Monthly Archives: May 2016

“Campbell’s C**ts” – Terry Ford, Pilot – 1944

Campbells cnts

An extract of a letter written by Terry Ford to Bob Moore regarding notes for the Squadron History, eventually written by Norman Franks
© Julia Burke/ Meryl Poole

Many thanks to Julia, daughter of Terry Ford for passing on a remarkable collection of her Father and his crews time with 75(NZ) Squadron. The collection is sizable and will be shared and added to the crew’s Op History page to add to what Scott has already so generously given regarding his Father Reg Weeden, the crew’s Navigator.

The schoolboy in me, couldn’t help but smirk at the above extract, written by Terry to Bob Moore, who at the time, had started the Squadron History – eventually to see the light of day as ‘Forever Strong’ by Norman Franks.

If the text isn’t big enough, click on the above image to read the rather unflattering tale of a Canadian gentleman and his desire to see the Captains of the Squadron get the respect they deserved – it seems the crews saw to that………..

I am sure there will be more posts on the Ford crew in the near future, to read the Op History for the Ford crew as it currently stands, click here.


Peter Dixon & Roly Williams, Air Gunners – Evenden Crew, 1945.

Inscription by Peter Dixon on rear of 1945 75 NZ Squadron group photo cropped and cont

Inscription by Peter Dixon on rear of 1945 75 NZ Squadron group photo supplied by Andrew Nodwell.

“This is the ‘gen’ Squadron, the only Squadron that does not break formation for flak over target…………”


A massive thank you to Andrew for a series of ‘quick turn-around’ emails to provide me with some wonderful pictures of Bill Evenden’s crew who flew with the Squadron in 1945.

Peter Dixon was Mid Upper Gunner with the crew and Andrew’s Great Uncle. Through Andrew I am also able to pass on to you all the wonderful news that ‘Roly’ Williams, the crew’s Rear Gunner, is still in fine fettle – I am all sure you would join with me in wishing him the warmest regards.

I must confess, the inscription of Peter’s on the back of his copy of the Large Squadron photograph from 1945 gave me a lump in the throat, especially as I re-typed it underneath – a true testament to the Boys of 75(NZ).

Poignant perhaps as well then, that by sending named captions for the photographs, Andrew and Roly have allowed, perhaps for the first time since 1945, for the full names of the Evenden crew to be read – something the destruction of RAF records at the end of the War, would otherwise have stopped us from knowing……….

Enjoy pictures of the Evenden crew on their Op History page here.

Alfred George Humphreys RAAF AUS.413157 – Pilot

then and now portraits copy

Alfred George Humphreys, Pilot with 75(NZ) Squadron RAF. © Alfred Humphreys/ John Humphreys

It is with great sadness that I must announce another significant addition to the Crew Op Histories section of the blog and with it, record the passing of another of the brave boys who flew with 75(NZ) Squadron RAF. This time it is Alfred George Humphreys, RAAF, who flew with the Squadron from Mepal between 1943 and 1944.

John, his son, contacted me and passed on a personal account of Alf’s time in training, Operations with 75(NZ) and subsequent War-time experiences as an Instructor.

Sadly, 10 days later Alf passed away.

In December of 2015, Alf was one of 5 veterans to be awarded the Légion d’Honneur by the French Ambassador to Australia. His award was featured in the Australian press (see below). Alf captured in so few words the events of the Op with 75(NZ) Squadron RAF on the 21st of May 1944 on the return from Duisberg, when their Lancaster was attacked be an Me,110.

“We were badly shot up by fighter aircraft. My navigator was wounded, we had one engine out and there was a hole in the plane where my parachute fell out – I told the crew to bale out and they said they would stay. We had to fly 100 miles across the North Sea to get back to our base at Mepal in Cambridgeshire….”

Read a more detailed account of this Op, as well personal anecdotes of his time with the Squadron on the Humphreys Crew Op page here.

Alf Humphreys Medal of Honour. tidied and cropped

The article that appeared in the Leader
piece supplied by John Humphreys


Ake Ake Kia Kaha!

The Kilpatrick crew – new material added to their Op History page…….

