Anne Doward nee Tansley



Anne Doward nee Tansley


Biography of Ernest Tansley's daughter Anne. Writes of background and family. Gives service history of her father including joining, training in England and the United States and eventual posting to 57 Squadron at RAF Scampton. Writes of her memories of her father including recollection of her mother receiving information that her father was killed in action, birth of her baby brother and other memories of her childhood and her mother coping with loss of her husband. Continues with experiences after the war and her eventual search for information about her father including his crew and their final operation.





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Anne Doward nee Tansley. I was born into war torn England in May 1940 and had a Mummy Irene, Daddy Ernie and a big brother Peter aged three. Dad was born in West Ham, Essex in 1914 and after leaving college, he went to work as an office clerk to a firm of Shipping Agents. After several years and by then married with a young son, he gave up office work and joined the Dock industry where he became a stevedore, the prospect of better wages being the incentive. Around the time I was born, and because of the unsettled times, my father was no longer living at home having been transferred from London to work in Scotland at Gourock Docks. I spent the first year of my life in Scotland because Mum was determined not to be separated from my father for longer than was necessary. I remember her telling me how she had travelled on the long train journey with three year old Peter and myself. At only six weeks old she had carried me in a suitcase (hopefully with the lid open). It wasn’t an easy journey to make with a small baby but the train was full of young servicemen who helped to keep Peter amused and made up bottles of milk for me, for which Mum was extremely grateful. After much research, I discovered that Dad, despite being in a reserved occupation had signed up to join the R.A.F in March 1941. Unhappy with the way the war was going, he wanted to help ensure a safe, happy future for his family. He was placed on the ‘reserve list and eventually called up in the August. After undergoing initial training in the UK, he was sent off to America to undergo his flying training as a pilot and he was there from December 1941 until his return to England in October 1942. Once back in England he continued with his training until July1943 when he and his seven chosen crew members were posted to 57 Squadron in Scampton, Lincolnshire to fly the Lancaster bomber. Tragically, they all lost their lives on a bombing raid to Berlin on the 2nd December 1943. My memories of Dad were very few indeed as I was only three years old, but I clearly remember that early December day when the telegram boy knocked at the door. We had been staying at the home of Mum’s parent’s, looking forward to Dad’s next leave, hopefully in time for Christmas. Mum answered the door, with me as usual, clinging to her skirts as I was always a shy little girl. She stood in the hallway and when she had finished reading the telegram, she sat down on the stairs and began to cry. Not having seen her cry before, or understanding why she was upset, I climbed onto her lap, put my arms around her and said “don’t cry mummy, I’ll look after you”. Three months later on the 12th of March 1944, Bobby arrived, my new baby brother. There are only a few precious memories of Dad which were imprinted on my mind all those years ago, probably because they were happy ones. At the time, we were living at 7 Church Hill, Thundersley, the last of four little bungalows on the side of very steep hill. We had probably moved there when Dad returned from his training in America. It overlooked lovely woods that were full of bluebells in the spring, and I remember watching children toboggan down the hill in the snow. Young Peter was probably in the thick of it! I know that Dad was gentle and kind and remember holding his hand as we walked Peter to school one day. It was in this bungalow that I have my few precious memories of Dad. I can see him now, so plainly, out in the back garden digging. It was a sunny day and Mum helped me down the steps at the back door so I could run down to help him. It was some years later that I asked Mum who the

