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W Baird

Sergeant W (Bill) Baird 653804 RAF
Flight Lieutenant W Baird RAF 50900 1921—2010

Bill Baird grew up in Perthshire, at Blairgowrie. On the eve of war in August 1939, Bill left his employment as a legal apprentice to join the RAF. In September 1940, a Sergeant Wireless Operator Air Gunner, he was posted to 211 Squadron in the Western Desert. He was aged 19 in Greece.

Having survived both the Middle East and Greece, in the first Far East campaign Bill was in the last RAF party to leave Java in the face of the advancing Japanese, aboard RAFA Tung Song as it departed Tjilatjap bound for Fremantle on 2 March 1942. Bill celebrated his 21st birthday in Ceylon in May 1942 on joining 11 Squadron, still as Gunner to the boss, W/Cdr RN Bateson DFC.

After the war, Bill headed straight for Blairgowrie and Janet. With the arrival of young Connor in 2002 they became the proud great-grandparents of the family Baird. He and Janet, married 63 years in February 2009, took much pleasure in their pretty garden and in frequent forays to the local golf courses.

Bill took to the email age with amused enthusiasm, via a rather tricky text-only satellite TV service, his messages by that means being masterpieces of brevity. Later he was to tackle the PC world full-on, thanks to son Bill, and we were able to swap photographs of today and of the long ago with great enjoyment.

Although as Bill used to say, tempus has definitely fugit, in his late 80s he kept a fine eye for detail and good recall that ever knew its limits. Allied with a terrific sense of humour and a kindly leg-pull or two, Bill was unfailingly helpful in responding to enquiries about 211 Squadron affairs from all and sundry, including me.

His final gift to 211 Squadron came about in 2009. He and James Dunnet, both veterans of the air war in Greece, kindly added their names and signatures to a small run of beautiful commemorative certificates prepared by Ian and Victoria Carter for the Blenheim Society. To help in the ongoing effort to support the work of the Aircraft Restoration Co in returning a Blenheim to flight, the certificates were offered by the Society for sale with a newly-issued Corgi 1/72 scale 211 Squadron Mark I Blenheim of the period, with which Bill was quite impressed.

Part of Bill Baird’s story is bound up with my that of my late father and with that of the late Jock Marshall DFM. Characteristically, Bill never sought a page of his own on site, so this is one page I’ve not sought permission for: it’s my thanks to Bill.

Greece Jan 1941
From Bill’s Log Book and correspondence:

    “Date 6th Jan 41 A/c L1542 Sgt. Marshall Pilot, Sgt Richmond Observer, Sgt W Baird W/Op AG.
    Raid by 6 a/c on foreshore and jetties Valona.
    Heavy flak over the target, and attacked by enemy fighters.

    About 20 minutes after “bombs gone” there appeared a large hole in the starboard tailplane, caused by a delayed action AA shell. I was exceptionally placed to observe this as the turret is fairly close to the tail on a Blenheim! The immediate result was the plane's desire to climb drastically, and Jock and the observer both had to wrestle with the control column to regain straight and level. We still had to get back to Menidi down the Gulf of Corinth, but Jock decided to do just that. One other a/c forcelanded damaged, another had a punctured tyre, and F/O Delaney and crew crashed and were killed.

    On arrival at base Jock was astonished to see the extent of the damage - one could put head and shoulders through the hole. It took till the 16th to repair it! This ranks high in many near things that came my way, and makes me thankful that I survived to tell the tale. As for the delay factor and mechanism employed, I only know that when you heard the shells exploding, they were too near for comfort.”

Palestine May 1941
Having destroyed its
Operations Record Book as ordered in the withdrawal from Greece, the Squadron records from May onwards remain somewhat incomplete and existing only as an in part illegible Form 540 narrative summary. Bill’s own Flying Log Book provides the following account of their time at Aquir that May:

    Flying Log Book, W Baird, May 1941

    Date

    Hour

    Aircraft no

    Duty, remarks

    Flying time

    15th

    1540

    L4910

    Raid Rayak, recco Damascas & Palmyra

    3.30

    16th

    0930

    L4910

    Nicosia escorting 2 Tomahawks

    1.30

     

    1530

     

    Return

    1.30

    26th

    1230

    Z5818

    Raid Palmyra

    4.00

    30th

    0830

    V5946

    Recco Lattaquie, Beyroute, Roads S border

    4.20

    31st

    1600

    ..5585

    Raid on Aleppo aerodrome

    3.55

     

     

     

    Monthly total

     

    18hrs 45mins

In their close agreement with those in my Father’s Log Book, these entries helped to clarify the identity of some of the aircraft in use at the time.

