One of the most important decisions was what to do with the black dog's grave - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

Search
Go to content

Main menu:

One of the most important decisions was what to do with the black dog's grave

By and large people close to Cranwell were delighted by the news that the Red Arrows were moving there, but the problem was the same as with all the other airfields: the station could not afford to stop its own intensive flying for six 30-minute periods daily to give the Red Arrows sole use of the skies overhead. And, of course, there was now the delicate PR problem of explaining why, if Scampton was to be closed because it was no longer needed, the Red Arrows were going to continue their training flying there and at a not insignificant cost. Curiously, the local media never asked that question, probably because they were so pleased that the Red Arrows would still be flying over Scampton. Nor, as far as I know, did the media question the cost of maintaining the runway at Scampton, necessary in case any of the Red Arrows needed to use it in an emergency, or the cost of maintaining fire and ambulance crews at Cranwell during the Red Arrows flying times. The media might also have asked how the MoD hoped to sell off the base to business concerns when the Red Arrows would be roaring overhead six times a day in winter, but they did not!

It was clear, to us in the Red Arrows at least, that the decision to close Scampton had been taken hastily and without giving due thought, or any thought at all, to the consequences. One very, very senior officer, whom I bumped into socially two or three years later, cornered me and asked, "Are they still blaming me for closing Scampton?" I was forced to be honest. "Many people are, sir, but of course," I added tactfully, "that doesn't mean that they know the inside story of what led to that decision." "Suffice it to say," replied the very, very senior officer, with a resigned look on his face, "it was not my decision. I tried to warn people of the difficulties that it would create - but I was over-ruled." I looked at him with raised eyebrows, but he merely smiled and refused to be drawn further. It was that famous need-to-know principle at work again.

Very soon, a lot of people became concerned about another home that might be needed. Guy Gibson's dog had lain in its grave just outside number two hangar at Scampton for 52 years. A lot of people thought that, if the base were to be sold off or abandoned, the dog should be exhumed and moved somewhere safe. "Grave doubts over dog's final resting place" was just one of the newspaper punning headlines that appeared in the spring of 1995. There was a flood of letters to newspapers, Scampton and the MoD offering suggestions about what to do. Most of the letters arrived on the Station Commander's desk and he, Group Captain Chris Burwell, promptly sent them on to me for action.

The main worry most people had was that if Scampton base was left unattended, then vandals would get in and rob or damage the grave. Suggestions included: making a shrine on the side of the A15 at the exact point where the dog was run over in 1943; moving the dog's remains to the Petwood Hotel in Woodhall Spa where the Dam Busters transferred after leaving Scampton and where their annual reunions were still held; reuniting the dog with his Master in the graveyard in Holland where Guy Gibson is buried; moving the dog's remains to East Kirkby, the home of a well-known aviation heritage museum and the airfield from which Gibson took off on the mission from which he never returned.

Inevitably the arguments started up again between those who maintained that the dog was never buried outside No 2 Hangar and those, including me, who maintain that he was. I had irrefutable evidence of that, as I related earlier in this volume. Sheffield University offered us an expert at locating human bones hidden underground. He had, apparently, recently helped the police in finding buried bodies connected with some gruesome murders. The writer thought that it ought to be possible to locate the dog's remains using the same technique. The Station Commander declined to take up that offer and I agreed with him: from a purely PR point of view it could have had the wrong outcome!

In the end, it was decided to leave the dog at peace where he was buried, until such time as RAF Scampton was sold off when it would become a problem for the new owners. Group Captain Burwell was mightily relieved because that meant he no longer had to make, or be associated with, such a controversial decision. When I finally left Scampton in 2001 the dog's remains were still there and the grave was still lovingly tended, as it had been for many years, by a local resident, Mervyn Hallam.

In the last few months in the life of RAF Scampton, my job, which was still Community Relations Officer for the Central Flying School, the Station itself and the Red Arrows, had taken up even more of my time. There were still as many low flying complaints to be dealt with and there were even more requests for visits. Fortunately I had a steady stream of holding officers who could be trusted to handle visits. The number of letters from members of the public increased considerably so, eventually, I started issuing a newsletter with all the latest information on which units were deploying where and when. As the final date approached, I prepared one final newsletter; here is the text of that final newsletter dated 23 November 1995:

Scampton is now effectively closed and the last aircraft have departed. Although the final date for handing in the keys of the main gate is 31 March 1996, all that the few remaining personnel have to do now is the cleaning up of the site. If you received any of my earlier newsletters please forgive another newsletter rather than a personal letter. This final letter, which is complete in itself, is designed to bring the many friends of Scampton right up-to-date.

The Red Arrows left today, 23 November 1995, at the start of another extensive overseas tour. Between now and the Team’s arrival at its new home, RAF Cranwell, in late February 1996, the Red Arrows will be visiting the Middle East, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines and Australia. The tour is being paid for, not by tax-payers, but by British industries. Please do not write to the Red Arrows before March 1996 as there will be no one to reply to correspondence before then. Please also note that the Red Arrows will be unable to host any visits at Cranwell before October 1996 at the earliest because when we get back from the Far East we will have to settle into our new home and by then the 1996 season will be already under way. As most of you know, we do not have visitors during any display season because the pilots and their aircraft are rarely at base. Incidentally, many of the Red Arrows’ flying practices in 1996 and beyond will take place overhead Scampton airfield but there will be no access to the airfield for visitors and parking places on the A15 north of Lincoln are very limited and regularly patrolled by the civilian police. The Red Arrows’ aircraft will not land at Scampton. When the RAF leaves Scampton, access to the site will no longer be under our control.

Other units formerly based at Scampton have already deployed as follows: The Central Flying School Bulldogs went to Cranwell; the Elementary Flying School to Barkston Heath; all the Basic Flying Training Tucanos to Linton-on-Ouse; the CFS Refresher Squadron to Topcliffe. All CFS training flying at Scampton ceased at the end of March 1995. HQ CFS, with the Commandant and his staff, moved to Cranwell in mid-May 1995. If your particular interest is the Dam Busters, you may wish to know that The Dam Busters’ Museum, with all the Squadron memorabilia, records and photographs, has always moved with 617 Squadron and is now located at RAF Lossiemouth, Morayshire, Scotland.

The only thing that remains at Scampton is the grave of Gibson's black dog; the question of what, if anything, to do with the Grave is still being considered. In spite of all kinds of ill-informed rumours, we are certain that the dog was buried within a few yards of where the present headstone lies. There have been a number of sensible suggestions and a number of outrageous suggestions. The final decision will not be made until the future use of the land at RAF Scampton has been decided; if the land remains in MOD hands then there should be no need to move the grave at all and that would be the ideal solution. The Lancaster aircraft that for many years was a Gate Guardian at Scampton is now the centrepiece of a fine museum, The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, based at East Kirkby, halfway between Sleaford and Boston. Contrary to a popular misconception, there is no Bomber Command Museum at RAF Scampton and no memorial.

The Lincolnshire Echo published, on 1 April 1995, an excellent colour supplement telling the history of RAF Scampton from 1916 to 1995 and including many historic photographs as well as Dam Busters’, CFS and Red Arrows’ material. If you are outside the Echo’s circulation area you can still order copies by post.

Thank you to the many thousands of visitors who came here in my 6 years in post; sorry to the many hundreds we were not able to fit in for a final visit. As I wrote at the beginning of this letter, this office is now closed so please do not telephone or write because you will almost certainly get no reply.

Goodbye from this historic station.

/continued here or click here to go back to the top of this page

 
Back to content | Back to main menu