The Kilpatrick crew.
Back row from L to R: F/Sgt Jock Cattenach (A/B), Sgt Geoff Davenport (W/Op), F/Lt Mart Kilpatrick (Pilot), Sgt Ben Barton (F/E), Sgt Bob Olive (R/Gnr).
Front row: F/Lt Ray Tait (Nav), Sgt Albert Haliday (Mu/Gnr)

A notification, really, of an expanded Op history – this time for ‘Mart’ Kilpatrick’s crew. Already, the existence of the an Op History page for every single crew is providing a far easier way of adding received information and hopefully will, as posted material is cross referenced and added, result is some fascination personal histories.

Via Ginny, I must particularly thank Val, Martin Kilpatrick’s daughter for a wonderful personal biography of her Father, covering pre-war, training, Operations with 75(NZ) Squadron RAF and life after the RNZAF.

Heartfelt thanks also to Ann, Daughter of ‘Titch’ Haliday, who has been with me  since before the start of the blog, with the donation material of her Fathers.

View the updated Op History for the Kilpatrick crew here

‘Browny’ Hirst, Douglas Gould and the Wilmshurst crew 1942


Auckland Star item, 8 June 1942.

Chris keeps the posts coming! – many thanks also to Chris Cook, Robert Davey and Athalie Davey for sharing their information, and for permission to reproduce the above photograph and letter.

An old newspaper article, a page in an old autograph book, and a frail letter found folded in the pocket of a World War I diary.

They sound like the ingredients for a good mystery, and they are! In fact, more than one mystery.

One of my early searches on Papers Past, New Zealand’s online newspaper archive, turned up an exciting account of the squadron’s first “kill” of 1942, credited to R.J.F. Hirst, Rear Gunner in the Wilmshurst crew, on the night of 2/3 June.


 Auckland Star, 8 June 1942

Thrilling Episodes On Raids Over Germany
Special Correspondent. Rec. 1 p.m. LONDON, June 7.

“The distinction of shooting down the first Nazi night fighter for the New Zealand Bomber Squadron this year was achieved by Sergeant R. J. F. Hirst, of Te Aroha. He is a freshman to the squadron and had carried out four raids in recent nights in which he accounted for a Junkers 88 on his fourth trip. He is rear gunner of the crew, which comprised Flight-Sergeant J. C. Wilmshurst, of Stratford, who was captain and has carried out 15 raids; Sergeants D. J. Gould, of Otautau, R. E. Sharp, of Matamata, and P. D. Lowther, of Auckland.
Sergeant Hirst said: “We were returning from a big 1000-plane raid against Essen, stooging along at 4500 feet, 30 miles from the English coast, feeling happy and singing the captain’s theme song. ‘Why Can’t We Do This More Often?’
While watching the moon rising over the sea behind us, Sharp, who was standing in the astrodome, reported aircraft to the starboard 1000 yards away at 1000 ft over us. I picked him out and watched him turning for an attack, so told Wilmshurst to turn to starboard. He and I both opened fire at a range of 600 yards. The Hun over-shot and went to port.
Hun 800 Yards Away
“The Hun then turned to reattack again. I told Wilmshurst to go to the port side. The Hun opened up but I held my fire, being still dazzled with the glare from tracer bullets. The first bursts from the Hun swept over us. Sharp and I recognised him as a Junkers 88. He disappeared for a minute, then I saw him 500 ft under us to starboard 800 yards away. He turned on his searchlight and again attacked. He opened fire when 600 yards from us. I held him in my sights until he was 200 yards away, then I gave him a three-second burst. He began to glow, banked steeply and silhouetted against the moon for a second. I put a burst in his belly. He became immediately aflame, seemed to hover for a moment, and then plunged to the sea. He hit the water in a white sheet of flame. We returned to find four holes through the tail and two in my turret.” Wing-Commander E. G. Olson complimented Sergeant Hirst and the crew during the briefing which Mr. Jordan attended.
Previous Narrow Escape
The crew captained by Flight- Sergeant I. J. McLachlan, D.F.M., of Wairarapa, was previously attacked by a night fighter which is thought to be the one Sergeant Hirst shot down. Flight-Sergeant McLachlan is regarded as one of the best pilots of the squadron. His crew comprises Sergeants G. E. Lewis, of Hamilton, A. G. E. Pugh, of Auckland, J. Walters, of Gisborne, and also an Englishman. They were flying at 11,000 ft over the Channel when a night fighter attacked. Sergeant McLachlan dived to 20ft above the sea, taking violent evasive action. Sergeant Pugh said: “The Hun gave up after a while. We were at about the same place as Wilmshurst was when he was attacked earlier.”

