Dambusters and beyond: Oxford exhibition marks school’s RAF connections

Report and pictures by Edwina Towson.

The school in Oxford attended by Guy Gibson is currently joint hosting an exhibition called “The Dambusters and beyond” at the North Wall Gallery. The school, St Edward’s, is set in the leafy suburb of North Oxford and has a solid but progressive look to it in the Victorian manner:

The exhibition collects together a thoughtful selection of photographic, documentary and other material relating to key figures in the school’s history who were also significant contributors to the first 100 years of the RAF (Douglas Bader, Guy Gibson, Geoffrey de Havilland, Adrian Warburton, to pick on perhaps the most famous names). The coverage of those 100 years is supported by material from the Imperial War Museum and other national collections and prints are available of many items.

The exhibition covers all the walls of the North Wall foyer and café area:

The Dambusters section is along one of the larger sections of wall. It includes logbook material (private papers from Flt Lt W C Townsend) describing the raid as “successful”, replicas of Gibson’s medals and, to the left of them, a portrait of him by Cuthbert Orde (a pilot in WWI).

These are in the setting of numerous photographs and documents giving something of the atmosphere of the secrecy and unique nature of the operation, of the extreme risks for the bomber crews (there is a telling photo – just above the medal case – of a captured RAF crewman with his German interrogators after his Halifax was shot down over Bremen) and of the morale-lifting effect of the success of the special bomb.

One of the most personal items is a letter written by Gibson to his headmaster and which has the memorable postscript “Was Awarded V.C. yesterday”.

Another pointed reminder of the operational cost is the May 1943 photo of the surviving captains of the raid – there are not many of them:

The rest of the exhibition contains a wealth of interest covering the origins and development of the RAF and of military flying. The spread is wide, through WWI, the Battle of Britain, the Pathfinders, SOE, the jet age and onward. Allow at least an hour and a half if you want to look at each item. I have given only a tiny taste of what is on offer.

As you leave, you see some posters:

Beside the posters is a tower of mugs, in case the brochure is not sufficient as a souvenir.

The exhibition runs until 17th July (entry is free of charge) and there is more information here:


9 thoughts on “Dambusters and beyond: Oxford exhibition marks school’s RAF connections

  1. George Ewing July 10, 2018 / 12:53 pm

    Excellent very interesting

  2. Stephen July 17, 2018 / 4:22 pm

    I would be interested to know which hymnal was used (ie #142) as it contains the introduction to the main tune which I haven’t seen anywhere else.

    • charlesfoster July 17, 2018 / 4:35 pm

      Stephen — I think you are referring to the other post under the category St Edward’s School, which refers to the setting of a psalm to the music of the Dambusters March. I’m afraid I don’t know which hymnal the school now uses. In my time, if I recall correctly, it was a green book called the English Hymnal. I suggest you contact the school directly. CF

      • Stephen July 18, 2018 / 9:12 pm

        Thank you – the typeface looks quite modern and is not English Hymnal which I know well. Curiously Kevin Mayhew, who has the monopoly on these things, has no idea either! I plan to play the RAF March Past at the recessional but the setting of the Dambuster’s March/ God is our strength etc. would make a suitable processional. Lots of time to find it! Thanks.

    • Edwina Towson July 24, 2018 / 3:09 pm

      In search of the elusive hymn book, I visited the school last weekend but, as it is the school holidays, found the chapel locked.

      However, the director of music has since kindly provided this explanation of Hymn 142 as shown in the photo with Charles’s 2014 entry:

      “The hymn 142 comes from St Edward’s own hymn book, compiled from various sources in 2013 and published by Gresham Books. The Dam Busters hymn is taken from another source, as a Barnard arrangement of the Coates original music (credited in the hymn book as published within The Jubliate Group, http://www.jubilate.co.uk) but with the additional introduction, which was composed by John Madden – a composer that is a friend of the school (and used to be local, working as both Precentor at Radley College and Director of Music at the Dragon); I believe it may have been composed during his time at Radley.”

  3. Edwina Towson July 20, 2018 / 10:55 pm

    There is a useful search tool here:

    This result lists 6 hymnals using John Barnard’s arrangement (there are 10 using Coates tune).

    However, none of the hymn numbers correspond with that on the photo (142) and the photo shows that there is a second arranger for that version, being John Madden, a contemporary composer well-known for his connexion with schools (e.g. the National Schools Symphony Orchestra). Also, the way that the meter is written is slightly unusual (more commonly written 7 7 7 5 7 7 11 these days).

    A search using “142” + “God is our strength and refuge” yields nothing useful so I too am now intrigued to know the solution!

  4. David Shepherd July 24, 2018 / 8:24 pm

    Keep RAF Scampton open. Must keep open

  5. Len Brown July 25, 2018 / 4:59 pm

    Hi Charles….Sandra and I visited Oxford on the last day of the exhibition. A very moving and interesting presentation…..so many worthies from the school. I purchased one of the exhibits and picked it up today…..a framed print of one of the Lancaster’s prepared for the raid…I thought it might have been AJ-A…….so I traced it through the IWM archive and it’s the ‘spare’ used by Joe McCarthy on the raid…..still extremely pleased to have it though. Love and best wishes from us.

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