Monthly Archives: June 2018

To bale out or not to bale out? (8)

Last time, I  told the story of how, on November 3rd 1943, Lancaster LM360, O for Oscar, took off from its base at RAF Syerston, piloted by 21 year old Flight Lieutenant William Reid. He and his crew were intending to bomb industrial facilities near Düsseldorf.

During the operation they were attacked at first by a Messerschmitt Bf 110G-4 night fighter:

And then a Focke Wulf Fw 190 single seat, single engined night fighter:

During the latter attack, Flight Sergeant John Alan Jeffreys, the Navigator, was killed outright.

As I told you, for his bravery, Bill Reid received the Victoria Cross. Here is the citation which I hope will not upset too many people by my quoting it, albeit in shortened form:

“Air Ministry, 14th December, 1943.

The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS in recognition of most conspicuous bravery: —

.
Acting Flight Lieutenant William REID, No. 61 Squadron.

On the night of November 3rd, 1943, Reid was pilot of a Lancaster aircraft detailed to attack Dusseldorf.
Shortly after crossing the Dutch coast, the pilot’s windscreen was shattered by fire from a Messerschmitt 110. The rear gunner’s hands were too cold for him to open fire immediately but after a brief delay he managed to return fire and the Messerschmitt was driven off.
During the fight, Reid was wounded in the head, shoulders and hands. The elevator trimming tabs of the aircraft were damaged and it became difficult to control. The rear turret was badly damaged and the communications system and compasses were out of action. Reid ascertained that his crew  were unscathed and, saying nothing about his own injuries, he continued his mission.
Soon afterwards, the Lancaster was attacked by a Focke Wulf 190. The enemy’s fire raked the bomber from stem to stern. The rear gunner replied the state of his turret made accurate aiming impossible. The navigator and the wireless operator were killed. The mid-upper turret was hit and the oxygen system put out of action. Reid was again wounded and the flight engineer, though wounded, supplied him with oxygen from a portable supply.
Reid refused to turn back and Dusseldorf was reached some 50 minutes later. Reid had memorised his course continued in such a normal manner that the bomb-aimer knew nothing of his captain’s injuries. Photographs show that, when the bombs were released, the aircraft was right over the centre of the target.
Steering by the pole star and the moon, Reid set course for home. Weak from loss of blood, the oxygen supply had given out. With the windscreen shattered, the cold was intense. He became semiconscious. The flight engineer and the bomb-aimer kept the Lancaster in the air despite heavy anti-aircraft fire over the Dutch coast.
The North Sea was crossed and an airfield was sighted. The captain recovered, resumed control and prepared to land. Ground mist obscured the runway lights and he had lots of blood getting into his eyes. He made a safe landing although one leg of the damaged undercarriage collapsed.
Wounded twice, without oxygen, suffering severely from cold, his navigator and wireless operator dead, the aircraft crippled, Reid showed superb courage and leadership in penetrating 200 miles into enemy territory to attack such a strongly defended target, every mile increasing the hazards of the long and dangerous journey home. His tenacity and devotion to duty were beyond praise.”

On July 31st 1944, Bill was busy on a different mission, flying with his crew at 12,000 ft over the target, a V-weapon storage facility at Rilly-la-Montagne, not too far from Rheims. He was in an Avro Lancaster Serial Number ME557, Squadron Letters KC-S. At this point, Bill had left 61 Squadron and was flying with the glamorous 617 “Dambusters” Squadron. On this occasion, they were using Tallboy, 12,000 lb, bombs. Here’s one I photographed earlier:

Suddenly, Bill’s bomber was hit by another Tallboy bomb, released by an aircraft some 6,000 feet above him. It hit his Lancaster in the fuselage, causing catastrophic damage. Bill gave the order to bale out. That was not a straight forward action for Bill as the G-forces initially pinned him down in his seat. Just in the nick of time, he baled out, but because of the low altitude, he hit the ground with some force and broke his arm. A group of German soldiers had seen the whole thing, including the Lancaster’s spectacular splitting in two in mid-air, and they took Bill prisoner.

Not everybody escaped the Grim Reaper, however:

Flight Sergeant Donald George William Stewart, the Flight Engineer, was buried in Germaine Communal Cemetery some 25 miles north west of Chalons en Champagne. This was close to where the aircraft fell. Donald was just 27 years old and before the war, he had worked for Southern Railways, cleaning locomotives. He too, though, had answered the Call of the Skies, being a keen member of Redhill Flying Club.

The navigator, Flying Officer Joseph Ovila Peltier, a French Canadian was 26 years old. He was the son of René and Emilie Renaud Peltier from Windsor in Ontario and the husband of Lillian Ilene Peltier also from Windsor. He was buried in Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery at Hautot-Sur-Mer.

The bomb aimer, Pilot Officer Leslie George Rolton was the son of Olander Rolton, and of Elizabeth Rolton from Romford in Essex. He was only 22 years old, and was buried in Clichy Northern Cemetery on the northern periphery of Paris:

The wireless operator, Flying Officer David Luker became a prisoner of war in two different camps, Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria, the same camps as Bill Reid.

The mid-upper gunner, Flight Sergeant Albert Arthur Holt was 31 years of age and the son of Henry Holt and Florence Elizabeth Holt. He was the husband of Gladys Maude Holt from Douglas on the Isle of Man. He was buried at Clichy, in the same plot as Leslie Rolton but not absolutely next to him as far as I can ascertain.

The rear gunner, Warrant Officer John William Hutton was also buried in Clichy Northern Cemetery. His grave is next to that of Albert Holt.

Bill Reid died in 2001. His family sold his medals at auction where they realised a record price for a Victoria Cross of £335,000. They included a 1939-1945 Star, an Air Crew Europe Star, a War Medal, a 1953 Coronation Medal and a 1977 Jubilee Medal:

 

 

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Victor Comic and me (3)

I would be the first to admit that Victor could sound a little clichéd on occasion:

But the British always overcame every problem. Only two British guns and 132 German tanks. Don’t worry! We’ll get ’em all! And make sure you don’t miss any!!

Tank recognition classes can now put their knowledge into practice. The men who drew these tanks had probably seen them for real:Disaster strikes. But the British are used to recovering from disaster and muddling through. Norway. Dunkirk. HMS Hood. Greece. Malaya. Singapore. Tobruk. Countless cricket matches against Australia. Penalty shoot outs in football. God knows, we’ve had the practice:Let’s be honest. A great many of the comic’s drawings  have something hackneyed, or even ridiculous, hiding away inside them. Not to mention exaggeration. Whoever saw a hole in a ship that big?Still, at least the German officer in the next frame doesn’t say “to ze vaterland” :Contrast the British approach below. In the kayak, two commandos, who are perfectly well aware that Hitler’s personal order was that if they were captured, they would be shot. This was the “Kommandobefehl” which you can read about here. The man on the submarine, though, might as well be offering to take their letters to the Post Office for them. “Right! Thank you! And could you see if they are still selling those cough sweets I like? Just get me a couple of packets, would you, old chap?”

More irreverence next time.

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The End of the War in Europe and Church Gresley (4)

Last time I talked about an old football programme. It was for a match played one day after the war ended in Europe, May 9th 1945. The programme was for “Gresley Rovers (Selected) v RAF”.  The top two stars in the RAF team were Raich Carter and Peter Doherty.  Here is the RAF team:

And here is the Gresley defence:

The next section shows the Gresley forwards, the ones below the black spot of the centre circle:

J Illsley, the outside right, signed for the club in October 1941 and made his first team debut on October 4th 1941 against Quorn Methodists (won 6-2). He scored a phenomenal 24 goals in 28 appearances, his last game, like Collier, coming against Holwell Works on February 22nd 1946 (won 2-1).
“Bradbury” the inside right, could be one of two different players, who, rather helpfully for the statistically minded, played together in the same team on many occasions. Ken Bradbury was signed in 1944 and made his début against Swadlincote Colts on October 7th 1944 (won 4-2, Bradbury 2 goals). He then went on to score 19 goals in 21 games before bowing out on April 6th 1946 against Morris Sports in the League Cup Semi Final (Rovers won this game 7-0 but lost the Final 1-7 to Kettering Town).