L4910 is a Mark I Blenheim, the others are Mark IVs. For 26 May, Bill Baird recorded the full aircraft serial as Z5818. In his own log, my father originally only recorded the last two digits of the serial (18), later transcribing a different aircraft identity altogether. Such details are often tricky. Other records show that although Z5818 had been lost with 82 Squadron on 2 April, Blenheim IV V5818 was indeed in the Middle East, reported missing on 28 May with Sgts Davis, Stalder and Trenholm—the Squadron’s last losses in action in the Middle East. The final May entry above refers to V5585. Bill remarked:

    “Two thoughts:
    Aleppo aerodrome appeared deserted and Jock zoomed up and down the runway! My 20th birthday was on 27th May, and traditionally we were excused flying the following day. The crew in our place failed to return.”

Wadi Gazouza
Here are three formal Group shots from No 1 Blenheim Operations Course at
Wadi Gazouza, run by 211 Squadron from late June to early November 1941—serious flying only began in September, the Squadron having dourly noted its shortages of aircraft and other essential equipment. The Squadron was absorbed into 72 OTU very shortly after the completion of this first course. With a duration of 50 or 60 hours flying over 6 to 8 weeks, the period from June to November 1941 would ordinarily have been sufficient for at least two Blenheim Operations courses, if equipment, staffing and weather permitted.

Bill pointed out the difficulties of personnel identification, which are not only due to the passing of the years. Officers and Sergeants, aircrew and groundcrew, each with their own tasks, associates, facilities and so on. It’s a tribute to the men, to their spirit, and a reflection of the morale of the Squadron in adversity that they kept together as well as they did and that so many of them recalled their mates and associates so well, for so long.

    Wadi Gazouza  named group  of 9 1941
    211 Squadron NCO Instructors, Sudan September 1941 (W Baird)
    Faintly pencilled on the reverse in a neat confident hand “Sharratt” (
    JG, who is in shot), and in ink on its face with the names of 6 of the Sergeants present, as follows: L to R, back row: JG Sharratt, Sgt Inman, Gordon Chignall, W “Bill” Baird, Harry Callison (Sgt Armourer), then L to R, front row: Paddy Kavanagh DFM, nk [apparently F/Lt C Thomas RAF from the large group shot], nk [C “Harry” Briggs, also in the large group shot], W/O Fogg (Chief Armourer). These men are all experienced 211 Squadron aircrew turned instructor. A poignant shot: on 18 October, the well-liked Kavanagh was to die of natural causes.

    Sudan 1941: 6 WOp/AGs
    Wadi Gazouza September 1941 (W Baird)
    Six
    RAAF WOp/AGs. The sun angle, the bench and placement details all show this photograph was taken on the same occasion as the shot above. None of these men went with 211 to the Far East. After seeing this photo enlarged, Bob Barclay in country Victoria recognised himself in shot and kindly checked his collection once more. Standing at the rear, L to R: Bill Godby, Noel Watt. Seated, L to R: Ron Gabrielson, Roy “Prairie” Flower, Bob Barclay, “Darky” Jennings.

    Bob Barclay was a WOp/AG on No 1 Blenheim Operations Course at Wadi Gazouza with 211 Squadron from June 1941 to November 1941, crewing up with old mate Geoff Furmage as pilot and Charlie Pailethorpe as Observer. Like Bill Baird and many others, he is correct in referring to them in those terms rather than as 72 OTU. In October 1941, Geoff, Charlie and Bob were posted as a crew to 45 Squadron, on Blenheim ops in the Western Desert and then in the Far East to stay with them until 1945. Bob’s own photos of this first course at Wadi Gazouza (not reproducible, unfortunately) included other RAAF men: Arch Fraser, Peter Haynes, Al Thomas, “Charger” Cameron, Doug Thornton, Theo Richards, Jack Nell, J Nankervis, and J Quirk.

    Wadi Gazouza large named group
    Wadi Gazouza September 1941 (W Baird)
    Same time, same place. This print from Bill’s set eventually turned up in various sizes and conditions in several other collections, including that of Bob Barclay and JG
    Sharratt.

    Originally dated tentatively by Bill as November 1941 (putting it at the end of the No 1 Course), from the bench and shadow angles alone it seems most likely to have been taken on the same occasion as the preceding shots. The appearance of the men common to the three shots is identical down to hair-brushing level, as are irregularities in the cladding of the wall behind them. As Paddy Kavanagh is still present, the date seems likely to be in September or early October at the latest.

    Bill’s rear caption identified a number of the participants as follows, starting with the standing rank and reading from the right for once:

      JG Sharratt, second from the right & hands behind. Harry Callison Sgt Armourer, fifth from the right and to the rear. G Chignall sixth from the right and partly in front of Callison, Bill Baird seven from the right and behind Chignall. With face partly obscured, “Charger” Cameron is 11th from the right. Seated on the far left end of the bench with hands on knees is Paddy Kavanagh DFM with W/O Fogg seated far right.

