Ground crew with Stirling, Mepal, late 1943 / early 1944. Caption on the back: “C Flight Inst Sect Mepal. Mac, Doherty, Burley, Frost, Ansell and Dave Smith.” – Photo courtesy and copyright of NZ Bomber Command Association photo archives, from the collection of Joe Tomlin.
Many thanks to Chris as always for supplying the following post:
In memory of Robert Arno “Joe” Tomlin, RNZAF (NZ401045): 1920 – 3rd June, 2015
Just recently we heard the sad news that another 75 (NZ) Squadron veteran had passed away, Joe Tomlin of Tairua, aged 95 years.
Joe Tomlin was an horogolist by trade, an expert in timepieces. At the outbreak of war, he joined the RNZAF as an Instrument Repairer and left for the UK in November 1941.
After serving on Air Search & Rescue squadrons and at 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit (heavy bomber training) he applied to NZ High Commissioner Bill Jordan to get “operational” and was posted to 75 (NZ) Squadron at Mepal, arriving on 21 November 1943 .
There he served as a member of the “C” Flight Instrument Section, specialising in the repair and maintenance of “George” the auto pilot, first on Stirlings, then later on Lancasters.
Joe remembered one particular autopilot repair job in “Kiwis Do Fly”, as told to Peter Wheeler:
“The crew of this aircraft was skippered by a mad Aussie pilot named Popsy. They were most concerned as they only had two Ops to go to finish their tour and felt that a change to a new aircraft might change their luck. Popsy asked if there was any way their regular mount could be made serviceable. I suggested we do a flight test.”
The flight test resulted in the Lancaster going into a steep dive as soon as “George” was engaged, and Joe floating around the cockpit while the Pilot desperately tried to to reach the autopilot disengage lever, and regain manual control.
Instead of following the proper procedure of returning the unit to base maintenance for repair and testing, the Pilot insisted that Joe do an on-the-spot repair, so they could fly in their own kite that night. Joe managed a fix, and after another air test, signed off the aircraft as serviceable on the Form 700. Needless to say, the improvised repair worked and Popsy and crew made it back safely that night.
“My diary of 13 June 1944 reads; “went up to the White Horse for a loaf of bread and a few drinks and met Popsy, the mad Aussie. He and his crew had just finished their tour of Ops and when they saw me, they stood me several beers saying I was responsible for getting them home several times and did so much by getting ‘George’ spot on. It was nice to be appreciated.”
“Popsy” appears to have been P/O Robert Albert Potts, DFC, RAAF (AUS.415353), and the Lancaster in question would have been LL866, the original S-Sugar from “Luck and a Lancaster”.
Luckily for us, Joe took several photos during his time at Mepal, and many years later allowed the NZ Bomber Command Assn to take copies for their archives. These photos, and their captions, give an insight into the ground crew’s view of life on Base.
Stirlings, Mepal, late 1943 / early 1944. – Photos courtesy and copyright of NZ Bomber Command Association photo archives, from the collection of Joe Tomlin.
Unknown groundie and what looks to be an 8000lb H.C “cookie” on its bomb trolley. – Photo courtesy and copyright of NZ Bomber Command Association photo archives, from the collection of Joe Tomlin.
Crashed Stirling AA-R? Caption on the back: “R 75 Sqdn Pranged at Mepal” – Photo courtesy and copyright of NZ Bomber Command Association photo archives, from the collection of Joe Tomlin.
This is possibly Stirling LJ473, AA-R, piloted by Des Horgan, which overshot Mepal runway on return from a mining op’ north of Biarritz on the morning of 16.12.43, swung into a steep turn and had to belly-land. Although looking at this photo, it’s hard to believe that none of the Horgan crew was injured!
One other Stirling crashed at Mepal while Joe was there, returning from a mining op’ off the Frisian Islands on 16.12.43, Stirling EF163, JN-L, captained by P/O Colin John Kinross, RNZAF (NZ417069). In this case, all crew were killed except for the Mid Upper Gunner, Sgt S. T. Newman, RAF (928207) who was only slightly injured.
Caption on the back: “EH955 JN-K. Lost 19 April 1944 shot down by nightfighter over Denmark. Due to “C” Flight re-equipping with Lanc’s in March 44 this a/c re-lettered “AA-K” just before being lost.” – Photo courtesy and copyright of NZ Bomber Command Association photo archives, from the collection of Joe Tomlin.
This is the Stirling that the Murray crew was shot down in on 19 April, and from which Sgt. John Edward Lithgow “Paddy” McFarland, F/S Gordon James Irwin, and F/S Douglas John Hill parachuted.
There are several posts on this site about the Murray crew and much more about Paddy McFarland’s story here:
Caption on the back: “Lancaster Mepal. ND914 AA-H. Swung on landing 28-5-44. Written off.”
– Photo courtesy and copyright of NZ Bomber Command Association photo archives, from the collection of Joe Tomlin.
More about ND914 here:
Joe (“Cpl Tomlin”) appears on this Battle Order for the Duisburg op’, 14 October 1944, bottom right, where he is listed as duty Instrument Repair technician.
Joe left 75 (NZ) Squadron on 19 Dec 1944 and was posted back to New Zealand shortly afterwards.
“Of course post war Joe didn’t slow down, being one of the very first commercial divers, using old CO2 cylinders as air tanks, as well as building and flying Jodel ZK ECF.
In later years he rebuilt our (MoTaT’s) Lancaster’s auto bomb sight, and we have a great video of him using it to control a bombing run over a large scale map on his garage door.
I last visited him after Christmas and he was still full of energy and ideas. A very special person.”
Our thoughts and condolences go to the Tomlin family, and our thanks to Joe for his valued service, and for passing on his memories of those Mepal days long ago.
– And as always, thanks to Peter Wheeler and the NZ Bomber Command Assn. for permission to reproduce these photos, and the excerpt from “Kiwis Do Fly”.