Dom’s gonna hate me!

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

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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


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