Fl. Lt. Bill North
At the 50/61 squadrons reunion in 2009 Air Vice Marshal Nigel Baldwin approached me and said “James I have a person here with a good story for your Veterans Album”.
It was then that I met Chris Keltie. Chris told me that he was writing a story about Flt Lt Bill North, a 61 squadron pilot who on the night of the 4/5th July 1944 was shot down after an attack on a V1 site, near Paris. I have to say that because of my crew's flying experiences I did not think that any Pilot could have done what I was being told, in that Bill North, whilst severely wounded and weakened by loss of blood, one handed regained control of an earth bound Lancaster bomber and then in pitch darkness single handed crash landed his aircraft in a clearing. Thereby saving both his life and the lives of three other crew members who were trapped in the aircraft.
As reported in my TEC story, Lancaster's did not have powers assisted controls, so when we dropped vertically from 11,000ft to 500 ft, it took the combined strength of the Pilot and Flight Engineer to regain control. Bill North after finding out the parachute of Flight Engineer had been shot to ribbons, made a conscious decision to return to the controls to attempt to regain control and to attempt to one handed crash land his aircraft, and this whilst weakened by loss of blood.
This is Victoria Cross stuff and yet he was not even mentioned in dispatches.
The story goes:
After successfully bombing the V1 site from a height of approximately 13,000 ft, Bill North turned QR-D, Dog away from the target. It was then that a German FW 190 fighter plane sprayed the aircraft with machine gun bullets. It shot away the port fin, splattered the mid-upper-turret, 8 none life threatening bullets hitting the gunner (almost unbelievable), blew away the port outer engine and fuel tank, splattered all the pilots cockpit perspex. Bill screamed in pain as 4 bullets hit him. Two in the the thigh and two in his left arm. One bullet hitting a nerve in his arm and paralysing it. “BAIL OUT” he shouted over the intercom as the aircraft spiralled down out of control, with that he began to drag himself out of the pilots seat towards the escape hatch. The Flight Engineer sitting alongside him reached backwards to unhook his parachute from the side of the fuselage only to find that the chute had been shot to pieces by gun fire, desperately he grabbed Bill's shoulder to stop him dropping out, “My parachute is shot to pieces” he shouted. At this point no one would have criticised the pilot if he had decided that wounded and bleeding heavily as he was he could do nothing to help his frightened crew member, nevertheless, without any regard for his own safety he made a conscious decision to drag himself back to the controls to attempt to regain control. Not only did he do just that but also in pitch darkness managed to find a clearing in the forest below and then at the wrong speed, the wrong height dive down and make a belly landed, without any assistance from the Flight Engineer who was frozen with fear, and then he even thought to land tail down to lower the risk of a fuel tank explosion.
Landing a Lancaster was normally a two man job with the F/E operating throttles, flaps and undercarriage.
When the aircraft finally came to rest not only had he saved the life of the Flight Engineer but also the lives of the Mid-Upper-Gunner and Wireless Operator, who unknown to him also had damaged parachutes.
Bill now weak from loss of blood slipped into semi-consciousness, and was carried out of the aircraft by the three crew members.
As they laid him on the ground they thought that he was dead.
Very soon German soldiers arrived and whisked him off to hospital where his life was saved.. After spending a long time recovering he was transferred to a concentration camp where he stayed for the rest of the was.
During 2013 the three sons of the deceased Flt Lt Bill North wrote to David Cameron, Prime Minister, to thank him for the help that he had given in the financing of the London Bomber Memorial and the awarding of a WW11 Aircrew Clasp. In their letter they mentioned that their father had been shot down in 1944. To their surprise David Cameron wrote and invited them to meet him in the PM's office in the House of Commons. They thought what a wonderful opportunity to form a delegation to try and get a posthumous award for their father. They then decided to ask the 50/61 Squadrons Association if a squadron representative could attend. Fortunately I was the one invited.
Bomber Command Veterans and Chris Keltie meet PM David Cameron on Wed 9 Oct 2013.
On Wednesday 9 October 2013 a group of Bomber Command Veterans travelled
from all over the country to meet British Prime Minister the Rt Hon David Cameron. The purpose of the visit was to thank him in person for his hard work to gain recognition for WW2 Veterans. This included wiping the debt for the Bomber Command Memorial in London, the award of the Gold Clasp to Bomber Command Veterans past and present, and the Arctic Star Medal for the Veterans of the Arctic Convoys.
Our group included four of the Veterans featured in the book by Chris Keltie called Riding In The Shadow Of Death: Jeff Gray (61 Squ), and his granddaughter Charlotte Gray. Bill North’s Mid-Upper Gunner Dennis Bartlett (61 Squ). James Flowers (50 Squ, Rear Gunner and representing the 50/61 Squadron Association) with his two sons Phil and Robert Flowers. Representing their father, Veteran Bill North who passed on in Dec 2011, were his three sons David, Alun and Rhys North. Percy Cannings (97 Squ PFF) was due to come, but was unable to as he was unwell. Representing Percy was his daughter Sandy Cannings.
Radio Lincs,Scott Dalton + Bomber Command Veteran James Flowers, 09
10 2013 Chris Keltie
On Wed 9 October 2013, three Bomber Command Veterans who served in Lincolnshire
during WW2, Jeff Gray (61 Squ), Dennis Bartlett (61 Squ) and James Flowers (50 Squ) went to meet Prime Minister the Rt Hon David Cameron at the House of Commons. Lancaster pilot Bill
North's (61 Squ) three sons, David, Alun and Rhys North, author Chris Keltie, Sandy Cannings, Charlotte Gray, Phil and Robert Flowers were also present. Veteran Percy Cannings (97
Squ) was due to attend, but could not go as he was unwell. Sandy Cannings read her father's speech out to the PM on Percy's behalf and the PM kept it afterwards! This was a live
interview by BBC Radio Lincolnshire's Scott Dalton on Wed
9/10/2013 at 08.50am on his Breakfast Show. It was with James Flowers who was a Rear Gunner with 50 Squadron at RAF Skellingthorpe during 1945. James is a member of the 50 and 61 Squadron Association and posted F/Lt Bill North's story on their website. Also interviewed was Sandy Cannings, whose father is Veteran Percy Cannings from 97
Squadron Pathfinder Force, who were based at RAF Coningsby.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00wfl0c We later had a great meeting with the PM David Cameron who was very knowledgeable and sympathetic to our Bomber Command Veterans. We presented him with a copy of the book 'Riding In The Shadow Of Death' by Chris Keltie to say thank you for his work gaining recognition for WW2 Veterans (All four Veterans are featured in the book about Bill North). He worked very hard to get the Gold Clasp award for the Bomber Command
The idea to contact David Cameron came from F/Lt Jeff Gray
who is a Veteran Lancaster pilot from 61 Squadron and featured in the book Riding In The Shadow Of Death. He suggested we both write to Downing Street and offer to
present David Cameron a copy of
the book as a thank you on behalf of the Veterans. After a challenging task to organise and arrange the travel arrangements and timing of the event, we all made it to the Central Lobby on time. Although Sandy Cannings and I had a serious moment of panic at the front gate when we couldn't find our Veterans anywhere, they had already gone in without us!
First to arrive at the House entrance gate. Will they never come.
David,Alun and Rhys North with a seated James in Westminster Hall.
James with his two sons, Philip and Robert.
Left to right:- Charlotte Gray, Chris Keltie, Rhys
North, Alun North,
Sandy Cannings, Dennis Bartlett, Phil Flowers, James Flowers, David
North, Robert Flowers and Jeff Gray. (photo,
Chris and Alun in the corridor of the House.
We were then met in the Central Lobby (which is stunning)
by the PM's assistants Julia and Lawrence. With two of our Veterans in wheelchairs we then had to take quite a long detour around the Commons network of long corridors to the PM's
office. James Flowers
kept us entertained on the way with his distinctive Yorkshire accent. ‘That was Lord so and so, oh look there's this MP or that MP!’ I don’t know how he recognised them all! At various points along the way we could see David Cameron on the in-house TV screens
getting a 'grilling' on Prime Minister's Question Time.
We finally made it up to the reception area outside the PM's office where we all paused for breath and gathered our thoughts.
David Cameron suddenly appeared, greeted us all, shook
everybody's hands and led us into his office where we sat down on armchairs and sofas.
The meeting was very relaxed and everybody had a chance to chat and talk.
PM receiving from Chris his book about Bill North, 'OUT OF THE SHADOWS OF DEATH'
James then took the opportunity to mention that Bill North had
received no medal for his courage and bravery when he crash landed his Lancaster on 5 July 1944. I also highlighted the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Bill's crash and the whole crew's
survival that night.
Sandy Cannings then read out her father Percy Cannings' speech explaining how Percy also thought that Bill had been overlooked for a medal for his outstanding skill and courage as well. The PM took Percy's speech and was very sympathetic explaining
that it was very difficult to get medals after such a long period of time, but he would look into it and to leave it with him. As David Cameron sat amongst us we found that he was very down to earth and easy to talk to. He was extremely knowledgeable about Bomber Command and it's critical contribution to shortening WW2. He also suggested
reading a book by Andrew Roberts, called The Storm Of War; 'It has an excellent chapter on Bomber Command.' We were told it would be a very short meeting, but to everybody's surprise we actually got over 20 minutes of the PM's time.
Jeff showing us his Bomber Command Clasp.
James putting forward a strong case for a Bill North postumous award.
As it came to a natural end the PM then got up and shook everybody's hand again and said goodbye. Our convoy then made its way back downstairs to the front entrance.
Charlotte and Jeff Gray with attractive lady member of PM staff.
We then got a fleet of London Taxis to take us from Parliament Square to the RAF Club at Piccadilly, where Bill's sons had booked a fantastic lunch for us all. We also met up with the book's editor Brandon Robshaw who joined us at the RAF Club. Brandon played a critical role in the editing process and I would like to thank him for being so brutal with the script, it wouldn't be what it is without him.
Officers Club foyer
Tribute to Roy Chadwick. Lancaster designer.
In the lounge of the Officers Club.
Denis Bartlett, James Flowers, F/L Jeff Gray DFM
Hugged by a beautiful woman. Will our the tickers stand the strain!!!
James showing Sandy the 50/61 sqdn website on his mobile phone.
View of Bomber Command Memorial from the Officers Club.
Chris standing infront of the Bomber Command Memorial, Green Park, London.
The end of a perfect day.