Tag Archives: Home Front Museum

Llanfairfechan aviator – Captain Val Baker.

4 Jan

Captain Valentine Baker was the youngest son of Mr and Mrs J M Baker of Grove Cottage, Llanfairfechan. His father was for many years agent on the Gorddinog Estate, a large estate near Abergwyngregyn owned by the Platt family. Val was educated at Llanfairfechan National School before being sent to a private school in Bangor. On leaving school he worked as a clerk for Lloyds Bank at both the Bangor and Caernarfon branches. His elder brother, Horace, also worked for Lloyds and was for many years manager of the Llanfairfechan branch.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Baker enlisted in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, Armoured Car Section and was a despatch rider, serving in Gallipoli.  During this campaign he was shot in the neck, invalided out of the Royal Navy and sent back to Llanfairfechan.  The bullet was never removed and remained lodged near his spinal cord for the rest of his life.  After three weeks recuperating he decided to join the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and after a period of training was posted abroad.  On the morning of departure, Baker learnt that he had been accepted into the Royal Flying Corps. Flying was his forte, he felt safe in the air, once telling a friend “the higher the safer”. While serving in the Royal Flying Corps he was awarded the Airforce Flying Cross to go with the Military Cross he had been awarded earlier in the war.  In 1916, Baker married Llanfairfechan girl, Dilys Eames, with whom they had one son, Denys Val Baker, the famous Cornish author.

After the First World War he was given a job with the Air Ministry in Whitehall in the Secret Codes Department. He left this post in 1921 to continue his flying career taking a job with Vickers Limited which took him to Java in the Dutch East Indies and also Chile. He returned to the UK and founded the famous flying school at Heston Aerodrome where he taught luminaries such as Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), his brother Prince George, Duke of Kent and Amy Johnson – the pioneering female aviator – to fly.

When teaching he was a tough task master who demanded implicit obedience from his pupils, “I don’t care two hoots,” he once said, “whether they are titled folk or just Tom, Dick or Harry”.

In 1934, Baker left Heston to join his friend, James Martin, and founded the Martin-Baker Aircraft Company, where Baker was the company’s test pilot. During a test flight of the Martin-Baker MB 3 prototype, the engine seized and he was forced into an emergency landing, during which the aircraft struck a tree stump and caught fire. He died on September 14, 1942 aged 54 and is buried at Denham close to the Martin-Baker factory.

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“A Gallant Gentleman” – Ernest Williams

20 Mar

March 20th 2014 is the 71st anniversary of the death of Llandudno man and RAF navigator Sergeant William Ernest Williams.  He enlisted in the RAF in 1941 after leaving his job as manager of Llandudno based furnishers, Dicken & Son of Vaughan Street; a company he had worked for since joining as an apprentice aged just 17.  He was a founding member of Deganwy’s TocH Club and on enlisting was sent to the United States for six months training.  After a great deal of operational flying with Coastal Command over the Bay of Biscay, France, he joined 101 Squadron of Bomber Command.

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On Valentine’s night, 14th February 1943, a Lancaster bomber with a crew including navigator Sergeant William Williams took off from Holme-on-Spalding in Yorkshire and took part in an operational sortie to attack the northern Italian city of Milan.  After successfully bombing the target from 11,000 feet, they were attacked by an enemy fighter – a CR 42 biplane – at 200 yards range.  The Fiat fighter got in a burst of machine gun fire and ignited 4 x 30lb incendiary devices still in the bomb bay of the Lancaster.  As the Italian aircraft turned away it was hit by return fire from the rear gunner, Sergeant Airey and the mid-upper gunner, Flight Sergeant George Dove.  The Fiat went down in flames and was destroyed.  In all the gunners fired over 300 rounds between them.

 

The Lancaster was severely damaged as the machine gun bullets had not only exploded the incendiaries, leaving a large hole in the fuselage floor but numerous bullets had penetrated the starboard engine petrol tank and damaged the intercom.  The rear gunner had been hit in the legs during the attack and also received facial burns.  Hearing over the inter-com that his comrade had been wounded, Flight Sergeant Dove got down from his position and fought through the flames and made his way to the rear turret.  Despite his own injuries and the inferno behind him he succeeded in extricating the rear-gunner from his turret and treated his injuries.  For his actions Dove received the Distinguished Flying Medal.

