This is the next post in what I hope will be an occasional series following the events at the various Bomber Command Commemoration Days that happened around Australia earlier this month. This time it is Adelaide’s turn.
The ceremony was held at the Air Force Memorial at the Torrens Parade Ground, just north of the centre of the city. Some 70 people were present, including the Hon Martin Hamilton-Smith, the South Australian Minister for Veterans Affairs. The following photos by Arthur Jeeves were sent to me by Dave Helman, President of the Royal Australian Air Force Association (South Australia), who was one of the organisers.
Following the ceremony there was an opportunity for drinks and conversation at the Combined Mess at the Parade Ground.
So it looks as if the Adelaide ceremony also went well. I’m hoping to source some photos from the three other events that were held around the same time in Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales. I’ll post them when I get them.
All photos on this post courtesy Arthur Jeeves via Dave Helman
It is right, that the nine men who perished that day, ready and willing to defend the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and all those standing with us… are remembered with honour and dignity on the quiet walls of an English church.
With these words, Reverend Chris Harrington closed the service held last year to dedicate a memorial stone to the crew of 83 Squadron Lancaster ED439, which crashed in the English village of Scredington 71 years ago today.
I’ve posted about Scredington before, but I recently received a small package in the mail from the UK. Mike Galvin – Honorary Secretary of the National Service (RAF) Association, Lincolnshire Branch – sent me a DVD made up of footage that was taken on the day. It’s quite a production.
St Andrews Church in Scredington is fairly small, as these things go, though it does have an imposingly tall steeple. The building – decorated for the occasion with red white and blue RAF standards – can nominally seat 145 people, but somehow on the day they managed to squeeze 185 inside, including 33 relatives of six members of the crew. The ceremony appears to have gone off to plan. A reading from a book written by a local man who was a young lad at the time of the crash set the scene. Neil Trotter, the man whose childhood memories and dedication sparked the memorial project, addressed the congregation and made a point that resonates with the ethos behind somethingverybig.com.
Having retired after 37 years serving in the Royal Air Force, Neil wanted to find out what he could about the crash he remembered as a child. He wrote a letter which was posted online and, eventually, seen by someone who knew more of the story and got in touch. This contact came about because of the extraordinary reach of the internet. I’ve had similar success connecting with people from all over the world as a direct result of posts I’ve made on this blog. In part, that’s why I write here. It lets me get the story out to a much wider audience than has ever been possible before, and the power of search engines means that anybody with an internet connection can find it and get in touch. It’s certainly been a really useful concept for my research so far, as it was for Neil.
The main section of the video ends with the bugler inside the church. It’s been over-dubbed and merged with footage of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster making a fly-past over the village. The Merlins swell as the Last Post rings out.
It’s spine-tingling stuff, even if you weren’t there.
There’s a television news report from ITV available online here, and footage of the Lancaster flypasts here.
This post written by Squadron Leader (Retired) Ron Ledingham, Shrine Governer, Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne, who I worked with on the committee which organised the Melbourne event
The annual Victorian Memorial Bomber Command service was held at the Nurses Memorial Centre (NMC) St Kilda Road Melbourne at 2 PM Sunday 1 June 2014.
All up some 100 people attended and we all but bulked out the NMC facility. The Shrine of Remembrance was unavailable due to the significant extension works currently underway there so the nearby NMC facility was chosen instead. The NMC staff were very helpful and of great assistance.
Of interest, as we did not have the traditional direct support of the Shrine facilities, we ported all of the service music requirements, etc to a lap top computer and ran this through the NMC integrated IT network-worked well. We also introduced specific Bomber Command popular band music and pictures from the Bomber Command Memorial in London-all well appreciated by those attending.
The Shrine did provide direct support in the form of:
SQNLDR RAAF (Retired) Ron Ledingham, Shrine Governor, as the convener of the service on behalf of the Shrine Trustees.
Supply of 100 poppies.
Printing of a number of Order Of Service (OOS) booklets.
Printing and distribution of a flyer for the service particularly since it was being held off site from the Shrine.
We also received support from the Air Cadets and had some 8 boys and girls with adult escorts who held banners and basically assisted with seating of guests and general support during and after the service.
The list of dignitaries was most impressive including the Hon.Josh Frydenberg MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister who laid a wreath before departing to Canberra. Some 12-15 wreaths total were laid.
The service was opened and managed by Ron Ledingham . He explained why we were holding the service at the NMC in lieu of the Shrine and also pointed out that it was for this year only due to the extension works current being done at the Shrine.
