Monthly Archives: October 2016

S/L Nick Williamson & crew – landing a Lancaster in Normandy


The Williamson crew present camembert cheeses to Bomb Aimer Graham Coull (centre), Martragny, France, 1/2 July 1944, on the occasion of his 22nd birthday. S/L Nick Williamson at right. On the 30th of June they had landed Lancaster ND917, JN-O (behind them) on a fighter landing strip very close to the front line in Normandy.
NZ Bomber Command Assn.

Thanks as always to Chris for this follow up post about the Williamson crew and their unexpected landing in France…….

When we first came across the above photo we didn’t know the story behind it; an intriguing shot, apparently of a 75 (NZ) Sqdn Lancaster in a location that didn’t look like an RAF airfield, and a crew in high spirits.

But responses from blog followers soon identified the famous incident, recorded by an Army photographer, the first landing of an Allied  heavy bomber in France after the D-Day landings in 1944, by 75 (NZ) Squadron “C” Flight Commander S/L “Nick” Williamson DFC and his crew.

They in the middle of a daylight bombing attack on Villers-Bocage, in support of ground forces in Normandy, France, not long after the D-Day landings, when their Flight Engineer was seriously wounded. In a great piece of airmanship, Williamson managed to land the Lancaster on a forward fighter landing strip, to seek urgent medical help.

Subsequently, author Rex Bunn and various Williamson family members and friends provided us with some more amazing detail. Rex in particular has researched the event in depth for his book, “The King’s Crew”, the Unit History of 14 Squadron (City of Gisborne) Air Training Corps, for which Nick Williamson served as CO from 1953 to 1960.

Meanwhile, we have found an account of the incident written by Nick himself in 1947, in a letter submitted for consideration by the people writing New Zealand’s official war history. In it, he refers to an interview he did with the BBC’s “War Report” at the time, and to the newspaper article below, which appears to be largely based on a transcript of the BBC radio interview:


New Zealand Herald, 7 July 1944.


(Special Correspondent) (Reed. 5.35 p.m.) LONDON, July 5.
The first bomber to make a landing on an airfield in Normandy was a Lancaster piloted by Squadron-Leader N. A. Williamson, D.F.C., of Gisborne. These airfields, with only a landing strip, are really meant for fighters. In a broadcast, Squadron-Leader Williamson said: “Our Lancaster was hit by shell fragments during an attack on Villers-Bocage, and shrapnel tore away the flight-engineer’s kneecap. He did not even murmur until we finished bombing German tanks and troops. Then I noticed he was in distress and losing so much blood that I decided to risk a landing.

Aircraft In Wheat Field
“We had seen a landing-strip while en route to the target and soon found it again. We landed down wind and ran off the strip into a wheat field. A waiting ambulance rushed the engineer to hospital. We went to be interrogated and, as we left, the Lancaster was already being checked by ground maintenance personnel. We had an excellent meal and then set off to see the front line in a jeep.
“We met troops who had seen our attack, which they said was a wonderful show. Immediately they heard we belonged to the attacking force they clustered round to shake hands and clap our backs. Cups of tea appeared as if by magic from foxholes, slit trenches and from behind hedges. Their spirit was truly amazing considering the guns were blazing away, and even as we spoke we were sprayed with earth kicked up by the shells.

An Estaminet Incident
“Later we went to Bayeux, which seemed scarcely touched by the war, and visited our flight-engineer, who was in a mobile field hospital. He had just had a blood transfusion and was in high spirits. “On the way back we stopped at an estaminet, but madame coolly told us she had no wine left, until an Army officer whispered. ‘Aviator Anglais.’ To my embarrassment, she threw her arms round me, kissed me repeatedly and cried, ‘Bon, bon.’ Most important of all, she produced bottles of wine. “When we returned to the landing strip we found the weather had cleared and that the ground crew had done a grand job. although they were used to fighters and not bombers.”


S/L Nick Williamson

And here is the letter that Nick submitted to the editor of the NZ War History project:

