Scottish Aircrew Association Logo

 

Library Reference Number: 153

Branch Founder Member - lain Nicolson, DFC DFM

Jack Burgess, PRO, Scottish Saltire Branch, ACA

The Air Gunners Association had already been a thriving organisation for some years, before it was felt that its scope could be extended if all categories of military aircrew could be invited to join. This gave 'The Aircrew Association' (ACA) a tremendous start when the Founder Branch Wool formed in 1977. The ACA developed very quickly from that point, taking off as it did with the already established nucleus of 700 Air Gunner members. Perhaps because the harsh memories of WW2 were receding, or there was a fresh desire for the old aircrew esprit de corps to be rekindled, who knows? The fact being that the organisation rapidly gained members not only from UK, but also from other countries including USA, Canada, South Africa, Cyprus, France, Spain & Australia.

P for Peter in Glasgow SquareBill Reid,VC, who had been resident in England for some years, was one of the first members of the new Aircrew Association, although he had been involved with the Air Gunners in attending re-unions and giving talks. He and Group Captain Leonard Cheshire,VC, were asked to become Life Members of the new Aircrew Association, and eventually became Life Vice Presidents. Fortunately for former aircrew members north of the Border, Bill Reid decided to accept early retirement, returning to his native Scotland, taking up residence in Crieff, Perthshire.

Hardly had he settled in to his retirement, when Bill Reid met up with other former aircrew members including Alex Ritchie, Hamish Reid, Harry Beattie, Jim Jones, and the subject of this article - lain Nicolson, DFC, DFM. There is no doubt that their decision to set up a Scottish Branch of the ACA was a resounding success, as very quickly the membership numbers rose to around 200, with Jim Jones accepting the Branch Secretary's post. He must have been a very well known character, as his sole postal address was "Jimmy Jones, Anderston Quay, Glasgow."

After a few years with meetings taking place monthly alternately at Glasgow and Edinburgh, it was felt that some effort should be made to set up further Scottish Branches, first of all at Dumfries & Galloway, then a Tay Branch was formed with others following at Grampian and Highland Regions. Although additional branches covered the needs of wider areas of the country, it could now be difficult to retain the name `Scottish Branch' for the original branch, and thus the name `Scottish Saltire Branch' was adopted, still covering Edinburgh, Glasgow and right across central Scotland. It is indeed a remarkable fact that lain Nicolson, one of the founder members of The Aircrew Association in Scotland, is still in regular attendance at our Glasgow meetings in 2008.

It is now felt that this founder member deserves some recognition for being instrumental in, along with others, bringing the ACA to Scotland which has offered comradeship and shared interests to so many former members of aircrew for the past 28 years. There is no doubt that Bill Reid provided the experience gained in England and was a worthy motivating factor in introducing the ACA to Scotland; but he also required assistance and support. lain Nicolson provided this support in undertaking among other duties, the post of Vice-Chairman in the early days.

Lord Provost Biggar greets the crew of P for Peter.lain Nicolson's flying career took off in USA when he enrolled with the 'Arnold Scheme' described in Saltire Branch Website Library (Index No. 119). Then, having completed his training as a Navigator at P.A.A..Navigation School USA, lain re-crossed the Atlantic to join No.207 Squadron who had previously flown 'Manchester' aircraft, but then moved on to fly the famous Lancaster. Records at the end of hostilities showed that No.207 Squadron flew on 540 operations, by both day and night for the loss of 154 crews killed or missing, with at least another nine aircraft lost on non-operational flights. This then, was the climate which lain was pitched into as a freshly qualified Navigator, who suddenly found himself constantly engaged in guiding his aircraft and crew into the thick of the Nazi war machine, where RAF Bomber Command had assumed the role of front line troops in making way for Allied Forces to regain a foothold back into German-occupied Europe.

One of lain's most memorable operational missions while flying Lancasters occurred between 17t''/18'n August 1943, when the order was to attack the German Peenemunde rocket site on the Baltic. Work was proceeding at Peenemunde on bombarding Britain with un-manned missiles, which falling at random without warning, had been causing untold casualties among civilians, with the threat of this danger escalating if nothing was done. Something had been done to halt or delay the infamous V1 & V2 programme, but at a terrible price to the RAF.

lain Nicolson recalls "I remember the Peenemunde Raid so well, much more clearly than all my previous raids. Even the Pathfinder operations in which I later took part did not provide the tension that the Peenemunde Raid did. After all those years, the memory of all those Lancaster aircraft going down all around me still remains vivid." Little wonder that lain's memories remain vivid, as 596 aircraft had taken part in this attempt to halt the indiscriminate rocket attacks on defenceless civilians in Britain, and 40 of those planes had been shot down. Considering the fact that a Lancaster normally carried 7 crew members, 280 members of Bomber Command had given their lives that night to halt the ruthless flow of V1 & V2 unmanned rockets. Had German progress been left unhampered, who knows how long it would have taken to produce inter-continental missiles reaching Canada and USA.? The strain was even worse for lain's crew on this raid, being the third wave to go in after the German defences were alerted during the first two waves. Flying in at only 7,000 feet on a clear moonlit night was also an additional hazard.

