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RAF Crew Bus

A superb example of a 1947 Commer Commando Crew Bus used by the Royal Air Force on Yorkshire airfields has been secured as the latest addition to the Yorkshire Air Museum's historic vehicle collection. The vehicle was offered for sale by our friends at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, East Kirkby and the museum acted without hesitation to purchase the vehicle and bring it to the museum in view of the historic significance and condition of the bus. It is the oldest surviving Commer Commando one and a half decker bus and in 1999 was one of only 5 remaining examples and could be even rarer now.


Under the care and ownership of the Panton brothers at their Lincolnshire base, the Crew Bus raised substantial funds for the RAF Benevolent Fund after repaying the investment made by the General Engineering Flight at RAF Cottesmore, who undertook the complete restoration of the vehicle. David Hardcastle, who purchased the bus in 1978, originally donated the bus to the Flight. A tragic story lies behind the restoration of the bus. David Hadrcastle's mother wanted to give something back to the RAF Benevolent Fund, who had helped her when she was widowed six weeks after her wedding to her first husband, Sgt. Frank Wilkinson, of Huddersfield, who was killed flying a Vickers Wildebeest of 22 Squadron on 4th June 1937. In conditions of poor visibility, the aircraft hit high ground at Crinkle Crags, near Grasmere, killing both crewmembers, Sgt Wilkinson and LAC Alexander Mitchell. David gifted the Commando to the RAFBF with a view to its restoration as a Public Relations and fundraising aid.


The actual service history of XAT 368 is long and interesting. It was delivered to the RAF in April 1947 and served at various Yorkshire airfields, before being sold at auction at Ruddington, Nottinghamshire in October 1957. New owners Hull Cricket Club found it slow, causing the team to frequently arrive late for matches, although it was good for holding kit! However, a new gearbox cured this problem, but after two years, it was sold on to Newall Engineering, as a staff bus. It then passed to two commercial operators, Primrose Valley Garage & Coaches and W& H Lamb. Possibly due ton the fact that it only had 21 seats, it proved uneconomical as a coach and was only in such service for seven months. It seems to have been mothballed before being sold to the British Auto Racing Club in June 1962 for use as a race control vehicle. This saw the removal of many of the seats and reconfiguration as a mobile office, with desks and tables. In this guise, it appeared at events at Harewood for the Stockton Farm Hillclimb, meetings at Castle Howard, Scarborough and RAF Church Fenton, before ending up at Siverstone. The new gearbox fitted whilst at Hull had transformed the bus into a very good runner and a story told by one BARC member at the time that on a journey to an event, he could not keep up with it, and he was doing at least 70mph! Sadly, but almost inevitably, the bus fell into disrepair and was last driven at Siverstone in 1972 and lay decaying until the purchase by David Hardcastle in 1978. Despite David's intentions to restoring the vehicle, it remained in a decaying state until he donated it to the RAFBF and the team at RAF Cottesmore in October 1993.

 It is a tribute to the work done by the General Engineering Flight at Cottesmore and the care it received since then at Lincolnshire that the vehicle is in the excellent condition it is now. It is fully running, with the engine described as being 'as sweet as a nut'. Some cosmetic work and electricals need attention on the dashboard, but apart from that it is pristine. Not surprising, as it was totally stripped, re-skinned, repainted, re-upholstered to original specification and brought back into serviceable condition.

As the fundraising role of the bus has now been more than adequately fulfilled, the Lincolnshire team of volunteers were finding it increasingly difficult to maintain the vehicle as well as the Lancaster and Spitfire in their cares, which, understandably, take priority. This led to the reluctant decision to sell the vehicle, but Fred and Harold Panton were keen to see it go to a good and appropriate home and saw the Yorkshire Air Museum as the ideal location, should we wish to purchase it.

 There is no doubt that their instincts were right and the vehicle has found what is certain to be a loving home. The Commando has generated a lot of excitement and enthusiasm already, since it arrived on Tuesday 7th November. It has gone straight under cover whilst we assess the various possibilities for its display and use in the future. It is sure to become a major attraction in its own right, as there is a huge international following for historic vehicles such as this and we are absolutely delighted that it is here.

 The purchase was made possibly by the museum's strong performance during the season, which has seen a significant increase in gate and corporate revenue and it is very satisfying to have been in a position to acquire such an interesting artifact.