Tag Archives: Calshot

Colin van Geffen ~ Historian, artist and public speaker

Today I’m going to interview Colin van Geffen who has been a wonderful support to me Headerlogocolinthroughout writing Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home, not only in points of local aviation history in the Solent area but in designing the covers of my first two novels from the Riduna Series. If you need an artist or public speaker he’s your man! (details at the end of the post)

BACKGROUND

After spending thirty years working in industry Colin became a self employed Illustrator / Artist, covering a wide range of subjects from Animals and Aviation, to Maritime, Landscapes, Portraits – in fact most subjects in a variety of styles from cartoon to formal, and in a choice of media from pencil, pen & ink, or painted in either watercolour or acrylics. As well as commissioned paintings (eg forRE Regiment to paint the unveiling by The Lady Soames of D-Day Memorial (Arromanches)) Colin  has designed many series of Christmas Cards for local organisations.

In the last decade Colin has worked at Solent Sky Aviation Museum, Southampton and at Calshot Castle but he has also always taken an active part in various community projects including the Fawley Historians, Bournemouth Red Arrows Association, Solent Aviation Art Society and the Poole Flying Boats Celebration. You can the results of one of his contributions where he researched, collected & created visual displays of aviation history (sea planes & flying boats) for permanent display at the former RAF Station Calshot. 

Welcome to my blog Colin. Thank you for joining us!

Have you always been interested in flying boats? Was it living at Calshot that inspired you and why?

>> I’ve has a lifelong interest in aviation & developed a special interest in flying boats after I had the rare opportunity to fly on one in 1976 (my first ever flight) when it arrived at Calshot – a former RAF flying boat station, which is only a few miles from my home in the New Forest. I didn’t know what to expect (& couldn’t be called a good sailor) but the experience was unlike anything I had ever done before. I never imagined that I would still be talking & writing about it over 35 years later.

What a wonderful memory and since you now give many talks about The Schneider Trophy. Why do you think it is so important that we remember it?

>> I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the 50th anniversary celebrations of the last Schneider Trophy Contest, as it took place close to my home. The more I learned about it – the evolution of the aircraft & their designers, the developments of new materials to produce better engines & strong airframes, the technical & political obstacles that had to be overcome, inspired me with a renewed interest in aviation as a specific subject plus the lack of reality that in school-day history lessons, that focussed only on names, dates, wars and laws.  I discovered the genius of those pioneer aviators – designers, engineers and pilots, and the contributions that their commitment to advancing the new discovery of aviation offered to the world. It is true to say that without the perception of Jacques Schneider in wishing to develop stronger, more capable seaplanes and flying boats, for the purposes of expanding business and travel around the world, our country could never have had the Hawker Hunter, or the Supermarine Spitfire, or the Rolls Royce engines that powered them. We can learn a great deal from studying our history and applying the lessons learned in a positive way; the Schneider Trophy story and its legacy are outstanding examples of what can be achieved from lessons learned.

Yes I agree. If history is relevant and interesting then it can begin a lifelong desire to learn, a very current topic of interest in the news!

I think in a way you’ve answered this question but since the whole of the area around the Solent is seeped in aviation history, do you have a particular interest in Supermarine and RJ Mitchel and why they should be remembered?

>> My interest in RJ Mitchell & his achievements at the Supermarine Aviation Company (& later Vickers Supermarine) are inevitably linked to my interest in the Schneider Trophy and both are sources of great interest for several of my Illustrated Talks, which I have researched, written & presented to audiences of wide interest groups, across the country and further afield, for many years. I do not consider myself to be an expert on Mitchell or Supermarine, but I have accumulated some specialist knowledge, along with other designers & manufacturers. I believe that it is essential not to perpetuate the fiction and myths, but to set them in context & to pass on the facts and the magic. I am not an engineer but have worked ‘on the periphery’ of the aviation industry, for some well-known & internationally respected companies. In passing on my acquired knowledge I aim to make it as interesting to my non-specialist audiences as it is to me and I always keep in mind the possibility that there could well be someone in the audience who knows more about the subject than I do – so I don’t attempt to baffle or bluff my way through, for the sake of expedience.

I must get down to one of your talks one day. I imagine, what with your passion for the subject and your sense of humour you must have audiences spellbound. Now returning to your artistic life and interests how long have you been painting? I know you paint all sorts of subjects but why do you think art is such a good way to represent the history of flight in the Solent?

