Tag Archives: RAF

In memory of Sgt Jimmy Thornton

As we spend the day remembering and giving thanks to those who gave their lives in conflict, I thought it timely to share another poem that was included in my grandfather’s collection of war memorabilia.

As with the last poem I published, I am not sure of the author. It is unlikely that my grandfather was the author, as the poem makes reference to time spent in Canada and Harrogate. Broody was not stationed at either of these locations.

“Jimmy”

(In memory of Sgt Jimmy Thornton)

From forty one to forty three
We lived our lives as one.
We trained and talked, drank and walked.
Our lives were in the sun.

From Blackpool, Brid to Heaton Park
And Aston Down as well.
Each station brought us near our goal
‘Though some of it was hell.

Wintered in Canadian snows
Our brevets and tapes to earn.
Then back home to Harrogate
And still much more to learn.

Then the parting of the ways,
Our paths no more to cross.
From OTU to HCU
Then a crew for a squadron loss.

We flew, we fought by night and day
Our duty must be done
Without a thought for future years
Till the fight was won.

I tried to found out where you’d gone,
‘Gone missing ‘, so they said.
Then I found in later years
Your name among the dead.

Your name is now emblazoned
On Runnymede’s great wall
In letters clear of shinning gold
Your death reminds us all –

You lie in some forgotten field
Or in a watery grave.
Now I, who live, am humbled
By your young life you gave.

I’m sure you’ll agree this is a very moving piece of writing – a personal tribute from one airman to another who trained together and then went their separate ways to fight in the air war.

Some research of the CWGC database only lists one James Thornton as remembered on the Runnymede Memorial [Panel 277], a Sgt. James Dennis Thornton (1317255) of 36 Squadron.

For much of the war, 36 Squadron had been based in the Mediterranean and North African theatres, but in January 1945 the Squadron was flying Wellington Mk XIVs out of RAF Chivenor, on Anti-Submarine patrols with RAF Coastal Command.

The Squadron’s Operations Record Book for 24/i/45 reports that at 01:39, aircraft NB880 took off on patrol duty LV42. The crew for that flight were:

F/Lt Walter George Edward Becker (62695)
F/O Harry Edwin Hastings (189139)
F/Lt Stanley Walton (125847)
W/O Henry Thomas Large (1384700)
F/Sgt James Murray Smith Richie (656758)
Sgt James Dennis Thornton (1317255)

There is no “Down” time recorded in the ORB. The entry reads:

“This aircraft failed to return. F/Lt Becker and his crew are missing. Later reports state that a fire was seen at sea. P/407 sighted oil patches and wreckage (thought to be pieces of fabric) in position 5302N 0450W.”

(This is a position approximately 18 Nautical Miles SSW of RAF Valley on Anglesey)

Please spare some time today to remember, among the thousands of others, these 6 young men who have no grave except the Irish Sea and who gave their lives so we could have a better tomorrow.

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Squadron Aircrew List updated

I have just published an update to the Squadron Aircrew list. A few new Christian Names and Service Numbers have been added.

The page can be found here or by navigating through the 488(NZ) Squadron Research tab at the top of the page.

As always, if anyone has any corrections or additions to this list, I would be delighted to hear from you via the contacts page.


A Rear Gunner’s poem

I’m wandering slightly off topic now, but one of the items I found in my grandfather’s collection of wartime material was the following poem.

I know he didn’t write it, as it is the story of a Rear Gunner in heavies with Bomber Command. At any rate, rather than languishing in a box in Somerset, I felt it should be shared.

Please do feel free to reproduce the text or share this post (but please credit as appropriate). Maybe someone out there will recognise it as a poem their ancestor wrote.

A word of warning – this poem will transfer you back to a cramped rear-gunner’s turret in a heavy bomber some 70 years ago!

Another Op

Bumping down the runway
With the turret on the beam,
Flashing past well-wishers
Lit by the drem’s dull gleam.

The pulling of the stomach
As we slowly climb on track
Setting course to eastward –
How many will come back?

The clipped command to alter course
As we cross the Anglian shore,
Then extinguish navigation lights
As the engines increase their roar.

The throbbing of the engines
Disturbs the fading light
As onward, ever onward
We fly into the night.

Routine settles to a rhythm,
And those ‘up front’ dictate
The course, the speed, the height
And the passage of our fate.

Searching ever searching,
The turret turns to and fro,
Looking, always looking
For our enemy and foe.

The sound of throbbing engines
Envelopes our immediate night,
And the clammy taste of oxygen
As I adjust the dull ring sight.

A quiet statement from the Nav –
‘Enemy coast a head’,
The blood flows quicker thro’ the veins –
Our training stifles the dread.

