24th September 2013
How are you?
I hope all is good with you.
Just a quick
update on the book. It is published now and we did the launch at Newark Air Museum in June. It is available on Amazon in Kindle
and Paperback. It comes up as unavailable, not sure why! If you would like a copy just ignore this and click ‘order
now’, as the orders still come directly through to me.
There is some
additional info that might interest you:-
I am going to meet the Prime Minister on Wed 9 Oct, 12.30pm at the House of Commons.
Four of the Veterans featured in my book are coming with me to present a copy to David Cameron as a thank you for his work
gaining recognition for WW2 Veterans. We are all having lunch at the RAF Club afterwards and will present a copy to the RAF
Club Library as well. BBC Look North are covering the event. There are also some links to You Tube if you have a free moment:-
Book launch at Newark
On Sunday 16 June 2013 the book Riding In The Shadow Of Death, by Chris Keltie
and Bomber Command Veteran Bill North was launched at Newark Air Museum. This was the second day of the launch weekend, the
first was at the Aviation Heritage Centre at East Kirkby in Lincolnshire on 15 June. Within the pages of this book are revealed
the experiences of the men who served with Bomber Command during WW2. It takes you into the apocalyptic world of a seven man
Lancaster crew during 1943/1944, and with emotional eyewitness accounts reveals the brutal odds against surviving a tour of
30 Operations. The crew was Captained by F/Lt Bill North, who served with 61 Squadron. His story is told by Chris Keltie,
who as a 7 year old boy met Bill and his family after moving into the house next door in London, March 1970. Over the years
Chris heard many accounts of Bill's WW2 experiences and grew to realise, that his unassuming next-door neighbour and good
friend was actually, an extraordinary man. The book is not just a typical 'War story', but a moving account of life and death,
from the intense war time years, to the present day. The odds in Bomber Command of crew survival were extreme. The chance
of completing a tour of 30 Operations was one in three; the highest losses in the British Armed Services in WW2, dying as
fast as Officers in the trenches during WW1. Only the German U-Boat crews would suffer similar losses. At the launch was the
only surviving member of Bill's crew, W/O Dennis Bartlett, who was his Mid-Upper Gunner. Also there was W/O Percy Cannings
who flew an incredible 47 Operations, 22 with 100 Squ and 25 with 97 Squ Pathfinder Force. Percy flew alongside Bill on many
of his Ops and shares some fascinating eyewitness accounts of his experiences. Two family members of the crew came all the
way from Australia specially for the day;- Pam Livingston, the daughter of Bill's Bomb Aimer Norman Jarvis and Phil Morton
the son of his Flight Engineer Les Morton. The film was taken by Percy's daughter Sharon Cannings and her partner Martin Nicholls
who have also just made an outstanding documentary called, 'Finding The Pathfinders' which is due to be launched soon. This
film records the emotional journey of Percy Cannings to track down the crew members he served with in the Pathfinder Force.
http://erminestreetproject.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/heres-how-to-get-your-tickets.html?m=1 My book is available on Amazon in
Paperback and on Kindle and has had six 5 star reviews so far. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Riding-Shadow-Death-Chris-Keltie/dp/0957118910/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1374158685&sr=1-1&keywords=chris+keltie
http://chriskeltie.co.uk/ Sandy Cannings Blog about the family journey with their father Percy Cannings. http://sandycanblog.blogspot.co.uk/
BBC Look North coverage of Percy Cannings film launch which I attended and am in:-
On Wednasday 11 September 2013 (Percy Cannings' birthday) a film called 'Finding
The Pathfinders' was launched at the Kinema in the woods, Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire. http://www.thekinemainthewoods.co.uk/
The film was made by Percy's daughter Sharon Cannings and her partner Martin Nicholls. It records the emotional journey of
Percy Cannings to track down the crew members he served with in RAF Bomber Command during WW2. Attending the launch were family
members of Percy's crew that had been tracked down, alongside his many other friends and family members. Sharon and Martin
have have made a truly excellent film. With no external funding, they have put together an extraordinary film that will make
you laugh and cry. BBC Look North news covered the event and information about the film can be found at the link below. http://erminestreetproject.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1
Percy will be visiting the House of Commons on Wed 9 October 2013 to meet the PM David Cameron. With him will be his daughter
Sandy, Chris Keltie and Bomber Command Veterans Jeff Gray and Dennis Bartlett from 61 Squadron. They will present a copy of
the book 'Riding In The Shadow Of Death' to the PM to say thank you for his hard work gaining recognition for WW2 Veterans.
