Paula’s tribute to father’s fallen comrade
He was laid to rest by his wartime comrades more than 70 years ago. But the tragic death of a young airman has been remembered in Lowestoft Cemetery.
Sgt Maurice “Jack” Waller, from Oulton, was killed when an RAF Havoc nightfighter, in which he was an observer, was shot down over the North Sea off the Essex coast on June 3, 1942.
The Havoc’s pilot, his close friend Flt Sgt Tommy Gibbs, escaped with his life after the plane was hit and ditched into the sea in what is strongly believed to have been a “friendly-fire” incident.
However, due to his injuries, he was unable to attend the funeral at the cemetery and never visited his grave.
Knowing how sad her father was at being unable to attend the service, Mr Gibbs’ daughter Paula Masters travelled to Lowestoft from her home in Hertfordshire 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 war medals and wartime log when she began going through his possessions following his death at the age of 90 in 2011.
Also among his treasured items were photographs of Sgt Waller, she said, and seeing these convinced her it was time to pay final respects to her father’s friend in 85 Squadron.
Mrs Masters, a retired English teacher from Radlett, said: “I was desperately trying not to cry. I think my father would have been pleased I came here. They were very close and socialised together all the time. Being in a nightfighter was a tough job and they would have shared a strong bond.”
Although no official inquiry took place into the how the Havoc was shot down at 12,500ft, it is strongly believed that it was hit by another RAF nightfighter in what proved to be a tragic error.
Flt Sgt Gibbs managed to escape the stricken Havoc by standing in the cockpit and then rolling down the fuselage. After bailing 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 cuts and bruises to his head.
The body of Sgt Waller, who lived at The Hall in Gorleston Road and was member of the RAF’s volunteer reserve force, was picked up from the sea near the mouth of the River Crouch five hours after being shot down.
At his funeral in Lowestoft Cemetery, his coffin was draped in a union flag and carried by four RAF pall bearers. He is buried in the same plot as his parents, Stanley and Alice, and sister Phyllis, who died aged 74 in 1990.
An inscription on his gravestone says: “Always thoughtful, always kind, a beautiful memory left behind.”
Flt Sgt Gibbs returned to the war to fly Mosquitos and after the conflict he became a commercial airline pilot.
The 85 Squadron, which was based at RAF Hunsdon in Hertfordshire, a few miles north of Harlow, was the only Royal Air Force unit to operate Havocs in the nightfighter role between 1941 and 1942.