May 11, 2023 10.30 am This story is over 12 months old

“Betrayal again” – Outcry at RAF’s plan to move grave of Guy Gibson’s dog

RAF says the grave site is at risk

Plans to move the grave of Wing Commander Guy Gibson’s dog from RAF Scampton to RAF Marham have been called a “kick in the teeth” for the community.

The RAF applied to West Lindsey District Council to move the grave from the hanger to the current base for the 617 Squadron in Norfolk.

The beloved Labrador, whose name was a racial slur, was a mascot for the Dambusters squadron.

The force’s application said there was no guarantee that the site’s heritage could be secured, given uncertainty around asylum seeker housing plans.

However, the potential grave relocation has caused controversy after it was made public on Wednesday.

West Lindsey District Council Vice Chairman and Scampton councillor Roger Patterson called the move a “kick in the teeth for the community”.

“It’s part of our heritage and has been there for 80 years,” he told BBC Radio Lincolnshire. 

“If they were going to move it to be with Guy Gibson himself then possibly there wouldn’t be a problem, but there’s no guarantee that 617 Squadron are going to stay at RAF Marham.

“We’re fighting for our heritage and to protect and enhance it and tell the story for years to come, and the RAF have gone and done this. It feels like a betrayal again.”

He said a temporary move would be acceptable if there was a legal guarantee it would come back.

The dog was owned by wing commander Guy Gibson, before it died in 1943 while Gibson was fighting in the Second World War.

Scampton Holdings, the developers behind West Lindsey District Council’s £300 million investment plans for the site, has said the move is a warning sign that RAF Scampton’s heritage will be lost.

“The exodus of historical artifacts from the site will have a significant long-term impact on the local economy and community,” they said.

“In the hearts and minds of a significant proportion of the British public, the dog’s story is synonymous with the Dambuster story.

“The links between RAF wartime aircrew and pets are well known, with many squadrons keeping dogs as mascots to provide comfort in down-time amidst stressful flying operations which went hand-in-hand with the loss of friends and colleagues.”

The application from the RAF says: “We believe the grave site is at risk and carries significant reputational risk given the racial slur now associated with the dog’s name.

“We feel it would be better to return the marker and any remains to 617 Squadron.

“The dog was one of the Squadron’s mascots and would take care of the story for the foreseeable future.

“Ideally the grave would remain at Scampton as part of the important story, and indeed the nation’s story, but the future is now too uncertain to recommend this course of action.”

The dog’s grave is outside a hangar at RAF Scampton near Lincoln.

However, there has been mixed reaction on social media with some criticising the move and others arguing that it might be better located elsewhere.

Terry Rumble commented on post in a local group: “The motto of the Squadron is “Lest we Forget” – well you soon forgot about Scampton didn’t you? You should hang your heads in shame.”

Rita Bateson, however said: “It’s sad but the grave will be well protected at RAF Marham. 617 Squadron will care and cherish his memory.”

Guy Gibson’s dog featured in both his biography and in the 1955 film ‘The Dam Busters’. He was killed after being hit by a car on the night of the Dambusters raid. 

His name has caused controversy in recent years, and was removed from the gravestone in 2020.

This sparked a petition with thousands of signatures  for it to be put back.

West Lindsey District Council heads to the High Court today (Thursday, May 11) in a bid to stop the Home Office plans to house asylum seekers at RAF Scampton.

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