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The Actress, Spitfire the Musical, and the Bomber Command Hero

What a delight it was when actress Caroline Deverill agreed to join the cast of Spitfire the Musical as we set about developing our new show. At the core of the ‘Spitfire’ are three female Second World War Air Transport Auxiliary pilots, and Caroline plays the mother of our leading character ‘Jenny’. Over lockdown, via numerous zoom calls, we developed the piece, culminating in a showcase at Charing Cross theatre in September 2021. At last we could all meet in person! Caroline, star of ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘Billy Elliott’, brought more than just her performing talents to the piece. Her charm and personality were instrumental in creating a fantastic atmosphere for us to develop and perform the showcase.

Caroline Deverill at the rehearsals of Spitfire the Musical (photo credit Lee Wilkinson)

Caroline’s name rang a bell with me. The surname Deverill was familiar. Was it just coincidence that it was also the surname of a distinguished Bomber Command Lancaster pilot who had taken part in one of the most daring and audacious raids ever carried out by the RAF – the Augsburg Raid? I asked Caroline if she was related to the respective pilot, and she replied, ‘It’s a possibility there’s a distant connection. I’m going to ask my Dad!’ Dad replied and Caroline emailed me back, ‘Well whaddya know?! Ernest Arthur Deverill was my Dad’s Great Uncle!’

Bomber Command Lancaster pilot Ernest Deverill

17th April 2022 marks the 80th anniversary of the ‘Augsburg Raid’ when twelve Lancasters, one piloted by Ernest Deverill, carried out the daring low level daylight attack on the M.A.N U-boat engine factory. The costs were high and seven of the Lancasters were lost, with raid leader Squadron Leader Nettleton awarded the Victoria Cross. Ernest fortunately made it home and received the Distinguished Flying Cross. He would complete many more sorties in the war, ending up with quite an array of gallantry awards, a Distinguished Flying Medal, a Bar to his DFC and an Air Force Cross. Tragically Ernest was killed on the Berlin raid of 16/17 December 1943, famously known as Black Thursday, in which numerous aircrew lost their lives desperately trying to land back at the bases in terrible weather conditions – thick fog.

Squadron Leader Deverill is buried in Docking (St. Mary) Churchyard, Norfolk, and in October 2021 Caroline was able to visit Ernest’s grave, pay her respects and read the epitaph.

TRANQUIL YOU LIE, YOUR KNIGHTLY VIRTUE PROVED

YOUR MEMORY HALLOWED IN THE LAND YOU LOVED

Caroline Deverill at the grave of Ernest Deverill

One of the lyrics in Spitfire the Musical, from the song ‘At Peace Now’ is ‘sacred memories kept true’. Ernest, you are remembered.

Steve Darlow

Published inBomber CommandGeneralTheatre

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