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626 Squadron and RAF wickenby

626 Squadron Lost Aircraft

 

 

During RAF Wickenby's short active service 1080 lives were lost from the base. This sacrifice is commemorated by a memorial with the form of Icarus on an obelisk at the entrance to the airfield. Today the site is a private airfield used as an aviation school and is home to The RAF Wickenby Memorial Museum.It was the home of 12 Squadron and 626 Squadron of No 1 Group, RAF Bomber Command.

During hostilities, over 300 operations were flown from the airfield with 166 bombers reported missing, all but six being Lancasters. Another 30 aircraft were lost in operational crashes.

626 Squadron was formed in November 1943 with two flights of eight aircraft. 'A' Flight was originally 12 Squadron's 'C' Flight and 'B' Flight was made up from Lancasters arriving from factories and other units.Its first operation was to bomb the Western entrance to the Montcenis tunnel in the French Alps on the 10th of November 1943.

In total the number of sorties flown by 626 Squadron were 2728. Aircraft lost on operations 49 and non-operational losses 11. It bombed 187 targets and laid mines in 18 areas.

Operations Board

Sgt Tom Bint & HK539

Wickenby Archives

Wartime Friesland Islands

Wickenby Airfield Plan

Bomber Command Photos

Wickenby Groundcrews

12 Squadron's Losses Over Holland

Some of 626 Sqdn's Crews

deanweb

   

 

If you start a major world war you expect to get a bloody nose. Any country that was faced with Nazi Germany did everything it could to make sure that they lost. It's always unfortunate when people get killed, particularly civilians and children, but you should not start wars. We did what was absolutely necessary. We did a great deal in shortening the length of that war. I don't think any one of those young men who died would have felt any differently. I didn't expect to survive, not in any morbid way, but because I felt I was doing something that had to be done in order to save this country from a fate worse than death.

War is horrible; war is immoral. But you fight it the way you can. Look what happens to innocent civilians when armies roll across great territories and take cities. How many civilians died at Stalingrad? Outside Moscow? Or Leningrad? We were fighting one of the most immoral entities on the planet, and we had to fight it the best way we could. I just cannot and will never accept that bombing Germany was immoral.' 

Air Marshal Sir John Curtiss KCB - Bomber Command navigator

 

 

An interesting story about a vase emerged in November 2010 involving 626 Squadron bomb-aimer F/O William Howe Newman who had joined 12 Squadron as a Pilot Officer in June 1943. He had flown as part of W/O  E. W Smith's crew and was with the eight Lancasters brought in from 12 Squadron's 'C' Flight in November 1943 to form 626 Squadron's 'A' Flight, with Squadron Leader Roden as their Flight Commander. 

Having already flown 22 missions with 12 Squadron, Bill had only eight more to complete with 626.  His first trip at the new squadron was on the 18th of November with W/O Smith in DV177 and the beginning of the Battle of Berlin. On the 28th of January 1944 he successfully ended his operational tour in Lancaster JB599 flying with twelve other aircraft from 626 Squadron again raiding their least favourite target, Berlin. (see crews page for W/O Smith's crew)

 

An account has already been related in Dennis West's interesting book, 'To Strive and not to Yield', describing Bill's part in the origins of  626's squadron crest.

 

"One person of note was F/O Bill Newman. He was an ex-12 Squadron bomb aimer and thought it was right and proper that the new 626 Squadron should have a badge and motto, so he took it upon himself to bring this about and give the Squadron an identity. The inspiration for the badge and motto came from Bill's schooldays and his interest in museums and art. Tennyson's poem 'Ulysses' had stuck in his mind and the last line seemed to be what he was looking for. After a slight alteration so that it would fit on the space provided on an RAF badge, "To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield" was altered by Bill to read "To Strive and not to Yield". 

The next part was the badge itself and here Bill's knowledge of museums came into play. 

