John W Erricker DFC

Bomb Aimer
78 Squadron, Bomber Command
216 Group, Transport Command


78 Squadron, now at RAF Benson

No-one unprepared

What follows is based on Canon David Eaton's address at John Erricker's funeral service at Leatherhead Crematorium on 11th December 2013.

I am sorry not to have known John myself. I am grateful to Diane Mitchell of Advocacy in Action and Frank Haslam of the former Surrey Air Crew Association branch for the information they have been able to pass to me about John, some of which had been compiled by John himself. I hope I can do justice both to their contributions and most especially to John, in what I can say this afternoon. You may well have your own memories of John to add to this.

John was born in January 1923 and attended Elementary School between 1928 and 1934 before going to St Marylebone Grammar School. There he played cricket and rugby. John noted that at the same a certain MG Beetham, who later became Marshall of the Royal Air Force, Sir Michael Beetham, was Captain of Rugby. In 1939 John obtained his General Schools Certificate with Matriculation and left school.


young Erricker, St Marylebone GS
3rd XV Rugby, March 1939: via DM/AinA

He prepared to take the Civil Service Examinations and in February 1940 joined the Air Ministry as a Temporary Clerk Grade III working in S.4 Statistics at Victory House, Kingsway.

In January 1942 he volunteered for aircrew and was accepted by the Air Crew Selection Board at Euston House, London in 1942 and placed on Reserve. In June 1942 he reported to the Air Crew Reception Centre at Lords Cricket Ground and became an AC2 (1801409). Later that month he started his initial training at 3 ITW Torquay. In November he was posted to the Air Crew Despatch Centre as an under training Air Bomber.

In December he sailed with thousands of others aboard the Queen Elizabeth to Canada, passing through the RAF Personnel Depot, Moncton, New Brunswick. He was promoted to LAC.

In January 1943 he was posted to No.8 Bombing & Gunnery School, Lethbridge, Alberta; and in March to No.4 Air Observers School, London Ontario. On passing the course he was promoted to Sergeant and two days later he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer (151981).

On returning to England further training followed at No.2 Advanced Flying Unit, RAF Millom, Cumberland in July and August. From September to November he was at No.15 Operational Training Unit at RAF Harwell’s satellite base at Hampstead Norris. On 31 October he was promoted to Flying Officer.


under training, as denoted
by white flash in cap: via DM/AinA

F/O JW Erricker RAFVR
note the outsize Observer badge: via DM/AinA

On the night of 6/7 November 1943¹ his crew was tasked to carry out a Bullseye sortie (a flying exercise planned to simulate as closely as possible an operational night flight). Their aircraft was a Wellington IC Z9106. It took off from Hampstead Norris at 1857. On returning to base it was sighted flying at 1,000 feet and parallel to the flare path. Then, while turning to port the starboard engine surged and almost immediately the Wellington began to lose height.

At this juncture the pilot P/O AG McAlpine RAAF lost sight of the flare path and when his port engine cut out at 100 feet he had no option at 0155 but to force-land straight ahead, hitting trees and a brick built garage at North Heath, Chievley, 5 miles N of Newbury, Berkshire. Sgt H Haire was injured. Sgt A Follett RCAF (of Grand Bank, Newfoundland) died and is buried in Botley (Oxford) Cemetery.

The McAlpine crew was split up and on December 7 1943 John was posted to No.19 OTU at RAF Kinloss, Scotland, where he joined the crew of Sgt Morris Bentson. They were stationed at RAF Forres, a satellite base of Kinloss. That course finished on January 16th 1944. In March and early April the crew got to grips with the Halifax bomber at 1659 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Riccall, Yorkshire.

On April 20th 1944, John was posted operationally to 78 Squadron, part of 4 Group RAF Bomber Command, which flew Halifax III bombers from RAF Breighton in Yorkshire. His first operation was a night sortie on 26/27 April 1944 and his final op was a daylight sortie on September 25th, 1944.


