Wellington R1646 - Glen Clunie

Profiles of the crew onboard

Flying Officer James Williamson Thomson DFC, RNZAF


James Williamson Thomson was born on August 7th 1916 in Oamaru, Otago, New Zealand, to James and Laura Jean Thomson (nee Williamson).

James completed his secondary education at Waitaki Boys High School where as well as studying, he enjoyed swimming, playing tennis and football. He was a member of the school Cadets and was the school Senior Shooting Champion.

After passing the University Entrance examination, he studied accountancy in Wellington at Harles College of Accountancy. He was also a member of the NZ Army Territorial Force for two years.

James joined the Civil Service as a clerk with the Justice Department in Blenheim and it was during his employment here that in February 1939 he applied to enrol with the RNZAF Civil Reserve of Pilots, being accepted by early May. In the Reserve James was given government paid flying training at the Marlborough Aero Club which was based at Blenheim. In the event of war or a national emergency the trainees were obliged to offer their services to the RNZAF.

Consequently, on February 13th 1940, James was mobilised as Leading Aircraftman (LAC) at the Ground Training School (GTS) at Weraroa, near Levin, being allocated service number A40667. A month later he commenced flying on being posted to No.1 Elementery Flying Training School (1 EFTS) at Taieri as an Airman Pilot under training (AP u/t).

Once EFTS was completed he proceeded, on May 6th 1940, to No.1 Flying Training School (1 FTS) at Wigram where on June 29th he was awarded his Flying Badge (pilot wings).

James was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on August 24th 1940, his service number changing to NZ40667. The RNZAF introduced the 'NZ' prefix to all service numbers at this time. After a brief embarkation leave, James boarded the ship Tamaroa on September 14th bound for the UK. As a trained airman he would have been attached to the RAF who paid for his passage.

After being received and processed at No.1 Depot, Uxbridge on November 3rd, he was posted to No.15 Operational Training Unit (15 OTU) at Harwell on November 8th. Here he would complete the final stage of training before being posted to an operational squadron. 15 OTU were training Wellington Bomber crews, preparing the men for operational flying.

75 (NZ) Squadron based at Feltwell in Norfolk was to be James' first operational squadron, and he arrived there on March 12th 1941. The 'NZ' in the squadron name was in recognition of the NZ Government gifting the RAF 30 Wellington Bombers it had ordered for the RNAZF. After flying several operational flights as a 2nd Pilot, he was soon Captain of his own aircraft and crew flying on operations to targets in enemy occupied Europe. These targets included, Berlin, Boulogne, Bremen, Brest, Cologne, Dunkirk, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Kiel, Lorient, Mannheim, Munster and Rotterdam as well as searches over the Atlantic for German Battleships.

In mid June 1941, on an operation to Dusseldorf, a target visited by the crew only a few nights earlier, James and his crew had a narrow escape. After bombing the target, his aircraft was caught in a cone of enemy searchlights illuminating it for the anti-aircraft guns on the ground. A steady stream of AA fire was directed at the Wellington and it was hit several times. The Wellington was suddenly hurtling downwards in a steep dive. Whether this was as a result of the heavy flak hitting it or as a result of James taking evasive action in order to shake the searchlights is not certain. During the dive, James passed out for a short time, regaining consciousness just in time to pull his aircraft out of the dive and regain height. He then set on a course back to base, but approximately 25 miles north-east of Antwerp, was again picked up by enemy searchlights and attacked by AA fire from the ground. This attack was short lived and the searchlights and ground fire soon ceased. Almost immediately, the aircraft came under attack by a Junkers 88 from dead astern which opened fire with machine gun and cannon fire hitting home on the Wellington. The Rear Gunner on the Wellington retaliated and drove the Junkers away. Much damage had been inflicted on the Wellington and it was now on fire. Fortunately the crew managed to extinguish the flames and they were able to continue the journey back to base and land safely.

After completing 31 operations with 75 (NZ) Squadron, James had earned a rest from operational flying and was posted as an Instructor to No. 20 OTU at Lossiemouth in Scotland on 30th July 1941. A 'tour of duty' with Bomber Command at this time was generally considered to be completed after 30 operations over enemy occupied territory, James had exceeded this by one. Being posted as an instructor to an OTU was intended to give airmen a 'rest' from flying on operational sorties and the stresses that went along with them, however, flying with young inexperienced crews at OTU's was far from an easy ride and loss and accident rates were high.

On August 24th 1941, James was promoted to the rank of Flying Officer, and on September 19th he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), in part for his courage in the incident noted above. A line from the citation referring to the incident reads "Pilot Officer Thomson has encountered and gallantly overcome many similar harassing experiences, his courage, determination and devotion to duty are worthy of high praise."

James Thomson must have been almost at the end of his tour of duty as an Instructor at 20 OTU when he was tragically killed on January 19th 1942. His body was recovered from the crash site on April 15th and he was buried in grave 12 at Dyce Old Churchyard on April 17th 1942.

Old Kirk at Dyce Churchyard
Grave of J W Thomson at Dyce
Commonwealth War Graves cross at Dyce Churchyard

My grateful thanks to the relatives of James Thomson for their assistance with information and images for this page. My thanks also to Errol Martyn in NZ .
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