Stirling Pilot

Courtesy of Dave Giacomelli, son of "Fritz"

Laurie Blair. Pilot – He was born in New Zealand.  He was a journalist before the war and settled down on his old newspaper after the war.  After 10 years with the paper he became a salesman and traveled the South Island.  In 1963 he joined the staff of NZ’s domestic airline and became the New Zealand Press Liaison Officer and deputy public relations manager.  Later his airline merged with Air New Zealand and he retired in 1981 as Public Affairs Manager.  He married Doreen whom he met in England during the war. 
After leaving 149 Sqn he was sent to a Wellington OTU after doing a staff college instructor’s course at Silverstone.  He then went to Chedburgh, a satellite of Stradishall – 1653 CU.  He stayed with them till the end of the war – completing another instructors course on many types of aircraft.


Frank Johnson. Flight Engineer – He was born in Jersey in the Channel Islands.  He joined the RAF in February 1939 and served with 248 Sqn prewar as a mechanic.  He subsequently volunteered for aircrew and became a Flight Engineer.  After his tour of operation with 149 Sqn he served with 1665 CU around the time of D-Day.  This would have been at Woolfox Lodge from 26 July 43 till 31 July 44.  He was commissioned about this time.  He was involved in eight crash landings with Stirlings – weak undercarriages and pilots-in-training being the cause for most.  He then went to Transport Command where he flew in Avro Yorks on the runs to Morocco, Calcutta and Dum Dum in India.  His pilot on these trips was none other than Dave Shannon of Dambuster’s fame!
He was offered a permanent commission after the war but chose to return to civilian life.  In 1953 he moved to Adelaide, Australia.  Some high jinks he remembered while with the Squadron was someone putting a white-hot poker into his mattress while he was on it and barely escaping before it was engulfed in flames.  At various times 303 ammunition was thrown into the barracks stove where it went off.  And one time a 20 mm round was also ignited in the stove…this time blowing the side of their hut out.  At this time I do not know of his status.


Dave Sunderland. WoP/AG –  He came from Lloydminister which is right on the border of Saskatchewan and Alberta in Canada.  He settled there after the war and it was here where I visited him.  The lady he married served as a cook in the RCAF during the war but I don’t know if he met her over there or not.  He passed away not long after I visited him.  His wife suffered from a debilitating disease that left her paralyzed to a great extent and I remember marveling how he fed her and himself at supper in the most natural way.


Ronnie Zambra. Mid-Upper Gunner – He was from Enfield, Middlesex.  After his tour with 149 Sqn he became a gunnery instructor with No 2 AGS Dalcross.  He was the only other crewmember to go back on operations in addition to my father.  He flew a total of nine operations with 31 Sqn SAAF out of Foggia, Italy.  His last two operations involved flying to Warsaw, Poland, dropping supplies.  He was the rear gunner at this time.   His aircraft, a Liberator, failed to return from Warsaw on 16/17 August 1944.  He was the only one who was able to bail out of the stricken aircraft but it was too low for his parachute to open fully and he was killed.  He was 22 years old and is buried with his crew in the Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery.  The Commonwealth War Graves Commission tends their graves.


Don Maddocks - RCAF– He flew with the crew for five operations only.  He remained with the Squadron however and before the war ended was awarded the DFC.  He was a minister of the church before the war and returned to that calling after the war.  He was relatively young when he died in Ontario, Canada.


Alec Davidson. Bomb Aimer – from Greenock on the Firth of Clyde.  After his 149 Sqn tour he was posted to 17 OTU Silverstone to the Flight Bombing Office.  He then attended a Bombing Leaders Course late in 1943 and upon his return he was put in charge of the Bombing Office.  He was commissioned by this time.  He was Mentioned in Dispatches for suggestions he made to improve bombing effectiveness with a particular type of bombsight.  When the war ended he was asked to go to Germany with the occupation force as a Squadron Leader, but he chose to be demobbed as he had a good business to return to.  His father had established an interior and exterior decorating business in 1918 and many family members were involved.  He passed away not long after I contacted him.


Fritz Giacomelli. Navigator- Born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada 9 Nov 1920. 
His parents had come to Canada from the Marche district of Italy before WW1.   He was a star athlete in high school in Stoney Creek, Ontario and broke all inter-school pole-vaulting records.  He also was a talented football player and tried out for the Hamilton Tiger Cats football club after the war.  
He trained in Canada as an Air Observer at Toronto's No 1 Air Observer School, at Jarvis, Ontario at No 1 Bombing and Gunnery School where he received his 'wing' and at No 2 Air Navigation School at Pennfield Ridge, New Brunswick.  
After arrival in England in April 1942 he underwent further training including the Advanced Flying Unit at Dumphries and No 14 Operational Training Unit at Cottesmore where he met his operational tour pilot, Laurie Blair.  From here they went to 1657 Heavy Conversion Unit where the crew formed up.  They arrived on 149 Sqn in December 1942; just after one of the squadron members F/Sgt Middleton had been posthumously awarded the VC.   After his squadron service in June 1943, which included the Battle of the Ruhr, he instructed on radar for over a year at 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit at Waterbeach and Wratting Common.  He was commissioned during this period and volunteered for a second tour.  He returned briefly to Canada in Aug 1944 to marry.   This time he crewed up as the bomber aimer with an all-Canadian crew and served with 419 Sqn of the RCAF's 6 Group based at Middleton St. George in Yorkshire.  They flew the Canadian built Lancaster Mk X.  When the war ended they flew the Lancasters back to Canada.  Upon take off from the Azores they lost an engine and almost crashed, but they eventually made it safely back.   Fritz had volunteered for the Tiger Force to bomb Japan, but the atomic bomb ended the war.  
Post-war he worked for the Canadian Post Office, became a postmaster and retired as the Public Relations Officer at the main branch of the Hamilton Post Office. He married Jean Anderson Buist of Toronto and they had two sons, David and Patrick.  
He enjoyed fishing and bird hunting, but his real love was obedience training and judging dogs.  At one point he was unquestionably the most sought after obedience judge in North America.  Almost every weekend he was away judging either in Canada or the USA.  He also wrote a monthly column on dog obedience training for a national dog magazine.  
He retired at age 55 to pursue his hobby more fully, but died young at age 60 in May 1981.

Clark Barker. Rear Gunner – He came from a village west of Ottawa, Ontario named Arden.  He enlisted in April 1941 and graduated from No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School (same as Fritz Giacomelli) in Jarvis, Ontario.  He departed Canada for Great Britain in March 1942 at the age of 21.   After his tour of operations with 149 Squadron he became a gunnery instructor on Wellingtons for one year.  On July 18th, 1944 he returned home to Canada. (The date 1944 is handwritten on this hometown newspaper report and may be suspect – I would think it would have been 1945.  There is another similar report about the shooting down of the JU-88 and it is labeled 1942 whereas it should have been 1943)

Tom Whitelock – Sergeant (Nav/Bomber).  He died in the crash in Lakenheath Village on 3 Jan 1943.  He is buried in Manchester at Workington (Harrington Road) Cemetery.  His funeral was held in Manchester.


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