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 Liberty and Libations at the Lamb

  Story by Robbie McBride - Photographs by Robbie (& Friends)

“I always believed in staying in the pub until closing time.”   -  Winston Churchill
 Robbie McBride at The Lamb in Gloucestershire_UK
Robbie McBride at The Lamb Inn in Gloucestershire, United Kingdom

Perhaps it was not the most traditional way to spend the Fourth of July, but there we were, in the Cotwolds area of Britain in the village of Little Rissington just south of Bourton-on-the-Water, the Venice of the Cotwolds. We were invited to spend 10 days with our friends Sue and John, or rather we invited ourselves, at Copse Scene, the home they converted from the kennels of the nearby manor house. They were selling their boat, a historic vessel named the Linguard which they berthed in the Surrey Docks on the Thames River and used as sort of a floating dorm room for their daughter Sally while she was at school in London, and this would be our last chance to experience a night or two onboard. Since our mutually complex schedules gave us an open window at the beginning of July, we plunged ahead with dates that would bring us into the lair of our colonial combatant on the anniversary of that day when we declared our independence from them and a war against them. Hopefully, there would be no hard feelings.

The Cotswolds is an area of Britain that lies some 80 miles west of the heart of London, longer if one takes a leisurely float down the River Thames from its source in Gloucestershire, but the usual scenic route is along a road that meanders past the henges of the Salisbury Plain, the spires of Oxford, and the grounds of Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill. The region is known for its market towns and small villages, with such intriguing and lyrical names as Stow-on-the-Wold, Clapton-on-the-Hill, Chipping Norton, and Guiting Power; its honey-colored limestone (tinted by the fossilized remains of sea urchin); its rich heritage of farming; and sheep, lots of sheep

So it was on a bright, cloudless Saturday, over 200 years since enumerating our grievances with Britannia, some forty of Sue’s friends and relations, far-flung and local, from Wales, Edinburgh, Lyon in France, and just up the road, came to the Copse Scene for an outdoor party, featuring a most American tradition, a barbecue with hot dogs and hamburgers, and in a gesture to local cuisine, Cumberland sausage, poached salmon, and tea.

Somewhere near the end of this long spectacular day, a question naturally arose: is there a pub nearby, asked Sue’s brother Don, himself from Edinburgh. Why, yes, said Alan, a neighbor who lived in the Little Rissington village, there is one not too far from here in the village of Great Rissington. He and his mates join up on the first Friday of each month to take a walk along a farm path to the pub at the Lamb Inn. It was something the wives had arranged, he said, and one imagines it was part socialization and part exercise routine: what better way to do aerobics, albeit once a month, than a three mile walk with a few pints of real ale at the finish?

The Cotswalds as seen in American Public House Review
The well-worn path

The crepuscular hour in the Cotswolds, UK as seen in American Public House Review
The crepuscular hour

And so, in the long crepuscular hour that blesses the northern kingdoms at this time of the year, the hour when predators and pub-hunters are on the prowl, we were off, Don, Alan, Sven from Wales, and yours truly, up the road to the village of Little Rissington, past the lane the faithful follow to St. Peter’s Church, then right at the long-retired red phone booth that now serves as a free, informal lending library for the village residents, and down a farm path, on our way to the Lamb.

Beside us, wide green fields of rapeseed, which when in flower lay like a bright yellow blanket over the rolling hills, stretched to the horizon. Once a tasteless and somewhat noxious crop grown primarily for animal feed and as a lubricant for farm machinery, rapeseed has been reborn now as a cold-pressed oil of some culinary fame, especially in the local but gourmet Cotswold restaurants like the Feathered Nest in Nether Westcote, where patrons sit at the bar on stools made of English saddles.

