Posts Tagged: ‘61 Squadron’

Veterans charity Combat Stress fundraiser event, Saturday 2 November 2013.

30/10/2013 Posted by chris

Hi everybody,

I will be attending a book signing for Riding In The Shadow Of Death on behalf of the Veterans’ outstanding mental heath charity Combat Stress.

F/Lt Jeff Gray who is a Veteran Lancaster pilot featured in the book will be with me for the day to chat to people and help open the event. Jeff’s wife Joan will also be with us. Joan served as a nurse during WW2 in the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS), now named the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC; also known as the QAs). During WW2, the Army Nursing Service served in every campaign from Iceland to the Pacific, nursing the sick and wounded and sharing the hazards of warfare. Many lost their lives or became POW’s. Joan served at the D-Day Landings in 1944 tending to many injured and dying soldiers.

Joan was also posted to a Field Psychiatric Hospital where she helped soldiers recover from Post Traumatic Stress. The story of the Nurses is told in the excellent book by Barbara Mortimer called Sisters, in which Joan is featured:-

Riding In The Shadow Of Death also highlights how our RAF Bomber Command crewmen suffered from extreme stresses on their combat operations over Europe during WW2. Many crewmen also suffered from Post Traumatic Stress and were treated at RAF Hospitals during the course of the War. Many like one of the featured Veterans Dennis Bartlett, kept things to himself after the War and didn’t talk about his experiences until recently. When I met Dennis in 2011 and got to know him, he shared many experiences with me that even his own family members hadn’t heard. All our Veterans are truly extraordinary men and women.

The event is on Saturday 2 November (11am to 3pm) at Free Church Hall in Hampstead Garden Suburb:-

The event is normally hosted by legendary BBC War correspondent Martin Bell who unfortunately cannot be there this year. The ribbon cutting for the opening will take place at 11am.

Please do come along, it is such a worthwhile charity that does outstanding work with our Veterans.

Best wishes all


The fundraiser at Free Church Hall was very successful and we all had a great day.

Combat Stress event, 2 Nov 2013. Chris Keltie, WW2 Veterans Joan Gray and Jeff Gray


WW2 Veterans Jeff and Joan Gray


Chris Keltie and Bomber Command Veterans to meet PM David Cameron

17/09/2013 Posted by chris

Hi everybody,

I have some exciting news to share with you all. On Wednesday 9 October 2013, four of the Bomber Command Veterans who are featured in my book ‘Riding In The Shadow Of Death’ and I will be meeting the Prime Minister David Cameron at the House of Commons. We will be presenting a copy of the book to him. This is to say thank you for his work gaining recognition for Bomber Command Veterans past and present:- the Gold Clasp award and clearing the debt for the Bomber Command Memorial; also the award of the Arctic Star medal for the Arctic Convoy Veterans.

W/O Dennis Bartlett's Gold Clasp award

Bill North’s three sons, David, Alun and Rhys will be attending the event on behalf of their father.

The Veterans attending will be Bill’s Mid-Upper Gunner, W/O Dennis Bartlett (61 Squadron). Dennis is the last living witness to Bill’s extraordinary courage and bravery on the night that Bill crash landed their Lancaster Bomber in France on the 4/5 July 1944. It was at night, Bill was badly injured, the aircraft was out of control after a fatal Night Fighter attack, two of the crew could not bale out as their parachutes were damaged and Bill miraculously crash landed on a French hillside. 13 other Lancasters were lost that night, with remarkably Bill’s crew being the only ones who survived these losses. Somehow or other Bill received no decoration for his selfless and outstanding act of courage!

Lancaster EE186,QR-D crash site 4-5 July 1944

Also attending will be Bill’s comrade from 61 Squadron Lancaster pilot F/Lt Jeff Gray, W/O Percy Cannings (100 Squadron and 97 Squadron Pathfinder Force) and his daughter Sandy. Finally Rear Gunner W/O James Flowers from 50 Squadron, who shared the Bomber Command Station at Skellingthorpe with 61 Squadron. James is representing 50 and 61 Squadron Association and has shared many of his experiences as a Rear Gunner in the book. His work posting the Veterans albums on 50/61 Squ’s website is outstanding.

The Daily Mirror article by Richard Smith detailing Bill’s courage and his reunion with Dennis Bartlett after 67 years.

James Flowers at the 50/61 Squ Memorial Day Skellingthorpe 10 June 2012

The whole thing was suggested by F/Lt Jeff Gray who is also featured in the book and has become a very good friend. We both wrote to Downing Street to explain the idea and were very surprised to be told the PM would like to meet us all!

