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Minutes of the 368th meeting held at 10.00 in Stokesley Town Hall on Tuesday 11th September 2018:

Speaker Tony Eaton: ‘The Bomber Boys’

Tony was born in Grimsby and was in the RAF for 4 years, 3 of which he spent at Leeming. His hobbies include the piano, singing bass, Bomber Command and the RAF.

He told several extraordinary stories recounted to him by survivors from Bomber Command. These demonstrated courage, bravery, good luck and dreadful. The men were mostly in their 70s and had previously been reluctant to tell of their experiences. Tony is convinced that they were all genuine. 155,000 men served in Bomber Command in World War II. 55,000 died and 9,000 were taken prisoner. Arnold Pearson was a wireless operator from Northallerton who was awarded the DSO and DFC. He joined in 1941 and flew on all 3 of the first 1000 bomber raids to Berlin in 1942. He then joined the Pathfinders who were first on the scene and whose job it was to illuminate the targets. These were marked with green flares. He flew to Berlin 11 times in 1943/44. He was in an aircraft which collided with another Lancaster. Both planes survived and their crews found each other in the same bar the following day. Only 4 wireless operators received the DSO. He drank a bit too much and was sent to his room. The penalty for not staying there would have been to fly the following night. That plane was shot down. Tom McCarthy was a bomb aimer in a Halifax. On his first mission, an incendiary bomb went through the plane form above and an engine was shot off. The fire was put out and the mission continued to bomb targets in Hamburg. He took part in the Peenemunde raid on the German Baltic coast. On this raid, 850 bombers attacked V1 and V2 rocket sites. The flight path successfully deceived the Germans into thinking that the target was Berlin. The aircraft went in at 8000ft instead of the normal 22,000 and the Halifaxes bombed offices and accommodation. 40 Lancasters were lost but rocket production was disrupted. On a mission to Berlin, all 4 engines cut out. The flight engineer attempted to solve the fuel valves problem, but collapsed because his oxygen supply failed. Tom rescued him using the emergency supply and the engineer then managed to restart the engines. Tom was awarded the DFC. Tom Smith from York was a flight engineer. His mask gave him a rash which prevented him from flying. The flight he missed was shot down. When he recovered, he went on a flight as a standby. On the next flight, the regular engineer returned. It, too was shot down. After the war, he returned to his job as a car mechanic. A Harry Ree went into the garage. Tom thought that this was the name of an SOE spy. The man denied any connection but Tom’s hunch was confirmed when Ree’s obituary was published years later. George Ferniehaugh, a wireless operator was shot down over Holland and then looked after by the Dutch. He was given a total of 3 false identities, none of which were discovered by the Germans. He stayed in safe houses in Holland and Belgium. One of the Belgian families was discovered by the Germans and all were shot. He was awarded the DFC.

Jack Bosomworth was an air gunner. He asked for permission to get married. This was granted only after his first flight. Six of his first seven flights were to Berlin.He flew on the ‘Nuremberg job’, a raid on 30/31 March 1944 when 95 bombers were lost in one night. He survived this and another mission when 75 failed to return. He was sworn to secrecy when he flew in a Lancaster with a jet engine. After the war he became a policeman.

Malcolm Green had fought in WW1 at Paschendaele where he was awarded the Military Cross. He became a rear gunner in WW2 at 57. He was shot down in 1940. He then survived Stalag Luft 3. He was one of 50 to escape. He was Pop Green in the film ‘The Great Escape’. Sir Arnold Talbot Wilson had been a Lieutenant Colonel in WW1, but became a pacifist in the 1930s. He became a rear gunner in a Wellington in WW2. He died when his plane crashed in 1940. Bob Wilson flew in a Bristol Beaufighter, a fighter bomber. A magnesium flare was ignited by an enemy gunner. The smoke in the cockpit caused the crew to prepare to bale out, He had the presence of mind to open the canopy which got rid of all the smoke!. Later he flew Mosquitos in Burma, attacking Japanese shipping and troops. He married a girl with whom he had corresponded but never met. They were married for 64 years. George Dove was an Upper Gunner in Lancasters. In 1942 on a mission to attack Milan, after dropping most of the bombs had been dropped, an Italian fighter pilot ignited an incendiary bomb in the plane. George dragged the Rear Gunner clear. With one engine dead and one on fire, the pilot flew around the Alps. Five men got Conspicuous Gallantry Medals. George needed extensive skin grafts. Tony concluded his talk by reading George’s poem ‘Battle Order’. He showed us Arnold Pearson’s medals including the DSO, DFC and the Air Crew Europe. The last of these is the most valuable. It was issued only to men who had flown before DDay. In reply to questions, Tony was very clear that he was an admirer of Bomber Harris. He said that Harris followed Churchill’s orders and did not choose his targets. He said that the Bomber Command Memorial Garden near Lincoln is well worth visiting. Michael Sheffield remarked that Leonard Cheshire, with whom he had once had lunch, was also a supporter of Harris. Dresden remains controversial. The British are held solely responsible for the civilian deaths, but only bad weather delayed the U.S B17 bombers. Tony remarked that the flattening of Hamburg with 40,000 deaths is ignored while Dresden suffered a much lower figure of about 25,000. Alwyn Boulby observed that one of Harris’s strengths was knowing how to train large numbers of men, most of whom had no pre-war service. The situation at the outset was absolutely dire, with the available navigation equipment being almost useless.