23 October 1944 625 Squadron Lancaster III PB531 F/O. Morshead
Date: 23 October, 1944
Unit: No. 625 Squadron
Type: Lancaster III
Base: RAF Kelstern
Location: Unknown – Lost Without Trace (LWT)
Pilot: F/O Owen Henry Morshead 150313 RAFVR Age 21 Killed (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt James Hardman Porteous 1369004 RAFVR Age? Killed (2)
Nav: Sgt. Derrick Rowley Owen Pugh 1581750 RAFVR Age 21 Killed (3)
Air/Bmr: F/O Stanley Whitaker 168796 RAFVR Age 30 Killed (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt Percy Alfred William Black 1606715 RAFVR Age 20 Killed (5)
Air/Gnr: Sgt Leslie Johnson 2204527 RAFVR Age 19 Killed (6)
Air/Gnr: Sgt John Crawford McConkey 1899023 RAFVR Age 29 Killed (7)
Of the seventy-four aircraft and crews lost by 625 Squadron, initially three fit into the category of unknown cause, or lost without a trace. This meant that after take-off there was no contact or information of their demise. The most likely scenario would have been significant damage from a Nachtjagd attack or flak, resulting in an unwitnessed crash or ditching into a large body of water such as the North Sea, English Channel or Bay of Biscay. Alternatively, a mid-air collision, navigational error or fuel starvation may have led to the same watery grave.
The three 625 Squadron aircraft included:
Loss No. 10 - DV364, Fl/Lt. Spark DFC and crew, 28/29.01.44, Berlin http://www.aircrewremembered.com/spark-george-aytoun.html
Loss No. 42 - LM174, Fl/Lt. Harrison DFC and crew, 23/24.07.44, Kiel
Loss No. 53 - PB531, F/O. Morshead and crew, 23/24.10.44, Essen
However, Theo Boiten confirms that a Nachtjagd attack was the cause of the demise of LM174 along with Fl/Lt. Harrison and crew. Both he and Rod Mackenzie will be progressively publishing the comprehensive Nachtjagd Combat Archives in 12-15 volumes, by the end of 2021. This project will include documentation, including combat reports, to confirm aircraft and crew identification of many 625 Squadron losses. Suffice to say, evidence supports a watery grave as the final resting place for the brave young crew of PB531.
F/O. Morshead Left, Unidentified Crewman Centre & Sgt. McConkey (??) Right.
(SOURCE: ancestory.com Left & Geoff Johnson Right)
F/O Morshead and his crew were posted from No. 11 Operational Training Unit, based at RAF Bassingbourn, to 625 Squadron, on the 13.09.44. After completing a further 18 hours of training, they had an interesting introduction to combat when on 03.10.44, they began operational flying without first completing the traditional 'second dickie' trip. All were present on this daylight attack on West Kapelle, except Sgt Porteous, who was replaced with Sgt M. Mackintosh. According to Sgt Johnson’s logbook, “they made two runs over the target area.”
ORB Summary: 12 aircraft were detailed for this operation, the target being WEST KAPELLE. The main target was the sea wall, and the aim of the attack was to breach the sea wall and so flood the Island, making it unfit for occupation by the Enemy. A very heavy bomb load was delivered, and it would appear from the photographic results that, although a little under-shooting was evident by the first few aircraft, this was corrected, and it was observed by the later aircraft that the Sea Wall was breached and crumbling, thus attaining their object. All the aircraft attacked the target, and all of them returned to Base.
It then appears that all but Sgt Pugh flew their 'second dickie' mission with F/O A.B. Fulbrook, on a successful night raid to Saarbrucken on the 05.10.44. This was a “high level” bombing raid and according to the Operational Record Book Summary, the crew actually fired on an enemy aircraft. However, no claim was made from this action.
Some could be forgiven for thinking that this was actually Fulbrook’s second dickie trip. However, he was already a seasoned combat pilot by this time. An interesting note here is that F/O Fulbrook allowed Sgt. McConkey to ride as rear gunner, which is normally uncommon, as pilots preferred to have their own experienced and trustworthy rear gunners with them at all times. This suggests that Fulbrook’s usual rear gunner was out of action for some reason. However for insurance, the crew did include F/O Fulbrook's regular nav, Sgt D.W. Tizard.