F/Lt Jeff Gray's WW2 medals (pic Chris Keltie)

The medals in the above picture are left to right:- DFM (Distinguished Flying Medal), 1939-1945 Star, Air Crew Europe Star, Defence Medal and 1939-45 War Medal. (The new Gold Clasp award attaches to to 1939-45 Star).

Some other exciting news is the launch of Percy Cannings’, ‘Finding The Pathfinders’ film.

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.

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. Leanne Brown from BBC Look North news covered the event and information about the film can be found at the link below.  http://erminestreetproject.blogspot.c…

BBC Look North TV news clip:-

Just before the film premier there was a wonderful talk by Sean Taylor. Sean is the Safety Officer and guide at the Aviation Heritage Centre, East Kirkby, Lincolnshire. It is the home to Lancaster Bomber NX611 ‘Just Jane’. Sean took me on an interior tour of this Lancaster about 3 years ago with Fred Panton’s granddaughter Louise Bush. I will never forget his enthusiastic and charismatic approach to sharing his detailed knowledge of the history of Bomber Command and its crewmen. Sean yet again, never fails to disappoint his audience whether it is one to one, or hundreds.

The presentation details a day in the life of a Bomber Command Lancaster crew (focusing on the Air Gunners) and the highs and extreme lows of a combat Operation over Europe. We really can’t complain about our average daily stresses compared to what these these courageous young men went through and to whom we owe so much to.

Day in the life of Bomber Command Lancaster crew, Sean Taylor:-


If anybody is trying to order the book online from Amazon, it comes up as unavailable. Please don’t be put off by this, there are plenty of books available. Click on the ‘order now’ icon and the orders will come directly through to me where I honour them.

Another excellent book on the history of 97 Squadron Pathfinder Force (Percy’s Squadron) called ‘Achieve Your Aim’ by Kevin Bending is also available online.

Percy Cannings at the Kinema, Woodhall Spa. 11 Sept 2013 (pic Chris Keltie)

Above Pathfinder Percy Cannings receives a replica of his faithful 97 Squadron Lancaster, ND807, OF-P. Presented by Jimmy Blackwood from RAF Wyton for his birthday outside the Kinema at film premier of ‘Finding The Pathfinders’. Left to right, Sandy Cannings, Simon Atack, Percy Cannings and out of sight Jimmy Blackwood.

Best wishes all

Chris Keltie



Riding In The Shadow Of Death, film of book launch, Newark Air Museum 16 June 2013.

19/07/2013 Posted by chris

Hi everybody, I have some more news on the progress of the book and how the launch went.

Sunday 16 June 2013, Newark Air Museum. Site of WW2 training base RAF Winthorpe and location of 1661 HCU (Heavy Conversion Unit).

The book Riding In The Shadow Of Death, by Chris Keltie and Bomber Command Veteran Bill North was launched at Newark Air Museum on 16 June 2013. This was the third day of the launch weekends, the first was at the 50/61 Squadron Memorial Day in Skellingthorpe on the 9 June 2013 and the second was at The Aviation Heritage Centre, East Kirkby in Lincolnshire on 15 June.

Sunday 16 June was a beautiful day, it completed a circle through time that began for me 43 years ago in March 1970 and also for Bill North 69 years ago in March 1944. We were at Newark Air Museum which was the site of RAF Winthorpe and the location of 1661 HCU, where Bill and his crew converted from two engined Wellingtons to four engined Stirlings, in preparation to fly on night Operations for Bomber Command. In March 1944 a picture was taken here of the crew standing in front of a Stirling bomber. I saw this picture 26 years later in March 1970 by the TV in Bill’s living room, it instantly fascinated me and has done ever since. The journey was now complete and we were back at the base where the photo was taken and also where Bill had two near fatal crash landings whilst flying in Stirlings during training.

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 to read their fathers eyewitness accounts;- Pam Livingston, the daughter of Bill’s Bomb Aimer, Norman Jarvis and Phil Morton, the son of his Flight Engineer Les Morton.

Bomber Command Veterans, Mid-Upper Gunners, Percy Cannings and Dennis Bartlett meeting for the first time. Newark Air Museum 16 June 2013



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. Over the years I heard many accounts of Bill’s WW2 experiences and grew to realise, that my 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.




I would just like to say thank you to Howard Heeley and his fantastic staff at Newark Air Museum for hosting the event and looking after us all. Also thank you to Stephen Elsworth for being our official photographer over the weekend. The day was finished beautifully by an outstanding BBMF Flypast, Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane. The look on our Veteran’s faces said it all.

