Special Collections

Sold on 12 December 2012

1 part


The Collection of Second World War and Modern Gallantry Awards formed by the late William Oakley

William Raymond Oakley

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№ 629


13 December 2012

Hammer Price:

A particularly fine Second World War C.G.M. group of five awarded to Sergeant T. E. Bisby, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve - his No. 10 Squadron Halifax was attacked by night fighters on four separate occasions and, in a matter of minutes, reduced to a shambles: suffering from serious leg wounds, he nonetheless orchestrated the aircraft’s safe return to this country

Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, G.VI.R. (1127605 Sgt. T. E. Bisby, R.A.F.); 1939-45 Star; Air Crew Europe Star, clasp, France and Germany; Defence and War Medals 1939-45, together with his R.A.F. officer’s cap badge and embroidered uniform “Wings”, good very fine or better (7) £12000-15000

C.G.M. London Gazette 3 December 1943. The original recommendation for an immediate states:

‘Sergeant Bisby was the Wireless Operator of a Halifax detailed to attack Dusseldorf on the night of 3 November, 1943.

At 19.42 hours, the aircraft in which he was flying was attacked by an enemy night fighter, later identified as an Me. 210, from below on port quarter. The Rear Gunner gave instructions for his captain to take evasive action. During this attack, the following damage was sustained by our aircraft: rear turret, D.R. compass and intercom unserviceable.

At 19.43 hours, a second attack was made by an unidentified aircraft. During this attack, hydraulics, emergency system and W./T. equipment were rendered unserviceable. During this attack, Sergeant Bisby was painfully wounded in the calf of his legs and the Flight Engineer was also wounded in the thigh.

At 19.45 hours, a third attack was made by an Me. 210 or Ju. 88 and our aircraft had all the navigational aids rendered unserviceable, tank feeds on the port side holed and both port engines out. The port outer engine was restarted later by the Flight Engineer.

At 19.46 hours, the aircraft was attacked for the fourth time by an unidentified aircraft and the elevators were shot away on the port side. Another fire started inside the fuselage during this encounter, which was extinguished by the Mid-Upper Gunner with the assistance of the Flight Engineer.

During all these encounters, Sergeant Bisby, although badly wounded in the legs and working under terrific strain, succeeded in temporarily repairing the wireless set. After the aircraft set course for base, Sergeant Bisby obtained a W./T. fix which was the only navigational aid for the whole of the return journey and passed a message to Group. Shortly afterwards, the equipment broke down again and, although he was on the point of collapse, he continued with his job of repairing the damaged W./T. equipment.

As all the R./T. equipment was rendered unserviceable during these encounters, the only means of getting permission to land at Woolfox Lodge was by the flashing of an Aldis lamp and Sergeant Bisby, although needing assistance to stand up, obtained permission by this means.

Sergeant Bisby, although wounded and in great pain, never once complained to his captain and through his skill and magnificent courage, enabled his captain to return to this country and make a successful landing at Woolfox Lodge. This is undoubtedly a case of exceptional airmanship and devotion to duty and I strongly recommend that he be awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal for his outstanding gallantry.’

Ernest Thomas “Tom” Bisby, a native of Darfield, Sheffield, was working in the laboratory of the Houghton Main Colliery on the outbreak of hostilities.

Having qualified as a Wireless Operator back in August 1941, he was posted to No. 10 (Blackburn’s Own) Squadron, a Halifax unit operating out of Melbourne, Yorkshire, in June 1943. and first went operational in August, when his crew comprised:

Pilot: Flying Officer Jack Trobe, an Australian
Navigator: Flying Officer Andre Duchesnay, a Canadian
Bomb Aimer: Sergeant George Fernyhough, an Englishman
Flight Engineer: Sergeant Bob Bridge, an Englishman
Mid-Upper Gunner: Sergeant Bill Mowatt, an Australian
Rear Gunner: Sergeant Doug Smith, an Australian.

They flew their first operational sortie on 9 August, against Mannheim, followed by Nuremburg on the 10th, Milan on the 12th, Leverkusen on the 22nd, Nuremburg again on the 28th and, on the last day of the month, Berlin. Of this trip George Fernyhough, the Bomb Aimer, recalled how they were all horrified by the sheer scale of flak and searchlight activity, not least when one engine was hit - though Bisby felt somewhat cheated by having to stay at his wireless behind a curtain and miss all the action. He later had a word with George Fernyhough to say in future would he give him notice so that he could go up front to the Bomb Aimer’s “office” and enjoy the view. Fernyhough takes up the story (accompanying typescript refers):

‘On a raid over Germany some time later, I opened Tom’s curtain and called him to his “office” in the nose. At the time flak was rising and exploding all around the aircraft, searchlights were arcing around and the target was obvious by the exploding bombs, Path Finder flares and markers and incendiaries. Within two seconds flat, Tom had fled to his curtained cubby-hole and said, “Don’t ever let me see that again! I’ll stick to my set” (Wireless).’

