14 January 1944, shot down over Texel.
Pilot: F/L Kenneth Munro Steven – Killed, buried in Den Burg Cemetery
Flight Engineer: F/S Albert C East – PoW
Navigator: F/S Samuel Stevenson – Killed, buried in Den Burg Cemetery
Bomb Aimer: P/O Ridley Brown – PoW
W/Op: F/S William Gadsby – Killed, buried in Den Burg Cemetery
Mid-Upper Gunner: W/O Clifford John, known as Jack, Skinner – Killed, buried in Den Burg Cemetery
Rear Gunner: Sgt Leslie Norman John Laver – Killed, buried in Den Burg Cemetery
RIDLEY BROWN who became a prisoner of war
Left to right: Ace (Albert East), Rid (Ridley Brown), Paddy (Samuel Stevenson), and Ken Newman, whose place on the fatal night was taken by Leslie Laver. The man on the far right is thought to be Bill Gadsby, but a family photograph of him is below:
PAM DAWSON (sister) on BILL GADSBY
Our father was gassed in the First World War and was very unwell for years afterwards, he did not get a pension, the family had a struggle to survive.
There were seven children. Dorothy was the eldest, then Bill. There were two other boys, one being my twin brother.
The death of Bill was a terrible shock to my parents. They learnt it all third-hand as Bill had married not long before he died and his wife was next of kin. Bill died in the January of 1944, my sister Pauline died aged only 19 in the May, so my parents lost two adult children in a very short space of time. Pauline had a blood disorder like hemophilia.
I do remember that the two surviving crew members came to visit my mother after the war. I was only 16-17 and these two very dishy men turned up. I do not remember much about it, but my mother was very glad that they came, at least then she was quite sure that Bill was dead, not just missing, presumed dead.
I do not remember much about Bill at all really. He was 21 when I was 14, so I just looked on him as my big brother, my very big brother.
He was a very great support to my eldest sister Dorothy who had epilepsy. They were very close.
We lived in a council house in Lewisham.
Bill was quite serious and he was a server at St Mary’s Church in Lewisham.
We had a lovely family doctor and Bill used to take the medicines round for him, he did a sort of round for the patients, you would not get that sort of thing happening nowadays. He was the mainstay of the family, being the oldest son.
He was very bright and would have won a scholarship to go to grammar school, but like so many families in our situation it was thought he would be better off learning a trade, so he learnt shorthand and typing and worked in an office, he had commercial training as it was called. He went to Catford Central School. If people did not go to grammar school (either because they did not take the scholarship or failed it), the best went to Central. Central schools went on to the age of 16 – of course, most children in those days left school at 14.
I was evacuated at the age of 8 and stayed evacuated until I was 14, so I saw Bill hardly at all in that period. As an airman, he was a very glamorous figure and it was good to show him off. I remember when I was in Smarden in 1943 – they had evacuated us to Smarden right in the middle of “Bomb Alley”, and he came to see me with his new wife, Marjorie, I was very interested and intrigued by her. The people I was living with were very upper-class. Well, the man went to The Flying Horse at Smarden and when he came back he said to me, “I met such a nice young airman in the pub today”, he was trying to make me feel good I suppose.
I also remember Bill coming home and being very very on edge, he would come home on leave and quite literally his hands were shaking – well, it must have been absolutely awful for them, going out on bombing raids night after night, never knowing if they were going to get killed.
We lost everything to do with Bill because he had married. After he died, his wife wanted to forget the past and she moved out of our lives, and of course she had everything, photographs of him in uniform and all that. We completely lost touch with her and Bill’s son. She married again.
The only thing that survives is his logbook.
LESLIE LAVER was standing in for Ken Newman, the usual rear gunner. Leslie was from the Thackway crew,which had suffered a terrible accident on Black Thursday. Leslie was the only uninjured survivor, and he was grounded for a month to get over the trauma. The very next operation which he flew was with the Steven crew and it was on this operation that he lost his life.
JACK SKINNER – by his daughter Vicki Clark
Dad served in the 109, 162, & 97 Squadrons – he was in the Middle East from January 1942 to January 1943.
He was an Instructor at an OTU for a while and I think his first op with 97 Squadron was September 22 1943 (marked in his logbook as his 34th op). He flew 19 operations altogether with the Pathfinders – all as a mid-upper gunner. He was on borrowed time, though. His last operation was his 53rd. He had completed his required number of operations but volunteered to carry on. Given the statistics, the numbers were very much against survival.
I was born July 1st 1944 – so he must have known Mum was pregnant – just.
They wanted a baby so much as Mum had already lost one earlier, a boy they were going to name Peter.
Strangely enough I was named after Vicki Baum – a German author. Mum worked in a library – which I also qualified as funnily enough.
I have always looked so much like my Dad and so does my only daughter – funny how genetics work, isn’t it?
Reading through his letters
One incident made me smile – they were cleaning the bed of someone called Graham – with turps. Dad was sure it would not burn – tried it – and after a couple of seconds the whole thing went up – so they had to quickly get it outside before the entire tent burned down.
Another time he was teaching flying crews. Exams were next day and he had the papers on his desk. He had to leave the room briefly – and when he returned his students were still dutifully studying. However, he had made a mark on the edges of the papers he had left and knew instantly that they had been looking at the answers.
One comment to Mum was the calibre of men he had to teach and the short time that was allowed.
He wanted them to achieve high passes because – as he said – their lives will depend on it.
Once while walking in the woods, him and a mate came across some Italian prisoners in a working party. They started to speak Arabic (presumably picked up in the Middle East) between them which sparked an interest from the Italians. So with “pidgin Italian” they had a conversation and were able to tell them how the war was going in Italy.
(Note from Jennie Gray: there was an Italian PoW camp near Toft, very close to Bourn, so this may very well have been where this little incident took place.)
My Dad had beautiful hand-writing. He was a prolific letter-writer and put funny little drawings and comments at the bottom.
I think he was a very likeable, loyal guy – with high morals – who kept his word. Quite kind, gentle and caring – usually enquiring about Mum’s parents and family and sending them his love. I don’t think he “went out with the lads” very much, preferring to see a film and have an early night.
One thing I do know is that his parents did not know he was flying. Apparently each time they visited his family, Edith would cut off his “wings” and sew them on again after the visit. He wanted to save them the worry – but it must have been a huge shock to them when he was killed.
See also One for All the Air Gunners and Weddings