Percy's wartime experiences can also be read in the book 'Riding In The Shadow Of Death' by Chris Keltie. http://chriskeltie.co.uk/
The history of 97 Squadron Pathfinder Force (Percy's Squadron) can also be read in the excellent book by Kevin Bending called
'Achieve Your Aim'. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Achieve-Your-Aim-Settlements-Pathfinder/dp/1903953979
Just a quick
update. The launch is on the weekend of the 15/16 June 2013. Sat 15 in the afternoon at the Aviation Heritage Centre, East
Kirkby. Home of the Lancaster Bomber ‘Just Jane’ in which Bill flew in on 8 June 1944 to Rennes. http://www.lincsaviation.co.uk/ I will be doing a presentation in the ‘briefing room’ with some
of the Veterans featured in the book. I will explain how I came to write the book and my relationship with Bill North. I and
the veterans will then read from the book an eyewitness account of one of Bill’s night Operations. We will then do a
question and answer session with the audience, then sign copies of the book.
Sun 15 will
be in the morning at Newark Air Museum http://www.newarkairmuseum.org/ It will be in Hangar 2 and follow the same format as East Kirkby. There will
be a Flypast by the BBMF with Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane afterwards, which will be the icing on the cake.
I would love
you to be there at both if you are free and will forward more details as they come. My head is spinning a bit with organising
the whole thing, but I have an incredible network of contacts now and everybody is donating their time to help make it a special
occasion and celebrate the life of an extraordinary man and his comrades.
Let me know
if you can make it, speak soon.
Bad day at Biggin - Personal accounts page
Chris Keltie's contribution to
the personal accounts page, on the "Bad day at Biggin" feature.
My name is Chris Keltie I came across your
website by chance whilst researching a book I am writing called “Riding In The Shadow Of Death”. The book is the
life story of my next-door neighbour F/Lt Bill North who flew Lancaster Bombers with 61 Squadron during WW2. The story is
going to be featured in The Mirror this week by Richard Smith who has taken a keen interest in the book after I contacted
him. I will forward you the e-mail that I sent him and it will give you an idea of what I have been working on with Bill North
for the last 3 and a half years. The book is nearly finished and we hope to have it available in the next few weeks. I have
just set up a website for people to contact us on and receive info about it. ( www.chriskeltie.co.uk ) There will also be a launch at the Newark Air Museum
As you will see in the e-mail I met Bill
North and his family in 1970 when I was 7 years old and my family moved into the house next door. In Bill’s living room
was a picture of him and his crew standing next to a Stirling Bomber at RAF Winthorpe in 1944, I was instantly fascinated.
Bill shared many wartime experiences with me as I was growing up and he allowed me to look at his unique collection of documents
many many times. Ever since that day when we first met I have been fascinated by WW2 and the aircraft of that time. During
my childhood and teenage years I was constantly building model aircraft, visiting air shows and learning about WW2.
On the 21st of Sept 1980 my father
and I went to the Biggin Hill air show, I was 16 years old and a keen photographer and took my camera with me. We wondered
around the air strip looking at the various aircraft that were on display, I was in my element I couldn’t think of a
better way to spend the day. The sounds of the engines, the smell of the aircraft and to actually touch them and get up close
was sensational. One of the aircraft I came across was the A26 Douglas Invader N3710G. I stood in front of this aircraft and
was enthralled by it. My nose was pressed up against the bomb aimers glass as I stared down inside the aircraft wondering
what it would be like looking out the other way as it was in flight. I also thought and I’m not sure why, wouldn’t
it be awful to be looking out of that glass nose section if it was about to crash into the ground.
My thoughts were interrupted by somebody
saying “It’s a fantastic aircraft isn’t it?” I replied “Yes it is.”
The man I was talking to was one of a few
men who seemed to be in charge of or looking after the wonderful machine. I later realised that this must have been Don Bullock
and I only knew this later, because when I asked him if he was something to do with the aircraft he replied that he was the
Pilot and would be flying it shortly. I stepped back from the nose of the Invader and was about to take a picture looking
up into the glass of the nose when somebody bumped into me and for some reason or other I didn’t take that picture.
