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When cupid’s arrow strikes

Jack ‘Farmer’ Lawson (centre)

Jack ‘Farmer’ Lawson (centre)

On this most romantic of days, we look at the occasions when cupid’s arrow has struck amongst the men and women working and living at RAF Duxford and the bitter-sweet consequences of love during times of peace and conflict.

Peggy and Jack

Peggy Balfour was a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). She met Jack ‘Farmer’ Lawson, a Battle of Britain fighter pilot based at RAF Duxford, at a local dance at RAF Digby in 1940.

Peggy later wrote in her diary, ‘What joy! He was tall, and I found he danced beautifully.’

They got to know each other well. Peggy remembered the time they spent together:

‘We used to visit the local pubs, or buy fish and chips and eat them out of newspaper. The weather always seemed to be fine and sunny. We laughed a lot, and were always talking, we talked about everything and we argued – we certainly did not agree all the time. I remember, he was always teasing me about my ideas and I think, thought me a little mad. But we enjoyed our jaunts into the countryside. We had lots of fun, and best of all, Jack never fussed.’

Jack was posted to RAF Duxford before the Battle of Britain began. They regularly exchanged letters and occasionally, Jack would fly to RAF Digby to visit Peggy. On 21 January 1941, Peggy was posted to RAF Duxford to work in the Operations Room. The day before her posting was announced, she wrote:

‘If I should go anywhere – could it be Duxford, just could I be so lucky. What shall I do without my friends…of course if I went to Duxford, I should have Jack somewhere around – would that be a good thing, would I know too much.  Whatever happens, I must not seem too gloomy. There is enough of that around at the moment.’

Peggy soon got used to life at RAF Duxford. She found she could not always see Jack, as he was often scrambled to fly combat missions. But they spent many happy days together in Cambridge. One of her fondest memories was of the day Jack came into the Operations Room and acted as controller, with Peggy as his assistant.

Peggy also recollected that Jack had flown her to a dance in his Spitfire. In a very cramped cockpit of a one-seat fighter aircraft, the only way she could have travelled with him was by sitting on his lap – surely something that the authorities would have frowned upon, had they ever found out.

On 30 August 1941, Peggy wrote in her diary:

‘I mustn’t give in, I must write something down in my diary, but what can I say – just that Jack has been shot down. He is missing, there is no hope for him. 19 Squadron…are searching for remnants this morning.’

Peggy clung onto the hope that Jack had survived, but sadly her hope was in vain. Jack had been shot down and killed over Rotterdam. The only memento that Peggy had of Jack Lawson was a sketch that she had drawn years later from memories of her beloved Jack.

57 years later, collections staff at IWM Duxford were able to give Peggy a video of RAF Duxford during the Second World War. It included moving footage of Jack Lawson.

Peggy revisited IWM Duxford in 1999 with a group of WAAF veterans who had served in the Operations Room at nearby Sawston Hall,  which controlled the fighters going into combat from RAF Duxford.

Muriel Vera Derby

Muriel was a member of the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) at Duxford during the First World War. Born in London, she lived in Cambridgeshire and was an ‘Immobile’ member of the WRAF, which meant that while she was working at Duxford, she lived at home and could not be sent to another RAF station to work.

During her time at Duxford, Muriel was a typist clerk. Duxford’s Commanding Officer described her work as ‘excellent’.

In true Valentine’s Day tradition, Muriel clearly had an admirer at Duxford, who gave her a lovingly created handmade wooden propeller, of the type that formed part of a generator mounted on an aircraft wing. While Muriel didn’t go on to marry her romantic suitor, she kept the propeller for the rest of her life. It will be on display in the Duxford’s People section of Historic Duxford.

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