No. 75 Squadron’s ‘Soda Siphon’ Wellington bomber – a little about Pilot Officer Ted Wilcox and photographer P H F ‘Bill’ Tovey.

Richard Maddox

No. 75 (NZ) SQUADRON RAF has the distinction of being the first Commonwealth squadron created by the RAF during the Second World War.

In May 1938 the new Royal New Zealand Air Force placed an order with Vickers Armstrong for 30 Wellington bombers and sent air and ground crew to England to be trained on the aircraft. The aircraft would then be ferried back to New Zealand in flights of six. The first of these flights – covering 13000 miles – was planned to leave Britain on 1 October 1939.

After Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, the New Zealand government very generously offered the aircraft and crews to the RAF. (1)

Vickers Wellington 1C R1162 AA-Y was probably attached to the No.75 (NZ) Squadron RAF in December 1940. (2)

The aircraft’s first operation flight was the night of 1 January 1941 against Bremen. Flying as the rear gunner was Pilot Officer E T (Ted) Wilcox. (3)

Wilcox was already an experienced airman on his way to completing his operational tour of 25 missions. Before he did so Ted – a commercial artist by training – created a unique piece of artwork for R1162.

The reason why a soda siphon was chosen to be painted on the aircraft has been lost. But the artwork stayed with the aircraft while it served on the squadron.

R1162 flew 24 missions with No.75 (NZ) Squadron RAF.

VICKERS WELLINGTON 1C R1162 AA-Y of No. 75 (New Zealand) Squadron RAF at Feltwell, Norfolk, showing its unusual nose art - an 'RAF' soda-syphon spraying bombs. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM Catalogue reference CH 2718. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210064.

VICKERS WELLINGTON 1C R1162 AA-Y of No. 75 (New Zealand) Squadron RAF at Feltwell, Norfolk, showing its unusual nose art – an ‘RAF’ soda-syphon spraying bombs. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM Catalogue reference CH 2718. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210064.

The image is credited to Mr P H F Tovey, who although credited as an offical RAF photographer is not given a rank.

This is almost certainly because before his call-up he was a press photographer working for a British national newspaper and was classified as ‘CC’- a non-specialist civilian in RAF employment, who when he was mobilised would be commissioned. (4) 

In 1941 he is shown as a Pilot Officer in the RAF Reserve, class ‘CC’ in the Air Force List with a seniority of 25 September 1941. (5) 

Given this, he was probably aged about 40 as the National Services (Armed Forces Act) required men of this age to register for military service in June 1941. (6) 

A man with the last name of Tovey and the initials P H F served in the First World War as a Lieutenant in the British Army’s Middlesex Regiment and was awarded the Military Cross in 1919. (7) 

He stayed with the Army after the conflict and was granted the rank of Captain in the same regiment in 1921. (8) 

At some point P H F ‘Bill’ Tovey became a professional photographer and covered the Spanish Civil War in 1936 for the British ‘Daily Express‘ newspaper.

According to his memoir ‘Action with a Click‘ published in 1940 he had come across faked war scenes for the international press to photograph.

Upon being told this by a Francoist official, he resolved to expose the fakery but was recalled to London before he could do so. (9) 

Interestingly the ‘Soda Siphon’ image and much of his work in the care of IWM is shot on glass plates – a method considered old fashioned even in 1939.

Ted Wilcox was posted from No. 75 (NZ) Squadron on 2 February 1941. Initially he went to No. 18 Operational Training Unit RAF and then joined No. 27 Operational Training Unit RAF at RAF Litchfield in April 1941.

Four months later in August 1941 R1162 was also assigned to No. 27 OTU. (10)

On the night of 25 June 1942 the aircraft took part in the third ‘One Thousand Bomber’ raid on Bremen and failed to return. (11) (12)

It was one of 23 aircraft from No. 27 OTU that was lost that night. (13)

Further information

For much, much more on Ted Howell’s service career and the ‘Soda Syphon’ see the following link –

https://75nzsquadron.wordpress.com/2019/06/06/pilot-officer-ted-wilcox-and-the-famous-soda-siphon-spitting-bombs/ – retrieved 13 June 2019.

Sources

(1) https://75nzsquadron.wordpress.com/the-new-zealand-squadron-june-august-1939/ – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(2) https://75nzsquadron.wordpress.com/wellington/ – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(3) https://75nzsquadronremembered.wordpress.com/1941-2/ – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(4) https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/documents/Research/RAF-Historical-Society-Journals/Journal-29A-Seminar-Reserve-Auxiliary-Forces.pdf – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(5) https://digital.nls.uk/british-military-lists/archive/96301386 – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(6) http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/timeline/factfiles/nonflash/a1138664.shtml – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(7) https://ww1.alleyns.org.uk/boys-t-v/tovey-phf – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(8) https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/32507/supplement/8710/data.pdf – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(9) http://www.photographers.it/articoli/cd_capa/img/fallingsoldier2007.pdf – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(10) https://75nzsquadronremembered.wordpress.com/1941-2/ – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(11) https://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/wiki.php?id=205304 – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(12) https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20070706054659/http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/jun42.html – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(13) https://75nzsquadron.wordpress.com/tag/r1162-aa-y/ – retrieved 13 June 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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