WILFRED STARKEY
AIR GUNNER IN "G" FOR GEORGE
460 SQUADRON RAAF

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Subject:   406 Sqn - G for George - Aircrew from Bradford, Yorkshire UK
Date:           7 Jun 1998
From:          "Judy d'Arcy Thompson" <darcy-thompson@harrogate.com>

Dear Peter,

First a little "gen" to explain my tale.

My Dad, Harry Priestley, flew Lancasters with 207 Squadron and earlier this year I investigated pretty well all that I could find on the "net" on his behalf........seeking information about the Lancaster and various Squadrons. During this, of course, I came across your site for 460 Sqn. A great site may I say!!

Meantime, a friend who has relatives in Australia, (haven't we all?), went on her usual trip Down Under. From Canberra she mailed me a postcard of G for George, knowing of my interest and research into the Lanc.

My Dad was delighted when I showed him and told him of her visit to the museum etc. He looked up the aircraft in one of his many books and we were all very interested. This was back in Jan/Feb of this year.

O.K., that is the background to this tale, I will now come to the point.

Last Friday, the same friend who sent the postcard just happened to be in an area of Bradford, Yorkshire, called Idle, where, coincidentally, my husband has an office. Seeking shelter from the rain she popped into a small photographic exhibition she spotted in a local supermarket.

As she wandered around the exhibition, called, "Portraits of Bradfordians 1897 - 1997", her eye was suddenly caught by the words, "G for George". Looking more closely she was astounded by what she read and saw.

Beneath a photograph of a very elderly gentlemen she read a statement, which she then carefully wrote down and which I am sending to you, in it's entirety. She also took a photograph of the exhibit, much to the consternation of the security staff. However, once she had explained they told her that if she wrote to the head office of the store, Morrisons, she might be able to get a copy of the photograph. This she intends to do.

Here is what she read beneath the old gentleman's photograph:-

Dreams & Promises
Portraits of Bradfordians 1897-1997 by Ian Beesley

PICTURE NO 16 - WILFRED STARKEY, aged 92 years. Born 19.11.1905
" I remember the poverty in Bradford in the 20's and 30's, people would flock to the Bradford market at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night to buy cheap meat. there were no fridges, so the butchers had to get rid of everything before closing. In 1936 I saw the German airship The Hindenburg come clean down the Aire valley, as it passed over Keighley a wreath was dropped. The pilot's brother had been a prisoner of war in West Yorkshire during the first World War and had died and was buried in Keighley.

In 1942 I was called up and served as an air gunner with 460 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, on the famous G - for George. George completed 90 operations over Germany and occupied Europe. It earned the distinguished Service Order and has pride of place at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

It was freezing as a gunner in the Lancaster turret, you didn't have much protection and flak from exploding shells tore through the plane's thin skin. On one occasion it cut through the oxygen pipe and on another it set my ammunition on fire. I was demobbed in 1946 and returned to my job as a bricklayer."

I don't know if this is of any interest to you, but I thought it just might be and decided to Email you. We now have a 207 Sqn web site and I am delighted to know that so many others feel as I do, that those of us born after WW11 must never forget, or let others forget, the bravery of all those who fought, and in many instances died, so that we could live in freedom.

My Dad's pilot was a Kiwi and we are only too well aware of the huge debt of gratitude we all owe to those loyal and brave men and women of the Commonwealth who fought alongside us. All of my six children have been brought up to be aware of this and to honour all that was done during the two World Wars.

By the way, my Dad, who is a Yorkshireman, from Selby, also saw the Hindenburg's flight down the Aire Valley. Small world!

I hope this has been of some interest to you. Good luck with your 460 site!

Goodbye and God bless form Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

Judy d'Arcy Thompson

 

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Subject:    Brisbane to Bradford and back!
Date:            10 Jun 1998 11:46:49 +0100
From:           "Judy d'Arcy Thompson" <darcy-thompson@harrogate.com>

Dear Peter,

Thanks for your quick response, I thought you had maybe "cut the cackle a little"!!

You know we women can't tell a tale briefly - even on the internet!!

Yes, it is great. We contact friends and family in Oz and the USA etc very regularly now that we can do so with such speed!

My darling Dad, Harry Priestley, has been thrilled with all the information I have gleaned for him from various Lancaster Home pages.

