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6 May 2017

Rear Gunner – F/Sgt Maxwell James Hibberd, 435342, RAAF, Caterpillar Club member 10353

 

On this page – A summary of the History of the Caterpillar Club;
Historical photos of Leslie L. Irvin;
F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd's membership of this Club;
photos of M.J.Hibberd's Caterpillar Club memorabilia and photos.

History of the Caterpillar Club.

The following information about the Caterpillar Club has been summarised from:
"Caterpillar Club – A Brief History" document received from Ms Judy C. Adams, Hon. Secretary, Caterpillar Club, IRVIN-GQ, July 2004;
"The Caterpillar Club Story" (© 2006 Irvin Aerospace) brochure received from Ms Sophie Comelli, Marketing Manager (Europe), Airborne Systems Limited, March 2010;
– Airborne Systems Ltd. website ( http://www.airborne-sys.com/ then type Caterpillar Club in the search box).

Full versions of the documents may be viewed as "pdf files" by clicking on the links above, which both open to a new window (Adobe Reader required). Permission to use the aforementioned documents, and photos of Leslie L. IRVIN, was given by Ms Sophie Comelli, who also provided the web link. The Airborne Systems Ltd. website explains the name changes from Irvin Airchute Company, to IRVIN-GQ, to Airborne Systems Ltd.

To quote from "Caterpillar Club – A Brief History" ........

" It remains a club without a charter, without membership fees, without meetings. Yet it is the most exclusive in aviation, for there is only one way to join. It is a way that appeals to few.......! "

 

On 19 April 1919, Leslie Leroy Irvin made the world's first recorded premeditated free fall parachute descent using a ripcord to open the parachute. Later in 1919, he established the Irvin Airchute Company.

In 1922, Leslie L. Irvin founded the Caterpillar Club. Membership is only open to those whose life has been saved by an Irvin designed or manufactured parachute. The Caterpillar name was chosen for the pure silk from which parachutes (at that time) were made, and also because a caterpillar lowers itself to earth by the silken thread it spins. The Club slogan is "Life depends on a silken thread." After acceptance into the Caterpillar Club, members receive a certificate of membership, and a Caterpillar pin with the member's name and rank.

Leslie L. Irvin also designed and manufactured the classic leather and sheepskin RAF flying jacket, initially used by aircrew in WWII, and still popular today.

In 1922 there were only 2 members, however by the start of World War II in 1939, there were approximately 4000 members in total. During WWII over 13,000 Officers and Airmen applied for membership after parachuting over enemy territory. By 1977, American and Canadian members numbered 11,332 men and 12 women. By 2004 the UK membership was 32,041, and worldwide over 100,000.

Famous members of the Caterpillar Club whose lives had been saved by Irvin parachutes are – Colonel Charles Lindberg (4 times); American General Jimmy Doolittle (3 times); WWI German Air Ace Ernst Udet (in 1934); UK's Lord Douglas Hamilton, and Air Aces "Cobber" Kain, Wing Commander Douglas Bader, "Bluey" Truscott, "Pathfinder" Don Bennett; test pilots including Alec Henshaw, Geoffrey de Havilland and John Cunningham; and former astronaut John Glenn.

 

Leslie Irvin died on 9 October 1966, and had been Honorary Secretary of the Caterpillar Club since its formation. However he had never been eligible for membership, because he never had to jump to save his life.

 

On the 75th Anniversary of IRVIN, a Horse Chestnut tree was planted in Pegasus Wood, Temple Newsam, Leeds UK, and dedicated to the Caterpillar Club ..... (quote from "Caterpillar Club – A Brief History"):

" TO THE 100,000 MEMBERS WORLDWIDE OF THE IRVIN CATERPILLAR CLUB WHOSE LIVES HAVE BEEN SAVED BY AN IRVIN PARACHUTE OVER THE PAST 75 YEARS. MAY WE CONTINUE TO UNDERTAKE THIS SAME VITAL SERVICE TO ALL OVER THE NEXT 75 YEARS. "

 

The former and current Secretary and Staff of the Caterpillar Club and Airborne Systems Ltd., previously named Irvin-GQ Ltd., Irvin Aerospace, and Irving Air Chute of Great Britain Ltd., must be congratulated on their comprehensive records and excellent filing system, as well as their swift and courteous service. Thank you.

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Leslie L. Irvin Historical Photos.

Leslie L. Irvin, Founder of the Caterpillar Club. "Historical Sky Hi Irvin 1925", from Airborne Systems, Ltd., with permission March 2010.

