Newsletter 23
Spring 2009
Updated on 17Feb2009
Published by the Hawker Association
for the Members.
Contents Hawker Association

Aces, Erks, Backroom Boys
Book Reviews
Christmas Lunch
Demonstration Flying
Harrier News
Harrier Sales To China
Hunter News
Hurricane News
Kingston's Aircraft Industry
Members' e-mail Addresses
Restoring Hawker Biplanes
Royal Air Force Club Visit
Sea fury News
Sea Harrier News
Sir Keith Park Memorial
Windsor Camm Appeal
View From The Hover
    On 15 October Chairman Ambrose Barber and Duncan Simpson hosted a visit to the Royal Air Force Club in its beautifully appointed building at 128 Piccadilly. The day, for the twenty lucky Members who came, started with a talk in the "Hodges Room" by Wing Commander Mike Gilbert, author of the definitive history of the club.
    Lord Cowdray, Britain's first Air Minister whose son had been killed in the RFC during WWI, suggested forming a club for RAF officers and generously offered to buy the  100,000 leasehold of a 128 Piccadilly, give it to the RAF Club and pay for its refurbishment; but in the end the bill came to 350,000. Built in the 1880s on the site of the Running Horse pub to house the Gillows Club (Waring and Gillows was an important London furnishings store), 128 Piccadilly became the Lyceum ladies' club before it was bought by Lord Cowdray in 1920. The RAF Club opened in 1922.

Royal Air Force Club Visit

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    Between the wars the RAF shrank from being the world's biggest air force to one of the smallest so seriously reducing the number of potential member officers. The problem was exacerbated because most officers were serving overseas in Egypt, India and Iraq with only a few in the UK. The Club was also for gentlemen only; no ladies or families were permitted to enter thus reducing its attractiveness. The Committee consisted of stuffy 'clubable' types who were quite satisfied with the status quo so the Club was not appealing to the younger, married, officers. In the 1920s no paintings graced the walls but there were plenty of hunting trophies further reinforcing the old fashioned atmosphere. Eventually ladies were allowed in some parts of the Club, but they were not allowed to enter by the front door; round the back was a sign over a door saying "Dogs, Luggage & Ladies."!
    Consequently between the wars, and especially during the Great Depression, the existence of the Club was precariously hand-to-mouth . The expansion of the RAF in 1936 did little to help but the war transformed the situation; the Club was packed. However, in the pervading wartime atmosphere there was little maintenance or development. The post-war feeling of optimism brought new members; in fact numbers were capped to match the capacity of the dining room. Members were mainly from the General Duties (flying) branch, others were rationed.
    However, by the 1950s the Club was no longer thriving, being out of tune with potential members because the Committee was filled with old, high ranking MoD types; younger officers were not represented. Both the RAF and society as a whole were changing with respect to equality of women. This was recognised in the Service but not in the Club, women remaining unwelcome right through the '50s hence the Club was of no interest to young, married officers. The Committee felt they could not change things without the approval of the Annual General Meeting, but who attended the AGM? More high ranking, conservative types! The Club was within four years of bankruptcy and the Committee's solution was to look for a developer who would buy and demolish the building (this was the Philistine late '50s, remember) making one floor available to the Club, and then put the membership fees up.
    At this point two senior officers, Neil Cameron and Bob Hodges ( later Marshal of the Royal Air Force and Air Chief Marshal respectively), decided that something had to be done to save the Club and instituted a 'colonels' revolt'. They successfully canvassed all the Air Officers Commanding (AOCs) saying the Service must take control and make the Club relevant. The Club agreed to hand over the Chairmanship to Cameron who set up a steering group to put the Club back on its feet. They revolutionised the finances where half a day's pay was deducted at source from all who joined. Senior officers were urged to join who then might 'suggest' to the more junior that it would be a good career move to join too. It was also decided to build up a collection of aviation paintings of value. By the end of the 1960s 90% of serving officers were members and all restrictions regarding women had been removed. Unlike most London clubs the freehold of the building is now owned by the Club, a registered charity, half the cost coming from RAF central funds. This puts the Club in a good position in spite of the continuing reduction in size of the RAF. The Club is now 'family-friendly'  and runs a large social calendar.
    In conclusion Mike Gilbert thanked the Hawker Association for all the effort that had gone into the Camm bust and hoped that those present would enjoy their tour of the building.
    Duncan Simpson then said a few words about the origin of the Camm bust project. He had suggested to Geoff Claridge, the Club Chairman, that it would be a good idea to get a bronze bust of Sir Sydney next to that of RJ Mitchell, who was already there together with Roy Chadwick, Barnes Wallis and Frank Whittle. Claridge agreed and Duncan took the idea to the Association committee. Chris Farara proposed that Ambrose Barber be put forward as the sculptor and two years later the bust by Ambrose was in place together with the information panel compiled by Chris. The Hurricane painting over the bust was added later.
    In two groups, led by Duncan and Ambrose, the party was taken on a tour of the building to see part of the huge collection of aviation paintings, the heraldic squadron badges numbering several hundred, the new stained glass window, and the Camm bust, the principal object of the visit. The window depicts a number of aircraft and events from RAF history, and Members will be glad to hear that the main panel features a Harrier. Pictures by many famous aviation artists, such as Frank Wootton, David Shepherd and Michael Turner, are on display and many are of famous Hawker types, the most recent acquisition showing a Harrier GR9 over Kandahar airfield. On the ground floor gallery was the Camm bust, below it the information panel about Camm's career and the aircraft designed by him or under his direction, and above it the Hurricane painting. The whole is in an alcove with the Mitchell display which concentrates only on the Spitfire whereas the Camm display lists his 48 types (from Woodcock to Harrier I, of which some 26,500 examples were built) with photographs of eight of the most famous.
    After a drink in the spacious bar and an excellent sandwich lunch in the "Hodges Room", Ambrose told the story of the Camm bust. Firstly a small scale nine inch fired clay 'maquette' was made by Ambrose using  photographs, some of which were from the Brooklands Museum. This was submitted to the RAF Club arts committee who gave the go-ahead. Ambrose then set about the full scale bust building it up with clay over a wire 'armature'. At the Windsor memorial service to Sir Sydney his granddaughter, Liz Dixon, agreed to visit Ambrose's studio to see the work in progress. Initially sceptical she warmed to the project and helped with family photographs and useful comments. On completion of the clay model a bronze was cast using the lost wax process.
    At the foundry the clay original was covered with latex rubber in two halves so the join was down the sides. On removal the two halves of the female rubber mould were reunited and molten wax  poured in. The mould was rotated to give a constant wall thickness of wax, the rubber peeled off and the wax effigy fettled and cleaned. The wax effigy was then sprayed with a ceramic mixture which, when hard, was heated and the wax poured out, or 'lost'. This mould then had to divided into a number sections depending on the size; in this case four. Molten bronze was poured into the suitably vented moulds and the resulting castings welded together. After fettling the complete bronze was patinated with acid to give the required colour. Liz Dixon was very happy with the result and later unveiled the bust at the RAF Club on 27 February 2007. (See Newsletter 16).