The Who, River Thames and a submerged Halifax

The Who performing at Amalie Arena. Photo by Ron Grosser. Courtesy of Carrie Pratt/

24 September 2019 | Tampa, Florida, USA. The Royal colonies of British West and East Florida, which were the only provinces in England’s American colonies to remain loyal to England and King George III during the War for Independence, have not existed since 1781. However thousands of ex-patriot Britons, seasonal residents from the United Kingdom and ‘Snowbirds’ (seasonal residents) from Canada continue to reside in the Sunshine State. And within these geographical boundaries classic Rock music from the British Isles remains popular, as evidenced by two recent unforgettable concerts in Tampa. One was performed by the legendary band The Who.

‘The Who Moving On! Tour’ promotional banner at a Tampa music venue. Photo: Military Aviation Chronicles.

A greying lifetime member of Bomber Command Museum of Canada (BCMC) and the International Bomber Command Centre achieved a personal goal of seeing The Who perform in person. As he was thoroughly enjoying the concert, which was an ‘amazing journey’ of sight and sound, inside Amalie Arena the concertgoer thought of the multiple visual connections to the Royal Air Force (RAF), RAF Bomber Command and contemporary endeavours to remember and honour the men and women who served with RAF Bomber Command during the Second World War.

The ‘King’s Colours’ which flew over British East and West Florida until 1781.

The Who are still known for their adoption and perennial usage of the flag of the United Kingdom (the Union Jack/Flag) and the RAF roundel as symbols, emblems that were prominently displayed Sunday on fans’ attire. A liner note by Richard Barnes, which is contained in the 2007 Spitfire Films documentary Amazing Journey: The story of The Who, explains that The Who formed during the ‘Mod’ era of the early 1960s. He is quoted as having said the following: “Mods were style-obsessed kids with their own fashions, hair, shoes, dances, and attitude.” However, he further notes, “By late 1965 they [The Who] had transformed from mod into art – both shared images like targets. . . .”

The RAF and ‘Mod’ roundel.

One may even speculate that the legendary group’s adoption of the RAF roundel is also in part a salute to Pete Townshend’s musically gifted father, who the official 2019 ‘Moving On!’ tour programme describes as having been ‘England’s top big-band reed man’, and his vocalist mother. Both served in the RAF during the WW2 and performed with the widely acclaimed RAF Dance Orchestra. (After the conflict Pete’s father and fellow band members played ‘Swing’ as the Squadronaires.) Through their duties Townshend’s parents undoubtedly entertained aircrew of RAF Bomber Command. While listening to The Who play I Can See for Miles the referenced gig attendee could mentally picture the lads of yesteryear, cruising high in the sky on operations while ensconced snugly in their flying machines and seeing the expansive view afforded by high altitude flight.

Avro Lancaster FM159 at BCMC Photo: Military Aviation Chronicles.

In 1945, the year of Townshend’s birth, the RAF’s foremost bombers were the Handley Page Halifax and Avro Lancaster. Within his autobiography titled Who I Am, Pete Townshend states that Tommy the story commences “with bombs dropping, a young RAF pilot lost in battle. . . .” The 1975 film version of Tommy, which reflects the personal interpretation of director Ken Russell, who was a veteran of the wartime RAF and the United Kingdom’s post-war Merchant Navy, places the central character’s father in the RAF during WW2 and in the cockpit of a Bomber Command Lancaster.

At one point during the night in Tampa, notes and chords of The Who’s hit My Generation filled the air inside the venue. However, it has been largely up to the generation fathered by Second World veterans and now younger aficionados to record and perpetuate the stories of their relatives’ great sacrifices.* To this end, in Canada several charitable organisations have undertaken these tasks lest the men and women and their sacrifices and labours be forgotten. In one contemporary example two Canadian charitable organisations, Airplane Hunters and Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada), are endeavouring to salvage the wreck of Halifax HR 871 and collect and compile histories.

A No. 405 Squadron, RCAF, Halifax. Photo: Bomber Command Museum of Canada.

In 1970 The Who’s popular tune The Seeker climbed the charts. Pete Townshend stated on Sunday evening that he wrote it in a swampy area of south Florida. The men and women, led by Halifax expert and aircraft archaeologist Karl Kjarsgaard, are in some ways also seekers.

On 8 August 1943 the RCAF-crewed bomber crashed in the Baltic Sea, in only 15 metres (50 feet) of brackish water, just off the coast of Sweden. The multinational team is employing a tugboat named River Thames, which once worked the Thames River and London docks. On occasion Pete Townshend, who formerly owned a recording centre on the Thames, which he referenced during the 22 September show, may have cruised past River Thames on one of his nautical vessels.

River Thames docked on 2 July 2019 . Swedish Coast and Sea Centre.

Townshend writes in his book Who I Am, “I have always loved boats and the sea . . . .” He also states that it was on a 1956 fishing trip to the Isle of Man that the sound of a river put him in a trance: “It was the beginning of my lifelong connection to rivers and the sea — and what might be described as the music of the spheres.” This mystical experience eventually led to harmonious genius.

River Thames on 1 July 2019. Photo: Swedish Coast and Sea Centre.

