In July 2015 we received a very special invitation to attend Dougie’s 9oth birthday celebrations – a real ceilidh, with pipes and haggis, to be held at the Cox’s Bay Sea Scouts Hall on Saturday the 1st of August (Doug’s actual birthday is on the 8th).
The day before the party, while waiting for a prescription at the chemist in the village, I happened to wander into my favourite second-hand bookshop, BookMark. BookMark is owned by Mark Owen, an avid militaria buff, with an outstanding military aviation section. I often pop in to check if any new 75(NZ) Squadron-related titles have turned up on his shelves.
This time, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a framed Avro Lancaster profile, high up on the back wall of the store, something I hadn’t noticed before.
It was with total shock that I read the “AA-D” code and serial number on the side of the aircraft – HK601!
What were the chances of finding a picture of my uncle’s Lancaster in my local bookshop, within walking distance of our house, the day before his crewmate’s 90th birthday??!
The caption listed the members of the Allan Thompson crew, who had flown “Dog” on her 81st op’ to Hamm on 27th March 1945, and was signed by Duncan Rugg, the mid-upper gunner. I presume that the profile had been commissioned by Rugg or his family.
The “AA” coding was of course incorrect, and should have been “JN”; someone had known the “D”, probably from a logbook, and had assumed the “AA” since it was 75(NZ) Squadron.
Mark was in the shop, so I immediately offered to buy the picture, the perfect birthday gift for Doug! Unfortunately it was his personal possession, so he wouldn’t sell it, but he did generously offer to loan it to me for the weekend to show Doug. I told him the story of Doug jumping out of the aircraft over Merseburg just a week after the op’ that the picture commemorates, and Doug and Jerry’s crew flying 19 op’s in her, and promised to send him more information.
The small print in the caption revealed that the profile had been created by renowned aviation illustrator Pete West, or ‘The One-Legged Pom’ as he called himself. His work regularly appeared in international magazines such as Flypast and Aeroplane. I had met Pete at a MoTaT event for the dedication of ‘The Captain’s Fancy’ nose art on their Lancaster (Pete drew the artwork) so I emailed him to see if it was possible to have more prints made, with the code corrected. By now there were several of us that wanted a copy of our own!
Incredibly, Pete had only just received the news that he had leukemia, and was about to start a course of chemotherapy. By November 2015 he had almost completed his course and was in remission, however he never completely beat the cancer and passed away in May 2016.
You will still find Dog hanging in pride of place in BookMark, Devonport.
In January 2019, Doug and Janet and I were having lunch together in Devonport, only a few doors away from BookMark, and decided to re-visit her. I introduced Doug to Mark, the owner, and Doug re-told his story of the drama over Merseburg, a nice piece of history for Mark to keep with his very special picture.
– In memory of Pete West.