Posts Tagged: ‘Sandy Cannings’


16/12/2014 Posted by chris

It is with great sadness that I have to pass on the news, that the last member of Bill North’s Lancaster crew has left us. Dennis Bartlett – Bill’s mid-upper gunner – passed peacefully away on Sunday morning, 14 December 2014. Strangely this is the day before Bill North left us on 15 December 2011.

Way back in 2008, when Bill North suggested I write the book, Riding in the Shadow of Death, about his life – I had no idea of the incredible journey I was about to embark on, the extraordinary people I would meet, and how it would change people’s lives forever.

I feel like I have known Den all my life, and this is linked to my relationship with Bill North, and the photo of his RAF crew that I first saw in March 1970, when I was 7 years old. Den (first on the right) was in this picture that I had stared at many, many times over the years, wandering who these men were and what had happened to them.

The first thing Bill asked me to do was track down Dennis and find out what had happened to him. It took me 18 months, and I finally found out he was still alive and living in Camberley. It was an amazing feeling to meet a face from Bill’s photo, and he, just like Bill, was an absolutely lovely and unassuming man.

Dennis hadn’t shared his wartime experiences with his family, as he had like so many veterans internalised them. The first time we met, I showed him the pictures of their crashed Lancaster EE186. He was amazed when he saw his smashed mid-upper turret and couldn’t believe he had survived. He then shared what had happened on the 4/5 July 1944, when they were shot down over France. Thanks to pilot Bill North’s tenacity and courage the whole crew survived their nighttime crash landing. Daphne – Den’s sister – said that this was the first time that she had ever heard this story. Over the next 3 years, I spent many hours with Den talking to him, and he really opened up and shared many more experiences. We became great mates, and attended many events and book signings together.

The first thing was to reunite him with Bill North. It was truly an honour and a privilege to witness these two veterans meeting again after 67 years. Then, there was the Bomber Command Memorial Unveiling on 28 June 2012, when we met Prince Charles. Our book launch in June 2013, when Den met 97 Squadron mid-upper gunner Percy Cannings. Getting his Bomber Command Clasp for him and meeting the Prime Minister, David Cameron at the House of Commons, in October 2013. One outstanding moment was when Den got a 2 minute standing ovation at a book signing at Bill North’s old rugby club, Pinner and Grammarians. He had tears in his eyes as had many people in the room.

Daphne said I gave him back his self-esteem as he hadn’t felt important for many years. I will treasure this gift forever. This was a legacy left from the way Bomber Command crewmen were treated after the war, they felt unappreciated and overlooked. And I, and the many friends I have made along the way, feel we have gone some way to rectify this.

Den, you have had an extraordinary life, reaching the incredible age of 90 years old. You, Bill, and the crew, faced death many times during WW2. From the training crash landings at OTU in Stirlings, near misses on Operations, being shot down, and then surviving the Long March. You all rode through death’s dark shadow and lived to tell the tale.

To our lovely Den, reunited with your crew and your lost friends, we will miss you. xxx

Bill North's crew at 1661 HCU, Winthorpe - March 1944.


Dennis Bartlett, Bill North, Chris Keltie, May 2011.


Crash site of Bill North's Lancaster, 61 Squadron's EE186, QR-D, near Harquency, France.


Dennis Bartlett and Chris Keltie meeting Prince Charles at the Bomber Command Memorial Unveiling Ceremony, 28 June 2012.


Veterans, Dennis Bartlett, Jeff Gray and James Flowers meet the PM, David Cameron at the House of Commons, 9 October 2013.


Aviation Artist, Simon Atack, Dennis Bartlett and Chris Keltie, at the Bomber Command Memorial Unveiling Ceremony, 28 June 2012.


Two Lancaster mid-upper gunners finally meet. Pathfinder, Percy Cannings, 97 Squadron, and Dennis Bartlett, 61 Squadron. Riding in the Shadow of Death book launch, Newark Air Museum, 16 June 2013.


Dennis Bartlett, during aircrew training 1943.


Bill North and Dennis Bartlett, meet again after 67 years, 18 March 2011.

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) Lancaster (Thumper) - 'City of Lincoln' PA474. 50 and 61 Squadron Memorial Day, June 2013.


Dennis Bartlett, London Guildhall. Bomber Command crew dinner, 27 June 2012.

Riding in the Shadow of Death, is now available from Chris Keltie Publishing on Amazon. It has been noted that some book sellers are selling it for way above the listed price. The correct price is £12.99, plus £2.80, p+p, direct from Chris Keltie Publishing, please don’t pay any more than this.