78 Squadron Halifax III EY-O, RAF Breighton

During those five months he carried out 39 bombing operations: 22 at night and 17 during the day. Of the 39 targets, 6 were in Germany; 32 in France (1 coastal battery on the Normandy coast, 12 railway stations, 12 V1 & V2 locations, four on divisions of German ground troops during the Battle of Normandy and a fuel depot); and one in Belgium (Goetsenhoven airfield).

He participated in the historic first attack on the launching sites of the V1 flying bombs on the night of June 16/17 1944, when 78 Sqn bombed the V1 site at Domléger.

On June 24th, 1944, he was on the first raid on the V1 launch site at Noyelles-en-Chaussée, 20 km. east of Arras. He was also on the first major daylight attack by the RAF on the refinery at Homberg Meerbeck, on August 27, 1944.

John Erricker's Halifax III MZ810 "F", with his crew, who took part in the bombing of the Goetsenhoven airfield on August 15 1944 (in a different aircraft).

Left to right: Flight Engineer Sgt R Yaxley ("Ron"), Mid Upper Gunner Sgt R Gilchrist ("Gilly"), Pilot P/O MW Bentson ("Benny"), Wireless Operator Sgt T Buchanan ("Paddy"), Air Bomber F/O JW Erricker ("Ricky"), Navigator F/Sgt G. Higgins ("Higgy"), and Rear Gunner Sgt J Scott ("Scotty"): (Photo courtesy of John W Erricker, via source 3).

He was posted out of 78 Sqn on 25th September 1944. Passing through the Air Crew Allocation Centre in Nairn, Scotland at the end of October, by the end of the year he was posted to 216 Group, Transport Command. He travelled by sea to Port Said, Egypt (Jan 22-Feb 9, 1945) to No.22 Personnel Transit Centre, Cairo. From February to August 1945 he was Officer i/c Trooping, No.14 Staging Post, Lydda, in what was then Palestine. The Staging Post later became RAF Lydda.

His award of the Distinguished Flying Cross was Gazetted on 16th February 1945 and his promotion to Flight Lieutenant was Gazetted on 25th May 1945. No citation for his DFC has been found.

He returned to the UK in August 1946 and was demobilised. In December 1946 John joined The Racecourse Betting Control Board (later the Horserace Betting Control Board) as a Supervisor, operating at racecourses all over Britain. From 1961 to 1966 he worked at the Board’s London HQ in Personnel and then as Deputy Stores Officer.

From 1963 to 1971 he was Fixtures Secretary of Surrey Athletics Club and Field Events Official for Surrey Athletics Association, officiating at two Internationals. He was made a Life Vice-President of Surrey AAA and of Surrey AC.

From 1966 to 1971 he worked for the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority in their Travel Department. In April 1971 he emigrated to New Zealand to join the Ministry of Works in Auckland. In 1972 he was a Field Event Judge with the New Zealand AAA.

He returned by sea from New Zealand in June 1972 and rejoined the UK Atomic Energy Authority in their Patent Department, retiring in 1983 in their Personnel Department.

From 1978 to 1993 he was a member of the Epsom and Ewell Lions Club and on the Committee of the local Talking Newspaper for the Blind.

In 1992 he went with his wife Norma in search of his own war and that of 78 Squadron, to the Public Record Office at Kew in London. In 1996 he became archivist of 78 Squadron Association. He was also for many years a member of the Surrey Branch of the Air Crew Association.

He located the graves of all the missing aircrew of the Squadron and had tried, with some success, to locate relatives through local newspapers.

In 2003 with his wife Norma he went to Belgium and visited some of the 78 Squadron graves. They were warmly received by local historians.

He returned to one of his targets, Goetsenhoven Airfield, and told his hosts "This is a day to remember, not so many return to the sites they bombed"

.
John W. Erricker with his wife Norma in conversation with a member of "The Kite"
glider club in the canteen of Goetsenhoven airfield (source 3)


John Erricker's Aiming Point photo for the Goetsenhoven raid. The roundabout is the Aiming Point.
Below the picture are listed: date, height (feet), course, time, number of 1000lb and 500lb bombs,
aircraft letter (C), duration of the bombing, the name of the pilot (F/O Bentson) and the squadron number (78). Via source 3.

