View Full Version : Metal Legs.

14th Sep 2006, 17:10
In November 1957 I was posted to RAF Feltwell for a few weeks, until my scheduled CFS course was due to start. It also allowed me to convert to the Provost - which I would be flying there for the first half of the course.
Amongst other tasks, Feltwell was a unit at which pilots on Ground tours could opt to do their annual flying requirement (of around 20 ?? hours) in order to qualify for Flying Pay. Very Important.!! Amongst others, pilots from Air Ministry came.
One day the Flight Commander asked me to be Safety Pilot to a Wing Commander Colville from Air Ministry who came each year to Feltwell, apparently he had been Prime Minister Anthony Eden´s Air Advisor during the Suez Crisis. I wouldn´t need to touch the controls, he said, he´s perfectly competent - he just hasn´t got any legs (Real ones that is !!).
The WingCo was a charming New Zealander(I think.). At the end of the (Grass) runway whilst doing the checks, he told me that he had lost his legs at This airfield & This
very take off direction one night during the war in a Fully loaded Wellington ( & so this was his annual rendezvous to face his "demons" !!).
He explained that he lost an engine as he became airborne & he knew he was going to crash. Feltwell village lay straight ahead where he had many friends - as he used to play darts there in the pub when he was off duty. His only hope was to just scrape over the roofs of the village & crash in the fields on the far side. The crater should be still there,he thought.
There was no local circuit traffic so we flew a few orbits around this large crater - with water & bushes in the bottom - whist he pointed out the different places various parts had finally come to rest after the bombload had exploded. He was the only survivor - in part of the cockpit. His legs,from the knee down,were in the nose some distance away - still in the rudder bar !!
Now the most interesting bit !!
Later, back in the crew room, he told me that somehow he was left with two empty "sleeves of skin" below his knees - the bones of the lower leg & flesh having departed with the rudder bar !! Surgeons, at that, time took the opportunity to experiment if an opportunity presented itself. Apparently they wrapped these "sleeves" around some metal legs which they permanently fitted to him. He then pulled his trousers up away from his socks, about 18 inches, & showed me the result.
Undoubtedly it was a covering of skin over metal - we both knocked the leg & I heard the metallic sound. The skin looked a bit lifeless & dry - but it was skin alright !! (No flesh underneath it ).
I often get people looking sideways at me when I tell this story. I wish I had thought to ask how far the skin went down beneath the level of the top of his sock. Did it go all around his foot completely ??
One of Lifes Little Mysteries !!

14th Sep 2006, 18:32
Cannot match it to any Feltwell losses - Lost Bombers. (http://lostbombers.co.uk/results.php?type=Wellington&search=feltwell&dday=&dmonth=&dyear=&dday2=&dmonth2=&dyear2=&pagefrom=1&submit=Search) But, dear god, 8 pages of losses from just one base and 2/3 squadrons..... :sad:

ps, look at the home page of the Lost Bombers site. He seems a hell of a guy. Maybe someone from Boulmer or Leeming could get in touch.

14th Sep 2006, 18:36
Sounds utterly unlikely to me - how can the skin survive with no underlying flesh or capillary systems to provide a blood supply? That just isn't possible (admittedly my knowledge of such things ends with A-level Biology)!

14th Sep 2006, 18:51
The skin would have necrotised (died) after a few days in that environment. The blood vessels are deep in the leg, so would have been lost during the trauma.

I've seen heavy smokers have toes amputated due to early-stage gangrene caused by the vessels becoming blocked, so I can't see the skin living like that for long.

14th Sep 2006, 18:56
IIRC, any available skin is used to form a pad over the amputation site to cushion the prothesis from the bone.

15th Sep 2006, 11:56
75 SQN (NZ) Wellington Z1616 on mission to Bremen crashed shortly after takeoff on 29/6/42. Some of those killed lie in Feltwell war cemetery. Could this be the aircraft?

15th Sep 2006, 12:02
See the link in my post for Lost Bombers...