There were three speakers being Wing Commander Peter Isaacson AM DFC AFC DFM (key speaker), Group Captain Terence Deeth as RAAF PAF Representative and the Hon Ted Baillieu, Chairman, Victorian ANZAC Centenary. All were very well received. Peter in particular was actively sought out by many after the service for signatures and conversations and delivered a very moving talk.
The following people carried out official roles during the ceremony:
Key Guest Speaker Wing Commander P.S.Isaacson AM DFC AFC DFM
Chaplain John Brownbill RFD KSJ
Jan Charlwood Daughter of Don Charlwood
Laurie Williams Ode
Jan Dimmick Bomber Command Poem
Brian Smith MC
Following the service light refreshments with hot finger food were provided. This was also very well received and created a very interactive and friendly opportunity for people to mingle and catch up. A group photo was taken of all veterans present and many, many photos were taken.
The after service get-together proved to be just as important as the service itself and was considered by all to whom I spoke to be a key component and opportunity to care and share. I was personally approached by a number of people who really appreciated the service and efforts taken to pull it together as well as other questions and offers relating to the Shrine and memorabilia.
Overall it was a very moving and very well attended and received service function. The numbers were up by about 50% on last year even though it was held off site.
In 2015 the annual memorial service will return to the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance.
On 10 April 1944, 467 Squadron joined a force of 166 aircraft from 5 Group sent to attack the railway marshalling yards in Tours in central France. The Tours trip occupies an interesting period of the bomber offensive when ‘precision’ targets were being attacked more frequently than big cities, so, springboarding off my earlier Tours post, here is an examination of how tactics developed during this time.
Tours and four other marshalling yards attacked that night were included in what was known as the Transportation Plan, part of the preparations for the upcoming invasion of Europe which by this time was less than two months away. The Plan called for the “destruction of thirty-seven railway centres in France, Belgium and western Germany, and especially of the locomotive depots and repair and maintenance facilities in these places, in order to prevent the flow of reinforcements and supplies for the German army in the invasion area.” A key aim was the avoidance wherever possible of French civilian casualties, so accuracy was a priority (indeed, Max Hastings recounts the internal battles between Harris and Churchill on one side and Eisenhower and Tedder on the other about the ability or otherwise of Bomber Command to be accurate enough for the task). The first railway target – Trappes in France – was attacked by 267 Halifaxes and Mosquitos on 6 March 1944 and over the next three weeks, Bomber Command would visit Le Mans, Amiens (twice), Laon, Aulnoye and Courtrai. By 10 May, the Lille raid was by my count the 43rd operation in the series, to a total of 26 distinct railway targets.
For the first month or so of the Transportation Plan, the bombers used Parramatta tactics, very much like those used on German cities, where bombs were aimed at ground markers dropped by Oboe-equipped Mosquitos. The Main Force would attack in one or two waves, usually with a ‘reserve’ period in which the marking would be kept up for any late-running bombers. Crucially, on French targets crews were told not to drop their bombs until the markers went down and if no markers were visible at all, they were to bring their bombs back (as occurred for the second wave on Laon on 23 March). This was clearly an attempt to ensure bombs only fell, wherever possible, on the actual target and not on civilian housing nearby.
Though these attacks were in the main reasonably successful, there were improvements that could be made. Oboe was normally a sufficiently accurate system for city-busting raids but it was fiddly to work with, occasionally failed and was sometimes not accurate enough for precision targets like marshalling yards. If the markers went wide, so did the bombs – a situation seen to varying degrees at Amiens on 15 March, Aulnoye on 25 March, Courtrai on 26 March and Lille on 9 April. In an apparent attempt to reduce French civilian losses (and to avoid wasted effort), on 10 April a Master Bomber was introduced to direct the second attack on Aulnoye. In this case the Mosquitos still dropped their markers by Oboe but instead of then heading for home they stuck around to direct the bombing by radio.
This was, of course, the same night as the Tours operation. Tactics on this raid were somewhat different from the pattern which had become the ‘norm’. Surprisingly, no Mosquitos were sent to Tours and Oboe was not used. The raid was a 5 Group only affair. Lancasters dropped white ‘hooded’ flares to illuminate the ground, and the Master Bomber himself – flying a Lancaster – marked the target visually, by their light. The Main Force attacked in two waves and whilst the first part was highly accurate, the second was hampered by the smoke and flames caused by the earlier raiders and there was subsequently a delay while the Master Bomber re-marked the target.
