VE Day is a chance to remember and give thanks for the enormous effort made by Avro throughout the war. At its peak, Avro’s labour force during the war amounted to 38,644, many of whom were women, and spread across factories nationwide.
The most famous of Avro’s wartime aircraft is of course the ground breaking Lancaster bomber. It was a stroke of genius by Roy Chadwick and his design team to produce the Lancaster in complete sections. As a result, the Lancaster could be mass produced by factories across the country, the completed sections being brought to assembly plants like Woodford for completion.
Of course, Avro’s contribution to the war effort went far beyond the Lancaster. The Anson was perfectly suited as a trainer for heavy bomber crews and 3,957 were built at Yeadon alone. It also played a pivotal role in the Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying pilots to collect aircraft ready for delivery to RAF bases. Also, when war broke out, the Anson was already in service with Coastal Command and was one of the few aircraft countering the U boat menace.
The sound design of the Lancaster led to a variety of derivatives such as the Avro York, an aircraft which impressed Winston Churchill so much that he placed an order for the VIP variant. Together with the Lancaster and other Avro ‘heavies’, the York brought supplies to those desperately in need following years of Nazi occupation. Years later the York would prove its worth again during the Berlin Air Lift.
As part of our VE Day celebrations, we were hoping to recreate an iconic photo of the iconic Lancaster S Sugar. Many of you will know that we are proudly exhibiting a replica cockpit section of this famous aircraft. S Sugar was the first of only 35 Lancasters to reach the landmark total of 100 operational sorties, a feat it achieved on the night of 11th/12th May 1944. In anticipation of the achievement, ground engineer Ted Willoughby painted ‘100 NOT OUT’ on a cookie bomb and the quote ‘NO ENEMY PLANE WILL FLY OVER THE REICH TERRITORY – HERMAN GOERING’.
We felt it was entirely appropriate to make S Sugar a centrepiece of our VE Day celebrations. Afterall, it became the first allied aircraft to land on an ‘enemy’ airfield on 7th May 1945 and was also the first allied aircraft to bring back British POWs. Furthermore, S Sugar took part in Operation Manna when food parcels were dropped over the Netherlands. It was our intention to invite Ted’s son Martin to recreate the photo of his father painting ‘100 NOT OUT’ on a replica cookie bomb we’ve built. We’re sure that in the future there will be another opportunity to make this happen. Avro underwent huge expansion both before and during the war. The Air Ministry was so impressed with the company that they funded the construction of a massive new factory in Chadderton, which was completed in 1939. There were many satellite plants across the nation as well such as Yeadon, Newton Heath, Langar, and Bracebridge Heath to name but a few. Indeed, at its peak Avro employed 38,644 workers during the war, many of whom were women. Over the past 12 months we have had the good fortune to meet two of these former Avro employees; Lillian Grundy, who built parts for Lancasters at Newton Heath, and Frank Shuttleworth who worked at Woodford both during and after the war.
VE Day must have been a time of mixed emotions for many. There was of course jubilation and relief; factory workers had endured years of backbreaking shifts under the constant threat of air raids. But it was also a time of uncertainty, especially for women, when companies were forced to contract and workers suddenly found themselves unemployed in a time when the country was in economic ruin. The camaraderie and independence women had enjoyed in their work life disappeared almost overnight as the men returned from the front. On the 75th anniversary of VE Day we remember all who served in the armed forces, the factory workers and those who worked the land. We remember a time when the country came together and the bonds of community remained unbroken by years of worry and uncertainty. We remember those we lost and the loved ones they left behind.
Perhaps VE Day is made more poignant by the worrying times we are living through and we can take heart from the courage, comradeship, community spirit, determination and bravery of the wartime generation who did so much for us. Please enjoy your VE Day celebrations safely at home and in the words of Vera Lynn, we’ll meet again.