Aviation Fuel Burns, Science Museum Exhibition

There is a very interesting new exhibition at the Science Museum on treating the wounded in wartime. This covers far more than the Second World War but there is a section on treating the terrible burns that some aircrew suffered.

By the Second World War, mobile maxillofacial units saved the lives of many soldiers with early surgery. But a new challenge arose with the growth of aerial combat, as pilots trapped in cockpits suffered terrible burns from aviation fuel.

The surgeon Archibald McIndoe treated 4,000 men with burns from aviation fuel. Each patient had an average of 12 operations. The surgery rebuilt hands and faces, and many of the men went back to fly again.

Of course, on the heavy bombers all the crew were at risk of serious burns if their aircraft crashed. One of the men whom McIndoe treated was Ernest Deverill’s loyal gunner who had served with him in a previous tour. James Benbow, who had severely burned hands, was the only survivor of the Deverill crash on Black Thursday.

Bobby Bear – Ready for Another 75 Years

In May we published a post about Bobby Bear, the childhood toy of Joe Mack who survived a horrendous crash on Black Thursday, 16/17 December 1943. This post has since been updated with more information about wound stripes: Wound Stripes and the Thackway Crash

The purpose of this new post is to tell everyone that the restored Bobby Bear is on this coming Tuesday’s episode of The Repair Shop on BBC1 which hopefully will tell something of the background to Bobby Bear, his wound stripe, and the RAF’s worst night of the war for bad-weather crashes.

BB repaired 2

Part of the blurb for the programme reads:

And teddy bear repair duo Amanda and Julie welcome a 100-year-old RAF mascot bear called Bobby. Dressed in a replica uniform, the bear belonged to a brave airman who survived a horrific plane crash during the Second World War.

Below is a picture of Joe Mack on home leave in the summer of 1944 after months in hospital and rehabilitation. It can be seen that the uniform he was wearing hung very loosely on him as he had lost so much weight during the months in treatment. His medical care was exceptionally good and they saved his leg which had been very badly mangled. See also: Why the Archive Began

joe mack

 

Deverill Collection: Fund-Raising

Two years ago, the RAF Pathfinders Archive bought the Deverill Collection to ensure that it would not go into private hands and possibly end up being sold off in separate parts. Since the Archive acquired the Deverill Collection, it has been on loan to the Heritage Centre at RAF Wyton, where it can be seen by the public, by appointment.

The Deverill Collection’s future as part of RAF history, and in particular the history of the Pathfinders and Black Thursday, 16/17 December 1943, is now assured. However, the Archive still has to raise £4,280 – 10% of the purchase price – to settle the remaining balance of the interest-free loans taken out to finance the purchase. Clearing the balance will enable us to look to the future when we may be able to acquire other suitable Pathfinder items. These too will be loaned for display at RAF Wyton, and will enhance the wonderful collection already there.

We are launching an appeal to all our supporters to help us clear the outstanding balance of the Deverill Collection purchase. Please contribute what you can to help us settle the last debts for this outstanding pilot and ‘Knight of the Air’.

DONATE TO THE ARCHIVE

We are giving away a free pair of Black Thursday booklets to anyone who contributes £30 or more.

The Black Thursday booklets

Deverill RH smaller

Above: the new Black Thursday display at RAF Wyton. See this page: The Deverill Collection at RAF Wyton

Robert Butler wins a Goldfish

The Caterpillar Club, for aircrew whose lives had been saved by a silken Irvin parachute, is well-known. Less so is the Goldfish Club, for aircrew whose lives had been saved by an emergency dinghy. Few of the aircrew who ditched in the sea survived, but one of the lucky ones was Robert Butler, who won the badge on 28 February 1942 whilst in training. See: Robert Butler Wins a Goldfish

Condolence Letter from Pathfinder Gunner, 7 Squadron

Working on the post yesterday on the condolence letter to Jespersen’s father reminded me of another condolence letter, this time written on the Pathfinder station at Oakington in December 1943. It concerned a friend, Bob Butler, who was stationed with 97 Squadron at Bourn. The condolence letter was addressed to his mother, Ellen Butler.

