No doubt all too keen to take the controls, Billy flew his first operational mission on 31st August 1941, three weeks before his 21st birthday. Flying AE 257X, this was to be the aircraft he flew for the rest of his time on the Squadron. His crew were to fly regularly together for these sorties, comprising Sergeants Schafheitlin (navigator, from Canada), Austin (radio operator) and Hughes (rear gunner). His first two missions were ‘gardening’, followed by missions in September bombing the docks at Boulogne (on his 21st Birthday) and the cities of Hamburg and Frankfurt. During September the Squadron was given the title ‘Rhodesia’ Squadron, recognising the large number of Rhodesian aviators who were then on the squadron strength. One such individual was Sergeant Moore whose account of Billy’s mission on 15th September to Hamburg neatly pierces the typically anodyne mission reports which are found in the Squadron’s Operations Record Book and vividly describes what sorties were really like. He writes:
“…and so I duly arrived at Waddington. I was on ops that very night with Budd, target Hamburg, having never previously flown Hampden! Naturally all sorts of trouble not the least of which was that I was desperately cold and had the greatest difficulty getting the best out of the hot air pipe. At that time it was becoming apparent that they were using a blue coloured master searchlight which was probably radar directed. Over the target one caught us and we were quickly coned. Our prompt evasive action with a full bomb load on board ended up in a spin and we came haring down. It went on and on and we thought about baling out, but with the swing of the spin and the ‘g’ forces, I couldn’t get the escape hatch open. The ‘g’ forces that accompanied the subsequent pull out were something terrific. After that we pushed off at low level. All sorts of flak and everything else had a go at us, it was safer than being higher up. For my part I thought it was absolutely terrifying.”
Also on the Squadron was Pilot Officer Henry Maudslay. He was to become a Squadron Leader and would take part in the famous dambuster mission - his aircraft crashed over the Sorpe damn, with no survivors. His name can be seen in the Waddington Raid book. Following sorties to bomb the Krups factory at Essen on 10th October, and the chemical factory at Huls on the 12th, Billy’s crew took off on 21st October at 6.35pm as part of a sortie totalling 153 aircraft, their target Bremen. The entry in the Squadron Operations Record Book is typically brief in detailing an all too frequent occurrence: P/O Budd failed to return from his operation. P/O Budd took off at 18.35 hours and thereafter nothing was heard from this aircraft and the whole crew, as under, were posted “missing”.
Pilot P/O W.H. Budd
Observer No. R.65153. Sgt. D. Schafheitlin
WO/AG No. 910543. T/Sgt. W.E. Austin
Rear Gunner No. 929395. T/Sgt. M.J. Hughes
Although the exact fate of AE257 is not known, it is believed that the aircraft was shot down over the North Sea. Billy’s body was initially buried at Wilhelmshaven (which would have been along either the approach path to or exit route from the bombing site at Bremen) having been washed ashore. Following confimration of his identity by his mother after the war, Billy was eventually buried at Sage War Cemetery 30 miles West of Bremen. Sgt Hughes is buried at Becklingen War Cemetery, some 70 miles East of Bremen. Sgt’s Schafheitlin and Austin are commemorated at the RAF memorial at Runnymede (near Windsor, England), where those without graves are remembered. With 2 identified bodies, and 2 more either unidentified (and in graves marked ‘unknown’) or never found, it remains the most likely scenario at Billy and his crew were indeed shot down over the North Sea. The Waddington Station Raid book records Billy’s flight and scores it through with a red pen, denoting another crew lost in action. Billy’s mother Lil, by this time 48 years of age, never visited the grave, but as a child in the early 1970s I remember being taken to the Sage War Cemetery by my father (who was serving in Germany with the Army at the time) to take a photograph for her.
AE257-X, almost certainly Billy at the controls
Waddington Raid Book scores through Billy's last mission
Sgt Donald Schafheitlin RCAF, Observer