Bill Wiseman – Correspondence from his daughter Jan Newbury

David Heathcote writes: This correspondence records the progress daughter Jan Newbury makes in tracing the contribution her father, F/Lt William (Bill) Wiseman, made to the World War II effort. The moral for any other researchers is “Never give up!”

Jan Newbury posted the following request on the website:

My father, Bill Wiseman, went into Normandy – I believe on D-Day +3 – and set up an airfield. He was certainly part of 15082 according to his Air Ministry Form. I think he was F/Lt at this point. I believe he passed through Grandcamp, Issigny and St Lo, and eventually reached Paris at the Liberation. He served in 68 Squadron. If anyone has any reminiscence, records or information, my family and I would be very grateful to know. Thank you.

Peter Best, son of Norman Best, responded:

I have checked with all my notes, and cannot find the name Wiseman, but that does not mean he was not there as I have only about 30 names. I would love to see the service record to establish the dates when Bill Wiseman was seconded to 15082.

Reference to airfield may be slightly confused: The RAF did have airfield building teams, but that would not have been part of RADAR responsibilities. However, 15082 DID set up on the site of the St Laurent airfield that the American’s constructed on D-Day + 1 and beyond. I have a photo of this field with the RAF RADAR people there. It became known as airfield A-1 St Pierre-du-Mont/St-Lauren-sur-Mer. 15082 were still at this location on D-Day + 3.

Perhaps Bill Wiseman was one of the replacement officers who arrived to replace those who were injured. I think they arrived, with their equipment on D-Day + 3, because by D-Day + 4, the GCI was up and running and intercepting German planes.

Fascinating, and I hope we can glean more from Jan Newbury.

Jan replied:

Thank you for prompt response – I held out little hope so am very pleased. My father told us that this was the third attempt to land a team to set up an airfield because previous attempts failed. He said men were put into deep water and drowned or lost their equipment. (Editor: We believe it was vehicles that drowned. There is no record of any members of 15082 drowning – though for some it was a pretty near thing!) My father was stationed at Neatishead / Coltishall by the time I was born in 1942. We have returned there and I have a photo of him working. He became CO right at the end of the war.

I do have my father’s service record but there is no mention that I can discern of taking part in the invasion. He met a pilot who became a lifelong friend through directing him over the radio. His name was Johnny Surman, now sadly no longer with us. Names of fellow RAF members that are recorded are Norman (Jos) Josling and Mike (properly Percy) Allen, but I have no reason to think they were involved in D-Day. I have found reference to the St Laurent airfield on the internet but it seemed that the site was moved. Thanks again.

Les Dobinson, a member of 15082, commented:

06.30 on D+3 was when I landed and, as the attachment shows, it was later that day when the replacement Receiver truck for 15082 was landed from an LST. Depending upon his speciality, perhaps Flt Lt Bill Wiseman was accompanying it as a secondment to replace Flt Lt “Hoppy” Highfield (who was killed). In which case he could be one of the guys rubber necking in the photo! If so, Muir is the only hope for more gen; but if his memory for names and faces is anything like mine, it’s a vain hope.

As far as St Lo is concerned, from memory it wasn’t liberated until mid July after a long and very bloody battle. My memoires record that I, myself, visited an MSU in the neighbourhood of St Lo around that time; where a Yank (Black) labouring unit was setting up an airfield. My unit was then covering RAF operational units from our encampment east of Cherbourg, in the grounds of Chateau de la Brehoule, halfway between St Pierre Eglise and Barfleur. At that time, say 27.7.44, 15082 was shown to be located in a field midway between Hacqueville and Garanches-en-Vexin, at map reference 49˚16’N 1˚36ˈE, about halfway to Paris.

Remembering that, with the liberation of Paris, circa 20.8.44, 15082 was returned to Cherbourg for disbandment and repatriation, my first thought was that it was then that Bill Wiseman was reassigned from 15082 back to 68 Squadron (if it was then operating from the St Lo airfield!). However, 68 Squadron is not shown anywhere as being part of 2nd TAF. In fact, further research shows reveals its history, as follows:

No.68 Squadron was formed in January 1941 as a defensive night fighter squadron, and continued to perform that role until it was disbanded in April 1945.

