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  • Martin Castle

"A shower of spray and we're away!

Updated: Feb 11, 2021

During a recent conversation that flowed all over the place my friend mentioned a group of children who had been rescued from camps in occupied Europe towards the end of the Second World War and sent to the Lake District to aid their recovery. These were not the better-known Kindertransport, one of whom I had the honour of meeting when she came to talk at a school - Vera Gissing's story is one of hope, despair and triumph and her book Pearls of Childhood an important record of the vagaries of the history of the mid 20th century and how events impacted on ordinary people.

In 1945 the children from Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia were housed at White Cross Bay on Windermere - a holiday centre that between September 1942 and March 1945 had been the site of a factory building and maintaining Short Sunderland flying boats. The factory had been relocated from its bomb-damaged site on the River Medway in Rochester. (After the war it moved to Belfast and is now known as Bombardier.)

Anyway, I'm getting distracted! The point is that Shorts civil flying boat were used by Imperial airways (later BOAC and now BA) for their Empire Service to Australia, Cape Town and other far-flung places on an empire 'upon which the sun never sets'. Empire has become a dirty word but the Empire Service is one of a very few things that makes me wish I was born in a different age (and in a more monied strata of society.

Holidays, when small took me to Felixstowe, Suffolk and the remains of a flying boat station and later to Calshot on Southampton Water in Hampshire, where the Empire flying boats were based. It was in 1937 that the Short Empire flying boats began to offer a through service from Southampton to the Empire. Operating the route twice-weekly (later increased to three services) the flying boat service evolved as an airmail service between England and South Africa and Australia. There was only one class: first.

For slightly more than the average annual wage of the time, passengers experienced interiors so spacious that a game of mini-golf or quoits was not out of the question. Cabins could also be converted into sleeping accommodation at night. Tickets for the 6,350 mile (10,219 km) journey were advertised at £167 single and £300 12/- return

Rather oddly to our frequent-flyer minds, you'd begin your journey at the Imperial terminal near Victoria Station in London in a purpose built, once beautifully art-deco interiored building that now houses the National Audit Office. You would have entered under the Speed bird statue - a basis for the BOAC and BA logo (BA flights still use the Speedbird call-sign) before you and your luggage were whisked by rail to the Hythe Quay on Southampton Water.

I have always wanted to experience the journey across Africa to the Cape (less keen on flying across all that water of the Atlantic Clippers) via Marseille, Rome, Brindisi, Athens, Alexandria, Khartoum, Port Bell, Kisumu, Nairobi, Mbeya and eventually Cape Town. River and lake landing sites (including near Victoria Falls) were used. The beginning of the war put a stop to these flights, and the Short Sunderland became the military variant. Routes returned in 1947 using the Solent S45. The low-flying Solents weighed 35 tons and were powered by four Bristol Hercules engines with a cruising speed of 210 mph (338 kmph). The aircraft carried a crew of seven, with up to 34 passengers plus mail and cargo. Each Imperial (later BOAC) aircraft's name began with the letter C - Canopus was the prototype of the C-Class and first flew in 1936.

"Imagine boarding a flying boat at Southampton. Once inside its shimmering silvery body and settled into your chair, you could glance out of the window at the sparkling cerulean blue sea, under a cloudless powder blue sky, feeling the whole plane gently rising and falling on the swell. The doors are closed and then, with a roar, the propellers begin to turn and the flying boat heads out to sea. Inching forward slowly at first and then moving faster over the sea’s surface, cutting a die-straight line through the water, the spray behind it a plume of glittering diamonds arcing up into the air and crashing back down. And then, with a final effort, your flying boat breaks free from the water like a flying fish leaping brazenly from the ocean in an attempt to touch the sky itself."

None of these craft still fly but you can see a replica at and there is an example of the Short Sunderland at the RAF Museum in Hendon -


A recipe from a Pan-Am Atlantic Clipper flight of 1939 catered by the Myrtle Bank Hotel Jamaica. (First built in 1870, the postcard is from from 1915 and the hotel was destroyed by fire in 1966)

Boston Cream Pie


For the cream filling

2egg yolks

1½cups milk

⅓cup granulated sugar

2 tbsp cornflour

The tiniest pinch of salt

2 tsp vanilla essence

For the cake

1¼cups all-purpose flour or 1 1/2 cups cake flour

1cup granulated sugar

⅓cup butter at room temperature

⅓cup milk

1½ tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla essence

½ tsp salt

1large egg

For the chocolate icing

3 tbsp butter or margarine

90g/3oz unsweetened baking chocolate

3to 4 tbsp water

1cup icing (powdered) sugar

¾tsp vanilla essence


1. In a small bowl, place the yolks. Beat the egg yolks with a fork or wire whisk until mixed. Stir in 1½ cups milk; set aside.

