Tom Prickett's crew 103 Sqdn. 1943
I am Joe Pinguey, the nephew of F/O Leslie Pulfrey (pictured right), killed 16/17th June 1944 whilst on his second tour with 550 Sqdn.
Leslie joined 103 Sqn and Tom Prickett's crew in March 1943 after flying 2 operations with S/L O'Donaghue to Duisburg and Berlin and one operation with Sgt Pettigrew to Pilsen. He then flew a further 18 trips with Prickett's crew including Essen, St Nazaire, Dortmund, Cologne, Turin, Hamburg, Milan and Peenemunde.
In 1999 after researching my uncle's RAFVR record I have the great pleasure to meet up with John "Paddy" Torrans at Barnetby Village Hall where the RAF Elsham Wolds Association were holding their annual reunion..
After meeting Paddy Torrans who was Flight Engineer with the crew and after listening to some of his exploits whilst serving with my uncle I attended the Reunion on a regular basis spending many a weekend in Scunthorpe listening to his remarkable stories. At one Reunion I met Bill Langstaff, the Navigator in this crew who had flown over from Canada to attend the Reunion and visit Paddy.
I made contact by letter with Tom Prickett the pilot and Red Millar the mid upper gunner who was also from Canada and they praised the excellent comradeship and expertise of the crew who remained good friends throughout their tour and for many years afterwards.
On the 8th Sept 1998, 54 years after the death of my uncle, Bill Langstaff and his wife visited the war grave at WISCH (VARSSEVELD) GENERAL CEMETERY in Holland to pay their respects to F/O Les Pulfrey. The memories of this crew and the thousands like them should never be forgotten
Air Chief Marshal Sir Thomas Prickett KCB DSO DFC
Tom Prickett was a prominent and popular RAF Elsham Wolds member for many years and regularly attended Reunions up until 2000. He had a long and distinguished career in the RAF and passed away in 2010 aged 96.
Prickett had a very wordy obit in the Daily Telegraph but I have reproduced this in full below with a few minor edits of my own.
“Air Chief Marshal Sir Thomas Prickett, who has died aged 96, distinguished himself as a bomber pilot during the Second World War and later played a prominent role in the air planning for Operation Musketeer, the ill-fated Suez operation of 1956.
In July of that year Prickett was attending the Imperial Defence College when he and two colleagues were suddenly sent to the air ministry to form the planning staff for the Allied Air Task Force for Operation Musketeer.
In great secrecy they took over a basement office in the ministry, earning the nickname "the troglodytes". Prickett was appointed chief of staff to the air commander, Air Marshal Denis Barnett. From the outset, Prickett and his colleagues found themselves working in a vacuum, with no clear idea of the political aim. At the insistence of the prime minister, Anthony Eden, and the Foreign Office, many senior officers were kept in the dark, severely hampering military planning.
Prickett and his colleagues spent three months devising air plans and aiming to simplify the unnecessarily complex command structure – which Prickett described as being like something out of Alice in Wonderland.
In September Prickett moved to Episkopi, in Cyprus, to prepare the air planning cell. He had much sympathy for the resident headquarters staff and their commander-in-chief, who had been sidelined throughout the planning phase. As for the Suez operation itself, he was adamant that politics continually interfered with the detailed conduct of the military action. While he praised the British military effort and the excellent co-operation of the French air staff, he summarised the event as a "monumental political cock-up".
In a letter to The Daily Telegraph in September 2002, Prickett detected similarities between Suez and the situation in Iraq. He concluded his letter with the words: "The present crisis has all the ingredients of confused and conflicting political and military aims. Is history about to repeat itself?"
Thomas Öther Prickett was born at Lindfield, Sussex, on July 31 1913 and educated at Haileybury. From 1932 he spent five years in India working on sugar estates with Begg Sutherland, first as an assistant and later as manager. During this period he also served as a trooper with the Bihar Light Horse, of the Indian Army (Auxiliary).
In October 1937 Prickett joined the RAF and trained as a pilot. Assessed as above average, he was immediately selected to be a flying instructor, a role he fulfilled for the next three years, first in England and then in Southern Rhodesia. Anxious to fly operations, he got himself sent to Egypt where in 1941 he joined No 148 Squadron flying Wellington bombers.
Prickett flew on his first bombing operation a few days after joining the squadron, when he attacked Benghazi, a target that would become very familiar to him. Over the next few months the fortunes of the hard-pressed British and Allied forces fluctuated greatly as they strove to meet the many demands placed on them. The ill-equipped bomber squadrons of the Desert Air Force were there to provide support.
