Since the death of my Dad last month, there has been no-one to ask the sort of random questions that I have spent a lifetime asking. I took hours to identify the fuselage of an aircraft in a black and white World War II photograph as belonging to a Vickers Wellington. Had Dad been still here, a video call to his iPad would have allowed him to have seen the picture. He would straightaway have told me what the aircraft was and would probably have added what model it was and in what theatres of war it had been used.
There is no-one to ask questions regarding facts, and there is no-one to elucidate the facts that I discover for myself. There have been moments when I have gone to pick up the phone and then realised that he is no longer at the other end.
Dad was always at ease with tangential thinking, questions that arose from loose associations with the matter at hand. “Changing the subject,” was his way of prefacing comments that had the most tenuous of links to the discussion. So it is that he would not have been surprised that in my search for the Vickers Wellington fuselage led me to nuclear missiles.
Confused about the photograph, I had looked for pictures of Boeing B-24 Liberator bombers (aircraft that are nothing like Vickers Wellingtons), and arrived at a page about about RAF Harrington, which, the page revealed, had been a base for British nuclear missiles.
It was an extraordinary revelation.
I grew up against the background of the Cold War. Dad was a radio and radar technician on naval aircraft. Even as a civilian, he regularly went on detachment to support aircraft participating in NATO exercises: to Lossiemouth, Kinloss and Leuchars in Scotland, to Gibraltar and Sardinia in the Mediterranean. There were occasionally exercises further afield, once he spent three weeks in Florida as the Royal Navy joined the United States Navy for an exercise.
The threat of the Soviet Union was a much discussed reality in our house. I knew about the V-bombers, the Vulcans and the Victors and their capacity to carry atomic bombs. I knew about the Polaris submarines, each submarine carrying sixteen missiles, each missile carrying multiple warheads. I used to wonder where in the North Atlantic or Arctic Ocean the submarines would linger when it was their turn to spend months on deterrent duty.
Not once did I ever hear of the Thor ballistic missiles at a small village in Northamptonshire that could deliver a nuclear strike against Soviet targets. I wish I could ask Dad about them.