The Tours trip occurred during a period of clear weather and a three-quarter moon, which meant reasonably bright conditions for bombing and resulted in accurate marking. The vast majority of subsequent railway operations were conducted with another refinement in tactics, which would have helped when the general light levels were not so bright. The pattern was set on 18 April 1944 on a marshalling yard at Juvisy, near Paris.
Oboe Mosquitos would first drop their ground markers, followed immediately by illuminating flares by Lancasters in the Newhaven style. The Master Bomber would assess the fall of the target indicators by the light of the flares, determine the required correction or even drop his own markers and instruct the Main Force to attack accordingly. The results, when everything went to plan, were immediate and effective. Juvisy suffered “immense” damage. On the same night, Rouen got “exceptionally severe” effects from a “magnificent” concentration of bombing.
The problem, however, was when things went wrong. At Tergnier, also on 18 April, the Oboe Mosquitos failed and the visual markers fell wide. So did the bombing. Communications between the Master Bomber and the Main Force were absolutely critical. It was an unwieldy system because if the Master Bomber was in a Mosquito he could not talk directly to the Main Force. The VHF radios in the Mosquitos were in relative short supply, so a ‘Controller,’ whose Lancaster had been fitted with one of the VHF radios, was required to relay instructions to the rest of the Main Force over standard radio and wireless telegraphy. When communications failed, so, on many occasions, did the bombing, such as what happened to the second wave at Villeneuve-St-George on 26 April and Malines on 1 May. But when everything worked it proved most effective in highlighting which target indicators the crews should aim at. On 6 May, for example, 143 aircraft attacked the marshalling yards at Mantes-Gassicourt. The first Oboe marking failed so the illuminating flares dropped first, followed by three loads of target indicators which were scattered wide of the aiming point. Crews were ordered to bomb in between all sets of markers, until a salvo of reds landed bang on the aiming point. The Master Bomber was able to adjust and instruct crews to aim at the new, accurate, markers, until more reds fell off the target. The resulting confusion was resolved when a set of white markers was dropped accurately, but by now smoke and fire obscured all the indicators, so the Master Bomber ordered crews to simply aim at the fires. Had the Master Bomber not been there, or had the radio been jammed or otherwise unavailable, the raid would certainly have been far more scattered than it was.
The other issue with direct marking of the aiming point happened when the bombing was, well, too good and the markers were obscured by smoke. This, of course, is what happened following the first wave of the attack on Tours, and it happened again at La Chappelle on 20 April. On this occasion the aiming point requiring remarking slightly away from the original target indicators.
Yet another development in target marking was devised to counter this. It was first deployed in an attack against an airfield at Lanveoc-Poulmic, near Brest, on 8 May. Here the markers were deliberately dropped upwind of the actual aiming point. The Master Bomber would determine how far away and in what direction from the aiming point the markers had fallen and then calculate a ‘false bombing wind’ which could be fed into bombsights. The theory was that, if the sight was aimed at the marker, the adjusted wind setting would ensure that the bombs themselves landed on the real aiming point. It was a good theory and the resulting bombing was highly accurate. The only problem was that it took time for the markers to be dropped and assessed and for the false bombing wind to be calculated. The Main Force was timed to arrive having allowed sufficient time for the process to be completed but it needed good communications and good timing from all crews to be practical.
The next night the new system was used again. The date was 10 May 1944, and the target was Lille. Like the Tours trip, this used slightly different tactics to others in use at the time. While the three other railway raids carried out on the same night (to Courtrai, Ghent and Lens) all used Oboe Mosquitos, the target at Lille was marked visually under the light of illuminating flares – a classic Newhaven attack. Unfortunately what happened was exactly what offset marking was intended to avoid, when the first markers were extinguished by the early bombing, perhaps because crews were not yet used to the new tactics and simply forgot to apply the correction. After a short period the master bomber called a halt to proceedings so that new markers could be dropped, but it appears the resulting delay of some 20 minutes allowed the defences to get their act together, and they extracted a heavy price. Twelve out of 89 aircraft failed to return, among them B for Baker.
Early last month I had just published my 467 PostblogPart LXXVI which covered an attack on a munitions dump outside the French town of Sable-sur-Sarthe on 6 May seventy years ago. I was subsequently contacted over Twitter by a journalist from “Les Nouvelles de Sablé”, a weekly newspaper based the town. Lucile Ageron was her name, and she was wondering how someone all the way over here in Australia might be sufficiently interested in her little town to write about it.
Truth be told, I’d never heard of the place until I saw its name in Phil Smith’s logbook (it’s not even in Jack’s – he mistakenly entered the target in his own logbook as Louaille, a nearby town, and he got the date wrong too). But it was a highly siccessful raid and some rather spectacular film footage of the raid has survived.
