Bomber Command Veterans are star guests at Pinner RFC President’s Lunch

February 4, 2014 by paul  
Filed under News & Events

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P&G RFC’s President David Hiles played host to over 60 former players and guests at his Annual Lunch on Saturday. This year’s event was planned to incorporate the promotion of the book ‘Riding in the Shadow of Death’ by Chris Keltie on the remarkable, but unsung, war time experiences as a young 20 year old of Bill North, the former President of P&G RFC, who died two years ago.  In June 1944 the Lancaster that Bill was piloting was shot down near Rouen in northern France.  Only some of the crew were able to bail out as the remaining parachutes had been damaged.  Bill, although badly wounded himself, managed to crash land his plane in the dark in a field near Les Andelys.  All the crew survived but spent the remainder of the war in a POW camp.  Chris Keltie who grew up next door to Bill in Kenton felt that this was a story worth telling.  To the surprise and delight of all those who attended the lunch Chris brought the sole surviving member of that crew, Dennis Bartlett, now in his 90’s, who was Bill’s mid-upper gunner together with Geoff  Grey, a former Pathfinder pilot with 61 squadron, and his wife June an ex- war time nurse.  The whole day was charged with deep emotion. At the start of proceedings, members stood in silent tribute to two members who died last week. One, Geoffrey Nuelle, was a player and Clubhouse Secretary in the 70’s and 80’s but the other was Fred Runacres was the last President of the former Pinner RFC and the first of P&G RFC. Fred was also a former player and secretary of the Harrow and District Rugby Referees Society. One of his daughters is married to another former P&G captain and honorary treasurer Howard Walters. His nephew Tony, another former player, is coming from New Zealand for the funeral which will take place that the Chiltern Crematorium Amersham on Monday 3rd February at 1:45 pm.

The other guests were Ian Webster, President of Mill Hill RFC and his wife Collie and the Mill Hill Chairman Geoff Williams. Other former Pinner captains present were Mike Barnes, currently President of Middlesex County Rugby,  and his wife Anne,  and Mel Williams, former captain and President of Saracens.  Bill North’s three sons all of whom played for Pinner were also there and brought some of Bill’s memorabilia for the Club archives.  Nearly everyone present purchased copies of Chris’s book all of which were personally signed by the author and the veteran war heroes. Copies were obtained for former members who now live in far-off Toronto Canada and Brisbane Australia.  Many took the opportunity to talk to these wonderful guys, the chance of which they are unlikely to have again.   Since Bill died Chris has updated his book to record meetings with Prince Charles, the belated and much deserved unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial and the meeting that he, the veterans and the North family had with David Cameron at no. 10.

In his speech welcoming everyone David Hiles said that the visit by the comrades of the beloved former President was probably one of the greatest honours ever bestowed on the Club. He also commented that had he not been Alun North’s form master at Kingsbury High School in 1967 he would never have met Bill at a parent’s evening. This had brought him to Pinner RFC. What a different life he would have had.  Hiles gave an update of the Club’s current situation with the difficulties caused by the shortage of matches in the 1st XV’s league and by the problems associated with the pavilion which the insurance loss adjusters were pursuing unsuccessfully with the LB of Harrow.  The success of the youth and mini rugby was a source of great encouragement with the U14 team heading its league yet again. The fact that some 1st XV players were now helping with the coaching  of these youngsters was also a great hope for the future. Some of the lunchtime guests struggled out to watch the 1st XV play Mill Hill and afterwards the party and reminiscences continued well into the evening.

Brief match report:  Herts-Middx Div 3      P&G’s 9   Mill Hill 29

The lack of recent matches showed in the cohesion of the home side.  Conditions also mitigated against open rugby and the better drilled Mill Hill pack quickly gained the upper hand.  The first halve saw Mill Hill run in three tries and a penalty to P&G’s response of three penalties all kicked by winner Fred Riley.  Late in the second half Mill Hill added their fourth and bonus point try to give a final score of 29 – 9 to the visitors thus avenging their pre-Christmas defeat by the Pinner side.

The recent wet weather led to the postponement of the proposed mini’s festival on Sunday.