Sgt Raymond John Finlay Hirst (born Te Aroha, 5 April 1920), arrived at Feltwell on 13 May, together with his Operational Training Unit crew (possibly 12 O.T.U., Pilot P/O G.W. Horne?).

Their Pilot would have been given a 2nd Pilot role in an experienced crew, and the rest of the crew were assigned to an experienced Pilot, John Wilmshurst.

F/Sgt John Charles Wilmshurst had been at Feltwell since 24 March, and had already flown 10 op’s over a concentrated period of 3 weeks, as a 2nd Pilot with P/O J.F. Fisher and crew.

He is first mentioned in the ORB’s as skipper of his own crew on 11 May, carrying out a test flight in Wellington Mark III, X3720, AA-U, Fisher’s old aircraft.

The Wilmshurst crew flew their first op’ together on the 29th of May, to Dieppe, and were immediately in the thick of it.

On the 2nd of June, the Wilmhurst took off for their 4th Op, this time to Essen.

2/3.6.42 Attack against targets at Essen
Sixteen aircraft were detailed to attack the above target. Bomb load of 4000lbs, 500lbs, 250lbs and 4lb inc was dropped in the target area but no results were observed. A few small fires were seen near target. A.A. fire was fairly heavy and searchlights operating in cones were numerous. No enemy a/c were seen*. Weather marred the operation, there being a heavy ground have. Navigation was excellent. Well, X3408, captained by P/O Carter, failed to return.

Wellington III X3720, AA-U

F/S. John Charles Wilmshurst, RNZAF NZ411962 – Pilot
Sgt. James Douglas Gould, RNZAF NZ411233 – Navigator
Sgt. Richard Edwin Sharp, RNZAF NZ405513 – Wireless Operator
Sgt. Peter Desmond Lowther, RNZAF NZ403583 – Front Gunner
Sgt. Raymond John Finlay ‘Browny’ Hirst, RNZAF NZ404067 – Rear Gunner

Take Off 23:55 – Landed  03:55
Flight Time 04:00

*N.B. This was in fact the night that the newspaper item describes above, not the 1000 Bomber Raid of the previous night. Hirst claimed the first “kill” of the year for the squadron, and the McLachlan crew fought off a night fighter, yet ironically, all the squadron Operations Record Book Form 541 says is “No enemy a/c were seen”!

The Wilmhust flew a further 10 Ops, before their 15th Op to Dusseldorf on the 10th of July 1942.

10.7.42 Daylight sortie against Dusseldorf
Four a/c set out to attack the above target. Bomb load of 500lbs was brought back as m/c returned owing to lack of cloud cover. Well. III, X3720 (Sgt, Wilmshurst) failed to return. There was no A.A. fire or fighters. Weather was cloudy and navigation was good.

Wellington III X3720, AA-U

F/S. John Charles Wilmshurst, RNZAF NZ411962 – Pilot
Sgt. James Douglas Gould, RNZAF NZ411233 – Navigator
Sgt. Richard Edwin Sharp, RNZAF NZ405513 – Wireless Operator
Sgt. Peter Desmond Lowther, RNZAF NZ403583 – Front Gunner
Sgt. Raymond John Finlay ‘Browny’ Hirst, RNZAF NZ404067 – Rear Gunner

Take Off ~ 14:30 – MISSING

X3720, AA-U was the first of the four 75 (NZ) Sqdn aircraft detailed to carry out the attack to take off from Feltwell. They left at around 2.30 in the afternoon,  followed by the Jarman, McLachlan and Kearns crews. The four were recalled on the way to the target, near the Dutch coast, due to lack of cloud cover over the target. All but X3720 were safely back on the ground at Feltwell by 5.37pm.