Flying from forward landing grounds, Prickett and his crews attacked enemy ports, supply depots and airfields in North Africa. In November and December 1941 No 148 was ordered to support British forces in Greece, and Prickett dropped supplies on Crete and twice bombed Piraeus. In March 1942 the squadron was diverted to support the British evacuation from the Aegean, and he bombed the airfields on Crete that had just been occupied by the Germans.
The following month Prickett led a small detachment to Malta, from where they attacked the airfields in Sicily. After returning to the desert, he flew more operations and, after completing his thirty-second and final one on July 13, he was awarded a DFC.
Prickett then spent six months in the United States as a senior flying instructor at No 5 British Flying Training School based at Cleweston, Florida. Then, in April 1943, he returned to operational flying, joining No 103 Squadron as a flight commander. After just one flight in a Lancaster to familiarise himself with the aircraft, he flew his first operation, a 10-hour sortie to bomb the docks at La Spezia.
In the spring of 1943, Bomber Command's main offensive had begun, and Prickett joined No 103 Squadron as the Battle of the Ruhr got under way. He bombed the heavily defended major cities of the Ruhr with occasional sorties to Turin.
On the night of July 24 he took off for the first of four devastating raids against Hamburg. Accompanying him for experience was a major of the Royal Artillery serving at HQ No 1 Bomber Group. On their return the major wrote a detailed report highlighting the effectiveness of the "window" radar counter measures which had been employed for the first time. For the rest of his life, Prickett was deeply affected by the devastation and suffering caused by the Hamburg raids.
On August 17 he joined 595 other aircraft on the successful attack against the German research establishment at Peenemünde, where the V1 and V2 were being developed and tested. After 30 operations he was rested and awarded an immediate DSO, the citation recording his "unflinching determination and magnificent courage and outstanding example to the squadron".
In October 1943 Prickett returned to the United States for staff duties with the RAF delegation in Washington, where he had particular responsibility for the bilateral aircrew flying training programme.
During the immediate postwar years Prickett was an instructor. He then converted to jet fighters, commanding the fighter bases at Tangmere and at Jever in northern Germany. He also served on the staff of the Middle East Air Force, and in 1956 was selected to attend the Imperial Defence College.
After Suez he served in the air ministry's policy branch before becoming the senior air staff officer at No 1 (Bomber) Group. This was at the time of the introduction of the Vulcan; he flew the aircraft himself, and in May 1960 led a formation of Vulcans on a tour of South American capitals.
There followed two important appointments at the air ministry – in the operations and plans divisions. There was considerable restructuring of the RAF in the aftermath of Duncan Sandys's Defence White Paper of 1957, and Prickett's experience and calm approach proved highly welcome.
In September 1964 Prickett was appointed Commander-in Chief Near East Air Force; Commander British Forces Near East; and Administrator, British Sovereign Bases in Cyprus.
In Cyprus, his outgoing personality and charisma won him the trust of Archbishop Makarios; aside from more weighty matters, Prickett persuaded Makarios to accept the setting-up of a wildlife reserve throughout the Sovereign Bases to protect the huge numbers of migrant birds. Prickett also became a personal friend of King Hussein of Jordan, who admired not only his military record but also his excellent horsemanship and enthusiasm for polo. The British Army in the Mediterranean also took warmly to their RAF C-in-C.
On his return to Britain in 1967 he was appointed C-in-C Transport Command. A year later he helped to transform it into Air Support Command, when he was given increased responsibility for long-range strategic and tactical air support and assault roles.
Prickett's appointment in July 1968 as air member for supply and organisation gave him a seat on the Air Force Board as the RAF was introducing a new generation of "fast jet" aircraft after the successive cancellations of the TSR 2 and its replacement, the American-built F-111.
He fought his corner astutely (and at times outspokenly) when dealing with both his peers and with politicians. On the cancellation of the F-111, he wrote directly to the responsible minister, reminding him of his privately-given undertaking a year or so earlier, that he (the minister) would resign should anything happen to derail that aircraft. The letter was never answered.
In October 1970 Prickett took voluntary retirement from the RAF, following an invitation from the Duke of Richmond to assist in the redevelopment of the Goodwood estate. He was asked to regenerate the airfield and the motor racing circuit, both of which he accomplished with style, and he gave valuable assistance in the development of the estate's international equestrian events.
A large, powerful man, Prickett was a strong personality with considerable presence. Held in great esteem by his staff, he was known for his warm and generous nature.
He was appointed CB in 1957 and KCB in 1965.
Prickett's fine horsemanship derived from his days playing polo in his pre-RAF days, when he served with the Indian cavalry. In later life he was an active president of the RAF Equitation Association, taking a particularly keen interest in its annual championships. He was also a passionate sailor, and had part-ownership of a racing yacht of the X-1 design.