September saw Bisby and his crew detailed to attack Montlucon on the 15th and Modane on the 16th, while in October the targets included Frankfurt on the 4th and Hanover on the 8th. Next up was Dusseldorf on the 3 November - undoubtedly his most memorable sortie. Fernyhough takes up the story:

‘We took off at 1645 hours and headed eastward. A fairly clear and safe run into the target area and a straight bombing run and it was 'Bombs Gone!' Almost immediately the Rear Gunner Aussie Doug Smith called over the inter-com to the Skipper that there was a Me, 210 following just out of range of his guns and had switched on its nose lights. The Skipper said "Keep him in sight and watch him." The fighter then came in and fired at the same time as Doug Smith fired, causing the Me. to break away. The Skipper cork-screwed but we were then attacked by an unidentified fighter from above which knocked out Doug's turret leaving him with one serviceable gun which had to be fired manually. The Me .210 attacked again and Bill Mowatt scored hits on it and flames were seen coming from one of it's engines. There was a further fighter attack but it was fought off. The damage to the bomber and the crew by the fighters was extremely severe. Bob Bridge, the Flight Engineer, had been shot in the leg, Bill Mowatt, the Mid-Upper Gunner, had been shot in the foot and Tom Bisby the Wireless Operator, had leg wounds - the crew did not know of his wounds until later. Doug Smith reported that his guns and turret were u/s and even the belt feed mechanism had been shot up. From then on the Skipper used Doug as a messenger to various crew positions. Tom Bisby had managed to send a wireless message to Melbourne to say that we had been attacked and had wounded on board. By this time the Halifax was shaking very badly. Two of the four engines had failed, but Bob Bridge the Flight Engineer managed to restart one of them. Later he managed to extinguish a fire that had started under the Mid-Upper Gunner’s position and later assisted Bill Mowatt to quell another fire in the fuselage. The Skipper was worried that the aircraft might begin to break up. Tom Bisby, despite his wounds and the pain, managed to do a temporary repair on the wireless and get a fix for base. His wireless failed again and almost on the point of passing out he continued trying to repair the wireless. There was no hydraulics and there was a huge hole in the floor of the fuselage. As we flew out of the danger area and approached coast, Jack asked the crew how they thought about baling out. It was then when they all found out that there were not two but three wounded men on board. They all found out about Tom Bisby's leg wounds. Not only that, but Doug Smith's parachute was full of bullet holes. The Skipper decided to try and land at the nearest base in England, which was Woolfox Lodge near Grantham. On the final run in to the English coast I had vacated his position in the nose and was assisting the Skipper to fly the aeroplane - it was common practice for the Bomb Aimer to assist the pilot. On approach to Woolfox Lodge Tom Bisby gave a signal by Aldis Lamp to control for permission to land and the permission was given. Meanwhile I sat next to the Skipper assisting with the throttle controls. With bated breath and fingers crossed we went straight into land with no hydraulics, no flaps and no brakes. The undercarriage held up as we hit the tarmac, but with nothing to slow us down the aircraft soon reached the end of the runway, then the end of the field, then across a road into another field and then - it came to rest. I breathed a heart felt, Thank God!’

Bisby was admitted to Grantham Hospital and awarded an immediate C.G.M., while Trobe, the pilot, received a D.F.C., and the two gunners D.F.Ms. His crew, meanwhile, with the exception of Bob Bridge, again ran out of luck over Dusseldorf in April 1944, though the gallant Trobe - by then a Squadron Leader - achieved a forced-landing in Dutch territory: the two gunners were taken P.O.W. and the remainder managed to evade capture.

Having recovered from his wounds, Bisby gallantly volunteered for a second tour of duty with his old squadron, and, with Squadron Leader Turner as his pilot, completed his first sortie - against Bochum - on 9 October 1944. And a further 20 sorties ensued in the period leading up to March 1945, with heavily-defended German targets very much the order of the day, including daylight raids on Cologne and Essen.

Post-war, and having been commissioned in October 1944, he joined Transport Command and flew a number of missions during the Berlin Airlift in the periods July-August 1948 and June-October 1949, latterly in Hastings aircraft of No. 297 Squadron. He was placed on the Retired List as a Flight Lieutenant and died in the 1970s.

Sold with the recipient’s original R.A.F. Flying Log Books (2), covering the periods October 1942 to May 1949, and June 1949 to July 1950, together with congratulatory telegrams from “Bomber” Harris and No. 10 Squadron on the award of his C.G.M. and two informative wartime newspaper cuttings.

See also lot 631 for the D.F.M. group awarded to Flight Sergeant R. Gardner, R.A.F.