102 (Ceylon) Squadron

Tentate et perficite (Attempt and Achieve)

Flying Officer Basil Spiller DFC

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Goodbye to 102 Squadron Pocklington

When the end of the war in Europe was announced on the 8th of May 1945 things moved very quickly for Basil. The squadron celebrated long into the early hours. Then before he knew it, the Australian aircrew were packed up and sent to RAF Driffield to await embarkation for Australia. In this chapter Basil tells of his last days at 102 Squadron Pocklington and his years wondering about the fate of his last plane, Halifax Mk VI, RG532, his beloved N-Nan, which he insists was the best four engine bomber in Britain in operation at the end of the war.

The mission to Wangerooge was the last bombing mission of the Second World War that 102 Squadron took part in. I was still in the squadron with the rest of my crew when the end of the war in Europe was announced. Between Wangerooge and that announcement there were only a few smaller scale bombing missions and negotiations with the Germans were taking place in earnest.

We bombed Wangerooge on the 25th of April and we left No. 102 Squadron after the Armistice was signed on the 8th of May. During this time we flew six more times - one of these as passengers.

On the 28th of April Bill and I did a trip from base to Hooton Park and back in an Airspeed ‘Oxford’, an aircrew training plane. It was a short flight of one hour and forty minutes. We ferried Air Commodore Walker over to Hooton Park. It was an airfield where a lot of lend lease aircraft were assembled when they arrived from America. Unwanted ircraft were also sent there during the war to be scrapped. We left him there and Bill and I flew back to base.

My log book then shows that we ferried Halifax III, MZ486, to an aerodrome called Kinloss, on the 2nd of May 1945 six days before the war in Europe ended. The airfield was near Findhorn Bay on the north coast of Scotland. The runways ended right on the North Sea. Occasionally very high tides would flood the runways. It had been an OTU right through the war and became the home of a coastal command squadron. 102 Squadron was flying Halifaxes from Pocklington to Kinloss because Maintenance Unit 45 was based there. After the war many aircraft were broken up and sold for salvage there. Our aircrews flew them up. I can remember that afterwards they packed us into one aircraft and flew us back to Pocklington. My log book says that our return flight was in a Halifax 6 piloted by Flight Sergeant Cowper. We left at 1618 in the afternoon and the flight took one hour and twenty five minutes. The next day they flew more planes up to Kinloss. My crew only did the one trip.

Our last three flights were in Halifax Mark 6’s. On the 3rd of May we did a blind bombing of York. This was a practice bombing run over York with “bombs away” and all that but without any bombs. It may have been on N-Nan but I did not record the serial number of the plane we flew. After that we did our last two flights on N-Nan.

On the 6th of May we did a full scale “cross country”. We took off at 1515 in the afternoon and returned at 2100 that night. It was almost a six hour flight so looking back on this I can see that they were still keeping us on a war footing.

Finally on the 7th of May we did a “formation cross country”. So our last flight for 102 Squadron at Pocklington, the day before the war in Europe ended, was in formation with other crews from the squadron. We did not do many of those. When I think about it, it was a fitting way to say goodbye. They must have known something.

Until recently, I didn’t really know what happened to our Halifax - Mark VI, N-Nan RG532 but some recent research has explained what happened to her - planes were always referred to in the feminine.

The records at the Royal Air Force Museum in London show that Halifax RG532 was flown to No. 48 Maintenance Unit which was based at the RAF Hawarden airfield near Chester in north-east Wales. The paperwork gives the date as the 30th November 1945. It was probably still there because it was included in the Home Census in March 1946.

Then it is listed as being “struck off charge” on the 10th of September 1946. This means that it was taken off the books. When this happened during the war it was because planes had been too badly damaged or were too unserviceable to repair. After the war our N-Nan must have been declared excess to requirements and its airframe stripped of anything useful and the rest scrapped.

Halifax MZ486, the plane that we left at Kinloss, was struck off charge on the 12th of February 1947, five months later than N-Nan, even though it was an older Mark 3 and we were still flying N-Nan when we delivered it to Maintenance Unit 45 in May 1945. It may have been scrapped earlier than N-Nan but that is the date that the paperwork caught up with it.

Our last N-Nan was a beautiful plane and I could not believe that the RAF would send their most modern planes to be scrapped by maintenance units and salvage companies. The earlier Mark 2’s and 3’s yes, but not the Mark 6’s. But I have heard since that it was government policy to do just that – to scrap brand new aircraft. The reason was that after World War I the British government cancelled orders for new aircraft and the aircraft industry collapsed. To prevent this from happening at the end of World War II, they allowed limited production to continue and aircraft were even flown straight from the factory to the wreckers without going to squadrons first.