    Bob Barclay’s collection includes the above photo but dated July 1941 (while another group clearly on the same day is dated June). A number of the No 1 Course RAAF men are in the above shot, for which Bob’s identification matches very well with Bill’s. Taken together, the RAF members and RAAF are clearly identified as follows.

      Back row (4): RM Barclay (hands behind head), J Nell, C. Cameron, N Watt
      Middle row (14): Kirby, T Richards, A Fraser, T Inman RAF, C Briggs RAF, D Thornton, P Haynes, [W] Baird RAF, RAF [Chignall], RAF [Callison], J Quirk, J Nankervis, RAF [Sharratt], R Gabrielson
      Front [4]: D Jennings, Paddy Kavanagh DFM RAF, C Thomas F/Lt RAF, W/O J Fogg RAF.

Sumatra and Java
In the Sumatra and Java affairs, with Peter Dennis as Observer, Bill was WOp/AG to the Squadron CO, W/Cdr RN
Bateson DFC (later AVM RN Bateson CB DSO & Bar DFC). In contact with family of some of the Squadron’s RAAF personnel, Bill wrote as follows about his time with 211 Squadron, the Sumatra campaign and the loss of Ken Dundas and his 2 RAAF crew (F/O G Ritchie, Navigator and Sgt John Keeping, WOp/AG).

    “I was with 211 Squadron from Sep 1940 and served in the Western Desert, Greece, Syria, and as an instructor in The Sudan, training Australian aircrew. In Jan 1942 we re-formed in Egypt and left on our journey East on 14th Jan. [Bateson later recalled that the 24-strong Air Party as one Flight of six aircraft departing each day from 26 January to 29 January inclusive, while other log book accounts suggest that the actual dates were the four days 25 January to 28 January. Bill’s recall was otherwise in generally close accord with Bateson own narrative, which he has only since received.]

    On the fateful 10th [of February 1942] in Z9469, we led S/Ldr Dundas and crew along with Sgt Paterson and crew to the target - Kluang. Take off around 0200. Our a/c was attacked by night fighters, and W/Cdr Bateson took massive evasive action and eventually succeeded in eluding them. Flying time 4 hours 40. On return to base we took off again at 0725, to search for missing a/c, but without success.

    I left Java on 2nd March, in Tung Song to Fremantle, thereafter to Ceylon where we took over Eleven Squadron. S/Ldr Dundas was my Flight Commander in Greece and was held in high regard by ground and aircrew alike. His next of kin had a letter from Air Ministry in London on 26th November, 1945, stating that his a/c which had been downed by ack ack, had been located, as well as the graves of his two Australian aircrew. No grave was found for him, however.”

In a later note, Bill recalled the loss of Steele, Bott and their crews referred to in JB Keeping’s and in the Sumatra and Java narratives. 60 years later, Bill had a blunt view of the command requirement for that operation.

    “Lost while taking part of “fighter escort” to a convoy, thus demonstrating the Singapore thinking of so-called Higher Command. The same lot deemed that the Commanding Officer’s participation in raids should be restricted, contrary to 211 Squadron tactics of “follow the leader”. W/Cdr Bateson disagreed and arranged to have his Wingco pennant (tin!) attached to my aerial mast to draw attention to our status!”

    Flying Log Book, W Baird, 6 February to 18 February 1942

    Date

    Hour

    Aircraft no

    Duty, remarks

    Flying time, hrs

    7th

    1210

    Z9649

    W/Co Bateson Fighter escort (!) British Convoy

    5:20

    10th

    0205

    Z9649

    Raid Kluang aerodrome, attacked by fighters

    4:20

    10th

    0725

    Z9649

    Search for S/Ldr Dundas

    0:25

    13th

    1540

    Z7855

    Raid convoy off coast. Horrendous weather landed @ Palembang One

    3.00 day, 1:00 night. 4:00 total

    14th

     

     

    To Palembang Two

    0:20

    ...

    ...

    ...

    ...

     

    15th

    0920

    Z7855

    Raid on invasion barges on Moesi River

    1:55

    16th

    0635

    Z7855

    P2 Palembang to Batavia

    1:35

    18th

    1010

    Z7855

    Batavia to Kalidjati

    0:30

    ... not included in transcript.

Notably, the records of Burrage, Cuttiford, Keeping and Penry at the time also agree that the convoy escort duty was on 7 February. Bateson himself recorded both dates. Contemporary and later records and many of the later accounts give either 6 February, or 7 February. It seems, on balance, that most (though not all) records nearest to the event refer to 7 February.

