The Great Escape – 80th anniversary

A mausoleum to those shot in the Great Escape

One of many POW camps in Europe was Stalag Luft 3, run by the Luftwaffe specifically for Aircrew PoWs.  Ironically, this one was built specifically to house the troublesome PoWs inclined to try to escape.

There were escape attempts from many PoW camps but The Great Escape is most well-known because it was the largest mass escape and because Hitler ordered the execution of 50 of those recaptured.

Marker for the exit point of the tunnel “Harry”

The plan was to get 200 POWs out through a tunnel over 100 metres long and this was planned for 24 March 1944.   It is thought that there were about 600 involved in the many parts of the preparation for this escape, digging, disposing of the soil, preparing documents and clothing, scrouging equipment and other tasks.   The Germans discovered the tunnel after 76 PoWs had escaped to make their attempt to return to UK.  Of these, only 3 were successful 2 Norwegians and one Dutchman, 73 were recaptured and fifty of those were murdered.

There were 13 nations among those murdered 20 British, 6 Canadian,  6 Polish, 5 Australian, 3 S African, 2 NZ, 2 Norwegian, 1 Argentinian, 1 Belgian, 1 Czech, 1 French, 1 Greek, 1 Lithuanian.

The nationalities of the 23 who were recaptured and return to captivity were 14-British, 3-Canadian, 2-Czech, 2-New Zealander, 1-French, 1-South African.

On the memorial walls of the IBCC  the 28 Bomber Command aircrew are remembered.  There is one panel with two of them, Flt Lt Gordon Kidder, Canadian navigator, and Sqn Ldr Thomas Kirby-Green, British pilot.  They escaped together, were recaptured together, murdered together and are now remembered together. They are remembered together not only at the IBCC but also in the small town of Hrubuvka near Ostrava in Czech Republic.  That town placed a small memorial to remember these two men who died fighting for the freedom of Europe.  Thomas had a son, Colin who was eight when his father was killed.  In 2011 Colin visited Hrubuvka for the first time, was hosted by a local family and saw the memorial.  He returned to Hrubuvka again in 2019, on the 75th anniversary of his father’s execution.  The town invited him as a guest of honour as they held a church service and civic reception in honour of Gordon and Thomas and those who had been killed from their town.

Colin has a close connection with one of the escapers who survived, Roy Langlois.  Roy and Thomas became close friends while in captivity and when Roy was repatriated at the end of the war he visited Thomas’s widow, Maria to pass on his condolences but they got on very well and some two years later were married.  Colin is grateful that he was blessed with two amazing loving fathers.

All of the Fifty were cremated and their urns were placed in a Mausoleum that the POWs were allowed to build at Stalag Luft 3.  They were subsequently moved to Poznan cemetery, but Flt Lt Denys Street was moved to the Berlin Commonwealth War grave site and Lt Nils Fuglesang was repatriated to his home village of Rasvag in the Southern part of Norway.

Graves at Poznan for 48 of the 50 murdered men

To mark the 80th anniversary, a group of about 50 RAF personnel are visiting Poland on a force development trip which is centred on commemoration events for the Great Escape.  On Saturday 23 March there will be a formal commemoration service at the Old Military Cemetery Poznan.  RAF officers will also visit the graves of Denys Street and Nils Fuglesang to place wreaths at their final resting places.

Stirling E215 AA-M 

On March 4th 1944 an RAF Stirling E215 AA-M  from 75 (NZ) Squadron left the military base at Mepal in Cambridgeshire, with seven men on board, going on a mission to deliver firearms by parachute to the French Resistance, in the district of Orcival. They took off at 8:51 pm.

On getting above the Massif Central, the plane was suddenly caught in a snowstorm and it crashed on the country lane D25 which leads to le Mont-Dore.

At the bottom of the valley, stands the 12th century basilica of Orcival, and in front, just a few hundred yards up, there’s a remarkable vantage point looking on to the volcanic Rocks ‘Tuilières et Sanadoire’.

A memorial in Volvic stone stands with a propeller attached, on the left-hand side of the lane as you go up, with a plaque offered by FFI (Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur) paying homage to the “the six English airmen for their bravery”. There are no names.

They were between 20 and 29 years old. Two of them were married. Four of them from New-Zealand. Sergeants, chief-Sergeant, Flight Officers. Colin Armstrong, the Mid-Upper Gunner, didn’t die in the crash. He was made a prisoner and spent the rest of the war in Dalag Luft and Stalag VIII/357.

Raymond Watson

Cyril Beech

Hugh Henderson

Ralph Woods

Robert James Melville

Arthur Stanley Jones

Thank you.

In May wild orchids can be seen in the ditch, and above your memorial, high above, invariably, a lark is singing.

Written by Dr Fabienne Bonnet


Thomas Frederick “Fred” Whittaker

Cricket Ball Grenade

A very interesting collection was brought into the IBCC in January relating to Thomas Frederick Whittaker. It contained lots of photographs, letters, documents, and miscellaneous objects.

Whittaker enlisted in the Royal Naval Air Service at the start of WW1, serving at Gallipoli in 1915 as a dispatch rider. He later trained as an “Aerial Gunner/Observer” and flew in Handley Page Type O bombers with 214 Squadron from Saint-Inglevert, Calais.

On April 1st 1918 the Royal Air Force was formed, and 214 Squadron became one of the first Squadrons to come under the command of the RAF. Whittaker’s service record shows that he was issued with his RAF flying clothing on May 17th, 1918.

His record also contains the following entry: “Sgt Observer TF Whittaker has carried out 60 Bombing raids over enemy territory. Very plucky and reliable.”

After the war he returned to his native Leicestershire and opened a bakery.

Thomas Frederick Whittaker in his flying gear.
Thomas Frederick Whittaker in his flying gear.

Harry Cammish

Researching and retracing the WWII evasion route of Harry Cammish from April 1944 through the Pyrenees. The Lancaster in which Harry was a Flight Engineer was shot down 25 February 1944.

Initially Harry was part of group of approximately 23 evaders who started their walk from the village deep in the mountains. Part way through their journey the group was compromised by the Germans, Harry escaped and completed the crossing into Spain on his own, well, that is apart from the Germans that were tailing him to the Spanish border!

Harry now lives in New Zealand, he was 100 years old on 21 September 2023.

The research:

Overall the minimum estimated evasion walking distance is 45km with 4500m ascent; there is much more to do to prove this.

Route 1 from Sost
Route 2 from Sost











Harry started the initial stage of the walk across the Pyrenees from the village of Sost. He took one of 2 potential routes that converge at the villages of Cires and Cabous. Both routes are approx 13km with 1300m ascent, both have very steeps sections in thick forest.

The routes came to light when I had a chance conversation with Francis IBOS, a French Army Veteran in the village of Sost. He very kindly invited me into his home where he detailed the routes on my maps. Francis IBOS also put me in contact with the local French Veterans Association who have offered to help support the research. Merci Francis!

I attempted to research where the evasion group were compromised, however, the area was closed off due to potential landslides which gives an indication of the steepness of the terrain. I did however, manage a useful overview where Harry may have walked after being compromised.

There is still plenty of research to do and an awful lot of walking.

The immensity of what Harry went through is absolutely stunning!


Research from Alan Hunn.

The Great Escape Remembered

As part of the RAF force development programme visits are arranged to sites across UK and Europe of significance to the RAF history.  I was invited to participate in their Per Ardua Eagle Great Escape 2023 to Zagan, Poland 20-26 March to commemorate the murder of The Fifty after the escape from Stalag Luft 3.  Twenty eight of the Fifty were Bomber Command and are remembered on our memorial walls.  Over many years Air Cdre Charles Clarke OBE joined these trips as President of the RAFs ex-PoW Association and provided a first-hand account of conditions in the camp and other locations visited during this trip.  This was my second trip with the RAF since Charles death in 2019, I was able to provide a PoW perspective even though it was from Gulf War One in 1991.

The team flew into Poznan airport so we could visit the Old Military Cemetery in Poznan where 48 of the 50 murdered Great Escapers are buried.  A short service of remembrance was held in the cemetery, laying a couple of wreaths and some Poppy Crosses.

The RAF personnel were involved in some briefings at various times on the trip as we visited a variety of places.  At the site of Stalag Luft 3 we visited the museum, the site of tunnel Harry used in the Great Escape and then to the mausoleum built by the PoWs to inter the remains of the fifty after they had been murdered and cremated.  They were later moved to Poznan Old Military Cemetery.

RAF Benson is home to two front-line Puma HC2 helicopter squadrons and one Operational Conversion Unit, flying a mix of Puma HC2 and Chinook HC4 helicopters. It is also home to the Operational Evaluation Unit of the Joint Helicopter Command
Lipna Barns
Lipna Barns
Poznan Graves – Kirby-Green and 5 others
Great Escape Mausoleum
10 Km Run Start Line
Great Escape Wreaths
Tunnel Entrance




























In addition to remembering the Great Escape we also discussed the Long March from Stalag Luft 3 to Spremberg station at the end of January 1945, in snow and minus 20 degs.  We visited barns in the village of Lipna where thousands of POWs sheltered overnight on their way to Spremberg.  The current owners are restoring the barns and intend to open a small museum to commemorate the Long March.  Other PoWs sheltered in the church of Illowa , many from the US and a plaque is in place to commemorate this event.

On Friday 24 March, the date of the Great Escape, a brief parade and memorial service was held at the Stalag Luft 3 / Stalag  VIIIC museum.   The RAF was on parade with the Polish Army, Polish military band, several Polish generals, Polish veterans, civilian dignitaries and representatives from the United States, Canada, the British Embassy.   Each of the fifty were remembered as their name was read out followed by a short drum roll.

On the following day the local community were involved in the Great Escape run where 3 races were held, an obstacle race called the Great Escape run and a 5km and 10km run.  The routes for these are through the pine forest that has taken over the extensive area that used to be the POW camps.  The end of the 10 kilometre race encapsulated the spirit of the day as the two leading runners crossed the finish line together, a  civilian from the local Zagan running club accompanied by an RAF running team member.


Professor Allan D S Barr

Professor Allan D. S. Barr
11th September 1930 – 11th February 2018

Allan David Stephen Barr was born on the 11th September 1930 in Glasgow. His father, also Professor Allan Barr, was a highly respected theologian and a moderator of The United Free Church of Scotland. His grandfather was Rev James Barr MP, a pacifist, a great advocate of home rule for Scotland, the Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and a moderator of the United Free Church of Scotland.

Allan was nearly 9 years old, and living with his family in Edinburgh, when World War 2 started. The first bombs of the war were in fact dropped on Edinburgh by the Luftwaffe as they tried to destroy the Forth Rail Bridge. Their bombs fell well wide of their target, hitting Edinburgh Zoo, which is on Corstorphine Hill, less than half a mile from the family home. The only casualties were a number of monkeys killed as their enclosure was hit. Allan was to comment years later that it was clearly a cynical attempt by Hitler to wipe out the Edinburgh intellectual elite. Shortly after this raid, children were evacuated from Edinburgh. Allan went to stay with friends of the family in their country house in Alloa, in central Scotland. He enjoyed it, living and playing in the countryside. A few months later however the evacuees returned to Edinburgh as it became clear the city was no longer being targeted.

Allan was always a bit concerned that he had stepped away from the then family line of professions which generally were those relating to the church, to medicine or to the arts. He went initially to Bristol and undertook a Student Apprenticeship at the Bristol Aeroplane Company, successfully completing this along with an ONC (Ordinary National Certificate) in Engineering. This gave him the practical foundation he desired and was a factor in him thriving in his engineering degree course at the University of Edinburgh, where he graduated in 1952 with 1st Class Honours. Allan’s excellence in academia and his thirst for understanding led him to becoming a Carnegie Research Scholar at the University of Edinburgh, completing his PhD in 1956, and subsequently lectured at the university.

Prof Allan D S Barr

Allan learned to fly as a member of the University Air Squadron at Edinburgh. He flew Chipmunks, Prentice and Tiger Moth aircraft. His passion for aircraft and flying came largely from the Second World War where his older brother, Jim, flew Swordfish aircraft. Allan did manage to “crash” a plane: the front wheels dug into soft grass so that when he applied power the tail lifted high into the air and the nose and propeller dug into the grass, largely destroying the aircraft, so much so that he had to write a letter of apology to the King. We are not sure if he got a reply, but he did continue to love aircraft and flying! For Allan’s eightieth birthday his family got him a flight in a Tiger Moth at RAF Duxford. He took the controls for a while, and he loved it.

In 1964, along with his family, Allan went on a sabbatical as a Fulbright Scholar and visiting professor to Cornell University, in New York state. On his return, he was appointed a Senior lecturer, then a Reader, and in the early 1970s acting Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Edinburgh. In 1972, Allan took up post as Professor and Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Dundee, a position he added to from 1983 to 85, becoming Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. In 1985, Allan and his wife Eileen moved to Aberdeen where he took up the Jackson Chair of Engineering, at the University of Aberdeen, becoming the Head of the Department of Engineering, and ultimately Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Mathematical & Physical Sciences. He was made Emeritus Professor of Engineering in 1996.

Allan was bright, quick witted, intelligent, funny, and with such a broad range of interests that he pursued to a high level. He retained a desire to understand how things worked, particularly things mechanical. He had a real passion for motorcycles as well as cars, although at times he seemed to spend more time under them than in them. That practical side to his engineering knowledge and capability made him an even more complete professional engineer. Allan was a self-taught and accomplished pianist, able to read music. He enjoyed playing jazz the most.

Before Allan retired, he and his wife Eileen moved to their house at Auchattie, near Banchory, in Scotland. Their shared passion for gardening led them to develop a creative and beautiful garden. Allan’s interests and passions flowed naturally in his retirement; working lovingly on his old cars, from Land Rovers to Alfa Romeos; salmon fishing with friends on the River Dee; walking up Scolty Hill and in the stunningly beautiful Deeside; reading from his wide range and vast number of books; still doing academic work, with A3 sheets spread across his study desk covered in detailed calculations; feeding the birds and red squirrels by hand (although the grey ones got shot); more applications for his practical engineering skills too, with the sceptic tank being a big feature; he became a local church elder (as he had done wherever he lived); he enjoyed visits from family and friends, including in particular from his sister Margaret.

Allan was never one to boast or to blow his own trumpet about anything, not least his excellence in his profession as an engineer, an academic and a teacher: But let us do a bit here on his behalf:

Professor Allan D. S. Barr was a great Scottish academic, and leading researcher, with over 50 publications on his principal research area, that of dynamics and non-linear vibration. He also related his academic knowledge to practical applications. He secured numerous research grants and externally funded programmes (many of which are still classified) including work for the US Department of Defence (relating to military aircraft structures), and work for the UK Ministry of Defence (relating to submarine survivability to underwater shock), and work for Rolls Royce plc (relating to the optimisation of gas turbine blade design).

Allan was highly supportive of all of his students, including mentoring dozens of successful PhD students. He was a great, respected and dedicated lecturer and teacher, able to simplify challenging concepts, relate them to practical applications and experiences. He was an external examiner to a number of other UK Universities’ Engineering Departments, including the University of Newcastle, the University of Southampton and the University of Belfast.

Allan was a strong supporter of his profession and he did receive significant recognition from his peers. Over the years he has been:

  • The Chairman of the Scottish Branch and a Member of the Council of The Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
  • A Member of both the Technology and Scottish committees of the University Grants Committee.
  • A Member of the Scottish Committee of the University Funding Council.
  • A Member of the Council of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
  • A Member of the Executive Group Committee of the Engineering Council.

He was a Chartered Engineer, a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Allan David Stephen Barr; beloved husband to Eileen for over 63 years, father to David, Richard and to Christina. Grandfather (Grandpa) to Laura, Andrew, James, Tom, Emily, Lewis, Euan, Heather and Eilidh.

Allan is in many ways a very hard, nay impossible act to follow. A very complete life, a very complete man. Here there is no honorary degree, nothing we can physically award to Allan. Our tribute must lie in our hearts, in our memories and in our prayers of thanksgiving. It is left to sum up his life and his family’s love for him and his memory in the words applied to top graduates – summa cum laude – with first class honours.

David, Richard & Christina

October 2022

A Heritage Christmas Gift

Joan North had a twin brother and an older sister. She was born in Winnipeg, Canada in 1926 to English parents. Her father started working as a Metallurgic Chemist in Winnipeg in 1911.

He joined the Canadian army so that he could fight for his country during WW1.

During the Depression he had no job and his wife’s teaching certificates were not valid in Canada so she couldn’t find work either.

With 3 children to support, Joan’s grandparents (Gardener and Cook at the Manor House) and aunt managed to scrape enough money together for her mother and the 3 children to return to England by boat in 1935. After returning to her family home in Collingham she secured a teaching post and continued to teach until retirement. Her husband remained in Canada although they were never divorced. She received his Canadian Army pension so ended life quite well off.

A neighbour on Goulding Street in Winnipeg, affectionately known as Auntie Sumner was originally from Liverpool. She had been widowed with 7 children during WW1 and had taken in English airmen while they were training in Canada.

After the war, in around 1948, she came to England with her daughter and granddaughter to visit those airmen and their families. However, the families didn’t know her and were reluctant or unable to accommodate them and their multiple suitcases and with rationing, couldn’t feed them, so they kept returning to Joan’s grandparents’ house in Collingham.

She brought gifts as a thank you, including the Christmas swags.

Joan followed in her mother’s footsteps and trained as a teacher, taking up her first post in Mansfield in 1948, earning £39pa.

In the early 1950s there were few baubles available in the shops but when she could afford to, she bought a few.

Joan’s sister met and married an American GI and lived in a park home in Florida. Joan made an annual trip to visit her sister until her late 80s.








Joan has kindly donated these delicate items to the IBCC.

Flt Lt W F Martin DFC

W F Martin DFC Stone

Flt Lt W F Martin DFC – Story Behind the Stone

“On the night of 21 June 1944, Lancaster Mk III ND 471 “A-Able” of No 57 Squadron took off from RAF East Kirkby at 2302 as part of a raid on an oil plant at Wesseling, Germany.  It did not return, although its crew did, being forced to ditch in the North Sea in the early hours of 22 June, having completed their mission and taken flak returning over the Dutch Coast, which holed the fuel tanks and steadily cut the engines.  The Navigator was Flying Officer William Fisher Martin who, for his actions on this and other missions, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.  The raid on Wesseling was one of 32 operational missions he completed with 57 Sqn, based at RAF East Kirkby. Having completed this operational tour he went on to be the Navigation Leader for 617 Sqn, based at RAF Woodhall Spa, and deployed to the Far East in early 1945 as part the Tiger Force effort preparing for War with Japan.

These are his memories of the night they ditched:

We huddled together in the rocking dinghy, seven very scared, very wet and very much at sea airmen.  We watched with a sense of loss the large starboard wing of good old A for Able sinking lower in the water.  She had carried us safely through our last 15 ops and she was now going down into the depths of the North Sea, leaving us on the surface, crouched miserably in our all too small dinghy, still only half realising our predicament.  It had all happened very quickly. One minute we were happily wending our way homewards, 5,000 ft, 175 on the clock and the contented feeling of another ‘job’ successfully completed”. 

“It had been a tough one, with four separate attacks by a rocket-firing night fighter and we had been very very thankful when we crossed, safely as we thought, the Dutch coast, and headed out to sea. Suddenly, for no accountable reason, A for Able swung round in a semi-circle and headed East again.”

The fuel tanks had been holed and both starboard engines had stopped.  The Flight Engineer soon found that fuel tanks which should have contained more than 200 gallons were now empty.  The port inner engine had also stopped and the last remaining engine was coughing badly.

“The Skipper’s voice came quietly to us over the intercom. “Prepare to ditch.” A few minutes while everyone collected their remaining wits about them and made their respective preparations.  I hastily fixed our position and passed it in message form to the Wireless Operator, who had immediately commenced distress signals.”

“All too soon came the dreaded order “Ditching stations!”  We took off our harnesses, inflated our Mae Wests and scrambled back to our crash positions.  “Escape hatches off!” “1000 feet”, “500 feet”, “200 feet”, “Prepare for impact!” – we braced ourselves for the crash – and then oblivion!”

“When I scrambled to my feet the water was up to my knees and ‘Snow’ the Bomb Aimer was thrusting the dinghy packs into my hands.  Automatically in pitch blackness I stumbled to the upper escape hatch and thrust them up to the awaiting hands – dinghy and radio followed and then I scrambled up through the hatch and breathed a sigh of relief as I saw the Skipper crawling along the top of the cabin – good old Nick – were we all out then?  A quick scramble on to the wing – already awash – and then into the dinghy, steadying it to help Nick aboard (she was already floating) “all present?” “Jack?” “Geoff?” “Johnny?” – all correct! “OK, cut the line” – momentary panic as A for Able keeled over on her nose and stood threateningly above us, a huge mass in the darkness. “Paddle! Paddle for God’s sake!” It seemed hours until we worked our way by pushing on the wing and thrusting off from the clear wing tip and then we were left, watching her go down – our trusty old kite – damn Jerry anyway”.

“Slowly we quieted ourselves and tried to take stock.  The Skipper’s face was a mess, he was bleeding freely and was a bit dazed.  Someone fumbled in the darkness for the first aid kit.  Then we realised there was more water in the dinghy than we would like.  Snowy tore off his flying boot and we began to bale.  Eventually we got organised, rigging the mast for the portable radio transmitter and turning the handle, which gave us a ray of hope.  The occasional wave broke over us and soon we were cold and miserable and feeling very sorry for ourselves.  Dawn came slowly, after we had been in the water for nearly 3 hours”.

“At about 8 o’clock, we were roused by the sound of engines and saw, low and well to the South, a couple of aircraft speeding Eastwards, probably off to photograph the damage we had done the previous night.  Time dragged by until we heard engines again and saw a large aircraft below cloud and well to the South.  Miserably we watched it turn away and disappear.  Later we heard it again and I took the flare pistol from my battle dress.  As it turned some distance from us I fired off a cartridge. It carried on.  They hadn’t seen it!”

“Shortly before noon it reappeared and I waited until it seemed near enough and fired off another cartridge.  Again it turned away and we sat back, our hopes dashed.  Then it turned and, this time, seemed to head straight for us.  I reloaded hastily and fired again, and this time there was no mistake.  They had spotted us!  Scrambling to our feet we cheered and waved as they banked and flew over us. A bigger dinghy was dropped and inflated on impact. We paddled over to it and climbed aboard.  It was wonderful, the lift in morale, once we felt safe”.

“The aircraft kept station above us and signalled that help was on its way. Sometime later it headed away East, then swung round towards us again and soon after we saw the bow waves of a naval launch approaching. When it arrived we were helped aboard, given dry clothing and a large mug of naval rum. Never had a drink been more appreciated, and I remember little else until we docked at Yarmouth later, having been in a deep sleep”. 

“The Skipper and I spent a couple of nights in a naval hospital and then we were driven to the nearest airfield and flown back to East Kirkby, where the rest of the crew had already arrived. We learned that the base had lost 11 aircraft that night and morale was low, so that our arrival had brought a great boost to the Station as a whole, and I can well appreciate the hopes raised by our return”. 

Downed at 0210, and spotted by an Air Sea Rescue aircraft around midday, when they boarded the rescue launch they had been afloat for 12 hours.  An investigation revealed that their emergency calls had not been heard and that they had been lucky to have been rescued so soon.  The aircraft that spotted them was on a separate mission looking for dinghies that had been dropped the previous day, but once they were seen the air-sea rescue system swung quickly into action.

On the afternoon of the flight, the crew had carried out the usual pre-ops check flight, a short trip to make sure that everything was working correctly and flown early enough to allow the engineers to fix any snags.  It was a bright, sunny day, and the trip was uneventful.  After they had made their way back to their parking spot, the pilot made an unusual decision that was to prove vital to their survival that night.  He decided they should practice their ditching drill. Ignoring the hoots of derision from their colleagues and groundcrew in the June sunshine, they went through the ditching routine, even extracting the dinghy from the fuselage and carrying it out onto the wing.  The Skipper could not explain why he decided to run the drill but, when debriefed, the crew attributed their safe escape to the fact that they had just practiced for the event.  It was a message quickly passed to other bomber units.

The Wesseling raid itself was a disaster for 5 Group; of 133 aircraft that were airborne that night, 37 were lost, mainly due to night fighters that intercepted the bomber stream over Holland.  200 men lost their lives, 44 became prisoners of war and 9 evaded capture.  RAF East Kirby alone lost 11 aircraft that night;  A-Able’s crew was the only one of those to return.

Flt Lt William Fisher Martin’s DFC citation reads as follows:

This officer has participated in many operational sorties against a variety of targets. He has proved himself a most efficient navigator, and has always displayed outstanding courage and determination throughout his operational tour. His fine technical skill has largely contributed to the success of many  missions. In April 1944 his aircraft was detailed to attack Schweinfurt. On the outward flight it was attacked and damaged by an enemy fighter. The rear gunner was wounded and the inter-communication system and the elevator were damaged, both turrets also being rendered unserviceable. Flying Officer Martin calmly navigated the damaged aircraft to the target, which was bombed, and safely back to this country, where a successful landing was accomplished. Again, in June 1944, during an attack on a target in West Germany, his aircraft was damaged by anti-aircraft fire and the petrol tank was holed. On the return flight, owing to lack of fuel, the bomber was forced down on to the sea. After more than twelve hours in the dinghy, the crew were rescued. Despite slight head injuries, Flying Officer Martin’s cool courage and cheerfulness were a source of inspiration to the rest of the crew”. 

Happily, Bill Martin survived the War and, although he died not long after retirement in 1980, he was able to meet up with the rest of his crew in 1979 at the first reunion of 57 and 630 Squadrons. He had 3 daughters, Margaret, Sheena and Alex. His granddaughter Wendy joined the RAF in 1991 and is still serving today (2022).

“In June 1944, my Mother Mary was six months pregnant with me.  Safe at home on her parents’ farm in Scotland her world was shattered on 22nd June by the arrival of a telegram advising that my Dad was missing following operations on the night of 21st June.  The thought that he may never return nor see his first child must have been devastating.  On 23rd June however, a second telegram arrived bearing the joyful news that Dad had been safely rescued at sea.

I arrived on 1st December, 1944 and it was several months before we met due to his continuing wartime service.  From the time that he was demobbed until his death in 1980 we enjoyed a loving and special father and daughter relationship.  He was indeed a remarkable man and he taught me much about the natural world, patience and kinship.”  Margaret Rothery née Martin

“My Dad was my hero. Not because he was a war hero, just because he was my Dad. He WAS a DFC, MiD, Goldfish Club war hero, but we heard little about that growing up as, like so many other survivors, he didn’t talk much about his wartime service. However, I knew there was something important about him, that he had a medal –  once, when I was about 9 or 10, I “borrowed” his DFC & took it to school for show & tell, but didn’t tell anyone. Of course, my mother chose that day to clean the china cabinet ………. !

Growing up, he was just like every other good dad – our mentor,  our teacher.  He taught me about the night sky, without me realising at the time that was how he had navigated his Lancaster Bombers. He once got me up, again in the night, to see the Northern Lights on a rare occasion they were visible where we lived.

My dad passed away when I was 26 & pregnant with my first child, so he never met my children. But I KNOW he has watched over them. My first born regaled us with tales of his “dreams” until he was in his early teens. In those dreams, my father came to play with him & took him in his plane, showed him his navigator’s station (and my son described it in accurate detail, which even I didn’t fully appreciate until I saw it for myself in Just Jane some 30 years later).

To us he was, and will always remain, quite simply our much loved, always missed, ever-present hero dad.”  Sheena Cowan née Martin

“I arrived in 1964 when my dad was 50!  I only had him in my life for a very short 16 years…never had him walk me down the aisle.  So my memories of my hero my dad are short and limited however he was the most lovely caring softly spoken Scotsman that I will never forget.” Alex Martin

“I was just 12 when my Grandfather died in 1980, but was fortunate enough to be present with my parents the previous year at East Kirkby at the inaugural gathering of the 57/630 Squadrons Association when he was reunited with the other 6 members of his crew. I recall there was a lot of laughter that weekend as memories were recounted and stories told of derring do.  Although I did not know then that I would join the RAF some years later, I remember thinking what a marvellous organisation it must be! The horrors that my Grandfather’s Crew endured would only become apparent many years later as I researched their 32 operational missions.  The stories my Grandfather told undoubtedly left their mark and provided the inspiration for me to follow in his footsteps and join the RAF, and here I am more than 30 years later. I have been attending the annual 57 and 630 Squadron Association reunions annually since 2010 and have been fortunate to have met many of the men and women who served at East Kirkby at the same time as my Grandfather: heroes one and all. Per Ardua ad Astra.” Air Commodore Wendy Rothery 

Re-United after 77 Years!

On the 11th April 1944 Sgt Eddie Humes and the crew of Lancaster LL639 set off from their 514 Squadron base at RAF Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire.

The crew’s target that night was Aachen.  After completing their mission they turned to head back home.  At around 23.15 hours a Messerschmitt flown by Unteroffizer Hans Fischer of 12/NJG1 attacked.  Eddie recalls one of the engines caught fire and soon spread along the port wing.  The order was given to prepare to abandon the aircraft.  The crew tried for a few more minutes to extinguish the blaze but the port wing tip fell away followed by the port outer engine.  The pilot could no longer keep control of the aircraft so the instruction to “Abandon Aircraft” was given.

Eddie was the only survivor.  He was badly injured and taken to hospital in occupied Belgium and then onto a German military hospital to undergo surgery.  He was eventually moved to a Prisoner of War camp for the remainder of the war, enduring the ‘long march’ from Poland to Austria before being flown home by Lancaster Bomber.

On the 1st January this year Eddie celebrated his 100th birthday and got a very unusual present.  Linda Driessen, a member of the family who own the land in Molenbeersel where his plane had crashed 77 years ago, had found a piece of metal which they thought might be part of the plane.  They asked if Eddie might know what it was.  Eddie who was the Navigator knew immediately what it was……it was the metal part of Eddies own parallel ruler he used during that flight.  The wood had rotted away many years ago but the metal part was exactly as Eddie had last seen it 77 years ago.  Linda sent the piece to be reunited with Eddie for his 100th birthday.  A very special and unique present indeed.

Eddie’s crew are buried at Haverlee War Cemetery and there is a local memorial erected by the villagers in Molenbeersel.


Susanne Pescott, IBCC Volunteer

William Meyer DFC

William Meyer was born in London in 1910.   His background was very unusual, his birth certificate is in the name of Wilhelm-Alex Meyer-Braselmann, his parents were German.   The family company were importers and agents for a variety of industrial hardware, mostly from Germany.  Their agencies included Primus, well known for their Primus stoves and associated equipment.    After the death of his father in 1939 William, known as Bill, took over the running of the company.   Despite being in an essential occupation Bill organised a reliable team to manage the company and, once they were in place in 1941, he volunteered.  Facing the RAF Selection Board, he managed to persuade them to recommend him for pilot training despite his age of 31, the cut off for acceptance for pilot training.

In October 1941 Bill was sent to the USA for initial training at the Polaris Flight Academy at the aptly named War Eagle Field.  Following that he completed his training at RAF Forres in the north of Scotland.   He was then posted in December 1942, together with his newly formed crew, to join RAF IX (B) Squadron based first at RAF Waddington before moving to RAF Bardney.  From January to June 1943, he flew numerous sorties to targets usually in what was known as ‘Happy Valley’, the heavily defended industrial heartland of the Ruhr Valley.    He and his crew became known for the accuracy of their bombing earning special mentions in the squadron monthly reports.  They also had an unusual success when, having been attacked by a Me 109 during a sortie to St Nazaire, they managed to shoot it down and returned unscathed.

Having completed a successful tour of 30 sorties Bill was awarded a DFC his recommendation reads:

This officer has carried out 30 sorties against enemy targets, involving 175 hours flying.  He has at all times displayed the greatest determination to carry out his tasks to the best of his ability.  His courage and leadership have made his crew extremely successful, and his tenacity has produced good results in the number of night photographs he has obtained of his targets.  He is strongly recommended for the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.

As was usual Bill was then ‘rested’ from operational flying for six months and sent to help train new crews at No. 82 Operational Training Unit, at Ossington.  Here he survived a training accident that destroyed the Wellington that he had been instructing on.  Following the crash the aircraft caught fire and he was lucky to escape with burns.

After he had recovered from his burns, he then volunteered to become a Pathfinder, the elite force that led the bomber stream and marked the targets accurately for the main force.  A more dangerous role as not only did the Germans target the leading bombers but Pathfinder aircraft were unable to ‘weave’ over the target to enable the gunners to spot night fighters approaching underneath them as they had to fly straight and level in order to mark the targets with the utmost accuracy.

Bill joined 97 (Straits Settlements) Squadron in December 1943 and, now flying Lancasters again, flew throughout the winter of 1943/44.   This was during the ‘Battle of Berlin’ when Bomber Command was sent repeatedly to Berlin.   Bill, and those like him, now faced ever mounting losses during the long, icy nights in skies filled with flak, searchlights and fighters.    On the night of 15/16 March 1944 Bill was the first to take off from RAF Bourn on a sortie to Stuttgart.   The route lead over France before turning north near Lake Constance.   There a German fighter Ju 88C flown by a German fighter ace, Hauptmann Horst Heinz Hissbach, picked him up on his radar.   The Lancaster was raked with cannon shells setting the port engine on fire.   The fire rapidly spread and there was an explosion.  The aircraft broke up and crashed on the outskirts of a small hamlet, Zillhausen, in Germany.  There were no survivors.

William Meyer was my father’s greatest friend, a name remembered from my childhood.    Many years later, on coming across his photo and plaque in my parents’ effects, my husband and I decided to research Bill’s wartime history.   It was the start of a lengthy search full of surprises.  Bill’s German ancestry was a huge shock, when I told one of his first crew, he refused to believe it insisting that Bill was a typical English gentleman.   Another surprise was finding a witness of the crash in Germany.   Kurt Schneider, only fourteen at the time, had never forgotten that night and was able to tell us about it in great detail.   Thanks to the support of local people and the Mayor of the nearest large town, Balingen, we were able to erect a memorial to William Meyer and his 97 Squadron crew on the site of the crash in Zillhausen.   The unveiling ceremony was attended by men from IX (B) Squadron and two Tornados.

William’s entry on the IBCC Losses Database can be found here

The Great Escape Tunnel

Untouched for almost seven decades, the tunnel used in the Great Escape has finally been unearthed. The 111-yard passage nicknamed ‘Harry’ by Allied prisoners was sealed by the Germans after the audacious break-out from the POW camp Stalag Luft III in western Poland. Despite huge interest in the subject, encouraged by the film starring Steve McQueen, the tunnel undisturbed over the decades because it was behind the Iron Curtain and the Soviet had no interest in its significance.

But at last British archaeologists have excavated it, and discovered its remarkable secrets.

Many of the bed boards which had been joined together to stop it collapsing were still in position. And the ventilation shaft, ingeniously crafted from used powdered milk containers known as Klim Tins, remained in working order. Scattered throughout the tunnel, which is 30ft below ground, were bits of old metal buckets, hammers and crowbars which were used to hollow out the route. A total of 600 prisoners worked on three tunnels at the same time. They were nicknamed Tom, Dick and Harry and were just 2 ft. square for most of their length. It was on the night of March 24 and 25, 1944, that 76 Allied airmen escaped through Harry.

Barely a third of the 200 prisoners, many in fake German uniforms and civilian outfits and carrying false identity papers, who were meant to slip away managed to leave before the alarm was raised when escapee number 77 was spotted.

Only three made it back to Britain. Another 50 were executed by firing squad on the orders of Adolf Hitler, who was furious after learning of the breach of security. In all, 90 boards from bunk beds, 62 tables, 34 chairs and 76 benches, as well as thousands of items including knives, spoons, forks, towels and blankets, were squirreled away by the Allied prisoners to aid the escape plan under the noses of their captors.

Although the Hollywood movie suggested otherwise, NO Americans were involved in the operation. Most were British, and the others were from Canada, (all the tunnelers were Canadian personnel with backgrounds in mining) Poland, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.

The latest dig, over three weeks in August, located the entrance to Harry, which was originally concealed under a stove in Hut 104. The team also found another tunnel, called George, whose exact position had not been charted. It was never used as the 2,000 prisoners were forced to march to other camps as the Red Army approached in January 1945. Watching the excavation was Gordie King, 91, an RAF radio operator, who was 140th in line to use Harry and therefore missed out. ‘This brings back such bitter-sweet memories’, he said as he wiped away tears. ‘I’m amazed by what they’ve found. ’

Escape from WWII POW Camps

Starting in 1940, an increasing number of British and Canadian Airmen found themselves as the involuntary guests of the Third Reich, and the Crown was casting about for ways and means to facilitate their escape. Now obviously, one of the most helpful aids to that end is a useful and accurate map, one showing not only where stuff was, but also showing the locations of ‘safe houses’ where a POW on-the-lam could go for food and shelter.

Paper maps had some real drawbacks — they make a lot of noise when you open and fold them, they wear out rapidly, and if they get wet, they turn into mush.

Someone in MI-5 (similar to America’s OSS) got the idea of printing escape maps on silk. It’s durable, can be scrunched-up into tiny wads and, unfolded as many times as needed and, makes no noise whatsoever.

At that time, there was only one manufacturer in Great Britain that had perfected the technology of printing on silk, and that was John Waddington Ltd When approached by the government, the firm was only too happy to do its bit for the war effort.

By pure coincidence, Waddington was also the U.K. Licensee for the popular American board game Monopoly. As it happened, ‘games and pastimes’ was a category of item qualified for insertion into ‘CARE packages’, dispatched by the International Red Cross to prisoners of war.

Under the strictest of secrecy, in a securely guarded and inaccessible old workshop on the grounds of Waddington’s, a group of sworn-to-secrecy employees began mass-producing escape maps, keyed to each region of Germany, Italy, and France or wherever Allied POW camps were located. When processed, these maps could be folded into such tiny dots that they would actually fit inside a Monopoly playing piece. While they were at it, the clever workmen at Waddington’s also managed to add:

1 A playing token, containing a small magnetic compass
2. A two-part metal file that could easily be screwed together
3. Useful amounts of genuine high-denomination German, Italian, and French currency, hidden within the piles of Monopoly money!

British and American air crews were advised, before taking off on their first mission, how to identify a ‘rigged’ Monopoly set – by means of a tiny red dot, one cleverly rigged to look like an ordinary printing glitch, located in the corner of the Free Parking square.

Of the estimated 35,000 Allied POWS who successfully escaped, an estimated one-third were aided in their flight by the rigged Monopoly sets. Everyone who did so was sworn to secrecy indefinitely, since the British Government might want to use this highly successful ruse in still another, future war.

The story wasn’t declassified until 2007, when the surviving craftsmen from Waddington’s, as well as the firm itself, were finally honoured in a public ceremony. It’s always nice when you can play that ‘Get Out of Jail’ Free’ card!

Lancaster PB812 AR-Y

Lancaster PB812 AR-Y 460 Sqn RAAF 10th February 1945.

On the IBCC Ribbons Of Remembrance are a series of Stones which are dedicated to the memory of a crew from 460 Sqn RAAF who were based at RAF Binbrook. Very close to the Chadwick Centre in Block 1, we have a Ribbon for a Bomb Aimer Arnold Kloeden, then in Block 2 are six Ribbons for the crew of a Lancaster PB812 which crashed at Caythorpe near Grantham on the 10th February 1945.

This was a very close knit crew, as many of them had travelled across to England on the same troopship from Australia. They first crewed up in August 1944, whilst undergoing their Operational Training at RAF Hixon, flying the Wellington Bomber. Then in December 1944 they were posted to No 1656 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Lindholme, to convert onto the Lancaster. Here they were joined by an Englishman, called Freddie Nesbit-Bell who hailed from Bristol and was the flight engineer.  Why was he flying with an all Australian crew?

With the introduction of the heavy bombers and the decision to go to one pilot operation, the new trade of flight engineer was introduced. He would assist the pilot with throttles, monitor fuel and hydraulics, and carry out any immediate action drills in the case of engine fires or failures. Freddie was a pilot in his own right, having trained in Canada, but he retrained as a flight engineer, because of shortages. Many RAF personnel were transferred to this new trade, which is why you often found them flying with other nationalities. But Freddie did not need to join the war effort, as he had a reserved occupation, he was a Police Constable in Bristol. Eight Police Constables from Bristol volunteered for the Services, Freddie was the only one not to return home when the war finished.

Having completed the HCU the crew were posted to No 460 Sqn. The crew, five of them even owned a car together, so they could explore the Lincolnshire Wolds. The crew were rarely apart in their leisure hours and Arnold Kloeden said they worked in a greater harmony than any other crew he had seen.

On the morning of Saturday 10th February 1945, Pilot Officer Dick Miller took off from Binbrook on a crew training sortie (Navex) with five members of his crew. The Bomb Aimer’s position was empty because Arnold Kloeden had been ill and was just being released from hospital, so didn’t have time to prepare for the flight. The crew were flying a Navigation Exercise and whilst on the leg from Luton to Scunthorpe, a catastrophic accident occurred. At 15:50 hrs the Lancaster was witnessed by some local schoolboys in a vertical dive over the village of Caythorpe and crashed near Love Lane close to the railway station. None of the crew survived the crash, there was speculation that problems with the autopilot may have contributed to the accident, as this had caused problems on a previous flight.

The deceased crew’s remains were placed in one coffin and they were buried at Cambridge City Cemetery. The parents and sister of Tony Robinson, the air gunner attended, along with family members belonging to Freddie Nisbet-Bell. The Chief Constable of Bristol also came and paid his respects. Arnold Kloeden represented all those Australian families who were unable to attend.

After the war, Arnold Kloeden returned to Australia and eventually died in 2003. On the 10th September 2016 a memorial service was organised by Linda Pope, the niece of Rhod Pope, which was held at St Vincent’s Church in Caythorpe. This was attended by family members of the deceased crew and two plaques were laid. One is located at the church, the other is on Love Lane close to the crash site.

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Porokoru Patapu Pohe – 51 Squadron

51 Squadron is one of our local units here in Lincolnshire, and currently operates out of RAF Waddington, just a few miles south of the International Bomber Command Centre, flying the ‘Rivet Joint RC135W’ aircraft.

During the war it was a Bomber Command Unit assigned to No 4 Group and operating out of various airfields in Yorkshire, including RAF Linton-on-Ouse, RAF Dishforth and RAF Snaith, flying the Whitley and then the Halifax Bomber.

Born on the 10th December 1914, Porokoru Patapu Pohe, (known as John or Johnny) grew up on his parents farm in Taihape, New Zealand.  After finishing school he worked on the family farm and served two years in the Territorial Army with the Manawatu Mounted Rifles. In 1939 he volunteered to join the RNZAF, and was eventually accepted for pilot training. On the 18th January 1941 Porokoru was awarded his flying brevet, and thus became the first Maori pilot in the New Zealand Air Force. Like many of his compatriots he travelled to Canada to undergo advanced training under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, before finally arriving at No 10 OTU at RAF Abingdon in May 1941, to convert onto the Whitley.

It was whilst flying a Whitley on the 21st July 1941, on a bombing raid near Paris, that he earned the distinction of being the first Maori to bomb a target in occupied Europe. On the 24th August 1941 Porokoru was posted to 51 Squadron and was promoted to Flight Sergeant in October that year. The following February he piloted a Whitley which dropped paratroopers on a radar station near Le Havre. This daring raid called Operation Biting or perhaps better know as the Bruneval Raid, was mounted to try and capture and dismantle a German radar called  ‘Würzburg’. This radar controlled anti aircraft and searchlight batteries, whilst also directing nightfighters into the bomber streams, so any countermeasures that could neutralise it, would be very useful. So the aim of the raid was to return sections of the radar, including some of the electronics back to the scientists in Britain, so they could get a better understanding of the inner workings of the system, and advances in German Radar technology. To help with this, they also brought back a German Radar Technician, all the equipment was taken down to the local beach where a Royal Navy landing craft collected the assault teams, transferred them to motor gunboats for the journey back across the Channel.

On completion of his operational tour Porokoru was posted as an instructor to No 24 OTU at RAF Honeybourne flying the Wellington. In March 1943 he survived a crash when the wing of his Wellington caught fire. Requesting a transfer back to operational flying, he converted to the Halifax bomber at No 1663 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Rufforth, before he and his crew rejoined No 51 Sqn, which was now based at RAF Snaith. Within two days of joining his old squadron, he was tasked to fly against Hannover. On the night of 22nd September 1943, in aircraft JN901, they were hit twice by anti aircraft fire over the target area and had to limp for home. Such was the damage to the aircraft that they were forced to ditch in the English Channel, but at least all the crew survived. For two days they huddled in the dinghies before a German spotter plane sighted them and directed a German vessel to pick them up, thus Porokoru and his crew became Prisoners Of War.

Porokoru eventually arrived at Stalag Luft III near Sagan in October, but by 1944 he was actively helping to construct tunnel ‘Harry’,  that would shortly see prisoners try to make a bid for freedom, in what is famously called ‘The Great Escape’.

On the night of 24/25th March 1944 in the depths of a real bad winter, seventy six POWs managed to escape through tunnel ‘Harry’ before a guard patrolling outside the perimeter fence noticed the next man attempting to emerge from the tunnel. When the Germans discovered the escape, they put into action a well rehearsed manhunt. Porokoru and his companion Al Hake, an Australian Spitfire pilot, who were both suffering with frostbite in their feet, were captured by a local patrol and handed over to the Gestapo at Görlitz prison. On the 30th March, Gestapo officers collected six prisoners including Al Hake and Porokoru, they were driven away and never seen again. On Hitler’s orders fifty of the escapees were executed, they were chosen from different nationalities to send a chilling message back to the camps. Of the original seventy six to escape, fifty were executed, twenty three were returned to POW camps and just three managed to escape, one landed in England, two managed to seek refuge in Sweden.

Originally cremated and buried at Sagan, Porokoru is now buried in Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery. At Sagan close to the where Stalag Luft III was located, there is a memorial to ‘The Fifty’. Post war investigations saw a number of those guilty for the murders, tracked down arrested and tried for their crimes.

Flying Officer Porokoru Patapu Pohe RNZAF was Mentioned in Dispatches with the citation “In recognition of distinguished service and devotion to duty”. He is remembered on Panel 227 of the Memorial Walls here at the International Bomber Command Centre. Below is an entry from Fg Off JSB Tyrie’s Stalag Luft III diary, which remembers those executed during ‘The Great Escape’

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Pilot Officer Ernest Tansley

Seventy-seven years ago today, the 2nd of December 1943, the loss of just one Lancaster from 57 Squadron, East Kirkby, left behind eight broken families when their loved ones failed to return home.

There were mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, a new young wife and a fiancée with her wedding dress hanging in her wardrobe and a mother with a young son and daughter and a baby yet to arrive in this war torn world. But the eight young men involved had a war to fight and had set off on yet another operation to Berlin.

The weather was against them on this particular Thursday afternoon and over 200 aircraft had already been grounded, but 57 Squadron despatched 14 crews from East Kirkby. Two didn’t return.

In one of the crews on this occasion, were two new faces. There was a young flight engineer who had only recently joined 57 Squadron and another who was on his very first trip as a second pilot to gain experience before flying with a crew of his own.

The crew of JB 529 DX-P (Peter), captained by Ernie Tansley, ran into extremely bad weather with unexpected strong winds and, like many other aircraft, was blown off target and found themselves to the south of Berlin.

They were spotted by eyewitnesses, flying low over the small town of Trebbin, possibly having already suffered from earlier damage. They were quickly attacked by a Junker 88 from nearby Juterbog airfield and there was an exchange of fire between the two aircraft. P-Peter exploded, bursting into flames with parts of the fuselage falling away along with the starboard wing and engines.

Six of the crew had either fallen or jumped from the blazing aircraft but sadly they were too low to use their parachutes. Eyewitnesses watched as Ernie, remaining in the cockpit, despite the flames emanating from the front, attempted to steer the badly damaged and burning Lancaster away from a row of houses below him. This, he just managed to achieve before it crashed into an adjacent rye field.

Although parts of the ‘plane fell into gardens and caused various amounts of damage to the houses, he had avoided any loss of life to the residents. One found twin machine guns hanging through the ceiling of her kitchen, another had the corner of their home knocked away.

Sadly, none of this brave crew survived. The rear gunner had been shot and killed earlier so was still in his turret and Ernie of course had remained in the cockpit of his beloved Lancaster. He was unable to be officially identified until after the war so was buried as ‘unknown’.

I can’t imagine what his thoughts must have been in those last moments.

These young airmen were taken to the nearby ‘Old Cemetery’ in Trebbin where they were initially buried in a communal grave after being carefully wrapped in a tarpaulin. A cross was erected to mark the spot. They were behind a tiny chapel at the far end of the churchyard and the grave was well tended by the cemetery gardener until the end of the war when they were exhumed. They were then re-buried in the Berlin War Cemetery, Charlottenburg where they now lie side by side once more.

These were the eight young men…

Sergeant Ivor Groves was the wireless operator and only 20 years old and he left behind his parents and three brothers. Two of whom were in the army, the third, like Ivor, also in the RAF. This happy, likeable young man was well thought of amongst the crew and came from a kind and loving family. They lived just outside Birmingham.

Flight Sgt, Harold Moad, rear gunner aged 23. He came from Clanwilliam in Manitoba, Canada and besides his parents, there were eight siblings, one of whom was a POW. Because this young man was unable to go home when on leave, the family of Ivor Groves welcomed him into theirs.

Pilot Officer Ernest Patrick was the bomb aimer, aged 25, from London. Besides his parents he had a young brother Alan aged fifteen who never really came to terms with the loss of his big brother.

Pilot Officer Roy Lewis, the mid-upper gunner was aged 21 and lived in the Manchester area with his parents. He was an only and much loved son. He had only recently married a lovely young girl named Moya. Sadly, they were to have only four months together. The best man at their wedding had been Douglas, the navigator.

Pilot Officer Douglas Park was the navigator, only 20 years old. He was one of six children and lived in Hull, Yorkshire. This was another very kind family and when Douglas became engaged to a young lady named Mary, they took her to their hearts. When Douglas was lost it was just days away from their marriage and Mary was left with her wedding dress hanging in her wardrobe, awaiting the big day that never arrived.

We don’t know very much about the two new faces in the crew….

Sergeant Leonard Brown was the new Flight Engineer, another young man aged only 20 years. He lived in Bermondsey, London with his parents and a younger brother, Victor. It couldn’t have been easy for him flying with a new crew for the first time.

Pilot Officer Jack Dalton was flying as a ‘second dickie’ to gain experience before taking charge of his own crew. He was 22 years old, had a sister Jean and lived with his parents in Burnley, Lancashire. Sadly, he didn’t get the chance to fly again.

The last crew member was the pilot. Pilot Officer Ernest Tansley was the eldest of the crew, aged 29. He had been sent to America to undertake his pilot training, leaving behind his wife and young family. A son Peter aged five and an eighteen-month-old daughter, Anne. They lived in Thundersley, Essex. Sadly, he didn’t live to see his other baby son who was born three months after his death.

On this day, we would also like to remember the second crew who were lost from 57 Squadron that night. They were never discovered as it is believed that they ditched over Holland in the IJsselmeer on their return journey:

F/O John Alfred Williams was the Pilot of JB372 DX-R. He was the son of David Mason and Ada Ethel Withers from Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire. Age 22

Sgt. Eric Hibbert was the Flight Engineer, and his parents were John and Frances Hibbert of Hasland, Derbyshire. He was only 20 years old.

F/O Alan Thomas Hook was an Air Gunner. He was the son of Thomas and Mabel Hook of Toronto, Ontario, Canada and had two sisters named Mabel born 1912 and Evelyn born 1915.  He was 22 years old.

F/O Bernard Paul Duval the Navigator was born in Hastings, Sussex the son of Henry Fernand and Lucienne of Upper Tooting, London.  He was 32 years old and married to Joyce.

F/S Balder Thomasberg was 21 years old and was the Bomb aimer. He was the son of George and Hilda of Norwood, Manitoba.

Sgt. Edward William Graves was the Mid-upper Gunner and the son of Norman and Esther (nee Gilbert). He was married to Brenda Townsend and a son Edward Robert was born a few months after his death. They lived in Eastbourne

Sgt. Jack Harvey Chambers was a 21-year-old Wop/AG. He was the son of Edward and Edith Chambers from Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire.

……….nor the years condemn…

Your bravery and sacrifice will never be forgotten

Love and miss you Dad and God Bless you all – Anne Doward

For more information on these crews please use our Losses Database

Billy’s Story – Part 6

Just after the Gunner B story was posted, a researcher for Bomber Command Forum asked if I could send her the full story along with the images that gave it life. She, in turn, passed it all onto the International Bomber Command Centre. They described it as “Gold Dust”. Flight Sergeant Bill Begbie is now on their site under “Billy’s Story”, complete with pictures and full story.

He is now assured to enter the archives of the IBBC for the benefit of future generations and mankind, according to IBBC. I checked it out and it’s a great historical institution.

When I first embarked upon this venture, I had no idea how I was going to shape it.

I had next to no info regarding his life before I knew him, apart from when he told me that he had been on the Sharnhorst attack during the second world war. He had also shown me some souvenirs from his time in the RAF when I was very young lad, around 55 years ago,

Now! It seems like my old man suddenly comes out of the blue nearly 47 years after he passed away and spirits me away on a wee sojourn that I never expected at my age.

So now that I’m thinking that this story needs some closure, for me personally, I’m going to go with my imagination again. I’m remembering that when I was writing Part 1, I had to embellish his juvenile days with visions of the 1930’s, as I had only the 6 images of young Billy’s Life at 14 years old and a skeleton of family rumours that came from my sister, Trish………….

I think I need to use my imagination again.

So one night I sat down in this chair I’m sitting in now, in the dining room, at this computer which is set up in the corner and I leant back into the chair and closed my eyes.

I sat there in the warmth of the room with the remaining scents of the supper I had cooked for Elaine and I lingering on. She had retired to her garden room which is now part of the dining room and was absorbed in her quest for perfection in water colour painting, she’s good. There are only a couple of small lamps on in here at this time of the evening and the light from them is quite subtle and subdued. Sometimes she has scented candles flickering away in the shadows and the atmosphere in here is delicately imbued by Jasmine or whatever else is ‘scent of the day’.

With my eyes still closed my imagination gradually takes over………..

I’m standing on the edge of a huge concrete pathway and a few yards in front of me there is nothing but a light grey mist. I seem to be there for quite a lengthy time when I realise there is a soft swirling motion in the centre of the mist. I see a vague shadow starting to emerge from the soft white light and a man appears. He is dressed in pewter gray flannels, a navy-blue blazer, white shirt and neatly knotted, black tie. He is wearing his favourite shiny, black leather brogues. I can now see the Guinea Pig badge, pinned to his left lapel, just a couple of inches away from the shoulder wound that I know is concealed beneath his attire.

We stand there on the concrete pathway for a couple of minutes just staring at each other.

I know who he is, but he is squinting through unsure eyes. Then he smiles under that familiar moustache and with wink and a nod over his shoulder, he turns and shambles off back into the mist.

I want to walk faster and catch up to him, but my legs feel like lead and I remain a few feet behind him, just barely able to see his form ahead. I would call to him, but I have no voice. I would swear I can smell his Brylcreem, his Old Spice and the unmistakable Capstan Full Strength cigarettes….

As we continue through the mist, I can see images forming like small screens. One on the left is depicting a young lad in dungarees standing between two large Horses with an infectious smile on his face.

I look over to the right, there’s an older lad in a uniform with sergeant’s stripes sitting, proudly in the middle of a squadron of men in front of a large aircraft.

There’s another scene where he is on top of the aircraft along with two other men, working on a quartet of machine guns that poke through a glass dome.

Then there are black and white aerial shots of massive battle ships moored in a harbour, that seem to appear through clouds.

As I continue to follow his shape, he appears to look straight ahead, whilst I cannot prevent myself from taking in everything that is flowing into my head….memories, photographs, telegrams, but they’re not mine. They all belong to him.

Then we’re outside the mist. I look up into a blue, cloudless sky that accompanies this perfect, English summer’s morning. The large concrete pathway on which I still stand, now sits in the middle of a massive flat, green area like a deserted public park. There are around twenty or so, small wooden huts and various other metal buildings to one side. A huge concrete building with a large tower, topped with glass and aerials, sits much farther away, on the other side.

I count around 15 monolithic bomber aircraft, all painted in brown and green camouflage, each sporting identity numbers, lined up on the grass, either side of what I now recognise as a runway.

There’s a great deal of activity going on underneath the aircraft, with men in olive green overalls pulling trolleys stacked with equipment, vintage vehicles are slowly driving between the aircraft and the larger of the hangar-like buildings farther out. It’s all quite hectic but organized.

A siren starts to blare and out of the huts, men in battledress, leather flying jackets- helmets-Life jackets and parachutes harnessed to their backs, start to hurry outside and head for the aircraft.

Most of them are smoking whilst they banter with each other and there’s a lot of hand shaking and back slapping going on, as if they might not be expecting to see each other for a while. There’s a sense of urgency in their stride, as they part into smaller groups and each head for their respective aircraft. Some of them jump into old Austin Utility vehicles and are driven off down the runway. Fifteen aircraft, seven men each, over one hundred men.

One by one the monoliths fire up each of their four Merlin engines and flood the airfield with a pungent, mechanical aroma of exhaust and petrol. This beautiful summer’s morning is now overcome by the mighty roar of the Merlins and I can feel the vibrations coming up through my feet.

One by one, in two minute intervals, a Halifax bomber charges down the runway and lifts majestically into the air until they are all gone and on their way to France. How many will return, I am left to wonder.

When I look to my left, Gunner B is gone. I turn slowly and the mist is back. He stands before it looking over my shoulder into the distance and then smiles at me again. With a curt nod of his head and a wink, he turns and walks back into the mist……….

Back in my chair, I open my eyes and stare at this page on my screen. I can hear Elaine filling her glass with some wine in the kitchen as I reach for the keyboard and whisper to myself.

‘Ok, Gunner. Let’s get this story written’.

Begbie Jnr.


John Pearl

Had I not been thrown off my seat, the top of my head would have been sliced off like a breakfast boiled egg.

Hit by flak on a daylight raid over Leipzig Sergeant John Pearl – aged 19 in 1945 when he served with No 207 Squadron based at RAF Spilsby, Lincs.

‘Pathfinder marker flares were going down as we began moving across the target – the railway yards at Leipzig. Some light flak appeared ahead of us but it was spread thinly around the sky and did not look too formidable. However, black puffs of smoke from the bursting shells of predicted heavy flak seemed dangerously close and as we continued our run across the target it was one of these shells that exploded alongside, between the two starboard motors.

It shook the plane, throwing us around the sky, causing me to slip off the little hammock that served as a seat in the mid-upper turret. I fell backwards on to the floor of the aircraft. I lay there for a few seconds as shrapnel ripped through the aircraft, sounding like hail stones on a tin roof. The skipper steadied the aircraft and I climbed back to my turret to find it badly holed with most of the cupola Perspex blown away. A lot of the metal framework which had been supporting the Perspex was twisted and mangled and I sat there like a World War I air gunner with my head out in the fresh air. Had I not been thrown off my seat, the top of my head would have been sliced of like a breakfast boiled egg.

It was freezing in the shattered turret now and it could only be rotated by the winding handle as the hydraulics had been shot away. My guns did not work either, so I was reduced to the role of lookout.

Both starboard engines were damaged, losing oil, and had to be feathered but after a quick discussion amongst the crew as to what we should do, we continued on two engines and bombed the target from 14,000 feet. Leaving the target area, we were hit by flak on the port side. Ninety, limping minutes later, oil pressure began dropping fast on the port inner engine and the pilot told us to prepare for baling out.”

The crew baled out successfully, except for the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Peter ‘Andy’ Anderson, who was killed when the aircraft crashed near the village of Burgbrohl. The rest of the crew were picked up by American GIs and quickly repatriated.’

From Beneath the Bombs

Herr Klaus Schwerk was sixteen in February 1945. Before the war his father was a doctor in Bautzen, 50 km east of Dresden, and had been conscripted to be a medical officer in the Wehrmacht. In February 1945 he was serving in Italy and his wife and five sons (of which Klaus was the eldest) were still in Bautzen. As the Russian Army approached, and the guns could be heard, the family decided to move westward towards Dresden.

Mother and the four younger boys were there staying with friends when the firebombs started dropping. Klaus had cycled further westward that day, before the attack started, to find the next stopping point for the family, as they wanted to continue their journey. The fires could be seen from where he was, some 20 km to the west of Dresden, and he returned to find his family still alive at around 10am the next day. Then the high explosive attacks by the Americans started and they all repaired to the basement of the house where they were staying. Soon smoke became a problem for them, and Klaus ventured into the street above to see whether he could find a way out.

In the event, he did, and the whole family were lucky enough to be led by him to comparative safety outside the bombing zone and eventually they were able to walk away to the west.

Having left his bicycle behind, two days later he returned to Dresden to look for it and found it in exactly the same place as he had left it. He then saw the full effects of the devastation.

He kept a diary and has written down his experiences, a copy of which he gave me. All the family survived the war, and the father went back to his medical practice in Bautzen. There was not a sign of recrimination against the British or Americans, and at least two of the brothers have lived for many years in the US. Klaus himself studied architecture, but has been an aid worker for some time in India, which is where he learned to speak English. He is now retired in Berlin, and uses his architectural skills to design, for instance, an organ which he plays in his house, and he does other DIY work.

Billy’s Story – Part 5

Part 5

The Aftermath.

On his return to Stanton Harcourt, Gunner B was rushed to hospital at Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford, then onto the RAF hospital in Halton.

He had already lost a lot of blood when his crew discovered him slumped and unconscious in his turret.

Him and the mid upper gunner would have been feverishly, yelling instructions at each other over the intercom, directing each other towards German fighters that would be hurtling in from different angles. German flack shells were bursting all around them, leaving a heavy stink of cordite in their turrets. It is reported that they had taken on a couple of German Messerschmitt 109 fighters and shot one down. There were 31 German fighters waiting for them in La Rochelle that day. These fighters attacked our aircraft relentlessly and with hardened determination, on the run up to the bomb drop. They were trying to protect Germany’s most valuable and dangerous naval asset. I can just imagine Gunner B roaring and spitting all sorts of profanities as he fired back with his four 303 Brownings. He really was that sort of man, fearless and determined also. The noise from his guns, the constant drone and vibrations from the 4 Merlins, Flack bursting all around them and fighter bullets raking their fuselage must have been horrendous. It is little wonder that his hearing was impaired later on in life.

Unfortunately, German fighters managed to hit the target and put two bullets clean through Gunner B’s plexi-glass turret and right through his left shoulder. A few inches lower and it would have been his chest….No hope.

The flight home must have taken around 3 hours or so. That’s a hellish long time to be up there with his shoulder almost blown off and his life’s blood draining out of him. I would expect his crew would have dragged him farther back into the aircraft to administer first aid and plug the bleeding wounds, both front and back. Whether or not he was given morphine by his crew is unclear, but I sincerely hope that that was the case.

The next day, on the 25th of July, his wife Nell received a telegraph from the RAF telling her that her husband had been shot in action and had shoulder wounds, but not critical. Later that day, she got another telegraph, this time from Gunner B himself, telling her, ‘not to worry, it’s only a scratch’.   He must have been in terrible pain when he organised this telegraph, but he would’ve known the RAF would already have informed her and she’d be frantic with worry.

Gunner B was later transferred again, to the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead on the 1st of December.

This would be where he came under the specialist care of the famous and pioneering, plastic surgeon, Archibald McIndoe, who had been appointed Consultant in Plastic Surgery to the RAF.

Gunner B, I believe, became one of the 1st hundred men to receive the pioneering plastic surgery during WW11.  For this he received the Flying Guinea Pig Badge

I am pleased to say at this point, that this badge along with Gunner B’s Fur collar, complete with his dried blood and bullet holes is in the safe hands of his Grandson, retired RAF Warrant Officer, John Brough. The son of Helen (Begbie) Brough. John, and now two of his sons, David Brough and Jake Brough have followed in their great grandfather’s footsteps. David and Jake are both Senior Aircraftsmen in the RAF and who knows where they can go from there. (Per Ardua Ad Astra).

The collar shown in the picture, complete with his dried blood and bullet holes, buttoned on to Gunner B’s leather flying jacket. I remember, as a young lad, slipping my index finger through a bullet hole. A German bullet from an ME109 fighter and was surprised at how small it was. I also remember studying the actual bullets, there were two. One was a bit bent and the other was straight. I looked at Gunner B with some confusion in my eyes. He grinned as he told me that his crew had dug the bullets out of the backrest of his seat in the bullet ridden turret. They later presented them to him in his hospital bed. They had taken them to a local jeweller first and that’s why I saw his name etched upon the straight one…….. W Begbie.

Upon leaving the RAF, Gunner B came home to Kirkcaldy to re-join his wife, Nell and his baby girl Helen, named after her mother. Her Sister, Patricia (Trish) came along a little later and me a few years later still. He went on to have successful career as a Chief Engineer with the National Coal Board (Aye, doon the pits), Alexander’s Bus Garage, and finally Thomas Nicol Salvage in Kirkcaldy.

During his time at Thomas Nicol he worked as an engineer on a salvage vessel that the firm had bought, in order to salvage German warships that had been scuttled by their own commanders at Scapa Flow in 1918.  How ironic that in the very early 1970’s he was involved in raising German warships, when in 1941 he was trying to sink them.

Flight Sergeant William Begbie died in 1974 aged 59. He had been troubled with blood clotting and heart problems since the death of his beloved wife, Nell.

It is with a heavy heart that I conclude this story with this thought.

The respect I have for this man and all his comrades who fought for this country, goes beyond the realms of respect, pride and sincerity.

I would once again, like to take this opportunity to thank my wonderful sister, Pat (Begbie) Croll, for taking care of the family pictures and Gunner B’s medals, badges,etc.

Author ……Bill Begbie Jnr.

Billy’s Story – Part 4

Part 4

 Attack on the Sharnhorst.

 The date is 24th of July 1941

This is a likely sequence of events, up to the point where the attack took place…..

The crews of RAF squadrons 35 and 76 are likely to have worked through the night, preparing the aircraft for the mission.

Breaks throughout the night would have filled them up with porridge followed by bacon, egg, sausage and fried bread and chips. Maybe some toast, marmalade and a few cups of hot sweet tea and followed by a few cigarettes. A good chance for a blether and time to discuss any fears or faults that may have arisen.

They would have visited the squadron gunnery section and been briefed on the day`s intended activities. It is my understanding that all inward and outward-bound telephone calls to friends or family was forbidden at this time and indeed, telephone kiosks were under lock and key. Mission secrecy assured.

Next, a visit to the Squadron Armoury to be issued with a set of 8 x .303 Browning machine guns. 4 for the tail gunner and 4 for the upper mid turret gunner. A registry was kept on each and every visit gunners made to the armoury. Gunners were trained and needed to maintain the weapons and carry out stringent checks on all weapons to ensure they were in perfect working condition.

Their lives may depend on it.

Leading up to take off, crews would assemble in the locker room to get dressed for the flight ahead. The standard attire for the day was silk/wool Long Johns, woollen socks, an electric body suit. This suit, which connected to electrical plug points in the aircraft would ultimately be their survival suit. Finally, the standard battle-dress trousers tucked into heavy fleece lined flying boots and topped with a thick jersey and leather flying jacket with fur collar. Last but not least, was the Mae West life jacket and a parachute. The word encumbered springs to mind. However, I understand that the temperature could fall to -30 on some of these missions, especially at night.

(I wore a parachute during training flights when I was a wee lad in the ATC, 13 years old. I remember walking like a duck, bent over, at 45 Degrees from the backside up, over the grass towards the aircraft and 2 airmen lifting me up on to the wing to get me in. I felt like I was wrapped in a Python).

In the very early hours of that morning, Gunner B and his crew boarded Aircraft No L. 9531 at RAF Middleton St George and flew South to RAF Stanton Harcourt in Oxfordshire to take on extra fuel. Their target lay a farther 200 miles away more than the Halifax normal fuel load could carry them.  The crew that day was Sgt Drummond, Sgt Hutchin, Sgt Dawson, Sgt Fraser, Sgt Barret, Sgt Wood, and Flight Sgt Begbie.  He would have made his way along the narrow fuselage towards the rear of the aircraft and into the tail gunner turret. He would have felt isolated and a long way from the rest of his crew.

Once settled in, he would carry out a series of important checks on the equipment.  He would plug in the intercom connection, oxygen and power supply to his electric suit. He would then confirm communications open with the pilot and the rest of the crew. (Interestingly, Gunners and Pilots only, were on full oxygen from take off to landing. Crew didn`t need to until they reached a ceiling of 10,000 feet).

The 4 Rolls Royce Merlin engines came to life, one by one with a roar and the whole aircraft vibrated with a life of its own. This must have been a foreboding experience for a lad that had been guiding a couple of Clydesdale horses, pulling a large wooden, two wheeled cart along Scottish dirt paths in order to go to work, not that long before.

Gunner B could now test the hydraulics that allowed him to swivel the turret to port and starboard. Gun sights would be set, and the guns would be swung up and down, as far as they could go before the turret was locked down again, ready for take-off.

This small, isolated, cold and exposed space, which had open apertures for the guns to be raised and lowered, would be his domain for the next seven and a half hours. Gunner B settled into his seat and tried not to think about his new wife, Nell and his baby daughter, Helen.

The sudden roar of all 4 Merlins must have jolted him back into reality as the huge aircraft began to motor down the runway. Seconds later, he is travelling backwards at over a 100 mph and he can feel his stomach drop as the Halifax lifts herself from the safety of home and onto La Rochelle in France and the Sharnhorst.

This report/excerpt from RAF Operations Record Books recorded that Gunner B`s “Aircraft attacked the German battleship “Sharnhorst” and bursts were seen slightly short of the jetty with the end of stick (bombs dropped) very close alongside and astern. One yellow explosion was seen. The aircraft was damaged by Ack Ack fire and German fighters. One enemy fighter was claimed, destroyed. There was intense damage to own aircraft (the Halifax). Weather over the target was very hazy. Aircraft took off at 10.35am and returned to Stanton Harcourt safely” at 17.45.

Other reports claimed that the two British squadrons that attacked the Sharnhorst had hit her with five armour piercing bombs along her starboard side

Three 1000lb bombs and two 500lb tore through her decks and caused significant damage. Two bombs failed to detonate. The other three exploded and caused major flooding of the ship. She developed an 8-degree list to her starboard and was left sitting a metre farther down in the water. Two German sailors were killed and fifteen injured.

On our side there was one Halifax from 35 Squadron and 3 from 76 Squadron shot down.

Four of the 31 ME109`s that had ferociously attacked our bombers were shot down

The operation was a success but Billy had been hit.

To be continued in Part 5

Billy’s Story – Part 3

Billy’s Story

Part 3

Part 2 can be read here

After many hours of research, I have pieced together a pathway through the life of Gunner B, or William (Bill) Begbie.

I know that he flew on several missions before his last, which we will read about in the next chapter. There are some rather sketchy MOD records on a couple of missions he was part of but I reckon it would take too much time and probably get a bit tedious for the readers to go through it all. I do believe he took part in around 10 missions. I remember looking at his Record of Service book many years ago and I know it was into double figures. His Campaign Medals also back this memory up.

His last mission is what makes this story a bit more interesting. Due to the historical value of it and the importance laid upon it by the RAF and Mr Churchill.

Early July 1941, Germany’s largest battleship/destroyer was spotted in a harbour called La Rochelle, in France. A Spitfire had taken pictures over the port and there she was.

This ship was Germany’s most famous and powerful naval Battleship to date and a top target for Britain. She was launched in 1936 after she took less than 2 years to build, a mammoth achievement. She operated together with another large German battleship called the Gneisenau (pronounced “Nize n now” with a silent G). The Gneisenau was laid down and built in 18 months. When you look at the pictures, it’s nothing less than astonishing that a ship as complex as this could be built in such a short time.

Together they wreaked havoc in the Atlantic during the early part of the war. Destroying any Merchant shipping they came across, leaving the crews to drown or float around in a lifeboat for days and weeks. Some of these crewmen were only 14 years old and others as old as 70. I just discovered that abandonment was standard practice by the enemy. All that mattered in the destruction of an enemy ship was the removal of the asset. The crews’ mortality didn’t matter a jot. This may have applied to the German Navy only but somehow, I doubt that.

Even so, some discoveries such as this leave the writer with a heavy heart.

In 1940, both German ships were involved in a battle with the Royal Navy off the coast of Norway. The British battlecruiser, HMS Renown and the aircraft carrier, HMS Glorious were to suffer heavy defeats by the German Navy’s best. The Glorious was sunk along with her two escort destroyers, Acasta and Ardent. During that battle, it was reported that Germany’s famous battleship achieved the longest-range naval gunfire hit on a target at sea. The destroyer was called the Scharnhorst.

Now that the RAF knew that the Sharnhorst and Gneisenau were in La Rochelle moored to the jetty, there was a mad rush on. They needed to plan a bombing raid and quickly destroy them before they could leave La Rochelle. Apparently, there was 30,000 Canadian troops ready to sail from the other side of the Atlantic. Tensions were high in Bomber Command. If the Sharnhorst and Co were able to get out of La Rochelle and into the Atlantic….It was a hellish thought to entertain.

I would imagine that trying to hit a warship that was steaming at 33 knots from 19,000ft was almost impossible.  Especially when the aircraft was going at 200mph or more, trying to stay in the air with cargo of 58,000lbs of bombs. It would make sense to attack the German ships whilst they were berthed.

The decision was made to attack them immediately. “Strike while the iron is hot”.

Two RAF squadrons were faced with the complicated task of bombing both targets in a daylight raid.  Squadron 35 and Squadron 76 were elected to carry out that strike.

Between them there would be 15 Halifax Bombers carrying thousands of pounds of bombs.

As I wrote this, I thought to myself, that’s 60 Merlin engines…. 120 x 303 Browning machine guns and around 435 tons of explosives and………..Gunner B was flying with Squadron 76 as Tail Gunner.

To be continued in Part 4

Billy’s Story Part 2

Billy’s Story

Part 2

Part 1 can be found here

The year is 1937

Billy has joined the R.A.F. The images with the story show that he was issued with his uniform and kit on the day of 27/7/37. He is 22.

There is a period of around 4 years before Billy surfaces again. According to my research, during this time period it is believed that he was initially trained as an aircraft mechanic after passing many exams.

In 1940 decisions were being made by the Air Ministry, regarding the need for Flight Engineers.  Specialist, trained men to service and repair the planned 4-engined bombers, such as the Halifax which was about to enter service.

The Halifax was a new Bomber Aircraft, built by Handley Page and had 4 Rolls Royce Merlin engines. Capable of 265 to 285mph at 17,500 ft, it could carry around 5,800 lbs of bombs and had a range of 1,860 miles.

It was recognised that the Pilots of these larger aircraft would require assistance as there were no Co-Pilots. Should the Pilot get injured or killed during ops, there was no-one to fly the aircraft. Flight Engineers were introduced in order to reduce their workload. Personally, I do not see the sense in losing such a large and expensive aircraft along with 7 highly trained crew because nobody else could stand in for a disabled Pilot.

Flight Engineers were to be trained in all aspects of the aircrafts mechanical characteristics, fuel systems and gunnery systems.

Flight Engineers were also to be used as replacement gunners during active service. This didn`t go down well with the Squadron Leaders. It took a few years to train Engineers and they regarded this directive as an unnecessary risk. It would have a diminishing effect on the amount of highly trained Engineers at each squadron.

As it happens, there came about many stories about acts of heroism, post war.  Flight Engineers were a rare and tenacious breed, performing unbelievable acts of heroism in flight when the proverbial hit the fan. Taking over the controls of aircraft whilst the Pilot had either been killed or injured, bring the aircraft back to base and even landing the aircraft.

Here is an excerpt from a document I found on the Internet whilst doing my research.  This truly defines the words “awesome and tenacious” and it seems that some of the old black and white movies got it right….

Typical awards:

DFM to Sgt Robert Currie of 199 Sqn: “This airman was the Flight Engineer of an aircraft detailed to attack Berlin one night in August 1943. Whilst over the target area, the aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire and, whilst illuminated by the searchlights, was attacked by an enemy fighter. The controls which regulated the petrol supply from 2 of the tanks were severed. Sergeant Currie, displaying much resource, cut an aperture in the fuselage by means of an axe and then crawled into the wing to turn on the petrol supply so essential for the completion of the return flight. His coolness and resource set a very fine example.”

CGM to Sgt James Norris of 61 Sqn: “This airman was the Flight Engineer of an aircraft detailed to attack Dusseldorf. Soon after crossing the enemy coast, the aircraft was attacked by a fighter and sustained damage. A few minutes later another fighter attacked. The bomber was struck by a hail of bullets. The windscreen was broken, the wireless apparatus and other important equipment were destroyed and the oxygen system, was rendered useless. The Pilot, the Wireless Operator and the Flight Engineer were wounded, and the Navigator was killed. The aircraft became difficult to control but, despite this, the Pilot continued to the target, being greatly assisted by Sergeant Norris, whose strenuous efforts were invaluable. Shortly after the target had been successfully attacked, the Pilot collapsed owing to his wounds. Sergeant Norris took over the controls and, at times aided by another member of the crew succeeded in flying the damaged bomber back to Britain. When an airfield was sighted, Sergeant Norris and his comrade succeeded in rallying the semi-conscious Pilot sufficiently to take-over and land the aircraft safely. Not until then, did Sergeant Norris disclose that he had been wounded in the arm. In circumstances, fraught with great danger, this airman displayed courage, fortitude and determination of the highest order.

It’s now 1941.  He is 26 years old.

Billy has been through all the extra training and courses including gunnery and is now a Flight Sergeant / Engineer.

Billy has opted for Tail Gunner during active service. It may be that Tail Gunners got paid an extra shilling day. I think he told me that, but I can`t be sure. But knowing him, he was going to be exactly where he chose to be…Where there was doubt he could, and he would engage directly with the enemy.

Billy is now known as Flight Sergeant Bill Begbie…Gunner B.

To be continued in part 3…….

Billy’s Story Part 1

Billy’s Story

It is a true story with a few embellishments in this chapter only. There are no accurate records of this period in Billy`s life.

“Gunner B” A Fifer

The year is 1929, Billy is 14 years old.

It`s 5 o clock in the morning.  It’s dark, it’s freezing and it’s December. Billy snuggles deeper into the old wooden cot that his Uncle Jim made for him. An old oak outhouse door and wooden props nicked from the pit. Nail it all together and there you have it, a bed.

The mattress is a starched, linen sheet that his Ma stitched together to make, what looks like a huge pillowcase. It’s stuffed with old wool. Wool that was blown across the fields during the shearing season, a few summers ago. His Ma and his sisters would all go searching the fields around Fife during the summer, hunting for that precious wool to turn into pillows, cushions and mattresses. They’d share some of it with their friends and neighbours, or barter it for herring, tatties and coal. On a good day. they might even get a rabbit or a hare. Food was scarce.

As usual, his Pop is already up and Billy can hear him throwing some more coal on the fire in the kitchen, getting it ready for his wife, Annie, to come through and make the porridge and tea for the men of the house, before they faced another 12 hour day of toil at the bridge. Coal that Billy had riddled out of the dross that came up from the Milton Mine on his only day off, which was a Sunday.  Sunday was a “lie in” day and Billy would snuggle under a wool blanket and a big pile of coats that belonged to his sisters. Thank Christ his parents didn’t attend the Kirk. A day of rest? Aye sure.

It’s the start of another week and if Billy doesn’t shift his backside and get up quickly, his Pop will come through and roar at him from the bedroom door. Maybe chuck a lump of coal at him. He was like that, or so I was told.

Having left the school just a few weeks ago, at the start of the summer, Billy, like most other lads in the village was immediately pressed into employment. He joined Pop and his crew and went off to build bridges and sea walls. Most of his pals and classmates were either sent down the coal pits or were working on local farms for a shilling a day. 12-hour days. A penny an hour. Billy didn`t fancy either for a full-time job and that’s why he persuaded his Pop to let him work in the family firm. There wasn’t going to be any pits or farms for Billy. Wages amounted to the same, a shilling a day and free digs. Billy had to learn to pay his way.

His Pop was a well-known construction engineer and bridge builder who travelled all over Fife, building small, stone, iron and wooden bridges over streams and burns, mostly in the countryside.

Billy had already worked with his Pop and the crew ever since he was allowed to wear long trousers. At 12 years old, weekends and school holidays meant Billy would be up at the same time as Pop, 5 am. It felt like it was the middle of the night, but he loved working outdoors, especially in the countryside. It was a welcome change from school and the crew continuously wound him up, kidding him on every chance they got.

Pop was a hard boss. He was mostly a blustery old beggar and ranted at the men for the smallest infringements. Billy was regularly cuffed around the earhole or had his backside kicked for not paying enough attention.

His Pop had always drummed it into him that he must “stick in and pay attention” at his lessons at school or he could end up like the others,  “doon the pit”, or worse.

Even at 14 years old, Billy was into everything that the crew were doing, and they would let him take part in building the stonework on the bridges or digging foundations. He was a strong wee lad and full of confidence. One of his first jobs was to look after the two Clydesdale Horses that pulled the firm’s wagon. They were housed in an old shed at the back of the house in the Milton. Billy and his sisters would take turns to feed, brush and groom them. Pop would come out and make sure the horses were being looked after properly. God help anyone who veered from his strict instructions.

Without the horses, there would be no work.

Billy was a fast learner and even though he was a nuisance sometimes, the crew relished having him around. He had a “face full of cheek”, as they would say in Fife. But he was a comical distraction at times, especially at “piece time”, when the men would tuck into cheese bannocks that were toasted over the fire, each man had an old tin full of scalding tea which young Billy had brewed over a fire in a charcoal black kettle earlier. Sometimes the men would send Billy into the surrounding fields to pinch a few big potatoes that went into the fire an hour or so before piece time.

Billy would regale them with stories of what he got up to at school with his pals. He always had a big smile when he told his tales, and they were received with some scepticism and wry smiles.

Aye, Billy was a grand wee lad.

In the years that followed, the firm found steady work and were building sea walls as well as bridges.  Where there was water, there was work.

Billy grew into a strong, clever and extremely driven young man. He was a team player and judging by the photographs that accompany this chapter, it`s fairly obvious that he was accepted as one of the crew, even though he was the boss’s son.

It is rumoured that the relationship between Billy and his Pop became quite fractious as time went on. Billy may have come up with better ways to engineer the bridges. He had a natural capacity for engineering.

At some point in Billy`s teenage years, his Pop forced a job on him that meant, Billy getting into an old Atmospheric diving suit and being submerged into deep water at a work-site, maybe a sea wall.

One can only imagine what a terrifying experience that may have been for a young lad.  No training, no health and safety and probably very little knowledge on diving.

This story was passed on through the family for many years after and it may have been a turning point in the waning relationship that Billy had with his Pop.

At school, Billy had excelled in arithmetic, maths and English and kept up with his studies long after leaving school. He couldn’t see himself as working in his father’s shadow for long and, furthermore, he wanted to work with mechanical engineering and possibly engines. Billy had dreams. He wanted to be a proper engineer. He wanted to fly, literally.

Whilst still in his teenage years, we don’t know exactly when, Billy disappeared. He left his job, family and home in the Milton.

To be continued in part 2



RCAF  J/108843

His full name was George Robert Ian Taylor but he was always known to family and friends as Ian.  By the time he joined the RCAF he was a well-travelled young man. He was born on News Year Eve 1918, in Kingston, Jamaica, to Marguerite and William Robert, who worked for the Cuban Sugar Corporation, allowing him Cuban nationality. He survived typhoid at the age of eight.  After having moved to the USA he went on to be educated in Atlanta, Georgia.  He was living in Alabama when he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) on 17 June 1941. He trained in Canada before arriving in England in May 1942 and had completed his training with 23 Operational Training Unit (OTU) by July 1942.

Two months later, in September 1942, he was posted to 420 Squadron before being moved to 405 (Vancouver) Squadron, where he was lost just three weeks later, aged just 23 years old, on 29 November 1942.

405 (Vancouver) Squadron was in the process of moving from RAF Topcliff for detachment at Beaulie (Hampshire), when Halifax DT576 was lost. Possibly overloaded with equipment including bicycles and eight extra passengers, they took off at 10.05, possibly realising something was wrong, the pilot turned the aircraft back towards to the airfield. The aircraft was seen to roll onto its back at 300ft before stalling due to low altitude and crashed, killing all 15 on board.

It was one of the worst non-operational accidents of the war.  Sergeant ‘Ian’ Taylor was buried in Dishforth Cemetery, Harrogate, North Yorkshire – Grave #43.

Crew/Passengers of HALIFAX DT576:

GROUND CREW                Cpl Joseph Victor Beaudry                              R/74134                IBCC Panel 129

AIR BOMBER                      PO Allen Catto Bradley                                    J/18602                 IBCC Panel 134

OBSERVER                           PO Samuel Stewart Clark                               J/19450                 IBCC Panel 145

WIRELESS OP                     FL Benjamin Hugo Enns                                J/10008                IBCC Panel 161

PILOT                                    WO1 Stephen Frederic Gannon                     R/56406                IBCC Panel 168

AIR GUNNER                      SGT  Orlando Delmar Hamel                         R/117309               IBCC Panel 175

GROUND STAFF                SGT Francis Hooton                                         1381953                 IBCC Panel 184

FLIGHT ENGINEER          SGT Joseph Jones                                             R/62366               IBCC Panel 191

AIR GUNNER                      FS William Michael Kostenuk                        R/121565              IBCC Panel 195

FLIGHT ENGINEER          SGT Earl Lewis McGillivray                            R/61819                IBCC Panel 208

AIR GUNNER                      FS Ralph Elliott Milliken                                 R/128672             IBCC Panel 212

WIRELESS OP                     FS William Stanley Milne                                R/107580             IBCC Panel 213

PILOT                                    FS Norman Wilbur Ross                                  R/99245                IBCC Panel 235

AIR GUNNER                      FS Melvin James Stanley                                 R/67711                IBCC Panel 246

NAVIGATOR                       SGT George ‘Ian’ Taylor                                    R/108843             IBCC Panel 251



FS Norman Ross was born in Moncton, New Brunswick. Before signing up he had been a scoutmaster and a bank clerk. He enlisted on 15 May 1941 and was awarded his pilot’s badge on 27 February 1942, arriving in the UK a month later to complete his training at 23 OTU and 405 Conversion flight before being posted to 405 Squadron on 14 October 1942.


FS Ralph Milliken was born on 21 December 1919 in Vancouver, British-Columbia and had worked as a boat builder before the war.  He enlisted on 29 August 1941 and was awarded his Air Gunners badge 15 February 1942. He was posted immediately to the UK and completed his training with & AGS and 23 OTU before posting with 405 Squadron on the same day as Norman Ross.


PO Allen Bradley was born on Christmas Day 1912 in Saskatchewan and lived close to Last Mountain Lake. He married Galdys Gwilliam in July 1940 and was working as the Principal of Duval Consolidated  School when in enlisted with the RCAF in Regina in July 1941. He trained in Canada as an observer, which he completed in February 1942. His training in the UK was with 9 (O)AFU and 23 OTU but switched to an air bomber with 420 Squadron in September 1942. His conversion training for the Halifax at 405 Conversion Unit and then 1659 Heavy Conversion Unit and was post to 405 Squadron on 8 November 1942.

Sergeant Earl McGillivary was born 12 October 1918 in Saskatchewan and grew up on a farm, but wanted to attend aeronautical school which he succeeded in 1937 in Moose Jaw. He enlisted with the RCAF in July 1940 for ground duties as an engine mechanic. He arrived in the UK February 1942 and was posted to 416 Squadron, which flew fighters. Bomber Command needed more Flight Engineers, so Earl retained at No.4 Technical School and was awarded his badge 23 September 1942 and after completing his training was posted to 405 Squadron on 8 November 1942.


Sergeant Orlando Hamel was born on 17 November 1915 in Sault Ste, Ontario. He married Kathleen Kearns in 1937 and worked in a gold mind and then in a nickel mine before enlisting with the RCAF in August 1941. He was awarded his air gunner’s badge 31 July 1942 and was in the UK soon after where he trained with 7 AGS, 405 GF and 1659 HCU and along with the rest of the crew was posted to 405 Squadron on 8 November 1942.


Born on Mid Summers Day 1921, FS Melville Stanley enlisted straight out of school on 16 September 1940. He trained in Canada and was awarded his air gunners badge on 24 November 1941. In the UK, he finished his training before being posted to 420 Squadron and later to 405 Squadron Conversion Flight on 13 October 1942 before joining the squadron on 8 November 1942.


FL Benjamin Enns was born 8 May 1916 in Manitoba but attended school in Texas and Kansas before returning to Canada after his father’s death. He enlisted with the RCAF in March 1941, receiving his air gunners badge February 1942 and leaving for the UK. Where in May 1942 he trained at  No. 1 Signal School and 23 OTU before posting to 405 Squadron Conversion and being posted to the squadron on 14 October 1942. During his training he had married ACW Helen Hunter. She was a Scottish native and he is buried in Airth, Scotland upon her wishes.