Robert Alfred Jay, the youngest of three children, was born on the 3rd April, 1919, in Spencer Street in the New Clee area of Grimsby. His sister Phyllis was five when he was born and his brother Fred was three. It was 12 weeks before the Treaty of Versailles finally sealed the peace in Europe and six months before his dad was demobbed after 4 years in the army. It was also just 2 months before Alcock and Brown's historic transatlantic flight.
Bob's parents, Fred and Sarah, had moved to Grimsby via Leicester from their home town of Great Yarmouth in Norfolk in search of employment opportunities and the thriving fishing industry in Grimsby provided these. Fred was a cobbler and he had soon established his own business with a small workshop on the corner of Rutland Street.
|L to R: Bob, Phyllis & Fred outside 35 Tyrolean Square, Great|
Yarmouth, home of their grandparents Robert & Mary Jay
|Bob (middle, front row) at St. John's School, Grimsby, in about 1929|
He was an active boy and when he was fourteen he and a friend cycled from Grimsby to Great Yarmouth, sleeping in the open air on the way. He also joined a boxing club and was even asked at short notice to take part in a fight one evening. He found the atmosphere of beer and smoke overwhelming and after three rounds of what he later described as 'Hell on Earth' he decided it wasn't the career for him.
|Trying out his bike, about 1931|
|A short boxing career! Bob is on the right in the middle row.|
He left school shortly after his 14th birthday and on the 23rd April, 1933, still wearing short trousers under his overalls, he started a seven year apprenticeship with Grimsby Motors.
|Bob's apprenticeship indenture - signed 6 months after commencement|
|Early release, 12th April, 1939|
3rd June 1939
Along with all young men of 20 and 21 Bob had to register at the local Ministry of Labour office 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 full-time military training, and then transferred to the Reserve. It is not hard to imagine how his parents would have felt having lived through the horrors of the 'Great War'.
To ensure that the call up did not take men away from vital industries and services the Government introduced a "Schedule of Reserved Occupations" - men meeting the age criteria laid out in the schedule were "reserved in their present occupation". As a full-time fireman Bob met the criteria in the schedule and remained in civil life.
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.
|1936 Nuremberg Rally|
|Just before going to war|
As the war progressed there was an increasing need for men and women to join the armed forces and Bob volunteered to join the RAFVR (Volunteer Reserve). He was instructed to attend RAF Padgate, near Warrington, where he was assessed and interviewed by No. 10 A.C.S.B. (Aviation Candidate Selection Board). His service record shows that at the end of the process he was "Not recommended for aircrew duties", a decision generally made for 'aptitude, educational or medical' reasons. He therefore remained in civil life.
The reason for this recommendation does not appear on his record of service but the family story is that it was because of an elevated temperature, something he had 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, having left school at 14 and completed a trade apprenticeship.
28th July 1943
Undeterred, Bob reapplied ten months later and was instructed to attend RAF Doncaster where he was assessed and interviewed again, this time by No. 1 A.C.S.B. He was successful and was "recommended for training as a Flight Engineer". He was instructed to continue in civil life until further notice.
2nd/3rd September 1943
A few weeks later he was instructed to return to RAF Doncaster for two day's assessment, which included a medical which he passed with 'medical category grade 1'. He was enlisted 'D.P.E.' (for the '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).
Having sworn his allegiance to King and Country he was issued with service number 1596172, placed on reserve and once again instructed to return to civil life until further notice.
|With fellow members of the Grimsby Fire Brigade, some time before Jan 1944|
|All work and no play .......|
He later received a letter from the Air Ministry to welcome him into the R.A.F. and advise him on preparation for his 'Air Force career':
|A 'welcome to the R.A.F.' letter from the Air Ministry|
17th January 1944
The call-up came in the New Year and on the 17th of January 1944 he reported for five weeks basic training at No.3 A.C.R.C. (Aircrew Receiving Centre) at RAF Regent's Park in London. In the first few days he would have:
- a regulation hair cut
- a thorough dental check, at which time he lost most of his top teeth
- received inoculations against diphtheria and typhoid - it seems he 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 later on his wedding pictures, that identified him as trainee aircrew.
|'Air diagram 1385' with instructions for inspections and the wearing of equipment.|
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 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. 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 Appendix I|
The I.T.W. syllabus included such things as:
- aircraft recognition
- air reconnaissance
- armaments - “To introduce cadets to the use of firearms and the precautions necessary for their safe handling”
- principles of flight
|One of Bob's exercise book, dated Feb - March 1944|
- 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
Along with other trainees Bob would have been issued with his 'War Service uniform' ("Battledress") and, later in the course, with flying clothing, which was needed for training purposes. This included:
- helmet, with oxygen and communication mask
- flying suit
- Mae West (life jacket)
- parachute harness
|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 successfully completed the course and his next posting was an attachment to RAF Wrexham (from the 8th to the 15th April 1944) but it is not clear why, especially as RAF Wrexham was used for night fighter training.
|Service record: note the entries dated 8th & 15th April|
|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, July 1943|
May 1944 (exact date not known)
Having completed his I.T.W. training and attachment to RAF Wrexham Bob was posted to No. 5 S.o.T.T. (School of Technical Training) at RAF Locking near Weston-super-Mare where he carried out the first phase of his 'trade' training as a Flight Engineer. This phase consisted of ten weeks of 'preliminary' training on airframes, engines, carburettors, electrics, instruments, hydraulics and propellers. This was followed by one week's leave.
12th July 1944
He was posted to No. 4 S.of T.T. at RAF St Athan in Glamorgan, S. Wales to complete the second and third phases of his flight engineer training. Phase 2 consisted of 7 weeks of 'intermediate' training in engines, airframes, hydraulics, propellers, instruments and electrics, followed by one week's leave. Having completed this phase of the course Bob was reclassified on the 1st of September as Aircraftsman Second Class (AC2) grade B. His pay would have increased from 3 shillings a day to 5 shillings a day (from 15p to 25p).
|Actual notes and diagrams from a trainee Flight Engineer ()|
|Trainees at St Athan|
13th November 1944
|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
|Log book entries showing Bob's flights with S/L Chipling|
The final step in Bob's training involved a posting to 1669 Heavy Conversion Unit (H.C.U.) at RAF Langar where he became part of the crew of a Lancaster bomber (chapter 2). He arrived a few weeks before the rest of his crew so that he could get some flight training in and his log book records his first three flights in a Lancaster bomber on the 17th, 18th and 21st of December 1944. His pilot on these flights was S/L Alban Chipling* and they carried out a number of circuits and landings, or 'circuits and bumps' as they were affectionately known, and some three engine landings - practice that was to prove crucial to the crew's survival on one of their operations three months later (see chapter 3a).
(*Shortly afterwards S/L Chipling was transferred to RAF Hullavington, near Chippenham, where, after a distinguished flying career and only a couple of weeks before the end of the war in Europe, he lost his life in what appears to have been a tragic accident - see chapter 22)
Bob 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 required in peacetime.
The training schedule involved:
- Familiarisation with the aircraft
- Circuits and landings
- Bombing practice
- Fighter affiliation
- Cross country flying
Bob's role as Flight Engineer is summarised here:
|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|
On the 6th March 1945 Bob and the rest of the crew 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.|