A Voyage Of Discovery
When Fred Murray-Walker and his wife Lynne recently visited RAF Waddington from Australia, it was part of ‘A Voyage of Discovery’ that had begun only 6 weeks earlier.
Fred’s father, Frederic, had joined the Royal Australian Air Force during the Second World War and had set sail to Canada for his aircrew training as a navigator just days after Fred was born in 1943. Frederic tragically lost his life with 463 RAAF Squadron on the night of 31st August 1944 when his Lancaster PD259 crashed on a remote mountain top near Kingussie in Scotland.
The death of her husband greatly affected his wife. Fred’s mother rarely spoke about his father and she kept very few mementos of his time in the RAAF. Consequently, Fred knew little about Frederic during his childhood in Australia. It was whilst was researching his grandfather recently that a chance internet search shed light on the memorial to the crew of PD259 on the estate of Ian MacPherson-Fletcher in Kingussie. Fred contacted Ian and arranged to visit the memorial during a trip to Scotland. Ian mentioned the PD259 Project in the Station Heritage Centre at RAF Waddington, which led Fred to arrange a 24 hour trip to Lincolnshire.
After the bodies of the crew of PD259 had been recovered, the wreckage of the aircraft had lain undisturbed until recent times, when artefacts had started to be looted. In agreement with the landowner personnel from RAF Waddington have mounted expeditions to recover parts of the aircraft which are now on display in the Station Heritage Centre.
As Fred and Lynne’s visit coincided with many of RAF Waddington’s personnel being away on operational detachments, I was asked to help host the visit. Fred had said that whilst he had obtained a copy of Frederic’s service record, he did not fully understand all the postings and acronyms. I was able to explain how Frederic had done his training in Canada and then travelled to the United Kingdom and crewed up with other Australians at No 27 Operational Training Unit at Lichfield. The crew were at No 51 Base, former RAF Swinderby, for their Heavy Conversion training prior to coming to Waddington. As this was nearby, Phil arranged to take Fred and Lynne to visit the memorial at Swinderby before they arrived at RAF Waddington.
Squadron Leader ‘Hedgie’ O’Brien, the Station Veterans’ Officer, welcomed them to the Heritage Centre and explained about the exhibition and tribute to PD259 and its crew. Flight Sergeant Jimmy Tarbox was able to talk about the crash site environment, having participated in one of the Station’s recovery expeditions. They were also able to view the entries in the 463 RAAF Squadron Operational Record Book, which showed that his father lost his life just 4 days after arriving on the Squadron. Fred and Lynne were most impressed with the effort and commitment of station personnel to commemorate his father’s crew.
A side-trip to the small PD259 display in the entrance to Operations Wing allowed Fred to stand in the doorway of the Lancaster his father had entered that fateful night. Fred and Lynne concluded their visit in the Station Memorial Garden, where the centre piece is the RAAF Memorial that features one of the 3 bladed propellers recovered from PD259.
Before he left Fred explained that he had grown up not really knowing about his father, but that following this visit his father had become more of a person to him. Whilst RAF Waddington had a copy of photo of the Australians who perished on PD259, Fred kindly donated an original photo with the crew’s signatures on it. This will now go on display in the Heritage Centre.
Squadron Leader Dawn Akyildiz, the Station’s Heritage Officer, noted that “Visits like this one demonstrate just how important preserving and displaying the heritage of RAF Waddington is. The Heritage Centre serves as a strong reminder to station personnel of the ethos of the RAF, but we also aim to encourage members of the local community to visit to learn more about the valour and dedication of RAF personnel since the Station first opened in 1916. We also hope that they will be able to share personal stories or experience, which will add to our current displays and preserve our heritage for future generations.”
By Phil Bonner