Photo above: Leslie L. Irvin, 1925. Original title of photo is "Historical Sky Hi Irvin". and the photo has a faint hand-written annotation of "1925".

Photo supplied by Airborne Systems Ltd., with permission to display on this website granted in March 2010.

 

 

Leslie L. Irvin, Founder of the Caterpillar Club. "Historical Leslie Irvin" from Airborne Systems Ltd., with permission March 2010.

Photo above: Leslie L. Irvin in flying gear including parachute. Original title of photo is "Historical Leslie Irvin", but is undated.

Photo supplied by Airborne Systems Ltd., with permission to display on this website granted in March 2010.
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F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd and The Caterpillar Club.

F/Sgt Maxwell James Hibberd of 462 Squadron RAAF, was accepted as a member of the Caterpillar Club in June 1945, after his life had been saved by an Irvin parachute on 10 April 1945, when Halifax III NA240 Z5-V in which he was Rear Gunner, was shot down over Germany. The sequence of events was as follows.

10 April 1945  Halifax III NA240, Z5-V was required for night operations over Germany. NA240 was tasked with Radar Counter Measures in a Protective Patrol with No. 5 Group in the Main Force to Leipzig. The Crew were Pilot Flying Officer A.D.J.Ball (Alf), Navigator Flight Sergeant N.V.Evans (Neil), Wireless Operator Warrant Officer R.R.Taylor (Ron), Bomb Aimer Flying Officer M.Frank (Murray), Flight Engineer Sergeant F.Brookes (Fred), Mid Upper Gunner Flight Sergeant J.M.Tait (Johnny), Rear Gunner Flight Sergeant M.J.Hibberd (Max), and Special Duties Operator Flying Officer J.Heggarty (John). The aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed near Zaasch at about 10.00pm. F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd baled out and parachuted to the ground. He was later taken as a PoW. All other members of the crew were killed in the incident.

__ May 1945  Undated letter hand-written by F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, Aus 435342 and addressed to Leslie L. Irvin, making application to join the Caterpillar Club, having used Irvin Parachute Number 140776 to save his life. The letter was countersigned by the Adjutant 462 Squadron RAAF, Flight Lieutenant D.G.Highman, with his added notation "Certified that the above details are correct." The return address was c/o Aus. Base P/O, Kodak House, 63 Kingsway, London W.C.2.

24 May 1945  F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd's letter of application to join Caterpillar Club received by Irvin Parachutes Co. The letter was stamped with the arrival date, marked "Urgent XPOW", and also marked with the date of the reply, 28 May 1945. (In July 2004, the Secretary of the Caterpillar Club kindly supplied a scanned copy of the original letter from their membership files.)

28 May 1945  Letter from from Leslie L. Irvin to F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, advising that his letter of application had been received, and that his membership card and Caterpillar Pin had been ordered, with a request that the suppliers rush the order. The letter was addressed c/o Aus. Base P/O, Kodak House, 63 Kingsway, London W.C.2. (The original of this letter is held by the family of F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd. A scanned image of the carbon-copy was supplied by the Secretary of the Caterpillar Club 2004.)

2 June 1945  Letter from from Leslie L. Irvin to F/Sgt M.J.HIbberd, with the enclosure of his Caterpillar Pin. The pin was engraved on the reverse with his name and rank – "F/S. M.J.HIBBERD". His unique membership number in the Caterpillar Club, No. 10353 was recorded on the carbon copy of this letter. The envelope with letter and boxed Caterpillar Pin was sent by registered post No. 5773 on 2 June 1945, and was redirected at least 3 times before finally reaching him at the Special Admin Section, RAAF PDRC, Grand Hotel, Brighton, Sussex. The Sender was IRVING AIR CHUTE LTD., ICKNIELD WAY, LETCHWORTH, HERTS. Postmarks are Letchworth 2 June 1945 (front), and RAAF Base PO London 4 June 1945 (rear), and RAAF Base PO London again on 11 June 1945 (front). (The original envelope, letter and box packaging, are all held by the family of F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd. A scanned image of the carbon-copy was supplied by the Secretary of the Caterpillar Club 2004.)

12 November 1945  Letter from Leslie L. Irvin (Letchworth, Herts.) to F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, c/o Aus. Base P/O, Kodak House, 63 Kingsway, London W.C.2., redirected to his home address at Brookfield, S.W.2. Q'land (in Australia). This letter contained the customary printed Congratulations message from the Caterpillar Club, to accompany the Membership Certificate supplied in a protective folder. The certificate has the name "F/SGT. M. J. HIBBERD" and was signed by Leslie L. Irvin. It was sealed in plastic from new, and is the approximate size of a credit card. (The original envelope, letter, and certificate are all held by the family of F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd.)

Sometime during July 1969 Article in Innisfail newspaper "Evening Advocate" after the opening of the new headquarters of Flight 7 (Innisfail) of the Air Training Corps, RAAF, a feature of which was the attendance of former members of the RAAF with war-time service. Of particular mention was former F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd and his membership of the Caterpillar Club. This was a very rare occasion in which his former war service had been made public. (Flight 7 is now Squadron 107.)

06 November 1987 Report of the 13th Annual General Meeting on that date, of the Caterpillar Club – Brisbane Group. The membership at that time was recorded as 67. The President reported that Max Hibberd had been in 'Greenslopes'.* The AGM report also reported that correspondence from the Caterpillar Club in England had been received, which advised that the Members' list was being computerized, and that member's personal file numbers were available. The Report was sent to member Max Hibberd with a handwritten notation by the Secretary/Treasurer, advising that Max's Caterpillar file number was 10353 (as per that mentioned on the letter of 2 June 1945 above). The A.G.M. report also advised the name of the London supplier for Caterpillar ties (Silk or Crimplene).
(* This was one of the many times M.J.Hibberd had been a patient at (then named) Greenslopes Military Hospital in Brisbane – initially on 30 August 1945 after repatriation when posted to No 3 BMU (Brisbane Medical Unit) Greenslopes with war injuries; on 29 January 1979 as a cardiac patient; and on frequent occasions from 1979 to 1988 as cardiac and/or nerve patient; and finally in the week leading up to his death at 'Greenslopes' on 13 March 1988.)

24 July 2004 Initial contact by email with the Honorary Secretary of the Caterpillar Club who on 26 July advised details of the records of membership of F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd. On 27 July 2004, further advice was received that copies had been made of his file in readiness for despatch. The documents were post-marked (UK) on 29 July 2004 and were delivered in Australia on Friday 6 August 2004. These copies included the correspondence mentioned above, as well as a 2004 version "Certificate of Membership" for F/Sgt M.J.HIBBERD. (Original size is A4 landscape.)

18 February 2010 Contact by email with Irvin-GQ requesting permission to use on this website, those membership files supplied previously in 2004. The reply was received on 9 March from Ms Sophie Comelli, who also attached additional information and photos, with permission to use current and former documentation.

Throughout his life after the war, M.J.Hibberd wore his Caterpillar Pin with pride. It was used as a tie-pin on all formal or semi-formal occasions, and it may be seen in photos of RAAF or ANZAC Day events, many official work-related photos, and family photos.
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F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd documents and photos.

Application to join Caterpillar Club, F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, 435342 RAAF

May 1945 – Undated letter hand-written by F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, Aus 435342 and addressed to Leslie L. Irvin, making application to join the Caterpillar Club, having used Irvin Parachute Number 140776 to save his life. The letter was countersigned by the Adjutant 462 Squadron RAAF, Flight Lieutenant D.G.Highman, with his added notation "Certified that the above details are correct." The return address was c/o Aus. Base P/O, Kodak House, 63 Kingsway, London W.C.2.

 F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd's letter of application to join Caterpillar Club was received by Irvin Parachutes Co. and stamped with the arrival date of 24 May 1945, marked "Urgent XPOW", and also marked with the date of the reply, 28 May 1945.

 

Letter from Leslie L. Irvin to F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, 435342 RAAF, advising acceptance as member of Caterpillar Club, 28 May 1945.

28 May 1945 – Letter from from Leslie L. Irvin to F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, advising that his letter of application had been received, and that his membership card and Caterpillar Pin had been ordered, with a request that the suppliers rush the order.

 

Letter from Leslie L. Irvin to F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, 435342 RAAF, with Caterpillar Pin, 2 June 1945.

 

2 June 1945 – Letter from from Leslie L. Irvin to F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, with the enclosure of his Caterpillar Pin. His unique membership number in the Caterpillar Club, No. 10353 was recorded on the carbon copy of this letter (see next image).

 

 

 

Carbon copy of letter from Leslie L. Irvin to F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, 435342 RAAF, with Caterpillar Pin, 2 June 1945; showing membership number 10353.

