Flt. Lt. Thomas Gibbs

We focus on another Hunsdon pilot and crew, Sgt. Thomas Gibbs and his Radio Observer, Sgt. Maurice Stanley 'Jack' Waller. Sgt. Gibbs, who liked to be known as 'Tommy', flew Douglas DB-7 Havoc AI equipped night fighters with 85 Squadron at Hunsdon from 1941 to 1942.

Thomas Alfred Gibbs was born on the 9th December 1920 in Ipswich, Suffolk and later went to school at Northgate Grammar School. Tommy was also a member of the choir at St John's Church in Cauldwell Hall Road. He also played football for the choir team and played rugby for the Ipswich Y.M.C.A.

A boy of many talents, he learned to sail with the 13th Ipswich Sea Scout Group, where he attained his King’s Scout Badge in 1936. He loved sailing, later ending up with a Benghazi Sailing Club Helmsman's Certificate after the War. He also enjoyed cycling and that included cycling holidays in Britain, and swimming, for which he held several certificates, both in lifesaving and general swimming. He was very interested in wildlife, nature of all types and he played piano!

After schooling ended at the age of fifteen, he worked for Ransomes in Ipswich as a Pay Clerk in the Engineering Dept. He joined the RAF in 1940 and was posted on the 27th September 1940 to No 6 Initial Training Wing, Aberystwyth. This was a converted Hotel and the pupils were taught the necessities of service life and Pilots’ ground schooling for eight weeks. For actual flying training, he was posted to 7 Elementary Flying Training School at Royal Air Force Desford in Leicestershire, where he learned to fly de Havilland Tiger Moths.

This was usually a ten week course. He went solo on January 5th, 1941. Another posting was to No15 S.F.T S. at Kidlington, Oxford for a further sixteen weeks on twin-engine Airspeed Oxfords with No. 2 Training Squadron. Tommy was then posted to 54 Operational Training Unit at Church Fenton, Yorkshire. This was a dedicated night fighter school as such, utilising and flying in several types of aircraft, including Bristol Blenheims.

After gaining his Pilot’s Wings, he was posted to 85 Squadron, who were based at the newly built RAF Hunsdon on the outskirts of Ware in Hertfordshire. 85 Squadron were a noted RAF Fighter Squadron who had fought in the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain with distinction. Now in a Night Fighter role, they were the flying twin engine Douglas DB-7 Havoc, a light bomber converted for night fighter/Intruder use and equipped with AI Mk IV radar sets. It carried a two man crew, Pilot and Radio/Observer, and was armed with eight .303in Browning Machine Guns.

It was probably here or just after finishing flight training that he teamed up with his own Navigator/ Observer, Sgt. Jack Waller. They flew as a regular crew for several months with no success. The German night raids on London had tailed off and all of the crews were busy flying practice sorties in an effort to hone their skills. Several enemy aircraft were engaged and suffered damage during normal patrols at this time, but no notable successes were reported.

On the 26 January 1942, Sgt. Gibbs, Sgt. Waller and another Radio Observer, Sgt. Molds, were detailed to sail on a Convoy Escort Ship from Sheerness in Kent to observe how convoys were protected by the anti-aircraft guns of the escorts. They sailed as far as the Firth of Forth in Scotland with a convoy but did not see any enemy aircraft. However, apparently the trio were treated to having a go at firing the multiple barrelled 40mm pom pom guns of the escort ship...and were suitably entertained in the wardroom by the ship’s officers and crew.

On the night of the 10th of April 1942, Tommy and Jack were returning to RAF Hunsdon during stormy weather and the Havoc aircraft they were flying that night suffered a front nose wheel collapse on landing. The crew was unhurt and the aircraft suffered only superficial damage.

                              Snow at RAF Hunsdon in 1941, the 'Saint' circles above some of the names in his album

                                                    denote those who were killed later while on 'ops' with the RAF.

Above- Top left RAF Hunsdon's dH Tiger Moth, a Station 'Hack'      Centre, Roy Tinkler(left) and Tommy.      Bottom right, a photo taken after the 'prang' a reference to the nosewheel collapse.

                                                             Some images of Life at RAF Hunsdon 1941 -1942

On the night of the 2/3rd June 1942 aircraft were patrolling off the Essex coast after a second 'Baedeker' raid consisting of 25 German bombers was reported attacking Canterbury, Kent. Flt/Lt. Maude, also from 85 Squadron, engaged a 'hostile' and claimed it as shot down and destroyed, but at that exact time Sgt. Gibbs and Sgt. Waller were patrolling the same area in Havoc VY-D off the coast looking for these German raiders when they were attacked by an unknown aircraft and were badly hit. Sgt. Gibbs managed to bail out safely but was adrift for eight hours in a single seat 'K' dinghy before being rescued by an Air Sea Rescue Supermarine Walrus amphibious seaplane. This was flown by former Battle of Britain pilot, Flt. Sgt. Stillwell, DFM, and his crew members, Sgt. Markey and Flt. Sgt. Pickles. He landed safely at RAF Martlesham Heath. Unfortunately, Sgt. Maurice Stanley 'Jack' Waller's body was washed up the next day at Burnham on Crouch. Tommy Gibbs was in hospital for several days and missed his Radio/Observer’s funeral at Lowestoft.

