30.07.1942 No. 1 OADU Wellington 1C HX580 P/O. Horace Spencer Wills "Bill" Fordyce
Operation: Relocation Flight
Date: 30 July 1942 (Thursday)
Unit: No. 1 OADU (Overseas Aircraft Despatch Unit)
Type: Vickers Wellington Mk 1C
Code: Not known
Base: RAF Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire
Location: Mediterranean Sea in the Mersa Matruh area, Egypt
Pilot: P/O. Horace Spencer Wills "Bill" Fordyce Aus/400396 RAAF Age 28 - PoW No. 2365 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria - L3 (1)
Pilot: Sgt. Leonard William Mears 1376790 RAFVR - PoW - details not known (2)
Obs: Sgt. Richard Arthur Greene R66340 RCAF Age 26 = PoW - details not known (3)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. George Maxwell 1365019 RAFVR - PoW - details not known (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. George William Sergio Crompton Aus/404207 RAAF Age 27 - Missing believed killed (5)
We appeal to anyone with further information and/or photographs to please contact us via our HELPDESK
Formed at Williamtown, New South Wales, on 10 July 1941 No 458 Squadron's initial complement of 37 ground crew sailed for the UK where they were based at RAF Holme on Spalding Moor in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Equipped with Vickers Wellington Mark IV medium bombers the squadron drew personnel from many different countries, with many coming from Britain, Canada and New Zealand, as well as Australia.
Joining the squadron on 19 October 1941 from No. 21 Operational Training Unit at RAF Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire, was 27 year old Australian pilot Bill Fordyce. He was one of twelve airmen, consisting of pilots, observers and wireless operators that had been posted from No. 21 Operational Training Unit, but although the squadron took part in its first operation the very next day, apart from practice flying, it was to be three months before Bill's expertise was called upon.
In the above picture, all except Sgt. Ricketts were posted to No. 458 Squadron from No. 21 OTU on 19 October 1941.
On 20 October 1941, the squadron detailed 10 crews for night raids against ports at Emden, Antwerp and Rotterdam. One aircraft, Wellington Z1218 piloted by Sgt. P.J.M. Hamilton, failed to return the sole survivor of the crew being rear gunner Sgt. P.E.G.A. Brown who became a prisoner of war.
Bombing operations over France and Germany as well as mine laying sorties along enemy coasts continued until the end of January 1942 when the squadron was withdrawn from Bomber Command and ordered to the Middle East.
During that time, Bill flew his one and only operation, on 6 January 1942, flying as 2nd Pilot of Wellington Z1215 captained by P/O. K. Moore along with four more aircraft against battleships at Brest. Unable to locate the target, Z1215 returned to base with its bomb load. Of the other four aircraft despatched, only two bombed the target, one crashed shortly after take off killing two crew members and injuring the other four and the fourth aircraft also failing to locate the target.
The relocation to the Middle East did not go well to say the least. The ground crew element travelled to Egypt separately and ahead of the air crews and when they arrived were quickly seconded to RAF and USAAF units.
The air crews followed later in early March 1942, flying their aircraft as far as Malta before landing to refuel. Alas once on the ground, the aircraft were commandeered by squadrons operating from Malta and the aircrews of No. 458 Squadron were left stranded for about a month before they eventually obtained onward transport to Landing Ground 91 located some 25 miles south of Alexandria in Egypt and where many of them were then, like the ground crews, duly attached to various RAF squadrons.
On 15 March 1942, whilst stranded at Malta, Bill Fordyce received his commission as a Pilot Officer on probation.
Bill was then detailed as one of a group of airmen ordered back to England and flew as a passenger 2500 miles to Lagos, Nigeria, where on 25 April, he embarked on the aircraft carrier HMS Archer. Disembarking in Scotland on 4 June the air crews of No. 458 Squadron were later ordered to the south of England for torpedo training with Coastal Command.
Bill however, developed appendicitis and was admitted initially to Innsworth hospital in Gloucestershire and then transferred to the RAF Officers Hospital in Torquay with effect from 29 June 1942. By the time he was discharged on 14 July most of the squadron had returned to the desert.
Somewhat co-incidentally Sergeant George Crompton a rear gunner of No. 458 Squadron was, for reasons unknown, hospitalised at RAF St Athan, South Wales from 16 June until 30 June. He had been at 21 OTU with Bill Fordyce and had also returned to the UK on HMS Archer. It seems that he and Bill were good friends
George had been mad keen to join the air force and had made his first application to do so immediately following his eighteenth birthday in November 1932. He was unsuccessful on that occasion and similarly rejected following each of another six applications, in 1935, 1937 (2), 1938 and 1939 (2). It was only following his eighth application on 20 January 1940, that he was finally accepted, a decision no doubt significantly influenced by the outbreak of war.