Having read my posts, Lucile sent me a list of questions, I answered them, and now she’s written an article for her newspaper. Particularly with the anniversary of the D-Day landings coming up tomorrow, it’s great to get a bit of media coverage for my little website – and of course for getting the story of the seven airmen in the crew of B for Baker out there once more.
If you can read French (or even if you can’t), an online version of the article can be found here.
As I headed north up the Hume Highway from Melbourne early on Saturday morning, thin mist was still settled in low valleys and smoke rose directly upwards from the chimneys of roadside homesteads. It was an atmospheric start to my journey to Canberra for the annual Bomber Command Commemoration weekend.
This was the seventh time that the first weekend in June saw Bomber Command veterans, families, researchers, authors and assorted hangers-on converge on the national capital for a weekend of remembrance and reminiscing.
My base for the weekend is no longer called the Rydges Lakeside. It’s been turned into a slick, shiny and slightly pricier hotel called “QT Canberra”, full of odd political references and surprise images of photographers in the lifts. But I digress. On arrival at the hotel I quickly found my first veteran for the weekend, a man named Kevin Dennis. He was wearing, amongst the more usual service medals, an unfamiliar decoration hanging from a light blue ribbon – a Conspicuous Gallantry Medal. More about him later.
Off to the weekend’s first organised event, then: the Meet & Greet function in the shadows of Lancaster G for George at the Australian War Memorial.
It was an excellent function. There was a good-sized crowd present, the speeches were (like a good skirt) short enough to be interesting but long enough to cover everything, the food was good and there were some very interesting people to talk to. At one point, down near George’s tail I was talking to Tom Hopkinson, a 463 Squadron veteran mid-upper gunner. Two ladies approached: Lorna Archer and her daughter Rowena. Lorna’s husband Ken was a 460 Squadron bomb aimer. He is still alive but, at 90, is now too frail to travel and stayed at home in Melbourne this weekend. Lorna wanted to know, if Ken was in a Lancaster and it was hit and he had to bail out, how would he do it?
A fair question. I had a pretty good idea of the answer, but, well, we were standing under a Lancaster and we were talking to a man who used to fly in the things and so… well… why not? I asked Tom if he would like to do the honours. So we weaved our way through the crowd to the nose of the great big black bomber. Tom pointed up. And there, under the nose was the big square escape hatch through which the bomb aimer would have, if the circumstances dictated, been the first out. Which answered the question in a most satisfying manner.
Towards the end of the event, I spied an old man sitting down surrounded by family under (of all things) the German 88mm flak gun that’s on display next to George. His name badge said Alan Finch, 467 Squadron. Good enough for me, I thought. So I sat down and introduced myself. When Alan said he had done his first operation in August 1943 and had remained with the squadron throughout 1944 his name suddenly sounded strangely familiar.
I love modern technology. I pulled out my phone and searched for his name on this website. And there it was: I’d used two of his interrogation reports in my 467 Postblog series. I asked Alan, “Where were you on 24 February 1944?” He responded, “In the air!” Correct! Specifically, Schweinfurt. “Oh yes”, he said, “that was a bad one.”
No kidding. As I wrote here, his aircraft was coned over the target by some 24 searchlights. “Target more formidable than briefed,” he reported nonchalantly on return to Waddington.
This is why I come to these events. I’ve become quite familiar over the last few months with the names of the aircrew who were operating at 463 and 467 Squadrons between January and May 1944. I never suspected that I might run into one of them, sitting under the wing of a Lancaster at the War Memorial.
Following the function, a fair sized group of those who were staying at the QT met in the hotel bar for a wee nightcap. What followed was one of the better sessions I can remember in some time. Holding court in the corner near the fire was, yes, Don Huxtable. Gathered around him, most of the younger crowd (that is, those under about 60…). Over beers, scotch and sodas the night passed quickly with many, many line shoots.
Numbers dropped off as the night got later but, still there as the bar staff called last drinks, were an old pilot and his entranced audience.
Dawn broke in Canberra the next day with cloud, mist and rain. Telecom Tower was disappearing into the grey skies.
This did not bode well for the morning’s ceremony, planned for the lawn in front of the Bomber Command sculpture at the War Memorial. The decision was made early to move the ceremony to the Commemorative Area, with rows of chairs placed in the cloisters under the names on the Roll of Honour.
At the back of the crowd, personnel of the current iteration of 460 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, lined up under the leaden skies.
