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Honour at last for RAF crews
SEVENTY years after they flew missions across occupied Europe, these Oxfordshire veterans will finally receive recognition for their bravery. As young men they signed up to the RAF’s Bomber Command to play their part defeating the Nazis. They are in line to receive the new Bomber Command Clasp, an award announced by the Government after former diplomat Sir John Holmes’ review of military decorations. Here they tell SAMANTHA McGREGOR of their memories.
Former gunner Stan Bradford, 89, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal after downing six enemy aircraft.
Mr Bradford, president of Abingdon British Legion, was a flight sergeant with 57 Squadron who manned the mid-upper gun on Lancaster bombers flying out of RAF Scampton, shooting down enemy aircraft on missions over Germany and Holland.
In 1944, he was honoured with the Distinguished Flying Medal for “an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy” by King George VI in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
Mr Bradford, of Abingdon, described the recognition of the Bomber Command Clasp as bringing a “sense of relief”.
He said: “In a way, we have waited such a long time.
“I personally have done quite a bit for the Bomber Command Memorial.
“I went to Holland two years ago. I was one of four selected to go for 10 days. The idea was to raise money for the Bomber Command Memorial.”
After the war Mr Bradford worked for MG, which was based in Abingdon. He is married to Beryl and the couple had one daughter who died about nine months ago, three grandsons and a great granddaughter.
Dr Noble Frankland, 90, of Abingdon, was a navigator with 50 Squadron and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for going beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy.
He completed 34 “sorties” – sent to attack enemy positions – as a navigator with Bomber Command.
He said: “The trouble was the country you were flying over, instead of helping you or telling you what you want to do, was trying to destroy you.”
After the war Dr Frankland went to work as director of the Imperial War Museum. He was in post for 20 years and during that time set up the museum at RAF Duxford.
On the new clasp, Dr Frankland said: “I’m glad something happened, I think it’s 67 years late.”
In 1944 he married Diana, who passed away in 1981. The couple had two children and four grandchildren.
Dr Frankland married his current wife Sarah in 1982.
John Gant, 90, of Appleford Drive, Abingdon, was a bomb armer with 12 Squadron Bomber Command.
His job was to lay at the front of the aircraft and direct the pilot to the target.
He completed 30 missions across France and took part in D-Day. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal.
After the war he was posted to the Far East Air Force Survival School.
Mr Gant said: “Once there, it became clear the man in charge had been nowhere near the jungles.”
So he closed the school for a month and he and the rest of the staff were transported to the jungle of Malaysia to live off the land.
He said: “We literally learned to live on the land by ourselves. It sounds much more difficult than it was – in the Far East everything was burgeoning, things grow everywhere so it wasn’t that difficult.”
He wrote the Air Force’s jungle survival guide, which is still used today. He was later awarded an MBE for his work. After he left the service he went back to his teaching career and taught in schools in Abingdon.
Mr Gant and his late wife Margaret had two sons, and two grandchildren. He is now married to Jill.
FlT Lt Don Briggs served as a pilot officer with Bomber Command’s “elite” pathfinder force 156 Squadron. After the war he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant.
The pathfinder Squadron was based at RAF Upwood, near Peterborough.
He said: “Bombing accuracy in the early part of the war was no good – people were not getting within five miles of a target, so it was necessary to find some method of marking targets and, first of all, finding them.
“You had to first of all have a very good navigator – the best were snapped up by pathfinders. We were considered the elite of Bomber Command.”
Mr Briggs, of Freeland, near Witney, started off in Bomber Command as ground crew and later volunteered for aircrew.
He went on up to nine operations a month for almost a year and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for devotion to duty.
Mr Briggs said: “We did find ourselves bombing a lot of railway targets – it was a shame as it was in a friendly country, but it had to be done.”
After the war Mr Briggs remained in the RAF and served a total of 34 years. He then worked at Kidlington Airport as an instructor until he retired. Mr Briggs is married to Edith and the couple have three children, eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Ken Fillingham, 89, of Combe, near Witney, was a pilot with 101 Squadron, which is now based at Brize Norton.
Their planes flew with other bombers over enemy territory but they had an additional crew member on board who was listening via radio transmitter or jamming German signals.
