THE VULCAN CLUB
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
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:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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