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REAR ROW LEFT TO RIGHT: Sqn.Ldr.(ret) Clive Rowley / Jack Millin President Chairman;-Manchester
Branch Air Crew Association. (Ex WW II: 12 Sqn SAAF) / Roger Littlewood (Scots Guards – Army) / Frank
Tolley (WW II : 625 Sqn) /Des. Royle- Imperial War Museum at Salford Keys Manchester ) / John Taylor:
DFC. – (WW II : 50 Sqn) Secretary /Norman & Mabel Jones (Norman was WW II : 625 Sqn Engineer)
/James ‘Jim’ Gardner: DFC (WW II : 51 Sqn) & Mrs M Blower / Edward Bamforth (WW II : 97 Sqn AG)
FRONT ROW SEATED: Albert Bracegirdle DFM (WW II : 44 Sqn)
It was an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to transport 7 members of
Manchester Branch of the Air Crew Association to the Battle of Britain Memorial
Flight at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire on 08 June 10, alongside some of their
wives and partners & a member of staff from Manchester’s Imperial War Museum
& a number of Air Cadets from 318 Sale squadron Air training Corps.
It was beyond my wildest dreams to be given the chance to attend a ‘living’ WW II
history lesson brought to life by these incredible and extraordinary men’s wartime
exploits, which rubbed off onto the Air cadets who were present.
The veterans were given buffet lunch then a VIP tour of the Hangar which houses
Spitfires, Hurricanes and the Famous ‘City of Lincoln’ Lancaster bomber which
delivered the massive Grand Slam ( 22,000 Lbs) and Tallboy (12,000 Lbs) & Block
buster ’Cookie’ High capacity fragmentation Bombs. The Lancaster was famous
for its ability to carry huge bomb payloads during WW II. 617 Dam Buster
squadron & carrying Sir Barnes Neville Wallis’s Bouncing Bombs used to attack 3
major dams on the Ruhr- Germany in 1943. The Lancaster also took part in sinking
the battleship Tripitz on 12 November 1944 and successful actions against
German U-Boats during WW II.
The veterans were then shown around the hangar by their guide Squadron Leader
(Retd) Clive Rowley who had a wealth of experience flying these vintage aircraft
with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight as Chief Instructor and a veteran fighter
pilot on the RAF Tornado aircraft. He had a wealth of knowledge and experiences
to share with the group adding some fantastic stories to the overall impact of the
It was fantastic to be able to give these Veterans of WW II something back by
driving them home to Lincolnshire which was for many of them the location of
their Wartime bases from where they launched their daring missions against Nazi
German forces from 1939-1945. It was fantastic for me to be bringing them
These men now well into their 80’s have so much combat experience between
them, my own former active service in the British Army barely scratched the
surface of what these boys had seen and experienced. These 7 War time airmen
served in many WW II RAF Squadrons covering the whole spectrum of Wartime
Fighter and Bomber Command.
They had witnessed the first trials of the Manchester bomber with it’s Vulture
engines which were vastly underpowered and unreliable causing up to 25%
casualty’s due to engine failure and 40% losses in combat, to the delivery of a
superior airframe built out of the Manchester Bomber (Manchester III) later redesignated the Avro-Lancaster bomber, which became a world famous heavy
bomber. These aircraft first saw trails with Wartime 44 and 97 Squadron’s in 1941
& early 1942.
97 squadron; Motto: ‘Achieve your Aim’. (First Formed at RAF WaddingtonLincolnshire) took part in very risky daylight raids on German Diesel factories at
Augsberg with elements of 44 Squadron. By the end of the War 97 Squadron had
completed over 4000 operational sorties by the end of World War II losing 123
Aircraft on highly dangerous bombing raids over Germany. Both units saw crews
decorated for volor whilst flying under combat conditions. Edward Bamforth and
Albert Bracegirdle DFM were both rear turret gunners on Lancaster’s with these
distinguished Squadrons.
Albert Bracegirdle was shot down over Germany in June 1944 serving with 44
Squadron, and became a prisoner of war for the remainder of the war.
