Monthly Archives: November 2012

Dad – miscellaneous documentation

By way of expanding off the logbook section I have just created a sub set of pages to show some of the miscellaneous documentation that I have found of Bob’s. I’m not sure whether these are common documents, or rare, of interest or not, but I guess the way I will get answers is by people knowing I have them.

Either access the documents under ‘Crew Logbooks/ Robert Douglas ‘Jock’ Sommerville’

Or go them directly;

Medical Enlistment Certificate here
Clothing Book here
Service and Pay Book here
Service and Release Book here

1,000th view today!

In a little over 2 months of this blog being up I received my 1,000th view today. I am amazed by the interest shown so far and would like to thank everybody for showing an interest in the site and especially those who have been so generous with their comments and kind words of support.

many thanks to you all



The truth is clearly stranger than fiction…..

I regularly lament my failure to talk with dad about his time with the squadron. Bizarrely, one small snippet of station life he did share centered around the after diner antics in the mess. To put none too finer point on the subject, it essentially involved, dropped trousers, a vigorous expulsion of a combustible gas and a cigarette lighter – Bob’s recollection being that a gentleman by the name of ‘Toddy’ was able, almost by request to kiss the ceiling of the mess hall with his emissions……..

At the time, I took these tales with a pinch of salt and since starting my research, to be honest have considered the tale as, well a rather minor aspect of history, but today I stumbled upon the following that certainly confirms the practice, if not clarifying the identity of ‘Toddy’.

The following extract comes from ‘Royal Blue’, this story is an extract from a letter written to Stan Brooks, an airman with No. 75 Squadron, (RAF Feltwell), by Gwyn Martin, one of his contemporaries. Both men served at Feltwell during the early War years and both of them became German Prisoners of War. The account, given in the letter, is a refreshing snapshot of what life was like on the Station when the crews were being rested. It may occur to some readers that perhaps young men have not changed all that much over the years. The story was prepared by Dan Engle and can be read in full here

I remember the occasion of the Duke of Kent’s visit for the celebrations of Jimmy Ward’s VC, or was it some other event. It was certainly the night of a fart lighting competition in the Sergeants Mess snooker room. The consumption of beer had been greater than normal. The darkened room was periodically lit by sheets of blue flame as each fart was fired by a Ronson lighter. The contest for the most successful flame was in full swing when the SWO appeared in the door of the darkened room and shouted, “Room attention for his Royal Highness the Duke of Kent”. Someone answers from the safety of the darkness, “Tell him to fuck off, till I’ve lit this big bluey”. Without further comment there was a noise like thunder and the lit bluey was the best of the night, a right Royal fart. It was the SWO in the doorway and it could have been HRH in the corridor behind him, on one point there could be no argument – the SWO was as pissed as we were.

Based on the research material I have to hand, I believe 2 individuals might be ‘Toddy’ from Bob’s stories – if they are not I apologise – If one is, I’d love to know……

TODD F/Sgt R, RAF. (755708) WOAG 6 Jul 1943? to ……..?…….. c/w ……..

TODD Sgt W J, RAF. (546595) FE 9 Oct 1943 to x Jul 1944 c/w F H Turner then R B Berney.

Times change – and places do to…..

Well, what are you supposed to do when you have a total travel time from Thessaloniki, in Greece to Manchester of 10 hours, when only 4.5 of those are actually flying?

I decide to go through the ORB putting together a cut and paste history of the Halliburton crew (Devinder Sidhu and David Church being my interest). Working up from the op where the boys were lost, the realisation dawns on me that David was not part of the crew per se and it makes me think, once again the ORB’s have shown a sad trick of fate. I have known his son, also David Church since last summer reunion and at the time I was amazed that having spent the weeks before talking to Tony about Devinder and then meeting David, that they were the ‘crew’ as it were – apparently not…..

I don’t normally find my self in 1942 – most of my research efforts inevitably have been focused on 1943 – 45. I decided a few months ago to undertake the (in hindsight) slightly stupid attempt of cataloguing the Stirling’s of the Squadron – from arrival to replacement by the Lancasters. A full Sunday satisfied me this was a task greater than a whim and a weekend, but it let me see and begin to remember names – coming back to the ORB for ’42, I am pleased that I still recognise the names.

