As an archive volunteer I have been involved with lots of different things over the last seven years from sorting records and artefacts kept at the archive to getting involved in various archive projects. The most moving and thought provoking project so far must be digitising the collection of papers from our founder Leonard Cheshire’s time in the RAF for the International Bomber Command Centre (IBCC) in Lincoln.

I was particularly reminded of that project when watching a RAF Veteran telling a BBC reporter of the part he played in the D Day landings. He had been a member of 617 squadron dropping window across the channel to make the Germans think that there was an invasion under way in northern France. Leonard Cheshire was the Wing Commander at that time, and I had digitised his papers from that mission.

Squadron of airmen from WWII stood in front of a Lancaster plane
Leonard Cheshire and 35 squadron 1941 in front of an Handley page Halifax aircraft labelled “OFFENBACH”.

The reason why I was working on this project was that after discussion with the IBCC about their digital archive, our archivist thought that this was a way of making the archive more accessible to the general public. The first thing we did was to put together the papers that we had from Leonard’s RAF service. I then prepared the catalogue list and then set about scanning each document, giving it a unique number for the IBCC records, cross referenced to our catalogue so that we had traceability. This means for the future that the original documents do not have to be handled and that we can use the scanned documents when needed.

The documents included photographs of his colleagues at work and play, crew lists of the specialist missions he flew, photographs of the target areas after the missions, letters from families and not to be forgotten, Simon his pet poodle!

three WAAF waitresses and Simon the poodle in grounds of Petwood hotel, Woodhall Spa
Three WAAF waitresses and Simon the poodle in grounds of Petwood hotel, Woodhall Spa

At the time I was digitising all those records I felt very moved and privileged to handle the historical material and began to gain an understanding of why Leonard set up our Charity. Although he had difficult tasks to perform, he never lost his humanity. The letters he received from the families of those he had written to after the loss of a loved one, to the letters he received from serving men requesting a transfer to his command and his subsequent actions to help, clearly demonstrated that he never lost his compassion for his fellow man.

View Group Captain Leonard Cheshire’s RAF records at the IBCC Digital Archive