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man was that I remembered in the garden. She simply said “that was daddy, digging me a veggie patch” I had just needed to know for sure that it was him. Another vague memory was when Dad must have come home on leave. We were all in the front room of this same bungalow and Dad was still in uniform. I remember he turned to Peter and myself and told us we could go and look in his bag to see what we could find. I remember well that the bag was in the hall, near the front door so he must have only just arrived. We ran out to the bag to open it but our little fingers struggled with the fastenings. Dad came to the rescue but sadly I cannot remember what that precious gift had been. My other remaining memory was in this same front room. Dad was again wearing his uniform and he was holding me in his lap. I had my coat and bonnet on and we were waiting for Mum to finish getting ready. Maybe he was going back after his leave and it was the last time I ever saw him – I will never know. After that, we must have lived with my grandparents in their lovely old house ‘The Poplars’ as that is where Bob was born and is where most of my memories are. Despite everything, they seem to be happy ones. There was a huge garden to play in, a sunken garden with fish pond, an orchard at the far end and always eggs to collect from the hens. Indoors, the scullery was one of my favourite places. This is where I would ‘help’ Nan when she was baking, sending flour everywhere and help Grandpop to mash up hard boiled eggs to feed to his baby canaries (he kept a lot of chickens). We spent many happy times in the parlour, gathered round the old black range and it was here that my grandfather would puff away at his pipe and blow smoke out of his ears. That always made us laugh and he would also tell us little ones, ghost stories. He was good at telling stories, but the ghost ones frightened the life out of me. It was in this room that a door led to the cupboard under the stairs and I remember the times when wailing sirens meant Peter and I were hurried out of bed in the dead of night to take shelter in there. Although there was a proper shelter in the garden, Mum always liked to keep us together in the cupboard, knowing I was frightened by the sirens and was afraid of the gas mask. In 1944 I had to have my tonsils removed and I remember Mum driving me to the hospital in Tilbury in a car she had borrowed. When I was taken to the ward I was dismayed to find I was being made to sleep in a cot, after being used to a bed at home. A little boy next to me had his tonsils removed on the same day as me and the next day he was given a bowl of ice cream. I sat eagerly hoping that I would get some too but all I was handed was a fig!! I took one bite and then threw it as far as I could under my cot. I was never given any ice cream! When Mum took me home however, I found that she had arranged a little party for me with sandwiches, cakes and jelly. Everyone tucked in but me, as my throat was still too sore but the jelly slid down nicely. The thing I hated most at the hospital was watching the blackout blinds being pulled down at night before we could have any lights on. At some time before I started school we moved to our own little bungalow, not far from my grandparents. Moving day was memorable because our local friendly coalman kindly did the honours, using his coal lorry! Opposite the school I later went to and which Peter was already attending, was a sweet shop where we were sometimes allowed to buy a penn’orth of our favourite sweets. Mine were liquorice
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comfits which I would carefully carry home in the twisted cone of paper. A luxury of being at school was the occasional tin of chocolate powder which all the children were given, courtesy of the Canadians. Peter used to help me prise the lid off my tin so we could sample it before reaching home. All three of Mum’s brothers prospered leaving her to struggle on the best she could. The visits to her dressmaker soon came to a halt and it was make do and mend, and for us children, other people’s hand me downs. I will never forget my eighth birthday when I unwrapped two new summer dresses and a pair on ankle socks. I thought all my Christmases had come at once. Mum didn’t seem able to settle for long and we moved around a lot before finally making our home in Hockley, Essex in 1949. This was the ninth home I had lived in !! It was a long unmade road, the houses interspersed with open fields and areas of woodland. It was lined with plenty of trees, many of which were fine old oaks. This is where we settled at last and spent our growing up years. By this time however, young Peter was ensconced in a boarding school, courtesy of the R.A.F. We had some good times there. Peaceful days when we could wander off to play in the woods, climb trees, play a game of make shift cricket or simply look for butterflies and grasshoppers in the long grasses. Sometimes we would meet up with old Mrs Muir, the ‘goat lady’ and the peace would be shattered by the noisy bleating, or we would all cycle to the nearby river to have a paddle, or if the tide was out, squelch in the mud looking for crabs, Mum included. We would then cycle home, happy but muddy and looking forward to tea. Mum was offered part time job in the local ‘corner shop’ which helped to