"If only my mother could see me now" - Over The Target - one man's story..
Update August 2015: Sadly, after a long illness we were advised that Jim Alan Mallinson has passed away - our condolences to his family and friends. He was buried at Griffith Lawn Cemetery New South Wales, Australia at 10:00hrs on the 20th August 2015. Another great one lost - we remember them all.
Written by Jim Mallinson and submitted to us in February 2013. Original article placed in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Australia magazine in August 2001.
Early in 1944 at 17 OTU. Silverstone, where we were learning what was to be our trade for the ensuing eighteen months, one of the old Wimpeys fell into the North Sea, and our recently chosen Wireless Operator, a young Englishman, (note) became one of the 8000 Bomber Command aircrew to be killed in training accidents.
Charlie's death put the rest of us in a bit of a dilemma, as no uncrewed W/Op was immediately available to replace him. However, the RAF did a lot of things in duplicate, and within 24 hours, two Aussie Flight Sergeants, both W/Ops, turned up out of nowhere and were sniffing around for the W/Op-less aircrew which both had been sent to contact. They introduced themselves as Bob Evans and 'Snow' Perry.
Above left: Jim Mallinson during training. Right: Having received his Air Gunner qualification (courtesy Susan Clasrson-Griffin)
We had a good look at them, and after a bit of cross-examination (our navigator had been studying to be a lawyer before he joined up) we found that Bob was the sole survivor of a crew shot down over Belgium. We figured he'd had his share of luck and, likeable bloke though he was, we decided we'd rather not test it any further in case he had some hex on all his crews. By such a masterful piece of elimination, one Wilbert John Perry, got to be elected to replace Charlie.
It wasn't long before 'Snow' was to reveal himself as being one of those unforgettable blokes with a homespun philosophy all of his own, into which he would often weave his most memorable gem. 'If only my mother could see me now' He had graduated to Flight sergeant with the effluxion of time, having been hospitalised with a broken ankle suffered when he fell down the hold of the ship on his way across the Atlantic. We hoped he was no longer accident-prone.
He was 22 when we met him, whereas the rest of us were either 19 or 20, and all sergeants. He had snowy hair, considered himself ruggedly handsome, and he measured at least two pick across the backside. Depending on prevailing circumstances we called him 'Grandad', 'Willie' or 'Fat Arse'. Though Grandad saw things in reverse, we nursed the old fellow through OTU, the Stirling Conversion Unit at Shepherd's Grove, the Lancaster Finishing School at Feltwell in Norfolk, on to 15 Squadron at Mildenhall (where our Kiwi skipper was tragically killed), another Conversion Unit at Wratting Common, where we met up with our new skipper Jeff Clarson (another Aussie), Feltwell again, and Mildenhall again, where they pissed us off to Tuddenham, where 186 Squadron was forming.
By then with an Aussie pilot, navigator, W/Ops and 2 gunners, plus an English bomb-aimer and a Scottish engineer (whose given name was Jimmy, but of course we called him 'Jock'), we were the only predominately Australian crew on this 3 Group squadron, though some of the other crews were captained by young Australians, including Eric Barton and Dennis Godfrey. Flying from Tuddenham and later on from Stradishall, we were pegging the stipulated 30 ops, but when we got up to about 28, the tour was extended to 35 because too many blokes were being killed in training. We struggled up to 33 - all of us with the twitch by now - and then it was bumped up to 40.
They told us we might get in a few short trips to France, but we continued to fly clean over France, mostly on 'daylights' to the Ruhr. Grandad was heard to say something about what his mother would think if she knew what they were doing to him.
When 'Clarson's Mob', as they called us, went on the night raid on the German Fleet at Kiel on 9th April, 1945, it was our 39th op. as crew on 186 Squadron.
We were coned over the target and Jeff hurled 'M-Mike' (we had decided on 'Mike' instead of the regulation 'Mother' in deference to Grandad) down one of the beams, but an aileron had been damaged by flak, and only a Herculean effort by Jeff and Jock, combined with the structural strength of the Lanc, enabled us to clear the harbour after diving and falling about 16,000 feet. Jock reckoned we overtook the cookie on the way down.
