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One of the greats...

Howard Heeley, Down To Earth Promotions, reports on Newark Air Museum's 'Tribute To The Canberra' weekend held over 21/22 May 2005

'Tribute To The Canberra 2005' did not quite attract the same number of participants as the previous Canberra events hosted at Newark Air Museum, but the quality of the participants was as high as ever. During the weekend seventy-one former Canberra personnel from twenty-two different Canberra units officially 'signed-in', with others preferring the anonymity of just mingling with their former colleagues and museum visitors - these included thirty aircrew and forty-one ground crew. The Canberra units represented were: 3, 7, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 27, 39, 44, 57, 58, 59, 85, 100, 139, 149, 213, 249 and 360 Squadrons; and 231 OCU. Centrepieces of the hangar display were a radar-profiling model of the Canberra, visiting Canberra B(I)6 cockpit WT319 and Canberra PR9 cockpit XH177 from the museum collection. These cockpit displays were supported by photographic displays depicting the operational career of the Canberra, which included many items from overseas Canberra users, a scale aircraft model display and various fund raising activities.

There were several notable Canberra luminaries present including Peter Green and Les Bywaters. The Pen and Sword book publishing company hosted a book-signing event to mark the official launch of a new book about the Canberra with the author Bruce Barrymore Halpenny present on Saturday morning to sign copies of 'English Electric Canberra'. During the weekend there was also much pre-launch talk about another Pen and Sword publication 'Threes Company'. Written by Jack Long, the new title provides an illustrated history of No 3 (Fighter) Squadron RAF and comprehensively details the Squadron's Canberra operations.

Several new stories were also added to the Newark Air Museum Canberra Archive, which is being maintained for future generations. One of my favourites came from David Leggatt, the Restoration Co-ordinator at the museum who recounted the day back in 1951 when he was working on Avro Lincolns at RAF Binbrook, when the Canberra B1 first visited the base. As David recounted, "I worked as part of a team in the Aircraft Servicing Flight servicing Avro Lincolns. In this era aircraft were serviced under a system called 'planned servicing'. Each operation was detailed and timed and progress was checked hourly. A very tight working environment!" He went on to describe the arrival of the new aircraft. "The B1 Canberra in black and grey livery was a truly wonderful sight, especially seeing it for the first time. It then proceeded to do an incredible display and beat up - a display that up until that time I had only seen fighters accomplish. My abiding memory is of the aircraft appearing between the hangars at roof level in the final pass before landing. It then taxied back between the hangars where Wing Commander Beamont emerged to be greeted by the Station Commander and his executives. The show over, we were quickly ushered back to the servicing of our now obsolescent Lincolns".

David's final comments outline his view about the impact that the Canberra was to have on the RAF. "The introduction of the Canberra initiated many changes. New tools and equipment came with it and its smaller crews eased the intense pressure on the station domestic accommodation. It was all a terrific shot in the arm for the service and injected more pride in an already proud organisation. I went on to serve for many years with many aircraft but will always remember the day the Canberra arrived at Binbrook - Truly one of the greats".

The weekend also drew out some of my own memories of the Canberra and in particular several days spent at RAF Sculthorpe in autumn 1978 dismantling the T33 and Mystere that at now displayed at the museum. I recollect that at the time RAF Marham was closed for maintenance work of some kind and the stations Victors and Canberras were operating from Sculthorpe. As the accompanying photograph shows much of my time was spent taking aircraft pictures from the middle of the airfield, when I should have been dismantling the aircraft. Ah, those were the days!


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