FLYING OFFICER WILLIAM WIGHAM DFC

Originally from Thornley Colliery, Co Durham, William Wigham, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross after completing two tours of duty with Bomber Command in 1941-44. As outlined in his DFC citation, this comprised no less than 58 combat missions and 308 operational flying hours.

During this period Bomber Command suffered horrendous losses which made it a statistical improbability at the very least for an airman to survive even one tour of duty. William Wigham was both very brave and extremely lucky to survive two tours. And, participating in many notable missions, including the first ‘1,000 Bomber Raid’, against Cologne, his career is virtually a history of Bomber Command in the middle years of the war.

I first came across his story by chance while researching DLI casualties in various local newspapers in 1998. The 1944 newspaper item from the Newcastle Journal reproduced on the previous page and at right was hugely intriguing. Here was a man, born in 1910, who left school at 14 well before the General Strike of 1926 and spent over 15 years working underground at Thornley Colliery. By now engaged to be married, he had just managed to get himself out of the pit and into a job with the local Co-op as an insurance salesman before the war saw him volunteering to fly with the RAF at the ripe old age of 30. By comparison most of the men he was flying with were barely out of their teens. What a wealth of wisdom, life experience and canny survival instinct he must have brought to them.

The bare outline of Wigham's career can be seen on his DFC citation. But there is still much more to discover about his war service, which is the main reason for putting these pages here.

Wigham flew with 101 Squadron as a Vickers Armstrong Wellington rear gunner in 1941-42 and then with 102 Squadron as a Handley Page Halifax rear gunner in 1943-44. But what about his pilots and fellow crewmen in 101 Squadron and 102 Squadron. Who were they and what happened to them?

In 2011 William Wigham's son Howard got in touch with me and has provided a copy of a truly fascinating photograph from 1941-42 featuring a large group of 101 Squadron aircrew in front of a Wellington bomber. Unlike so many wartime photographs this one has the names of all the airmen written on the back. Many of these men were later casualties. Howard has also provided photographs of his father’s 101 Squadron and 102 Squadron aircraft and crews. See the links at right.

So this section of the site is really an appeal to anyone who has further information on the men featured on these photograph to get in touch. There's a huge of hidden history here and it deserves to see the light of day again.

As ever with this kind of RAF research, I owe a huge debt to the monumental amount of detailed casualty information contained in the W R Chorley series of books Bomber Command Losses.

I have compared William Wigham's list of missions from his DFC citation with the listing of losses for 101 and 102 Squadrons in the Chorley books and, putting the two together, there is an overwhelming sense of just how terrible the Bomber Command loss rate was. This was a relentless war of attrition in which survival for Bomber Command aircrew was always more of a fond hope than a serious possibility. 102 Squadron even had a song on this theme:

'And when you come to 102
And think that you will get right through
There's many a **** who thought like you
It's foolish but it's fun.'

Much against the odds, William Wigham got 'right through'. The pages that follow just scratch the surface of his story. If you can add anything at all to it, please get in touch.


W Wigham DFC Newcastle Journal 1944

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William Wigham DFC, Documents, Photos and Draft Research:

A portrait photograph of William Wigham as a Sgt Air Gunner and a summary of his RAF service.

A 1942 photograph of a large group of 101 Squadron aircrew in front of Wellington IIII X3670, with all crew named. The caption is a work in progress.

William Wigham’s 1944 DFC Citation.

A 101 Squadron Wellington and its crew, 1941-42 including William Wigham.

Details of William Wigham’s 32 operational missions with 101 Squadron in 1941-42.

William Wigham on air gunner training duties in 1942-43 with a Whitley bomber and unidentified colleagues, possibly 19 OTU.

Details of William Wigham’s 26 operational missions with 102 Squadron in 1943-44.

102 Sq Halifax ‘Charley’s Aunt, and its crew,1943-44, including William Wigham.