Warrant Officer John Edgar Wainwright, RAF
My Father, John Edgar Wainwright, always known as Jack, was born on the 23rd July 1923, the son of a miner, in a village called Stanley near Wakefield in Yorkshire. He was a bright lad, but the family could not afford the grammar school uniform so at the first opportunity he was shipped out to start work..
Rather than the mines though, he joined the railways and worked as an engine cleaner. He was 16 when war was declared and not yet eligible for military service. When the Home Guard was formed in 1940 he joined the local platoon.
Joining the RAF
As soon as he was old enough he joined the RAF, on the 29th July 1941, six days after his 18th birthday and reported to RAF Cardington near Bedford. He was classified Medical Category Grade 1 and earmarked for pilot training when he was 18 and three months and put on Reserve. I have a photocopy of Jack's RAF records sent to me by the Ministry of Defence in 1993 which can be viewed here along with my best interpretations of what the various postings were.
All aircrew were volunteers, and by that stage of the war my Dad must have known full well that the odds were that a good proportion of aircrew did not survive. Accepted figures now are that 55% were killed, while something only just over a quarter survived a tour of 30 operations without being killed, severely injured, captured or shot down. Bomber Command lost a total of 55,573 men in WWII.
Jack was recalled from reserve on the 9th of February 1942 and reported to the Air Crew Reception Centre (I believe at Lords Cricket Ground in London) and from there was posted to 4 ITW at Paignton in Devon for pilot training.
Jack failed the training which took place between the end of February and May 1942 and by August 1942 was remustered into training as a bomb aimer (or Air Bomber). Rob Davis says at RAF Bomber Command 1939-45 "Everyone wanted to be a pilot and those who failed the aptitude and preliminary flying tests were remustered as navigators and bomb aimers."
Training for the three key personnel on a bomber, pilot, navigator and bomb aimer, was two years. Jack's RAF record shows a series of postings to various training units through 1942 and 1943 including six months spent in South Africa where he also attended an Air Navigation course. He passed through No. 31 Base (Stradishall) and Feltwell in Norfolk during the latter stages of training on various conversion units for heavy bombers and was finally posted to No. 51 Base (Swinderby) in early March 1944 qualified for allocation to a squadron.
Despite all the photos showing him wearing an observers badge (winged "O"), and this being the one I found with his documents from the RAF (left), dad is credited with having an Air Bombers Brevet rather than being an "Observer", a role that was discontinued in 1942. As noted above, he had trained in both navigation and bombing in South Africa, the disciplines for an observer.
Prior to the introduction of the PNB (Pilot/Nav/Bomb Aimer) scheme all observers were trained to navigate and drop bombs and were awarded the 'Winged O'. Normally after that point trainees only received training in one of these skills and therefore received either the 'N' or 'B' brevet. After their introduction Observers were 'supposed' to specialise in one or the other and wear the appropriate badge, however many chose not to and keep the 'O' badge. Some COs insisted on the new badges, others didn't, it was one of those anomalies that creep into the system. (Information provided by Malcolm Barrass - Air of Authority)
Jack was posted to No 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron stationed at Dunholme Lodge in Lincolnshire on the 24th March 1944. No 44 Squadron was part of 5 Group, Bomber Command, and back in December 1941 had been the first squadron to be equipped with the Avro Lancaster.
Left to right: Flight Engineer Sgt William (Bill) Robinson, Wireless Operator Sgt Thomas (Leslie) Jackson, Bomb Aimer F Sgt John (Jack) Wainwright, Pilot Officer William (Bill) Young RAAF, Rear Gunner Sgt Robert (Bob) Routledge, Mid Upper Gunner F Sgt William (Bill) Rennie RCAF and Flying Officer Frank Wareham, Navigator.
Not pictured from the crew lost on the 4th/5th July are Flying Officer Harold Braathen RCAF, who was a second navigator, flying for experience on that particular night, and Rear Gunner Sgt Ronald Houseman who took over from the regular rear gunner, Bob Routledge when he was taken ill shortly before the aircraft took off. Many thanks to the family of Bob Routledge for this information.
