Flight Sergeant Herbert Reginald Martin

Herbert Reginald BobMartin was born on 29th April 1924 in Bristol. He Lived in Southville in the shadow of Wills tobacco factory where his mum worked and having left school at the age of 15 found work as a builders labourer. Bob became known as Bobeither because of Bob Martin the pet food manufacturer or because he preferred Bob to Bert. Sadly Ill never know. Bob volunteered for the RAF in December 1942 and following completion of training as wireless operator / air gunner, joined 50 squadron in October 1944. He stayed with the squadron until late 1945 when he was posted to 242 squadron (transport Command). Bob only did one flight with 242 before being posted to Stoney Cross prior to demob in February 1946 and where he was promoted to Warrant Officer. He was married at St Mary Redcliffe Church in Bristol to Mildred Grace Taylor on 21st July 1945. 

Flight Sergeant Herbert Reginald "Bob" Martin flew as a Wireless operator with 50 Squadron.

As with many children of former veterans, they did not realise the exploits and bravery of their Fathers.

This story by Paul Martin, tells the search in his own words to find out more of his father's exploits. 

My Journey to 50 squadron

My Dad, Flt/sgt Herbert Reginald BobMartin, was a wireless operator in 50 squadron and he served 1944 to 1945 until demob. He came out more or less without a scratch having flown 20 plus operations. He didnt talk much about his experiences and I guess like many others, I didnt ask many questions, probably because he was always there and I didnt need to. Dad passed away at 54 years of age over 35 years ago and in many ways that meant that the doors and windows to his life in the RAF had shut. Over the past few years I have become more interested in what Dad experienced but other than his log book, I had very little to go on or at least thats how it seemed. Truth is, it wasnt until last year that I even knew what airfield he flew from.

However,a series of events and coincidences have brought  me to where I am now and it is a story worth recording.

I guess like many kids, hurricanes and spitfires were what fascinated me and the stories of the battle of britain were the stuff of childhood games, comics and the like. Lancasters and bomber command didnt interest me that much I think because big lumbering bombers lacked the glamour and excitement of of the fighters. So, how did that change. 

Seeing the lanc take to the air at Farnborough in 2010 was the start. Hearing those merlins start up was such a sweet sound that I realised that I just had to find out more. In 2011 I went to Duxford museum, something I had wanted to do for years and this gave me an even closer view. Also that year we bought a puppy. What has that got to do with Lancasters and the RAF you might ask. A lot as it happens. The puppy, a cockerpoo called woody, came from a breeder living just to the south of Oakhampton. As we were two thirds of the way to cornwall and we were collecting the little chap on a sunday we decided to stay a couple of nights at Port Isaac (Portwenn of the Doc Martin series). I booked a room at the The Bay Hotel (used as Wenn House in the series), a bit pricey, but it overlooked the sea and is only a few minutes walk from the harbour. When I walked in through the front door I was amazed to see prints, photographs and paintings of various WW2 and other aircraft. When I put my head around the lounge door I really was taken aback. There were more paintings etc, models and other WW2 memorabilia. Some of the prints were autographed. I spoke to the owner and he told the background to his wonderful collection. His father was a fighter pilot during the battle of britain ( flying hurricanes if I remember rightly) and he took the rather unusual step of transferring to Bomber Command and spent the rest of his service flying Lancasters. He knew the Panton Brothers and was planning on going to East Kirby and having a taxi ride.

All of this fascinated me and made me determined to go to Linconshire  at some time to see Just Jane. Its a long journey from Bristol however so I had no real idea when I could go.

In 2012 I needed to visit a firm of architectural designers in connection with my part time job. whilst I was waiting for the owner to finish a phone call, I happened to notice an East Kirby leaflet on his desk and after he finished his call he told me why he had the leaflet. He said that his company had entered a competition to design a new memorial dedicated to aircrew lost flying from Lincolnshire airfields. This was yet another coincidence as the companys offices are only a mile or so away from where Dad was born in southville in Bristol. (The company have won the competition).

Later that year, I heard about the Bomber Command memorial and the decision to award a clasp to aircrew. Two other things I knew I had to do, visit the memorial and apply for the clasp. In January 2013 my wife and I spent a couple of days in London so I was able to visit the memorial. The statue is just amazing and it sent a shiver down my spine. I was deeply moved by the experience and certainly I had never appreciated the extent of the aircrew losses and that, in effect, I had a 50:50 ish chance of being here. I wish I had been able to tell my Dad that I understood the risks he was taking and how courageous he and all other aircrew were. Im just a bit irritated at the mistake on the web site however. The list of aircrew on the statue description doesnt include the wireless operator!! I have emailed them but whoever looks after the website cant seem bothered to correct the error. That experience really did make me more determined than ever to find out more about Dads life in the RAF. My next task was to apply for the clasp and this I did early in the year. Im still waiting!!!

What happened next really were an  unbelievable set of coincidences and the outcomes still amaze me. In early summer, my son, knowing of my interest in all things aircraft, told me about replica aircraft being built in New Zealand. One wet sunday afternoon, with nothing better to do I logged on and started to look for what my son had told me about. I found it and played a few short u tube clips. Down the side of the screen were related videos and my eye was drawn to one referring to a mosquito flying in New Zealand. As far as I knew, the last airworthy mossie crashed some years ago sadly killing the crew and I thought that the only remaining ones were in museums. However, I clicked on the video and sure enough there it was, effectively a new mossie being taken up on its first public outing at an air show. I watched the video, and when the credits came up I had a major shiver go down my spine and I really did feel, well, just a bit odd. I had to reread them and called my wife over to look. The pilots name was Keith Skilling. My Dads pilot was Hugh Skilling, from New Zealand !! I really couldnt believe my eyes and a whole load of thoughts went racing through my mind. Who was he? were they related? how could I find out? 