Searching ever searching,
For that darker smudge of black.
Looking for the fighter
That could stop us getting back

The Nav again is heard to say
‘Target. Dead ahead’.
The tightening of the stomach
Is the only sign of dread

As a lonely, cold rear gunner
I always face the rear
And never see the target.
Till the aircraft’s there.

Flying ever closer, closer
To that awful scene.
Every nerve is strung so tight
You stifle the need to scream

The observer now takes full control
And by his directed call
Keeps the tingling nerves on edge
Till he lets the bomb load fall

With the sudden upward lift
We all expect the worst,
But heave a sigh of intense ‘relief
As the aircraft changes course.

Nose well down and increased speed
To escape from that dreadful sight.
We race across the crimson sky
To the safety of the night

As those up front now search the sky
For the fighter that lurks in the dark
While I at last see the target fires
Where we have left our mark.

 


RAF Zeals – 1944 Aerial Photograph found

On 04/v/44, 488(NZ) Squadron moved from RAF Bradwell Bay to RAF Zeals.

This move was covered in earlier posts, but I have just found an aerial photo of RAF Zeals dating from March 1944, only weeks before 488(NZ) Squadron arrived.

As a reminder, RAF Zeals is at Grid Reference ST 78018 32945, between the villages of Stourton and Mere, just off the A303. The photograph below shows how the airfield looked on 24/iv/44.

You can see the issues that 488(NZ) Squadron faced with the airfield – no proper runway, just a grass track. In his account of his D Day Patrol, Broody described the state of the airfield at Zeals:

“Zeals was a not too satisfactory grass airfield, close to Mere. One of its less attractive features was a roadway running across the main “runway” (i.e. the path outlined in the grass by runway lighting) which was showing a tendency to break up and throw pieces of debris at the tails of the aircraft. On taking off in a westerly direction, it was necessary to climb fairly hard to clear a ridge, which was succeeded by a valley, notorious for down-draughts, before another and higher ridge”

Aerial photograph of Zeals airfield looking south east, the control tower, technical site and blister hangars are at the top, 24 March 1944. Photograph taken by No. 544 Squadron, sortie number RAF/NLA/80. English Heritage (RAF Photography).

Aerial photograph of Zeals airfield looking south east, the control tower, technical site and blister hangars are at the top, 24 March 1944. Photograph taken by No. 544 Squadron, sortie number RAF/NLA/80. (Image Source – IWM / English Heritage – Original image at – http://www.americanairmuseum.com/media/6185)

Not much remains of the airfield today – it has returned to agricultural use – apart from the old control tower which has been converted into a private residence.

The site of RAF Zeals as it looks today. (Image from Google Earth)

The site of RAF Zeals as it looks today. (Image from Google Earth)

Please note that as the 1944 image was taken from an almost southerly aspect, I have also rotated the Google Earth image for better comparison.


Aircrew Biographies

I have made a start on adding some Aircrew biographies to the site. They include service histories and photographs not previously seen. This has only been possible with the help of relatives of these airmen, and I am grateful to them for their help.

You can see the biographies added to date here or by navigating through the 488(NZ) Squadron Research link at the top of the page.

If you have any information about an Airman of this Squadron, and would like to see a biography included, please get in touch using the Contact page.


30/vii/44 – Loss of S/Ldr EN Bunting & F/O ECS Spedding

On the night of 29&30/vii/44, eight crews took off on Patrols over France. S/Ldr Edward Bunting and his Nav/Rad, F/O Ted Spedding were chasing a FW190 at low level when they were hit by flak. Bunting managed to pass a message over the radio that they had been hit. This was followed by an explosion being seen on the ground some 15 seconds later.

With no other information available, the crew were posted as “Missing, Believed Killed”.

Sadly, neither man survived, and were interred in a joint grave at St Remy churchyard in the Calvados region of France.

The joint grave of S/Ldr Edward Bunting and Fg.Off Ted Spedding (St Remy church, Calvados, France)

The joint grave of S/Ldr Edward Bunting and Fg.Off Ted Spedding
(St Remy church, Calvados, France)

Their names are duly recorded in the Roll Of Honour


01/viii/43

Now with No.2 Squadron, 51 OTU, Broody’s Operational Training continues. Training moves on to Bristol Beaufighters. This flight was also the first under the control of a Ground-Controlled Interception station. I will write of the role of GCI in more detail later.

1st August 15:30
Bristol Beaufighter I V8350 (A/I Mk.IV)
Pilot: W/Cdr Hamley AFC
Navigator (R): Self
A/I & Day GCI Practice – East Hill
3.30
Poor set – serious fades & squints

beaufighter

Bristol Beaufighter