Illuminated by a Chance Light…


They are always won by ordinary people and mundane things – like boots and ball-bearings (also known as roller bearings).

Searching IWM Collections online – as usual for something totally different – I came across the image below of a British De Havilland ‘Mosquito’.

This type of aircraft was well known as the ‘Wooden Wonder’ (the construction process used much plywood) and variants served with the RAF and Royal Navy as day and night fighters, fast light bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. It also served with the air arms of many foreign countries.

This however is an example flying with British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) Fast Freight Flight, taking off from RAF Leuchars in Scotland on a night flight to Sweden.


Illuminated by a Chance Light, ‘civilianised’ Mosquito FB Mark VI, G-AGGF (formerly HJ720) of BOAC, taxies onto the flare path at RAF Leuchars, Fife, prior to a night flight to Stockholm. G-AGGF was lost on 17 August 1943 when it crashed at Invermark, killing its crew. Its remains were found on 8 September. © IWM (CH 10664)


The same image as above but digitally enhanced to show the mix of camouflage and large civilian markings. This aircraft has light undersides but others in the Flight were painted black below the camouflage upper surfaces. © IWM (CH 10664)

The BOAC’s Fast Freight Flight had an interesting and somewhat secretive history, being for passenger and freight service (as well as ‘courier flights’) to and from neutral Sweden.

These flights were ostensibly civilian operations using crews of the Merchant Air Service, many of whom had previously served in the RAF to deliver a passenger and freight service.

But the aircraft on these flights – civilianised military types such as Hudsons, Liberators and Whitleys with the aircraft’s civil registration painted large on the fuselage, upper and lower wings complete with red, white and blue underlining – flew such people and things as diverse as diplomats, intelligence agents and evading British servicemen and of course ball-bearings (1) (2).

Sweden (as a neutral country and perfectly entitled to do so) was also trading with Germany and supplying them with… ball-bearings.

And of course ball-bearings were so vital to the war economy that the US Army Air Force attacked a ball-bearing factory at Schweinfurt in southern Germany from bases in England twice in 1943, enduring high losses of both machines and men.

Although Sweden was neutral, Norway had been occupied by Germany since June 1940 and although the BOAC flights were marked as civilian aircraft they were still from a country at war with Germany and legitimate targets

Luftwaffe aircraft based in Norway were a constant danger and because of this the BOAC aircraft often flew in bad weather as this could hide them. But it didn’t always work out that way.

On 17 August 1943 the aircraft pictured above crashed near Easter Balloch in Scotland shortly after take-off, having apparently suffered an instrument malfunction (3) (4). Both crew members – Captain Louis Armstrong Wilkins (5) and his radio operator/navigator Harold Beaumont (6) – were killed.

The aircraft was missing until it was found by a gamekeeper on 8 September 1943.

It was the airline’s first Mosquito loss.


In what appears to be a staged picture a passenger (right), who has been carried in the Mosquito bomb-bay from Stockholm congratulates Captain Wilkins and his navigator on their safe arrival at RAF Leuchars. Captain Wilkins (together with his Radio Operator Harry Beaumont who MAY be in this image but is not credited) would lose his life when his aircraft crashed on 17 August 1943. Note the BOAC ‘Speedbird’ logo on the crew entry door above Wilkins’ head, the female member of BOAC or the Air Merchant Service, the faired over gun ports above the passenger’s head and the open bomb bay. © IWM (CH 20958)


I was struck by the ‘Illuminated by a Chance light’ reference in the IWM caption and found that Chance Brothers Glassworks innovated and made a variety of glass products ranging from lighthouse optics (7) through rolled plate glass for shop fronts, to cathode ray tubes, laboratory and medical glass products, dinning ware and even souvenir ash trays and the like.

Chance Lights runway illuminators were positioned to guide approaching pilots to the threshold and the end of the runway (6).


And you think Easy Jet is bad! A passenger travelling in the bomb bay of a De Havilland Mosquito of BOAC, on the fast freight service between Leuchars, Fife and Stockholm. The bomb bay was apparently felt lined and the passenger was given a blanket – little comfort when (as on occasions it apparently did) the bomb bay opened of its own accord or the passenger had to be ditched because of German air activity. © IWM (CH 14389)




September 5 1915… 1940… 1986 and 1987… how strange Fate can be for one man



The German Military Cemetery at Cannock Chase, England.
Image from

AVIATION HISTORIAN ANDY SAUNDERS documents a fascinating story in his book ‘Finding the Foe(1).

