Air Commodore Thomas H Blackham DFC OBE

Born and raised in Dunoon, Scotland.

B: 11 July 1922 R: 11 July 1977 d:xx xxx xxxx

OBE -l Jan 1964, DFC- 7 Apr 1944.

(RAFVR): Plt Off (P): 7 Feb 1942, Fg Off (WS) (P): 1 Oct 1942, Flt Lt (WS), 7 Feb 1944.

Pilot. No 50 Sqn.



Thomas Blackham joined 50sqdn, from 5 LFS, on 13th January 44.                                                                    

The following is a  list of ops carried out by him.                                                                         

27th Jan, Berlin.  28th Jan, Berlin. 30th Jan, Berlin.
15th Feb, Berlin.  19th Feb, Leipzig. 20th Feb, Stuttgart.24th Feb, Schweinfurt. 25th Feb, Augsburg.
9th March, Marseilles.15th March, Stuttgart.18th March, Frankfurt.22nd March, Frankfurt.
24th March, Berlin.26th March, Essen.
10th April, Tours.11th April, Aachen. 18th, April, Juvisy. 20th April, Paris, Marshalling Yards.
22nd April, Brunswick. 24th April, Munich. 26th April, Schweinfurt. 28th April, St Medard.
29th April, St Medard.
1st May, St Martin du Touch. 3rd May, Mailly le Camp.

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Citation for the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.

"Flight Lieutenant Thomas Henry BLACKHAM (124922), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 50 Squadron.

As pilot, this officer has participated in a number of sorties and has displayed outstanding determination, fearlessness and devotion to duty. This was we'll illustrated on a recent occasion when detailed to attack Berlin. On the outward .flight the aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire and the elevators were damaged. Soon afterwards the bomber was struck by bullets from a fighter. The rear turret was rendered unserviceable and the oxygen installation was damaged. The target was still 100 miles distant but Flight Lieutenant Blackham continued his mission. On the bombing run, 3 members of his crew became unconscious through lack of oxygen. The flight engineer successfully repaired the oxygen system and the effected members were revived. Flight Lieutenant Blackham then pressed home a determined attack and afterwards flew the damaged aircraft to base. A few nights later, this officer again displayed praiseworthy skill and resolution in-a successful attack on Augsburg."

(London Gazette – 7 April 1944)

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Royal Air Force Start Airport: Skellingthorpe
Avro Lancaster Destination: Mailly-leCamp
Date: 1944-05-03
Serial Number: LM480 Identifier: VN-U
Command: Bomber Command
Squadron: No. 50 Squadron RAF

Airborne 2207 3 May44 from Skellingthorpe to bomb the military camp. Shot down soon after clearing the target area and crashed at St- Mesmin (Aube), a village on the railway between Romilly-sur-Seine and Troyes. With the aircraft on fire Blackham fought to keep the aircrsft flying until all his crew had bailed out safely, afterwhich a sudden explosion knocked him senseless, hurling him through a glass panel. He recovered consciousness to find himself surrounded by flames and jumped  clear moments before the aircraft blew up. Parachuting into Maquis country, Blackham narrowly escaped being hung as a German spy, but another airman in the vicinity was able to vouch for him. For months Blackham lived and fought with the Maquis, until he was sent to Paris for return to England along the Comet line. In Paris, he was betrayed by the French traitor Jacques Desoubrie on 27th July 1944 and handed over to the Gestapo. after interrogation, Blackham was imprisoned in Fresnes prison. At Fresnes, Blackham was beaten, stripped of clothing and put under cold showers, surviving on weak sauerraut soup. He slept on filthy lice-infested straw. at one point during a two week stay at Fresnes, Blackham was among a group of inmates which faced a firing squad manning machine guns, but for some unkown reason, the order to fire was never given. He was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp.  At Buchenwald, the airmen were fully shaved, starved, denied shoes, and for three weeks forced to sleep outside without shelter in one of the sub-camps known as "Little Camp".                                   

Flight Lieutenant T.H.Blackham DFC Pilot's crew being:

Pilot Officer C.E.Stephenson RAAF, acting as 2nd pilot was killed in action

Pilot Officer C.R.E.Walton killed in action 174051 ST. MESMIN NEW COMMUNAL CEMETERY,Grave 2. 

Flying Officer D. G.Jones killed in action.                                                                                

Flight Sergeant S.J.Godfrey escaped/evaded capture, he was assisted by Mme Deguilley of Romilly-sur-Seine before being passed to a Resistance group, killed by the Germans, on 24th June 44, whilst in the company of the French Resistance, when the Wehrmacht attacked their camp, he has no known grave.   
Sergeant S.C.Wilkins killed in action 1396525 ST. MESMIN NEW COMMUNAL CEMETERY, Grave 5. 
Sergeant H.G.Ridd killed in action 1003849 ST. MESMIN NEW COMMUNAL CEMETERY, Grave 6.
Sergeant W.D.Dixon killed in action 1835971 ST. MESMIN NEW COMMUNAL CEMETERY, Grave 1.

