11.12.1944 164 Sqn. Hawker Typhoon JR 507 FJ- W F/Lt Norman Leslie Merrett DFC and Bar
Operation: Weather Recce
Date: 11 December 1944 (Monday)
Unit: 164 Squadron
Squadron Badge: A lion passant guardant in front of a rising sun
Motto: 'Firmes volamos' (Spanish) - Firmly we fly
Type: Hawker Typhoon
Base: B77 Gilze-Rijen Advanced Landing Ground, Netherlands
Location: Near Vianen, Netherlands
Pilot: F/Lt Norman Leslie Merrett DFC and Bar Aus/416446 RAAF Age 24.
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On Friday 24 April 1942, under clear blue skies and with three Harvards flying overhead, the parade headed by the CO, and combined bands of the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps and 1 Service Flying Training School, marched down the hangar road before forming the traditional hollow square in front of the large crowd of seated visitors, gathered to witness the graduates of Course 46 of 1 Service Flying Training School, Camp Borden, Ontario, receive their wings.
In the absence of a picture of Wings Day for Course 46 the photograph below of Wings Day of 3 July 1941 for Course 26 serves to illustrate the format of the presentation.
In warm sunshine, Group Captain Roy Stanley (Bill) Grandy OBE, former Commanding Officer of 1 SFTS, welcomed the visitors, and invited parents and wives of graduates to pin the wings on their respective son or husband. 14 accepted his invitation and proudly pinned on their loved one's wings.
At least 24 of the 36 graduates were either Canadian or American, and indeed two mothers and a wife had made the trip from the USA. But, for one young lad, there was no parent there to witness his happy moment. Australian, Norman Merrett's parents were 10000 miles away, at home in Australia, and as proud as they might be, to make such a trip was out of the question especially in wartime.
And there would have been no prouder man than his Police Inspector father, who much later was to tell a newspaper reporter that: 'his son had always been keen on anything with a spice of thrill in it, particularly skiff racing. He was nine years of age when he made his first flight in an aeroplane standing between his father's knees and watching Capt. Miller at the controls. He immediately fell in love with aviation and achieved his life's ambition when he took charge of his own "ship".' (The Recorder 25 July 1944)
While Norman was receiving his wings, 3500 miles across the Atlantic at RAF Duxford in Cambridgeshire, 609 (West Riding) Squadron was busily engaged converting to the newly developed Hawker Typhoon, a Squadron an aircraft that Norman was destined to come to know very well.
Having enlisted in June 1941 Norman had spent the next 5 months training in Australia before bidding his parents a fond farewell, as he embarked at Sydney for San Francisco and further training in Canada.
They were never to see their son again.
Norman Leslie Merrett was born on 3 December 1920 at Laura, South Australia, the son of Leslie George James Merrett (a Police Inspector) and Mona Edgna Kleeman. He had four siblings: George Ernest Merrett (1919-1921), Peter Robert Merrett (1929-2014), Alan William Merrett (1930-2009) and Jill Lynette Merrett (1943-2002).
His final school was Renmark High School
In 1941 the family lived at 440 Magill Road, Kensington Gardens, Tranmere, Adelaide, South Australia.
After leaving school he was employed as a Clerk in the accountancy branch of the Berri Co-Operative Packing Union Ltd before transferring to Murray Wholesaler Ltd in Adelaide, in order to study for entry into the air force.
When he enlisted at 5 Recruiting Centre Adelaide 23 June 1941, he was described as, 5' 9½" tall, weighing 140lbs with a dark complexion, hazel eyes and black hair.
After postings to 4 Initial Training School at RAAF Mount Breckan, Victor Harbor, South Australia and 11 Elementary Flying Training School at RAAF Benalla, Victoria, (Course 16), he was granted 14 days pre embarkation leave after which he was posted to 2 Embarkation Depot at Bradfield Park, New South Wales on 17 October, prior to embarkation at Sydney on 13 November 1941
Norman spent his 21st birthday in Vancouver, en route to Camp Borden in Ontario, where he joined Course 46 on 4 January 1942.
The day after Wings Day, the newly promoted Sergeant Norman Merrett, and 11 other graduates were posted to "Y" Depot at Halifax, Nova Scotia, the embarkation depot for air force personnel heading to Europe, and the reality of the war. But first of all he was to enjoy 8 days pre embarkation leave, during which, the luckier ones might visit friends and family prior to leaving their homeland. Just how Norman spent his leave, remains unknown, but on his return to Halifax he found that he was not destined for the war in Europe but instead, on 18 May, a posting as a staff pilot to 1 Wireless School at RCAF Montreal, Quebec.
