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Library Reference Number: 033

The Swinley Story

Gilbert A Gray (Flight Engineer, 106 Squadron - April to August, 1944)

Gilbert Gray is the author of 'Green Markers Ahead Skipper' - a book that is currently being reprinted. He has kindly given us three extracts from his book which are contained in Library Files 032, 033 and 034.

After completing 15 operations, we were thankful to go on leave at the end of June, 1944. We returned to our Nissen hut at the roadside just outside Martin village in mid-July... .to a strange silence.. Our Nissen hut was empty. Normally we shared its limited space with the crew skippered by Australian Pilot Officer Alan Monaghan, but now the beds were obviously not in use and the steel storage wardrobes were empty. There was no sign of occupancy. The crew was gone!!

The chaps with whom we bantered when our paths crossed had disappeared Flight Engineer Charles Swinley from Dysart in Fife - not too far from my own home near Dunfermline - Bomb Aimer Hubert Philpot, Navigator Norman Wand, Wireless Operator George Poulter, Mid-upper Gunner Stan Gay and Rear Gunner Bob Sheridan - the last two being Canadians as were our own Bomb-aimer and Navigator. We learned that while we had been away, seven of the Squadron's Lancasters had not returned from two attacks on a flying bomb site at St Leu d'Esserent near Paris - two on the 4th and no fewer than five on the 7th the most disastrous two nights in the Squadron's history.What had happened to those 35 chaps? In the heat of the battle one can only guess and sympathise. . . .and carry on. They had 'got the chop'; met the 'Grim Reaper'....simple as that!

We now know that 26 died. We now know that all seven of our billet-mates survived. Charles Swinley returned home in September and my father, West Fife correspondent of 'the People's Journal', interviewed him coincidentally, and recorded that his father had been awarded the Military Medal in the 1914-18 war. Fifty years or so later, the story developed further.

In the late 1980's, I decided to bring together the memories of my years in the RAF - 1943-1947 - into one document with a suitable explanatory commentary for family, crew and others interested. These memories were held in my Flying Log Book, letters to home and lots of cuttings. These I supplemented with information gleaned on a couple of quick visits to the Public Records Office -400 miles away!! - and from official histories and other writings. Needless to say, the project, like Topsy, just developed until it became quite a tome.

This was laboriously typed, illustrated and duplicated for distribution to my family and former crew members with a few extra copies to cover other contingencies. Rather late in the day, I had now discovered that the 106 Squadron Association existed and I attended my first re-Union in 1992 taking with me a copy of the document - later to become the basis of 'Green Markers Ahead Skipper' - which I put on display with the other memorabilia. There, it was seen by Don Evans, over from Vancouver. He too, like PlO Monaghan's crew, had been shot down over St Leu d'Esserent. He persuaded me to let him have the copy so off it went to Vancouver.

Don was a member of the Canadian Escapers' Society. That organisation held an annual get-together, one of which he attended, with my draft copy under his arm, on the other side of Canada - in Ontario. There he met a Mrs Sheridan who, on reading the book, discovered that her late husband had been a member of PlO Monaghan's crew and had also shared that Nissen hut at on the outskirts of Martin village with my crew and a correspondence followed. She, in turn, contacted me and informed me that, after returning to 'Civvy Street, Charles Swinley and his young wife, Anne, had emigrated to Canada where Mrs Sheridan and Mrs Swinley became good friends. However, Charles decided to return to the RAF which brought him back to the UK and later to other parts of the world. Sadly, the two ladies had lost contact. 'Chick's' service took him to Malaya during the disturbances there where he contracted a mysterious 'bug' from which he died. Bob Sheridan had also died, killed in an accident on his farm in Canada.

Deciding to try to re-unite Anne Swinley and Marian Sheridan - now both widowed - through the medium of the telephone directory, I was eventually successful in tracing Anne to her latest address in Leith and, to cut a long story short, the two ladies were re-united on the old runway at Metheringham in 1994 from which their late husbands had taken off together in Lancaster ME83 1 in July 1944.

Anne reveals another remarkable story. 'Chick' Swinley was on leave for two weeks before he was shot down. He and Anne were courting at the time and as he left her on the evening before he was due to return to 106 Squadron... "he stood outside my home, saving 'Goodnight, Goodbye! Remember to write. I'll have to go now or I'll get into trouble'. I watched him going down the road when he turned and ran back and said 'I thought I'd better tell you, 'Next Saturday we'll be shot down; but don't worry. Wait for me. I'm going to walk back; so when it happened, I only worried about how he was coping'

"She continues..."When he was shot down, he knocked on the nearest door which was slammed close again, then walked into town, stood on the pavement and watched the German troops looking for him. Then he approached a French family, and asked his way to the British lines. They took him in, gave him civvies and got him a French pass (my son has it) in which he is described as a deaf and dumb student. They got him out of town, with a farmer, in his cart. He lived in the attic with five others. One, a young American, had a badly injured leg which they amputated and he lived. The Germans were retreating and actually some were billeted in the farmhouse. He finally made his way to the American lines... from there to London. Like you he was twenty. He was commissioned when he came back. We were married in the November - he was 21, I was 18!! He was a dear, good man.

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