In the spring of 2012 I acquired his service record and decided to document as much as I could of his war-time experiences so that his grandchildren, who never met him and for whom the Second World War was ancient history, could learn about this momentous part of his life. This decision took me on an incredible voyage of discovery. What was intended to be a single entry blog for the benefit of close family is now a story that has been viewed over 9000 times, has 26 published chapters (and 14 appendices) and a total of more than 30,000 words.
|No. 75 (NZ) Squadron, March 1945|
Six months of research and the generosity of fellow enthusiasts have enabled me to publish a detailed account of my dad’s attempts to enlist, his initial training, his specialist training to become a flight engineer, his ‘crewing up’ with four men from New Zealand and two young gunners from the UK and their posting to RAF Mepal in Cambridgeshire. I have discovered the names of all of the crew and have been able to publish details of each of the operations in which they participated, including their targets, the bombs they dropped, the squadron’s losses and a couple of near disasters of their own. But that was when the really interesting part started.
In the immediate post-war years everyone just wanted to get on with their lives and raise their families and a reluctance to dwell on the past and the limitations of travel and communication meant that any suggestion that my dad should reconnect with any of his crew was unrealistic. How things have changed! A couple of enquiries on a New Zealand aviation forum quickly led to e-mail exchanges with Bill’s son Barrie and he was able to tell me about the tragedy that led to his dad’s premature separation from the crew in 1945.
I obtained a transcript of an interview Bill gave in 2004 for the New Zealand Defence Force’s ‘Military Oral History Project’ and discovered how the young brothers had developed their passion for flying, how difficult life was in New Zealand during the depression and the details of his epic journey from New Zealand to England via the USA and Canada. I also learnt of the life-long betrayal he felt over the refusal to award his brother the Battle of Britain clasp, read letters he exchanged with the mayor of a small town near Calais and even discovered that the crew had made a trip to my home town in Lincolnshire to celebrate my dad’s first wedding anniversary.
In July 2013, just as I was coming to the end of Bill’s story, I received an e-mail from Ruth, the eldest daughter of Jim Haworth, the crew's navigator. Her dad had written to his wife throughout his long separation from his family and Ruth sent me some of those letters. As the only member of the crew with children he clearly found absence from his wife and two little girls very difficult and despite a wicked sense of humour and attempts to make light of a difficult situation his homesickness is apparent in everything he wrote. I was also amazed by the amount of detail he included about their operations over Germany.
Over the next few months I discovered the tragic fate of the pilot who had taken my dad up for his first few flights in December 1944 and the truly breath-taking story of a flight engineer who literally fell out of his Lancaster and was captured by the Germans. He went on to form a life-long friendship with a young German with whom he published a book in 2012.
I learnt more about the two near misses my dad experienced too and the tragedy of their replacement bomb aimer, Lancelot Waugh, whose wife died 11000 miles away in New Zealand in 1943 shortly after he had been shipped overseas. He was unable to return home again until the war was over in 1945.
The next breakthrough, in April 2014, was the unlikely result of an appeal I made in the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly. The short e-mail read “Hello. I am the daughter of Frank. Can I help in any way?” Frank Symes was the wireless operator and with the help of his daughter and grandson I have been able to commence yet another piece of this amazing jigsaw. The next challenge was to trace the family of Denis Eynstone, the rear gunner.
All I had known about Denis was that he was originally from Oxford but I eventually discovered that his last address was in Devon and traced his daughter, Wendy, who confirmed that her father had been a rear gunner with 75 (NZ) Squadron but that he had died in 2011. She was also able to provide me with photographs that have opened up a whole new area of enquiry and is now awaiting his service record so that we can unravel the story of his postings after the end of the war.
That leaves just two crew members and, with the bit firmly between my teeth, I am determined that the story will be completed. So far I have been unable to contact any of the family of Ken Philp, the bomb aimer, who may have lived in Porirua, New Zealand. The final piece of this incredible puzzle is Don Cook, the mid-upper gunner, who was born in London and looks like being the most difficult to trace, although he could be the only one still alive, aged about 90. Sadly, the rest of my dad’s comrades have died but by putting together as much of their story as possible I hope to keep alive the small role that they played in this important part of our history.
The rest of Bob’s crew: L to R Jim, Don, Bill, Frank, Denis and Ken
The posts are now arranged in a format that is easier to navigate so their dates no longer indicate the actual dates on which they were published. To access each chapter just click on its title in the list of contents. With the exception of the chapters about Jack and Tom Mallon and Alban Chipling all the posts are about Bob, his family, his crew and other members of No. 75 (NZ) Squadron.
