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|Signatures on this item|
|*The value given for each signature has been calculated by us based on the historical significance and rarity of the signature. Values of many pilot signatures have risen in recent years and will likely continue to rise as they become more and more rare.|
Sgt George B Thomson
*Signature Value : £35
|George Thomson was trained on Stirlings and Wellingtons before converting to Lancasters and joining No.15 Sqn. He flew most of his missions on Lancaster LS-P, including missions to Stettin and Paris rail yards. While on the Paris mission, LS-M developed engine problems and was left behind by the rest of the squadron. Luckily, two P-38 Lightnings high above spotted the the struggling Lancaster and came down to escort the bomber back to base at Mildenhall. On the night of 12th September 1944, George was Navigator on Lancaster NF958 (LS-M) of No.15 Sqn, his usual aircraft LS-P grounded with engine trouble. This was to be his first and last mission on this aircraft as it was lost in the skies above Mannheim when it was attacked by the Messerschmitt Bf.110G-2 of Ofw Ludwig Schmidt of II/NGJ 6. Five of the seven crew of the aircraft, including George, managed to escape from the burning aircraft but two did not manage to escape the inferno. The aircraft came down in the vicinity of the railway station in Wieblingen, south of Mannheim. Having escaped the aircraft, he did not however manage to evade the enemy, and he was taken into captivity until the end of the war.First Op : I suppose all aircrew looked forward to their first operational flight with some trepidation, but in my own case I didn't have time to think about it, as this tale will tell. Having completed my navigation training I moved on to No. 11 O.T.U at Westcott, in December 1943, flying in Wellingtons and where I crewed up; from there it was on to 1657 Conversion Unit at Stradishall, where we flew Stirlings, then to NO.3 L.F.S. at Feltwell where we converted to Lancasters. Three rounds of circuits and bumps and one 'Bullseye' and then posted to Mildenhall in June 1944 to join XV Squadron. Arriving at Mildenhall, on my first day I reported to the Navigation Office. The Navigation Leader, F/Lt. Jack Fabian, a New Zealander, greeted me warmly enough, but was somewhat perplexed by the fact that he had another Scottish Navigator to deal with. As he said, there were already Scots known as 'Jock', 'Haggis', and 'Bagpipes', so henceforth he would call me 'Tommy'. As I was leaving his Office, he threw a fastball at me - 'Would I like to do an Op that night with a crew whose navigator had gone sick?' I was somewhat nonplussed and replied to the effect that I would have preferred to do my first Op with my own crew. To my surprise he simply said - 'That's O.K. Tommy, there will be plenty opportunities later on. 'Four days later we did a loaded climb and for some reason or another thought that we would perhaps do one or two more exercises before seeing our names on the Battle Order. Next day there seemed to be nothing on so we went our individual ways, with the Flight Engineer and myself deciding that we would go to the Camp Cinema that night. We were settled in our seats, and the big movie had just started - 'The Picture of Dorian Grey' - when a message flashed up on the screen for Sgts Howarth and Thomson to report to the Briefing Room immediately. We hurriedly left the Cinema and made our way to the Briefing Room, wondering what this was all about, when we met the aircrews coming out and getting aboard transport to be taken to their aircraft. Jack Fabian was at the door, and he handed me a Navigations Bag with the comment - You'll fmd everything in there; just follow the plane in front until you get sorted out.' We got transported out to the aircraft where the other members of the crew were already aboard, and I was still unpacking my bag as we trundled to the runway, taking off at 22.57. By the time we were in the air I had unfolded the chart and found where the target was - a 'P' Plane site at L Hey - the route there and back had already been plotted so, in effect, I was being spoon fed for my first Op. |
We encountered slight flak on route and were attacked by a Ju88 over the target, forcing the Bomb Aimer to ask the Pilot to go round again. On the second run in to the target another aircraft crossed our path, again forcing a re-run as before, but eventually having unloaded our bombs we headed back home, landing at base two and a half hours after take-off. To my surprise neither I nor the Flight Engineer were challenged as to why we had been at the Cinema, nor did we get a satisfactory explanation from the other crew members as to why they had not made contact with us after seeing the Battle Order for that night.
