Luftwaffe scrap and the RAF Benevolent Fund ‘Victory Bell’

RICHARD MADDOX

 

large_© IWM (E (MOS) 54)

The wrecks of Luftwaffe aircraft in a British scrapyard, 24 February 1942. The wing of a Messerschmitt Bf 109E is being lifted by a crane. Image © IWM. Catalogue reference: E(MOS)54. Although not stated in the IWM caption this image was probably taken at No. 50 Maintenance Unit at Cowley, near Oxford, England.

WITH BATTLE RAGING ABOVE, innumerable aircraft on training flights, operational sorties and sometimes returning badly damaged it was inevitable that many would fall on British soil. And with resources short it was also inevitable that these aircraft – German and British alike would be salvaged, stripped of usable parts and if possible their aluminium parts recycled to fly again as new aircraft.

Formed in 1938, RAF Maintenance Command carried out a variety of maintenance and salvage duties. At Cowley near Oxford was No. 1 Metal and Produce Recovery Depot – an aircraft recycling centre (as we would call it today) using much of the facilities at the Morris Motors car plant.

Also located there was No.50 Maintenance Unit which together with other RAF Maintenance Units and civilian contractors transported the wrecked aircraft from storage deports to be smelted in the foundry at the car plant and then cast as metal ingots for re-use.

So how does this link to the production of the RAF Benevolent Fund’s ‘Victory’ handbells? 

large_© IWM (EPH 5895)_Victory_bell2

bell, RAF Benevolent Fund (EPH 5895) Cast silver metal bell with three heads of war leaders (Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt) cast onto the sides of the bell, around the edge of the bell there is an inscription which reads ‘RAF BENEVOLENT FUND, CAST IN METAL FROM GERMAN AIRCRAFT SHOT DOWN OVER BRITAIN 1939-1945’, the handle of the bell has a raised ‘V’ on each side. The clapper is attached to a ring on the inside of the bell. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30085822

The story (1) is that towards the end of the war Conrad Parlanti (a member of a family with a long tradition of foundry casting of works of public art and memorial in Britain and abroad including the RAF Memorial near the River Thames in London) (2)(3) drove past a stack of aluminium ingots and enquired about them.

On being told that they were cast from German aircraft he had an idea.

An idea that would ultimately celebrate the RAF’s victory in Battle of Britain, provide funds for the Royal Air Force benevolent Fund (a charity formed in 1919 to provide funds for the RAF members and their families in need and still in existence today) (4)  and provide a souvenir that could metaphorically ‘ring the changes’ as war changed to peace.

Although described as a ‘handbell’ they are primarily decorative and of little or any musical merit. (5) Examples were sold at around £1, although there is at least one account of one being auctioned at a charity dinner for considerably more.(6)

large_© IWM (EPH 5895)_Victory_bell

Bell, RAF Benevolent Fund (EPH 5895) Cast silver metal bell with three heads of war leaders (Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt) cast onto the sides of the bell, around the edge of the bell there is an inscription which reads ‘RAF BENEVOLENT FUND, CAST IN METAL FROM GERMAN AIRCRAFT SHOT DOWN OVER BRITAIN 1939-1945’, the handle of the bell has a raised ‘V’ on each side. The clapper is attached to a ring on the inside of the bell. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30085822

Palanti’s bell design has a number of variations (chiefly to the form of the handle but also to the inscription around the rim) but all contain portraits of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin as the leaders of the major victorious powers and a reference to ‘V’ for victory. (7)

Résistance members would often change one letter in the legend from ‘Deutschland Siegt Auf Allen Fronten’ (‘Germany is victorious on all fronts’) to read ‘Deutschland Liegt Auf Allen Fronten’ (‘Germany lies on all fronts’).

Although this is a hand gesture closely associated with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, it was also used as a symbol of resistance in Occupied Europe. So powerful was this ‘campaign’ that it was even adapted by the Germans in a counter-campaign in a number of Occupied Countries.(8)

In France the Eiffel Tower in Paris sporting a giant ‘V’ with the legend ‘Deutschland Siegt Auf Allen Fronten’ (‘Germany is victorious on all fronts’).

Apparently Résistance members would often change one letter in the legend to read ‘Deutschland Liegt Auf Allen Fronten’ (‘Germany lies on all fronts’).(9)

Sources and further information:

(1) http://parlantibronzefoundries.co.uk/conrad/ – retrieved 4 March 2018

(2) https://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/11560 – retrieved 4 March 2018

(3) https://www.rafbf.org/about-us/raf-memorial – retrieved 4 March 2018

(4) https://www.rafbf.org/about-us/our-organisation/history-and-heritage – retrieved 4 March 2018

(5) http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/lQHrp3u_Rs2iffDJTKFevw – retrieved 4 March 2018

(6) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30081356 – retrieved 4 March 2018

(7) https://americanbell.org/aba-forum/topic/r-a-f-benevolent-fund-victory-bell/ – retrieved 4 March 2018

(8) https://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/the-v-for-victory-campaign/ – retrieved 5 March 2018

(9) https://rarehistoricalphotos.com/eiffel-tower-nazi-occupation-1940/https://rarehistoricalphotos – retrieved 5 March 2018

2 thoughts on “Luftwaffe scrap and the RAF Benevolent Fund ‘Victory Bell’

  1. Barbara Torino says:

    I have o e of tbese bells and I would lime to know the alue of it. Mine would have been bought in Europe in the early 50s.

    Like

    • iwmvolunteerlondon says:

      Hello Barbara. First thank you for taking the time to comment. As for value I have no idea at all – as a volunteer at Imperial War Museums writing these posts my role is simply to find items in our collections and try and bring them to a wider audience. All I can suggest – and this won’t be news to you – is that you look at the internet, contact local auction houses etc. Obviously the value of all these things varies with factors such as the crispness of the moulding, the documented history of the item etc. Given that these were made from scrap aluminium 80 years ago as essentially souvenirs to raise money for charity, I don’t think you’ll be buying a new yacht with the proceeds. I wish you luck in your search.

      Like

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