Flight Sergeant Edward V Laing RAAF - 103 Sqn.
Ted Laing ( pictured above ) came from the town of Denmark in Western Australia and was considered a reliable and friendly individual. After joining the RAAF early in the war he completed his basic pilots training and was posted to Britain where he was eventually posted to No 27 Operational Conversion Unit at Lichfield in July 1942.
Here he crewed up with 2 more Australians, Keith Webber, a navigator and Doug Williams, an air bomber. At this time the crew was also made up of a wireless operator and a rear gunner. It is not certain who the wireless operator was at that time but the rear gunner was Sergeant R Taylor RAF.
On their first cross country night flight flying the Vickers Wellington the aircraft lost it’s starboard airscrew. The Wellington maintained height fairly well and they were able to make an emergency landing at Lichfield ending up near their dispersal in the grass.
In the Sergeants mess afterwards Ted Laing expressed great admiration for their instructor Pilot Officer Pugh, a Welshman who had completed a tour of operations with 103 Squadron . ‘ I saw the airscrew go and just sat with my mouth open, then Puggy Pugh exclaimed “ I say, old boy, I believe we’ve lost a prop!” Pilot Officer Pugh returned to 103 Squadron and was lost on the first operation of his second tour.
On completion of training at Lichfield Ted and his crew were posted to Elsham Wolds to join the 103 Squadron Conversion Flight for training on the 4 engined Handley Page Halifax. Here they were joined by a flight engineer, Sergeant A M Willis RAF, and a mid upper gunner, Sergeant S C Brewer RAF.
At the end of October 1942 news came that the Squadron was to be re-equipped with the Avro Lancaster and the crews converted to their new aircraft in the unbelievable time of 4 weeks.
Ted Laing and his crew flew their first operation on the night of the 28/29th November to Turin. On the return flight over the Alps flying at 18,000 ft the Lancaster slipped over straight on its nose. Laing stood up tugging at the control column to no effect. Suddenly the Lancaster reared straight up and stood on its tail. All 4 engines cut. He then regained control and brought the Lancaster back onto an even keel. This incident was put down to a problem with the automatic pilot.
The crew flew again on the 6/7th December to Mannheim. The most difficult part of the trip was end of the return flight over England where the cloud base was at 800ft.
A mining operation followed on the 8/9th December to the Baltic followed by another trip to Turin on the 9/10th December. Again they had a hazardous return flying back across the Alps losing one engine and then another. They had to fly round the higher peaks at an airspeed of 140 mph. The landing at Elsham Wolds was very dicey when, making a long low landing approach, they touched some tree tops and lost site of the flarepath when a hill obstructed their view. In spite of this they made a safe landing.
They did not fly again until the 11th January 1943 when they took part in an operation to Essen. Laing aborted the operation when the oxygen supply failed to the rear turret and the gunner Sergeant Taylor was nearly unconscious. The navigator, Sergeant Webber, was also feeling the effects of the lack of oxygen as was the air bomber, Sergeant Williams, who fell asleep.
Berlin was the target on the 16/17th January and Laing and his crew took off in very bad weather with low cloud and visibility down to 500 yds. The flight over Germany took place in bright moonlight and the crew were shocked to see the vapour trails that their Lancaster was leaving. Fortunately no fighters were encountered but many other bombers were seen in the clear conditions. The flak was fierce and very accurate and, after bombing, one burst of flak exploded underneath the Lancaster throwing it into a into a dive which cut the engines. Laing was able to recover control and they successfully returned to base.
Another trip to Berlin followed on the 17/18th January but Ted Laing aborted before take off due to a mechanical problem.
At this stage of their tour the crew were due some well earned and much needed leave but this was cancelled on the 21st January as they were required to fly an operation to Essen that night. The navigator, Sergeant Webber, had been unwell for sometime and had recently seen the Medical Officer but still took his place in the crew which consisted of :-
Sgt E V Laing RAAF
Sgt K R Webber RAAF
Sgt D G Williams RAAF
Sgt A M Willis RAFVR
Sgt F L Boyd RAAF
Sgt S C Brewer RAFVR
Sgt R Taylor RAFVR
Ted Laing and his crew were last to take off at 17.43 and one other pilot on the Squadron is reported as stating that one of the engines on Laing’s Lancaster, W4335 PM-F, was causing concern.
Later that evening 8 year old Gerrit Zijlstra was standing outside his house in Enschede, Holland listening to the bombers flying overhead. At about 19.35 local time he saw tracer fire in the night sky to the North of Enschede. He then saw an aircraft on fire coming in his direction. Suddenly the blazing aircraft changed direction and crashed in the middle of the town of Enschede. No civilians were killed but Ted Laing and his crew did not survive and are all buried at the Eastern Cemetery at Enschede.
The Lancaster was shot down by a Bf 110 night fighter of III/NJG1 flown by Feldwebel T Kleinhenz with his radio operator/air gunner Gampe. They were based near to Enschede at Twente and both were killed about a month later.
Ted Laing was highly thought of by all who knew him and considered a very good pilot. His crew was the most popular on the Squadron at that time and their loss was deeply felt by all their colleagues at Elsham Wolds.
Written by David Fell.
Thanks Mr Gerrit Zijlstra for information used in this item. In addition other information has been obtained from ex-103 Squadron navigator Don Charlwood’s excellent book “Journeys into Night”.