piloge Peter M. Williams - Memories of WWII

Peter M. Williams
was in the RAF during World War II.
This is part of his story in his own words, as told to Mair Owen in October 2005
at his home in Highfields, Llandaff, Cardiff....

A pupil at Howard Gardens High School for Boys from 1935 to 1941, I had just passed my "Matric" when World War II started. One night in March 1941, when I was in the Upper VIth and studying Modern Languages for the Higher Certificate, the fire bombs fell and we arrived at School next morning to find the Main School Building a smoking ruin. Most of the younger pupils were kindly accommodated at Cardiff High School in Newport Road, but we Sixth Formers remained on site in one of the older buildings that had been spared.

I was a member of the Air Training Corps and when I had completed my school studies, I spent the first year of my Degree Course in Modern Languages at University College, Cardiff. I was also by now a member of Cardiff University Air Squadron.

After completing my first year in University, I was called up and, in October 1942, I commenced my flying training on Tiger Moths at a small airfield near Worcester. A few weeks later, I left these shores on His Majesty's Transport "Queen Elizabeth".

I continued my training in Canada, flying Tiger Moths equipped with skids as undercarriage and practising landings on snow-covered runways. The small, single-engined biplane was also fitted with a so-called "heated" cockpit.

Moving on to a larger airfield in Manitoba and now flying the twin- engined Avro Anson, I finally qualified for my "Wings" in September 1943.

After a few hectic days on leave in New York, where we were "the toast of the town" and received a very warm welcome from our kind hosts, I was posted to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, to practise navigating over the sea before returning home on H.M.T. "Mauretania".

Back in Scotland at Banff; I converted on to the Airspeed Oxford and received further training in night flying and cross-country flying. Then moving on to R.A.F. Turnberry I finally completed my operational training on the Lockheed Hudson, an American twin- engined general reconnaissance aircraft. Here I was joined by my crew consisting of Navigator, two Wireless Operators/Air Gunners (known as W.O.PIA.G.S.) and a Meteorological Air Observer. We quickly became good comrades and firm friends.

Towards the end of 1944, we were posted to 251 Squadron which was equipped with Lockheed Hudsons and based at Reykjavik in Iceland and was one of Coastal Command's Meteorological Reconnaissance Squadrons. There were a number of these dispersed over a large area ranging from the Azores and Gibraltar to Iceland. The purpose of each operational flight was to transmit back to base detailed weather reports taken at different altitudes, speeds and positions, so that the U.K., and Bomber Command in particular, could be informed of prevailing weather conditions. This of course was the role and responsibility of the Met. Air Observer.

photograph: On Reykjavik Airfield - May 1945

We finally converted on to the four-engined Boeing B-17, the Flying Fortress, and acquired extra crew members - a Second Pilot, a Flight Engineer and another Wireless Operator. We now had a much longer range and could stay air-borne for over 10 hours.

It was a matter of pride, as well as an operational necessity, that Met. Squadrons be flown whatever the weather. Our Squadron motto was in fact, "However Wind Blows". As a consequence of this, a number of aircraft were lost, either through icing or running into atrocious weather when trying to get back to base. At Reykjavik, the only diversion possible was to Greenland, 250 miles away!

My R.A.F. career ended tragically and abruptly. After having completed a full tour of operations in Iceland, 251 Squadron was brought home and disbanded. A number of us were posted to R.A.F. Chivenor in Devon to join 521 Squadron which, by now, at the end of 1945, was the only active Coastal Command Fortress unit still undertaking long-range weather forecasting.

In January 1946, on our last sortie in a Fortress, we suffered such serious engine failure in both starboard engines, that I was obliged to give the order "Dinghy, Dinghy, Ditching, Ditching". At the time we were 600 miles out westwards over the storm-tossed Atlantic and flying at only 250 feet above sea-level, busily engaged in measuring temperatures, pressures and wind-speeds at that height. Consequently we had no time to bring the aircraft under control and we crashed into the sea.

On ditching, the Fortress broke its back and, of the eight members of crew, only three of us, the Flight Engineer, the Second Pilot and myself managed to escape and scramble into one of the dinghies which had been released. It was 2 a.m. and we were in pitch darkness except when the sky was lit up by a number of exploding flares.

