Monday, 7 September 2009


The death in Germany in May 2009 of Karl Tubbessing prompts me to re-tell the story of my friend, Brian Walley, with whom I still correspond.

On the night of 09/10 November 1941, Brian was on his 5th operation with 51 RAF Squadron, piloting a Whitley, one of 350 bombers headed for Berlin. The crew consisted of 3 RAF and 2 RCAF. The weather was atrocious and, near Kiel, they were hit by flak, so bombed Kiel, and turned for a long glide home but severe icing forced them below the cloud base at 1500 feet. They lightened the plane by throwing out all they could. They did contact base and locked the radio key. One hundred miles from land they pancaked on the crest of a wave, slid down the trough, crashed through the next wave and came to a stop. The aircraft disintegrated leaving Brian trapped with much of the wreckage wrapped around his legs. He managed to break free and was pulled into the dingy already reached by the other four, but then had difficulty severing the dingy's umbilical cord that was attached to the rapidly-sinking aircraft. Soon, with stomachs full of ice-cold salt water, they all brought up.

Dawn brought 20-foot-high grey, ugly waves, one of which flung all of them into the sea and only 3 made it back to the dinghy. Sgts Carpenter, RAF, and Chambers, RCAF, of Rouleau, Saskatchewan, drowned. The wave had swept the dingy clean and they had to rely on lung power to work the pump. The next night the navigator, Dave Simpson, RCAF, of Edmonton, froze to death. The next afternoon the other pilot died, leaving Brian all alone. Just before dark, after they had drifted 100 miles to the Frisian Islands, the crew of a Heinkel 59 seaplane saw the dingy, and plucked Brian out of the sea. Five German doctors patched him up and the Squadron commander, Karl Born, commiserated with him, trying to soothe him with “For you the war is over.” (Fur sie, der krieg ist aus)

After 3½ years of POW life, Brian returned to farming in Wales, then spent a few years back in the RAF, before emigrating to the Perth area of Australia. Still wanting to thank those who saved him, Brian used contacts to find Karl Tubbessing, the Norderney Search & Rescue navigator who still remembered him and who invited Brian, and his wife, Mair, to spend a couple of weeks with them at Idar-Oberstein in 1995. They then met Karl Born, who was in a wheel chair, and two ex members of the Air-Sea Rescue Squadron, Fritz Becket and Werner Schultz and their wives. They remarked that, of all the people they had saved, only Brian had returned to thank them. Squadron Leader Dickerson and Flying Officer Simpson had been buried with full military honours.

Joan and I joined Brian and Mair in the 5-day POW reunions in Southampton in 1991 and in London in 1995. Over the years Brian has been quite active in the Western Australia branch of the Royal Air Forces ex-POW Association. As its last president he had the sad task this year of closing the branch as so few members are now left.

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