755493 Sgt William Stanley Close RAFVR
S/Ldr WS Close DFC 130721 RAF 19121991
The Close family hailed from the West Riding of Yorkshire, in and around the ancient cathedral and market town of Ripon that dates back to the 7th Century. William Stanley Close was born at Ripon on 2 March 1912, son of Herbert Close (born 1888) and his wife Florence, née Flockton (born 1886). The couple had married in their early 20s at Ripon in the first quarter of 1910: they were to live all their lives in the Ripon area. Florence died in 1950, Herbert in 1953.
From his service number, it appears that William enlisted in the RAFVR in the second half of 1939, at the relatively senior age of 27. By late October, he was at Prestwick in Ayrshire, posted to No 1 Air Observer and Navigation School. Apparently already “selected for aircrew”, within days he was flying: for air experience and on two map reading flights, all in G-AFZR, one of the School’s civil Fokker airliners.
These first three hours flying, the first with “Mr Palethorpe” (that is, F/Sgt Palethorpe) then two hours map-reading with F/Lt HCS Vetch 34010 RAFO, were enough to set his service path. Close remained at 1 AONS until January 1940, passing out after just under 50 flying hours navigation training in the School’s Ansons and Fokkers, with an encouraging rating of “above average” from the Chief Instructor. Vetch, sad to relate, did not survive the war: he died in May 1941 while instructing at 1 EFTS Hatfield.
The Air Observer of 1939 and 1940 was no longer the part-time duty of groundcrew in pre-war days, the course centring on navigation and bombing duties, with some air-gunnery thrown in, leading to the rank of Sergeant on qualification from late 1940.
Thus AC2 Close proceeded from No 1 Air Observer and Navigation School to No 8 Bombing and Gunnery School at RAF Evanton, where they had no less than 20 of the RAF’s HP Harrows on the roster, along with Fairey Battles and some venerable Westland Wallaces. In these aircraft Close learned the dark art of manual bomb-aiming with the Mark IX bomb-sight (and the use of the Vickers K gun for defence).
By the end of March he had completed the course in something under 24 flying hours, signed off without comment by the OC Flying Squadron. His results must have been satisfactory, as his next posting was overseas, straight to an operational unit in the Middle East.
With the Greyhounds of the Desert
Leaving 8 B&GS on 4 April, after a period of embarkation leave he took ship bound for the Mediterranean, Egypt and No 211 Squadron. Sgt Close recorded the date in his Log Book: 26 April 1940. That day, the Squadron diary noted laconically
So William Close joined The Greyhounds at their El Daba war-station, out in the Western Desert, where they were exercising with their Blenheim Is in anticipation of war with Italian forces in Libya. Their landing ground stood right by the local village and railway siding, on the coast road from Alexandria (some 90 air-miles to the East) to the Libyan border (about 180 air-miles to the West).
Just over a week later, he was getting experience in the air, off on the short flight back to Aboukir and return with Sgt Pilot Peck one day and the next with Sgt Pilot Smith. On 22 May, the Squadron put up nine aircraft to take part in the great mass demonstration of British air power over Cairo. The great flypast aimed to impress the local population, in expectation of a belated Italian declaration of war. In L8523, F/Lt Gordon-Finlayson took his regular crew (Sgts Leary and Richmond), with Sgt Close as passenger.
When war did finally come to the Desert on 10 June 1940, the Squadron was active straight away. By then, Close had made five flights, just one of them a practice bombing exercise. On 13 June, with Sgt Peck at the controls of L1528, he was on his first raid. Navigating in the early morning to Fort Capuzzo on the border to drop 4x250lb from low level, they returned safely to El Daba 3:30hrs later.
By the end of July, Close had taken part in six operations, of which two were early returns, one due to engine trouble and the other, radio problems. By 23 September, he had completed 11 operations in all, five of them with Sgt Peck, two with F/O AL Farrington and one with S/Ldr Gordon Finlayson as CO. His last raid was with Sgts Marshall and Baird on 23 September, shortly before my father joined the Squadron as a Sgt Observer.
During October, although the Squadron was still busy on the offensive, it was still possible to detach aircraft, with passengers, on weekend leave. In the middle of the month, Close was still actively flying with them but not on operations. On 18 October he left the 211s, still in their Desert home, for a stint with 70 OTU at Ismailia, though whether to cover any supposed gap in his training or as an instructor is not recorded. With no November flying entries in the Log Book, it is possible he was giving navigation or other instruction in the class room.