Briefly, it goes like this…

Helmut Thomas Strobl (or Ströbl) was born on 5 September 1915 in Spittal, Austria.

During the Battle of Britain, Leutnant Helmut Strobl and his Messerschmitt bf 109E-1 fighter were shot down on 5 September 1940 by Sergeant Charles Alexander Lyall (known as ‘Alex’) Hurry RAF, of No. 43 Squadron.

Sergeant Hurry had taken off from RAF Tangmere near Chichester in Sussex in the mid-afternoon.

Flying Hawker Hurricane P3386 FT-E he encountered a number of Messerschmitt fighters near Maidstone in Kent.

According to his combat report, (2) – one of four in his name at the UK National Archives – he singled out one enemy aircraft from a group of five, (this group being part of a larger force of 30 – 40 aircraft) and started his attack as the other four in the group turned their attention to him.

Still following his quarry, Hurry finally caught the Messerschmitt which crashed not far from Appledore Station (near Dungeness a wild, windswept part of Kent).

On fire and in a vertical dive, the doomed aircraft crashed into marshland and rapidly sank.

Undisturbed for almost half a century, the remains of the pilot and his aircraft – Messerschmitt Bf 109E-1 Wk-Nr 3627 of 5./JG 27 – were discovered on 5 September 1986 and the process of an inquest and tracing any surviving family started.

In a departure from the accepted norm – where newly discovered Luftwaffe aircrew are buried at the Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof Cannock Chase (the central German Military Cemetery in Staffordshire, England) – Helmut Strobl was repatriated to Austria.

On 5 September 1987 – 30 years ago today – he was buried in Kolbnitz, Austria where his family had made their home.

And Sergeant Hurry?

A pre-war member of the RAF, Sergeant Hurry had joined as an Aircraft Apprentice before qualifying as a Metal Rigger in 1934. In 1936 he applied for pilot training, beginning his training in 1938.

On 14 September, just over a week his victory over Leutnant Strobl he too was shot down spending a period as a patient of Archibald MacIndoe, the well-known plastic surgeon.

He returned to duty in a variety of posts until discharged from the RAF in 1946.

He moved to Canada in 1970, where he died in 1995. (3)


(1) ‘Finding the Foe’ by Andy Saunders, published by Grub Street, 2010.



Every Which Way – the National Memorial to the Evacuation of children in Britain during WWII at the UK National Arboretum

By Jackie Daly

SET IN 150 ACRES DOTTED WITH 30,000 TREES, the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, Staffordshire, England makes it a unique place of discovery and contemplation. (1)

Its 330 memorials – more are constantly being added – provide a chance to honour many groups of people – military and civilian, professional and social groups and those bands of individuals simply thrown together by the circumstances they found themselves facing. (2)

On 25 July 2017 I and around three hundred others guests were honoured to be invited to the unveiling of ‘Every Which Way’ – or to give it it’s proper title, the National Memorial to the Evacuation of children in Britain during WWI – at the Arboretum.


A general view of the Memorial. Image © Jackie Daly 2017

A view of the figures. Image © Jackie Daly 2017

After years of fundraising the British Evacuee Association managed to raise enough funds to commission sculptor Maurice Blik PPRBS, FRSA (3) to create this distinctive sculpture.

This is what Maurice wrote in his booklet about the memorial:

‘I was on a flight from London to New York when I got chatting to the woman sitting next to me. She told me about the British Evacuees Association (BEA), (4) of which her friend was a member, and how they wanted to erect a memorial to mark their evacuation as children during WWII from their home towns and cities to the relative safety of the countryside.

I was not only captivated by this idea but also identified in many ways with the sense of bewilderment and displacement that many of these children felt at being torn from their parents and sent to live in unknown locations with strangers. It seemed as if fate had seated us together and you can imagine her surprise when I told her I was a sculptor. The rest is history as they say.

