Monday, 1 September 2014

Time travel

The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum's Avro Lancaster flew to England in August for a month-long visit, joining the only other airworthy Lancaster in the world at RAF Coningsby. It had left Hamilton, Ontario on August 4th and arrived on August 8th following en-route stops at Goose Bay in Labrador, Canada, Narsarsuaq in Greenland and Keflavik in Iceland. Shortly after arriving it underwent a scheduled maintenance inspection and then the Canadian crews completed a short training program in preparation for several air displays and fly pasts starting on August 14th.

Thanks to this visit, on Monday 18th August I had the privilege of being able to travel back in time and share a tiny part of what my dad experienced on board this iconic aircraft nearly 70 years ago. Posting these pictures is the easy part, describing the experience will take a little longer and will be part of a later post.

Ready for take-off
Approaching the airport terminal at about 80 knots

Not the best quality video but I'm on board

A view from one of the specially constructed windows - Ulceby in the foreground, the River Humber beyond

The 'Jug and Bottle' pub in Holton-le-Clay, on the site of an RAF Waltham dispersal point
The market town of Louth with St James church clearly visible.
A view of the starboard engines from the flight engineer's position
Looking aft from the mid-upper gun turret
The ammunition for the 0.50 calibre machine guns (not the 0.303 fitted to earlier Lancasters)
Looking forward from the mid-upper gun turret
The pilot, S/L (retired) Dave Rohrer, who is also CEO of the Canadian Warship Heritage Museum

'Vera', safely back on the ground.

Friday, 23 May 2014

1. Introduction and recent developments

It's nearly two years since I started researching my dad's war years and 18 months since I published what I thought was going to be a single post for the benefit of the family he never knew - he survived the war but died at the age of 55 in 1974. Little did I know at the time that a few requests for help and hours of trawling the internet would yield such a huge amount of information, put me in touch with the families of some of the men who flew alongside my dad and even unearth a photograph of my dad in a Lancaster bomber on his way to an operation over Germany (see Ch. 18).

Sergeant Robert Jay, November 1944.

The downside of publishing a blog like this is the random nature of its posts, published as material comes to light, so I have now arranged the posts into a format that will make it easier to navigate. To access each chapter just click on its title in the list of contents. With the exception of the chapters about Bill Mallon's brothers all the posts are about Bob, his family, his crew and other members of No. 75 (NZ) Squadron.

  1. Introduction and recent developments
  2. The crew.
  3. Bob Jay - early years & training. 3a. Bob's operational sorties. 3b. The war is over.
  4. Bill Mallon - three brothers
  5. Bill Mallon - early years and his epic journey.
  6. Jim Haworth - letters home.
  7. Jim Haworth - more letters home.
  8. Jim Haworth - his account of a 'Baedeker trip'.
  9. Jim Haworth - navigating at night.
  10. Frank Symes.
  11. Eric Butler.
  12. Lancelot Waugh, Randal Springer & the Milsom crew.
  13. Jack Mallon.
  14. Jack Mallon and 'The Other Few'.
  15. Tom Mallon.
  16. Tom Mallon - "Say not 'goodnight'".
  17. Les Hofert.
  18. Two Lancasters - RF127 & NX611.
  19. Squadron Leader Alban Chipling D.F.C. (RAFVR 108178)
  20. No.75(NZ) Squadron - operations from March - April 1945.
  21. No.75(NZ) Squadron - losses from March - April 1945.

Recent developments
New: Chapter 21: No.75(NZ) Squadron - losses from March to April 1945
Chapter 21, now completed, gives details of the squadron's losses from the time Bob joined the squadron until the end of the war.
Originally planned as my dad's story this blog has now become the story of his crew - or at least his pilot, navigator and wireless operator. To complete the story I need to find out more about the other three crew members:
  • F/O Kenneth Philip (RNZAF NZ429093), bomb aimer, aged 32 (born 1912 or 1913 in NZ)
  • Sgt Don Cook (RAFVR), mid-upper gunner, aged 20 (born 1924 or 1925) from London (?)
  • Sgt John Eynstone (RAFVR), rear gunner, aged 19 (born 1925 or 1926) from Oxford (?)
Can anyone help? (my contact details are in 'View my complete profile' below)

New: Chapter 19: S/L A. Chipling DFC
The pilot who took Bob up for his first few hours of flight at RAF Langar in December 1944 died in a tragic accident just four months later - see Chapter 19.

