In Memoriam – Robert Davis


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Warrant Officer (Retired) Robert ‘Bob’ Davis

It is with great sadness that we must report the recent passing of Warrant Officer (retired) Robert ‘Bob’ Davis.

Bob, who passed away peacefully on the 24th June (aged 93), was believed to be the last surviving wartime member of No.238 Squadron, having served with the unit as navigator in Burma and Australia.

The middle child of three, Bob was born in Cricklewood (North-West London) in 1922. After the death of his mother in 1936, Bob elected to leave full time education and begin work as a warehouseman in order to allow his younger brother to complete his education.

Bob was only 17 when war broke out, but in 1941 he volunteered to join the RAF as a pilot. After a wait of over 8 months, he was eventually called up to begin his training, becoming one of over 10,000 RAF aircrew who travelled to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) for training under the Empire Air Training Scheme.

After completing his basic training (or”square bashing”), Bob arrived at No. 28 Elementary Flying Training School in March 1943. Located at Mount Hampden, close to Harare, 28 EFTS operated Tiger Moth aircraft for pilot training. It would appear that Bob did not fair too well in his flight tuition, as he was returned to the aircrew holding pool in July that year, having failed to complete the course. Family legend has it that he never quite mastered the art of landing.

Next stop, on Bob’s tour of Rhodesia, was No. 24 Bombing, Gunnery and Navigation School, based at Moffat, Gwelo. Here Bob undertook training to become both a navigator and bomb aimer, at the conclusion of which he was awarded the much coveted “observer” brevet (a rare honour, given that the “navigator” brevet largely replaced that of the observer from September 1942).

Bob’s time in Rhodesia finally came to an end in the spring of 1944, when he was posted to No. 76 OTU, at Aqir, Palestine, where he was to train on Wellington bombers. The course lasted until June 1944, but by this time the Wellington’s time as a front line combat type had more or less come to an end. Finding that there were no longer any Wellington Squadrons to be posted to, Bob was once again placed on holding, this time in Egypt.

It was not until March 1945 that Bob eventually received orders to travel to Gujrat, India, where he would retrain on Dakotas. The course at 1334 Transport Support Training Unit lasted just 4 weeks, but by the end of it Bob was at last ready for his first operational assignment. Upon completion of the course Bob was posted to Comilla (in modern Bangladesh), where he was to join No. 238 Squadron.

By the time of Bob’s arrival, 238 Squadron had been operational in theatre for just 10 weeks. Those first few weeks however, had proved to be a terrifying baptism of fire for the recently reformed Squadron. Between the 14th of March and the 22nd of May the Squadron flew just under 5,000 operational sorties, mostly in support of allied ground units fighting in Burma. Missions primarily focussed on the transport of reinforcements and equipment, much of which had to be delivered by parachute. In addition, casualty evacuation and prisoner repatriation also featured heavily in the Squadron’s tasking.

Perhaps the most strategically important destination visited by 238 Squadron in the spring of 1945 was the infamous airfield at Meiktila.The town of Meiktila, a vital Japanese command and transportation hub, had been seized by the allies at the beginning of March. Following a ferocious Japanese counter offensive however, the town (and airfield) became cut off from British lines  and bloody siege then ensued.

The battle became famous as the finest hour of the RAF Regiment a contingent from which succeeded in safeguarding the airfield in spite of the seemingly unassailable odds. Equally worthy of note though, was the commitment of the RAF Dakota crews who maintained an air bridge into the town and eventually enabled the siege to be broken.

Bob’s first operational mission came on the 24th May, when his crew were ordered to fly a supply sortie into the dreaded airfield at Meiktila. In spite of the dangers, they completed the flight without incident, returning safely to base with a cargo of evacuated casualties. Bob returned to Meiktila no fewer than six times in the week that followed; each time delivering supplies and reinforcements, whilst withdrawing casualties back to the safety of Comilla.

As the month of June wore on, allied forces continued to push deeper and deeper in Burma, with the Japanese offering ever less credible resistance. As a consequence, 238 Squadron’s tasking began to shift increasingly to that of prisoner repatriation. By the end of the month the situation in Burma had become sufficiently stable that the decision was made to relocate 238 Squadron to Parrafield, Australia. From here, the Squadron would support the operations of the Royal Navy’s Pacific Fleet.

After a perilous 7 day journey, which included over water flights of up to 11 hours at a time, Bob’s crew eventually arrived at Parrafield (near Adelaide) on the 7th July. The Squadron’s time in Australia seems to have been something of an extended holiday for most. Tales abound of drunken antics on the base, including the theft of a jeep which subsequently was left parked “up the station flagpole”

During his stay in Australia Bob met and subsequently became engaged to Cora Wainwright, the daughter of the Adelaide Auditor General; John William Wainwright. Sadly the Squadron’s stay in Australia was not to be indefinite and by the end of the year orders were issued for their return to the UK. Bob somehow managed to arrange a transfer to No. 1315 (Transport) Flight, then based at Archerfield, near Brisbane. This move served to delay his return to the UK by a further 14 weeks, but by mid March he too had been ordered to return home.

Travelling by Dakota, Bob eventually arrived back at RAF St Mawgan on the 20th March 1946. Happily, he was not separated from Cora for long, as she arrived by ship just a few days later, having departed Australia shortly before him.

After the demob’, Bob worked for the civil service until retirement. He and Cora raised a son and a daughter, who in turn also raised two grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Sadly, in recent years Bob had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. After seeing his gradual decline, Bob’s daughter Wendy became inspired to find more about his service career, eventually leading her to make contact with the Cosford based 238 Squadron. Members of the Squadron were fortunate enough to be able to meet with Bob last year, at his home in North London. The Squadron was also proud to be able to send a party to represent the Royal Air Force at Bob’s recent funeral service.

All members of 238 Squadron would like to express their sincere condolences to the Davis family. Bob was a remarkable man. May he rest in peace.

Ad Finem

Remembrance Day 2016