Four nights later we were on our second Op to another 'P' Plane site, encountering three attacks by Me110s, one of which was damaged by our Rear Gunner. From then on, we never met another fighter until our twentieth Op on 12th September 1944, when we were attacked twice as we turned on to the last leg to the target, Frankfurt. The second attack caused severe damage to the aircraft and set part of the incendiary load alight, forcing us to abandon the plane, and when we bailed out the Flight Engineer and I landed in the same field, but we didnt get to the Cinema that night!
It was our twentieth operation, the target was Frankfurt and the date was 12th September 1944. I was flying as Navigator in Lancaster LS-M (NF 958), the other members of the crew being FIO N.R. Overend (pilot) a New Zealander; J.D. Jones (Bomb Aimer); R.E. Kendall (Wireless Operator); RJ. Howarth (Flight Engineer); H. Beverton (Mid-upper Gunner) and 1. Spagatner (Rear Gunner). We flew low level across France, only starting our climb when we crossed the German border. At 22.45 as we turned on to the last leg into the target there was a cry of 'Port Go' from the Rear gunner; immediately we plunged into that sickening corkscrew known to all Bomber aircrew, and as we levelled out there was an almighty bang from underneath the Wireless Operators position. Flames rapidly broke through into the fuselage and we realised that we had been hit in the bomb bay, and the incendiary load was alight. The pilot struggled with the controls for a moment or two but, as the flames began to spread across the port wing, he gave the order to bail-out. B.J., the Flight Engineer, went first through the nose hatch, followed by myself, then the Bomb Aimer, while the two Gunners exited through the rear door. I estimate that we baled out at around 12,000 feet, and in the darkness of the night it seemed a long way down. Shortly after we had escaped the aircraft blew up, throwing out the Wireless Operator, who remembers nothing of that incident, and killing the Pilot.
Hitting the ground, I realised that there was another parachutist on the corner of the field in which I had landed, and making my way to him found it to be B.J. our Flight Engineer. Neither of us were injured in any way, so burying our chutes we decided to make tracks and get as far away as we could from the scene of our landing.
That night we simply headed in a southwest direction, keeping to fields and avoiding any roads. At one point we came to a large enclosed area, surrounded by high fencing, which we had to go around. Eventually, as dawn approached we found ourselves on the bank of a fast flowing river - there was a bridge downstream, with the occasional vehicle crossing it. The heavily wooded area on the other bank looked most inviting but prudence dictated that we should stay where we were, as the chances of being spotted as we crossed the bridge were too high for our liking.
As daylight came we could see that we were on the edge of a farm, the buildings of which could be seen some two hundred yards from were we were lying in long grass - fortunately the steep bank on which we lay hid us from the farm but we kept a watchful eye in case anyone came in our direction.
The day passed slowly. We had one Escape Kit between the two of us - B.J. had left his in the aircraft - so we had a couple of Horlicks tablets and risked sharing a cigarette, being careful to blow the smoke into the long grass. It proved to be a very long day, as we lay there waiting for darkness to fall.
As night came so too did the rain. And how it rained! We made our way to the bridge and got across it without any difficulty, then dived into the woods we had seen. And still it rained; so much so that we were obliged to seek shelter, and there was precious little about. An upturned tin bath, which we came across, when held over our heads provided only token cover, and the noise of the rain falling on it forced us to discard our primitive shelter. A thicker clump of trees provided some relief from the rain and we remained there for much of our second night, only resuming our escape attempt when it got a bit lighter. We were following a main road, while staying within cover of the trees, and there seemed to be only military vehicles passing from time to time. As it got lighter we decided to call a halt and get some rest - in any event, we had had little sleep so far. A clump of low scrub provided enough shelter and so we lay down and went to sleep.
It would be difficult to say that we slept well. Periodically, we would waken up and check that there was no one approaching our hideout. The occasional noise of traffic could be heard on the road some distance away - it seemed possible that this was a main route to the south and we took the decision to follow it. We were encouraged to believe that we might yet get out of Germany, and, with luck, get back to Britain.
Up to this point the lack of food had not been of great concern. We still had some Horlicks tablets and a chewy bar in the Escape Kit. We also had a fishing line and a hook, but could not imagine us sitting by a stream while we dangled the line in the expectation that we might catch a fish. Some matches, a water bottle and water purification tablets completed our equipment. I had in my possession a pencil, which when broken open revealed a miniature compass, while B.J. being a pipe-smoker had a tobacco pouch, which, he proclaimed had a map inside. Ripping open the pouch, we were somewhat disappointed to find a map of southern France, and we had a long way to go before it would be of any practical use to us.