Tom Prickett, who died on January 23 2010 married his American wife, Betty, in 1942. She died in 1984, and the following year he married Shirley Westerman, who survives him with a son and a daughter of his first marriage. “
Tom Prickett’s crew featured several other well known and popular RAFEW Assn Members.
L to R - Tom Prickett, Red Millar, Sir Hugh Constantine (RAF Elsham Wolds CO 41/42), John “Paddy” Torrans, Robert “ Doc Henderson (103 Sqdn Medical Officer) and Bill Langstaff
Flight Engineer – John Paddy Torrans.
Paddy was a long time member of the RAFEW Association, very well known and very popular. He came from Northern Ireland and flew with 103 Sq in the summer of 1943 as Engineer in Tom Prickett's crew.
In August 1944 Paddy was shot down with 582 Sqn on his second tour but managed to evade capture and reach safety in the Allied Zone.
Post-war he remained in the RAF and was well known throughout R.A.F. Transport Command as a fine Flight Engineer, Paddy said that the most terrifying thing he had suffered was standing in the open on Christmas Island hearing and feeling an atom bomb being exploded a few miles away. After a few bevies with the boys he soon recovered.
Navigator – Bill Langstaff
Canadian Bill Langstaff was another popular and prominent Association Member. After the war he continued his career in the RCAF retiring at the rank of Group Captain. Below is Bill’s obituary from the Spring 2005 newsletter.
Group Captain W. C. Langstaff, DFC CD.
Bill was born 25 January 1914, in Bangor, Ontario. He attended school in Mountainview and later Belleville Collegiate Institute. On leaving school he worked as an electrician and for Ontario Tobacco.
He enlisted in the RCAF in Kingston in Feb 1940 and began his training at the “Horse Palace” in Toronto that same year. He completed ITS and No 3 AOS in Regina and then B and GS at Mossbank, Saskatewan on Fairey Battles and experienced his first crash landing. Astro training for 6 weeks followed at Rivers Manitoba.
As was not uncommon at the time, newly commissioned P/O Langstaff navigated a Ferry Command Liberator overseas from Montreal and then joined a Wellington OTU at Litchfíeld, England prior to his posting, as an Acting F/O, to 150 Squadron based at Snaith, Yorkshire on July 22, 1941. He remained with 150 Squadron until 10 July, 1942 when he completed his first tour of ops/30 missions.
F/L Langstaff was then attached to the Air Ministry where he was involved in PR visits to war production factories and motivational meetings with the workers. There was then a short period with 460 Squadron flying Halifaxes.
He was then reduced in rank to F/O for declining a transfer to 6 Bomber Group. He went to 1656 HCU at RAF Lindholme training crews on GEE during conversion onto Lancasters.
Bill returned to ops with 103 Squadron for a second tour in 1943 and flew and a further twenty trips with Tom Prickett, Paddy Torrans and crew.
In September 43, Acting S/L Langstaff became the Base Navigation Leader at RAF Lindholme. In November, Bill transferred to the RCAF and was returned to Canada in charge of a group of airmen many of whom he later learned were designated Lack of Moral Fibre (LMF). His Base Commander at Lindholme, A/C Banting, had given him a personal letter to deliver to A/M Breadner, then RCAF CAS, and Bill was invited to lunch with the A/M and the Air Staff at Chateau Laurier. Shortly after he was assigned to PR - Bond Drive - duties at the Robert Simpson store in Toronto where he gave talks on a display of strike photos.
He was then transferred to the Central Navigation School at Rivers, Manitoba for a period but was soon moved to the Trenton Navigation Visiting Flight checking the standards at all of the Air Observer Schools. Then in October, 1944 as Acting W/C Bill was posted to Directorate of Air Training in Air Force HQ where he remained until the war ended.
Staff College followed and then it was as CO of RCAF Station Summerside in 1947 as a S/L as 'Reversion Day' had taken place. S/L Walt Davy was CO of the Nav School and S/L Gil Gillespie of the Central Navigation School. Bill remained here until 1949 when he was promoted to W/C and returned to AFHQ on the Navigation Training Staff. Bill then was assigned to personnel duties with Air Material Command and did a similar tour with Air Transport Command at Lachine.
In 1960 he was promoted to G/C and took up duties as the Air Attache in Cairo from which he retired in 1964.
Following retirement Bill was employed for 5 years with AIC St Jean, Quebec but then retired back to the family farm just outside Belle-Jean. He was also busy with an insurance company and active with the Air Force Association.
Bill gave up active farming in 2000 at the age of 86 and, with his wife Edie, spent time visiting his family (his eldest son lived in the Bahamas) fishing and writing.
Acknowledgements. The contents for this item came from various sources and were edited/written up by David Fell