The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. W G Ripley
William George Ripley of Emsworth, Hampshire, was born on 17th April 1913.
He was awarded Aero Certificate 18688 at Yapton Aero Club on 12th June 1939, his occupation being recorded as Fitter.
Ripley joined the RAF in February 1940 as an Airman u/t Wop/AG, perhaps by the standards at the time being regarded as too old for pilot training, even though he was already qualified.
He completed his training and joined 604 Squadron at Middle Wallop on 20th August 1940. He later trained as a Radio Observer and flew with F/O RA Chisholm. On 13th March 1941 they destroyed two He111’s at night, on 9th April another two, on the 11th a He111 and probably a Ju88, on the 29th a He111 and on 8th July another He111 and a second damaged. Ripley was awarded the DFM (gazetted 13th May 1941).
Promoted to Warrant Officer on 1st March 1942, he was commissioned in January 1943. Ripley died on 16th November 1943 of injuries received on active service as a Flight Lieutenant with 141 Squadron. He was 30 and is buried in Warblington Cemetery, Havant, Hampshire.
His loss was documented as follows in ‘Pursuit Through Darkened Skies’ by Michael Allen DFC.
"We did four Night Flying Tests in the first half of November but each time operations were cancelled because of poor weather conditions. Then on 15th November, in one of those tragedies that happened all too frequently, we lost a crew from 'B' Flight in an accident at our home base at Wittering. There were two runways, one exceptionally long, but the south to north runway was short, barely 1450 yards, only barely enough to get off in a fully loaded Mosquito II.
Bill Ripley was flying with F/O DFA (Derek) Welsh. In the crew room we heard them open up and take off. Then, a bang and a woomph was heard - and they were not very far away. We all leapt to our feet and rushed outside. There, on the far side of the airfield, was the pillar of smoke and flame which told us all that we needed to know. I jumped into my car and with two or three others bundling in drove fast round the perimeter track to the north side of the airfield and stopped just short of the blazing wreckage. Derek and Bill were lying on the grass - and they were alive !. Thanks to the prompt action of a naval rating and a 141 pilot, F/O CB Thornton, who were nearby when the Mosquito failed to gain height and crashed on the boundary at the end of the runway, both pilot and navigator had been pulled out of the burning wreckage.
The squadron record gives further details which we only heard later: '…..the rescue party led by LAC Robertson of the AFDU did an extraordinarily fine piece of work, at considerable risk to themselves, as the wreckage caught fire - and ammunition was exploding in all directions. Two naval ratings, AB Howard and AB White, showed a total disregard for their own safety. The former, with the assistance of F/O Thornton, who had by then arrived on the scene extinguished the flames on F/O Welsh whilst still within a few feet of the burning wreckage, afterwards removing the injured pilot further from the scene of the crash…….'.
I spoke to both Derek and Bill, as they lay on the ground, and they answered me. I said to Bill, who did not look as if he had been too badly hurt, something like 'You'll be OK, Bill' as he was lifted into the ambulance, and he acknowl-edged what I had said. I thought that they would be OK when they were taken off to Stamford Infirmary a few minutes later. They both died at about 07.00 on the following morning. Their injuries and shock proved to be worse than we had thought and, although the cause of the crash is not given in the squadron record, it was thought by a former 141 aircrew member to be engine failure on take-off.
The aircraft, Mosquito FII DD266, was one of the first Mosquitoes to be delivered to 141 and the loss of a crew in a flying accident was always a miserable business. They had only been on the squadron since 1st September and I remember hearing that Derek Welsh had already survived a ditching in the North Sea and three or four days in a dinghy before being picked up by the Air-Sea Rescue. Bill Ripley was an experienced Navigator who had been on 604 Squadron at Middle Wallop in the early days of Home Defence night-fighting in 1940/42. He had flown with S/Ldr. 'Rory' Chisholm DSO, DFC &
Bar and had shared in Chisholm's successes, being decorated with the DFM before being commissioned.
He and Derek Welsh stood every chance of becoming a successful crew on the Serrate operations if the wind had not been blowing in the wrong direction that day. All those involved in the rescue were recommended for awards, and the Squadron Record for 21st March 1944 announced a MBE for F/O Thornton to mark his gallantry that day."