Mosquito night intruder equipped with airborne Radar
On the night of 26/27 November 1944, two airmen were preparing for an Intruder Operation over Germany. Nothing would have suggested this was different to any other, except these were experienced men who knew every operation depended, not just on their flying and navigational skills, but also the cunning cat-and-mouse games of the enemy. It was well known that Mosquitoes were both hated and envied by the Germans with their speed and agility. Small wooden crafts, yet with such extraordinary powers! Shooting one down was worth two points instead of one ... as long as the German who did the shooting lived to tell the tale!
Official Records show this Mosquito and its crew were accompanying bombers on a raid to Munich, with instructions to call at RAF Ford on its return journey home. They would therefore have been flying high above the bombers, acting as their Guardian Angels, tasked with identifying and jamming enemy Radar. The Mosquito had a two-man crew. The Pilot sitting to the left, his seat slightly forward of his companion's; would focus on keeping a steady course through the darkness. The Navigator was also a Special Operator and in the tight cramped space next to his Pilot would be using on-board vital and very secret equipment to confuse the Germans.
This was one of many Operations they had flown together. They were at ease in one another's company, although for the duration of this night mission they would be on high alert, tense, focused, eager for it to be over.
Both airmen were based at RAF Foulshan, Norfolk, England, and part of the lead 192 Squadron of RAF 100 Group under Bomber Command. As such, they flew in all weathers, with information gained being given direct to Bletchley Park on their return.
Canadian Pilot Jack Glen Millan Fisher
Jack Fisher was a Pilot Officer with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Born on 30 August 1923 on a farm homestead in Canada, Jack was eldest and the only boy of seven children. His father had served in World War One in France and Belgium. His youngest sister recalls:
'Jack was a good son, the apple of his Mum's eye; with a bit of an adventurous streak, like trying to ride a bull as soon as our parents were gone, or attempting to ride the unbroken stallions. And of course, with six younger sisters, he was a big tease!'
Jack was always scribbling little rhymes and verses in his school notebook and liked to read. Determined to finish High School, he took several jobs to qualify. His first job after Graduation was with the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act, a Government Agency to improve farming methods and ways. He joined the RCAF as soon as he could in 1940 in Regina, Saskatchewan; the same day his father rejoined the Army. Jack loved every minute of his Air Force training in Ontario
'I remember Jack coming home on Leave when I was about ten years old and he would come to school with me in his Pilot's uniform, holding my hand'
remembers sister Audrey.
Jack joined 192 Squadron, RAF 100 Group, under Bomber Command, in August 1944, based at RAF Foulsham, Norfolk. He was just 21 years old.
Navigator/Special Operator: Henry Victor Alexander Vinnell
'Vic' as he was known was a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserves.
In October 1943, as a Navigator, he moved to the RAF Base at Wheaton Aston, pending a further posting; and there met and fell in love with Nina Chessall at the Christmas Eve dance that year. Nina was a WAAF and worked as Secretary to Group Captain Browning, fondly known as 'Brownie'.
In the Spring of 1944, Vic was posted to 192 Squadron at RAF Foulsham, Norfolk, where he became part of RAF 100 Group - a Special Operations Unit aimed at seeking out and jamming enemy Radar and radio signals, flying above the bombers to mask their approach,
Every spare moment, Vic would write to his beloved Nina. He had met and stayed with her family, having none of his own, and there was huge excitement as they became engaged, looking forward to a wedding in Cheshire later that year, with Jack Fisher, his Pilot, taking the role of Best Man.
Vic was twenty-two years old.
Their Mosquito, numbered DK292, was known as 'N for Nina', which brought Vic great comfort in knowing that Nina was close to him, surrounding him with her love.
WAAF: Nina Chessall
Nina was born in Cheshire on 9 April 1918. Her parents were both firm Christian believers, and known as local Speakers who openly shared their faith. Nina was just six years old when her father unexpectedly died, leaving her bereft. They had been particularly close. Yet somehow, amidst her grief, she needed to find the strength to look after her mother who was ill, and also her two younger brothers. She was taken out of school for a year to spend time at home, her father's death continuing to deeply affect her. This became the first of what she referred to as her 'Desert Experiences' where she sought God as a solace and strength, feeling very desperate and alone. At such a tender age, it is understandable that death became her breaking point.
God was a living breathing entity, the core of family life. Prayer times were important. Grace was said before every meal. While her mother would play on the family organ, singing out the words:
'Nearer my God to Thee, nearer to Thee ...'
Her mother never married again, a firm believer that there was only one love meant in this life, and she went on to spend thirty-nine years as a widow. However, despite her grief and loneliness after losing her soulmate, she became a renowned Speaker, sharing her own experiences of faith.
During the year away from school, Nina read the Bible several times over, thirsting after the strength and love that would see her through this most difficult of times.
