B is for Beer! (when naming your Lancaster)

Beautifully made and lovingly preserved, a diorama of a Lancaster Bomber sits patiently in the Headquarters of 2 Group; admired by all who pass it. Mr Bob Hickox is the custodian of the detailed model, which was crafted by Mr Fred Turner and generously donated to RAF High Wycombe by his daughter and former 2 Group employee Susan Bickerstaffe. Here Mr Hickox answers some questions on the model and the maker.

Who is Fred Turner?
From 1946 to 1947 Fred did his National Service in Ghana, serving on an Army transmitter station outside Accra. He was a Corporal in the Royal West African Signals Regiment, which was associated with the Royal West African Frontier Force. Prior to this he was in the Air Cadets and would have liked to join the RAF, but he was told that he was not needed, and so joined the Army instead.

It looks like he was an expert?
Fred enjoyed model-making since the age of 10 when he would carve out model planes from bits of firewood – this was the start of a life-long hobby. Over the years he made models of planes, boats and vintage cars, winning awards and  commendations with his entries in the International Plastic Modellers Society’s local and national competitions. He always prided himself on his meticulous attention to detail, and the commercial work that he undertook in the past for both Matchbox and Airfix is testament to the high quality of his work. He was well-respected in the plastic modelling world, with magazine articles variously written by him and featuring his own work.

How did it get to 2 Group?
Fred thought that the Lancaster diorama would be very appropriately placed in Lancaster Building on 1 Site, Air Command HQ, where it would be a point of interest and comment, and a reminder to everyone who saw it of the sacrifices made by former RAF personnel in the fight for freedom only 70 years earlier. However its location in the foyer of Lancaster Building was not ideal and the Harris Room is required to hold original furniture only. It was therefore brought over to the 2 Group entrance, First Floor, Hurricane Bldg.

What is it based on?
The model is based on a Lancaster Mk B.III, serial LM550, code AS-B, No 166 Squadron, originally based at RAF Kirmington in Lincolnshire. The original aircraft finished the war having completed a record 118 missions without being shot down. It was one of 340 built between November 1942 and April 1944, and undertook its first operation on 19 May 1944. It was eventually scrapped on 15 May 1947. The model is at 1/48th scale and includes a tanker lorry and ground crew personnel.

Who flew the original?
The initial crew comprised four British and three Canadians. They flew their first Operation on 17 May 1944, only six months after beginning training. Two days later they received a new Lancaster, the subject of the diorama. The bomber was given code letter “B” for Beer, which led to the Canadian pilot requesting the nose art to be a large beer keg with “Let’s Have Another” in black letters on a yellow scroll underneath. For each Operation a small beer mug was painted with a large white head of beer foam. For every night Operation flown the beer mug was dark yellow and for each day trip the mug remained white.

How did they do?
The crew completed 22 operations in their bomber, the last operation being the bombing of the Wizernes V-2 rocket site near St Omer on 20 July 1944. The Lancaster then transferred to No 153 Squadron at RAF Scampton with a different  crew in October 1944. From the grand total of 7,374 Lancasters, only 35 surpassed the 100 Operations mark. “B for Beer” ranked sixth highest with 118 operations. More than 3,000 Lancasters out of the 7,374 built failed to return from operations. Total aircrew operational losses in Bomber Command throughout the war were 47,000 with another 8000 lost during training and other non-operational flying, making a total of 55,000. Losses on operations averaged 4%, 5% being the consistently sustainable percentage loss to still maintain an effective bomber force. The average life for Bomber Command operational aircraft was around 14 sorties and the odds of aircrew completing a tour of 30 sorties was  typically 7 to 1 against. Thus “B for Beer” was an extremely lucky aircraft to survive so many Operations unscathed.

So not many survived then?
At present, there are only two Lancasters in flying condition in the world. One displays with the Battle of Britain Flight based at RAF Coningsby, being owned by the RAF. The other is part of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum based in at Mount Hope near Hamilton in Canada, which is privately owned. Last summer this aircraft flew across the Atlantic to join up with the Bof B Flight Lancaster at a number of airshows. This was the first time two Lancasters had flown together for many years. In the autumn the Canadian Lancaster flew back home to its museum, both transatlantic flights being completed without mishap.

The Panton Brothers who founded the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre at East Kirkby airfield, a former bomber base, also have a Lancaster which they display. Although currently it can only be taxied, it is hoped eventually to restore it to flying condition, despite the high costs involved.

Mr Hickox continues to work at HQ 2 Gp and can be contacted at robert.hickox376@mod.uk