The Wilmshurst Wellington came down into the sea off the German-Netherlands coast, well north of their expected route back to base. Three of the crew are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. The bodies of the wireless operator and front gunner washed ashore a few days later onto the German island of Borkum. They were buried there in the Lutheran Cemetery on the 15th, but later reinterred at Sage, 24km south of Oldenburg.


”Missing” notices for three of the crew, as published at the time in the Auckland Weekly News.
– Auckland War Memorial Museum Online Cenotaph.

Just recently, a post popped up on the 75 Squadron Assn Facebook page, from another Chris, a historian from Feltwell in the UK., who mentioned that he had in his possession an autograph book that contained the signatures of airmen who had visited Feltwell’s Blue Cafe during the war. A Mrs Steward, the owner of the cafe had kept the book, and it had been passed down to Chris.

He posted a photo of a page from the small leather-bound book to see if anyone recognised a name…..


Page from the autograph book kept by Mrs Steward in the Blue Cafe, Feltwell, signed 7 July 1942.
– Chris Cook.

One signature jumped out at me – “Browny Hirst, Te Aroha, N.Z. 6-7-42”. “Hirst” and “Te Aroha” definitely rang a bell!

Then it dawned that the other signatures on the page were his crewmates, Lowther, Gould and Sharp, and that the boys’ best wishes and thanks to Mrs Steward had been written in the book only 4 days before they were lost!

It was another one of those moments that brings home the horrible waste, and the sadness that the whole community must have lived with back then.

However it was nice to be able to make the connection with Chris, and send through a few details about the crew, and the above newspaper article.

Then another twist in the story………..

Checking the listings for the crew members on the Auckland War Memorial Museum Online Cenotaph, included in James Douglas Gould’s entry, was a transcript of a letter that someone had uploaded. It had been written a few days after Douglas failed to return, by a good friend of his, Robert Brisco, a fellow Navigator with the P.J. Wilson crew – it was addressed to Gould’s mother:

N.Z.411204 SGT OFC Brisco, R.H.
Agar St,
The Strand


Dear Mrs. Gould
By now you will (know) that Douglas has been posted missing since July 10th. I put off the writing before this in the hope that something would have been heard of them by now. Nothing has turned up, however,  there is still a chance as there was a convoy in the vicinity of where they went down, and the old saying that “truth is stranger than fiction” is truer even in time of war than at any other time. I will tell you all I know as to be left in doubt and wondering is not pleasant. Unfortunately I had been on a weeks leave and returned on the July 10th about 8.30pm. What a welcome!

Doug’s crew with three or four others were sent out from here on a daylight raid to the Ruhr as it was thought it was a 10/10 cloud. However they were recalled just as they got to the Dutch coast, at least the others were. Their plane “U” was the first off by 10 or 15 minutes and perhaps they were a bit further in. Two of the other crew reported being chased by fighters but lost them in the cloud which was fast breaking up, and the chances that “U” being further away had even less cloud covering and the fighters who were chasing the first lot home, turned back to Holland and found “U” streaking from cloud to cloud. There is no doubt whatever it was the fighters that got them and there was two or more. They were top-notcher’s at fighter affiliation as they proved when they got the JU88.

However it seems that they sent out a wireless message saying that they were going down into the sea 10 or 12 miles from the English Coast. Planes were sent out from here that evening and launches from Yarmouth, but they found nothing. Still there was a convoy in the vicinity and it would have to maintain a wireless silence until it reached its destination.

Well that’s all I can tell you and if its been any help in clearing matters up I’ll be glad. He was one of my best friends and we have been together ever since our first day in Levin. The crew was the finest bunch of boys one could wish to meet and except for the pilot we have all been together for seven months and living as we do one can soon find the good and bad in a man and there was nothing bad in any of them. Hoping for good news soon.