eke out her R.A.F. pension. It could hardly be called a shop nowadays as it was in the front room of an old house run by two quite elderly sisters. The shop was dark and dusty and until I got to know them better I was rather afraid of going in there alone. A loud bell jangled over the door as you entered and because it was so gloomy, you had to be careful not to trip over the sacks of potatoes stacked on the floor. They sold sugar which was weighed out on scales to whatever amount you wanted, and then poured into stiff blue paper bags, and if you could only afford a quarter of a pound of butter, they quite happily cut a half pound pack in two for you. Although times were hard, Mum didn’t like us to always have margarine on our bread so she would buy half a pack of marge and another of butter and I usually had the job of blending the two together for teatime. There was no electricity in the road when we first moved there so no ‘mod cons’. No television, washing machine fridge, freezer, vacuum cleaner or central heating, even if you could afford them. A flat iron was heated up on the gas cooker and on many a night we cursed when we stuck our fingers through the delicate gas mantles when we went to light them. Matches and candles were always to hand. In the evenings we would play cards or shove-halfpenny, have a game of draughts, darts, do jig-saw puzzles or read. Sometimes, if the battery for the radio had been charged up, we would listen to things like ‘Dick Barton Special Agent’ when it was being broadcast. We would sit in the dining room with the lights out and watch the shadows dancing round the room from the flickering flames of the old black oil stove. They are all good memories. Although life wasn’t easy for Mum on her own and we had few luxuries, we always seemed happy enough and knew we were loved. She dedicated the whole of her life to us, even refusing offers of marriage as she didn’t want anyone else looking after ‘Dad’s children’. She wasn’t very good at showing us affection but she was always there for us.
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Mum was a very private person, keeping herself to herself and she made no real friends. None of us were very outgoing. Peter, when he returned from boarding school was a very different child. He had suffered badly at being taken away from the love of his family and had developed a bad stutter. He had, in fact, been robbed of is childhood and had grown up without the fun of being with his siblings and Bob and I had lost our much loved big brother who had always looked out for us. He had now become this serious young lad, taking on what he felt was his responsibility to the family. He went out and found himself a job in a printing firm when he was fourteen and they held the job open for him until he finished the next term at school so he could officially leave. Although the firm was taken over several times by larger companies, he stayed faithful to them. Peter gave up any chance of marriage and stayed at home to look after Mum, even tending her when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, until her death aged 69. Peter himself died from an unexpected heart attack when he was 64, and very sadly, Bob was the one who found him. Bob was different in as much as most of Mum’s love was showered upon him. Peter and myself accepted this, understanding, even at that young age, that he was the mainstay of her life, the last link to Dad. He was bullied at school and grew up with little self- esteem. He was a very nervous young man, completely lacking in confidence and has never really outgrown it. I love him dearly. That just leaves me. I have always been very shy and find it uncomfortable meeting with strangers face to face. Like Bob, I too lack confidence and being unsure of myself am easily hurt. My one success was when I wrote a little book about my search for my much loved Dad. I think the loss of a father figure from our lives at such an early age probably had a lot to do with the way we all turned out. My first introduction to the harshness of the outside world began in 1951 when I started at my Secondary school in Rayleigh, a neighbouring town. Hockley was a small village then and I had made one or two good friends in our close knit street, but at Secondary school I had to mix with ‘outsiders’. I suppose we had led a fairly sheltered life, Mum was always there to look out for us, so I was quite unprepared for my first day at the Tech. We were in our classroom, and when our teacher called out our names we had to stand up and answer his questions. Then it was my turn –“What does your father do?” “I don’t have a father” I blurted out. I could feel dozens of pairs of eyes looking at me. Why did I have to be the only one who did not have a father? That’s when the whispering started and in my ignorance, I didn’t know why. I just