25.02.1942 No. 14 Squadron Blenheim IV V5657 -O F/Sgt. John Trueman Willis DFM
Operation: Martuba, Libya
Date: 25 February 1942 (Wednesday)
Unit: No. 14 Squadron. Motto: 'I spread my wings and keep my promise', an extract from the Koran suggested by the Emir of Transjordan.
Badge: A winged plate charged with a cross throughout and shoulder pieces of a suit of armour - approved by King George VI in May 1937. The badge represents a crusader in association with the Cross of St George because of the Squadron's close First World War ties with Diospolis, Palestine, the reputed burial place of the Saint, and its location in the Middle East at the time of submission to the Chester Herald.
Type: Bristol Blenheim IV
Code: Call sign "O"
Base: Landing Ground 116 near Fuka, Egypt
Location: near Bir Hakheim, Libya
Pilot: F/Sgt. John Trueman Willis DFM 742094 later 120485 RAFVR Age 23 - Safe and uninjured
Obs: Sgt. Eric William Barr MiD 402240 RNZAF Age 24 - Safe but injured
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Harold Philip Tew 942546 RAFVR Age 33 - Killed
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Rommel's second offensive began at El Agheila, Libya on 21 January 1942 and though he made rapid advances he was eventually stopped by the Allies on 4 February at Gazala some 40 miles west of Tobruck, the new front extending for 50 miles in a south easterly direction from Gazala to Bir Hakheim. From then until the middle of May although there were no major engagements the bomber squadrons were kept busy in support of the army, bombing roads, vehicles, troop concentrations, airfields and the ports of Benghazi and Tripoli.
REASON FOR LOSS
Blenheim V5657 took off from Landing Ground 116 some 12 miles west of Fuka in Egypt detailed to make an independent attack on Martuba airfield in Libya a flight of about 350 miles west. Before reaching the target the Blenheim was hit by anti-aircraft fire and severely damaged. After jettisoning his bombs F/Sgt. Willis turned for home but on the return journey his aircraft caught fire and he gave the order to abandon. John Willis and his Australian Observer Eric Barr both baled out near Bir Hakeim 80 miles south west of Martuba and fortunately over allied held territory. John Willis was uninjured but on landing Eric Barr suffered a broken ankle for which he was treated for two or three months at a New Zealand hospital in the Delta. Pilot John Willis was uninjured but Air Gunner. Wireless Operator Harold Tew however was unable to bale out and was killed in the crash at about 20.30 hours.
For his actions in this and previous operations John Willis was awarded the DFM, promulgated in the London Gazette of 18 September 1942. The citation reads:
"Throughout this airman has displayed great skill and determination. On several occasions he has successfully completed a bombing mission in extremely bad weather. One night in February 1942 whilst bombing Martuba landing ground his aircraft was severely damaged by anti-aircraft fire which rendered the fore and aft control useless. By a brilliant and determined effort he succeeded in flying back to friendly territory before he and his crew were compelled to abandon the aircraft and escape by parachute".
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) Fl/Lt. John Trueman Willis DFM was born 27 October 1918 at Oxford the son of Gordon A. Willis (a Motor Mechanic) and Ethel E. Willis nee Trueman of 188 London Road, Headington, Oxford. John Willis joined No. 14 Squadron as a Sergeant pilot direct from No. 4 Flying Training School at RAF Habbaniya, Iraq in June 1941.
742094 F/Sgt. J.T. Willis was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 4 March 1942 (London Gazette 12 May 1942) and promoted to Flying officer (war subs) in 1 October 1942 (London Gazette 12 March 1943). Whilst a prisoner of war and on 4 March 1944 he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant (war subs) (London Gazette 24 March 1944).
He was the sole survivor of his aircraft Marauder FK366 shot down over Tunis on 19 December 1942 and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria - L3. To read about this loss click here
John Trueman Willis died at Birkenhead, Cheshire in 1998 at the age of 90.
Sgt. Eric William Barr MiD was born c 1917 the third son of Stewart and Waihuia Margaret Barr, of "Gladsome Lodge" Upper Riccarton, Canterbury, New Zealand.
He attended Christchurch Boys High School between 1932 and 1935. He was a keen hurdler, cross country runner, sprinter and rugby player. In July 1940 he reported to RNZAF Levin for Observer training. In December 1940 his engagement to Vonnie Elveen Wilson of Christchurch, was announced. He was killed when flying as the Observer of the crew of Marauder KV366 captained by the above F/O. John Trueman Willis (the sole survivor) that crashed on 19 December 1942 shot down over Tunis. To read about this loss click here
On 2 June 1943 it was promulgated in the London Gazette that Eric Barr had been Mentioned in Dispatches.
Sgt. Harold Philip Tew was born 4 October 1909 at Stockport the son of John Percy Tew (an Organist and Music Teacher) and Elizabeth Maud Tew nee Alsop later of Bare, Morecambe, Lancashire. In 1911 the family lived at the home of Harold's grandparents John William and Ann Tew at Stockport Road, Marple, Cheshire. He had brothers James Kendrick Tew (1911-2005) Geoffrey Alsop Tew (1912-1946), John Humphrey Tew (1914-2000) and a sister, Christine Maude Tew (1918-2005).
He is commemorated on the Marple War Memorial and the Marple All Saints Church War Memorial
BURIAL DETAILS AND EPITAPH
Sgt. Harold Philip Tew. Details of his original burial are not known but he was re-interred at Knightsbridge War Cemetery, Acroma, Libya - Grave reference 8.G.4.
His epitaph reads
To live in hearts
Of those we leave behind
Is not to die.
He gave his all
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - January 2017
With thanks to the sources quoted below.