2. In a 2-quart saucepan, stir ⅓ cup granulated sugar, the cornflour and the tiniest pinch of salt until mixed.

3. Gradually stir egg mixture into sugar mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir 1 minute; remove from heat. Stir in 2 teaspoons vanilla. Press plastic wrap on surface of filling to prevent a tough layer from forming on top. Refrigerate at least 2 hours until set but no longer than 24 hours. While ‘filling is chilling’, continue with recipe.

4. Heat the oven to 350°F. Spray just the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with baking spray with flour.

5. In a large bowl, beat all cake ingredients with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, stopping frequently to scrape batter from side and bottom of bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat on high speed 3 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape bowl. Pour batter into the pan and spread evenly in pan and smoothing the top.

6. Bake about 35 minutes. Cool cake in pan for 20 minutes, then remove onto cooling rack to finish cooling completely, about 1 hour.

7. In a 1-quart saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter and the chocolate over low heat, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, microwave the water uncovered on high 15 to 30 seconds or until hot. Remove chocolate mixture from heat. Stir in the powdered sugar and ⅓teaspoon vanilla. Stir in 3 tablespoons hot water. Stir in additional water 1 teaspoon at a time, until icing is smooth and thin enough to spread.

8. To split cake horizontally in half, mark middle points around side of cake with toothpicks. Using toothpicks as a guide, cut through the cake with a long, sharp knife, using a back-and-forth motion. On a serving plate, place bottom layer with the cut side up. Spread filling over bottom layer. Top with top of cake, cut side down.

9. Spread glaze over top of cake, using a metal spatula or back of a spoon, letting some glaze drizzle down side of cake. Refrigerate uncovered until serving. Store any remaining cake covered in the refrigerator.

The word of the Day is ...


[im-PIG-nuh-rayt] (v) To put something up as security; to pawn something. To pledge, pawn, or mortgage.

From Latin “impignorare” / “impignerare” (to pledge) from “pignus” (pledge, pawn, mortgage) First used 1639.

“Pawn brokers take advantage of those seeking to impignorate family heirlooms and other inherited property due to financial hardship.”

ps: the closest I got to the quote of the title was a day trip to Cowes on the hovercraft!

pps: the “pie” title is a leftover term from a time when cakes and pies were typically baked in the same type of pan.

ppps Pan-Am Transatlantic Clippers were the Boeing 314

pppps: Myrtle Bank Special Rum Punch

Serve in an Old-fashioned glass and garnish with a Maraschino cherry.

Shake all the ingredients with ice and strain into an ice-filled glass.

60ml/2fl oz Jamaican rum

30ml/1fl oz lime juice

5ml cherry liqueur

15ml/½fl oz Monin pure cane sugar syrup


"Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less." - Marie Curie
"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Martin Castle
Jan 31, 2021

My mistake - it's called the Windermere Children and is available for another 26 days


Martin Castle
Jan 31, 2021

The Children of Windemere was on BBC TV last week. It should be on iPlayer for a while.


Martin Castle
Jul 13, 2020

The Children of Windermere aired in January but doesn't seem to be on iplayer at present. There's a good Guardian article that comes up in searches that went out just before the broadcast.


Jul 13, 2020

I remember well that very powerful and moving story from Vera Gissing. 6 years ago I was given the privilege of meeting and greeting a lady called Gina, a survivor from Auschwitz-Birkenhau, who came to talk to the girls. She survived by living in her wits and typing for her captors. They were rescued by British officers but had to remain there for 3 months as they were too weak to be moved. She ended up marrying one of those officers and they remained happy for all their lives, never arguing. He had died 2 years previously. She was in her 80s and still doing talks because she wanted everyone to remember this had happened. I shall never forget


Karl Harvey
Karl Harvey
Jul 13, 2020

There is or there was a documentary on these Jewish refugee children and their time at the Windermere (BBC iplayer) camp. One of the young boys there was reunited with his elder brother who was serving in the RAF and discovered that he was alive.

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