>> I have been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember – since I was first able to hold a pencil, I think (certainly my parents reminded me on several occasions of my early attempts to be creative on my newly-papered bedroom wall. I do have a vague memory of trying to find, or make, shapes within the random patterns on the paper. I won a couple of art competitions at school, in the days when manufacturers of household products or foods would encourage schools to participate in national competitions. I was also ‘invited’ to paint the scenery for the school play, at a time when I was unable to participate in sports lessons due to a long-term injury. Sitting in the playground helping classmates with their art homework was another pleasure, as was helping during art classes, when the art master was absent through illness. 
I found my art was commercially acceptable and having an interest in most things around me from landscapes, wildlife (and pets) people & portraits, marine & other transport subjects, I was and still am happy to cover most types of subjects, in a variety of styles and media (some samples of which can be seen on my websitewww.colinvangeffen.co.uk). I am proud to have examples of my work presented or on permanent display at several official sites including RAF Scampton, the home of the Red Arrows; in the HQ of 101 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton and in Portcullis House, London as well as aboard a number of Royal navy ships. 

But aviation is what inspires me most as it offers the challenges of such a variety of shapes, textures, colours, backgrounds and reflections and an essential understanding of each individual subject in detail. The aviation history of the Solent, so close to my home, offers a wide variety of choices in subject matter encompassing any and all of these criteria.

What a wonderful life you lead Colin inspiring and rewarding I should think. Many thanks for joining us today. I know that you would be very pleased to hear from any group who would like a talk or anyone interested in your artwork.

All the best to you and yours.

Colin van Geffen can be contacted on 023 8089 7793      or     cvg@hotmail.co.uk

His website it well worth browsing! www.colinvangeffen.co.uk

Leave a comment

Filed under Ancasta, Early Flight, Schneider Trophy

Virtual Tour of the Solent ~ The Story so far and where to next?

Solent map googleCalshot

I began this virtual tour to show that a sense of place is important in my writing. I need to describe the areas in my novel enough to help the reader to feel that ‘sense of place,’ but I thought it might be helpful to give a little more background information and description. I have written ten posts around the Solent area so far, but before I leave the shores of mainland England I thought a summary would be helpful:

1 ~ At the beginning of this year I began my virtual tour at Gilkicker Fort on the strategic peninsula guarding the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour. It was there that one of my main characters, Harriet’s daughter Sarah, was stationed  with the husband, at the newly refurbished married quarters, back in 1910. It was a life that Sarah found hard to come to terms with but then came the war which changed everything.

2 ~ Close by was Fort Grange, still enclosed in the Naval Station today, where early pilots were trained for combat and reconnaissance missions in WW1 including Anthony, Sarah’s husband.

3 ~ A short distance along the coast is Lee on Solent, not strictly speaking in Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home, but it may be in the no, 3 in the series. Lee was important at that time though, since it was one of the earliest Flying Boat Stations on the south coast.

4 ~ Just up the estuary takes you to the sheltered inlet into Hamble, which is an unspoilt haven for sailing boats. Anthony’s family lived there, with its cobbled streets and a small ferry over to Warsash, much the same today as it was at the turn of the last century, I should imagine.

5 ~ Further up Southampton Water is The Royal Victoria Park, once the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley, with only the tall chapel remaining as a signal to the grandeur of the original building which had corridors a quarter of a mile long. It is still a lovely place to visit, go for a stroll, have a picnic and find out about its interesting history. Jane, one of my characters, well known to those who have read Riduna, was stationed there, close enough to Harriet for them to remain friends although Jane had little time to spare for social calls, especially during the war.

6 ~ Visiting the ghostly remains of Netley Abbey en-route, popular with the Victorians, we reach Weston Shore, important in both of my novels as a place to feel the sea and watch those on their journeys too and from Southampton Docks. It could be a place you might overlook, but if you make the efffort and stop and have a walk along its shores, it’s a haven for wildlife and it’s a wonderful place to watch the world go by. It’s here that the name of my novel seemed so apt. ‘Ancasta’ ~ ‘The Swift One.’ Many folks have stood, as Harriet did, on these shores and prayed for the swift and safe return of their loved ones, but for Harriet it was more than that. It was here she watched the Channel Island Ferries as they journeyed to the place of her birth. It was a direct channel to Guernsey (Sarnia in my novel) and Alderney (Riduna in my novel) which she loved but had left behind so long ago.