It seems Sgt Peck had left the Squadron about the same time. When Sgt Close took to the air again in December, it was to navigate for Peck on a Blenheim Delivery Flight to Greece, returning by Sunderland via Crete. By January 1941, he and Peck had been posted to 113 Squadron, toiling away back in the Desert. There he soon met the CO, S/Ldr Bateson, who took him up for an hour in a Mark IV for “local flying experience”: to size the new man up, in other words. At the end of the month Bateson, newly decorated with the DFC, left them for a period of staff jobs.
In the Desert, Close undertook several more raids with Peck in January and February 1941. After a period of leave at Heliopolis, he returned to 113 Squadron as they took their Mark IV Blenheims to Greece. Late in the month, he took part in the Cape Matapan action against the Italian Navy, and then the bitter struggles of April in Greece against invading German forces. By 23 April, he was back in Heliopolis, By now, there were 21 completed raids carefully tabulated in the back of the Log Book, with just on 201hrs total service flying recorded.
In May 1941, the RAF units so battered in the Greek campaign were regrouping, a number of them in Palestine in view of the war situation both in Syria (against the Vichy French) and in Iraq (pro-German Raschid Ali’s coup and siege of Habbaniya). Close spent a month attached to 84 Squadron on operations from Habbaniya near Baghdad, on one occasion getting away with a forced landing 20 miles from the aerodrome at night, fortunately to be spotted by a Gladiator and then refuelled by an Audax, returning late but safe the next day.
Towards the end of June, with 31 ops recorded in the Log, he returned to Heliopolis and for a time, 113 Squadron. Postings to HQ Middle East, to 252 Wing and to 205 Group soon followed with but little flying, bar some light relief in mid-September on radar calibration flights for 260 AMES (at Amiriya, near Alexandria).
Oh for a Wimpy
Posted to 70 Squadron (Vickers Wellington IC) at Kabrit in the week before Christmas 1941, he was back on ops almost immediately, as Observer (Under Training!) on a trip out to LG 60 for a night raid on Benina, returning to Kabrit the next day. It must have gone all right as the U/T designation was promptly dropped, followed almost at once by a pre-Christmas jolly over to Lydda in Palestine “to collect oranges”, returning on Christmas Eve: a welcome fillip for the Christmas Dinner next day, perhaps.
Sgt Close was to remain with the LXXs in ‘B’ Flight until August 1942, by which time he had completed 63 operations, accumulating well over 500hrs service flying, well over 200hrs of that on operations by night. Along the way, he had been promoted to Flight Sergeant, then commissioned Pilot Officer, qualified in Astro Navigation, and assessed as an Above average navigator with a glowing endorsement from his CO:
“A sound & most reliable navigator, in whom his crew has always had perfect confidence.”
Since June 1940 William Close had seen a lot of air war and got away with it. Now it was time for a change and briefly, a rest of sorts.
Happy Valley and the Big City
Repatriated to Britain, tour expired, it was January 1943 when No 10 OTU at Abingdon took him in. A “screened” navigator, so recorded in his Log Book, in their sedate Ansons he was training others in that skill so vital to survival for aircrew on operations. Soon he was moving on, to 1660 Conversion Unit and their Special Navigation Flight, where he was being instructed in the newer black boxes of advanced radio and radar navigation techniques, crewed with F/Sgt JH Whiting RAAF as Pilot (later F/O Whiting DFC).
Together, with the rest of their crew, they were posted to 467 Squadron RAAF in early April 1943. With six more local Lancaster flights under their belts, on 27 April they were back on the operations roster. No point in messing about: they were off to Duisberg. Four days later it was Essen and later, three trips to Cologne. The Ruhr, in other words. By the black humour of Bomber Command aircrew, Happy Valley.
Over four months from March to July 1943, though aided by Pathfinders, The Battle of the Ruhr cost Bomber Command some 5,000 aircrew at an overall loss rate of 4.7%. Close survived. Awarded the DFC, by the end of August he had bombed Berlin, Hamburg, Mannheim, Nuremburg and Peenemunde, and Genoa and Turin in Italy, in 21 trips, one a boomerang with the rear turret u/s.
In mid September 1943, after three years of war with the total operations count at 84 and well over 750hrs in the Log, almost half of that by night, he was deservedly screened again to a desk post with 5 Group HQ.
Pegasus at war
In November, F/O Close DFC was flying again. Posted to 512 (Transport) Squadron, he was soon navigating their Dakotas, firstly on the long legs to Gibraltar, Algeria and Egypt and later on internal flights. By February 1944 the Squadron was training hard on glider towing and paratroop dropping. Teamed up with F/O Shaw, by March 1944 he was flying as co-pilot. There were still three ops highlights to come.
