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OUR PROBUS ’83 SALUTE TO THE RAF IN ITS CENTENNIAL YEAR
‘Per Ardua ad Astra’
Probus ’83 proudly salutes the Royal Air Force in its centennial year.
Here we record the distinguished service given by two of our members, the late ‘Rod’ Rodley and Neville Freeman. Both were Wing Commanders in their differing roles. We also honour all our members, past and present, who served with the Royal Air Force in peace and at war.
Wing Commander E.E. ‘Rod’ Rodley joined the RAFVR in 1937 and trained as a pilot, spending the first days of the war as a flying instructor. In 1941 he joined 97 Squadron and started on an outstanding operational career matched only by the most renowned bomber pilots.
At that time 97 Squadron were operating Manchesters, a twin-engined and hence very under-powered version of the Lancaster, and his first notable sortie flying them was against German battleships in Brest harbour, a notoriously well-defended target, where he ‘bombed successfully’. Shortly afterwards the squadron re-equipped with Lancasters and his tour continued with sorties to heavily defended targets in the Ruhr.
These targets could be considered ‘soft’ to Rod’s next undertaking, a low level daylight attack on the M.A.N. Diesel factory at Augsberg in Bavaria on April 18th 1942. Six Lancasters from 97 took part along with six from 44 Squadron. Only five in total returned, including the raid leader, S/L John Nettleton, the 44 Squadron commander, who was awarded a VC. For his part in a successful raid, in many ways a template for the ‘Dambuster’ attack, Rod was awarded an immediate DFC. He completed his first tour in September 1942.
In April 1943 he rejoined 97 Squadron which by now had been designated and trained as one of the élite Pathfinder squadrons, whose task was to lead the main bomber force. Rod was to be one of their special target markers. As such he took part in an epic raid upon Friedrichshafen on 20th June 1943 and was credited with its success due to his highly accurate marking. One of the marking flares had hung up in the bomb bay and began to set the aircraft on fire but he managed to jettison it in time. For all of this he was awarded an immediate bar to his DFC.
Other targets in 1943 included Berlin, the ‘Big City’, notorious as the most heavily defended target of all, and the usual round of industrial centres. A special case was the raid on Peenemunde on 17th-18th August which was credited with ending Germany’s efforts to create an atomic bomb.
At the end of his tour in October, with 63 sorties to his credit, he was awarded an immediate DSO. After a spell commanding an Operational Conversion Unit, out of the immediate firing line but an onerous and fairly risky job, he was awarded an AFC and started on his third tour.
He joined 128 Squadron in February 1945 as its Commanding Officer. There he flew Mosquitoes as a part of the Light Night Strike Force, completing a further 13 sorties, seven of them to the ‘Big City’. He completed 76 sorties in all, twenty-six of them as a marker. The statistical chance of surviving such a high number was infinitesimal. He not only survived but was uninjured in the process in spite of often getting home with severe flak and night-fighter damage to his aircraft. Worthy of note also is a flight in 1942 when he was damaged on take-off laden with mines and 2,000 gallons of high-octane fuel, and coaxed his aircraft to a forced landing on Freiston Sands rather than jettison his load on the city of Boston. This, of course, did not count as a completed sortie…but the Probus Club of Boston did give him an illuminated scroll in 1975.
After the war Rod embarked on a career in civil aviation, beginning with helping to found British South American Airways (BSAA) which merged with BOAC in 1949. This was just in time for him to be checked out on the brand new De Haviland Comet by John Cunningham to become the world’s first jet endorsed Air Transport Pilot’s Licence holder. He took charge of training on the Comet fleet and was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Services in the Air.
He later converted to the then new Boeing 707 where I sometimes had the privilege of flying with him as his co-pilot/navigator on world-wide routes. Retiring from BOAC in 1968 he flew a little longer with Olympic Airways, finally amassing a grand total of 28,000 hours in his career. He was a friendly, quiet and modest man who only spoke of his experiences when directly asked and then in a self-deprecating manner. We were lucky to have him as a club member.
– Steve Palmer, September 2018
When Wing Commander Neville Freeman gained the Air Force Cross in January 1949, the King wrote to him in Germany to tell him that he regretted being unable to confer the Award himself.