Late that afternoon we decided that it would be safe enough to begin walking, provided we stayed within cover of the woods, so off we set. It was slow progress as we constantly had to be on the alert, and every now and then we would stop and listen for any unwelcome sounds. Gradually, as it got darker within the woods, we edged our way nearer to the road and at times walked along it in an endeavour to cover a greater distance. It was a single track road, and not, as we had imagined, a major thoroughfare; it also ran fairly straight so that we could hear, and even see, any approaching vehicle, whereupon we would dive into cover and remain hidden for a suitable period. We continued walking throughout the night, albeit at a fairly slow pace, and as daylight came we found that we were nearing some open country, with a few buildings set well back from the road. Then we had some good fortune by coming across apple trees growing by the roadside. We hastily filled our pockets and made our way across a field towards an old barn where we though we might find cover for that day. We approached the barn with caution, but it did seem to be disused and sure enough when we got inside we had the firm impression that nobody had been in it for some considerable time. A ladder led up to a hayloft and we settled down there, taking turns to sleep and keep watch. During one of my watch periods I came across a bundle of old newspapers and magazines - I could not read them but I thumbed through the pages looking at the odd photographs. Amazingly, I came across a map, which was part of a an advert for a petrol company, and it covered the very area we were in. It was somewhat rumpled, and torn in places, but I stuffed it into my pocket, feeling sure that it would prove useful in the days that lay ahead.
Feeling refreshed, we ate some of the apples and as dusk settled over the countryside we continued on our way. So far as I could judge we had covered some 50 to 60 miles, and were south of Mannheim and heading in the direction of Karlsruhe. We were still making slow progress, keeping to fields, passing through wooded areas, and trying at all times to remain invisible. This night we again experienced rain, and as it got heavier we decided that there was no alternative but to seek shelter yet again. This proved to more difficult than we had expected, but eventually we came to a bridge over an autobahn and took shelter below it at a point as high up from the autobahn as we could find. It proved to be just right for our purpose for, while we could watch the odd vehicle that passed along the road they were unable to detect our presence in the darkness. Thus passed a few miserable hours.
As dawn approached we thought it best to get away from this location, so returned to the fields and continued our walk. We were getting a bit blase by this time, and took the decision to continue walking through the day. As events were to prove this was a day we would not forget in a hurry. At one point we could see workers in a distant field, but if they saw us they took no notice. Boldness overcame us and we ventured on to a quiet country road in an endeavour to cover a greater distance. Some miles on our way we spotted a civilian type truck parked by the roadside. There did not appear to be anyone with it so we approached it carefully, possibly thinking that we might be able to use the vehicle to get us further on our way. There was no obvious way that we could have got it started, which led us to abandon the idea of driving off in style, Before leaving the truck, however, we had noticed a packet lying beside the driver's seat; on closer examination we found it to contain two chunks of bread and some sausage. We could not pass up the opportunity to vary our diet a little, and to this day I wonder what the driver thought about his missing lunch, if that is what it was.
The decision to keep to the road was almost our downfall, for turning a bend in the road a few miles on, we saw ahead a group of houses on either side of the road, with one or two women and children actually within sight of us - indeed, it seemed that they had observed our approach. What to do? Walk on, we agreed! So, putting on a bold front we walked straight ahead at a steady but not fast pace - we nodded to the women as we passed and kept going. My spine was tingling but we dared not look back. Another bend in the road and we were out of view of the women.
Heaving sighs of relief we stepped out a bit faster to get as far away as we could from the hamlet we had passed through. It is perhaps worth mentioning that we had taken the decision not to remove any badges from our uniforms, which meant that we were still wearing our flying badges and our stripes, and yet we had not been recognised.
Later in the day we came across a workmans hut by the roadside and as it was deserted we took the decision to rest for a while inside. It stood back a little from the road, and behind it was a thinly spaced wood. A knothole in the wall facing the road gave us the advantage of viewing anyone approaching. Then the unexpected happened. An army vehicle drew up alongside. As we watched, the driver and a woman got down from the cab. Hell! Were they coming to the hut? Fortunately, they passed behind and went into the wood, re-emerging some ten minutes later. The purpose of their visit was all too obvious, and we watched them climb back into the truck and drive off. If they were satisfied, so too were we!