We cut the dinghy free from the aircraft and discovered that we still had a Verey Pistol and several cartridges with us, When, despairingly, we shot off our last flare, we were amazed to see what we took to be the navigation lights of a ship. The seas were so mountainous that we could not tell whether it was a large ship far away or a smaller ship nearby. Fortunately for us it hove-to and stood by until dawn. By this time we were soaked to the skin and freezing with cold.

The ship turned out to be a fairly large American merchant-man named the "SS Harriet Tubman". As we afterwards learned, it was the captain of this Liberty Ship who came down a rope-ladder and helped us up on board. With almost a gale blowing and a very heavy, wintery swell, this was no mean feat. The Captain, Tom Walker, later received an award from the Royal Humane Society for his bravery in saving our lives.

This proved to be Coastal Command's last operation with the Flying Fortress and the type was grounded.

Over half-a-century on, I still find it difficult to write or to talk about this extremely harrowing and painful experience.


Peter Williams sadly passed away in Cardiff in early 2009. His three daughters and family are all proud of their late father who is sadly missed.

The following is a copy of an article written by an old friend and colleague, Archie Clark. It appeared in the Autumn 2005 Edition of "lntercom", the Aircrew Association's magazine.

We are now in touch with R.A.F. Chivenor and are hoping that we can place either a memorial plaque or stone there to commemorate the five members of my crew who lost their lives on that dreadful night in January 1946.

photograph: 251 Squadron Veterans' Anniversary visit to Reykjavik, Iceland, 3-6 June 2005. At the New Memorial at Reykjavik Cemetery.
L-R: Stuart Leyburn, Bill Swanson, George Holtum, Peter Williams, Tony Smith, Archie Clark, Wing Commander T. Fauchon

A. A. Clark, ACA 12634

During 1944/45, No. 251 Met. Squadron was based in Iceland flying twin-engined Lockheed Hudsons on eight-hour weather reconnaissance missions, called Magnums, south-west from Reykjavik. Three aircraft were lost between November and March. One crew returned to the island but crashed on a hillside in deep snow without survivors. The five bodies of the crew under Pilot Officer J. J. Yule, RCAF, were recovered, brought back and buried in the Commonwealth War Graves site at Fossvogur cemetery, Reykjavik.

The other crews were posted missing and it was assumed that they came down into the Atlantic, probably caused by the severe weather conditions experienced in the northern hemisphere winters with only a few hours of daylight. In each of these two crews of five members were three Britons and two Australians.

Hudsons were declared unfit for further operations and crews were hurriedly converted to four-engined B-17s.

In this 60th Anniversary year it was decided by the fifteen aircrew veterans who have regularly kept in touch that we would all subscribe to a Memorial for the two crews who are not recognised locally, in Iceland. On the weekend of 3-6 June 2005, eight veterans made the journey along with wives, sons, daughters or carers, a party of nineteen to Dedicate a Memorial at Fossvogur directly opposite the graves of the crew already buried. The British Ambassador, Mr Alper Mehmet, attended with his Deputy, Simon Minshull, Wing Commander T. Fauchon represented the RAF and Mr Aloke Ghosh the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The Revd. David Redwood acted as Chaplain. Unfortunately, seven veterans of No. 251 Squadron were unable to make the journey due to age or infirmity. The visit was made financially possible by a grant from the 'Heroes Return' Lottery funds.

A video of the ceremony was made and copies have been distributed to all fifteen veterans. Bill Swanson from Canada, who attended the Dedication, will try to contact the relatives of the three Canadians so they can have a copy of the video. Details are being passed to Michael Dann, Australian Secretary of the AirCrew Association to request him to initiate searches for the families of the four Australians so that they could see the video of the ceremony.

Please send an email to melyn at bigfoot dot com if you...

  • ...knew Peter M. Williams at this time
  • ...were on board or knew someone who was on board the American merchant Liberty Ship SS Harriet Tubman
    ...have a photo of this ship which could be shown here
  • ...know or knew her Captain, Tom Walker
  • ...if you know of anything else that would make an interesting addition to this site or be of interest to Peter M. Williams. Thanks.