By one of the cruel strokes of fate, veteran observer, Flt Sgt David Wyatt filled a slot on 21 Squadron which had been vacated by Graham-Hogg’s original crewman. Jim Marsden explains: ‘Sgt X was taken off flying duties, due to a severe nervous condition, which the RAF chose to call “Lack of Moral Fibre”. What became of Sgt X I do not know, but it would seem that he may have had a premonition of death, should he have been with us that day.’ Four days after joining 21 Squadron, David Wyatt was dead.
Enlisting way back in June 1930, David spent the first five years of his career as a humble AC2 Aircrafthand. How did the RAF manage to keep such good men with this kind of disgraceful treatment? In November 1935, David was posted, as an AC1, to 101 (Bomber) Squadron at Bicester, which had the rare distinction of being equipped with twin-engined bombers, in the form of Boulton-Paul Overstrands. These ancient-looking biplanes were hardly likely to have caused the leader of the Nazi Party to have sleepless nights. Remustering to ACH/Air-Gunner in October 1936, David then joined 10 (Bomber) Squadron, Boscombe Down, which were operating the no more frightening Handley Page Heyfords. One year later, he had ‘graduated’ to monoplane bombers, and wielded the inadequate armament of Fairey Battles, with which David’s new squadron – 105 – had recently been equipped. Based at Harwell for two years, by the time the squadron had moved to France at the outbreak of war, David had remustered to air observer and had been promoted to sergeant.
Back in the UK after the fall of France, David converted onto Blenheims and flew operations from such bases as Honington, Watton and Swanton Morley. In January 1941, Flt Sgt David Wyatt received the inevitable summons to 17 OTU Upwood, from where he emerged on May Day. He spent just six months on his new squadron – 18 at Oulton – before joining his final squadron, 21 at Watton.
Such are the bones of David’s Record of Service. The very human and deeply moving story hidden therein must be representative of what life was really like in those days, and I am grateful to Mrs Marie Green, David’s widow, for painstakingly compiling this, at times harrowing, account. Her covering letter was poignant:
‘I decided to sit with Annette [her granddaughter]. I told her all the things I could about that time in my life spent with my dear David. I did not think I would be so upset after all this time but it still hurts quite a lot. I could not write it myself. She did it for me.’
As a token of respect, I have not attempted to précis Marie’s account:
‘David William Wyatt born 23rd May 1912, 8 Harbour Avenue, Devonport. Son of George Walter Wyatt and Ada Wyatt, formerly O’Connell.
George Wyatt served in the Royal Navy until after the 14-18 war, when he left the navy and travelled round the world as a deep-sea diver.
In 1923, Ada Wyatt became ill with diabetes; as there was no insulin available, she died aged 36.
At this point, the family was split up and went to live with various relations. Because of this, I was unable to find out where David spent his school years. All the children (five in all – David, Norah, Bernard, Kitty and Betty) were christened Catholics.
In the late 20s – early 30s David went to work on a religious newspaper (Catholic), called the Universe. Later in the thirties, David’s brother Bernard joined the navy, whilst David chose the RAF [in June 1930]. (1939, Bernard’s ship, the Ark Royal, torpedoed; Bernard was in the water for 4 hours before rescue). [Probably the Royal Oak (14th October 1939): the Ark Royal was torpedoed on 13th November 1941].
Both brothers often went to spend their leave with an Aunt Lily who lived in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. She often told the story of the occasion when Bernard presented her with a little silver cup he had won at SPCA. David said jokingly that one day he’d bring home a bigger cup than Bernard’s. On one of his next leaves, David came home in the early hours of the morning, and when Lily came downstairs later, she found a big silver cup placed in the ashes of the fire, filled with spring flowers. This cup was won for boxing. David also won a shield for boxing which bears the inscription “Winner. Novice. Henlow 1934. AC Wyatt.” David was a keen sportsman and an excellent swimmer. He was a keen competitor. I remember at one sports meeting his team winning a dinghy race. David was stationed at RAF Harwell with 105 Bomber Squadron, the other squadrons there were 107 and 226.
In 1937 I met David at a dance. We became engaged Easter 1938 and got married later that year. I became pregnant and went to stay with my sister until the birth of my child. 1st day of spring, March 21st , a baby girl, Ann Margaret Wyatt was born.
We then returned to Harwell to live in married quarters. During that summer the squadron did a lot of night flying.
On the first of September, each married quarters was presented with a huge 5ft x 5ft wooden packing case, with orders from the CO that all married quarters had to be evacuated by midnight, as they were likely to become a military target. All airmen had to report for duty whilst their wives were left to pack these huge cases. These cases were so big that if you got into one, you couldn’t get out. I ended up putting it on its side and walking into it.
The organisation was fairly brutal in its attitude towards the wives: they seemed to ignore the fact that the women and children had to find somewhere to go; they just didn’t want to know.
David managed to get special permission from a Wing Commander to drive Ann and me home to Wales on the promise that he was back by morning. At this time [September 1939], I was pregnant again but didn’t realise it. I didn’t want to worry David with the news and decided to wait until his first leave at Christmas before telling him.
The last week of leave was spent at Cheshunt, where my sister came to look after me. In May 1940 a son, David William, was born. Two days after birth, he became ill and died a few days later. I overheard the doctor talking to my sister Millie in reference to sending for David. He said there was no point as they would all be home soon [from France]. I thought he meant the war was ending, but he was actually talking about Dunkirk.
