I owe a big debt of Gratitude to Janet (Chase) for helping me with this image. Its for a personal project, One of my other hobbies is Family History. This guy is Fred Walton, my great Uncle. Like many in Bomber command he sadly didn't make it through WW2. Info on him below.
The title is derived from a book on the 76th Squadron, and is very pertinant, as many, many young men failed to see it .
Once again thanks Janet.
Frederick, or Fred as he preferred to be known, was the youngest of seven children born on 17th November 1924 to Hardy and Sarah Jane Walton. Fred was over 20 years younger than his eldest brother Charles Arthur – my Grandfather.
He had been an apprentice at Mackay's garage West Park, Harrogate, Yorkshire before the war. He was a bright capable lad but a terrible daredevil always getting into scrapes, he was remembered for “pulling weelies” down the Skipton Road (A59) on his beloved motorbike. Coupling a sense of adventure with a mechanical interest, it was little wonder Fred was attracted to the glamour of the Air Force when war broke out.
Like a large number of young men, he volunteered to join the armed forces during World War II. Fred was too young to join the RAF, undaunted he lied to gain admission. He initially tried to join on 1st May 1941, but was rejected – probably for being too young! He was a determined young man; he again applied to the Number 2 recruiting centre at RAF Cardington (near Bristol) on 29th May 1941, just after his “18th birthday” - conveniently, citing his date of birth as being 17th May 1923. Hardy Walton, his Dad, was furious and tried to get him out but couldn't because he was a mechanic and the Air Force was short of them. It must have been a traumatic time for the family as Fred’s elder brother, John William, had died in suspicious circumstances in 1942. Fred was given the service number 1436208. A highly intelligent young man; he was to become a flight engineer, and sergeant aged just 19.
Now accepted he was given the rank of Aircraftman second class.
Fred would have been ideal stature for his future role as a flight engineer, he was of slight build being 5’5” (for those preferring metric measurements that’s 1.65M) with a 31” chest (78.7cm) he can’t have weighed much more than 9 stone. He had blue eyes, brown hair with a clear complexion. His small stature would have made it easier for him to manoeuvre in the confines of the aircraft, particularly around the engines and other moving parts.
In June Fred transferred to the recruiting centre in Skegness to continue his training. Then in July to RAF Hednesford (which is at Cannock Chase in the West Midlands), where he trained on the Pegasus engines.
Fred’s active service commenced with the 10th Squadron based at Leeming on 16th January 1942. The 10th Squadron flew Halifax bombers. He probably worked as a ground crew fitter whilst at Leeming.
Fred transferred to 1652 Conversion Unit (a unit flying Halifax’s) based at Marston Moor in March of ’42 eventually gaining promotion to Leading Aircraftman on 1st June 1942. It was here that Fred probably saw his first “active” service; however records at the conversion units are not as comprehensive as with squadrons. The principal role of the conversion units was to familiarise airmen with the aircraft used over enemy territory.
Following his promotion Fred transferred to RAF Cosford on the 28th July 1942 to attend a month long NCO training course. Fred passed the course with an exam result of 68.5%.
Following his NCO training he returned to 1652 conversion unit where he remained until 25th January 1943 when he moved to Number 10 (Observers) Advanced Flying Unit based at RAF Dumfries in Scotland, the unit flew Bothas, Ansons, Battles, Dominies and Henleys. The training was becoming more intense in preparation for front line duties as he went from Dumfries to 4th School of Technical Training based at RAF St Athan, Vale of Glamorgan, Wales. It was at St Athan where Fred took a flight Engineers course between the 19th March and 26th April. He passed the course gaining 72.6% (Grade “B”) gaining a promotion to the rank of Flight Sergeant. The photo of Fred was taken with his “Sergeants stripes” so must have been after passing the course.
On the first of May he was moved to the 1663 Conversion Unit based at RAF Rufforth (Again flying Halifax’s). It was here he probably met and flew with an Australian called Colin McTaggart Shannon. Colin was the pilot of all the flights we have records of containing Fred. Colin McTaggart Shannon joined 1663 on the 27th April after completing his pilot training, just four days before Fred.
The 76th Squadron was composed solely of Halifax bombers. They lost 204 aircraft during World War 2. Hindley Page Halfax’s conducted over 75,000 bombing sorties, dropped 232300 Tonnes during World War 2 – more than a quarter of all bombs dropped by the RAF on Germany during World War 2.