All the best


Book order updates for: Riding in the Shadow of Death

22/09/2014 Posted by chris

Lancaster pilotF/Lt Bill North, 61 squadron, RAF Skellingthorpe, 1944.

‘We were coned for about 5 minutes by more than 26 searchlights.’ 

Mid-upper gunnerW/O Dennis Bartlett, 61 squadron.

‘When we were coned it was so bright, we virtually got blinded.’

Mid-upper gunnerPercy Cannings, 97 squadron, Pathfinder Force.

‘The main problem in being coned was, both gunners and pilot lose all vestige of night vision for at least 15 minutes; even if one catches you in passing – I did not like searchlights at all!!’

61 Squadron Operations – The ‘North Crew’.

24/25 June 1944 – Ops to Prouville, Par de Calais – Flying bomb site.
Lancaster Mk III – EE186, QR-D – Detailed bombing height 11,000 ft, bomb load 8,538 lbs, 21 Lancasters detailed.

Read about the ‘North Crews’ remarkable escape from searchlights that night, and many other extraordinary brushes with death, in –

Riding in the Shadow of Death, by Chris Keltie is now available on Amazon, from Chris Keltie Publishing – £12.99, plus £2.80 p+p.

Also available via PayPal direct from Chris Keltie Publishing at

Next-day delivery –  £12.99 + £2.80 p+p – UK only – Outside UK,  please confirm P+P prices with Chris.



This image is of BBMF ‘City of Lincoln’ Lancaster, PA474 – Thumper. Taken at the 50 and 61 squadron Memorial Day Flypast, 10 June 2012. (Edited in ACDSee)

Lancaster ‘coned’ by searchlights, 1944

Bomber Command Veterans and Chris Keltie meet PM David Cameron on Wed 9 Oct 2013.

29/10/2013 Posted by chris

Hi everybody,

On Wednesday 9 October 2013 a group of Bomber Command Veterans travelled from all over the country to meet British Prime Minister the Rt Hon David Cameron. The purpose of the visit was to thank him in person for his hard work to gain recognition for WW2 Veterans. This included wiping the debt for the VAT on Bomber Command Memorial in London, the award of the Gold Clasp to Bomber Command Veterans past and present, and the Arctic Star Medal for the Veterans of the Arctic Convoys.

Our group included four of the Veterans featured in the book: Jeff Gray (61 Squ), and his granddaughter Charlotte Gray. Bill’s Mid-Upper Gunner Dennis Bartlett (61 Squ). James Flowers (50 Squ, Rear Gunner and representing the 50/61 Squadron Association) with his two sons Phil and Robert Flowers. Representing their father, Veteran Bill North who passed on in Dec 2011, were his three sons David, Alun and Rhys North. Percy Cannings (97 Squ PFF) was due to come, but was unable to as he was unwell. Representing Percy was his daughter Sandy Cannings.

Sandy Cannings and James Flowers were interviewed live on air at 08:50 by Scott Dalton on his Morning Show on BBC Radio Lincolshire.

The idea to contact David Cameron came from F/Lt Jeff Gray who is a Veteran Lancaster pilot from 61 Squadron and featured in the book Riding In The Shadow Of Death. He suggested we both write to Downing Street and offer to present David Cameron a copy of the book as a thank you on behalf of  the Veterans. After a challenging task to organise and arrange the travel arrangements and timing of the event, we all made it to the Central Lobby on time. Although Sandy Cannings and I had a serious moment of panic at the front gate when we couldn’t find our Veterans anywhere, they had already gone in without us!

Our group at the Central Lobby Cafe, about to 'go upstairs'.

Left to right:- Charlotte Gray, Chris Keltie, Rhys North, Alun North, Sandy Cannings, Dennis Bartlett, Phil Flowers, James Flowers, David North, Robert Flowers and Jeff Gray. (photo, James Flowers)

We were then met in the Central Lobby (which is stunning) by the PM’s assistants Julia and Lawrence. With two of our Veterans in wheelchairs we then had to take quite a long detour around the Commons network of long corridors to the PM’s office. James Flowers kept us entertained on the way with his distinctive Yorkshire accent. ‘That was Lord so and so, oh look there’s this MP or that MP.’ At various points along the way we could see David Cameron on the in-house TV screens getting a ‘grilling’ on Prime Minister’s Question Time.

James Flowers keeping the 'North boys' entertained in Central Lobby.

Chris Keltie and Alun North, 'on the way up!'

We finally made it up to the reception area outside the PM’s office where we all paused for breath and gathered our thoughts.

'Pausing for breath'.