O Valiant Hearts

Ernest Deverill, the much-decorated 97 Squadron pilot killed on Black Thursday, whose medals, logbooks and other memorabilia are on display at RAF Wyton, is buried at St Mary’s, Docking, Norfolk. The epitaph on his gravestone comes from the same hymn as the one for Arthur North, of the 105 Squadron crew buried at Bergen, Norway, who were mentioned on yesterday’s post. For details of the epitaphs on these gravestones and of the hymn from which they were taken, see O Valiant Hearts.

Wound Stripes and the Thackway Crash

The Thackway crew crash, referred to in our post just now (28 May 2019), has a tiny echo in the uniform of the moth-eaten bear, known as Bobby Bear, who until recently was on display in the Black Thursday cabinet at the Heritage Centre, RAF Wyton (see the end of this post). The RAF uniform which the bear wears has a wound stripe – see the little flash of yellow on the sleeve in the image below.

The wound stripe, which was an unusual emblem on RAF uniforms, reflects the serious injuries suffered by the owner of the bear, Joe Mack of the Thackway crew, on the night of the crash, 17 December 1943. The uniform, which is a toy approximation of Joe’s uniform, was made for the bear by Joe’s mother, Kathleen, some time before 1948.


WOUND STRIPES ON RAF UNIFORMS

Flight Sergeant W C Higgs’s uniform with wound stripes – on display at the Pathfinder Collection, Heritage Centre, RAF Wyton

flight sergeant W C HIggs - wound stripes

In the online Auckland Museum, there is a photograph of George Cotton-Stapleton, RNZAF, with two wound stripes on his sleeve (Auckland Museum ref: WWI 4/213A AWMM)

George Cotton-Stapleton, RNZAF, wound stripes


Bobby Bear has now left the Pathfinder Collection at RAF Wyton for the time being as he has been selected for the BBC programme The Repair Shop, on which expert craftsmen pool their talents and resources to restore heirlooms and treasured antiques. Filming on Bobby Bear’s rejuvenation starts this week.

Hopefully he will be back at the Pathfinder Collection at RAF Wyton early next year. We will keep you up to date with what happens with Bobby Bear and the programme.

See: Update, 15 November 2019

(Below, Bobby Bear, beneath the photograph of Ernest Deverill, at RAF Wyton last year.)

 

Thackway Crew Plane Crash

We have been very interested to find out that there is a Millennium Walk which allows walkers to get close to the site of the Thackway crew’s crash (on what was known as The Hay) on 17 December 1943. http://www.hardwick-cambs.org.uk/footpaths-walks/ This is significant because the crash site is on private land, well away from other public footpaths. See this description on the link:

Turn left and follow the public bridleway east to Hardwick Wood, then north to the junction at TL 357 583. From this point an optional diversion may be taken along a pleasant path to TL 361 591 (this point is close to the site of the plane crash on The Hay, on the night 16th/17th December 1943.), but it is necessary to return the same way, as there is no right of way past here.

18 years ago, the Thackway crew were the original inspiration for a website about 97 Squadron and the Pathfinders, which website eventually grew into the one you are looking at today.

A number of key pieces of the aircraft wreckage are now on display at the Pathfinder Collection at Wyton, including the piece of metal with the Lancaster’s engine number, proving beyond all doubt that this was the Thackway aircraft.

Wyton also houses other display cabinets of Lancaster wreckage from that night, including the aircraft of Scott and Deverill.

Charles Owen in the late 1950s

Charles Owen, who flew with 97 Squadron during the war and was one of the crews on Black Thursday, went on to have a distinguished career in the RAF. Here is some footage posted by AP Archive of when he was commanding a Victor squadron (10 Squadron at Cottesmore). He is wearing his Pathfinder badge on his immaculate uniform. At one point he says:

The Lanc was a wonderful airplane, but it was very cold, very noisy, and it was really quite hard work. Nowadays … we can really go to war in comfort …

Leslie Laver and His Mother

Tonight is the 75th anniversary of the death of Leslie Laver, ‘Les’, who was my father’s rear gunner before the Thackway crew was broken up by death and injury. He died with most of the Steven crew on the Dutch island of Texel.

In remembering the aircrew who were lost in the war, we should also remember the immense cost to their families. Though she lived to be 89, Leslie’s mother never fully recovered from his death. She had six other children, but he had been the youngest and the pet of the family, and she missed him for the rest of her long life. LESLIE LAVER AND HIS MOTHER.

JENNIE MACK GRAY