I am delighted to be able to write this report for you following the very special event that we hosted in our new Fitness Studio on the afternoon of Tuesday 21st May.
Our guest of honour was ‘Rusty’ Waughman, DFC, AFC, Legion d’Honneur. A Lancaster pilot from WWII who flew a complete tour of 30 missions with none other than 101 Sqn, the squadron with the sad honour as that with the highest casualty rate in Bomber Command because of their role as a special operations squadron.
We hosted the event in the brand new Fitness Studio, with the bi-fold doors opening an entire wall to the glorious warm sunshine, and allowing an uninterrupted view over our immaculate cricket pitch and the rolling landscape of east Leicestershire beyond.
In attendance to hear Rusty’s amazing experiences were more than 80 guests, over 40 of whom were external visitors. At 96 Rusty held us captive as he recounted his time in the RAF, from basic flying training on Tiger Moths and the Boeing Stearman in Canada, to the intensity of battle at the helm of a Lancaster bomber. For those who might not know, the Lancaster, unlike other bombers of its time, whilst a huge aircraft being pulled through the sky by 4 Rolls Royce Merlin engines (yes, the same as in the Spitfire), only has one pilot. So all of the physical effort of flying, sometimes for up to 10 hours, was at the hands of one man. When flak began, Rusty described the large sweeping manoeuvres that he would have to employ to try and dodge being hit. Working out that the German 88mm anti-aircraft guns would fire a spread pattern of shells separated every 40 seconds, experienced pilots could try and time their manoeuvres to counter this efficiency. But it was all physical work and this could go on for a long time.
Add into this that Rusty was in a formation of many other aircraft, at night, and often in complete cloud, it is a wonder that there were not more mid-air collisions. In fact, on one occasion over Belgium, Rusty’s Lancaster, which he had named ‘Wing and Prayer’ after the popular song at the time, was hit by the aircraft on their starboard side. His Flight Engineer suddenly saw the aircraft appear out of nowhere and had no time to call out a warning to Rusty other than to shout “Oh no!” as the other aircraft slid beneath theirs, the canopy of that plane being torn off as it pushed against the underside of Rusty’s plane. Wing and Prayer suffered extensive damage, all of the instruments stopped working, they’d lost part of a wing and tail, but the engines didn’t stop, and Rusty flew her home, making an emergency landing with no injuries. Rusty brought along a section of wing skin that he removed from Wing and Prayer at the time, and on which he had painted small versions of the nose art from both of his Lancasters.
Rusty is an amazing man, and more people should hear his story. He represents so much, so many others, over 55,000 young men of around 18 and 19 who can never tell their stories, who never had the opportunity to live a full life. Rusty is of a generation whose attitudes, sacrifice and bravery we should all learn from, and never forget.
Mr D Berry
Head of Art
The Ratcliffe Spitfire