 

In the meantime, Pilot Officer Moffatt, the bomb aimer, had misheard the pilot’s instructions and baled out by parachute rather than the actual orders which were to prepare to evacuate the plane.  Seconds later the port engine caught fire and the pilot put the aircraft into a steep dive to extinguish the flames, levelling out at 800 feet above the Italian countryside.  With the rear gunner being wounded, abandoning the Lancaster was now out of the question so the pilot decided to try and make a forced landing somewhere.   Fortunately Sergeant Williams, with the help of the others, succeeded in putting out the fuselage fire, and as the pilot had blown out the other engine fire, he decided to try and get the aircraft and themselves home rather than making an emergency landing.

 

The pilot, Sergeant Ivan Hazard, managed to haul the crippled bomber up to 15,500 feet to cross the Alps, but then further problems arose with the starboard outer engine and he was forced to lose altitude and steer through the peaks rather than fly over them.  Navigator Williams did not receive any wireless aid until he reached the English Channel and for a period of over five hours he navigated solely by astro readings.  So as not to violate Swiss territory, he deliberately navigated around the neutral country and for his incredible skill he was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.  Only 112 airmen were awarded this decoration in World War 2.

 

Sergeant Hazard managed to safely land the stricken bomber at Tangmere Airfield, Sussex, in spite of having no hydraulics.  A report on their Lancaster by the A. V. Roe Company stated, “It was the severest fire damage ever seen to one of our aircraft, and the ‘Skipper’ had to be praised on his skill in getting it back”.

 

On returning to the RAF after special leave, Sergeant Hazard was assigned a new bomber and on 20th March 1943, he took it up on a test flight.  He made a low pass over Hornsea beach, but on pulling up at the end of his run, the tail wheel struck a concrete pill-box on the beach.  The impact caused the Lancaster to break up.  The forward section crashed into the cliffs and blew up while the tail section fell on the beach below.  There were ten men aboard including Sergeant William Ernest Williams and all were killed instantly.  He was buried on the Great Orme in Llandudno with full military honours.  His Commanding Officer described him “as a gallant gentleman”.

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Snowdonia Pillbox

5 Feb

Snowdonia Pillbox

Close to the Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel in Snowdonia are four pillboxes built during the Second World War as part of Western Command Stop Line No. 23 that ran from Porthmadog to Bangor via Beddgelert and Capel Curig.

Gibson Girl Box Kite

2 Feb

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Been busy adding new exhibits to the museum this week, one item is this Gibson Girl kite.  During the Second World War, British bombers of the Royal Air Force were equipped with survival equipment to aid the recovery of the crew if they ended up in the sea.  One of the items was a hand cranked radio and in order to optimise the signal this kite was issued to get the aerial into the air.  It folded down into a pouch, was lightweight and bright yellow in colour.

Amongst the air crew of Bomber Command it became known as the ‘Gibson Girl’ because of its shape.  American aircrew had been issued with these box kites earlier in the war and it was probably they who coined the phrase ‘Gibson Girl’.  Charles Gibson was an American illustrator in the early twentieth century and drew what he saw as the “ideal of an American beauty” –a lady with an hour glass figure.

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Chum the Airedale

25 Jan

Chum the Airedale

Mrs Marjory French was trapped in an Anderson shelter at her home in Purley, London, after a high explosive bomb had destroyed her house. The first signs of rescue came when two large paws were digging fast and furiously at the rubble around the air raid shelter. Her rescuer was Chum, an Airedale Terrier, owned by her next door neighbour. He excavated an opening large enough for Mrs French to get through, seized her by grabbing her dress in his jaws, and dragged her out. Mrs French recalled that Chum was about to make off “with-out even waiting for a pat”. She later reported the incident to Our Dumb Friends’ League (later became the Blue Cross) which presented him with its special medal for canine bravery on January 25th 1941.

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Bulmer’s Cider

23 Jan

Bulmer's Cider

Fabulous wartime newspaper advert for Bulmer’s Cider.
The small print at the bottom of the advert reads “Everyone wants Bulmer’s these days, but we cannot at present send your dealer more than his pre-war amount, so please do not blame him if he is temporarily out of stock.”

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Saunders Roe looking to Llanfairfechan

21 Jan

Saunders Roe looking to Llanfairfechan

During the Second World War Saunders Roe relocated from the Isle of Wight to a site near Beaumaris, Anglesey. Flying boats were brought here from America and Canada and modified to conform with RAF requirements. Today the derelict buildings still stand overlooking the Menai Straits.