John Louis Goldby Biography



John Louis Goldby Biography


A biography covering John's training and service in the RAF.





Three printed sheets


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JOHN LOUIS GOLDBY SERVICE NO. 1387511 and 139407 Version dated 21 July 2020
[inserted] Corrected August 2020 [/inserted]

John joined up on 31 May 1941 at Babbacombe in Devon. He completed ground training at the Initial Training Wing at RAF Kenley. He then went to Air Observer School at Jurby in the Isle of Man from October 1941 – May 1942. For some of his fellow volunteers it was the first time they had been in an aircraft. He completed navigation and gunnery training on Blenheim aircraft and bomb aimer training on Hampdens whilst at Jurby, using air-to-air towed targets. He gained 3 stripes as a Sergeant Observer. He then went to Stanton Harcourt (near Abingdon) to 10 Operational Training Unit in June 1942.

He became part of a crew under pilot Captain Watson RE, seconded onto Whitley aircraft in the role bomb aimer. Captain Watson was a 2nd pilot on the first 1,000 bomber raid on Cologne on 30 May 1942. The second 1,000 bomber raid targeted Essen and John flew on the third 1,000 bomber raid in a Whitley bomber to Bremen on 25 June 1942. This was a 5-hour round trip.

Bomber Command then extended the number of crew needed on 4 engined aircraft from 5 to 7 crew members, adding a bomb aimer and flight engineer.

No. 10 Operational Training Unit Detachment at St Eval was led by Wing Commander Pickard who was portrayed in the film 'F for Freddie' which detailed the raid on Amiens prison, in which Wg. Cmdr. Pickard was killed.

Twin-engined Whitley aircraft of Bomber Command were being used on anti-submarine duties because of the U-boat threat.

The unit was based at St Eval in Cornwall using black-painted Whitleys (Coastal Command aircraft were painted white). Flights involved a 10-hour flight dropping depth charges over the Bay of Biscay. It was a deafening experience as the crew had no hearing protection. The unit completed 6-8 operations.

John then moved in September 1942 to Marston Moor (Yorkshire) and completed a conversion course on to 4 engined aircraft – the Halifax 2. These were notoriously difficult to handle, with original tail fins and Rolls Royce engines.

John took part in a number of mine-laying operations off Heligoland, which counted as a 1/2 operation. These were called 'gardening' trips – planting mines at low level. On 11 December 1943 John was a crew member in a Halifax 2 aircraft of No. 78 Squadron which took off from Linton-on-Ouse with a heavy load of fuel on board, bound for Turin. An engine caught fire on take-off and the aircraft had to ditch in Filey Bay. The crew were rescued by local fishermen. By February 1943 he had completed 8 operations which was very stressful. He received news of his commission and went to London to get his uniform, but he developed a very bad throat infection and ended up in an Army hospital in York with an abscess on the carotid artery, and then had his tonsils removed. He spent his 21st. birthday in June 1943 in hospital at RAF Northallerton.

His commissioned service number was 139407. His mother came up from Sidcup for the commissioning ceremony – a very difficult journey in wartime.

John was posted as a Bombing Instructor to Moreton-in-March (Gloucester) from winter 1943 until late Spring 1944 (???) on Wellington aircraft. He then moved back to Bomber Command Operations and completed a Bombing Leader course at the Armaments School at RAF Manby in January 1944 at the beginning of July 1944 at RAF Riccal (York). He was posted to No. 640 Squadron at RAF Leconfield In Yorkshire on Halifax 3 aircraft as a bomb aimer with the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

In his position as a Bomb Aimer leader, John was supposed to complete only 2 operations per month, but if a crew lacked a bomb aimer then John would go on the operation to complete the crew. For his actions when his aircraft was damaged during a raid over Germany in September 1944 John was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (although he did not receive the actual decoration until June 1945 (see separate piece).