Have you found the Bomber Harris home page yet? It is based in Canada/USA and is great.

I find my Dad, who was recently 75, on the 6th May, tells more and more of his war time tales these days, as if he wants us all to be sure that we know his memories. My Mum, Peggy was a WAAF MT driver, also with 207 Sqn.

Thanks for responding so quickly...you see, I've yacked on again!!

Regards,

Judy

 

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Subject:     Bradford-Brisbane 460 Connection
Date:              15 Jun 1998
From:            "Judy d'Arcy Thompson" <darcy-thompson@harrogate.com>

Dear Peter,

Greetings from an exceedingly wet & cold Yorkshire. After over two weeks of virtually constant rain with temperatures down to 43-45 I am envious of your wonderful Aussie weather! have you by any chance got our summer as it seems to have got mislaid?!!

Now, the G for George saga - "Idle" connection.

My friend went away on holiday so I decided to take matters into my own hands and try and further the investigation into Mr Starkey.

About half an hour ago I rang the HQ of the supermarket which staged the phorographic exhibition and a very charming PR lady has just called me right back.

They are very keen to help us to make further contact with Mr Starkey and I have explained that you would be interested in having copies of photos, memorabilia etc. to include in the web site.

She will be getting back to me as soon as she has made contact with the exhibition's organiser, Mr Ian Beesley. Hopefully, we shall then be able to contact Mr Starkey and ask him for more inforation, fellow crew member's names etc, and also see if I can copy any photos he has and get them to you.

I hope this is satisfactory for you and that you are, indeed, interested in my persuing this further for you.

Regards,

Judy

 

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Subject:   Mr Starkey _ Bradford
Date:           23 Jun 1998
From:          "Judy d'Arcy Thompson" <darcy-thompson@harrogate.com>

Dear Peter,

Investigations continue.

I have made contact with the photographer of the exhibition. He remembers Mr. Starkey well. I now have a number to ring Mr Starkey on, fingers crossed he is still alive.

Meanwhile, the local Bradford paper, the Telegraph and Argus, did an article on him, and G - for George, on Sat 15th june, 1996.  I  have had the piece faxed through to me and it proves very interesting. According to this, Mr Starkey may well be the "short guy standing on the parachute" who's name you were seeking. It looks like the same photo to me!

There are also some extracts from his log book.

Also he says that he was a hit with the crew because he was the only one who could play the piano and he used to play "Waltzing Matilda" for them.

Do you have a fax number and I will fax it and anything else I get through to you?

If you have, please send it to me and I will send this off to you.

Meanwhile I plan to ring Mr and Mrs Starkey.

Hope to hear from you soon,

Judy.

 

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Subject:    G for George - Mr Starkey
Date:            23 Jun 1998
From:           "Judy d'Arcy Thompson" <darcy-thompson@harrogate.com>

Dear Peter,

11.30 a.m. here and I have just spoken to Mrs Starkey and Mr Starkey, who is now 93 and just recovering from a severe viral infection.

He has the same photo of the G for George crew as you show on the web site, I have it from the newspaper article and the web site.

Here is who is in the photo, left to right as you are looking at it.

Seated,at the left, is Leo Armstrong - Navigator.

Seated, on the right, is Wilfred Starkey - Mid Upper Gunner.

Behind, from the left, as you look at the photo:-

Standing, on the left is J.B. "Jimmy" Brown DFC - Bomb aimer (deceased)

Standing , Flight Officer "Jack" Sampson ( R. Sampson?) - Wireless Op.

Bending over in the centre back is Flg Off Jack Critchley DFC- Pilot

Standing, second from right is Fred Shaw - Rear Gunner

Standing, on the parachute is "Curly" Knott - Flight Engineer

If you know where "Curly" Knott is, Mr Starkey laughingly says that he would like the jacket back which he lent to him !!

Apparently Leo Armstrong visited Bradford with a Rugby team last June and visited Mr Starkey at his home.

He also has, amongst other things, a plaque presented to those who flew the 90th op, over Cologne on the night of 20th April 1944 and, of course, his log book. One of his missions was on the 1000 bomber raid on the complex at Friedrichshafen.

He also remembers your father in law (Jan Goulevitch) and his famous hat!