Both men stood by the tail guns of the ‘City of Lincoln’ Lancaster Bomber in it’s
Hangar as we listened in awe as Albert explained in such a matter of a fact way
how he escaped his stricken aircraft and parachuted to safety out of the side door
instead of the usual escape hatch, which as explained by Edward Bamforth ran a
considerable risk of being struck by the tail section of the aircraft when he exited
the stricken plane. Members of the public were delighted to listen as he explained
his actions and what it was like to be a Lancaster tail gunner during WW II.
Albert Bracegirdle was forced marched 250 miles in appalling conditions and sub
zero temperatures in January 1945 from Stalag Luft 7 Prisoner of War camp in
Selicia Poland to Berlin to Stalag 111A at Luckenwalde 50Km South of Berlin.
Many prisoners who fell out of the column with exhaustion or hypothermia over
the 21 day march were shot at the roadside. I would consider myself to be as
combat hardened as the next soldier, however after reading various books on the
plight of Prisoners of War (POW’s) forced marched from Poland to Germany and
their brutal treatment, I was left feeling numb and I am not ashamed to say I
openly wept at their harrowing treatment . At the time of the tour around the
Battle of Britain Memorial Flight hangar I had (like everyone else who was
accompanying the Air Crew Association) that Albert Bracegirdle was one of the
prisoners force marched to Germany. Our guide Sqn Ldr (Retd) Clive Rowley asked
Albert what had happened to him when he parachuted out of his stricken
Lancaster. Albert Simply replied ‘ I was taken Prisoner’ to which Sqn Ldr (retd)
Rowley asked ‘For How long?’ Albert simply replied ‘1 year’. There was no
mention of his 250 mile forced march in freezing weather in which many men
died on route. I recall someone else innocently asking Albert if the German guards
treated him well. He made little reply. It was only after the tour back in
Manchester tat Frank Tolley told me the full extent of Albert’s Wartime
Many of the Crews in 44 Squadron were Rhodesian. The Squadron won two
Victoria Crosses being part of Bomber Harris’s N05 Group. Flying the First
operational missions in Lancaster’s in WW II.
Flight Lt (Retd) John Taylor DFC (50 Sqn) was part of the highly distinguished
Squadron’s flying Lancaster’s in WWW II bombing German factories and V-Rocket
sites at Peenemunde. So accurate was their bombing of defenses in the town of
Wesel – Germany the ground forces: Commandoes who took part in the raid only
lost 36 people taking the town. Flight Lt (retd) John Taylor has witnessed the full
horrors of watching up to 25 Lancaster’s being shot down on one mission and has
lived through many highly risky missions as a Navigator on Lancaster’s. His aircraft
had been badly shot up one mission with the stricken aircraft loosing many flight
instruments and an engine, being at the mercy of ME 109’s before some British
spitfires showed up and chased them off. John also took part in bombing enemy
defenses on the Cherbourg Peninsula on 06 Jun 1944 D-Day landings (Operation
Neptune) One battle observation which John has witnessed reminded me of
watching the Battle of Britain film as a teenager on TV where allied aircraft shot
down sliced through the airframes and tail sections of other allied aircraft in
formation sending both aircraft into a terrible crash dive.
Frank Tolley (625 Sqn) took part in the highly controversial raids on the German
city of Dresden in response to Germany breaking a treaty not to bomb civilian
targets’, then raiding London. 1.300 allied bombers took part in the Dresden
bombing dropping tones and tones of Incendiary and High explosive bombs on
the city destroying nearly 40 km of the city center. Frank started his RAF career as
a founder member of the RAF Regiment transferring to Air Crew as a Bomb Aimer
on Lancaster’s. Frank explained what it was like to be ‘Locked up’ by searchlights
during bombing raids over Germany, and the horrors and at times, humor of
enemy Flak hitting the aircraft. Frank Tolley also took part in the airdrops of vital
food aid codenamed Operation Manna on 29 April -07 May 1945, which saved 3
million Dutch citizens still under German control from certain starvation. Missions
today known as disaster relief and highlight the vast spectrum of operations we
ask our servicemen to perform: To kill one day and preserve life the next!
