DISASTER AND GOOD LUCK (FOR ONE)
Vernon Thomson DFC - Navigator/Bomb Aimer
Following the Returning from Ops by train story we managed to fly together over the next few months again to the Ruhr, the Hamburg raids and out in front on the well reported Peenemünde raid, in all a total of twenty-three operations over Germany, then disaster struck.
During November of that year 1943 the whole crew went home for seven days leave and in the middle of the week I received a telegram from the Commanding Officer stating that I had been appointed to Commissioned Rank, clothing coupons were in the post and I was granted an extra 48 hours leave. It was a very proud moment to go into Austin Reeds in Regent Street and order an officers uniform and kit.
On return to the squadron and, for the first time walking into the Officers Mess, an officer greeted me with the sad news that my crew was reported missing. They had not received the 48 hours extension of leave and were sent on operations immediately. That telegram (which I still have today) saved me from a year and a half in a prison camp or what could have been a worse plight. I was glad to hear later that my replacement was safe in a prison camp but regrettably two of my comrades had perished.
The Whittle Crew before Vernon was promoted: Rear Gunner Macpherson, Wireless Operator Saunders, Bomb Aimer Thomson, Pilot Ray Whittle, Navigator Rogers, Flight Engineer Morgan, Mid Upper Gunner Coates
image via Beverly Thomson
[from Bill Chorley's RAF Bomber Command Losses 1943, p402: Oliver Clutton-Brock's Footprints on the Sands of Time - RAF Bomber Command Prisoners of War in German Hands 1939-1945
26-27 Nov 1943 76 Sqn Halifax V LK687 MP-P Op: Stuttgart
T/o 1701 Holme-on-Spalding-Moor. Shot down by a night-fighter (Hptm Eckart-Wilhelm von Bonin of II./NJG1) and crashed at Retzbach, 15 km NW of Würzburg. P/O Whittle and Sgt Macpherson are buried [beside each other] in Durnbach War Cemetery.
Pilot: P/O HR Whittle +
F/Eng: P/O WJ Morgan pow nr 1681 Stalag Luft I
Nav: P/O JR Rogers pow nr n/a Stalag Luft I
Bomb Aimer: F/S JAA Roy RCAF nr 263619 Stalag Luft IVB
W/Op: F/O RC Saunders pow nr 1688 Stalag Luft I
M/U: Sgt W Coates pow nr 263659 Stalag Luft IVB
R/G: Sgt F Macpherson + ]
The process then was to join a new crew in order to complete an operational tour, this time without any incident to ourselves. However one evening after our pre-flight supper of eggs and bacon in order to relax and calm down the tension, my wireless operator and I challenged two from another crew in our flight to a game of snooker; after the game it was off to the parachute room but not forgetting to challenge our opponents for a return game when we were due back around 4 a.m. Alas the game was never played, our opponents died in the battle around Nurnberg earlier.
Our squadron lost three crews, that was twenty-one men, and it was a disastrous night for Bomber Command when nearly 100 aircraft and crews were lost. This illustrates the tempo of life at that time when we lived for one day and made the most of it as it could be the last.
After a few months as an Air Staff Officer at Group Headquarters I rejoined my squadron for a second operational tour but this time it was to be in South East Asia. Following the end of the war the squadron spent a year based in India on trooping flights, ie carrying troops going back to the UK from various locations to the main transit camp at Karachi.
One special flight involved carrying the Governor of Sind with some executives to New Delhi to attend a conference on the forthcoming independence and the forming of Pakistan and India as two separate countries. We called in at Jodhpur on the way where we received VIP treatment at the Maharajas palace. A few days after the trip the Flight received a letter of thanks from the Governor and two silver cigarette cases engraved with his crest. A Canadian crew member was given one and I had the second one.
My service ended with a sea berth home from Bombay, through the Suez Canal and the whole length of the Mediterranean, but not in the luxury of a P&O cruise liner.
Links & Notes
The Peenemunde Raid http://www.207squadron.rafinfo.org.uk/balme/default.htm
The Nuremberg Raid - South African Military History Society http://samilitaryhistory.org/vol043lf.html
page updates 28 June 2010, 17 Aug 2010: © ACA Surrey Branch 2010