Z1616 was one of two No.75 Sqdn Wellingtons lost on this operation. See:X3539.
Airborne from Feltwell,outbound, crashed 2328 29Jun42 near Red House Farm at Methwold, and burst into flames. Eye witnesses report the Wellington as being on fire in the air, and after circling, dived into the ground.

P/O R.Bertram KIA
Sgt J.G.Quinn KIA
Sgt R.J.Grenfell RNZAF KIA
Sgt N.Mitchell RNZAF KIA
Sgt G.W.M.Archer KIA "

15th Sep 2006, 12:36
Strewth, my Dad's mob, 158 Sqn, lost 17 Wellingtons plus 142 Halifaxes in their two years of operations......

15th Sep 2006, 13:08
11321 Bombers listed.
Thats a lot of good men and a lot of good airframes.

15th Sep 2006, 14:15
Interestingly, ORAC's casulty list contains only 5 names, Wellington's had a crew of 6....
Seems likely Z1616 may well have been Wing Commander Colville's aircraft.

JT Eagle
15th Sep 2006, 14:46
'Fraid it can't be that one, at least according to 'For Your Tomorrow' Vol 1 (NZ'ers who died in RNZAF and Allied air services).

(Z1616 AA.D) Took off at about 2330 captained by Plt Off R Bertram, RAF but crashed and caught fire five minutes later near Red House Farm at Methwold, 3 miles NE of the base. The five crew died, all but the captain and navigator being buried at Feltwell.
Of the two RNZAF on board, Mitchell was 25 and this was his 4th op, Grenfell was 22 and on his 14th.


15th Sep 2006, 14:58
Perhaps this one?

28.02.42, 75 Sqn, SRL X3355, AA-Y, RAF Feltwell
Sgt Colville
Sgt H W Woodham RNZAF
Cpl K J Howes
AC2 Godwin
AC2 W Pownall

Crashed near Brandon SUFFOLK on Air Test

15th Sep 2006, 18:46
As a newcomer to PPRuNe Forume , I am very impressed with the Help & Advice already received on site & by Email. Thankyou !!
A few replies have now been neutralised by other replies. ( Methwold - not Feltwell: Air Test: Brandon. ). At least the New Zealander & Wellington seems to add up.
Anyway, it´s the medical part of the story that has always intrigued me for nearly 50 years, hence my starting this thread.
There´s no point in saying that the skin is unlikely to have survived over 10 years, because I touched it !!
However, I will concede the following :-
I asked him how the skin had lasted so long . He said that nobody knew.
Obviously there might have been some bits of flesh etc remaining with the skin & I´m sure the "sleeve" was not neat, tidy & undamaged. Was this enough to sustain "life" ??
Where we "tapped" his leg was on his metal "shin" (which wouldn´t have much flesh anyway ). Maybe there was more (flesh/veins etc) at the rear of his legs ??? I don´t know.
Incidentally, he only just made it over the roofs of Feltwell. The crater was very close to the village.
" Life is something that happens when you had other things planned". (My current favourite saying !!).

15th Sep 2006, 22:01
I´ve just been sent details of the Feltwell Website. !!It includes some GOOD RAF details & photographs. I havent had time to really study it yet but I don´t think it covers the crash in question ?. However DO have a look !!!
I tried to send a query to the website organiser - unfortunately it was not deliverable ? Anyone any ideas ??

Dan Winterland
16th Sep 2006, 02:54
It worked for Arnie in 'Terminator'.

Load Toad
16th Sep 2006, 04:35
On the subject of the amputation and the fitting of the prosthetics I don't understand - wouldn't there have been a great chance of infection? Wouldn't the scar tissue have tried to grow around the prosthetic? It sounds a bit strange.