I looked up the name on the internet. Not much luck but I realise now I should have googled Keith Skilling pilot not just Keith Skilling. I did nothing for a week and now I thank god that I did something about it the following weekend.

I was unsure how to make contact so I thought about sending an email to new zealand warbirds on the basis that they surely would be bound to know Keith. I did a short email on sunday afternoon just asking warbirds to forward it to Keith. I just explained who I was and asked whether Keith was related to Hugh. Monday came, no reply but then on tuesday I opened my inbox and there it was, an email from Keith Skilling. I think I was almost shaking with anticipation and I had to read the email twice to take it in. Hugh Skilling was indeed his father and as if that wasnt enough, Keith was in the UK that week flying at Duxford in the Flying Legends air show. Keith invited me up to Duxford the following weekend and we spent an hour or so chatting and I  was then able to watch him fly a hurricane and then at the end a spitfire in the final display (Balbo). Keith has flown many vintage aircraft and he has had the great honour of  being allowed to take the controls of the canadian lancaster.

As if meeting Keith wasnt enough, he was also able to tell me that one member of the crew was still alive. Alan (Mac) Macdonald was the rear gunner and he lives in lincolnshire. The following week I phoned Mac and had a long chat with him. He said that he had tried to get in touch with my Dad some years ago but this was long after Dad had died. So the next thing was to meet Mac. In September, we were on holiday in Whitby, and as it was a friday to friday booking, we decided that rather than driving straight home, we would go to lincoln and stay friday and saturday night so that I could visit Mac. In the interim, I did some research and was able to find out more about 50 squadron. I established that dad was based at Skellingthorpe and of course that led me onto finding out about the museums and memorials on the site of the airfield. There was a lot to fit in so we went from Whitby direct to East Kirby to visit the museum there and to see Just Jane. We spent some hours there before heading to Lincoln where I had booked 2 nights at the premier Inn which is more or less opposite where the new memorial is to be erected.

On saturday morning I went to birchwood to see the small museum dedicated to 50 and 61 squadrons.  It really was a very moving experience to go to this building and see photographs with my Dad in effect, smiling at me. I then went to Skellingthorpe where unfortunately the tiny museum building was closed but I was able to see the memorial.

The highlight of the day was of course travelling to messingham to meet Mac. I didnt know what to expect meeting a man in his 90s. Hed sounded bright and alert on the telephone but in the flesh he was more like someone in his 70s. I spent 3 hours with him and he was able to tell me some wonderful stories about Hugh Skilling and his crew. That again was a moving experience and I am making a point of keeping in touch with Mac and Keith as the doors and windows that closed when Dad died have, for a short time, reopened thus enabling me to ask all the things I could and should have asked my Dad. I want to share these stories so joining the 50 squadron association seems a sensible way forward as well as enabling me to contribute to keeping these memories alive for generations to come. There are of course lots more questions to ask.

Paul Martin

March 2014

This photo is a section of the squadron photo as displayed downstairs
in the Birchwood sports centre. Flt Sgt Martin is second from right in the middle

L to R Fred Clark flight engineer, Dougie Cruickshanks NZ (bomb aimer), Bert (Bob) Martin (wireless operator), Hugh Skilling NZ (pilot), Len Retford (navigator), Johnnie Meadows (mid upper gunner), Alan Macdonald (rear gunner).

On return to civvy street, Bob found himself back in the building trade, labouring for a plasterer. He found it difficult to keep up with the plasterer who worked very quickly. An old hand on the site gave him a useful tip “ chuck ‘andful o’ grit in the mix, that’ll slown down” It did and eventually bob ended up supervising Italian POW’s building prefabs in Bristol.

Bob then found employment with Ferris and co as a sales rep selling medical supplies to hospitals, chemists etc. I was born in January 1948 and was an only child. In the late 1950’s Bob joined a large german multi-national pharmaceutical company, (Farben Fabriken Bayer von Leverkusen). The British arm of the company, Bayer Products, subsequently split from the german parent company because of allegations that the company had used slave labour in its german factories during the war and the British arm became Sterling Winthrop. Bob, was a rep, then an area manager and finally the person responsible for arranging international conferences for doctors and associated publicity type work. It was on a conference arranged in Trier in germany that Dad met Herr Gunther Knauss, a german opposite number who, during the war, served on a flak battery. After comparing notes they discovered that Herr Knauss war on duty the night 50 squadron bombed the city where he served. Perhaps it was him that caused the flak damage!

Dad had various spare time hobbies. He played amateur football and helped with physio at Bristol City FC. He played cricket for Southmead and Ham Green hospitals where he was described as a useful opening bat and he was a very keen gardener. He was very involved in the early days of a new local youth club in Withywood and spent a lot of time getting gigs for the band I was in at the time. Through his efforts I got to meet and share a stage with quite a number of stars of the pop scene, Jimmy Hendrix being perhaps the most famous.

Dad died suddenly at the young age of 54 on valentines day 1978 following a heart attack. He had been clearing snow off the drive. 

Paul Martin

August 2014