With Shaw as usual, the first came when they flew Dakota KG354 as one of 32 aircraft of 512 Squadron sent to Cherbourg on the night of 5/6 June, for a mass paratroop drop. It was D-Day at last. A good moment, once safely back.
Thereafter, the Squadron continued a brisk flying schedule, keeping their hand in with tug duty and paratroop drops while taking up their transport task: trooping, evacuating wounded, and supply carrying. In August, Shaw and Close were both gazetted Flight Lieutenant.
In September, the final two ops came at last. Flying KG354 again, on 17 September 1944 they towed a glider to Nijmegen for the assault on Arnhem in Holland. On 19 September, they flew KG371 to the battle, to drop supplies, taking some light small arms fire. Close had now survived 87 operations.
Over two days the Squadron had towed 46 gliders to the landing zone, later flying 29 re-supply sorties; at the cost of three Dakotas lost and nine damaged by ground fire. The loss was far heavier on the ground: the Operation Market Garden attempt on the bridges was unsuccessful.
The flying tempo remained brisk until November, slowing a trifle in the Winter months, usually flying with Shaw, mostly as co-pilot and latterly as Navigator.
A sterling job
On 1 February 1945, F/Lt Close was posted to 46 Squadron. They had recently arrived at Stoney Cross in the New Forest to work up with Short Stirling Vs for the transport role. F/Lt Shaw did the honours, flying him there after lunch that day in Dakota KG558.
On arrival, Close had over 1,300hrs in the Log Book, 460hrs at night. From March onwards, he flew as Navigator to W/Cdr Coventry, the Squadron CO. Soon they were flying out to the Middle East, and as the war in Europe drew to a close, further afield to India. The end of the war came to Europe in May. In the Far East it was August before the Japanese surrendered.
There was still flying to be done, at home and to the Middle East. After a two month break in the Winter of 1945, his swan-song with 46 Squadron came in January 1946, starting with the King’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air in the New Year Honours List, topped off with a good handful of long check-flights with newer aircrew to familiar stations around the Mediterranean.
Navigating the shoals of peace
Posted to Shawbury and the Empire Air Navigation School in February 1946, it was May before he flew again, the tempo now slowing. He passed the Specialist Navigation Course ending in October 1946 rated B1, with a Squadron Leader’s endorsement which although courteous was less than glowing. Perhaps he was tiring. Perhaps it was intended as a carefully calibrated gee-up but, in a shrinking peace-time RAF, the remarks could have scuttled his prospects.
Apparently Close’s temperament and skill were equal to the test, as he was immediately taken on the EANS staff and within six months appointed to a permanent commission, as Flying Officer in that much-reduced RAF. Promotion back to Flight Lieutenant (with seniority from February 1946) followed almost immediately. And although also much reduced, there was enough flying over the next year to keep his hand in.
In October 1947, F/Lt Close was posted to the Empire Air Armament School at Manby, where the flying tempo was considerably greater. The roster included Ansons, Lancasters and Lincolns and Close flew in them all, most often navigating Lincoln RF523 Thor II, as far afield as Goose Bay and Winnipeg in Canada, Tengah in Singapore, to Australia and New Zealand, to Mauritius, Ceylon, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa and more familiar stops like Habbaniya and Lydda. In April 1949, Log Book No 1 was full, carrying forward all-but 2,300hrs service flying to Book No 2.
On 31 July 1949 the RAF Flying College formed at Manby, absorbing both the EAAS and the Empire Flying School at Hullavington. The happy years with EAAS were to continue with posting to the Staff of the new College, from September 1949 to April 1951. This too, must have gone well enough: in January 1952, he was made Squadron Leader.
Two final Staff postings, to 54 Group HQ (to July 1953) and finally to 41 Group HQ (ending in February 1956) brought the RAF career of S/Ldr William S Close DFC to a satisfying close, with retirement that February. He died at Abingdon in July 1991.
In writing this account of Close’s war-time RAF service as Observer, Navigator and Pilot, I have drawn heavily on his first Flying Log Book, for a copy of which I thank the helpful staff of the Dept of Research and Information Services at the RAF Museum.
211 Squadron RAF Operations Record Book Form 541 TNA AIR 27/1302
Close WS Observer’s and Air Gunner’s Flying Log Book Form 1737 (RAF Museum Item MF 10048)
HMSO London Gazette issues 1942 to 1956
Rawlings Coastal, Support and Special Squadrons of the RAF and Their Aircraft (Jane’s 1982)
Sturtivant R & Hamlin J RAF Flying Training and Support Units Since 1912 (Air Britain 2007)
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Site created 15 Apr 2001, last updated 20 Sep 2019. Page created 13 Apr 2016, last revised 31 Jul 2018
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