Wellington R1646 - Glen Clunie
Sergeant John 'Jack' Bernard Riley, RAFVR
John Bernard Riley, known as Jack, was born on April 8th 1919 in Bentley, Yorkshire, eldest son to Edgar and Edith Marie Riley who owned the butchers shop in Bentley Road, Bentley, and later the butchers shop in the nearby village of Askern. He had a younger brother, Frank, and a sister, Gladys.
After leaving Doncaster Grammar School Jack worked at Smiths Furniture Shop in Doncaster before volunteering for the RAF in 1940.
Jack enlisted with the RAFVR (Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve) on April 29th 1940 and commenced basic training at No 3 Reception Centre (3 RC) at Padgate before being posted to Reserve 10 Reception Centre (Signals) at Blackpool on July 12th where his wireless operator training began.
During his time in Blackpool Jack was billeted at 62 Dickson Road, one of the many boarding houses in the town which accommodated holiday makers as well as trainee airmen.
While at Blackpool Jack managed to have some home leave, and on September 9th married Joyce Chapman of Askern, Yorkshire at the village church in Askern. It was a double wedding with Joyce's sister, Phyllis, also marrying an airman.
On October 4th, Jack was posted to continue his training at 2 Signals 2 Wing School at Yatesbury. Here he was accommodated in hut Y57 and was in C Squadron. Much time here was spent learning Morse code and building up proficiency to the required 18 words per minute. Exams were also taken on operation and theory of the R1082 wireless receiver, the T1083 wireless transmitter and direction finding with loop aerial - all of which were used in bomber aircraft.
After passing out from Yatesbury he was posted directly to 10 Bombing and Gunnery School (10 BGS) in Dumfries, Scotland on December 7th. Here Jack was on Course 24 and would be trained as an air gunner. Progress on the course was slowed by the unserviceablity of aircraft in which to complete their air-firing training and tests. 24 Course had to wait until the previous course, 23 Course, had finished with the aircraft and been posted. To fill in time the 24 Course students spent time honing their shooting skills firing at clay pigeons, revolver shooting at targets and range shooting with machine guns in the hills near the camp.
Bored with practising machine gun skills at the range one day, Jack and his friend, Norman, attempted to slope off with the clay pigeon shooting gun to have a shot at the numerous rabbits in the area. Unfortunately for them they were caught in the act by an instructor who recovered the gun and sent them off unarmed on their rabbit hunt! "Stones aren't the best way of catching rabbit" Jack remarked in a letter home recounting this tale, so I assume from this that rabbit stew was not on the menu in the mess that evening.
Keen to get his first operational trip over with, and having had four trips cancelled for various reasons, he finally set off for an operation to bomb Dusseldorf on the night of Monday June 2nd. On June 4th he wrote to his mother "Naturally it was quite thrilling being our first trip - the ack-ack was pretty fierce and quite a few bursts were pretty near. However, it was very comforting to have our Wing Commander Squadron Leader Price, as a pilot as he has done about forty trips altogether......strangely enough I wasn't in the least scared during the trip, only thrilled and excited naturally............Actually, this game is just a matter of luck, the majority of the blokes here have done over twenty trips. As you know, we have only thirty to do then we get grounded as instructors - I don't doubt for a second that I shan't come through this lot OK." Ironically, Jack would lose his life just six months after writing this while instructing at an Operational Training Unit.
On the night of September 7th, in Wellington W5449 HA-Y on an operation to Berlin with Squadron Leader Price as Captain again a fire broke out in the port engine somewhere over the Dutch coast en route back to base from the target. The aircraft was flown home on one engine at 600 feet and crash landed at 0430 hrs in a wheat field at Hall Farm, Barton Bendish, 7 miles west-south-west of Swaffham, Norfolk.* All onboard survived without injury although the aircraft was a write off.
On September 9th, Jack had a double celebration - his surviving the Berlin operation on the night of 7th/8th and his first wedding anniversary with Joyce on the 9th.
A further incident occurred on an operation to Nuremburg on the night of October 14th when the aircraft was hit by flak or splinters from its own bomb but managed to return safely to base.
Jacks final operation flown with 218 Squadron was on the night of October 27th in Wellington Z8375 HA-Z with Wing Commander Kirkpatrick as Captain. The target that night was to be the same as his first operation with 218 Squadron, Dusseldorf.
From examining Jacks Service Record, it would appear that he was to be posted as an instructor to either 21 OTU at Moreton on the Marsh, or 20 OTU at Lossiemouth. Whether the ultimate decision was made by the RAF or by Jack is unclear, however, on December 18th 1941 he found himself once again at Lossiemouth where he had concluded his training earlier in the year but this time as an instructor rather than a pupil.
Poor weather at Lossiemouth at this time had affected the airfield to such an extent that flying had been virtually impossible as the runways had become so boggy. Thus, in November 1941 the majority of 20 OTU had decamped to Lakenheath, Suffolk in order to be able to continue with flying training. Jacks posting shows him as being at Lakenheath on January 10th 1942 which is the date that 20 OTU returned to Lossiemouth - it's possible he was despatched there to help crew the 20 OTU aircraft back to Lossiemouth.
Nine days later, on January 19th, Jack was onboard Wellington R1646 for a routine training flight from Lossiemouth which failed to return. The fate of the missing aircraft and crew was not discovered until February 27th. Jack Riley was buried at Dyce Old Churchyard on March 2nd, his family were not informed of his funeral until after the event had taken place and were given little information concerning his loss and the later discovery of the aircraft and bodies of the crew.
The fact that the RAF failed to inform the families of the discovery of the aircraft and of progress in the recovery of bodies caused deep anguish for them. News that the wreckage of the aircraft had been located reached the Riley family in an extraordinary way. Someone who knew the family of Sgt William Greenbank from Westmoreland, one of the other airmen onboard, must have been at Lossiemouth and heard the news that the wreckage of the missing aircraft had been discovered and they telephoned the Greenbank family to inform them. The Greenbank family then telephoned Lossiemouth in order to have the information confirmed. Mr Greenbank then telephoned the parents of Sgt Michael Kilburn, another of the airmen killed, who in turn informed Jack Rileys parents.
Distressed and heartbroken over the loss of her son, Mrs Riley felt extremely aggrieved at the apparent lack of concern shown by the RAF to the immediate families of the airmen and felt that they should have been officially notified as soon as any news was known about the discovery of the aircraft and crew. She wrote to Group Captain A H Owen, Officer Commanding, RAF Lossiemouth saying as much and requesting full and explicit details about the loss of the aircraft and crew.
Jacks mother corresponded with the mothers of the other airmen who died with her son, exchanging photographs of their sons and giving one another comfort and support until her death in 1944.
Buried in Grave 15 at Dyce Old Churchyard, the inscription on Jacks grave reads "In loving memory of my dear husband. Always in my thoughts until we meet again."
|My grateful thanks to Christine Townsend, niece of Sgt Riley, for assistance with information and images for this page and to Steve Smith for information about ops Jack Riley flew with 218 Sqdn.
*Information from Bomber Command Losses 1941 by W R Chorley