War hero and North Kesteven district councillor Geoffrey Whittle dies, aged 92

Coun Geoffrey Whittle with a picture of him with his 101 Squadron Bomber Command crew. EMN-160115-152000001
Coun Geoffrey Whittle with a picture of him with his 101 Squadron Bomber Command crew. EMN-160115-152000001

North Kesteven District Councillor Geoffrey Whittle has died.

A significant force behind the Bomber Command Memorial, it is has been announced that Coun Whittle, DFM, yesterday afternoon (Thursday, January 14), after a period of illness battling with cancer, aged 92.

Coun Geoffrey Whittle digging the first turf for the new Bomber Command memorial at Lincoln. EMN-160115-153928001

Coun Geoffrey Whittle digging the first turf for the new Bomber Command memorial at Lincoln. EMN-160115-153928001

According to an NKDC statement, he is being remembered as a ’true gentleman’ whose positive, spirited disposition and loyalty inspired everyone around him. He was one of the oldest ever councillors to have served in Britain.

He had served as a district councillor for North Kesteven’s Asbhy de la Launde and Cranwell Ward since 2007, having been most recently re-elected back in May 2015.

Immediately prior to this he had given 18 years to East Hampshire District Council which he chaired in 2000/2001.

As chairman of NKDC’s Performance and Resources Overview and Scrutiny Panel, Coun Whittle is said by the council to have played a key role at the heart of the council, ‘forensically scrutinising’ the performance and financial management of the organisation.

Chairman of the council, Coun Gill Ogden said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with Councillor Whittle’s family at this sad time. He was a very dedicated and loyal councillor, a true gentleman for whom we had the utmost respect. He was always so very modest of what he had achieved, very sharp in his mind and wit and always immaculately dressed; we were all very fond of him and will miss him greatly.”

Council Leader Coun Marion Brighton welcomed Coun Whittle into the local Conservative Group soon after his relocation from Hampshire to Ruskington, to be close to his family.

“We all enjoyed our time with him greatly as he always had such a positive disposition and such a wonderful eye for detail,” she said. “To all of us he displayed a marvellous loyalty to the council.

“As a group, a council and a district, we owe him so much; and as a nation too given his distinguished 19 year Royal Air Force career which included service with Bomber Command.

“I recall his passion and clarity when the planning application for the emerging International Bomber Command Memorial Centre came before us, that it should be built with some urgency so that the story of Bomber Command could be shared with future generations as fully as possible; this was typical of his wonderful spirit and charisma.”

She went on: “In addition to his dedication to residents as a local councilor, Coun Whittle also contributed to a number of committees and had chaired the licensing committee, performance and resources overview and scrutiny panel and the member/staff liaison panel.”

Following his dedicated Bomber Command service, with whom he flew 16 missions, aged just 19, while based in Lincolnshire at RAF Ludford Magna, he continued in the RAF, attended staff college and retired early in 1961. Finding that banking was not to his liking, he was drawn back and had a 26-year career with the NAAFI, 18 of them overseas, up to his ultimate retirement in 1988.

He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal in 1943 following an operation over Hanover from which the following citation was made: “Sergeant Whittle, with magnificent courage, continued to carry out his allotted task with complete disregard for his personal safety which was an inspiring example to all the crew. Sergeant Whittle, with magnificent skill and while working in extremely difficult conditions, navigated his damaged aircraft through thick cloud and heavy rain back to this country.”

The RAF was never far from his heart and he was a regular visitor to RAF Cranwell, which is in his ward and held was held in very high regard. He also carried out significant work on behalf of the International Bomber Command Memorial Trust over recent years.

A funeral service has been arranged for February 19, at 2pm, at All Saints’ Church, Ruskington.

A spokesman for the Lincolnshire Bomber Command Memorial Centre project, gave this tribute: “Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.

“Geoffrey has been a staunch supporter of the IBCC since the launch of the project in 2013 and his contribution has been of tremendous value. At the project’s turf cutting ceremony in August 2014 he cut the first turf and spent over an hour doing media interviews despite the unseasonal, rather chilly weather.

“Geoffrey, in his role as District Councillor, spoke passionately to the Planning Committee about why the IBCC was so important and certainly helped smooth the way for the necessary permissions.

“He has helped raise funds for the project both through his widespread network and directly by performing talks at IBCC events and joining the signing events held at the Petwood Hotel, Woodhall Spa in 2015.

“In October 2015 Geoffrey attended the unveiling of the Memorial along with 311 other veterans. He was extremely proud to have been involved and managed to catch up with friends old and new.

