Wednesday, 1 August 2012
I knew that my former Geography teacher at Carmountside Mr JJ Williams was in the RAF, but until a recent conversation I had not realised what a hero he was. JJ was in Bomber Command during the Second War and was in a pathfinder squadron whose task was to mark targets for bombers to follow to obliterate. Mr Williams’s Lancaster was shot down over Berlin during the later stages of the war and he spent several days on the run before being captured and ending his war in a POW camp. The person who told me this has some of JJ’s wartime documents including his prisoner of war papers.
I thought of him after the Queen unveiled a monument to the 55,000 young men of Bomber Command who died. This branch of the Armed Forces suffered the heaviest losses. Tailgunners particularly had the lowest survival rate of RAF aircrew, with an average life expectancy of just four missions.
This was a very controversial aspect of the war with many civilians dying in the firestorms of Dresden and elsewhere. There has been much debate on the effectiveness of bombing. The Americans produced a report at the war end that assessed bombing and concluded "Allied air power was decisive in the war in Western Europe. Hindsight inevitably suggests that it might have been employed differently or better in some respects. Nevertheless, it was decisive".
A number of Leek men were tragically involved in the campaign and did not return home. Men like Sergeant Harry Cook of Grove St, a navigator in a Lancaster in 626 squadron. Aged 20 he died in a raid over Leipzig in February 1944. James Beech son of the landlord of the Queens Head in Stanley St died when his plane crashed into the North Sea in July 1944. Both men’s bodies were never found. Flight Sargent James Gordon’s family was well known in the town. They lived in Westminster Rd. His father Eddie was a sweep. James was a very experienced rear gunner and was only a few missions short of rest. His Lancaster crashed in a south German town returning from a mission over Stuttgart in the same month as Beech. He lies in a Bavarian cemetery. Heroes all.