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24th May 1943 Lancaster Lost
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Flt Lt Norman Jones DFM. flight eng. 9 Sqd.My father was born on the 12th of December 1921, the only on of farming parents. The farm was just outside the Roman village Ventra Silrum, better known as Caerwent. Dads father was a lay preacher and a follower of John Wesley, he did not approve of dad joining the R.A.F:- He never inherited the farm.
Dad first tried to join the R.A.F after a little girl playing by the Severn tunnel junction was killed by a German plane flying overhead. Nothing else was around at this time. Dad was eventually recalled in February 1941 and was told that he would need to be prepared to fly. He trained as a fitter engineer at R.A.F Cosford and worked on Hampdens, Manchesters and Lancasters. He was then posted to Swinderby in 1942 and left in charge of a major overhaul team working on Lancasters, attending Rolls Royce in Derby to qualify as a test engineer.
In May 1943 due to a shortage of flight engineers, he joined a Lancaster crew to take part in operational rids flying over Germany. Dad’s role as a flight engineer included controlling engine pressures, temperatures and fuel consumption, assisting the pilot and taking over the controls as and when required. He also had to plot a navigational course using the stars, send emergency radio signal and man the gun turrets. Before he earned his Pathfinder badge he was required to carry out the visual bomb aiming.
The crew he flew with consisted of 7 young men:- Pilot squadron leader-Mitchell (who later became group captain,) a Canadian Flight engineer- Norman Jones (dad), Navigator, Bomb aimer, Wireless operator, Mid upper Gunner, Rear gunner-Known as “tail end Charlie,” a very lonely position.
In June 1943, the crew were posted to No. 9 Squadron Bardney Lincoln. The Lancaster was U-Uncle. By then Dad had completed his first operational tour, which consisted of 30 operations flying over enemy territory mainly at night, 7 to 8 hours through search light and enemy flak. From the minute they flew over France they were under attack and often returned to base with a damaged plane.
Dad was then invited to join the Pathfinders along with his Lancaster crew, and joined 83 Pathfinder squadron. The Pathfinders were the Lancaster crews who flew in first, dropping flares to mark targets for the bombers. They circled around and above the target until the last bomber left. Sometimes the Pathfinders had to re-mark the targets before finally flying over and dropping their load. They were the crews that went in first and were the last to leave.
The crew were very close, in fact Mitch, Dad’s pilot, refused to fly without him. They practiced “the corkscrew” to evade enemy fighters. They would complete this move by closing the throttle so that the plane would drop, and then increase the throttle on the climb. This would cause the plane to corkscrew. No mean feat when you consider the size of the Lancaster, 69 feet and 6 inches in length, with a wingspan of 102 feet and 4 large Merlin engines, plus fuel.
On one occasion whilst flying, there was a group captain who was on board as an observer. The rear gunner called out “corkscrew right,” so immediately dad and his pilot carried out this procedure, dad then glanced over his shoulder to see his “special passenger” dangling in the air due to the force of the corkscrew, and then of course when they came out of it he landed rather forcefully! On return to base he gave the crew an excellent report and stated “they will be the crew that survive.” On the worst night 17 planes took off and only 7 came back, a total loss of 70 men from No. 9 squadron.
The D.M.F was awarded to dad in 1944 for courage and coolness of a high order. Prior to D-day he was involved in clearing the beaches ready for the landings. On June the 6th 1944, he took off at 01.45am to bomb La Paenelle; this was the start of the invasion. The following night he flew to Caen and on the 8th to Auranches. When he had completed his 2nd operational tour, dad had to accept being posted as a flying instructor to R.A.F Wigsley on Stirlings. You were considered lucky to complete 5 ops in all, dad completed 60. His next posting was to R.A.F Hendon as a second pilot, where he flew VIPs in Dakotas to visit the concentration camps. He also completed a trip to Lagos in West Africa.
Dad was commissioned in October 1944, and this relatively easy posting was not to last for long. The next posting was training on rescue gliders and a trip to Burma to carry out this work. He served in Mingladon and Akyab, making many friends along the way. Whilst serving in the Far East he became very ill with Dinghue fever and jaundice. Dad still worried bout his friends in Burma to this day because of the political state of the country. My father remained in contact with Mitch until approximately 2 years ago, when he received a goodbye letter. Naturally this was very upsetting. Trying to gather information about dad R.A.F experiences has been an uphill struggle, because for many men of my father’s age it is not an easy subject.
