Introducing myself.


I am Michael Gatford, a survivor of the air crash that occurred in the early hours of the 1st September 1966 at Brnik Airport, Ljubljana, Slovenia, (then a region of Yugoslavia). 98 people died in one of the most tragic aviation accidents in Slovenia. September 1st 2016 was the 50th anniversary of the air crash.

As explained on the page Returning to Ljubljana: 50 years on, I discovered late in 2016 that in September that year a memorial to commemorate the 50th anniversary had been erected by the Ljubljana Airport and Fire Department authorities on the site of the crash. An unveiling ceremony had taken place on 13th September 2016. I decided then that I would return to Ljubljana to visit the memorial to honour my father and two sisters who had died.

I have always felt that what happened to my family was private and publicly expressing my feelings was somewhat self-indulgent. However, several people have told me that I should write about my experience as this tragic event never gets mentioned in the UK media.

I am using this blog and website to record information, thoughts and feelings that have been re-kindled by my recent discoveries and return to Slovenia, and to possibly connect with others who have been affected by the crash.

The main sections are shown in the menu to the right (or at the bottom if you are viewing this on a tablet or phone). There are links to further pages in each section, either in the body or at the bottom of each of these pages. Comments may be left on this and other pages.

Michael Gatford

9 thoughts on “Introducing myself.

  1. Hello Michael,
    I am hoping that you will remember my name and myself. Though so many years have passed I understand completely if it means nothing. I am Anthony Brewer with at that time my identical twin Clive. (he died 30 yrs ago this coming July) Schools Blackthorn and then Heronswood.
    One day in September 1966 a group of us were standing outside Ian Aldridge’s house in Cole Green Lane. I recall Ian, James Patient, myself and yourself there. There may have been a couple more including Clive but I am not sure. However I clearly remember us knowing about your forthcoming holiday and the flight to Yugoslavia. As I walked towards Marley road and Beehive Lane where we lived I remember wishing you a good holiday. I have a feeling that you were flying out the following day. But you I am sure will appreciate how time and all that goes with it can mix up the brain amd memories.
    Over these many years I have thought on numerous occasions about you and your family. You will not know this but my older sister Sanchia also knew your sister Sheila very well.

    We were in Kanska Gora a few years ago and on the way back to the airport in Ljubljana I mentioned to the driver of our car that I knew about the crash and he pointed out the area and talked a little about it and the cause as he understood it be.

    The reason for this post to you?
    This morning I typed into Google ‘Ljubljana air crash’ as I have done a few times over the years. ( I cannot remember what prompted this even though it was only a couple of hours ago.) However I was so surprised when I saw your name immediately as this was the first time I had seen this post.
    I then read ( much of it aloud for the benefit of my wife Alex ) all that there was to read. This included the professor’s medical notes. These I found so comprehensive and very interesting as I have a medical background myself..
    However I found much of your words and those of other’s so emotional . I choke up so easily these days and here I was this morning after breakfast having difficulty reading some of this history. Imagination perhaps but I believe I can see you from that time in your photograph on this post? Alex made the comment when I said this to her that I didn’t look too dissimilar to you without my beard?

    These next few words may seem strange????
    I feel a sense of guilt that I never really followed up on your horrendous situation. I moved away to study in London in Sept that year and so my life moved on and away in leaps and bounds. Even though I kept in touch with Ian Aldridge and a few others when I returned to see my folks at home on the odd weekends I had a new life and that naturally took over. You would probably know that Ian Aldridge sadly died in 88 ironically the same year as my dear brother Clive. That year after Clive passing I went back later to see Ian only to meet his parents ( who I knew very well anyway) who then had to tell me their sad news.
    I never returned to live in the Garden City but worked in London and moved around the country eventually moving here with my wife In Solihull. We have been here 43 yrs now and have children and grandchildren.

    This is so much more that I intended to write Michael. If this means nothing to you and it may not as memories fade and go then just delete it all. However although it may in that case be rather one sided it has been strangely good for me to make contact.
    It would be lovely to hear from you if you remember me or that time. I obviously have no idea if this is the case.
    May I say that it is so good to read about you now albeit over 50 years later than my last memories.