Six months later, and now a Flight Sergeant, Norman was back at RAF Moncton, New Brunswick, destined for another 8 days pre embarkation leave, prior to another posting to "Y" depot at Halifax. This time, however, it was all systems go, and on 26 January 1943, he finally embarked for the UK where, having disembarked on 5 February, he was posted to 11 Personnel Receiving Centre at Bournemouth.
On 23 March 1943 he was off to RAF Ternhill in Shropshire, the home of 5 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit, where he underwent further training until 8 June when he was posted to 55 Operational Training Unit at RAF Annan in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, where he got his first taste of flying the Hawker Typhoon
On completion of training at 55 OTU on 17 August, Norman was granted several continuing extensions of leave, until 12 November during which, on 24 October he was promoted to Warrant Officer.
On 13 November he was posted to 2 Tactical Exercise Unit at RAF Grangemouth Stirlingshire, and three days later to 1 Tactical Exercise Unit at RAF Tealing in Angus. Finally, he was deemed ready for operational flying and on Christmas Day 1943, the 609 Squadron ORB, announced his arrival at RAF Manston.
They always arrive on Xmas Day
'25 December 1943
Christmas Day is misty and there is no flying, though one section sits at readiness 1300-1700. Arrival of 4 new pilots (they always do arrive on Xmas Day!): F/O. R.H. Holmes, F/O. R.K. Gibson (Australian) , W/O. N.L. Merrett (Australian) and another F/Sgt. Adam (R.K.)*. All come from the No. 1 TEU, Tealing, but some finished OTU even months ago, and have been on indefinite leave since. Celebrations of the day are conducted according to normal routine, with visits to the various Messes, culminating in a very crowded Xmas Dinner and dance at the Manston Officers Mess. An attempt to prolong this by a visit to the Convent (WAAF Hostelry) is baulked by finding the place already full of Pongoes [army personnel, aka, brown jobs]. At 0300 hours however F/O. de Moulin is found on the railway bridge at Westgate solemnly playing the trombone belonging to the band of the Manston Mess.'
*F/O. Richard Harry Holmes, KIA 27 June 1944
Fl/Lt Raymond Kennedy Gibson, KIA 14 February 1945
P/O. Robert Knox Adam KIA 31 July 1944
The next two weeks were spent on acclimatisation, and familiarising himself with the locality, and on 25 January 1944 due to intermittent mist, all bar one section was stood down. It was deemed an appropriate opportunity for F/O. Stark and F/Sgt. Pagnan to take Norman and three other new boys, on a tour of the enemy ports and coastline at 10000ft. It was later learned by the Intelligence Officer that they had seen a 5000 ton ship and 14 E/R boat escorts going into Dunkirk harbour and the trip was declared an offensive operation.
2 Weather Recces, 2 Ramrods, an Escort and a Fighter Sweep, was all that was required of him during the rest of January, February and the first days of March. All were uneventful, but whilst on a Ranger of 4 March, Norman got his first bit of action. Whilst attacking Sissonne, he and F/O. Jaspin were credited with damaging an Me110.
On 16 March 1944 the Squadron moved to RAF Tangmere, West Sussex and 5 days later to RAF Acklington, Northumberland for dive bombing practice before finally settling at RAF Thorney Island, West Sussex on 1 April.
The area circled in yellow is the approximate location of Overton, Hampshire. It was at Litchfield Grange at Overton, the home of Mr Marcus Chichester, Mrs Myra Chichester and their two daughters that Norman was to spend much of his leave whilst in the UK. More about this is included later.
On 23 March the 609 Squadron ORB reported that:
'We learned today that our Squadron is to become an R.P. [Rocket Projectile] Squadron.'
The trick of the afternoon
Norman took no further part in operation in the month of March, but on the Squadron's only outing the following month, 12 April, he took the plaudits for his inventiveness. The Squadron, flying at 5000 feet, were escort to Mosquitos on a mission to bomb a factory at La Louvière when on the return trip Norman hit a snag:
'W/O. Merrett pulls the trick of the afternoon, when, having an engine out, he jettisons his hood and side panels and makes the draughty home journey safely. Evidently he did not turn his jettison tank cock completely off and now says he'll never make the same mistake again. Spud says he doesn't think he'll cross an aerodrome again and Manu says "Nom de Dieu".' (Squadron ORB)
The inclement weather and the need for rocket firing practice precluded any further operations in April.
