Monday, 19 August 2013

25. Jack Mallon and '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 followed in the speech 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 many 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.

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