Tom Bradbury was even more of a goalscoring sensation in the Rovers’ team than Ken Bradbury. His first game was on August 28th 1937 against Loughborough Brush Sports (won 4-2, Bradbury 3 goals) and according to the club’s player database, he finished his spell at Gresley on May 9th 1944 in the League Cup Final against Swadlincote Colts (won 5-1). Overall Tom scored 94 goals in 50 appearances, with his best two seasons coming in 1941-1942 with 23 in the League and 8 in the Cup. In the following season of 1942-1943 he managed 28 in the League with no surviving record of his Cup goals.

In September 1937, he had signed for Derby County for £200 and he played 4 games, possibly for Derby’s reserves. If he played for the First Team, then I have been unable to find any details of that in the Derby statistics I have seen. In 1939, he signed for Wrexham. When war broke out, he went to work in a munitions factory. He returned to Gresley where he played whenever that was possible. Tom finally had a spell with Rovers as player-manager. Presumably, that is why he was playing on May 9th 1945…he picked the team!

Three or four years later, Tom was one of the founder members of neighbouring Burton Albion.

He later became a director and then chairman of the club which now plays in League One,  England’s third tier of football. In less happy times, when Burton Albion was going bankrupt, Tom mortgaged his family home to save the club. His wife wasn’t best pleased when she found out what he’d done.

The centre forward was W Evans of Liverpool and Wales. I have found out nothing about him so far, except that it was definitely not Roy Evans, the ex-Liverpool manager:

It may be that W Evans played in wartime games which are more difficult to access, although according to “Soccer at War 1939-1945” by Jack Rollin, nobody of that name appeared for either Liverpool or Wales between 1939-1946. Neither does “Wales, the Complete Who’s Who” provide any clues. Perhaps that centre forward at Gresley was the last German spy, making just one last appearance. He was probably doing research about how English players took penalties.

The inside left is most likely George W. Chapman (1920 –1998). He was born in Linton, a village close to Church Gresley, and he signed for West Bromwich Albion although he did not ever play for them except during wartime fixtures (13 appearances, 2 goals).

In 1946–1948 he played for Brighton & Hove Albion scoring 12 goals in 43 appearances. He was the club’s top scorer in the 1946–47 season with 10 goals. After that, he moved to Tonbridge Angels, a club which had been formed as recently as October 1947. Here’s their badge, presumably based on the coat of arms of the town:

Harrison is perhaps Cyril Harrison who made his début against Marston’s on November 7th 1942 (won 14-1, Harrison 3 goals) and scored 21 goals in 27 appearances. He played his last game on April 26th 1950 against British Ropes (won 4-2, Harrison 1 goal). Alternatively, it might have been Mick Harrison who made his début against RAF ‘H’ on September 23rd 1943 (won 4-2, Harrison 1 goal) and went on to score 58 goals in 87 appearances. He played for the last time on April 26th 1950 against British Ropes on April 26th 1950 (won 4-2, Harrison 1 goal…but which Harrison, Mick or Cyril, Cyril or Mick ?). Here’s the British Ropes factory. I couldn’t find a picture of their team:

If you have read any of my previous posts about non-league teams around Nottingham, you will know how fascinated I am with the names of these smaller clubs.

Let’s just look at who Rovers played against nearly 80 years ago.

An Army XI in a friendly match  to raise money for the Spitfire Fund, Briggs & Co, British Ropes, Broadway Youth Club,  Central Ordinance Corps, Cyclops, Cyclops Sports, Derby Corinthians, H R Mansfield Sports, Ibstock Penistone Rovers, John Knowles A, Leicester Nomads Reserves, Loughborough Brush,  Marstons, Measham Imperial, Midland Woodworkers, Morris Sports, Newbold Vernon, Old Dalby, Quorn,  Methodists,  Parkhouse Colliery, RAF, RAF ‘F’, RAF ‘H’, RAF ‘L’, RAF ‘M’, RAF ‘T’, RAF XI, Rolls Royce, Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, Stanton Ironworks, Whitwick Holy Cross, Whitwick Parish Church, Whitwick White Cross and the catchiest of all for those supporters’ songs, “351 Burton Squadron ATC”.

