AR banner
search tips advanced search
You Are To Carry On, Good Luck Z-Zebra

CHAPTER 4

  Charlie's Crew


At RAF Lichfield (27 Operational Training Unit) P/O. Charles Harrison was introduced to the Vickers Wellington twin engined long range medium bomber. Widely used as a night bomber in the early years of the war it was being gradually replaced by the heavy bombers such as the Lancaster. But in order to fly the Wellington Charlie needed a crew and in his letter home dated 3 March 1943 he remarked that: 

'The fellows I have picked for a crew are four of the best that you could wish for and I wouldn't change the job now for anything'

So who were these four men that Charlie held in such high esteem and with whom he loved to fly?  


The Navigator was 27 year old Australian Sgt. William Guthrie (Bill) Schrader (Aus/413434).

Born 20 May 1915 at Walcha, New South Wales, Australia, Bill Schrader was the son and fourth child of William John Schrader and Jessie Frew Schrader nee Morgan. By the time he was ten years old he had acquire another five siblings so from an early age he learned to get along with and be tolerant of other people, a skill that probably served him well as a member of the Royal Australian Air Force and more so later as a prisoner of war in the overcrowded conditions of Stalag 357. 

After leaving the Orandumbie Provisional School in Walcha at the age of 14 he went to train as a Wool Classer but continued his education by attending Petersham Evening Continuation School until he was 18. He passed the Department of Education Intermediate Certificate in all six subjects that he took, achieving a 1st Class Pass in Maths II and in 1936 gained a Merit Pass in the Sydney Technical College, Department of Wool Classing Examination. He also played cricket for the Orandumbie Cricket Club and tennis at Summerhill C of E Courts.

On 25 January 1939 he married Barbara Mary Josephine Hahn and later that year on 28 December his father sadly died at the age of 62. 

Apart from working as a Wool Classer, Bill Schrader also worked as a tractor driver and had also gained some experience of tractor and motor car maintenance.  



 William Guthrie Schrader.  Date unknown but probably taken in the 1930s (Courtesy Mr John Schrader)


Left: William Guthrie Schrader in August 1941 after enlistment in the RAAF  (Courtesy Australian National Archives)

In early 1941 whilst working as a grocer he initially applied to be a Storeman or Mechanic with the RAAF but very soon afterwards on 13 February he applied for aircrew. He was accepted and he enlisted at Sydney on 17 August 1941. On enlistment his description was recorded as: 5'8" tall with fair complexion, blue eyes, fair hair and weighing 137lbs. He was also recorded as having Keloid scars on his sternum.  

He was first posted to 2 ITS (Initial Training School) at Bradfield Park, Sydney and then on 6 October 1941 to 10 EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School) at Temora for basic aviation instruction and pilot training. Unfortunately he was not selected for further pilot training and many years later he explained to his son ' my landings were a bit hairy'. 

On 30 December 1941 he was re-mustered to 2 ITS at Bradfield Park, New South Wales for Observer training.

Three months later on 21 March 1942 he embarked on board HMT Andes to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada where he was posted to 5 AOS (Advanced Observer School) in Winnipeg and in August to the No.1 'Y' Depot at Halifax. On 28 August 1942 he was awarded his Air Navigator Badge and promoted to Sergeant. 

On 27 October he embarked for the UK on board RMS Queen Elizabeth arriving on 5 November. He was first posted to RAF Bournemouth and on 30 November to 1(O)AFU at RAF Wigtown, Scotland for advanced flying training on Wellington Bombers. From there on 19 January 1943 he was posted to 27 OTU (Operational Training Unit) at RAF Lichfield for further training on Wellingtons and where he first encountered Charlie and the rest of the crew. 


The Bomb Aimer and another Australian was P/O. Colin Campbell Bates (Aus/415391). Aged 29, he was the eldest of the crew and known as Col. He was born 14 December 1913 at Fremantle, Western Australia. His wife Mrs Elsie Bates lived at 21 Outram Street, West Perth and his mother Mrs J. Bates at 261 Crawford Road, Inglewood, Western Australia. Enlisted 12 October 1941 at Perth, Western Australia. Lived at Mt Lawley, Western Australia at time of enlistment.


The Wireless Operator was 21 year old Sgt. William Alfred Blackwell (1272014) RAFVR. Bill Blackwell was born in 1922 the son of George Thomas Blackwell and Augusta Blackwell nee Bird of 27 Whitecroft Road, Luton, Bedfordshire.  