Frank Symes
Frank Symes
Just when I was beginning to think I would be unable to find out anything about the remaining members of the crew, I received a short e-mail - "Hello. I am the daughter of Frank. Can I help in any way?" I had been trying for weeks to locate the two Kiwis and two Brits that made up the rest of my dad's crew, and, although the New Zealand Herald was unable to help find the Kiwis, Sarah Lawrance, the P.A. to its Editor in Chief, suggested I contact the New Zealand Woman's Weekly. I did this on the 11th of March 2014 and was rewarded for my efforts just three weeks later.

To be continued in Chapter 10......

Paul Warnault
I rather belatedly contacted Paul Warnault, the former mayor of Guînes, to check the veracity of the information I had written about him in Chapter 13. His son, also called Paul, replied as follows:
  •  Dear Vic,
     I am Paul junior and my father who is now 91 years ask me to tell you that you can use and mention his letters in your blog. I have read the chapter 13 of your blog, all is correct about him.
    Just a small mistake in the translation of his letters. The name of the village is GUÎNES but not GUINESS as the famous bier.
    I can again tell you that he finish as Colonel in the reserve army.
    Find enclosed also picture of the graves of RAF pilots and airmen who rest in peace in our cemetery.
    These graves have always been cleaned, maintained and flowered twice a year.
    As teacher, he has explained and repeated to all his pupils that they must never forget that young brave guys coming from many countries died far from home for our freedom and are buried here at Guînes.
    Best wishes,
    Paul Warnault
Here is that picture, which I have also included in Chapters 4 and 13. It is a recent picture of the graves of Jack Mallon and his crew:

I am particularly grateful to Pete and Simon for their help during the writing of this blog and to all the other people who have helped, but most of all I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of the families of my dad's crew.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

2. The crew

The final step in Bob's training, on the 25th November 1944, involved a posting to 1669 Heavy Conversion Unit (H.C.U.) at RAF Langar on the Notts/Leicestershire border. Shortly after arriving he was 'adopted' by an already established crew of four Kiwis and two RAFVR gunners in a process known as 'crewing up' and commenced training as part of a seven-man crew on a Lancaster bomber. His pilot was Flight Sergeant Bill Mallon of the R.N.Z.A.F. and most of the crew will have been together at an Operational Training Unit (O.T.U.) where they had learned to fly two-engined bombers.

F/S Bill Mallon

Here are the crew's details:
  • Pilot/Captain: Flight Sergeant (later Pilot Officer) William (Bill) Mallon (R.N.Z.A.F.) - age 24
  • Navigator: Flight Sergeant James (Jim) Randel Haworth (R.N.Z.A.F.) - age 34
  • Air bomber (bomb aimer): Flying Officer Kenneth Ralph Philip (R.N.Z.A.F.) (the only one with a commission) - age 32
  • Wireless operator: Flight Sergeant Frank Symes (R.N.Z.A.F.) - age 21
  • Rear gunner: Sergeant John Eynstone (RAFVR) (from Oxford) - age 19
  • Flight engineer: Sergeant Robert Jay (RAFVR) - age 25
  • Mid-upper gunner: Sergeant Don Cook (RAFVR) (from London) - age 20

The other six members of Bob's crew
I was under the misapprehension that Bob was on the left of this picture of his crew, despite my brother's insistence that Bob was holding the camera. I now know, thanks to a copy of the photograph in the possession of Bill's son Barrie, that my brother was correct. The men in the picture are, from left to right:
  • Jim Haworth
  • Don Cook
  • Bill Mallon
  • Frank Symes
  • John Eynstone
  • Ken Philip
The back of Bill's photograph

On the crew's first three operations they had an eighth crew member:
  • Mid-under gunner: Pilot Officer Charles Frederick Green (RAFVR)
After Bob's last 'war op' on the 24th April the crew had a new pilot:
  • Flight Lieutenant Eric Frank Butler (NZ425558), who had completed his first tour with 75(NZ) Squadron in 1941
and a new bomb aimer after the end of May
  • Flying Officer Lancelot Osgood Waugh (NZ429021)
  • Flying Officer O. Willets (NZ425964) replaced Kenneth Ralph as Bomb Aimer on one operation (on 14th April 1945)

On April 4th Bob flew as stand-in Flight Engineer with the following crew, made up of a mixture of RAF, Australian and Rhodesian airmen:
  • F/Lt. I. Taylor (RAFVR) - Captain/Pilot
  • P/O D. Hope (AUS401954) - Navigator
  • W/O J. Tarran (AUS419395) - Bomb Aimer
  • W/O M. King (AUS430036) - Wireless Operator
  • F/S W. Grout (R109214) - Mid-upper Gunner
  • Sgt. E. Franklin (R.A.F.) - Rear Gunner
It is not known why their usual Flight Engineer, Sgt. L Deeprose (RAFVR), was unavailable for this operation having flown on all previous and subsequent operations.

In 2004, at the age of 84, Bill Mallon was interviewed by Martin Halliday as part of the New Zealand Defence Force 'Military Oral History Project'. On June 13th 2013 I acquired a copy of the transcript of this 6 hour conversation and it provides a fascinating insight into the challenges and opportunities faced by trainee pilots, particularly those from the other side of the world, but it is also makes a valuable contribution to the history of New Zealand during the inter-war years and the 'great depression'.

I also discovered the first names of the two British (RAFVR) members of the crew, although John Eynstone's initial appears almost exclusively as 'D' in the squadron's O.R.B. He may have been known as John although his initial was actually 'D', or the O.R.B. may have been completed incorrectly. Either way both Bill and Jim refer to him as John or Johnny and the O.R.B.s were frequently incorrect. Here is the entry for the Mallon crew for the Bad Oldesloe operation on the 24th April, 1945.

Note the incorrect initials for Sgts. Jay, Cooke and Eynstone.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

3. Bob Jay - early years & training

Robert Alfred Jay, the youngest of three children, was born on the 3rd April, 1919, 6 months before his dad was demobbed after 4 years in the army and just 2 months before Alcock and Brown's historic trans-Atlantic flight.

Bob at the door of 35, Tyrolean Square, Cobholm, Gt Yarmouth, home of his grandparents

Left to right: Bob, sister Phyllis and brother Fred. Their Aunt Mabel is looking out of the window of 35, Tyrolean Square.

Bob is holding the slate at St John's Infant School, Grimsby in about 1924/5

Bob (middle, front row again) at St. John's School, Grimsby, in about 1929

Bob's mum, Sarah, dad, Fred, and sister, Phyllis

Trying out his bike, about 1931
A bit older, and a bigger bike
A short boxing career! Bob is on the right in the middle row.
Just before going to war
He left school shortly after his 14th birthday and on the 23rd April 1933 he started a seven year apprenticeship with Grimsby Motors.
Bob's apprenticeship indenture - signed 6 months after commencement
He was released a year early on the 12th April 1939 as a fully qualified motor mechanic and joined the local fire brigade.

Early release, 12th April, 1939

3rd June 1939
Along with all young men of 20 and 21 Bob had to register at the local Employment Exchange under the terms of the Military Training Act (1939). This act, passed an the 26th May 1939 in the face of imminent conflict in Europe, required all men born between 4th June 1918 and 3rd June 1919 to register, after which they were to be called up for 6 month's military training. It is not hard to imagine how his parents would have felt having lived through the horrors of the 'Great War'. As he was working in a 'reserved occupation' as a full-time fireman Bob was not called up.

1936 Nuremberg Rally

Being politically aware Bob had understood the threat posed by fascism since before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and had followed closely the rise of Hitler in Germany during the 1930s. It was inevitable that he would join the armed forces and play his part at some stage. By 1942 German troops had advanced as far as Stalingrad, the mass murder of Jews was well under way and the Japanese were overwhelming large areas in the Far East. There was wide-spread feeling in Britain that the fight should be taken to the enemy in Europe, rather than appearing to await the outcome of the struggle between Germany and the Soviet Union, and Bob probably saw joining Bomber Command as the way to do this - and maybe he found the prospect of flying quite appealing too.

30th September 1942
Having volunteered to join the RAF Bob attended No. 10 A.C.S.B. (Aviation Candidate Selection Board) at RAF Padgate, near Warrington for interview and initial assessment. His service record says "Not recommended for A.C. duties" a decision generally made for 'aptitude, educational or medical' reasons but the reason does not appear on his record of service. The family story is that it was because of an elevated temperature, something he always had, but we will never know for sure. Bob did talk about his lack of mathematical skill preventing him from becoming a pilot, something he was keen to do and this must have been part of the reason he was so desperate for his children to do well at school. Although the majority of pilots (and navigators and bomb aimers) were drawn from ex-grammar school and university volunteers, I recently met the son of a pilot whose father had a similar background to Bob, i.e., left school at 14 and completed a trade apprenticeship. 

28th July 1943
Having applied once again Bob was re-interviewed, this time at No. 1 A.C.S.B. which had moved from RAF Weston-super-Mare to RAF Doncaster at the end of 1942. He was successful this time and was "recommended for training as Flight Engineer". He was told to return in 5 weeks time for further assessment.

2nd/3rd September 1943
He returned to RAF Doncaster for two day's assessment, including a medical which he passed with 'medical category grade 1'. He was enlisted 'D.P.E.' ('Duration of Present Emergency') and 'mustered' as ACH/F.Eng (Aircrafthand/Flight Engineer) with the rank of Aircraftsman Second Class (AC2) grade A (the lowest grade).
He was issued with service number 1596172, placed on 'deferred service' and then sent home to the fire brigade to await call-up.

With fellow members of the Grimsby Fire Brigade, some time before Jan 1944
All work and no play .......

A few weeks later he would have received a letter from the Air Ministry to welcome him into the R.A.F.

An earlier 'welcome to the R.A.F.' letter from the Air Ministry

17th January 1944
The call-up came in the New Year and he reported for five weeks basic training at No.3 A.C.R.C. (Aircrew Receiving Centre) at RAF Regent's Park in London. As well as training he would have
  • had a regulation hair cut
  • had a thorough dental check, at which time he lost most of his top teeth
  • received inoculations against diphtheria and typhoid - for some reason it seems he may have missed out on the smallpox inoculation normally given at this stage
  • received basic RAF kit and 'Service Dress' uniform, commonly referred to as "Best Blues", including the white cap insert, clearly visible on his wedding pictures, that marked him as trainee aircrew.
He would have been instructed to mark every item of kit with his service number and be expected to keep every item spotlessly clean for the daily bed inspection and weekly kit inspection.

'Air diagram 1385' with instructions for inspections and the wearing of equipment.
What followed was a rigorous daily routine of fatigues, inspections, training drills, lectures and assessments. I can't imagine Bob taking to this very well! As an AC2 (grade A), Trade Group V (Aircrafthand/Flight Engineer) his pay was 3 shillings per day plus sixpence per day war pay - considerably less than his pay as a fireman but he did not, of course, have to pay for his upkeep. He would collect his pay at the fortnightly pay parade.
The piece of kit that would have been the starkest reminder of the perilous nature of the task ahead was the pair of identity discs. Manufactured from fire-resistant material and with the airman's religion clearly punched between his service number and name, none of the recruits could have been in any doubt why they had to wear these once they were flying.