I plan to send him all the web site print out and will let you know if I can glean any more + photos for you.

I hope this has proved useful to you and others who are interested.

Kind regards,

Judy

 

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Subject:   Up date!
Date:           27 Jun 1998
From:          "Judy d'Arcy Thompson" <darcy-thompson@harrogate.com>

Dear Peter,

Perhaps I should say " 'ow do ?". from Yorkshire!

Thank you for the message re. the up-dates. . I see I haven't made the "leader boards" yet!

What's a girl got to do!!!!  (You've finally made it Judy - and many thanks for all your wonderful research - Peter)

(Still raining here... want some?)

Regards,

Judy

 

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Subject:      Happiness is Harrogate!
Date:               Tue, 30 Jun 1998 15:36:23 +0100
From:             "Darcy Thompson" <darcy-thompson@harrogate.com>

Dear Peter,

Wow! I didn't expect the coverage you have given my faxes, just a one liner. Let's hope it has the desired effect and prompts more tales of "George" & 460 Sqn. Thank you!

I promised Mr Starkey and his wife that I would print off the whole of your site and send a hard copy to them, He is almost 93 now and it will give him great pleasure, I am sure, to see his name down as one of the 460 Sqn. "characters". Bless 'em all!

Once that is done, and he understands a little more about how I have made contact with you all, I shall ask him for more of his memories of your father in law, Jan Goulevitch and, of course, pass them on to you.

Meanwhile if anyone has any memories of 207 Sqn I would love to hear them. My Dad flew 37 Ops: with 207 Sqn., nine of which were to Berlin. He also did 8 Ops: on 582 Sqn. Pathfinders. He was also on the "Manna" drop. 

I include , herewith, a couple of my favourite poems, both by men who flew Lancasters in WW11. If you already know them, my aplogies. If not, I hope that you enjoy them too!

Kind regards,

Judy

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared amd swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

(John Magee)

 

SHOWPIECE LANCASTER

I dream now of another time,
Of soaring wings and slipstream whine
Of airscrew arcs and engine drone,
And cloudy canyons I have known.
Once we were many, and we knew,
The love of thousands, our aircrew,
So many lovers, past recall,
Yet we were faithful to them all.
When towering columns split the night,
With brilliant beams of searching light,
Then in just moments we became,
Small insects, round a naked flame.
And with us then, our young men knew,
An eighth, unwanted, crewman flew,
He whispered, taunted, often near,
Unseen but known, for he was fear.
Time after time, we saw the cost,
To all who fought so well, yet lost,
For them a fiery plunge through space,
In another time, another place.
For you old lovers, youth has gone,
Relentless, time is moving on,
With arms outstretched, with measured pace
To take you all in cold embrace.
Time has not marred my grim old frame,
To your fading eyes, I am the same,
Look well, all strangers standing there,
For I am the mighty LANCASTER.

Walter Scott, ex 630 Squadron Royal Air Force

 

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Subject:      How do? from Harrogate!
Date:               Thu, 2 Jul 1998 14:56:13 +0100
From:             "Darcy Thompson" <darcy-thompson@harrogate.com>

Dear Peter,

Thanks for the mail.

I will print off the lot for Mr Starkey. Bless him, he deserves some fun at his age!!

My Dad's Squadron are having a memorial service on Monday, 13th July,down in Lincolnshire at East Kirkby, near Spilsby for some crew members lost when a Lanc went down. Two crew parachuted to "safety", then "escaped and evaded" and it's these two who have organised a tree planting, a plaque and a service of rememberance. I am driving down the elderly sister of the Navigator who died in the prang, in order that she can attend the service. I have never met the lady but thought I would lend a hand so that she can be there on this special day.

There is a min1 museum there with, amongst other planes, Lancaster NX611 Just Jane in the colours of 57 & 630 Sqns. My Dad is coming along too, and my youngest son, Daniel aged 15. (my Mum is staying here with the rest of her grandchildren) Grandad is hoping to get permission to show Daniel around the inside of the Lanc, and show him exactly "how it was". It should be a very special and very emotional moment I think!

