In memory of David Weston
Martyn Cox - Co-founder of The Secret WW2 Learning Network - remembers a friend and dedicated supporter
I can guarantee that almost nobody starting to read this will have heard of Dave Weston, although in fact some will have met him, or least may recall him in the background during the Valençay events of May 2011.
Few people there would have been aware that Dave had already been of enormous help with my own efforts, albeit quietly and behind the scenes; and in the years that followed he supported this Charity and myself in every way he could, by being so generous not only with his time but also the distances he was prepared to travel for us. May 2011 was in fact the last time that The Princess Royal attended the SOE memorial ceremony, and so it’s poignant to be writing this tribute just after it’s been announced that HRH will be at the Valençay ceremony again in just over six weeks time. David Weston lived near Teddington in Middlesex, not far from Alan Benns - the videographer who’s my oldest friend, and known by many who know me as the long-standing ‘unsung hero’ of my efforts in that he’s filmed virtually all my 100+ oral history interviews with Second World War veterans ... and also contributed so much more. Dave took early retirement after working for one of the rail companies, and became active in the local community, notably as a member of the Sacred Heart Catholic Parish in Teddington. He met Alan when they both got involved in local community filming projects.
Dave had an ideal ‘camera car’ and was keen to help, and learn, and so it wasn’t long before he was assisting Alan on some of his professional video shoots. His contribution was based purely on his sheer enthusiasm and willingness to help - Alan on the other hand had spent his working life in theatre and television lighting, and then video production.
They ended up working together on all manner of jobs, including a shoot in Tanzania for a dental charity, a series of promotional films for care homes, a video for The Strawbs’ Dave Cousins, and the unveling of the No. 624 (Special Duties) Squadron plaque at the National Arboretum.
Some of this work was on a commercial basis but much was for the local community or for charities; and when it came to Alan and Dave’s filming for me, the lack of regular funding rarely stopped us finding a way to shoot another interview with one of WW2’s ‘secret warriors’. January 2007 marked the beginning of the FANY’s Centenary year. We were to cover this extensively, and so began an intensive period of filming in Britain, Belgium and France over several years. During this time Dave would be either a camera car driver, sound recordist and microphone boom operator, second unit cameraman, rigger, chauffeur, or courier - in fact he just did whatever was asked of him. Dave Weston was undoubtedly a tad eccentric, but he was also kind, gentle and modest; and so flexible that nothing seemed to phase him or be too much trouble. Whatever we did together during those years, it was for - and all about - the veterans, and Dave’s patience and the respect he showed those special men and women was clear for all to see. That takes us back to Valençay in 2011, which would become doubly memorable for the event's regular attendees. It was the second time this SOE memorial ceremony had been attended by The Princess Royal, and also the year I’d arranged for a very special reunion to take place there - when 161 SD Squadron’s Wing Cdr Len Ratcliff and a former SOE agent would meet for the first time since February 1944.
That was when Len had landed a ‘special duties’ Hudson at night in a field in occupied France, and brought back the seriously wounded agent Bob Maloubier to Britain for medical treatment … so that Bob could, literally, live to fight another day. Dave Weston made a key contribution to making their reunion in Valençay possible, by kindly volunteering to drive a second vehicle from Britain with Alan and all our camera kit on board, so that I could concentrate on being Dorothy and Len Ratcliff’s chauffeur for the long trip in my car from their home by road and ferry.
Once the reunion and main memorial ceremony had taken place, Dave’s and my roles would be reversed.
Dorothy Ratcliff had once been a professional garden designer, and friends in Britain had recommended that while in central France she should visit a particularly notable garden that was nearby and open to the public. The garden proved to be not quite as ‘nearby’ as we’d been led to believe, and so the visit was going to clash with some additional local filming to which we were committed.
Dave stepped in to replace me as the Ratcliff’s driver for this outing, and the following day they all set off from Valençay in his car to get them back to their home in Essex.
Another cross-channel trip for which Dave volunteered was a more relaxed and sociable one in 2013, a few weeks before Alan was due to get married. Dave had suggested they should drive all the way down to ‘my neck of the French woods’ just to buy and bring back ample supplies of a particular rosé for the wedding reception in Teddington.
Alan had always enjoyed this local wine when staying with me, en route to and from earlier filming trips in France, and so volunteering to make this cross-channel shopping trip was a lovely gesture by Dave - typical of always being prepared to do what for most people would be out the question.
A more modest trip by comparsion, but still very much appreciated, was in this Charity’s infancy. Dave undertook an epic car journey right around the M25 and then cross-country, to collect and deliver some specially printed leaflets for a gathering in Sussex of our Trustees and some specially invited guests. There was however one minor downside to Dave’s enthusiasm for his new ‘career’ in the world of video production, and that was his passion for buying gizmos and gadgets that he imagined would be useful for Alan to use on future shoots. This led to our then equipment store in Teddington becoming ever more crammed with green screens, camera mounts and track, a mini-crane and other ‘gripping’ equipment - all nifty bits of kit, but which would rarely, if ever, be needed for Alan’s work. Dave’s indulgences were of course instantly forgiven because he always had the very best of intentions; and it was fortunate that he’d also became very adept on eBay so that, once having been convinced a particular item wouldn’t be needed after all, he rarely lost money when he sold it on, again via eBay. Describing Dave Weston as well-intentioned and having his heart “in the right place” may sound patronising - but in his case that description is spot on. He was always on call for everyone in his local community, and also anyone he knew.
For me, this meant that during the time my elderly mother was living on her own in Surrey, Dave would regularly remind me that he considered himself on permanent standby to help her, just in case anything urgent came up for which I couldn’t get back from France in time. This was enormously reassuring to know, although I only needed to take him up on his offer once.
Due to changes in both our circumstances, I’d seen far less of Dave during the last couple of years - and I now greatly regret this. A few weeks ago our friend, sound recordist, and all round good guy was taken into hospital with internal bleeding. He was put into an induced coma from but didn’t recover. David Weston passed away on February 13th, leaving his wife Estella and son Sam. His funeral took place last Monday, March 18th, and the wreath laid by ‘cameraman Alan’ and his wife Hilary was a floral version of a Panavision camera.