When we finally got back to Stradishall the news was leaked to us that the tour had been dropped back to 30 some hours before we had taken off for Kiel, but some balls-up with signals from Group H.Q. had left us on the night's battle order. You couldn't print Willie's response to that bit of 'intelligence', but it did include a reference to his mother.
Crew from left to right: P/O James (Jock) Hepburn DFM (RAF) Flight Engineer, P/O Dennis Parrish (RAF) Bomb Aimer, P/O Gerald McPherson (RAAF) Rear Gunner. P/O Ron Liversidge (RAAF) Navigator, P/O Jim Mallinson (RAAF) Mid Upper Gunner, Flt./Lt. Jeff Clarson DFC (RAAF) Pilot, W/O Wilbert Perry (RAAF) Wireless Operator.
Pictured with the crew is 'Mike' the crew's Lucky Lancaster XY-M NG354, which was flown for approximately 50% of their missions.
Above L-R: Gerald McPherson, James (Jock) Hepburn, Wilbert (Snowy) Perry, Ron Liversidge, Jeff Clarson, Dennis Parrish, and Jim Mallinson. Apparently, the Pushbikes were very popular and often missing from the front the next morning!
Sometime before Keil, Grandad had got himself married to a pretty little Scottish Sheila, whom he'd met somewhere on a 48. She had fallen for his line about his prosperous goanna farming operation back home. We all went to the wedding, but the best man and groomsman (the two air gunners) along with a few others felt an urgent need for a leak during the service, and we had to halt proceedings whilst this could be attended to out among the tombstones. Willie took time out to join us, but the preacher declined.
Grandad must have enjoyed his honeymoon, because he overstayed his leave, and we carted a cookie and 500 pounders to 'Happy Valley' without him, taking our chances with Bob Evans in the Grandad's seat. The hierarchy took a dim view of that sort of thing, and Willie had to make up his tally. He was taken on by another crew, when their regular W/Op was sick. The kite was 'O-Oboe' and it was destined for Dortmund, but it didn't get there. In fact, it didn't get much further than the end of the runway, where it slammed into the boundary fence and blew up. The explosion nearly knocked the beer out of our hands in the Mess over a mile away. A phone call told us that 'O-Oboe' had blown up and all aboard had perished.
About an hour later when Jock was proposing yet another toast to our old mate, an apparition which looked very similar to old Grandad came barging through the door, peered around in the tobacco smoke, and then we heard it yell, ìIf my old mother could see you pack of bastards getting pissed at my expense.
We knew then that it was in fact the old fellow himself. While insisting that we keep shouting for him until he caught up, and jabbering from a bad bout of the shakes, he related that the regular W/Op from 'O-Oboe' had a medical clearance at the last moment, and kicked Willie out of his possie as the kite was about to leave dispersal. Grandad, who had to trudge back in the dark humping his parachute and Smith and Wesson, was later to express his satisfaction of that young bloke's zeal.
On the night of 6th/7th December 1944 we were threading our way home after bombing the Leuna oil plant at Merseburg when a stream of tracer from a Jerry fighter missed us by what seemed to be about a foot. Both gunners bellowed 'corkscrew port'. And Jeff flung the Lanc into the cumulo-nimbus that we were trying to avoid. It sure put the Jerry off but the ensuing half hour or so was pretty hectic with the kite being bucketed about in the worst electrical storm we were ever to experience.
Description of Corkscrew Manoeuvre
When we'd got through the worst of it the compass and other navigational aids were u/s, and we were lost in a hostile sky, not knowing whether we were heading out of Germany or further into it. There was a bit of technical talk upfront on the inter-com about fixes, astro's Pole stars and things like that, followed by a grunt from Grandad. The next minute there appeared an unbroken line of flickering fire on the starboard beam at point blank range. It seemed that Jerry had found us again, and had brought half a dozen of his mates with him. Wondering why they weren't dead, and forgetting to tell the skipper which way to corkscrew, both gunners blazed back.
The 'line of fire' suddenly cartwheeled about in the sky, and then drifted down behind us. We reckoned we'd downed half the bloody Luftwaffe, but Grandad didn't seem to be impressed. 'Oh Jesus, if only my mother could see what you bloody delinquents have done to me!' Jeff butted in on the conversation, 'What the bloody hell's going on down there, what's the bloody fix, Grandad?'
