Anyone in London during the next month will have a rare opportunity to see some of Guy Gibson’s personal effects – his log, a hat and some letters. They are on show in the (you might think unlikely) venue of the Lords Cricket Museum in St John’s Wood.
You may wonder why this particular museum has been chosen but an official MoD press release explains:
Few are aware that Lord’s Cricket Ground was once a constituent part of the wartime RAF. After the Battle of Britain the Nation turned its attention to taking the war to Germany, but it was realised that existing RAF selection establishments were unable to cope with the sudden demand for thousands more aircrew.
It was decided to create an [AircrewReceiving Centre] at Lords in London because of its central position in the rail transport network.
Civilian volunteers for air crew training were recruited and given a basic medical and attested at centres near their home. Later they would receive a letter telling them to report to Lord’s. On arrival, they were assembled into flights, each under the command of a Corporal, kitted out and accommodated in a number of requisitioned blocks of flats nearby. Collectively, the assets were known as RAF Regents Park. The ARC opened on 14 June 1941 with the first intake of cadets on 30 June 1941.
The recruits would be marched to the canteen of the nearby London Zoo for their meals. During a two to three week period, they received basic instruction on service life; underwent a rigorous medical and a series of tests designed to weed out unsuitable candidates and identify the most suitable aircrew role for those remaining. From Lord’s they were posted to appropriate Initial Training Wings around the country to continue further training in their selected roles.
With the decreasing need for aircrew in the latter stages of WW2, ARC Lords was closed on the 31st Aug 1944. During the period from 1941 more than 115,000 civilians and 44,000 in-service volunteers for air crew passed through its doors. Many thousands of these young men were later to lose their lives on operations.
Some of the aircrew who flew on the Dams Raid must therefore have spent their first days in the RAF at this ARC, eating meals at London Zoo.
Was it a coincidence that the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster overflew Lords last Sunday in a salute? The simple answer is, I don’t know, but I will do my best to find out!
(Hat tip David Layne at Lancaster Archive Forum.)