Holme-on-Spalding moor was typical of many wartime airfields it was cold and uncomfortable. Yet many who served there remembered it fondly, more for the comradeship than the squalid conditions. James Hampton in his book Selected for Aircrew described how much of the wooden furniture had been burnt on the stoves and asbestos had been fitted above the bunks to prevent further occurrences of arson. He wrote, “On no other RAF station, before or after, did I encounter such intolerable living conditions. Outside … there were muddy paths leading to the ablutions. The washing facilities were primitive and little interest was taken in trying to improve them or even maintain them properly.”
He remembered an almost complete lack of plugs and washbasins, something which was endemic in the wartime RAF and appeared to be accepted by a higher authority as a law of nature that could never be changed”. The conditions were in the main accepted with good humour. He continues: “Those that didn’t were usually advised by their fellows that if they couldn’t take a joke, they shouldn’t have joined!”
The squadron diary of the 76th Squadron confirmed that Fred was posted to Linton-on-Ouse on the 4th June 1942 moving to Holme-on-Spalding Moor on the 16th June 1943.
The other aircraft members posted with Fred were F/O Shannon (Pilot), Sergeant Buchan (Air Bomber), Sergeant Shaw (Navigator), P/O Ellis (Wireless Operator / Air Gunner), Sergeant Smith (Air Gunner) and Sergeant Dodson (Air Gunner). The majority of the crew flew in the 11 missions before the fateful mission to Mannheim.
Accounts from Colin McTaggarts family suggest the crew were not adverse to some high jinks. Colin was also from a farming family, they reputedly returned from one bombing run without deploying the bombs. On their return to Holme-on-Spalding Moor they spotted a herd of cattle, they thought it would be funny to obliterate the herd; needless to say their superiors didn’t see the funny side. There is a tantalising reference to bombs been ‘jettisoned’ on a mission to Wuppertal on the 24th June 1943, I have not seen any other reference to bombs been jettisoned by any other crew when searching records.
Very few of the operations went without incident, it is very apparent that the crews of Bomber Command went through shear hell during their missions. The Halifax’s, in particular were noted for their difficulty in handling. Fred was in a terrible mental state by the time he was killed he used to have terrible nightmares when he was at home. He used to say they got the crews drunk on rum in order to get them up in the air. This heavy drinking could, in part explain the boisterous high jinks for the attack on the herd of cattle (if indeed it did take place).
Fred’s sister Nell used to wash Fred's clothes and because it was so cold in the aircraft. He used to give her the washing on the milk round because he didn't always go straight home, going instead to the girlfriend's Sally Moore in New Park.
The most eventful missions were on attacks to Essen and the fateful sortés to Mannheim both are detailed below. A full list of sortés is included in the appendix at the end of the chapter.
Essen; 25th July 1943
The operation was only 24 hours after the eventful mission to Hamburg, when the aircraft (DK205) piloted by P/O Shannon made a crash landing on its return.
The evening of 25th July 1943 saw a major operation when Essen was attacked by 705 aircraft - 294 Lancasters, 221 Halifaxes, 104 Stirlings, 67 Wellingtons, 19 Mosquitos. The commander of the American VIII Bomber Command, Brigadier-General Fred Anderson, observed this raid as a passenger in an 83 Squadron Lancaster. Major damage was recorded in Essen's industrial areas in the eastern half of the city. The Krupps works suffered what was probably its most damaging raid of the war. The next morning, Doctor Gustav Krupp had a stroke from which he never recovered; this saved him from being charged with war crimes after the war.
Fred was part of the crew of a Halifax DK148, the rest of the crew were F/L C M Shannon, Sergeant V S Shaw, Sergeant T Buchan, P/O W.C. Ellis, Sergeant E W Waterman, Sergeant Dodson. The aircraft suffered serious damage; reports vary from a dislodged airscrew that hit the fuselage to a shattered propeller on the port side with the engine catching fire. Control of the aircraft was difficult and the order to bale out was given. However after Sergeant Waterman did so, Colin McTaggart Shannon regained control of the aircraft. Unbelievably they proceeded to continue with the bombing run and were successful in their objectives. Sergeant Waterman was captured and spent time as a POW in Staleg Luft 4B synonymous with “The Great Escape”.
Despite the damage, the wireless operator, William Claude Ellis constructed a temporary aerial and guided the plane home where it landed at Holme on Spalding Moor at 04:26 on 26th July 2006.