                             

               Sgt. William Alfred Blackwell with his family. This photograph was given by Bill Blackwell's mother to May  Ellen Harrison                                                   (mother of Charles Harrison) when they met after their sons were killed. ( Courtesy Mrs Florence Morgan)


Rear Gunner and also Australian was 28 years old Sgt. Ernest James Kerr (Aus/414697). Born on 14 November 1914 at Brisbane, Queensland, Australia he was the son of Simon Richard Kerr and Florence Turner Kerr nee Egan of Gold Creek, Brookfield, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Before enlisting in the RAAF he was a Timber Worker. Enlisted at Brisbane 8 November 1941.


Arriving on the 19 January 1943 the five formed a crew that worked well together and it's clear from Charlie's letter that they certainly got on well with each other. Training at 27 OTU on Wellingtons was intense and despite the winter weather they were expected to fly in all conditions the only exceptions being fog or very heavy snow. During the time at Lichfield the crew had 65 hours non-operational flying experience on Wellingtons. 

The course lasted until 7 April when Bill Schrader went on leave until the 16th. Charlie Harrison is also known to have been on leave in April probably at the same time as Bill since the crew were to meet up again on the 16th at 1662 Conversion Unit. What Bill did with his time on leave is unknown but Charlie took the opportunity to see his family for what ultimately proved to be the last time. 

                                      

                           Charlie with Sis aged 20  ( in Land Army uniform) and Flo aged 18.  The photograph was taken in the garden at                                               the family home 27, Elsiemaud Road, Crofton Park, London on 10/11 April 1943 (Sat/Sun) during Charlie's last leave                                                                                                                                    Courtesy Mrs Florence Morgan


On Friday 16 April 1943 the crew duly resumed training at 1662 Heavy Conversion Unit based at RAF Blyton near Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. They were there to gain experience of flying four engined heavy bombers beginning with the Handley Page Halifax and later the Avro Lancaster. But Halifax and Lancaster bombers had a crew of seven, the additional crew positions being Flight Engineer and Mid Upper Gunner, so to fill these positions the crew acquired the services of two new members. They were:

Sgt. Charles Richard Stanley Morris (1221985). Dick Morris was a Flight Engineer and at the age of 36 became the oldest member of the crew. He was probably born 1906 at Balby, West Riding of Yorkshire the son of Stanley Morris and Gwendoline Sarah Morris nee Nicholson.

Sgt. John Alexander (Jack) Grant (Aus/420661). The 32 year old Mid Upper Gunner brought the Australian contingent arguably to four. Arguably because he was in fact born at Windsor, Berkshire, England on 19 August 1910. The son of Alexander Archibald Grant and Alice Jane Grant the family emigrated to Australia and lived at Wyong, New South Wales, Australia. His wife Mrs Elsie Jean Grant lived at Macquarie Street, Morrisey, New South Wales, Australia. Before enlisting at Sydney on 9 November 1941 Jack Grant was an Interior Decorator.

   

                                    Group Portrait of members of No 97 Course Air Gunners in Stormy Down, Wales on 24 January 1943                                                                                                                                        Courtesy Australian War Memorial.

Back row left to right: 420661 SGT. (LATER FLIGHT SERGEANT) JOHN ALEXANDER GRANT:  unidentified: 414665 Sgt. (later Flying Officer Joseph (Jo) Erb: Sgt. W.J. Brown: Sgt E.J. Davies (possibly 13399 Eric James Davies)

Front Row left to right: unidentified (possibly T. Gowan – 420660 William Herbert Thomas Gowan: 420611 Sgt. (later Pilot Officer) Roy Arthur Brawn, accidentally killed in the United Kingdom 3 November 1943: Sgt. C. Rhodes (possibly 2502209 Charles William Rhodes): 421458 Sgt. (later Flying Officer) Edward Crawford Priest.


The crew now boasted an average age of 28 years at a time when the average age of a Lancaster crew was 22 and continuing its training with 1662 HCU  had 30 hours non-operational flying experience on Halifax and Lancaster bombers. Finally, on 19 May 1943 the crew was posted to 460 (RAAF) Squadron at RAF Binbrook, Lincolnshire. The following day they probably celebrated Bill Schrader's 28th birthday.  

                                                                     



                                                                              Contents                                                             Chapter 5


RW 04.10.2015

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember them. - Laurence Binyon

All site material (except as noted elsewhere) is owned or managed by Aircrew Remembered and should not be used without prior permission.
© 2012 - 2017 Aircrew Remembered
Last Modified: 05 October 2015, 08:56