After I posted the last entry, not three letters further down the pile ‘to be transcribed’ was one written by Gil to his mother on 04NOV44 – the day after the Dusseldorf raid on which the unfortunate JE Teager was shot down. As Gil wrote:
“Our pilot Johnnie Teager is missing from a recent raid over Germany + we are more or less spare bodies for a while, although I have been operating with another crew. It seems hard to realize, until the empty bed space tells its tales.”
…which at least confirms that Dom and I found the right bloke.
It doesn’t, however, shed any light on why Teager was posted OUT to 1654 CU on the same day he went missing. So the following night Dom and I were again on Skype (this time it was him keeping me up well past my bed time) trying to work out a plausible theory.
A closer look at the 49 Sqn ORB reveals that the men posted out of 49 Sqn along with Johnnie Teager were F/L Thomas, Sgt Pantor, F/Sgt Clutterbuck, Sgt Payne, Sgt Minns, F/O Ross and Sgt Boxer – which as it turns out was the crew who were on ED438 with him when it went missing without trace over Dusseldorf.
There are a couple of errors that we spotted on the same couple of pages of the ORB: F/Sgt Pate as F/Sgt PALE, Sgt Johnson is shown as having service number 1485745 (CWGC have him as 1488745), and the Teager/Pate crew is recorded as coming from 1654 CU when Gilbert Pate’s service record is fairly definite that they in fact came from 1661. This I feel lends support to my theory that it is a clerical error in the ORB – the men having mistakenly been posted out instead of being posted missing.
All in all, I’m feeling fairly confident to say that Teager should have been posted missing. Teager does not show up as being posted in to 1654 CU in any case. For the record nor do the rest of the crew – Pate et al – but as they were all NCOs this is not entirely unusual.
We know from Dom’s 49 Sqn ORB that Gil and the rest of his crew were posted from 49 Sqn to 1654 CU on 04NOV43. We also know that Gil ended up with an Australian pilot (Phil Smith) at an Australian squadron (467 Sqn). So when I read this letter from Gil written on 26NOV43 it threw me a little (A01-411-001):
“I am having a pretty easy time of it lately as we recently returned to a conversion unit to crew up with a new pilot, as we lost our original one on a raid over Dusseldorf. The new chap is a Canadian from [illegible] + is quite a nice fellow.”
A Canadian pilot??!? This was news to me.
According to Gil’s service record, about a month after going to 1654 CU he was posted to yet another training unit – this time 1668 CU at Syerston. So this was the move that Dom and I couldn’t work out. Had the entire crew – minus the unfortunate Johnnie Teager, who by this time was in a German prison camp – been posted to 1668, or did Gil go by himself? And if he did go as a ‘spare bod’, why?
In April 1944 (just short of a month before he died over Lille), Gil wrote a spectacular seven-page letter to his mother and little sister (A01-441-001). In this letter he writes for the first time all about his path to an operational squadron. I transcribed this one yesterday – and guess what? Almost all the answers were right there.
“After losing our first pilot ‘Johnnie Teager’ who is a prisoner of war we were messed about for a while + eventually crewed up with a Canadian who had been recuperating from a nasty accident”.
So far, so good. There was definitely a Canadian in there somewhere.
“Well we were together a month + after that time his nerves began to play up, so he was taken from us + we were once more in the groove.
Shortly afterwards the powers that be broke the crew up + we were posted as replacements for crews on various squadrons.”
So it now appears that after losing their second pilot the Air Force decided that they were bad luck as a crew, split them up and sent them on their way. Back at a Conversion Unit, Gil Pate crewed up again – this time with an Australian Squadron Leader who was, of course, Phil Smith.
So had I just continued reading and transcribing Gil’s letters, I could have found all the information I needed, with much less fuss. But it wouldn’t have been as much fun, now, would it??
As for his original crew – in the same April 1944 letter Gilbert wrote this of them:
“Two of the boys of the first crew ‘drew the crow’ on Stuttgart.”
“Still”, he wrote, “that’s all in the game.”
Current task: Transcribing Gil Pate’s letters, vol I.
(c) 2010 Adam Purcell