I feel that I must mention here, because so much has been written about bomber command, that on all bombing missions it was instilled in the crews that they must aim for targets, e.g. Hamburg, where the U-boats were held in pen, factories, communications and marshalling yards. Never once did the crew think they were bombing civilians. During this operational tour they flew to Berlin, Hamburg, Nuremburg, Hanover, Munich, Essen, Manheim, Munchen, Gladbach, Remscheid, Frankfurt, Leipzig, Kassel and Milan. Over 55,000 bomber crew lost their lives, sometimes whilt training in this country. I know my father still has nightmares about his wartime service, and you can only begin to imagine what it must have been like night after night, returning to base, going to bed to catch up on sleep and awaken to see empty beds next to you.
My mother also served in the R.A.F and this is where my parents met. They married in Yorkshire in January 1944 then travelled to Chepstow on honeymoon, only to find a telegram waiting calling dad back to service. They went on to have 3 children, myself and a younger sister and brother. Ad continued in the R.A.F until 1946 and remained in the reserve until 1960. He also ran the A.T.C until we moved to West Wales. He now has 6 grandchildren, 7 great-grandchildren and 2 great-great grandchildren, who are all extremely proud of him!Teresa Lloyd
F/Sgt. Ronald Willbie 166 Sqd.I volunteered for Aircrew just before my eighteenth birthday in 1942. I was placed on reserve and called up almost a year later. After initial training wing in St. Andrews, Scotland, on passing out I was posted to Grading School at Perth. After this to the holding unit at Heaton Park, Manchester. I was graded for pilot instruction and began a prolonged wait for posting. All the cadets thought it was worse than being in the trenches, no heating, paddling around in 6 inches of water surrounding the billets, bullied by NCOs, sleeping with all one's clothes on top of the bed covered by the greatcoat to keep them dry. The authorities were no doubt worried as they decided to send large groups of cadets on temporary postings. One was to Scarborough for a second initial training course and this was followed by postings to various Bomber stations as dogsbodies. In my case this was to 166 Squadron at Kirmington in Lincolnshire working in the bomb dump. At the end of this time we went on leave but on returning found an almost empty camp at Heaton Park, due to an epidemic of Scarlet Fever. Postings were delayed until this cleared and finally in February 1944 we embarked on the Queen Mary for the States.
Great jubilation, but just before arrival two cases of the dreaded fever and the US Immigration authorities refused entry but allowed transshipment to Canada. More delay but in jollier surroundings of the bull pens in Toronto's fairground. Finally I was posted to 3BFTS in Miami,Oklahoma. At the end of the pilot's course, not without its trials and tribulations, I passed out as a Sergeant pilot in November.
We spent a happy two weeks in an American transit camp in New York, mostly spent with families in New England and we embarked on the Ile de France for England. There was only a small group of RAF personnel,99, amongst a large contingent of American Army personnel, who were not seen for about three days as about 99 per cent were sea sick in their bunks down in the bowels of the ship. We were told that the pumps were running all the way to Europe and on arrival constant announcements were made over the Tannoy not to congregate on the port side. On arrival at the reception centre at Harrogate all pilots, several hundred, were all made redundant unless they possessed certain qualifications, had flown twins, done an advanced course and most stupid of all, were 5ft6in or under or over 6ft. Alternative trades were offered, Fleet Air Arm, Glider pilot, Flight Engineer, with one or two stipulations. The form I handed in to the adjudicating officer had a selection for Single Engine Ground Attack (70% casualties at that time) and on being asked if I was over 6ft, obviously not, was threatened with court martial unless I completed the form was correctly.
The quickest way to action seemed to be Flight Engineer - 6 week course - so that was my choice. Again long delays and finally to St Athans, near Cardiff for the course in February. After a few delays I passed out in June, war over but the Japanese to be dealt with. Sent to 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit, Wigsley, Lincolnshire and joined a second tour crew for conversion on Lancasters. at the end of the course we were posted to Tiger Force and sent on embarkation leave. The war ended finally whilst we were on leave and I received a notice to report to 242 Squadron, Stoney Cross in the New Forest. Arrived to find that the Squadron was equipped with Stirlings, consequently more crew training to learn a lot of new information.
Thus ended one individual's war effort. I continued in the RAF, was made redundant again in 1948, became a Meteorological Air Observer, but finally finished flying as a pilot over the last few years of serviceR.T.Willbie
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