That was enough excitement for one day, and certainly more than we had experienced in our travels thus far. To avoid another encounter with any of the local population, we kept to the fields and woods for the remainder of that day, and chose to spend the night as 'babes in the wood' once again.
Starting out the next day it was quite apparent that we were suffering from a lack of nourishment. We both felt a bit light headed from time to time and as the day wore on we realised that we needed to find another lorry with a supply of bread and sausage. No such luck, however! Taking it easy, and resting for longer periods in between walking meant that it was going to take longer to get out of Germany than we had imagined. Never mind, just keep going and hope for the best. Later in the day we came across a vast potato field and filled our pockets in preparation for a bean feast that night. We still had a few apples we had gathered earlier in the day and this gave us the prospect of a better repast. The hours of darkness came at last - we were still walking and had returned to a quiet country road on which we saw neither persons nor vehicles. When we came across another hut, again set back a little from the road, we claimed it as our own for the night. There was an added bonus in that this hut contained a stove; ideal for roasting our potatoes, so B.J. foraged for some wood while I went off to find a stream we could hear nearby in order to fill the water bottle. In my wearied state I misjudged the bank and finished ankle deep in the stream. Returning to the hut I took off my shoes and hung my socks above the stove, now alight, and waited for the potatoes to roast. They were excellent, and the apple desert finished off our evening meal. Before settling down to sleep I went out of the hut to relieve myself and to my horror saw flames spouting two or three feet high out of the chimney. A dead giveaway to any passing traffic, so out went the fire and we turned in for our rest.
The next morning was sunny and warm. We resumed our trek and by this time I was estimating that we had covered a fair distance although by no means sure where we were having run off the map I had earlier acquired. Still, we were in reasonably good heart and feeling a bit stronger after our meal the night before. Nevertheless we were walking at a slower pace and we took time to rest more often. The result was that we had probably covered little more than a dozen miles during that day. As evening came we found another road heading in what we though would be the right direction - it led us into the outskirts of a town of some size, so far as we could judge in the dark, and we were wondering what to do next when we heard approaching footsteps. Diving into a garden of a house, we hid behind shrubs until the figure passed, then re-emerged to continue on our way, still wondering what action to take.
A little further on we spied a railway yard and decided to investigate. Would there be any trains that might take us out of Germany? We never did get the answer to that question as we were suddenly confronted by a uniformed person who took a great interest in us. He spoke to us, obviously asking questions, but as we could not understand a word we just stood our ground and shrugged our shoulders. Bemused perhaps, our questioner eventually lost interest and wandered off. We wasted no time in getting out of that yard and hightailing it down the road with a view to getting as far as we could out of that town, a town we were later to learn was called Rastatt.
We walked at a fair pace and when we judged that we were a good few miles out of the town we looked for some place where we could lie up for the rest of the night. There were woods on both sides of the road, but which to choose? We chose to go right and when we were some little distance away from the road we found a hollow under some low scrub, which we settled in for our resting place, and soon we were asleep. I must have slept soundly until I was rudely shaken awake by B.J. who whispered in my ear, 'Look whose coming!' I did look and my heart sank immediately, for there were four German soldiers bearing down on us with rifles and fixed bayonets. There was no chance of escape, and as I looked around I spied an elderly man standing well back watching proceedings - he had in his arm a bundle of wood and it was all too obvious that he had come across us as he searched for wood, and reported us to the military.
As events were to prove he had not had far to go to turn us in, for we had selected as our resting place a spot some two hundred yards from a German Army camp, which we had not seen through the trees while it was dark. We had truly been caught napping!
