- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Ted Pateman
- Location of story:
- Sage War Cemetry
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 08 June 2004
My family always told me I looked like my Uncle Ted who had been killed in WWII. He had been 19 when he died, the younger of my late father's two brothers. All the information I had was a photo of him in uniform, his last letter to my father, promising to pay his debts, and a letter from the Air Ministry dividing his estate.
A BBC documentary on Remembrance Sunday spurred me to contact the War Graves Commission to find out more about Ted. What I got back started a chain of investigations that led me to become very close to the Uncle I resembled but never knew.
It told me he had died on September 4th 1939, had been a Wireless/Operator Gunner with 110 Squadron and was buried at Sage in Germany. In November 1992, I flew to germany to visit the cemetery, the first member of my family ever to go there. Sage is quite small with only 900 graves and there were only a handful dated September 4th, one of which was my Uncle's. It was when I got home and started to seek to find out about this final mission that the whole picture, and the error at Sage became clear.
War had been declared at 11am on September 3rd 1939. At 1445 the next day, a force of Blenheim and Wellington bombers left to carry out the first raid on the German fleet at Wilhelmshaven. 15 Blenheim's left England, 110 Squadron losing 1 from 5, 139 Squadron seeing all of its 5 aircraft return safely and 107 Squadron losing 4 from 5. Given that their were 5 graves in Sage, including my Uncle, all supposedly from 110 Squadron, there had to be an error as Blenheims had a crew of 3.
In fact, Ted had been in 107 Squadron, an RAF squadron dating from the First World War and re-established in 1936. My Uncle volunteered from his job as a Confectioner on Valetine's Day 1938, he was 17. He arrived with 107 Squadron in April at Harwell, moving to Wattisham in May 1939 where the suadron took delivery of its new MkIV Blenheims. My Uncle's last letter tells of flying "a machine" down to stores at Kemble, presumably one of the old MkIs being retired.
Throughout the Spring and Summer of 1939 the squadron carried out various exercises, mostly seemingly acting as the enemy.
At 2358 on September 3rd 1939, 2 Bomber Group ordered 107 and 110 to be ready to take off at 1 hour's notice. The next day, 1145, 5 aircraft with "experienced crews" were ordered to attack Wilhelmshaven, based on reconnaisance of the German fleet. 139 squadron added a further 5 aircraft, while 14 Wellingtons headed to another target at Brunsbuttel. My Uncle left England at 1600, flying as No 2 in the flight in A/c No 6188. The Pilot was PO WJ Murphy and the Observer was Sgt GF Booth. Each aircraft carried 2 500lb bombs.
Little is known of what happened on the raid. The one survivor from 107 landed at back in England at 2030. The leader of the attack, Flt Lt Barton, was shot down by anti aircraft fire from the ship Admiral Hipper, possibly the first RAF casualty of WWII, and an intelligence report, gleaned from a German overheard on a train some time later, spoke of the reckless gallantry of the crews of the attacking aircraft who attacked so closely that the one plane was destroyed by the blast of its own bombs.
The air crew were buried with full military honours by the Germans.
No one can really know what happened to my Uncle Ted, but I know that he gave his life for his country voluntarily. He died the day after his 19th birthday, listed in his RAF record as killed in action on 3rd September, the day of the initial order. All I have left of him now that both of his brothers have passed away is this account, his letter and some photos. But he is almost as real to me as my father was, and I hope that I could have acted like him in similar circumstances.
All of my uncles and my father fought in WWII, my father in the RAF servicing aircraft, an uncle in military intelligence and another who was at Dunkerque, El Alemein and D Day. Now that all are gone, I deeply wish I had asked them more about what they did, but I know that they were often reluctant to talk about it and I was too young to really understand.
When I was 19 I was having fun at college, 37 years earlier, my uncle had been flying to protect his country for a cause he probably did not really understand, but he did it, and I am very proud of him for doing so.
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