W/C A J Laird Craig – RAF Service Time Line
Wing Commander Alan John Laird Craig
Born 9th May 1923 – Leighton Buzzard
Alan’s RAF Record of Service states his date of Birth as 8th May 1922 but his Family claim he was born in the year 1923. Alan had misstated his real age to the RAF in order to Enlist early.
A posed Portrait photograph c.1945 aged 22 showing him in a detached and possibly Combat-stressed mood and choosing to smoke; then at the time much encouraged for stress relief – a term Lung-damaging cigarette.
Craig in his own Words:-
For myself, I have been called – to my constant embarrassment – the youngest Wing Commander in the RAF, but I assure you that the responsibilities which one had to assume during the War were not affected by age. The one thing my experiences during the conflict have brought me is that War has no place in Civilisation. I myself am convinced after the long and terrible years of the 1939-45 War that the words of General Stratemeyer (USAAF) – “Air Power is Peace Power“, are very true. They sum up perfectly what we Airmen think. To achieve this Air Power I feel we must work constantly to keep alive the high degree of Co-operation which the Allies built up during the War in the interests of friendship and peace.
Craig was 6ft-3ins tall and weighed 210 lbs at the age of 23 yrs.
“The contribution of an Aircrew member of Bomber Command who completed an Operational Tour – or died in the process – measured in terms of danger of death, both in intensity and duration – was, in my view, far greater than that of any other fighting man in the RAF, Navy or Army. The contribution of a Pathfinder, in the same terms of intensity and duration of danger – and indeed of responsibility – was at least twice that of other Bomber Command Crews. Great Britain and the Empire have, in the goodly time of 10 years since the end of the War, strangely failed to erect any Nelson’s Column in memory of Bomber Command, the most powerful Striking Force in all British History.” Don Bennett
The RAF Benevolent Fund is the Official Guardian of the Bomber Command Memorial, which stands in Green Park, London as a fitting tribute to the 55,573 Bomber Command Crewmen who lost their lives in WW2. Its aim is to preserve the Memorial for future generations so that the noble sacrifice of those who lost their lives in Bomber Command will always be remembered. The Memorial was officially unveiled by Her Majesty The Queen on 28 June 2012. A mere 67 years after the end of the hostilities
At the heart of the International Bomber Command Centre, Canwick Hill, Lincoln are the Memorial Spire and Walls of Names. Designed by Stephen Palmer of Place Architecture, the Spire is formed of 2 wing fragments, tapering as they rise towards the sky, separated by perforated supporting plates which make reference to lightweight wing structures. Sitting on the edge of Lincoln’s South Escarpment the Spire form echoes the Cathedral on the North escarpment, as well as the twin Church Spires that are a familiar form in the Lincolnshire landscape. The Spire is placed and orientated to turn visitors arriving from the Memorial Avenue and Chadwick Centre towards the Cathedral, creating a sense of being inside a virtual wing as the Cathedral is revealed across the Valley. Made using Corten Weathering Steel, the Memorial is 102ft (31.09m) high, the wingspan of the iconic Avro Lancaster Bomber, and the width at the base is 16ft (5m), the width of a Lancaster Wing. It is now recognised as the UK’s tallest War Memorial. Unveiled and dedicated on 2nd October 2015 – the unveiling was undertaken by the Rt Hon Lord Howe. Built 70 years after the War a period which spans the normal life expectancy of the average man – it arrived far too late for most Bomber Command Survivors and also equally late for their many Mourners.
Wing Commander A J L Craig’s RAF Timeline
RAF Cardington 24th September to 5th October 1940 Recruitment (Aged 17)
RAF Morecambe 5th October to 2nd November 1940 Tech Training
RAF Wattisham 2nd November to 9th November 1940 Bomber Station
RAF Babbacombe 9th November to 23rd November 1940 Air Crew Reception (Age 17)
RAF Newquay 23rd November to 9th March 1941 – Now RAF St Mawgan (Age 18)
Hatfield (RAF Panshanger) 9th March to 4th May 1941 EFTS De Havilland
RAF North Luffingham 15th May to 23rd May 1941 No.17 EFTS Rutland
RAF Kidlington 23rd May to 29th July 1941 No.15 SFTS
RAF Church Lawford 17th August to 16th October 1941 No.2 Central Flying School
RAF Little Rissington 19th October 1941 to 21st August 1942
No.6 SFTS-Flying School (Age 19) Flying Instructor – Average (On Posting)
RAF Cosford 3rd March to 25th March 1942 (3wks)
The RAF’s No 2 School of Technical Training – Cosford had 3,580 trainees consisting of Apprentices in the Trades of (Fitter) Engines, Airframes, Armourers, plus a significant number of Flight Mechanics & Flight Riggers. Cosford never housed any Operational Units during WW2, but the No.9 Maintenance Unit prepared large numbers of Spitfires, Wellington’s and later various Gliders (Horsa & Hadrian) for immediate issue to RAF squadrons. To deliver these Aircraft No.12 Ferry Pilots’ Pool of the Air Transport Auxiliary was formed here in July 1941. A major RAF Hospital was added to the site in 1940 and towards the end of the War it was decided that repatriated RAF PoWs would be processed through RAF Cosford. Nos 106 & 108 Personnel Reception Centres were established and over 13,000 ex-PoWs had passed through RAF Cosford by 23 August 1948 when the Units were eventually closed down. The Hospital continued to serve the RAF and the local Community until it closed in 1977.
