Wednesday, 19 March 2014

"Say not 'Good-night' ........."

In 1949, four years after Tom Mallon died, F/L Leslie Hunt published "Defence until dawn: the story of 488 (NZ) Squadron".

The book recounts in great detail the actions of the squadron's night fighter unit from its formation at Church Fenton, Yorkshire, in June 1942 until it was disbanded in April 1945. At the end of the book there is the obligatory Roll of Honour listing the squadron's losses but it is the handful of references throughout the book that provide the real tribute to Tom Mallon and his navigator George Brock.
They are introduced on page 48:
  • "Tom Mallon of Taranaki and George Brock of Palmerston North ..... were posted in to the squadron and arrived in the early part of May (1944) for their first tour of operations"
After a six week stay in Kent the squadron were shipped to Belgium to support the Allied advance but had to spend three weeks afloat because of an "administrative bungle". When they eventually arrived at Amiens-Glisy the old French airfield, which had been greatly improved by the Germans, had been badly damaged by sustained Allied bombing. Tom gets a special mention on page 72:
  •  "Winco Watts and Tom Mallon were responsible for an extraordinary feat of engineering and resourcefulness - the transfer in toto of a 25 foot aircrew hut from one site to another to be later used as the Intelligence 'House of Knowledge.'"
  • Page 74: "Christmas Eve's 'Peace on Earth' was shattered to some extent when P/O Tom Mallon and F/S George Brock caught up with a Junkers188 on which they closed and attacked from 300 yards hitting the starboard wing as the Hun returned the compliment with a burst from his upper rear turret. As he peeled off to port Tom fired two further bursts but did not see any strikes and the Junkers disappeared into the haze at 1000 ft and was not seen again"
A Junkers 188

  • Page 78: "March was again a particularly quiet month with the weather against us and alas was marked by the loss of a fine crew in Tom Mallon and George Brock who crashed when taking off on patrol from our Dutch advance base. (Gilze-Rijen) From the C.O. to the most junior airman came expressions of sorrow at the death of such a grand couple who in a short time had endeared themselves to all and had worked enthusiastically for the squadron. They had given of their best both in the air and on the ground and as the poet* says 'Say not good-night, but in some brighter clime bid them good morning."
  •  Page 94: May 1945 "... a few weeks later, before leaving Holland, the C.O. and I went .... to Breda to check that the graves of Tom Mallon and George Brock were being well kept ... "

* Anna Letitia Barbauld (1743 - 1825)

Monday, 10 March 2014

Navigating at night

Anyone who has read Jim Haworth's letters in earlier posts will be aware of his wicked sense of humour. During the winter of 1943-44, under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP), Jim found himself posted to No. 5 A.O.S. (Air Observers' School)  in Winnipeg, in the province of Manitoba, Canada.

Trainee navigators at No. 5 A.O.S. on board an Avro Anson (June 1941)
Here is his description of the challenges he faced flying 'Second Navigator' whilst training on an Avro Anson long before GPS and other modern navigation aids were thought of.

Winnipeg 13th Feb 1944
Started to snow this morning & is quite warmish to what we have had. We flew one day last week with a temperature of -26C up at six thousand feet and believe me after the first half hour we really froze. I did mentally anyhow and being only 2nd Navigator that day had a loaf after that. Poking your head out of a side window to check courses on the sun with the astro compass and taking shots out of the top hatch is no joke in that temperature. So after one or two attempts just called it a day. When you are a 2nd Nav you only have a collapsible (literally) seat to sit on and a collapsible table to work on and usually the 1st Nav is trying to get past to get a pin point or so from behind the bomb aimer's seat, which is alongside the pilot and just in front of this d--- table. So usually you sit on the spare parachute in the rear of the wireless operator, and try to balance log and 2 books of air tables in each hand while working out each sextant shot. If it is at night you also have to use a torch to see what you are trying to read or do. So summing up everything it’s just ‘loovely’ being 2nd Nav. In between times you are trying to thaw your fingers out so you can write at all.

You might just be interested in the routine of checking the course at night on a star – without a torch as it was one night!

First step (of umpteen to and fro) – you fit the little thingymybob (the astro compass(sometimes called numerous other things)) in the appropriate mount and then find that you have omitted to remember the star is now on the port side, not starboard, so you fumble in the dark and undo the little clamp holding it, after once more taking off one glove which you have replaced after taking it off to fix the darned thing – then you once more get it clamped into the correct mount (there is one for each side) and open the side window and push the outfit into the fitting. Then seeing it’s dark and you have no torch you try and see the levels to level it up with thumb screws fore and aft and otherwise, but you can’t see them so you do it by guess and by God. Next you have to check the compass itself on a known bearing on a wing tip (no time to do this before you left) as they are usually out a few degrees.

Then – at last you can start to do what you started out to do – take a bearing on the star selected.

So you turn the little knob& get the little chappie (the star) all lined up but – blast it! – you can’t see what time your watch reads – so you dash up to the W.A.G and by the light of his little light get a dim view of your ticker and keeping that in your noodle as your pad seems to have done a bunk in the black-out, you next dash back, pull the astro compass out of the mount & dash back to the little light to read the bearing then – whew! About halfway now – close the window in case the W.A.G does his block as he is just ahead of it –then you put up your little collapsible seat and table again – which the 1st Nav between times has put down - and get out your 2 books of words – pardon – tables, and go to work on working out what the course is or rather what the tables say it is.

By that time the 1st Nav has asked you about half a dozen times if you have got ‘it’, 'it' being the correct course, and at last has given up the ghost and taken the magnetic compass as read and plotted this in.

By now you are wondering what all this is for – well, you see, the little compasses they install usually have a small error which has been recorded for the unwary, but somehow or other this doesn’t always stay put so it is necessary to do all this work to check it.

Finally by this time the 1st Nav has altered course and you do the whole proceeding again.

How do you like it? Of course when you have a torch or in the daytime it is not quite so complicated and I have managed to do it in about two and a half minutes. In fact the other day we had an evasive action exercise, 2 series of about 6 alterations of courses with only 5 minutes between. Believe me I was a busy man that day.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Tom Mallon

In an earlier post I described the death of Tom, the second of Bill Mallon's brothers to die, as follows: "Just before 4.30 a.m. on the 12th March 1945, Tom Mallon and his navigator, P/O George Brock (NZ429138), took off in their Mosquito Mark XXX (MT484) from Gilze-Rijen airfield in the Netherlands for a night patrol. Minutes later they crashed into a barn 2.5 km from the runway - both died later that day. Tom had become the second Mallon brother to be killed in action."

I was conscious as I wrote it of how impersonal the description seemed, rather like a few lines in a newspaper recording the loss of just another airman, but such was the scale of losses during this conflict that this was how each tragedy was reported at the time. Thanks to the generosity of Tom's nephew Barrie and niece Barbara I have now had the opportunity to see some of the more personal aspects of Tom's death and to experience, however remotely, some of the anguish that Tom's parents and sister must have felt when the news of a second family bereavement came through.

On the 14th March 1945 Tom's sister Dora May, known as May to her friends and family, received a telegram .

The telegram, dated just 2 day's after Tom's death, received by his sister May
I am not sure why May received the telegram, unless she had named herself as Tom's 'next of kin' after Jack's death to save her parents from the ordeal, if the worst happened, of receiving news of the death of another son. Some time later May received a letter, written at the same time as the telegram, from the New Zealand Air Department. It gave her more information about the circumstances of Tom's death.

Tom and his navigator P/O George Block are now lying in the Bergen op Zoom cemetery, 30 km west of Breda, but according to Tom's death certificate and a passage from Leslie Hunt's book "Defence until dawn" he was initially buried in Breda, about 10 km from the crash site.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Bob's early years (in pictures)

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.
Messing about with fire service mates, some time between 1939 and 1943
Just before going to war

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Sgt Les Hofert

In October 2012 Simon posted information about Sgt Les Hofert who was with the squadron from January to June 1945 ( He had been contacted by Paul Reay, Les's grandson, and was struck by the coincidence that both his father and Paul's grandfather had flown in RF127 AA-W on numerous occasions. This was the aircraft in which my dad and his crew had been photographed on the Bad Oldesloe operation of the 24th April, 1945 (see post AA-W 'Willie' RF127)  but the coincidences don't end there. Simon also published a zoom picture of Les taken from the March 1945 squadron photograph that my dad somehow missed, probably because it was taken in the week when the crew were at RAF Feltwell.

