12.08.1944 No. 108 Squadron Beaufighter VIF ND180 LD-? W/O. Gordon Archibald Port
Operation: Air Test
Date: 12 August 1944 (Saturday)
Unit: No. 108 Squadron Motto: "Viribus contractis" ("With gathered strength")
Badge: An oak leaf. The unit was formed at Stonehenge and it adopted an oak leaf as a badge being symbolic of strength and age. Authority: HM King George VI, July 1938.
Type: Bristol Beaufighter Mark VIF
Base: RAF Idku, Egypt
Location: In the Mediterranean Sea near Idku, Egypt
Pilot: W/O. Gordon Archibald Port 1333315 RAFVR Age 23 - Killed
Nav: F/Sgt. William Thomas Barlow 1060892 RAFVR Age 23 - Killed
On 4 August 2016 Aircrew Remembered was contacted by Simon King, Match Secretary of the Bury and District Table Tennis League in Lancashire requesting our help concerning Bill Barlow, a notable Table Tennis player of the club in the late 1930s and after whom their Men's Singles Championship Cup is named. Bill sadly lost his life in 1944 whilst serving in the RAFVR and as the Cup is now being restored Simon was keen to learn more about the circumstances of his death. Aircrew Remembered, as always, was happy to oblige.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Having moved from Malta to RAF Idku in Egypt on 26 July 1944 the whole energies of 108 Squadron were devoted to moving to Aleppo, Turkey* as part of 438 Force with the greatest possible speed and with the most complete equipment possible considering the transport available.
The squadron had had various rôles in its history but since March 1943 had been a night fighter squadron operating Bristol Beaufighters. Although some personnel had already begun to move to Aleppo the aircraft of the squadron with a crew for each one remained at Idku together with a skeleton ground party and a small pack up for air lift. A large amount of servicing work was being carried out on the aircraft which had to be kept in top condition and ready for an immediate move. The ground crews were thus occupied, the air crews being kept busy with the ensuing air tests as preparations to move were intensified.
14 crews of the squadron's 21 along with 14 aircraft remained at Idku. The crews and aircraft were divided into three Flights with W/O. Port and F/Sgt. Barlow being one of the five crews of "A" Flight which was code named "SINGA".
The squadron record mention only three incidents of note at this time all of them involving failed engines; fortunately the pilots of the first two landed safely. The squadron Summary of Events records that:
"Aug 1. F/O. Bradley executed a masterly single engine landing when one of his engines failed when on the circuit"
"Aug 8. F/O. Maloney made a very fine one engine landing when his port engine seized on the final approach"
The third incident however was to have fatal consequences for the crew of pilot Gordon Port and navigator Bill Barlow. The Summary of Events records that:
"Aug 12. Aircraft ND180 flown by W/O. Port (Pilot) and F/Sgt. Barlow (Nav) crashed into the sea while attempting to go round again with one engine feathered. The pilot while doing a single engine approach was informed by flying control that only one wheel was down, and after retracting it, he eventually lost height and stalled while attempting to ditch. Both members of the crew were killed"
Three days later:
"Aug 15 W/O. Port and F/Sgt. Barlow were buried in Alexandria today." (See below for further details of the burial)
AND SOMEWHAT POIGNANTLY ON THE SAME DAY AS THE FUNERAL
"A lecture was given by the CO on forced landings and ditchings of Beaufighters."
"Aug 28 A Court of Enquiry commenced on the crash involving W/O. Port and F/Sgt. Barlow under the Presidency of S/Ldr. Lax of 162 Squadron"
* The squadron Summary of Events refers alternatively to Aleppo and Turkey rather than Syria. This is presumably because after the First World War parts of the old Ottoman province of Aleppo had been ceded to Turkey.
We appeal to anyone with further information and/or photographs to please contact us via our HELPDESK
THE BARLOW CUP
In the late 1930s Bill Barlow and his good friend Vernon Peatfield had become notable Table Tennis players recognised both locally and at national level and were featured in a few magazine articles from 1938 and 1939. Vernon & Bill were also doubles partners and forged a formidable team making many finals together. In addition to being doubles partners they were frequently opponents. Bill won the open singles tournament in Bury in 1937/38 and in the 1938/39 season Vernon & Bill were opponents in the open singles final with Vernon being victorious. Bill also won the doubles with J.Taylor in 1939.
Bill won many other championships elsewhere including being Yorkshire Junior Champion in 1938/39.
When The Stand All Saints premises at Whitefield, were commandeered for war services Bill Barlow came to their rescue and allowed them to play their matches at his home under the name of Huntroyd TTC.
In 1947 Vernon Peatfield presented a cup to the Bury League in honour of his great friend who had been killed during the war. The cup bears the following inscription.
The Barlow Cup.
Men’s Singles Championship.
The Bury and District Table Tennis League by A.V. Peatfield.
In memory of W.T. (Bill) Barlow who gave his life for his country on 12th August 1944
whilst serving with The Royal Air Force
The Barlow Cup photographed after restoration in 2018
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
W/O. Gordon Archibald Port was born in 1921 at Strood, Kent the son of Archibald Stanley E.V. Port and Dorothy Laura Port nee Mackie later of Gravesend, Kent. He had brothers Donald G. Port, born at Strood in 1919 and Stuart J. Port born at Strood in 1924.
F/Sgt. William Thomas (Bill) Barlow was born in 1921 at Bury, Lancashire the son of James Barlow and Florence Barlow nee Cunliffe. He had a brother, Edward Stanley Barlow born at Bury in 1923, and a sister Dorothy May Cunliffe Barlow born at Bury in 1933. In early 1943 Bill married Vera Gibson at Heywood, Lancashire and lived at Whitefield, Bury. There are no known children of the marriage. Vera remarried in 1946 but sadly died at Warrington in 1951 aged just 29.
Edward Barlow also served in the Royal Air Force as a Sergeant Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and sadly killed on a training exercise when his aircraft, Halifax V LK698 SE-W of 431 Squadron and Captained by W/OII. Hugh Patrick Morrison R/140271 (RCAF), crashed at Coatham Stob, approximately 2 miles north of RAF Middleton St. George, County Durham on 1 May 1944. Edward was buried at Harrogate (Stonefall) Cemetery, North Riding of Yorkshire.
Bill and Edward are both commemorated on the Whitefield War Memorial, Bury, Lancashire.
BURIAL DETAILS AND EPITAPHS
Warrant Officer Gordon Archibald Port and Flight Sergeant William Thomas Barlow were buried at the Alexandria (Chatby) Military and War Cemetery on Tuesday 15 August 1944. The funeral was attended by Squadron Leader Walker, two officers and sixteen NCOs.
W/O. Gordon Archibald Port was interred in Grave 177. Plot N
His epitaph reads:
And affectionate memories
Of our dear son
F/Sgt. William Thomas (Bill) Barlow was interred in Grave 164. Plot N
His epitaph reads:
Is our greatest treasure
For in our hearts
He will live for ever
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for Bury Table Tennis League and all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - August 2016
With thanks to Gordon Lomax (brother-in-law of Bill Barlow) for providing family photographs and personal family details.
Thanks also to the sources below: