FINDING MY CREW
Bob Lythgoe - WOp/AG
Bob died on Tuesday 20th June 2014.
His funeral was at Randalls Park Crematorium,
Leatherhead on Wednesday, 9 July 2014
I joined the RAF on 16th November 1942. I wanted to get into aircrew as a Wireless Operator but on applying was informed that all applications had ceased for the time being but I could enter as a ground wireless operator and re-muster for aircrew when applications had re-opened, so this I did.
After all the various stages of training had been completed as far as Operational Training Unit I there linked up with the formation of a crew who were Canadians, apart from the Flight Engineer, who was also British.
My Pilot was Jim Moore, Navigator Bob Behan, Bomb Aimer Owen Galbraith, Wireless Operator/Air Gunner, myself [in the photo, taken during our training on Lancasters, I am in the centre], Flight Engineer Jim Mount [our first F/E, Willy Field, is shown, on right], Mid-Upper Gunner Hank Hancock, and Rear Gunner Art Harris [on left].
Following flying training as a crew at OTU and Heavy Conversion Unit we were eventually posted to 166 Squadron at Kirmington, North Lincolnshire, to fly Lancasters on operations.
The crew did sixteen ops before our Pilot, Jim Moore, was taken ill with appendicitis and eventually flown home to Canada.
Whilst we were on the Squadron Jim was married to a WAAF Sergeant, Pat Saunders, and all the crew attended the wedding at the Parish Church at Fletching, East Sussex. As a result of Jim having to leave the Squadron and return home the rest of the crew became split up and posted to various other Stations. Jim’s wife was able to join him in Canada as time progressed.
As it often happens when Service personnel become split up, they don’t always keep in touch afterwards, even having flown together as an operational crew, but that’s life.
After I left the RAF in November 1945, it was not until 1993 that I learned a 166 Squadron Association had been in existence for several years. It happened like this. One morning early whilst having a shave, with my radio on to the dulcet tones of the Derek Jameson voice, he said “If anyone is listening who used to serve on 166 Squadron in the RAF and would like to attend their Association reunion telephone this number”.
As you can imagine not only was I bowled over with that news, but all I had in my hand at that moment was a razor and certainly not a pen! So I hastily belted downstairs and then rang the Beeb asking to be put through to the Derek Jameson Studio. When they gave it to me it turned out to be a Liverpool number, and upon ringing it I was asked for my name.
I said “My surname is Lythgoe and I was on the Squadron from November 1944 to March 1945.”
The voice at the other end said “Good God, after 48 years that’s not Bob Lythgoe by any chance is it?"
It then transpired I was talking to the Association Secretary, Jim Wright, who was on the Squadron at the same time as me. What a small world! Since then I have attended many reunions where I have linked up with three more old pals from days gone by.
During my attendance at those reunions I thought how great it would be if I could somehow make inroads into trying to trace my old Pilot, Jim Moore, in Canada, and any others there who used to be in my crew. Not only for old times sake, but for the fact that ex-166 men attend the reunions from many parts of the world and it is wonderful that about 180 sit down for the Dinner. So, being an ex-CID man in the Met Police, I thought that after 48 years this is going to be quite a bit of detective work! So here goes.
As it involved Canada I wrote several letters to RCAF Records Offices, Canadian Government Departments, and the Canadian Legion to try and find out if Jim Moore was still about and any last known address. All turned out negative, with ‘Sorry can’t help’ each time, so that was all a dead duck.
Not that I was surprised, mind you, after all it was 48 years ago we are talking about. With all my correspondence to Canada, and the lengthy time waiting for replies, six months had now elapsed from when I first started out on this searching exercise, but then I had one last line of approach to try.
I remembered the Church in Fletching, East Sussex, where Jim and Pat were married, so might there just be, after all this time, in the Church records the particulars of Jim’s home address in Canada? So, off I set to make myself known to the Vicar and the reason for my visit.
He found the entry of the marriage but sadly for me Jim’s address was shown as RAF Kirmington, Lincolnshire, and not his Canadian address. The Vicar then remembered an old lady in the village of Fletching who used to sit in the rear of the Church at all World War II weddings just to enjoy the occasion, and she was still alive.
He was able to contact her by telephone while I was there but she could not recall the occasion of Jim’s wedding. However, she did know of a lady of the village who not only knew an RAF Pilot who was married there during the war but after the war she went to Canada to stay at his address with his English wife who had been in the WAAF in this country. That sounded more hopeful to me, and I was later supplied with this lady’s 'phone number.
When I returned home that evening I spoke to her and she confirmed it was Jim’s wedding she attended and she did later travel to Canada to visit Jim and his wife. She gave me the address but added that, following the death of Jim’s wife, he moved and she had no idea where he went to. She advised me to write to this last known address to see if it may get forwarded to him somewhere.
This I did, and my letter reached the hands of a postman in the wilds of a small place called Napanee where Jim used to live and he was a personal friend of Jim by a great stroke of luck. It seems he knew Jim still well enough to open my letter and read it before telephoning Jim at his new address to inform him that a member of his wartime aircrew in England was trying to contact him.
The result of all this was that I subsequently received a 'phone call from Jim and we were at last re-united, if only by 'phone! Jim and his second wife came over to England for the next 166 Squadron reunion and stayed with my wife and me and we had a great time.
We have also been to Canada to stay with them, but later sadly Jim died. His wife always tells me that meeting up with me again after all those years and coming to the reunion was the highlight of his life, so my searching for him successfully was equally for me also.
Jim also put me in touch with my old Navigator and Bomb Aimer in Canada and we remain in touch. My two Canadian Air Gunners have also both died, and I was never able to contact my Flight Engineer in this country. Maybe he moved to Canada!
Finally, when Jim came to the reunion the local press got to know about the story of how two old aircrew comrades of 48 years ago met up again. They made a big story of it in the local Grimsby newspaper with pictures of us both as well. I will always treasure these in memory of a great friend and Pilot, and how glad I was that I carried out the search to find him again.
Amusingly, when we did meet again he said, “What kept you?”!!!
Links & Notes
RAF Kirmington http://www.bcar.org.uk/kirmington-history
page last updated 28 June 10: 29 Nov 17: © ACA Surrey Branch 2010