W/C Ken Wallis MBE
A great 103 Squadron pilot, aviator and engineer par excellence and wonderful character recalls his experiences with 103 Squadron at Newton and Elsham Wolds
Recollections of Wing Commander KH Wallis MBE
“My first “tour” of Bomber operations had ended with a third raid on Rostock, on the night of 25th/26th April 1942 and Peggy and I were married on April 29th. My “Best Man” was Ken Winchester who, as my second pilot, was on his first operational flight when “everything went wrong” on the night of 22nd/23rd October 1941 in a raid on Mannheim.
We were severely struck by lightning on the way across the North Sea, had severe engine icing problems and “Flak”, finally being brought to a crash landing by Elsham Wolds, just on top of the quarry face, after having the port wing nearly cut off by a “Lethal Type” barrage balloon cable at Immingham Docks. As soon as we had stopped I opened the upper escape hatch and shouted to all to get out (our radio and intercom had been knocked out by the lightning). Fuel pipelines had been cut through by the cable and there was a risk of fire. However, poor Ken Winchester, who had been standing beside me during the crash landing, was up to this waist in damp earth that had burst in through the nose of the Wellington. We had to put quite a lot of effort into pulling him out. His first “operational experience” had been dramatic. He was soon a Captain. By October 1942 he had been promoted to Flt Lt and awarded a DFC.
On the 15th of October, while flying an Anson from 21 OTU, Moreton-in-the-Marsh I “dropped in” at Elsham Wolds to see Ken and some others from my time there. Ken said, “Call in tomorrow. It’s the last “trip” of my tour tonight, and we’ll have a drink.” (It was possible in those times to have lunch there, and a drop of beer).
The next morning I had to fly a North Sea search in an Anson, looking for a missing crew, with no success. I duly landed at Elsham Wolds to take on some fuel and to enjoy celebrating Ken Winchester’s completion of his “tour”.
He was not there, having been killed, with his five crew, in a Halifax II in a raid on Koln. That was indeed “the last trip of his tour”. There was yet another widow.
I have so many memories of those very hard times for Bomber Command and of the good and bad times at Elsham Wolds.
I found F/L DG Bowker’s memories in a 2007 magazine of interest. He had been second pilot to Ken Winchester & he later mentions his Flight Commander S/L Godfrey, who was there in my time. He was a Wing Commander when he died on the 22nd June 1942.
I know that I was recommended for an immediate DFC following the balloon cable incident on the night of 22nd October 1941. The WAAF officer in Operations let Section Officer, Peggy Stapley, my fiancée to be, see and copy the citation.
I think the response was “re-write at end of tour”, but that was never done. For some reason I had been the “Squadron Instructor” & “Engine Control Officer”. That meant that I had to check out second pilots, with a few night take-offs and landings before they became a Captain.
Also, as “Engine Control Officer”, I had to advise on how to economise on fuel, when to use “M” or “S” supercharger etc. I did have some problems in this and some other tasks. I may have upset some of those “in authority” and who might have made further submissions for the DFC.
On one occasion Group Captain Constantine, the Station Commander, said, “Come up with me. I’ll show you that a Wellington will stay up on one engine.” (At this time we were losing Wellington 1cs as they tried to struggle home on one engine, after throwing parachutes and every spare thing overboard after the working engine heated up and lost power. Aircraft were just keeping above the sea in “ground effect” and with the benefit of the cool damp air. However, they could not lift over the seawalls and some were crashing on the then mined beaches. Hence, I was getting the blame for not teaching crews to stay up on one engine!)
I stood beside “Connie” as he climbed to 5,000 feet, shut down one engine and feathered the airscrew. He then said something like, “There you are, it maintains height on one engine!” I asked him to continue flying on for a bit longer and he did so, obviously disapproving of my request.
I could see the cylinder head temperature gauge showing a steady rise. Again “Connie” said it would stay up on one & I asked him to continue on one. Eventually, I got the satisfaction of seeing “Connie” unable to maintain height & he soon had to start the other engine to save the situation. I don’t think that improved his opinion of me!
Also, on December 22nd 1941, I was ordered to fly P/O Johnnie Ward (who had been my first second pilot & who had just survived by parachute, as we all did when suicidally trying to land in thick fog with no fuel showing on the gauges, after Ops on Frankfurt, on the night of 20th/21st September 1941. We had made several attempts to land at Binbrook & both engines had suddenly stopped, but fortunately just on a climb), together with his crew to collect a Wellington from Colerne.