Dennis Bartlett,'holding on tight' to Sandy Cannings. Never seen him so happy!

David Cameron suddenly appeared, greeted us all, shook everybody’s hands and led us into his office where we sat down on armchairs and sofas. The meeting was very relaxed and everybody had a chance to chat and talk.

Our group chatting with the PM. (Official Downing Street photo)

The Veterans thanked him for his work gaining recognition for them and he explained the complex and difficult process he had gone through to push through the Gold Clasp award and the Arctic Star Medal.

Chris Keltie presents the book 'Riding In The Shadow Of Death' to British Prime Minister David Cameron. Wed 9 Oct 2013. (Official Downing Street photo)

I presented him with a copy of the book and he joked that ‘it was his birthday and this was the first present of the day!’ Then to our surprise James Flowers then piped up that it was also his birthday as well and he was 89, there’s a great official picture of them shaking hands.

Chris Keltie and the Bomber Command Veterans signing the book for David Cameron. (Official Downing Street photo)

David Cameron and James Flowers shake hands on their shared birthday. (Official Downing Street Photo)

James then took the opportunity to mention that Bill North had received no medal for his courage and bravery when he crash landed his Lancaster on 5 July 1944. I also highlighted the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Bill’s crash and the whole crew’s survival that night. Sandy Cannings then read out her father Percy Cannings’ speech explaining how Percy also thought that Bill had been overlooked for a medal for his outstanding skill and courage as well. The PM took Percy’s speech and was very sympathetic explaining that it was very difficult to get medals after such a long period of time, but he would look into it and to leave it with him. As David Cameron sat amongst us we found that he was very down to earth and easy to talk to. He was extremely knowledgeable about Bomber Command and it’s critical contribution to shortening WW2. He also suggested reading a book by Andrew Roberts, called The Storm Of War; ‘It has an excellent chapter on Bomber Command.’ We were told it would be a very short meeting, but to everybody’s surprise we  actually got over 20 minutes of the PM’s time. As it came to a natural end the PM then got up and shook everybody’s hand again and said goodbye. Our convoy then made its way back downstairs to the front entrance.

Back downstairs again. Left to right, Charlotte Gray, Jeff Gray, Chris Keltie, Dennis Bartlett and James Flowers.

Our two Lancaster Bomber Gunners share a joke about the Police Machine Guns. Mid-Upper Gunner , Dennis Bartlett (61 Squ) and Rear Gunner, James Flowers (50 Squ).


We then got a fleet of London Taxis to take us from Parliament Square to the RAF Club at Piccadilly, where Bill’s sons had booked a fantastic lunch for us all. We also met up with the book’s editor Brandon Robshaw who joined us at the RAF Club. Brandon played a critical role in the editing process and I would like to thank him for being so brutal with the script, it wouldn’t be what it is without him.

Lunch at the RAF Club. James Flowers showing Sandy Cannings his Facebook page!

At the RAF Club. Our Lancaster Veterans, Dennis Bartlett, James Flowers and Jeff Gray


James Flowers, Sandy Cannings and Chris Keltie at the RAF Club by painting of Lancaster Bomber on the Peenemünde raid 17/18 Aug 1943.


After lunch at the RAF Club Sandy and I were interviewed at 4.30pm by BBC Radio Lincolnshire’s William Wright on his Drivetime Show.

Looking South across Piccadilly from the RAF Club rests the Bomber Command Memorial. Sandy and I went to pay our respects to our lost aircrews after lunch. It was a perfect finish to a special day with very special memories.

Looking West down Piccadilly towards Hyde Park Corner and South over Green Park lies the Bomber Command Memorial.

Chris Keltie and Sandy Cannings, Wed 9 October 2013 at the Bomber Command Memorial.


On behalf of the whole group I would like to thank David Cameron for meeting with us. It was a special day for our Bomber Command Veterans and they were extremely appreciative of their Gold Clasp award and the recognition they truly deserve. The look on their faces said it all. Also a big thank you to our chaperone’s Julia and Lawrence. Jennifer Snell for helping me to organise the meeting and all the staff in the Central Lobby who were so kind and assisted with the wheelchairs. A big thanks to David, Alun and Rhys for a wonderful lunch and also all the London Taxi drivers who ferried us around London that day. Much missed was Percy Cannings who couldn’t be with us, get well soon Percy.

Please don’t forget to send in your memories of service with Bomber Command to the Lincolnshire Bomber Command Memorial:-

Look out for the next update coming soon:- Symbol of Defiance to become Symbol of Reconciliation.

Best wishes all


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—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





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