This attack on Saarbrucken was requested by the American 3rd Army to destroy the railway and other German supply lines. In all, 531 Lancasters and 20 Mosquitos attacked, with a loss of 3 aircraft.
ORB Summary: 26 aircraft were detailed for operations, the target being SAARBRUCKEN. The aircraft flew through cloudy conditions but the visibility over the target was good, and they were able to identify the target visually in light of flares and moon. 25 aircraft attacked the target, and the bombing was accurate, a large number of explosions being observed. “C”-F/O. FULBROOK (Captain and Pilot) fired at an enemy aircraft, but no claim was made for this aircraft. One aircraft did not take off owing to a technical failure – All aircraft returned safely.
On the 07.10.44, F/O Morshead's full crew was back together on a daylight attack on Emmerich. They encountered intense flak over the target area, but nonetheless, returned safely to base.
In total, 340 Lancaster’s and 10 Mosquitoes were sent to Emmerich with 91% of the town being destroyed. Again, 3 aircraft were lost.
ORB Summary: 28 aircraft were detailed for operations, the target being EMMERICH. Each aircraft carried a “Cookie” and a large number of incendiaries which were dropped on the target area in very good weather conditions. Intense flak was encountered by our aircraft, and four Bomber Command aircraft were seen to be shot down over the target. F2 – S/L. Frowde (Captain and Pilot) sustained considerable damage from
flak incendiaries from an aircraft flying above F2, but the aircraft was brought back safety to Base. Photographs prove that the bombing was very accurate and concentrated – All aircraft returned safely to Base.
The crew then had a few days off before being required for the second bombing raid on Fort Frederik Hendrik during the morning of the 12.10.44, where they encountered “heavy guns”. This was part of the Battle of Scheldt where a garrison of Germans had been surrounded in the fort and refused to surrender. As such, the RAF was requested in a successful attempt to force the German’s hand.
ORB Summary: 15 aircraft were detailed for this Operation, the target being the same as for the previous attack – namely, XXXXXXXX FREDERIK HENDRIK. The weather over the target area was in marked contrast to the previous day, it being perfectly clear, and the attack was pressed home in grand style, the bombing being visual and accurate from photographic results obtained. All the aircraft returned safely to Base.
On the 14.10.44 they were involved in the first of two daylight operations against Duisburg ordered for that day. They experienced moderate flak over the target area and were “hit by flak” while attacking the steel works. This forced them to return “home on 3 engines”, successfully touching down at 1135 hours.
Unfortunately, P/O Hannah was not so lucky, crashing 6 minutes after take-off and was killed along with his air bomber. The remainder of his crew having survived after bailing out. http://www.aircrewremembered.com/hannah-lloyd-albert.html
This raid was known as “Operation Hurricane” and was intended to demonstrate to the enemy how overwhelmingly superior the Allied Air Forces were in this area. Over 1000 aircraft were used during the operation.
ORB Summary: 31 aircraft were detailed for this Operation, the target being DUISBURG. “Q” crashed just after take off, the Pilot P/O HANNAH and the Bomb Aimer, F/SGT BENNETT being killed. The remaining 30 aircraft went on to the appointed target, and attacked it in cloudy weather. Moderate flak was experienced over the target, causing the bombing to be slightly scattered, but the majority of the photographs were very good and showed accurate bombing. All the aircraft – 30 – returned safely to Base.
Almost a week went by before they were called upon to attack Stuttgart in horrible weather on the night of the 20.10.44. According to the Operations Record Book, the return landing was difficult, but they made it safely, touching down at 0430 hours.
This would be the introductory op for the Morshead crew and Lanc III PB531.
565 Lancaster’s and 18 Mosquitos attacked in 2 forces this night causing immense damage to the central and eastern areas of the city, including the Bosch works. 6 Lancaster’s were lost.