Regards, Judy

 

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Subject:     207 Lancaster Song - RAF Spilsby 1943-44
Date:              Fri, 3 Jul 1998 07:31:16 +0100
From:            "Darcy Thompson" <darcy-thompson@harrogate.com>

Dear Peter,

We had a really early start this morning, 5 a.m. So I came down to write this up for you before the children woke and I started my day properly.

We've had some great sing -songs in our kitchen with my Dad singing this. All the granchildren know it...rude words and all I'm afraid!

Enjoy!!

Regards, Judy

 

207 Squadron RAF Spilsby 1943-44

Lancaster Song

(Sung to the tune of "Bless &lsquo;em all.)

The&hellip;..y say there's a Lancaster out on the field,
Waiting to go on a flight.
With hydraulics leaking and engine revs down,
Hoping to get there all right.

There's one or two cylinders running a temp:
The rudder's held on by a pin.
With great navigation and great concentration
We're hoping to get to Berlin.

Now they say that the Hun has some very fine kites,
Of that we're no longer in doubt.
So next when the Fockker Wolf gets on your tail,
This is the way to get out.

Go&hellip;&hellip;&hellip;&hellip;..oooooo into a corkscrew,
A dive and a spin,
And don't give the sod chance to think.
With great elevation and range estimation
We'll shoot the sod down in the drink!

No&hellip;..w, when over the target the bombs whistle down,
As soon as you press on the Tit&hellip;Tit, Tit!!
Searchlights are on us, the fighters are up,
One engine's gone for a shit.

The crews' in a panic, the pilot bales out,
Into the searchlights and flak.
Complete consternation, there's no jubilation,
We don't think we'll ever get back!

The end of the story sees us at the gates.
St. Peter imparts all his gen.
It seems there's no room for a whole bloody crew,
Not for such low types of men.

We&hellip;&hellip;&hellip;&hellip;see that we've had it, we won't get our harps.
We won't get our issue of wings.
Too late for repentance, there's no bloody entrance,
So join in the chorus and sing!

Bless'em all, bless'em all,
The long and the short and the tall!
Bless the Air Gunner and the Wireless Op. Too.
Bless the Air Bomber and the whole Bloody Crew.

For we're saying goodbye to them all.
As into their Lanc'y they crawl.
They're off on a trip, and they'll go for a shit,
So cheer up my lads, Bless 'em all!!

(Written by Smithie's Crew 207 Sqn RAF Spilsby 1943 &ndash;44)
Pilot Officer Doug Smith DFC RNZAF
Pilot Officer Harry Priestley
Sgt Ron Petts.

 

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Subject:      Visit to Lincolnshire's airfields.
Date:                Fri, 17 Jul 1998 07:14:38 +0100
From:             "Darcy Thompson" <darcy-thompson@harrogate.com>

Dear Peter,

I thought I would drop by and tell you of my trip to the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre at East Kirkby.

Here they have one of the few remaining Lancaster bombers, lovingly restored, and kept in one of the old hangars. This old RAF base is now a living memorial to the brother of the farmers who own the land, he was shot down and killed during WWII. Slowly they have restored all the buildings and the precious Lancaster in his memory, and that of many other young men from other squadrons. Re creating the wartime atmosphere in all the old buildings; the NAAFI; the huts; the control tower and hangar. There is a wonderful Primetime video called "two farmers and a plane" about it all.

We were there to remember those who were lost in June 1944, when Solly's crew, "Solly's Sinners", were shot down with the loss of four lives. The three who survived were captured but escaped and evaded. It was these three who arranged Monday's service, including one who had come over from New Zealand. Sadly one of the three died not long ago and so he too was being remembered.

Many other Squadrons of the RAF, RCAF, RAAF and USAF shared this small base, they too are quietly honoured there. As I stood in the windswept sunshine of the flat Lincolnshire fens and looked around at the Nissan huts where these brave young men and women had lived through the war and their youth; looked at the control tower where the call sign "silksheen" brought them home and at the NAAFI, where doubtless they sang their songs and drank their watery beer, I felt enormous gratitude for all they did.

Because of 207 Squadron's connection with the base and the Panton brothers we were allowed the rare privilege of being able to touch and inspect the treasured Lanc. Climbing up to look inside the Lancaster, it was impossible not to wonder at the sheer guts of these young men and acknowledge the sheer terror which must have been a part of their daily lives alongside it. Standing below and gazing up at the four huge engines and the relative frailty of this famous "bird", in which my Dad had stood for so many hours flying to Germany and back, I thought "What price freedom?"

