The PoW - Wootton
Bill Wootton joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve aged 18 in 1937 and began his flying training at 6 E&RFS, Sywell. Although he carried out much of his early training on G-ADGS, he flew G-ADGT on 3 October 1937, carrying out aerobatics with his regular instructor, Fg Off Dalrymple, who sent Bill off to practice solo aerobatics, also in G-ADGT.
Bill Wootton standing with a Brooklands Tiger at Sywell
Wootton continued his training at Sywell, flying the Hawker Hart and Hind biplanes, before joining 44 Sqn at RAF Waddington here he continued his training on the Avro Anson. His training continued on the Handley Page Hampden bomber with both 44 and 76 Sqns before he joined 61 Sqn at RAF Hemswell, where, although qualified to Captain the Hampden, he operated as second pilot to FS Ross on operations. Wootton’s first operational mission was to Northern Germany on 24 March 1940, carrying out reconnaissance of Warnemunde and Rostock and dropping leaflets on Gustrow; the crew commented on the accuracy of German searchlights and were fired on by a flak ship. On 11 April, Wootton’s was one of 6 crews tasked with attacking enemy shipping at Kristiansund in daylight; the weather over the target was too clear to provide cover and the mission was abandoned. On 17 April, the crew was tasked with a night minelaying operation, but returned early due to unserviceable radio equipment. On 23 April, the task was again night minelaying (‘gardening’), with the crew successfully dropping their ‘vegetable’ near Schleswig in Northern Germany before landing at RAF Bircham Newton in Norfolk.
Wootton piloting the Hawker Hind
The German offensive in the West started on 10 May, with German troops entering Belgium and Holland. On the night of 11 May, Wootton’s crew was one of 37 tasked to attack road and rail communications at Monchengladbach, the RAF’s first raid of the War against a German town. They returned shortly after departure due to an unserviceable generator; 2 Hampdens and one Whitley were lost during the attack. On the night of 17/18 May, 48 Hampdens bombed Hamburg, FS Ross dropping his four 500lb bombs from 16000 feet to cause fires at the edge of the oil tanks; they landed at Abingdon at 5.05 am after 7 hrs 10 min airborne. The night of 19 May saw the crew deliver another four 500lb bombs against a German industrial / railway target.
On the night of 23/24 May, 122 aircraft were tasked with attacking German communications to the battlefront. The Hampdens were targeted against trains, railway lines and junctions to the West of the Rhine and in Holland. FS Ross’ crew communicated with Hemswell at around the time of their expected return, which confirms suspicions of a navigational error, as does the location of their forced landing in Germany, in the Black Forest between the towns of Horb and Rottweil, well to the South East of the targets attacked by 61 Sqn that night. The crew were taken prisoner, with Sgt Eugene Corrigan dying in captivity. Bill Wootton kept an immaculate record of his transfers between PoW camps until his liberation on 2 May 1945.
Map showing the approximate location of Wootton's downed Hampden
Wootton's record of PoW transfers and eventual liberation
Post War, Wootton returned to the family construction business but resumed flying Tiger Moths at Sywell as an RAF reservist with No 6 Reserve Flying School. He qualified as an instructor and was recalled to RAF service at the time of the Korean War, serving as an instructor at No 7 FTS, RAF Cottesmore, flying the Harvard. He also flew the Prentice, Chipmunk and Balliol and made one solo flight in the Gloster Meteor jet. His last flight as an RAF pilot was on 18 December 1952. Finest Hour is indebted to Bill’s cousin Colin and especially his daughter Olivia for allowing us access to his records and pilot’s logbooks.
His full story, including his time as a PoW at Stalag Luft 1 can be found here.
The Fighter Pilot - Edworthy
Sgt Gerald H Edworthy learned to fly at No 6 E & RFS during 1938. Much of his initial training was carried out in G-ADGT and extracts from his Pilots' Flying Logbook are reproduced here.
Sgt Edworthy went on to join 46 Sqn at North Weald, flying the legendary Hawker Hurricane. Sadly, he was killed in action on 3 September 1940, at the height of the Battle of Britain.
However, the story does not end here. Sgt Edworthy's nephew, Paul Carr, is an ex-RAF pilot who flies both the CAP10 and the Tiger Moth with Finest Hour. You may find him hosting you on your special day or he may be the pilot who has delivered G-ADGT to your venue.
