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Fl/Sgt Dennis R. Girling, 1925-1969. Flight Engineer, 576 and 150 Squadrons

Left: Dennis Girling taken during training

Dennis (Den to his friends) was called up in the Spring of 1944, just after his 19th birthday, and immediately volunteered to join the RAF as aircrew.  

He trained as a Flight Engineer and in September 1944 found himself at Sandtoft, where he formed up with the crew with whom he was to take most of his flights.

The full crew was:

F/O. R.J. Callington - Pilot
Sgt. D.R. Girling - Flight Engineer
F/O. D. Steiner - Bomb Aimer
Sgt. W.P. Hall - Navigator
Sgt. K. Dewick - Wireless Operator
Sgt. C.T. Swinchatt - Mid-Upper Gunner
Sgt. J.T. Thompson - Rear Gunner

Photos of some crew members are shown below, believed to be taken at Sandtoft.  

From L-R:  F/O. Callington (Pilot), F/O. Steiner (Bomb Aimer), and (probably) Sgt. Hall (Navigator). 

From L-R:  Sgt. Thompson (Rear Gunner), and Sgt. Swinchatt (Mid-Upper Gunner). No photo of the W/Op, Sgt Dewick, (maybe he was the photographer)

In their time at Sandtoft, this new crew trained initially on Halifax Vs during September and early October 1944, before converting to Lancasters at No.1 Lancaster Flying School at Hemswell, Lincs.

Then in early November 1944 Dennis’s and several other crews were posted to 576 Squadron, based at Fiskerton, Lincs. He was not at Fiskerton for very long, only a month in fact. He arrived with his crew direct from No1 Lancaster Flying School, and logged only 10 flights with 576 before his and several other crews were transferred back to Hemswell to form ‘A’ Flight of the newly re-formed 150 Squadron.

Dennis’s 10 flights from Fiskerton (5 training and 5 operational) were taken in 8 different aircraft.  Each has its own history, which I have researched in some detail. However, in summary, of the 8 aircraft in which he flew, 4 were subsequently lost in action before the end of February 1945, and two of those losses resulted in 13 crew members losing their lives, just one man surviving a crash at Manston.

On 30 November 1944, Dennis and his crew arrived at 150 Squadron, based in Hemswell. Between the beginning of December and the end of March, Dennis flew 16 operations, all with F/O. Callington and his crew, and most of these in IQ-K for King, Lancaster NG291. (This aircraft featured briefly in the film ‘Night Bombers’ in a scene showing the crew boarding the aircraft before going on a raid. It was a scene that had to be re-shot, and continuity in filming was a bit lax then, as the scene showing the crew disembarking is clearly from a different Lancaster!)

K-King was hit twice by flak, once damaging the port elevator, and once having an 88mm anti-aircraft shell pass clean through the port wing without exploding (obviously!), and puncturing the No 1 fuel tank. It was a very lucky escape.

Left is a photo taken either late ’44 or early ’45 of K-King. This photo can also be seen at the museum at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage, East Kirkby. Dennis is in the pilot’s seat (apparently!) 

At the beginning of April 1945, for reasons unknown, Dennis was transferred to ‘B’ Flight and a new crew, which I believe was mostly Canadian, replacing their Flight Engineer, Sgt H. Bell.  The new crew was:

Fl/Lt. A.J. Wegren, Pilot
Sgt. D.R. Girling, Flight Engineer
Sgt. A.M. Baird, Bomb Aimer
F/O. J.N Runciman, Navigator
Sgt. J.W.L Davies, Wireless Operator
Sgt. W.M. Temple, Mid-Upper Gunner
Sgt. P.A. Furlong, Rear Gunner

Dennis was replaced in F/O. Callington’s crew by Sgt. E. Martindale and the rear gunner, Sgt. Thompson was also replaced, by Sgt. D Prestwich. In what seems like a bit of a crew merry-go-round, Martindale and Prestwich do not appear on any crew lists before the change, and neither Bell nor Thompson appear afterwards.

With his new crew, Dennis flew a further two bombing operations, followed by 2 ops in Operation Manna – dropping food supplies to Dutch civilians – and a further one involving the repatriation of PoW’s.  All bar one of these flights was in Lancaster IQ-T, NX583 (built at Longbridge as part of the same contract, but the previous batch, as NX611, ‘Just Jane’, now at The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage at East Kirkby).  His other operational flight was the only one he made in a Lancaster MkIII, RF245, IQ-Z.

Dennis’s final flight was a 1-hour formation exercise in IQ-T on 20 May 1945. It was the last flight he ever took, either in military service or as a civilian. His flying career had seen him take 26 operational flights, all in Lancasters, most of them before his 20th birthday.

Dennis finished his service with 150 Squadron at the end of May 1945.  He completed a driving course at Weeton, near Blackpool in September 1945, significant only because it was at Blackpool that he met Vera Firth, who coincidentally had worked at A.V. Roe in Yeadon, and who would later become his wife.

In December 1945 he was posted overseas, along with many other RAF personnel.  His overseas service was carried out in the Far East:

Tambaram, India, December ’45 – March ’46
Hong Kong, April ’46 – August ’46
Kuala Lumpur, August ’46 – April ’47.
Much of his time in the Far East was spent as driver for his CO.

He returned home in May 1947, when he was given 72 days’ leave and then de-mobbed. Dennis and Vera were married on 5 July 1947.

Returning with his new wife to his native Surrey, Dennis joined the British Transport Police, based in Croydon and then in London Bridge. On 28 October 1948, their only child, Alan was born (me!)

Dennis fell ill in 1968 and was diagnosed with cancer, from which he died after a year-long battle, aged only 44. He survived flak and the attentions of the Luftwaffe, but cancer took few prisoners in those days.  

Below is an old favourite, perhaps the last good photo of Dennis, taken on holiday in about 1964

Dennis never got to see his daughter-in-law, grandson and twin granddaughters, or his six great grandchildren, 4 boys and 2 girls. 

But they know all about him, and what he and thousands of other aircrew did for us.

And, following in his father’s footsteps, Dennis’s son Alan pictured in the Flight Engineer’s jump seat of Lancaster NX611, ‘Just Jane’, at East Kirkby, Lincs, in 2008.

I cannot remember my Dad talking a great deal about his wartime experiences, apart from the incident of his aircraft being hit by an 88mm shell. Typically, he played down just how lucky he had been, a fact I only really appreciated when I saw a Lancaster close up. A couple of feet in either direction would probably have proved fatal, and I wouldn’t be here to relate the story almost 70 years after the event. He must have told me enough to have piqued my interest in all things that fly, which has been with me all my life.

I just wish I had been as interested when he was alive as I am now in his history, and I could have heard it first hand instead of piecing it together, as I have to do now. Maybe he still wouldn’t have told me, who knows?

He certainly never talked about the danger, the fear, and the risks even at that late stage of the war, or how he felt taking off into the unknown, but that’s typical of the generation to whom we owe so much.  He, like so many others, just saw his actions as having ‘done his bit’, survived, and there was an end to the matter.  Something of an understatement. Too late for so many has the contribution made by Bomber Command finally been properly recognised, but better late than never.

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