Neville first came to notice of the higher echelons of the RAF in July 1946. He was flying Mk IV Dakotas with 525 Transport Squadron when an assignment arose which would transform his future service. The immediate task was “Operation Empress,” a diplomatically important 10-day familarisation tour from Normandy to the Baltic for members of the Empire Press. Neville was detached to fly them. It proved successful and he was rated ‘exceptional’ as as a Transport pilot. Days later he was transferred to the Military Governor’s Flight ,BAOR, based RAF Melle, Osnabrück, and was promoted Flt Lieutenant.
Neville soon became personal pilot to Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Sholto Douglas, C-in-C British Zone Germany. (The Marshal was notable for clashing with others in Fighter Command when urging adoption of his ‘Big Wing’ tactics for massed fighter responses to enemy formations in the Battle of Britain). Neville was promoted Squadron Leader with command of the Flight in July 1947. Sir Sholto’s departure from Gatow on retirement that October was a ceremonial send-off by Air Marshals, Generals, assorted grandees, an Anglo/US guard of honour and an escorting flight of Hawker Tempest fighter bombers. Once airborne, he told Neville to beat-up the dignitaries below. This was enthusiastically applied, Neville’s log book noting ‘I really enjoyed the opportunity . . . It was not easy to say farewell to the Marshal . . . I shall retain many happy memories.’
Neville flew Dakota KN645 throughout. It had been presented to General Montgomery by President Eisenhower and is now at the RAF Museum, Hendon. He records its livery was ‘a silver pristine glory, polished every day.’ En route Northolt-Gatow in April 1949 a port engine failure over sea forced him to an emergency landing at Manston.
Award of the Air Force Cross was gazetted January 1949. The citation praised Neville’s ‘distinguished flying services’ with the Military Governor’s Flight ‘which have brought great credit to the Royal Air Force. The flight operates . . . in almost “field” conditions, but the good spirit and high morale of the Detachment is, in the main, due to the good leadership and probity of the Detachment Commander.’ Tribute was paid to his tenacity and energy in efficiently tackling the Flight’s responsibilities, and to his attention to the welfare of his support team whose respect and effort upheld the good name of the Detachment. ‘His flying and crew discipline are of the highest standard. . . . His example and devotion to duty have done much to uphold the highest tradition of the Service.’
Neville’s command ended in August 1949 when the Allied Control Zone broke up in dispute with Russia.
He had joined the RAF in 1938. Commissioned Pilot Officer July 1940, his fine airmanship made him an obvious flying instructor. After teaching at training schools at home and for three years in Rhodesia, he was transferred in 1945 to flying with 267 Transport Sqdn in India. Neville flew Dakotas with critical supplies for the advancing 14th Army in Burma. This and service with 525 Transport Squadron brings us back to the Military Governors Flight, 1946-49. There followed secondments as Personal Secretary to Secretaries of State for Air. Neville then joined 21 Sqdn at Scampton flying Canberra B2s; rated ‘Exceptional as a jet bomber pilot’. Bomber Command liaison officer, SHAPE, 1955-57.
Neville retired from active service in March 1966. Decorations. Air Force Cross 1949. 1939-45 Star. Burma Star. Defence and War Medals 1939-45. Air Efficiency Award.
He received two mentions in despatches for valuable services in the air. The first, gazetted June 1944. The other relates to his RAFVR service. His medals, log books and papers are held at the RAF Museum.
Neville’s retirement included service with 2 AEF (RAFVR), one of twelve Air Experience Flights run by the Air Cadet Organisation, RAF. He is remembered as a friendly and quietly spoken member of the Probus (1983) Club, chairing it in 1995/96 when he also introduced the chairman’s chain of office. Neville’s dear wife Anne died at this time.
Later, with no descendants, he came to regard Holy Trinity Church as his family. There Neville provided a stained glass memorial window to Anne. It is prominently centred over the High Street entrance above the steps.
He left his estate to the church.
Neville and Rod Rodley both died in 2004. May they rest in peace.
– John Glanfield. September 2018
The Freeman Window, Holy Trinity Church
Modern in style but respectful of the historic traditions of stained glass.
The captions below are taken from an incomplete copy rubric.
The Probus ’83 Class of April 2018
Minus our illustrious photographer…
Taken on a glorious spring day, preceding a very hot summer which broke many records.