Flt/Lt. Maude had had previous incidents while flying the squadron’s aircraft. On the 21st August 1941, he selected 'wheels up' instead of the flaps while he was on the ground and the aircraft collapsed in a heap. Later the same day in another of the squadron’s Havocs, he overshot the runway while attempting to land in bad weather and crash landed the aircraft.

For surviving a crash at sea, Tommy was awarded membership of the Goldfish Club.This Badge and the notification letter Hang at his Daughters home

Sgt. Tommy Gibbs returned to the Squadron at Hunsdon on the 7th June 1942. Just under a month later, he was involved in another incident while landing at Hunsdon in another Havoc. This time his Radio /Observer was Flight Sergeant Franklin. They had been airborne for over two hours that night when the aircraft started to develop trouble with its starboard engine, Sgt. Gibbs decided to head back to Hunsdon and while in the overhead circuit, the errant engine decided to pack up completely. While heading into the threshold for the main runway at the Acorn Street end of the main runway, the aircraft could not maintain its height, catching the port wing on a barn at Spellers Farm, spinning the aircraft around, coming to rest in a prize plum tree, part of an orchard attached to No. 2 Spellers Cottages, Hunsdon. Both the crew climbed out unhurt and the bedroom window of the cottage was flung open by the resident, Mr. Jordan, and he then set about berating the crew for knocking down his prized fruit tree!

He resumed flying on 9th June with F/O Bunting as Radio Observer but also flew with other R/Os including a Sgt. Macdonald, Sgt. Vane, F/LT. Murphy, Cpl. Mooney, L.A.C. Roy and F/O Dougal and Branse Burbidge, who would eventually become the top scoring RAF night fighter pilot, Tommy and he had flown together on occasions.  Tommy finally teamed up with Flight/Sgt. Franklin (Frankie) for the first time on 25th June 1942. They are mostly flying a Havoc II that was coded VY-D. On the 14th August 1942 he flew with W/Cdr. Raphael, now 85 Squadron’s Commanding Officer, to RAF Northolt and returned.

Sgt. Tommy Gibbs last flew from RAF Hunsdon on the 9th September 1942 to RAF Cranfield following his posting to No. 51 O.T.U. Here he became an instructor and was then posted to No. 3 Flying Instructors School, Hullavington from 16th October 1942. Further postings took him and Sgt. Franklin to No. 1 Squadron Twinwood Farm, Bedford teaching American pilots night flying. Then he was posted to No. 4 Squadron Cranfield again teaching U.S.A.A.F pilots. On the18th April 1942 he resumed combat flying with, 25 Squadron at Church Fenton, flying de Havilland Mosquitoes with 'Frankie' Franklin, now a Flying Officer.

                                                                                       Tommy & Frankie Franklin

The entries in his RAF Pilot's Flying Log Book are dated from 15th September 1940 to the 2nd February 1946 but the last entry flying for the Royal Air force is dated on the 28th August 1944.

This is when he joined British Overseas Airways at Whitchurch flying Dakotas. He stayed with that organisation as it later became British European Airways and later still British Airways until his retirement. It was on the 12th September 1945, when he joined the newly created British European Airways. This was born out of the formation of BOAC and he was one of the first airline captains to carry out proving flights for the airline. British European Airways (BEA) started operations on 1st August 1946 from the ex-wartime airfield of Northolt just to the west of London.

  It began flying by using a fleet of Vickers Viking airliners. After training, he flies routes to Lisbon, Gibraltar, Castel Benito, Almaza, Istres, El Adem, Cairo, Elmas, Sardinia, Luqa, Gothenburg and Bordeaux. He had his first trip as Captain in Charge on the 1st June 1945. He flew Vanguards, Viscounts, Comets and Tridents, becoming a Senior Captain and on two occasions flew inaugural flights to Marrakech and Toulouse.

                                                 Tommy Gibbs sadly passed away on 16th April 2011, aged 90.

 With extreme thanks to the family of Tommy Gibbs for allowing me to publish these photographs here with their permission.

These photographs have not been published anywhere else, As a special caveat, I ask that under no account are these images to be copied and posted anywhere else digitally or otherwise, This especially includes Facebook pages where photos from this site somehow 'appear', and Wikipedia pages. They remain the strict copyright of  Paula Masters.