Bomb aimer, 97 Squadron Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve Written by Wyn Harrison
My memory is of being told about my mother’s much loved cousin, Flight Lieutenant William Alfred Colson DFM. 141402 – Bomb aimer, 97 Squadron Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve who died on 17th December 1943 – Black Thursday – when his Lancaster JB119 OF-F, F Freddy crashed on the edge of Bourn airfield in Cambridgeshire returning from a raid on Berlin.
William (Billy to the family) was in the front of the aircraft with pilot, Squadron Leader Donald Forbes MacKenzie, and Flight Engineer P/O John Towler Pratt, who were also killed.
The four other crew members were seriously injured. Many aircraft crashed at or near Bourn that night and in other parts of the country due to dense fog with great loss of life and injuries.
I found from reading the book “Bombers First and Last” by Gordon Thorburn that William Colson had previously flown a full tour in Whitleys and another in Wellingtons and Lancasters with Dick Stubbs in 9 Squadron. In this book the famous veteran, Harry Irons DFC, talks about ‘Bill’ Colson being his bomb aimer in 9 Squadron (Lancasters) with Dick Stubbs’ crew. This lead me to asking Chris at IBCC if he could put me in touch with Harry, which he and his colleagues were able to do. To my amazement I discovered that ‘Bill’ and Harry were very good friends and room mates for nine months at RAF Waddington before Bill left to join 97 Squadron, Pathfinders. Harry read from his log book, telling me about the many operations that they did together, narrowly escaping disaster, night after night. At this time Harry was 17 years old and William was 26. Harry told me “Bill was a life saver – he got our crew out of many bad situations, you could rely on him, a very brave man. He must have been in the bomb aimer’s position when they crashed. I always told him to sit in the crash position in the centre of the Lanc, but he didn’t take any notice, always thinking of the crew – a wonderful man.”
Harry survived the war (but he doesn’t know how!) He completed 60 sorties and was heavily involved in the organisation of the Bomber Command Memorial, Green Park London which, at long last, gives these brave men the recognition that they deserve. My thanks to Harry for taking the time to tell me the things that we didn’t know about my mother’s cousin.
William was 28 years old when he died and is buried in Willesden New Cemetery, London. He left a wife and two small children. Billy’s grandmother was staying at our house for Christmas in 1943 when the telegram arrived, addressed to her, to say that he had been killed. She asked my mother to open it and so my mum had to tell her the bad news.
The photograph of the crew in front of their Lancaster WS X-Xray 5915 was taken at Waddington on 10th September 1942. Left to right, W/O Harry Irons, rear gunner, Bob Brown W/op, Brian Moorhead, mid upper gunner, Dick Stubbs, pilot, Tom Parrington, flt engineer, Bill (William) Colson, bomb aimer, Ken Chamberlain, navigator.
Steve Rogers, Co-ordinator, The War Graves Photographic Project has kindly given permission to use the picture of Bill’s headstone, “Died that others might live” – how true.