Trubute to John Whitworth WW2 Bomber Pilot
|3 Jul 2019|
John Whitworth died on 14th June 2019 aged 97. John attended Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School from 1929 to 1938.
In June 2016 the International Bomber Command Memorial Trust carried out an interview with John Whitworth for their digital archive. The following is an attempt to summarise the transcript of that interview (which runs to 16 pages) for the interest of Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School Alumni. I hope I have done him justice. The full audio and text interview can be found on the following link:-
John was born in Sutton Coldfield one of eight children, five elder sisters and one older brother and one younger brother.
After leaving school, John began training as an articled clerk in chartered accountancy. The outbreak of the second world war crippled the family garage business and meant his younger brother could not attend university. These events lead to John’s lifelong distrust of all things German and his enthusiasm for the United Kingdom to exit from the European Union.
John signed up to volunteer for the Air Force and joined the Home Guard pro-tem. As volunteer youngsters in the Home Guard “W’s” were at the end of the queue and it wasn’t until 1941 John joined the RAF signing up in Cardington followed by initial training in Torquay. John learned to fly Tigers at Sywell, near Northampton and then was trained to fly Oxfords at Lyneham before being posted to Moreton in the Marsh which was the feeder station for Wellington bomber crews prior to going out to the Middle East. John relates that he was denied a commission due to the fact he had not “had the courtesy of having a haircut” prior to his final interview with the group captain. Nevertheless he was awarded his “wings” and appointed as a sergeant pilot.
It was at Moreton in the Marsh that John’s first crew was formed of a Geordie, two Australians, three Brits and a New Zealander. They briefly trained together and travelled down to Portreath in Cornwall and waited for a favourable wind before flying a brand new Wellington with three passengers to Malta and then onto Egypt where they were posted almost immediately to 37 Squadron at Abu Suier, near Ismalia.
The passengers were three Army fellows of varying rank who were brought down to earth over the limited accommodation in a Wellington and told to behave and above all not to be sick! Whilst John took a plane up to Tel Aviv in Palestine , his crew were assigned to an operation to be flown by another pilot. The plane crashed on take off and John’s great friend Alex Sutcliffe, the New Zealander was killed. It resonated hard with John that a quiet country lad who came to help the Brits from so far away had trained with them, visited John’s family, should die so brutally. On the third operation from the base at Abu Suier they flew to Tobruk. On the return flight an engine seized up and began to lose height with insufficient “glide” distance to get back to base. They managed to land the plane in the desert with all crew surviving and set off to walk back to friendly lines. Such was the crew camaraderie that they walked for some eight or nine hours from 2.30 a.m. without a grumble until they were able to meet a friendly transport research salvage unit in the middle of nowhere. John said that the metal bed of the truck was the best seat he had ever sat on! All crew were delivered back to Almaza Airport, Cairo and then another truck back to base. Fortunately no reports of us being overdue or missing had been sent back to the UK to worry their loved ones.
By August 1942 many aeroplanes were lined up on the airfield in preparation for a further operation against Tobruk. John was once more fortunate in recognising an incoming South African air force Boston was in trouble. Once it had touched down the pilot lost control and the damaged Boston headed straight for John’s aircraft . John and the airman he was talking to ran for their lives as the inevitable collision took place destroying five further aircraft together with their payload of bombs. The record reports air raid damage not self inflicted damage!
After another ten operations John took over a new crew and carried out another thirty four operations before moving up to Alexandria. At the end of that tour John was sent back to Cairo and after a long wait was flown by the Americans to Lagos. From Lagos by boat to Freetown and then to the Canaries before Liverpool and a couple of week’s leave.
His next posting was to Wing, a Wellington Instruction Unit and John was commissioned in February 1943. After numerous courses some of which John found useful he was appointed to what he described as a cushy job as second in command of the Wellington Instruction Unit. It was there that he met a friend by the name of Atkins with whom he discovered a mutual interest in golf. They would sneak off in the afternoons to Leighton Buzzard and then graduated to Ashridge, where they would meet and play with the great Henry Cotton. John was playing off scratch and his friend off seven.
In September 1944 John volunteered once more for operational duty as his great friend had been shot down at Arnhem and he felt life for himself as too comfortable. By means of known contacts John joined the Mosquito Squadron Pathfinder Force.
The job was to fly decoy missions to trick the enemy into believing that the main bomber force would follow the pathfinders to the same target. John was transferred from 142 Squadron to 162 Squadron at Bourn, near Cambridge and completed fifty operations from there just before the war ended.
With his Mosquito experience John joined a Ferry Unit flying Mosquitos out to Islamabad as part of the big build up of resources to quell the war in the Far East. Moving on to Rangoon it was announced that a big bomb was about to be deployed. It was, of course the Atom Bomb and the war was over but the outposts were left with the quandary as to how to get home. John was appointed CO, Temporary Acting Squadron Leader, Temporary Acting Confirmation Flight Lieutenant Whitworth to Supervisor disbandment of the unit. His demobilisation number came up and he went home and left the RAF. His trip home was aboard a very crowded Empress of Canada up to Colombo around Aden, through the Suez canal and dropped off in Marseille. By train across France and through to Dover and home.
A brief flirtation with accountancy was followed by a job crop spraying in New Zealand and he was tempted to emigrate to Canada. However a brother in law asked him to join him in a small engineering manufacturing business at which they worked extremely hard and built up a substantial business. John married Audrey and they two sons and John retired as Managing Director when he was sixty two, never imagining he would live to be ninety seven.
John got his handicap back down to scratch in 1950 and played County golf. When asked about how he felt Bomber Command Veterans were treated over the years John was understandably disappointed that it took so long for the Bomber Command Clasp to be awarded. He felt that various prime ministers did not appreciate that fifty three thousand volunteers lost their lives. He also remarked that if you were a fighter pilot with five “kills” you were branded an “Ace” but if you survived two bomber sorties you became a “Bomber Baron”. One imagines he didn’t find this flattering.
John considers himself to have been very lucky to have survived the war. His funeral is to be held on 16th July 2019 at 1 p.m. at Stonefall Crematorium, Harrogate.
Our new Eleven Question interview is on Paul Wallis. Veseyans Rugby Club stalwart and current chairman of the Old Veseya… More...
Despite having enjoyed his time at BVGS, the offer to train full-time as part of Manchester United's academy was too good an opportunity to turn down … More...
Ollie Bardsley (OV2018) tells us about what life is like at University of Cambridge and his path to becoming a Veterinary Surgeon. More...