Those killed are buried in St-Mesmin New Communal Cemetery. Both of the reported evasions failed.

 

 

At Buchenwald Blackham became a close friend of Yeo-Thomas the legendary SOE agent 'The White Rabbit'.

Wing commander Forest Frederick Edward "Tommy" Yeo-Thomas, GC, MC & Bar, croix de querre (with palms), Commandeur of the Legion d'honneur, (17 June 1902 – 26 February 1964) was a BritishSpecial Operations Executive (SOE) agent in World War II. Codenamed "SEAHORSE" and "SHELLEY" in the SOE, Yeo-Thomas was known by the Gestapo as "The White Rabbit". His particular sphere of operations was Occupied and Vichy France.

                                                                        Wg Cdr Yeo-Thomas

 

In February 1944, Yeo-Thomas was parachuted into France after flying from RAF  Tempsford. However, he was betrayed and captured at the Passey metro  station in Paris. In endeavouring to hide his true identity,  Yeo-Thomas claimed he was a British pilot named Kenneth Dodkin. He was then taken by the Gestapo to their headquarters at Avenue Foch  and subjected to brutal torture,  including repeated submersion in ice-cold water (each time to the  point that artificial respiration was required to bring him back to  consciousness), innumerable physical beatings, and electric shocks  applied to the genitals. Held in Fresnes prison, he made two failed  attempts to escape and was transferred first to Compiegne prison and  then to Buchenwald concentration camp. Within the camp, he began to  organize resistance, and again made a brief escape. On his recapture,  he passed himself off as a French national and was sent to a  prisoner-of-war camp, Stalag XX-B,near Marienburg. While at Buchenwald, Yeo-Thomas met Squadrron  leader Phil Lamason the officer in charge of 168 Allied airmen being  held there. At great risk, Yeo-Thomas assisted Lamason in getting  word out of camp to the German Luftwaffe of the airmen's captivity,  knowing that the Luftwaffe would be sympathetic to their situation.

Eventually, after several more failed attempts to  escape, he succeeded and reached Allied lines in late April 1945.

 

Below is a copy of letter from an unknown person in France, which was received by Blackhams mother.

Dear Madam,

This is to let you know that your son Tommy landed safely in France near Troyes (Champayne) when his Lancaster was hit.

His crew bailed out while he remained at his post trying to steady his engine. He believed they all had time to save themselves before he was blown out himself by the explosion. He was only slightly injured in the head and after many adventures in the Maquis reached Paris with a friend Lt. Neville Mutter who had fallen also near Troyes some days previously. I met them on the 15th. June and took charge of them for over a month. they were both such charming boys. We all got fond of them and did all we could to make them happy, but they hoped of course to get home. we put them in touch with an agent who was to insure their passage home and we thought they were safely with you since 19th. August. I have just heard with the deepest sorrow that they were betrayed and taken by the Germans, it is a great blow as they were like our own children and I share your grief with all my heart. I pray and hope you will soon have news through the Red Cross and I beg you to let us know. I did not know Lt. Mutters address, I believe his mother lived in Birmingham. He was a Fighter Pilot on Mustang 111. could you try to give the news to Mrs Mutter through the R.A.F.

                                         With Deepest sympathy.

P.S.     No name and address, just Paris Post Mark.  

 

What a brave, caring lady.  

1 Feb 1949: Appointed to a Permanent Commission in the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

Dec 1958: Liaison Officer, Northern Army Command.

10 Jul 1961: CFI, No 1 FTS, RAF Linton-on-Ouse.

28 Jun 1965:  Air Adviser to UK High Commissioner for Pakistan.

2 Dec 1968: Officer Commanding, RAF Shawbury..Jul 1971:

17 Jan 1972: Group Captain - Plans & Operations, HQ Combined Military Planning Staff CENTO).

13 Oct 1973:  AOC, Air Cadets/Commandant, Air Training Corps.

27 Mar 1975 – 11 Jul 1977:  ADC to the Queen.

11 Jul 1977: Regional Commandant - Wales, ATC (Ret'd).

 

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Editor's comments:

With his aircraft burning and about to explode he remained at the controls to give his crew time to bale out, moments later an explosion blew him through a glass window knocking him unconscious for a few seconds, recovering quickly he manages to bale out just before the plane blew up, floating down into Maquis Country. Then after almost being shot as a spy he joins and fights with the Maquis. Later after being sent by them to Paris to be returned home, he is captured and tortured by the Gestapo at Fresnes prison, put infront of a firing squad but for some unknown reason, not shot, afterwhich he is sent to Buchenvald for elimination.

Despite all of this he did survive. AMAZING.

I would have thought that by the end of WW11 this would have been enough service for anyone, not so for Blackham, as he remained in the RAF for a further 32 years eventually attaining the rank of Air Commodore;

WHAT A MAN. WHAT A LIFE. 

H.James Flowers. 

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