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The Airmen's Stories - P/O J S Wigglesworth

 

John Spencer Wigglesworth was born on 16th August 1920 in Croydon. He was the son of John and Alice Wigglesworth of Baildon near Shipley in Yorkshire and was known as Peter, probably to differentiate him from his father.

John Wigglesworth Senior was an engineer who undertook projects around the country, hence Peter's birth in Croydon and his subsequent education at Watford Grammar School. After completing his education he went on to study engineering at the firm of J Parkinson and Son at the Canal Ironworks in Shipley.

He joined the RAF on a short service commission on 14th August 1939 and carried out his training at 9 E&RFTS Ansty near Rugby.

By 12th May 1940 he was serving with 238 Squadron, operating Hurricanes at Tangmere.

 

 

On 21st July Wigglesworth shared in the destruction of a Do17 and a Me110, on 13th August he probably destroyed a Me110, on 25th September he destroyed a He111 and on the 26th he destroyed a Me110.

 

 

Below: on Wednesday 14th August 1940 he had written to his parents:

 

 

Wednesday

My Dear Mummy and Daddy,

Thank you so much for your letter, I am afraid though I can't quite remember when you sent it.

You can see by the address that the squadron - or what is left of it - has been moved.

I am just coming out of a change and beginning to lose a kind of numb feeling I have had for the last three days. I know I have flown 15 hours in the last few days here, up at half past three in the morning and gone to bed about twelve at night and sometimes been up five times a day to intercept raids. We have been in every one - the only squadron to do so - and have been hit the worst. We have lost ten (? indistinct) pilots.

Nearly every time we have met 80+ planes and yesterday I found myself separated from the squadron and at least 250 fighter bombers approaching me. I might tell you I did not feel too happy. They are wicked machines, they are as fast as the Hurricane but have a rear gunner and four cannons firing forward. (Note: this is the Me110). I climbed right above them to 32,000 feet, they were about 20,000, and waited for a straggler to leave the bunch. One did and I got him.

I then went back up again and was about thirty miles over the Channel watching them going over and coming back in an endless stream, hundreds of them and not one of our fighters to be seen. Well I was damned if I was going to stay out there like that so started making my way to the coast and was lucky enough to find three bombers separated from a big bunch. I got one of them and as I had no more ammunition I went for home as quick as I could go and as I was coming in to land the aerodrome was bombed. I was rocked about by the movements of air but was so tired and I had no ammunition that I went on and landed.

So with half the squadron gone we have been sent down here on 'light duty' but I don't think it will be very light.

Well I have told you all this because you seem to be anxious about me driving a car. Honestly it is as safe as being in a padded cell in comparison to flying these days.

Well I shall have to forget about the car at Andover but shall be going to Newquay as soon as possible to look for one.

It really is essential to have a car here as the nearest village is six miles away.

This is shocking, I have just remembered I have not thanked you terribly for not turning my bold suggestion down. I think it is marvellous of you to lend me so much but of course I shall not need it now until I have found another car down here.

Do you know I have been in the RAF a year today, it seems like ten, and just a year ago we were at St. Ives about 30 miles from here, its funny isn't it how things turn out.

I can't think of anything I want except perhaps a pair of snazzy pyjamas, something like the ones I have, for my birthday.

I am so tired I shall fall asleep writing if I don't stop. I hope you can understand this dispirited letter and read the writing.

Leave seems very distant again,

Your loving son, Peter

 

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On 25th October 1940 Wigglesworth was placed under open arrest, after hitting a hedge and cutting an Ops telephone line at RAF Chilbolton, whilst low flying. He was charged on the 26th and detached to Middle Wallop, pending a court-martial.

Whilst there he was posted from 238 Squadron to 67 Squadron, which was to be formed in the Far East. He was held at Middle Wallop until he was tried by court-martial on 4th February 1941 when he was found guilty and fined £10.

He joined 67 Squadron, operating the Brewster Buffalo, at its reformation at Kallang, Singapore on 12th March 1941 (below).

 

 

On 23rd September Wigglesworth, in Buffalo W8161, was practising mock attacks on Blenheim IV V5389 of 34 Squadron when the two aircraft collided. Wigglesworth was able to bring his aircraft down on a beach near Tengah.

The Blenheim pilot baled out but F/Sgt. J Carr and F/Sgt. GA Dodds were both killed.

67 Squadron were later sent to Mingaladon airfield in Burma to fly in defence of Rangoon. While stationed there Wigglesworth formed an attachment to a 'Meg' Gerrard (Megan or possibly Margaret, see the full story at bottom).

Wigglesworth destroyed a Japanese bomber, possibly a Mitsubishi Ki21, on 23rd December 1941.

Wigglesworth was killed on 6th February 1942 whilst flying in Buffalo W8123 which crashed into a paddy field following an engine failure on taking-off from Toungoo. The aircraft flipped on to its back, the windscreen shattered and a fragment pierced his skull, killing him instantly.