We were taken back to this camp two or three officers appeared and scrutinised us at close quarters before removing our shoes, presumably to avoid us making a run for it. We stood there not knowing what would happen next. The most senior officer, or so he appeared, stood looking at us in some amusement. Eventually a truck was brought along, we were invited to get aboard - we had no choice - and we were driven back into the town we had walked through the previous evening. What appeared to be the local county jail was our destination, where we were searched then placed in separate cells. I was surprised that the search they made of us had been carried out in a careless manner, for they had missed my escape kit box, which was by now near empty, and a knife I had in my possession. After about an hour in the cell, the door was opened and an officer and senior N.C.O. entered. The officer stood and looked at me while the N.C.O. snapped 'English?' at me. I do not know what prompted me to say 'No', but that was my reply, whereupon the N.CO. shouted 'American?' Again I answered 'No'. The N.C.O. looked puzzled, but the officer smiled and said in almost faultless English, 'Well if you are not English and not American, what are you?' 'Scottish,' I replied. At this the officer turned and said a few words to the N.C.O. who then left the cell and I was left alone with the officer. Curiously, he did not try to interrogate me. Instead, he explained that he had gone to Oxford University pre-war, which no doubt explained his near perfect English. He did say, however, that an Austrian Regiment had picked us up, and that for me the war was over. A few minutes later the N.C.O. returned bearing a tray with a plate of meat and potatoes on it, together with a mug of coffee, then they left me to enjoy my first real meal in eight days. The following day I met up with B.J. when we were moved to another prison some miles away. I was a little amused to learn that when the German officer and N.C.O. had confronted B.J. in his cell, and asked if he was English he had acknowledged the fact, only to be left alone without anything to eat - it was some hours later before he received some bread, cold meat and coffee. Obviously, being Scottish paid off!
Eventually we were taken to Frankfurt and found ourselves in Dulag Luft for interrogation. By this time the attack on Arnhem had taken place and the number of airborne prisoners was such that we were soon moved out to our Prison Camp, Stalag Luft VII in Upper Silesia, which we reached after a train journey occupying several days. At this time we met up with our Bomb Aimer and Wireless Operator, and were more than pleased on arrival at the Camp to find that Spagatner, our Rear Gunner had got there before us. As we were later to have confirmed, the Pilot had indeed been killed in the aircraft, and our Mid-upper Gunner had also been killed, but how and when we never did learn.
|The Aircraft :|
|Lancaster||The Avro Lancaster arose from the avro Manchester and the first prototype Lancaster was a converted Manchester with four engines. The Lancaster was first flown in January 1941, and started operations in March 1942. By March 1945 The Royal Air Force had 56 squadrons of Lancasters with the first squadron equipped being No.44 Squadron. During World War Two the Avro Lancaster flew 156,000 sorties and dropped 618,378 tonnes of bombs between 1942 and 1945. Lancaster Bomberss took part in the devastating round-the-clock raids on Hamburg during Air Marshall Harris' "Operation Gomorrah" in July 1943. Just 35 Lancasters completed more than 100 successful operations each, and 3,249 were lost in action. The most successful survivor completed 139 operations, and the Lancaster was scrapped after the war in 1947. A few Lancasters were converted into tankers and the two tanker aircraft were joined by another converted Lancaster and were used in the Berlin Airlift, achieving 757 tanker sorties. A famous Lancaster bombing raid was the 1943 mission, codenamed Operation Chastise, to destroy the dams of the Ruhr Valley. The operation was carried out by 617 Squadron in modified Mk IIIs carrying special drum shaped bouncing bombs designed by Barnes Wallis. Also famous was a series of Lancaster attacks using Tallboy bombs against the German battleship Tirpitz, which first disabled and later sank the ship. The Lancaster bomber was the basis of the new Avro Lincoln bomber, initially known as the Lancaster IV and Lancaster V. (Becoming Lincoln B1 and B2 respectively.) Their Lancastrian airliner was also based on the Lancaster but was not very successful. Other developments were the Avro York and the successful Shackleton which continued in airborne early warning service up to 1992.|
|Artist Details : Keith Aspinall|
|Click here for a full list of all artwork by Keith Aspinall|
Keith is a Manchester born retired civil engineer who has been painting aviation subjects for the past twenty years. He is entirly self taught and his style is characterised by precise detail and technical accuracy which he feels is a result of his engineering training. After retiring from full time employment with Kent County Coucil Keith moved to Lincolnshire in April 1998 in the hope of finding a wider market for his work, and the move has proved to be successful. He is an Associate Member of the Guild of Aviation Artists and regularly exhibits work at the Guilds Annual Open Exhibition in London. In addition he has completed over a hundred commissions for private clients in England and abroad including RAF and American Eighth Air Force associations. Many of his painting are currently in print and his work is on the covers of a number of books recently published in France, the United States and the UK. Sadly, Keith Aspinall died in 2007.
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