11 November 2007

66 years ago a 15 year old left Cork with a doctored birth certificate and joined the RAF in Belfast. He wanted to be a pilot but trained as a navigator. He served in the Pathfinder Force with 109 Squadron and then on attachment in Italy and Burma. Like my grandfather, my father was fortunate to end the war with only minor injuries. The death rate among bomber crews was horrendous.



17 comments:

Siani said...

My uncle cheated his age to join the Navy - he was barely 16. He survived the war but succumbed to cancer in '86 - ironic, really, when you think about it.

Anonymous said...

He was a lucky man.

Anonymous said...

A very lucky man

Richard Havers said...

The men who served in Bomber Command were unbelievable brave. The fact that the aircraft they flew in were so basic makes what they did amazing. The fact that people shot at them while they did it, makes it even more so.

One more thing. Today when aircraft have to land in bad weather they have the technology to do it very safely. All those guys had was to come in 'on a wing and a prayer.' I'm in awe of what your father did.

jams o donnell said...

Sadly fate takes turns like that Siani. In on respect he was fortunate to have a longer life than many of his comrades.

He is anonymous

It amazes me that so few of them cracked under the strain Richard. I can't imagine the stress and fear they must have goen through time after time.

Sir James Badger said...

Wonderful, Jams. Brings it home.

jams o donnell said...

Thanks James

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Yes, he was fortunate - and obviously very brave.

jams o donnell said...

Thanks Welshcakes. I really cannot imagine what it would have been like seeing active service at any age, let alone a 16 year old

Steve Bates said...

It is your good fortune that you still have your father with you on Remembrance Day... and our good fortune that he survived the war to produce a son who writes and takes photographs and publishes the lot on the web. :)

Bryan said...

Climbing into a plywood airplane knowing people want to shoot you down, and that you are going in first to mark the target takes special people.

If you asked the crews, they would say that luck had nothing to do it, "we are just good at what we do". Of course if you checked their kit you find all kinds of amulets and charms, but you can't let on when you are aircrew, it would destroy the image.

He will live forever in the memory of others and the 'Net.

Renegade Eye said...

My father was at the Battle of the Bulge. He doesn't talk about WWII. Many soldiers are like that.

jams o donnell said...

Thanks Steve. I definitely consider it good fortune that I am here and able to write about it!

Oh yes Bryan. Dad always wore a miraculous medal. One of his comrades had a litle teddy bear. everyone had to kiss it when leaving the briefing room. Another would piss on his wheels (It wasn't Yuri Gagarin that started that one!). THey all had their rituals and nobody though the les of them for it.

It was only relatively recently that dad started to talk about his wartime experiences Ren. He will now be frank about his fear at the time. I hope your dad tells his story.

Richard Havers said...

My Uncle was a Flight Engineer, a Sergeant, with 466 Squadron, a Royal Australian Air Force unit that flew Halifaxes; this despite the fact that he had been born in South London and was English through and through. Between 15 February 1944 and 18 March 1944 he and his fellow crewmembers, who were all Australian, flew four missions against targets in France and Germany. The other six members of the crew were Flight Sergeants with the exception of the Wireless Operator/Gunner who was a Warrant Officer. On their first mission they bombed Augsburg, in Germany, they took off at 2103 and landed again at 0514 hours – meaning that they were airborne for over eight hours.

Their fourth mission on the night of 18/19 March was as part of a raid against Frankfurt – Twelve Halifaxes from 466 Squadron got airborne that night although two returned early due to hydraulic trouble. Seven of the remaining ten aircraft bombed the primary target and returned safely, three failed to return including my Uncle’s aircraft. A German fighter attacked HX231 killing the mid upper gunner Noel Lees and probably the other gunners, Jack Dansie and George De Fraine. With the fuselage a mass of flames the Captain told the crew to bail out, which Bill Bray. Ken Wilson and Doug Wooldridge all did. The Captain, Johnny Richards, pushed Doug Wooldridge out of the aircraft causing him to strike the tall, which knocked him out and broke his teeth. He came to in a snowdrift covered by his parachute, which in view of the very cold conditions undoubtedly saved his life. He was eventually discovered by German troops and admitted to a hospital run by Sister's of Mercy; Johnny Richards went down with the aircraft. Ironically the news bulletins the following day said that the bombers “met fewer fighters than usual”. All three men who bailed out became POWs and separately passed through the Luftwaffe interrogation centre at Oberursel, near Frankfurt on Main before moving on to Stalag Luft 3 at Sagan in south east Germany where they were reunited. They were later moved to Stalag Luft 6 at Heydekrug, East Prussia before being marched back west in the wake of the advancing Red Army; they were found by Allied troops. The four men that died, including the pilot, were all twenty-one years old with the exception of Jack Dansie who was just twenty; they are buried at Rheinberg War Cemetery in the Ruhr. My uncle, Doug Wooldridge, was a month shy of his twenty third birthday - today at eighty-four he still enjoys playing golf and travels the world. He is just one example that illustrates the random nature of survival in Bomber Command; the same can be said about every war

jams o donnell said...

Wow Richard that is an amzing story. You are quite right about the randomness of survival. Skill and experience helped but there was a whole lot of good fortune too.

Thanks very much for sharing your uncle's story

elasticwaistbandlady said...

Brave men and brave people made of perseverance. I sometimes wonder if we have what it takes today to man-up and face these challenges with courage like past generations did.

Our homeschool book club read a book about the Nazi invasion of Denmark during WWII and how the citizens worked together to save their Jewish friends and neighbors by smuggling them to Sweden. It was fiction but based on actual events. So fascinating to see the depths of bravery and the putting aside of ones own safety and life to help others.

jams o donnell said...

THe story of the evacuation of the Danish jews is a remarkable one Ewbl. It meant that one community survived almost intact where other jewish communities were all but destroyed. It is acts like that which make me think there is some hope for our despicable little species