The title of the memorial was inspired by one of the members of the BEA who on seeing my initial scale model for the sculpture, exclaimed, ‘That’s it exactly – we were going every which way’.

I could not have imagined a more fitting title.


A close-up some of the figures – note the split luggage beside the little girl. Image © Jackie Daly 2017

With the design I hope to convey some of the anxiety and confusion felt by the child Evacuees.

This is not a straight forward line of children about to set off on a journey; hands and items of clothing are back to front and luggage is split open to symbolise families being torn apart.’


The Duke of Gloucester and Karen Follows, Manager of the British Evacuees Association meet some of the attendees after the unveiling ceremony. Image © Jackie Daly 2017

The memorial was unveiled by Prince Richard, the Duke of Gloucester and was filmed by British national television.

Although the memorial depicts children it also honours all though connected in the evacuation process – teachers, billeting officers, train and coach drivers and foster parents. (5)

It is located next to the Children’s Play Area at the Arboretum.

A few of the invited guests at the memorial unveiling at the National Arboretum. Jackie is third from the right, with fellow IWM volunteer Julie Underhay, second from the right, who is also a BEA trustee. Image © Jackie Daly 2017








With a little help from our friends – part 2: Operation Wildhorn III and the V2 missile


THE FIRST PART this post looked briefly at the work of Frenchman Michel Hollard and his contribution to British Scientific and Technical Intelligence in understanding the V1 flying bomb, an example of which is in the Imperial War Museum in London. This post concentrates on the V2 weapon.

The story of the contribution made by Polish Home Army ((Armia Krajowa – the most well-known internal Polish resistance group) to the understanding and subsequent defeat of the German V1 and V2 weapon programmes is long and valiant.

For simplicity I will concentrate on just one important aspect, OPERATION WILDHORN III.

Let me start by saying that the story of Allies (particularly Britain) and Poland is still controversial in some quarters.

I know very little about the context – a few days in Warsaw doesn’t count in my view – and so I will simply say that there are no doubt many excellent resources both in print and on the internet that will put the cases of all concerned far better than I am able to.

The WILDHORN operations (also called MOSTY – meaning ‘bridges’ – in Polish) were a series of SOE Polish section sponsored flights to and from Poland to bring Home Army field commanders to London for meetings with the Polish Government in Exile. I believe there may have been a small amount of supplies or agents delivered but this was mainly handled by other means (known as RIPOSTE missions).

As a file at the UK National Archives shows (1), the first of the WILDHORN flights occurred in April 1944 after considerable difficulties gaining a suitable aircraft and a suitably trained crew.

Planning appeared to have started in late 1943 and an undated (but probably written in or before January 1944) document in the file lists the requirements for a landing area – frozen ground, snow no deeper 5 cm, a wind less than 10 mph – and a suggestion that it should be in the Lublin area. Security and ground operations are not detailed but ‘appear satisfactory’. The operation gained approval on 21 January with a request three days later for an aircraft to be assigned so that it could be completed in February.

Then there political problems outside the scope of this post. Suffice to say ‘discussions’ between Polish and British senior officers and centred around taking an aircraft off Special Duty operations (those connected with the Resistance) in France and sending and then basing it in Italy from where it would fly to Poland.

By early February it was clear that an RAF aircraft and crew from Britain could not be spared and it was suggested that a Polish crew be trained and an aircraft (a Lockheed Hudson light bomber and maritime patrol aircraft) be allocated from the Mediterranean Allied Air Force based in Italy.

From 14 March onwards a series of dates were proposed and cancelled for various reasons including the harsh weather.

V2 facility Peenemunde A © IWM (C 4782)

Test Stand VII at the Army Research Centre Peenemunde, Usedom Island, Germany. At the bottom centre (inside the elliptical earthwork) is a V2 rocket on its trailer and light anti-aircraft positions on top of the pre-launch assembly hall at upper right. Image © IWM (C4782). Original Source:

V2 facility Peenemunde 2 © IWM (C 4783)

The same area after heavy bombing attacks RAF Bomber Command in 1943. At the time this air reconnaissance image was taken (September 1944) the V2 programme had been moved to Poland. The arrows point to where the anti-aircraft guns were sited previously. Image © IWM, catalogue no C4783. Original Source:

From 13 June 1944 London endured V2 attacks and there was an urgent need for as much intelligence on the missile as possible.