ORB Summary: For the second time during the day, aircraft set out for enemy territory, this being a joint attack comprising 18 aircraft from No. 625 Squadron and 12 aircraft from No. 170 Squadron... Due to a burst tyre on one of the aircraft belonging to No. 170 Squadron, it failed to take off. The remaining aircraft attacked STUTTGART. The cloud was 10/10ths over the target area, and due to this fact, the glow from the fires was the only visible signs of the attack. Due to bad weather over Base, all the aircraft landed at Base, with difficulty, except one which landed at Woodbridge.
EDITOR'S NOTE: 170 Squadron was formed in June 1942………and disbanded in October 1943. The Squadron reformed at Kelstern from ‘C’ Flight of 625 Squadron in October 1944 and operated Lancasters as a standard 1 Group unit until war’s end.
Logbook Entries from Sgt. Leslie Johnson
(SOURCE: Geoff Johnson)
REASON FOR LOSS
On the night of 23/24 October 1944, a total of 1055 aircraft were sent to attack Essen, the heaviest raid on this city to date. This was also a record for the most planes detailed to attack a target thus far in the war.
Over 4500 tonnes of explosive were dropped with over 90% being high explosive. Five hundred and nine 4000 pound “Cookies” were included. Very few incendiary type bombs were used due to the fact Essen had been heavily attacked in the past, resulting in most of the burnable buildings already having been destroyed by fire. This became a common theme the longer the war went on.
A German report from Essen states that 607 buildings were destroyed with another 812 being seriously damaged. 662 lives were lost with another 569 being wounded.
Only 8 (0.7%) Allied aircraft were lost on this operation. Of these, 3 of the 19 Lancaster’s detailed from 625 Squadron were lost! This represented almost 38% of the total losses of the raid, and 16% of the 625 aircraft detailed, easily one of the worst nights of the war for this beloved Squadron.
The other two 625 Squadron crews lost this night were:
Loss No. 54: PA174, P/O L.A. Tweter and Crew
Loss No. 55: LM691, S/L C.W.C. Hamilton and Crew
On this night, F/O Morshead and his crew, in PB531, were 15th in line, lifting off at 1632 hours. This was their 7th and final op. Sadly, no further news was heard from them after take-off, as they disappeared without a trace.
ORB Summary: 19 aircraft were detailed for operations, the target being ESSEN. Very bad weather was encountered both on the outward and return journey to this much-bombed target. The target area was covered by 10/10ths cloud, and this fact necessitated bombing on Wanganui flares. This was the first high level night attack for some considerable time, and icing was encountered. A fairly heavy bomb load was delivered yet once again on this target. Three of our aircraft failed to return to Base. “G” – Captain, and Pilot, P/O. Tweter, crashed near Clacton on Sea on the homeward journey, all members being killed. “O” Captain – Pilot. F/L (A/S/L) C.W.C. Hamilton, was hit by flak, but the Pilot baled out over AACHEN, and returned by Air to this country. Great satisfaction was felt throughout the Squadron at this news being given out. This Officer had completed 31 operations, and was one of the most popular members of aircrew on the Squadron. He was also a Flight Commander, and never failed to inspire the confidence of all members of the Flight he commanded. “H” Captain-Pilot, FO. Morshead, also failed to return, making a total loss of three aircraft.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Later intelligence indicated that 625 Squadron Lancaster LM691 was lost due to a collision with 462 Squadron Halifax LL599, Z5-E, over Allied territory, crashing at Aachen. S/L C.W.C. Hamilton, LM691's Skipper, was the sole survivor from his crew. F/Sgt John Maurice Grace, LL599's bomb aimer, was the sole survivor from F/O Nelder's crew. It is apparent that both survivors were attached to their chutes at the time of impact and subsequent disintegration of their aircraft. F/Sgt Grace survived to evade and return to England. He was discharged from the RAF on December 21, 1945, with the rank of Flying Officer.