RAF Upavon 6th May to 13th May 1942 No.30 BAT Course – Blind Approach Training
No.7 Flight Proficiency BA Pilot Average – Fit to Instruct 13th May 1942
During this time, Upavon became a Flying Training School. 1537 BAT Flight (Oxfords)
RAF No.5 PDC Padgate 22nd August to 13th September 1942 -3 wks (Personnel Despatch Centre)
USAT Queen Mary 13th September to 20th September 1942 Troopship Gourock to New York – 7 Days
Embarkation/Debarkation: Gourock, Scotland to New York, NY
Units on Board: Unknown – Secret
Convoy Number: None Known Source: S Harding – Gray Ghost: The RMS Queen Mary at War – (Fast Troopships needed no Destroyer Escorts)
RAF No.111 ‘C’ OTU Nassau 29th October 1942 to 28th September 1943 (11 Mths) Bahamas (Aged 20)
RAF PD, Moncton Canada 6th September to 21st October 1943 No.8 Service Flying Training School (Age 20) – No.31 Personnel Despatch Depot – Repatriation
USAT Aquitania 21st October to 30th October 1943 (9 Days) Troopship New York to Gourock
RAF PRC West Kirby 31st October to 1st November 1943 Basic Training Camp (In Transit)
RAF 14 OTU Market Harboro’ 16th November 1943 to 14th January 1944 Advanced Flying School (Age 21)
RAF No.31 Base Methwold 28th January to 3rd February 1944 Basic Crew Training
RAF 161 Sqdn Tempsford 3rd February to 8th March 1944 Special Operations – ‘Ascension’
RAF PFF NTU Warboys 14th March to 28th March 1944 (12 Days) PFF Training
There is a special Pathfinder School (NTU Upwood Special School). All new Crews, however, are sent on a special Navigational Course lasting 8-14 days at a Navigation Training Unit, where particularly experienced Instructors, who have already completed their Pathfinder Tours, Train the Crews in the Operation of the Special Equipment and put the final polish on their already good Navigational Training. New Pathfinder Crews fly Training Flights over Great Britain. These were usually made Southwest of the Cambridge area, the course being set for the Isle of Man. On the return Flight, a large City, such as Birmingham or Manchester is approached, dummy Bombing Run using H2S is carried out, and Target Photographs are brought back to the Home Base. Flights of this kind are flown to a strict Time Schedule, just as in the case of a large-scale Raid on Germany or the Occupied Western Territories, and are taken into consideration in the assessment of the Crews as Pathfinders. If on several occasions, the Schedule is not adhered to, the Crew is transferred to an Ordinary Bomber Squadron. (Luftwaffe report)
RAF 7 Sqdn PFF Oakington 28th March to 26th October 1944 (7 mths) Operations (Age 21)
RAF No.3 Group Exning 26th October 1944 to 24th April 1945 (6 Mths) Bomber Command HQ Suffolk.
RAF 156 Sqdn Upwood & Wyton 10th April to 15th September 1945 (5 Mths) PFF (Commanding Officer Age 22)
RAF 35 Sqdn Graveley 15th September 1945 to 17th September 1946 (12 Mths) PFF
RAF 35 Sqdn Stradishall 18th September 21st October 1946 (1 Mth) PFF (Aged 23)
AMU Assistant Air Attache 22nd October 1946 to 16th June 1948 (19 Months) Buenos Aries (Aged 25)
His award of the Air Force Cross was Gazetted on 1 January 1947 (Gazette No 37835 supplement to 31st December 1946) and he is given Rank as Squadron Leader.
Cited with Warrant Officer J E Davidson, awarded DFC.
RAF 236 OCU Kinloss 6th June 1948 to 3rd August 1950 (2yrs 2Mths) W/C & Chief Flying Instructor (Age 27)
S/L Craig also attended an OATS Course (Officers Advanced Training School) in the post-War Period at RAF Bircham Newton between March–May 1949 with No Flying undertaken during that Period. Technical Training Command took over this Station and it became the home of the Officers’ Advanced Training School (OATS), later to be renamed the Junior Command & Staff School (JCSS). In October 1948 the Station was transferred to Technical Training Command and became the School of Administration, with the Junior Command & Staff School and the Administrative Apprentice Training School (AATS) also being based here from the late 1950s until 1962.
The by far largest and most impressive structures on every Airfield are the Aircraft Hangars and RAF Bircham Newton is no exception. The Aerodrome’s 3 C-type Hangars, the largest hangar type ever constructed by the RAF, are still in place. Measuring 45 x 95 x 11 Metres (150 x 300 x 35ft) and designed to accommodate large Aircraft such as Heavy Bombers the C-type Hangars are perhaps the most famous of all hangars, and several variants in construction and appearance existed. The basic structure of these gigantic buildings comprises a Steel Shell, with steel stanchions supporting a Steel-framed Roof. The Hangars at RAF Bircham Newton are currently used for a variety of training projects for the Students of the Construction College, who have added their own Structures; such as a couple of very tall Chimneys which can be seen from quite some distance away.