German sources stated 50 years after the first rocket was launched, it was difficult to handle the 50th Anniversary in 1992; clearly showing that Peenemunde rocket activity was still an open wound in the German conscience.

Ian Nicolson loads up his gear for the next mission on a LancasterAfter completing a tour of 31 operations with No.207 Squadron, 5 Group Bomber Command, lain Nicolson then joined No.105 Squadron flying the Mosquito aircraft. This entailed a dramatic role change for lain as a Navigator flying Lancasters, where his duty had been to guide his aircraft to a target point specified by others. His redefined role as a Pathfinder Force Navigator was to identify a specific point and mark it for Bomber Command aircraft to follow. An indication of the terrible power - according to the standards of that time - possessed by this force can be seen from the result of the raid on 25/26th July 1943. On that night more than 600 bombers delivered a fierce 50minute assault on Essen, home of the huge Krupps armament works. They bombed on accurately-placed groundmarkers dropped by nine Oboe-equipped PFF Mosquitoes and inflicted more damage on Essen than all the previous attacks put together.

No.105 Pathfinder Force Squadron Mosquitos flew over 5,000 sorties, of which lain flew in 65 operations. This combined with his previous ops with No. 207 Squadron Lancasters, brought his total operational flights to 96.

Strangely enough, it was the Commander of RAF Pathfinder Force who returns this account back to the Aircrew Association. A highly experienced Australian Pilot Don Bennett, was the youngest ever Air Vice Marshal in the Royal Air Force. He had flown the Mercury-Maia composite pre-war, breaking a world record in flying the 'Mercury' from Dundee to South Africa. In April 1942 Bennett was given command of 10 Squadron (Halifaxes) and shortly afterwards led a raid on the Tirpitz. Shot down during that raid, he evaded capture and escaped to Sweden, from where he was able to return to Britain. Bennett was also a pioneer of transatlantic crossings by air, bringing over the first delivery flight of Hudson aircraft which evolved into Ferry Command. Incredibly, this outstanding master aviator followed Sir Arthur Harris as President of The Aircrew Association in 1984. He held this post until his death on 15th September 1986, aged 76 years.

Iain Nicolson settling down at his Lancaster Navigator tablebefore taking offReturning up to date (May 2008), lain Nicolson still attends regular meetings of the Saltire Branch of the Aircrew Association. It was former aircrew members such as lain who became founder members of the ACA bringing 200 former aircrew members together in this part of Scotland. This took place over thirty years after the end of WW2. New members world-wide who are still joining The Aircrew Association are receiving membership numbers exceeding 21,000. The hope is now, that younger and present-day aircrew members will not take as long as we did to come together and become members. The benefits are enormous, not least is the ability to discuss common interests and problems. UK was not widely known for providing counselling or help for returning aircrews who had been exposed to trauma and periods of stress quite misunderstood by those fortunate enough not to have personal experience of those situations. I should know! - the largest problem I had in collecting over 150 aircrew experiences in this website library, was to convince the contributor that he would not be misunderstood in giving factual accounts of his experience. The usual query was "Will people think I am shooting a line?" My standard reply to that question is this. "Which is preferable to future historians? Eye-witness accounts - or a whole load of supposition and guesswork?

Our initial numbers when lain Nicolson was involved in setting up the Scottish Branch quickly rose to almost 200. At this moment (May 2008) Scottish Saltire Branch serving central Scotland, membership stands at 80. Our two venues for monthly meetings are located in Glasgow and Edinburgh where we would be delighted to meet anyone interested in joining us. Alternatively, if you have someone else in mind who might be interested please let us know. All contact details are contained in the 'Information' section of this website.

Photograph 1 - Photo of Lancaster in George Square Glasgow publicising fund-raising campaign `Wings for Victory' 1942. This aircraft was flown in by lain Nicolson's crew. lain's father may be seen near bottom left of photo, he is the elderly gentleman wearing a trilby hat facing the camera.

Photograph 2 - Photo of crew of Lancaster'P' for Peter, 207 Squadron, meeting Glasgow Lord Provost Biggar on occasion of Glasgow'Wings for Victory Week' 1942. lain Nicolson is aircrew navigator extreme right of photo. The pilot shaking hands is John McIntosh, DFC, who lived in Leslie, Fife.

Photograph 3 - lain Nicolson loading his flying gear into Lancaster prior to taking off on another operation.

Photograph 4 - lain Nicolson settling down at his Lancaster's Navigator's table before taking off on a mission."

Photos courtesy No. 207 Squadron Archives via Raymond Glynne-Owen

Top Of Page