Keeping with the theme of the motto, he paid a visit to the British Museum to find out about Greek galleys of the type Ulysses would have sailed, according to mythology. At this time in 1943 the Museum exhibits were long removed to a safe place to escape the blitz, but help was at hand in the form of Mr Norman Keyte of the department of Greek and Roman Antiquities. He had photographed everyone of the pieces in his charge before placing them in safe custody. After sifting through volumes of catalogues and photographs, Bill came across what he was looking for: a picture of a vase made in 460 BC, with Ulysses and his ship painted on the side. The painting on the curvature on the vase suited the format of the RAF badge and with a little adaptation Bill's idea became a reality. 626 Squadron had a badge. "

Fast forward to November 2010 and the ultimate ' Cash In The Attic' story – the Chinese vase that sold for £53.1 million at auction. Tony and Gene Johnson watched in astonishment as the price for their porcelain artefact soared to 40 times its estimate in a West London saleroom packed with Chinese bidders less than two weeks ago. 

It had been discovered in a house clearance of a modest suburban semi  in the London suburb of Pinner following the death of Mrs Gene Johnson’s sister, Patricia Newman, whose husband Bill had been the owner. Patricia Newman died in January 2010 and the estate was passed to her 85 year old widowed sister, Gene.

The 18th century 16 inch high porcelain vase from the Qing - pronounced ching - dynasty fetched the highest price for any Chinese artwork sold at auction. 

It had belonged to decorated wartime 626 Squadron officer Bill Newman and kept on a wobbly bookcase in his living room and insured for just  £800. When Bill, a retired office supervisor, died in June 2006, he left the house and its contents  to his wife. The estate, including the vase, was valued at a mere £135,000.

How the 1740 Qing dynasty artefact originally came into Bill's  possession remains a mystery but friends say he had an ‘adventurer uncle’ who spent the inter-war years of the 1920s and 1930s travelling the world and left it to the family with a remarkable collection of mementoes, maps, antique travel books and ornaments. It was probably stolen when China’s Imperial Palaces were ransacked by British troops during the 19th Century Opium Wars.

 

A  forgotten fact about RAF Wickenby is that for a short period of time it was home to 109 Squadron.  This Mosquito Squadron moved there from RAF Woodhall Spa during October 1945, but after staying only one month they left Wickenby and went to a more permanent base at RAF Hemswell on the 27th of November.  

 

 

Artist and Author, Squadron Leader Jack Currie (1921-96)

Jack Currie's time with both 12 and 626 Squadrons are described in his popular book 'Lancaster Target'. He arrived at Snelland Halt by LNER train en route to RAF Wickenby on Sunday June 27th 1943.

Currie's first operation was as second pilot to one of the squadron's more experienced pilots, F/Lt Benjamin McLaughlin DFC, on a bombing operation to Cologne on 3rd July 1943. His first operation with his own crew was a mine-laying operation in the Bay of Biscay in ED414 (Easy 2) on 6th July 1943.

An author of highly successful books about the RAF's bomber offensive during the second world war including The Augsburg Raid Battle, Under the Moon, and Round the Clock (co-wrote with Philip Kaplan).

He also wrote three books about his own wartime experiences - Wings Over Georgia, Mosquito Victory, and Lancaster Target the last of which brought him to the notice of an even wider audience when it was turned into an award-winning BBC television documentary presented by Jack himself.

Two further television programmes followed including a fascinating investigation into airfield ghosts. However it was as an artist that John Anthony Logan Currie began his career.

Jack Currie was born in Sheffield but brought up in Harrow Middlesex where after leaving school he became cartoonist on the Harrow Observer. On occasion his cartoons even made the pages of national publications such as Punch.

Thrilled by aeroplanes seen at pre-war air pageants Jack Currie immediately volunteered for aircrew although while awaiting acceptance he served as an ARP stretcher bearer and ambulance driver during the London blitz.

Finally in 1941 he was selected for pilot training under the Arnold scheme in which RAF pupil pilots were trained in America by the United States Army Air Corps.

He later described his flying training experiences in his book Wings over Georgia (1989). He declined a commission to remain in America as a flying instructor and returned to the UK as a sergeant-pilot with C Flight of 12 Squadron to take part in the Allies' bomber offensive over Europe - which by 1943 was building towards its climax.

Lancaster Target published in 1977 is a brilliant evocation of those times and the men whose bravery finally won through. There were however many brushes with death.

On his fifth operation to Hamburg on August 2 1943 Jack's Lancaster was turned upside down and into a spin in cumulonimbus cloud.