BBMF Flypast, Newark Air Museum, 16 June 2013

Bomber Command Veteran Dennis Bartlett and sister Daphne watching BBMF Flypast

This is the link to the film clip at You Tube:-

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.


My book is available on Amazon in Paperback and on Kindle and has had six 5 star reviews so far. We are still working on promotions and trying to get the book into main stream bookshops, quite a challenging task!! There are some more events coming up with a presentation planned for Bill’s old rugby club, Pinner and Grammarians.…

Sandy Cannings Blog about the family journey with their father Percy Cannings.

Thank you to everyone at the 50/61 Squadron Memorial day in Skellingthorpe on Sunday 9 June 2013. We had a very successful mini launch with very positive feedback from the featured Veterans. We had two very distinguished men attending and sharing a birthday:- Sir Michael Beetham and W/C Jimmy Flint. Again the day was finished beautifully with an amazing low level BBMF Lancaster Flypast.

Sir Michael Beetham and W/C Jimmy Flint, 50/61 Squ Memorial Day 9 June 2013











I would just like to say thank you to Louise Bush and the wonderful staff at The Aviation Heritage Centre for hosting our launch on Saturday 15 June. The Centre is on the site of of WW2 Bomber Station East Kirkby, which was home to 57 and 630 Squ. When you walk into East Kirkby it is set up as the Station used to be and has the most amazing atmosphere, it also of course is home to Lancaster Bomber ‘Just Jane’. What better location could you ask for, for launching a book about Bomber Command crews. It was held in a Nissen hut, the old de-briefing room and on the wall behind us was a ‘target for the night’ map of Berlin. A big thank you to Bill’s family for being with us on the weekend and for reading Bill’s moving eyewitness accounts during the presentations.

Thank you to everybody who has supported me through the last 5 years. It has been a complex task and a real challenge to write, research, promote and self publish a book.

Best wishes all, Chris.

Percy Cannings, Chris Keltie and Pam Livingstone.

East Kirkby, 15 June 2013, Percy Cannings, Pam Livingstone, Chris Keltie, Rhys North

Riding In The Shadow Of Death, latest updates and book launch.

17/04/2013 Posted by chris

Hi everybody, I would just like to update you all with the latest news.

Some more sad news:-

Les Morton, Bill North’s Flight Engineer passed away peacefully in his sleep in Australia on the 4 April 2013, after a long battle with Leukemia. Les moved to Australia after the War and his funeral was on Tues 9 April. I was honoured to have an extract of the book read at the eulogy by his daughter, Glenda Vere. I will miss Les very much. I spoke to him many times on the phone whilst writing the book and considered him to be a great friend.

After Bill North was shot down on the 4/5 July 1944 Op to St Leu, Les Morton continued his Tour of Ops and flew with P/O GM Taylor (RCAF). He also flew with some of the most senior men in 61 Squ. Squadron CO, Wing Commander WD Pexton DFC, AFC, Squadron Leader HW Horsley AFC,(KIA) and Squadron Leader Beard. Also some of 61 Squ’s most outstanding Pilots, F/Lt Bill North, F/O Collins, F/O Boon, F/O Hoad, F/O Blaine, P/O Street, and P/O Gerry Taylor,(KIA).

Bill North said, “I think Les Morton was even luckier than I was, he managed to miss all the Ops that his crews went down on. Les was a courageous example of a crewman who overcame his nerves and went on to complete his tour of Ops.”  (S/L HW Horsley was KIA on 1 Feb 1945 Ops to Seigen in Lancaster NF912, QR-L. After take off he experienced engine failure and upon trying to land at Skellingthorpe the a/c exploded instantly killing 6 of the crew, the Rear Gunner Sgt RT Hoskisson was the only survivor. P/O GM Taylor was KIA on 12/13 Aug Ops to Russelheim in Lancaster ME596, QR-H, ‘Hells a Poppin’. The only survivor of this crew was the Bomb Aimer F/O J Meek (RCAF). There is a beautiful Lancaster Memorial in Luxembourg to this crew.,_Luxembourg)

Also very sadly and much missed is Arthur Smith who passed away on 24 December 2012. Arthur was a Flight Engineer with 50 Squadron’s F/O John Strathern Lawrey’s crew (RNZAF). I had some good in depth conversations with Arthur at previous Memorial Days. He was a font of information especially on Stirlings; also very charming with the ladies.