Tour of Duty
Dad joined 44 Squadron in some of the busiest months of the war for Bomber Command, preparing the way for the D-Day invasion in June, and then afterwards supporting the troops on the ground and countering the V1 menace. Statistics show that the months of June and July 1944 saw the heaviest casualties of the whole of WWII for Bomber Command (see Rob Davis' RAF Bomber Command 1939-45 for details).
Henry Horscroft of the 44 Squadron Association has provided me with a list of the crew's missions up to and ioncluding the night of the 4th/5th July 1944 . All were flown in Lancaster Mk I, ME699, KM-T for Tommy.
Further details of the individual raids and targets and some pictures of damage inflicted can be found in the diary section of the RAF Bomber Command History site.
After a few days of circuits and landings and an overnight "Bullseye" training flight, Flight Sergeant Bill Young's crew was briefed for its first operational mission, an attack on Nuremberg, which was the last fateful act of Bomber Harris's "Battle of Berlin", an attempt to destroy German morale by battering it's cities night after night.
That first mission on the night of the 30th March 1944 was a major disaster for Bomber Command with 95 aircraft, 11.9% of the force, shot down as a clear moonlit night turned the raid into a turkey shoot for German fighters, 82 aircraft were lost before they reached the target. The loss was the worst suffered by Bomber Command on a single raid during the whole of WWII. 44 Squadron was lucky to only lose two aircraft in the raid.
As a new crew on their first trip my Dad's crew will have been very lucky not to be lost as so many "green" crews were. Even so, Bob Routledge noted in his logbook that the arircraft was hit by incedaries dropped from another aircraft above them, and attacked by a Junkers 88 nightfighter in the clear, moonlit skies. The fact that he could state the aircraft type that attacked them shows how good visibility must have been and what a close shave it probably was.
Rob Davis says at RAF Bomber Command 1939-45, "During the first five operations the new crew ran ten times the risk of the more experienced men, simply because they did not know the ropes. Having survived 15 ops, the odds were reckoned to be even."
Over the following three months they flew regularly attacking mainly targets in France, paving the way for the invasion in June. In May the crew flew on 11 nights including another tragic mission, the attack on Mailly le Camps on the 3rd of May when again over 11% of the attacking force were lost. this happened when US Forces radio interference meant that the Master Bomber could not order the attack, leaving the main force circling the target. There were several collisions and night fighters also infiltrated leading to a loss of 42 aircraft.
On the night of 21st June 1944, 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron sent sixteen aircraft including the now Pilot Officer Bill Young's crew in KM-T on a raid to attack a synthetic oil plant in Wesseling, near Cologne in the Ruhr. Six of the aircraft failed to return, a loss of 37 men. 619 Squadron, which shared Dunholme Lodge with 44 also lost six aircraft as did 49 Squadron based at Fiskerton, five miles away. Altogether 37 Lancasters were lost in the raid out of 133 dispatched, 27.8% of the force. This was by far the highest percentage loss on a single raid by Bomber Command after February 1942.
The 207 Squadron Association website has a detailed set of pages on the Wesseling raid which include a target map and details of the equipment and tactics of the RAF and Luftwaffe during the raid. It also carries narratives from some of the 44 Squadron survivors and a Roll of Honour for the crewmen lost by the Squadron on the raid.
The aircraft was damaged three times before it was finally shot down in July. The crew took part in twenty-one missions, and were three times told to abort while over their target due to poor visibility. Attacks on French targets were abandoned unless the target could be seen clearly to avoid civilian casualties.
By the time July came round Bill Young's crew would have been viewed as veterans, even though their skipper was just 21. My Dad was three weeks short of his 21st birthday.
30 Mar 1944 - Nuremberg
This raid was a major failure for Bomber Command and worse single raid losses for the RAF of WWII, 95 aircraft, 11.9% of the force and the deaths of 545 airmen. The raid, and the various cock ups made before and during it are the subject of a lot of discussion still and a number of books including the definitive one by Martin Middlebrook. See also a recent Daily Mail article published on the 70th Anniversary of the raid here.
Bob Routledge's Log Book notes "Hit by incendiary bomb in starboard wing. Attacked by JU88" - Bob Routledge's Log Book.