Even where they exist, formal Squadron records, Log Books and diaries of the time are not always perfect. In their absence, less contemporary official records and later published accounts based on much later recall can present a rather muddled view of any period: the chaotic time in Sumatra and Java included. Thanks to Log Book contributions and similar personal records from men like Bill, it has now been possible to provide rather more accurate summaries of some of the events and losses of the first Far East campaign, although some differences in detail remain and are rather unlikely to be resolved.

Bill’s last flight in the East Indies was that of 18 February, with CO Bateson.

To Ceylon and 11 Squadron
After the fall of the Netherlands East Indies, the adventures of some of the Blenheim crews continued in Ceylon with 11 Squadron, where with heavy loss they (and other RAF units) faced down the final eastward thrust of the Imperial Japanese Navy on Easter Sunday, 5 April 1942. Bill missed out on a second Easter affair there, as W/Cdr
Bateson, Peter Dennis and he arrived at Colombo from Australia on 27 May 1942.

    Sgt Baird and RAAF  PO
    Bill Baird and Observer Ceylon 1942 (RAF official via W Baird)
    Bill Baird on the left. A publicity shot, carefully posed, of Wireless Operator and Observer in a relaxed moment. The working photographer’s tricks of the trade have changed little in 60 years! From The Times of Ceylon Sunday Illustrated of October 18, 1942. Bateson himself kept prints of two other shots taken for the
    occasion. Bill’s remarks:

      “The photo was taken in Colombo, when I was asked (!) by WingCo Bateson to give an interview to the local reporter. The observer promoted by you to W/Cdr [now corrected] was in fact a P/O called in the article Ted, from Melbourne and who had been in shipping before joining the Air Force, presumably RAAF [...] (in Eleven Squadron at that time)”.

    This is a good object lesson of more than one sort. Firstly, it is all too easy to see what you want to see in photographs (or read what you want to read in documents). Something about the context and the Baird/Bateson association led me to “see” them both in the photo. Never mind that I couldn’t clearly count the braid rings on the P/Os shoulder tabs. Secondly, blunders need someone sharp enough to spot them, trouble to point them out, and come up with the right answer. Bill not only knew it wasn’t Bateson: he unearthed the original cutting and took the time to tell me so, with the result above.

With 22 Squadron and after
By 1943 Bill Baird had seen and survived a lot of action, most of it in Blenheims, reaching the rank of Flight Sergeant. Then it was time to move again.

In March 1943 came the gazettal of his commission in the RAF as Pilot Officer—with effect from July 1942—and with it, posting to 22 Squadron. There were connections with the past: his new Squadron was still in Ceylon and equipped with Beauforts, a distant relative of the Blenheim. Not only that. Soon there were two Batesons listed as Pilot in the Baird Air Gunner’s Flying Log, the new CO being none other than W/Cdr JA Bateson, brother of his past CO RN Bateson DFC.

Gazetted Flying Officer in May (effective January 1943), Bill soon received a quiet accolade: Mentioned in despatches 2 June 1943. He advanced to Flt Lt in July 1944, gazetted that August.

Post-war, F/Lt Baird remained in the RAF for some years, with a stint in Shackletons (“10,000 loose rivets flying in close formation”) along the way. In March 1949, he transferred to the Reserve of Air Force Officers in the rank of Flight Lieutenant. A decade passed and then at long last, William Baird of Blairgowrie finally relinquished his commission.

In private life Bill had taken up an occupation held by a number of other 211 Squadron personnel: he became a printer and so remained until his retirement some years ago.

William Baird 1921—2010
Although Bill’s health had been uncertain for some time, with several periods in Perth Royal Infirmary, when “back in business” he kept up a cheerful correspondence: about family matters, news oddities, flowers (for Janet, of course), the various tinkerings with his health...and the occasional 211 Squadron matter.

It is with both great warmth and great sadness that I record the death of my friend William Baird in his 89th year, peacefully at Blairgowrie Cottage Hospital on Saturday 30 January 2010. Survived by his wife Janet and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, he will be remembered aye with much affection.

His shade now rests with his forebears; perhaps, betimes, with old comrades at ease among the olive groves in a land far away.

Sources
211 Squadron Operations Record Book 1940 TNA AIR 27/1302
W Baird personal correspondence, photograph collection, Observers and Air Gunners Flying Log Book extracts.
R Barclay correspondence

HMSO Air Force List issues 1943-1945
HMSO London Gazette issues 1939—1949

J Botwood The Avro Shackleton www.avroshackleton.com

www.211squadron.org © D Clark & others 2016
Site created 15 Apr 2001, last updated 11 Nov 2016. Page created 2 Mar 2002, last updated 31 Jul 2016
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