 

2 June 1945  Carbon copy of letter from from Leslie L. Irvin to F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, with the enclosure of his Caterpillar Pin. His unique membership number in the Caterpillar Club, No. 10353 can be seen on the top left corner of the letter. (Copy received from Irvin-GQ July 2004.)

 

 

 

Front of envelope from Leslie L. Irvin to F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, 435342 RAAF, with Caterpillar Pin, 2 June 1945.

 

2 June 1945  Envelope which contained the letter from from Leslie L. Irvin to F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, with the enclosure of his Caterpillar Pin. The envelope with letter and boxed Caterpillar Pin was sent by Registered Post No. 5773 on 2 June 1945, and was redirected at least 3 times before finally reaching him at the Special Admin Section, RAAF PDRC, Grand Hotel, Brighton, Sussex. Postmarks are Letchworth 2 June 1945 (front), and RAAF Base PO London 4 June 1945 (rear), and RAAF Base PO London again on 11 June 1945 (front).

 

 

 

Rear of envelope from Leslie L. Irvin to F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, 435342 RAAF, with Caterpillar Pin, 2 June 1945.

 

2 June 1945  Rear view of envelope which contained the Registered Post letter from from Leslie L. Irvin to F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, with the enclosure of his Caterpillar Pin. The Sender was IRVING AIR CHUTE LTD., ICKNIELD WAY, LETCHWORTH, HERTS. Postmarks are Letchworth 2 June 1945 (front), and RAAF Base PO London 4 June 1945 (rear), and RAAF Base PO London again on 11 June 1945 (front).

 

 

 

 

Original box for Caterpillar Pin, June 1945, F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd 435342 RAAF.

Original blue box in which Caterpillar pin was supplied in June 1945. Inside the fold-over lid, the lining was marked from new with the words "Presented by IRVING AIR CHUTE OF GT. BRITAIN LTD." Also in the small box with the pin, came the small piece of paper with the type-written name 'F/S. M.J.HIBBERD". Real size of box is 1½ inches (left to right) by 1 inch (front to back).

 

 

 

Gold Caterpillar Club pin, top view, showing Ruby eyes, Club Member F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd 435342 RAAF.

Gold Caterpillar Pin, top view, showing Ruby eyes. Pin owned by Club member F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, 435342 RAAF. Real size of pin is three-quarters of an inch (3/4") in length.

Gold Caterpillar Pin, rear view showing engraved name & rank of Club member F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, 435342 RAAF.

Gold Caterpillar Pin, back view, showing engraved name and rank at time of acceptance into the Caterpillar Club. Pin owned by Club member F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, 435342 RAAF.

 

 

Front of envelope from  Leslie L. Irvin to F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd 435342 RAAF, 12 Nov 1945 with Caterpillar Club Membership Card.

 

12 November 1945  Front of envelope from Leslie L. Irvin (Letchworth, Herts.) to Aus. 435342 F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, c/o Aus. Base P/O, Kodak House, 63 Kingsway, London W.C.2., and redirected to his home address at Brookfield, S.W.2. Q'land (in Australia).

 

Rear of envelope from  Leslie L. Irvin to F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd 435342 RAAF, 12 Nov 1945 with Caterpillar Club Membership Card.

 

12 November 1945  Rear of envelope from Leslie L. Irvin (Letchworth, Herts.) to F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, c/o Aus. Base P/O, Kodak House, 63 Kingsway, London W.C.2., redirected to his home address at Brookfield, S.W.2. Q'land (in Australia).

 

Congratulations card from Caterpillar Club issued to F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, 435342 RAAF, 12 Nov 1945.

12 November 1945  Congratulations card from Leslie L. Irvin (Letchworth, Herts.) to F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, This is the customary printed Congratulations message from the Caterpillar Club, to accompany the Membership Certificate supplied in a protective folder. This is the outside view of the folder. The real size of the folded card is 5 inches left to right, and 3½ inches top to bottom.

 

 

Caterpillar Club Membership Certificate, issued to F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, 435342 RAAF, 12 Nov 1945.

12 November 1945  Close-up view of Caterpillar Club Membership Certificate, sent from Leslie L. Irvin to F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd. The actual size is 3¼ inches left to right, and 2¼ inches top to bottom. The Certificate was sealed in protective plastic from new.

 

 

 

Folder with Caterpillar Club Membership Certificate, issued to F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, 435342 RAAF, 12 Nov 1945.

