Sweet memories of my friend John
From the Northern Echo, first published Monday 6th Jun 2005.
On Saturday, a statue of Andrew Mynarski, killed in a Second World War bombing raid, was unveiled at Durham Tees Valley Airport. Today, the sculptor's father, Jack Maddison tells of the day his childhood friend died.
"On the night of March 3, 1945, Number 5 Group of Royal Air Force Bomber Command despatched 212 Lancasters and 12 Mosquitoes to Ladbergen, near Dortmund, to bomb the aqueduct of the Dortmund-Ems canal. Nine Lancasters failed to return.
Among the nine was PB806 of 467 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, piloted by Squadron Leader Eric le Page Langlois of South Australia. Langlois, the squadron's commanding officer, was promoted to Wing Commander the next day, but he was never to know it. He and four of his crew were never found. Only the rear gunner and bomb aimer survived to become prisoners of war.
The flight engineer was John Scott, of Western Terrace, Washington, County Durham. John was my closest friend. Before the war we attended Usworth Intermediate School together. On leaving school at 14, John joined the local Co-op, to work as a milkman, and I became an engineering apprentice.
In 1941, John and I joined the Washington Squadron of the Air Training Corps. We were keen to get into the war in the air, and, in January 1943, near our 18th birthdays, we volunteered to join the RAF for aircrew duties. Here our paths diverged. John's call-up came in March, mine should have been in May but, because I was in a reserved occupation, it was delayed. We had both decided to train as flight engineers. John achieved this aim and I became an air gunner.
After nine months training, John qualified as a flight engineer and spent a further nine months learning to cope with the complexities of a four-engined heavy bomber. In August, 1944, with the rank of sergeant, he was posted to 463 squadron RAAF based at Waddington in Lincolnshire and equipped with the now legendary Avro Lancaster.
John Scott with his initial crew during training at 1661 HCU.
On joining 463, John found himself with a very experienced team. Five Australians and a Canadian, all officers, who had amassed over 150 operational sorties between them and were now embarking on their second tour of bomber operations. John, the only Englishman, and the only NCO in his crew, was also the only member who had no operational experience.
He did not have long to wait. Three days later he was over France in daylight, a tactical raid in support of the Allied ground forces in their advance through Normandy.
The next day, they were over the Luftwaffe airfield of Gilze-Rijn in Holland, also a day raid, and part of a massive Anglo-American air assault on enemy airfields. Here the terrifying hazards of mass bombing were brought sharply into focus when bombs from an aircraft above carried away the rear turret along with their Australian gunner, Flying Officer Hamilton, who fell to his death still inside the turret.
John went on to complete another eight ops with his crew, until, in October, they were posted across the airfield to 463's sister squadron No 467. That same day Langlois, his skipper, was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader.
Operations continued relentlessly; all German targets, except for one occasion when they flew to Trondheim, only to bring their bombs back with them due to an overcast target area which only began to clear as they made their way home.
In February, 1945 the crew lost their regular rear gunner, Flight Lieutenant Elias Ellis, when he became a POW whilst flying with another crew. His replacement was Flying Officer RE Taylor. John's skipper, Eric Langlois, then became acting Wing Commander and squadron CO.
Among the squadron's allocation of aircraft at the time was a very special Lancaster, serial number R5868, codenamed S for Sugar. Now that he was CO, whenever Langlois put himself down for ops he chose to fly in Sugar.
Since July 1942, this aeroplane had survived a staggering 122 bombing sorties - the average life of a heavy bomber was just 40 operational flying hours.
But on the fateful night of March 3, 1945, Sugar had been taken on a tour of American air bases, and Langlois, John Scott and the rest of the crew had to take another Lancaster, PB806. John was by now a flight sergeant and this would be his 21st operation.
The squadron had attacked this target over Dortmund on previous occasions but the weather had been against them. Similar conditions were encountered on this night too.