Running backwards with the Halliburton crew I reach the point where Keith undertakes a 2nd dickie flight with P.J. Buck – now that is a name I remember from my last stay in 1942. Reading back to the description of the raid I come a cross an amazing description of the fate of F/S  C.A. Rothschild’s aircraft and their subsequent rescue – This level of reportage I find really touching – something that certainly humanizes these boy’s experiences and something that slowly evaporates through the following 3 years of the war.

“Stirling III BF455, captained by Flight Sergeant Rothschild, was hit over the target by A.A. Fire and also chased by fighters. This caused him to run out of fuel over the English Channel on the way home, and he eventually crashed landed in the sea 3 miles off Shoreham. The wireless procedure had been perfect, and Spitfires had been escorting it from the French coast, and a Walrus flying boat was waiting for it to crash land. Dinghy drill was perfect and all the crew got in safely after an immaculate landing – the Stirling floating for 25 minutes. The final scene enacted in the Channel as the Walrus collided with the dinghy and dropped all the crew in the sea. No ill effects except for Sgt. Grainger, the Flight Engineer, who suffered from shock.”

When I scroll further back to see the raid destination……it’s Frankfurt – I am sat in its airport typing this…..

Memorial Garden, Mepal

In some respects, this morning is what we are here for. Its good to meet up with old friends at these reunions, but particularly at this time of the year, we are here to remember. I distinctly feel the contrast between last year and today. 12 months ago we were here for the first time with Bob’s ashes to commit them in the memorial garden – it all felt very serious and important – though, perhaps as it should have.

This year certainly doesn’t have a carnival air to it, but I do feel different, more relaxed and contemplative – it will nice to be back in the garden. Perhaps it was because we had Bob’s committal prior to the remembrance service last year, but the service seems to go by surprisingly fast this year – after a service at the village cenotaph I decided not to go on to the village chapel for the service, but instead to go back to spend some time in the garden with my thoughts – something that I wanted to do last year…but, well……I wasn’t able to.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Friends of 75(NZ) Squadron Reunion – Saturday night

Last year, Bev Sandra and I only attended the Saturday evening meal at the reunion, so had no real frame of reference regarding a ‘typical’ reunion weekend. Returning this summer, across the 2 days, we saw that Friday night was more an informal catch up, but the Saturday was seen as ‘the’ night regarding the main reunion meal. This year there was a very good attendance – perhaps it inevitable with these events, but despite seeing new faces, you are never able to get round to everybody and introduce yourself.

Unfortunately the raffle did not provide me with the volume of prizes I had hoped – perhaps a salutary lesson that you can’t pay to influence the odds – even by buying 300 tickets. If this lesson needed  to be bought home any more effectively, Jack, the Association President took home a a huge pile, from a mere handful of tickets (hope you enjoy the whiskey Jack)

Kevin King used the occasion to report on matters of the Association. There was very good news regarding the request for donations to the memorial garden – several thousand pounds have been donated. It was also suggested that there should be a formal membership – £20 per couple per year to contribute to the running and information costs of the Association – I’m pleased to say a majority vote by the diners supported this proposal. Jack Richards was presented by Margaret, with a miniature of the new sign and notice board that was relatively recently put up outside the USAAF Community Centre at RAF Feltwell to record its renaming in the honour of James Ward VC, the only member of 75(NZ) to win the Victoria Cross) – it will be placed in Jack’s museum for display.

Path Finder Force Museum, RAF Wyton

Bless her heart, Margaret Still does like to provide us with things to do on these reunion events……..
This morning we drive in convoy to the Pathfinder Museum at RAF Wyton – home of Number 8 Group, Path Finder Force.

