Crew: Nicholls

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Johnny Nicholls. Attribute tbc.

This crew flew on Black Thursday in Lancaster JB706-OF-H, H-Harry. They landed without mishap (for further details, see below) but were shot down at the end of March 1944.

Pilot: F/O J H, known as Johnny, Nicholls
– PoW from 31/3/44
Flight Engineer: Sgt SA,  known as Sid, Smith
– PoW from 31/3/44
Navigator: F/O Ronald, known as Ron, Easson
– PoW from 31/3/44
Bomb Aimer: F/S Kenroy Alfred Jolley, nicknamed “Bombdoors”
– killed 31/3/1944 and buried at Rheinberg War Cemetery
W/Op: Sgt Jack Gardner
– PoW from 31/3/44
Mid-Upper Gunner: Sgt W D, known as Oggy, Ogilvie
– PoW from 31/3/44
Rear Gunner: Sgt Alfred, known as Alf, Whitehead
– killed 31/3/1944 and buried at Hanover War Cemetery

Sergeant S.A.C. Smith, “Sid”, was flight engineer on the Nicholls crew on 16/17th December 1943. His son Ken Smith related:

As to Black Thursday it was a well-remembered night for Dad, and was discussed many times. The main points being that they were diverted to Graveley to land with Fido, desperately low on fuel. They were letting down and suddenly spotted the runway at an angle with no time to call “funnels”.  Johnny Nicholls pulled the Lanc round tight, keeping the runway in sight, and came straight in. Not standard practice!  I think they landed long, i.e. at the far end of the runway. As they taxied away to a strange dispersal, I’m sure Dad said one of the outer engines was suffering from fuel starvation.
The only other recollection Dad mentioned was that the following morning, he went to the shower/wash room and with no warning was confronted with the sight of several mangled dead crew men laid out on the floor. The mortuary must have been full. This left a lasting impression, he said they were from an all Australian crew?  These were men he had been with in the Sergeants’ Mess at Bourn the day before, this shook him, as you can imagine.
[Note from Jennie Gray: this was almost certainly the Scott crew, whose aircraft crashed one and a quarter miles north east of Graveley. There were no survivors.]
As a foot note, my wife and I had been to London on a Saturday and I had purchased a Squadron history for 97 Sqd. On my return home that evening, I was reading Dad some parts from the book, and Black Thursday was talked about again as above. Within the hour he had died in my arms from a heart attack. Very much the way he would have wished to go, he was 84. This was January 2000.

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L to R: Sid, Jack, Kenroy “Bombdoors”, Alf.  Courtesy of Ken Smith.

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L-R: Sid, Jack, Alf, Oggy. Courtesy of Ken Smith.

Note Kenroy’s darker RAAF uniform with black plastic buttons.

Kenroy and Oggy swapped to take these two photographs, which is why they each only appear once. The pictures were taken in late 1943 at Bourn outside their nissen hut, number 13. Sid’s son Ken Smith writes: “That was my father’s lucky number, his parachute was also numbered 13. No one else would have it! Needless to say it saved him when needed.”

The Nicholls crew did nearly all of their operational flying with 97 Sq before moving with “C” flight to form part of the new 635 Squadron at Downham Market, Norfolk.
They were shot down flying with 635 Squadron on the infamous Nuremberg raid of 30-31st March 1944. Two of the crew were killed, Kenroy Alfred Jolley the bomb aimer, who was an Australian and only 22 years old, and Alfred Whitehead, the rear gunner, who was 28. They are buried respectively at Rheinberg War Cemetery and Hanover War Cemetery. The rest of the crew became PoWs.

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Johnny Nicholls on leave in London, 1943, at his uncle’s house – the very epitome of a dashing RAF pilot. Attribute tbc.
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Ron Easson, the navigator at the time on his enlistment in the RAAF. Australian National Archives.