However when the invader took off I was
awestruck, the sound of the engines especially throbbing through the air and through my chest. My father and I watched closely
as it flew past the crowd and then started to climb into a barrel roll, as it reached the top of the roll the nose dropped
and an older gentleman standing next to us said “He’s not going to make it.” I looked over at him curiously
and wondered what he meant. We then watched as it dived into the valley at the end of the runway, there was a pause and we
saw a slight orange flash and then a huge pall of smoke. There was an awful silence which seemed to last forever, then I heard
a woman say “Oh my God it’s crashed” and the silence was broken. I immediately started to take pictures
with my camera and rushed off towards the end of the runway, eventually getting right up close to the crash zone where I took
This whole sequence of events has stayed
with me all these years and what has moved me especially is that I was standing right in front of the A26 and spoke to Don
Bullock just minutes before this tragedy. I noticed that your website has a blog with peoples eyewitness accounts on and wondered
if you would like to include my experiences that day and the set of pictures I took? The crash is mentioned in my book about
Bill North as well, which is what led me to your website in the first place.
Look forward to speaking with you,
Martin, These are the pictures I took on the 21st September 1980 of the A26
Invader Crash at Biggin Hill that was Piloted by Don Bullock. You and anybody else are welcome to use them so long as I get
mentioned as the originator of the photo’s.
I hope these come out ok
Martin. I haven’t looked at these pictures for 30 years; so they bring back some happy, but mostly sad memories of that
Just after the fireball.
From the end of the runway looking down into the valley,
showing just how close to the houses it was.
Debris in the field, there is a film crew walking from
left to right.
Taken from the road adjacent to the crash site, also
showing how close the spectators were. The skeleton of one wing is visible.
This was as close as I could get, the spectators were
being ushered back behind the Policeman. Again the wing is clearly visible next to the Ambulance.
Chris also wrote:
I have dug up a comment from my notes
that Bill North made to me many years ago a few days after the crash at Biggin Hill, would you be interested in reading what
he said to me when I told him about what I witnessed that day.
This is the extract from the book on OTU
(Operational Training Units) where Bill had two nearly fatal crash landings in Stirlings. There are eyewitness accounts from
his Bomb Aimer and Bill, also the crew all witnessed a Stirling going straight into the ground from 1000ft right in front
of them; as you probably know there were over 5,000 deaths in the RAF during OTU. I have spoken with Bill many times about
these experiences he had and at the time of the Biggin Hill crash I explained what I had seen that day to him; this was his
answer quoted from the book.
This whole sequence of events has stayed
with me all these years and what has moved me especially is that I was standing right in front of the A26 and spoke to Don
Bullock just minutes before this tragedy.
speaking to Bill a few days later back at Regal Way about the crash and his view on it was this.
Pilot’s perform stunts at a low altitude especially at air shows and the aircraft malfunction, there is no time to recover
the machines. If this particular manoeuvre had been implemented higher up there is a strong possibility it would not have
crashed or could have had a more controlled crash landing; but it probably should not have been tried in the first place.”
RAF Lancaster pilot
F/Lt Bill North
Passed away 15th December 2011
is the copy of the e-mail I set to Richard Smith at "The Mirror".
Dear Richard Smith,
My name is Chris Keltie. I have read
the Mirror since the early 1970’s when I was 11 and used to deliver the paper on my newspaper round in Kenton. I would
like to thank-you for your article on Thursday 18th October 2011 on the War Vet’s chance D-Day reunion after
67 years. I also have a related story that might be of interest to you.
In March 1970 I was 7 years old and
my family moved into 103 Regal Way in Kenton, London, next door at 105 lived the North family, Bill, Margret and their 3 sons
David, Alan and Rhys. We were invited in to see them for a welcome to the street and in Bill’s front room above their
TV was a picture I have never forgotten. It was a picture taken in March 1944 at RAF Winthorpe
1661 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU) of RAF Pilot Bill North and his crew standing next to a Stirling Bomber. This picture
instantly fascinated me and has done ever since. Bill and Margret North were the kindest people in the world and took me under
their wing, I ended up nipping around to see them all the time. My Mum and Dad had quite a stormy relationship and there was
always some sort or drama going on in our house, Bill’s house was like a calm port in the wild storm that was my life. Part of the attraction was also that they had a TV and we didn’t. Bill and I used to
sit and watch programs like the World At War series and a program called Pathfinders a fictitious drama about the RAF Pathfinder
Squadrons. Alongside this Bill would tell me stories about his life during WW2 serving with Bomber Command.
