Thursday, July 11, 2013
He fought tirelessly for his country during the second world war, flying perilous missions over German soil and risking life and limb to carry out his duty as a RAF pilot.
But for 97-year-old Wing Commander Ken Wallis, it has taken a lifetime to receive public recognition.
The great-grandfather, whose passion for planes led him to cheat in an eye test and fly every night to drop two tonnes of bombs on German targets, said finally being awarded his Bomber Command medal was “long over-due”.
After two Norfolk war heroes received their Arctic Stars earlier this month, the Wellington Bomber pilot from Reymerston, near Dereham, has – after 71-years – been acknowledged for his time in the 103 Squadron based at RAF Elsham Wolds, in North Lincolnshire.
“It’s a bit late”, he said. “There were 56,000 who were killed in Bomber Command and when we finished the operations we thought we would get medals, but it was a terrible disappointment when we didn’t.”
Wing Cmdr Wallis said because the chief, Bomber Harris, changed the strategy from military targets to cities, they were seen as “villains”.
“They thought we were bombing these poor innocent Germans, but there was never a moment of pleasure when we did it,” he said. “None of us wanted to do the job – we were asked to volunteer, and when no one did, I found myself up for it.”
He said during his 28 raids across Germany the main focus was to make sure the bombs had been dropped.
“All you had to do was to get back. You didn’t think at all what those bombs were doing to those people who were on the ground.”
Wing Cmdr Wallis applied to join the RAF’s volunteer reserve service, but after being turned down because of poor sight in his right eye, he got a private flying licence after his GP failed to check his eyesight.
Before heading out on bomber command the 25-year-old cheated his optician in his final eye test by reading the letters back with his “good” eye.
On one of his nine hour missions, the pilot and his team of six men and two tonnes of bombs, carried out the first and third raids on Rostock in north eastern Germany.
He said crews at the base in those days would all know that at least five or six of them would not return after a raid. “We had arrangements. If you didn’t come back then your bacon and eggs the next morning would be given to someone else.”
After one of the raids Wing Cmdr Wallis baled out of the plane in thick fog which compressed his spine on landing. For this he was awarded a gold braid, known as a wound stripe, on his left arm.
After he left the RAF in 1964, he became well-known in the aviation world when he flew as James Bond’s stunt double in You Only Live Twice in his autogyro Little Nellie.
He was made an MBE in 1996 and between 1968 and 2002 he set 34 world records for speed, circuit and altitude feats, many of which still stand – including the 129mph top speed recorded for a 3km flight in the tiny rotor-powered aircraft.