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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. J R Toombs

John Richard Toombs, known throughout his service as Jack, was born on 29th September 1919 in Southend-on-Sea and joined the RAFVR in April 1939 as an Airman u/t WOp/AG.

Called up on 1st September 1939, he completed his training and joined 236 Squadron at St. Eval in August 1940.

 

 

His first operational sortie with 236 was made on 24th August. All Toombs’ sorties during the Battle of Britain period were made with the same crew, P/O AL van Waeyenberghe, pilot, and Sgt. JR Thompson, observer. These two men were lost on 10th March 1941, serving with 272 Squadron, when their Blenheim was lost without trace on a sortie from Northern Ireland.

Returning from a sortie to Brest, Toombs fired a Verey pistol at two Me109s, attacking his aircraft. It seems that one pulled up sharply and collided with the other. Toombs watched one go down but did not see what happened to the second.

At some time, probably after the Battle of Britain, Toombs and van Wayenberghe were attached briefly to 264 Squadron, flying non-operationally. They rejoined 236 at their own request.

In 1941 Toombs was posted to 7 Squadron, operating in Stirlings from Oakington. He flew as a rear gunner.

 

 

 

 

He completed his tour and later did a second tour, again as a rear gunner, this time with a Lancaster squadron of the Pathfinder force. He was commissioned in July 1944.

 

 

Toombs was released from the RAF in 1946 as a Flight Lieutenant. He went to Ceylon and Sumatra, working in rubber plantations and on jungle clearing.

After returning to England, he is believed to have later rejoined the RAF and served with the Traffic Branch, retiring in 1974.

Toombs died on 11th December 2006.

 

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On 8th June 2005, sixty five years after flying innumerable missions over Europe with Fighter, Coastal and Bomber Commands Jack Toombs set foot on continental Europe for the very first time.

The monument committee had been contacted by the family of Arthur Albert Leopold van Waeyenberghe, a Belgian pilot with 236 Squadron in the Battle. His name was incorrectly spelled on the list and we rapidly put this right. Further exchanges ensued as the family in Belgium had heard nothing from Arthur following his escape to England in June 1940. He was killed in 1941 and after the war his personal effects were returned to the family.

Knowing that Jack was van Waeyenberghe's gunner on all his Battle sorties, we mentioned that he was thankfully still with us to the family. They were delighted as they immediately recognised the name Toombs as it appeared in Arthur's logbook so many times.

So keen were they to have first-hand information on Arthur's time in England that the next step was to arrange a visit by Jack. Monument volunteer Gerry Burke rose at 2am on the 8th to collect Jack and RV'd with myself (Edward McManus of the committee) at 5am, the three of us headed for Folkestone and Eurotunnel. Incredibly this was Jack's first non-flying trip across the Channel. From Calais we headed North to the town of Wenduine, past Ostend, where the family owned a café/bar. Before Jack has exited the car the extended family had issued forth and greeted him as a long-lost friend, this would set the tone for our visit with overwhelming hospitality and friendliness. Our hosts all spoke English except for Arthur's brother Ghisleen and as the day drew on even he dredged up long forgotten phrases from his time as a mascot of a Royal Engineers tank repair workshop set up near his home in 1944.

 

Jack, holding Arthur's logbook, flanked by Arthur's brother Ghisleen and sister Christine.

 

Jack, wearing his new medal, with Arthur's brother Ghisleen.

 

The family had been sent a report of the investigation into Arthur's loss, he was flying from Aldergrove in Northern Ireland in a two-Blenheim formation in very poor visibility. No radio transmission was made, the flight just disappeared with no wreckage found on land or sea, the conclusion was a mid-air collision over the sea between the two aircraft. Arthur is of course remembered on the Runnymede Memorial but following Belgian practice has a 'memorial grave' at the Air Force plot in Brussels Town Cemetery.

Ghisleen is an official of the Belgian equivalent of the British Legion and had obtained clearance to present Jack with a medal issued to returning veterans to commemorate the Liberation. Jack was visibly moved, this enhanced by Ghisleen's resemblance to his older brother.

 

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Below: Jack at the monument unveiling 18th September 2005.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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