After leaving their respective hospitals Bill Fordyce and George Crompton were reunited at No. 1446 Ferry Training Flight at RAF Moreton-in-Marsh to be trained for ferry flights to the Middle East. Also there for ferry flight training were three members of No. 99 Squadron who, for reasons unknown had been left behind when their squadron embarked for India on 12 February 1942. They were pilot Sergeant Leonard William Mears, Canadian observer Sgt. Richard Arthur Greene and wireless operator/ air gunner Sgt. George Maxwell.
After training the five airmen were to form a scratch crew detailed to fly a Wellington bomber to North Africa.
Wellington HX580 was delivered to RAF Moreton-in-Marsh by an ATA pilot and on 28 July the five man crew set out on the first leg of their flight for Gibraltar via No. 1 Overseas Aircraft Despatch Unit at RAF Portreath in Cornwall. From Gibraltar they were to fly the aircraft to Egypt where Bill and George were to join their squadron whilst the other three were to await onward transport to India.
REASON FOR LOSS
Wellington HX580 left RAF Portreath and duly arrived as planned at Gibraltar on 29 July 1941 and at 1141 hours the following day departed on the second stage of the transit flight to the Middle East. Nothing further was heard from the aircraft after take off.
It was the end of the war before the story of the fateful flight was learned. The following account is based on a statement made by Bill Fordyce whilst a prisoner of war in February 1943, the liberation statement made by the then Flight Lieutenant H.S.W (Bill) Fordyce to No 11 Personnel Despatch and Reception Centre, Brighton on 18 June 1945 and an interview with Janet Roberts Billet for the book 'Memories of War' on 5 September 2002 (to listen to this 2 hour interview courtesy of the Australian War Memorial, go to https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1261932
Before leaving for Egypt Bill was advised that the Axis forces were in a position near Mersa Matruh. With this in mind he determined to make landfall further east in order to cross the coast over Allied positions. Arriving well after ETA and off track it was nearing 0500 as the Wellington approached land.
Standing orders were so as indicate that they were friendly, Allied aircraft should cross the coast at 100 feet or lower. Bill duly obliged and at 60 or 70 feet crossed the Egyptian coast to find German forces occupying the whole area. Quickly confronted by two Me 109s he turned tail and flew back out to sea whilst managing to climb to 1000 feet before the two fighters struck.
With no front turret, beam guns or armour plating and its bomb bays and fuselage full of overload tanks the Wellington was an easy target and the first hits set fire to the hydraulic tank rendering the rear turret unserviceable. Bill was to later recommend the rear gunner for an award stating that:
"During the engagement Sgt. Crompton displayed great courage and devotion to duty and even when shot in neck, body and severely injured refused to leave turret and continued at his post until killed"
Despite the fire being extinguished subsequent damage to the port wing and aileron caused the aircraft to spin from approximately 100 feet. When he felt the controls go Bill gave orders to stand by for a crash. There was no acknowledgement from any of the crew but it was clear as they emerged unhurt from the aircraft that they had indeed received and obeyed his order.
The Wellington crashed 5 or 6 miles from the coast in deep water and broke in two aft of the main spar but there was no sign of the rear turret or the air gunner's body.
The man who Bill Fordyce, very emotionally referred to, as "my beloved friend George Crompton" and who, for eight years had harboured such desire to join the RAAF, had survived for barely two years after being accepted.
As the aircraft sank and the release switch in the starboard engine nacelle became immersed the dinghy was automatically released. George Crompton had managed to shoot down one of the Me109s the other, in an act of vindictiveness, strafed the dinghy and sank it.
The three Sergeants Mears, Maxwell and Green were slightly burned and one, Mears had several pieces of explosive bullet in hand thigh and shoulder. These wounds were not severe and they all swam to shore with Bill who himself had also been slightly wounded in the hip.
Some six hours later the four reached the coast where the waiting Italians amused themselves by taking pot shots at them as they swam in. Having had their fun the Italians put in a pen somewhere east of Matruh that Bill believed was either at Fuka or El Dabaa.
To provide shelter from the Allied night bombing, Bill and his crew obtained permission to dig a slit trench but when the next attack took place they found that they had been beaten to the trench by others in the camp. Bill and his crew were forced to find shelter in the 12 feet deep latrine or Aborloo from which they later emerged uninjured but in an understandably filthy state.
They remained in the pen for a few days before being taken in a truck up the desert where Bill, being an officer, was flown to Lecce in Italy whilst the others, being mere NCOs were believed to have been later transported to Italy by ship.
By September 1942 Bill Fordyce was held at Campo PG78 (Prigione di Guerra), the Italian prison camp at Sulmona in the province of L'Aquila in Abruzzo.
As Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily was launched in July 1943 he was moved 260 miles north to Campo PG19 at Bologna in the Emilia-Romagna Region of Northern Italy. His stay at Bologna was to be short lived and following the Allied armistice with Italy in September 1943, the Germans began to move as many PoWs as possible to Germany.
Transported in cattle trucks the prisoners the prisoners had no toilet facilities, given no food or water and were given only brief stops to relieve themselves. The only food they had was from Red Cross parcels. They travelled through the Brenner Pass into Austria and onward into Germany stopping off at various prison camps along the way. Once in Germany the prisoners were segregated into their respective services and the air force contingent further separated into officers and other ranks.
The officers eventually arrived at Stalag Luft III at Sagan in Poland around 1 November 1943.
Conditions in the camp were a great improvement on what Bill had endured for the previous 2 months.
To relieve the boredom of camp life Bill turned to his first love of art and in particular sketching. As word of his ability spread his work was soon in demand and he became inundated with requests to do sketches especially in the men's YMCA issue wartime log books. The sketches were of various types but by far the most popular were caricatures of the men themselves. The Red Cross were most helpful in that they supplied all the camp artists with first class materials which were put to good use.
SKETCHES BY BILL FORDYCE MADE WHILST AT STALAG LUFT III
His artistic ability soon brought Bill to the attention of the escape committee and he became a member of the team producing maps and documents for what would later become known as the Great Escape.
Because the escape would necessarily take place in darkness only a maximum of 200 men would have time to get out. Some 510 applications to be included in the escape were received and a series of draws were planned to determine those who were to be permitted to try.
The first thirty places went to those who had the best chance of making good their escape i.e fluent German speakers and thus able to travel by train. The next 70 places were to be chosen from those who had contributed most to the escape and the final 100 places drawn from the rest.
Bill Fordyce drew number 86 and on Friday 24 March 1944, the escape attempt began and as night fell, those allocated a place in the tunnel moved to Hut 104.
The story of the discovery of the tunnel by the Germans and the fate of the
76 men who made it out was immortalised, albeit inaccurately, in the Hollywood film "The Great Escape".
Bill had been ten places short of getting out but as the horror of the cold blooded murder of 50 escapees became clear those ten places had probably saved his life.
As spring turned to summer the prisoners were buoyed by reports of Allied landings in Normandy and in the East, the Wehrmacht was crumbling under the rapid onslaught of Russian forces.
About midnight on 27/28 January 1945, with the Red Army less than 20 miles away, Bill was one of the 11000 prisoners marched out of the camp in freezing temperatures and 6 inches of snow. Given only an hour's notice of their leaving the prisoners had gathered as much food as possible and dressed in all the clothes they had. Some made rudimentary sleds on which to transport further supplies.
They marched or rather stumbled west through the snow in temperatures as low as -22°C for three days during which time they covered the 60 miles or so to the town of Spremberg. At Spremberg some 3000 prisoners were crammed into the inevitable cattle trucks and taken 400 miles to the former naval camp, Marlag und Milag Nord near Tarmstedt North East of Bremen.
On 4 February 1945 they arrived at the already overcrowded camp. Though Marlag und Milag Nord was liberated by the British Guards Armoured Division on 27 April 1945
Bill was one of the 3000 PoWs who had been hurriedly moved out by a detachment of over a hundred SS-Feldgendarmerie on 2 April and marched 100 miles north east to Lübeck on the Baltic coast finally arriving on 28 April before being marched back to Trenthorst some 12 miles south west of Lübeck where they were finally liberated by the British Army on 2 May 1945.
After waiting two or three days and no transport having arrived, the erstwhile PoWs began leaving in small groups. Bill and five or six others managed to get hold of a car but after 50 miles when the car ran out of petrol they were forced to walk and eventually by various means reached Antwerp from where they were airlifted to RAF Dunsford in Surrey.
Although now safely back in the UK it was to be some months before Bill was able to leave for home. He finally embarked on a ship for Australia in September 1945. Fellow passengers on the voyage were a contingent of FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) destined for Melbourne for duty looking after servicemen returning from the Japanese war. Bill became attracted to one of the young nurses and it seems that his feelings were reciprocated. The nurses soon returned to England but on 21 November 1946 the 21 year old June Alison Vinton arrived at Melbourne on the Orbita from Liverpool. Bill and June were married two weeks later on 7 December 1946 and went on to have a son born in 1948 and a daughter born in 1949.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) Fl/Lt. Horace Spencer Wills "Bill" Fordyce AE was born on 30 March 1914 at Black Rock, Victoria Australia the son of a New Zealand born father Alan Roseby Fordyce and an Australian mother Ethel Mary Fordyce nee Wills. He had two sisters: Lorna Spencer Wills Fordyce (1912-2005) and Beryl Fordyce (1915 -1971)
His mother sadly died in 1919 when Bill was 5 years old and when his father also passed away in 1930 Bill went to live, with his aunt, Edith Lilian Fordyce,
at 6a Isabella Grove Hawthorne Victoria.
