F/O. Eric William Gibson DFC. AUS/410049 RAAF
Born: September 12th 1915 at Nhill, Victoria, Australia. Died: 1999 Age 83.
Eric William Gibson the second eldest of four children. Their father William was a wheelwright in the town. The family moved from Nhill to Ararat in 1919 after the end of the First World War, a war which took the life of Eric’s mother’s younger brother, William Bennie Cochran, in the Battle of Passchendaele on the 14th October 1917.
He left school at aged 14 years ( common in those days) and initially took up a job as a wool presser on a sheep station. However, Eric’s goal was to become a train driver and he applied to join the railway. He was accepted as a ‘bridge and rail ganger’ because he did not have the scholastic requirements to be a train driver. Eric’s father died in 1934 and things got very tough for the family. They moved to the coal mining and electricity generation township of Yallourn, Victoria in1939 and Eric got a job as a trimmer with the State Electricity Commission.
With the announcement of war in 1939, Eric enlisted in the 114th Reserve Motor Transport Company based in Caulfield, Victoria and remained with that unit for about a year.
He decided that rather than drive to war, he would rather fly, so he applied for the Royal Australian Air Force. He was accepted for aircrew training and commenced his initial training in Somers, Victoria, learned to fly at Western Junction in Tasmania and was then posted to Canada for advanced flying.
Right: William Bennie Cochran (courtesy AWM)
One of the other airmen who Eric travelled to Canada with, was a fellow by the name of Charles WilliamTingwell who later became well known as Australian actor ‘Bud’ Tingwell. Eric and ‘Bud’ became friends after the war and met regularly at Anzac Day reunions. After Canada, Eric was posted to the U.K. where, after further training with Bomber Command, he was posted to two English bomber squadrons. The first, 623 Squadron at Downham Market piloting Stirlings, and the second, 115 Squadron at Witchford flying Avro Lancaster Mk.2 and Mark 3 bombers. He completed two sorties with 623 Squadron before it was disbanded and then completed his full tour of thirty operations with 115 Squadron, No. 3 Group.
Above the crew: Sgt. W. Andrews (rear gunner) Sgt. J. Saunders (flight engineer), F/O. Ernie Maskell (Wireless Operator), P/O. Eric Gibson, (pilot), F/O. J. Stock (navigator), Sgt. R. Jones (bomb aimer) and Sgt. W. Dawson (M.U.Gunner).
He rose to the rank of Flying officer and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for courage over enemy territory. At the time Eric was flying these operations, Bomber Command was suffering horrific losses over Germany, with only about 1/3 of aircrew surviving their 30 operations.
Above: the crew with groundcrew
On one raid to Nuremberg in March 1944 in which he participated, a total of 94 allied aircraft were lost to enemy action, the most costly raid of the war. Eric stated later that ‘You didn’t need to navigate to the target that night, all you had to do was follow the burning aircraft on the ground’. On another occasion, enemy aircraft were responsible for shooting down two returning Lancasters in 115 Squadron airspace with the loss of all crewmen.
Left: Charles WilliamTingwell
Eric landed at an adjoining airfield. His last raid was on French railway targets two days prior to the ‘D’Day Normandy invasion. Eric was very lucky to survive, his Flying Log Book recording several attacks by German night fighters. His son is in possession of the nosepiece of an incendiary bomb which was found in one of the engines of his aircraft on its return to base. The bomb had hit the aircraft after being released from another aircraft flying above, which was not an uncommon occurrence, and the nosepiece was removed and kept as a ‘souvenir’. Eric had stated that ‘if the bomb had gone off, he probably wouldn’t have made it back to Australia’.
After he completed his tour of operations, he completed his wartime flying as an instructor at various bases including Moreton-in-Marsh, Enstone, Lulsgate Bottom, Lossiemouth, Elgin, and Lichfield in the United Kingdom. He returned to Australia in 1945.
On return to Australia, Eric returned to his previous employer, the State Electricity Commission in Yallourn and married his pre-war sweetheart.The marriage produced four children, Malcolm, Glen, Barbara and Rhonda. He retired from the S.E.C. in 1980 as a Control Room Supervisor responsible for the generation and transmission of Electricity throughout Victoria.
Eric enjoyed his retirement with travel and indulged himself with his lifetime hobby of the restoration of antique radios. He died in 1999 aged 83.
Page written by his son Malcolm Gibson - December 2020
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