We are Val and Mike, and we became friends when we met at the Leamington Dance Centre (Warwickshire) in 1998. Val had recently moved to the UK from Zimbabwe, and originally stayed with her Grandmother in Coventr before finding a house-share. Eager to make friends and establish herself in her new country, Val decided to take up ballroom dancing, and the nearest place to do that to professional standards was Leamington Spa. Mike was living in Kenilworth, working in Coventry. He and his now ex-wife Janet decided to take up ballroom dancing as something they could do together. The small beginners’ class met every week and had its social dimensions too. Val and her new-found dancing partner, Neil, and Mike and his wife got to know each other and a few others in the group very well. They went to other dancing events such as at Stratford-upon-Avon Town Hall, dined out together and at each others homes, and celebrated Christmas and birthdays as a close group. By around 2004, they began to drift apart. Val married Nigel and moved to Gloucestershire. Mike and his wife found that dancing was not the solution to their failing marriage, which finally ended in divorce. He moved even further away to Streetly, near Sutton Coldfield, and contact with Val was reduced to Christmas cards and occasional birthday greetings.
And then, earlier this year, Mike’s biography of his father was published under the title "Shalom, Jack: A celebration of the life of Sergeant Jacob ‘Jack’ Goldstein, RAFVR 166 Squadron Bomber Command, killed in action 16 March 1945” [Twig Books 2018, ISBN 978-1-907953-70-5]. He sent a flyer and synopsis of the book to many people, working through his address books. Of course, Val was sent the information. Her response to Mike was astonishing:
Thanks for including us in the distribution list. Wow! I can’t believe both our Dads were flying at the same time. I have scanned the relevant page from his flying log book. The tiny writings are pencil notes made by Dad (flight engineer in a Lancaster) and highlight how frightening these missions were. The entries around Hamburg on 31/3 read “Motor feathered on t/o [take off] nearly had our time. Dropped B/L [bomb load] in sea 14000lb”. Clearly, they didn’t go to Hamburg that day; they were only in the air an hour and twenty minutes opposed to the Nürnberg mission on the night on 16/3 which was eight hours and forty-five minutes.Gloucester has a Jet Age museum with a Lancaster cockpit. It is really humbling to climb into and experience the claustrophobic area they were all cramped into. I wonder how they even managed to crawl out the plane after landing that night.Your Dad must have been a very brave man to accept the position of mid-upper gunner.
We would love a copy of your book and a second copy to pass to our brother-in-law who, together with his Dad, has a huge interest in war history.
If you are able, we would love to have you down to Gloucester and take you to the Jet Age Museum.
All my love, Val.
Astonishing indeed! Mike’s reaction was one of amazement. He just could not believe it! To think Val’s Dad was in the same Squadron as his Dad and flew on the same missions. They must have known each other pretty well. It seemed unbelievable that Val, coming to Warwickshire from Zimbabwe, happening to go to dancing lessons at the same time as Mike. He couldn’t get his head around the coincidence for a long time and neither could Val. But so it was that we, Val and Mike, renewed our friendship, this time forever strengthened by the camaraderie and spirits of our fathers some 60 years previously. This extraordinary coincidence, of our coming together by chance and for different reasons, being close friends for over six years but not ever having an inkling of a powerful bond between us….we still marvel at it.
Val Utting (née Eaves) and Mike Goldstein
In memory of: David Eaves, Born 27 January 1925. Flight Engineer, 166 Squadron Bomber Command; 31 sorties in Lancasters. Passed away 10 February 1982; Jack Goldstein, Born 7 April 1912. Mid-upper Gunner, 166 Squadron Bomber Command; 16 sorties in Lancasters. Killed in action 16 March 1945.