7 ~ Woolston. The Newton family grew up in the heart of Woolston, working in the local industry, initially as boat builders but subsequently early flying boats. (Supermarine) Harriet ran a popular guest house mainly for travellers. One of her son’s worked in a bicycle shop too. Each of her family played their part in WW1, Sarah returning home for the duration of the war with her little son Timothy.

8~ Southampton. Across the Floating Bridge is Southampton itself, still a thriving port and the window to the world to many of my characters including Edward, also well known to many of you from Riduna, Harriet’s childhood sweetheart from the island of Riduna. Their lives took very different paths but they continue to cross at times and Edward’s occasional visits still have a positive impact on the lives of the Newton family, especially Timothy and Sarah.

9~ Over the Hotspur to Hythe is where Edward lives, when he’s on land, with his more than housekeeper Marie. She’s a larger than life character and I’m quite fond of her, even though I feel a bit disloyal to Harriet for doing so.

10 ~ Just a few miles up to the peninsula we reach Cashot, at the mouth of Southampton Water, and if you want a place to ‘ship watch’ this is it. One of Harriet’s son’s Jack was stationed here before and at the start of WW1, where he was an engineer at the new RNAS flying boat station back in 1913.  He continued to travel home to his young family in Woolston, that was until he joined up and travelled to join the HMS Ben my Chree, one of the earliest sea plane carriers which went out to Turkey.

So, where does my virtual tour go to next? We reach the point when we now travel beyond the Solent, and we’re heading across the sea to The Channel Islands as from Monday. In fact that’s where the original story  of Riduna began.

Meanwhile I’m continuing my real centenary tour

at Waterstones in St Neots this Saturday on 23rd March from 11am.

I look forward to meeting some more of you then.

2 Comments

Filed under Alderney, Ancasta, Early Flight, Events, Flying Boats and Sea Planes, Riduna, Southampton, Virtual Tour of the Solent and Beyond, Weston Shore, Woolston

Virtual Tour of the Solent and Beyond no 10 ~ 100yrs of RNAS Calshot!

Solent map googleCalshot

My tour of the Solent area, which began just after Christmas, is timed perfectly to reach Calshot Spit at about the beginning of March because 100 years ago, in March 1913, RNAS Calshot was first opened as a naval air station to launch and service flying boats before and during the First World War.

It was also from Calshot, nearly two decades later in 1931, that the sea plane S.6B was launched, and was the outright winner of the Schneider Trophy. 

Another interesting fact, announced by a plaque on a mess wall, was that Lawrence of Arabia was stationed there once too.

(as was my Dad just after the end of the Second World War, and he flew in the Sunderland expeditions to Germany, but there is no plaque for my Dad unfortunately!)

Quite a different aircraft entirely, the Sunderland.

So, arriving at Calshot Spit today, a short journey from Hythe on my virtual tour, we can find the amazing old flying boat hangers still put to good use but as an activity centre. The whole area is a wonderful place for all ages to enjoy instruction and experience in a variety of sports including sailing and wind surfing, but there’s an indoor cycle track and ‘rock climbing wall’ too.

Many information boards in the main hanger tell the history of the site and you can also relax in the Spinnaker Bar and watch the sailing, at what feels like just a stones throw from the coast of the Isle of Wight. Alternatively you can stroll up to Calshot Castle, one of Henry VIII forts, guarding the Solent and the entrance to Southampton Water. Standing there admiring the views it’s not hard to imagine all those famous moments in history with the excitement of sea plane launches and the huge flying boats.

One of my characters in Ancasta ~ Guide me Swiftly Home was stationed at Calshot before he joined up in 1914 and served on an early sea plane carrier out in Turkey.

You can watch an episode of Inside Out on the amazing events at Calshot beginning in March 1913 and on through to just after the end of WW2 in 1948!

(available for another few days only on BBC i player)

View from Calshot Castle

View from Calshot Castle

This is the first of three centenaries celebrated in my novel

and concludes my tour of the Solent area. The next post goes Beyond the Solent!

Leave a comment

Filed under Ancasta, Early Flight, Flying Boats and Sea Planes, Schneider Trophy, Virtual Tour of the Solent and Beyond, WW1