I have just received the sad news from Chris, that one of our last remaining 75 (New Zealand) Squadron veterans has passed away.
Douglas Bannerman Williamson (Dougie to his family) was born on the 8th of August 1925 in Roslin, Scotland, the second-youngest of six children.
Still at high school when war broke out, he joined the Home Guard at age 16 and enlisted in the RAF at age 17. He did his initial training at 14 ITW, Bridlington, and was then posted to 4 School of Technical Training, St Athan to train as a Flight Engineer.
In October 1944 he was posted to 1657 Heavy Conversion Unit at Stradishall to join a bomber crew and train on four engine Stirlings. His “League of Nations” crew included three Kiwis; skipper, Johnny Wood, navigator Jack Pauling and Wireless Operator Gerry Newey; an English Bomb Aimer, Jim Hooper; and two Canadian gunners, Jack Cash and Ralph Sparrow.
After a short stint at No. 3 Lancaster Finishing School, they were posted to 75 (New Zealand) Squadron, Mepal, arriving on the 2nd of December 1944. They completed a full tour of 32 operations with the squadron, their 32nd and final op by far the most dramatic.
On the night of the 4th of April 1945, they were flying their regular C Flight Lancaster HK601, JN-D “Dog” in a night attack on the Leuna synthetic oil plant at Merseburg, thirty kilometres from Leipzig. Ten minutes away from the target the Lancaster was hit in the nose by flak and the propylene glycol windscreen de-icing tank caught fire. The Bomb Aimer, trapped in the nose, opened the escape hatch and Doug was caught in the burst of flames caused by the through-draft. He passed out momentarily from lack of oxygen and thinking the aircraft was going down in flames, baled out through the Mid-Under gun position. The rest of the crew managed to put out the fire, save the Bomb Aimer and fly “Dog” back to the oversize emergency landing ground at Manston in England, badly damaged and without brakes. Johnny Wood was awarded the DFC and Jack Pauling the DFM for their brave efforts that night.
Meanwhile Doug landed safely near Leipzig, evaded capture for three days, then spent five nights in a German police cell, before being liberated by the Americans. He was back in London before the end of the month.
After the war, Doug had an RAF posting to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), a stint at university, a job as a laboratory technician in London and another as factory manager on a tea plantation in India, before emigrating to Canada in 1955.
In Toronto he met Janet, a fellow Scot and talented artist, and they were married in 1959. They had two sons, Angus and Ian.
Doug then studied and qualified as a civil engineer.
In 1974 the family moved to New Zealand, where Doug taught civil engineering at the national Technical Correspondence Institute. They eventually settled in Auckland, where they have lived happily ever since.
In 2012, Doug and Janet took part in the wonderful Ian & Wendy Kuperus-funded tour to England with four other RAF veterans to visit the Bomber Command Memorial and other related sites, the highlight being a taxi ride in the Lancaster “Just Jane” at East Kirkby.
Doug lived life to the full, all the way into his nineties. As well as his sports of fencing, sailing and judo, Doug published his memoirs in two books and was an active member of the NZ Bomber Command Association. Along with Janet he took a keen interest in politics and current affairs, actively involved in the Green Party and a member of Amnesty International.
Our heart-felt condolences go to Janet and the Williamson family.
Dougie will be sadly missed by those of us that knew him – one of the last of that amazing generation and a truly kind, gentle man.
Sgt Douglas Bannerman Williamson RAFVR 43310, Flight Engineer, 75 (New Zealand) Squadron RAF, December 1944 – April 1945.
Ake Ake Kia Kaha!