Pedal power at the Royal Naval Fighter Direction School, HMS Heron, Royal Naval Air Station, Yeovilton, Somerset – 1943

RICHARD MADDOX

IN 1941 LIEUTENANT COMMANDER CHARLES COKE RN finished a tour of duty as Air Signals Officer on the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal – where part of his duties were directing fighters from the carrier to intercept enemy aircraft during the Norwegian Campaign in 1940.

Soon after he was discussing what and where his next job might be and remarked that some kind of formal training could be useful for future Fighter Direction Officers.

His idea struck a note with the Admiralty.

His next posting was to establish a training school and its teaching syllabus at HMS Heron (also known as Royal Naval Air Station, Yeovilton). He devised a three-week training course of theoretical and practical exercises.

However one of the problems that he encountered was a large one. The Fleet Air Arm – the Royal Navy’s air component – didn’t sufficient aircraft available for his training school.

So he devised an ingenious solution.

FIGHTER INTERCEPTOR TRAINERS AT HMS HERON set off on an exercise. The modified tricycles are 'piloted' and under the direction of student Fighter Control Officer who try and get their 'pilot' to intercept an 'enemy', possibly the figure that can be seen in the distance between two aircraft hangars. Image by Lieutenant E A Zimmerman RN. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference A 19101. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205151763 .

FIGHTER INTERCEPTOR TRAINERS AT HMS HERON set off on an exercise. The modified tricycles are ‘piloted’ and under the direction of student Fighter Control Officer who try and get their ‘pilot’ to intercept an ‘enemy’, possibly the figure that can be seen in the distance between two aircraft hangars. Image by Lieutenant E A Zimmerman RN. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference A 19101. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205151763 .

Civilian tricycles of the type used by ice cream vendors were brought to the Air Station and were fitted with a wooden screen, curtain, aircraft compass and radio equipment and a metronome to govern the speed at which the ‘pilot’ of the trike – following instructions from the student Fighter Direction Officers (FDOs) and using their compass – pedalled to intercept the target.

The wooden screen on the front of the tricycle was designed to limit vision so that the ‘enemy’ could only be seen when the target had been successfully acquired after following the directions given and using their navigation skills.

The students were based in the airfield control tower and using a polar grid – a series of concentric circles centred on a common point and with a series of lines passing through it denoting angles – computed the compass direction and speed to bring about a successful intercept. This information was communicated to the ‘pilots’ who pedalled accordingly.

The first course was run in July 1941. (1)

It seemed likely that a various scenarios were practised – although the more often described appears to be for two tricycles – one playing the enemy and the other a Royal Navy aircraft – being used.

WRNS (members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service) were also trained and there appears to have been much competition between the men and women ‘pilots’.  (2)

A SUCCESSFUL INTERCEPT with in this case a WRNS officer representing an enemy aircraft. Image by Lieutenant E A Zimmerman RN. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference A 19102. https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205151764

A SUCCESSFUL INTERCEPT with in this case a WRNS officer representing an enemy aircraft. Image by Lieutenant E A Zimmerman RN. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference A 19102. https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205151764

Sources

(1) https://ethw.org/The_Beginnings_of_Naval_Fighter_Direction_-_Chapter_5_of_Radar_and_the_Fighter_Directors – retrieved 26 August 2019

 (2) https://issuu.com/navynews/docs/199708/17 – retrieved 26 August 2019

 

The mystery of Flying Officer Peter Bishop’s memorial window at Biggin Hill RAF Chapel of Remembrance

Richard Maddox

THE TINY SAINT GEORGE’S ROYAL AIR FORCE CHAPEL OF REMEMBRANCE at the former RAF Biggin Hill is a place of beauty as well as contemplation.

It forms an important part of a new museum on the site as well as being an active place of worship for the local community. (1) (2) (3) (4) 

It is also a treasure trove of unusual objects and the building itself is listed as having historic significance by Historic England. (5) 

The reredos (the screen behind the altar) is featured on the Imperial War Museums War Memorials Register as it contains details of the losses experienced by the many squadrons stationed there during the Second World War. (6) 

Among the items to be seen are twelve stained glasss windows by Hugh Easton, each illustrating a seraph or six-winged angel holding an emblem.