The Fighter Leader - Bartlett
Leonard Bartlett commenced his flying training on Tiger Moths at 21 E & RFS, Stapleford in May 1939, where his instructors included a Mr Browning, possibly the famous Neville Browining. Moving to 6 EFTS at Sywell in during October 1939, Bartlett carried out much of his flying training in G-ADGT, flying her first, for 4 flights, on 27 October 1939. He progressed from circuits, through spinning, forced landings, aerobatics and instrument flying on ‘GT, usually receiving instruction from Fg Off Ayling. Bartlett’s last flight on G-ADGT was on 4 January 1940.
Advanced training at Montrose on the Miles Master followed, where his instructor was the subsequently famous Ranald Porteous. Sgt Bartlett joined 17 Sqn at Debden, flying the Hawker Hurricane during July 1940, as the Battle of Britain approached its peak. Bartlett’s logbook for September 1940 shows clearly the high pace of operations and contains such comments as ‘Ops take off - shot up by 3 Me 109s. Intercepted 30 He111s and 40 Me109s. Dived through bombs’ on 5 September. Bartlett was clearly in the thick of the action and was claiming enemy aircraft as kills, ‘probables’ and ‘damaged’. 18 September’s entry includes a cryptic ‘Collided with CO’. Throughout October, his logbook continues with patrols and scrambles while November saw an increase in the number of convoy patrols. Throughout this active period, Bartlett’s contribution towards enemy aircraft damaged continued to increase, as did the number of his colleagues killed or posted missing. On 18 March 1941, he got airborne to carry out a ‘height climb’ and gun test. He was shot down and baled out after being attacked by 6 Me109s. His next flight was a convoy patrol on 25 March.
After a period as an instructor, Flt Lt Bartlett joined 137 Sqn at Matlaske, flying the Westland Whirlwind claiming a Ju88 damaged during this period. He also destroyed a Lysander by colliding with it during a an overshoot in bad weather, resulting in an interview with the AOC 10 days later. Bartlett returned to the Hurricane in September 1942 as the Commanding Officer of 253 Sqn, which deployed to North Africa in November. Sqn Ldr Bartlett destroyed a Ju 88 in January 1943 and 253 Sqn moved with the fighting to Italy in October 1943. Bartlett was awarded the DSO in March 1944.
Gp Capt Leonard Bartlett retired from the RAF in 1966 and now lives in Australia.
The Night Fighter Pilot - Staples
Lionel Staples first flew a Tiger Moth during 1938 at No 18 Elementary and Reserve Flying School at Fairoaks. One of his instructors was Flt Lt Cyril Arthur, who served as the School’s Commanding Officer for 18 years until its closure as 18 EFTS in 1953. Staples left Fairoaks at the end of August 1938 with a grading of ‘Above Average’.
By March 1940, Staples had resumed training at No 6 EFTS at Sywell making his first flight in G-ADGT on 10 April 1940, under the instruction of Pilot Officer James, who sent Staples for solo circuits following dual instruction in instrument flying. Staples few ‘GT again during May 1940 for forced landings and aerobatics.
Following his course at Sywell, Staples continued his training on the Miles Master with 8 FTS and the Spitfire with 7 Operational Training Unit, whose course he completed on 30 August 1940. September 1940 was the height of the Battle of Britain and saw Staples complete a few days’ Hurricane flying with both 85 and 242 Sqns. From 22 September 1940 onwards, Staples had settled with 151 Sqn flying the Hurricane, initially from Stapleford and later from RAF Digby in Lincolnshire. In early October the Squadron was informed that it was to specialise in night fighting, a move welcomed with little enthusiasm by its pilots. By December, Sgt Staples’ logbook was showing a mix of the Hurricane and Boulton Paul Defiant, the latter predominating by February 1941. On the night of 9/10 April 1941, the Luftwaffe targeted Fort Dunlop in Birmingham, a factory important to the British War Effort. As the attackers approached Birmingham, Sgt Staples and his gunner, Sgt Parkin, spotted what they thought was a Dornier 17, with Sgt Parkin firing into the German’s port wing and engine. As the German went into a steep, twisting dive, Staples followed but was unable to fire any further. As both aircraft hurtled earthwards, Staples realised he was getting perilously close to the deadly balloon barrage around Birmingham and broke off the attack. A kill was claimed.
This was not Sgt Staples’ final encounter with enemy aircraft. Leaving 151 Sqn at the end of August 1941 for a period as an instructor, he joined 1426 (Enemy Aircraft) Flight during August 1942. This unit’s role was to evaluate captured enemy aircraft and to demonstrate their characteristics to other Allied units. Staples’ logbook shows him flying captured Junkers 88, Heinkel 111, Messerschmitt 110 and Focke-Wulf 190 ‘on tour’ in East Anglia and in co-operation with the BBC Film Unit.
