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Fl/Lt. Don Nelson D.F.C. and Bar. M.i.D.

Fl/Lt. Don Nelson D.F.C. and Bar. M.i.D.
Born: February 23rd 1920, London. Died: March 20th 2011 Age 91.

Nelson joined No 7 Squadron in the spring of 1944 shortly before Bomber Command came under the direction of the Supreme Allied Commander for Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy. 


For the next three months, the Pathfinders were heavily engaged in supporting the operation.

The key to their success was accurate navigation and precise timing, placing great responsibility on Nelson and his fellow navigators screened off in the fuselage of their Lancasters.

In the build-up to D-Day, Nelson attacked the French railway system and stores depots. Immediately before the invasion the huge coastal gun batteries were marked with flares and target indicators which the main bomber force used as aiming points. 


For his work over this period he was mentioned in despatches.

Nelson flew with one of the squadron’s flight commanders who frequently acted as master bomber. Orbiting the target to give aiming instructions to the following bombers, often under heavy anti-aircraft fire, was a perilous task, and 7 Squadron lost three commanding officers in the space of only a few months.

In the weeks that followed the invasion, Bomber Command made many attacks against the V-1 flying bomb sites in the Pas de Calais.

These small targets, often close to inhabited areas, had to be marked very accurately in order to avoid civilian casualties.

Nelson also attacked Le Havre, where a large force of E-boats posed a serious threat to the shipping resupplying the Allied forces.

Later he attacked the strongholds at Boulogne and Calais, ports that were vital in helping to resupply the armies advancing eastwards. At the end of September he was awarded a DFC.

Towards the end of August, Bomber Command resumed its attacks against German industrial centres, and Nelson’s crew marked Kiel, Bremen and Stettin and also acted as master bomber on a number of raids.

He attacked Saarbrucken in October, his 70th and final operation. At the end of his tour he was awarded a Bar to his DFC.

Donald Kenneth Nelson was born in north London on February 23 1920 and educated at Tollington School.

Aged 19 he volunteered for flying duties in the RAF and trained as a navigator in South Africa.

In March 1942 he joined No 37 Squadron, a Wellington bomber squadron of the Middle East Air Force.

The arrival of Rommel and his Afrika Korps transformed the situation in the desert war, and Nelson and his colleagues attacked shipping in Tobruk and Benghazi in addition to supply dumps and advanced airfields as Rommel pushed towards Egypt.

He also attacked Heraklion airfield on Crete and targets on the island of Rhodes.

In September 1942 he completed his tour of operations and returned to England to be a bombing instructor.

In the final months of the war, Nelson flew with a special RAF transport unit that maintained a regular route across the Pacific to Australia and New Zealand.

In January 1946 he was released from the Service.

Nelson became a technical representative for large companies in the building trade, including Pilkingtons and Goodlass paints.

Among his assignments was hanging lead doors at the Bank of England.

Skilled at DIY, he once converted a mahogany dining table to a drop leaf table during the afternoon prior to an evening dinner party. He also made ball gowns for his wife.

It always rankled with Nelson that Bomber Command’s contribution to the defeat of Hitler was overlooked after the war. He was very active in the Pathfinder Association, serving as both its treasurer and its president. He also supported the initiative to build a memorial to Bomber Command in London’s Green Park, personally raising more than £2,500 for the fund.

Don Nelson married, in 1943, Edna Mather. She died in 1986, and he is survived by a son and a daughter; a second son predeceased him.


Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard of the Spixworthonian Language School.

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