16 November 1944 – letter from Secretary of Air to Mr A G Nelder, with the following advice ..... (quote)
"The member of your son's crew who is now safe in
the United Kingdom, Flight Sergeant J.M. Grace, has now been
interrogated and states that while flying at twenty thousand
feet, approximately ten miles North East of Aachen in Western
Germany, the aircraft suffered a hit causing it to dive out
of control and spin. Nothing was heard over the inter-
communication system. Flight Sergeant Grace was in the nose
of the aircraft and unable to move. Apparently the aircraft
disintegrated and Flight Sergeant Grace next remembers falling
by himself. Flight Sergeant Grace believes he is the only
survivor as he was the only member to be wearing a parachute
at the time. Next day in Aachen Flight Sergeant Grace
identified parts of an aircraft as being one of the Squadron
planes, but he cannot supply any additional information
regarding the fate of your son or other members of the Crew.
Permit me to extend the sincere sympathy of this
Department in the anxiety you are suffering and assure you
that when further information comes to hand it will be conveyed
to you immediately." .... (end quote)
AUTHORS' NOTE 1: This raid on Essen demonstrated that experience was no guarantee of survival. As detailed above in the ORB summary, S/L Hamilton was a very seasoned Skipper, having completed 31 operations. F/O Morshead had completed 6 prior to Essen, with P/O Tweter and his crew, being lost on their very first. ME and JEA.
AUTHOR'S NOTE 2: PB531 Aftermath by F/O David Mattingly DFC, from Christobel Mattingley’s book “Battle Order 204”:
“Back at Kelstern, they learned that three of the squadron’s aircraft had failed to return. They were shocked. They had always expected that one or more might go missing, but this was the first op on which it had happened since David had joined the Squadron.
In his hut with Murga, David looked at the six empty beds. ‘They’re all pukka pilots,’ he declared. ‘They could still make it back on a wing and a prayer.’
They fell thankfully into their beds, but although he was desperately weary, David stayed awake. His body still jangling with vibrations. His head still throbbing from the rumble of engines. Hoping, listening for the sound of returning aircraft. But there was only silence. At last he fell into the heavy sleep of exhaustion.
When he woke in the morning he was thrilled to see the beds occupied. But only for a moment. Six strangers lay there. Aircraft from another squadron had been forced to land at Kelstern during the night. Quietly David left the hut, devastated.
After breakfast he was stopped outside the Mess by a pilot from another station.
‘I’m looking for Flying Officer Morshead. Can you tell me where I’m likely to find him?’
‘Ollie?’ David exclaimed. ‘He went missing last night.’
The pilot struggled to keep his composure. 'He’s my brother,’ he explained himself.
David wished he had thought more before he had spoken. Blurting out his own pain like that. Too late now to take the words back. “'I’m so sorry,’ he mumbled. ‘He was a good bloke. He joined the squadron five days after me. We shared the same hut. I’ll show you to the Adjutant’s office. It’s a rotten war.’”
AUTHOR'S NOTE 3: ADDENDUM ON LACK OF MORAL FIBRE (LMF) by F/O David Mattingly DFC, from Christobel Mattingley’s book “Battle Order 204”: It is noteworthy that David has also included in his book a dramatic and insightful encounter with a pilot who had succumbed to the horrors of operational flying, night after night, over Occupied Europe:
"Back at Kelstern, David longed to go on his first op, but instead was called on for another duty, which gave him a new insight. Told ‘You’re wanted by the Adjutant,’ he walked briskly to the office wondering what it could be.
‘You are assigned to stay with Pilot Officer Jackson in sick quarters until he leaves the station,’ the Adjutant told him.
‘Why?’ David wanted to ask. But the Adjutant’s manner, tone and expression did not encourage questions.
‘Make your way there at once. You will be informed when you are to be relieved.’
‘Sir,’ David saluted smartly, and headed to the sick quarters at the edge of the station. An orderly showed him to a six-bed ward which had only one occupant. ‘Which bed is mine?’ David asked.
‘That’s your choice sir,’ the orderly replied. He nodded towards the airman sitting on a bed in the far corner. ‘There’ll only be the two of you in here. Your meals will be brought.’ The door clicked shut behind him.
As he approached the slouched figure, David’s footsteps resounded on the bare floor. But the airman did not even seem to hear. He was in a world of his own. David walked up to the bed. “Hullo,’ he said, holding out his hand. ‘Mattingley’s the name.’
