IN JANUARY, BBMF HOSTED TWO WWII VETERANS WITH SPECIAL STORIES TO TELL. IN A PRESENTATION AT THE WRATTEN SUITE, STEVE DARLOW, HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR, INTRODUCED AIR CDRE (RET’D) CHARLES CLARKE OBE AND JAN BLACK, EXPLAINING THE BACKGROUND TO THEIR RECOLLECTIONS.
Charles Clarke is a member of the Caterpillar Club (for those who have successfully used a parachute to bail out of a disabled aircraft), having been a Lancaster Bomb Aimer shot down near Stuttgart in 1944, which resulted in a spell as a Prisoner of War in Stalag Luft III.
Jan Black is a member of the Guinea Pig Club (a patient support group for injured servicemen following reconstructive surgery). He was a Rear Gunner who suffered facial and hand burns that were treated by pioneering plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe.
Afterwards, the veterans visited RAF Coningsby’s Heritage Centre, where CT Andy Copley turned the tables on them with a presentation covering the research he had done on Charles’ Lancaster crew, which moved and amazed the nonagenarian as it included information that was new to him, such as the fact that his pilot, a Canadian, had managed to exit the aircraft before impact and was (unknown to his crew) due to be married within a fortnight. Sadly he did not survive, but his fiancée, a WRAF who was based at RAF Woodhall Spa at the time, spent months trying to find out what had happened to him.
As part of his research, CT Copley has been looking for relatives of the crew, which has particular poignancy as a memorial has been built at the crash site. Charles visited it last year, but it is believed that none of the relatives are aware of it.
Meanwhile winter maintenance has been continuing, however cold it gets when the heating fails in the hangar! The Dakota was up flying before the end of January (and the aircrew endured the cold too – what must it have been like for those flying long sorties during WWII?), which was a lovely sight and sound.
Work to return Spitfire PR Mark XIX PM631 to flying continues to progress well and by the time you read this the air test should have taken place. All the BBMF aircraft are being fitted with 8.33 kHz radios in accordance with Civil Aviation Authority requirements and before we know it, the display season will be upon us!