Its been a while since I've been to the RAF Museum at Hendon and this was my first visit since it has been refurbished. I first went there about 50 years ago as an excited eight year old, clutching my father's hand, oblivious to the part that he had played in that bloody conflict above the night skies of Germany so many years before.
Going back there and seeing the Halifax and Lancaster was very poignant - I've been a few times but, as I mentioned, I have not been for a while and I took a few moments just to look at these iconic airframes and try and imagine the men who flew in them. I visited the museum shop and signed the copies of my book that they had on display - that alone was a strange feeling but also very special. 'Imposter syndrome' gripped me fully !! Going back there 50 years after my father first took me, to sign copies of the book about him and his crew, was a surprisingly emotional experience actually and just reminded me of something I wrote in the book about him.
"To my eternal regret I wish I had spoken with him more in the years shortly before his death from cancer in 1988. Writing this book almost thirty-five years later and knowing what I know now of that part of his life, I often reflect on the opportunity I missed. What I wouldn’t give to have just one evening with him now, over a glass of his favourite whisky and ask him the endless stream of questions in my fifties that it never occurred to me to ask in my teens and early twenties."
Neither of my wives got to meet him, he never met his grandchildren or his great grandchild but I see him in my girls constantly, in different ways, and I think the respective Mrs Barratts would have really liked him.
The thing that strikes me most now looking back is just how ordinary he was - he was just 'dad'..... balding, slightly rotund, gruff, argumentative and curmudgeonly - as most teenage boys perceive their fathers to be - a bit of a silly and increasingly irrelevant old fart.
Writing the book made me realise that although he may have been all those things in later life, he was once a young man with dreams and ambitions and had seen, experienced and overcome things that few (including me) can truly comprehend. Undoubtedly they had an effect on him but he refused to let them define him - living life on his own terms. As difficult a man as he was he was also funny, kind, generous, informed and open to new things (this is a man who grew his hair long in his early sixties and introduced me to Led Zeppelin !!
My relationship with him was strained in later years - a repeat of his relationship with his own father - and neither of us really knew how to engage the other or understood their respective worlds but he was a lion of a man and, flawed though he was (as am I), I am proud to have him as my father.
'Harold Barratt' - Old English/Norse and Gaelic translation ' Leader Bear Strong'
Thanks Dad - I love you xx