The young airman stared up at him as if he had not seen or heard. David tried again. ‘Pilot Officer Jackson, isn’t it? Have you been long on the station?’
Suddenly the eyes focused on David. ‘A lifetime,’ he said in a flat voice.
‘How many ops have you done?’
‘Too many. Too bloody many,’ the other replied. He fumbled in his pocket and withdrew a packet of cigarettes. His hand was shaking as he pulled one out and his lips trembled as he tied to shove it between them and light it.
‘How old are you?’ David asked. About twenty-two. The same as he was, he judged.
But the other saw it differently. ‘The same as Methuselah,’ he laughed, and his laugh was hard, hollow.
‘Had any leave lately?’ David’s enquiry was met with the same response and a violent shaking of the head.
‘Bloody war,’ the young pilot muttered. “Bloody awful war. Seeing your mates shot to pieces, burned alive. Dropping bombs to burn other people to death.’ He lapsed into a silence from which he did not rouse until the orderly entered with their meal. Then he only pushed the food around the plate.
Afterwards, David picked up a pack of cards lying on the locker. ‘How about a game?’ His charge ignored the question and lit up another cigarette. David dealt himself a hand of patience. He was going to need it, he decided. There was not going to be much conversation here. David chose the bed in the corner diagonal from the other’s, who continued to smoke until he fell into a troubled sleep. Then David moved quietly across to check that the pilot’s last cigarette really was out. Bad enough to be incinerated by enemy fire. Too bad if it was a careless cigarette.
David was woken by a scream. The young pilot who had seen too much was reliving the night horrors. The horrors David was yet to experience. A strangled groan became choking sobs. ‘No. No. NO!’
David shook the writhing shoulders. ‘Wake up. It’s all right. It’s not really happening.’ He switched on the nightlight.
The other pilot twisted around and stared up at him. ‘Yes it is. It is. Somewhere over there. You’ll find out soon enough,’ he sobbed. David patted the shaking body and prayed for the soul in torment, until the pilot again subsided into sleep. When the roar of Merlin engines broke the night silence, as Lancasters took off on another op, he moaned, and his occasional babbles of terror brough David to his side throughout the night. David was thankful indeed when the orderly came in with breakfast.
‘You’re leaving at 0800,’ the orderly told the other pilot. He made no response.
‘Like a lamb to the slaughter,’ David thought as he saw his fellow officer being led away. ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ And he resolved to do all in his power to keep up the morale of his crew. Pilot Officer Jackson would never be spoken of on the squadron again. Nothing would ever be heard of him. Nothing would ever be explained.
And he, David, had been chosen as guard because he was new on the station and did not know the victim of stress.”
F/O O.H. Morshead 150313: Missing, believed killed, DFC.
Sgt J.H. Porteous 1369004: Missing, believed killed, DFM.
Sgt D.R.O. Pugh 1581750: Missing, believed killed, DFM.
F/O S. Whitaker 168796: Missing, believed killed, DFC.
Sgt P.A.W. Black 1606715: Missing, believed killed, DFM.
Sgt L. Johnson 2204527: Missing, believed killed, DFM.
Sgt J.C. McConkey 1899023: Missing, believed killed, DFM.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF CREW
1. F/O Owen Henry Morshead: Born in 1923 and one of 5 children to Lt.-Col. Henry Treise Morshead and Evelyn Templer Morshead, of Dorking, Surrey, England. He boarded at the “Hill” at Wellington College from 1936 to 1940 before a 6-month stint at the Chelsea Aeronautical School. He then entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He got his wings in the USA in 1943?
Owen’s father, Lt.-Col Henry Treise Morshead (D.S.O.) was a famous explorer in India and Tibet and served with distinction in the Royal Engineers during WW1. He was the victim of an unsolved murder in Burma in 1931.
Owen’s brother, Hugh Sperling Morshead (112892), was a Captain in the 1st/5th Battalion, The Queens Royal Regiment (West Surrey). He was killed in action on the 23.01.45, aged 25, and is buried in the Neederweert War Cemetery Netherlands, with 6 others from his unit.
