40 years on – Growing older and older.
I took no interest in Air Force Associations until just before I retired and although I knew that there had been a 75 N.Z. Squadron Association in New Zealand I did not visualise one in the U.K. The Air Crew of the Squadron had been a mixture of N.Z., Canadians, Australians and U.K. personnel and the majority of the ground crews etc. were from the U.K. However the U.K. people came from all parts of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and this was the reason that I did not expect a Squadron Association to be formed.
However just before I retired an Office Manager (who knew I was in a N.Z. Squadron) contacted the N.Z. Embassy in London to ask if there was a N.Z. Squadron Association in this country. He did this without telling me and it was probably that some time previously I had mentioned other friends in Associations going on reunions. The Embassy gave him the name and address of the Secretary in Cornwall and the Association was my old Squadron No.75. In due course I received a letter from him and he advised that they had been going for about 10 years. I promptly joined and so made my first contact with people that I had been with over 40 years earlier. Since than I have joined the Air Crew Association and the R.A.F.A. and these associations have proven to be an added interest since I retired from active employment.
The link between 17th.December 1942, 28th April 1943 and 28th Ausust 1987
On the 17th December 1942 four out of five Stirling Bombers failed to return from a raid on the Opel works at Fallersleben — one of these being short Stirling BK620 and the Bomb Aimer was Eric Williams the author of ‘The Wooden Horse’ escape story. The plane had been damaged and after the other crew members had baled out the Pilot Sgt. Ken Durmall ditched the plane in Lake Westeinder, not far from Amsterdam. He was also taken prisoner so that all the crew escaped with their lives and ended up as P.O.W.s The Germans tried to get the aircraft to the shore but did not succeed and years later a Dutch Aircraft Recovery Group managed to get several parts ashore and these were placed in a museum. One part was an almost complete propeller and on the 28th August 1987 members of our Association were invited to Holland to attend an unveiling ceremony of the propeller that had been mounted as a memorial to 75 N.Z. Squadron as the Dutch had formed a special relationship with us due partly to the dropping of food and supplies by the Squadron. This was a wonderful experience and the people of Aalsmeer treated us to days to remember and they expressed their appreciation to the R.A.F. on many occasions. They did of course suffer greatly under the Germans and some said that the sound of our Aircraft gave them hope and they knew that they were not alone. There were still 5 members of the crew still alive and one attended the ceremony and I met the Pilot in Holland the following year when we received a further invite to a new museum of reclaimed parts – Eric Williams had died in 1984
Now we come to the link of these two dates with the 28th April 1943 which was the date that only 3 of us out of 7 returned from laying mines in Kiel Bay. While I was on the coach after the unveiling Stan Brooks came on and asked me what I had been up to as a Counsellor from the N.Z. Embassy in the Hague wanted to see me. He had arranged that we meet at the next stop which was a further reception in Aalsmeer. At this I met this Counselor and he produced a Battle Order that covered the Mine Laying Operation and asked if I was the Sgt.Wall listed as one of the crew that returned. He then told me that his Uncle Sgt. A.C. Howell was one of those that did not return from the operation and that all his family in N.Z. were told was that he failed to return on the night of the 28th. April. He had since traced the operation and obtained a copy of the Battle Order and asked if I could tell him anything about the raid and his Uncle. I advised him that I could not say much about his Uncle after all this time but that there would have been little chance of survival as we flew in at 600 feet or so and the A.A. Fire co-operating with searchlights was very intense and we saw several aircraft going in the sea without a hope.
However it so happened that on the day we took off, an official photographer took some photos and in my logbook that I had with me was one of our crew standing in front of our aircraft and another one showing all the N.Z. personal that were going on that operation that night. It was a large photo and all the faces were clear and although he was too young to have known his uncle he recognised him from other photos that he had seen. It was a pity that no one thought of sending copies of this photo to the relatives of the ones that went missing that night . I cut the photo from my logbook and gave it to him and he had it copied and later returned my original to me. He said that the copy he had made to send tohis Father and Aunt (Brother and Sister of Sgt.Howell were even better than my copy. In November we attended our usual Squadron Association reunion at Mepal and while there went into Ely Cathedral to look for Sgt. Howell’s name in the R.A. Roll of Honour. The glass fronted case was opened for us and my wife took a very good photo of the entry which is in beautiful writing and we sent copies with other postcards of the Cathedral to the Counsellor – Jim Howell, who had by this time heard that he was being posted back home.
Since then we have been to the Runnymede Memorial and placed flowers in The Niche where Sgt.Howell’s name appears and taken photos and sent them on to Jim.
At the end of March 1990 Jan and I were going to the Squadron Reunion in New Zealand and Jim (who was now back there) heard that we were going and got in touch with our Navigator – Slim Ormerod – who was also back in New Zealand and asked him if he knew what we were doing after the Reunion Slim told him that we were staying with him for 5 nights then making our way up North to join the rest of our party at Auckland for our flight to Perth. He lived in the South part of North Island and Jim was only a few miles away. Jim arranged to collect us and take us to his parents home in the Hawkes Bay area – his father being a brother of Sgt.Howell. On the way we visited some lovely spots and then spent the night with his parents Next day they took us on a sight seeing tour and we ended up at his Sister’s house in the Bay of Plenty. After all this we were ¾ of the way to Auckland and after 2 nights with them they organised a wonderful bus trip to Auckland were we met up with our other friends. We still hear from them at Christmas exchanging letters and Calendars and they always ask when we will be returning to stay with them.
At the Reunion in March 1990 I managed to recognise Slim who I had last seen in 1945 as he was Squadron Navigation Officer at Mepal when I returned with Jack Bailey to do my second tour. He was in the bar (where else would he be) and he still had the habit of letting his pint pot dangle on one finger after he had taken most of it down. I reminded him that exactly 47 years to the night we were 10,000 feet over Berlin in a Stirling.
A few years ago I was staying in Chateris for a November Re-union when I met Ernie Brook and during a chat with him he mentioned the Mine Laying disaster and when I told him that we were one of the lucky ones who got back he asked which aircraft we were in. When I told him it was “V” he reminded me that he was one of the team who serviced it that day. It is quite possible that he is one of the ground staff on my photo of the Aircraft that was taken just prior to take-off…………