A Navigator's Story
Related by Des Evans and Jim Logan
Through a quirk of fate, ex F/O Jim Logan RCAF in Canada was looking through a copy of AIRFORCE - a Canadian Airforce paper - loaned to him by a fellow navigator friend. By another quirk of fate, in it was an article supplied by Heather Birch (creator of the first incarnation of this website) requesting information concerning her boyfriend's grandfather F/O Peter Hilary Norton of 97 Squadron, who died when his Lancaster crashed into Coningsby village in March 1943, after a raid on Berlin.
To add to the coincidences I, Des Evans (an ex RAF Ground Crew engine walla), have been trying to trace anyone who who knew anything of Wing Commander Porter's crew - to whom I was a servicing mechanic - and Jim Logan was the Wing Commander's navigator. Jim made contact and said that the bomb aimer F/O Bill Pearson is still alive and also living in Canada. I asked Jim to tell me how the whole crew originally came together and the following is his account. He has kindly supplied us with photos and information on all the Crew who flew with Wing Commander Porter.
First though, a (rather blurry) photo of aircrew and ground crew together. I am 5th from right back row standing next to Jim Logan who is on my left.
The Aircrew consisted of:
Pilot: Wing Commander Porter
Flight Engineer: P/O Bill (Blue) Howe
Bomb Aimer: F/O Bill Pearson RCAF
Navigator: F/O Jim Logan RCAF
W/Op: P/O Bill Doran
Mid Upper Gunner: F/Sgt. McClean
Rear Gunner: W/O Sunny Thomas RAAF
Incidentally Bill Doran on the extreme left is holding the PEE CAN - a very necessary item on long trips.
The Crew came together as Jim Logan now explains:
At O.T.U. Sgt. Johnny Kirkup (RAF) became our pilot and skipper. He had trained in Canada under the Commonwealth Air Training Plan and that probably explains Bill Pearson and myself joining the crew.
The two gunners were from Australia. Randall "Snakes" Wright who was our midupper gunner was badly wounded on our second op to Leipzig when we were shot up by a FW-190. We think Sonny probably got him as he didn't come back after disappearing in the cloud below.
Sometime later Jim MacLean from Glasgow became our midupper gunner. This gets a little ahead in the story.
Our conversion to Lancasters was at Wigsley. Afterwards, we were posted to 207 squadron at Spilsby arriving on October 21st. On the night of Oct. 22, Johnny and I were flying second dickey with two experienced crews for an operation over Kassel, Germany. Johnny's crew were missing and killed so we were a trained crew without a pilot. We desperately wanted to stay together even though they wanted to break us up to fill in other crews. As Dave Pearce often said, for once the RAF got it right and found him looking for a crew. He had returned to England on his 8th trip and when the a/c caught fire they bailed out and some of the crew didn't make it. He broke his ankle after bailing out at about 800 ft and had to recover for 3 months before flying again.
To make a long story short we were posted to a Conversion Unit at Balderton for training with Dave in Nov., 1943 and then to 9 Squadron, Bardney. When Dave completed his first operational tour several of the crew didn't have enough trips in to quit . W/C Porter was then looking for a crew as he probably had been considered for the master bomber assignment. We did two operations with him at Bardney and in June were posted to 97 Squadron to do controller ops for 54 Base. You know the story of our time at 97 Squadron and I found myself without a pilot once more and now well into my second tour.
F/O Doug Duncan had just come over to 83 Pathfinder squadron from 9 Sqdn., so Bill and I joined his crew. Bill was lost shortly afterwards when asked to do visual bombing on an operation to Konigsberg with S/L Sparks. He and some of that crew were taken POW when they bailed out. On Nov. 11, 1944 I completed my second tour (45 ops) with Dunc and returned home In Feb., 1945.
When Fred and his family were on a posting in England, Dorothy and I along with them visited Coningsby, still an active airfield and the Battle of Britain Museum there. Yes Porter was our C/O at Bardney from Nov. 1943 until June 1944, the time of the constant bombing of Berlin. I made 8 trips there and said it was easier to get to Berlin than to Nottingham, our favourite retreat.
On August 23/24th W/Cmdr.Porter came back from leave early and took a Crew who had no Pilot on a Operation called "Gardening" (mine laying) over STETTIN BAY when they were shot down and all killed.
We were split up, most going across the 'drome at Coningsby to 83 Squadron. The two Squadrons shared the same 'drome. Bill Pearson and I flew with F/O Doug Duncan RCAF and finished our operational Flying. Bill Pearson did go on another mission were they were shot down and he became a POW.
Sonny Thoms has now passed on, as have Bill Howe and Jim Maclean. Bill Doran had a severe stroke three years ago and is still very ill.
Prior to Wing Commander Ted Porters death it had been agreed he would fly mosquito aircraft on future operations and that I would be his Navigator, alas it was not to happen.
Flight Lieutenant Jimmy Silk DFM
The photograph shown above is of Flight Lieutenant Jimmy Silk DFM, who was one of 97 Squadron's most distinguished navigators during the Second World War.
Flt Lt Silk, who was from Middlesex, was posted to 97 Squadron, as a Sergeant, in December 1942 and was the navigator in the crew of Pilot Officer Doug Jones DFC. During the course of 1943, this crew became one of the most efficient on 97 Squadron and Jimmy Silk earned a reputation as a fine navigator. After completing 23 operations, he was recommended for the award of the Distinguished Flying Medal in May 1943, and notification of the award appeared in the London Gazette on 13th July 1943. Part of the recommendation for the award reads, "Sergeant Silk has shown a great determination and his navigational ability has materially helped his crew to maintain their many successes."
Having been commissioned, Jimmy Silk remained on operations with his crew and was awarded the coveted Path Finder Force Badge. When the crew returned fron their 45th operation in October 1943, they had completed their double Pathfinders tour of operations, and were granted a well-earned rest. However, showing great dedication and courage, Jimmy Silk decided to carry on flying on operations with 97 Squadron.
He joined the experienced crew of Canadian Flight Lieutenant Jimmy Munro DFC and continued to fly on operations as Bomber Command embarked upon its campaign against the German capital, Berlin.
On the night of 22nd November 1943, the Munro crew took off from Bourn at 5.05pm to attack Berlin; sadly, they did not return, and were lost without trace. The name of Flight Lieutenant Arthur James Wyndham Silk DFM is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.
Jimmy Silk left behind his widow, Isobel, and his daughter Hilliary, who was born in February 1943.
In a letter to one of Jimmy Silk's sisters, a friend of his wrote, "It was a great shock to us when we heard of his loss.....it was also a great loss to the Royal Air Force. His name was known to all at Bourn Camp for his achievements in conjunction with navigation and instrumentation work. I have heard more than once from senior RAF officers that your brother was the best navigator they had flown with."
Note from the Historian:- In my book "Achieve Your Aim", I described Jimmy Silk as "a dour Scot from Aberdeen, who tended to keep himself to himself." This wholly erroneous description of a very brave man was based on a book I acquired during the course of my research. Having seen copies of a number of letters, it is clear to me that, far from being dour, Jimmy Silk was, in fact, a devoted family man, who was held in the highest esteem by his many friends and relatives. Also, whilst Jimmy's wife was Scottish, he was not a Scot himself. I am pleased to have the opportunity to put right these errors and I am extremely grateful to Jimmy's daughter, Hilliary, for bringing the errors to my attention, and for supplying me with the above photograph of her late father.