March 13, 2023


Checking out the roof for landing?

Occasionally my blog falls on Monday April 1st – April Fool’s Day and in the past, I have much enjoyed writing something to amuse. This year is not such a year but looking back there was an amazing follow up to one April Fool…

I had written about the supposed excitement of a proposed fictional sci fi film. Spaceships landing on the Castle roof with further details about UFOs’ and thoughts as to where they could land – perhaps the Secret Garden if they could find it – whilst Geordie and I would have a role as extras: Stormtroopers dressed in Downton Abbey costume.

Rather amazingly, this led to a contact from the Lucas film press office and a lovely man emailed and later came for tea. One summer afternoon, we sat talking on the top floor of the coach house: scones and cups of tea, all of which led to a friendship. At that time, we were creating a weekend at Highclere to raise money for those who serve and those who save.

Part of the weekend was the unveiling of a statue of an airman carved from a fallen cedar tree to remember and say thank you to the airmen whose planes crashed here in WW2. Jeff said how could he help? Always fateful to say anything quite so kind!

I explained that I and my “plane team” had found the remains of various WW2 aircraft in the grounds here and we wanted, as far as was possible, to see if we could find their relatives to let them know. The war records of what happened were minimal and not always accurate.

Jeff offered to help find their descendants through various USA Rotary clubs. We sent him what information we had. Extraordinarily, after a remarkably short time, Jeff came back and began to put us all in touch. The letters and diaries of these men were, even now, so emotional and hard to read. Often the families only knew that the plane had crashed but had no details as to where. Even across the years and oceans, it helps to have a little more information, to be able to acknowledge where the relationship with those we loved shifted from being physically here to memories.

Many of the families have now come over, we have a Facebook group and we walk together around the gardens, pause at the cedar airman and remember.

Jim Murray & Sarah Parish

Meanwhile Jeff continues to help us by providing stormtroopers to add fun and entertainment to the Easter trail over the spring holidays. This is wonderfully kind and slightly eccentric day as not everyone has an Easter bunny, princesses and stormtroopers handing out prizes for the best Easter bonnet. It is, however, all in a very good cause supporting a charity around improving treatment and outcome for children at Southampton hospital: The Murray Parish Trust.

Equally Channel 4 are now going to show Behind the Scenes at Highclere on TV beginning on Friday March 17th. Filmed last year, naturally this begins with Easter and the arrival of two lovely Americans on the day of the Easter Egg hunt last year expecting a private tour.

There were over a thousand children and even more visitors for the castle and Highclere knew nothing about any private tour: it had been auctioned for a charity in the USA with no reference to us. But they were here and had generously supported some charity in good faith, so to break the ice and buy time for myself, I took them down a colourful short bouncy slide at 9am in the morning. Of course they had to take their shoes off and then I thought they needed a photo in front of the slide and to humour them I also took a photo in front of the other, less colourful but larger attraction: the Castle. Of course, later on they also met the Stormtroopers!

I am not sure anything was quite what these two kind guests envisaged but they were charming and it was, all in all, a typical Highclere day. If you have not seen Behind the Scenes at Highclere you might enjoy it this Friday on Channel 4. We are also organising an Easter Trail for Murray Parish on Saturday April 15th with once more a bouncy castle… and stormtroopers. Do join us!