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15 October 2014
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A Halifax Rear-Gunnericon for Recommended story

by Ann Bradbury

Contributed by 
Ann Bradbury
People in story: 
Ernest Bradshaw, Ann Bradbury
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
30 September 2005

Flt/Sgt Ernest William Bradshaw RAFVR Rear-Gunner Melbourne, Yorkshire. killed March 1945

A Halifax Rear-Gunner

This is the story of a rear-gunner in a Halifax 111 no HX332 ZA-V who didn’t make it to the end of the war, told by me, his very much younger sister Ann.
He was Ernest William Bradshaw (Brad) born in South London in the middle of an air raid in the early hours of September 30th 1917, the elder of twins.
Before the outbreak of WW2, he enlisted in the RAFVR and was posted to Hornchurch Aerodrome in Essex and later went to France but he managed to get back to this country in the mass exodus of May 1940.
In 1942, he was posted abroad to South Africa and there he served on the Air Sea Rescue Launches at various training stations at Gordons Bay, Port Elizabeth and Durban. Later, he decided he wanted to take a more active part in the war and volunteered for Air Crew, taking a gunnery course. My mother cried when she heard what he had done and how dangerous it would be.
After training, he was promoted to Flight-Sergeant and posted to Melbourne airfield in Yorkshire in August 1944 and started operations as a rear-gunner in a Halifax 111 with 10 Squadron, No 4 group. I can remember the place names, Hamburg, Essen, Duisberg, Dortmund among others recorded in his log book. And of course, Kamen.
He was nearing the end of his tour when, on the morning of 5th March 1945, the dreaded yellow envelope was delivered by courier to his home in London, to say that he had been killed the previous day in the service of his country. I arrived home from school that day to see his twin sister Phyllis who was called home on compassionate leave from the WAAF, and my mother, sitting one on each side of the fireplace, in tears, and they told me. I rushed out of the room, up the stairs and went into the only place I knew where I could be alone and I bolted the door and cried.
He had taken off from Melbourne airfield at 1823 hours on the 3rd March , destination Kamen, to attack the synthetic oil installations. This raid produced very good results with no aircraft losses. It was on this night that the Germans mounted Unternehmen Gisela in which 200 night fighters were sent at low altitude over the east coast of England to infiltrate the returning bomber stream. By this means they hoped to gain the advantage of surprise as the crews were going through their landing procedure. Sadly, they were only too sucessful. ZA-V, had been diverted from its home base at Melbourne and flying at under 3000 feet on approach to a nearby airfield when it was intercepted and attacked by a JU88 thought to have been piloted by Arnold Doring. The Halifax crashed at about 0145 hours on Sunday, 4th March on farmland on Spellow Hill, Staveley, south of Ripon, Yorkshire. The villagers, some of them children at the time, remember that night with horror and rushed to the scene to try to help. Pieces of ZA—V are still being ploughed up in the field at the crash site.
When his body was brought home to London, his coffin draped in the Union Jack, my father wanted to identify his son. Although this was not strictly allowed, my father assured the official that he was a retired police inspector and had been used to seeing gruesome sights. The coffin was then opened. When the official had departed, my father came into the living room where Ernie’s fiancee Gladys, my mother and myself were waiting and told us that Ernie ‘had a big bullet hole in his neck you could get your thumb in’, and ‘his arms and legs were wrapped up separately.’. Such was the strict training of a police officer that he did not collapse under the stress of seeing his son in that condition, except for a slight tremor in his voice. The coffin remained on trestles in the best room, still covered in the Union Jack until the day of the funeral when he was laid to rest on 10th March in Chingford Mount cemetery, North London the very day he was to have married, in York, the Land Army girl he met when he was posted to Melbourne..My brother was to have finished his tour of operations within the next few days; he wouldn’t marry until they had been completed.
Halifax ZA-V was carrying eight crew that night. The 22 year-old pilot from Montreal was on his 33rd operation. Only three survived.; the second pilot, the navigator and the mid-upper gunner Bill, who baled out and injured his back. He visited us some months later to tell us about the last moments of the aircraft. He said that when the order came to bale out, he repeatedly shouted over the intercom to the rear turret to ensure the order had been heard. There was no reply. Bill kept in touch with my parents until the end of their lives
In later life, my father told me that he felt terrible about arranging the funeral on what was to have been his son’s wedding day, a Saturday, but in wartime Britain, one was only allowed time off from work to attend a funeral if the deceased was a very near relative. If it had been held during the week, no aunts and uncles, in-laws and friends would have been able to pay their last respects and it was impossible to delay the burial until the next Saturday.
The respect and esteem given towards bomber crews by the general public was enormous; my brother told us that whenever he boarded a crowded train or bus, as soon as people saw the aircrew brevet on his uniform, he would be offered a seat.
.Ernest Bradshaw’s name is recorded in the Memorial Book at the Bomber Command Memorial, the Astronomical Clock, in York Minster and his grave in Chingford cemetery, where he lies at rest, is a registered war grave.

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