123 (Rocket Projectile) Wing RAF
123 (Rocket Projectile) Wing RAF was formed on 12 May 1944 under No. 83 Group RAF, RAF Second Tactical Air Force at RAF Thorney Island. The Wing initially comprised 198 and 609 Squadrons with these two being augmented on 26 July 1944, by the addition of 164 and 183 Squadrons.
In May, the Squadron began operations using rockets, in preparation for the long awaited invasion, with radar installations, bridges and railways being the priority targets. The Squadron flew 252 operational sorties, of which Norman Merrett's contribution was 9.
Operations in June continued in earnest against radar installations, but the emphasis soon shifted to attacks on enemy troop movements, tanks and motor transport, in support of the army.
The number of sorties flown by 609, rose to more than 330 for the month, with 16 of them flown by Norman Merrett.
On 22 June the Squadron moved to RAF Hurn in Hampshire and on 30 June, the ORB had the following to impart:
'Order come through today that the Airfield is to move overseas and everyone gets busy packing. The Airparty is to go at once and the Airfield to follow by sea. Original plans all go for a Burton and we have to take camp kit with us.
To end the day's "doings" on a bright note, Merrett is made a P/O [wef 24 April] so he rushes off to London to see about his new kit'
July was a quieter month - 225 sorties flown, 8 of them by Norman.
Much chopping and changing ensued with regard to the move to B10 Plumetot in Normandy, but whilst everyone else moved, the pilots stayed at Hum until 8 July when they finally move to Normandy but operating from AF 121 at Camilly.
On 16 July, when on an Armed Recce 'Only Geerts and Merrett got their rockets off but they claim 1 MT flamer and 2 damaged at UO537' (Squadron ORB)
On 19 July the Squadron moves to B7 at Martragny where all sections are reunited.
'At 12.10 the same pilots [Blanco, Arnear, Watelet, Stellin, Merrett, Adams, Hue and Pagnan who had flown an abortive op that morning] were out again on GC 30 -TBC 5, a Mortar Position near Amaye-sur-Orne. Intense flak is met in the whole area of line T900580 to target and everyone is hit by flak. Hue returns early, then Adams and Blanco and so on. Merrett is hit also but sees the marker and goes on alone single handed and gets his R/Ps in and silences the mortar. He is congratulated on a fine piece of work carried out in the face of great danger and hit in the radiator as he was.'
August proved to be another seriously busy month for 609 with a total of 461 sorties flown of which Norman contributed 15.
Norman made the ORB headlines again on 15 August.
'First news of the day is that P/O. Norman Merrett is awarded his DFC. Everybody is pleased and thinks that it is a good show.
CITATION - Distinguished Flying Cross
Pilot Officer Norman Leslie Merrett, (Aus.416446), RAAF, 609 Sqn.
'This officer has completed many sorties including attacks against strongly defended enemy targets. In a recent sortie he was the leader of a section of aircraft detailed to attack a mortar position holding up the allied ground advances near Caen. Very heavy enemy opposition was encountered from ground defences and the aircraft sustained severe damage. Nevertheless Pilot Officer Merrett flew on and successfully silenced the position. Pilot Officer Merrett is an exceptionally efficient member of aircraft crew.' (London Gazette 22 September 1944)
On 31 August he was in the ORB again for different reasons
'At 1525 B Flight go off on DD344 to attack the Radar Station Le Havre. Blanco takes Anneer, Hue, Billam, Merrett, van Daele , Jepsis and Adams. Numerous strikes are seen on the Wurtsburger and Merrett has a go at the Freya. Black smoke is seen from the target area. Light and Heavy flak comes up and both Merrett and Billam are hit and on return to base the kites are Cat AC.' [Repair beyond the unit capacity, i.e. may be repaired on site by another unit or contractor].
And at 19.35 on what is thought to be the first operation led by Norman Merrett, an Armed Recce to Amiens/Abbeville,
'Merrett leads with Van Deale, Jaspin, Adams, Hue and Billam. The see 10 or more mixed MET going NE at 0498 and claim 3 destroyed and 6 probables. They see several large explosions as if Jerry is blowing up things at M9898. Two pontoon bridges are attacked with cannon at M8576. They meet a good bit of flak. For this show it was most necessary for long range tanks as Jerry is now far away and going back hard.'
Keeping up with the Germans
2 September 1944
'Distances are getting too long for the range of the Typhoon so at 1800 all available aircraft went on an Armed Recce in the Boulogne area. Wallace took Beguin, Adams, Scott, Gibson, Inches, Cables, Corrman,, Van Deale Hue, Jaspin, Merrett, Annear and Billam. Annear and Van Deale had to return to base but the others went on and over Boulogne split into sections covering the Samer roads. No movement was seen but one section fired RPs into a wood east of Boulogne but could not observe results. They met slight flak S of the Town. The Squadron returned to Manston.'
3 September 1944
'While the Squadron were taking their ease at Manston and having parties or otherwise on the "binge" the Airfield packs up and moves to B23 at Morainville, a place that is excellent and people very friendly.'
The pilots enjoyed two more days at leisure at Manston and on 6 September, fly an uneventful Ranger, while over in France, the Squadron moved again, this time about 100 miles to Baromesnil, not far from Le Treport.
No further ops, but on 10 September 'Pilots return to B35 (Baromesnil), 6 machines hit by flak over Boulogne. The CO [S/Ldr. R.A. Lallemant, DFC & Bar] takes the boys over his home at Chapelle a Oie Lez Leuze and the fellows shoot it up.' [Not to be taken literally, 'shoot it up' probably equates to the RAF slang expression 'beat up', meaning to fly over at low level.]
Unbelievably, the following day, 11 September, the Squadron moves yet again, this time to B53 at Merville.
'The month [September] has been quite a busy one, and at the beginning the Hun was nearly out of range so the Airfield had to move up from Martragny to Morainville and by the time we were there, Jerry was out of range again so after 4 days we move to Baromesnil for a few days then on to Merville to the old German static drome with concrete runways. Here we have left the decent country for the flat industrial area of France. Life is more civilised here and we are only a few minutes from Merville with real shops and places . We visit Lille and Bethune for nights out and into Belgium to Ypres etc. The Belgian element are very much at home and visit their friends and relations and homes at Gent, Brussels and places.' (609 Squadron ORB)
In September, the Squadron flew 278 sorties with Merrett contributing 16, 5 of them as the leader of Armed Recces.
Considering that the terrible weather in October cost the Squadron 12 blank days, when no flying was possible, and 7 days when only a total of 52 sorties were possible, the Squadron still managed a very creditable score of 309 sorties. Norman Merrett contributed 14 and led on 9 of them.
'At 1506 task D405/TW16 comes along, Merrett takes Mathys, De Burger and Reynolds. Nothing is seen in the area of the red smoke so a farmhouse at 970064 is attacked and left blazing, a hayrick at 977067 is also cannon strafed. After the attack Merrett went down to zero feet and identified the gun position very well camouflaged at 97066 but as he had no ammo left, no attack could be made.
At 1725 Merrett, Deschamps, De Burger and Reynolds took off on VCP B/3 to attack a strong point at 090188. All R/P were well concentrated and the Target was destroyed.
After tea all Officers went to the mess in Merville for a great party. It was all free (to be paid for afterwards). Officers were requested to bring a girl friend and weren't some of them beauties. Merville, Lille and Brussels were devoid of a number of their usual people. A great night was had!!!'
On 24 October Norman was promoted to Flying Officer.
'Merrett had a chance at 13.20 when he took Deschamps, Reynolds and Mathys on FCP C10. Their target was a farmhouse at 9917 but the high wind caused the R/Ps to miss but many of the cannon shots found their mark. Norman obtained permission to straf [sic] 3 Horse drawn transports that were unloading troops at 992185. Merrett delighted in shooting up these huns.'
'At last orders come through to move and Squadrons take off in sections to do a show and land at Ursel B67.' (ORB)
B.67 Ursel was a military airfield near Ursel, south of the road between Ursel and Knesselare, in Belgium. It was built by the Belgian Army in the 1930s and used by the Luftwaffe after the German invasion. It was named airfield B67 when the four Squadrons of 123 Wing took over the airfield.
The Squadrons were to give support to the army in its task of liberating Walcheren Island and thus open up the port of Antwerp to shipping. Daily sorties continued until the Island was liberated on 8 November.
20 November 1944
'Norman Merrett hears today that he is to be made up to a F/Lt and to go over to 183 [sic s/b 164] as a Flight Commander. Our loss is their gain and we wish him the best of luck.' (ORB)
Moving the other way was F/Lt. Charles J. G. "Windmill" de Moulin who was to be made up to A/Sqn/Ldr. and take over as CO of 609 Squadron. He had been with 609 when Norman arrived in December 1943 until being posted, with 5 others to the reserve pool at RAF Aston Down on April 7 1944, as part of Squadron reductions.
Charles de Moulin's tenure as CO of 609, was short lived. His Typhoon was shot down on 5 December 1944 and he became a prisoner of war but was to features once more in the story of Norman Merrett. (See later).
Norman had flown 9 sorties, 4 of them as leader during November bringing up a total of 86 sorties whilst a member of 609 Squadron
Flight Commander with 164 Squadron.
Norman's career with 164 Squadron got off to a busy start when he led two ops against a wireless station south of Utrecht (19 and 21 November). On each occasion the masts were left still standing. Merrett then led a Weather Recce in the morning of 25 November, followed in the early afternoon by an attack by eight aircraft with R/P and cannon, on a church steeple at Nijmegen. Having 'received several direct hits, spire [was] still standing after attack but badly damaged.' (ORB)
The following is a transcript of a draft press report of the incident.*
FOR AUSTRALIAN PAPERS
15 December 1944
OBLIGING THE ARMY
"Anything to oblige the Army" is the motto of the RAF Typhoon pilots based in Holland not very far behind the forward troops.
And it was to oblige the army that Flight Lieutenant Norman L. Merrett of Berri, River Murray, South Australia, led his squadron to blow the steeple right off a church in German territory.
In the forward area there is an exchange system whereby pilots go up to live with the Army for a few days and Army men come back to live with the pilots at airfields.
Some pilots from Merrett's Wing were visiting the Army at one section near Arnhem when an officer said to them wistfully "I wish you could do something about that church steeple over there. Jerry has an observation post there for his artillery and he can direct his range perfectly on our boys. The pilots went back and told their wing-commander, who ordered a squadron to attack it immediately. Merrett led them. It was across the border in German and the Typhoon pilots swept down to 500-feet in their rocket and cannon attack. the[y] blew the steeple right off the church.
Army co-operation is not a matter of casual conversation. That was just one unusual one. It has now become a high speed system.
Merrett flew with his squadron to attack a castle near the Rhine" I was last in, and the castle was belching smoke and flame by the time I got in so I put my salvo of rockets right in the middle the smoke" he said. "On another occasion we had to attack a fortified house, used as a machine-gun nest, 600 yards in front of our troops. The squadron blew the house to pieces.
The only other Australian in this squadron is another Merrett, Pilot Officer W. Merrett [W.K.F. Merrett 420331] of Mosman New South Wales, who is no relation of the flight-commander.
Flight Lieutenant A. R. Cocks [183 Sqn] of Padfield, New South Wales, is a Typhoon pilot who has lived with the Army under the exchange system.
"We told the army we'd do anything to oblige them and we mean it" said Cooke. They're grand fellows and the wonderful job they're doing under the worst possible conditions in rain and mud and water has to be seen to be believed."
Cooke flew with his squadron to attack a machine-gun nest south-east of Nijmegen.
"We gave it a good working over with rockets and cannon shells," added Cooke. "We soon lifted the roof off and I guess there wasn't much left inside the building. It was only 400 yards from your forward troops."
(Courtesy: Australian War Memorial archives)
On 26 November, 123 Wing was on the move again, and along with the other three Squadrons, 164 moved to Gilze-Rijen airfield situated between the cities of Breda and Tilburg in south Netherlands.
29 November and Merrett led an armed sortie against Todt HQ near Heffeken in the morning and in the afternoon took part in an armed sortie against an Army HQ near Cleve, the first intrusion by 164, of any depth, into Germany.
An army support operation on 30 November was abortive due to low cloud.
There was no further flying until 3 December when, led by the Commanding Officer, S/L. Remy Van Lierde, Norman flew one of 12 aircraft on an attack on gun and mortar positions over the German border. It was also Norman's 24th birthday.
The following day, 4 December, taking off at 13.25, Norman led 12 aircraft on an Armed Sortie attacking Field Guns in woods 5 miles SW of Tiel with R/P and cannon.
'All in target area but results not observed. F/Lt. Merrett was hit by flak just before diving onto the target. He continued and carried out his attack with glycol streaming from exhaust stacks and managed to make our own lines before being forced to make a belly landing in a small field. The aircraft hit a ditch and turned over on its back but he was able to remove the side panel and extricate himself uninjured. It is considered that F/Lt. Merrett did a fine job of work and he has been recommended for an immediate award of a bar to his DFC.' (ORB)
The following is a transcript draft press report of the incident dated 8 December 1944.*
TYPHOON PILOT'S NARROW ESCAPE
Finishing upside down after a forced landing in a muddy field not far from the enemy lines, an Australian pilot got back to his base and led his squadron on another "op" the following day.
He was Flight Lieutenant Norman L. Merrett DFC., 164 Squadron, (AUS.416446) of Berri, South Australia.
Merrett who has flown Typhoons in more than a hundred operational sorties, was leading the squadron in an attack on German gun positions near Tiel.
Because of the cloud conditions which would force to them go much lower than their normal attacking height and so expose them to greater danger from the flak, Merrett decided he would not risk his whole squadron.
He told eight pilots to stay back over our lines and led another three into the attack.
As they were making their run , Merrett heard a terrific crash as his aircraft nearly bumped out of control. He looked out and saw glycol and wisps of smoke coming from his engine. He continued on, released his rockets followed by his RAF comrades and then tried to make our lines.
By this time glycol was streaming from the aircraft, and the wisps of smoke had grown to a long black trail. His engine was cutting intermittently. Looking around the flooded countryside Merrett saw one small field that looked drier than the rest, and brought his smoking aircraft in to land. It slid along the ground for 60 yards and then ploughed into the soft earth turned over on its back, smashing the cockpit hood, and slithering along further scooping mud into the cockpit as it went. The aircraft finished up five yards from a deep water channel.
When some army men rushed up, Merrett, imprisoned upside down in his cockpit, calmly asked if the aircraft was on fire, Told there was no fire he instructed them to go away and get shovels to dig him out. While the soldiers were away, however, he managed to force the side open and crawl out.
Merrett got back to his squadron, where he heard that the attack on the gun position had been successful.
The next day, he led the squadron on another sortie. On returning to his base, he could not put his wheels down. He struggled for 20 minutes with the apparatus, still circling the 'drome and finally got them down.
Merrett and his comrades, who come from all parts of the Empire, have only one complaint. The bad weather does not allow them to go out over enemy lines as often as they would like.
(Courtesy: Australian War Memorial archives)
CITATION - Bar to Distinguished Flying Cross.
Acting Flight Lieutenant Norman Leslie Merrett, D.F.C., (Aus.416446), RAAF, 164 Sqn.
Since being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross this officer has participated in many sorties, involving harassing attacks on enemy troops and positions. He has consistently displayed the finest qualities of skill and courage, setting an example worthy of the greatest praise. In December, 1944, Flight Lieutenant Merrett took part in an attack
on an enemy field gun position near Tiel. As he went into the attack his aircraft was hit. Nevertheless he dived to a low level and pressed home a vigorous attack. He afterwards flew the damaged aircraft to our own lines and effected a crash-landing in a small field which was apparently the only one not waterlogged or ploughed up.
This officer displayed unbeatable determination.
(London Gazette 30 January 1945)
“I have had my time, been hit, going down.”
During the week that followed only two days of flying were possible, neither of which involved Norman.
It was Monday, 11 December, before Norman flew another sortie, a 2 aircraft, armed weather recce, over the Zuiderzee (now IJsselmeer). Flying as his No. 2 was his namesake P/O. Bill Merrett, also Australian, but unrelated to Norman. The pair took off at 8.25 a.m. and at 9.40 a.m. P/O. Bill Merrett landed safely back at Gilze-Rijen airfield - alone. He made the following statement regarding the sortie and the fate of Norman Merrett.