No.68 Squadron was the last night-fighter squadron to be formed around the Bristol Blenheim IF, but although it formed in January 1941 the squadron didn’t begin operations until April, and in the following month it converted to the new Bristol Beaufighter. In the same month the squadron moved to East Anglia, and it would spend the next two years at Coltishall, mostly flying defensive patrols. This period was followed by three months spent in South Wales. In June 1944 the V-1 offensive began. Towards the end of the month No.68 Squadron moved back to East Anglia, where in the following month it converted to the de Havilland Mosquito to take part in the campaign against the flying bombs. When the Allied armies overran the V-1 launching areas the Germans attempted to carry the flying bombs into range under bombers, and No.68 Squadron concentrated on shooting down these launch aircraft. On 20 April 1945, with this threat defeated, the squadron was disbanded.

I think that’s about as far as I can go. I hope it helps.

Jan replied:

Thank you so much for this information, I am very grateful. I just wish I had quizzed my father during his lifetime but will now have another look at his diaries.

His record is (typically) on a large sheet in tiny writing and I fear it would not scan well… I have a “translation” made by the S/Ldr at Neatishead which might help…

My father seemed to be responsible for his men in Normandy because he told a tale about swapping a small tin of coffee for poultry with a local farmer in order to feed them. He was certainly directing pilots because he met Johnny Surman “over the air”.

It is so kind of you and Mr Dobinson to respond in this way and you have inspired me to make more of an effort! Thanks again.

Muir Adair, a member of 15082, wrote:

My recollections of D-Day started some 60 years after the fact and are therefore much more cloudy than those of Les Dobinson. I was much too busy paying off mortgages and educating kids. Your father’s name however, does ring a bell, and, as indicated elsewhere, may have been a replacement for Hoppy Highfield and therefore came ashore about D+3. “Setting up airfields” is a bit of a mystery. That was never a part of our mandate. The only thing that might tie the comment up, however, is, that for a few days, we were the only Brits ashore, were operational beside a landing strip being built, and were used as an unofficial post office by following troops.

References to Grandcamp and the liberation of Paris fits G15082’s track as well, but “68 Squadron” confuses the issue once again. Sorry.

Jan replied:

Thanks so much. I am sure it is I who am responsible for confusion. My father did not speak at length about his experiences and I am just grasping at the few references he did make. It is easy for recollections to come down over the years and get distorted. My father died more than 20 years ago and it is a regret that I am only now trying to make sense of the scraps of knowledge I do have. Do you wish me to scan and send his service record? With renewed thanks.

Jan added:

I shall get onto the scanning a.s.a.p… I have my father’s medals and quite a lot of photos, though nothing taken in France.

My parents met while they were both apprentices at Frederick Gorringe’s department store in Buckingham Palace Rd, London. My father was proud of his “As”, having been in the Auxiliary between 1932 and 1937 when they got married and I suspect my mother got fed up with the weekend and summer commitments! I have been told that, as a qualified pilot, he could have had some say in how he was deployed on the outbreak of war but did not use this privilege. He was at Drem for a time and there is a photo from Holyhead too. I think Max Aitken invited him to join his squadron when it formed. My father definitely went to Max’s funeral.

Although Johnny Surman could not remember where they were stationed in Normandy, he recalled the officers living in a house/small chateau while the men were in the orchard. I think it was not far from Bayeux.

I shall look again at the paperwork I have and come back to you, as I am most appreciative of your efforts. All good wishes.

More from Jan:

This is a holding reply to let you know what I am up to. I shall post some photocopies shortly. Meanwhile, you have inspired me to transcribe my father’s letters. I’ve typed nine pages which looks like about a quarter of the pile. They are largely loving support for my mother back in Horning (with me, aged two) plus lots about the food and other personal logistics. Obviously no place names, but lots of forenames of colleagues and amusing opinions about the “Yanks” with whom he was based.

This work may be of absolutely no interest to anyone else but I am happily undertaking it for the family.

An update from Jan:

Sorry about my terminology! I learned to type on a “sit up and beg” black typewriter in 1960… and have had to get to grips with electric then electronic typewriters and eventually a keyboard. The transcription is indeed a Word document.