None as good though, as the first ever opponents in a home game of which records have survived, played at the Moat Ground on September 5th 1891…..Hugglescote Robin Hoods. Here is Rovers’ ground which has not changed much since that late summer day:

 

 

 

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To bale out or not to bale out? (7)

In a previous post in this series, “To bale out or not to bale out? (3)”,  I told the story of Harold Pronger who baled out of a Lancaster bomber when the aircraft looked likely to crash because of mechanical problems. But like the rest of the crew, Harold survived. And so did the pilot, Flying Officer B.C. Fitch, who stayed with the aircraft. It was as if Lancaster LM360, like a living being, seemed to have made a sudden recovery from all the problems that had previously beset it:

And so, Fitch was able to land without incident at RAF Winthorpe, despite repeated episodes of losing height, an inability to climb, the mid-upper turret out of commission and an engine on fire. Here is RAF Winthorpe today:

What the members of the crew did not necessarily know was that this Lancaster, LM360,  somehow was aware that it had a glorious destiny in its future, and it was making damned sure that it survived to achieve it.
That day, or rather night, of destiny began for Lancaster LM360 on November 3rd 1943, when O for Oscar took off from its base at RAF Syerston, piloted by Flight Lieutenant William Reid. He and his crew were tasked with bombing industrial facilities in and around Düsseldorf.

On the way, just after they crossed over the Dutch coast, at 21,000 feet, they were attacked by a Messerschmitt Bf 110G-4 night fighter:

The Luftwaffe fighter caused enormous damage to the front gun turret and the aircraft’s steering system, but most importantly, the pilot’s windscreen was smashed and it was no longer able to protect the crew from the cold of a November night at 20,000 or so feet above the ground.

What a pity that the aircraft’s heating system had not been working before the attack, so that the rear gunner, his hands frozen and stiff, had been unable to open fire on the German aircraft or even to warn the pilot over the intercom about the night fighter’s arrival. The stricken Lancaster lost more than 15,000 feet of altitude but Bill recovered, fortunately, just before they hit the ground.

Bill was badly wounded but said absolutely nothing about his own injuries. The intercom system was not working and the compasses were unusable. The decision, though, was made to carry on to the target:

The Lancaster was then attacked for a second time by a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 single seat fighter which raked them with cannon fire from nose to tail. The navigator was killed outright and the wireless operator received severe wounds. Bill was hit for a second time and so was the flight engineer. The starboard section of the tailplane had been shot off, the bomber’s communication system didn’t work and there was no oxygen supply.  The flight engineer, wounded in the arm, found a bottle or two of oxygen and held them up for Bill to breathe from. Bill, who, as always, had previously memorised the course to fly for the mission, still kept to the plan. He reasoned that turning round now would entail crossing through a bomber stream of 600 aircraft, which would have been rather dangerous, and that their aircraft would then have become a vulnerable unprotected lone sitting duck. Here is a tiny part of a bomber stream:

So on they went for the next 50 minutes and 200 miles and they bombed their target at Düsseldorf successfully. It was a ball bearing factory which Bill actually recognised.

And then, they turned for home. By now Bill was weak from loss of blood, lack of oxygen and the cold icy blast coming through the broken windscreen. That cold icy blast was actually freezing the blood from his head wound as it seeped into his eyes.  There was a very real risk that Bill would not be capable of lasting all the way back to Syerston. The flight engineer and bomb aimer took over control of the plane, when Bill lapsed into semi-consciousness. But on and on they flew, despite the heart stopping moment when all four engines stopped but then just as quickly restarted. Heavy anti aircraft fire over the Dutch coast missed them. Minute by minute, mile after mile into the darkness. The first moment of happiness, the English coast. And then as they flew over Norfolk, the crew noticed the lights of the airfield at Shipdham, 5 miles south-south-west of Dereham:

Despite vision limited by blood in his eyes, Bill revived somewhat and he carried out a fine landing, although the landing lights were hidden by fog rising in the early morning. The Lancaster’s undercarriage gave way on one side and they skidded down the runway. The wireless operator was taken immediately to the medical centre, but, unfortunately, he died there of his injuries. The story of Bill Reid’s bravery is repeated many times on the Internet, but this was the website I used as the skeleton.