Mr Fillingham said: “At the time we were the most secret in the air force because we carried a German wireless operator.
“It was special duties. We had a listening service on the South Coast called Corona, after Winston Churchill’s cigar.”
During D-Day, Mr Fillingham and his team travelled to Germany to protect the Allies and put a jamming screen across Paris to the south coast.
Mr Fillingham, who was based at RAF Ludford Magna, in Lincoln, during the war, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his services to Bomber Command.
After the war Mr Fillingham stayed in the RAF and served in Palestine, West Africa and Canada. After he left the service in 1967 he worked at Kidlington Airport for 25 years training British Airways pilots.
Mr Fillingham was married to Jean, who has now passed away, for 58 years and the couple had one son and two grandchildren.
Arthur Williams, 89, of Cedar Road, Botley, was a flight engineer aboard a Lancaster Bomber. His job was to make repairs to the aircraft mid-flight.
He was a flight engineer with 75 New Zealand Squadron, based at Mepal, in Lincolnshire, and took part in 30 missions to bomb various targets across Germany.
Mr Williams said: “My job was looking after the engineering parts of the aircraft when it was in flight. I joined up to do that job and I was looking forward to it and I enjoyed it. Although sometimes, at night, you wish you never had.”
Mr Williams said Bomber Command veterans would appreciate the clasp because the nearest recognition they got after the war was the Aircrew of Europe Medal. He said: “Quite honestly we didn’t look for it. We signed up to do it and I did the flight mechanics job.”
The inset picture shows his navigator’s log book. After the war he worked for Pressed Steel and worked his way up to be a manager of presses and machine small tools.
He is married to Barbara and the couple have a daughter and granddaughter.
Jim Wright, 90, of Gibson Close, Abingdon, has been campaigning for the past eight years for a full medal rather then the clasp for those who served in Bomber Command.
Former navigator Mr Wright served with three squadrons, 61, 630 and 97, which included the elite pathfinders.
He was a flight lieutenant during the war and was later promoted to the rank of Wing commander. He stayed in the RAF until 1976.
Mr Wright took part in 43 operations during the war years. In his first tour he carried out 27 missions without a break.
He was awarded the Pathfinder Badge by Air Vice Marshall Don Bennett in January 1945 and the Distinguished Flying Cross medal for his services.
Mr Wright said although he would accept the Bomber Command clasp, he believes his comrades should have had their own medal.
He said: “I have accepted that this is the best we can achieve under this government and I have reluctantly applied for the clasp but consider that BC fully deserve to have the full campaign medal, as awarded to the Arctic Convoys seamen. But we have all supported that award.”
Mr Wright is married to Joan, known as Tony, and the couple have three sons.
TREVOR Marlow, 85, of The Moors, Kidlington, signed up for service in 1943 at the age of 18, joining 158 Squadron, based in Lissett, North East Yorkshire. He was sent on bombing missions to the Rhine and Ruhr areas of Germany.
As flight engineer and second pilot, his job was to make sure the plane was working during the flight, and fly the plane if the pilot was killed or injured.
He said: “I think because of us (Bomber Command) the Germans gave up in the end.”
He was married to Patricia, who died two years ago, aged 85. The couple had two children Jim and Jane, and two grandchildren.
After the war Mr Marlow worked at Morris Motors as an engineer and later Pressed Steel as a tool maker.
Former pilot Leslie Valentine, 94, who was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Silver Star by France for his valour and bravery in the country’s liberation, took part in the D-Day Landings.
Mr Valentine’s military career began in 1939, serving first as an infantryman in France, before getting his pilot ‘wings’. He was then sent to RAF Bicester for active service training with 13 Operational Training Unit.
Flying Officer Valentine was posted to 88 Squadron, 2nd Tactical Air Force, Bomber Command, who aimed to disrupt supply lines.
He flew a Douglas Boston IIIA, a tricycle under-carriaged light bomber.
After the war the widowed father-of-two, who was married to Vera for 73 years, and worked as a national sales manager in the pharmaceutical industry.
Mr Valentine previously told the Oxford Mail: “Of course I am proud, I think recognition is a good thing.”
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