Left to right, P/O Bill North (Pilot), F/Sgt
Norman Jarvis (Bomb Aimer), F/Sgt Dave Crowley (Navigator), Sgt Monty Monteith (Wireless Operator), Jock Pork (although present
is not a crew member), Sgt Les Morton (Flight Engineer), Sgt Eddy O’Shea (Rear Gunner), Sgt Dennis Bartlett (Mid-Upper
Gunner). Standing next to a Short Stirling Bomber, Bill and the crew had two nearly fatal crash landings in Stirlings during
Over the years as I grew older Bill
would frequently get a briefcase out that contained a unique collection of documents relating to his RAF service. There
were pictures, letters, diaries and a Flying Log Book that detailed all Bill’s training flights and Operations. These
documents fascinated and inspired me and were like holding history in my hands; as I grew older the more I found out the more
I realised what a truly extraordinary man my unassuming next-door neighbour and good friend was. In March 2008 some 38 years
after we first met I was visiting Bill with my brother John and we were again looking at the contents of that magical briefcase.
I said to Bill “You know there is a story here that needs to be told.” Bill replied “Well why don’t
you write it then.” I was gobsmacked, I instantly replied yes without a thought for what I was getting myself involved
in; so began a war time adventure and life story that I feel privileged to share with the rest of the World.
Pilot Officer Bill North flew Wellington’s,
Stirling’s and most famous of all Lancaster Bombers with 61 Squadron. The first thing Bill asked me to do was to track
down his Mid Upper Gunner (A.G.1) Sgt. Dennis Bartlett. We knew pretty much what had happened too and the whereabouts of the
other crew members, but Dennis Bartlett had seemingly disappeared. After extensive searches at the Public Records Office and
many RAF Associations including Bomber Command I kept drawing a blank. Each time I went to visit Bill he asked me if I had
found Dennis and I my constant reply was “Not yet Bill, but I will do.” Bill and I were looking through some of
his documents when he found a letter dated 3rd February 1954 to Dennis Bartlett; on it was an address in Camberley.
This was the last written contact with Dennis Bartlett.
I said to Bill “This is a shot
in the dark, but I am going to drive down to Camberley and knock on doors and see if anybody knows of Dennis.”
On Friday 11th February
2011, I drove down to Camberley and started knocking on doors and posting a letter through each door I came to explaining
what I was doing. When I came to number 20 in the street a man called Ian Jarret called out after me and said he may be able
to help me. My heart was pounding with excitement. He was Dennis Bartlett’s nephew and informed me that Dennis was still
alive. In fact he rang Dennis there and then and I spoke to him; after this extraordinary chance meeting I went down to Camberley
to meet Dennis Bartlett. I had got to finally meet a face from that picture of Bill’s that I had been fascinated by
since I was 7 years old, I can’t tell you how I felt, it was amazing. Dennis Bartlett was just like Bill, an absolutely
lovely and unassuming man; it felt like I’d known him forever. It took me 18 months to track him down during which time
I never gave up hope and always had a strange feeling that he was out there and still alive.
The above two photos were taken during Air training, the white
stripe on the Forage Cap indicates this.
The next step in the story was now
to reunite Bill and Dennis, they hadn’t seen each other since 1944, 67 years! The last time they had seen each other
was in Beauvais prison hospital in France in 1944 after they had survived being shot down. Bill was in 61 Squadron based at
RAF Skellingthorpe in Lincolnshire (nicknamed Bomber County) and the last Operation they had flown on together was on the
4/5th July 1944. Their mission was to bomb the V1 site located inside the mushroom caves at Saint-Leu-d’Esserent
just north of Paris. On the way home they were attacked by a night fighter and badly shot up. Their Lancaster EE-186, QR—D
for Dog was crippled and out of control, Bill gave the order to bail out and the Rear Gunner Sgt. Eddy O’Shea, the Navigator
Sgt. Dave Crowley and the Bomb Aimer Sgt. Norman Jarvis (RAAF) all bailed out. The replacement Flight Engineer that night
Sgt. Dennis Hatchett reported to Bill that his parachute harness had been shot off and he couldn’t use it; this obviously
meant he could not bail out. Based on this information Bill now took the brave decision to stay on board and try to crash
land the stricken aircraft, at this point Bill had no idea that the Wireless Operator Sgt. Monty Monteith and Sgt. Dennis
Bartlett were still on board and why they hadn’t bailed out. Bill later told me if he had realised they were it would
have just reaffirmed his decision to crash land.
