by Charles Page
John Ion and his younger sister Norma had always been close, but now he was leaving for the war, walking up the street with his rucksack on his back. He turned around for a final wave before boarding the trolley bus for Perth and a fate unknown. Yet, Norma and her family always thought he would return home one day.
John Parr Ion was born on 21 July 1924 in Claremont Western Australia the only son of Thomas and Olive Ion. He did well at South Perth State School, and Perth Boys School, enjoyed his football and cricket, and passed his Junior Certificate in 1940. After leaving school he worked as a cashier at Phoenix Assurance, and attended night school at City Commercial College.
With the Air Force in mind, John joined Air Training Corps 75 Squadron, Perth on 9 April 1942. This gave him a useful grounding for RAAF aircrew training, and after enlisting on 6 October 1942, he was posted to No.4 Initial Training School, Victor Harbor: ‘The people of Adelaide were grand to us, especially the girls, and boy I can tell you there are some beauties’.
John had hoped to train as a pilot, but on 10 December 1942 he was posted to No.1 Wireless Air Gunners School, Ballarat. There he trained on the CAC Wackett and the DC-2, and after months of ‘dit dah’ tapping practice, passed the remorseless Morse tests: ‘When I left Perth, I didn’t know what I was in for’.
John completed his training at No.3 Bombing and Gunnery School, West Sale, where the syllabus included ‘musketry’, though he did fly sorties in Fairey Battles, firing colour tipped bullets at towed drogues. He gained his Air Gunner brevet on 24 June 1943, and was qualified as a wireless operator air gunner.
Like many newly qualified aircrew, John was bound for Bomber Command, and on 11 August 1943, he sailed from Sydney to the UK. After disembarking on 9 October 1943, he proceeded to 11 PDRC, Brighton, the holding base for newly arrived aircrew. He was granted two weeks leave and there was time for some sightseeing in London, the Boomerang Club, dances and cosy English pubs. But soon he was posted to No.9 (Observers) Advanced Flying Unit at RAF Llandwrog, Wales, where he received gunnery practice in Browning and Vickers machine guns, and airborne gunnery in Avro Ansons. He was getting closer to the war now, and the heavy losses in Bomber Command were common knowledge at the training schools. His next posting, on 14 March 1944, was to 27 Operational Training Unit at RAF Lichfield, Staffordshire, where he and his new crew trained on Wellington (Wimpeys) bombers.
On 8 June 1944, John and his crew progressed to No 1656 Heavy Conversion Unit and No.1 Lancaster Finishing School at Lindholme, Yorkshire. Finally, on 13 August 1944, after nearly two years of training, John and crew were posted to 460 Squadron (RAAF) at Binbrook, Lincolnshire. This squadron had an excellent record, but the heaviest of losses, and their stay was to be measured in days.
At 1303 hrs on 31 August 1944, John and his crew took off from Binbrook, in Lancaster PS176 (squadron code AR-M) to bomb a V2 dump at Raimbert, France. They were one of 17 aircraft taking part from the squadron, and loaded with 12 x 1000lb bombs and 4 x 500lb bombs. They were the only Lancaster from the squadron not to return, and it was later assumed that the aircraft had come down in the North Sea.
The crew of Lancaster PS176 were presumed killed: P/O L J Grey (pilot), Flt Sgt W E Hathaway (navigator), Flt Sgt R Coates (bomb aimer), Sgt R Tomkinson (flight engineer), Sgt R R C Morris (mid upper gunner), W/O R Le Gay Brereton (tail gunner), and Flt Sgt J P Ion (wireless operator).
John’s personal effects were sent to his family, and as for nearly all aircrew, his casualty file showed the usual flurry of letters concerning the disposal of his bicycle. His family were later sent his war medals.
The body of Sergeant Tomkinson was washed ashore at Domburg on the island of Walcheren, and buried in the Noord cemetery, Flushing. Then on 3 October 1944, the body of Flight Sergeant John Ion was washed ashore nearby at Colijnsplatt on Noord Beveland Island, in the south of Holland. John was identified by his identity disc and buried in the Colijnsplatt cemetery. His grave (No.1) is one of two Commonwealth War Graves in the cemetery. The bodies of the other five crew members were never recovered, and are commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing, Runnymede, England.
For years afterwards, locals including Ada de Lange-Timmerman from Colijnsplatt, placed flowers on John’s grave on his birthday, and the date he was killed, and on the Dutch Memorial Day of 4 May. Ada also regularly corresponded with John’s sisters, Marjorie and Norma. Then in 2004, on the 60th anniversary of John’s death, Ada visited the cemetery and, wrote to the sisters, ‘We here in Colijnsplatt shall think of John’.
Norma visited the grave in 1984, placed a rose next to the headstone, and brought a small stone back for her mother. Norma had fond memories of her brother and all the mischief they got up to: ‘More and more families received telegrams advising their loved ones had been killed or missing in action, but somehow we bathed in the belief this wouldn’t happen to us – but it did’.
NAA A9301, A705
Commonwealth War Graves