Yours Sincerely,
Robert H. Brisco

Tragically, Robert Brisco was himself shot down and killed on 29 July, only two weeks after writing this. It seems that the letter was never posted. But it did make it to New Zealand.

Robert Davey, the person who uploaded the letter, explained that it had been found only a year ago, in frail condition, folded in a pocket inside one of his great grandfather’s World War I diaries!!

I emailed Robert to offer the extra background on Douglas’s crew, to see if that could help solve the mystery of how the letter ended up in his family’s possession, and he passed me on to his grandmother, Athalie.

She was able to make the connection – ‘Browny’ Hirst had lived on a nearby farm and been a friend of the Davey family in Te Aroha. Somehow the letter addressed to Mrs Gould must have been passed to the Hirst family, and then found it’s way to neighbours, the Davey family, and somehow into one of Albert Davey’s diaries!

The next step is to try and find out if Douglas Gould’s mother ever received the information laid out in Robert Brisco’s letter, and if the Gould family knows of the letter’s existence?

Douglas came from Otautau, a farming area in Southland, not far from Invercargill, so we are trying to interest the Southland Times. If anyone else has contacts for any of the crew members’ families, please let us know.

It would be wonderful if the letter could finally be delivered after all these years …

View the Wilmhust Op HIstory in full here.

– Thanks to Chris Cook, Robert Davey and Athalie Davey for sharing their information, and for permission to reproduce the above photograph and letter.

75 x 2 – Leslie Edgerton, the Armstrong crew and Harry Yates – by David Yates

Leslie and logbook comp

Right: Leslie Edgerton, Wireless Operator with the Baines crew, now aged 95.
A bout of German measles meant Leslie had to leave the crew for a stay in hospital, on his return he discovered they had failed to return from their 27th Op. Until Leslie spoke to Harry, some 50 years later, he had held out a hope they might have survived.
Left: The addendum Leslie made to his log-book after speaking to Harry about the fate of his crew .

Many thanks to David, son of Harry Yates, for contributing the following piece. It proves again that there are strange coincidences that time occasionally chooses to reveals to us – something I have experienced many a time while researching the Squadron.

75 x 2

by David Yates

Monday 8th May 1995 is memorable in our household not so much because it was the fiftieth anniversary of VE Day, and was marked accordingly with official ceremony all across the West, but because something kept secret from the family for four decades was finally revealed.

Not many days earlier, my wife Geraldine and I had completed a major extension and renovation to the house we then owned, tucked away in a pleasant downland village near Lewes in East Sussex.  I had taken upon myself the task of applying a paint roller to the expanse of brand new render, which would be followed with a fine brush to all the sashes – also new, and there were over thirty of them.  It was a labour of love already turning into just labour.

Anyway, my in-laws were driving over the downs from their home in East Dean to see their grandchild and have lunch with us.  At noon I was still balanced on my ladder at the back of the house, rolling on the second or, perhaps, third coat of emulsion.  From inside the house Geraldine was clattering away with pots and pans.  The smell of a roasting joint wafted through an open window.  Away to my right the crunch of wheels on gravel told me my morning’s work was at an end.  There were female voices, the sound of car doors closing.  A moment or two later my father-in-law Leslie appeared from around the side of the house, hand-in-hand with his infant grand-daughter.

We made the usual greetings and stood talking for a while, probably about not very much. Then, with no particular seriousness, I asked him what he had been doing fifty years ago, on 8th May 1945.  He didn’t seem too sure, “Joan and I were married by then,” he said eventually, “I think we must have been in London.”

Now, I had known for very nearly a quarter of a century, since not long after I started going out with Geraldine, that her dad’s war service had been as a wireless operator on heavy bombers.  My own father had served as a pilot on Lancs, flying alongside some New Zealanders, although he was a North Bucks country boy through and through.  I knew that the whole subject of the war had been handled differently in Leslie’s household than in ours.  My dad didn’t make a great thing out of it.  But his crew were all known to me from the letters and photos which arrived  in the family home (usually) at Christmas time.  Indeed, on one Sunday back in 1975, when we were still single, Geraldine and I waited at table on the whole crew when they – said to be already the last full 75 crew living – came to the house following a squadron reunion at Mepal.  But it wasn’t like that in Leslie’s house.  There, a discrete silence was maintained over the whole topic.  The detail of his own wartime service was unknown to his two sons and two daughters.

