame.

After several years of successful trading and increasing membership, an extension was added to the club. This was opened by Mr. F. S. Neal, financial secretary to the R.A.F.A., on 8th November 1967.

During the lifetime of the Branch there have been at least three members who have qualified for membership of the "Caterpillar Club", i.e. those whose lives were saved by a parachute descent. One former member of Pontefract Branch does not quite qualify to be a member of the "Caterpillar Club". Ex-Warrant Officer Nicholas Alkemade, a legendary flyer, dropped 18,000 feet from a Lancaster bomber without a parachute - and lived to tell the tale.

On the night of 24th - 25th March 1944, 'Nick' Alkemade was the rear gunner on a Lancaster bomber over Berlin. On the way back to base his aircraft was attacked by a German night-fighter and sustained heavy damage. The pilot ordered his crew to bale out but when Flight Sergeant Alkemade felt for his parachute he was horrified to find that his chute had been destroyed by flames. The choice facing the twenty-one year old airman was a stark one; to stay in the aircraft and be burnt to death, or to jump out into the night sky at 18,000 feet without a parachute. He chose to jump and miraculously survived by falling into a fir forest and a deep snowdrift.

His terminal speed at point of impact has been estimated at 122mph. It was only when the charred remains of his parachute were discovered in the crashed aircraft that the German prison camp authorities accepted his story.

A month later he was presented with a paper signed by the Senior British Officer who had copied a German Authentication document and had it witnessed by the two senior British non-commissioned officers in the prison camp.

Over the years members have raised many thousands of pounds for the Association Welfare work through a wide spectrum of activities. Some years ago we had a miming group known as "The Vulcans", featuring Bill Booth, Peter Evans, Peter Guy, Alan Jefferies, and Malcolm Lodge, who dressed in memorable costumes and gave hilarious performances. They were good enough to gain an audition for the B.B.C. programme "Opportunity Knocks".

The Branch also had a mixed choir under the direction of Gordon Bellamy and later of Harvey Daniel. They gave performances locally and further afield, which was always well received.

Other activities for raising welfare money are street collections, supermarket collections, and collections at motorway service stations. Within the club, money is raised by raffles, domino cards, a second-hand bookshelf, lottery bonus ball etc. A regular source of income is through the Thursday night Bingo session at which everyone has an enjoyable time. One of our past presidents, Harry Johnson, has run a very profitable plant stand at many of these events.

We have a strong bond of comradeship with Pontefract Air Cadets Squadron, who visit the club two or three times a year for a race night, as well as providing generous help with our annual street collection.

Many of these events are enhanced by our Ladies Section who provide refreshments.

For many years a Gala was held in the grounds of Pontefract Castle and in later years at Pontefract Park. Highlights were the Donkey Derbys and the fly-pasts by the Red Arrows and displays by the Red Devil's parachute aerobatics team. Unfortunately, as the average age of our members creeps upwards, organising the Gala has become a little too taxing and has had to be discontinued.

In the days when petrol was cheaper than it is today, car rallies were a popular feature of the Branch’s social activities. Once a destination had been fixed the late Frank Jones and his helpers, would go on ahead and organise a field kitchen which supplied splendid meals. On one occasion Mr. Frank Dove won the R.A.F.A National Car Rally.

Several young ladies, relations of members, have represented the Branch in the national Miss R.A.F.A competition. Although we never produced a winner all the young ladies did the Branch proud.

And here is an odd tale. In 1941 a twelve-year-old schoolboy was admitted to Chequerfield Isolation Hospital suffering from diphtheria. A few days later an R.A.F. aircrew member, who had been taken ill whilst on leave, was admitted with typhoid fever. Whilst they were recuperating, the airman and the schoolboy spent many hours together sitting on the hospital verandah before being discharged and going their separate ways; the airman back to his station and the schoolboy back to his desk.

A chance remark made in the club led to those two people, the late Ron Fisher, a double member of the Caterpillar Club, and our current President, Graham Clee, meeting for the first time in over fifty years. Although both had been Branch members for many years, their paths had never crossed; or at least if they had crossed, they had failed to recognise each other.

Occasionally a member and his wife will celebrate a golden or diamond wedding at the club. Tommy Sharpe and his wife enjoyed a diamond wedding party in 1987 and in 1995 two members celebrated their diamond weddings. Part of the proceedings was the presentation of cheques by the then president Mr. Harold Robinson. In 1998 Sam and Sylvia Carrington, both members, celebrated their golden wedding with a club party.

Each year on the anniversary of the opening of the club, the social committee arrange a celebratory evening. Other social events include fancy dress parades, fashion shows, quizzes etc. Once again these evenings include wonderful buffets arranged by the lady members. At some of these festivities, entertainment was provided by the late Derek Enright M.P. and Pat Brennan, accompanied by Colin Birch at the organ.

Other events held away from the club have included trips to the theatre, visits to race meetings, shopping trips, visits to other branches and visits to Yorkshire T.V. Many holidays have been arranged by Mrs Shirley Guy with destinations as far away as Scotland and Jersey.

An extremely popular event is the children's Christmas Party arranged by the late Mr. Ray Murfin, and featuring Billy Booth as Father Christmas. This party is funded by a monster raffle with up to a hundred prizes. Many of those children now attending are brought by their parents who themselves came in their childhood.

The Welfare department of the R.A.F.A. headquarters is kept busy arranging for members to go to convalescent homes or more permanent residential care as well as negotiating grants for those with financial needs. One practical measure in which several members took part was the laying of a garage foundation for a disabled member.

On June 6th 1994 Pontefract Branch celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of D Day and on the 8th May 1995 and 15th August 1995, commemorated the anniversaries of V.E. and V.J. days. It is on occasions such as these that our members recall the sterling words of the R.A.F.A. dedication, which are spoken by the Branch President before all general meetings:

"In friendship and in service one to another, we are pledged to keep alive the memory of those of all nations who died in the Royal Air Force and in the Air Forces of the Commonwealth. In their name we give ourselves to this noble cause. Proudly and thankfully, we will remember them."

If those words appeal to you and you are ex-R.A.F personnel living in the Pontefract area, why not apply for membership. Your support is vital for the continuation of the life and work of the Association in Pontefract.

Mr. H.B. Robinson
Mr. D.G. Clee


 

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