For the exploits of the flight both William Claude Ellis and Colin McTaggart Shannon were awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross); neither officer lived to receive the medal. The following is the citation in The London Gazette from the 17th August 1943
“Flight Lieutenant Colin McTaggart SHANNON (Aus 415055), Royal Australian Air Force, No. 76 Squadron. Pilot Officer William Claude ELLIS (132386), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 76 Squadron. One night in July, 1943, these officers were pilot and wireless operator/air gunner respectively of an aircraft detailed to attack Essen. When nearing the target, one of the port propellers was shattered and the engine caught fire. In spite of this, Flight Lieutenant Shannon went on to make a successful bombing run. The wireless apparatus was unserviceable as the aerials had been destroyed but Pilot Officer Ellis resourcefully erected an emergency aerial and thus was enabled to re-establish contact with base and obtain bearings which proved of material assistance to his pilot on the return flight. Both these officers displayed great skill and tenacity, setting an excellent example.”
As Fred was the flight engineer it is inconceivable to think he didn’t play a significant role in the aircrafts return to base. He would have controlled the remaining three engines, shut down the damaged engine and put right any damage that was necessary to limp the aircraft back to base.
On a visit home, probably leave given after the attack on Essen, a young 5 year old remembers been sat on his uncle’s knee. Fred promised that he would see him again soon. The enduring memory of that 5 year old was the shiny buttons of his uncle’s tunic. The 5 year old never did see his uncle again, and the vision was still as clear as the day it happened over 60 years later. That 5 year old is Jim Walton my father.
Mannheim; 9th August 1943
457 aircraft - 286 Lancaster’s and 171 Halifax’s were involved in the raid on Mannheim. The target area was mainly cloud-covered and the Pathfinder plan did not work well. 9 aircraft, 6 Halifax’s and 3 Lancaster’s were lost in the raid, one of which was LK892. The Crew were in Halifax LK892 “C” were returning home after the mission to Mannheim. They were “picked up” in spotlights, and shot down at 03.49 hours on the morning of Tuesday 10th August 1943. The plane crashed on a rail track at Aubengue, Pont du Garannes in the area of Wimeraux 5 miles due North of Bologne (Close to the current Channel Tunnel terminal at Calais). It burned furiously for several hours. The the crew were burned beyond recognition, with the exception of the rear gunner, John Dodson, who died of a fractured skull. Rear gunners were affectionately referred to as “Tail end Charlies”. As he was at the rear of the aircraft he was least likely to have suffered burns.
All the airmen were buried by the Germans in separate graves. Torrance Buchan, John Dodson and Frederick Walton were all allocated there own marked grave, it was assumed they had found identifying evidence for both Torrance and Fred.
Following an investigation after the war (conducted on 22nd November 1946) all the bodies were exhumed. Very little remains were found of Colin McTaggart Shannon, Geoffrey Austin, Torrance Buchan, William Claude Ellis, John Smith or Frederick, certainly nothing to give a positive identification. They did, however, find one set of stripes belonging to a sergeant, but there were four sergeants on board the aircraft. The decision was taken to bury the colleagues in a communal grave. John Dodson retained his individual grave. The marker for the communal grave as erected in the 1940's can be seen to the previous page..
The mother of Colin McTaggart Shannon visited the scene after the war, travelling from a remote farming area in Western Australia. She met the farmer whose land the plane came down on. He said he tried to help the crew but was beaten back by the flames. Colin’s mother was in contact with Bill Ellis’s family for some time after the war.
Colin’s brother had just joined him at the airbase, as the crew were to start a period of leave. They had been persuaded to do one final mission. After the death of the crew a girl from London wrote to his mother – Colin had just become engaged.
Fred's apparition appeared to his sister Nell the morning after his death while she was feeding the cows in the front mistal, saying he was all right! At this stage she didn’t know he was already dead.
Something remarkable happened in ca 2000 / 1. Evelyn Herron (nee Walton, Fred's sister) received a letter from a woman from Silverdale, Lancashire, enclosing a photo of Fred. On the back of it was written in pencil "if found please return to Mrs Walton, Dairy farm, Skipton Road, Hampsthwaite" Evelyn wrote to her and it emerged that her son had picked up the photo among the flowerpots in a garden centre and had brought it home. We wondered if it had been carried around by Sally or some other girl / friend and lost.
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