It was not that unusual.  I had childhood friends whose fathers wanted, for whatever reason, to close the wartime chapter and keep it closed, leaving their sons high and dry for knowledge.  One accepted that there were histories which were not happy, and men who were quietly haunted by them.  The tremendous will of the people to move on, which erupted so joyously with victory in Europe, gave such men the opening to a new life they needed, and they took it.  If there was no need to revisit the past, it was not revisited.

Still, standing there with Leslie I thought it was worth another question.  “So you weren’t still flying by this point?” I asked.

He wasn’t, having finished his tour in September 1944.

Then, out of nowhere he blurted out, “I didn’t finish with my own crew though.  I was sent to hospital with German measles, you see, and my own crew carried on flying without me.  It was six weeks before the doctor let me go back.  I expected them to still be there, but they weren’t.  I made enquiries.  But nobody seemed to know anything, just that they hadn’t come back from a raid.  The radio operator who had gone in my place was only young, and he’d just married, I think.  Anyway, over the years I’ve tried a few times to find out what happened to them – you know, at the library.  But I still don’t know.  I’ve always hoped one or two of them were made POWs, and got back home to New Zealand eventually.”

“New Zealand?” I retorted.

“Yes, it was a New Zealand squadron, based at Mepal in Cambridgeshire.”

I could scarcely believe what I was hearing.  “Wait a minute, you are saying you flew from Mepal?”

”Yes, that was the airfield.”

”Yes, but that’s the airfield which 75 Squadron flew from.”

”That’s right, 75 squadron.”

“Wait a minute, you are saying you flew from Mepal with 75 Squadron RNZAF?”

”That’s right ….”
“But my father flew with them”.

“No no no” he said, completely certain of his facts.  Well, he had been an accountant in civilian life.  “Your father was a fighter pilot with the New Zealand ‘fighter’ squadron.”

I put him right as gently but firmly as I could.  That evening, after Leslie and Joan had returned home to East Dean, I telephoned my dad to tell him what had come to pass.  I knew that he possessed a well-thumbed copy of Forever Strong, Norman Franks’ history of 75, which I had borrowed and read myself.  Norman and Dad had met or exchanged correspondence at some point and become friendly, and Norman and his wife had visited for dinner.  Norman wrote in Dad’s copy of Forever Strong (which I have in my office at home today):

“To Harry Yates DFC -Who completed a tour of with 75 Sqn
and was seen in the smoke 30 times
Best wishes,
Norman Franks”

Information on the fate of Leslie’s crew had to be in there.  I gave Dad Leslie’s number, and he duly checked and telephoned the next day.  The information was that Leslie’s skipper P/O Armstrong and all his crew were killed on the Dortmund raid of 22/23 May, 1944.  Flt Sgt George Leslie Edgerton – taciturn, stoic man that he was – now knew for certain that he was the only Armstrong crew-member to survive the war.  But at least he had that knowledge, and the long vigil of the heart that he had kept for his crew could be brought to a close at last.

Extraordinarily, Geraldine and I were in the nineteenth year of our marriage when he had finally spoken of his sorrow that day in our garden, and the coincidence of our respective dad’s war service came to light.

The event only spurred my dad on in a plan he was quietly hatching to research, write and publish the story of his flying years, centred on five hard months at Mepal.  At the time I knew nothing about this.  I was aware that, always a reader of history, he had become focussed on RAF history and had amassed quite a comprehensive book collection.  I also knew he had been to the Public Records Office at Kew and acquired a large pile of yellow sheets logging 75 operations for the period of his service.  I thought it was just a surfeit of nostalgia.