The attack opened with 18 specially modified Lancasters of 9 squadron dropping their single 12,000lb Tallboy deep-penetration bombs onto and near the canal. They were set to explode half an hour after burying themselves deep in the earth. In the wake of the Tallboy Lancasters came the main force with their mixture of 1000lb and 500lb medium capacity bombs.
Somewhere among the 200 other Lancasters was PB806 and her crew, battling through intense light and heavy flak, steady on their bombing run, bomb-doors gaping, fighter flares glaring above them bathing them in stark white light.
John resting on the engine of their Lancaster
Sgt Scott ready for takeoff in his Flight Engineer's position.
Exactly what happened that night may never be fully known, but it is clear that they were the victims of an attack by one of the few night fighters which were seen over the target. After a desperate running fight, PB806 was hit in the bomb bay and a raging fire ensued. Langlois ordered his crew to clip on their parachutes and, shortly afterwards, gave the order to abandon the stricken aircraft.
The escape hatch in the Lancaster lies in the floor of the nose, in fact the bomb-aimer lies on it. He has only to clip on his parachute, jettison the hatch and drop out into the slipstream. The rear gunner opens the doors at his back, retrieves his parachute from the fuselage, clips it on, swings his turret through 90 degrees, and drops out backwards. For the rest of the crew it is not as easy. John Scott would have been the next to go, making his way down to the nose hatch, followed by the navigator and wireless operator.
The mid-upper gunner would have vacated his turret and left through the main entrance door. Langlois, struggling to maintain control of the doomed Lancaster long enough for his colleagues to get clear, would have been last, with the least chance of survival.
The two survivors of John Scott's crew, Taylor, the rear gunner, and Wilmott, the bomb-aimer, had landed safely by parachute. They were both taken prisoner. Taylor was sent to Stalag IVA and Wilmott to Stalag XIIIA.
John Scott and his four Australian crewmates have no known grave. The RAF Missing Research and Enquiry Unit abandoned their investigations into the incident in 1946. Their names, however, are commemorated in stone panels at the Commonwealth Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede and are inscribed in the RAF Book of Remembrance in St Clement Danes Church in The Strand, London.
Avro Lancaster R5868, the famous Sugar went on to complete a grand total of 137 operational sorties. By the end of the war she had dropped 500 tons of bombs and flown over 800 hours on operations.
She, unlike thousands of other wartime Lancs, escaped the scrapman to spend several years as gate guardian at RAF Scampton. With the formation of the Royal Air Force Museum, she was earmarked for preservation and, in 1972, was moved to her new home. Repainted in the colours she wore at the end of the war and sporting her 467 Squadron codes and impressive bomb tally, she stands in the Bomber Command Hall. A fitting memorial to John Scott and the 56,000 airmen of Bomber Command who made the ultimate sacrifice.
In, 1979 I visited the RAF Museum at Hendon and climbed through the fuselage door of Sugar. It was the first time I had been inside a Lancaster for over 30 years.
After a lingering look towards the tail and the rear turret, (familiar territory to me), I began to negotiate the shallow sloping obstacle course that is the Lancaster's interior. On reaching that huge greenhouse of a cockpit some 20 feet off the ground, I was at last able to stand up. I manoeuvred myself into the right-hand seat. It was an emotional moment. This was John Scott's crew position 34 years ago. The very place he had sat on the way to and from Munich, Politz, and Karlsruhe. This was the aeroplane that had brought him safely home for the very last time. The memories came flooding back.
If you visit the RAF Museum, go to the Bomber Command Hall and say hello to old Sugar. Remember John Scott of Western Terrace, Washington, killed at 20,000 feet over Dortmund two weeks before his 20th birthday. Remember his four Australian mates who died with him - Eric le Page Langlois, 32, Evan Patten, 23, Alan Reid, 30, and Charles Cameron, 32. Remember them all and say a prayer."
John Scott (middle) with fellow Flight Engineers during winter 44/45.