THE FOLLOWING EXTRACT IS IN BILL’S
OWN WORDS AND IS HIS ACCOUNT OF WHAT HAPPENED THAT NIGHT
F/Lt Bill North
“On the night of the 4/5th
July 1944,I was the Pilot of Lancaster EE 186, QR—D for Dog 61 Squadron, Skellingthorpe, Lincolnshire. Earlier in the
day my crew had taken the same aircraft on a 35 minute NFT—Night Flying Test—flight, and found it to be satisfactory
in all respects.
Prior to take-off my Crew and the
other involved 61 Squadron Crews would have attended a “briefing”. This briefing would have included target details
(the V-1 site at St. Leu), weather forecast during the flight, visibility, particularly in the vicinity of the target, our
bomb load and bombing height. When we took-off to set course for the target the weather as I recall it posed no problems.
The time for takeoff was 22.30 hours. As the mission was during the night the entire flight would have been planned to take
place in the dark.
Our flight to the target area was
uneventful. On reaching the target area I was able to see that our target had been suitably “marked” by our Pathfinder
Force and therefore set the pre-determined course and height for our bombing run. It was at this stage that as was usual on
our operational trips, my Bomb Aimer, Sgt Norman Jarvis took control. I maintained the bombing course and height, ensuring
that the Lancaster was kept “straight and level”. From time to time during the bombing run I altered course as
necessary in line with Sgt Jarvis’ instructions. We completed our bombing run, dropped our bomb load and as soon as
my Bomb Aimer said “Bombs away, Skipper”, I turned very steeply away from the target area which of course was
also the danger area and set course for home.
So far so good, the mission was
proceeding according to plan. Then suddenly my Gunners Sgt Dennis Bartlett and Sgt Eddy O’Shea called out the dreaded
warning “Corksrcew Port, Go!”. This was an evasive manoeuvre that was taught to Bomber Pilots to escape from an
attack by a Night Fighter, we had practised this many times during training. It was a violent dive to Port that put incredible
stresses on the airframe and it wasn’t for the faint hearted. We were being attacked by a German Night Fighter and machine
gun bullets were ripping into my Lancaster. We lost our Port Inner Engine and flaps and one of our petrol tanks. I was immediately
wounded in the left elbow and thigh, my left arm just dropped down useless because the nerve had been severed. In addition
the aircraft was not responding to the controls. In these circumstances I gave the order to “Abandon Aircraft”-
it being my intention to attempt to bail out when the crew had left the aircraft. However at this stage Sgt Hackett (the replacement
Flight Engineer for Sgt Les Morton who was off sick) said his parachute harness had been shot off and he couldn’t jump.
I therefore immediately decided the only option was to crash land the aircraft, not something I wanted to do at night over
unfamiliar terrain; I was not going to leave him behind. When I took this decision I was not aware that two other crew members
were still on board the Lancaster. In retrospect having this information would merely have confirmed my course of action.
I did what I thought was best. Initially
I judged my height by my altimeter and visually as we neared ground level. I managed to regain some control over the aircraft
as we came across the tree tops. I straightened up and I saw a gap in-between the trees on a hillside, this was our one and
only chance to make it. I decided our best chance of survival was to land the aircraft tail first from a height somewhat higher
than that adopted during a normal landing. I was of course anxious to avoid creating too much friction on hitting the ground
and thus creating a situation where the petrol in the wings could ignite with disastrous results. Fortunately the crash landing
was successful in that all three members of the crew on board plus me survived the impact.
What is my overriding feeling about
what happened to my crew and to me on the 4/5th July 1944? Firstly, one of immense relief and satisfaction that
my entire crew survived. We had become the firmest of friends as well as comrades and had complete confidence in each other’s
abilities. It would have been a bitter blow if any one of my crew had failed to survive. In the event two evaded capture (Navigator
F/Sgt Dave Crowley and Flight Engineer Sgt Hatchett, with me for the first time in place of my regular Engineer, Les Morton)
and five became POWs. Secondly, it is a source of amazement that I managed to crash my Lancaster at night without serious
injury to anyone on board. I was never scared of dying, the only fear I ever had was of letting my crew down. Whilst I hesitate
to suggest we were unique—I have yet to meet any Lancaster Pilot who has had a similar experience. Which leads me to
ask “Was there a Guardian Angel looking after us?”
