Warrant Officer William Geoffrey “Bill” Foxley (17 August 1923 - 5 December 2010) was a trainee navigator with RAF Bomber Command during World War II who suffered severe burns following a crash. He was notable for the support he gave to other burns victims and for a film appearance that gave awareness of the facial burns suffered by World War II aircrew to a wide audience. After the war, in July 1945, he became a Squadron Leader and retired from the Emergency List with this rank in February 1954.
Early life and World War II
Foxley was born in Liverpool and he joined the Royal Air Force in 1942. On 16 March 1944 he was 20 years old and close to completing his training as a navigator with No 28 Operational Training Unit at RAF Castle Donington. His Vickers Wellington bomber took off at 23:19 on a training flight, but within a minute the flaps dropped down fully at an altitude of 200 feet (60 Metres) causing the nose to pitch up and the aircraft then stalled and crashed. He escaped from the blazing aircraft without injury but then returned to help the wireless operator. He suffered severe burns to his face and hands exiting the burning aircraft through the astrodome on top of the fuselage and the airman he tried to rescue did not survive.
Foxley was put under the care of Consultant Plastic Surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe at Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead where he underwent 29 operations to his face and hands. These Included the tubed pedicle procedure which involved cutting a flap of skin from a normally hidden part of the body such as a thigh and then sewing its long edges together to form a tube. The other end of the tube was attached closer to the face to which the pedicle was eventually attached directly. On leaving hospital he was blind in his right eye, still suffering pain from his injuries and had impaired vision in his left eye due to a damaged cornea.
Foxley lived in Devon and then in Surrey where he was in close proximity to East Grinstead hospital for further treatment and he worked in facilities management at the Central Electricity Generating Board. In 1969 he appeared in the film Battle of Britain (1969) as a pilot with facial burns in a scene with Kenneth More and Susannah York. He was a member of the Guinea Pig Club and gave support to burns victims from subsequent conflicts. He said he often had an empty seat next to him on his train journeys to work as people would move away when the saw his face and hands. He usually then greeted them with "I don't bite, you know" He also set up a charity called Disablement in the City.
- Battle of Britain (1969) - Squadron Leader Evans
- Chorley, W.R. Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War, Volume 5, 1944: Amendments and Additions. London: Ian Allan Publishing, 1997. ISBN 978-0-904597-91-2
- Bill Foxley at BlondMcIndoe Research Foundation. Retrieved 24 October 2012
- Daily Telegraph Obituary. Retrieved 24 October 2012