UPDATE: The Napier-Railton will be off-site from 8th December at The Peninsula London Hotel and will return to be on-site from 9th January 2024.

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Volunteer Stories - Martyn Twigger

13 March 2021

We are back with another of our Volunteer Stories. This time Volunteer Steward Martyn Twigger has written about his family's connection with the Vickers Varsity.

When I joined Brooklands as a volunteer, a lifelong interest in aeroplanes meant that I gravitated towards the aviation side of the museum. That passion for ‘things with wings’ had been nurtured by my father, a WW2 Bomber Command veteran who, unlike many pilots, actually loved aircraft and everything associated with them. After being demobilised in 1946, and subsequently called back into the RAF on the outbreak of the Korean War, Dad became a flying instructor on a diverse range of types, including the Gloster Meteor, De Havilland Vampire and, most notably, two Vickers products, the Varsity and the Valetta. His favourite, and the machine that figured most prominently in his logbooks, was the portly and seemingly mundane Varsity, something of an unsung hero compared with the RAF’s more glamorous types. During the 1950s and 60s I grew up with the ‘Flying Pig’ (a nickname stemming more from the Varsity’s rotund appearance than any perceived deficiencies in its performance) and became aware of the affection and respect that my father and his contemporaries had for the Weybridge product’s reliability and toughness during an era when RAF training aircraft led a very demanding life.

It seemed natural then, that I should find myself acting as a steward on the Museum’s example, WF372, though its location at the back of the Aircraft Park and ‘odd‐one‐out’ status as the only military type on display had often left it unmanned if volunteer numbers were limited. I subsequently learned a good deal about “The Classroom of the Air” (as Vickers’ advertising tagline put it) that I had not previously known, from the dedicated team of volunteers who kept WF372 in trim, from the Internet and from the plethora of dusty files and ring‐binders that lurked in the machine’s storage racks and bins. However, my most intriguing discovery came about via a different route…

WF372 was one of the first batch of Varsitys built, constructed at Brooklands rather than at Hurn like most of the type’s production run, and on January 1st 1952 it was delivered to No. 201 Advanced Flying School (the type’s first operational unit) at Swinderby, Lincolnshire, where it replaced the trainer version of its illustrious forebear, the Vickers Wellington. I knew that my father had been an instructor with 201 AFS from late 1951 onwards, and it seemed at least possible that he had flown ‘our’ Varsity. A little internet research revealed that the aircraft had been allotted the tail code ‘V’, and an examination of Dad’s logbook from the period revealed, to my astonishment, that he had flown it on January 3rd 1952, just two days after its arrival. A further poignant touch was that his copilot on that day was Witold (or to me ‘Uncle Vic’) Graczyk, a close family friend, and decorated Polish war veteran, who had survived 33 bombing missions as a Wellington pilot, prior to becoming an RAF flying instructor. Sadly, as both men are no longer with us, I will never be able to find out whether, as seems quite likely, they were the very first RAF pilots to fly WF372.

Though I know that the Museum is the true custodian of its exhibits, when the pandemic is over and life returns to something like normal, I look forward to once again showing visitors over what I will always think of as ‘Dad’s Varsity’…

Martyn Twigger's father's Log Book page featuring Varisty WF372.

Martyn Twigger's father in the right-hand seat of a Varsity.