As it fell both ailerons were ripped off and it was only through a combination of skill and brute strength that he succeeded in bringing his aircraft home using only three engines and rudder.

His CO immediately recommended him for a Conspicuous Gallantry Medal which - almost unbelievably - was turned down. On completion of his first operational tour however he was awarded the DFC.

In the last days of the war in Europe Jack was posted to the Pathfinder Forces 1409 Meteorological Flight in which he flew Mosquitos.

This period of his career is described in his book Mosquito Victory (1983). Jack Currie remained with the RAF after the war receiving a permanent commission and served at RAF Lindholme West Kirby in Cyprus and at Syerston. He retired from the RAF in 1964.

His work as Civil Defence Officer for Newark lasted from 1964 until the end of the decade when the government closed down all but the county tier of CD operations.

In 1975 he moved to Easingwold near York as Civil Defence lecturer at the Home Defence College.

He finally retired in 1986. Nothing however could diminish Jack's love for the Lancaster bomber in which he had served during the war. 

From an article in the Newark Advertiser

  See 'crews ' page

 

see Youtube film featuring Jack Currie in 1980 at Wickenby

 

 

 

Michael Bentine CBE  ( 1922 – 1996 ) and 626 Squadron

"Patiently they sat down at the long tables and waited for the briefing officers to take the stage at the front and inform them of the route, weather expected on the trip, and the latest intelligence on the enemy defences. Individual branch officers were also to give information and advice about gunnery, radio procedures and frequencies, bomb aiming etc. One officer on 626 Squadron's Intelligence staff was F/O Michael Bentine who was to become a well-known radio scriptwriter and broadcaster of 'Goon Show' fame a decade later. "  'To Strive and not to Yield' by Dennis West

 

Born in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, Jan 26th, 1922, Michael Bentine was the second son of an English Mother and a Peruvian Father (Adam Bentin). Educated at a Folkestone private school and Eton College he always intended to become an engineer and scientist, like his father who was a Pioneer of Aerodynamics and Aero-Engineering with Sopwith Aircraft.

Since he was no longer physically qualified for flight, he was transferred to RAF Intelligence and seconded to MI9 a unit that was dedicated to supporting resistance movements and help prisoners escape. In 1942, after being discharged from Hospital, he was considered to be physically unfit for operational flying and was offered an honourable discharge. He refused and was subsequently offered a commission in British Intelligence, RAF operations section. In this capacity he served to the end of the hostilities, with various Allied Squadrons and Groups, including liaison with the U.S. 8th Air Force, and operations with Belgian and Polish Squadrons.

He entered Europe with a fighter-bomber wing, continuing operations through France, Belgium and Holland, crossing the Rhine and finishing at Celle, where his wing helped in the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration Camp. He considers this to be his most horrific wartime experience.

  "A few decades ago we had The Goons comedy team. They comprised of Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine. Michael Bentine had a clairvoyant ability that he expressed in his book "The Door Marked Summer". I came across the hardback copy in very good condition in The Oxfam shop in Troon last Saturday. It was selling for only £2.49 and I had told the shopkeeper I had found it very interesting when I read my copy years ago signed by the author. One chapter in particular related to his wartime experiences in the RAF.

He was stationed at RAF Wickenby in Lincolnshire with 626 and 12 squadron residing. From page 144, he tells the story of "Pop". 

This particular story is very similar to many we have all heard in the past. Sometimes I think a higher authority determines the outcome of these events. Michael was an Intelligence Officer at Wickenby. One of his friends was Flight Lieutenant Arthur Walker (Navigator), affectionately known as "Pop" because he was 31 and considered to be senior aircrew. Having just finished his tour of 30 operations, he was to become an instructor.

On Thursday 16th Dec 1943, Michael was granted a 48 hour pass. He spoke to his friend before leaving and wished him well. On his return late at night, Michael cried out "Hi Pop" as he made his way to his Nissen hut. Pop gave a sign of acknowledgement from a distance of about 35 feet or so as he made his way to his own hut. 

It was not till the next morning that Michael heard Pop had been killed on returning from a raid on Berlin in which he volunteered to help a new bomber crew. 12 Squadron's Lancaster JB715 PH-U had crashed at 23.45 hours at Hainton 9 miles WSW of Louth Lincolnshire on that Thursday 16th Dec 1943. All on board perished.