Les Hofert is 3rd from the right
In June 2012 I visited the museum on the Lancaster Business Park at Witchford to see the collection of memorabilia from the RAF stations at Mepal and Witchford and there was a picture on display that answered a question that had been troubling me since I started this blog. It was a picture that we had at home and Bob was there on the back row, but no-one I had spoken to had been able to work out why the picture had been taken - there were 37 airmen in the picture and Bob was the only one from his crew. The caption alongside the picture in the museum solved the riddle - it said "Pilots and Flight Engineers, May 1945". Bill Mallon wasn't on the picture because he had left the squadron by this time.

The picture displayed in the museum at Witchford. Bob is on the back row, 2nd from the right

There is a better copy in my very first post "The War Years" and when I took another look at it I saw someone I recognised, apart from my dad - take a closer look at the two characters on the right of the back row.
Bob Jay and Les Hofert
I realise that Paul spotted this coincidence way back in 2012 but it has taken me this long to get round to pulling together the pieces.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Lancelot Waugh and the Milsom crew

In the post 'More of Jim's letters' Jim refers to F/S Rex 'Shorty' Baxter's move to another squadron at the end of May 1945. 'Shorty' was the navigator with the Milsom crew, mentioned in the earlier post 'Coincidences', and their transfer led to Lancelot Waugh joining Bob's crew as Bomb Aimer and replacing F/O Ken Philip.
More details of Shorty's transfer emerged when I received an e-mail from Keith Springer on the 2nd of December 2013. He had found reference to the transfer in his dad's notes, written about twenty years ago:

"While serving in No 75(NZ) Sqn we were in No 3 Group which was what they called the main stream of the bomber force. Having completed some successful operations over Germany our crew was considered sufficiently experienced to become part of a specialist squadron in the offensive against Japan and we were posted to No 9 Squadron RAF at Bardney, Lincolnshire, which was a few miles east of the city of Lincoln. We were now in No 5 Group and part of what became known as ‘Tiger Force’. We had a new bomb-aimer, Ian Rowe from Wellington, and a new flight engineer, Bill Anderson, a Scot, so we were still an almost all NZ crew. We continued our training doing mostly High Level Bombing (H L B in my log book) and cross country navigation (including H2S) flights. Our first flight on 9 Sqn was on 17 June when we went on a ‘Baedeker’ operation over Germany to observe the results of the bombing offensive. On 6 July we flew to our new base at Waddington, the Dam Buster base a few miles south of Lincoln.  We shared the base with 617 Sqn so there were two very well known RAF squadrons together." 
No. 617 Squadron hadn't taken up residence at Waddington until 17th June 1945, about three weeks before No. 9 Squadron. Previously, from March '43 until January '44, it had been based at RAF Scampton, from where it took part in the 'Dambuster' raids, and then at RAF Woodhall Spa until June 1945.**

A quick reminder of the Milsom crew that was transferred to No. 9 Squadron, probably in early June, 1945:
Sgt. Bill Smith (left) and F/O Ted Smith from the original Milsom crew

  • F/O Robert Milsom (NZ429356) - Pilot
  • F/S Rex 'Shorty' Baxter (NZ432738) - Navigator
  • F/S Ian Rowe (NZ410043) who had been F/O L.Sinclair's (NZ428917) Bomb Aimer. He replaced F/O Lancelot Waugh (NZ429021), who in turn joined Bob Jay's crew
  • F/S Gilbert Randal Springer (NZ4213129) - Wireless operator
  • F/S Bill Anderson (RAFVR) who had been F/O F.Bader's (NZ416076) Flight engineer. He replaced Sgt William (Bill) Smith (RAFVR) in a straight swap. By this stage all six of F/O Bader's crew were RAFVR
  • F/O John Alexander Williamson (NZ4210049) - Mid-upper gunner
  • F/O John (Ted) Smith (NZ428291) - Rear gunner

**I would strongly recommend a visit to The Petwood Hotel, which served as the Officers' Mess for No. 617 Squadron when it was based at nearby RAF Woodhall Spa. The collection of memorabilia is fascinating but the most exciting feature is the high probability of a 'fly-past' by one or more of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight which is based at RAF Coningsby, less than 5 miles away.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