There are seven squadron crests – representing Nos. 32, 72, 74, 79, 92, 141 and 610 Squadrons, RAF – together with the crests of RAF Biggin Hill, No. 11 Group RAF, Fighter Command.

Finally there are two more – one featuring a Supermarine Spitfire and the other a Hawker Hurricane, the RAF aircraft most associated with the ‘Battle of Britain’ during which RAF Biggin Hill played a key role in defending London and the South East of England.

Born in 1906, Easton was a stained glass artist who designed many church stained-glass windows in churches in post war-war Britain – often to replace those destroyed by wartime bombing.

He is probably best known for a the design of a number of memorial windows in London’s Westminster Abbey, which were made at the firm of Hawes and Harris in Harpenden to the north of London. (7) (8) (9) (10)

Although his work was praised at the time, tastes change and to some today some of his work can be seen as out of character with it surroundings. (11) (12)

At St George’s Biggin Hill many of the windows havesecondary dedications to groups or individual pilots.

However establishing the story of these men and their exploits is not always easy – take the case of Peter Bishop for example.

His dedication appears on the window showing the crest of No. 141 Squadron RAF which flew the Boulton Paul Defiant fighter during the Battle of Britain and afterwards.

However it also features an illustration of a Gloster Meteor F8 jet fighter complete with RAF serial – WA962 – and individual aircraft letter ‘D‘. This type first entered RAF service in December 1949 and accounted for 30% of all Meteor aircraft produced. (13) (14)

© KentFallen 2002-9 (WMR-11020)

No. 141 SQUADRON’S WINDOW showing a seraph holding the squadron crest with the dedication to Flying Officer Peter Bishop below. Image © R Maddox 2019 and used with permission.

A CLOSE-UP of the dedication to Flying Officer Peter Bishop RAF. It features 'Dustcart Crest' the squadron crest of No. 601 Squadron - so called because it was applied to all the corporation vehicles in the City of London - flanked by the crest of New College Oxford and Brasenose College Oxford. It also contains an inscription from his brother which translates as 'I loved you for a long time; I will never forget you'. Image © R Maddox 2019 and used with permission.

A CLOSE-UP of the dedication to Flying Officer Peter Bishop RAF. It features ‘Dustcart Crest’ the squadron crest of No. 601 Squadron – so called because it was applied to all the corporation vehicles in the City of London – flanked by the crest of New College Oxford and Brasenose College Oxford. It also contains an inscription from his brother which translates as ‘I loved you for a long time; I will never forget you’. Image © R Maddox 2019 and used with permission.

A quick internet search reveals that this aircraft was flown by No. 41 Squadron RAF from Biggin Hill, one of a number of squadrons based at the airfield that flew that particular aircraft type.

So given that another dedication – that of Flying Officer Ivo Cuthbert (15) who was killed in 1940 while flying with No. 601 Squadron RAF – is set into the window dedicated to No. 610 (County of Chester) Squadron, it would seem logical that Peter’s dedication would be set within 141’s window and that he died while flying the aircraft illustrated.

But he didn’t.

No.41 Squadron’s Operational Record Book (ORB) has no record of his death – or the loss of WA962 – in July 1955.

And then – like in the second half of a detective story where the police have arrested the wrong suspect – I looked again at the photographs I took recently of the windows and saw a clue I had overlooked.

In the centre of the inscription is the ‘Dustcart’ crest of No.600 Squadron – which was based at Biggin Hill at the time of Peter’s death and also flew Meteor F8 aircraft. Perhaps the ORB for that Squadron would give some information about Peter’s demise.

And there it was.

In the monthly summary for July 1955 under ‘(i) OPERATIONS’ is the following entry: (16)

(c) Flying Officer P.M. Bishop who joined this Squadron on coming down from Oxford in November 1953, met his death in a flying tragedy whilst working in his civilian capacity as a Pilot for Hunting Aerosurveys.

With his name and the month of his death confirmed and the information on the company he worked for, the next stage followed.

A search of a website that documents many air crashes indicates that an Auster J/5B Autocar, a small, single-engined high wing four-seater civil aircraft owned by Hunting Aerosurveys Limited crashed in Scotland on 8 July 1955 – the same date that is on the window at St. Georges Chapel, Biggin Hill.

So Peter did indeed fly with No. 600 Squadron but he met his death in Scotland when flying an Auster J/5B Autocar, a small, single-engined high wing four-seater civil aircraft. He had taken off from Elstree airfield in Hertfordshire, north of London.

