Part of the development of the play was the idea that we could programme it to coincide with the significant anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy. We couldn’t have asked for better timing as the Studio Theatre was fully available for the first week in June. This enabled us to host a VIP evening for Their Finest Hour on the anniversary itself and we were incredibly honoured to have two wonderful guests with us that evening.
RAF Veterans Harry Hodgson and Lawrence ‘Benny’ Goodman. Bracknell based Harry served as ground crew on Halifax bombers and Squadron Leader Goodman served as a pilot on Lancasters with No. 617 ‘Dambusters’ Squadron, flying over 30 operations, including two to sink the German Battleship Tirpitz, a scene we staged during the play. We ran a Q&A following that evening’s performance, during which both veterans were able to answer questions first hand for our audience and cast, and were both charming, moving and funny. Our full house audience gave them both a huge standing ovation at the end of the evening. We salute you both gentlemen, in eternal gratitude.
We also had support for the production from the RAF Benevolent Fund. Hannah Bower, the Major Giving and Upkeep Club Manager for the fund, came along to talk about the work they do and we ran a collection. They do some sterling work for veterans and serving members and their families and we hope to continue our association with the fund over future performances.
During the run up to the 6th June both Auriole and Steve were invited on to BBC Radio Berkshire to talk about the play on Bill Buckley’s afternoon show and some of the cast were recorded in situ by the station, performing excerpts from the play to be broadcast following an interview with Auriole and Sarah Walker live from Membury Airfield near Newbury on the 6th. This was part of BBC Radio Berkshire’s countywide D-Day commemorations and Membury was chosen as it was the site where the C-47’s of the USAAF took off for Normandy in the early hours of 6th June, to drop paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division near the hamlet of St. Germain de Varraville. The evening of the 6th saw the 436th participate in a second combat mission of the day by towing 50 gliders to a landing zone near St Mère-Église in Normandy and thankfully, just like the previous mission, it was completed without loss of life or serious damage to any of the group’s aircraft. It was quite something to be standing on the runway at Membury to feel the weight of that day and such history.