Pilot Officer Ted Wilcox and the famous “soda siphon spitting bombs”

Many thanks to Joan and Michael Wilcox who have generously passed on the story of Ted Wilcox and the ‘Bomb spitting soda syphon’ artwork that adorned R1162 AA-Y “Yorker.

Edward (Ted) Thomas Wilcox was born in Durban, South Africa on 8 March 1913. His family moved back to England in 1914, later moving to Birmingham where his father was employed at the Austin Motor Works. 

From an early age Ted had shown a talent for painting and drawing and in 1924 he went to the Birmingham School of Art where he studied art, design and silver working. In 1930 he started work for a company making stained glass and later worked for the Austin Motor Works. Subsequently, he left Birmingham and worked in London as a commercial artist. His artwork was often used in technical publications, advertising literature and car owner manuals.

Ted was granted an emergency commission with the RAFVR on 12 April 1939, gazetted on 14 May 1939 as an acting Pilot Officer and began training as an Air Gunner.

He married Mary Dalton on 3 May 1940 and three days after the wedding, reported to 9 Bombing and Gunnery School at RAF Penrhos, Wales for a further three weeks training.

On 1 June he was posted to 11 Operational Training Unit (OTU), RAF Bassingbourn, training on Wellingtons.

On 14 August 1940, Ted was posted to 75 (NZ) Squadron at RAF Feltwell as an Air Gunner. Ted and Mary lived at Laburnum Cottage, Hockwold.

Ted flew with several crews – S/L “Breck” Breckon, P/O Charles Pownall (5 op’s), P/O Ian Gow and F/O Peter Kitchin (6) – before settling into the crew of P/O Edgar Lockwood as rear gunner.

He flew ten operations with Lockwood between November 1940 and January 1941.

Meanwhile, Mark 1C Wellington R1162 was received on 19 December 1940 from No 9 MU, Cosford, allocated the code AA-Y “Yorker”.

Wellington R1162 AA-Y “Yorker” being serviced in the snow, Feltwell, early 1941.
– NZ Bomber Command Assn. archives, Ron Mayhill collection.

The Lockwood crew picked up the new aircraft and flew their first op’ in her on 1 January 1941.

We don’t know why, but the crew decided to personalise the Wellington and Ted was commissioned to create a piece of nose art for “Yorker”. The story has become part of family legend. How he acquired some aircraft linen fabric, using his own hand as model and making free with Mary’s kitchen table, created a beautifully detailed ‘R.A.F’-branded soda-water siphon, with bombs spraying from the nozzle. The completed painting was then fixed to the side of Yorker by the application of aircraft dope.

Unofficial emblem painted on the side of a Vickers Wellington of No. 75 (New Zealand) Squadron RAF at Feltwell, Norfolk, depicting an ‘R.A.F’ soda-siphon spraying bombs.
IWM (CH 2718).

Ted only got to fly four air tests and three operations in the plane he had decorated. Having completed his tour at 25 op’s, Ted left the squadron on 2 February 1941.

However, his artwork, “Yorker” and her crew would soon become famous, in England and back in New Zealand, when they featured in a series of publicity photos taken at Feltwell, several of which appeared in the newspapers of the day. It was one of the most striking pieces of nose art of its time and is still admired today.

The photographer was Mr PHF “Bill” Tovey, the same official RAF photographer who took the iconic “airmen walking past Wellington” photo that came to represent the public face of 75 (NZ) Squadron.

We know that Tovey took that photo at Feltwell on the 10th of May 1941.

It seems likely that he was also the photographer when another set of publicity photos was taken at Feltwell on 9 April 1941, showing preparations for a raid on Berlin. According to information on the back, these were syndicated through Fox Photos (a London press agency). Both sets feature Yorker’s nose art.

Ted kept one of these, an original, black and white photograph showing the Wellington with his artwork, the pilot inside the aircraft and crew member outside looking up. Newspaper captions stated that it was “an RAF pilot and his observer” with a “’siphon and bombs’ mascot on their Wellington.” The pilot is P/O Oliver Rayner Matheson DFC RAF and the observer is P/O George Eric Fowler DFC RAF.

