Before he left Australia, Jack Purcell had a formal portrait taken of him wearing his Royal Australian Air Force uniform. The half-wing with the ‘N’, denoting a qualified navigator, is clearly visible, as are his Sergeant’s stripes. It is one of only a small number of photos that we have of Jack and, along with his logbook, it was that photograph of Jack that first fired my interest in the subject of Bomber Command and the part that he played in it.
Giving a face to match a man’s name is an important part of telling his history. It makes the stories somehow more real – as if saying that they are not mere words. They are real stories about real people. As such finding photographs of each of the seven men who flew in B for Baker was something I have been very keen to achieve. And now, having recently made contact with the final family, I have done exactly that.
So here, all together for the first time, are photographs of each of the crew of B for Baker. As is traditional, we will begin with the pilot.
Pilot: Squadron Leader Donald Philip Smeed Smith (Phil)
A fine portrait of a remarkably young-looking Phil Smith, taken while on leave in London.
Flight Engineer: Sergeant Kenneth Harold Tabor
By far the youngest on the crew, Ken was just 19 when he was killed over Lille. This photograph shows him on the left, with his brother Bill. He is wearing the Flight Engineer’s brevet so it was probably taken in late 1943.
Navigator: Warrant Officer Royston William Purcell (Jack)
The presence of an N half wing and sergeants’ stripes (and the stamp from a Sydney photographer on the back of it) dates this photo to mid 1942. This was the photo of Jack that started my journey to find out more about him.
Bomb Aimer: Flight Sergeant Jeremiah Parker (Jerry)
At 30, Jerry Parker was the oldest member of the crew. He was married with a young daughter.
Wireless Operator: Flight Sergeant Alastair Dale Johnston (Dale)
Dale Johnston was from Queensland. He is seen here on the left on the steps of the family home with his twin brother Ian.
Mid-Upper Gunner: Sergeant Eric Reginald Hill
From Goring in Berkshire, Eric Hill served in the RAF Regiment before he became a member of aircrew. He first enlisted in June 1940, by far the first member of the crew to begin war service.
Rear Gunner: Flight Sergeant Gilbert Firth Pate (Gil)
A short stocky man, Gilbert had a brief flirtation with becoming a jockey as a teenager, until his father put a stop to all further dealings with the stables where he was working. He trained as a wool classifier before joining up.
The Crew of B for Baker
There is just one photograph that shows the entire crew. It is backlit by the landing light of a Lancaster, it’s shadowy, grainy and indistinct, but it’s an atmospheric photo.
Photos kindly provided by:
(c) 2011 Adam Purcell