On 25 July it was agreed that V2 parts would be sent to London with senior Polish commanders and a Polish courier.

Having found a suitable landing ground, suitable crew and a Douglas Dakota aircraft from No. 267 Squadron RAF based in Italy all the elements were in place.

However fate was to intervene.

The landing ground (codenamed MOTYL – BUTTERFLY) was a boggy meadow, with substantial German forces nearby.

Although the aircraft landed and was quickly loaded for take-off with its human cargo and V2 material – missile parts (reported 25.000 including a new guidance system), drawings, photographs and analytical reports – it was found that the brakes were locked and the aircraft had sunk into the soft ground.

Frantic efforts were made to free the aircraft. German units were reported to be a mile (800 metres) away.

The passengers were made to get off and the V2 material unloaded.

Everyone – passengers and members of the Home Army ‘welcome team’ responsible for the aircraft landing loading and despatch – dug furiously. The crew prepared to burn their maps and other papers. Even the hydraulic lines to the brakes were cut to release the brakes.

Eventually, the hard work paid off. The aircraft was reloaded and wobbled into the air, just clearing a stone wall around 20 foot (7 metres) high.

With no hydraulic lines the reservoirs were filled with ‘liquid’ (accounts vary as to what this was) to ensure enough pressure to retract the undercarriage by hand and, having lost an hour from their schedule, they had to fly a direct route through an area known to be patrolled by German fighter aircraft.

They landed at Brindisi (on a runway being built) safely just before dark and after repairs the aircraft was flown to London via Morocco, arriving on 27 July (2).

There (according to R V Jones) the Polish courier – who spoke no English – made it apparent that he would only release his vital V2 parts to one of two Polish Officers he knew and trusted in London. In the meantime he threatened anyone who came near the parts with a knife

This obstacle was overcome when General Bor appeared ‘told our gallant Pole that it was alright for him to talk to us and show us his treasures’

The propulsion unit of a V2 missile being inspected amid damaged houses © IWM (HU 44973)

Damage caused by a V2 ballistic missile at Limehouse, East London. In the foreground, a man inspects the propulsion unit of the rocket. Image © IWM (HU 44973). Original Source:

Jones goes on to write that the Pole’s information – not just what he brought but what he had observed – was instrumental in understanding the way the missile was launched and flew (3)


(1) File reference HS 4/183, UK National Archives viewed 1 April 2017

(2) – accessed 17 July 2017

(3) ‘Most Secret War’ by R V Jones, third edition May 1978, pages 438 – 439.

Rupert Shephard and his ‘Women in Industry’ series of paintings for the Ministry of Information, 1943


BORN IN HIGHBURY, North London and educated in Swanage and Derbyshire, Rupert Norman Shephard would become a draughtsman and towards the end of the war an official War Artist.

In a three-part oral history online interview recorded in 1978 with IWM’s James Mellen (1) (who also interviewed a number of other artists active during the Second World War) he describes his early life, his artistic influences and how he would sketch workers on the factory floor after his day job as a draughtsman.


Second World War First Aid Post, with Three St John Ambulance Brigade Men in a Domestic Setting by Rupert Shephard, oil on canvas, 1940. Collection of the Museum of the Order of St John.  Image from

At one time Shephard was a jig and engineering tool draughtsman at EMI in Hayes, Middlesex when the factory was engaged on war work manufacturing things like their Capacitance Altimeter fitted to the RAF bomber force for blind landings and low-level anti-shipping torpedo attacks (2).

The pressures of work and his artistic endeavours caused him a breakdown in 1943.

This however enabled him to concentrate on a new career as an official war artist, selling work to the War Artists Advisory Committee.

Established by the Ministry of Information part of its purpose was to ‘to draw up a list of artists qualified to record the war at home and abroad. … to advise on the selection of artists on this list for war purposes and on the arrangements for their employment’.

Approximately half of the 5,570 pieces purchased by the Committee are in the collection of the Imperial War Museums (3).