Thus one can speculate that Townshend might enjoy being aboard River Thames, which is now owned and operated by Danish citizen Gustav Fredericksen, during a Halifax recovery voyage. Such an experience might even inspire him to compose a song.

An individual who has been on the tugboat and has been inspired is James (‘Jim’) Blondeau, a noted Canadian singer and songwriter. After a 2019 sailing aboard River Thames he composed the melodic tune What A Time To Save History (embedded below) as a salute to the Swedish, Canadian and Danish nationals who are manning the project vessels. Although more in the style and sound of Gordon Lightfoot, Blondeau, like The Who, tells stories with lyrics and optics.

Jim Blondeau performing at BCMC’s 20th anniversary celebration. Photo: BCMC.

What served as Jim Blondeau’s inspiration? He stated the following: “After returning from a 4-day Halifax 57 Rescue recovery operation in medium seas, I decided to write a song featuring the people who had volunteered their time and expertise to the project. We came up with a theme – The Three Nations Team from Canada, Sweden and Denmark.”

Jim continued, “When I returned to Ottawa we [Jim Blondeau and Greg Geeves] composed some new music to the lyrics, and that is what you see on the music video: teamwork and exciting action on the Baltic Sea.” Blondeau further noted that this “November, a collection of 10 songs written about the wars will be released and dedicated to the military veterans of Canada, America, Great Britain and their Allies.” Ironically, The Who is also releasing an album, tilted Who, that month.

Project Leader Karl Kjarsgaard aboard the Danish River Thames dive and recovery vessel flying the RCAF ensign. Photo: James Blondeau/Airplane Hunters.

Project Director Karl Kjarsgaard, said, “We are appealing to all Canadians and history fans worldwide to help raise the funding and in-kind support to recover HR 871 and bring her to Canada.” He added, “Thanks to our colleagues and allies at the Swedish Coast and Sea Centre we can save Halifax HR 871, literally from the sands of time.”

SCSC divers siphoning sand off the bomber. Photo: Swedish Coast and Sea center via Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada).

Kjarsgaard then remarked that Blondeau’s musical and video production talents and skills are critical in the telling of airplane tales, discoveries and recoveries. If a photograph is worth a thousand words, a song can easily touch a soul. Fans of The Who can certainly attest to the fact, as there were more than a few misty eyes during the playing of Beyond Blue Eyes.


The author (John T. Stemple) wishes to note that ‘Moving On! Tour’ attendees are being treated to two selections from the The Who’s upcoming release. A video of one (Ball and Chain) of the new compositions may be viewed on YouTube.

*BCMC in Nanton, Alberta and Ohioan Tim Tracey, who is pushing for Congressional Gold Medal legislation (H.R.980 – American Patriots of WW2 through Service with the Canadian and British Armed Forces Gold Medal Act of 2019), seek official recognition for the substantial number of Americans who joined the Canadian and British armed forces or associated supporting entities. These intrepid ‘Yanks’ have yet to be officially recognised by the governments of Canada, England and the United States. As Karl Kjarsgaard says, “The lads, so many of whom perished, deserve to be remembered. They freely gave their lives to preserve the freedom and liberty enjoyed by the citizens of Great Britain, Canada and America.”

Suggested Viewings

Sources & Suggested Readings

Airplane Hunters

Amalie Arena

Amazing Journey

Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who. DVD. Spitfire Films LLC. Universal Pictures. ASIN: B000VLOKQI. 2007.

Avro Lancaster

Avro Vulcan

Baby boomers

Barnes, Richard and Pete Townshend. The Story of Tommy. Eel Pie Publishing Ltd; First Edition, 1977.

Behind Blue Eyes

Bomber Command

British East Florida

Click to access British%20garrison.pdf

British East Florida

British Invasion

British West Florida

Canada’s Bomber Command Memorial

East Florida

Florida of the British

Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada)

Handley Page Halifax

H.R. 980 – American Patriots of WWII through Service with the Canadian and British Armed Forces Gold Medal Act of 2019

I Can See for Miles

I Can See For Miles

International Bomber Command Centre

Ken Russell

Merchant Navy (United Kingdom)

MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre

My Generation

Old Florida Maps: The English Period

Peter Frampton


Pinball Wizard


Rock and roll


Support the Recovery of a RCAF Halifax Bomber

Supermarine Spitfire

Swedish Coast and Sea Centre

The Acid Queen

The Blitz

The First Real Target? (1961 painting by Peter Blake)

The Seeker

The Squadronaires

The Story, The Song – The Wall at Nanton

The Who

The Who Sensation: The Story of Tommy. DVD. Eagle Rock Entertainment. ASIN: B00HRWJGD6

The Who Target/Bull’s-eye Logo: Anyone Know the Story?

The Who’s Tommy

Tommy. Geffen Records. Audio CD (March 12, 1996). ASIN: B000002OZY.

Tommy (1975 film)

Tommy: The Movie. DVD. The Robert Stigwood Organisation Limited. Columbia Pictures. 1975. ISBN 0-7678-1813-X

Townshend, Pete. Who I Am. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012.