By August 1947, Flt Lt Staples had returned to flying with 18 RFS at Fairoaks, again flying the Tiger Moth with Cyril Arthur who was now a Wing Commander.
50 years to the day after the encounter East of Birmingham, Lionel Staples was introduced to Willi Vogt, a member of the crew of the aircraft he shot down, actually a Junkers 88 which had come down near Hitchin in Hertfordshire. The 2 men visited the Junkers’ crash site and remained friends until Lionel’s death some years later.
The Halifax Instructor - Waite
At the outbreak of War, Ron Waite was married with one daughter and running his own business as an opthalmic optician in Bristol. As a result of the first bombing raid against Bristol, he felt an overwhelming desire to seek revenge and, despite his age and reserved occupation, he volunteered and was accepted for RAF pilot training. Undergoing elementary flying training at No 6 EFTS, Sywell, his first flight was on 21 April 1941. On 12 May, he flew BB697 for the first time with his regular instructor, Plt Off Maxwell. 20 mins dual forced landings and 35 min dual navigation were followed by a solo flight of 1 hr and 5 mins. In his 1991 book, ‘Death or Decoration’, Waite documents with affection his time at Sywell and his experience of the Tiger Moth.
Waite’s next course was ‘Service Flying Training’ at the RAF College Cranwell, flying the Airspeed Oxford. During the final stages of his approach to land at Barkston Heath during his first solo on the Oxford, another solo student approached Waite from behind and collided with him, causing both aircraft to crash. Waite’s only injury was a cut hand; the other student pilot was less fortunate, and never flew again.
By September 1941, Waite was learning to fly the Whitley bomber at 19 Operational Training Unit, RAF Kinloss. This course lasted until November 1941, after which he joined 76 Sqn at RAF Middleton St George (now Teeside Airport). Pilot Officer Waite’s first flight in the the Handley Page Halifax 4-engined heavy bomber was on 7 January 1942 as second pilot to Sgt Dennis Stark and his all-NCO crew. Waite’s transition to the status of an operational bomber pilot was slow; the policy of training crews together prior to their posting to a squadron had not yet been introduced and 76 Sqn had suffered heavy losses, so Waite found himself in the situation of being a partly-trained pilot without a crew of his own. Nonetheless, Waite was pleased to be initiated into the Squadron in its traditional ‘Jugalug’ style, downing his pint of beer in 3 and a half seconds. In April 1942, he was sent to 1652 Conversion Unit at Marston Moor, where one of his fellow students and instructor in the game of ‘liar dice’ was a Belgian, Count D’Ursell, who was killed on operations very shortly afterwards. Waite did not complete his Halifax conversion as he was recalled to 76 Sqn to to join FS Kenny Clack’s crew as 2nd pilot for forthcoming operations. Clack was barely 19 years old and sported adolescent pimples; he was already an accomplished heavy bomber captain.
Waite did not have to wait long. On 22 April, the Squadron deployed to Tain in Scotland, awaiting suitable conditions for the planned raids. On the night of 27 April, armed with one 4000lb bomb and six 500 pounders, Clack and his crew set off for Trondheim in Norway, their target the Tirpitz and other battleships. Due to some navigation difficulties, they arrived in the target area too late to attack the Tirpitz as low-level attacks by other aircraft would be in progress. Therefore, they made for the Von Scheer and Prinz Eugen, which were in a fjord south of the Tirpitz. The crew worked hard to avoid both flak and the wall of the fjord, only to find that their 4000 pound bomb did not release, ‘hung up’. A second attack was made but, just as they turned off-target after releasing their bomb, they found themselves over the Tirpitz and, running late, the sole target for its heavy flak. Waite describes this moment as akin to putting one’s foot into a hornet’s nest. With one engine damaged and shut down, a fuel tank holed with the consequent loss of fuel and the bomb doors stuck open causing extra drag, the crew was faced with a choice between diverting to neutral Sweden or attempting to return to Scotland on 3 engines, low on fuel in a damaged aeroplane, with the strong risk of ditching in a very cold sea. Over 9 hours after taking off from Tain, Kenny Clack squeezed the aeroplane onto the runway at Wick; Waite had survived his baptism of fire. Shortly after landing all three engines cut as the last fuel tank emptied. Clack was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for this operation.
Apart from the damage already described, the aeroplane sported 58 holes caused by shrapnel, so the crew took a different aeroplane for their next visit to Trondheim, the very next night. During this raid, one of the Halifaxes shot down was flown by Wg Cdr Don Bennett, who managed to land on the frozen fjord and, with four of his crew, escape to Sweden. Bennett later achieved fame as the leader of the Pathfinder Force.