Many in Goetsenhoven mistakenly still think that Americans bombed the airport! ... From a detailed report by John Erricker we learn that the attack was planned because the Goetsenhoven airfield was identified as a Luftwaffe Night Fighter Airfield or contingency base for Brustem.

That day the RAF with 1,004 aircraft (599 Lancasters, 385 Halifaxes, 19 Mosquitos, 1 Lightning) hit 9 airfields in Belgium (Goetsenhoven, Quakes, Bevekom and Melsbroek) and the Netherlands (Soesterberg, Volkel, Valkenburg and Gilze-Rijen). All the raids were successful. Three Lancasters were lost.

This report is based on the records of the RAF Breighton and 78 Squadron and the reports of 4 Group Bomber Command, kept in the National Archives in Kew, London.

The daylight attack involved total of 109 Halifaxes (4 Group) and 9 Lancasters (8 Group Pathfinders). 20 Halifax III aircraft were from 78 Sqn, based at RAF Breighton, Yorkshire. The other Halifaxes took off from RAF Snaith (25 aircraft from 51 Sqn), from RAF Holme (19 aircraft from 76 Sqn), from RAF Melbourne (20 aircraft from 10 Sqn), and from RAF Burn (25 aircraft from 578 Sqn).

The 78 Sqn Halifaxes departed from their base at 0945. They assembled over Orford Ness. They then headed towards the continent. The time of attack was recorded asbetween 1200 and 1206. Along the way they saw no enemy aircraft. However, they encountered High Flak (H/F) flak over Brussels and at Le Culot in Bevekom. At Goetsenhoven it was quiet. No flak. The targets could be visually identified and there was also support from the red markers dropped by the 9 Lancaster Pathfinders. The morning fog had lifted. Visibility was 10 miles (16 km). Almost all the aircraft were able to locate targets.

Bombing was from an altitude of 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). As shown in the AP photo John Erricker's Halifax EY-C dropped its bomb load very close to the target.

All the 78 Sqn aircraft returned. Two had returned early because of technical problems and dropped their bombs at sea. Apart from one aircaft that had bombed Bevekom by mistake, the rest had successfully dropped their bombs on the airfield at Goetsenhoven.

At 1815 aerial photographs were taken of the damage. These showed serious damage to about 10 barracks and many small buildings. The transformer station was destroyed. Two smallish shelters (bunkers) were destroyed and the runways littered with craters. No aircraft could be observed on the airfield.

I am sorry not to know more about John's personal and family life but as I have mentioned he was married to Norma. They had no children. Norma died in 2007. John died on Armistice Day, 11th November 2013, aged 90, after several years of ill health.

John was a remarkable man. He had a very distinguished war record and also one of public service. He helped to preserve the memory of those he served with in the Second World War and by his interest and research cherished that memory. The loss of life of those who served with Bomber Command was extremely high. The recently opened Memorial in Green Park is impressive and dignified in their memory. Others who flew recall the terror which each flight engendered because the risk was so great. The chance of being shot down and losing your life was ever present.

All of which is a huge tribute to John who braved those days in service to his country. It is hard to imagine how they did it, but did it they did. We can only now recognise this and salute their courage and dedication. The qualities we see and value in John are seen and valued by God. Jesus said “I go to prepare a place for you I will come again and take you to myself.” It is hard to imagine just what a heavenly after-life will be like. Perhaps it is to be valued for who you really are by being closer to God and closer to those we love.

It is to this hope we commit John today with respect and thanksgiving.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.

Sources:

  1. RAF Bomber Command Losses Vol 7: OTUs 1940-47, page 260 (WR Chorley, Midland Publishing)

  2. Notes in John's papers.

  3. Goetsenhoven airfield raid and 2003 visit http://www.oostbrabant.org/Tijdschriften/Oostbrabant/2004-2/div4div1.htm

John requested that his papers and medals be deposited with the Air Crew Association Archive at Elvington, near York. There is a facsimile Halifax bomber in the Yorkshire Air Museum there.

page created 11 Dec 13: updated 30 Jan 14