One of Bob's identity discs
Id. card, discs and service & pay books (see Chs. 26, 27 & 28: Appendices VI, VII & VIII)

26th February 1944
Having completed the first stage of his training Bob was then posted to No. 7 I.T.W. (Initial Training Wing) at RAF Newquay, in Cornwall, which specialised in the basic service training of  Flight Engineers. The purpose of this training was to 'lay a foundation of discipline, physical fitness and mental alertness' and provide a 'sound basic knowledge of the RAF', all explained in the pamphlet "You are going to be a Flight Engineer".

See Ch. 21: Appendix I

The I.T.W. syllabus included such things as:
  • aircraft recognition
  • air reconnaissance
  • armaments
  • engines
  • instruments
  • meteorology
  • navigation
  • principles of flight
  • signals
One of Bob's exercise book, dated Feb - March 1944
This exercise book contained only 38 pages but on the cover Bob has written "Signals, Aircraft Rec, Armaments, Mathematics" - there was clearly no time for much depth, but there are 9 pages of closely written notes on the Browning .303 Machine Gun. The mathematics is quite basic, though probably not for someone who had left school 11 years earlier aged 14, but there has obviously been some effort to make the problem-solving 'relevant'. For example:
  • percentages - '.....add 1.75% to airspeed for every 1000 feet of added altitude......'
  • moments - problems related to bomb weights and movement of crew fore and aft (I'm not sure how many navigators weighed 120 lb though!)
  • distance travelled, bomb load, fuel consumption, time, etc 
See Ch. 29: Appendix IX for some pages from this exercise book

Along with other trainees Bob would have been issued with his 'War Service uniform' ("Battledress") and, later in the course, with flying clothing, which included:
  • helmet, with oxygen and communication mask
  • goggles
  • flying suit
  • Mae West (life jacket)
  • parachute harness
although this would have been used only for training purposes at this stage.

With fellow trainees. Bob is 3rd from left, middle row.

Trainees were assessed throughout the course and examinations had to be passed prior to further posting. Bob passed and was subsequently posted to a specialist engineering school, but the date of his initial posting was not entered on his record of service.
What is also not clear is why he was attached to RAF Wrexham from the 8th to the 15th April 1944, especially as RAF Wrexham was used for night fighter training.

Service record: note the entries dated 8th & 15th April
Bob married Vera Stephenson in St James Church, now Grimsby Minster, on the 19th April 1944, about a year after it had been badly damaged by a German bomb and 4 days after returning to Newquay from Wrexham.

Marriage notice in Grimsby Evening Telegraph, 1944

Bob and Vera were married at St James Church, Grimsby on 19th April 1944 - note the white cap insert

St James Church after an air raid, April 1943

May 1944 (exact date not known)
Having completed his I.T.W. training Bob was next posted to No. 5 School of Technical Training (S.of T.T.), a specialist engineering school at RAF Locking near Weston-super-Mare, to commence Course 120 for Flight Engineers. This course consisted of two parts:
  • Part 1 - 17 weeks of generic training on airframes, engines, hydraulics, electrics, propellers, carburettors, magneto
  • Part 2 - 7 weeks of Lancaster specific training
Owing to the number of Flight engineers being trained at this time the first 10 weeks of the course were being covered at Locking before transfer to No. 4 S. of T. T. for the remainder of the course.

12th July 1944
Posted to No. 4 S.of T.T. at RAF St Athan in Glamorgan, S. Wales.

Actual notes and diagrams from a trainee Flight Engineer (not Bob)

Most trainees were sent to an aircraft manufacturer for a 'Makers Course' as part of their training but there is no record of this in Bob's service record.

1st September 1944
Bob was promoted to the rank of  Aircraftsman Second Class (AC2) grade B, which usually occurred on successful completion of Part 1 of the course. His pay would have increased from 3 shillings a day to 5 shillings a day.

