Monday 5th October
“We didn’t realise
We were making
We just knew
We were having
Six years ago today my father passed away from pancreatic cancer. It was officially diagnosed that summer, whilst we were visiting him in South Carolina, but he had been feeling ill for some months.
He lived an extraordinary life, coming into contact with royalty, prime ministers, actors, union leaders, professional golfers, rock stars, cowboys, jazz musicians ……. the amazing list goes on and on.
His story began in Surrey, England on February 4th 1932.
We didn’t call him Dad, Daddy or Father. To his three children, (and everyone else for that matter), he was always know as Hank. (Although at school, his nickname had been Buster).
He was educated at Sutton Grammar School, evacuated to Windsor during the war, and then joined the RAF College at Cranwell.
For several years he flew at the Farnborough Air Show with his Blue Diamonds Aerobatic team (Hunter jets), also travelling all over the world with them, flying at air shows and gala events.
He then moved on to the English Electric Lightning with 92 and 56 Squadrons. He had many postings to Cyprus and Malta during these times.
In 1966 he was part of the team of sixteen Lightnings who flew in a tribute flypast over the launch carrying Sir Winston Churchill’s coffin up the River Thames at the end of the State Funeral.
Hank was presented with the Air Force Cross for Distinguished Service by the Queen at Buckingham Place in 1966. This was awarded to Hank for bringing the fleeing Shah of Persia (Iran), to England.
In 1967 he was posted to Singapore, for two years, where he became the second-in-command of the three British Armed Services. Our family had some terrific experiences and holidays in the Far East. It was where I began my high school education.
Upon his return to the UK in 1969, he reformed 43 Squadron at RAF Leuchars in Scotland.
It was during this time that HRH Prince Charles was taken on a two hour, supersonic flying sortie with Hank in a Phantom fighter-bomber. The flight included an air-to-air refuelling exercise with a Victor tanker, taking on 1200 gallons of fuel. They flew as high as 40,000 feet and as low as 1000 feet, making a pass over Balmoral, (reported at the time, as an ‘extrovert flourish’).
During his time in Scotland he received the Bar to the AFC at Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh. This was bestowed upon him by The Queen Mother.
In 1972 Hank made the decision to leave the RAF, travelled to Camper Nicholson in Portsmouth, bought a yacht and sailed himself across the Atlantic.
Since then he spent many happy years sailing though the Islands from Venezuela to Chesapeake, in and around Bermuda, and across the Pacific from the Marquesas to New Zealand.
During the late seventies he bought a ranch in Durango, Colorado and rekindled his love of skiing. At that time he was driving a black and gold Pontiac Trans Am and flying a Queenair Beechcraft to the Grand Canyon, Palm Springs and Santa Monica.
However, his passion for sailing soon returned and he again found himself travelling up and down the East Coast of America.
During the last fifteen or so years of his life, he made North Myrtle Beach his port, leaving every now and again to visit Tobago, the Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Venezuela and the Keys.
Throughout his life, Hank had a passion for golf, playing courses all over the world, from Spyglass Hill, Pebble Beach; Troon in Scotland; Wentworth in Surrey, to the Singapore Island Country Club, where he regularly played with Lee Kwan Yew, the then Prime Minister of Singapore.
Whilst in North Myrtle Beach, he was part of a group of golfing buddies who played three times a week in and around North and South Carolina. He treasured their friendship enormously.
Hank was always a gracious host on his sailboats (Western Union, Rum Raisin, and latterly Wild Blue), taking friends on wonderful, day-sailing trips on the ocean.
We also became ‘boat gypsies’ for our summer holidays, and joined him wherever his yacht happened to be anchored. We had some marvellous sailing adventures together. We were so lucky.
He had a great love, knowledge and appreciation for gourmet food, as well as an appropriate, fine wine to accompany it. Hank was always an excellent “sommelier” at dinner parties with close friends.
Few people knew of his great artistic ability with oil or watercolours, or of his talent as an actor, having appeared in several local commercials.
Hank was not one to verbalise his own talents, but he was totally dedicated and passionate about anything he endeavoured to do.
His free spirit could best be described by lines from a novel by John Berendt. Hank was the “Cosmos Mariner” ~ “Destination Unknown”
(Taken from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: John Berendt is talking to Miss Harty while they drink martinis in the cemetery:
“Aiken [Conrad Aiken] loved to come here and watch the ships go by,” she said. “One afternoon, he saw one with the name Cosmos Mariner painted on the bow. That delighted him. The word ‘cosmos’ appears often in his poetry, you know. That evening he went home and looked for mention of the Cosmos Mariner in the shipping news. There it was, in tiny type on the list of ships in port. The name was followed by the comment ‘Destination Unknown.’ That pleased him even more.”)
Hank made many long-lasting acquaintances worldwide; from those in the RAF, the USAF and CAF; to the sailors, golfers and many who became part of his wide circle of friends.
Miss you Hank.
Give Frank a great big hug.