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2011 UK Airshows : REVIEW

RAFA Dutch Day Celebrations, Sussexdown

Between April 29th and 8th May 1945, an extraordinary operation was mounted by the allies to supply humanitarian aid to the people of the Netherlands which was occupied by the Germans. With the agreement of German officers not to fire at the humanitarian flights, 3,298 sorties were mounted before VE-Day by RAF and USAAF aircraft and 6,680 tons of food was delivered to various drop zones in the country during the operation codenamed "Manna."

For the past forty years, the Royal Air Forces Association Amsterdam Branch has marked those remarkable events of spring 1945 with 'Dutch Day' held at the Sussexdown Care Home in West Sussex. 2011 saw the last such event organised by RAFA Amsterdam branch making a very historic occasion.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography copyright of the Author.

'Dutch Day' or 'Cheesedrop' as it's more popularly known is a unique event. For forty years it has grown into quite an major event for RAFA, even if it is not widely publicised in the press. The event has always been held at Sussexdown in rolling hills of the South Downs between Worthing and Storrington. Sussexdown was once the Royal Air Forces Association's care home and a walk about the property reveals it's close ties with the association and the Royal Air Force. Sussexdown is now a privately run care home run by Care South. Susan Willoughby, Chief Executive of Care South said before the event: “We are delighted to host this historic event at Sussexdown once again. ʻDutch Dayʼ is a wonderful occasion which is greatly enjoyed by all who are involved.”

The main organisers of event however have been the Amsterdam Branch of RAFA. Since 1984, Malcolm Mason has overseen the events at Sussexdown and prior to event announced that it would be last to be organised by the Amsterdam Branch; "We look forward to this special day which will be our last year being directly involved; however we hope to see this historic event continue!" For the past few years, RAFA Amsterdam have been supported by RAFA Shoreham Airshow which in particular has sponsored the flying displays as well as providing the support of flying display director Peter Eager and arranged the event with the help of nearby Shoreham Airport.

The 2011 event thankfully saw some much more helpful weather than 2010 when low cloud over the downs scuppered the event somewhat. The event was opened by the dramatic arrival of a Eurocopter Squirrel HT1 from the Defence Helicopter Flying School at RAF Shawbury to represent the modern day armed forces. During the day the helicopter departed the confined space site giving some local air cadets an experience flight while it refuelled at Shoreham Airport before arriving back for closer inspection.

2011 also saw a bigger flying display than usual which started with the SWIP Team flying their colourful Silence Twisters looking like mini Spitfires in the dramatic skies over Sussexdown. Guy Westgate, who flies Twister 2 is a local resident, but was participating in his first 'Dutch Day' with the team which operated from Parham Airfield just outside Storrington. They were followed by yet more aerobatics from Justyn Gorman in the Shoreham based Extra 300L. Justyn has recently been training in France learning the art of gyroscopic aerobatics which he showed off in clearing skies with dramatic tumbles and flicks in quick succession.

Two 'warbirds’ also participated. Richard Dauncey displayed the Shoreham based T-6G Texan in his first public display at what is quite a tricky display venue being so close to the South Downs. However star of the morning was Peter Teichman's beautiful Spitfire PRXI recently repainted in its original colours from 16 Squadron based at RAF Benson. The aircraft also recently starred in BBC2 documentary "Operation Crossbow" about aerial imagery's role in defeating the German V-weapons.

The final act in the flying display was the 'Cheesedrop' itself by the "Edam-Busters!" The formation is formed up by a number of light aircraft which make the annual pilgrimage to Sussex for the occasion. The team drop mini-edams linked to streamers to commemorate the food drops of Operation Manna although we do hope the RAF was a little more accurate in the second world war - the next-door neighbour may of got a little surprise or tow when they returned home!

We do hope that 'Dutch Day' will continue in some form for the future of a reminder of one of the more compassionate moments by both side during the dark days of 1945 - 'Cheesedrop' is a wonderful event for all those involved.

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