I was watching a DVD of “The Lavender Hill Mob” again recently, and noticed something I had previously forgotten. There is a scene in which Stanley Holloway (playing “Al” Pendlebury) returns from France by air. “Dutch” Holland (played by Alec Guinness) meets his flight, presumably at Croydon. Visible briefly is a Dakota with the British Civilian registration G-AGYX.
Naturally enough I thought I’d look it up. I assumed it would be an ex-Transport Command aircraft and wondered about its history. Naturally, again, I discovered the path had been well beaten before me. My interest was piqued when I read that the nose of G-AGYX still exists. I thought I’d seen it on a visit to London, but it transpired that what I’d examined was a different Dakota, at a different museum.
Bomber Command Museum, Hendon
The “Lavender Hill Mob” Dakota was Douglas C-47A-10-DK c/n 12472, built at the Douglas Plant at Oklahoma City, OK and given the US military serial 42-92648. It passed directly to Britain where it became Dakota Mk.III KG437 with 233 Squadron at RAF Blakehill Farm in Wiltshire. KG437 saw action in September 1944 as part of operation MARKET III – the resupply of British Airborne forces at Arnhem. I had a quick Google for 233 Squadron and found the photograph below.
I also happened to find a photograph of a 233 Squadron Dakota.
Post war as we know KG437 became G-AGYX when it was sold to BOAC in 1946. Its British career also included a stint with BEA (in whose markings it was filmed), then charter airline Autair (an ancestor of Court Line) and then to United Libyan Airlines when Autair disposed of its piston-engined aircraft in the mid 1960s. Its final flying engagement was as 5N-ATA somewhere in Sudan. It was noted as being derelict in Malta sometime later. I’m not clear how, but seemingly someone intended to refurbish the derelict Dakota as a restaurant, club, or bar. This clearly didn’t happen and eventually KG437 was passed to the RAF Museum, who sent the nose section to be restored by the Medway Aircraft Preservation Society in my hometown of Rochester. The nose was returned to the Bomber Command Museum at Hendon in 2006. I assume the rest of it (depending on what actually existed by then) was scrapped.
Science Museum, London
When I heard that the nose of KG 437 had been preserved, I thought “oh, that’s the one I walked through several years ago.” I was of course wrong. Firstly, the nose of KG437 wasn’t installed in Hendon until 2006, and I was long departed from Britain by then. Secondly, I remembered that the Dakota nose I had looked at was located in a completely different Museum. The colourful and slightly larger remnant below is located in the Science Museum, South Kensington, London.
There is a lot more nose here, and the paint scheme shouts “Royal Canadian Air Force” to those who recognize it from countless other post-war C-47s and Lancasters – so whose nose are we looking at here?
The Science Museum Dakota is C-47B-30-DK Dakota, originally allocated AAF serial 44-76586. This aircraft was also a product of the Douglas plant in Oklahoma City, OK.
Joe Baugher says “(MSN 16170/32918) to RAF as Dakota IV KN448 Mar 1945. Transferred to RCAF Apr 8, 1946.” Baugher doesn’t note it, but apparently 448 was scrapped at Trenton, Ontario, sometime after 1968. The front fuselage was acquired by the Science Museum, where it went on display in 1970. All records suggest that it was owned and operated by the the RCAF until its demise, so the truncated word suggestive of “AIRLINES” is a bit of a mystery although the font is a pretty good match for the “ROYAL CANADIAN AIR FORCE” legend frequently seen on RCAF C-47s. Go figure. People in museums wield paint brushes in strange ways. I don’t have any information relating to 448’s RAF or RCAF service, but I’ll keep looking.
Postscript and Digressions
RAF Blakehill Farm, where KG437 was based, is located just to the South-West of Cricklade in Wiltshire. To the North-East of Cricklade, over the border, lies RAF Down Ampney in Gloucestershire. The village of Down Ampney, besides giving its name to a well known British hymn tune (written by Ralph Vaughan Williams and familiarly set to “Come Down O Love Divine”), was also the location of a Transport Command base, housing 48 and 271 Squadrons and a number of other service units.
On the afternoon of 19 September 1944, at the same time that KG437 was flying from Blakehill Farm, Flight Lieutenant David Lord, DFC, of 271 Squadron flew from Down Ampney in Dakota KG374 “YS-DM” as part of operation MARKET III. The squadron had been ordered to fly at 900 feet to ensure proper delivery of supplies to the embattled troops below. Very shortly before the drop, KG374 was hit by Anti-Aircraft fire which started a fire in the starboard engine and wing. Lord apparently decided to proceed with the drop, and had completed one pass with his despatchers dropping supplies from the burning Dakota. Lord was making a second pass to get rid of a couple of containers which had hung up when the aircraft broke up and crashed. Lord’s navigator was thrown clear but the rest of the crew perished. David Lord was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.
No photographs exist of Lord’s aircraft, although the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Dakota ZA947 was painted to represent Lord’s aircraft some years ago. Coincidentally it’s now painted to represent “Kwitcherbitchen” of 233 Squadron (see above!)
Researching MARKET III I happened to come across this photograph, complete with crop marks, from the IWM collection: