Ernest Ronald Abbott

ABBOTT, Ernest Ronald. 563034 Sergeant, No. 50 Sqn. L.G.22/10/1940. Sorties 33, Flying Hours 207.35 Pilot Air2/9467

Born May 1st 1913 in Devonport where his father was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, he was brought up over the Tamar in Saltash and always regarded himself as a Cornishman.

At the age of 16 he joined the Royal Air Force as an apprentice and served in Aden in the mid 1930s. By the outbreak of war he was flying Hampdens with 50 Squadron based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.

From February 1st 1940 to October 13th 1941 he flew a total of 58 missions, these included bombing raids over Germany and “Gardening”. He had several lucky escapes. August 16th 1940 he records his first forced landing on a return from Leuna (sic); this was his 30th trip and was followed shortly on the 33rd trip on August 23rd by his first crash. In his Flying Log he notes that whilst returning from a raid over Leipzig, the starboard engine was shot up over Emden and the port engine stopped 2 miles east of Hemswell. It must be noted that there were only two engines on a Hampden.

On August 31st he was mentioned in despatches and on November 1st 1940, he was awarded the DFM and gazetted Pilot Officer.

(Extract from “The Distinguished Flying Medal Register for the Second World War with Official Recommendation Details,” by Ian Tavender.)

“ABBOTT, Ernest Ronald. 563034 Sergeant, No. 50 Sqn.

L.G.22/10/1940. Sorties 33, Flying Hours 207.35 Pilot Air2/9467

Sergeant Abbott has completed 33 successful operational flights over enemy territory since the beginning of the war, a total flying time of 207.35 hours. In spite of the severest weather and against the fiercest opposition, this pilot is consistently showing exceptional courage and determination in seeking and successfully bombing his objective. On the night of 26/27th August, 1940, Sergeant Abbott carried out a most successful attack from an altitude of 2,000 feet, his aircraft sustaining considerable damage from anti-aircraft fire. He brought his crew safely home, the latter part of the trip on one engine.

Remarks by Station Commander 27th August 1941

Strongly recommended. This pilot has a habit of going in low, thereby making sure of himself and lighting up the target for others.”

Flying Log Entry

August 26th, Aircraft, Hampden: No. P1317. Pilot; Self+ 3 Crew.

Ops LEIPZIG 6x250lbs: 60x4lb: (33) (Crash No.1)

Stbd engine shot up over Emden-2hrs on one engine-port engine stopped 2 miles E of Hemswell.

Sometimes all went very well: the 40th mission to Kiel, April 7th 1941 is down as a “wizard trip”. One ME 109 is noted on trip 42, to Emden, April 17th but whether this was shot down or they merely had a lucky escape is not recorded. This is followed by another part of their duties, a search for missing aircrew, “Dinghy located and apparatus dropped OK,” on April 20th. Several other searches are mentioned between operations, along with test flights, bombing formations and local flights.

September 12th 1941, during the return from Frankfurt on his 57th trip he mentions coming safely through barrage balloons but had to land near Harwich.

October 13th was the 58th mission, a bombing raid over Cologne. After his return from Germany at the end of the war he records in the Log that they were attacked by an ME 110 at 0400 hours, hit in the port wing and tanks and rear gunner wounded. At 0420 hours with the port wing on fire they abandoned the aircraft somewhere near Brussels. As far as is known all the crew baled out safely although Flt/Lt Abbott, as he was by then, landed in a tree, breaking both his legs. After a stay in hospital he was transferred to Prison Camp, eventually reaching Stalag Luft 111, where he remained until the entire camp was forcibly relocated during the bitter winter weather of January1945 in what became known as the Long March.

October 24th 1941, awarded the DSO.

Acting Flight Lieutenant Ernest Ronald ABBOTT, D.F.M. (44877) No. 50 Squadron. (Operational Flying Hours – 326. No. of sorties – 54) This officer joined the unit for his second tour of operational flying in February, 1941, and since then has completed 21 sorties, involving 126 hours flying. On ten of these missions Flight Lieutenant Abbott acted as navigator and, on the remainder, as captain of aircraft. His value to the unit has been inestimable. His qualities of leadership and his morale are of the highest order and he sets a magnificent example to all.”

Whilst in Stalag Luft 111 he became involved in the highly successful Theatre, making scenery and equipment for the productions in which some of the actors were such later well known figures as Peter Butterworth and Rupert Davies. We also seem to remember him saying that he was involved in making wire cutters and forging German papers. The Camp was to become famous for its escape stories, “The Wooden Horse” and “The Great Escape” which resulted in 50 officers being executed.

In his Flying Log he records that on April 28th they were liberated by the 11th Armoured Division and on May 3rd 1945 he was repatriated by Lancaster Bomber to be reunited with his wife and family, which included his son born in 1942, whom he had never seen. After the war he was promoted to Squadron Leader and continued his career in the RAF until he retired through ill-health in 1956.

He died peacefully in his sleep on May 3rd 1992, on the 47th anniversary of his return from prison camp. At his request, his ashes were scattered form an RAF helicopter over the North Sea which had so nearly claimed him as he returned home from those many flights.

My father rarely spoke of his wartime experiences, it was only after his death that his log books and citations were found, so this account is based on the few memories he shared and entries in his Flying Log.

What I do remember vividly is his long struggle with crippling headaches and repeated bouts of illness which placed him in hospital and at times made our home a battleground. He had to have surgery for TB on his return, my sister remembers him shouting as he was “baling out” night after night and for the remainder of his life he was left scarred by his wartime experiences.

Think what you were doing at the age of 27, the age at which he was shot down having survived those 57 missions and lost so many of his friends.

The Bomber Command Memorial is something long overdue to all who flew during these years.

We owe it to all of those incredibly brave young men who flew out night after night, dying in huge numbers. We owe it to their families who grew up without the fathers, sons and brothers. But how much do we also owe it to those who came through it all, having survived but never really leaving the terror behind them and being left to rebuild their lives as best they could.

Until recently they were abandoned, with no official memorial or campaign medal in recognition of their immense sacrifice. These wonderful brave young men who having survived, found that they had given more than any one could ever know.