'Returning to base after the reconnaissance we attacked a train just West of Utrecht. We dived from 9,000 feet and released out R/Ps at about 1,500 feet. Having pulled up we then made a cannon attack diving to about 200 feet, and I observed strikes on the train. From the time of our dive very intense light flak was experienced. After the cannon attack I lost sight of my No 1 and called him up on the R/T, enquiring whether he was OK. He replied, “I have had my time, been hit, going down.” I orbited the area but failed to see or hear anything further, I then returned to base.' (From the Circumstantial Report of 12 December 1944)
Norman's father was informed the following day, that his son was missing and provided with the details given by his son's No. 2, Bill Merrett, but it was to be more than three months before there was any further news. On 20 March 1945, Norman's father received the most welcome news that his son had been captured and was a prisoner of war, but as the weeks passed by, no further details were forthcoming.
But, at the end of May, with the war coming to an end, his parent's were overjoyed to hear from Mrs. Chichester of Litchfield Grange, Overton, Hampshire, that she had been told by Mrs. Erskine Wilson of the Australian Red Cross, that 'Norman, being held by Russians, is fit, and expected to arrive in England any day.'
Norman's father, was now Officer in Charge of Northern Police Division, and based at Port Pirie. Consequently, on 20 June, Philip J. Lyndon, the RAAF Chaplain based at 3 AOS Port Pirie, was charged with delivering some devastating news to Inspector Merrett. It concerned the following signal, relayed by telephone to the Chaplain, from RAAF Headquarters in Melbourne.
'S/Ldr De Moulin, of Belgian Royal Air Force under whom Merrett served before his transfer to 164 Squadron interviewed by S/L. Melville at Brussels, stated he saw F/Lt. Merrett in German Field Hospital in the vicinity of Appledore [Apeldoorn], Holland 8 to 16 December 1944. F/Lt. Merrett was suffering severe fracture of skull and only conscious for periods of a few minutes at a time. During one of these periods he recognised and spoke to De Moulin. F/Lt. Merrett appeared to be in a serious condition. S/L. De Moulin escaped on the 15th December; was recaptured, but did not return Appledore [Apeldoorn]. During his interrogation on recapture, Germans informed him Merrett had died. Unable to obtain further details. Action being taken by this Headquarters. Requested Missing Research Section, Brussels, to enquire at Appledore [Apeldoorn] with a view establishing fate of F/Lt. Merrett and burial place if dead. Anticipate some delay obtaining report. Will advise earliest.'
Having conveyed the unexpected news, the Chaplain replied by letter, informing RAAF HQ, that Inspector Merrett was 'naturally disturbed' by the news, particularly in view of the fact that at the end of May he had received word from Mrs Wilson via Mrs Chichester that his son was fit, held by Russians but expected to arrive in England forthwith.
In response it was explained that Mrs Wilson had called at RAAF Headquarters in Kingsway during the last week in May enquiring after Merrett, but prior to the statement received from De Moulin. She was informed that he was still unaccounted for, but in passing the information to Mrs Chichester, added her own comment that Norman was POSSIBLY fit and well, and held by Russians etc. Apparently Mrs Chichester had accepted this as a statement of fact and advised Inspector Merrett accordingly.
It was another three and a half months before Inspector Merrett received any further news regarding Norman, but his worst fears were confirmed when he received the following telegram of 9 October 1945.
'Deeply regret to inform you that your son 416446 Flight Lieutenant Norman Leslie Merrett (DFC and Bar) has been officially reclassified as having died on the twenty third December 1944 whilst a prisoner of war STOP Further advice received from the Missing Research and Enquiry Service, Holland confirms the information conveyed to you by Chaplain Rev. P.J. Lyndon STOP Report states that your son was seriously injured when hit by flak whilst straffing [sic] Utrecht on 11th December 1944 STOP Doctor [Bonk] at Vianen rendered first aid and he was later taken to German Military Hospital in Utrecht where he died on 23 December 1944 STOP His funeral took place in General Cemetery at Soestberger [Soestbergen] in Utrecht Grave 11 Plot 12D Row 2 STOP The Minister for Air joins with Air Board in expressing profound Sympathy in your sad bereavement.'
Airforce 391, Little Collins Street, Melbourne.
By way of further explanation, a letter of 5 October 1945 from RAAF Headquarters in London to the Department of Air, Melbourne, included the following 'It would appear that S/Ldr. De Moulin, from whom the first information on Merrett was obtained, has mistaken the hospital at Appledore (Apeldoorn) with that at Utrecht.'