Sgt Les Morton, March 1944

Les Morton and Bill North, 61 Squ reunion 1993. Peggy Morton and Margaret North


Extract from the book:- “Bomber Command’s Pilots shared a combination of duties that set them slightly apart; in no other branch of the RAF did such a responsibility fall as on those young Officers and NCO’s. As well as flying the finest and most powerful machine in the RAF, the ‘perfect heavy’, Bill regardless of rank was also the leader of his crew and he combined authority and discipline with great friendship. To his crew, “Example was the key to confidence and to secure confidence was the essence of leadership.”* Bill possessed the perfect balance of qualities required by a Captain. He was without doubt a fine leader and outstanding friend, who had the full confidence of his specialist crew to make lifesaving decisions in the many unexpected emergencies they experienced. Bill’s crew like many of Bomber Command’s finest were a well oiled machine, all relied upon and respected each other’s abilities.”

The book will be available from the 9 June 2013. The launch dates are:-

9 June 2013 50/61 Squadron Memorial Day, The Community Centre, Skellingthorpe Village, Lincs.  Although not officially a launch venue, I will be present to honour the past and present heroes of 50 and 61 Squadron at the Memorial Day. Later at the lunch at Skellingthorpe Community Centre in the village I will be signing copies of the book. Contact either, Mike Connock or Richard Jones from the Association.

15 June 2013 The Aviation Heritage Centre, East Kirkby, Lincs.

Please contact Louise Bush if you would like to attend. The presentation is in the debriefing room and starts at 02:00 pm.

16 June 2013 Newark Air Museum, Cockpit Fest.

Link to the Knox family newsletter, with articles on the ME846 crew and Riding In The Shadow Of Death book.

Please contact Howard Heeley if you would like to attend. The presentation starts at 11:00 am, followed by a BBMF Flypast at 14:55, with Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane.

On the 15/16 June, we are reading parts from the book with the eyewitness accounts read by Veterans and myself. We will present the account of one of Bill’s training missions at 1661 HCU, RAF Winthorpe, one of his night Operations from 1944, plus questions and answers. I would just like to take a moment to thank my editor Brandon Robshaw for his guidance and firm hand. Really couldn’t have done it without you!

Signed copies can be ordered directly from me, also from Amazon online, or purchased from the Museum book shops at the Aviation Heritage Centre, East Kirkby or Newark Air Museum.

There are now six 5 Star reviews on Amazon, please do read them and get a feel for this extraordinary book:-

ISBN 978-0-9571189-0-4 Hardback £23.99….(Will soon be available)

ISBN 978-0-9571189-1-1 Paperback £12.99….This is now available from Amazon:-

ISBN 978-0-9571189-2-8 eBook-Kindle £9.36….This is now available from Amazon:-

Riding In The Shadow Of Death:-

       This is the amazing true life story of Lancaster Bomber Pilot Bill North, who served as a pilot with RAF Bomber Command’s 61 Squadron during World War Two. 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 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.

       Bill and his crew had many near death experiences and witnessed many of their comrades dying. After completing many successful bombing missions on military targets, Bill and his crew were shot down on a night raid in Northern France. Bill could have saved himself by bailing out, but one of his crew members was without a parachute. Though wounded, Bill had to make an amazing, virtually blind crash landing in order to save his crew.  In Bill’s words: “I have still yet to meet a Lancaster Pilot who survived a night time crash landing in occupied territory.”

      Bill was taken prisoner by a German Luftwaffe Officer and ended up at Barth Stalag Luft 1 on the Baltic coast. The rest of the crew ended up deeper into Germany in Stalag Luft 7.

      In the face of adversity, the bond between crew members serving in the RAF was phenomenal. The same was so for Bill and his crew who survived 17 missions out of the normal tour of duty which was 30. All crew members stated that there was no pilot better than Bill North, and no one that they would rather have flown with and put their trust in.

      This book weaves together a fascinating mixture of historical, political, social and cultural events from the turbulent 20th Century. A story of survival and comradeship, it will not fail to move and touch your soul. Brandon Robshaw.

Riding in the Shadow of Death, captures the apocalyptic nature of the task Bomber Command was charged with carrying out.” Noeline Arnott.

Noeline Arnott is the cousin of Bill’s comrade P/O Jack Goodyer (RNZAF) who was lost with his crew in a mid-air explosion over Châtellerault on the 15/16 June 1944. It is believed his Lancaster ME783, QR-E was hit by ‘bombs from above’.

