Sunday, 25 August 2013

19. Doug Williamson

Doug in 2012
Doug Williamson was born in August 1925 in Roslin, near Edinburgh. After kindergarten he attended the boys' school Craigend Park in Edinburgh and then became a boarder at Clayesmore School in Dorset, an eight hour train and bus journey away. Such is the state of public transport in Britain today that it would take longer than that now, 80 years later! A contemporary of Doug's at Clayesmore was Tony Hart, the artist and television presenter who died in 2009.

Clayesmore School today
Doug was 14 when war was declared by which time he was attending Melville College back in Edinburgh. He was evacuated to his Aunty Maggie's in Elgin where he attended Elgin High school, his first experience of coeducational and large classes. Unfortunately, his Aunt was too old to cope with Doug and his two sisters so he returned to Melville college for another term before being evacuated again, this time to Argyllshire, where he attended Lochgilphead High School. Whilst there he joined the Home Guard, even though he was just 16 (the official minimum age was 17).

He left school shortly after that in 1941 and continued his education with 3 months at Basil Paterson College. The following year, at the age of 17, he applied successfully to join the RAF. He was placed on reserve and spent two months at the Scottish Motor Transport plant before being called up for training, first of all at the ACRC at St. John's Wood and then at No. 20 ITW at RAF Bridlington.

Like Bob, he completed his flight engineer training at St Athan in Wales but was then posted to No. 1657 HCU at RAF Stradishall in Suffolk where he was to meet his future crew. They were

  • Pilot - F/S John Wood ('Timber') (NZ426235)
  • Navigator - John (Jack) Pauling (NZ422976)                                                         
    Doug in March 1945
  • Wireless operator - Gerald (Gerry) Newey (NZ425285)
  • Bomb aimer - Noel Hooper (RAFVR)
  • Mid-upper gunner - Sgt. Albert Cash (R147847) (RCAF)
  • Rear gunner - Sgt. Ralph Sparrow ('Tweet') (R263518) (RCAF)

The crew was posted to No. 75(NZ) Squadron, arriving at RAF Mepal on the 2nd. December 1944, where they were allocated to 'C' flight. Despite a number of 'incidents' Doug was convinced that he had a 'charmed life' and says that at no time was he frightened as the crew completed 31 operations. On the contrary, he found flying a Lancaster exhilarating and as they approached the end of their tour he was feeling "somewhat depressed that the crew would be split up and all the excitement would soon be over."

It was in this frame of mind that, on the 4 April 1945, he embarked on his 32nd operation, a raid on Merseburg, not far from Leipzig in eastern Germany. Bob was also taking part in this operation, though not with his regular crew. According to the squadron's O.R.B. Doug's aircraft, JN-D, "was hit by flak before reaching the target, the bomb aimer (F/S Hooper) was burnt about the face and the pilot's hands was (sic) slightly burnt, the flight engineer (Sgt Williamson) apparently fell through the M.U.G. turret" (the mid-under gun turret in the floor of the fuselage). The flak "pierced the de-icing tank causing fire which destroyed several leads including heating to A.S.I." (air speed indicator).

Doug's fate was not known for some time but he eventually recounted it in fascinating detail. He had only just removed his oxygen mask to eat some chocolate when the flak struck and, believing he was covered in blood and disorientated as a result of a lack of oxygen, had baled out through the mid-under turret convinced the aircraft was going to explode. It was actually warm de-icing fluid that he had felt on his face and not blood and the fire had been extinguished quite quickly - but it was too late for Doug. He successfully deployed his parachute and described his alarm when he saw his aircraft heading for home without him. "There was no aircraft plunging to earth in flames. I felt as a sailor must feel, having fallen overboard and seeing his ship sailing off without him. I was hanging in the air and all I could see was a great white canopy above me."

In keeping with the customary economy of words used in flying log books wireless operator Gerry Newey later recorded the incident thus:

What happened next is recounted in "The Nazi and the Luftgangster" written jointly by Doug and his friend Lutz Dille and published by Elgin Press, New Zealand (ISBN 978-0-473-22086-0).

Doug describes his ordeal
He goes on to describe how he spent several days in the German countryside trying to evade capture before he was eventually apprehended by a couple of farmers armed with hoes. He was handed over to the authorities in Eisleben, about 40 km from their intended target, and kept in the local jail. A few days later, amidst the chaos of war, he was handed over to the U.S. army who had arrived from the west at pretty much the same time as the Russians did from the east. Within a couple of days he had been flown home to England where he learnt to his relief that the rest of his crew had returned safely.

Doug had a short spell overseas with the RAF before being demobbed and eventually moving to London to take up employment with Williams Dye Manufacturers in Hounslow - and continue playing rugby.

Williams of Hounslow in 1951

In 1951 he accepted a 3 year contract managing a tea estate in India and shortly afterwards he emigrated to Canada, arriving in Toronto in January 1955. It was here that he met his future wife Janet, also a Scottish immigrant, and they were married on the 31st May, 1959.

It was in Toronto that he also met and became good friends with Lutz Dille, the co-author of "The Nazi and the Luftgangster", who had been a member of the German armed forces during the war and was born in Leipzig, close to Doug's target when he baled out. Lutz had been visiting his father in Leipzig just 3 days before Doug's final operation and was captured by the Americans round about the time that Doug was being handed over.

Doug and Janet had two sons, Angus and Ian, and in 1968 Doug qualified as a member of The Professional Engineers of Ontario. He also tried his hand at teaching, not too successfully, and in 1972 the family decided to emigrate to New Zealand. On October 3rd they set sail from Southampton for Wellington on the 'Northern Star'.

The 'Northern Star'
It was here that Doug finally found a job that gave him the satisfaction he had been seeking for so long - he became a tutor in the engineering department of The Technical Correspondence Institute, later to be re-named The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. Doug described it as "the last and the best job I ever had". He retired at the age of 65 in 1990.

In September 2012, thanks to an enormous act of generosity, Doug and four other RAFVR veterans were able to fly business class to London to see the RAF Bomber Command Memorial statue in Green Park, London, unveiled by the Queen three months earlier (see Link). The trip, including a two week stay in the nearby RAF Club, was funded by Ian Kuperus, founding director of TMNZ, as a token of thanks for saving his father's life. Ian's father was one of thousands of Dutch civilians saved from starvation by 'Operation Manna' in which No. 75(NZ) Squadron played a large part.
The Bomber Command Memorial statue, London.

It was my privilege in 2013 to receive a copy of Doug and Lutz's book, signed by Doug in appreciation of my treatment of his story in this 'blog.

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