So glad you think others may value what to me is certainly social history.

I shall be happy to send photocopies of selected letters as mentioned. He did use a pencil as well as a pen and when the latter failed he had to borrow someone else’s. Until he snaffled a table from “an ex-Hun camp”, he was resting on a piece of wood on his lap. He still managed to write frequently though.

I’ll get back on the task a.s.a.p.

Progress report from Jan:

Just thought I would send you a copy of the most recent letter. For these purposes I omit all the personal content meant for my mother – that’s where the dots appear. The words in brackets are mine. Am I wasting my time doing this for anyone other than close relatives, do you think? Best wishes, Jan.

On envelope arr. 9th. 13th written. FIELD POST OFFICE 7 JY 44

“Normandy No. 13 No change. July. 6. 44

(Letter opens with ref. to reading the Old Vicarage at Grantchester in an anthology)

…Have had no further letters since your No. 3 but we know there is a pile of mail for us at the Wing HQ which is now being fetched… Have just spent a cleansing hour having bathed, changed completely & washed some socks so am feeling grandly clean. It has been the most glorious day & I have only had my grey shorts & sandals on since getting up. My day’s programme has been:- Bed 5 a.m., up for a lunch of rhubarb & cereal at 1.15 p.m.; censoring 2 p.m. – 3.30 p.m. lying in the sun; 3.30 – 4.15 odds & sods in connection with paying the men; 4.30 tea, consisting of 1 large door-step of excellent white bread, butter, biscuits, jam & coffee; 5 p.m. – 6.30 p.m. bathing etc; a short read & here I am writing to you. In fact, my sweet, a lazy day but it is only making up for the last 3 which have been most busy & energetic. Ian came yesterday evening. He is very fit & sends his regards to you.

Bill (Trollope?) and Jerry (Nodes, I suspect) left me to cope after 2 am last night as they were off at 10.30 a.m. this morning to go up the Peninsular to a conference. It was the quietest night we have had. I don’t think Jerry, meaning the bloody Hun, liked the full moon.

If artillery preparation wins battles, the Yanks are well on the way to winning the present one going on to the South of us. The devastation beyond it must be frightful but they have got the right idea, to pulverise the Hun & not throw their own men’s lives away.

I put my tapes on my zipper jacket epaulettes yesterday evening, this should put an end to mis-identification as happened the other day when David & I were loading our luggage onto the lorry. We were both dressed in our khaki shirts & trousers & some remarks concerning the loading were passed by us when the driver suddenly remarked, “Blimey, you two talk like bloody officers”. This gave us a hell of a laugh but it was too good to let him share it. Many thanks for tape, my sweet, I had enough for David as well. He leaves us tomorrow to go to Dickie Black’s crowd but hopes to return here after a week or so in England first. The lucky guy…

P.S. I have just heard a rumour that Sandy (i.e. his body) was taken back to England but am continuing to endeavour to obtain pukka gen. Do you know at all?”

Jan wrote:

I have attached the document which I typed up. You will see that I have omitted much of the love and affection as this is both personal and boring to readers but I am content for the text to be posted as is. My daughter (50) and son (46) were fascinated, of course, but I hope others may dip in. I certainly enjoyed the task. Do let me know what action you are able to take. Thanks so much for your interest and involvement. Best wishes.

And again from Jan:

Thanks so much for your full and appreciative reply. I can certainly choose a page to represent the correspondence and shall do so a.s.a.p. You already have my father’s service record, a photograph and a couple of little bits of ephemera from his time in France. I’ll be back in touch very soon. Best wishes, Jan.

From Jan’s daughter, Tracy – Bill’s granddaughter:

I wanted to write to say a massive thank you for pulling together the story of my grandfather (Bill Wiseman, but known to my brother and I as ‘Coppa’) and the other men involved in this untold part of history.  My mother’s efforts have been superbly rewarded with inclusion in this informative website.  Although aware of a lot of Coppa’s time in the RAF, until my mother began transcribing his letters and digging deeper, I had zero understanding of this period of his life. It is fascinating, and I am truly grateful to both you and my mother for enabling Coppa’s tale to be available for my son and his children yet to come.

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