It’s just over twelve months since the Charity’s co-founder Martyn Cox first contacted the aviation broker handling the sale of the full-size replica Lysander specially built for the Brad Pitt film Allied.
Having discussed its availability with Dudley Hooley, the Director of the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum, the progress towards its hoped-for acquisition would prove to be slow going; but once the museum’s engineers had examined and 'approved of' the replica its Trustees agreed to the purchase, which was made possible by a contribution from the museum’s Society of Friends.
What had become known as "the Allied Lysander" finally arrived at the Tangmere Military Avation Museum last month 'in kit form' by road. This instantly added to an already ‘never a dull moment’ period of activity due to the museum’s Meteor jet having been required for the recent and prestigious RAF100 event in London, plus preparations for the imminent resurfacing of the museum car park.
The museum team worked hard and with great dedication to ensure the Lysander would be assembled and positioned in time for this weekend's opening of its SOE exhibition, on July 21st.
This was doubly appropriate because it would also be accompanying the official opening of another new exhibit, a collection of personal wartime memorabilia donated by the family of one of 161 Squadron’s pilots, the late Wing Commander Leonard Fitch Ratcliff DSO, DFC*, AFC, Ld’H, CdeG - and during Saturday's event Len Ratcliff's son Robin made a further donation to the museum by way of presenting his father's wartime flying jacket to David Coxon, the museum's Deputy Director.
The ‘unveiling’ of the museum’s latest acquisition was particularly significant and poignant for the family members of 161 Squadron’s pick-up pilots who were able to attend. These included “Mac” McCairns’ son Chris, “Bunny” Rymills’ son Simon, Stephen Hankey’s nephew Peter, Robin Hooper’s sons, Hugh Verity’s daughter Jane and other family members, “Pick” Pickard’s nephew Michael Woods, Peter Vaughan-Fowler’s sons, and Len Ratcliff’s sons Rupert and Robin accompanied by a veritable host of extended family members.
As a tribute to the now classic wartime photo of some of the pick-up pilots posing in front of a Lysander, several photos were taken with the appropriate family members, and then also some of larger groupings.
It was the film props specialist and WW2 historian Chas Jellis who'd originally bought the replica Lysander from the producers of the Allied film, and throughout Saturday’s event it was clear from the smiles on the faces of Chas and his wife Irene as to how happy they were that the aircraft had now ‘landed’ at Tangmere.
It will be ‘rebranded’ in the markings of the 161 Sqn Lysander flown by Jimmy ‘Mac’ McCairns’ (MA-E - “E for Edward”) who’d carried out twenty-five successful pick-up operations from RAF Tangmere, for which he was awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses.
A vital part of the replica aircraft’s new look will be McCairns’ wartime nose art, the cartoon character Popeye. An exact reproduction of this image has kindly been recreated and donated by museum supporter Ian Titman, and until the aircraft has been fully remarked it will feature a temporary version which was unveiled by Mac McCairn’s son, Chris.
Also at Tangmere on Saturday were Bob Body, the founder of the Tempsford Veterans and Relatives Association (TVARA): the intelligence and resistance historians Mark Seaman and Sébastien Albertelli; the University of Chichester historian Dr Andrew Smith; the pick-up pilot specialist Ian Titman; the weapons collector Mark Yeats who'd loaned some of the items on display; and Bryan Warnett of The Baker Street Boys re-enactment group.
Representing The Secret WW2 Learning Network were its co-founders Martyn Bell (now Chichester's mayor) and Martyn Cox, although the latter had taken a sneaky look at the Lysander the day before -
“I’d been involved ‘behind the scenes’ with this acquisition for more than a year, in that I was joining up dots and putting people in touch with each other by email and phone, all in the hope that Tangmere would eventually go for it.”
“Some might say that my self-appointed job had been as “nagger-in-chief”! ... so I apologise to the Tangmere team if I became a pain, but this was only because I was so passionately determined for a way to be found for this replica aircraft to end up at what was surely the most appropriate location of all.
“Having said that, at no time during that year had I actually been able to view the replica for myself but I could still see its potential. The most important stage was when Tangmere's engineers were able to check it out and give it the thumbs up … which they did in February. That certainly came as a great relief, as had hearing from Tangmere’s Director Dudley Hooley that the purchase would be possible thanks to a significant contribution from the museum’s Society of Friends.
“Last Friday, it was pretty quiet in the museum when I arrived for my first look. That was just as well as I was bound to feel emotional when I finally saw the aircraft for myself. It had even more of an impact on me than I’d envisaged - partly just because it looks so impressive, but also because that moment was the culmination of a year during which there'd been several periods when it seemed that, despite my enthusiam and high hopes, this may never actually happen!
“Then on Saturday, it was great to see the effect of the Lysander on so many members of the pick-up pilots’ families and other kindred spirits who'd been brought together to celebrate its arrival at Tangmere.
“The aircraft has been positioned so that museum visitors can walk under the port wing and almost all the way round it. Being that close to the replica Lysander makes it even more evocative, especially as the engine cowling and fuselage had been cleverly ‘distressed’ for the film with oil streaks and mud splashes, and so it really looks as if it’s just returned from a pick-up operation."
There are more photos of the event below, and it's particulary worth noting that the attendees included two ‘secret WW2’ veterans -
Fred Bailey Ld'H, CdG had parachuted into occupied France as a member of SOE's Jedburgh team Citroen, and later served with Force 136 in the Far East. He and his comrades has been exfiltrated from the Burmese jungle by Lysander of the RAF’s No. 357 (Special Duties) Squadron.
Stanley David Ld’H had served with the RAF's No. 624 (Special Duties) Squadron, which was based in Blida, Algeria. As the despatcher in one of its Halifax crews he was personally responsible for dropping agents and supplies to resisters in Southern France. In June 2016, Stanley - who lives in Littlehampton - received his Légion d’Honneur at a specially arranged ceremony at the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum.