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New Zealanders in the Air War – John ‘Jack’ Leonard Wright & the crew of ‘Thomas Frederick Duck’

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Squadron Leader John ‘Jack’ Leonard Wright, DSO, DFC.
© Leslie Hill

I really must apologise for the very belated posting of this chapter from ‘New Zealanders in the Air War’ by Alan W. Mitchell. The contents of the chapter was actually bought to my attention by Jack’s daughter, Leslie and her sister.

So, as I say, very belatedly;

NEW  ZEALANDERS IN THE AIR WAR
CHAPTER 20 – Squadron Leader J. L. Wright
(and the crew of “ Thomas Frederick Duck ”)
On a wintry night in October 1943 the staff in the control-room of a Bomber Station watched solemnly as the word ‘ missing ’ was chalked on a large blackboard opposite the flight record of T Tommy, which was then nearly two hours overdue, and from which no signals had been received for several hours. All the other aircraft in that particular Lancaster squadron had been accounted for, but hope for this remaining one had been abandoned. The main lights in the control-room were switched-off, and tired men and women left for a well-eamed rest. More than one went rather glumly, knowing that the crew of T Tommy was on the final operation of its second tour. It was indeed wretched luck that it should now be posted missing.

Actually, however, although T Tommy was posted as missing on the blackboard, it was still airborne and each of its crew of seven was firmly determined they would make base again that night. There were six New Zealanders and one Cockney in T Tommy, which bore as its mascot a painting on the fuselage of an irate Donald Duck with the caption “ Thomas Frederick Duck.” All the New Zealanders were on their sixtieth operation, and the Londoner was on his thirtieth; and, while the chalk was yet scratching the fateful word on the board, two of the four engines of the Lancaster were still rumbling several thousand feet above the English Channel.

It had been an unpleasant flight. They had been to Leipzig. On the way out, over the Channel, one of the Lancaster’s four motors had spluttered, but the captain had flown on without hesitation. It was the starboard inner motor, and after helping to lift the aircraft over a high, cold front, it finally cut-out when Hanover lay below. The aircraft began to lose height, the needle on the oil temperature gauge flickered towards the higher figures, the altitude ‘ blower ’ stopped working, and the two outer motors also beat unevenly. Yet the Lancaster maintained course.

Instead of flying at 20,000 feet it was now at 11,000 feet, which made it a much easier mark for the German defences; but eventually the target was reached, and the bomb-aimer automatically called his directions to the captain and pressed the bomb switch. The bombs, however, remained in their racks, and stuck there until one of the navigators and the wireless operator removed a part of the flooring and hacked at the bomb releases with an axe and set them free. Its mission accomplished, the Lancaster then headed for England.

The captain consulted his navigators, for he knew that the aircraft could not climb above the cold front, which reached to 23,000 feet, on three motors. There were three alternatives open: one, to fly below the front and risk the deadly flak and fighters; the second, to fly at almost tree-top height and still risk the defences; the third, to veer southwards and fly on a semicircular course to England. The navigators advised the third alternative. They were confident they could keep a good course, and every one in T Tommy agreed that it was the safest method.

When the crew stumped into the control-room nearly two and a half hours overdue they smiled at the chalked word ‘ Missing ’ still standing against T Tommy, and agreed it was an excellent joke. They were weary but elated at the normal ending to an abnormal flight.

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The crew of ‘Thomas Frederick Duck’ at 156 PFF Squadron May – November 1943.
Standing, L to R: Nick Carter, Jack Wright, Podge Reynolds, Charlie Kelly
Front, L to R: Alf Drew, Ken Cranshaw, Wally Hamond
© Leslie Hill

Read the rest of this chapter in the ‘Collections’ section of the blog here.