Shephard painted industrial scenes in Britain and amongst over work made a series of five paintings entitled ‘Women in Industry’ with a series in 1943 of tasks in traditional factory settings.

Three of these – ‘A Girl Feeding an Automatic Machine’, ‘A Girl Tending an Automatic Machine’, and ‘Drilling and Milling’ – are in the Imperial War Museums’ collection. Two other paintings – ‘Three Women Drillings’ and ‘Girls Drilling’ – complete the 1943 series.

Papers in the IWM Collection indicate that he received 30 guineas – a guinea being one pound and one shilling sterling, with 20 shillings making a pound – for the ‘Women in Industry’ series (4).

He also painted a number of works showing workers in both aircraft manufacturing and repair factories.

A painting entitled ‘A Nose section after Repair: Girls fitting supports to take the bomb aimer’s window’ – was purchased for 15 guineas on its own. It shows female workers fitting the seal of the bomb aimers’ window to the the bottom of the nose blister of a  Lancaster bomber.

It is possible that this was at the A V Roe (Avro – makers of the Lancaster) repair facility at RAF Bracebridge Heath, a former First World War airfield near Lincoln (5) (6) .

A Nose section after Repair: Girls fitting supports to take the bomb aimer’s window. IWM catalogue reference Art LD 4141

On one of the images of Lancasters under repair by Shephard in the RAF Museum’s art collection the No. 50 Squadron RAF code ‘VN’ can be seen.

Shephard, Rupert, 1909-1992; Lancaster Fuselage Section

Shephard, Rupert; Lancaster Fuselage Section; Royal Air Force Museum;

The painting below (‘Filming a Practice Launching of a Rubber Dinghy in a Training Pond’ in the Imperial War Museums IWM Catalogue LD 4647) was made in May 1944.

It appears to show an instructional training film for Lancaster crews being made. Of interest is the fact that the bomber is incomplete (missing its tail unit) and also the line of figures behind the camera crew who appear to be operating a wave-making device.

‘Filming a Practice Launching of a Rubber Dinghy in a Training Pond’ in the Imperial War Museums’ collection, IWM catalogue reference Art LD 4647. Image from Art UK website ( )

After the war Rupert married and moved to South Africa with his South African wife where he continued to paint. Returning to the UK in 1962 he turned his attention to producing finely textured lino cut prints, often of London scenes.

The River Lea (1975) part of the series “London, The Passing Scene.” Image from Gwen Hughes Fine art ( )

His son Ben, a military and medical historian, worked on the well-known 1973 British television documentary series ‘The World at War’ (7).


(1) IWM catalogue reference 3198 – retrieved 18 July 2017

(2) – retrieved 18 July 2017

(3) – retrieved 18 July 2017

(4)  IWM catalogue reference ART/WA2/03/228 – retrieved 18 July 2017

(5) – retrieved 18 July 2017

(6) – retrieved 18 July 2017

(7) – retrieved 18 July 2017

A little-known memorial a few hundred metres from Imperial War Museums’ Churchill War Rooms


GIVEN ITS LOCATION in the heart of central London, Imperial War Museums’ Churchill War Rooms and Museum – to give its full title – is (unsurprisingly) surrounded by monuments and memorials.

Although only a short walk from CWR on Horse Guards Parade – the place where the annual Trooping of the Colour ceremony takes place – is the little known and often ignored Royal Naval Division Memorial Fountain, by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

Lutyens was an architect responsible for a variety of building, bridges and war memorials in France, India, Ireland and the United Kingdom, where he is best known for the Cenotaph on near-by Whitehall, the place where Britain’s annual commemoration of its war dead is held.


The Royal Naval Division Memorial before the Admiralty Citadel was constructed. Image by Horace Nicholls, © IWM (Q 45787)

His design produced an elegant and most ‘unmilitary’ memorial at a time when realistic and heroic statues of ‘Tommies’ were fashionable.


“Your family will never forget you or your sacrifice…” A family tribute a century later. Image © R Maddox 2017.

On a recent wet and windy visit I found a small number of fading tributes commemorating (amongst others) Lieutenant the Honourable Vere Sidney Tudor Harmsworth who died on 13 November 1916, the first day of the Battle of Ancre and James McDonald a member of the Royal Naval Reserve who became a machine gunner.