2. Sgt James Hardman Porteous: Son of Richard Wood Scott Porteous and Annie Hardman Porteous, of Edinburgh, Scotland.
3. Sgt Derrick Rowley Owen Pugh: Son of Ernest Rowley Pugh and Mary Elizabeth Pugh, of 9 Kerry Rd, Newtown, Montgomeryshire, England. He was a Montgomeryshire Express reporter and served with the local Home Guard before enlisting in 1942. Born in July 1923.
4. F/O Stanley Whittaker: Son of Mrs. R. H. Whitaker, of Acton, Middlesex, England.
5. Sgt Percy Alfred William Black: Son of Percy Thomas Edward and Winnifred Anne Black, of Eastleigh, Hampshire, England.
6. Sgt Leslie Johnson: Born on April 1st, 1925, at Liverpool, Lancashire, England. He was the youngest member of the crew and was the second child born to William and Mary Johnson (nee Roberts) of Speke, Liverpool.
Leslie was a Tool Maker and also a member of the Air Training Corps prior to enlisting on the 26th of January 1943. He was described as being 5’8” tall with a clear complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair. Leslie had 4 siblings: Robert Thomas Johnson (1922-1946), Walter John Johnson (1927-2005), Arthur Johnson (1928-1985) and Geoffrey Johnson (1929-1930)
Warrant Officer Robert Thomas Johnson (1681295, RAFVR), sadly died on 31.01.46, from wounds suffered while serving as a Navigator in 57 Squadron, RAF. He is buried in the West Derby Cemetery in Liverpool.
7. Sgt John Crawford McConkey: Son of John Crawford McConkey and Mary McConkey; husband of Florence McConkey, of Whitewell, Co. Antrim, Ireland.
There is no known resting place for this crew and all members are listed on the Runnymede Memorial in the UK:
1. F/O O.H. Morshead – Panel 208
2. Sgt J.H. Porteous – Panel 236
3. Sgt D.R.O. Pugh – Panel 236
4. F/O S. Whittaker – Panel 209
5. Sgt P.AW. Black – Panel 225
6. Sgt L.Johnson – Panel 232
7. Sgt J.C. McConkey – Panel 233
“The struggle for control in the air lasted through the war, costing the lives of more than 116,000 men and women of the Air Forces of the Commonwealth.
The memorial commemorates those airmen and women who died in western Europe and have no known grave. They came from all parts of the Commonwealth and served in Bomber, Fighter, Coastal, Transport, Flying Training and Maintenance Commands. Some were from countries in continental Europe which had been overrun but whose airmen continued to fight in the ranks of the Royal Air Force.
The site overlooks the River Thames and the riverside meadow where the Magna Carta was sealed by King John on 15 June 1215. The land on which the memorial stands was donated by Sir Eugen and Lady Effie Millington-Drake in 1949.
The memorial was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II on 17 October 1953 and the text of her dedicatory address, some of which is reproduced, is displayed inside the entrance. The Queen returned to mark the memorial’s 50 years as a place of commemoration and remembrance on 17 October 2003.”
It is understandable that the limitation of space on this remarkable monument prevented the inclusion of pertinent information such as age, rank, next of kin and in particular, a heartfelt inscription message, on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. It is most unfortunate that families were deprived of the opportunity to provide a parting message to their loved one, simply because they had no known grave. It is almost as if their lives were of less value than those whose remains were located, identified and laid to rest at a known site. It would not be unreasonable for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to amend their records for Runnymede Memorial listings to include a belated inscription from surviving relatives. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
‘Battle Order’ by F/O. G.F. Dove, CGM, DFM
Darkened field, the quiet night
Silent planes awaiting flight\
Watchful ground crews waiting there
Stamp their feet in cold night air
Smoke-filled crew room, dimly lit
Young men donning flying kit
Each with thoughts, but little said
About the night that lies ahead
Maps and chutes and flying boots
Helmets, masks and Irwin suits
Flying rations, coffee flask
Ready for the nightly task
Transports waiting, climb aboard
No more time can they afford
To worry over things not done
Another trip, the time has come
One by one the crews alight
To board their aircraft for the flight
With nervous chatter, feeble joke
A cigarette – the final smoke
Take off time is almost here
Tight smiles hide the growing fear
That, come the dawn, they may be found
As scattered fragments on the ground
Engines started, props set fine
Taxi out and wait in line
Green light shining, it’s your turn
Now the insides start to churn
Throttles open, engines roar
Sweaty palms, the pulse rates soar
Down the runway taking flight
Up into the black of night
Sleepy Earth glides slowly by
Whilst around in velvet sky
Friends are with you, though unseen
Minds alert, the senses keen
Now the friendly cliffs recede
Soon to disappear and leave
Minds to ponder hours to come
And pray to see the morning Sun.
