Friday, 23 August 2013

21. RF127 (AA-W) & NX611

RF127 (AA-W 'Willie')
Towards the end of the war, when Bob and the crew were at Mepal, the squadron was so over-manned that it was unlikely that any crew could legitimately claim 'ownership' of a particular aircraft. Bob's nine operations were completed in five different aircraft and during his four months of flying with the squadron he flew in nine altogether.

Despite this, being able to claim one particular aircraft as your own must have provided a degree of comfort and in a letter to his wife on the 25th April 1945 Jim Haworth, navigator, writes " Did I mention we have a new kite W for ‘Willie ? Quite a newish job with all the latest bits and pieces in it….." And after a tricky landing after the Bad Oldesloe raid the day before he adds "Bill’s namesake ‘Willie’ has to have a new undercart now." The following O.R.B. entry for the 24th April 1945 shows, despite several typographical errors, that this was the aircraft used by the crew on that operation.

Despite several errors this O.R.B. entry for 24th April 1945 shows the Mallon crew aboard AA-W (RF127, not 137)
It has been great over the last few months to find pictures of some of the aircraft in which my dad had flown but imagine the thrill when I discovered this picture, apparently taken on the 24th April 1945 during that daylight operation to Bad Oldesloe - this is AA-W (RF127), the aircraft in which Bob, Bill, Jim and the rest of the crew were flying as they set off on their final war operation.

AA-W (RF127) on its way to the squadron's final operation - Bad Oldesloe on the 24th April 1945 (picture - E Ware , NZBCA Archives) Note the H2S radome under the fuselage.
If the picture was indeed taken on this date then the heads visible in the cockpit are those of Bob and Bill and Don Cook, the 20 year old mid-upper gunner, can be seen even more clearly in his turret. The picture of my dad may not be the clearest I have seen but it beats all those formal pictures in his 'Best Blues'!

L to R: Don Cook, Bill Mallon and Bob Jay!
The picture is not clear enough to make out Denis Eynstone (19) in the rear gun turret but he would have been there, as would Jim, Ken and Frank in their positions.

Denis in the rear gun turret

NX611- nearly 70 years later

'Just Jane' (NX611) in better weather.
As a child I was very proud of my dad and his service in the RAF and fascinated by the Avro Lancaster, bombarding him constantly with questions about the aircraft. He never tired of answering and went on to explain basic aerodynamics, maintaining an interest in what he had learnt during his training. He subsequently developed an interest in space travel and followed the 'Space Race' avidly. He always underplayed the heroism and excitement of war, explaining that all he had done was what he felt he had to do to help defeat fascism.

As I reached my teens and memories of the war faded we no longer talked about flying. My dad died when I was 27 so when my interest in Bomber Command and the Lancaster was re-ignited a few years ago there was no-one there to answer my questions.   
Then, on the 4th April 2012, almost 67 years after the end of the war, I was able to fulfil a childhood dream and stand by the Flight Engineer's seat in a Mark VII Avro Lancaster as its Four Merlin engines roared into life. It was raining so heavily that water ran down the perspex, dripped onto my shoulders and trickled over the Flight Engineer's panel, but compared to the conditions endured by crews on 'war ops' at 20,000 feet this was comfort - and I was only going to taxi a couple of hundred yards, not fly 1200 miles for 8 hours over enemy territory.

The Lancaster was, of course, NX611, built at the Austin factory in Longbridge in April 1945 to be part of the RAF's 'Tiger Force' and now giving displays and taxi runs at East Kirkby in Lincolnshire (See ). It is difficult to describe the emotions I felt as this impressive aircraft slowly rolled across what is left of the airfield but I couldn't help but think not just of my dad but also the 55,000 Allied airmen for whom this would be the last few minutes of contact with their home soil - and Bob would have been the first to remind me to spare a thought too for the half million or so German civilians killed by the Allied bombing campaign, not to mention the 60 million victims of the war across the rest of the world. For those few minutes I felt closer to my dad than I had for nearly forty years.

NX611 on its return from Australia to the U.K. (Biggin Hill, May 1965)

At the gates of RAF Scampton in the early '80s

More pictures from NX611 on 4th April, 2012

In my dad's seat


Looking over the pilot's shoulder


Starboard engines from the Flight Engineer's position

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