Bill Mallon's dad Alexander (Alec) emigrated from Australia to New Zealand in about 1910, leaving behind family and friends. One of these was his sister, May Elizabeth Mallon, whose granddaughter Pat still lives in Australia. Pat lost contact with Alec's family many years ago and has only a sketchy recollection of Alec and some of his family visiting her grandmother in Sydney before the war. On the 28th January 2015 I received an e-mail from Pat's son-in-law Michael who had been researching his wife's family history and came across this blog. Pat had known Alec's sons were pilots but had no idea what had happened to them - Michael said she read their chapters with pride and they are planning a reunion with the Mallons when they travel to New Zealand later this year.
F/O Henry James Murray: I have written at length about the sacrifices made by the people of New Zealand and by the Mallon family in particular. The 75(NZ) Squadron blog recently told the story of another family that suffered the heartbreak of losing more than one son. On the 26th May 1941 David Magnus Murray (27) was killed serving with the New Zealand Infantry in Crete. Just over a year later, on the 22nd July 1942 David's brother Gavin Allan Murray (32), a New Zealand Engineer, was killed at El Alamein. The third of the four Murray brothers, Henry James ('Jim') (26), became a pilot and was posted to No 75(NZ) Squadron in February 1944. In the early hours of the 19th April 1944 Jim died along with three of his crew when their aircraft was brought down over Denmark on a mine-laying operation at Kiel Bay. Their surviving brother, the youngest, was not then permitted to serve overseas, although both he and their sister did serve with the N.Z. armed forces.
- Introduction and recent developments
- The crew.
- Bob Jay - flight engineer. 3a. Bob's operational sorties. 3b. The war is over.
- Bill Mallon - pilot
- Bill Mallon - early years and his epic journey.
- Jim Haworth - navigator.
- Jim Haworth - more letters home.
- Jim Haworth - his account of a 'Baedeker trip'.
- Jim Haworth - navigating at night.
- Frank Symes - wireless operator
- Denis Eynstone - rear gunner
- Ken Philp - bomb aimer
- Don Cook - mid-upper gunner
- Eric Butler - replacement pilot
- Lancelot Waugh (replacement bomb aimer), Randal Springer & the Milsom crew.
- Jack Mallon.
- Jack Mallon and 'The Other Few'.
- Tom Mallon.
- Tom Mallon - "Say not 'goodnight'".
- Les Hofert.
- RF127 (AA-W) & NX611.
- Squadron Leader Alban Chipling D.F.C. (RAFVR 108178)
- No.75(NZ) Squadron - operations from March - April 1945.
- No.75(NZ) Squadron - losses from March - April 1945.
- Appendix I: 'You are going to be a Flight Engineer' (pamphlet).
- Appendix II: Pages from the Squadron's O.R.B. showing Bob's 'War ops'.
- Appendix III: 'Flak'.
- Appendix IV: Bob's RAF 'Record of Service'.
- Appendix V: Bob's Flying Log book.
- Appendix VI: RAF identity card (Form 1250).
- Appendix VII: RAF Service Book (Form 64 Part I).
- Appendix VIII: RAF Airman's Pay Book.
- Appendix IX: Pages from Bob's I.T.W. exercise book (Feb-Mar 1944).
- Appendix X: What happened to the crew after the war?
- Appendix XI: An unexpected benefit of a flying suit.
- Appendix XII: Bob's Bomber Command Clasp 2014
- Appendix XIII: Time travel
- Appendix XIV: My Lancaster flight - 18th August 2014
Originally planned as my dad's story this blog has now become the story of his crew - or at least his pilot, navigator, wireless operator and rear gunner. To complete the story I need to find out more about the other two crew members:
- F/O Kenneth Philp (RNZAF NZ429093), bomb aimer, aged 31 or 32 (born 1913 or 1914 in NZ)
- Sgt Don Cook (RAFVR), mid-upper gunner, aged 20 (born 1924 or 1925) from London (?)
A huge thank you to all of the following:
- 75nzsquadron- a fantastic collection of material related to No. 75 (NZ) Squadron and compiled by Simon Sommerville. This blog, started in memory of Simon's dad, also called Bob, has continued to grow at a remarkable pace since its inception. Bob took part in 51 operations during two tours with the squadron and died in August 2011.
- The Lancaster Archive forum
- Wings over New Zealand
- Aircraft Q failed to return - the story of Cecil Butler, a flight engineer whose training parallelled that of Bob's but started 6 months earlier. As he flew with the Pathfinder Force he was expected to complete a tour of 45 operations rather than the usual 30. He was shot down and killed on his 31st operation. Much of the detail about my dad's training came from this website, painstakingly researched by Pete Tresadern.
- www.75squadron-raf-rnzaf.com - the New Zealand 75 Squadron Association, first created in 1950 and the source of lots of help and useful information
- NZDF Serials - Lancaster
- RAF Bomber Command Diary
- P/O Thomas Forbes - at No. 7 I.T.W. at RAF Newquay
- Royal Air Force Organisation
- RAF Bomber Command 1939-45: Rob Davis