N.A. Williamson,
P.O. Box 103,
3rd July, 1947.
The Editor in Chief, N.Z. War Histories,
Prime Minister’s Dept.,
Dear Sir,
 I wish to submit the following information concerning one of the “FIRSTS” which may be of some interest in connection with the N.Z. War Histories you are at present compiling.
This,  as the newspaper cutting discloses, is about the landing of the first four engined bomber on a fighter airstrip in Normandy shortly after D-Day and was the subject of a B.B.C. broadcast.
As a Flight Commander of 75 (N.Z.) Squadron at Mepal, England, I made my first trip of my second operational tour and my first trip in a Lancaster to Villers-Bocage, not long after D-Day, in the raid described as the first stage of Monty’s left hook, which eventually lead to the Falais Pocket.
Just as we were about to make our bomb run the Flight engineer F/Sgt McDevitt was severely wounded and was in great distress requiring immediate medical attention. As soon as we had completed our bombing run, I decided to risk an emergency landing on a fighter air strip near the beach head and immediately dived the aircraft down towards this strip. The landing had to be made down wind as the circuit was over enemy lines, but fortunately was made without mishap and McDevett was very soon in an ambulance and on the way to medical care, we on our way to the Officers’ Mess.    
The paper cutting [newspaper article above] covers many of our activities while we were on the strip, and on the second day we visited our plucky engineer, who now did not require his leg amputated and was feeling much better.    
On the third day the weather, which had been bad, showed signs of lifting and we decided to take off. Petrol could not reasonably be obtained from the strip tankers as it would have taken several of them quite some time and the high octane petrol was required for the grand fighter boys on the strip, quite a few of them being New Zealanders.     For the take off an extra high run was made into a wheat field, and not realising the danger from swing during take off, Army vehicles of all shapes and sizes had lined the strip two and three deep each side, and even at the far end, to wave us an enthusiastic farewell.     The four Merlins, however, and good luck, took us off without mishap and not having our Engineer I hoped I had turned all the petrol cocks on correctly.     Our escort of Spitfires and Mustangs led us 100 feet over Mulberry Harbour and to many waves from tanks and ships, we made for home.    
Visibility was bad and we first had to make a landing near Manston, but later managed to get permission to make for our home drome, where we received a great welcome from the Station Commander G/Capt. Campbell, W/C Leslie D.S.O., A.F.C. and almost the whole station, as we had been reported as missing, seeing that we had been unable to contact Command until the end of the second day, and two crews had reported seeing my aircraft diving towards the ground over the target area.     Even the Committee of Adjustment had packed away our personal belongings, but once these were released from bondage, the Red wine we had located flowed freely and all was well. The greatest welcome I received was from my 6 months old Labrador pup “Rex” who had refused to eat during my absence, and 2 1/2 hours before the aircraft landed at Mepal had become wildly excited, and was waiting out at “C” Flight Dispersal area and refused to leave where my aircraft was usually parked.     Next day I went to the B.B.C. Studios at Bedford and made a short broadcast.
If this material is of some interest, more information could be supplied, such as the fact that the Bomb Aimer, F/Sgt. Graham Coull had his 22nd birthday while we were there and of course we celebrated correctly, and each member of the crew presented him with a highly smelling “Camembert” cheese as a birthday gift. An Army reporter took an excellent photo of the presenting of the cheeses in a Jeep and is an ideal photo for reproduction if the more human side of the war is required to be portrayed.
Yours faithfully,
N.A. Williamson


S/L Nick Williamson (third from left) with ground crew of S-Sugar, Mepal, June 1944. Rex the dog in front??
NZ Bomber Command Assn.

Nick passed on even more information about the incident after the war. Although a veteran Stirling pilot, it had been his first op’ in a Lancaster, and without the usual assistance of ground crew and equipment back at base, he had to wait for Flight Engineer McDevitt to recover sufficiently to pass on the engine start-up protocol. Between that and the weather, they were on the ground for three days.

The air strip (probably ALG B7 according to Rex Bunn) was near Martragny, not far from all the shooting, and in range of German artillery, so the Lancaster had to be moved around during their stay to avoid being hit.  The crew treated their unplanned stopover in France as a great adventure, and after accompanying McDevett to a field hospital, made a day-trip to Bayeux, which was largely untouched by the fighting. Photos survive of this visit. They were also keen to experience the war on the ground, arming themselves and joining in the shooting for a time!

Eventually the technical issues were sorted, and with the weather cooperating, the boys loaded the aircraft with French souvenirs for the trip back to England, including cheeses, wine, cognac, a swastika flag, a German Mauser rifle, and a machine gun!

– Read more about the events of 30 June – 3 July 1944 here : (comments below the post),

– and more here:   (comments below the post)

– See the full Williamson crew operational history here:

References – Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand, and Archives New Zealand – “Personal account by Wing Commander H.A. Williamson of operations with No. 75 Squadron”, ADQA 17358 AIR167/2/9.

Thanks to Reg Mulder, Peter Williamson, Nickie Omer, Rex Bunn, Andrew Cale, Rob Ramsey, Dennis Graves and others (comments contributed on this website), and to the NZ Bomber Command Assn and Williamson family for permission to reproduce these photos.

The Mallon crew – get your copy!


I am pleased to announce that Vic Jay’s, efforts, initially through his blog, about his Father’s time in the Squadron have now borne fruit in the the form of “The Mallon crew” – a 200 page book on the crew and on Vic’s journey through the piecing together of the stories of the boys that flew with his father, Bob Jay.

The book maps out Vic’s early research and as it develops, he begins to re-connect with the relatives of the rest of the boys in the crew.

As Vic says at the beginning of the book:

“The Mallon Crew’ is the extraordinary result of four years research. My decision in 2012 to write a blog about my dad’s war-time experiences as the flight engineer of a Lancaster bomber took me on an incredible voyage of discovery and unearthed some remarkable stories of courage, sacrifice and betrayal.

