This September marks the 70th anniversary of the RAF Association Wings Appeal. The anniversary strikes a significant chord with me as I grew up in Watford amongst constant RAFA activity and the strains of the RAF March Past, the themes of The Dambusters and 633 Squadron, and Glenn Miller music.

An RAF veteran of South East Asia Command who spent his service in India and Burma (now Myanmar), my father, Ted Parrish, was a devoted member of Watford & District Branch of the RAF Association for five decades. When he first joined the association, it was ailing in terms of membership numbers. Determined to help save the branch and breathe new life into what he knew to be an immensely important cause, he set about actively putting into action new ideas, activities and fund-raising events to encourage more ex-servicemen and women to join, even including floats in Watford’s Whitsun Carnivals for which he painted the promotional hoardings.

He worked year-round and, over time, took on the roles of Welfare Officer, Chairman and President. Every September, he tirelessly organised the RAF Association Wings Appeals in Watford, marking the anniversary of the Battle of Britain, each year aiming for a higher collection target than the previous year.

Watford Observer:

Peggy Parrish collecting for the Wings Appeal near the flyover by Clements c1980

Collectors were placed outside Clements, the department store, and elsewhere in the High Street and local shoppers gave generously. Clements permitted him to park a caravan directly outside its doors on an early Saturday every September and provided electricity for the rousing RAF-related music and traditional jazz tapes that he broadcast from the caravan for hours, diverting attention from the shops to the then-metal collecting tins. On occasion, David Jones’ Jazzmen gave their time to provide live afternoon entertainment outside Clements. The trad jazz band then played regularly at the Croxley Jazz Club. Older local trad jazz fans may recall that the club began life as Kings Jazz Club, started by my father in the 1960s at Oakley Studios in Clarendon Road.

From the mid-1960s my father edited and distributed the free annual Battle of Britain week souvenir handbooks, the cost of production of which was more than covered by local advertisers. His pen and ink sketches of early war planes often accompanied his articles.

In addition, for each Wings Appeal, RAF Association members gathered in the Watford Odeon, Empire and Carlton cinemas, their tins emblazoned with the iconic Wings logo. Rotas were set to run for two weeks and cinemagoers filled the collectors’ tins to capacity. Indeed, in 1976 my father, then RAFA Chairman, was pictured in the Watford Observer presenting a plaque to the manager of the Odeon cinema, Tom Phillips, after a record £392 was collected there. That figure equates to £3,000 today.

Watford Observer:

L-R RAF Association Chairman Ted Parrish, Odeon Manager Tom Phillips & RAF Association Secretary John Johnson, 1976. Picture: Watford Observer

Both Tom Phillips, Victor Cheesewright, manager of the Empire, and the Carlton manager invited collectors to watch the films after audiences were seated, for in those days there were news and advertising reels, and a B-film followed by an A-film. As a youngster, I regularly joined my parents to help collect and recall much goodwill and support on the sides of both the cinema staff and the local cinemagoers.

Watford Observer:

Ted Parrish in India c1942

In late 1969, my father spearheaded a special showing of the then-new film The Battle of Britain at the Watford Odeon. Tom Phillips laid on a heroes’ welcome for the guests of honour: three Battle of Britain pilots, one of whom Group Captain ‘Ginger’ Murray was from Watford.

My father chose the Colosseum, then the small Town Hall, as the venue for the first fund-raising Wings Ball in September 1980, inviting Watford Mayor, Councillor Ray Reynolds and his wife. The 199 attendees danced the night away to the music of The Casino Four. Following its success, a second ball took place in September 1981 at which Watford Mayor, Councillor Ted Amey and his wife, and Deputy Mayor Councillor Ray Reynolds and his wife joined others, dancing to the First XI Band of the Royal Air Force.

At every local Wings Appeal there was a commemoration parade and service at St Paul’s Parish Church, Langleybury. My father brought together military and veterans’ organisations, including the US Air Force; the Watford Mayor and Mayoress; Watford and Abbots Langley Council representatives; local MPs; contingents from the Red Cross; Rolls Royce small engines division; the Air Training Corps; scouts and guide groups; and others.

For a good number of years, the affable Canon Ron Martin, Vicar of Langleybury, was Hon. Padre to Watford & District Branch of the RAF Association. He conducted the annual services, reminding the congregation that the RAF had faced odds of 4-1 at the Battle of Britain. The services were preceded by a short parade, frequently led by the Thistle Pipe Band from Bridge Road to St Paul’s, at which standard bearers carried the colours of ex-servicemen’s and women’s organisations. Wreaths were laid at the War Memorial on the green outside St. Paul’s; standards were lowered at the stirring Last Post and raised at Reveille.

Watford Observer:

Ted Parrish, second left, at the 50th Battle of Britain Anniversary Service, 1990. Picture: Watford Observer

For the 50th anniversary service in 1990 my father invited 120 veterans, including contingents from the Burma Star Association, the Royal Naval Association, the Association of Wrens and the British Korean Veterans’ Association. The parade that year was led by the Hosier and Dickinson Band and the service was conducted by Canon Martin’s successor, the Rev. Group Captain Donald Wallace, chaplain to the Watford & District Branch.

Poignantly, my father received his 50-year RAF Association service badge just before his death in 1997.

Remembering my uncle, Pilot Officer Norman A. Sadler, one of ‘the few’ who died in 1940 aged 26.

Lesley is the daughter of the late Ted Parrish, a well-known local historian and documentary filmmaker. He wrote 96 nostalgic articles for the ‘Evening Post-Echo’ in 1982-83 which have since been published in ‘Echoes of Old Watford, Bushey & Oxhey’, available at and Bushey Museum. Lesley is currently working on ‘Two Lives, Two World Wars’, a companion volume that explores her father’s and grandfather’s lives and war experiences, in which Watford, Bushey and Oxhey’s history will take to the stage once again.