Frank Tolley is a remarkable man who carries the scars & horrors of World War to
this day in hope that the freedom he helped win back in WW II means that our
children won’t have to. Franks Grand Son is currently carrying on the fine
traditions of serving as an Officer in today’s Royal Air Force.
No 625 Squadron; Motto: ‘We Avenge’ was formed at Kelstern Lincolnshire in
1943 flying Lancaster’s. This highly distinguished WWII Squadron took part in
many major raids of WW II. Norman Jones was a ground crew Engineer serving
with this Squadron. Over 1,000 ground crew died during the harsh winters in
Britain during WW II of hypothermia and other ailments whilst having the critical
task of keeping the aircraft airworthy. Their skill and dedication in ensuring battle
damaged aircraft were fixed and re-armed ready for the next sortie was second to
none and a credit to the dedication and skill of our RAF wartime Engineers.
James ‘Jim’ Gardner DFC won his Distinguished Flying Cross whilst serving with 51
Squadron during WW II flying Halifax. One of the oldest Squadrons in the RAF saw
action in WW I & WW II flying Anson’s and Verginia’s & Whitley’s & Halifax’s. The
Squadron also performed costal Command tasks bombing U-Boats and strategic
bombing of German targets. The Squadron took part in the Berlin Air lift at the
end of WW II in 1948-1949. It was described that you might be hard pushed to
find a more battle damaged aircraft returning to British soil that a 51 Sqn one
such was the risky missions they undertook taking off from RAF Snaith in
Jack Millin is President of Manchester Branch Air Crew Association. During World
war II he served with the highly distinguished and battle proven 12 Squadron of
the South African Air Force. The Squadron served in North Africa, South Africa,
Italy and Egypt and supported the Desert Rats In North Africa and Egypt. Ironically
7 Armoured Brigade: The desert Rats was the unit I myself was to serve in during
Gulf War I in 1990/91.
This theatre of war during WW II saw some of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting
of any of the WW II campaigns. The Squadron was equipped with a whole range
of aircraft during its deployments overseas, including Fairy Battles, Ansons,
Marylands & Bostons & Martin Marauders operating highly daring and risky
daylight raids on enemy communications and ammunition dumps and Infantry
concentrations. Jacks dedication to gain ‘Air Superiority’ during these campaigns
mainly against Italian targets was critical to the war effort and critical in beating
back & ultimately defeating field Marshal, Rommel’s German and Italian Axis
Forces. Jack Millin was a founder member of Ashton under Lyne – 247 Squadron
Air Training Corps in February 1941. Air Cadets in WW II ran messaged around air
bases and helped arm aircraft and move stores and airfield defenses.
Today our much loved and Treasured Wartime Veterans become fewer and
fewer. Stood in the battle of Britain Memorial Hanger and having the privilege to
have 7 War time veterans right in front of me listening to their wartime
experiences was an outstanding experience which I will never forget.
I know what it is like to go out on operations wondering if today is the day you do
not return during operations in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Kosovo. These men did
this day after day, for years and yet as they stand here today, their spirits show no
signs of being Broken. They are truly remarkable men with remarkable life stories
which ‘Rubbed off’ onto the two Air Cadets: Caidee Lynch & Liam Crank who
accompanied them. In them these stories might live on, passed down to their
children and their children’s children in hope that the battle scars these men have
carried all their lives will have some meaning and be put to good use in teaching
our future generations that mankind must never again enter into a world war.
It has been a true honor for me to be able to bring these men home to RAF
Coningsby, sadly for some of them, possibly their last ever visit to their family in
the RAF. What they did then! In the name of our freedom today will never be
Left: Edward Blamforth
Right: Albert Bracegirdle DFM. – (WW II : 97 Sqn Air Gunner) Caterpillar Association.
Flight Sergeant
Mark Cunliffe
318 squadron.
Air Training Corps.