I must have looked at more than 20 websites. Only one named the rest of his crew. They were:

Flight Sergeant J.A. Jeffreys (Navigator)

Flight Sergeant L. Rolton (Bomb Aimer)

Flight Sergeant J.W. Norris (Flight Engineer)

Flight Sergeant J.J. Mann (Wireless Operator)

Flight Sergeant D. Baldwin, D.F.M. (Mid-Upper gun turret)

Flight Sergeant A.F. ´Joe´ Emerson (Rear gun turret)

Flight Sergeant John Alan Jeffreys, the Navigator, was killed outright during the attack by the Fw 190 night fighter. He was a member of the Royal Australian Air Force and he was 30 years old.  He came from Perth in Western Australia, and he was the son of John Alfred Jeffreys and Amelia Jeffreys. He was the  husband of Florence Isobel Jeffreys. John was buried in Cambridge Cemetery.

Flight Sergeant John James Mann was the Wireless Operator who sadly died in the medical centre at Shipdham. He was only 22 and he was the son of James Mann and Dora Mann, of Liverpool. He was buried in Bootle Cemetery.

Here’s the Lancaster that brought them back, looking a little the worse for wear :

 

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Victor Comic and me (2)

Victor Comic normally began with a war story in full colour on the outside covers of the comic. The story was always true, although I don’t think that that ever really registered with me:

This particular story may not have been 100% true but I think that this is because Douglas Bader was still alive at the time and they didn’t want any law suits:

And anyway, what’s an arm or a leg between friends?

Good Old One-Armed Mac was back doing what he did best. Killing Germans:

Good Old One-Armed Mac used to fly a Hawker Hurricane, but the squadron leader chose to ignore totally the aircraft’s fuel tank capacity when he announced one day that they were going to go and attack Germany. Perhaps they went just a little way up the Rhine on an aircraft carrier:

No, I don’t see an arrestor hook there. But they’re very good, aren’t they?

Victor always had completely 100% fictional wartime characters such as Sergeant Matt Braddock VC. He usually flew a Lancaster or a Mosquito but he could turn his hand to anything. Nobody knew that Matt and his navigator George were the adopted sons of Biggles and Ginger:

Here’s the text if you can’t read it:

Given the hair brained nature of some of the things they did, I’m not too surprised that Matt and George were based at the fictional RAF Rampton. Here’s the Terrible Twosome and a nice illustration of what they do best:

Braddock might have been a double Victoria Cross winner, but he was not cut out for training young recruits:

He was not very good either at passing on the idea of “the calm pilot who was always in control” :

He was never really very interested in the concept of patience and understanding:

Occasionally, in the stories featured in Victor Comic the odd cliché would crop up. The clichés were never really a genuine source of negativity though and they were never meant in a nasty way.

And race hatred was something that just did not ever crop up. No higher respect could have possibly been paid, for example, to those great warriors, the Gurkhas or indeed, any other non-white soldiers in the British Army.

Characters from the Middle East could even star in their own series. And, yes, the hero does look a little bit blonde haired with possibly a hint of blue eyes:

But what about “the traditional Jesus” ?  Very few people will ever have been struck by the markedly Jewish appearance of Jesus in illustrations . Here’s Jesus the Viking:

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The End of the War in Europe and Church Gresley (3)

In my most recent post on this topic, I looked at the RAF team in a celebration match played in Church Gresley, the neighbouring village to the one where I grew up. The game took place on May 9th 1945 to commemorate the end of the war in Europe. We have already looked at the RAF team:

It was captained by Raich Carter, the only man to have won the FA Cup both before and after the war. The people are King George VI, the Queen and a young Raich Carter. Adolf Hitler is fooling nobody with that dyed blond hair:

The other star player was Peter Doherty of Northern Ireland:

Here is what I found out about the players of Gresley Rovers (Selected) who opposed them. A very large proportion of the information came from the superb Player Database, which is now a feature of the Gresley FC website, having appeared for many years on the Gresley Rovers website.