    My kindest regards

    Anthony Brewer

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  2. Hello Anthony,

    Long time no see. Of course I remember you and Clive. I’ve checked with my cousin Teri (Wilton) who replied

    “They are twins (that’s you and Clive). We had you and Janette, those two and Pam and Pauline Green all in same class. The Brewer twins and Green twins were identical.”.

    We were all in Mr Morgan’s 4th year class. I remember that you used to live in Beehive Lane, near the entrance to the King George Vth Playing Fields and Hatfield Hyde Cricket Club, I believe. I even remember the meeting with you, Ian and James. I did keep in touch with Ian and James in the year after the crash, but we drifted apart after I went to university in London. I remember the summer of 1966 very fondly as I had lost contact with my primary school friends since going to St Albans School in 1959 instead of the WGC High School that I would have preferred, and was just remaking friends. Do you remember Dick Leith, Bob Cochrane and Bob Brewer? Dick was in our Blackthorn class but the two Bobs went to a different primary school and then Heronswood. I played cricket with them for Hatfield Hyde CC.

    I am so sorry to hear that Clive died so young. It must’ve been very hard for both you and parents. Losing a child / sibling is never easy. I’m sorry if that sounds a bit trite

    I’ll write to you again soon. After all, remaking contacts and “meeting” strangers who were also affected by the crash is one of the main purposes of writing the blog.

    I think I was known as Mick in those days although after being told by a South African in a hostel in Lisbon in 1969 what he used it as slang for I have not used that version of my name since.

    Very kindest regards and thank you so much for taking the time to respond.

    Michael.

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  3. Hello I was very pleased indeed to find your blog. I Google this air crash from time to time. My aunt Elaine Johnson was an air hostess on the plane. She was only 21 when she was killed in the crash. I was only 12 at the time. Anything you can tell me would be much appreciated

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    1. Hello Jackie,

      Thanks for responding. It has taken me a long time to get around to doing something like this and the comments I have received have been very heartwarming. If blogging had been around 50 years ago perhaps I would’ve started the process sooner. I suppose you’ve seen newspaper cuttings from 1966. I have one of the Guardian of September 3rd 1966 in which your aunt is mentioned. I can send this if you want. Did you also follow the link:

      https://www.rtvslo.si/lokalne-novice/gorenjska/50-let-od-najvecje-letalske-nesrece-pri-nas-na-brniku-odkrili-spomenik/402655

      Towards the bottom of the page is a video of the ceremony and some footage taken after the crash. This is mostly in Slovenian but there is a speech by the son of Jean Chapman, the only one of the four air hostesses who survived.

      If you read the contribution by Carole Bell-Court who was also a survivor and contacted me through the blog, you will see on her second page, https://brnik-1-9-1966.com/memories-of-another-survivor/carole-bell-courts-memories-part-2/ a mention of a very brave air hostess. There were only four on the plane and three died. Perhaps this was your aunt.

      If there’s anything else I can tell you please don’t hesitate to contact me.

      Very best wishes,

      Michael

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  4. Hi Michael

    I hope you will forgive a complete stranger contacting you, but I came across your site while doing some research in connection with my work as a transport consultant, and I was very touched by the accounts both of your experiences and those of your family and friends and the other survivors.

    It also brought back memories, and raised a spooky coincidence. You have never known me, but I remember seeing you in my first year at St. Albans School in 1966-67. You were walking on crutches, and there was a lot of talk among the boys about what had happened to you. I also remember Frank Kilvington mentioning you during morning prayers in the Old Hall.

    This raises a doubt in my mind, as, if you started in 1959, you would have left at the end of the Summer Term 1966. Did you revisit the school after that, or is my memory playing tricks? Whatever, your name has remained in my memory ever since.

    As to the coincidence, at that time we lived at 62 Beehive Lane, next door (in fact, in the other half of the semi-detached house) to Anthony and Clive Brewer, of whom I also have vivid memories. One of them, or their sister Sanchia, used to babysit us when we were very young, and we stayed for a while with their father Claude and stepmother Ethel in Holland-on-Sea after our dad disappeared in 1970. A small world indeed.

    Anyway, it was very moving reading your experiences, and please accept my very best wishes for you and your family.

