PR.7 - WJ821
WJ821, Bassingbourn
WJ821 - Allenbrooke Barracks, Bassingbourn. (Photo : Les Bywaters)

Built in 1954, this PR.7 was ready for collection in the September of that year. Taken on to MoD charge it was first issued to 82 Sqn at RAF Wyton when the squadron re-equipped from PR.3s to PR.7s in October 1954. WJ821 is next recorded with 58 Sqn, also at RAF Wyton, most likely being transferred to 58 Sqn when 82 Sqn closed down in September 1956. From 58 Sqn, WJ821 transferred to 13 Sqn at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus. There seems to be no further detail now as far as service flying is concerned but 13 Sqn flew PR.7s until they re-equipped with PR.9s in 1961 at RAF Luqa, (Malta), so it could be said that WJ821 stayed with them until then.

A correspondent, Nick Berryman, has now pointed out that he flew WJ821 with 58 Sqn in August 1970 (at RAF Wyton). This fills in some of the later history of this PR.7, seems it returned to the UK after its time with 13 Sqn. Thanks for the additional info Nick.

WJ821 is next noted however in August 1980 when it suffered a forced landing at RAE Bedford. This incident contributed to this Canberra being allotted Instructional Airframe No 8668M on 13 January 1981.

Another correspondent, Michael Canavan, has now illuminated this forced landing incident. . .

I have just seen your page on WJ821 at Bassingbourn. I know a bit more about it, because I broke it - and eventually presented it to Bassingbourn. At the time I was a flight commander on 13 Sqn at Wyton. I joined the squadron on the day it arrived at Wyton from Luqa on 15 September 1978. I had flown PR7s on 81 Sqn at Tengah some years earlier. Later I returned to Wyton as OC Ops Wg.

The landing at Bedford was 821's last trip. On 25 July 1980 my navigator and I were tasked with some routine photo work around the UK. When I last saw the aircraft the chinagraph markings on the canopy were still there, which were the crude sighting system we used for aiming the massive 48inch lens of the sideways looking camera we were going to use.

Just after take-off, still over the runway with undercarriage travelling up, about 20 knots below safety speed, there was an almighty bang and the starboard engine locked solid. The turbine had totally disintegrated. Debris was found at several places at Wyton including hitting a Devon that was taxying at the time. The ex-Polish pilot simply remarked "Its just like the f---ing war down here".

Damage visible on starboard engine (Photo : via Michael Canavan)

We were inspected by a nearby USAF Phantom from Alconbury who noted every hole, rupture, fuel leak and more. It was a toss-up whether to head for the Wash and jump or go for a landing. We did not know if we would get undercarriage or flaps or brakes but risked it and went for Bedford with its very big runway and a barrier. We did get hydraulics and landed OK. The jet was very badly mangled - clearly Cat 5. It lay around Wyton for ages. Photos of damage here and here.

Later the Army complained that when we handed Bassingbourn over to them we had left no souvenir, and 821 was offered. Alas the right wing and engine bay were shredded. So, good chiefys being what they are, a spare wing was found unofficially, and off 821 went down the road for our Army pals. We never did tell them that the right wing was from some totally different Canberra. At least it was not from a PR9 - even soldiers might have noticed that something was different! And we were lucky. At about the same time an identical turbine failure caused another Canberra to explode, killing all three on board. The much loved Paddy Thomson was in that one.

On 1 April 1981, WJ821 was transported by road to Bassingbourn where it became the Gate Guard at the Army's Allenbrooke Baracks on 7 May 1981.

My photo (above) shows WJ821, with 13 Sqn fin badge, at Allenbrooke Barracks, Bassingbourn on 13 May 2005, six days after the 24th anniversary of it being placed there.

A notice on the staboard side states :
"Painted by 1 Sqn(Royal Signals). Maintained by Tower Museum, East Anglian Aviation Society"

WJ821- from the air
WJ821 at Bassingbourn seen from the air. (Photo : Damien Burke)