'I haven't got a bloody fix,' wailed old Willie, 'because those two bastards have just shot off my trailing aerial.'
The gunners thought they were in enough of a fix anyway, and couldn't figure out why he needed any more. Hours later and almost out of fuel, Jeff plonked us down more or less intact (except for an aerial and a few thousand rounds of ammo) on the emergency drome at Woodbridge on the East Anglian coast. Grandad staggered out, eyed us off and stammered, 'My mother might never see me again if you two bloody sprogs don't smarten up.'
We did our best to live up to Grandad's expectations over the next few months and we even let him win at Poker the day he reached the venerable of 23. We continued to drop in on the Third Reich in the meantime, and on 5th March 1945 we went over to hit the coke and benzol plants at Gelsenkirchen for the fourth time in a fortnight.
It was a very heavily defended place, and we had strife each time we went there.
We shed the 500 pounders, but by the end of the bombing run, we hadn't experienced the sudden jump in altitude we had come to expect. The bomb-aimer called up to Jeff that the cookie had failed to release. To our consternation, Jeff wheeled the Lanc around and instructed Dennis and Willie to chop a hole in the floor with the axe and 'find out why the bloody thing was hung up'. We were being shredded by flak as they chopped the hole and Willie shut his eyes as he belted at the coupling that was gumming up the system.
While he was panting and swinging he muttered those poignant words:
'If only my mother could see me now'.
By this time the rest of the bomber stream was nearly out of site, and Grandad proclaimed to all and sundry that even his mother would know there was a dropping zone in the channel for getting rid of hang-ups. He raved on for a while about how the Jerries made it obvious enough that we weren't welcome to fly 'ring-a-rosie' in their bloody country etc. until Jeff butted in again, 'For Christ's sake shut up, Fat Arse, or you'll have to get another fix'. Willie had a lot more to say about there being enough bloody holes in the aeroplane without him having to make any more, but he saved that until we got back to England.
Except for our navigator, Ron Liversidge, we all came home on the 'Stirling Castle' in July 1945. Ron is still missing, but after a few years we gradually made contact again, though Jeff was somewhere in Queensland, I lived in western N.S.W. and Willie and that virtuoso of the Browning machine gun, Gerald McPherson, were in different parts of Victoria. On my trips to have a yarn with Willie, I noticed that he'd gone out of the goanna business, and had gone into rabbits in a pretty big way on his block in the Western District, with a few sheep as a sideline.
In 1982, our engineer, Jock Hepburn and his delightful wife, Catherine, came out from their home in Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides (over 13,000 miles of shark infested waters as Willie used to say) to track us down, though he had no idea where any of us lived. Eventually Jock found Willie, and the old bloke (who was a genuine granddad by them) got Gerald and me organised for a session. Sadly, however, Jeff had died in Cairns the same week that Jock had arrived in Australia.
Grandad was in his element as we yarned all night about the times we had in England, and dicing over the Third Reich. The women, who reckoned they'd heard it all before, retired soon after midnight, even before Jock could tell them how Willie helped him win his medal. As the sun was coming up, Grandad reflected our thoughts of those days with another of his one-liners when men were men, and pansies were flowers. Cheers old mate!
'Clarson's Mob' April 1945
Pictured right: Jim Mallinson on the right with his rear gunner - Gerald McPherson in 2008 at the Australian Bomber Command Memorial luncheon, Canberra, Australia
(Note) We are gathering information on this loss as well and once information is received we will place a page of Remembrance to him as well. His crew members survived that day. He was the only one to lose his life.
N.B. We are now in contact (08.02.2013) Such is the fast pace of this website - with other relatives of this crew. We hope to have a new page of remembrance added to the crew of this ditching in the early part of 1944. Another training loss - another loss not recorded on other websites - why not? It is a training loss - no glory, no crews flying over Berlin, no crews breaking dams, just another loss.....
But it's not just another loss as far as we are concerned! Sgt. Charlie Smallwood will have his page as will many others - in time!