Sqn Ldr Ken Clack was shot down and killed during his second tour of operations with 76 Sqn, during the infamous Nuremburg raid of 31 March 1944, the night Bomber Command suffered its heaviest losses of the War.
Waite remained a second pilot, flying on an operation to Cologne on 30 May, where a failed engine caused the crew to jettison their bombs and return early, Essen on 1 June, which he describes in his logbook as a ‘very nice trip’ with ‘defences slight’, Bremen on 3 June, also a ‘very good trip’ where ‘defences seemed erratic’ and Essen again on 5 June: “Defences very intense - many large cones. Accurate ‘flak’ but avoided trouble”.
During July 1942, most of 76 Sqn’s experienced operational pilots were sent on detachment to the Middle East, as a result of Rommel’s Afrika Korps’ offensive against the 8th Army. Sqn Ldr ‘Jock Calder’ took command of 76 Sqn and sent Waite on his first night solo in a Halifax, bringing his total solo night flying time to 10 hrs 20 minutes, all of which had been in the aerodrome circuit. Thus, Waite was more than little surprised to find himself nominated as the Captain for a raid on Hamburg on 26 July. After evading a fighter attack, the port inner engine overheated and had to be shut down. Hydraulic controls for the undercarriage and flaps were powered from the now shut down port inner engine, so could not be retracted once deployed; thus, Waite had only one possible attempt to land from his first ever 3-engined approach, which he did, but not without drama and help from adrenalin.
29 July saw Waite attacking Saarbrucken without incident, but on 31 July his crew were sent to Dusseldorf. Their aeroplane was under performing to a gross degree to the extent that Waite could not make it climb higher than 8000 feet, making it very vulnerable to both flak and fighter attack. The sluggish aircraft came under attack from 2 German fighters, killing Sgt ‘Mac’ McAuley, the mid-upper gunner and injuring Bob Pool, the navigator. Waite himself was saved by the bullet-proof glass fitted behind his head. Several of Waite’s instruments, including the airspeed indicator, had failed; Waite released his bombs over what he hoped was an enemy airfield in the Netherlands before turning for home, at which stage he realised that the controls had a ’sloshy’ feel and were not responding normally. The injured navigator refused morphine in order to take star shots, the only way of guiding the crippled bomber back to England. Waite assessed the situation and decided that to land the aeroplane was not an option, so he ordered his remaining crew to bale out, following shortly afterwards and landing in Essex.
Waite’s last operational mission was on 20 August. By this time, Leonard Cheshire had taken command of 76 Sqn. Waite was tasked for a leaflet dropping operation, ‘Nickel’, with the target as Dijon, in mid France. The main purpose of the raid was to test ‘Gee’, a new aid to navigation and target identification. Waite’s was the only crew to operate that night. On spotting the Alps, Waite realised that his crew were experiencing problems in the navigation department. After a major correction, the leaflets were dropped over the target; the crew headed back towards England, crossing Northern France the day after the unsuccessful commando raid on Dieppe. Short of fuel, Waite landed on the short runway at Sutton Harcourt in Oxfordshire, a flying training station.
Some days after returning to Middleton St George, Cheshire probed Waite as to what went wrong with the Dijon operation. Cheshire appeared to have very strong views on the leadership role of an aircraft Captain and, as a result, Waite was told he was to be posted to twin-engined aircraft. In fact, he spent most of the remainder of the War as an Halifax instructor with 1658 and 1663 Heavy Conversion Units at Riccall and Rufforth.
Sqn Ldr Waite was released from the RAF in December 1945, having made his last flight in his favourite aeroplane, the Dh84 Dominie. Post war, Waite ran an Inn in Weymouth, a country hotel and a sub post office. In retirement, he re-qualified as an opthalmic optician.
The Lancaster Pilot - Fullelove
Sgt Desmond E Fullelove flew his first solo on BB697 during November 1941, a few weeks before his 20th birthday. On a subsequent solo flight in the same aeroplane, he became 'temporarily uncertain of his position' and made a precautionary landing in a field. He left the aeroplane with its engine idling and ran over to a worker in the next field to ask where he was. The chap told him that the church spire in one direction was North and that in the opposite South. Fullelove replied that he was aware of that fact, to which his helper clarified "no, I mean that church is North Kilworth & that's South Kilworth". With this information, it seems Fullelove took off again and found his way back to Sywell to continue his training under the instruction of a French Air Force officer. Fullelove continued his training in the USA before returning to join 207 Sqn, flying the Lancaster bomber from RAF Langar in Nottinghamshire. His first mission was on the night of 25/26 June 1943 against a very heavily-defended Gelsenkirchen.