In 1939/40, Nina's two brothers went away to war. Their home was bombed. Living in rented accommodation, her mother's health rapidly deteriorated. Nina became her Carer, her one constant, until, in 1940, she joined the WAAFs and was posted away from home to RAF Wheaton Aston, Little Onn, Staffordshire, where she met Vic.
It was on Nina's 21st birthday in 1944, that she and Vic exchanged wedding vows at Blymhill Church, a small wayside chapel where they would often cycle, enjoying the daffodils splayed among the graves. As they stood alone in the darkness this particular evening, making their promises to one another, the clock outside chimed the hour ... 9 pm. Thereafter, that time became their trysting hour, a time when each would stand for moments, thinking of the other, praying to God to keep their loved one safe.
On 27 November 1944, Vic and Jack in Mosquito DK292 failed to return.
Nothing was heard from them since taking off from their base at Foulsham. Their names were up on the blackboard, and everyone was thinking of them, wondering what might have happened, dreading the worst.
On the day Mosquito DK292 and its occupants disappeared, Nina was unexpectedly posted to RAF Ludford Magna, Lincolnshire, another Station under Bomber Command. She had been asking for a transfer, hoping to reach RAF Foulsham. But this place was something else, and not at all what she had imagined. Stuck in the middle of nowhere, there were no telephones for her to ring Foulsham as had become the custom. She had to walk miles in the moonlight ... but then walk back, miserably wondering why no-one was saying why she couldn't speak to her fiance Vic.
This became the second 'Desert Experience' of Nina's life.
For weeks, time stood still.
She would gaze up at the moon when the clock turned to their trysting hour, wondering if he was looking at the same moon ... where he was, when he might return. He never spoke to her of his work. He had signed the Official Secrets Act. It made it impossible to share any of his operations and the work in which he was involved. She had no idea what RAF 100 Group was involved in, nor what made their work so special, so secret. Her mother had been rushed to hospital, and the post mounting on the front doormat underneath the letterbox included telegrams not yet read.
One week on from the date of that fateful Operation, Vic and Jack's names were scrubbed from the blackboard. No-one knew what had happened. There was still hope. But hope was fading fast. Their Squadron had the highest number of fatalities due to the extreme dangers of their work, especially in a Mosquito. It was a fast and agile machine.
But it was not infallible!
Official Document dated 1 December 1944
On the night of 26/27 November 2019, 75 years on, I wonder what Vic might have been thinking during those final moments of his life. Given they landed on a mined beach, it might have been so sudden that there was no time for reason or thought. I hope that is true! Vic had a morbid fear of death by fire ... But I have no doubt, in the event that there were precious moments, he would have been visualising his beloved Nina. Their wedding had been postponed from July 1944 because of her mother's illness. So they were both eager for their Big Day to arrive. It had been tricky, planning it for when both were on Leave, including Jack his Best Man. But the plans were in place. All it needed were for the two of them to make their dream a reality.
However, that final fateful mission on 26/27 November meant it could never be!
Nina wrote her feelings, her thoughts, on page after page after page. She had no idea whether Vic would ever read these pages, but it was all she could do. They needed an outlet, a release.
On the 60th Anniversary of Vic and Jack's deaths, I had my book published:
'Nina & Vic: A World War II Love Story'.
To mark their 75th Anniversary, in August this year my 30th book was published entitled:
'A Wing & A Prayer'.
This latest edition sheds new light, and the words of others, such as Phil James MBE who was there, serving in 192 Squadron with Vic and Jack at the time ... now Lifetime President of the RAF 100 Group Association.
It was a book which brought me so much peace in the writing of it I didn't want it to end ... but then, something very new and unexpected happened.
Jan, a Dutch researcher I'd written to previously, came through with a document dated 1946, which shows with absolute certainty the place where they landed on a mined beach on the coast of France:
1946 Document relating to Mosquito DK292 crash
Courtesy: Jan (The Netherlands)
They would have had some reason, probably engine trouble as had happened previously that year, definitely something wrong with the plane; to have landed on the coast of France. The one thing they wouldn't have known was that the beach was mined!
I am still convinced that someone must have heard the explosion. Perhaps a witness actually saw what happened from the window of their home? At least finally, after all these years, it provides an ending to the story of Vic and Jack ... and despite offering little comfort, ultimately shows where the two Merlin Mosquito engines might still lie, visible only at low tide:
Map showing location of crash-site as per 1946 document
Nina was my mother. She believed 'Love is Eternal'. There is no end. Finally, she is at peace, at rest, with all her questions answered. She knows the truth of what happened ... and in time, so will I when I join her in that 'Land of Far Beyond'.
Meanwhile, I needed to mark the 75th Anniversary to show these brave men are still remembered, sharing their story with a wider audience, speaking their names aloud that they are never ever forgotten.
Henry Victor Alexander Vinnell
Jack Glen Millan Fisher
Rest In Peace
WE WILL REMEMBER!