16th Sep 2006, 08:35
Posted the accident details over on the RAF Commands board and got this response

From my 'For Your Tomorrow - A record of New Zealanders who have died while serving with the RNZAF and Allied Air Services since 1915' (Volume One: Fates 1915-1942):

"Sat 28 Feb 1942
Bomber Command
Air test
75 (NZ) Squadron, RAF (Feltwell, Norfolk - 3 Group)
Wellington III X3355/Y - took off shortly before 1600 captained by Sgt R A Colville, RNZAF. Immediately afterwards the starboard engine cut and on attempting a return to the airfield the port engine began to splutter. On approaching for a forced landing, X3355 stalled, crashed and caught fire near Lime Kiln Farm at Brandon Fields, 3½ miles ESE of Brandon, Suffolk. The two pilots were injured; the 2nd pilot died the same day in the RAF Hospital at Ely, Cambridgeshire, and is buried at Feltwell. Four ground crew were also on board, two of whom were killed, the others being injured."

Robert Arthur Colville was a member of the RNZAF from 1940 until 1947, when he joined the RAF in the rank of squadron leader. He was promoted to wing commander in 1954 (he had been an acting wing commander at the time of leaving the RNZAF). He disappears from the Air Force Lists between Jan 57 and Jul 62 and does not appear in the Retired List of 1975. Anyone know what became of him?


errol.martyn AT xtra.co.nz

Haltonbrat got the right one

16th Sep 2006, 09:33
Perhaps the pilot had more than one crash in Wellingtons? The crash above occurred in daytime on an air test, presumably would not have a bomb load aboard. The crash originally referred to happened at night and left a large crater when the bombs exploded. How close to Feltwell is Brandon? The mystery deepens!

16th Sep 2006, 10:52
Luffers re:e-mail address. Did you remember to modify the e-mail address on the site and remove "REMOVE" in the e-mail address?. If that still does not work try: [email protected], it's the e-mail address of the people who registered the address (infor from WHOIS).

henry crun
16th Sep 2006, 12:24
Night After Night by Max Lambert says the following.

Flight Sergeant Marshall, the mid upper gunner, lost both his legs above the knee when his Stirling crashed on 15th Sept 1942.
On 6th Jan 1945 he walked down the aisle on artificial limbs, to be married in St. Ethelreda's church, Ely.

His best man was fellow New Zealander Squadron Leader Arthur Colville, who had been badly injured when his Wellington crashed during an air test in Feb 1942.
Colville survived by the slimmest margin..... feet almost wrenched off, 14 breaks in one leg, 4 in the other, back broken in 2 places, skull fractured, and severe facial injuries.

He and Marshall became firm friends in Ely hospital.

16th Sep 2006, 13:32
Thanks Danza Henry Crun.
Feltwellsite will soon get back to me.

I can only think that things might have been exagerated somewhere along the line ???
However, I ´ve just looked at a map & the Brandon crash site (East of) would be about 8 ? miles from Feltwell village. - Certainly not" just over the roof tops "to where we orbited the crater. Also the Night v Day business ? Odd.
Also, the distances where the A/C bits were blown to were considerable (100 yards ??), if true . A bomb load could do it .
Maybe Feltwell´s Web Manager can help when he has a moment & it will clarify things ??
I´ll keep u informed !!

16th Sep 2006, 13:39
14 breaks in his leg would certainly require metal structures to hold the bone in place, and makes much more sense than live skin over a totally prosthetic leg.

16th Sep 2006, 13:54
Thanks haltonbrat (on your First post, I see !!). Also rusty y2k2 & all others - what you have contributed may have solved a nagging thought I´ve had at the back of my mind for years !! :)
As I said , I´ll let you know what the Feltwell Historian comes up with.:confused:

17th Sep 2006, 05:09

I've just registered. Here is a copy of a post I made on RAF Commands yesterday (further to that made on this thread earlier on my behalf by 'November 4'):

