WILLIS, Reggie Arthur

No.124642, Flight Lieutenant, Reggie Arthur WILLIS
Aged 21

no real idea of medals, help from relative needed
285 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
Killed in Action on Sunday, 20th August 1944

Reggie Arthur WILLIS was born in 1922 (Islington Q4-1922 1B:304) 5th son of William Ewart and Barbara May WILLIS (née TRUELOVE).
His father was born in Haverhill and married his mother in Haringey in 1914. There were 9 children, Nigel, Horace (Jim), Stanley, Edna, Henry, Reggie, Eileen, Eric and Joyce, the first seven being born in London, Eric and Joyce being born in Haverhill.

In the mid-1920s the family had moved to Haverhill and were living in Duddery Road later moving to Recreation Road. Five of the six sons of William and Barbara Willis were serving in the Forces during WW2. Horace (Jim) lost his life in April 1941. The youngest of the five to enlist was Reggie.

In the 1939 register, at 49 Recreation Road, Haverhill were his father William E WILLIS [6-5-1888] bread baker and pastry cook; his mother Barbara M [12-5-1893]; brothers Nigel E [8-4-1914] a butcher's salesman and cutter (aux Fire Service, Haverhill), Stanley A [4-9-1917] motor mechanic and driver; sisters Edna M.T. [4-1-1924] school teacher, later to be Mrs Salomese and Eileen B [12-11-1924] cashier, later to be Mrs Williams. There are 2 closed records.

The Willis siblings, Reggie 3rd right

265 Squadron RAF, a flying boat squadron (which had no motto or crest) was based in Madagascar in WW2. Due to the vast area of it's operations it often had detachments out in many other bases. Diego Suaraz in Madagascar remained the official head quarters for the entire period, but the maintenance base and a large part of the squadron moved to Kipevu in Kenya in May 1943. The squadron also used bases at Tulear (southern Madagascar), Mauritius and Pamanza. They were eqipped with Consolidated Catalina Mk I and MkII (the American PBY)

According to "Wings of the Dawning" by Arthur Banks those on board the Catalina ser.no.FP104, call sign L-H are given as:-
128494 F/Lt William Stewart Lough Capt - 143668 F/O Henry Lawson Watkins 2nd Pilot - 124642 F/O Reggie Arthur Willis 1st Nav age 21 - 135923 F/O George Richard Chaffe 2nd Nav 21 - 566707 F/Sgt Surtees Elliott AFM F/E 26 - 1313689 F/Sgt Ronald Reuben Baines W/Ag 23 - 1332155 F/Sgt William Albert Bickmore W/Ag 23 - 1071501 F/Sgt Francis Charles Anderson W/Ag 23 - 1435171 F/Sgt Cuthbert Glynn W/Ag 22 - 1213871 Sgt Maurice William Popple 23 - 791109 Cpl Paul Raymond Marie Hodoul - 1508931 LAC Arthur Halstead 35 and 1008387 LAC Joseph Albert Willoughby Statham 28.
The last 4 are believed to have been passengers and it is suggested in the book that the a/c was on a flight to Durban when it encountered the sub U-862 when over the Mozambique Channel, and was shot down during the encounter.

The forum on rafcommands.com suggests that the four passengers (groundcrew) should have been delivered after the mission as reinforcement to Pamanzi, Comoro Islands.

According to John Campbell's book "Coastal Command" the event was actually filmed by a crew member of U-862. Another record says the submarine recovered the plane's log book, which showed it had been looking for a missing ship either the "Empire City" or "Empire Day" which had been sunk by U-198 on 5 August.

U-862's log gives a detailed description of the attack:
"13th day in Mozambique Channel, proceeding on departure course. Suddenly! a Catalina flying boat is sighted too late to submerge. Only one of the two deck guns is working. The little Matrose Mumms is firing very good and has hit the airplane. Suddenly a command from the tower is heard to say, repeatedly, "Hard Starboard! Hard Starboard"! There is a heavy detonation, the boat vibrates then rolls severely to one side causing water to come into the control room! On deck are shouts, "A hit! A hit"! It is recognized that the plane's pilot wouldn't get out of it in one piece and that he might hit the U-boat. The 'Cat' is flying only 10 meters above us then crashes into the sea 10 meters in front of us. Because of the planes explosion there is a fountain of water through which we travel seconds after. Debris of the flying boat is burning for a long time. Then following the jubilation that "Mumms" saved our lives by hitting the flying boat before it released its depth charges, a dinghy was sent among the debris. The flying-boat's log-book, a lot of navigation cards, some uniforms and silk scarves were salvaged; were interesting and provided useful information. Where the Cat started and was based! All the crew are killed with no bodies seen. Also from the plane's log-book, it was learned that they were looking for another ship which had previously been sunk."

The Air Forces panels on the El Alamein Memorial commemorate more than 3,000 airmen of the Commonwealth who died in the campaigns in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Greece, Crete and the Aegean, Ethiopia, Eritrea and the Somalilands, the Sudan, East Africa, Aden and Madagascar, who have no known grave.

Catalina of the type that 265 used (this is actually "Kate of 240 Sqdn at Diego Garcia)

Crew of H-265, Reggie is front left

crew photo courtesy "Men behind the Medals" author Air Commodore Graham Pitchfork (Pen and Sword, 31 Dec 1990).

The regular crew who appear in this photo are: Back from left; F/Sgt Glynn, F/Sgt Baines, Sgt Dow, F/Sgt Elliott. F/Sgt Popple Front from left F/O Willis, F/O Lough (captain), F/O Watkins, F/Sgt Bickmore.

Last trip of H-265, map and crew photo from "Men behind the Medals"

photo: Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Reggie Willis is commemorated on the Alamein memorial, col.279

click here to go to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website for full cemetery/memorial details

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