I was at Pocklington the 8th of May when the armistice was signed. There was huge celebration in the officers’ mess when the war was declared over. We all got drunk. It was a big party. Everyone was happy and excited.

When the war ended there were almost two thousand Halifaxes “on charge” with the RAF. If they were all flying would be fourteen thousand aircrew personnel just for Halifaxes. Then there were the aircrews for Lancasters and Mosquitos not to mention fighter planes. Then there was a ground crew for each plane and administrative personnel in every squadron. With the war over, the last thing the RAF wanted was thousands of men hanging around the squadrons twiddling their thumbs and thousands of bombers with nothing to bomb parked at airfields around the country. That was why they moved so quickly to pack up 102 Squadron. On the 8th of May, the day the war ended in Europe, No. 102 Squadron was officially moved into Transport Command They wanted us out of there as quickly as possible.

A couple of days later, all Australian airmen from Pocklington were transferred to Driffield, the base from which 466 RAAF Halifax Squadron operated. All the Australian airmen from 4 Group were then assembled at Driffield.

One day shortly after we got there we were called on parade and that’s when the Top Brass asked us if we had any volunteers to join Transport Command and nobody volunteered, much to their disgust. We all wanted to go home.

After a few days I was posted to report to Brighton to be embarked back to Australia. I travelled to Brighton by train and duly reported back to the Grand Hotel and was billeted there.

Sydney, Brisbane and Sandgate

Basil Spiller embarked for Australia aboard the SS Andes on the 21st of June 1945. It travelled across the Atlantic Ocean to the Panama Canal, then across the Pacific Ocean to Australia. It arrived in Sydney on Saturday 28th July 1945. In this chapter, Basil talks about his train journey from Sydney to Brisbane and from there to the RAAF station at Sandgate where his Second World War story began three years earlier.


Big Crowds of Relatives

Cheering crowds on the harbour foreshores on Saturday morning gave a stirring welcome to 660 repatriated R.A.A.F. men, including 150 former prisoners of war.

As the ship berthed, relatives and friends eagerly scanned the decks to catch a glimpse of men they had not seen for several years.

After disembarkation, the men were taken in special buses to the R.A.A.F. personnel depot at Bradfield Park.

The largest crowd of civilians yet seen at Bradfield Park waited outside the parade ground to meet the men after they had completed formalities and started their leave.

Addressing the men on the parade ground, the chairman .of the New South Wales Recruiting Drive Committee, Sir Donald Cameron, said he had received excellent reports from overseas of the courage and exemplary behaviour of R.A.A.F. personnel. Their exploits had become world famous.

The Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 30 July 1945

I can remember the troop train especially because it was equipped with bunks to the ceiling and they had straw palliasses like at Cootamundra. We travelled overnight and when we arrived in Brisbane the next morning, we found a fleet of taxis waiting for us at Clapham Junction – that’s a rail junction on the outer southern suburbs of Brisbane. We were driven through a tickertape parade down Queen Street. It was very emotional. All the cheering crowds were there with us, welcoming us home.

When I got to Sandgate there was a big crowd and welcoming committee – the Lord Mayor and other parliamentary dignitaries and I could see my own personal welcoming committee waiting for me. It is still very emotional and overwhelming just talking about it. Betty and her mother were there, also her aunts and uncles and Mrs Simpson, the mother of my best mate who was killed in training at AFU at Dumfries in Scotland. She came to see me too. I hadn’t kept in touch with her but she knew I was coming back. It was in the paper.

I had not been in touch with Betty or her family so I don’t know how they knew that I would be at Sandgate that day. They must have found out somehow. They were all there. I can remember that Betty had on a pink, woollen, knitted dress that she had knitted on her own. I thought that she looked very beautiful.

We were all drawn up in ranks until the speeches were delivered. Finally I was permitted to greet them, all in turn. It was a very emotional experience. The thought of it still is.

Then I had to make a difficult decision – where I wanted to stay on the ten day’s leave that they had given us. I had three alternatives. Mrs. Simpson’s boarding house, Betty’s parents had invited me to their place and Bett’s uncle and aunty that lived in Cooparoo had also invited me to stay there. Naturally I chose Betty’s place because I was besotted with her and we duly proceeded to Wynham where her parents lived. Bett was born in Wynham.