85276 Flight Lieutenant Arthur Walker RAF VR is buried in Whitehaven Cemetery." 

from www.ghosthunters.org.uk

Dennis West's book describes the night of that Berlin raid on the 16th of December 1943, known as 'Black Thursday' in Bomber Command history, as a particularly bad one with No 1 Group losing 15 aircraft altogether. The tired crews on their return to the UK after over seven hours of nerve-wracking flying, found themselves facing the most appalling weather conditions. They attempted to land at night in cloud and heavy fog. Of the 483 Lancasters taking part in the Berlin raid, 29 were lost having crashed or been abandoned when their crews parachuted.

626 Squadron were fortunate in losing no aircraft or crew but 12 Squadron's JB715 piloted by Australian F/Sgt H.R.H Ross crashed after flying into trees in low cloud at Hainton, near Louth in Lincolnshire at 2354 hours and all on board, including the above-mentioned F/Lt Walker, lost their lives.

 

 

 

 

Richard Dimbleby CBE (25 May 1913 – 22 December 1965)  was an English journalist and broadcaster widely acknowledged as one of the greatest figures in British broadcasting history. 

During the war, he flew on some 20 raids as an observer with RAF Bomber Command, including one to Berlin, recording commentary for broadcast the following day. 

In 1945, he broadcast the first reports from Belsen concentration camp. He also was one of the first journalists to experiment with unconventional outside broadcasts, such as when flying in a de Havilland Mosquito accompanying a fighter aircraft raid on France, or being submerged in a diving suit, and also describing the wrecked interior of Hitler's Reich Chancellery at the war's end.

On October 14th 1944 he was at RAF Wickenby. That night he flew as an observer with 12 Squadron on W/Cdr Stockdale's crew when the Thyssen Steel Works at Duisburg was bombed.

 

 

One of the Flying Control officers at Wickenby was a fairly (at that time) well-known British film actor, Colin Tapley (1907 – 1995).

Born in New Zealand, he served in the Royal Air Force and an expedition to Antarctica before winning a Paramount Pictures talent contest and moving to Hollywood. 

He acted in several films before attempting to return to Britain in 1940  to help the war effort. 

He found that he could not find transport direct from the United States due to war restrictions and so enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. 

He found employment as a flight instructor due to his past experience in the Royal Air Force and was later transferred to Britain as a flight controller. After the war he returned briefly to New Zealand before returning once again to Britain to renew his acting career. 

His most famous role was as William Glanville in The Dam Busters, and he also appeared in "Angels One Five" which starred Jack Hawkins.. He spent much of his later career typecast as a police inspector, a role he played in several films and TV series before retiring to Gloucestershire.

 

Wickenby's Runways taken in 1945. The long east-west runway is left to right along the bottom.

 

 

 

Eric Arthur Simms DFC (August 24, 1921 – March 1, 2009) was an English ornithologist, naturalist, writer, sound recordist, broadcaster and conservationist, as well as a decorated wartime Bomber Command bomb-aimer.

He was born on 24 August 1921, the youngest of three brothers, in 1921 in London, where his father was head gardener at the private gardens in Ladbroke Square. He won a scholarship to Latymer Upper School and in 1939 began to read history at Merton College, Oxford, where he also took up bird ringing and joined the University Air Squadron. Without completing his studies he was sent for aircrew training to Canada and the United States. He had been called up to join the Royal Air Force in August 1941 and was commissioned as a pilot officer on probation in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve on 19 March 1943.

After aircrew training in the United States and Canada, he became a bomb aimer, arriving at Wickenby in November 1943 as part of Wing Commander Philip Haynes crew.W/C Haynes became the CO of the new 626 Squadron (and later the Station Commander) and because of his administration duties the crew were often skippered by New Zealand Squadron Leader Johnny Neilson.

On the Berlin raid of February 15th 1944 when flying in Queenie 2 their aircraft was hit by flak and one piece missed the lower part of Eric's body by only a few inches.On the 26th of April 1944, at 26,000ft over Essen, their aircraft, piloted by Johnny Neilson, was hit by five incendiary bombs dropped from another bomber.

