LETTER: Please help trace ‘lucky’ cigarette case lost by pilot treated at Ely hospital
- Credit: Archant
Ron Buckland was a Halifax bomber pilot with the Yorkshire-based No.640 Squadron, Leconfield, during WWII.
On the afternoon of December 24 1944, during a raid on Essen/Muhlheim airfield, his life - and probably the lives of his crew - was saved by his cigarette case.
The case was in his right-hand pocket and up under his ribs as he sat at the controls of the bomber. Over the target, the Halifax was bracketed by anti-aircraft fire and peppered by shrapnel, which damaged two engines and the tail-plane. A piece of shrapnel struck the pilot on his right-hand side, flung him against the wall of the cockpit and rendered him unconsciousness.
It transpired that the cigarette case had taken the brunt of the shrapnel’s power but it had been driven into his side. Although the container had been savagely twisted and torn, it had protected its owner from grievous injury.
With Buckland in great pain, losing blood and lapsing in and out of consciousness, the precarious flight home became a crew effort. The Halifax eventually made landfall over East Anglia and managed to land at the emergency airfield at Woodbridge, near Ipswich. Ron was taken to Ely hospital and spent two months’ in recovery before returning to operational duties. He and two members of his crew were subsequently awarded the DFC for their efforts that day: a further member was awarded the DFM. The cigarette case was a present from Ron’s father, who had carried it throughout the First World War. Ron says that it disappeared in the days after landing at Woodbridge: he has not seen it since then.
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As a an aviation writer, I have written on two occasions about Ron Buckland’s lucky escape on Christmas Eve 1944. Now in his nineties, he finds his mind increasingly pre-occupied with fate of his cigarette case. If you can help in any way regarding its fate, do please contact me at the address below.
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