War memorial to Royal Air Force squadrons based at RAF Wickenby during the Second World War. Sculpture of Icarus by Margarita Wood ARCA, lettering by Ralph Beyer. Unveiled 1981.
Reasons for Designation
The memorial to 12 Squadron and 626 Squadron of RAF Wickenby, which stands at the gate to Wickenby Aerodrome, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* as an eloquent witness to the service of Royal Air Force personnel during the Second World War.
* a simple yet poignant memorial with sculpture by Margarita Wood and lettering by Ralph Beyer.
The aftermath of the First World War saw the biggest single wave of public commemoration ever, with tens of thousands of memorials erected across England. By contrast, after the Second World War many commemorations took the form of additions to these existing Great War monuments. During the First World War, British losses included members of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service as well as personnel from the Army and Naval services. Following the formation of the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918, the air service was to become a significant factor in strategic, tactical, intelligence, and defence operations during the Second World War.
The inadequacy of British inter-war air defence estimates, based on a hypothetical conflict with France in which Paris might be the furthest target of bombing raids, quickly became apparent at the outbreak of war in 1939 as targets were refocused to Germany, its capital Berlin, and the Ruhr Valley. A pressing need for airfields suitable for the operation of long-distance heavy bombers led to the Air Ministry’s agreement in October 1941 to develop ‘heavy’ airfields, one such being RAF Wickenby in Lincolnshire.
RAF Wickenby opened in September 1942, built rapidly by McAlpine on land owned by Mr Bowser. 12 Squadron was based at the new station, flying Wellingtons (a medium-range twin-engined bomber built by Vickers) until converting over the Winter to Lancasters (long-distance four-engined bombers by Avro). It had been one of the early First World War Royal Flying Corps squadrons, formed on 14 February 1915 at Netheravon (Wiltshire). In November 1943, C Flight of the squadron was used to form the nucleus of the new 626 Squadron.
Together the squadrons took part in many bombing raids on enemy targets. Lancaster I ME758 of 12 Squadron was notable for having been deployed on 108 missions, whilst 626 Squadron took part in the infamous Nuremberg Raid of 30/31 March 1944: the single costliest night attack for the RAF in terms of aircraft losses. Despite the overall outcome, the 16 Lancasters of 626 Squadron participating in that raid all returned.
12 Squadron left RAF Wickenby in September 1945, whilst 626 Squadron was disbanded on 14 October 1945 having flown 2,728 sorties in only two years. The full complement of personnel had been 1,788 Royal Air Force and 287 Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. More than 1,000 serving from Wickenby during the Second World War died during the conflict. After brief use by other units the airfield was closed in 1956.
Commemorating these losses, the 12 and 626 Squadron War Memorial was dedicated on 6 September 1981 by Bishop Cocks, former Chaplain in Chief of the Royal Air Force. The Wickenby Register, formed in 1979 by a small group of aircrew who had served on station from 1942 to 1945, was responsible for the memorial's erection and also for the printing of a Book of Remembrance which is housed in the museum in the airfield Watch Office. The sculptor Margarita Wood ARCA DCP DIPICP designed the memorial, including the bronze figure of Icarus. That echoes the traumatic experience of Arthur Lee whose Lancaster was shot down during a raid on Germany. The memorial's inscription was designed by Ralph Beyer.
The memorial’s base was re-worked in 1986 and in 2009 a War Memorial Trust grant helped to improve accessibility. Following the theft of two bronze squadron badges from the memorial’s stele, the Icarus sculpture was removed for safe-keeping: but the figure and both badges, which were recovered, have since been reinstated.
Margarita Wood ARCA studied Fine Art at Hornsey College of Art and the Royal College of Art, where as well as her art practice she developed an interest in art therapy. Following a Diploma in the Psychology of Childhood (University of Birmingham) she trained as a child psychotherapist at the Institute of Child Psychology (Lowenfeld) and works as both artist and therapist. Her father, Squadron Leader FH Bugge, was a member of 12 Squadron during the First World War.
Ralph Beyer (1921-2008), sculptor and lettering artist, was born in Berlin. In 1937 he became an apprentice to Eric Gill and then studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, and at Chelsea School of Art with Henry Moore. It was as an internee during the Second World War that he met the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner. After the war he worked for numerous masons including David Kindersley. Whilst a number of his works are to be found in listed buildings, such as his porch and foundation stone inscriptions in the Grade II*-listed Church of the Resurrection (West Malling Abbey), he is especially known for his monumental inscriptions in the Cathedral of St Michael, Coventry (Grade I).
The memorial is located beside the gated entrance to Wickenby Airfield. It marks the southern end of the memorial walk, a line of trees between the memorial and the old Watch Office (each tree commemorates a member of RAF Wickenby personnel).
The memorial consists of a tapering Derbyshire gritstone stele, standing on a broad three-stepped base. The tread of each step overhangs slightly, for the placement of wreaths and floral tributes. To either side of the pylon is a bronze of the two squadron badges, whilst the front face of the memorial carries the bronze figure of Icarus falling from the sky. The figure, which was cast using the lost wax process, is reminiscent of both the framework of Icarus’s wings made by his father Daedalus, and the airframe of the aircraft flown from the airfield. The boy tumbles head-first, crying out, and his right arm appears to have been partially torn away in the fall.
Below the figure the dedicatory inscription reads ROYAL AIR FORCE/ WICKENBY/ NO 1 GROUP BOMBER COMMAND/ 1942 – 1945/ IN MEMORY OF/ ONE THOUSAND AND EIGHTY MEN/ OF 12 & 626 SQUADRONS/ WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES ON/ OPERATIONS FROM THIS AIRFIELD/ IN THE OFFENSIVE AGAINST GERMANY/ AND THE LIBERATION/ OF OCCUPIED EUROPE/ PER ARDUA AD ASTRA.