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:
https://www.thenorthwall.com/whats-on/the-dambusters-and-beyond/

 

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5 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.

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