Fortunately none of the bombs had ignited, not having fallen far enough for the strikers to overcome their creep springs and fire their detonators.Less fortunately, Dick Tredwin the mid-upper gunner had received a direct hit to the head, rendering him unconscious. Johnny Neilson reduced height to ensure Dick received oxygen and he regained consciousness long enough to leave the turret and collapse by the exit door, where Pip Phillips and Eric Simms found him; Eric remained with him.

The Lancaster then limped back to RAF Wickenby where an ambulance and fire tenders were standing by.Johnny Neilson landed the aircraft with great skill and the badly injured gunner was speedily transported to the RAF hospital at Rauceby. After a long convalescence Plymouth born Dick Tredwin returned to duty at Wickenby. It would not have been easy, his 24 year old wife Beryl had died only a few months earlier during child-birth.

He went on to complete his service and was Flt Lt Tredwin DFC when leaving. While at RAF Wickenby he met and married WAAF Sgt Valerie Powell.

I am grateful to 'Pip' Phillips for his first-hand account of this action. T.B

Out of the 27 operations Eric Simms and his crewmates flew from Wickenby, nine were to Berlin.On 14 November 1944 Eric was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the citation praising his "skill and determination which have been an inspiration to the crews with which he flies" and a "complete disregard for danger in the face of the heaviest enemy defences". After demobilisation, he worked as a teacher in Warwickshire, and served on the research committee of the West Midland Bird Club. He then worked for the BBC, initially as a wildlife sound recordist, before making more than 7,000 radio broadcasts and hundreds of television appearances. He was a passionate believer in bringing natural history to a wider audience, and was a resident naturalist at the BBC. He is credited with starting the Countryside radio programme in 1952. As a guest on Desert Island Discs in 1976, one of his eight choices was a recording of a blackbird he had made near his London home. Eric Simms also appeared in Sir John Betjeman's 1973 TV documentary Metro-land, about the Metropolitan Railway line running northwest out of London. He was featured birdwatching in Gladstone Park, near to his home in Dollis Hill.

In 1980 he and his wife Thelma (who was Section Officer Thelma Jackson, WAAF, when they married) retired to South Witham, near Grantham, Lincolnshire. He died on 1 March 2009. Thelma had died in 2001.

 

 

 

12 Squadron bomb-aimer F/O Campbell Muirhead arrived at Wickenby in early May 1944.

On entering the Mess for the first time, I was surprised to see, in the ante-room, an Austin Seven parked there on the carpet. A P/O told me that, actually, it belonged to his navigator. When I observed that the ante-room didn't seem the ideal parking place for a car he added that, well, his navigator didn't actually know it was there.

Evidently his crew, who had done 20 ops, had been rewarded with 3 days' stand-down: his navigator, together with an oppo, had decided to take off for London: this oppo also had a car and they decided to save petrol by both going in his.

The navigator's Austin Seven had therefore been left in a small parking space just outside the ante-room.

Some bods decided that it was making the place look untidy: they measured the Mess outside door; also the door to the ante-room. They concluded that, if they unscrewed both doors from their supports, and removed certain parts of the Austin, they could just squeeze it in. Which they did. Once in, they put back the parts of the car they had removed. So there it stood in all its glory on the ante-room carpet.

I noticed that somebody thoughtfully had placed a copy of The Times underneath the engine to protect the carpet from oil.

A couple of days later the car had vanished. Whether the original removal merchants had put their operation into reverse or whether the owner and cronies had removed it, I do not know.    'The Diary of a  Bomb Aimer' by Campbell Muirhead.

 

 

After the war Pilot Officer David Oliver, who had served at RAF Wickenby, wrote

Morale was high throughout the period that I was at Wickenby. An efficiently run station and intelligent leadership, including inspiration from a few whose exploits were legendary, helped a lot. 

Some other factors predisposed to high morale. The average age of aircrew was twenty or twenty-one and very few had the close attachments and responsibilities of wife and children. We were just as well educated academically as the young men of today hut we were less socially and politically aware. 

We had not experienced the clamorous debate in the media on every conceivable subject, nor the continuous dissection of authority that goes on today. In the event, we were united in our belief in the cause and in giving unquestioning support to those in authority.