Most of the Gresley players were local men and worked “down pit” as miners. Being a miner was a reserved occupation so they were not involved in combat situations. It is true to say, though, that many miners did a job which was statistically much more dangerous than that of many soldiers or sailors. This is a picture of what was then a heavily industrialised area, with clay and coal mining as well as the fabrication of huge pipes for drains and sewers:


The first section shows the defence of the Gresley Rovers (Selected) team, the price of this single sheet programme and the recipients of any charity money which was raised :

I traced a great deal about the goalkeeper. John Proudman, but none of it was because John had a long and happy life.

Tragically, he was killed on September 23rd 1950 while playing in a Leicestershire Senior League game for Moira United against Quorn Methodists at Quorn, a little village in Leicestershire. During the first five minutes of the game he fell very heavily as he tried to make a save. He finished up at Harlow Wood Hospital in Mansfield, where, sadly, he died from a fractured spine on September 24th. He was only 27 years old. His first ever appearance for Rovers had been on September 9th 1943 against the RAF ‘T’ (won 5-1) and the final one of his 71 games for Rovers came on May 4th 1946 against Melton Town (lost 1-2). After that he played for Newhall United and then Moira United. John was a miner and he worked at Cadley Hill Colliery near Swadlincote.  The Gresley FC Online database has a brief account of John’s performance in this game against all the stars:

“My father worked at Cadley Hill pit with John Proudman and told me about an exhibition game that John played in for Gresley Rovers, when amongst the opposition was the legendary Raich Carter. During the game Carter hit one of his trademark powerful drives which John Proudman managed to get in the way of, the ball cannoning off his chest before he could grasp it. At work the following day he stripped off his shirt to show Raich Carter’s ‘autograph’, a round red imprint of the heavy case ball, complete with panels, in the centre of his chest.”

This is John’s photograph. To put his tragic death in context, in the whole world, only 6 men died playing football between 1919-1939, as far as we know, and only one between 1939-1959:

The right full back, Bill Halsey, who was originally going to play but did not actually appear, played 30 games for Rovers in 6 years. He made his debut against Woodville Athletic on April 8th 1944 (won 7-1) and appeared for the last time against Retford Town on May 4th 1950 (won 3-1). Here’s Bill:

I have been unable to trace anything about the WHF Wright who is written in near his name, except that it is not Billy Wright the England football captain. He was William Ambrose Wright. Here he is again:

Arthur Marston, the right half, played 130 times for Rovers making his début on April 27th 1938 against Whitwick Holy Cross (won 4-0) and taking a final bow on March 19th 1947 against Kettering Town Reserves (result unrecorded). Despite being primarily a defender, he scored 15 goals.

The centre half, Eric Rose, made 140 appearances but scored only twice. His first appearance had been against Ensor Sports on November 25th 1944 (won 10-0, King scored 7 goals, Rose, 1 goal) and his final game, like Halsey, came on May 14th 1950 at home to Retford Town. Here’s Eric:

Left half Collier made his first team debut way back on November 6th 1926 against Bromsgrove Rovers (lost 1-3). He hung up his boots twenty years later on February 22nd 1946 against Holwell Works (won 8-0). The database says that he played most frequently for the Reserves, but I would presume that the  71 appearances and 13 goals quoted in the Player Database are for the First Team. This total was fewer than 4 games per season. What a modest unassuming servant for the club! Is that why they let him play in this glamour game? Let’s hope so.

The left full back, Marshall, was a guest player to give Rovers a chance against all of the visiting superstars. He is actually Jack Marshall (1917-1998) who played for Burnley from 1936-1948. In later years, he was the manager at Rochdale, Blackburn Rovers, Sheffield Wednesday and Bury. On Boxing Day 1963, he reached, literally, the pinnacle of his career, when Blackburn Rovers occupied the top spot in Division One for just one day….

They think it’s all over….well, not yet it isn’t!

 

 

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