Easter weekend saw a second world war Hawker Typhoon veteran, his family and guests, descend upon the RAF Club, London, to mark a very special milestone. Bernard Gardiner flew the Hawker Hurricane and the Hawker Typhoon during the conflict, on the latter he flew 71 operational missions over enemy occupied territory before the war came to an end – a remarkable feat. He not only survived, but has reached the ripe old age of 100 “not out!”
He, along with some of his family, including his 93-year-old “little” brother, made the journey to London from Jersey. Bernard formed the advanced party, flying over with British Airways on Good Friday. Through a project team member we had reached out to the airline, just to see if they could perhaps give him a mention on the PA, or do something nice for him. They pulled out the stops; the whole flight sang happy birthday to him as he was presented with one of two special birthday cakes they drummed up for him. So, special thanks must go to BA for starting Bernard’s weekend off as it would go on.
At this point in time, he still was not fully aware of why he was making the journey, having celebrated his birthday with a quiet family meal a week or so prior. Friday was for settling in to the RAF Club, a venue where Bernard thinks he “had stayed before, but it was a long time ago…”
After a hearty breakfast on the Saturday, Bernard sat for a relaxed interview with project director Sam Worthington-Leese to capture his life story, with a particular focus on his aviation exploits. Given Bernard’s advancing years, and the scarcity of surviving Hawker Typhoon pilots, it was imperative to finally be able to commit so many of his wonderful stories to film, and have a permanent record. Without too much promoting required, he recounted all of his favourite stories, including how he survived being bombed whilst signing up to the RAF during the height of the Battle of Britain, teaching himself aerobatics whilst undertaking flying training, and so sealing his fate as a fighter pilot, and of course, the illustrious 200 foot Hawthorn bush episode…
Bernard was then presented with a brand new, first off the production line, AVI-8 RB396 wristwatch, which the company has since gone on to launch across the globe. Richard Spreckley, the deputy project director, who had been working with AVI-8 on the design, presented Bernard with his watch, which he was suitably chuffed with.
After a rest and a spruce up, Bernard was ready for the main event, the reason for his attendance at the Club, for which he was still in the dark. Entering the Churchill bar, Bernard was surprised by around 50 guests, many of whom had traveled considerable distance for the event, who were there to join him to celebrate his 100th birthday. He was presented with a special artwork, commissioned by the project and painted by a talented young artist, Oliver Stevenson, depicting Bernard’s favourite Typhoon out of the many he flew. Following a champagne reception, it was time to head upstairs to the Sovereign’s room, stopping first at the magnificent staircase for an obligatory group photograph.
A three course meal followed, with a number of speeches, excerpts from the message book that was presented to Bernard, including a message from the current Chief of the Air Staff, one from our Patron, a video message from the Red Arrows, a presentation from 29sqn and many more well wishes from across the world. There was a special cake, and to finish the evening a speech from 101 year old Mosquito veteran Flight Lieutenant Colin Bell, DFC, on Bernard’s exploits who ended by asking the room to raise a glass to the birthday boy.
Then, time to retire to the bar, where Bernard was one of the last to bed, putting some younger guests to shame!
All in all, Bernard and his family had a fantastic time at the event, and it was a celebration befitting the man that Bernard is. His actions during the war inspired many people, and if it were not for him and his colleagues, many of whom did not return home, let alone reach 100 years of age, then we would not be here today. Bernard is an avid supporter of the project to return RB396 to the skies, and it was our pleasure to organise this event for him to celebrate this milestone in style. With the right support RB396 will fly again, and maybe, just maybe, Bernard will be there to witness it. To support the project please visit the support us section, and/or contact us to discuss other options to allow the project to progress.