5 Apr 1944 - Toulouse
Successful attack on an aircraft factory at Toulouse. KM-T suffered some flak damage
Bob Routledge's Log Book notes "starboard tyre burst" and "diverted to Wing" - Bob Routledge's Log Book.
ME699 returned to Dunholme Lodge on the 7th April.
10 Apr 1944 - Tours
Successful attack on a railway target at Tours inflicting heavy damage.
11 Apr 1944 - Aachen
This was Aachen's most serious raid of the war. This raid was accurate and caused widespread damage and fires in the centre and in the southern part of the town, particularly in the suburb of Burtscheid.
18 Apr 1944- Juvisy, Paris
An attack on railway targets at Juvisy. The attack appeared to be completely successful. According to squadron records KM-T suffered some flak damage although Bob Routledge's Logbook does not mention any.
1 May 1944 - Toulouse
Successful attack on an aircraft assembly factory and an explosives factory at Toulouse.
3 May 1944 - Mailly le Camps
Attack on a German military camp situated close to the French village of Mailly. 42 aircraft were lost, 11.6% of the force, after a mix up in radio communictions led to the force circling the target awaiting the order to attack.
7 May 1944 - Salbris
Successful attack on an ammunition dump at Salbris. See the RAF Bomber Command History site for a picture of the damage caused.
9 May 1944 - Gennevilliers, Paris
Attack on the Gnome & Rhone factory at Gennevilliers and another factory nearby.
11 May 1944 - Bourg Léopold
Attack on a large military camp at Bourg Léopold in Belgium. 94 of 190 aircraft attacked including KM-T before the raid was abandoned for fear of hitting the nearby civilian housing.
19 May 1944 - Amiens - not attacked
Attack on a railway target at Amiens was abandoned due to cloud cover. KM-T ordered to return to base when over the target.
21 May 1944 - "Gardening"
Mine laying in Kiel Bay
22 May 1944 - Brunswick
Attack on Brunswick was a failure. The weather forecast had predicted a clear target but the marker aircraft found a complete covering of cloud and bombing was inaccurate. KM-T returned with its starboard outer engine on fire which was probably caused by flak damage.
Bob Routledge's Log Book notes "Starboard outer feathered after fire. Returned on 3 engines" - Bob Routledge's Log Book.
27 May 1944 - Morsalines
Attack on coastal gun batteries on the Cherbourg peninsula, very close to the D-Day landing sites.
31 May 1944 - Maisy - not attacked
An attack on the coastal gun battery at Maisy was abandoned when it was found to be covered by cloud.
2 June 1944 - Wimereux - not attacked
Attack on coastal gun batteries. Ordered not to attack when over target.
16 June 1944 - Beauvoir
Attack on V1 flying bomb supply site
21 June 1944 - Wesseling
Attack on the synthetic oil plant at Wesseling. German night fighters made contact with the bomber force and 37 Lancasters were lost, a casualty rate of 27.8% of the Lancaster force. 44 Squadron lost 6 aircraft. Despite all this KM-T seems to have had an uneventful trip.
24 June 1944 - Pommeréval
Attack on V1 flying bomb site
27 June 1944 - Marquise
Attack on V1 flying bomb site.
The aircraft was diverted to RAF Wescott, in Buckinghamshire on return - Bob Routledge's Log Book.
See a detailed description of this raid here. KM-T was shot down by a night fighter with the loss of six of the eight crew on its way home.
Bob Routledge's Log Book notes "Missing" in someone else's handwriting. It seems likely that this was written before someone realised he was not on board KM-T that night (Bob Routledge's Log Book). The 44 Squadron records still show as Bob being on the aircraft (as documented at the "Houseman" family info site).
KM-T Shot Down
On the night of 4th July the crew of Lancaster Mark I ME699, designated KM-T for Tommy, took off from Dunholme Lodge at 23:00 as part of the raid on St Leu d'Esserent.
The crew of KM-T that night were:
F Sgt John Wainwright - Bomb Aimer
Sgt William Robinson - Flight Engineer
Sgt Thomas Jackson - Wireless Operator
Harold Braathen (left) was a Canadian school teacher and graduate of the Uniwersity
of British Columbia, where he appears on the Roll of Honour, who had volunteered for the RCAF and ended up after training posted to 44 Squadron. One of eight children he was the only one of three brothers that enlisted not to return from the war. He had married his wife Audrey during his Embarkation Leave. They had seven days together before he left for the UK and never returned.