From the museum website;
The creation of the Pathfinder force was a source of one of the bitterest arguments of the Second World War. Initially the brainchild of Group Captain S O Bufton (a staff officer for whom Bomber Command’s chief Arthur “Bomber” Harris had special contempt), Harris thought an elite would breed rivalry and jealousy, and have an adverse effect on morale. Sir Henry Tizard, advisor and one of the chief scientists supporting the war effort, said, however, “I do not think the formation of a first XV at rugby makes little boys play any less enthusiastically.”
Harris, however was forced to accept the idea. In order to minimise any adverse effects, Harris decided that every Group would have its own pathfinder, but again a bitter argument ensued, and eventually Harris lost and a separate group was formed: 8 Group, commanded by Donald Bennett, a talented and pioneering young aviator born in Australia. At 33, Bennett was the youngest officer promoted to Air Vice Marshal (in 1943). His awards include Commander of the British Empire, CBE, and Distinguished Service Order, DSO. However, Bennett was not the first choice – Harris opposed the primary choice of the Air Ministry, Basil Embry, the dashing young leader of 2 Group.

The PFF crews thereafter found their way in the Force via varied routes; crews or individuals could volunteer at any time while serving with Main Force squadrons, while aircrew who showed promise in their training could also find themselves seconded into the force. Some crews in mid-tour could also be transferred into PFF when numbers were needed to be made up to establishment where required.

Recruits were given a two week course in marking techniques at Warboys before posting to a Squadron. Bennett addressed each intake personally and the crews came to have an intense sense of loyalty, pride and professionalism in their membership of 8 Group.

The PFF crews were also granted a step up in rank, and increase in pay, but had to do a 45 trip tour rather than the usual 30 trips, for as long as they were serving in PFF. In the end, Harris was proved wrong about PFF’s effect on morale – the silver PFF badge allowed to be worn on their uniforms was genuinely a sought-after achievement.

PFF crews found themselves given ever increasingly sophisticated and complex jobs and tasks that were constantly modified and developed tactically during the bombing campaign from 1943 until the end of the war. Some of the more usual tasks were as: “Finders”; these were 8 Group aircraft tasked with dropping sticks of illuminating flares, firstly at critical points along the bombing route to aid navigation and keep the bomber stream compact, and then across the approximate target area. If conditions were cloudy then these were dropped using H2S navigational radar.

“Illuminators”; were PPF aircraft flying in front of the main force who would drop markers or Target indicators ( TI’s) onto the designated ‘aiming point’ already illuminated by the “Finders”. Again, if conditions were cloudy H2S navigational radar was used. These TI’s were designed to burn with various colours to prevent the German defenses lighting decoy fires. Various TI’s were dubbed ‘Pink Pansies’, ‘Red Spots’ , and ‘Smoke Puffs’. “Illuminators” could include Mosquitoes equipped with ‘Oboe’ if the target was within the range of the highly accurate Oboe bombing aid. “Markers”; would then drop incendiaries onto the TIs just prior to the Main Force arrival. Further “markers” called ” Backers-Up” or “Supporters” would be distributed at points within the main bomber stream to remark the original TI’s as required. As the war wore on, the highly dangerous role of “Master Bomber” was introduced as a sort of master of ceremonies, the appointed Pathfinder (usually a highly experienced senior Officer) circling the target and broadcasting instructions to both Pathfinders and Main Force aircraft, correcting aiming points and generally coordinating the attack.

The proportion of Pathfinder aircraft to Main Force bombers varied enormously according to the difficulty and location of the assigned target; 1 to 15 was common, though it could be as low as 1 to 3. By the start of 1944 the bulk of Bomber Command was now bombing within 3 miles of the PFF indicators; a huge improvement in accuracy. The success or failure of a raid now depended overwhelmingly on the Pathfinder’s marker placement and how successfully further marking was corrected.

The PFF flew a total of 50,490 individual sorties against some 3,440 targets. The cost in human lives was grievous. At least 3,727 members were killed on operations.

The museum is staffed by volunteers as are most – I have the utmost respect for people like these. Its not the same as researching a relative or individual of interest. These people give of their time for the information of others and I think they deserve more support. The museum is currently undergoing somewhat of a rebuild and will be soon moved into new facilities on the airbase. I hope they get the space and expertise to allow them to tell the story of No. 8 Group, Path Finder Force in the way that it deserves.

As the presentation continues, it dawns on me that Allan would have been here for his second tour. He flew Mosquitoes in 1945 with 128 Squadron Light Night Strike Force – responsible for flying diversionary and ‘harrying’ missions deep into Germany. Once again I found myself musing on the way I seem to discover these coincidences on my journey……..

Information about the Path Finder Museum can be found here.