“Above all Geoffrey has been a great friend and advisor to the team throughout the last three years. His energy, stoicism and great humour were attributes that we all admired and he will be missed terribly by us all.”

○ In the midst of the Second World War, as a young 18-year-old, Coun Whittle volunteered for aircrew duties in the Royal Air Force and was accepted for training as an Observer. Called up in March 1942 he undertook all of his training, which was brief to say the least, in the United Kingdom. The flying aspect of training was undertaken in Scotland during the months of November 1942 - February 1943, not in the best weather conditions but a very good introduction to things to come.

Passing out at a wings parade on March 1, 1943 he left that evening for his Operational Training Unit, which started the following day. There he crewed up with his pilot and converted to the Wellington aircraft. That was followed by conversion to the Lancaster at Lindholm in Yorkshire. It was at Lindholm that the full crew complement was made up.

At the end of training in June the crew was posted to 101 Squadron based at Ludford Magna, also known as Mudford Lagna during wet weather, a wartime airfield near to Louth. As a crew their first operation was a minelaying sortie to La Rochelle and their first attack on Germany was to Cologne.

As part of Bomber Command the crew took part in operations against Berlin, Nuremberg, Turin and Peenemunde, the German flying bomb research establishment, which put back the German flying bomb attacks on the UK by several months.

On September 27, 1943 on an operation to Hanover the crew were awarded a unique set of awards for a single mission: two Conspicuous Gallantry Medals, one Distinguished Flying Cross and four Distinguished Flying Medals.

The following excerpt comes from the 101 Squadron archives and was taken from the London Gazette:

Sgt. Geoffrey Gordon Whittle - D.F.M. Commendation (from Tavender’s DFM Register) London Gazette: 5/11/43. Sorties 15, Flying Hours 107.20. Navigator. Air 2/5011.

This N.C.O. was the Navigator of a Lancaster aircraft that was seriously damaged over the target when attacking Hanover on the night of September 27/28, 1943. The aircraft caught fire inside the fuselage and the D.R. compass was wrecked by cannon shells and all intercommunications with other members of the crew failed. The situation became critical when one engine caught fire and the trimming cables had been burnt through. All the while, Sergeant Whittle, with magnificent courage, continued to carry out his allotted task with complete disregard for his personal safety which was an inspiring example to all the crew. Sergeant Whittle, with magnificent skill and while working in extremely difficult conditions, navigated his damaged aircraft through thick cloud and heavy rain back to this country. This N.C.O. has carried out 15 very successful sorties and has always set a splendid example by his determination and cheerful confidence on the above occasion, his co-operation, coolness and devotion to duty contributed in no small measure to the successful completion of this operational flight. He is strongly recommended for the Immediate award of the Distinguished Flying Medal.

Remarks By Station Commander:

“As Navigator of this severely crippled Lancaster aircraft, Sergeant Whittle demonstrated determination and calm courage worthy of the highest praise. Undeterred by the perilous situation prevailing and in full knowledge that an abandonment of the aircraft might become necessary at any moment, Sergeant Whittle continued to coolly concentrate on his navigational problems without thought for his personal safety and displaying a commendable disregard for danger. By his skill and efficiency as a Navigator, by his whole hearted co-operation with his Captain and other members of the crew whilst passing through a thickly infested enemy fighter region, Sergeant Whittle undoubtedly added a magnificent contribution towards the safe arrival back in this country of his aircraft. Sergeant Whittle throughout his operational tour has shown constant courage, determination and tenacity of a high order. I strongly recommend his unconquerable spirit be rewarded by an award of the Distinguished Flying Medal.

Unfortunately, during this operation Coun Whittle suffered a perforated eardrum and was hospitalised. On their 19th trip flying with a replacement navigator the crew was shot down and five of the crew were killed, The Pilot and Wireless Operator survived and became POWs.

After six months ground duty Coun Whittle returned to flying, but now at lower altitudes, as part of the Air Sea Rescue Service before being earmarked for the Tiger Force scheduled to go to the Far East (which never materialised due to the war ending). In the years after the war with his full flying category restored he saw service in Aden, Egypt and Germany in a variety of roles.

He attended the RAF Staff College at Bracknell and was then posted to Fighter Command HQ at Bentley Priory from where he took early retirement in the rank of Squadron Leader. He initially went into banking but decided the life was not to his liking so he joined NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes) as a Trainee District Manager. During his 26 years with the Corporation he spent 18 years overseas serving in places like Cyprus, Libya, Singapore, Berlin and the Maldives island of Gan, and visiting several other countries like Nepal and India. Rising through the ‘ranks’ his final appointment was as a Departmental Manager at NAAFI Headquarters in London from where he retired in 1988.