The mission he was on was his first and a training mission. He was sent up with Bill Young's crew as it was the practice for new Pilots and Navigators to be sent out with an experienced crew to get a feel for what flying Operationally was all about.
Harold's brother F/O Hans Braathen was also in the RCAF and was shot down on D-Day while flying on a glider tug. He was briefly taken prisoner by the Germans, but he and his crew managed to turn the tables on the demoralised troops and ended up walking 60 prisoners back to the allied beachhead. The other brother, L-Bdr Nels Braathen, was wounded in January 1945 while serving in Holland in an anti-tank unit. Many thanks to Harold's niece Diana for this information.
The regular rear gunner for the crew, Bob Routledge, should have flown that night but was taken ill at the last minute was sent to hospital after a pre-flight medical check and replaced by Ronald Houseman (right) for whom it was actually only his third mission. Bob subsequently completed his tour of operations with another crew and often wondered whether he would have spotted the fighter that shot KM-T down given his extra experience. Bob said that he always had Bill Young weave the aircraft so that he could watch for night fighters approaching from below, a favourite tactic for "Schrage Musik" fighters, which had guns that pointed upward. Many thanks to Bob's family for this information. Bob Routledge's Log Book.
It is believed that KM-T was the fifth Lancaster downed by German night fighters on the raid on St Leu d'Esserant when it was shot down by a ME 110 night-fighter over Beauvais. The German night fighter claim for KM-T states the time of the kill as 01:49 on the 5th of July 1944, and names the pilot of the aircraft as Unteroffizier Günther S. Schlomberg (also see Kracker Luftwaffe archive)..
Schlomberg was with 3./NJG3, a night-fighter unit based in Vechta in northern Germany. German controllers had directed the night-fighters to the channel on detecting the raid coming in and the fighters followed the bomber stream across France and towards their target. At some point after the St Leu bombers attacked their target and turned for home Schlomberg attacked KM-T while it was flying at 2,500m above Beauvais.
German records show that Unteroffizer Günther Schlomberg was killed and Unteroffizer Otto Wagner was wounded when their aircraft crashed near Cruxhaven. near Hamburg, on 11th August 1944. The cause of the crash is not known. Their aircraft when they crashed was Bf110 G-4, D5 + LL, works number 140339.
With ME699 fatally hit by Schlomberg's night fighter shortly after dropping its load of 1,000lb bombs on target, the pilot, PO Bill Young ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft. The hatch at the front of the Lancaster was right below the bomb aimer's position and on such an order the bomb aimers job was to open the hatch and get the hell out, making space for the rest of the crew.
Jack was first out, followed by the flight engineer Sergeant Bill Robinson before the plane plunged to the ground and exploded, killing the other six men on board.
Te six crewmen that did not survive are buried in a single grave in the Marissel French National Cemetery in Beauvais. Sergeant Ronald Houseman, Air Gunner, is also commemorated on the War Memorial at Fewston in Yorkshire.
Having landed behind enemy lines Jack was lucky that he was in "friendly" territory. The invasion of Europe was established in Normandy and the French Resistance were actively supporting from behind German lines.
The following morning his mother in Wakefield received the dreaded "Missing" telegram
My Father spent most of July and August 1944 in France with the French Resistance. This section has now grown to the point it needs it's own page!
Back in the UK
Having been returned to the Allies by the French Resistance he was sent back to the UK, and debriefed on his time in France by IS9. This document, marked "Secret" at the time, is now in the National Archives, and is dated 4th September 1944.
Following this he was and given leave to go home to Wakefield. For whatever reason, the telegram telling his family he was safe and well (below) did not get sent until the 9th of September, by which time he was already home.
He used to tell the story of knocking on his mother's door and her opening it to find the son she must have thought was dead by that point standing there. There was no dramatic scene though, this was Yorkshire! His mother just said, "Hello John" and invited him in for a cup of tea.