The airfield and training facility at Little Rissington early 1960s as seen in American Public House Review
The airfield and training facility at Little Rissington early 1960s

Modern aerial view of little Rissington facility as seen in American Public House Review
 Modern aerial view of little Rissington facility

On a ridge above the yellow fields was an airfield, which at 750 feet above sea level is one of the highest in mainland Britain. During World War II it was home to the No. 6 Service Flying Training School, where over 5,000 recruits learned to fly the Vickers Wellington, Avro Lancaster, Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, and Handley Page Halifax bombers that dropped over a million tons of ordnance onto Nazi Germany. The pilots of RAF Bomber Command suffered the highest casualty rates of any British service. In 1942, fewer than half of all bomber crews survived the 30 sorties required for the first tour of duty, and only one in five made it through the second tour. By 1943, the odds were even worse: only one in six survived the first tour, one in forty the second. Of the 125,000 air crew that served in Bomber Command during the war, over 55,000 were killed. The courage it took to enter the fuselage of a heavy bomber, day after day, and travel from a pastoral countryside airfield at 30,000 feet in sub-zero temperatures into dangerous skies splattered with flak and the machine gun fire of enemy fighter planes, is truly incomprehensible.

Vickers Wellington No. 9 Squadron RAF in World War II as seen in American Public House Review
Vickers Wellington No. 9 Squadron RAF in World War II

Yet too was the courage needed to train how to do that. In the cemetery of St. Peter’s Church in Little Rissington, where many of these trainees worshipped, are buried 48 airmen from Britain and her empire, victims of training accidents, bad weather, mechanical malfunction. Several of these tragedies resulted in multiple deaths, and many graves bear common dates: Flying Officers Ian Davies and Reginald Shaw, October 23, 1940; Sergeants William Falardeau and Bill Hoese, October 4, 1941; Sergeants Edward, Biddulph, Raymond Daniels, Bert Noseworthy, and Arthur Westgate, March 25, 1942.

On July 4, 1940, a few weeks after France had signed an armistice with Germany in violation of its agreement with Britain not to negotiate a separate peace, Winston Churchill made a speech to his beloved House of Commons in which he announced that on the day prior, he had ordered Vice Admiral Sir James Somerville, the hero of Dunkirk who had led the evacuation that rescued more than 100,000 Frenchmen from the coast of Normandy, to destroy the French ships that lay in harbor on the coast of North Africa. Churchill had taken this step, he explained, to prevent the navy of France, second in power only to Britain’s, from falling into the hands of the Nazis.

Churchill’s speech was a declaration of defiance and resolve as vehement and vigorous as our own some 165 years earlier, and it brought the members to their feet bursting into cheers. And as our declaration made it possible for the Continental Congress to seek aid from foreign powers, so too did Churchill’s speech convince the United States and its President Franklin Roosevelt that the Nazi threat was real, that Britain would not negotiate, that defeat was untenable, and that victory, with the help of allied forces, would result.

The village of Little Rissington, Gloucestershire, UK as seen in American Public House Review
The village of Little Rissington

The Lamb in Gloucestershire, UK as seen in American Public House Review
The exterior of the Lamb Inn     (Photo courtesy of the Lamb Inn)

Our journey, and the long lingering dusk, was near its end, and the stone buildings of Great Rissington came into view. A final sprint up the village road, and we were there, at The Lamb Inn, a converted farmhouse of Cotswold stone some parts of which are over 300 years old. In 1943, a Wellington bomber crashed into the garden, destroying a part of the Inn and killing all but one crew member, the tail gunner, who was thrown clear of the wreckage and whose photograph now hangs on the pub wall. The pilot of that plane, Flight Sergeant Jack Hazeldene of the Royal Australian Air Force, aged 24, is one of those who were laid to rest in the cemetery of St. Peter’s Church.

Photo courtesy the Lamb Inn     
The Lamb in Gloucestershire, UK as seen in American Public House Review

Brakspear Bitter at The Lamb in Gloucestershire, UK as seen in American Public House Review
 A well-earned pint of Brakspear Bitter

It was to that garden that we now proceeded, bearing our pints of Brakspear Bitter, with its Pale, Crystal, and Chocolate malts, and Fuggles and Goldings hops, for a well-deserved, long and lovely session.

After the war when Britain looked elsewhere for its leadership, it was suggested to Churchill that he serve more as a global statesman than a politician, something he would never do. As he said at the time, “I always believed in staying in the pub until closing time.

Cheers to that, and wise counsel, too—especially on the Fourth of July!

The gathering in the garden at The Lamb in Gloucestershire, UK as seen in American Public House Review

The Lamb Inn

Great Rissington
 GL54 2LP

Tel: 01451 820388


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