Black Thursday Display – RAF Wyton

Just in time for the 74th anniversary of Black Thursday in 2017, the senior curator at the Pathfinder Collection, RAF Wyton, created a display around the newly acquired Deverill Collection and other very evocative mementos of the night of 16/17 December 1943. Time was very short to arrange this display, and we are most grateful to John Clifford and other members of the Heritage Centre staff for managing to put on such an attractive display at such short notice.

It is the precursor of the much more extensive display on Black Thursday which will be created before the 75th Anniversary this year.

There are a number of items on display in the cabinet, and some of the most notable are described here.

In the photograph above, the central point is the lovely studio portrait of Ernest Alfred Deverill, and on either side of it are framed documents and photographs from his flying career, and the telegram which told his wife he had been killed on 17 December. His outstanding set of decorations is in the lower part of the cabinet, together with logbooks spanning his entire RAF flying career.

Below the Deverill photograph is Bobby Bear, the childhood toy of Peter Hughes Mack, ‘Joe’, who was ultimately the only survivor of the Thackway crew which crashed near Bourn at about the same time as Deverill’s aircraft. Critically injured, Joe spent many months in hospital and treatment centres, and never went back to operational flying. His mother (who was a stickler for accuracy) made an RAF uniform for the old toy; it shows his decorations and signaller’s badge, and and on its sleeve there is a wound stripe. On RAF uniforms, this was the authorised recognition of serious injuries suffered whilst on operations. The only relic of his time in the RAF, Joe treasured this battered old toy all his life.

display at Wyton
Pathfinder Collection, RAF Wyton. Courtesy of John Clifford.

In the bottom part of the cabinet can be seen the logbook and medals of William Colson, ‘Billy’, who was flying with the Mackenzie crew when he lost his life in the early hours of the morning of 17th December. There is also the little pig which acted as his good luck charm, which seemingly he did not have with him that night.

The small navy-blue book which can be seen to the left of the Colson display is a detailed story in itself, see: Tales from the Archive – 3. 16-17 December 2017. It belonged to Robert Butler of the Brill crew, all of whom were killed over Berlin on 16 December. His aircraft was the only 97 Squadron aircraft lost that night due to enemy action; it was the fog in England which brought the loss of eight other 97 Squadron aircraft, five in fatal crashes which killed 28 aircrew.

display at RAF Wyton
Pathfinder Collection, RAF Wyton. Courtesy of John Clifford.