Perhaps now a silver lining to the recent sad cloud of the losses of some of our veterans
I am pleased to report, albeit a little belatedly that Owen Cook, Pilot with 75(NZ) Squadron reached, on Saturday the 27th of March, the magnificent age of 100!
Owen arrived with crew, at Mepal, on the 2nd of March 1945 and as it would transpire later, we discovered that in fact his 2nd, 2nd Dickie Op was with my own Father’s crew, during his 2nd Tour with the Squadron.
Owen, flew 6 Ops before the War’s end and then undertook 2 Manna and 2 Prisoner Repatriation sorties, before finally posting out of the Squadron on the 3rd of July 1945.
Whilst transcribing Bob’s tour and crew histories, early in my research on him, I hit a brick wall regarding the identity of a second pilot added to the Form 541 by hand for the Dessau Op of 7th March 1945.
On the Sunday morning of the summer reunion at Mepal 2012, my sister, mother and I went to the memorial garden so mum could see it and the plaque for Dad. while we were there, an old couple, their daughter and her husband arrived. A brief discussion about their whereabouts (i.e. that this was the memorial garden for 75(NZ) Squadron) led to a discussion in the garden and then the 3 Pickerels pub. The elderly gentleman was called Owen Cook and he had been at the squadron towards the end of the war. On returning home I looked through the nominal roll and the ORB and found Owen’s arrival and Op history. Finding his serial number suddenly made me realise that the Pilot that flew with the Zinzan crew on this raid was in fact, Owen Cook……..
I am pleased also to recall, that having met Owen and his family and posted about our meeting on the site, we were able to reconnect Own with his Navigator, Jack Mitcherson.
Owens recollections of the War and his time in the Squadron can be read in more detail here, on the Australian War Memorial website
So, I am sure you will all be happy to raise a glass to Owen on reaching this fantastic milestone!
It is with profound sadness that I must pass on the news of the loss of another member of 75(NZ) Squadron RAF. Jack Francis David Jarmy passed away after a long illness on the 27th of March, less than a month before his 99th birthday.
Jack arrived at Mepal on the 21st of July 1943 as a Navigator in the Mayfield crew, with my own Father, who was Air Bomber with the crew.
The Mayfield crew completed their first tour with the Squadron after only 21 Ops – on instruction from Group to try to show the remaining crews that it was in fact possible to survive a stay at Mepal – at what was at the time, a dangerous period in the Squadron’s history.
After an instructional posting Jack joined 218 Gold Coast Squadron and completed his 2nd Tour, just 2 months or so before the end of the War.
Jack stayed in the RAF and retired in 1977.
Jack’s widow and son have written an obituary to Jack which can be read in full here on the International Bomber Command Centre’s Facebook page – it is of course, entirely fitting that the family should remember him in full, so I thought it would be fitting to offer my own tribute to Jack based on my conversations with him about his time with 75(NZ) Squadron and my Father
It was only after my Father’s death that I felt compelled to find out more what he had done in the RAF and at least initially, something of the boys he had flown with. One night, when beginning my research, I – for whatever reason – felt compelled to search through a box. I came across a printout of information on the Squadron and on the back, written in Bob’s hand, were the names Mayfield and Jarmy. Struck by the astonishment that at some time forgotten, I must have spoken to Dad about the Squadron – I contacted Kevin King, Chairman of the UK Squadron Association to ask if he knew anything about these 2 individuals. Even then, I was resigned to the fact that I was probably chasing ghosts – but a call from Kevin floored me when he said that not only did he know him – but that Jack would love to speak to me!
There followed several phone calls and a wonderful weekend spent with Jack and his wife Joyce. At the time, I was astonished by his energy, both physical and mental and we talked for 2 days and late into 1 night!
Like my Father, Jack also originally enlisted and was rated as suitable for Pilot training. Unlike Bob, Jack went to the United States to train and was victim to their rather mechanistic approach of 1/3’s regarding training and progression. Having missed out in that final 1/3 cut, Jack was given the option of either transferring onto an Air Bombers course, or to wait (peeling potatoes as it transpired) for a Navigators course, where the 2 top graduates would be commissioned.
P/O Jack Jarmy arrived with many other young airmen at No.11 Operational Training Unit, Oakley on the 6th of April 1943. Methods of crew creation were not at all scientific – beer, sandwiches and a few hours left to their own devices seemed enough. Jack recalled he first met the Pilot, Allan – he was impressed with his moustache and therefore thought he could probably fly as well. When the 2 bumped into my Father, an enquiry as to his proficiency as an Air Bomber was met with, if I imagine my Father, a suitably compelling and expletive filled response and that was enough for them! – and so the crew began to form…..
Listening to Jack, I think what struck me was the precarious nature of the operational flights – I knew they weren’t pleasure flights, but I suppose I had tended to view the ORB reports of the raids and occurrences therein as a definitive description of ‘what happened’. Jack made it clear to me that this was certainly not the case – he actually said that he personally didn’t expect to last 30 ops. Whilst he didn’t say he thought he would die, he was resigned to ending up a PoW.
Jack and the boys never returned with all 4 engines working and they were hit by flak on every raid. On one raid, just prior to making the final run into target, Jack went up into the astro dome, first looking to the back of the aircraft, only to turn his head to see a Lancaster only 50 foot above them with it’s bomb bay doors open – a screamed ‘STARBOARD BANK NOW!’ to Allan resulted in the Stirling banking to vertical as the Lanc’s bombs silently fell through the space that their wing had occupied only seconds before.
On their second raid the Flight Engineer accidentally turned the wrong fuel valve whilst balancing wing fuel loads as they approached the Dutch coast on the way out. All four engines stopped mid-air and everybody was reaching for their chutes – luckily the F/E realised what had happened and opened the valve pretty quick smartish and they flew on to the target.
It also appears that Dad’s remark in the logbook referring to ‘shot up train’ did in fact relate to him shooting the train up himself! Returning from their 3rd Op – Gardening in the Gironde Estuary, Dad saw a train and got Allan to drop the plane down to about 150 foot and they shot the hell out of it – when they got back they were as pleased as punch – when they told the Intelligence officer during their debrief, he apparently ‘bollocked’ them and said if they pulled a stunt like that again, they would be on a court martial – apparently the Germans often sent out flak trains with the express intention of luring allied aircraft down to low level, before dropping a side panel on a carriage and cutting the aircraft to ribbons with a set of 20mm cannons.
On a fighter affiliation and flight check, a Typhoon came in a bit too tight and a bit too fast, despite the pilots best efforts, the Typhoon took the end 4 foot off of their wing – Jack rather calmly observed ‘if it had been a foot more, we would have been buggered……..’
It was clear from talking to Jack that the friendship between himself, my father and their Pilot Allan Mayfield was strong. Despite being the only commissioned officer in the crew, and thus sleeping and eating separately from the rest of the crew, they grew close – perhaps as they all occupied the front end of the aircraft.
As was the practice, at the end of the tour the crew were spilt up and set on instructional duties. Perhaps by luck, Jack and my Father stayed together when they were both posted to No.3 Lancaster Finishing School at Feltwell. No doubt they spent time together and one day cycled over to No. 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit, at Waterbeach, to meet up with Allan.
Eventually it was time to leave and perhaps a little worse for wear, Jack and Dad started the long cycle ride back to Feltwell. On rounding a corner, the sudden appearance of a policeman startled both and the decision was made perhaps foolhardily to out cycle him – a sound plan till they both rode into his car parked around the next corner! Now caught, details – all made up of course were given to the officer and they returned to Base possibly more chastened than when they had left. A few days later, Jack whilst instructing a group on Navigation techniques was rudely interrupted by the arrival of the same police officer – my Father, rather shame faced in tow behind. Perhaps inevitably My Father found himself, sometime later in front of a magistrate in Ely. Having listened to the details of that night my father was fined 1 shilling. Upon asking the whereabouts of Officer Jarmy, My Father was pleased to inform his Honour that sadly F/O Jarmy was currently in Ely Hospital suffering from a bad case of tonsilitis – but, that he should rest assured that as soon as was humanly possible, he would be well enough again to continue his fight against the tyranny of the Third Reich. Duly noted, the Magistrate then fined Jack 2 shillings. My father never one to let an injustice escape him, challenged the unfairness of this decision and promptly had his fine raised to the same 2 shillings………
At the end of their instructional posting, Jack and Bob had to go their separate ways – Dad went back to 75(NZ) Squadron and Jack was posted to 218 Gold Coast Squadron.
It was only in talking to Jack that we each discovered something. Jack had spent years after the War trawling through the phonebooks of Scotland trying to find Bob. Bob was ignorant of this till the day he died and had, fatefully for Jack’s efforts, not in fact returned to Scotland, but had stayed in England, having married my Mother.
Twice on our visit Jack stopped rigid and stared at me – remarking that I looked just like Bob – I felt honoured – doubly so………
Hoturoa Arnel Dean Meyer, a Pilot with the Squadron passed away on the 6th of December. ‘Arnie’ formed with his crew on the 11th of December 1943 at No.11 Operational Training Unit, Wescott, before arriving with 75(NZ) Squadron on the 12th of June 1944 – completing 30 Ops, before and without a break, continuing to complete a further 25 ops with No.7 Squadron (Path Finder Force). During 1948 he served in Japan with the British and Commonwealth Occupation Forces.
Hoturoa was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on the 12th of December 1944.
Arnie was a source of confusion for Chris and I when we began to research the Maori aircrew of the Squadron, some years ago. With such an obvious first name, we initially assumed that Arnie was of Maori stock, however this was quickly corrected by his Daughter Lorraine, who explained the following;
“Hoturoa Arnel Dean Meyer is not Maori. No Maori blood anywhere in his heritage.! His mother’s best friend was Tainui and asked to honour the baby inutero with a royal Maori name. Princess Te Puea was approached and gave permission for Dad to be called Hoturoa, which was a huge honour and one we have passed down to one of our sons. His heritage is Danish (his father’s side) and English/kiwi on his mother’s side).”
In 2015 he was awarded Frances highest honour of the Croix de Guerre for his participation in Operations to support the liberation of France during D-Day.
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children, England mourns for her dead across the sea. Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit, Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres. There is music in the midst of desolation And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young, Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow. They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted, They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again; They sit no more at familiar tables of home; They have no lot in our labour of the day-time; They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound, Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight, To the innermost heart of their own land they are known As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust, Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain, As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness, To the end, to the end, they remain.
Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943), published in The Times newspaper on 21st September 1914.
This year, Remembrance Sunday will stick in our minds I suspect for no reason other than it either feels as if it did not happen or happened in a very different way to what we are used to. As always however, it is a point in the year where we take time to pause and reflect on those who have fallen for the defence of their country. This is, quite rightly, an intensely personal moment and gesture and I am sure we all do it in our own ways, in some respects necessarily cocooned from those around us for those minutes and that silence – and it is this that makes this Sunday so important and resonant for all those who remember those who have fallen.
And so as a way allowing the act of remembrance to take place – some stories…..
Many of you will know Kevin King, either personally or by repeated mentions of him on this site. Chairman of the UK 75(NZ) RAF Squadron Association and probably the most knowledgeable person on the Squadron. Always at Mepal for Remembrance Sunday and always playing the Last Post, suddenly this year he is not going…… Kevin’s solution and a beautiful one I think, was to produce and display the following, I assume in his front garden, as a tribute and marker for the Squadron.
I met Mark Rae a good few years ago when he attended a Remembrance weekend reunion for the Squadron Association, which was also the debut of a song that he wrote and produced to honour the memory of his Grandfather, John Bell, Navigator with Ronald Gordon’s crew, one of 3 aircraft lost on the 20th November 1944 on one of the trips to what is widely recognised as 75(NZ) Squadron’s ‘bogey’ target, the Fischer Tropsch oil refinery at Homberg. I noticed Mark had paid a vist to the Lincolnshire Aviation Museum recently to take as I have done a taxi ride in their Lancaster NX611 ‘Just Jane’. Mark filmed the event and you can see it below.
I recently did a request for information/ contact post about Keith McGregors’s crew, with the simple objective of trying to reach out to and possibly hear back from relatives of his crew, 6 of whom were lost on the night of 30th of August 1943 whilst on War Ops to Berlin. Perhaps at the time my reasons other than important were a little guarded, as I was keen and I felt it fit to try first to talk to relatives before announcing as follows that I have been gifted, very kindly by Gerald a large number of pieces of wreckage from their Stirling Mk.III Bomber, EF501, AA-K.
I must confess, after the first email contact form Gerald I was left a little cold, albeit flattered that he had thought to contact me having, himself come by the items from a German gentleman who had recovered the wreckage. I asked for some time to consider his offer. I have always been deeply uncomfortable with images particularly in some Facebook groups of boxes of wreckage jammed into cardboard boxes by enthusiastic crash hunters from all over Europe – I don’t damn them for it, certainly not, but personally I think crash sites, especially when in the ground are best left as they are, especially if the site is potentially and I hate the term – ‘wet’.
I mulled it over and on balance decided to take up Gerald on his very generous offer – now in the wild as it were, I think it was best I have them, given my links to the Squadron and through the blog it seems a perfect opportunity to return, if wished, the wreckage to the surviving relatives of the crew.
Having no reason whatsoever to doubt Gerald’s assertion that the wreckage was from EF501, I did some digging anyways and was happy when, after posting some pieces with manufacturing numbers on the Stirling Society Facebook page, received confirmation that not only were they from a Stirling, but that the part numbers identified it as being from the tail section of the aircraft. The images of these parts are below and show the serial numbers. The two parts both have serial numbers on them and both seem to be either mirror or perhaps each end of a larger part. They are double skinned aluminium and seem both to have a strip of wood/ plywood sandwiched between each pressing
I include some other parts now, simply perhaps to spark further debate discussion as to the position/ function of the pieces. Firstly, and perhaps most interestingly, a metal component with what is clearly fragments of plexiglass set into it – at this point my conjecture is possibly that this is a frame component of the Rear Turret – based on the previous 2 parts.
Next and possibly related is an iron, or perhaps heavily corroded steel rack – the teeth are clearly visible, and the depth of the teeth are about ¼ of an inch – perhaps again a part of the rear turret?
I have no means of identifying any functional aspect of this piece, however I include it simply to show the shocking concertinaing that an impact with the ground at speed and from altitude has on an airframe.
Finally, simply a fascinating example of multi-sheet construction utilising what in the day, was the main method of holding an airframe together – rivets. I would imagine though I have no proof that this is possibly a main member or possibly surface junction, possibly of the tail plane or rear wings. The following 2 pictures show the front and reverse of the same part.
I must confess when I had thought of this post and the presentation of this wreckage, I had lofty plans, however, handing and inspecting them, bought home to me 2 things. Firstly, that they are wreckage – broken, twisted, unidentifiable parts on the whole, of what was once a massive aircraft. Secondly that 6 allied airmen died in this aircraft and their bodies were never found. I am familiar with these pieces now, but still handle them with the respect that at least I think they deserve. I intend to continue to research the parts, document them all photographically and then, if and where possible return the pieces to family members of the crew. I am nothing more than a custodian of these remains, until ownership can be offered.
For the 6 McGregor crew and the other 1,133 members of the Squadron who were lost.
I have been contacted by Benard in France, who is seeking contact with relatives of the McConnell crew. For the last 9 years Benard has researched the losses that occurred during the War in the area of Avesnois, his home region.
Jim McConnell and his crew arrived with the Squadron on the 16th of September 1942, after flying a single 2nd dickie Op with Gerald Jacobson’s crew, the crew flew their first sortie to Terchelling on the 30th of September to drop sea mines.
The McConnell crews were all lost on their 8th Sortie on the 24th of October 1942, to Milan.
Wellington Mk.III BJ.725 AA-H was brought down by enemy action over France, crashing near Valencienns, 25 miles North East of Cambrai. All five crew were killed. They were buried at Valenciennes.
Sgt. James Allison Mcconnell, RNZAF NZ414646 – Pilot. Killed age 21. Son of James Allison Mcconnell and Jessie Campbell Mcconnell, of Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand. Buried Valenciennes (St Roch) Communal Cemetery, France.. Grave location – Plot 4. Row A. Coll. Grave 15.
Sgt. Selwyn Clarence Smith, RNZAF NZ41952 – Observer. Killed age 29. Son of E. T. and Sarah Elizabeth Smith, of Winton, Southland, New Zealand. Buried Valenciennes (St Roch) Communal Cemetery, France.. Grave location – Plot 4. Row A. Coll. Grave 15.
Sgt. Douglas Noel Tonkin, RNZAF NZ413285 – Front Gunner. Killed age 22. Son of Daniel and Annie Frances Tonkin, of Hastings, Hawke’S Bay, New Zealand. Buried Valenciennes (St Roch) Communal Cemetery, France.. Grave location – Plot 4. Row A. Joint grave 16.
Sgt. Arthur Quinn, RAFVR 1095594 – Wireless Operator. Killed age 21. Son of Arthur and Margaret Quinn, of Seaham, Co. Durham. Buried Valenciennes (St Roch) Communal Cemetery, France.. Grave location – Plot 4. Row A. Coll. Grave 15. ‘He giveth His beloved sleep At rest’
Sgt. Vallance Albert Oliver Dimock, RNZAF NZ412317 – Rear Gunner. Killed age 22. Son of Albert William and Rosy Dimock, of Wellington City New Zealand. Buried Valenciennes (St Roch) Communal Cemetery, France.. Grave location – Plot 4. Row A. Joint grave 16.
Today marks the 77th anniversary of the loss of 5 of the McGregor crew, whilst undertaking operations against Berlin. It is perhaps serendipity at play, that recently I have come by something that means that I need, if possible to reach out and hopefully, connect with any relatives of the crew that might be out there.
I have my fingers crossed – 7 years ago I was contacted by the great-nephew of the Pilot, Keith McGregor and I have been able to reconnect with him and his family again, just the day before last.
I am very keen to try to widen this circle of contact with other relatives of the crew and share with them, what I shall describe at this point as a very interesting find indeed.
The McGregor crew arrived at Mepal on the 29th of July. On the 30th of August the crew engaged with a an ME110 on a sortie to Munchen Gladbach – ‘The aircraft captained by F/S McGREGOR, K. sighted an ME110 astern, the rear-gunner fired a long burst, the Stirling corkscrewed and the Mid-upper gunner fired a long burst. The enemy aircraft replied and dived away with smoke pouring from its engine. It is claimed as possibly destroyed’.
The following day, the McGregor crew took off with 17 other Stirlings from Mepal to join a force to attack Berlin. Early in the hours of today, 77 years ago, Stirling Mk.III EF501, AA-K was, it is believed, attacked by a German night fighter. The attack was short and catastrophic, forcing an almost immediate dive which resulted in it crashing into the ground, south of Potsdam. Five of the seven crew were killed. The Flight Engineer and Mid-upper Gunner, were able to escape the aircraft whilst still airborne and it was a letter later sent by Geoffrey Bond, the Flight Engineer to Keith McGregor’s Mother, that shed light on the final moments of the crew and AA-K that night.
F/S Keith Alexander Mcgregor, RNZAF NZ415770 – Pilot. Lost without trace age 21. Son of Matthew Alexander Mcgregor and Jeanie Mcgregor, of Waikouaiti, Otago, New Zealand. Commemorated Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, England.. Grave location – Panel 199.
F/O James Benjamin Lovelock, RNZAF NZ416324 – Navigator. Lost without trace age 26. Son of John Edward Jones Lovelock and Ivy Evelyn Lovelock. Commemorated Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, England.. Grave location – Panel 197.
F/S William Adam Kilby, RNZAF NZ415261 – Air Bomber. Lost without trace age 40. Son of Henry John Kilby, and of Christina Kilby, of Ngaio, Wellington, New Zealand; Husband of Alice Kilby. Commemorated Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, England.. Grave location – Panel 199.
F/S James Guthrie Baker, RNZAF NZ41142 – Wireless Operator. Lost without trace age 27. Son of Henry and Charlotte Baker; Husband of Ellen Baker, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Commemorated Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, England.. Grave location – Panel 198.
Sgt. Geoffrey Alec Arthur Bond, RAFVR 1801229 – Flight Engineer. P.o.W Prisoner of War Number: 43256 Prison Camps: Dulag Luft, Stalag Luft VI/357 Date of return to United Kingdom: not known
Sgt. George Frank Dummett, RAFVR 1377778 – Mid Upper Gunner. P.o.W Prisoner of War Number: 12730 Prison Camps: Dulag Luft, Stalags Luft VI and Luft IV Date of return to United Kingdom: not known
Sgt. Terence Grange, RAFVR 1323448 – Rear Gunner. Lost without trace age 22. Son of John and Ellen Grange; Husband of Esther Grange, of South Lambeth, London. Commemorated Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, England.. Grave location – Panel 151.
I’ll take this opportunity to not only remember the boys who were killed this morning, but again, cast out a hope that I might now be able to connect with any other relative of the crew – however distant, so I can share with them what I have found.
I would ask any of you who read this post to try to spread it further, through any means possible to try to make a connection.
A massive thank you to Chester for generously sharing his memoirs!
These are memories of events that occurred over 70 years ago, now recalled by a 94 year-old man. I hope they are accurate.
I was called up in July 1943, aged 19 years and one month.
I did my initial training at Skegness, spent three weeks at RAF Costal Command Operational Training Unit at Withybush, near Haverfordwest, and eighteen weeks at RAF Cosford on the sixteen week Flight Mechanic Engines (FME) course.
3006180, AC2, Guttridge, C. arrived initially at Ely railway station on 16 March 1944 or thereabouts. The date of arrival was not necessarily the same as the official transfer date which did not recognise intervening periods of leave.
A RAF lorry picked me and other airmen up and took us to Mepal, passing near Witchford, Waterbeach’s other satellite station, and dropped us at the guard house, manned by RAF police.
The ‘red caps’ were not our mates and kept to themselves. They represented discipline and were issued with arms. In the last resort they were there to defend us. When a German plane dropped anti personnel bombs on the airfield they disposed of them. Until cleared the airfield was out of bounds for the rest of us. I heard of no one killed or injured. Half a days flying was lost.
RAF Mepal was a satellite bomber station of Waterbeach, near Cambridge, that first operated in 1943. It was built mostly of Nissen huts, large, medium and small.
The wash houses and ablution blocks were of brick with asbestos cement roofs. Near the NAFFI Nissen hut stood a brick and asbestos toilet building with rarely used cubicle seating for some 24 airman at a time. I used it occasionally, only once hearing another flush.
The education hut was a little further away beside the concrete road to the airfield. I was often to be found there when work was done.
I must have been issued on arrival with a bicycle, three blankets and a pillow and directed to the Nissen hut that was to be my billet. I found an unused bed, inevitably near the door, but gradually worked my way up towards the central stove as airmen left on postings. A chap who specialized in long fruity farts which he announced to all when an eruption was imminent, fortunately slept at the other end. He had been a cowman and was at the lower end of our limited cultural range.
Formalities were minimal, we were there to do a job. I remember only one kit inspection, although we unmade our beds every morning just in case. I acquired a large soft blanket, which I folded to serve as top and bottom sheets. I never traded it in for clean blankets as required every few months. All our clothes were marked with our RAF number. Laundry was collected once a week. I once sent a rag that I had been using and got back a handkerchief.
Next day I was drafted to a ‘wing’ of four aircraft and to a small corrugated iron ‘dispersal’ hut near a Lancaster bomber. It was to be my work place until 75 NZ Squadron left Mepal.
For most of my time at Mepal, I and my colleagues serviced aircraft S Sugar of “B” Flight, 75(N.Z.) Squadron.
There were five of us: Corporal Jim Cooper, engine mechanic; Max Barnes, engine mechanic (known as Binnie after the film star Binnie Barnes); bespectacled Corporal Shufflebottom, airframe rigger; Stan Hankins, airframe rigger, also bespectacled, and me.
Binnie was in the same billet as me, eventually in the next bed. I got to know him well.
All four colleagues had been in the RAF longer than me and knew the ropes.
Jim Cooper had been a postman in Sheffield before call-up and Stan a house decorator in his father’s business in Hove. Binnie hailed from Ormskirk. I also became friendly with Corporal Alec Balfour from Aberdeen. Alec and I had a week’s holiday together in the Lake District after the war. Again after the war, I stayed for a weekend with Jim Cooper and his wife, Enid, in his terraced house in Sheffield, the smoky city of steel. I was appalled by the black smuts floating in the air and the grime everywhere, even in the park where we went for a walk on Sunday afternoon with seemingly half the population seeking greenery and fresh(er) air. Many years later Max came to stay with us at Nailsea, but by then he had a heart condition and died a few months later. Things did not go well for him after the war. Although his pre-war employer took him back as required, they sent him to work away from home, a circumstance that led to him divorcing his wife and selling the family home.
Some colleagues in the billet had seen service in Africa, either in the E. African pilot training stations, or in the Libyan desert. One had lived in a tent in N. Africa and had jumped on to a lorry, leaving everything behind, even his toolbox, as German forces threatened to overtake the airstrip. Those from E. Africa were yellow from quinine that had protected them from malaria. The colouration faded over a period of months. The day I arrived at the flight hut, the Avro Lancaster on our concrete standing ground and the three others in the flight area were all new. Ours had arrived the day before me, after the Stirling bombers had flown out. Records show that the first Lancaster arrived at Mepal on 13 March 1944. I suppose my colleagues on the flight had received some instruction on servicing the new planes. The Stirlings had four radial engines, the Lancaster’s four in-line Rolls Royce Merlins.
Sergeant Burkitt, an engine man, was in charge of all four planes and their ground crews. He was a regular, having joined the Service before the war. Above him was the Engineering Officer with the rank of a Flying Officer, one step above the lowest ranking Pilot Officer. Few of the ground staff that I met were New Zealanders. Sergeant Burkitt’s number two mechanic suffered with dermatitis caused by engine oil so was discharged.
Our jobs were to carry out daily inspections of engines and airframe and do minor servicing operations, then sign a chart recording completion.
Stan and his corporal checked that the control surfaces, rudder, ailerons, etc were working properly and that the outer skin of the aircraft was undamaged, patching it if necessary with dope and canvas. Stan cleaned the inside.
Having made visual inspections, we mechanics ‘ran up’ the engines, one at a time, to check their operation and that of the variable pitch propellers. While I was at Mepal, airscrews were renamed propellers (props.) to avoid confusion with aircrews.
It was some months before I was allowed to ‘run up’ the engines. I liked having so much power (c.1500 hp.) at my control. We checked the performance mainly by checking the rev. (revolution) counter and, of course, the oil pressure and temperature gauges. Merlin engines were fitted with two independent magneto ignition systems, a) in case one should fail and b) to improve engine performance. Two sparks ignited the petrol-air mixture in the cylinders faster than one, thus increasing power output. By observing the drop in revs when one ignition set was switched off one could tell if there was a faulty plug. In which case we changed all 24 plugs and tested the engine again.
Specialists dealt with the guns, the radio, the H2S (ground mapping radar), electrical systems, hydraulics and the automatic pilot. From time to time specialists ‘swung’ the aircraft to determine the deviation of the compass caused by magnetic metal on the plane, presumably mainly the engines.
When Mepal was scheduled for a raid, armourers hung bombs in the bomb bay and loaded the Browning machine guns with ammunition while we filled the tanks with the specified quantity of petrol. To do this we had to climb on to the wings.
Before take-off time, which was usually in the evenings around dusk, one of us ground crew, as detailed, had to remove the cover from the pitot head (air speed indicator), remove the canvas engine covers, then, when all was ready and the air crew aboard, climb on to the wheels in the undercarriage nacelles, pump priming petrol into the engines, while the flight engineer (second pilot) in the cockpit pressed the starter buttons.
Finally, upon a signal from the pilot, we removed the chocks and guided the plane from its standing ground by hand signals. We had to remain on the station until called by Tannoy to receive our returning plane.
The Station’s Commanding Officer visited every crew in his camouflaged Austin Eight as they waited to board.
The planes lined up on the perimeter track waiting their turn to take off, loaded with petrol for up to a 10 hour flight. Flights were, as I recall, mostly of five to seven hours. With four engines on full power they struggled to take off, the heavy, low pitched drone continued for perhaps half an hour before they were all away. Silence fell over the fens when the last of the planes disappeared into the distance to cross the North Sea.
Upon our plane’s return we guided it into its place with hand signals (holding torches in darkness), put chocks against the wheels, covered the four engines by again walking on the wings, then lacing them up underneath. The whole operation took some 30 – 40 minutes. We went inside to check that the crew had left everything switched off and safe, gathered up any sweets they had left, jumped out, locked the door and cycled back to our huts, perhaps stopping at the mess for a mug of hot cocoa. If late getting to bed, we were allowed to sleep in until lunchtime next day.
We were glad to see our plane back and its crew safe.
We lost two aircraft over the 15 months I was with 75 NZ Squadron at Mepal, hoping the crews had managed to bale out or had crash landed safely somewhere else, but we never heard. Had their bombs that night fallen on some German factory or marshalling yard or killed civilians in their beds, we never knew. Accuracy was hard to achieve in high-level bombing. Night bombing was dangerous and aircraft losses were heavy. The crews were being shot at two or three times a week or more and many lost their lives. I was at risk only of falling off the wing or walking under a spinning propeller.
Next morning there was much to be done. All the engines had to be inspected, the sides and top cowlings removed, and the engines examined for cracks, damage, oil leaks and oil levels. When all was checked the engines were run up for rev. tests. These jobs took all morning, usually into the afternoon. Corporal Cooper once spotted a small crack about half an inch long on an engine casing that I had missed. The plane was towed by a David Brown tractor to the servicing hanger for fitters to change the engine. It was there that engines underwent major service after the specified number of flying hours.
When he got a chance, Hankins painted another yellow bomb symbol on the fuselage just below and forward of the cockpit, one for every raid.
Sometimes our plane dropped ‘Windows’ as well as bombs. Windows were strips of ‘silver’ lined paper varying in size from about 8 inches x ½ inch to 18 inches x two inches (as I recall), which, when floating down from the aircraft, were said to have confused enemy radar. Members of the crew dropped it through a hatch fitted for the purpose. I’m told, although I don’t remember it.
The largest bomb our plane carried was a 4,000 pound blockbuster. After being fitted with modification bomb doors, Sergeant Burkitt’s plane was loaded with an 8,000 pounder on a couple of occasions. Usually our planes were loaded with 500 or 1,000 pound bombs and/or incendiaries.
After the Normandy landings our planes went on short daytime tactical raids over France, in support of the army. Aircrews never spoke of their operations and we ground crews never asked. I read on the web that 75 (N.Z.) squadron has an impressive reputation for its contribution to the bombing campaign, operating more sorties than any squadron in Group 3, I understand.
S Sugar, M Mother and W Willie (our planes during my period of service with 75 NZ Squadron) sometimes flew on training flights of one sort or another. If a novice pilot had made a bumpy landing, he would be ordered to do a few ‘circuits and bumps’, maybe half a dozen until his skill satisfied the flying control officer of the day. Ground crews were encouraged to join such trips although we tried to avoid circuits and bumps which we saw as more hazardous and less interesting than cross country flights. But one day, having been misinformed, I went on one. I sat in the rear gunner’s turret, closed the doors behind me and swivelled around, aiming the unarmed Browning machine guns at imaginary targets. A rear gunner would be cooped up in his turret perhaps for eight more hours on a long flight.
The flight hut was our shelter in rain and a focus for a little social life. A small coke stove made it cosy in cold weather except by the doorless opening. When WAAF drivers called to deliver items or to bring news, they were invited in for a gossip. Airman from nearby huts called, but not often. Some aircrews came to chat with us during daytime or watch us carrying out the service checks. When the NAFFI van called at the flight area mid mornings and afternoons we took our mugs over for ‘tea and a wad’ – the wad being a rectangle of cake costing a couple of pence or so.
The flight ‘Elson’ toilet in its little hut was indescribably filthy, seat and container, never cleaned. I lined the seat with toilet paper when necessity overrode disgust. Now and again a team of civilians tipped the contents into a larger container which they humped on their backs and emptied into an even filthier container on a lorry. We urinated behind the hut, where we also washed our overalls in high octane leaded aviation fuel. They dried in the wind a slightly grey colour from the lead in the petrol.
One day I and five colleagues were called upon to guard a crashed Lancaster on the fens overnight. We were issued with rifles and ammunition. The night was uneventful. Otherwise fatigues were rare. I once scoured roasting tins in the cook house and on another occasion painted stones lining the path to the education hut in preparation for a ‘high ups’ inspection. ‘If it moves, salute it, if it doesn’t, paint it’, the saying went.
Once I cleaned billet hut windows. Airmen (never me) sent to clean WAAF hut windows reported seeing topless young ladies lying on their beds in their service knickers, colloquially known as passion dampers. Such boasting was always doubted. The ladies sought their male friends from among the aircrews, preferably officers, of which there were plenty. We ground staff lacked money and glamour.
I was sent on a three day anti aircraft gunnery course at RAF Mildenhall where I aimed at pictures of moving aircraft projected on the domed ceiling of the special building, accompanied by the noise of planes and gunfire. Not knowing what to do in the evenings, my colleague and I went twice to the local cinema to see a glamorous Betty Grable on film. Another time I went on an overnight visit to Waterbeach for a forgotten purpose. Such occasions were opportunities for the exchange of disgusting jokes.
Once a fortnight we joined pay parade in the NAFFI. I was then getting four shillings and six pence a day (?) as a Leading Aircraftsman (LAC), the highest grade I was ever likely to achieve as a late entrant conscript. Having initially received 3/- (?) a day, I had been promoted to AC2 on completion of the mechanics course at Cosford. Promotion to LAC on 1 June 1944 followed an assessment for colour blindness and an intelligence test in which I did quite well. Being a light smoker and seldom drinking alcohol, my pay more than met my need for pocket money and the purchase of an occasional train ticket from Ely to Cambridge, so I arranged for a small portion of my pay to be paid to my mother who saved it for me.
Once we were summoned to VD inspection, FFI it was called – free from infection. Some 100 airman with dropped trousers were examined in the NAFFI by a sturdy lady doctor who carried a knee donger to dong any attachments that failed to dangle. An airman, hero of the hour, said that being donged hurt. Nobody was diagnosed with VD as far as I know, but it had been only a cursory examination.
I spent many evenings in the billet hut, chatting, reading, darning socks or listening to the distorted noise of a wireless, or perhaps having a bath in one of the two bath cubicles in the wash building where we daily washed faces and hands in bowls lined with thick soapy scum. A 39 year old airman stoked the boiler that kept the water hot but didn’t clean the bowls.
Sometimes I cycled the half mile to the NAFFI for tea and a bite or to the education hut. There were no ENSA visits that I can recall and no place for them to perform. During winter I joined WEA (Workers Education Association) evening classes in nearby Sutton. One course was on literature, another on poetry. I remember studying Irish poet W. B. Yeats and the English Jesuit, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem ‘Pied Beauty’.
‘Glory be to God for dappled things. For skies of couple colour as a brindled cow …’
On the way back to camp from Sutton one evening, I and numerous other airman were caught cycling without lights. I had no red rear light. I wrote to the court truthfully explaining that the rear light battery had been stolen in Ely a few days before and I had had no opportunity to buy another. I was fined 5/-.
Ely and its sparse entertainment was five miles away and, in practice, could only be reached by bicycle. It had one small cinema, a WI or YMCA canteen, pubs, a cafe that served beans or sometimes an egg on toast, and the cathedral which I, among few airmen, visited a couple of times. The cinema changed its programme twice a week but showed films only long after their initial release. I watched ‘Fantasia‘ twice in three days, probably having beans on toast on the outskirts of Ely on the way back to Mepal on my sturdy service bike.
I have no recollection of seeing officers or NCO aircrew in the Ely canteen, nor in any other one.
I cycled one summer afternoon to St Ives, looked round, had a bite to eat and cycled back over the fen to Mepal at dusk. An owl swept silently across the road close to my face, frightening me. Another afternoon I cycled to Chatteris and on to March, much impressed by the huge bog oak trunks on the roadside that had been preserved in the peat fen for several thousand years. A couple of times I cycled four or five miles with Binnie to earn cash stripping damsons from laden branches.
Towards the end of the war, after D-day, our planes gave tactical support to the army while the continuing strategic bombing of Germany.
Operations permitting, all ground staff enjoyed a week’s leave every three or four months and a 48 hour break in the interval, service needs permitting, for which we were issued with rail passes. We also got a 36 hour breaks from time to time, from Saturday lunch time to 23.59 hours on Sunday, but travelled at our own expense. When going on leave, Corporal Cooper allowed me to go for early tea if our daily engine checks were completed. Early tea, from 3.30, was much desired. Queues were shorter, the mess less crowded, the food freshly cooked and the tea freshly brewed. When without a travel pass, I caught a train to Cambridge, hitchhiked to Watford and bussed the final five miles to Kings Langley. Trains were often overcrowded so we stood in the corridor or sat on the floor. Fare dodgers piled into the loos and locked the door when a ticket inspector approached. Hitch hiking luck varied although I was never stranded. Once a Sunderland’s lorry picked me up probably on the A1 at Baldock and took me all the way to his base near my home in Kings Langley. Another time a US Army truck took me from Cambridge to Watford, the black driver swigging whiskey from a bottle every few miles. But lifts were mostly from town to town – Royston, Baldock, Stevenage, Hatfield bypass and Watford, usually having to walk across town for the next pick-up. Sometimes I rode in comfort, other times I bumped along on the back of a lorry. In Cambridge, I liked to browse in Heffer’s bookshop, then in Petty Curry. I returned by train, not wishing to risk Sunday evening lifts.
I chanced it one glorious summer evening. After waiting perhaps half an hour at Waterbeach, a few miles beyond Cambridge, I was picked up by an army dispatch rider and taken pillion for the last 15 miles or so. He went out of his way to drop me, much relieved, a couple of hundred yards from my hut at Mepal as the sun set.
The European War ended on 7 May 1945 and bombing ceased. The country celebrated. Our plane flew less often. Ground crews were invited on ‘Baedaker’ flights over Germany to see what our bombs had done. I went on one, lying on my tummy in the bomb aimer’s position in the nose of the plane, with an excellent view of the ground beneath as we flew over the coast, low over the North Sea, over the coast of Holland or Belgium and on to Germany. I remember seeing the floor of the North Sea clearly beneath the waves, the sandy beach of the European coast, then, from about 1,000 feet, saw the wrecked German factories and marshalling yards of the Ruhr and residential Dresden, famous for its almost complete destruction, hardly a building remained standing. The Germans had started the war, bombed our cities, killed thousand of our civilians and almost certainly killed two crews that I had served. They had ‘sown the wind and reaped a whirlwind’.
According to Wikipedia, 75NZ Squadron left Mepal in July 1945. I don’t remember the details. At some point I was transferred to a different Nissen hut to join men I didn’t know. The New Zealand Squadron was replaced by 44 Squadron, also operating Lancasters. I remember little about my six months with 44.
Sometime in 1945 an urge to learn came upon me. From whence it came, I know not. Where it led is the story of my life. It was not long after I had read an abandoned coverless copy of Pickwick Papers with the last page missing. I had left school at 15 years of age without any qualifications.
The education officer seemed pleased to have someone interested in his world. He gave lectures on rehabilitation into the expected post-war better world. I borrowed books from his small library and he offered me a new book he had just received – ‘The Song of Bernardette’ about the shrine at Lourdes which was and is said to have miraculous healing powers. I know a disabled man for whom it failed. I took an English correspondence course first, studying in the education hut. The Education Officer set me up in a quiet place to study. Then, getting ambitious, I started courses leading to London Matriculation, part one. I registered for the examination and later sat several three hour papers in London with hundreds of others at widely separated desks in a huge hall, writing furiously. I passed, then embarked on part two.
Meanwhile the European war ended. A few mechanics like me were being transferred to the Royal Navy to work on aircraft carriers (presumably) in the Far East. I was selected but the education officer said he would try to get me off on the grounds that I was studying for an examination. He succeeded, and a hut colleague went instead. I was unpopular and uncomfortable for a while but there was no going back.
A couple of months later my substitute came to see his old mates, proud of his sailor’s uniform, not unhappy. I doubt whether he saw action in the Far East as Japan surrendered three months after Germany, following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, although he may have gone there and seen more of the world.
It must have been well into the part two course when, out of the blue, the unbelievable happened. I was to be released back into civilian life at the request of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, specifically to go back into poultry keeping. Colleagues were madly envious, some of them having served up to five years. Perhaps someone in Whitehall thought that the national diet lacked sufficient animal protein and that poultry meat could be produced more quickly than any other.
It was not demobilisation, only a Class B release. I was to report to Watford Employment Exchange within seven days of release. I was relegated to class GII of the reserve and required to keep my uniform and be available for recall at a week’s notice. I was granted 21 days release leave before taking up employment. I received a gratuity of £15 (30 months @ 10/- a month) and a Post War Credit of £24 0s. 6d. (961 days at 6d per day).
So it was that 3006180 L.A.C. Guttridge, trade F.M.E., of V.G. Character and Sat. proficiency and NIL Marks and Scars, said goodbye to the RAF on Wednesday, 20 February 1946. The three week leave was counted as service so my release date was 13 March. Not until 30 June 1959 was I finally discharged from the reserve.
But first were the formalities. Once again I packed all my possessions in my kit bag, left an empty hut at Mepal – colleagues were all at their duties – humped my kit bag upon my back and caught the duty lorry to Ely station, changed at Cambridge for Cardington where I surrendered part of my kit, had my genitalia examined yet again for V.D. and was issued with a civilian suit of my choice – I chose a brown one. The single breasted jacket was too small, the trousers, with turn-ups, too baggy and the trilby hat looked silly on my head. I kept one uniform (my comfortable working battle dress), my RAF shirts, socks and underclothes. In my new suit, release papers in my pocket, train pass in hand and a lighter kitbag on my shoulder, I caught a train to Bletchley and changed to a stopping train for Kings Langley. I remember being restless, finding the journey slow and tedious in the non-corridor coach. At Kings Langley, I caught a bus to the common and walked the quarter mile home. I felt strange, empty of purpose. Mother was unimpressed with my suit.
My RAF career had been a happy time, generally speaking. I had been lucky. I had not been called upon to serve in North Africa, in France after D-day nor in Burma. I had done my job, enjoyed the camaraderie, the friendships, the responsibilities, the feeling of doing something useful.
I reported to the Labour Exchange. The man shook his head, ‘I’ve got no jobs in poultry keeping. Don’t know what to do with you.’ I explained that I could work on my father’s poultry farm. That satisfied him.
I continued to study for matriculation, passed part two and qualified for university.
Extract from my service record, with notes 75 Sqdn. 16. 3. 44. Arrived at Mepal. 33 Base (A) 26. 3. 44. But still at Mepal with 75 Sqdn. 75 Sqdn. 31. 4. 44. Still at Mepal. 33 Base. 1. 8. 44. Still at Mepal. Mepal 18. 8. 45. This entry may be a consequence of 75 (N.Z.) Sqdn’s departure from Mepal while I stayed. 10a PDC. 20. 2. 46. Personal Dispatch Centre. Release at Cardington.
Classification A.C.2. 27.7. 43. Aircraftsman 2. The lowest rank. A.C.1. 8. 3. 44. Following completion of Flight Mechanics Engines course. LAC. 1. 6. 44. Leading Aircraftsman.
My character was described a VG and my proficiency as ‘Sat’ on 5.2.44 and 31.12. 45.
‘Ex Remust FMA 63%’ was recorded on 8. 3. 44. I assume this refers to my completing the FME course at Cosford, 63% being my pass mark and Ex Remust being my remuster from FMA (Apprentice?) to Flight Mechanic Engines.
I was finally discharged on 30. 6. 59.
My membership of the Air Training Corp was noted in my service record.
Many thanks to Kevin for providing me with advance warning that today is Ralph Brumwell’s 100th birthday – I am sure you will all join with me in wishing Ralph the most heartfelt wishes on this remarkable milestone.
This notable event also gives me an excuse to make use of the Nominal Roll database to provide the following summary of Ralph’s time with the Squadron!
Ralph William Brumwell, D.F.C. RAF 127140 – Pilot Born on Saturday, 24 July 1920. Arrived Saturday, 20 May 1944 at R.A.F. Mepal, Cambridgeshire, aged 23 from No.31.Base.
1st Tour Ops total with Squadron – 27 total sorties undertaken 28 (96 % completion rate)
Undertook 28 Ops as Pilot , including 1 DNC – 17/07/1944 Attack Against Vaires
Tour History 27/05/1944 Attack Against Aachen, 28/05/1944 Attack Against Angers, 30/05/1944 Attack Against Boulogne, 31/05/1944 Attack Against Trappes, 02/06/1944 Attack Against Wissant, 12/06/1944 Attack Against Gelsenkirchen, 14/06/1944 Attack Against Le Havre, 21/06/1944 Attack Against Domleger, 23/06/1944 Attack Against L’Hey, 24/06/1944 Attack Against Rimeux, 30/06/1944 Attack Against Villers Bocage, 02/07/1944 Daylight Attack Against Beauvoir, 07/07/1944 Attack Against Vaires, 10/07/1944 Attack Against Nucourt, 12/07/1944 Attack Against Vaires, 15/07/1944 Attack Against Chalons Sur Marne, 17/07/1944 Attack Against Vaires (DNC), 18/07/1944 Attack Against Cagny, 01/08/1944 Attack Against Le Nieppe, 12/08/1944 Mining in the Gironde Estuary, 14/08/1944 Attack Against Hamel, 15/08/1944 Attack Against The Aerodrome at St. Trond, 16/08/1944 Attack Against Stettin, 18/08/1944 Attack Against Bremen, 29/08/1944 Attack Against Stettin, 31/08/1944 Attack Against Pont Reny, 05/09/1944 Attack Against Le Havre, 06/09/1944 Attack Against Harqueboc Le Havre
Operational Duration (first to last Op) – 3 months 10 days
Posted out from 75(NZ) Squadron Monday, 25 September 1944. Time with Squadron – 4 months 5 days
Awards & Citations LONDON GAZETTE 8th of December 1944 Distinguished Flying Cross Ralph William BRUMWELL (127140), R.A.F.V.R., 75(N.Z.) Sqn
This officer has completed many operational sorties against a wide variety of targets in Germany and Northern France. He has shown himself to be a cool and resourceful captain of aircraft and has displayed outstanding courage and keenness to engage the enemy. In August 1944, Flight Lieutenant’ s aircraft was detailed to attack a target at Le Nieppe. Several hits were sustained by anti-aircraft and on engine was rendered unserviceable. Although the damage to his aircraft was severe, he successfully flew it back to base and execute a perfect landing.
Once again Ralph – all the best wishes for the day and literally in your case………
Very sad news was received recently of the death of Ron Mayhill DFC KLH, distinguished 75(NZ) Squadron veteran and past President of the New Zealand Bomber Command Association.
Ron leaves behind a very significant legacy, not only from his long service with the Association, but in the form of a significant historical record of his time with the squadron. Ron was the Bomb Aimer in John Aitken’s crew, arriving at Mepal just one day after D-Day, June 1944.
Ron and his skipper Jake Aitken shared a camera and between them captured many of the images that would come to define our memory of those times. Their regular “kite” was Lancaster ND782, “U-Uncle”. Ron survived 27 operations before their Lancaster was hit by flak when just about to drop their load on a flying bomb supply depot at Pont Remy. Ron was wounded in the eye and face by splinters of perspex and since he had missed the target indicators, they had to go around again. For completing the bombing run, despite his injuries, he was awarded the DFC. “Once you’re in a war there’s no way out. It’s not just courage — you’re on a treadmill and you know what you’re facing and we just decided: right, if you’re going to get killed we’re going to sell our lives dearly and we’re going to fight.” – Ron Mayhill DFC, “Memories Of Service”, NZ On Screen. By the time he had recuperated, the rest of his crew had completed their tour and been posted to No.3 Lancaster Finishing School as instructors, so Ron’s tour of operations was also over.
He became a school teacher after the war, apparently a very good one, at Pukekohe High School and later at Auckland Grammar, where he taught for 27 years.
During that time he wrote books on geography, and after he retired, together with and encouraged by his old crewmates, decided to write a memoir of their wartime experiences.
He eventually found a publisher in England, but frustratingly was told to cut the book down to half the size! Published in 1991, “Bombs On Target” by Ron Mayhill FC (Patrick Stephens) is one of the two definitive books covering the Lancaster years at Mepal (“Luck and a Lancaster” by Harry Yates DFC being the other).
With Ron’s insightful writing, sense of humour, Kiwi perspective and Bomb Aimer’s technical detail, the book is a mine of information, and it immerses the reader in the life of an airman at Mepal in 1944. It’s one of those books that you don’t want to end … and we are very grateful that men like Ron and Harry Yates took the time to record their experiences in such wonderful detail.
In 2012 he travelled to London as part of the official RNZAF veterans group to attend the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial. Ron was very happy to share his great knowledge of Bomber Command and was very generous with his time – he recorded several interviews and spoke often at functions, services and schools. He made many memorable addresses at Bomber Command services, thought-provoking and well-researched.
Ron had been fit, sharp and active and it was only a deterioration in his eyesight and hearing that caused him to step down as President of the New Zealand Bomber Command Association in late 2018, a role that he performed admirably right up to the age of 94.
Ronald Desmond Mayhill passed away on Thursday 9 July 2020.
A great man and a very nice man – he will be sadly missed.
I am pleased/ relieved to announce that the Nominal Roll for the Squadron is now complete! Possibly, this sounds a lot better than it actually is, but it represents a significant point as I now have an individual Op history attached to every individual who flew Operationally with the Squadron. As I have observed many times previously, this was never going to be a quick or easy project. Starting with a blank sheet of paper and interrogating my original crew history spreadsheet, I have now, over a number of years, generated a basic list of names and then to these, attached Operational histories. Additionally, I have begun to add extra information to individual records from published sources and the extensive, if patchy historical records that exist and that are accessible.
The size of the basic list, when extracted from the spreadsheet into a Word document is 1249 pages – if laid out end to end, it would be 370 meters long…….
The histories I now have are are highly variable in size, both by duration and Op count, ranging from a number of individuals who completed 2 tours with the Squadron to, too many, who excruciatingly only have a single Op recorded, on which they were lost…..
Soberingly, based on the arrived figure of 3,480 individuals who flew operationally, based on total losses for the Squadron of 1,139, the maths shows an almost exact 1/3 chance of not surviving the Squadron, once you had arrived. Clearly, not simply by fancy, the unofficial moniker of “The Chop Squadron” was chillingly true.
I am keen to try (eventually) to provide as detailed a record for all individuals as I can. For some this will be a proud point of reference for a family, for others it will be simply a record of their contribution and a permanent statement of their commitment and bravery through the War.
The database has been built to be flexible and to accept whatever information I am able to gather on an individual. In truth, a lot of this information I have no way of gathering without the help of all the readers of this site. Without being unnecessarily wordy, I am keen that these records have a narrative feel to them – after all, it is these boy’s story that is being told – a small thing like a date of birth allows me through the database to have an age for the individual airman when he arrived at the Squadron. A service record allows their journey prior to Operational duties to be known and also the date of arrival and departure from 75(NZ) Squadron, as well as where they went afterwards. Working through Errol Martyn’s breathtaking record of all RNZAF losses – “For your Tomorrow” I have been able to add to all RNZAF aircrew lost on Operations, small details of life – whilst known on this site as a Pilot, an Air Bomber or Rear Gunner, it’s touching to discover that they were also clerks, shepherds, plumbers, plasterers and teachers. The extensive records held and accessible in the Australian National Archives, for those RAAF aircrew that flew with the Squadron provides the same personal insight into an individuals life before service and in many cases the pain when they were lost.
I am also pleased to say that WordPress have recently provided an alternative method of creating pages. One addition is a 2 column block, which means that, where it exists, a photograph of the individual can also be included. A sneak peek of what I envisage for the Nominal Roll when it becomes live can be seen here – this is ‘Z’, mercifully small, but it let’s you see the planned layout and the wonderful visual addition to a record that a picture makes – by coincidence Vernon Zinzan, my Father’s 2nd Tour Pilot.
I have also produced a pro forma for submitting individual information, which can be downloaded here
I still have a lot of information to add to the database and I hope I might receive more based on this request! – at a point in the next month or so I will begin uploading information in the format previously mentioned…………
Image from the Jack Way personal album collection. A group of, believed to be No. 75 Squadron aircrew, gathered in front of a Wellington to meet the New Zealand High Commissioner Bill Jordan. Unknown location. NB. The Wellington is not a No. 75 Squadron aircraft. – Air Force Museum of NZ ref. ALB88125123b098.
Just recently the Air Force Museum of New Zealand’s Keeper of the Photographs, Matthew O’Sullivan has published a wonderful online collection of beautiful photographs from the Museum’s archives:
Amongst them is this photo, showing a visit by NZ High Commissioner Bill Jordan to 75(NZ) Squadron at Feltwell. However, the gentleman in the dark suit shaking hands right of centre is clearly the New Zealand Prime Minister of the time, Peter Fraser. Jordan appears to be at far left, also in a dark suit.
A bit of searching of newspaper reports from 1941 has revealed more information.
NZ Prime Minister the Right Hon. Peter Fraser NZ and High Commissioner Bill Jordan visited the NZ Bomber Squadron at Feltwell on 13 August 1941, as reported in The Press:
“Arriving at their station a few hours after their aeroplanes returned from plastering Hanover, Mr Fraser visited the New Zealand bomber squadron.
Among the men he saw was Sergeant Pilot J. A. Ward, V.C..
Mr Fraser said: “New Zealand is very proud of you. I congratulate you heartily on your well deserved honour.”
Mr Fraser was introduced to members of Sergeant Pilot Ward’s crew, including Sergeant Gunner A. R. T. Box, D.F.M., of Auckland, and Sergeant Observer L. A. Lawton, of Wellington.
The squadron paraded in a hangar, and Mr Fraser walked down the lines, shaking hands with every man. He talked with the men in the sergeants’ mess. His audience included more than a dozen winners of D.F.C.’s and D.F.M.’s, who have distinguished themselves over Germany.”
In the photo, Bill Jordan is 2nd to left, and next to him is Sgt James Ward V.C., and then two of his crew mates, skipper S/L Reuben “Ben” Widdowson DFC RCAF (with moustache) and rear gunner Sgt Allan “Shorty” Box DFM RNZAF. Another crew mate, navigator Sgt Joe Lawton RNZAF is identifiable five along from Box, standing at the rear.
In the official party in the foreground, 2nd from left is Station Commander W/C Maurice Buckley, performing one of his final duties before being posted out from Feltwell. PM Fraser (in dark suit) is shaking hands with an unknown airman.
Several other airmen are identifiable – Sgt Joe White (Wireless Specialist, in front of Joe Lawton, looking back towards Ward & Jordan), unknown, F/O Graham Parker (pilot), Sgt Alec Rowe (rear gunner, Parker crew), and (F/O?) Ted Williams (squadron Signals Leader, with moustache, behind W/C Buckley).
Mr Jordan had also been at Feltwell two nights earlier, when the squadron held a special smoking concert in Jimmy Ward’s honour.
I am really pleased to present what I think, is a ‘never seen before’ photograph of ‘C’ Fight Pilots taken, sometime between June and and September 1945. A quick pass around between Chris and Kevin has suggested some ideas, but at this stage I am happy to present it and add it to the ‘Group Photographs’ section as a numbered version to aid identification of individuals.
I have often resisted the urge to search Ebay for Squadron memorabilia, partly as I know if I started I would not be able to stop! Having said this, I came across this image and despite no response from the seller regarding provenance, I thought it was worth a punt. Thus, I have the original and for anybody who comes across a relative I am happy to supply a ridiculously high resolution digital file for printed output.
Personally, I think the image is that more fascinating, as it’s apparent date places it during the period that 75(NZ) Squadron was transitioning from Bomber Command to “Tiger Force”. We can, obviously be assured that at least one of the Pilots is James Sutherland.
Jimmy completed 2 Post War sorties on the 14th and 25th of June and was then retained to join the ‘new ‘ Squadron. In the absence of any substantial details in the Squadron ORB’s, this period is really a black hole, regarding aircrew details – it might perhaps have been taken just at the transition – I do not know, and until perhaps we have identified some of the individuals in the photograph we shall have to wait to see.
I look forward to any suggestion as to the identities of the airmen in the photograph!
View the numbered, identification version of the photograph here
A wonderful opportunity today, to remember the cessation of hostilities in Europe, on this date, 75 years ago. I am sure we are all sat here today, having perhaps expected to engage with these anniversary celebrations in a way significantly different to how and where we find ourselves on this Friday.
The report of this momentous day was recorded in the Mepal Station Log, with, typically understated, yet factually precise manner as can be seen below:
One assumes that there was the odd beer and celebrations a plenty, though, the Squadron was still tasked with flying responsibilities, perhaps fittingly, it was this day that saw the final ’Manna’ sortie flown from Mepal in support of humanitarian efforts for the Dutch people.
Strangely, I have found no specific recollections of this day, though one must assume for many it represented a massive release, but perhaps also the start of the collective burden that many of the boys would carry to varying degrees for years after.
It was not long before attentions turned from the smouldering devastation of the defeated Third Reich to the Far East, where the War continued and as such, plans were made to reconfigure the Squadron to support these intended needs – 75(NZ) Squadron was to join ‘Tiger Force’. I was perhaps a cruel irony that these plans did not include the RAF aircrew of the Squadron, the Squadron being crewed exclusively by RNZAF aircrew.
75(NZ) Squadron RAF finished the War with highest number of sorties flown in all of Bomber Command, the second highest number of operational aircraft loses and the second highest number of aircrew loses in the Command – a total of 1,139
Before you all get excited, the apparently quick arrival of ‘B’ to the Nominal Roll section of the site is more to do with the built up reservoir of gathered individual Op histories for this section, than an indication of the speed that the whole list might appear.
A few little tweaks to the database – I realised when I updated ‘A’ that there was no way to automatically differentiate between a single Op and multiple ones, regarding ‘Op’ or ‘Ops’ – a little bit of extra code and that’s been solved. Whilst a small detail perhaps, it looks tidier and saves me from having to manually check and correct prior to up loading.
The surname Brown has been quite problematic, I must confess. A large number of RAF aircrew of this surname have no differentiating initials and a certain amount of conjecture has had to be performed to arrive at what will probably be refined and corrected over time. As always and particularly with this project, I welcome comments, corrections and suggestions regarding the accuracy of the records and especially with individuals where only a surname and therefore possible errors or discrepancies exist.
View the updated section B of the Nominal Roll here.
Personal circumstances have forced me away from broad research, emails and general site activities recently, owing to Mum’s health taking a dip and the family having to take it in turn’s to go down and be with her – but for 97, she’s still going strong!
The time has at least allowed me to push on with the data entry for the Nominal Roll. As I have noted in previous posts, this is a colossal task and will potentially dwarf the Crew Op History database, when it is finally (if ever) completed. Aside from the gathering and researching of information on the individuals in the roll, it’s entry into the database and the subsequent generation of entries for the NR section of the site has proved to be quite problematic – some individuals, such as Dad, flew with just one crew for each of his tours – others have (so far) flown with 8 during their stay with the Squadron.
Initially I had arranged the database with a series of repeated sections to record each crew that an individual might have been part of – resulting in a series of ‘blank’ lines which would contain joining text such as “Flew with xxxx for xxx Ops as xxxx” but no actual data as they were extra to that individual. Initially, I was happy with this and thought I could just delete the empty rows of each entry when I added the information to the relevant page. Of course, as this project has continued, the individual secondary editing of entries prior to publishing is a completely ridiculous strategy, given there are approximately 3,500 individuals contained in the list.
At the start of the new year I decided I had to dig deeper into the database and give it the intelligence to understand presence and absence of data and give it the ability to subsequently gather the separate pieces of information in a presentable format, automatically. 3 months later I am pleased to present the next stage of the NR project – All of the A’s have been updated to the next level of data completion – this will steadily increase as repeated sweeps are performed or new information comes in on individuals, but as you will see, it s shows a significant upgrade from the basic name and trade position that remains for the time, for the rest of the NR section. Perhaps a little smugly, I would draw your attention to the fact that the entries added have been added as is, straight from the database – the only work I have done is to bold the surname and add a divider line between each individual’s entry.
I have also taken the decision to generate a ‘completion’ rate for each individual. In discussion with Chris, it seems that at least the post war “Manna” flights were counted as a third of an Op, however in the absence of confirmation for the other post war sorties, the CR figure is based on completed operational sorties undertaken during the War. Broadly, an Op that resulted in the individual’s death, capture etc have been not counted, but an entry of this kind does reflect the event – the individual in question having for example 7 Ops as completed, but killed on the 8th Op. I am aware that there are instances where an aircraft would have been bought down after bombing and thus the sortie would count – these will be identified and corrected accordingly in time.
View the new updated ‘A’ section of the Nominal Roll here.
My father-in-law Leslie Edgerton passed away in Conquest Hospital, Hastings in the early hours of Tuesday 14th January. Another 75 man, and another of the dwindling band of Bomber Command veterans, has quit us.
Leslie photographed on the occasion of his 98th birthday on 23rd April – St George’s Day – 2019.
Leslie volunteered for RAF service in the autumn of 1942 hoping, as they all did, to be a pilot. It wasn’t until spring of 1943, as the Battle for Berlin was hitting the headlines, that things began to get going for him. A reserved, unassuming, and thoughtful man, Leslie was not selected for pilot training but was sent to No2 Radio School, Yatesbury. He gained his first air experience on 6th April 1943. He was then sent on a gunnery course at RAF Manby, and on to AFU at Millom.
A transfer to No.11 OTU Westcott followed, and after an ab initio course in which he was subjected to the usual night vision and decompression tests, he had his first taste of crewing a medium bomber. On 3rd September 1943 he flew for the first time with F/S C.E. Armstrong, with whom he had crewed up. The fateful eight-month journey to Dortmund had begun. The Armstrong crew was signed off on 24th October 1943 and despatched to Wratting Common for conversion to Stirlings. After little more than 40 hours flying and then two-weeks’ leave the Amstrong crew mustered at Mepal for operational duty with 75 RNZAF Squadron, Mepal. They had arrived on the front line.
They had a good initial run, starting on 14th January 1943 with laying six mines in the Fresians area. The squadron was untroubled by losses until 24th February 1943. But then on their seventh op, laying mines in Kiel Bay, Stirling EH984 captained by PO H.H. Bruhns crew went down. They were all killed. Leslie and the Armstrong boys came safe home.
The next day Leslie was asked to fill in for the absent w/op of the Willis crew, who were down for mine-laying in Copenhagen Bay. Their Stirling was attacked head-on by a flight of six JU88s. The aircraft was riddled with canon-fire, and Leslie later reported actually seeing the tracers scorching by him as he sat at his station. Everyone survived and the aircraft landed safely back at Mepal.
No doubt gratefully, Leslie returned to his crew mates. A couple of quiet mine-laying ops followed and then on 4th March they were sent on a special French op where another Stirling was lost, captained by the New Zealander PO S.L. Watson. The Mid-Upper was taken prisoner. Watson and the other crew members were killed. But the ops, either mine-laying or targets in France, continued to tick quietly by for Leslie. Then, suddenly, the great change finally came to 3 Group and Mepal, and the conversion from Stirlings to Lancasters was begun. The Armstrong crew were among the first shipped off to Feltwell for conversion, followed back at Mepal by a series of preparation flights in the beautiful, shining new machines. Then on the evening of 9th April their first 75 op was mounted. The Armstrong crew were given ND768 F-Freddie. In the words of my father Harry:
“Eleven of them were sent to attack the railway yards at Villeneuve St.Georges. They had all bombed successfully in clear weather, though one had been damaged by friendly bombing and landed at Ford, a fighter station conveniently situated on the coast across from Selsey Bill.”
After the Villeneuve raid the crew flew three ops to Germany – first Karlsruhe, then Essen, then Friedrichshaven; and it was on the latter that another loss occurred. FO R.W. Herron and his crew were all killed.
By this point Leslie had flown 22 ops and would not have been blamed for beginning to look forward to the end of his tour. But in early May he began to feel unwell and was diagnosed with a contagious childhood disease most unwelcome at the advanced age of 22. He was whisked off to the Princess of Wales Hospital in Ely and put in isolation. It quite likely saved his life. On 22nd May, Armstrong and his boys, with Sgt C.A. Warburton replacing Leslie, flew F-Freddie to Dortmund and never came back.
Again in my father’s words: “Knowing nothing of this, a fully recovered F/Sgt Edgerton returned to Mepal resigned to the fact that his crew mates would have completed their tour, but nevertheless hopeful of hearing something of them. In fact, nothing was offered. He managed to discover that they were logged FTR, but that was all. As a pool w/op he went dicing with scratch crews to the end of his tour,”
I have told the story, on this site, of how Harry was able to inform Leslie of the fate of his crew, and how that came to happen fifty years after the event itself, and anyone who would like to read about that can do so here:
Leslie went into the pool, and flew seven more ops with the Crawford, Adolph, and Lethbridge crews. His last but one op was to Bremen on the night of 18th August 1944, when Harry’s crew were given such a fiery time; and his finale was to the Kamen refinery in daylight on 11th September 1944, when Harry’s R-Roger lost its nose and Harry himself was consigned to Littleport Eye Hospital for seven weeks.
Tour-expired and with other things on his mind, Leslie married Joan Underwood, a Red Cross nurse, on 21st September 1944 at St Mary’s Church, Sanderstead. The church had been damaged at some point by a stray bomb, and workmen on ladders stopped their repairs and took off their caps to peer benignly down, the most earthly of angels, while the ceremony proceeded. The couple would have four children over the ensuing ten or so years, the third of them my wife Geraldine. Leslie worked as an accountant in the post-war years, and did pretty well for himself, living a life of respectable, quiet prosperity in Purley, Surrey and, in retirement, on the south coast near Eastbourne. But I don’t think he was ever free from the sense of guilt and loss which consumed him that day he returned to Mepal to find his crew mates missing.
Leslie and Joan’s elder daughter Helen and her husband Andrew McGillivray have kindly forwarded me photographs of the crew’s graves, including that of Sgt Warburton, which we hope will serve as an on-line memoir of those brave boys as long as this website is active.
Andrew writes: “In 2012, on one of Helen’s visits to Seaford, Leslie had mentioned that the name of the wireless operator who stood in for him on the Dortmund trip was Warburton. Out of interest I visited the Commonwealth Graves Commission website and found that he and the other members of the crew were buried in a large military cemetery in Germany, close to the Dutch border. As it happened, we had been invited to a 60th birthday party in a town close by and we decided whilst we were there to visit Arnhem and the cemetery on the same trip. As with all of the Commonwealth Grave cemeteries that I have visited it is beautifully maintained and very moving when you see the perfectly aligned white headstones stretching out in all directions. What makes it all the more saddening is the ages of these young men most of which were in their early twenties. The entire crew are buried beside one another including Leslie’s replacement.”
In old age Leslie, who kept his wits about him till the end, thought more and more about those times at Mepal. He was the lucky one. Now he is gone one wonders how many others are still with us.
Many thanks to Mike for contacting me recently about George Augustus Shotun Williams, with a query regarding his presence in the Squadron. Mike had visited the site and came back to me with a question about the recorded Navigator for Jack Wright’s crew – listed at this point as a F/Lt C. Williams. Mike, thanks to impeccable prior research, noted that on the day of the Wright’s crew arrival at Mepal, on the 28th of November 1944, 2 other crews also arrived, all from No.31 Base.
On all the operations that Jack Wright took part in from the 5th December 1944 to the 2nd of January 1945, his navigator was shown as Ft/Lt C. Williams. At this point, the only Navigators of a rank of F/Lt. was C. Williams of the Wright crew, Ron Payne, Jack Brewster and Arthur Creagh.
As Mike noted: “As ‘A’ Flight leader Jack Wright seems to have assembled an experienced crew, many with a DFC and mainly composed of officers, and George Williams fits into this perfectly. He was a navigation instructor at RAF Stradishall before he transferred to 75(NZ) Sqdn”.
The additional fact that George’s service record clearly shows his arrival at Mepal on the 28th of November clearly identifies him as ‘C’ Williams. Anyone who has spent any time in Squadron documentation knows the number of errors present when one, as it were, knows the truth and it would seem that up until Mike’s contact, George was lost in these errors – to this end it’s always a wonderful personal feeling when we are able to add another name and thus another actual person to the Squadron’s history.
George flew 6 Ops with Jack Wrights crew, the last being on the 2nd of January 1945, to Nuremberg. On the 20th of February he was posted to 218 Squadron. Ironically Mike reports that here at 218 he is recorded as ‘H’ Williams
If anybody is able to shed any further light on Georges wartime career, i am sure his family would love to find out.
Just to let everybody that we have just passed the latest big viewing milestone – 600,000 views!
Almost 13 months to the day since we passed the half a million mark, you, the blog audience have added another 100,000 views to our tally and with it we get another small step closer to the magic figure of 1 million views. I think the passing of this new milestone, in the time it has happened is all the more remarkable given my silence regarding posts for essentially 1/4 of the year owing to the self inflicted loss of my laptop!
I have received questions over the years regarding what has been claimed to be my unnecessary emphasis on statistics and particularly the total viewing figures. In the past, I have tried to explain, but now I simply refute these queries. Put simply, this website has become, the largest single resource for 75(NZ) Squadron RAF in the world. It has achieved this by having the most comprehensive collection of records, information and images on the Squadron, which is freely accessible to all. This complete open door policy regarding information is vindicated by the volume of visitors and views that are recorded.
Frustratingly I am picking my way through the busiest part of my professional year – assessment, the awarding of Degrees, the preparation for our annual London show and planning for next academic year means that I am waiting for a clear gap in the next few months to present new material that has come to me over the last 6 months or so – all of you have have contacted me, please be patient – it will all be presented as soon as I can!.
Without sounding like a broken record – please can everybody share the site – so many relatives of the boys who flew with the Squadron have made contact over the years, that it makes me think that there are still many more that have yet to find the site. Please, share the site address, on social media, through the facebook groups you are members of – we need to find these people and we need to encourage them to share what they have or might know.
Also, please, please, please apply for your relatives service records! I cannot overstate the value and importance of the contents of these records to me and the site. Many dates and locations, because of the points of formation of a crew and their subsequent training means that details supplied for one person means that the same details of movement and training can be added to up 6 other individuals. As soon as I can, I will make a downloadable template available to hopefully streamline the transfer of personal details etc that I need for the database.
Thanks to Chris for this piece, on the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Allied liberation of Europe.
The Air Force Museum of New Zealand in Christchurch holds a copy of the 75(NZ) Sqn Operations Log, a document which we were not previously aware of, and which gives us a much more detailed insight into 75 (NZ) Squadron’s contribution to D-Day. On the night of 5th of June 1944, 75(NZ) Squadron had prepared twenty-six Lancasters (a record at that point), and they took off either side of 0330hrs in the morning of the 6th to attack the coastal battery at Ouistreham. They were timed to reach the target at first light, and, on arrival, found a layer of cloud at 7,000 feet, with occasional gaps, through which some crews were able to see the markers. The bombing appeared to be fairly concentrated, no opposition was met, and all aircraft returned safely to Mepal after a round-trip of less than four hours.
Ouistreham was at the eastern end of the invasion area, where Sword and Juno Beaches would be the scene of the Anglo-Canadian landings. However Mepal crews had not been told of the invasion, but they knew something was up as they were told that more than a thousand aircraft would be operating throughout the night, and that they must adhere to assigned flight routes, heights and times, and not jettison bombs over the Channel.
From the 75(NZ) Sqn Operations Log: At 0730hrs,15 minutes after the last aircraft had landed back at Mepal, one of several ‘top secret’ messages came through from Waterbeach:
”D-Day is 6-6-44, H Hour 0600”
There were also messages about the distinctive markings of aircraft, and tight restrictions on the use of I.F.F.
At 0810hrs Waterbeach advised the Colours of the Day: 1400 – 2000 RY – Q – O 2000 – 0200 RG – J – I Chaffinch OX 0200 – 0800 GG – C – D 0800 – 1400 GY – H – W
Duty Beacon 62 – 285
At 1105hrs Group requested 24 Lancasters be made available for an attack that night, Bomb Loads 18 x 500, petrol 1250 (gallons).
W/T call signs were advised: A & B Flt M.K.H. and C Flt P.O.K.
At 1130hrs Target and Aiming Point coordinates were advised and an amendment to the Bomb Load, specifying 90% .025 fusing and 10% long delay (spread evenly over a period of 6 to 36hrs). H Hour 0235hrs.
At 1610hrs W/C Leslie put the petrol up to 1366 (gallons).
At 1620hrs Waterbeach advised the route coordinates (there and back). They also advised a bomb jettison location and repeated the instructions not to jettison in the Channel, mentioning “a very considerable volume of shipping”.
At 1935hrs the target was altered to one of two possible targets (Lisieux one of them) and new route coordinates were advised.
“Note: The alteration in route is to avoid low flying airborne forces, which are again operating tonight”.
“A/C in two waves … 75 Sqdn 12 A/C in 1st wave, 12 2nd wave”.
I.F.F. not to be used except in real emergency – sets were to be sealed in the “Off” position. “Window” and photography instructions given.
2130hrs – target confirmed as Lisieux. Strict adherence to routes and times required. Crews to fly below any bad weather over England, up to Thames Estuary, then climb through clouds to 7 or 8000 ft. Keep that height over enemy coast if weather fine, but if 5/10 cloud or more, drop below cloud and bomb below. Be prepared to come down below cloud over the target if markers are not visible. Balloon locations advised. PFF Aiming Point marking colours advised (Red & Green at H-3 to H-2, followed by Yellow & White)
At 2250hrs new instructions came through from BC HQ:
– no Window- if crews can’t visually identify the target must not bomb any other target – if any light flak received do not fire back (could be ours) – route coordinates confirmed, H Hour brought forward to 0135hrs.
At 2344hrs the first of 24 Lancasters took off from Mepal to attack the railway junction in the town of Lisieux, some twenty miles to the east of Caen.. They reached the target to find a thin layer of cloud at 5,000 feet, which obscured the aiming-point, but the Oboe markers could be seen clearly, and the bombing was considered accurate and concentrated. All returned home safely, the last landing at 0359hrs early on the morning of the 7th.
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.
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.
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.
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
June he was posted to 11 Operational Training Unit (OTU), RAF Bassingbourn,
training on Wellingtons.
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.
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”.
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.
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
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.
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.
know that Tovey took that photo at Feltwell on the 10th of May 1941.
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.
had taken over the crew and aircraft after Edgar Lockwood had completed his
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.
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.
In June, a photo of the Fotheringham crew in front of Yorker’s nose art appeared in the NZ newspapers:
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.
My memory was pricked yesterday, when I received a comment from Bruce, identifying his Father, John Fernie in the above photo.
Originally posted, now almost 5 years ago, Chris had come across it in the National Library of New Zealand and had begun to tentatively try to identify individuals within the group.
It sounds awful in a way to say that I had ‘forgotten’ about this photograph, but as soon as I saw Bruce’s comments, I thought I must number up a copy and add it to the Group section of the menu. Clearly great minds think alike – as I received an email form Chris this morning, not only with a numbered up version of the photograph, but also an incredibly comprehensive list of identified individuals in the picture! There are still a few gaps, so, as always if anybody is able to fill the final gaps, please get in touch.
You can read the original post here. And you can see the new numbered up photograph, with the list of names here
I am pleased to announce the addition to the top menu of a ‘Nominal Roll’ section.
I realise that I have already been working on this project for about a year and a half, gathering information, researching and creating a database. Based on what I have so far done and what therefore seems to remain to do, I now know that is impossible to even, at this point, estimate a completion date.
To this end, I have decided, in the first instance, to put up the original ‘1st occurrence’ list that the database is based on. This list, as the name suggests represents the first occurrence of every individual name that appears in the original crew database. My focus has also further refined – initially I took the reluctant decision to only focus on aircrew, based on the almost complete absence of a verifiable list of groundcrew. I have now taken the decision to focus on aircrew who flew at least 1 recorded Op or post War (Europe) sortie with the Squadron. The Form 540 records, particularly from the very well administered period of 1943, shows the very high number of movements in and out of the Squadron by aircrew who never actually flew operationally. The only exception to this new focus will be those individuals that were killed whilst with the Squadron, but whose death did not occur whilst on Ops.
On inspection, you will see that in its first iteration, the list is very basic, presenting an individual as follows:
ABBOT D.A. Abbot. RNZAF NZ401219 – Air Gunner
Whilst overall, I have more information for most individuals than this, it is not constant or complete. To this end, I think it is better to provide this first complete list and then add/ edit it, regarding extra information than delay publishing for a mythical point of completion that might never be achieved. This current entry should be considered, relative, to what I believe is entirely achievable for the Squadron based on gathered information on my own Father, below:
SOMMERVILLE Robert Douglas ‘Jock’ Sommerville RAF 1562617/ 161049 Arrived at RAF Mepal on Wednesday, 21 July 1943, from 1651 H.C.U., Waterbeach aged 20 Trained as Air Bomber Op total with Squadron, 21
Undertook 21 Ops with AJ Mayfield’s crew as A/B
Tour History 30/07/1943 – Mining off the Frisian Islands, 02/08/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Hamburg, 06/08/1943 – Mining in the Gironde Estuary, 10/08/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Nurenburg, 12/08/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Turin, 16/08/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Turin, 17/08/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Peenemunde, 27/08/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Nuremburg, 30/08/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Munchen-Gladbach, 31/08/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Berlin, 05/09/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Mannheim, 08/09/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Boulogne, 15/09/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Montlucon, 16/09/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Modene, 22/09/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Hanover, 23/09/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Mannheim, 03/10/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Kassel, 04/10/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Frankfurt, 08/10/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Bremen, 18/11/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Mannheim, 19/11/1943 – Attack Against Targets at Leverkusen.
The Mayfield crew were screened on direct orders from 3 Group Headquarters, prior to the regulation 1st Tour total of 30 Ops being completed. The news was delivered to the crew on the morning of the 20th of November, along with one other crew, as yet to be identified. It would appear, the decision to screen the crew at this point in their tour, was to show the remaining crews that there was in fact a chance to survive the ‘chop’ Squadron, as 75(NZ) Squadron was beginning to be described, at a point in time where crew losses were beginning to mount.
Time with Squadron, 4 months 24 days (arrival to departure date)
Posted to No.3 Lancaster Finishing School, Feltwell, for instructional duties Wednesday, 15 December 1943.