Extract from the book:-Châtellerault was a dramatic raid with big orange ground explosions and fires that could be seen 100 miles or half an hour after leaving the target, there was also the horrific, large deep red explosion in which P/O Jack Goodyer was lost. Many of the crews flying witnessed this explosion. The devastating loss of 7 crewmen and 1 Lancaster is heart wrenching and one that is repeated thousands of times during Bomber Commands Operational history. The awful sense of loss and pain is still felt now nearly 70 years later by crew member’s families. You only have to read all the poignant messages placed at the Bomber Command Memorial to perceive and understand these emotions. 

Best wishes all



F/Lt Bill North – An extraordinary man.

15/12/2012 Posted by chris

It is one year today since Bill North left this World, miss you my good friend and extraordinary man.

F/Lt Bill North, 1943.

Riding In The Shadow Of Death—Book update and news.

29/11/2012 Posted by chris

Hi everybody, I would just like to share some news and an update on the book.

On the 3 November 2012 I went to Lincolnshire again. This was my second visit to The Aviation Heritage Centre at East Kirkby. East Kirkby was a WW2 Bomber Command Station and home to 5 Group’s 57 and 630 Squadrons. It is now home to Lancaster Bomber NX611 ‘Just Jane’ which performs live engine starts and Taxy Rides. ‘Just Jane’ flew 123 Ops with 61 Squadron during 1943/44. F/Lt Bill North of 61 Squ flew in ‘Just Jane’ on the 8/9th June 1944 to Rennes as part of Bomber Commands Tactical Support for the D-Day Landings.

I was honoured to share the day with W/O Percy Cannings who flew an amazing 47 Ops, 22 of them with 100 Squ and 25 with 97 Squadron Path Finder Force. 97 Squadron was originally with AVM Don Bennett’s 8 Group, PFF and based at Bourn. In April 1944 Percy was transferred back to 5 Group at Coningsby with 83 Squ and the Mosquito unit 627 Squ who went to Woodhall Spa with 617 Squ. The 3 Squadrons had been ordered back to 5 Group by C in C, Sir Arthur Harris after some heated disagreements with AVM Don Bennett about low level marking techniques.

W/O Percy Cannings flew alonside F/Lt Bill North on 5 Ops marking his target for him. Percy has shared some extraordinary eyewitness accounts of marking Bill’s targets for him during those turbulent days in 1944. At East Kirkby the charismatic Sean Taylor gave Percy, his daughter Sandy and I a remarkable interior tour of ‘Just Jane’. To share this emotional moment with a Bomber Command Veteran was a once in a lifetime event and I will never forget the look on Percy’s face as he sat in the Pilot’s seat. Sandy Cannings has written a moving blog about our day together. We all then watched the daytime and nighttime ‘Just Jane’ Taxy runs, the roar of 4 Merlin engines running is without doubt the sound of victory.

These are two links to YouTube of the film I took of the ‘Just Jane’ engine start up and of Percy Cannings looking very comfortable in the cockpit of NX611.

Some new news from James Flowers at the 50/61 Squadron Association; they have a new website up and running. Go to the veterans album and click on F/Lt Bill North and also check out all the other remarkable stories from all these extraordinary men.

Another nice snippet of news is that F/Lt Bill North is featured in the November 2012 edition of Britain At War Magazine. I worked with John Grehan and Martin Mace on the feature called Forgotten Hero and would like to thank them both for all the hard work that went into it. It is a fantastic magazine!

I would also like to thank Martin Simpson for his wonderful support as well.

Also if anybody is on the WW2 aviation trail in France the Museum of Tosny is a must visit. It is one of the finest private museums in France with its outstanding collection, including the story of F/Lt Bill North’s crash landing on 4/5 July 1944 and parts of his Lancaster EE186, QR-D which are on on display.

Bill North was passionate about Rugby and was the Life President of Pinner and Grammarians Rugby Club. Thank you to Paul Talbot and David Hiles.

Finally news of the book! We are nearly there, it has been a long emotional journey and full of frustrations. The main one being the limited amount of time I have available to dedicate to sharing this extraordinary story with everybody. As well as writing and researching it, I am publishing, promoting and distributing it as well. Initially not knowing what I was doing, I just threw myself in at the deep end and soon found that the extra workload has been overwhelming. However my love of the subject matter and respect for Bill North completely overide all of these frustrations. The editing/proofing has also taken far longer than I imagined and I cannot let it go without it being up to scratch, so we are hoping that it will be ready to send to print in a few weeks time. I would just like to say thank you to everybody who has preordered the book on Amazon for being so patient, it will be well worth the wait.

Best wishes all, Chris Keltie.

Percy Cannings and Chris Keltie by 'Just Jane' 03/11/2012





  • Sign-up For All The Latest News

  • Calendar

    October 2021
    M T W T F S S
    « Dec