Bill had been shot twice through his
left arm, the nerve had been severed and it was useless. He had two bullet wounds to his left thigh and was bleeding profusely,
wind was rushing through the shattered Cockpit and down the fuselage and the altimeter was spinning out of control as they
plunged towards the ground. The night fighter had also come in for a second time giving them another fatal round of cannon
shells and bullets. Bill and the Flight engineer were fighting with the controls which were barley responding; they were approaching
the ground fast when Bill suddenly regained some control over the Lancaster. Baring in mind it was nightime, Bill had used
the altimeter to judge their height off the ground, but said he couldn’t rely totally on this; so when tree tops suddenly
came into view he now had seconds to adjust the aircrafts position. The underside of the Lancaster was brushing the tree tops
when Bill suddenly spotted a gap between the trees, “This is it we are going down now,” said Bill. They came down
onto a French hillside with the nose up and tail down to try and avoid creating friction that might ignite the fuel in the
petrol tanks. The Lancaster came down with a hell of a bump throwing the flight engineer into what was left of the cockpit
and breaking his arm. They all sat there in a stunned silent daze, the plane hadn’t exploded on impact which they so
often did. All of a sudden Dennis and Monty appeared from the fuselage behind Bill “Come on let’s get the hell
out of here” shouted Dennis. They all helped their respected Captain out of the wrecked plane, and were all extremely concerned for him because of his serious injuries. Bill doesn’t
know to this day how he managed to save the crew and the plane that night, but does put the sequence of events down to his
RAF training and his Guardian Angel. I do agree with Bill, but it must be noted that Bill’s outstanding skill as
a Bomber Pilot, his courage and coolness in the face of adversity played the major part in their saving. I think Bill should
have been awarded a V.C. for his selflessness and courage in saving his crew, but sadly that was not to be.
“No, I was not specially decorated.
I simply received the normal medals. Of course one has to remember that no-one in authority would have learned of our crash
landing and I for my part, was only too pleased that we survived the war – particularly as I have recently learned of
the extent of the RAF losses on 4th July. I was not afraid, there was so much to do and think about what would
follow. Above all I was concerned about how strong my father would be when he received the telegram telling him I was missing.”
Bill’s Lancaster Bomber,
QR—D , EE 186. Crash site in Harquency, France.
and 15 Pathfinder Mosquito’s, mostly from 5 Group, attacked the underground flying-bomb store at St Leu d'Esserent with
1,000lb bombs, in order to cut all communications to the site. The bombing was accurate, but 12 Lancaster’s were lost
when German fighters engaged the force. Of the 84 crew members of those 12 Lancaster’s lost with Bill at St.Leu, 7 Lancasters
were complete losses with all the 49 crew members lost. 3 Lancasters were lost with 17 crew, 4 surviving. 1 Lancaster from
106 Squadron that was lost went down with its Pilot F/O F. Crosier giving his life, the rest of his crew bailing out and surviving.
8 evaded capture and 7 were taken POW including Bill and 4 of his crew, the 2 others escaping. 69 crew died at St. Leu and
are buried at various French cemeteries in the surrounding areas, 7 crew members have no resting place and are commemorated
at the RAF Runnymede Memorial (The names of 20,000 RAF crew who have no known resting place are on the ledgers here, when
you walk around this peaceful place reflecting on these losses it really does suffocate the mind) Of the 712 sorties flown
by Bomber Command that night, 28 aircraft (3.9 per cent) were lost.
If you analyze these
statistics it really hammers home how Bill’s survival circumstances appear to be quite unique, alongside the many other
near death experiences he went through it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. The odds of Crew survival
were extreme, the statistics were that there was a 1 in 3 chance of completing a tour of 30 Operations, or according to the
Germans 1 member of each 7 man crew would survive. The book itself which is called “Riding In The Shadow Of Death”
is a poignant sentiment that Bill has carried around with him since the end of the war. It was also an evocative statement
vocalized by his Australian Bomb Aimer F/Sgt. Norman Jarvis in his war diaries.
F/Lt Bill North
“When I look
back at everything we went through while serving with Bomber Command, I can’t help but feel that I shouldn’t be
here when so many aren’t, but I am and that is an odd feeling. Every night we flew in the shadow of death and I think
about it every day, I thank my Guardian Angel that I am and can share this with you.”