    Bernard Hulland

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    1. Dear Bernard,

      Many thanks for your response. You do remember correctly: I returned to School for the Christmas term in what would have been the Third Year Sixth. In those days it was typical of pupils to spend some time studying after the end of the Upper Sixth to take Cambridge or Oxford entrance exams. I had always intended to stay on for that extra term although, not returning to School until about mid-October, my attempt at the exams was not very successful.

      What a coincidence that you knew Anthony & Clive Brewer. As you have probably seen Anthony and I have been in contact over this blog (https://brnik-1-9-1966.com/2017/07/09/first-blog-post/).

      I will reply more fully soon.

      All the very best,

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      1. Michael
        This is my second text to your blog I have to admit I was totally confused so this second text will be very short
        I was extremely interested to read the post fro Bernard Hulland my old next door neighbour from Beehive lane WGC
        Can I ask you to pass on my email address so we can make direct contact if he so chooses
        antbrewer@aol.com
        Thank you very much
        I hope you are well and find your blog meaningful and helpful.
        Anthony
        Ps I hope you don’t find my request cheeky or hijacking???

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      2. Hello Anthony,

        I hope you’re keeping well.

        I most certainly will pass your email address on to Bernard Hulland although he will see it in this post. It was an amazingly coincidental message from him. I have responded to him which you will see towards the end of the Introducing Myself page (https://brnik-1-9-1966.com/2017/07/09/first-blog-post/).

        I don’t know if you ever get back to WGC these days but I have a friend from London who has moved to Essendon and whose son now lives in Wheatley Close in WGC (I used to live at 42 Wellcroft Road at the end of Wellcroft Close, two or three hundred yards from Wheatley Close). I went to visit my friend earlier this year and he took me on a trip round WGC. It was quite strange sitting outside my old house and seeing how much has changed and how much is still the same. The Heronswood School site is now covered with housing. The Woodman pub in Colegreen Lane, a couple of hundred yards from Ian Aldridge’s old house, is now The Chieftain although the Woodhall shooping parade still looks about the same. It was a very strange experience not having been back to WGC for 35 years!

        Best wishes.

        Mike

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      3. Hello Michael,
        Forgive any typing errors and spelling as my fingers do not always hit the correct keys
        Thank for your response and for passing on my email to Bernard Hulland. That will be very interesting to make contact.
        As for trips back to the Garden. City???
        Where does one start? I left in 68 to go to London and returned frequently to see family and friends. Forgive me I have already mentioned some of this on a previous blog.
        However the way you mention it being strange to see your old house and environs I can understand how you might feel with my feelings. Please don’t think that I can come anywhere near how the emotions might be for you with such tragedy in your past.
        For me when I first returned to see Ian and other friends just after my brother Clive died only to learn from Mrs Aldridge that Ian had died also I have to admit finding all this extremely difficult.
        I have been back on one occasion with my sisters Brenda and Sanchia and subsequently a couple of times on my own and also with my wife that I find a massive hole in the visit. Wishing I wasn’t there.
        It may sound obvious to you with your history so I am sure you would appreciate the emptiness where ever I look.
        Having Clive with me all that time in WGC in those growing years I still cannot reconcile being there without him. He died 31yrs ago Michael but even though we have “moved “ on with our lives ,married ,children and grandchildren that loss is always there. Always.
        I am at the moment sitting in a small hotel in a beautiful area of Austria unknown to me. I have come away for a couple of weeks cycle touring while my lovely Alex is out in Australia babysitting our two grandchildren from our daughter Carolyn who lives on the Sunshine Coast.
        So to have received this contact from you and indirectly Bernard has been a great joy to me. I am making my way along the river Murr towards Graz where I hope to catch a train on Wednesday to Salzburg to fly home on Thursday.
        We were in Australia in April for my birthday and we are going back on Dec for 5wks. Must be bonkers as it is so hot but the children are still of the age where they believe in Father Christmas (as I do!). Hey ho they soon grow up and won’t be wanting or needing us so much and we might not be able to pop over there. Alex doesn’t seem to mind the flights but I loath them so I only tend to go once a yr.
        Gosh I have rambled on so that must be more than enough for you to cope with.
        My fondest regards to Michael and thank you for coming back to me
        Anthony
        I still don’t understand these blog things!

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