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"Scruffy" Weir


This is an original photograph of a World War II pilot performing a handstand on the wing of his Hurricane fighter aircraft after returning from a mission. When originally purchased, the identity of the pilot was listed as unknown, but some historical detective work has since identified him. The pilot pictured is Flying Officer John Gordon "Scruffy" Weir, a Canadian who flew with No. 401 Squadron.

Weir was born in 1919 and attended Upper Canada College before the war. He enlisted for war service on 4 September 1939 when he was just 20 years old. After attending flight training in Winnipeg, he earned his wings and was posted to No. 401 Squadron at Lincolnshire, near the Scottish border in England. He gained his nickname while still in flight training. A RAF Group Captain who inspected the training unit saw the young Weir in a uniform spattered with glycol and said that he looked rather "scruffy," and the nickname stuck.

Weir was shot down while engaged in coastal defense duties and was burned while trying to escape his aircraft. He was able to bail out of the crippled aircraft but was captured by the Germans and sent to Stalag I on the Baltic. In mid-April 1942, he and his fellow prisoners were marched out of the camp and put on a train to Stalag Luft III. Weir became a member of the Escape Committee at the camp and applied his pre-war mining experience in Canada to helping construct the escape tunnels. He was removed from the operation after his eyes became infected from working underground. His eyelids had been severally burned when his Hurricane was shot down. Weir was sent to another POW camp to have eye surgery performed and missed the Great Escape from Stalag Luft III. It was a rather lucky twist of fate. Of the 76 POWs who used the tunnels to escape, only three made it out and escaped; 50 others were recaptured and most executed as an example by the Germans.

Weir's remeakable story is told in the 2013 book, "The Survivor: Scruffy's War" by Blake Heathcote. Scruffy died in 2009. This original photo of Weir's celebratory handstand is dated 27 December 1940 and is credited to ACME photos in New York City.

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