You will be pleased to know that in the hangar, alongside the wonderfully, and lovingly restored Lancaster, Lancaster NX611 Just Jane , are static displays of Squadrons who served at East Kirkby, among them, of course, 460. Although I scoured the numerous photographs very carefully I could not find your late father in law amongst them.

Perhaps you could rectify that by sending the Panton brothers a copy of the famous "hat" one! They are such delightful people and always anxious to add to the displays and knowledge of those years that I am certain they would be more than happy to do so.

In case you should wish to, here is their address:-

Mr Fred and Mr Harold Panton,
Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre
East Kirkby
Lincolnshire
PE23 4DE

At the top of the first display board, in the middle, amongst the 460 Squadron crest and the listing of all the Squadron Honours and missions was a small poem. There was no indication as to who had written it, or placed it there. However, I wrote it down for you.

Born of the sun,
They travelled a short while
towards the sun
And left the vivid air
Signed with their honour.

It was quite remarkable day, we passed Cranwell of course and Binbrook, which is a stone's throw from East Kirkby. So many, many of these old bomber bases are crammed into the flat fen area that there is an almost tangible "presence", you can almost hear the echoes of their young voices and see them driving out to their bombers, ready for another op.

One of the photos in the display is that of my mother, then a WAAF with 207, she is standing beside a convoy of "eggies", bombs, that she has just driven out to be loaded onto a Lanc. The shot appeared on the cover of Time Life magazine.

There was an enormous poignancy to stand in the sunshine of freedom, beside these brave white haired men and their once beautiful sweethearts, looking across to where they flew off daily, never knowing if they would return.

As we passed the gates of RAF Binbrook I offered a prayer of thanks for your father in law, and all like him, who fought with such bravery.

Regards, Judy

http://freespace.virgin.net/frank.haslam/index.html      this is the 207 Sqn site by the way

 

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Subject:      Harrogate calling!
Date:               Thu, 1 Oct 1998 21:19:07 +0100
From:             "Darcy Thompson" <darcy-thompson@harrogate.com>

Dear Peter,

Long time no speak... I have been in Florida!

Check this out, my Mum is on the net!! Bless her!

http://freespace.virgin.net/frank.haslam/page20.html

Regards, Judy

 

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Subject:    Harrogate here!
Date:             Fri, 2 Oct 1998 12:57:26 +0100
From:           "Darcy Thompson" <darcy-thompson@harrogate.com>

Dear Peter,

I was on line as your message came through, Nice to hear from you!

Yes that is my Mum in the photo. I took it down to lend it to Frank when I went down to East Kirkby for that visit in July.

She is still a good looking gal, though almost 78 now. She was only 23 then. Not long after one of the trailers of bombs blew up, just as she had moved away from it, killing the chap in the photo with her. They had a lot of guts those days didn't they?

We have been in Florida for a month on holiday, we needed some sunshine after all this dismal weather here this summer. We missed all the hurricanes, thank goodness, having been there for Andrew 6 yearas ago.

Back to the daily grind now, but when Frank rang last night to tell me Mum was "on the net" I thought I would give her some publicity. My father says he picked the prettiest girl on the base. But then I bet they all said that!

Hope you and yours are all fine, I keep checking out your new additions.. the holiday site looks tempting!

Kind regards, Judy

 


 

On 6 May 2001 I received the following message from Mrs. Alma Starkey:-

I would like to make a correction about a piece that was printed on the internet, dated 13th MARCH 2001....It was stated the Wilf died in his sleep in his chair. Wilf DID have a very serious illness contrary to what has been printed. For 3 weeks I nursed him day and night, but the virus turned into pneumonia. In the early hours of the 22nd October 1999 he was awake and looked at me and said " Alma I'm Dying", as I held him to me he just slipped away.......He was alert and awake to the last second of his life, and Brave to the end as a hero would be. He was 3 weeks short of his 94th Birthday. He was a great character and will be missed always...."NO" !, he did not die in his sleep, he was with me to the very end....Happy Landings Wilf on your final mission to the Stars....

Mrs Alma Starkey.

Rest in Peace

 

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This page first produced 30 June 1998

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