After a period of leave Jack returned to the RAF and was posted to RAF Manby in January 1945, where he attended No 47 ABI course to qualify as an instructor at the Air Armament School at the base. He was also promoted to Warrant Officer around this time fur the duration. He transferred to 5 Air Navigation School at RAF Jurby on the Isle of Man when this was formed in May 1945.
While at RAF Jurby Jack met Bob Routledge in a cinema purely by chance and they shared a few beers catching up on what had happened to Bill Young's crew. Bob was at the time stationed as an instructor at another training school on the island, at RAF Andreas.
The Warrant is dated earlier than the above picture although Jack is clearly wearing Flight Sergeants stripes above. The promotion was probably backdated.
His next posting was to RAF Dunkeswell, near Exeter, in November 1945 which was a Ferry Unit preparing aircraft for overseas service.
The Far East
In February 1946 Jack was posted to HQ 232 group, part of Air Command South East Asia (ACSEA) and in March 1946 on to 48 Squadron, flying on Dakota's, and saw much of the region from India to Australia. From the photographs below this was mainly through the bottom of a beer glass!
After the RAF
The records seem to show that Jack was dropped to LAC and employed as an Air Movements Assistant, which is a ground based job at the end of hostilities. Having trained it would make sense to re-assign him to aircrew as an Air Quartermaster in the rank of Sergeant which seems to have been his role with 48 Squadron. At the end of 1946 the rank of Sergeant was scrapped in the RAF for aircrew and recategorised Aircrew II. The release seems to have been filled in Warrant Officer by mistake and amended at a later date.
Malcolm Barrass (Air of Authority) says: At the end of WWII there were hundreds of W/Os and Flt Sgts employed as drivers and on other non-aircrew duties. During the day they were required to cover their rank badges and act as normal airmen but at meal times and after work they were allowed to return to the Sergeant's Mess. Officers were not exempt, Group Captains could find themselves back down to Flight Lieutenant and it took them another 20 years to regain their wartime ranks.
Jack was released by the RAF in January 1947 and returned to civvy street working still with aircraft as part of Air India's London operation.
He married my mother, who he had met in the RAF when she was a WAAF Radio Operator at RAF Binbrook and later RAF Blyton, while on demob leave on the 8th February 1947 in Bournemouth. I have a number of pictures from my mother's time as a WAAF at these bases that can be found on my Mum's page.
The slightly strained look is due to the weather on the day. The winter of 1947 was memorably one of the coldest ever and the day was so bad they had to have pictures taken in a studio. Dad is clearly wearing a Warrant Officer's uniform in this picture.
After some time working for Air India, in 1954 he joined the Metropolitan Police and was posted to a beat in Chelsea in West London. He loved being given football duty and was a big fan of Fulham in the days of Johnny Haynes - that was in the days before hooliganism raised its head.
My parents had two children, my sister Christine, born in 1954, and Michael (me) in 1960.
With the advent of Greater London in 1964, and the Metropolitan Police taking over the new London Boroughs dad moved the family to Essex to live and work in Rainham.
His new station ID? KM!!
Dad remained a PC until he retired in the summer of 1978, latterly having been a police dog handler. steadfastly refusing to take the sergeants exams or lean on the influence of his brother-in-law, Mum's brother Dick Sheppard, who reached the rank of Deputy Assistant Commissioner in the Metropolitan Police and is pictured in my mum's photos.whole servivg in the Tank regiment in Italy where he won the Military Cross.
Dad served long enough to add the Police Long Service and Good Conduct Medal to his ribbon although ithis was presented to my mum after his death.
Tragically, between his retirement from the police and taking up a new job dad was diagnosed as suffering from cancer, a result of 36 years of smoking, a habit picked up while in the RAF. After a short fight with the big C he died on Friday the 13th of October 1978 in Oldchurch Hospital, Romford, aged just 55.
Despite having officially retired he was given a full police funeral which took place at Upminster Crematorium in Essex and he is commemorated in the main chapel at the Crematorium
He is still missed by all that knew him.
The years we shared were full of joy.
The memories we made will go on and on.
I haven't stopped crying since you went away,
and I've asked time and time why couldn't you stay.
You lit up my life, my hopes, and my dreams.
You opened my eyes to see what it all means.
So now that you're gone how can I forget;
Because you were the greatest out of all I have met.
(Cecilia M. Kocher)