John/Dave, Also quoting a post from the PPRuNe board that appeared subsequent to John's publishing my FYT extract there (for which my thanks): "Perhaps the pilot had more than one crash in Wellingtons? The crash above occurred in daytime on an air test, presumably would not have a bomb load aboard. The crash originally referred to happened at night and left a large crater when the bombs exploded. How close to Feltwell is Brandon? The mystery deepens!" My entry is in error regarding the location of Lime Kiln Farm from Brandon - it is not ESE, nor really SW but almost directly west, lying almost equidistant between Brandon and the Lakenheath Railway Station (which lies a mile or two north of the town of Lakenheath). I could cannot now find Brandon Fields and wonder if this might have been a transcription error of data on the Form 1180 by my researcher. Since publication I have obtained a copy of a precis of the Court of Inquiry. This lists the crew sans initials and includes Aircraftman Hall, who is the name missing from Bill Chorley's entry (p38 of his 1942 Vol). It describes Colville, Godwin and Hall's injuries as 'serious'. The precis states in part: "On 28-2-42, Sgt Colville (1st pilot) with crew of five, took off in Wellington X.3355 on a test flight. Shortly after becoming airborne the starboard engine failed. The pilot endeavoured to return to the aerodrome but while making a circuit the port engine spluttered and when approaching for a forced landing the aircraft stalled and crashed. An outbreak of fire occured on impact and with the exception of the rear half of the fuselage and engines, the aircraft was destroyed... ...the starboard engine failed when the aircraft had not much height. The pilot possibly in trying to force land before he crashed, was compelled to turn to the right against his bad engine. It seems probable that the evidence of AC Hall (seventh witness) that the starboard wing stalled during the turn and dropped, and as the aircraft hit the ground with the starboard wing tip first it swung round to the right... ...it took off about 1600 hours and the crash must have occured just before 1625 hours when it was reported to F/Lt Walkerdine (12th witness). Although Mr Harrington {note spelling} (11th witness) states he found one of the occupants in the nose turret, we think it was probably the pilots cockpit. Both AC Godwin and AC Hall state that there was not one in the nose turret at the time of the crash and when we found the front turret it was completely smashed and there was no evidence of it having been occupied..." I don't think that there can be much doubt about this being the crash the crippled Colville so badly. Perhaps, though, by 1957 memory had played tricks on him or he had embellished the account somewhat, or the account as retailed on the PPRuNe board is a little garbled. Given that there is no mention of a bomb load or explosion in the precis it seems very unlikely that the crash would have caused a 'crater'. Could this in fact just be an old lime quarry? Errol

14th Oct 2010, 11:22
This is from another post I submitted to the forum last week

My mother today told me the following story :

During this part of the war, she lived in Hockwold, adjacent to RAF Feltwell. She remembers the day the plane came down (she heard the crash). It was in the daytime as she was in her office. She lived in the pub, the Red Lion on Hockwold Green which was on the Brandon Road. The billet for the aircrew was just down the road; they used the pub regularly – so she knew most of the aircrew. That evening she asked the pilots about the crash and they said it was Sergeant Arthur Colville's plane.

Arthur Colville was actually the pilot who replaced my father, Squadron Leader William Francis Jordan, after he was injured and in hospital from in another crash

Mum was a member of the WRVS and she visited Arthur in Ely Hospital until he was transferred to Stoke Mandeville (by which time he had been promoted to Squadron Leader). Two days after the crash, mum asked Arthur what caused it, he mentioned he was on a test flight but he did not know what had happened except that the ground crew had done their checks but the aircraft, in flight, just wasn’t fit to fly

Although he was in a wheelchair when he left Ely Hospital, mum is totally certain that Arthur had not lost his legs – although his injuries on this crash included fractured skull, arms, legs and ribs.

Hope this help add to the story

14th Oct 2010, 15:35
A slight thread creep from this interesting tale.

I'd be interested to learn how (or why) he was promoted from Sargeant to Squadron Leader in such a short period, especially as he would have been in hospital at the time.

14th Oct 2010, 22:28
Norfolk Civil Defence War Diary;

28th February, 1942.
0930 Weather - Fine - Sunny - Moderate N.W.wind
2045 (8) From SOUTHERN. At 1600 hrs Wellington Bomber crashed Lime Kiln Farm, Brandon G209050. Machine burnt out. One of crew dead, 5 injured. No damage to property. Repeated to Police 2240

16th Oct 2010, 20:19
London Gazette 12 June 1958

"To be Ordinary Officers of the Military
Division of the said Most Excellent
Order :—
Wing Commander Ro.bert Arthur COLVILLB
(59075), Royal Ak Force"

OCR makes searching difficult!!