Bearing the civil air registration G-AMFO, the aircraft was carrying a passenger, probably another employee of Hunting Aero Surveys when it crashed around 40 miles from its destination at Perth (Scone) airport. (17)

Armed with this information I found a picture of the aircraft on the Auster Heritage Group website. (18)

Although the civilian air registration, the manufacturer’s construction number and the place of crash all match the information on the Air Safety Network website, it appears that the date of the crash has been wrongly captioned (8 July 1965 and not 8 July 1955) on the image.

Of course the story doesn’t end there and we would like to here from anyone that can  add any details to Peter’s story.

A new mystery

The windows –  according to information on the one dediated to RAF Biggin Hill – were placed in the chapel in September 1955 – hold at least one more mystery.

The RAF Fighter Command one has an easily missed additional ‘dedication’ – a small mosquito insect.

The RAF used the De Havilland Mosquito in a variety of roles including as a day and night fighter.

THE WINDOW dedicated to RAF Fighter Command and gifted in 1955. The tiny mosquito is to the right of the seraph's wing, level with the word 'by' in the inscription. Image copyright © R Maddox 2019 and used with permission.

THE WINDOW dedicated to RAF Fighter Command and gifted in 1955. The tiny mosquito is to the right of the seraph’s wing, level with the word ‘by’ in the inscription. Image copyright © R Maddox 2019 and used with permission.

A CLOSE-UP of the mosquito drawing in the Fighter Command window. Image copyright © R Maddox 2019 and used with permission.

A CLOSE-UP of the mosquito drawing in the Fighter Command window. Image copyright © R Maddox 2019 and used with permission.

Whether included in Easton’s original design, or added during production of the window, the signifcance of the mosquito – and who placed it there and why – is another mystery.

And perhaps one for someone else to solve.

A personal note

I first saw St George’s Chapel at Biggin Hill and the window with Peter’s details on it many, many years ago – long before the internet.

The chapel was guarded not by fibreglass replicas but by a ‘real’ Supermarine Spitfire and a ‘real’ Hawker Hurricane and I remember one day watching a robin that had made its nest in the Hurricane fly back and forth, disappearing and then reappearing from the somewhere under the engine cowling.

In those days parts of the airfield were still used by the RAF with large notices visible from the road declaring WRAF accommodation blocks ‘out of bounds’ to airmen

Although I knew nothing of Hugh Easton, I was fascinated by the windows – the  colours, the history they contained, the majesty they conveyed.

Peter Bishop’s inscription – and in particular the beautifully represented Meteor jet – immediately attracted me.

But there was never anyone to ask about why a 1950s jet fighter was featured in a chapel that seemed dedicated to events in the Second World War. Even though I looked at the windows and searched for books at the local library I never moved the story forward.

Eventually ‘Life’ took over and I moved out of the area.

Today I can’t say I have solved the mystery – even to my own satisfaction – but I am at least more knowledgable.

Hopefully this information will enlighten someone who as I did many years ago finds themselves puzzling over why there is an inscription to a man who died 10 years after the Second World War ended in a place that is so much about that conflict.

Sources

(1) https://londonist.com/london/museums-and-galleries/biggin-hill-memorial-museum – retrieved 19 May 2019

(2) https://bhmm.org.uk/ – retrieved 19 May 2019

(3) https://www.family-tree.co.uk/news-and-views/news/new-raf-museum-honours-battle-of-britain-many-and-the-few – retrieved 19 May 2019

(4) https://www.rafchapelbigginhill.com/ – retrieved 19 May 2019

(5) https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1391588 – retrieved 19 May 2019

(6) https://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/11020 – retrieved 19 May 2019

(7) https://www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-commemorations/commemorations/hugh-easton –  retrieved 19 May 2019

(8) https://www.westminster-abbey.org/about-the-abbey/history/raf-chapel – retrieved 19 May 2019

(9) https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O695918/design-for-stained-easton-hugh/ – retrieved 19 May 2019

(10) http://www.harpenden-history.org.uk/page_id__145.aspx – retrieved 19 May 2019

(11) https://www.yarnstormpress.co.uk/glazed_expressions/hugh-easton/ – retrieved 19 May 2019

(12) https://stainedglassattitudes.wordpress.com/2014/08/31/a-blaggers-guide-to-stained-glass/ – retrieved 19 May 2019

(13) http://www.neam.co.uk/meteor.html – retrieved 19 May 2019

(14) https://www.baesystems.com/en-uk/heritage/gloster-meteor – retrieved 19 May 2019

(15) https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2726380/cuthbert,-gerald-ivo/ – retrieved 19 May 2019

(16) UK National Archives, Kew, England – File reference: Air 27/2502/3

(17) https://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/18374 – retrieved 19 May 2019

(18) http://austerhg.org/gallery3/Auster-1243594292/Model_J5_A/G-AMFO – retrieved 19 May 2019

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If you are interested in contributing to IWM’s War Memorials Register so that future generations can continue to value and remember the people, places and events that UK war memorials commemorate – or simply want to search for a memorial in your area – follow the links on IWM’s War Memorial page at https://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials

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When Johnnie came home – Lancaster WS-J/W4964, more than 100 operations to its credit

RICHARD MADDOX

THEY STAND in the morning cold, parachutes and caps at their feet.

The photographer’s harsh light picks out the the details of the aircraft and the men’s bulky oil-stained equipment. It picks out the strained expressions on their faces.

FLYING OFFICER ALBERT MANNING and his crew with Avro Lancaster B Mark I 'WS-J'/W4964 'Johnnie Walker' of No. 9 Squadron RAF on 6 January 1944 after attacking Stettin, Germany. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference CH 11972. Original source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210406

FLYING OFFICER ALBERT MANNING and his crew with Avro Lancaster B Mark I ‘WS-J’/W4964 ‘Johnnie Walker’ of No. 9 Squadron RAF on 6 January 1944 after attacking Stettin, Germany. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference CH 11972. Original source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210406

Avro Lancaster B Mark I ‘WS-J’/W4964’Johnnie Walker‘ – named after a well-known brand of whisky – was ultimately a lucky aircraft, surviving over 100 trips to Occupied Europe and then becoming an instructional airframe in December 1944.

Of the 7,366 Avro Lancasters flown by RAF Bomber Command during the Second World War some 3,400 (46%) were lost on operations.

Just 35 survived to fly more than 100 missions. (1)

Delivered to No. 9 Squadron RAF, it flew its first operation to Stettin in Germany (now Szczecin in Poland) on the night of 20 April 1943 – just eight days after leaving the Metropolitan Vickers factory at Old Trafford, Manchester, which was sighted not far from where IWM North is today.

In service with the squadron from 20 April 1943 until its last mission on 6 October 1944 it amassed a total of 105 sorties and participated in some of the major raids in the final stages of the war,

On the night of the 6 June 1944 – D-Day – Johnnie flew operation no 71. The mission that marked its century was an attack on the German battleship KMS Tirpitz on 15 September 1944 – important not just as it marked 100 operaton for W4964 but also because the raid involved sending the attacking force via Scotland and Russia to the remote Alten Fjord in Norway where Tirpitz was anchored.

It was struck off charge in November 1944. (2)

Albert Manning and his crew were not so fortunate.

They failed to return while flying another of the Squadron LancasterLM430 – on an operation to Frankfurt on the night of 22 March 1944. Flying Officer Manning had 20 operations to his credit by this time.

Albert was 28 years old. (3)

Today the crew – which on the night in question included Group Captain N C Pleasance the Commanding Officer of RAF Station Bardney in Lincolnshire, where No. 9 Squadron RAF were based – rest in Brussels Town Cemetery. (4)

They were some of the ninety-nine airforce deaths that occurred that day.

However that was not the end of the story.

In 1974 part of the fuselage was donated to Newark Air Museum in Nottinghamshire, England. It was being used as a garden shed. (5)

Sources

(1) Ton-up Lancs by Norman Franks (Grub Street 2015). Pages 35 – 38.

(2) ibid. Page 7.

(3) https://internationalbcc.co.uk/losses/manning-ae/ – retrieved 18 August 2019

(4) https://www.cwgc.org/find/find-war-dead/results?war=2&servedIn=Air%2bforce&exactDate=23-03-1944&tab=wardead&fq_cemeterymemorial=BRUSSELS+TOWN+CEMETERY – retrieved 18 August 2019

(5) http://www.newarkairmuseum.org/Lancaster-Corner – retrieved 18 August 2019