When David eventually got leave, I remember him saying: “When the war is over, we’ll have another son”. It was a very unhappy time for us, but such was our upbringing that you simply didn’t show your feelings.
Soon after the air raids started, a landmine dropped not far from our house, blowing all the doors and windows out. David came home on compassionate leave because of the bombing. Aunt Lily offered me a room in her house, which David was anxious I accept, which I did.
Bernard came down to stay at Aunt Lily’s after the torpedoing of his ship. He threw his gold St Christopher at David and said: “Here, you keep this: it didn’t do much for me”. I didn’t want him to take it, but David said: “Well, it kept him alive for four hours in the water while men were dying around him.”
In the beginning of 1941, I had the chance to go and stay with David as he was off operational flights for a while, instructing crews. I think it was at Upwood [correct], near Peterborough. While I was there, I had a wire to say that my father had died while serving with the Royal Artillery, at a hospital in Basingstoke. From Upwood, David was sent to RAF Watton in Norfolk.
Soon after, David came home for an appointment at the Ministry about receiving a commission. There was a foul-up with transport and he was late arriving for his appointment. When he returned home, he was very upset, because for some reason he had been turned down. To this day, I cannot understand why, and will probably never know the reason. David left for RAF Watton in the early hours of the morning. When he was half-way down the street, I ran after him to give him a last hug, not knowing that that would be the last time I ever saw him.
On one of his last leaves in ’41, David was very tense: I remember him saying: “If anything happens to me, and some good man comes along, marry him so that he can look after you and Ann.” I felt repulsed that he could even think such things, but he was so upset and worried about myself and Ann, and the possibility of getting killed each time he flew. He was under tremendous pressure, and in retrospect I see now that David had realised how little provision there was for the wives and children. There was no money as no one would even insure the flyers.
On July 18th I received a telegram to say that David was missing. Six weeks later the money stopped and I received 36 shillings [£1.80] a week for widow’s pension.
When I received the telegram I was on my own. I remember Ann pointing to his picture, saying: “Daddy’s not gone, there he is.”
I received a letter from Wing Commander Key saying how sorry he was that David was missing. I felt a mixture of sadness and relief at the thought of his being “missing”. I still had hope; he could have been a prisoner of war and at least wouldn’t have to fly any more missions. I was determined to keep him alive; I had nothing to live for but hope.
After a while, when the buzz bombs started flying over, I remember holding Ann thinking: “I don’t care if we get killed: at least we’ll all be together again.” But in moments of clear thinking, I still prayed and hoped that David was still alive.
Towards the end [of his life], David’s mood had changed: from one of optimism to one of futile worry and despair, as the realisation of what the war was doing to ordinary people became more and more apparent. The futility of war is not worth one man’s life.
I was never told exactly what had happened to David; nobody from the M of D got in touch. I should not have had to wait for 43 years to find out how he died.
After I had received the telegram and was trying to cope on what little money I had, I put Ann in a day nursery and found a job. It was the only way we could afford to live. I always felt in my heart that one day David would come back – I wanted to make sure he had something to come back to.
In 1944, I moved back to Wales and Cardiff. It was so nice to go to bed without the worry of overhead buzz bombs. I decided to stay.
Ann started in a convent school whilst I tried to make us a home. I was advised to go to the RAF Benevolent Fund to help furnish the flat I had found. They said I could have £30 for furniture, but not in cash: I had to send them all the receipts and then they would pay. I felt insulted by this proposal, as though I wasn’t to be trusted with the money. In the end, I went and bought everything on HP [Hire Purchase] and paid for most of it myself. With help, in the form of a grant from the Ministry of Pensions, I was able to send Ann to a Private Catholic School, as I had promised David that any children would be brought up as good Catholics. I was determined not to break my promise.
In September 1951, I remarried; Frederick George Green, who did his war service in the Royal Navy. In 1953 (I think), I received tickets to go and see the unveiling at Runnymede of the RAF Memorial [correct – October 1953, by HM Queen Elizabeth]. Ann and myself went, but I couldn’t relate any feelings towards it. There were so many people there, dancing and jigging, that it was more like a fiesta, and made a sham of what was for me a very sad occasion.
Fred and his family were marvellous, accepting Ann as though she were his own daughter. Ann is married now herself with three children, Anthony, Jane and Annette. She now has one grandson through Jane, named Robert, which makes me a great grandmother. Robert has the same colouring as David, fair skin and ginger hair.
For me, David lives on through Robert, as every time I look at Robert I see David.’
Jim Marsden was horrified to discover that Marie had received no further news about the death of her husband other than that provided by the initial telegram. He explains: ‘As a POW, I had a letter via the International Red Cross from a Mrs Knight, the sister of David Wyatt, asking for information about how he was killed. So I would have thought my letter would have explained, and that eventually his wife would have known.’
In my opinion, it is unacceptable that a widow should have to wait over four decades for precise information as to the circumstances of her husband’s death, and then only by pure chance.
I know Marie was extremely grateful to Jim Marsden for providing this information (via me). Her Christmas cards always expressed warmth and love. She proved to be my very last Rotterdam contact. On returning from a holiday in October 2014, there was a sad card awaiting me. It was from Marie’s daughter, Ann:
‘Dear Rusty and Carol. It is with sadness that I inform you my mother Marie died on 1st Oct. in Duffryn Ffrwd Nursing Home. Her funeral is at St Mary’s Church Whitchurch on 16th Oct at 2.15pm.’