9th Nov 2013, 22:06
Has been very interesting reading all this information about my cousin. Robert Arthur Colville. He died on the 16 Oct 1961 in Kent at the R.A.F. Hospital Uxbridge, Middlesex.

10th Nov 2013, 22:52
Not long after Bader had been fitted with his 'tin legs', he visited a relative for dinner. The relative had an elderly, rather grumpy fox terrier which always wanted the same spot under the dinner table.

Bader sat down and a low growl came from under the table. Whereupon he instinctively moved his legs away...then, being the rebellious chap he was, thought "The hell with this" and stretched his legs out again, with a mischevious grin.

The growling increased in tempo until the dog sprang at his ankles and attempted to bite one of them. There was a predictable loud metallic CLANG followed by a yelp from the dog, which shot out from under the table with its hair on end, trembling with confusion. It slunk off to a far corner and wouldn't go near Bader for the rest of his stay.

Flixton Buck
9th May 2014, 00:31
Concerning incident on 28.02.42, Wellington Ser. No. X3355 which did indeed crash at Brandon next to George Harrington’s farmhouse.
It was a very cold February afternoon with temperatures below zero and by that time in the afternoon quite dark. The ground crew had been working all day to service the aircraft and were the last off the airfield for an air test. As was the tradition of the time, the skipper of the kite flew it and the Erks went along for the ride. The fire destroyed most of the aircraft and it proved to be impossible to ascertain the exact cause of the crash but it was suspected that in their haste to get away they forgot to open balance cock “A”, located under the Pilots seat which evened up the fuel in the tanks. The engines had enough fuel in the near empty tank for the run up but as soon as she started to lift off started to chuck it.
Sgt Colville turned back towards the Station; Lime Kiln farm was on the downward leg of the circuit, when the Wellington crashed. There was a very small fire behind one engine and Mr Harrington, the Farm foreman who lived at Lime Kiln, started pulling the men from the aircraft and taking them into the kitchen of his house. By the time he reached Colville the aircraft was fully ablaze, and the ammo on board was starting to explode. George noted that Colville was pretty banged up and took him inside the house, where he noted that one of the other men who he had placed on his kitchen table had passed away.
The injured were taken to Ely RAF Hospital and Colville was placed under the care of Sir Archie McIndoe a New Zealander of some repute. That night he was given the last rites but never the less he was a young man and gradually improved. As far as I know he kept his legs but may have had substantial metal plates fitted.
George Harrington was called up to meet the old King and was awarded the British Empire Medal for his troubles.
There was never a large crater at Lime Kiln Farm, but you can still find small pieces of Wimpy there when they plough the field where it crashed.

24th Jun 2014, 18:49
A few final statements from me - who started this thread.

1. We took off in a roughly Westerly direction and over a village just beyond the airfield boundary. VERY close was a large field with a crater of unknown depth that had water, grass (& a few shrubs, l think). We circled this at low level a few times whilst Wing Commander Colville pointed out where the front turret finished up etc.

Some contributors have mentioned a position of a crash which does NOT appear to be the one discussed by me - which was very close to the airfield.

Presumably, the crater has been filled in during the intervening years.

There was skin over the metal part of the leg l tapped. I wish I had asked how far down it went into his sock.

24th Jun 2014, 20:46
Thanks for bringing this back up, there has been a TV series on in the UK called SuperVet and he is doing exactly what you suggest, he mounts metal feet permanently to the bone of cats, probably titanium as the bone then grows to it, the skin is then grown onto a mesh over it to seal the ends, a foot is then mounted onto this...


Oscar | Specialist Orthopaedics + Neurosurgery | Fitzpatrick Referrals (http://www.fitzpatrickreferrals.co.uk/the-supervet/episode-1/oscar)