The weather became increasingly awful & I had to fly dangerously low. A bird-strike occurred, with some quite large bird & the port airscrew spinner was damaged and out of balance, with much vibration.
I eventually saw a wet grass airfield ahead and landed, but the brakes had no effect on wet grass. The Wellington slid on through a far hedge and crossed a road before coming to rest! There was some slight damage to the airscrew & the next day we went by train to Colerne & then flew back in Wellington 1c 1061, that day. I noted in my logbook “Aircraft seen to crash & burn NW of Oxford.” That was not unusual in those days and nights.
Sadly, Johnnie Ward was shot down in flames in the first raid on Lubeck on the night of 28th/29th March 1942. I returned from a few days leave & met Section Officer Peggy Stapley at the Saracen’s Head in Lincoln on my way back to Elsham Wolds. She told me the news of Ward having sent a radio message saying they were being attacked by a night-fighter & were on fire, the fighter was returning for a further attack.
Little did I know, that in 1967, I would be flying my James Bond’s “Little Nellie”, at an air display in Lubeck to celebrate its 50th anniversary as an airfield, or that I would enjoy quite a few drinks with General Adolf Galland & that he would enjoy sitting in “Little Nellie” for a photo.
In all the above I have diverted from the explanation of why I may have become undeserving of that further DFC citation. Only a few years ago I was contacted by someone who had somehow gained access to some official records concerning my “overshooting” when making that emergency landing on wet grass at what turned out to be Watchfield.
The records state, “Pilot not to blame. Officer who authorised the flight should have obtained the latest Met. information before authorising the flight & should have given the pilot more definite instructions & should not have left it to the pilot’s discretion. Officer responsible notified.”
I still have very strong memories of the Wellingtons at Elsham Wolds. I “got through” three on operations, having to bail out when both engines stopped while trying to land in thick fog, the balloon cable encounter, & being seriously on fire over Emden. In January 1942, when we were doing the first experiments for what later became the “Pathfinder Force” of Bomber Command, we were trying “lighting the way to the target”, by dropping reconnaissance flares from Emden to the target at Bremen. The flares were carried on the bomb racks beneath a full load of 4.5lbs incendiaries.
We did not know that our bomb doors had iced up & that one of the flares, when released & its time fuse activated, was retained in the bomb bay. It ignited with a violent explosion when blown from the flare tube & the intense heat of the magnesium flare ignited the incendiary load. The bulkhead between the bomb bay and the cockpit was blown into the cockpit, which was immediately filled with a blinding light & was filled with smoke. We attracted immense attention from flak & I thought we had “had it”. However, I pulled the jettison button & the whole flaming load fell away but leaving all the fabric on the underside of the fuselage on fire. Eventually all the fire ceased & we got back to Elsham Wolds, with a bare skeleton of geodetics showing & the bomb beams melted.
I know that a Squadron photo was taken of that sad “Wimpy”. She was Wellington 1c L7819 & the event occurred on the night of January 21st 1942. I am pleased to have been given photos of our Wimpy’s remains from the bailout & the balloon cable incident; but I was never given a photo of the serious fire damage, though I know photos were taken of it. I, therefore wonder whether, RAF Elsham Wolds may have acquired any pictures of that incident?
Another matter of those nights now of some interest is that of the leaflets that were dropped in vast numbers down the flare chute over Germany and France. We were not permitted to read them, let alone retain one! However, when launched down the flare chute in the Wimpy some leaflets got blown back up the chute and lodged in the geodetics. I took an interest in helping to clear them from the Wimpy the next day, and somehow it seems I still have some! At the time we were supposed to be saving paper, by re-using envelopes for letters etc. Yet we managed to make some special leaflets of high quality shiny card. We may have dropped them in a raid on Hamburg. It was certainly concerned with the “U” Boat warfare & volunteers for the “U” Boat war against England. I don’t know what affect it had on German morale. We dropped enormous numbers of leaflets over France on the low-level raid on Matford Works at Poissy, near Paris. The first time I ever saw the Eiffel Tower I looked up at it from the Wimpy after our bombs had dropped & we were low over Paris, in the moonlight. I was just able to avoid hitting the Eiffel Tower.” –
Written by the late Ken Wallis MBE
Footnote - If anyone has a photo of Wellington 1c L7819 following her fire damage of Jan 21st 1942 could they please let me have a copy. I will be very interested to see it. Ken Wallis would have been as well. David Fell