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On 6 December 1944 John's aircraft – a Halifax III with radial engines – was hit whilst returning from a bombing raid over Osnabruck in Germany. John thinks his aircraft collided with a German night fighter. He was fortunate to escape from the falling aircraft – he still does not know how he got out of the fuselage), and landed by parachute in a field full of water. He sustained various injuries, and recovered in a hospital run by nuns at Neemkirchen in northern Germany until 20th January 1945. He was then sent to the interrogation centre at Dulagluft at Frankfurt-an-der-Oder near Barth near Stettin in Pomerania. The camp had an airfield alongside it. The camp was divided into 2 parts – an American section for USAF personnel and a British RAF Group Captain commanded the British prisoners. You were placed into the appropriate section according to which air force you had flown with. The camp was liberated by Russian forces on May 1st. 1945. Shortly afterwards members of the American Army appeared and took over the camp.

2 Group Captains from the camp managed to get through to the Allied lines at Lubeck and arranged for the camp prisoners (all RAF men?) to be flown back to the UK on B17 Flying Fortresses, 25 men to each aircraft on 13 May 1945. John's aircraft landed at Ford, and he then caught a train to (RAF) Cosford.

He underwent a rehabilitation course in Air Traffic Control at RAF Henlow.

He was demobbed in late 1946.


John re-joined the RAF in 1949, and completed a 9 month Navigator and Bombing refresher course at No. 1 Air Navigation School at Topcliffe and RAF Middleton-St-George respectively between 1 June and 15 August 1949 on Anson and Wellington aircraft. This was followed by training at No. 201 Advanced Flying School at RAF Swinderby, flying Wellingtons with pilot Wing Commander Oxley, between 29 September and 30 November.

Wing Commander Oxley (known as Beetle), was quite dangerous as he did not like to use his instruments. On one operation John's aircraft was diverted to Anglesey and Beetle overshot the runway.

John then posted to No 236 Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Kinloss in Scotland, flying Lancaster aircraft, until 5 April 1950. It was a very cold experience as they lived in unheated tin (Nissen) huts. John then was posted to 38 Squadron at RAF Luqa, Malta, flying Lancasters on Maritime Reconnaissance Operations, including exercises with various Navies and Air Sea Rescue duties), until 19 July 1952. During this period he was seconded to RAF Masirah located on the island of Masirah in the Indian Ocean as Commanding Officer of the staging post between Aden and India.

There were frequent visitors, to the RAF base, especially the top people from the Defence College. Back in Malta, on 12th May 1952 John flew with 6 Lancaster aircraft from No. 38 Squadron which set of [sic] on a goodwill visit to Ceylon (Sri Lanka.) They flew via Luqa (Malta), Habbaniya (Iraq), Mauripur (India) to Negombo. They returned leaving Negombo on 31st May via Mauripur, Aden and Khartoum (Sudan) reaching Luqa on 4 June 1952.

On leaving Malta in September 1952 John was posted to No. 1 Maritime Reconnaissance School at St Mawgan in Cornwall as a Navigational Instructor, flying Lancasters until the end of September 1954. During this period John had two breaks, one being in the procession at the Queen's Coronation in 1953, and the second at the Queen's Review at RAF Odiham. In October 1954 until September 1956 John was posted to HQ 64 Group Home Command, at Rufforth in Yorkshire, as PA to the Air Officer Commanding (this was a non-flying role, apart from accompanying the Air Commodore on internal visits).

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From September 1956 until 23 January 1957 John attended Bomber Command Bombing School at RAF Lindholme, Yorkshire, for navigation training for the V-Bomber Force. In summer of that year he was posted instead to the Air Ministry, London Intelligence Branch. During his term at the Air Ministry he had a spell of 2 weeks at St Mawgan, flying as Navigator on Shackleton aircraft with the Air Sea Warfare Development Unit. This was to qualify him to receive flying pay. From October 1960 until May 1962 he served as Assistant Air Attache at the British Embassy in Paris. John was promoted to the rank of Wing Commander and liaised with the French Air Force for participation in air shows.

John retired from the RAF in May 1962, as there was only a 1 in 4 chance that he would be posted to a flying role, and by then he had 2 small children at home.

In September 1962 he joined Shell-Mex and BP Ltd, soon to become separate companies. He stayed with Shell until his retirement in June 1982.



“John Louis Goldby Biography,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 21, 2024,

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