'The Other Few'

Heroes of the Battle of Britain - all those pictured were members of Bomber Command!
Churchill's memorable speech in the House of Commons on August the 20th 1940, quoted on this iconic poster, is generally thought to refer to the courageous young men who, in the Spitfires and Hurricanes of Fighter Command, took on the might of the Luftwaffe. What follows though is less widely known: "All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day, but we must never forget that all the time, night after night, month after month, our bomber squadrons travel far into Germany, find their targets in the darkness by the highest navigational skill, aim their attacks, often under the heaviest fire, often with serious loss, with deliberate, careful discrimination, and inflict shattering blows upon the whole of the technical and war-making structure of the Nazi power. On no part of the Royal Air Force does the weight of the war fall more heavily than on the daylight bombers who will play an invaluable part in the case of invasion and whose unflinching zeal it has been necessary in the meanwhile on numerous occasions to restrain…"

The rivalry between fighter pilots and bomber crews is legendary. According to Guy Gibson's memoirs there was some resentment amongst bomber crews at the perceived hero worship for the 'scarf-flapping glamour boys' of Fighter Command. I doubt that the three Mallon brothers would have paid any attention to such trivia, all three taking great pride in their respective roles, but there was one issue that caused a lifetime of disappointment and bitterness for Bill, the only one of the brothers to survive the war - a "festering sore .. right up to his passing away" is how Bill's son Barrie describes it.

Bill's brother Jack died on the 11th October 1940** after taking part in a Coastal
Part of the Roll of Honour, Westminster Abbey
Command operation to destroy motor transport and shipping concentrations at Gravelines, between Calais and Dunkirk. His name appears on the Battle of Britain Roll of Honour in the R.A.F. Chapel in Westminster Abbey, commemorating aircrew killed or mortally wounded in the battle. Of the 1,497 names on the roll, 449 were in Fighter Command, 732 were in Bomber Command, 268 were in Coastal Command and the remainder in other commands and the Fleet Air Arm. Unfortunately, arguments over who should be included in "the few" referred to in Churchill's famous speech resulted in a grave injustice being inflicted on the majority of these heroes.

The Battle of Britain Clasp, an addition to the 1939-45 Star, was awarded after the war to aircrew who had taken part in the battle between the 10th of July and the 31st of October 1940, but according to the Air Ministry Orders of 1946 (A.544/1946) this award was "not available for personnel who flew in aircraft other than fighters, notwithstanding that they may have engaged with the enemy during the qualifying period." In 1960 the 20th anniversary of the Battle of Britain prompted the Air Ministry to update its list of eligible squadrons, but having made the decision to discriminate between different branches of the air force it was too late to make amends, even if there had been the will.

When Bill visited the New Zealand Air Force Museum at Wigram in 1991 he was unaware of these orders and, having seen Jack's name in Westminster Abbey, was surprised to note that his name was missing from the Battle of Britain Roll of Honour there. Assuming this was an oversight he wrote a polite and dignified letter pointing out the omission.

Bill's letter to the New Zealand Air Force Museum at Wigram.

The reply was not what Bill was expecting and he was bitterly disappointed:

The reply.
Many years later, in these times of 'sound bites' and celebrity, it may be easier for us to understand the reasons for the War Ministry's decisions and the attitude of the media, but until the day he died Bill could not understand why men killed in what was essentially the same campaign were treated differently after their deaths.
In 2004 Larry Donnelly D.F.M. wrote a book entitled 'The Other Few' which he described as "a long overdue chance to record and celebrate the contribution made by Bomber and Coastal aircrew to the winning of the battle of Britain." In it he tells the story of these unsung heroes and in so doing he does a little to right one of the wrongs in the history of the Battle of Britain. Unfortunately, it came too late for Bill and the memory of his older brother.

**An update on Jack's story is in the previous post.

A tragic postscript to this story emerged when Barrie Mallon sent me a copy of a letter that had been returned to Jack's sister May. She had sent the letter to Jack some time in 1940, the date of the post mark is not visible, and it had travelled via Australia and South Africa to RAF Detling. Sadly Jack died before the letter arrived and it was returned to May via the unfortunately named 'Dead letter office' in Wellington. It arrived home several months later in 1941.