In this assembly, children will learn about Doug Gregory – the 87 year old RAF pilot who is still flying and performing stunts. Children will be invited to confront stereotypes about older people
- Photograph of Doug Gregory
- Photograph of SE5A WW1 bi-plane
Today we’re going to hear the story of an amazing man called Doug Gregory. Doug is a stunt pilot. Who can tell me what that means? [Take suggestions]
Yes, that’s right. A stunt pilot is someone who performs stunts in an aeroplane, like loop-the-loop, dives, rolls and low-level flying.
Here’s a picture of the aeroplane that Doug does his stunts in [show pic]. Oh! Is that a bit different from what you were expecting? What do you think of this sort of aeroplane? What does it make you think of? [Take suggestions]
Yes, it’s a very old-fashioned aeroplane, isn’t it? In fact, this sort of aeroplane was first flown over 100 years ago. Pilots did all sorts of stunts in them, including a loop-the-loop where the aeroplane is upside-down. How would you feel being upside-down in an aeroplane like this? [Take suggestions]
Yes, it would be a bit scary, wouldn’t it! Especially being able to see the ground and knowing that only your seatbelt held you in.
What sort of person might fly aeroplanes like this and do dangerous stunts in them? Well, they’d have to be very brave for a start – what else? [Take suggestions]
Yes, they’d have to be brave, a good pilot, enjoy adventure and doing rather dangerous things, they’d have to have good judgement to make sure they didn’t make any mistakes, and they’d have to be very calm if things go wrong.
Well, here’s a picture of the man who flies this aeroplane – Doug Gregory. [Show picture]
Ah, perhaps he isn’t what you were expecting either! Perhaps you were expecting a young, adventure-loving pilot. Doug is certainly adventure-loving, but he isn’t young – he’s 87 years old.
I wonder why it is that when we hear of people doing amazing things, we assume that they’re going to be in their twenties or thirties – or a lot younger than Doug. This is what we call a stereotype of a particular age group. It’s like saying that all young people are noisy, or all old people walk with a walking stick, or all men like football, or all women like shopping. Of course, there will be some in these groups who do like to do these things, but there will be others who don’t. We must be careful not to make assumptions about someone just because of the way they look, the way they dress, or because of their age.
Now, let’s hear Doug’s story.
Doug Gregory’s story
Doug was born in 1923 in Southampton, which is in the county of Hampshire on the south coast and not far from the seaside town of Bournemouth.
He left school when he was just 14, which you could do in those days, and he went to work in a lawyer’s office. But when he was 16 years old something terrible happened – Britain went to war with Germany. It was the start of the Second World War.
Doug decided he wanted to fight for his country, so, as soon as he was 18 years old, he joined the Royal Air Force – the RAF.
He flew in Britain, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Africa and India. At times it could be very dangerous indeed.
‘During the Second World War... I wasn’t shot down but I was shot at. Luckily they missed – most of the time.’
When the war was over Doug decided that he’d train to be a teacher. He’d enjoyed teaching other people to fly, so he thought that would be a good job for him. For many happy years, he taught creative arts in a secondary school.
When he was 60, his life changed again because he retired. This means he gave up working and could relax for a change. Well, he gave up working, but there wasn’t a lot of relaxing going on: Doug saw stopping work as an opportunity to do something completely different.
Now, here’s one of those stereoptypes that some people have about retired people: they do gardening and play bingo. Of course, lots of retired people enjoy both those things and perhaps Doug enjoys them, too; I don’t know. What I do know is that Doug decided to... build an aeroplane!
Yes, he built an aeroplane just like the one in the photo [show photo again]. It took him four years. And, when he’d built it, he decided he was going to take up flying again.
‘Retirement gives you a whole new lease of life and I knew what I wanted to do. It is a wonderful feeling to be flying and I just feel right up there. Sometimes it can be frightening but a lot of the time it’s the best feeling in the world. I can’t explain it really, rather like seamen who love the sea; we are airmen who love the air. I love flying and I will keep taking to the skies until I die.’
Doug joined a team of people who enjoy flying old aeroplanes; the Great War Display Team. These aeroplanes don’t have a lot of metal in them, but are instead made mostly from wood and material. They can feel pretty flimsy! Here’s how Doug describes one recent stunt flight:
‘There was a gale blowing which made it extremely difficult to fly and half of the team decided to stay on the ground but I was stupid enough to go up anyway. I was a bit scared, because when you are up in a very flimsy plane you bounce around a bit, but we didn’t want to disappoint the people watching on the ground.’
Doug is Britain’s oldest stunt pilot and he’s had a very exciting life.
Oh, did I say he’s had a very exciting life – I mean he has a very exciting life!
Doug Gregory is living proof that older people can have very interesting and exciting lives. And we should never assume that because someone is old that they don’t do exciting and interesting things. There’s a lot we can learn from people like Doug – if we can keep up with them!
Thank you for the older people that we have in our lives. Help us to remember that their lives have been different to ours and that we should take time to listen to them and be respectful towards them. Amen.
From Doug Gregory we can learn the lesson that a lined and aged face doesn’t mean we can’t be surprised by what that person has done – or can still do!
All Doug's quotes are taken from an article in the Daily Echo
This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2010
About the author: Jane A. C. West