'Guy Gibson just couldn't resist getting himself into trouble again'

Guy Gibson was a controversial figure, in life and death. The manner of his aircraft being downed was surrounded in controversy. Although not a member of 630 Squadron or based at East Kirkby, Gibson did once visit East Kirkby, and in doing so he did not make himself very popular with the crew of 630 Squadron.

Harry Parkins told the story of that visit to the Lincolnshire Echo, one of a series of articles published by the Echo on Guy Gibson.

It was a tale told in a pub in 1944 and has stayed a dark secret for 60 years - but a Lincolnshire veteran today said he knows the real truth about how Guy Gibson died.

Former flight engineer Harry Parkins was told the story in strictest confidence by a friend who flew Lancaster bombers with the Dambusters hero.

Mr Parkins kept his secret for more than six decades - until an article in Monday's Echo prompted him to tell his story. [see Dambusters' Legend Death: The Cover-Up]

Mr Parkins (82), who lives in Washingborough, was a flight engineer on Lancasters flying from RAF East Kirkby.

And he was good friends with an engineer who flew from RAF East Kirkby.

"I remember it was about three months before Gibson died, we were all in the pub and my friend was noticeably very upset," he said.

"We asked him what was wrong and he said on their latest bombing sortie he and his pilot were joined at the last minute by a wing commander who insisted that he fly with them, but they should tell nobody about it."

The mysterious Wing Commander turned out to be Guy Gibson, who was officially banned from flying after the Dambusters raids.

"He flew with them over Germany and my mate said he was a nightmare," remembered Mr Parkins.

"He criticised everything, and after they dropped their bombs he insisted that they keep circling over the target, in spite of the ack-ack gunfire and the enemy fighters flying towards them.

"I don't think my mate had ever been so scared and he told me he was convinced he was going to die.

"But they got home safe and Gibson made them swear they would never tell anybody he was there."

Mr Parkins said Gibson was killed just three months later.

Official records suggest he died after mechanical problems with a Mosquito plane he was flying over Holland on September 19, 1944.

But a different story was circulated in the pubs around Scampton immediately after Gibson's death.

"The story was told by people who had been in that 'nightmare' squad with Gibson," said Mr Parkins.

"What they heard was that Gibson just couldn't resist getting into trouble again when he was flying the Mosquito.

"Apparently as he flew back toward Britain he saw a train and, as he was convinced it was carrying ammunition, he decided to fly low and machine gun it.

"A German guard shot back and Gibson was so low that he was hit in the fuel tank and the plane crashed in flames."

In Monday's Echo local historian Derek Brammer said he believed that Gibson was playfully "dive bombing" at a Lancaster bomber when a crewman accidentally shot him down.

But Dambusters historian Jim Shortland believes that because Gibson was unfamiliar with Mosquitoes, he may have simply forgotten to flip the switch that turned on the second petrol tank.

"These theories are all interesting, but you need to have proof to go with them," he said.

Note: This article was originally published in the Lincolnshire Echo on Thursday 19 October 2006 as 'Guy Gibson just couldn't resist getting himself into trouble again'. Errors in the original article have been corrected.

Lincolnshire ~ RAF East Kirkby ~ 630 Squadron ~ Dambusters
(c) Keith Parkins 2006 -- October 2006 rev 0