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Artefact of the Month

Freeman, Hardy and Willis

Seventy years ago on the night of 12/13 September 1943, Squadron Leader Hugh Verity, officer commanding No 161 (Special Duties) Squadron ‘A’ Flight, with two of his pick-up pilots, Flight Lieutenant Peter Vaughan-Fowler and Flying Officer James ‘Mac’ McCairns. carried out the squadron’s first treble Lysander aircraft operation. It was code-named ‘Battering Ram’ and the landing field chosen was near Rivarennes in Touraine, France. The plan was to fly eight passengers in each direction and to conduct the operation from the squadron’s forward base at RAF Tangmere.

The three pilots decided to rendezvous over the river Loire between Saumur and Chinon where the river Vienne flows into a bend in the Loire, easy to see by moonlight. It was also agreed between them to use non-standard call-signs; ‘Freeman’, ‘Hardy’ and ‘Willis’.

At 2236 hours, Verity (‘Freeman’) landed and taxied clear of the landing strip. He then called in Vaughan-Fowler (‘Hardy’) who landed a minute later. After exchanging his passengers, Peter took off and Verity called in ‘Willis’. McCairns landed, turned round and took off for Tangmere as soon as his three passengers had changed over. Verity departed at 2345 hours, just nine minutes after he had touched down.

All returned safely to Tangmere, where ‘Mac’ recounted that he had flown at low level along the Loire waiting for his turn to land and had heard a strange ‘phitt’ sound in the cockpit. The next morning his ground crew showed him two round holes in the side windows of his cockpit. A bullet had entered the cockpit and must have missed his nose by just three inches. ‘Willis’ went on to complete his tour, carrying out 25 successful missions and being awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses.

AN ORIGINAL OIL PAINTING OF OPERATION ‘BATTERING RAM’ BY ARTIST DOUGLAS LITTLEJOHN IS PART OF THE SOE AND PICK-UP EXHIBITION IN THE MUSEUM’S TANGMERE HALL

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