Former St Albans teacher pays tribute to father’s wartime friend
- Credit: Nick Butcher
The tragic death of a young airman has been remembered by a former St Albans secondary school teacher over 70 years later.
Sgt Maurice “Jack” Waller, from Oulton, was killed when an RAF Havoc night fighter – in which he was an observer – was shot down over the North Sea off the Essex coast on June 3, 1942.
But the Havoc’s pilot, Sgt Waller’s close friend Flt Sgt Tommy Gibbs, escaped with his life after the plane was hit in what was believed to have been a “friendly fire” incident and ditched into the sea.
Unfortunately because of his injuries, Flt Sgt Gibbs was unable to attend Sgt Waller’s funeral, and by the time he died at the age of 90 in 2011, had never visited his friend’s grave.
However last Wednesday his daughter, Paula Masters, of Radlett, travelled up to Lowestoft Cemetery on behalf of her father, to remember Sgt Waller.
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Mrs Masters, who recently retired from Beaumont School where she taught English, said that knowing how sad her father was at being unable to attend the service had prompted her to visit the grave to pay tribute to his friend. After laying a cross and two photographs of the pair beside the headstone, she said: “There you are dad; I did it.”
Mrs Masters, 61, said she had been inspired to act after seeing her father’s medals and wartime flying log when she began going through his possessions following his death.
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Among his treasured items were photographs of Sgt Waller and seeing those convinced her it was time to pay final respects to her father’s friend in 85 Squadron.
Mrs Masters said: “I was desperately trying not to cry. I think my father would have been pleased I came here today. They were very close and socialised together all the time. Being in a night fighter was a tough job and they would have shared a strong bond.”
Although no official inquiry took place into how the Havoc was shot down at 12,500ft, it was strongly believed that it was accidentally hit by another RAF night fighter.
Flt Sgt Gibbs managed to escape by standing in the cockpit and then rolling down the fuselage. After baling out into the North Sea five miles from Foulness Point, he was picked up three hours later from a dinghy by a search and rescue Walrus plane. He suffered a broken wrist and cuts and bruises to his head.
Mrs Masters said he never spoke of his wartime experiences until he turned 85.