We were intensely preoccupied with our own crew and very strongly motivated not to let it down. Apart from our commanders and three or four other crews that were close contemporaries, we knew few other aircrew on the station as more than passing acquaintances. The effect on morale is less severe if casualties are not known to one personally. By far the highest casualty rate occurred amongst the very inexperienced crews, whom established crews were unlikely to know personally.

 

 

12 Squadron and 626 Squadron crews outside the Crew Locker Room at RAF Wickenby (around January 1944)

From the crew of Wing Commander Haynes and Squadron Leader Neilson - first on left is F/Lt H B (Pip) Phillips - Flight Engineer, next to him is P/O Dick Tredwin - Mid Upper Gunner, 4th is P/O Eric Simms - Bomb Aimer, and 6th is F/Sgt Paddy O'Meara - Rear Gunner.  Framed in the fourth glass pane from the left is 'A' Flight Commander, Squadron Leader Spiller, and below the sixth pane is 'B' Flight Commander, Squadron Leader Neilson.   Can you name any other airmen in this photograph? If you can -  please make contact. 

 

Picture kindly supplied by Humphrey 'Pip' Phillips 

 

 

 

Squadron Leader Bill Spiller The person standing at the back of the 5th photo down by the map on the first page of your website is my late father, Squadron Leader Spiller and is also in the 1st and 6th photos on the page, third from the left. There are more details about him on this webpage     http://www.jcproctor.co.uk/josiahlewisspillerdfc.html      
Hope this helps.  Kind regards,   Jeremy Spiller

F/Lt Spiller took command of newly formed 626 Squadron's ‘A’ Flight on 5th December 1943. 'Bill' Spiller is mentioned in Sqn Ldr Jack Currie's memoir 'Lancaster Target'. At the end of his 'tour' with one operation left to do Currie was expecting to finish with a 'milk run' to a relatively 'easy' target and was somewhat miffed when himself and his crew appeared on the battle order for the attack on Berlin on 28th January 1944. Jack Currie intended to have it out with 'Bill' Spiller who suggested that it would be better to get it over with rather than 'hanging around waiting for their last op getting more and more jittery'. Berlin was to be an early (7.00pm) take-off, 'you'll be home by three, and you're finished before you've had a chance to worry about it.'  All went well for the Currie crew and as predicted they landed in the early hours of the morning and a crate of beer was waiting for them, courtesy of Flight Commander Sq/Ldr Spiller.  Sq/Ldr Spiller's crew was on the battle order for the next operation to Berlin on 30th January.

 

 

 

 

Hello Tom.  My great uncle is RAAF F/Sgt J E Atherton who flew with P/O Reg Welham. He is 13th from the right, back row in the group photo. Matthew Eddison

 

 

 

Hi Tom, I came across your interesting and informative website whilst browsing for information about RAF Wickenby, where my grandfather was station in 1944-5 as chief steward in the sergeants’ mess.

I too have a photo of the 12 and 626 Squadrons, and my grandfather has labelled four of the men pictured – Hutchinson, Kimmet, Wise and Butcher.

It’s difficult to pinpoint/describe them to you, so I have attached a copy of mine so you can see the labelling. I know that Pilot Officer John Butcher’s memoirs are in a booklet at RAF Wickenby Museum, and Wise is Sgt Fred Wise. My information from Anne at the museum is that their crew was made up of Sgt P/O Byne, Sgt F Wise, P/O John Butcher, F/S R Mogg, P/O G Wilson, Sgt J Francis and Sgt J Legge, but I can’t identify any more of them from the photo.

I hope this may be of interest to you.

Regards, Liz Dandy

 

 

'Full Moon Tonight' music video
My father ( Noel Knight) flew with Bomber Command and after he died we found notes that he had kept – not even my mother knew anything about them. I used them and other books I read as inspiration for song lyrics which have since been recorded by Grant Luhrs. Even though the song has been around for some time now Grant has decided to use it as the title track for his latest album as he gets a tremendous response when he plays it live. So I decided to make a film clip for the song using material available on the net. I have been staggered at the response I have received since I posted it a few days ago.  I have included the YouTube link to it so if you feel it appropriate you might like to put it on your site.  Thank you and keep up the good work.   Peter Knight
Aussie Pilot Officer Welham's 626 Squadron crew in January 1944.   Left to right -RAAF F/Sgt J J Egan (mid-upper gunner), RAAF F/Sgt J E Atherton (rear gunner), RAAF F/O Noel Knight (navigator), RAAF P/O Reg Welham RAAF (pilot), RAF P/O Moore (wireless operator), RAF Sgt Lamb (bomb aimer), and RAF Sgt Groom (flight engineer)