Air Ministry, London ACAS (CR) OR161 3rd August 1950 to 22nd April 1953 (2 Yrs 8 Months)
Administration, Council of Advisory, Conciliation & Arbitration Service (ACAS)
Victory House, 21-32 Kingsway, London
Bomber Command HQ Knaphill OR Air Staff – 22nd April 1953 to 11th September 1955 (2 Yrs 6 Mths) – (Aged 32)
Bomber Command HQ High Wycombe began unexpectedly from a remark, at the Air Ministry in 1936, by Wing Commander Alan Oakeshott of Hughenden Village, during the discussions of a Permanent Site for the new Bomber Command HQ. The Site had to be in the South of England, in the Country and well screened by Trees.
No.3 Group Flying College Manby 12th September to 2nd December 1955 (3 Mths)
Air Warfare Joint Reconnaissance Centre
The UK’s National Strategic Imagery Intelligence Provider in the immediate Post-war years. One of its major tasks was the plotting and analysis of captured German Air Force Reconnaissance Photography. What had not been destroyed, or captured by the Soviet Forces, was discovered in several locations by the Allies and shipped back to the UK. The joint UK/US work on this Imagery provided unique Intelligence on the Soviet Union & Eastern Europe during the early Cold War years before the advent of Satellite Imagery.
Retirement from RAF Service.
Squadron Leader A J L Craig DSO, MBE, DFC, AFC (103561) (at own request), Retaining the rank of Wing Commander, 11th Apr. 1956 (Age 33)
Wing Commander A J Laird Craig DSO, MBE, DFC, AFC died on 9th June 1971 aged only 48 yrs from a heart-attack after being Hospitalised briefly with Double Pneumonia in a Leicester Clinic he was buried in the Graveyard of St Luke’s Church, adjacent to his then Family Residence at Gaddesby Hall an 18th-century brick-built house in the Village of Gaddesby, Leicestershire. A simple Headstone marks his grave. A further 2 Bells were added to the existing Church Ring in his Memory during 1972. Throughout During his RAF Career, Alan had been consistently and dutifully punctual in keeping with his Training & Discipline. After his 20 years in RAF Service, he felt he had spent far too many of those years being rigidly ruled by the Station & Cockpit Clock and therefore pretty much rejected the need for being so accurately on time. Thus the Family Group were often embarrassingly late at the regularly attended St Luke’s Church Services. This meant his Wife & Children embarrassingly walking the Gauntlet of accusing eyes past the more Polite & Punctual General Congregation in order to reach their allocated Front Pews by the Choir Screen, – duly dedicated for the much respected but less timely Owners of Gaddesby Hall as a matter of privilege. He was survived by his Widow Mary Stanley Laird Craig and his 2 sons Gavin Ernest and Adrian Joseph and his only daughter Diana.
A J L Craig’s Summary of his WW2 Operations –
Total – 73 Operations
(41 as Master Bomber) all dating from 9th Feb 1944 – Alan J Laird Craigs ‘ab initio‘ Training as a Pilot had begun in ~ 1941
We regret to report the passing of Flight Officer Mary Stanley Foister (nee Stanley-Smith) on the 5th of December, 2017 aged 96 years. The former Widow of Wing Commander & Pathfinder Alan John Laird-Craig, DSO DFC AFC MBE who died in 1972 in Leicester. Alan’s married Mary Stanley Smith at St Peter, Vere Street, Mayfair with a Reception at the Dorchester Hotel, Park Lane, London. They married in 1946, in the salubrious Mayfair District of London not far from the Pathfinder Club – just prior to his over 2-years Posting as Assistant Air Attache at the British Embassy in Buenos Aires.
Flight Officer, Mary Stanley Smith, WAAF, was the elder daughter of Mr & Mrs E(rnest) Smith, of Naphill, High Wycombe, Bucks; and they eventually had 2 sons, & 1 daughter. His eldest Son Gavin Ernest Laird Craig was born in an Argentinian Convent Hospital on 6th August 1947 – Compagnie de Santa Maria, Buenos Aires. Mary served in RAF Bomber Command, with the Rank of Flight Officer, where she was the Personal Assistant to Air Vice Marshal Richard Harrison, Air Marshal (later Air Chief Marshal) Sir Norman Bottomley and, for a short time to Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris. In 1946 she flew, (surreptitiously on the Flight Engineer’s ‘jump’ seat), in the Victory Flight of 35 Squadron’s white painted (Tiger Livery) Lancasters, led by her then-Fiancé Alan J Laird-Craig. She was in the No.2 Aircraft flown by Squadron Leader (later Air Marshal) Sir Michael Beetham. She was interviewed by Harry Bartlett of International Bomber Command (Memorial) Centre, Lincolnshire on the 23rd of November, 2017 and she had just celebrated her 96th Birthday on the 25th of November.