The Letcombe Lion
An article on the extraordinary lives of Simba the lion and the Wynne-Eaton’s by Trevor Hancock.
The Wynne-Eytons & The Letcombe Lion
An article kindly supplied by Trevor Hancock - Local Historian
Sandy & Helen Wynne-Eyton
The story starts, with these remarkable photos showing Mrs. Helen Silver (sometimes known as Jane) and her pet lion Simba at Warborough Farm, Letcombe Regis nr Wantage. Born in 1894, the daughter of John Blandy-Jenkins JP of Kingston Bagpuize near Abingdon, Helen Blandy-Jenkins married Stephen William Miles Silver (known as Bill) of Letcombe Regis in 1914. The Silver family first came to Letcombe Regis in the late 19th Century when Bill Silver’s father Stephen William Silver (son of Stephen Winkworth Silver founder of Silvertown in London) bought the Manor House. On retirement, he made Letcombe Regis his home where he started a private natural history museum and collection. This is now at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
Simba the Lion
Joining the Royal Field Artillery on the outbreak of WW1, Sandy went to France in February 1915 to serve with 127 Battery Royal Field Artillery as a 2ndLieutenant. It was whilst observing for them near Ypres on the 24th May 1915, that a shell burst close to him burying him in some sandbags and removing his gas mask resulting in him being gassed. As a result he was incapacitated for the next three months.
On recovery Sandy decided to join the Royal Flying Corps as a pilot and by the 30th December 1915 he was a Captain and flight commander in No 2 Squadron RFC flying amongst other aircraft the BE2. Later he was appointed a Major in command of a RFC Training Camp in England. On October 24th 1916, in London, Sandy Wynne-Eyton married his first wife, Frances Carbutt who in WW2 became a senior WAAF officer at Technical Training Command.
By the end of the war, Sandy had been mentioned in despatches twice and awarded the DSO in the 1918 New Year Honours List. Remaining in the RAF post-war he served in Ireland in the early 1920s and then went to India to command no 28 Squadron RAF.
In any event, Sandy Wynne-Eyton was the pilot of Liberator AL584 which took off from Algiers bound for Paris with four other crew members and six passengers on 14th November 1944. The passengers included Air Vice Marshal G G Dawson (responsible for logistical support services in the Middle East), Group Captain E H MacDonald (CO of 144 Maintenance Unit – to which the plane belonged), Captain Jean Schneider and his wife Francoise and Andre Calmels a French Engineer. Jean Schneider was part of the French industrial dynasty whose factories had been used for German war production and had recently been bombed so there is a suspicion about what happened next. The aircraft crashed with no survivors at Saint Prix near Le Creusot very near to one of the Schneider factories. Had there been a request to the pilot to fly nearby to view any damage? One will never know. The causes of the crash are given as: ‘flew into a mountain in snowstorm near Autun’ – also there is the hypothesis of the bad setting of the altimeter is advanced’. The RAF servicemen were eventually buried at Choloy Military Cemetery near Nancy.
The First Female Pilot of the RAF
Helen remained in East Africa, flying mail runs and passenger aircraft. As such, she is regarded as one of the first female pilots in the Royal Air Force. The RAF Museum at Hendon has a copy of a letter from the AOC Air HQ East Africa dated 29/10/1943, thanking her for her service with the East African communications flight. There is also a file, at the National Archives Kew related to a complaint made against Helen Wynne-Eyton, by Imperial Airways during her time as a pilot. Apparently, she was the pilot of an aircraft which had quite a bumpy landing and the passengers felt quite aggrieved to have been flown by an amateur lady pilot. The matter reached the Governor of Kenya who received a letter from the OC commanding the RAF in Kenya saying “the word amateur is admittedly not easy, but as the lady pilot concerned has more flying hours to her credit than the majority of regular RAF pilots now in the service, the term amateur appears to been used somewhat loosely”. After the war, Helen Wynne-Eyton remarried to David Christie-Miller, a farmer who later became High Commissioner in Kenya. She died in 1955.
About The Author - Trevor Hancock
Trevor is a genealogist and local historian offering a research service in the UK both online and at various record offices. He has been involved in family and local history for many years.
White Horse Ancestors specialises in three areas of research:
The local history of the Vale of the White Horse, now in Oxfordshire but pre 1974 in Berkshire
Genealogical research about people from the Vale of the White Horse
Military and Naval Research of any period, but especially the Great War 1914-1918
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