As a child growing up in the 1950s I never tired of asking my dad what he did in the war. I wanted to know all about his role, what flak was like and even how aircraft were able to fly. By the time I left primary school my interest had started to wane and, when he died in 1974 at the age of just fifty five, I thought I had lost any chance of discovering more about this period of his life. I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

Nearly forty years later, with just a handful of photographs, his log book and the name of his New Zealand pilot, Bill Mallon, my modest research project into ‘Bob Jay’s war’ uncovered more tragedies than I could have imagined possible and connected me with the families of all but one of my dad’s crew. It even gave me the opportunity to talk to a man of ninety four who had flown with my dad and to discover a photograph of his crew’s aircraft flying to its last target.

This book is not about a squadron, nor is it about individual acts of heroism, it is about a small group of unremarkable men thrown together briefly during the last few months of the war and the amazing way in which their stories have unfolded seventy years later. They survived the war but their lives would never be the same again. I defy anyone not to be moved by their experiences or to marvel at the power of the internet to bring people together”.

All credit to Vic for making the time and putting the effort into moving his research from the blog to a book and I wish him every success with it.

You can click here to buy your copy of “The Mallon crew”

The War Log of Bill Allen – part 16



The final installment of Bill’s memoirs is told by his sister, it seems clear that the loss of his crew, the privations and pressures, fears and anxieties were simply too much. Upon returning home, despite his promise to finish his record, it never was – perhaps like all that went through similar experiences, the thought to revisit it, was simply too much – it was best forgotten perhaps…….

‘When my brother Bill arrived home I was very thrilled when he gave me his Diary inscribed on the cover “Dedicated to my Sister”. He explained that now he was safely home, he would finish writing it up for me, but as time went on he seemed less inclined to even want to talk about it so it remained unfinished.

However, on his first evening at home he did tell me what happened when the Russians reached the camp he was then in at a place called Luckenwalde just a few miles outside of Berlin. This was the camp to which they had been force marched by the Germans from the POW camp in Silesia, Poland (about 800 miles) when they were retreating from the Russians. Many of the POW’s died on the way, Bill was one of the lucky ones.

This is the final chapter as Bill told it to me:’

 “The Joy they felt when the Russians broke into the camp was very short lived and after a few hours freedom, they were very securely back in their huts and the camp had more armed guards around it than when it was in German hands. Bill did say that when the Russians stormed in they (the POWs) ran out into the town but when they saw the very dreadful behavior of the Russians they felt sick and went back into the camp. The following day they were delighted to see a convoy of American Army trucks surround the camp and they cheered and shouted expecting to be released but their excitement turned to horror when they saw the American Officers in charge being escorted back to their armoured cars and all the convoy moved off again. The POWs couldnt believe their eyes and the Russians wouldnt tell them anything and treated them very badly. This happened again on each of the next three days and on the third day Bill managed to squeeze through trees and bushes and up to the barbed wire where he got the attention of a black American truck driver parked just outside. He told Bill they had come to take the POWs to freedom but the Russians wouldnt part with them. The driver after talking to Bill for a while said he didnt like the look of things and if any of them wanted to take a chance and run for it he would back during the night and help them because he didnt trust the Russians and said he himself wouldnt like to be in their hands and his officers were very worried about the POWs. Bill told him he would like to risk it so it was arranged that the driver would come back at an arranged time during the night and bring what was necessary to cut the wire.

 He told Bill his truck could carry 20 but not one more so it was up to Bill to arrange it with the POWs. Enough of them gave their names to Bill to make up this number and when it was time to go he went quietly to each one to tell them but only 5 of them came with him. The others had decoded they may be released the next day so they didnt want to risk it.

 The driver was there with his truck and had cut a considerable hole in the wire for them to crawl through and they were on their way. It was a very tricky journey because it meant crossing the River Elbe to get to where the Americans were stationed and when he went to the first crossing (held by the Russians) they told him be could cross but he had to leave his passengers behind. He told them what to do and put his foot down to get to the next crossing but the same thing happened again and eventually they crossed over via a pontoon bridge put down by the Americans. They were very good to them but said if their mothers saw the condition they were in they would have heart attacks. So they put them in their sick bay for a few days and then laid them out on mattresses in the hot sunshine for two days before passing them on to the British.”

‘Bill says he owes his life to the American truck driver – he was a hero. He came on extended leave but some months later he had to report to London to be officially demobbed. He met a former POW from his hut who told him the Russians treated them worse every day and three of them had been shot dead trying to escape. It was a further three weeks before the Russians would release them so Bill was pleased he had taken his chance and gone with the black American driver who risked his neck for them.’


Many thanks to Katherine , the Niece of Bill Allen and Christina , whose Great Uncle was BIll Reaveley for supplying this additional material on the Bonisch crew.

The gathered material is a moving collection of material that spans the extremes between death and survival. Fragments of memories remember a crew who clearly were close and had more than a mutual respect for each other. The presence of 3 “Bills’ in the crew shows a touching method of differentiation – William Reaveley, Frank William Cousins and Bernard ‘Bill’ Allen became known as ‘Uncle Bill’, ‘Brother Bill’ and ‘Cousin Bill’ respectively.

The updated Bonisch crew Ops page can be read here.