Wednesday, 30 April 2008

RAF Volunteer Reserve at Derby, 1939

This large mounted print of a group of mostly young men in uniform was also a recent eBay find, and was purchased from the same person as the postcard described in a previous blog post, Derby School O.T.C., July 1938. Unfortunately, the vendor was unable to provide any information on the subjects or the provenance of the photograph.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne

The photograph measures 372 x 140 mm with a 3 mm margin, and is mounted on 2mm thick, plain white card with a brown reverse, measuring 451 x 230 mm. The print is annotated, probably on the original negative, "W.W. WINTER. PHOTO. DERBY." Written in pencil on the reverse is, "Derby School OTC 1935ish." However, I am not confident that the writing is contemporary with the photograph, and as will be explained in more detail below, have decided that the identification is very dubious.

Due to the size of the photograph, it has been scanned in sections. Clicking on the photo above will show a more detailed version which has the scanned areas marked out, from 1 to 8. I should point that the groups are purely arbitrary, created for scanning convenience only. lick on the images below for detailed individual scans as well.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne
Image 1 - Central seated group of six officers and NCOs

Five of these men have winged badges above their left breast pockets, suggesting that they are in the Air Force. The three in the centre with peaked caps also have medal strips. The two men on the outside of the group have three stripes on each upper sleeve.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne
Image 2 - Extreme left group of 30 men & one woman

Of the 31 people in this group, twenty are in uniform. Most of those appear to have a winged badge on their left and right upper sleeves, and several also have one, two or three stripes. In addition, there are nine young men, two older men, and a young woman, all dressed in civilian clothes.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne
Image 3 - Upper left group of 43 men

All except two of these men are in uniform; a couple appear to have stripes and wings on their sleeves, but most do not.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne
Image 4 - Lower left group of 31 men

All of these are in uniform; those seated on the chairs, in the middle row, all have wings and stripes, as do some of those seated on the ground and standing. A couple of those in the front row, suh as those on the extreme left and extreme right, look particularly young, perhaps between 16 and 18.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne
Image 5 - Upper central group of 47 men

A mixed group of men, all in uniform, showing quite a range in height, although most appear to be in their early to mid-20s.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne
Image 6 - Upper right group of 41 men

A similar group to that in the previous group, although four of them are in civvies.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne
Image 7 - Lower central group of 33 men

A similar group to that shown in Image 4, it includes mostly men with rank in the middle row, and one or two younger men seated on the ground.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne
Image 8 - Extreme right group of 19 men

The last group includes 17 uniformed young men, and two older men in civilian clothes.

Fellow sleuther Nigel Aspdin and I have discussed this photograph at some considerable length over a period of several weeks and, after a couple of dead ends, Nigel made a breakthrough yesterday.

As the photo appeared to include mostly airmen and, since it had the W.W. Winter mark, was obviously taken within 25 miles or so of Derby, it occurred to us that the group might have something to do with the Rolls-Royce aero engine factory. A quick google search turned up several records of RAF men who were sent to Rolls Royce for training purposes. For example, "... proceeded to Rolls-Royce School Derby for Merlin Engine Course," and "... has gone to Rolls-Royce, Derby, for a two-weeks course on the handling of Griffon engines."

"There cannot be many places that housed so many airmen near Derby ... They all look like ground crew, it looks like a school photo. Look at any operational aircrew photo, formal or not - it was in front of a Nissen hut with a plane in the background ... I am going down town shortly, I will call in at the Industrial Museum, they have loads of Rolls-Royce exhibits.."

Nigel did indeed visit the Museum of Industry & History in Derby, originally at the Free Library, but now relocated to the Old Silk Mill. "I was faced with the huge static aero engine displays I remember as a child ... I had a chat with the man on the desk, then wandered in, it all looked unpromising that there would be anything about Rolls-Royce training RAF personnel. At the far end was a display about a Sergeant Pilot Alan Feary. I went to read it ... and suddenly I saw your photo!! The caption ... 'RAF VR Derby 1939.' The display had been put together by a Barry Marsden and a David Drake-Feary of Derbyshire Historical Aviation Society [some 25 years ago.] It was not exactly clear how the photo related to Sgt Pilot Alan Feary, but by implication Feary came through the Derby RAF VR ... and was in 609 Squadron when killed."

So now we know that the group is from the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, and the picture was taken some time in 1939. Presumably a botanical fundi could tell us what time of year it was from the state of the vegetation. It may also be possible to find out where it was taken. If you have any further information or ideas about the photograph, or can identify any of the 250 odd people in it, please email me.

Many thanks to Nigel for going the extra mile, literally, on this one.

See later post for update.

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