Harry at about the time he was planning Luck and Lancaster

Harry at about the time he was planning Luck and Lancaster
supplied by David Yates

It was my mother who finally told me that dad had quite forsaken her company in the evenings to disappear upstairs and start tapping on his 1970s IBM golf-ball typewriter.  Apparently, he had been hammering away at the keyboard for a year or more.  When I asked him about it he showed me a sheath of close-typed A4 sheets, the front one of which read:

“Luck and a Lancaster by Harry Yates DFC”

It was a pretty chaotic presentation, it must be said, with passages long and short crossed out everywhere and re-typed, and lengths of type stuck with sellotape on top of other lengths, or across the whole of the top or bottom of the sheet.  But there was the unmistakable voice of my dad talking quite naturally about events in his life I had little or no idea had ever taken place.  For his part, he was very unsure about the quality of the thing, which was obviously why he had kept quiet about it.  Did I think anyone would publish it, he asked.  I had no idea. “Let me take it home and read it properly,” I said.

I began reading that night, sitting up in bed.  A few pages in I turned to my wife and said, “Some of this is beautiful.”

My judgement on the manuscript was that it had to be worth sending off to publishers, but not in that condition.  So dad bought himself a modern electronic machine and re-typed the whole thing, which at that point ran up to his release from the eye hospital at Littleport.  But he had lost his creative impetus in the laborious typing process.  I suggested that he send what he had to some publishers anyway, and if one of them was interested he could return to writing, and finish the thing.

The first manuscript went, for some reason known only to dad, to Haynes, the technical manual publisher.  Unsurprisingly, it bounced back with a rejection slip within a month or two.  He then posted a copy to (the now defunct) Airlife Publishing, who were a much more likely prospect.  But weeks of silence turned into months.  I urged dad to find another publisher to try.  But he had become disheartened, quietly concluding that he had probably miscalculated, and there wasn’t really any interest in a septuagenarian heavy bomber pilot with only half his story told.

The whole project was put away in a chest of drawers, and he returned to mum’s company in the evenings.  Then, right out of the blue in the early summer of 1999, fully a year after shipping off the manuscript, he received a letter from Airlife’s managing editor.  “Dear Mr Yates,” it began, “Thank you very much for sending me the manuscript for your memoir, Luck and a Lancaster.  I sincerely apologise that I had rather a lot of submissions to read before I could get to yours.  But I have now read it with much interest, and would be very pleased indeed to publish the finished manuscript for you if you are still seeking a publisher.”

Still seeking a publisher!  Dad was electrified.  A standard authors contract was received, signed and shot back within a few days.  The only thing was that Airlife wanted to have the book available for its Christmas list, which meant finishing the whole manuscript in three months.  Everything came out of the chest of drawers and Dad threw himself back into his writing.  He made the deadline, but he wasn’t entirely happy about having to work so fast.  He felt that something was lost that perhaps did not return until the very last chapter and the epilogue.  I know there were two small factual mistakes that made it into print, and they always annoyed him.  But when I read the new material I thought it worked in rather well, given that this was the hard-grind of the tour from which all naivety had been drained by his hospitalisation.

Today, in one form or another, <em>Luck and a Lancaster</em> has probably sold getting on for 45,000 copies.  The response of readers has been incredibly generous and kind.  Hundreds of people, some of them fellow aircrew, many more of them relatives of aircrew, wrote often touching letters to dad.  He was very grateful and answered all he could until, over the final six years of his life, illness drained him too much.

He passed away in Hastings Conquest hospital on 20th November 2011, two months short of his 90th birthday.  He had lived a wonderful, satisfying life, which was what he deserved, and a life which is very much caught and held in aspic as the memory of a young flyer by his much older self.

One of the things Dad had done in his research period was to visit Barry Aldridge’s museum at Witchford, and sign the visitors book.  In the summer of 2001, I took Leslie up to Cambridgeshire to re-connect with his own past.  We visited Ely and the Cathedral, and we went to the old airfield, of course, and to the village green at Mepal.  Then we went on to Barry’s museum.  Leslie wandered through the exhibits and breathed in the pungent perfume of that Hercules power-plant which fills the place.  But some private regret, that will obviously never be expunged, stopped him from signing the visitors book.

Leslie had his 95th birthday dinner with Geraldine and I on St George’s Day this year.  He is still surprisingly hale and very determined to remain independent as long as possible.