Bill was educated at Melbourne High School and afterwards went on to art school where he qualified as a commercial artist. He was then employed as a Printing Salesman until he enlisted at Melbourne on 20 August 1940 when he was 26 years old. At the time he was described as being 5'9" tall weighing 125 lbs with a fresh complexion, hazel eyes and dark medium hair.
After training at No. 1 Initial Training School at RAAF Somers, Victoria, No. 3 Elementary Flying Training School RAAF Essendon at Victoria and No. 2 Service Flying Training School at RAAF Wagga, New South Wales he was awarded his Flying Badge on 18 February 1941. On 8 April 1941 he was promoted to Sergeant and the following week posted to No. 1 Embarkation Depot in Melbourne.
On 13 June 1941 Bill embarked at Sydney for the UK. Disembarking at Vancouver he travelled across Canada by Canadian Pacific to Halifax Nova Scotia on the east coast.
From Halifax, Nova Scotia, Bill embarked on a merchant ship for the UK. The ship however, struck an iceberg and had to be towed back by tugs to Halifax where the servicemen remained for the next week or so awaiting new transport. They embarked again and joining a convoy made it safely to the UK where they disembarked on 31 July. Bill was immediately posted to No. 3 Personnel and Reception Centre at Bournemouth followed on 9 August 1941 by a posting to No. 21 Operational Training Unit at RAF Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire for night bomber training on Wellingtons.
On 18 October 1941 he was posted to No. 458 Squadron at RAF Holme on Spalding Moor in the East Riding of Yorkshire.
He was promoted to Flying Officer on 13 September 1942 and to Flight Lieutenant on 15 March 1944. He was discharged on demobilisation on 21 October 1945.
After the war Bill worked as a commercial airline pilot with Australian National Airways, flying international services mainly to Ceylon and later as Marketing Manager for several different companies. He also became Chief Executive of the Melbourne Lord Mayor's Charitable Fund.
On 6 April 1982 he was awarded the Air Efficiency Award promulgated in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette of 8 June 1982.
Horace Spencer Wills "Bill" Fordyce died on 12 February 2008 aged 93
A memorial service held at Leonda Reception Centre in Hawthorn on 22 February 2008 to celebrate Bills' life was attended by representatives of No 458 Squadron, along with approximately 300 people from all walks of life.
(2) Sgt. Leonard William Mears - Nothing further known. If you have any information please contact our helpdesk.
(3) Sgt. Richard Arthur Greene was born on 27 July 1916 at Akron, Ohio USA the son of Andrew T. Greene and Ida May Greene nee Martin.
He married Frances Madeline Holden on 29 May 1947 at Bernalillo, New Mexico, USA and they went on to have a son and a daughter.
He died at Roseburg, Oregon, USA on 13 May 1990 aged 74
(4) Sgt. George Maxwell - Nothing further known. If you have any information please contact our helpdesk
(5) Sgt. George William Sergio Crompton was born on 10 November 1914 at Cameron's Pocket, Calen, Mackay, Queensland Australia the son of Charles Frederic Crompton (a Cane Farmer) and Annie Crompton nee Allen. He had three brothers: Charles Frederic Crompton (1916-1971), John Haden Crompton (1918-2005) and Frank Crompton.
George attended Farleigh State School 1920-28 and after leaving school worked as a Farmer. He also enjoyed playing cricket, tennis, swimming and shooting.
When he enlisted at Brisbane on 21 June 1940 he was described as being 5'7" tall weighing 137 lbs with a dark complexion, blue eyes and dark hair.
After training at No. 2 Initial Training School at Bradfield Park, New South Wales, No. 1 Wireless and Gunnery School at RCAF Ballarat, Victoria and No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School at RCAF Evans Head, New South Wales he was awarded his Air Gunners Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 13 January 1941.
He embarked at Sydney for Canada on 9 April 1941 and ultimately arrived in the UK on 31 July 1941. Posted to No. 3 Personnel and Reception Centre at Bournemouth on 1 August. On 13 August he was one of 13 Australian Air Gunners posted to No 456 Squadron, an RAAF night fighter squadron based at RAF Valley, Isle of Anglesey.
On 9 November 1941 George Crompton was one of three air gunners posted to No. 458 Squadron at RAF Holme-on-Spalding Moor in the East Riding of Yorkshire
He is commemorated on Panel 120 of the Australian War Memorial Canberra and on the Calen Roll of Honour
BURIAL AND MEMORIAL DETAILS
Sgt. George William Sergio Crompton - having no known grave he is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial - Panel 112.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - January 2019
With thanks to the sources quoted below.