Having previously served in the Royal Navy until a hearing problem caused him to be discharged in May 1915, Lieutenant Harmsworth volunteered for the Division and after capture in Antwerp escaped to serve at Gallipoli and then on the Western Front (1).

His father (later Lord Rothermere) later funded the 63rd Royal Naval Division memorial in Beaucourt, on the bank of the Ancre river in France (2).


The faded Cross of Remembrance for William McDonald, a resident of Deptford, south London. Image © R Maddox 2017.

The faded Cross of Remembrance honours machine gunner Able Seaman James McDonald.

Serving with 189 Machine Gun Company and the Royal Naval Division’s Hawke Battalion, he would die of wounds on 29 October 1917.

Married to Susan Edith McDonald, they lived in Deptford, south London around six miles (10km) away (3).

Winston Churchill (who had formed the Division in 1914) unveiled the monument on 25 April 1925, the tenth anniversary of the Gallipoli landings (4).

Originally situated in its present location, next to the Old Admiralty Building (OAB) it was disassembled and placed in storage – leaving only its plinth in place – to enable the construction of the adjacent Admiralty Citadel, designed as an operations centre. In the event of a German invasion it would become a strongpoint for the defence of this historic and very important part of London.

Later it became a Royal Navy communications centre.

In 1952 the stored fountain pieces were installed at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, south east London (and not far from where James McDonald had lived).

After the Royal Navy left the site, the memorial returned in 2003 and re-erected on Horse Guards Parade (5) – although now looking somewhat squeezed between the OAB and the massive fortress-like Citadel.

Churchill was very appreciative of this example of Lutyens’ work. In his unveiling address he commented:

“Everyone, I think, must admire the grace & simplicity of this Fountain, which the genius of Lutyens has designed. The site is also well chosen. Here, under the shadow of the Admiralty building, where, 11 years ago, the Royal Naval Division was called into martial life, this monument now records their fame and preserves their memory… Doubts and disillusions may be answered by the sure assertion that the sacrifice of these men was not made in vain. And this Fountain to the memory of the Royal Naval Division will give forth not only the waters of honour, but the waters of healing and the waters of hope (5).

His thoughts on the Citadel were less complimentary, calling it:
“That vast monstrosity which weighs on the Horse Guards Parade” (6).


A view of the Citadel taken on 18 May 1945. Image by Lieutenant C J Ware, official Royal Navy photographer. The building has been since covered in ivy to soften its appearance. © IWM (A 28702)


More details about the Memorial and the Royal Naval Division are available at the link below: – Retrieved 27 July 2017


(1) – Retrieved 27 July 2017

(2) – Retrieved 27 July 2017

(3),%20JAMES – Retrieved 27 July 2017

(4) – Retrieved 27 July 2017

(5) – Retrieved 27 July 2017

(6) – Retrieved 27 July 2017



Beatrice Shilling and how she helped RAF pilots to fight another day


BEATRICE SHILLING was born into a middle-class family in Waterlooville near Portsmouth in Hampshire, England in 1909 before moving with her family to Surrey in 1914.

Deciding in her early teens that she wanted to be an engineer, Beatrice left school and became an apprentice with Margaret Partridge who ran an electrical engineering company. Her company had a number of contracts with local authorities installing both domestic and industrial wiring and generators. It became apparent that her apprentice had a great talent for engineering (1).

Margarete was a member of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) and would become its president for 1944 – 1945(2). The Society was formed in 1919 to press for women to continue to work in industry (as they had done during the First World War) and ultimately to be regarded as equal to their male counter parts.

In 1929 after three year of working with and being mentored by Margaret and after WES had helped her get her applied mathematics to the required level and given her an interest-free loan for her studies, Beatrice applied to the Victoria University in Manchester.

She was one of two women enrolling on the Electrical Engineering degree course that year – the first time the course had been open to women. She would graduate with honours in 1932 and do a post-graduate MSc in Mechanical Engineering the following year. (3)

Beatrice became a research assistant to Dr G F Mucklow in 1934, helping with his work concerning supercharging single-cylinder engines.


