Dam good show from Brooklands to honour Barnes Wallis

EYES were fixed on the sky as Brooklands Museum honoured the 70th birthday of Sir Barnes Wallis’ famous bouncing bombs.

Wallis, who spent four decades working out of the Vickers-Armstrong Aviation Factory, engineered the device that made the Dambuster operations such a great success.

A Lancaster Bomber (below) – the aircraft used for the 1943 raids – soared through the air on Sunday in honour of the great engineer.

MEMORIES – Byfleet resident Vic Benson worked alongside Barnes Wallis at Brooklands

MEMORIES – Byfleet resident Vic Benson worked alongside Barnes Wallis at Brooklands

Watching it together with some 2,000 other awed spectators was Byfleet resident Vic Benson, the museum’s guest of honour and former colleague of the great Wallis himself.

Vic, 93, was drafted in to join Wallis’ team in 1942, working at Foxwarren Park, near Silvermere.

Vic is the only known surviving member of the Wallis team. Although he never worked on the bouncing bomb, Vic did play a part in two other Wallis-inspired projects.

The first, called ‘Highball’, was an explosive based on the design of the bouncing bomb, and was intended for use on-board the smaller Mosquito fighters.

The concept never saw military action, but a third type of explosive, the ‘Tallboy’, was eventually used to sink the German battleship Tirpitz in 1944, thereby ending the Nazi occupation of northern waters.

Asked what it was like working alongside the famous man himself, Vic said: “He was around all the time and always very much on top of everything.

“Whenever something wasn’t right, he wanted to know about it and he would find out what was happening.”

Vic also explained that the technicalities of the bombs – such as balancing them so they would not vibrate as they were spinning – were among the most demanding aspects of the project.

But despite coming under fire, placing their own lives in serious jeopardy, Vic and Wallis knew they had to keep on working.

He said: “When they bombed us out, I thought we’d be finished.

“But we gathered up all the parts that weren’t damaged, moved them across the site and started up again.

“They shot us up there as well, but we still kept going.”

Museum marketing manager Paul Stewart said the aircraft’s flight was a very poignant moment for all involved.

He explained: “I think the amount of people who turned out shows just how important it is, not only for older generations, but for the education of young people and the preservation of the legacy.

“It was the commemoration of a very significant moment in the war, and the Lancaster fly-over brought home how real the work of Wallis was. The breaching of the dams slowed the German war machine and put the fight in our favour.

“To our knowledge a Lancaster Bomber has not flown over the Brooklands Museum since the war, so it was really quite emotional.”

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