“An R.A.F. Pilot and his observer”. P/O Oliver Matheson (pilot) in cockpit and P/O Eric Fowler (observer) below. New Zealand newspapers dated the photo 9 April 1941.
– Michael Wilcox.
As it appeared in an English newspaper. “An R.A.F. Pilot and his observer at the sign of the bombs and siphon check-up on their Wellington before setting out on the R.A.F.’s 39th raid on Berlin – the heaviest the German capital has had.”
– Michael Wilcox.

Matheson had taken over the crew and aircraft after Edgar Lockwood had completed his tour.

It was Matheson’s last operation – he and the crew took a different Wellington to Berlin that night, R1409 AA-N “Nuts”, but apparently R1162 “Yorker” made a much more photogenic subject.

As it turned out, Matheson and Fowler were each awarded an immediate DFC for their photo of Tempelhof aerodrome and making a second run over the target to deliver their load that night, despite having sustained flak damage.

After that, 2nd pilot Sgt Bob Fotheringham took over the crew.

Vickers Wellington 1C R1162 AA-Y “Yorker”.
– NZ Bomber Command Assn. archives, Jack Wakefield collection

In June, a photo of the Fotheringham crew in front of Yorker’s nose art appeared in the NZ newspapers:

“Dominion Bomber Crew: A crew of the New Zealand Bomber Squadron. Their machine has a significant insignia.” The Fotheringham crew in front of R1162 AA-Y “Yorker”, May 1941. Front, Sgt Bob Fotheringham (skipper), behind him, P/O Eric Fowler DFC, navigator. Top is Jack Wakefield, rear gunner.
– NZ Bomber Command Assn. archives, Jack Wakefield collection.

From 75(NZ) Squadron Ted had gone to 18 Operational Training Unit (18 OTU) at RAF Bramcote where he continued as an Air Gunner until 27 April when he was posted to 27 OTU, RAF Lichfield.

Amazingly, his old “kite” followed him!

R1162 was transferred to 27 OTU on the 16th of August 1941 and Ted’s logbook records one more flight in her on 26 October 1941, piloted by a F/L Denton. She failed to return from the third One Thousand Bomber raid on Bremen, on the night of the 23rd/24th of June 1942, one of 23 OTU aircraft and crews lost that night.

Ted’s wife, Mary, died in January 1966 whilst Ted was stationed at RAF St Athan, some three months before he retired from the RAF.    Ted Wilcox died peacefully on 7 July 1995, aged 82, and is buried in Llywel Church, Trecastle, Powys, South Wales, alongside his daughter Gaywood Patricia (nee Wilcox, Chaffer) Griffin.

Ake Ake Kia Kaha!

4 thoughts on “Pilot Officer Ted Wilcox and the famous “soda siphon spitting bombs”

  1. David Martin

    My father (Sgt. Gwyn Martin RAFVR 981426/ 110857) was Observer / Navigator on 1162Y during the week 20th April 1941 to 26th April 1941 with P/O George William Curry RAFVR 86389 with “Bombing Attacks Against Targets at Ostend and Kiel” on 24th April 1941.
    Thanks so much for adding the article and photos of the flying “Soda Syphon”
    Regards,
    Dai Martin

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Michael Wilcox

      Hi Dai, I’m very pleased that you enjoyed the article. It started off as a family history project and through it I found out so much about 75 Sqn, it’s history and some of the individuals who made up the aircrews. The help and encouragement I received from complete strangers was incredible and I was encouraged to post an abridged version on the website. You might be interested to know that a model of the Wellington R1162, complete with artwork and squadron identity, has been produced by Corgi. It is a bit pricey, but it does look good. I have been in contact with Pilot Officer Fowler’s family and shared with them what I have found and I would like to do the same with Pilot Officer Matheson’s family, but I haven’t been able to track them down. I am sure that one day I will make contact. Personally, I think the story of R1162 would make a fabulous movie, on a par with The Memphis Belle! Regards, Michael Wilcox.

      Like

      Reply
  2. Roger King

    can any ww2 navigator help me. My dad david King left a figure in his notes 270 Koln 15 as the position of there crash near Julich. What does these figures mean,. Can any body help me.
    Best Regards Roger King

    Like

    Reply
  3. Pingback: No. 75 Squadron’s ‘Soda Siphon’ Wellington bomber – a little about Pilot Officer Ted Wilcox and photographer P H F ‘Bill’ Tovey. – volunteer london blog

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