 

12 November 1945  The inside view of the Congratulations card folder, sent from Leslie L. Irvin to F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, showing the Caterpillar Club Membership Certificate as originally received, fitted in the card slots. The real size of the open card is 5 inches left to right, and 7 inches top to bottom, with the fold midway at 3½ inches.

 

 

News article, Caterpillar Club and member, former F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, Innisfail newspaper late 1960s.

 

Article from Innisfail newspaper "Evening Advocate" after the opening of the new headquarters of Flight 7 (Innisfail) of the Air Training Corps, RAAF. The building was officially opened on 5 July 1969 by Group Captain V.B.Cannon, DFC, then the Officer Commanding of RAAF Townsville. A ceremonial fly-past was supplied by No. 10 Squadron RAAF, and the music to accompany the official opening was supplied by No. 11 Squadron RAAF band. A feature was the attendance of former members of the RAAF with war-time service. Of particular mention was former F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd and his membership of the Caterpillar Club. This was a very rare occasion in which his former war service had been made public. (Flight 7 is now 107 Squadron Australian Air Force Cadets.)

M.J.Hibberd had joined the ATC (Air Training Corps) as Cadet 21115 with No. 3 Wing, 53 Squadron, in Brisbane, on 20/08/42. Please also see his Service File.

 

 

Caterpillar Club pin used as tie pin by former F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, 435342 RAAF.

 

One of M.J.Hibberd's favourite ties with his Caterpillar Club pin in place as a tie pin. It is seen being worn in three of the later photos.

 

 

Close-up view of Caterpillar Club pin used as tie pin by former F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, 435342 RAAF.

 

Close-up view of one of M.J.Hibberd's favourite ties with his Caterpillar Club pin in place as a tie pin. The Ruby eyes are clearly visible.

 

Front view of Caterpillar Club tie owned by former F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, 435342 RAAF.

Above: Crimplene Caterpillar Club tie, dark blue, with gold caterpillars, owned by M.J.Hibberd.

At right: Reverse view of the Crimplene Caterpillar Club tie, dark blue, with gold caterpillars, owned by M.J.Hibberd, showing the name of the London Suppliers, T.M.Lewin and Sons.

 

 

Rear view of Caterpillar Club tie owned by former F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, 435342 RAAF.

 

Caterpillar Club - Brisbane Group, AGM report, 6 Nov 1987, with mention of former F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, 435342 RAAF.

 

6 November 1987 Report of the 13th A.G.M. of the Caterpillar Club – Brisbane Group; membership 67; Max Hibberd had been in 'Greenslopes'; correspondence from the Caterpillar Club in England had been received; members' list was being computerized; member's personal file numbers were available; advised the name of the London supplier for Caterpillar ties; handwritten notation advising that Max's Caterpillar file number was 10353 (as per that mentioned on the letter of 2 June 1945 above).

 

 

 

Caterpillar Club Certificate for F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd, 435342 RAAF, issued July 2004.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On 27 July 2004, Honorary Secretary of the Caterpillar Club despatched copies of the correspondence mentioned above, as well as a 2004 version "Certificate of Membership" for F/Sgt M.J.HIBBERD. (Original size of this certificate is A4 landscape.)

 

 

Former F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd and his wife on their Wedding Day, 5 Nov 1949, with Caterpillar Club pin visible on Groom's tie.

5 November 1949 Portrait of former F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd and his young wife on their Wedding Day. The Groom's suit was double-breasted navy pin-stripe, and the Caterpillar Club pin, worn as a tie pin, is shown by the blue arrow.

 

 

Former F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd at Graduation Day of one of his children, 2 Aug 1975, with Caterpillar Pin visible on tie.

2 August 1975 Former F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd at the Graduation Day of one of his children. His Caterpillar Club pin, worn as a tie pin, is shown by the blue arrow.

 

 

Former F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd at Field Trials, Qld Gov't Lands Dept, late 1970's, with Caterpillar Pin visible on tie.

Late 1970s Former F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd at a Field Day during his employment with the Queensland Government Lands Dept. The photo is undated but was sometime in the late 1970s, prior to June 1978. His Caterpillar Club pin, worn as a tie pin, is shown by the blue arrow.

 

Former F/Sgt M.J.Hibber and wife at wedding on 11 Jan 1986, with Caterpillar Pin visible on tie.

11 January 1986 Former F/Sgt M.J.Hibberd and his wife at the wedding of one of his children. He had survived major open-heart surgery in late 1985, so looks a little weary. His Caterpillar Club pin, worn as a tie pin, is shown by the blue arrow.

 

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