At Government House on 21 November 1946 the final act, in the military career of Flight Lieutenant Norman Leslie Merrett was played out, with the presentation of the insignia of his Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar, to his father, Inspector L. G. J. Merrett by the Governor of South Australia, Sir Willoughby Norrie on behalf of the Governor General, the Duke of Gloucester. Inspector Merrett was accompanied by his wife and their three-year-old daughter Jill.
* The two draft press articles entitled 'Obliging the Army' and 'Typhoon Pilot's Narrow Escape' were not issued owing to F/Lt Norman Merrett having become a casualty.
Mrs Myra Chichester
In Norman's service file are a number of references to Mrs Myra Chichester and her husband Mr. Marcus Chichester of Litchfield Grange, Overton in Hampshire. It would appear that they were in regular contact with Inspector Merrett after his son was reported missing.
It would seem that when possible Norman spent his leave at the Grange and had left some of his effects there including a bicycle for use by couple's two children. In a letter to the Department of Air in October 1946, Inspector Merrett made the point that he owed the Chichesters 'a debt of gratitude for their hospitality and kindness' to his son.
Apparently, the family offered hospitality and a modicum of normality, to servicemen during the war. An article in the Hampshire Chronicle of 22 April 2022 regarding one of the Chichesters' daughters, the Author, Jane Chichester, includes the following reference to the time:
'She and her family lived at Litchfield Grange, which straddles the parishes of Steventon and Ashe, rented by her father, a son of Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Chichester. She describes it as being at the centre of triangle, with corners at Overton, Steventon village and Micheldever Station.
It was a privileged life: Jane’s education came largely from living with dogs and ponies in rural Hampshire, and meeting the people who came to stay. They included a string of accomplished relatives, governesses, Leo Delitz an Austrian artist, Free French soldiers and Australian pilots resting from the hostilities.'
We seek further information regarding the hospitality extended by Mr and Mrs Chichester to servicemen during the war. If you have any further details, please contact our helpdesk
BURIAL AND MEMORIAL DETAILS
F/Lt Norman Leslie Merrett DFC and Bar was buried at Utrecht (Soestbergen) General Cemetery, Netherlands. Plot D. Row 2. Grave 23.
His epitaph reads
His duty nobly done
He is commemorated as follows:
Roll of Honour: Berri, South Australia
Remembered: Panel 127, Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial, Canberra ACT
Remembered: World War II Honour Roll, National War Memorial of South Australia, North Terrace, Adelaide
In the above photograph, Norman Merrett's grave can be seen on the extreme left facing.
There can be no finer epitaph to Norman Merrett, than the sentiments expressed in the following extract from a letter, dated 2 January 1945, written by Sqn/Ldr. Remy Van Lierde, Commanding Officer of 164 Squadron to Norman Merrett's father, Inspector L.G.J. Merrett.
'With the hope that some news might be received, I have held up this letter, and though up to the present the hope has not materialised, it is still possible that your son may have landed and been taken prisoner.
Of Norman's operational work, it is impossible to speak too highly. His skill in leadership, courage and tenacity, have been of inestimable value to his Squadron. Only two days before he went on the mission from which he has not returned, he had shown wonderful bravery and initiative on another operation, for which he has since received the award of a bar to his DFC. Always he has been a great pilot and a source of inspiration to others.
Of his personal qualities, I think I can say that never have I known a man more universally respected among his fellows. Under a quiet and unassuming manner, he had an uncommon strength and charm of character and his unfailing good humour made him a great favourite of us all.'
Squadron Leader Remy Van Lierde DFC and Two Bars was a Belgian pilot and fighter ace who served in the RAF during the Second world War. He was Commanding Officer of 164 Squadron from 20 August 1944 until 16 May 1945. Commissioned as a Major into the Belgian Air Force in June 1946 he held various commands prior to being appointed to the Operations Group of Chiefs of Staff. He was appointed aide to the former King Leopold III in September 1953.
Lieutenant Colonel Van Lierde was made Deputy Chief of Staff to the Minister of Defence in 1954. In 1959, as a full Colonel, he commanded the air base at Kamina in the Belgian Congo. After the Belgian Congo became independent on 30 June 1960, Van Lierde returned to Belgium and became the Chief of Operations of the Chiefs of Staff and had several other appointments before his retirement in 1968. He died at Lessines on 8 June 1990.
We seek photographs of Norman Leslie Merrett. If you can assist please contact our HELPDESK
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of F/Lt Norman Leslie Merrett DFC and Bar - June 2023
With thanks to the sources quoted below.