The Invincibles (Daily Mail 24th June 2002)

By Andrew Loudon

WELL might they call themselves The Invincibles.

The last time these six men were all together was 57 years ago as they flew bombing missions in the last days of the war. Not only did they come out of that experience unscathed, they have survived the rigours of peacetime and advancing years to achieve a remarkable reunion.

When pilot Tom Grossett put the last piece in the jigsaw recently, tracking down tail gunner Jimmy Spence in Australia, they took their place as the last complete RAF bomber crew from that era known to be still alive.

The crew in May 1945 and together again in June 2002

In an American-made Martin B-26 Marauder, the crew flew 13 missions over Yugoslavia in March and April 1945, bombing railway lines and German gun positions to help partisans. When the war ended they were quickly separated.

Decades on Mr Grossett, now 79, of Peotwyn, Cardiff, mounted one last mission - to bring his boys back together. He had a good start, having kept. in touch with navigator Rex Waller, 77, of Bruton, Somerset. and bomb aimer Maurice Webster, 78, of Southport, Merseyside.

In 1979 he tracked down mid-gunner Len Wilson, 78, to Ballasalla, Isle of Man, and wireless operator Bill Madeley, 77, to Barnsley, South Yorkshire. But Mr Spence remained elusive.

Two years ago Mr Grossett renewed his efforts.

Finally he advertised for him on a lost pals' page on Teletext and a Scottish caller rang to tell him Mr. Spence had emigrated to Australia in 1950. In September 2000 Mr Grossett placed a call, miscalculated the time difference and woke Mr Spence at 515am. It's your old skip,' he announced. Bloody hell,' came the reply. And so it was that all six men met again at a hotel near Manchester Airport at the weekend. Mr Spence, 79, from Tuncurry. 200 miles north of Sydney, sald: 'I am ecstatic. It is absolutely delightful to see all the lads again. I wasn't in hiding but when the war finished the squadron broke up so quickly we did not have time to swap addresses. I just got on with my life, working in the aircraft industry for 20 years and then in telecoms.

'A reunion never entered my head until the skip rang.

Equally thrilled was Mr Webster who said:
"We were a good crew then and we're still a good crew.
"We were friends as well as cornrades and knew we could all rely on each other. It is great to be back together like this."

The six first met at No. 70 Operational Tralning Unit at Shandur in Egypt where they learned about the hairy take-off and landing characteristics of the Marauder. Once assigned to 39 Squadron, they were based on the Adriatic coast of liberated Italy.

They survived all their missions without incident. The only thing. that ever hit them was a bundle of propaganda leaflets dropped from another bomber.

The bomber: Martin B-26 Marauder like the one Mr Grossett and his crew flew in the war.


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