I had intended today to write about transcribing Gil Pate's letters, the task that is occupying much of my time at the moment. But something rather special happened this morning.
I wanted to try and find something about Pate's short time on 49 Squadron – specifically who his first pilot was. All I knew was from a transcript of a letter Gil wrote to a friend in California in February 1944:
"Soon after our arrival on squadron I lost my first pilot on a raid on Dusseldorf. The crew was then split up." (B01-004-001)
I also had some information supplied by Colin Cripps, the 49 Sqn researcher, showing that Gilbert in fact flew operationally on one occasion with 49 Squadron, a raid on (wait for it) Dusseldorf. He flew with this crew in JB467 EA-T on 3 November 1943:
Sgt E Webb, pilot
Sgt C Chaloner, nav
Sgt S Ollerenshaw, BA
Sgt E Lovick, W/Op
Sgt C Woodhouse, MUG
F/Sgt G Pate, RG
So the other thing I wanted to determine was whether this was the same raid on which Gil's pilot went missing.
I had requested assistance from Dom Howard, our resident 49 Sqn man on the Lancaster Archive forum. Dom came back to me this morning on that most useful of modern research aids:
So, on opposite sides of the world and at vastly different times of day (0900 for me, midnight for Dom), together we tried to work out what had happened.
Dom found an entry showing Gil's posting IN to 49 Squadron, on 22OCT43. He was posted along with these men:
- 158111 P/O Teager, JEW – Pilot
- 1488745 Sgt Johnson, RN – F/Eng
- 1391163 Sgt Cohen, D – Nav
- 610592 Sgt Fitzsimmons F – W/Op
- AUS423311 Sgt. Pale, GF – A/G
- R173983 Sgt. Fallon (difficult to read – may be Gallon) – A/G
Note the error recording Gil Pate's surname as PALE – ORBs are not always completely accurate!
So we now had names for men likely to be Gil's crew. The next task was to see if we could find out what happened to pilot JEW Teager. I tried the Commonwealth War Graves Commission – no records found. Bugger. This meant that we had the wrong man… or maybe something else happened to him.
As Dom said, "4T9ers to the rescue!"
The 49 Sqn Assoc website has a list of everyone who served with them. A record was found for a JE Teager who had been shot down on 03 November 1943 over Dusseldorf – and became a prisoner of war.
Problem solved, or so we thought. Checking further in the ORB we discovered that Teager had been posted OUT of 49 Sqn on 03 November – back to 1654 Conversion Unit, with the rest of his crew.
Oh bugger, that's not at all confusing the matter, is it?
Teager is definitely in the ORB on Lancaster ED438 as second pilot. So we know he went on the raid. To be posted OUT on the same day looks a little strange.
Dom's possible explanation is that Teager was posted out – but asked to go on the second dickie trip before he left for the Conversion Unit. Unfortunately he never came back from that second dickie trip. Sounds plausible. But thinking about it subsequently, it makes no sense to me. Why would a pilot be posted back to a training unit, along with the rest of his crew? I've seen situations where 'headless' crews go back to training after their pilot is lost on a 'second dickie' trip. Indeed, this is what I suspect happened to Jack Purcell, Jerry Parker and Dale Johnston at 9 Sqn. So I can understand why Gil might have been posted. But his pilot as well?
I'm therefore leaning towards the 'clerical error' explanation. Perhaps someone told the compiler of the ORB that 'the Teager crew are posted', forgetting the tiny detail that Teager himself failed to return last night. I suppose the 1654 CU ORB might reveal whether Teager was in fact posted in to that unit again. I'm not expecting to find his name though, given he was in Germany at the time. Dom says he'll have a look in the morning and get back to me.
The best bit about this was that it was happening in real time on opposite sides of the world. The Internet and modern communication technology has seriously changed the way research like this is done. It's certainly sped the process up considerably. Letters from Gil show his pleasure when airmail took 'only' three weeks from Australia to the UK. Even the modern postal system can't be relied upon to be much quicker than a fortnight. This morning's exchange would have taken a few months to go through if we were doing it 'the old way'. Instead, we went through the records and worked out a couple of explanations for what might have happened, in a conversation lasting exactly 32 minutes. Not bad at all!
Meanwhile, back to transcribing Gil's letters…
(c) 2010 Adam Purcell