BMF Dambuster Rally 2017
The spirit of the World War Two hero Guy Gibson VC and the brave pilots of 617 Squadron was brought to life in fine style at the second BMF Dambuster Rally on the weekend of 11-13 August.
Deliberately designed as a traditional, small and laidback camping rally, Dambusters II certainly fulfilled its brief. A near-capacity crowd of 120 attendees set up tents among the display planes and World War Two artefacts at the historic site on the edge of the village of Tattershall Thorpe in deepest Lincolnshire – or ‘Bomber County’ as it was known during the war.
Thorpe Camp Visitors Centre provided the ideal venue for this celebration of the heroic deeds of the wartime RAF crews who led the famous ‘Dambusters' raid in 1943. For those not familiar with the story, Wing Commander Guy Gibson and a hand-picked crew of airmen took part in ‘Operation Chastise’; a bombing raid using the now-famous ‘bouncing bomb’ developed by Barnes Wallis to destroy the Mohne and Edersee dams. This caused flooding throughout the industrial Ruhre Valley, with its armaments factories and mines, significantly hampering the Axis war effort. The mission was successful but came at a terrible cost to the men who took part in the bombing raid, with almost half never returning to British shores.
Thorpe Camp is now preserved as a commemoration of the RAF aircrews that operated from there during the dark days of World War Two, when it served as the barracks for nearby RAF Woodhall Spa – the centre of operations for the Dambusters raid. Many of the original buildings have been preserved and now host a museum – which was fully staffed and open for the rally attendees – commemorating the mission and the activities of the airmen from the nearby Lincolnshire airbases.
History, music and ale
Music on Friday and Saturday evenings was supplied by BMF regular bands Gypsie and Stealer, while acoustic sets in the summer sunshine of Saturday afternoon perfectly complemented the event’s laidback vibe. The atmosphere was evocatively brought to life by a flypast from the UK’s only remaining Lancaster bomber, based at nearby RAF Coningsby.
An impeccably marshalled ride-out on the Saturday saw the Dambusters theme continue as riders took a picturesque route through the Lincolnshire countryside, visiting nearby RAF Cranwell and its Aviation Heritage Centre. Next stop saw a visit to honour the war graves of nearby Scopwick Cemetery – final resting place of the ‘pilot poet’ John Gillespie Magee – and finally the 617 Squadron memorial at Woodhall Spa, before returning to the event site.
Back onsite, highlights included a specially commissioned Dambusters Black Dog ale enjoyed by all, complementing the excellent onsite rally catering. Food and homemade cakes supplied from the ex-officers mess and NAAFI kitchen added to the authentic World War Two atmosphere.
Event attendees also enjoyed the atmosphere – and ale – of the famous and historic Blue Bell Inn at the edge of the site in Tattershall Thorpe. The inn was a particular favourite of Guy Gibson and today it is redolent with memories of the brave aviators stationed at the camp. Pilot signatures cover the ceiling, as well as the pennies they left in the beams to pay for their drinks when returning from bombing missions – many of which, sadly, were never reclaimed by the young pilots heading off on their missions.
Saturday evening saw a special showing of the original 1955 Dambusters film commemorating the heroic mission of Guy Gibson’s squadron, perfectly catered with baked potatoes by Ruth, and followed by music and revelry into the night.
We’ll meet again...
at the next BMF motorcycle rally!
Organised by Mitch Elliott and Tony Nightingale, Dambusters II perfectly reflects the BMF strategy of small, intimate and high quality events.
“Members told us that they had had enough of big events – they wanted smaller, more laidback events with character,” says Mitch Elliott, BMF Events Director. “The days of huge events like Peterborough are long gone – now we aim to have about half-a-dozen high quality events across the UK, aimed at audiences of around 500 people.”
Co-organiser Tony Nightingale has long known of the potential of the Thorpe Camp site through his association with the ham radio community, his work with the National Youth Bike charity and his job as a DJ for Lincoln City Radio. This came to fruition last year with the first BMF Dambuster Rally, which proved a great success, albeit on a smaller scale than the 2017 version. Supported by BMF members and regular rally goers, the demand was laid for a Dambusters II.
“Mitch and I got talking a couple of years ago and the idea of doing a Dambusters Rally at Thorpe Camp came up,” recalls Tony. “Everyone thought it was a great idea, so after six months of planning the first Dambusters Rally was ready. We always intended to start small and then grow if the demand was there, and that first year we drew about 70 attendees. It was such a great chill-out event that the overwhelming feedback was that we should do it again.
“It’s nice to go to a smaller venue in a really interesting and evocative environment like Thorpe Camp, and our members really appreciated last year’s event so much,” says Tony. “‘Please do it again next year!’ was what we heard from everyone who came, and this year we’ve almost doubled attendance with the site nearly at full capacity!”
Plans are already under way for Dambusters III – save the date for August 17-19 2018! If the success of this event is any indication, early booking will be essential to reserve a space.