Bill and Dennis were
re-united on Fri 18th March 2011 in Basingstoke. They strangely only lived 20 minutes away from each other.
It was a truly emotional day and everybody had tears in their eyes. I felt honoured to witness this event and watch and listen
to the two War Veterans talking to each other like the past was only yesterday.
Dennis Bartlett, Bill North and Chris Keltie. Taken in May
Sgt Dennis Bartlett 2011 (Bill’s
Mid Upper Gunner)
“When Chris Keltie tracked
me down and found me in March 2011 I could not believe that Bill was still alive and that we were going to meet each other
again after all these years. When I walked into his room in Basingstoke on the 18th March 2011 and saw him again
although physically different in appearance, it was like yesterday, he was the same true friend and man I knew in 1944. The
memories of the night we crashed in France have been with me for 67 years and I and the crew owe our lives to Bill. Without
a thought for himself and whilst gravely injured he stayed on board our doomed Lancaster Bomber in order to save us. It still
moves me to this day to think of this and it was quite an emotional day as we sat together and remembered our time together
in Bomber Command.”
Sgt Eddy O’Shea 1945 (Bill’s
“Wounded as he was, he worked
a miracle of courage to bring his plane down safely in an unknown country in pitch darkness. He could have jumped as I and
two others did, but the W.O.P.s chute was in ribbons so he risked certain death to save them. The chance was a million to
one—and if you think I am exaggerating ask any bomber pilot you meet whether he would like to risk a crash landing at
night in the wooded area around Paris—or anywhere else for that matter.”
Flight Sergeant. Norman E. Jarvis
R.A.A.F. 1945 (Bill’s Bomb Aimer)
“It was a wild and reckless
life there on the Squadron, young lives were cheap, but whenever we had any time we were never still, but dashed off to one
of the towns for a few hours of fun. Some of the lads had trouble sleeping at night and had to force themselves to carry on,
most of us were keen and loved the life of reckless adventure; but the strain was rather heavy and leave was necessary pretty
often, because we rode always in the shadow of death.”
On the 22nd August 1999
Bill North received a set of pictures from a French Aviation Historian called Laurent Viton. The pictures were of Bill’s
crashed Lancaster Bomber and this was the first time since 1944 that Bill had seen his plane again as nobody knew of their
existence. One of the French children who sat in Bill’s blood-soaked Pilot’s seat was Jean Erisay who now runs
a WW2 museum at Tosny in Northern France, where bits of Bill’s plane are on show. I have worked closely with Laurent
Viton whilst researching Bill’s story, he has just made a BBC documentary with Dan Snow about digging up a rare crashed
Spitfire in France.
Richard, I have spoken to Dennis Bartlett
about the feature and he has said you can use his speech that I have highlighted in this e-mail. For years he didn’t
speak about his experiences during the war even to his family until I met him this year and he opened up to me. You can use
any of the pictures I have attached to the e-mail, also I have archived many others in my records if you wish to use more.
I have worked closely with Bill and his family over the last 3 years to try to complete this story, it has been a physical
and emotional rollercoaster, but at the same time spiritually and emotionally rewarding. My main frustration has always been
the amount of time I have to commit to it as I have to share my day and night between my family and financial commitments.
What little time I have had left over over the last 3 years I have dedicated to trying to get this book finished. It has been
written and researched a bit here and a bit there and whenever I can sneak or stretch time to suit my needs. It has been a
tough one and I had no idea what I was letting myself in for when Bill and I agreed to do this; all I knew was was that I
really wanted to do it and that Bill’s story needed to be told. It feels like it has become bigger than me and I am
now being pulled and pushed along as I search for and follow the clues that lead to the jigsaw puzzle becoming complete. The
only remaining members of the 7 man crew that are still alive are Bill North, Dennis Bartlett and Les Morton who lives in
In The Shadow Of Death” is a self publish by Chris Keltie
Publishing and should be out later in the year. The President of 50 and 61 Squadron, Marshall of The
Royal Air Force Sir Michael Beetham, whom I met at the Squadron Memorial day in Skellingthorpe on 12th June 2011
has given his seal of approval to the book. The Bomber Command Memorial which is being built in Green Park in London is due
to be finished shortly. It honors the memory of those 55,573 men who gave the ultimate sacrifice alongside the injured and
surviving members of Bomber Command, all of whom played their part in helping to shorten the war.
Chris Keltie, Bill
North, Dennis Bartlett and Les Morton.