wished the ground would open up and swallow me. Still I had to stand there and give an explanation. When I arrived home from school that afternoon, I rifled through drawers and cupboards until I found a tiny creased photo of my dad which he had sent home from America. On the back was written – Carlstrom Field, Florida, and the date, 22nd January 1942, and it was where he had started his pilot training. I found it difficult to believe that this smiling young man, dressed in khaki like an American soldier, could possibly be my dad but I carried that photo with me every day after that, and I still do. It was over 50 years later that I discovered it had been taken on his 28th birthday. When I left school in 1956, I went to work in a Travel Agency. It was here that I had my first taste of flying, being entitled to cheap and sometimes free holidays. Life continued and I eventually married and had two lovely daughters. It wasn’t until the death of my younger daughter, Mandi, on Valentine’s Day 1989 at the age of just twenty one, that I recalled how important photographs
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were. I had made up a special album of photographs to remember her by, but what memories did I have of Dad. Obviously personal ones hardly existed and Mum could never bring herself to talk much about him and consequently had kept very little to remember him by. I felt that now was the time to begin my search. I had to find out about this dear man whom I had loved and missed for over 50 years, but where to begin… His death certificate was the first thing I applied for and even this showed information that was new to me. I now knew his rank and unit. Pilot Officer Ernest Henry Tansley, 149542, 57 Squadron. His age 29, place of death, Trebbin, Germany. What upset me most was written under date of death. 2nd December 1943- that I knew, but why ‘presumed’? I cast my mind back to my childhood and recalled Mum saying that he hadn’t been identified and had been presumed killed . For years I had lived in the hope that one day my daddy would walk through the door and everything would be alright again. I could now see that the ‘presumed’ applied to the date of death, but why didn’t they know? All sorts of possibilities flitted across my mind and I took out my small crumpled photograph and studied it again. Supposing he had survived the crash and had been lying somewhere, injured, with no on to help him. It didn’t bear thinking about and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to know any more, so tried to put it out of my mind. After a few months, I decided to start my search in earnest and after about two years of writing to newspapers R.A.F magazines and the usual official sources etc. I was amazed by the amount of information I had collected. There were letters from wonderful, kind hearted veterans, many of whom had flown with 57 Squadron and were only too pleased to help in any way they could and others telling me of further sources and people I could contact. I stayed friends with many of these lovely men until they too ‘went to the skies’. From advertising in local newspapers, I eventually knew the names of all of Dad’s crew members and had contact with a relative for each one. They sent me photos and gave me background information on their loved ones. I managed to trace each of the 22 missions on which they had flown including Peenemunde, and the raids on Hamburg and Berlin. I discovered the place where their doomed Lancaster had crashed after being shot down and was in contact with a gentleman who lived in the houses next to the crash site. He even had a piece of the Lancaster, which he very kindly gave to me together with a map of the crash site and photos of the wreckage. The final flight of JB 529 DX-P was to Berlin on the 2nd December 1943, from East Kirkby airfield. Unexpected strong winds had blown many of the aircraft off course and Dad’s Lancaster was spotted, flying low, possibly already damaged, over the small town of Trebbin at 11pm German time. It was caught in searchlights and attacked by a JU 88 from the nearby Jutterbog airfield. PPeter retaliated but very sadly the aircraft exploded and all eight men on board were lost. SGT. IVOR GROVES. Wireless Op, age 20. SGT. LEONARD BROWN, Flt. Eng. age 20 P/O DOUGLAS PARK. Navigator, age 20. P/O ROY LEWIS, Mid-Up Gnr, age 21 P/O JACK DALTON. 2nd ‘dickie’ Pilot, age 22. SGT. HAROLD MOAD Rear Gnr, age 23 P/O ERNEST PATRICK ,Bomb aimer.age 25. P/O ERNEST TANSLEY PIlot, age 29 LET US KEEP THEIR CANDLES BURNING The result of this research culminated in me thinking I might be able to write a little book about the experiences of Dad and his crew. This I finally achieved in 1966.


A Doward, “Anne Doward nee Tansley,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 12, 2024,

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