F/O George Frederick Dove, CGM, DFM, is one of the few RAF aircrew to have been awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal. He also received the DFM in 1941, so went to Buckingham Palace twice. George was born in 1921 in Yorkshire, England. He was 14 years old when he left school and joined the Post Office as a messenger delivering telegrams. After seeing an RAF promotional film, he joined the RAF in 1938 and qualified as a Wireless Operator and posted to 166 Squadron at Leconfield, Yorkshire.
In early 1940, George was posted to 166 Squadron (a bomber squadron) where he had a crash course in air gunnery. Then in April 1940 he had his first real posting to 10 Squadron at Dishforth, Yorkshire where he quickly received a cloth brevet to replace his ‘sparks and brass bullet’ sleeve insignia with sergeant stripes. George completed a Tour of 30 operations and unfortunately on 29th October 1940 had taken on an extra 31st operation to Wilhelmshaven. On their return journey over the English Pennines they thought they had hit a balloon cable, which caused a loud bang and aircraft to shudder violently and fill with smoke. The skipper ordered crew to bail out and thankfully the whole crew survived with just a few minor injuries. Lady Luck had been with them because they had actually flown into the hillside! The starboard wing tip had just clipped the edge of a hill.
George then went to Kinloss for 18 months as a Gunnery Instructor, where he completed a Gunnery Leader course. In August 1942, he started his Second Tour with 101 Squadron at Stradishall, Suffolk. Later that year, 101 Squadron moved to Holme-on-Spalding Moor, Yorkshire where George crewed up with different crew and all seemed to go well for them. However, on 14th February 1943 the crew’s operation took them to Milan and they were attacked by an enemy fighter on return journey. The two gunners shot down the fighter but their own aircraft filled with smoke and fire – four phosphorus bombs had been ignited at the rear of their bomb bays. George managed to pull out the badly wounded rear gunner from his turret and the pilot decided to try getting home while the crew fought the fire. Then when they reached RAF Tangmere on the South Coast, the pilot ordered crew to ‘prepare to abandon aircraft’, and despite having no fuel and a badly damaged aircraft, the pilot made a perfect landing.
On landing George realised his face was badly burnt and he was put into an ambulance and rushed to the famous East Grinstead Hospital where doctors repaired his face. George had become another member of the equally famous ‘Guinea Pig Club.’ http://aircrewremembered.com/hazard-ivan-henry.html
In March 1943, George (now a Warrant Officer) returned to 101 Squadron but the M.O. and Station Commander decided George had done enough and took him off operations. He had completed 40 operations and George realised ‘the dice would not fall his way forever’. He was commissioned and posted to RAF Binbrook to join 1481 Flight as a gunnery instructor and ended the war as a squadron adjutant at Kabrit, Egypt. After the war he returned to working at the Post Office and also in a coachworks. He also spent much of his time with the RAF Aircrew Association.
625 Squadron ORB
Battle Order 204: Christobel Mattingley
‘1 Group Bomber Command’: Chris Ward
Royal Air Force Bomber Command, Squadron Profiles Number 121, 625 Squadron, We Avenge: Researched, compiled and
written by Chris Ward
‘SO MANY’ - A folio dedicated to all who served with RAF Bomber Command 1939-1945 (Copyright W.H.Smith 1995)
Geoff Johnson, Nephew of Mid Upper Gunner Sgt. Leslie Johnson, and Michael Edwards.
Other 625 Squadron Reports
Allied Losses & Incidents Database