Aircrew Association
Surrey Branch

Eulogy - Len Norris 1922-2004

Len Norris – an appreciation from one of his crew members, at his funeral

Peter Ellis who was Len’s Navigator writes: I only really knew Len for a very small part of his innings – 12 months. But Len, myself and three others will never forget that time.

We were a Wellington bomber crew F for Freddy or F for Firkin as Len called it. Doug, an Australian pilot, was our captain; Tony from London was our Bomb Aimer, little Bill (another Australian) was our Rear Gunner, I was the Navigator and Len was the Wireless Operator – our ears and voice. We were not exactly seasoned veterans – little Bill was 18, Len was the old man of the crew at 23.

We first met in September 1943 on 21 OTU at Moreton in Marsh. Here we learnt to fly and fight in the Wellington. Here Doug selected his crew, which it was hoped would remain together through a tour of operations then about 40 sorties. Doug picked his crew well. In the air under his command we became an efficient and disciplined team. On the ground, also of importance, we forged a friendship never to be broken.

Our operational training finished our first task was to deliver a brand new Wellington to the Middle East. On New Year’s Day 1944 we took off from Cornwall bound for North Africa. Our route was via the Bay of Biscay, the coasts of Spain and Portugal. During the air testing of our new Wellington Len had a nasty premonition, he just did not like that plane. He was quite right. Off the coast of Spain one engine packed up. Flying on one engine, our fuel consumption increased enormously. We ditched every non-essential. One of the last things Len threw overboard, much to my horror, was my tennis racquet.

Off Cadiz the fuel gauges registered zero. We could either make a crash landing on the beaches of Spain, spending the rest of the war in a Spanish gaol, or we could ditch in the sea and hope that a friendly ship would rescue us. We chose the latter. Just before we hit the water Len managed to get off an SOS. It was heard by an RN frigate which after about an hour picked us up from our rubber dinghy. We were transferred to an RAF Air Sea Rescue launch and were soon landed in Gibraltar and then home to Moreton in Marsh.

We had a second go for North Africa and this time we were successful. We then joined No.150 Squadron in Foggia, Southern Italy. The squadron was part of Churchill’s ‘round the clock’ bombing campaign. At night we bombed targets in the Balkans, Germany and North Italy. By day our American partners at Foggia, flying B17 Flying Fortresses, bombed similar targets.

Our first bombing op was to the docks at Genoa, Northern Italy. It was a moonlit night and the target was very heavily defended. Our bomb aimer was very keen – I think he thought we were in the practice range and insisted on us making six runs over the target. Meanwhile the searchlights were increasing and the flak was getting heavier. At last the welcome words from Tony “bombs gone skipper” and we headed for home. The next day at Foggia they found 140 holes in F for Freddie and a major hit near the tail, just missing little Bill’s turret.

Little Bill was worried, we were worried, in fact we were scared fartless. We had another 39 trips to go. We made it, completing our tour intact: we bombed Budapest, Bucharest, Munich; we dropped mines in the Danube.

All through these long tense night flights Len kept constant watch on his radio, took radio fixes to help my navigation and from the astrodome helped little Bill to look for nightfighters. Thank you Len for all your good work.

150 Squadron disbanded in October 1944 and we returned to England never to fly together again.

Len left the Air Force after the war. But in his heart he never left 150 Squadron. It was Len who organised the annual Squadron reunions. It was Len who raised the money for a memorial in St Lawrence Church, Snaith. It was Len who every year marched to the Cenotaph in Whitehall and laid a 150 Squadron wreath.

It was Len who organised his 80th birthday party at Moreton in Marsh, of course. It was Len who kept us up all night telling tales of 150 Squadron. He had a remarkable memory for details of our bombing sorties – he would phone me up and say “Do you know Pete at this time in 1944 we were on our way to bomb Munich?”

Dear Len, thank you from all the crew of F for Firkin for helping us to survive the Italian job. God Bless – may you be up there surrounded by a crowd of admiring angels all listening intently to your tales of 150 Squadron.

Len (on left) with the then Chief of the Air Staff Sir Peter Squires
to whom he introduced to the editor's father (right) after an ACA service at St Clement Danes

If you have any anecdotes or recollections of Len to add to this page please contact the editor.

page last updated 12 Jun 10