He was 21 and is buried in Rangoon War Cemetery, Burma.

 

 

 

 

 

Above cemetery images courtesy of The War Graves Photographic Project www.twgpp.org

 

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John Wigglesworth Senior had returned to Baildon to manage the family firm F Wigglesworth and Co. but, stricken with grief, he fell ill and died in 1945 aged 52.

Towards the end of the war Meg Gerrard, now in India working for a British bank, made contact with Peter's mother and a correspondence ensued.

 

 

Sunny View Hotel
Lahore
India

23rd March '45

My dear Mrs. Wigglesworth,

It was very nice hearing from you again and thank you for your letter. I have often thought about you and wondered how you and Mr Wigglesworth were keeping.

Although the war in the West is going so well, it must be awful having these V bombs threatening one, and I see from the papers that they are anticipating even more reductions in the rationing. If there is anything you would like particularly to be sent you let me know and I shall be only too happy to arrange to forward it to you, if available here.

For instance there is plenty of tea and raisins, currants and nuts to be had here and no restrictions on their being sent out of India. Sweets and chocolates are obtainable too.

It is only three years now that Peter was killed and yet it was only yesterday that we said goodbye in Rangoon and Peter told me he'd see me in Calcutta before long. It was my second last night in Rangoon and Peter was due to go on a trip the next day - it took so long to say au revoir !

I can't tell you how marvellous it was the next evening when Peter roared up in a large truck - his trip had been postponed and so we had one more evening together and all the sweetness and anguish at saying goodbye again. We were very fond of each other and it was a terrible shock to learn that I would never see Peter again. I can understand how you must have felt only too well. it was a long, long time before I got over it, and I know that I shall never forget Peter, and am only glad that I met him and that we had some time together.

He was such a charming boy, Mrs Wigglesworth, and every one of one's friends who met him liked him at once.

I am still unmarried and I don't mind telling you, as Peter's mother, that if I had never known Peter I would be married to someone else by then - I suppose I will get married, sooner or later, but I will never forget him. I hope I am not sounding too foolish or sentimental ! but I do mean it.

I am sure to be coming to England at some time or another after the war out here, and shall certainly look forward to seeing you then.

With best wishes,

Yours very sincerely,

Meg

 

***************

 

 

7/6/43

My dear Miss Gerrard,

I must thank you very much for your Airgraph and would have replied sooner but my hisband has been seriously ill and is only now recovering from a major operation, brought on by his grief at Peter's loss.

We were so glad Peter met you and came to your home. In his last letter dated Nov.22/41 he told us about you and said it was good to get out of the Mess atmosphere and see a little home life again. He can't have received any of our letters after that date as they are still being returned. They were sent by trans-pacific airmail and the service was suspended. I feel so distressed, I do hope he wasn't unhappy about it.
We cabled to him at Xmas and I hope that arrived safely.

I was always confident that Peter would return home safely. He'd had such miraculous escapes in the Battle of Britain and I can't tell you what a shock it was to receive that dreadful cable. No details of his crash have been received in London but someone must have seen it to know it was instantaneous and he didn't suffer. It is comforting to know that.

Lorna and Pat feel his loss greatly - they were very proud of him. Lorna is now in the Forces and Pat is a student, so we have one left at home.

I'm so glad you all escaped from Burma safely - Peter seems to have been confident of joining you in Calcutta. I'm so grateful to have details of him right up to the last and to know he was so healthy and in high spirits. A photograph follows by post.

Yours sincerely,

Alice Wigglesworth

***************

 

Simla

28th August '45

Dear Peter's mother,

To say "thank you for your letter" would sound so banal and meaningless to me after all that you have said in it and what it has meant to me to receive such a letter from you, Peter's mother - but I do thank you very much indeed and I shall always keep and treasure your letter.

I have delayed replying because I wrote to a friend of mine in the RAF who is in Burma at the moment, giving him Peter's name and squadron and asking him if he could find out any further details or by any chance come across some possessions of his. He has replied that he would certainly do all he could but so far I have not heard anything further from him about Peter. If I ever do, I will certainly let you know.

About 8 weeks before I left Rangoon Peter gave me a pair of wings which he told me he had worn throughout the Battle of Britain. On the back of them he had printed in ink "To Meg from Peter" and a date. I would like you to have these wings; although I treasure them I would prefer you to have them. So I am sending them separately, with my love.

Its wonderful that the war in the East has finished so much sooner than was expected. We think we shall be back in Burma early next year, but "c/o Grindlay and Co Ltd. Lahore" will always find me. I am only up here in this hill station for the summer and go back to Lahore at the end of next month.

I trust you received the parcel I dispatched last month and that I got the right things for you. there wasn't a very good selection, I'm afraid.

With love,

Meg

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(In a later letter Meg announced that she was engaged to an American captain and would be leaving for the USA to be married).

 

The majority of research and images courtesy of Philippa Quesnel (niece).

 

 

 

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