On 14th June, Ben, our Concept Development Manager, had the opportunity to see the famous RAF Avro Lancaster up close and personal.
Here’s what Ben has to say about his experience retracing the steps of the legendary Dambusters and having the brand new £5 coins carried on board an original WWII Lancaster Bomber…
To mark the 80th anniversary of Operation Chastise – the legendary Dambusters Raid, I wanted to capture some of that history and somehow apply it to some of the superb coins issued for the anniversary.
Following is my story of how our one day in Lincolnshire panned out. A story that makes each of these coins – in my opinion – uniquely collectable. Here’s how it went…
I have come to rural Lincolnshire to a private museum and airstrip at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre in East Kirkby, to take some of the Dambusters 80th Anniversary Coins on a ride of a lifetime.
But before that happened, it was an overnighter in a remarkable hotel, few know about. This part of the English countryside is awash with airfields, aircraft museums and RAF bases.
It was central to RAF and Bomber Command’s missions and in 1944 the skies would have been buzzing with Spitfires, Hurricanes and of course, Lancaster Bombers. And that’s why the hotel I stayed in has some fascinating Dambusters links.
The Petwood Hotel was where Wing Commander Guy Gibson and the hand picked 617 Squadron had billeted during the war.
The squadron bar is now a museum shrine to the history of the squadron featuring artwork, photos and cabinets full of authentic 617 memorabilia. This is the exact room where Guy Gibson would have had a pint with his colleagues, as they discussed their missions past and present.
There is even a genuine prototype Bouncing Bomb in the garden…
It’s a remarkable feeling to know you’re sat at the very bar they did.
After an evening at the bar, it was up bright and early to head to the Lancaster Aviation Heritage Centre. And it was here as I drove through the gates, I got my first glimpse of ‘Just Jane’, one of only FOUR operational Lancaster bombers in the entire world.
Technically known as Avro Lancaster B. VII NX611, she was one of 150 Lancasters built in early 1945 for operations in the Far East.
She’s had a varied history. In the 1970s she stood as the Gate Guardian at RAF Scampton (home of Vulcan bombers and more recently, The Red Arrows) before being sold privately and moved to her current home in 1987. She is now a fantastic piece of aviation history, and the ongoing restoration program means hopefully soon we will see her take to the skies once more.
It was a beautiful sunny day, as I arrived at the airfield early in the morning to get the coins onboard. She was still in her hangar alongside the De Havilland Mosquito and a B25 Mitchell.
Before the Lanc was fired up – the main part of our mission started. We were given permission to board and get the coins securely stashed. This in itself was a privilege, reserved usually for visitors who book the tour and the ride, something that gets booked up a year in advance.
Despite its size, there is not a lot of room inside a Lancaster for boxes of coins!
There’s barely room for people, and only once you are inside do you contemplate how it must have felt when heading on a bombing mission. It’s dark, cramped, and once you are in position, there’s no moving. With the engines running I imagine it is exceptionally loud.
The coins were loaded in with help from the crew who work at the LAHC, and I had a short amount of time to photograph them inside the plane before she was moved outside and prepared for the day’s events.
Then the magic happened.
As the four huge Merlin engines spluttered into life, a deafening roar bellowed across the tarmac, debris flew across the airfield as the wind seemed to pick up as we stood in awe. Lancaster Bomber NX611 made her way along the tarmac and onto the grass airstrip, where the engines kicked up a few notches.
It really is a sight to behold. And there we had it, coins travelling on board a piece of aviation history in the anniversary year of the Lancaster’s most famous moment – adding to their own provenance forever.
As the Lanc returned, the coins having been onboard a few hours, I had a five-minute window between runs to get onboard, remove the coins and stack them up on the airfield.
She had another group of guests to take for a ride. She wasn’t going to wait for us, and I wasn’t going to get in her way. It was a day I shall never forget. And thankfully, these coins now act as a lasting reminder of this epic and historic occasion.
If you’re interested…
This year marks 40 years since the founding of the Douglas Bader Foundation. To celebrate the occasion a range of NEW commemoratives have been issued in partnership with the charity. But, before I go into any details about these new issues, I want to tell you about the fascinating life of the foundation’s namesake – Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader.
Sir Douglas Bader
Douglas Bader was born in London in 1910 and was commissioned into the Royal Air Force in 1930. Tragically, 18 months later he was in a plane crash in which he lost both legs.
Due to this accident, he was discharged from the RAF and was forced to find work elsewhere.