2nd Tour Arrived at RAF Mepal on Thursday, 25 January 1945 from No.3 Lancaster Finishing School, Feltwell, age 22 Op total with Squadron, 21 – plus 1 dnc, (02/03/45 Attack Against Cologne)
Undertook 22 Ops with VJ Zinzan’s crew as A/B
Tour History 01/02/1945 – Attack Against Munchen Gladbach, 02/02/1945 – Attack Against Wiesbaden, 09/02/1945 – Attack Against Hohenbudburg, 13/02/1945 – Attack Against Dresden, 14/02/1945 – Attack Against Chemnitz, 16/02/1945 – Attack Against Wesel, 19/02/1945 – Attack Against Wesel, 20/02/1945 – Attack Against Dortmund, 02/03/1945 – Attack Against Cologne (DNC), 04/03/1945 – Attack Against Wanne Eickel, 06/03/1945 – Attack Against Salzbergen, 07/03/1945 – Attack Against Dessau, 09/03/1945 – Attack Against Datteln, 10/03/1945 – Attack Against Gelsenkirchen Buer, 12/03/1945 – Attack Against Dortmund, 14/03/1945 – Attack Against Heinrich Hutte, 20/03/1945 – Attack Against Hamm, 23/03/1945 – Attack Against Wesel, 29/03/1945 – Attack Against Salzgitter, 04/04/1945 – Attack on Meresburg, 13/04/1945 – Attack on Kiel, 14/04/1945 – Attack on Potsdam.
Time with Squadron, 3 months 9 days (arrival to departure)
It also strikes me that by making this basic list available, there is far greater opportunity for new information to be provided by visitors to the site. I have activated comments on all pages of the list with the hope that this provides the easiest way for people to add information that can then be added to the database.
One sobering fact that has already come to light, based on a total count in the list is that almost 1/3 of individuals that flew with the Squadron, died in it.
I am currently keen to get the following information on individuals: Date of Birth Dates and location of training bases prior to 75(NZ) Squadron Post 75(NZ) Squadron postings Post War career/ achievements Date of death
Please have a look at the list and if you feel you have any useful information, please leave a comment or email me.
Either go up to the top menu or go to the list here.
Chris has come up trumps – massively, with a huge collection of crew photographs that have been added to the respective crew pages on the site. The majority come from the New Zealand Bomber Command Association Archive and as always I must give sincere thanks to the Association and Peter Wheeler. Also massive thanks to everyone else who has passed on photographs to Chris and to those that have given images that have been previously presented in posts, that have now also been added to the crew pages.
Perhaps as I am yet to find a crew picture containing Bob, I find myself always drawn to these photographs. To see a group of the boys together, usually smiling at the camera, despite the situation they found themselves in makes me think that what we see shining out of these pictures is true spirit and camaraderie – caught in a split second of time, but now persisting forever.
This is a significant addition not only to the crew pages but to the site as a whole and I am sure that some visitors are going to find, perhaps for the first time, a picture of a loved one. Please take the time to have a look via the links below – there are some remarkable examples – and if you can identify anybody in them – as always, please contact us!
New photographs have been added to the following crew pages:
At approximately 10 minutes past 4 on the afternoon of the 22nd of February 1945, Lancaster Mk.I ME450 AA-W crashed, near to Chatteris gas works. All but 2 of the 7 man crew were killed.
I was recently contacted to be informed that there is a plan and the intent to commemorate the Thorpe crew and their loss. Perhaps more interestingly, after research, the committee driving the planned memorial have discovered that in fact, during the War a total of 7 aircraft crashed in the Chatteris area. Quite rightly, it has now been decided that the memorial should commemorate all those crews.
Personally, I think this a very laudable project, bringing together possibly those, not only interested in the History of the RAF and Bomber Command, but also for the inhabitants of Chatteris, their own local history. After so may years, it’s possibly more poignant for those that will walk past this memorial to know nothing of those tragic events until that moment that they do – then leaving with the understanding that the sacrifices of a time long gone, can and should still be remembered today.
To keep informed of the progress of this very commendable project, you can join the groups facebook page here.
More importantly perhaps, you can make a donation to the project on their just gofundme page here.
New Wellingtons near completion at the Vickers Weybridge factory, NZ 302 second-closest to the camera. ”Flight”, July 6 1939 issue.
Many thanks to Chris for the following post that commemorates the 80th anniversary, of what is essentially the start of the 75(NZ) Squadron story……..
80 years ago (today), on the 4th of May 1939, New Zealand government representatives in England took ceremonial delivery of the first of thirty Wellington bombers ordered from Vickers-Armstrongs Limited and being built at their Weybridge factory. The government had made the purchase to establish a long range bomber capability – maritime reconnaissance & defence, potential air co-operation with Australia, and the ability to assist in the defence of Singapore.
Mark 1 Vickers Wellington Type 403 serial number NZ 300 was the first of these to come off the production line, and a photo of her dual-control cockpit has survived, probably taken at the time of the official hand-over.
Cockpit of Mark 1 Vickers Wellington, serial number NZ 300, the first Wellington built for the RNZAF. From “The Aeroplane” archives, via the Aeroplane Illustrated publication, “Vickers Wellington – The Backbone of Bomber Command”, Key Publishing, 2013.
Detail: data plate of NZ 300, behind the right-hand (dual) control column: “Type 403, No. NZ 300. Built at Weybridge Works. Date April 1939 England”. From “The Aeroplane” archives, via the Aeroplane Illustrated publication, “Vickers Wellington – The Backbone of Bomber Command”, Key Publishing, 2013.
RNZAF personnel were assembling at RAF Marham under the command of S/L Maurice William Buckley, MBE, RNZAF to train for the unprecedented long-distance ferry flights back to New Zealand, supplemented by a small group of RAF technicians with experience in servicing Wellingtons. Marham was home to two Wellington squadrons, 38 and 115 Sqdns, allowing sharing of facilities.
Squadron Leader Maurice William Buckley, MBE, RNZAF From “Return At Dawn”, by Hilary Saunders.
The first NZ Wellington arrived at Marham on the 24th of May, flown in from Weybridge by S/L Buckley, P/O Arthur Rose-Price (a pilot on loan from 38 Squadron) and S/L Sid Wallingford (NZ Liaison Officer, and nominated to lead one of the ferry flights).
Curiously, the first Wellington received was NZ 301, and for some unknown reason, NZ 300 was never delivered to the squadron. A second Wellington, NZ 302, was flown in the following day.
“New Zealand’s Modern Bombers Undergo Trials”. New Zealand Squadron Wellington taking off at Weybridge. Otago Daily Times, 12 June 1939.
The New Zealand Squadron, the entity which would train the groups of pilots, airmen and technicians selected to fly the bombers back to New Zealand, was officially formed on the 1st of June. Three more Wellingtons arrived that month. S/L Buckley was nominated to lead the “1st New Zealand Mobile Flight”, the first of five planned ferry flights of six aircraft each and due to leave on 1 October.
Only one Flight was ever formed. With the outbreak of war, the New Zealand Government decided that the men and five aircraft of the New Zealand Squadron would be “placed at the disposal” of the RAF, and eventually agreed that they would form the basis of a new squadron in the RAF.
Eleven months later, on the 4th of April 1940, 75 (Bomber) Squadron ceased to exist and it’s number plate was taken over by the New Zealand Squadron, to form 75 (New Zealand) Squadron RAF.
I am really pleased to be able to announce another website, dedicated to the boys that flew with 75(NZ) Squadron.
This time, it’s the Wood crew and the site has been created by Chris Newey, research and post contributing stalwart to this site. Chris, through dedicated research and the help of his cousin’s Phil and Bruce.
The site picks up with the boys as they arrive at No.12 Operational Training Unit , Chipping Warden, on the 30th of May 1944. Here, John Wood, John Pauling, Noel Hooper, Gerry Newey and Bert Cash formed, what would become, with the subsequent arrival of Dougie Williamson and Ralph Sparrow the ‘JN-Dog boys’
The crew arrived at Mepal on Saturday 2 December 1944. They flew 32 sorties – the final Op to Meresburg on the 4th of April 1945, where their luck almost ran out, returning sans Flight Engineer – but thats a tale to read on the site!
“Those heroes that shed their blood And lost their lives. You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side Here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, Who sent their sons from far away countries Wipe away your tears, Your sons are now lying in our bosom And are in peace After having lost their lives on this land they have Become our sons as well.“
In 1934, Kemal Atatürk delivered these words to the first Australians, New Zealanders and British to visit the Gallipoli battlefields. They were later inscribed on a monolith at Ari Burnu Cemetery (ANZAC Beach) which was unveiled in 1985. The words also appear on the Kemal Atatürk Memorial, Canberra, and the Atatürk Memorial in Wellington.
Let us take this day to remember all those, from Australia and New Zealand who gave their lives, not only in 75(NZ) Squadron RAF, but in every conflict before and after.
I am pleased to say that having finally taken ownership of a replacement to my once faithful MacBook Air, I am back and up and running!
Thankfully, the archived image of, lets call it MBA 001, whilst inaccessible as files has populated MBA 002 exactly and nothing of any significance has been lost whatsoever relating to the site or my archives – testament to the benefits of regular backing up methinks……..
It’s been a frustrating few months, but having said this, a constant stream of emails has ensured that there is plenty of content to add and this will happen through posts and updates over the next few months.
I owe a sincere thanks to 2 truly kind hearted souls who actually not only clicked on the ‘just Giving’ link of my ‘dead MacBook’ post from before Christmas, but also were prepared to put their hands in their pockets! In honest truth, as they were the only donations, I didn’t feel it fair to take the money, so I returned it. Many thanks to my lovely wife as always for having the financial clout to be able to step in during my darkest hour(s) and contribute to the effort!
During my imposed absence I have at least been able to continue with the Nominal Roll research, albeit on a PC (yuk). I have now reconciled the original Form 540 database to generate a list of all individuals who flew with the Squadron during the War. I am currently merging this information with individual information gathered form the Form 78 records for RAF personnel, as well as promotions and awards from the London Gazette. Additionally, book references have also added a significant amount of detail.
My searching has highlighted the significant discrepancies and variability of accessible information depending on country. A massive applause to the Australian National Archive, who have digitised the service records of those RAAF personnel who flew with the Squadron – to a level that is only, it seems, possible to obtain form other nations archives if you are a direct relative.
As I have already asked, please, find the time to contact your nations archives and request your loved ones service records – I have often remarked on the fact that this site is only what it is because of the generous contributions by all of you – this is so much more true in the creation of this new record.
As an aside and as a result of my database noodling, I would also like to know the dates of birth of your relatives. Whilst a small detail perhaps, it allows me vey easily to generate the actually, very poignant in some cases, age of the boys when they arrived at a front line bomber squadron. To this end, dates of passing, post-war would also be most welcomingly received.
In other, but potentially far more exciting news, Chris has begun to dig through the Air Force Museum of New Zealand’s archive and it seems at the moment almost every day is discovering some astonishing documents and records. Some material, is so unique as to have not even thought that it might exist! Having wetted your appetite, I am sure more details and posts will follow!
I t was lovely to meet up with Kevin two Sundays ago for the November Remembrance Ceremony at Mepal. Kevin mentioned that he had received a photograph from a lady, who had found it in the processions of her late mother. Her assumption was that her mother had perhaps been a pen-pal to the crew pictured in the photograph.
At the time, I was slightly confused by Kevin’s comment that I didn’t have anything on the crew, but when I got back home, I realised a slight faux-pas on my part, I had accidentally overlooked actually adding the history to the crew page!
Referring to the Squadron database, I suddenly became very confused. The Evans crew were returned as flying 5 Ops with the Squadron, their first being a gardening sortie to the Frisian Islands on the 16th of December 1943, their last on the 15th of February 1944, again mining, this time to Kiel, (Roy Evans flying as 2nd Pilot with Osric White on the 18th of November to Mannheim).
Imagine my surprise when looking at the scan of the back of the crew photograph:
Clearly there is a slight discrepancy in totals. One might summise that the crew had already been posted elsewhere, however, all seem to have come to Mepal straight from 1657 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Stradishall.
I would be fascinated to hear from anybody who might have anymore information on the Evans crew, or any of its members and their 27 Ops completed…………