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Compo

Imperial War Museum "Their Past, Your Future" Project.

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On wednesday evening I attended a talk by an ex-WWII Stirling heavy bomber pilot, Sqdn Ldr Don Mason DSO DFC L.d'H (Chevalier), BEM. (Retd.)

 

Just three months away from his 99th birthday, Don gave a magnificent 2½hr illustrated lecture on Bomber crews and their missions during World War Two. He completetd 67 missions over occupied Europe and was shot down twice. He didn't say much about when he was shot down so I tabled a question at the end during the usual "Questions and answers" session. I asked how he was awarded the DSO and DFC. His answer was illuminating and interesting, to say the least:

 

The first occasion, flak over the Dutch coast smashed his plane's steering gear, destroyed one of the tailplanes and holed the fuselage, causing the plane to take an uncontrollable course directly north up the middle of the North Sea. Without steering control he managed to ditch the plane in the North Sea some 80 miles from the Yorkshire coast. When the crew had all got into the escape dinghy a head count revealed that the navigator was missing. Don then ordered the crew to "Stand off" from the plane as he went back into the sinking aircraft to find the navigator. The navigator had suffered a broken femur and was trapped in his seat, so Don took the emergency axe from its mount and smashed his navigator free before smashing a big enough hole in the fuselage to drag him out and into the sea. All this time the aircraft was filling with water and it was only the wingtip bouyancy tanks and empty fuel tanks that were keeping it afloat. It took him four separate returns to the aircraft before his rescue attempt was complete and then they drifted in the ice cold sea for 56hrs before being picked up by an air-sea rescue launch. For this act he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

 

The second time he was shot down his aircraft was attacked by a ME110 nightfighter and four of his crew were killed by the canon fire. He himself suffered a massive head wound (Could still see the scar from eyebrow to back of head) but managed to land the plane at Manston emergency runway. He was hospitalised for nine months before a medical board classed him as fit for service but not for piloting due to damaged peripheral vison in his left eye. He was then offered a choice of a desk job or return to flying service as a WOP-AG (Wireless operator/air gunner). He chose the latter and was stripped of his pilots wings and given a half wing instead.

 

In his role as wireless operator he saw service through the remainder of the war. On D-Day he was crewing a Sterling heavy bomber that was converted to towing Horsa gliders. At 0630hrs his plane took a glider to France and delivered it to the drop zone to capture a bridge ahead of the main invasion force. Then at 1730 in the evening they went back with another glider, this time containing arms and ammunition. He continued flying supply drops around Nornamdy for the French Resistance and British troops.

 

On 17th September his crew were detailed to take a troop glider to Arnhem and he made several successful flights in that area until the allies broke through and over the Rhine further south. Meanwhwile he continued dropping arms to the resistance groups throughout Europe.

 

At the end of the war he was detailed to pick up and return troops that had been prisoners of war of the Japanese in Kuala Lumpur. He said that the troop returns were the saddest of all his flights throughout the war. They were near death and emaciated. When they crossed the Needles on the Isle of Wight, both troops and crew were in tears for the homecoming.

 

Anyway, I had a great night and if anyone has the chance to see his talk, I can whloeheartedly recommend it. It is part of the nationwide "Their Past, Your Future" project. I just hope that he remembers to pay his television tax so that the BBC can continue to pay their presenters multi-million pound salaries! Let's face it - that's far more important than anything he did for his country........

 

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What a fantastic man and amazing stories of bravery.  Thanks Compo! 

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My father  was in the Royal Navy from 1938 until 1952.  He served on a number of ships including the battleship HMS King George V, and HMS Glasgow when they rescued the King of Norway and the Norwegian gold reserves ahead of the German army.

 

But most of his war service  he was on convoy escort duty across the Atlantic on HMS Gentian, a flower class corvette.  On one trip he kept a diary from when they left Liverpool to arriving in Nova Scotia.  I found it in his effects when he died 7 years ago and I typed it up and offered it to the Imperial War Museum.  They were very pleased to receive it because as they said most war diaries were written by officers and my dad was an Able Seaman and he wrote about life below decks.  Like most servicemen he never spoke about his war service except once when he said that it's not nice having to kick bits of your mate overboard after you've been attacked.

 

I am still very proud of him and his generation and what they did for us.

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My father was, likewise, in the Royal Navy from 1942 to 1946. He frequently spoke of the antics and adventures he experienced but, unlike some, he had a somewhat cushy time

 

My father disliked authority and preferred to do his own thing so he volunteered for DEMS duties and spent most of his war in the tropics. Apart from Dengue fever and dysentery, he didn't fare too badly. Got paid by both the Royal and Merchant Navy plus 'bounty' ...not the chocolate bar!

 

His letters home to his ration starved family made their mouths water at mention of all the tropical fruit, etc. Apart from a yen to emigrate to Australia in the early 60s, which my mum wouldn't entertain even though he did his best to persuade her she'd love Fremantle, he never left the UK shores again.

 

 

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