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Friday, 29 March 2013

Flight Lieutenant Eric Norman Percival ARMSTRONG DFC




This year sees the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters 

I discovered last year that my partners great uncle was one of the amazing men in this elite group.

I don't really know a lot about him, nor does my partner, who was born late 1960's in New Zealand and whose parents immigrated to New Zealand  in the very early 1960's.  Family anecdotes are sketchy.  I don't have a photo of him.  Maybe one will appear one day! 

Eric Norman Percival was born in 1909 in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, Ireland to William ARMSTRONG and Annie nee BUTTLE [1874-1960] - one of their seven children.

He married Olive Glass REID [sic] in the third quarter of 1936 in Dublin, Ireland and information I have come across on Ancestry.com states he was a shopkeeper. They lived across the road from where their parents had always lived.

Ireland was neutral in the war, no national service so he volunteered to join and went to the U.K. to train.  Military service number 126555.

Eric commenced flying on the 24th June 1942 at No.4 Air Gunnery School and flew his first operation on the 20th November 1942, with 16 OTU [Operational Training Unit] to Paris on a Nickel run. 

Posted to 9 squadron he converted to Lancaster Bombers and flew his first Op with the Squadron on the Lorient on the 16th February - 
"Very Good Prang s/lights moderate, Flak intense." 
A number of operational entries are complemented by comment:  
"Nurnberg 25th February Cookie Hang Up Bags of Panic, Krefeld 21st June Hit by Incendiaries over target." 
His operational tour was interrupted after 19 completed trips and a number of DNCO's, when he was posted to the Central Gunnery School, for a Gunnery Leaders course on the 18th August 1943.  He returned to his unit in September, now as Gunnery Leader and continued his tour of which his last Eight trips were to the German Capital Berlin.   

Completing his Tour in January 1944, he was posted to 1654 HCU [Heavy Conversion Unit] and then onto 617 (Dambuster) Squadron in September 1944, here he would participate in nine Tallboy raids, flying his first trip with Wing Commander Willy TAIT DSO two Bars, DFC & Bar to the Dortmund Emms Viaduct on the 23rd September 1944. 

His other operational trips included:
7th October 1944 Kambs Dam with S/Ldr [Gerald Ernest] FAWKE DSO, DFC,

8th December Urft Dam, with F/Lt SAUNDERS DFC, with a return trip on the 11th December; on both occasions the target obscured. 

21st December - Politz with F/O CASTAGNOLA DFC

29th December E Boat Pens Rotterdam

30th December E boat Pens Imjuiden. 

31st December Bombing the cruisers Koln and Emden. On this occasion failed to get a good run did not bomb 

The Pilot on the last three occasions was F/Lt PRYOR DFC. This Officer would be the Captain on the 12th January 1945 when the crew [with Eric as front gunner] were detailed to bomb the U-Boat pens at Bergen. Over the target, the Lancaster B I PD233/KC-G was engaged by a German FW 190 Night fighter, a running fight 37 minutes incurred with the Lancaster sustaining heavy damage, the loss of two engines, the rear gunner having to hand crank his turret into firing positions, and the plane dropping to a height of only 1,100 feet. At this stage over a small island North West of Bergen the order to bail out was given. A comment from the log "No hope of escape captured within a few hours all crew OK."  One 190 claimed as probably destroyed. POW 4 months. The Bomb aimers parachute did not open properly and he sustained injuries on hitting the ground at Lille Landon, Norway, resulting in his death. The FW190 mentioned in the log, was later confirmed as a Kill. 

Repatriated to the UK in May 1945 and after a period of rest, he was posted to 15 Squadron in July 1945 and recommenced flying duties. He remained with this Squadron and his last entry is dated 17th March 1946. 

When he got back to civvy life someone made a comment to him about "those bastard Germans" and he curtly said

"shut up you fool, for the last two months we were feeding our rations out the wire to the local children because they had nothing."
It should be mentioned here that the fence he was talking about was around the perimeter of the camp...20 feet inside that  there was  a line on the ground. Inside that space you'd be shot. The guards let them feed the children because they were their [the German's] children.

Distinguished Flying Cross
 
Researching Eric's information led me to the auctioneers business that sold  his medals along with his log book in 2005 - you can imagine how gutted we were to see this!  The recommended price guide was  E2,600-3,000
 
Medals:
Medal group Distinguished Flying Cross (1944), 
1939/45 Star, Aircrew Europe Star, France & Germany clasp. 
Defence Medal, 
War Medal. 
Along with:
Buckingham Palace forwarding slip for the DFC and a quantity of Research. 

Flight Lieutenant Eric Norman Armstrong's recommendation for the Distinguished Flying Cross is dated 11th February 1944. 
"Flight Lieutenant Armstrong is a Squadron Gunnery leader and in that capacity he has maintained a very efficient section. His work on the ground has been complemented by his eagerness to fly on operations. He has completed twenty six sorties and has set a high example of quiet determination...."
 
Base Commanders Remarks: 

Flight Lieutenant Armstrong's additional duties as Gunnery Leader has extended his tour of operations over a long period. For a long successful tour and his other good work it is recommended that he be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross 

Much of Eric's military background information courtesy of Bosleys Military Auctioneers who handled the 2005 sale of Eric's medals and I'm informed they did stay in England.  Boy would I love to get my hands on those!

Eric married Olive Glass REID in the third quarter of 1936 [1]

Olive died March 6 2006.  It is interesting it states her maiden name was Rowe contradictory to all the information I've come across. Her death notice in The Irish Times stated:
ARMSTRONG (née Rowe) (Olive Glass) (Coolbeg, Templeshannon, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford) - March 6, 2006 (peacefully), in the loving care of Triona and the staff of Valentia Nursing Home, Camolin, beloved wife of the late Eric; will be sadly missed by nieces and nephews, their families and her many friends. At her request her remains will be donated to Medical Science (Trinity College).


Olive is mentioned in the London Gazette.  Meterological Branch. Appointment to commission as Asst. Sec. Off. on probation (emergency) 1 November 1944.

Please feel free to contact me so this post can be fleshed out!


Some photographs on FLICKR of a Lancaster Bomber I've taken at MOTAT in Auckland, New Zealand.





SOURCES:
[1]
findmypast.co.uk: Ireland marriages 1845-1958 transcriptions


©Sarndra Lees

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