Beatrice in a publicity photograph used in the 1935 Norton catalogue. Image © Anne and Dennis Lock via

Before going to university she had ridden and maintained her own motorcycle. At Victoria University she modified a Norton M30 500cc motorcycle by adding a supercharger and gained a Gold Star award for lapping the Brooklands motor racing circuit in Surrey at 106 miles an hour.

Joining the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) on 25 April 1936 as a Technical Author, she would spend six months in the Technical Publications Department before transfering to the Carburettor Section of the Engine Experimental Department. (4)


Dark days ahead; Spitfires in Flight. Image © R Maddox 2017

As the RAF went into sustained combat operations in May 1940 a problem with the Rolls Royce Merlin engine equipping their latest fighters emerged.

The designers of the engine – fitted to both the early marks of Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire aircraft – had decided to use a carburettor rather than fuel injection as their German counterparts at Daimler Benz had done for the engine powering both the Messerschmitt bf 109 and Messerschmitt bf 110 fighters.

Carburettors are a vital component that ensures that fuel and air are mixed and delivered to the engine’s combustion chambers to provide optimum performance. Fuel injection does the same task but in a different way.

This design choice meant that an increase in the fuel/air density of carburettor-fed engines as opposed to their fuel injector counterparts resulting in a higher horse power to weight ratio.

However it also meant that when diving in combat the engine of the British fighters could misfire and cut out under negative gravitation as fuel pushed the carburettor needle closed. If the dive was continued then the pressure of the fuel could force the needle open and the fuel flood the engine’s combustion chambers.

Although the RAF pilots had a ‘work round’ of half rolling into the dive it was clear that a more effective solution was needed so they could fully utilise their aircraft’s potential.

Beatrice designed a restrictor plate – looking similar to a metal washer – that prevented flooding.  This together with modifications to the needle and an improvement to the float chamber to prevented the fuel and float from surging under negative gravity helped alleviate the problem.

Miss Shilling married George Naylor, an RAE mathematician (and later a pilot with RAF Bomber Command) September 1938. It is said that she would only accept his proposal after he too had lapped Brooklands racing circuit at a speed greater than 100 miles an hour!

She continued working at RAE on a variety of projects before retiring in 1969 as Head of Engineering Research Division.


Beatrice receiving her Honorary Doctorate at Surrey University in December 1969.
Image from University of Surrey Archives & Special Collections Blog.

Over the course of her career she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Surrey University (5), was a Chartered Engineer as well as being a member of WES and the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.

For her wartime work she was awarded an OBE in 1947.

Away from work she and George continued to race both motorcycles and later cars until health problems intervened. Then they took up target shooting.

She died in 1990 and was survived by her husband for another six years.


(1) retrieved 12 July 2017
(2) retrieved 12 July 2017
(3) retrieved 12 July 2017
(4) retrieved 12 July 2017
(5) retrieved 12 July 2017
(6) retrieved 12 July 2017

Captain Ernest Shackleton’s gift to the Imperial War Museum


SEARCHING THROUGH A PILE of Second World War ex-prisoner of war questionnaires at the National Archives in Kew, England, I saw one by a ‘Captain Ernest Shackleton’.

Clearly not the polar explorer (he died in 1922) this Ernest Shackleton had joined the British Army with a Territorial Army commission in 1926.

An engineer by profession, he was  serving  in the Royal Corps of Signals when he was captured on 12 June 1940 at Saint Valorie-en-Caux, around 60 kilometres from Le Havre in France.

After spending three months in hospital – he says on the questionnaire he wasn’t ‘seriously’ injured but he was unwell enough to occupy a hospital bed – he was transferred to the first of four PoW camps, the last being Oflag (Officer’s Camp) IX A/Z at Rotenburg en Fulda in the German state of Hesse.

During this time he wasn’t in a work camp (officers were generally exempt from having to work). He didn’t have any serious illness and any medical attention he did receive (presumably related to his original injuries) was judged to be adequate.

I turned the page.

No escape and evasion lectures before capture, no ‘unusual’ interrogation techniques used.

He knew of no collaboration by his fellow prisoners or of any war crimes.

In fact there were only two comments.

The first, his response to the question about whether he made any escape attempts gets a ‘No’.