13th November 1944
Having completed the course and passed a series of written exams on theory and oral exams on mechanical instructions Bob would have attended a 'passing out' parade and been presented with his Flight Engineer's brevet. He was promoted (or 're-mustered') to Sergeant, the minimum rank for aircrew, and his pay was increased to 12 shillings a day. If Bob had achieved a mark of 70% or more in the exams then he would have been considered for a commission - his mark was 66.1%.

Sergeant Robert Jay, November 1944. Note the new F/E brevet and Sergeant's stripes
Confirmation stamp in Bob's Flying Log Book

25th November 1944
The final step in Bob's training involved a posting to 1669 Heavy Conversion Unit (H.C.U.) at RAF Langar on the Notts/Leicestershire border where he would be trained as part of a seven-man crew on a Lancaster bomber (see Ch. 2: 'The crew')

Normally the flight engineer was posted to the H.C.U. a couple of weeks before the established crew so that he could get some flight training in and Bob's Flying Log Book shows that he didn't fly with his pilot Bill Mallon, and presumably the rest of his crew, until the end of January.

He had a total of just 59 hours flying time, 36 hours daylight and 23 hours night flying, between mid-December and the end of February and only 35 hours of this were 'solo' flights with his crew. Pilots obviously had more flying hours in training, though nowhere near the number given in peacetime,and it is not surprising that losses were so high early in an operational tour

The training schedule involved:
  • Familiarisation with the aircraft
  • Circuits and landings
  • Bombing practice
  • Fighter affiliation
  • Cross country flying
all entered in the log book as a series of numbered exercises. These were often carried out with experienced instructors (normally crew who had completed an operational tour) and then repeated 'solo'.
Bob's role as Flight Engineer is summarised here:

 Whenever Bob climbed into the aircraft he would have with him his parachute and his emergency repair tool bag and before, during and after every flight he would have to complete a four page Flight Engineer Log.

Two of the four pages of the Flight Engineer's Log

The Lancaster Mk VII cockpit

Having successfully completed their H.C.U. training the crew were considered ready for operational duty. Bob was officially declared qualified as a Flight Engineer for the Lancaster Marks I and III with effect from 1st March 1945 and was immediately assigned to No. 72 Base which, as well as Langar, included the airfields RAF Bottesford and RAF Saltby.
Confirmation of qualification in Log Book

6th March 1945
Four of the seven in Bob's crew were from New Zealand so it was no surprise a few days later when they were posted to RAF Mepal in Cambridgeshire, the home of No. 75(NZ) Squadron,  part of No. 3 Group, Bomber Command. This was an RAF squadron formed from the 'New Zealand Squadron' in 1940 when the N.Z. government made their airmen and aircraft available to the RAF to help with the war effort. It was one of the larger, 3-flight squadrons which, between 1943 and 1944 had about 35 crews. By 1945 it seems that the squadron was practically 'double-manned', with two crews per aircraft, which would explain why Bob and his crew, who were assigned to 'B' Flight, flew in several different aircraft during their tour.

'B' Flight 75(NZ) Squadron, March 1945

75(NZ) Squadron, March 1945

R.A.F. Mepal, photographed by Dick Broadbent D.F.C. in 1943. Mepal is to the north and Sutton to the south.

Pilot Bill Mallon flew a '2nd dickie' operation the following evening, the 7th March, on a bombing raid on the German town of Dessau that virtually destroyed the town, just six weeks before it was taken by American troops. All new pilots flew their first operation with an experienced pilot and his crew, generally referred to as flying '2nd dickie', so that when they took their own crew on their first operation the pilot at least would have some idea of what to expect. It was not unknown for pilots to be killed on this '2nd dickey' operation but Bill made it back safely with Flight Lieutenant Sid (Buzz) Spilman and his crew at 0210 hours, despite what the O.R.B. described as a "short inconclusive encounter" with a night fighter and the loss of 18 Lancasters from other squadrons from Nos. 1, 3, 6 and 8 Group. The following day he was to take Bob and the rest of the crew on their first operation, a daylight raid on Datteln in the heavily defended industrial Ruhr Valley.