However, after the outbreak of the Second World War, Bader was able to rejoin the air force. He became a leading airman during WW2, flying Spitfires and Hurricanes at Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain. In 1941, he was shot down and held as a prisoner of war.
During his descent, Bader lost his right artificial limb. He persuaded his German captors to radio England to ask them to send over a replacement leg. On the night of 19 August 1941, during a normal bombing raid, his new leg was dropped from a Blenheim, along with some stump socks, tobacco, and chocolate.
Despite his disability, he made several escape attempts. Bader was eventually placed in Colditz until its liberation in 1945.
Douglas Bader was a charismatic and controversial character. After the war, he campaigned tirelessly on behalf of amputees and people with disabilities. He inspired millions with his example and was honoured with a knighthood in 1976. He is considered a national hero for both his war efforts and his work with the disabled which he was involved in up until he died in 1982.
The Douglas Bader Foundation
The Douglas Bader Foundation was established immediately following his death in 1982 by his friends and family, many of whom had flown by his side during the war.
For 40 years, the Douglas Bader Foundation has worked to help people with disabilities, supplying prosthetics, grants, and support to many people.
To support this fantastic charity, a donation from the sale of each of the brand-new commemoratives will go directly to the Douglas Bader Foundation.
So, let’s take a closer look at the new range ….
The Silver Spitfire Commemoratives
These incredible Silver Spitfire commemoratives feature a 3D Spitfire model crafted from a genuine piece of aluminium from a Spitfire AB910.
AB910 flew in The Dieppe Raid – one of the most significant air battles in history and flew cover patrols over Normandy beachheads on D-Day.
I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to Douglas Bader and the Douglas Bader Foundation. The daring airman flew Spitfires over Dunkirk and during the Battle of Britain.
These are available in both 1oz and 5oz silver specifications. With a small amount of this historic metal available, just a limited number of these commemoratives can be made.
Douglas Bader Medal Box Set
Strictly limited to JUST 250 worldwide, a spectacular box set has been released to honour the extraordinary life of Douglas Bader. This set brings together not one, but three full-coloured commemoratives designed by artist Adam Tooby.
Alongside these commemoratives also sits replicas of three of the many medals that Bader received during his astonishing military career.
As this set comes beautifully displayed in a presentation box with a numbered certificate of authenticity, it is the perfect collector’s piece.
For many it’s hard to believe that it’s been 40 years since the Falklands conflict took place.
It’s a conflict our nation remembers only too well. It was one of the first military endeavours that had been televised, with daily reports being broadcast to our screens, reports of heroic fighting and of course, sadly, casualties.
Indeed, it’s to all those that served our country in the Falklands that we’re proud to dedicate a superb set of new commemoratives – issued for the 40th anniversary.
I’d like to talk you through each of the designs, and in doing so tell the story of the Falklands conflict…
Our battleships crossing the Atlantic
In a move condemned by the United Nations, in 1976 Argentinian forces occupied the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. In the weeks that followed, islanders were forcibly deported.
In response, for the first time since the Second World War, all branches of the British armed forces were deployed and within days a British task force set sail across the Atlantic.
Troops landing on the Falkland Islands
The Task Force landed 4,000 troops in the East Falklands. Goose Green was the first settlement to be taken by British forces. British troops then face a difficult journey through tough terrain, enemy minefields, and hostile weather conditions.
British troops ‘yomping’ across difficult terrain on the Islands
The design of this commemorative pays homage to one of the most famous images from the conflict, taken by Royal Marines photographer Peter Holdgate, showing a Corporal with a Union flag fixed to his pack.
British aircraft patrolling the skies
British aircraft played a key role in the conflict, most famously with the Harrier jets and the Vulcan bomber – two planes that are still strong in British consciousness because of their important role in defending the Falklands.
Although at the start of the conflict Argentina seemed to have an advantage in the air with over 100 aircraft of varying types, it was the strategy of the British Air Force that meant the British pilots were able to beat the odds and take control of the skies.
Returning to a Hero’s welcome
British troops were eventually able to make their way home, with huge crowds gathering in Portsmouth and Southampton to welcome them back – a well deserved hero’s welcome on their return.
This BRAND NEW set of commemoratives tells the story of the conflict and comes complete in a presentation pack to display and store them for years to come. I hope that you agree that it’s a perfect tribute to this important moment in British military history.
Did you serve in the Falklands or have memories of family or friends that were involved? As part of our remembering of the conflict 40 years since the invasion, we’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.
If you’re interested…