There I met Mr Harley, Bett’s father, as he came home from work. I had met Bett’s parents before I went away. Shortly after I arrived at Betty’s place we were invited to go down to Palm Beach on the Gold Coast. Bett’s uncle, George, owned a block of flats there. There I was reunited with the Australian surf and seawater. It was very enjoyable. In the meantime I had proposed to Betty, during my ten days leave. I was pretty quick off the mark because I knew what I wanted to do. She’d accepted so we were engaged. One of the neighbours at Palm Beach was a retired jeweller and he made us an engagement ring for Betty. I paid fifty pounds for it. That was a lot of money when you think about what a man’s wage was in Australia back then in 1945. The average weekly wage including overtime was about £5. It was about ten weeks’ wages. I had plenty of money. I had been canny saving. It was worth every penny because Betty loved it.

Nearly sixty eight years later my war experience is still a very emotional thing for me. Well, I am an emotional person. I cry easily. But going through Brisbane!

Getting a tickertape parade! Imagine what it was like going to Sandgate, looking out through the crowd and there is Betty. Very emotional!

Map of the Stuttgart - 102 Ceylon Squadron
SS Andes



SS Andes Arrives in Sydney


A tug helps the British troopship, SS Andes, manoeuvre into Woolloomooloo Wharf, Sydney, with approximately 2000 RAAF personnel aboard on the 29th of July 1945.


Distinguished Flying Cross

In December 1946, Basil Spiller was invited to Government House in Brisbane and presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Newspaper Article: re Basil Spiller’s DFC

Decorated: Flt.-Lt. V. F. Cage, husband of Mrs. V. F. Cage, of Southport, awarded DFC.

Pilot–Officer Basil G. Spiller, son of Mr. H. Spiller, Menapi, Papua, awarded D.F.C.

Flt.-Lt. I. G. Durston, son of Mr. and Mrs. H. D. Durston, Rosemount Terrace, Windsor, posthumously awarded D.F.C.

W./O. Arnold Kent, son of Mr. Allan Kent, of Brisbane, posthumously awarded D.F.C.

Sqdron - Ldr. Allan J. Radcliffe, son of Mr. and Mrs. J. N. Radcliffe, Southport School, Southport, awarded D.F.C. for gallant service in the Middle East with the Desert Air Force.

Gnr. R. H. Tann, son of Mr. and Mrs. R. H. Tann, Hermit Park, Townsville, awarded a Commander-in-Chief's Card for distinguished service in the South-west Pacific.

The Courier-Mail, Brisbane, Queensland, Thursday 5 July 1945

I am not sure when I was told that I had been given awarded my DFC. I understood it was before I finished my first tour. But it might not have been until after we finished the first tour.

There were five men in our crew who were awarded DFC’s. I received one as the navigator, then there were Bill Rabbitt, the pilot, Don McLean, the bomb aimer, our rear gunner Sandy Concannon and John Allen, our engineer. Four Australians and one Englishman. That was John Allen.

My DFC was gazetted on the 27th March 1945. That was two days after our raid on Osnabruck, the first mission of my second Tour of Duty. After being told that, I was entitled to wear the DFC ribbon.

As far as I know I purchased the ribbons at a menswear shop, which would have been designated to supply ribbons specifically for that purpose and I got my batwoman to sew them on my battledress and my dress tunics.

In December 1946, sixteen months after my return to Australia, I attended an investiture at Government House in the suburb of Paddington in Brisbane and the Lieutenant Governor of Queensland invested me with my DFC officially. I had not been officially invested with it until then. Don was also in attendance to receive his decoration. I don’t know whether the others had received theirs before then. We had been awarded them earlier but there had been no ceremony while we were at the squadron. We received them officially after the war. I don’t know if that is the way it was usually done. I cannot remember going to anyone’s investiture during the war.

It was a very proud moment. Betty accompanied me there and I have photos of the ceremony.

Distinguished Flying Cross Citation

RAAF Pilot Officer Basil Gordon Spiller, 426177

“Pilot Officer Spiller has proved himself a navigator of exceptional ability and possessed of cool courage and determination. He has participated in numerous operational sorties against targets in Germany and enemy operated territory. On one occasion his aircraft was damaged by heavy anti-aircraft fire and he was wounded in the upper thigh but although in pain he unhesitatingly continued with his allotted tasks while receiving first aid from another member of the crew. He navigated the aircraft to the target and back to his country. For his example of fortitude and devotion to duty Pilot Officer Spiller has won the admiration and confidence of his crew.”

That’s the end of my story.

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