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....
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.
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.
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".
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"
on to a larger airfield in Manitoba and now flying the twin- engined
Avro Anson, I finally qualified for my "Wings" in September
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.
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.
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.
On Reykjavik Airfield - May 1945
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
proved to be Coastal Command's last operation with the Flying Fortress
and the type was grounded.
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.
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.
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.
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. Clark, ACA 12634
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
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.
were declared unfit for further operations and crews were hurriedly
converted to four-engined B-17s.
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.
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...
Peter M. Williams at this time
on board or knew someone who was on board the
American merchant Liberty Ship SS Harriet Tubman
a photo of this ship which could be shown here
or knew her Captain, Tom Walker
you know of anything else that would make an interesting
addition to this site or be of interest to Peter M. Williams.