Almost as an afterthought is written immediately underneath ‘Was employed from August 1941 (with minor breaks) on radio operations, design and construction of radio apparatus’.

And then on the final page above his signature is the last question;

‘8. Have you any other matter of any kind you wish to bring to notice?’

His response is shown below and reads:

‘I especially request permission to return to OFLAG IX A/Z ROTENBURG to remove radio apparatus locally constructed and other incriminating gear, documents etc & to destroy or remove for Imperial War Museum hides [word unclear] and gear. The Senior British Officer endeavoured to obtain this permission but was unable owing to urgency of evacuation. This OFLAG was identified as intact whilst flying over during the evacuation’.

Scribbled in soft black pencil beside his request at a later date beside is ‘Already redeemed by Shackleton’ with a further note scribbled out.

The final question on Captain Shackleton’s POW questionnaire and his request for permission to return to a former POW camp and retrieve radio apparatus for IWM. Image © R Maddox 2017.

And that is a small part of the story of why an unlikely looking  radio receiver –  a collection of toilet roll tubes dipped in wax, thermometer cases, toothbrush handles, a cotton reel, bits of tin can, a Bakelite ashtray, wire ‘liberated’ from the camp’s occupational department with values and capacitors from a German cine projector – all cobbled together with its own power chassis, hidden under floor boards and operated by knitting needles pushed through the cracks from above – came to be IWM Catalogue Number COM 504, described as ‘Wireless Equipment, Receiver (POW constructed), British’ in the possession of the Imperial War Museums.

Wireless Equipment, Receiver (POW-constructed), British (COM 504). A wireless radio receiver manufactured by Captain Ernest Shackleton at Oflag IXA/Z, Rotenburg during the Second World War, using materials salvaged from the camp. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

The Imperial Camel Corps Memorial – A tribute to the ‘Ship of the Desert’ beside the Thames


VILLIERS STREET GARDEN (one of four public gardens making up London’s Embankment Gardens) is not far from Charing Cross railway station, Trafalgar Square, various Government offices in Whitehall and numerous other sites of employment in the western part of the capital.

It is a lunchtime oasis for nearby office workers, a pleasant commuter ‘rat run’ for those walking to and from work or a green gem for London visitors or tourists to get their bearings.

History and fame are never far away.

The York Water Gate shows where the waters of the Thames used to extend to, the Gardens being reclaimed land with the much deeper modern Thames being 150 metres or so further south. The Savoy Hotel has its rear entrance very near the Gardens, statues of Robert Burns and composer Arthur Sullivan gaze unseeingly before them.

It’s also the site of the Imperial Camel Corps Memorial, a small Portland stone plinth topped with a beautifully modelled statue of a camel and its uniformed rider, sculpted by Major Cecil Brown who served in the Corps.

Detail of the rider and camel sculpted by Cecil Brown. Image © R Maddox 2017

The Imperial Camel Corps Memorial with the Australian casualties and the engagements of the Corps. Image © R Maddox 2017

The Memorial commemorates by name 346 members of the Corps who died of all causes between when the 1916 (when the Corps was founded just after Gallipoli action) and 1918 while serving in Egypt, Palestine and Sinai together with the actions they took part in.

The vast majority of casualties were Australian troops – 191 commemorated on the eastern plaque – with soldier from the United Kingdom (106), New Zealand (41) and the Indian sub-continent (9) being named on the western plaque.

The north and south sides have additional bronzes depicting dismounted soldiers running and officers with a camel (1).

At its height the Corps had 4,150 men and 4,800 camels. Three of its four battalions were disbanded in mid-1918, the final (2nd) battalion survived until May 1919 (2).

Unveiled on 22 July 1921, the ceremony was attended by (amongst others) the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand and General Sir Philip Chetwode, the Corps first commander – and later the father-in-law of poet Sir John Betjeman(3) with the memorial being dedicated by the Bishop of London(4).

It stands on the site of… (ironically, given the fact that the Corps operated in the desert and the camel’s ability to store water)… a late 19th century drinking fountain(5).


(1) retrieved 11 July 2017

(2) retrieved 11 July 2017

(3) retrieved 11 July 2017

(4) retrieved 11 July 2017

(5) retrieved 11 July 2017