Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Joe the Navigator

Joe the Navigator

I am glad to say that the RAF never forgot the men of Bomber Command. Many of those who flew the bombers were killed - including one of my mother’s cousins - but others survived. Among those was Joe Wesley, the man who had flown on the Thousand Bomber Raid to Cologne and who I quoted earlier in this book. He was one of the very few men to survive two full tours of duty. I recall meeting him just once when I was a small boy. He was a decorated war hero - having been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1944 - and a great man in my boyish eyes.

Joe had been a draughtsman in civilian life which gave him some of the skills necessary to be a navigator. My family knew him because he was a school friend of another of my mother’s cousins, Stanley. The pre-war Joe that they had all known was quiet, shy and unpushy in any way. Rather the type who was always passed over for promotion because he was too nice to be the boss. Stanley, himself in the army, once asked an RAF fellow crew member of Joe’s what transformation into a hero came over our family’s shy little chum when he put on his uniform and climbed into a bomber plane. Nobody who knew Joe  could picture it at all.

“Well” - came the reply - “everyone wants to fly with Joe as navigator. There can be all hell let loose outside with shells exploding, a sky full of other aircraft or night fighters after you - but Joe sits there with his slide rule and his maps working out where we are and which way we should be going as if he were in an office in the Home Counties. His hands never shake, he never gets panicky. He sits there as cool as a cucumber getting us out there and getting us home.”

So there you are - Joe was one of those people who stay cool in a crisis. What a wonderful gift.

After the war he went back to the draughtsman’s job he had left and sat working quietly away without being ambitious or reaching any great heights of promotion. He had come from obscurity to be a hero and gone back to obscurity when it was done.

He died quite young, as I have noticed in the research for this book did so many who had endured a stressful war. At his funeral I was pleased to see that two young officers were sent to attend on behalf of the RAF. They were only youngsters a little older than me, not even born till after the war, but they turned up impeccably uniformed and circulated amongst everyone at the post funeral reception making polite and suitable conversation. They were a credit to the service.

Joe had not been forgotten.

from RAF BOMBER COMMAND AT WAR by Rupert Matthews


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