 

 

 

 


Memories of RAF Witchford  by Barry & Sue Aldridge  
Welcome to RAF Witchford under Bomber Command during WWII: from its beginnings in 1943 to the terrible statistics of lives and planes lost by 115, 195 and 196 Squadrons whilst on raids over enemy territory.
There are lucky escapes - Nicholas Alkemade who baled out of a stricken bomber without a parachute and survived.
There is tragedy when, just about to land safely back home, Lancasters are shot down by a marauding Messerschmidt ME 410 in the Intruder Incident.
Decades later, their twisted wreckage is excavated and becomes part of a lifetime project to rediscover the people who served - and the families that remember them to this day.
This is an incredible collection of personal stories, memories and photographs from 1943 onwards. It gives a real insight into life on a wartime airfield and you get to know many of the young airmen and women who lived and worked there.

Barry Aldridge, who with his wife Sue looks after the the RAF Witchford Museum, was moved to learn more about the brave men and women stationed at RAF Witchford and RAF Mepal when he got involved with organising the War Years exhibition in Ely Museum. His passion led to the excavation of the Lancaster bomber at Coveney. And so started a journey of research, amazing discoveries and new friendships around the world. Sadly, Barry became too unwell to complete the book, but his wife, Sue took over the flame to complete his absorbing account of local history.         

To purchase a copy, please contact Sue Aldridge via email at: Suealdridge3@gmail.com    £16.00     post £6.95

 

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgements

 

I first started work on these pages several years ago as part of my own family history research web-site. I needed to know more about my late father Sgt Tom Bint who was killed with all his crew when 626's squadron CO, Wing Commander Quentin Ross, piloted Lancaster HK539 to Berlin on the March 24th 1944 raid. 

I was on fairly familiar ground as I myself had served on RAF ground-crew working as an air wireless mechanic for four years in the second half of the 1950s. At our radio school, RAF Yatesbury in Wiltshire, they at that time were still using the R1155/T1154 radio equipment from Lancasters as a primary teaching aid (these being the years before transistors etc). There was also, if my aging memory is accurate, the fuselage of an old Lancaster with its electrical equipment intact in a distant corner of the camp still being used  by instuctors.

I am, though, forced to mention that I did not see many similarities with that equipment when working on V bombers at RAF Gaydon later in my RAF career.

 

At the time I began my research there was already a decent amount of information about RAF Wickenby both on-line and in book form.

My principal source was Dave Stapleton's original 626 Squadron web-site. He had carried out a huge amount of research and was for several years extremely helpful with encouragement, assistance and information. When his site sadly closed down, I felt there was definitely a need to 'pick up the baton' and so commenced work on 626-squadron.co.uk.

Books proved to be another mine of information. Dennis West's 'To Strive and not to Yield' was the most informative, and Jack Currie's 'Lancaster Target, and 'Rear Gunner Pathfinders' by Ron Smith really helped to give me an idea of what it was like to be on a Lancaster aircrew during 1943-44. I have to acknowledge the generous help and photographs from Humphrey 'Pip' Phillips who was with Wing Commander Haynes' crew.

I should also acknowledge the work of those volunteers at Wickenby. Both Anne Law and Tim Brett have helped with numerous requests from aircrew's families and are, with good reason, regularly praised by correspondents to this site.

The 'Lost Bombers' web-site proved to be another useful on-line source. Condemned by some critics for plagiarism, it was, before I invested in my Chorley books, a useful, though occasionally unreliable, tool. Sadly, its founder has now passed away together with his web-site.

I must not forget to mention where the bulk of my information has come from. Without the steady flow of photos and anecdotes from 626 Squadron aircrews' relatives and friends, there would not be a quarter of the pages so far up-loaded.

 

Should you wish to copy anything from these pages, and you are not doing it for commercial gain, please feel free. I do not pretend to claim ownership to any of this material.

Tom Bint