The Director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson, opened the service, delivering a moving tribute to the aircrew of Bomber Command. Speaking without notes, he quoted a letter written by Colin Flockhart, a 619 Squadron pilot, for delivery in the event of his death:
I love you all very dearly. Please don’t think I’m pessimistic but I do realise what the odds are and I have seen too many of my friends pass on without leaving any words of hope or encouragement behind. Cheerio and keep smiling though your hearts are breaking.
Flockhart was killed on the way home from Munich on 7 January 1945.
Attending the ceremony was His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK, MC (Ret’d), Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, who spoke about how Australians in particular traveled so far from home to fly in Bomber Command. The veterans present were invited to move to the inside of the Hall of Memory to view the wreathlaying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Ross Pearson delivered the Reflections address, paying tribute to those unsung support staff who also served: the armourers, the WAAFs, the parachute packers, the cooks (who worked miracles to make Spam palatable), the briefing officers. He also spoke eloquently on the unique “spirit of aircrew,” reading the citation for the award of the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal to Kevin Dennis, the veteran I had met at the hotel the previous evening. Kevin was a wireless operator who, badly injured by flak during an operation in March 1945, refused to leave his post until the damaged aircraft landed safely. In considerable pain with one foot almost severed from the explosion he had continued to carry out his duties, receiving the critical weather message which resulted in a successful diversion to an emergency airfield. For this, in the process saving his entire crew, he was awarded the CGM, one small step below a Victoria Cross.
This led to the most moving, unplanned, part of the service. After the notes of the bugler’s Rouse echoed off the stone cloisters, Brendan Nelson made his move. It was a breach in protocol, he said, “but we’re Australian and we can breach protocol occasionally.” He invited Kevin to come to the front while he explained why. Kevin is one of just ten RAAF personnel to be awarded the decoration during WWII. But because he required an extended hospital stay to recover, he missed the investiture and instead received his medal in the post. It had never been properly presented to him. Since we had the Governor-General present, Dr Nelson reasoned, it offered a good opportunity to fix that. Kevin came forward, shook Sir Peter’s hand and occupied a position of honour amongst the official party for the remainder of the ceremony.
This was one of those things which have become typical of Dr Nelson’s time at the helm of the War Memorial. I may not have agreed with him while he was in politics but it’s clear he has a sense of history and a sense of occasion and is a good fit in his current role. This was an inspired moment and it was fantastic to see Kevin being honoured in this very special way.
ABC Canberra had sent a camera crew and, following the ceremony, they interviewed a number of veterans, including Don Huxtable. Given the weather, Hux was wearing a long blue greatcoat.
Believe it or not, it’s part of his original RAAF-issue uniform.
Further photos from the ceremony:
Back to the hotel, afterwards, for the lunch. As well as catching up with some of the usual suspects (the McDonalds, the Toms Knox, Knox and Hopkinson, and various assorted Dons) I met a few new people. Stories were shared with Richard Munro, who is the man to contact for 460 Squadron queries. I had a good chat with Wing Commander Tony Bull, the outgoing air attache at the British High Commission in Canberra. And I met Tony Buckland, who was the son of a camera operator with the 463 Squadron film crew, and was carrying his father’s logbook and a spectacular album containing a collection of still photographs from operations.
Bob Buckland operated with 463 Squadron from June 1944. Among the pilot’s names listed I recognised that of Freddy Merrill, who was another one of the skippers I mentioned in my Postblog. Tony had seen on the guest list that a Merrill was present at the lunch, and wondered if it was the same person.
I thought it probably wouldn’t be. I’d earlier been speaking to Ray Merrill, who is on the right here:
Ray was a 218 Squadron rear gunner and he is pictured here with Jim Clayton, a wireless operator from the same unit.
As he was not on 463 Squadron at any stage, Ray would not be the Pilot Officer Merrill in Bob’s logbook. But, amazingly, he was connected.
It turned out that Freddy was Ray’s brother. Here’s a photo of Ray pointing his brother’s name in the logbook:
A good lunch, then – good food, good conversation and good conversation. It was an enjoyable finish to a fantastic weekend. There were many highlights over the two days. Catching up with many good friends. Meeting new contacts. Drinking with Hux late into Saturday night. Kevin Dennis’ CGM. The Merrill coincidence.
But the main purpose of the weekend, of course, was commemoration and remembrance for and of the men of Bomber Command. In this it was most successful. One of the more poignant moments happened at the Meet & Greet on Saturday evening.
After the speeches the lights dimmed and the sound and light show centred around G for George began. I was talking to Don Huxtable at the time. At the end of the presentation Hux was suddenly quiet for a moment.
“I don’t know how the hell I flew straight and level through all that,” he whispered.