‘The Mallon Crew’ is a heart-breaking account of the devastating impact of the war on one Lancaster bomber crew.
Vic Jay’s quest simply to find out what his father did in the war uncovered a series of tragedies that left him incredulous. Just as in any human story, though, amongst the tragedies there are amusing and heart-warming episodes.
Vic’s project started in 2012, when a brief taxi run in a Lancaster re-ignited his curiosity about his father’s relationship with that iconic aircraft.
Bob Jay, a flight engineer with No. 75(NZ) Squadron, had died in 1974 at the age of fifty five, leaving Vic with nothing more than his log book and the name of his pilot, Bill Mallon.
Nearly forty years later, he discovered the names of the rest of the crew and embarked on an incredible four year voyage of discovery. He used a variety of methods to trace their families, who then provided a remarkable collection of poems, drawings, photographs, and even the transcript of an interview given by Bill in 2004. There were also letters from the navigator to his wife and small children eleven thousand miles away, which provide a fascinating insight into the hopes and fears of a young man facing the biggest challenge of his life.
Drawing on personal knowledge and these valuable primary sources, Vic contrasts his father’s experiences, growing up in a fishing port in the north of England, with those of Bill, in rural New Zealand during the Great Depression. The book goes on to examine in detail the training and operational flying of the crew, and what happened to them after the war.
It explores Bob’s post-war optimism, and his subsequent political disillusion and struggle with illness in his family, and the shadow cast by a double tragedy over the rest of Bill’s life. It also examines the appalling loss of life amongst the old boys of two schools, and how their stories continue to this day. Then there is the amazing story of the Scotsman, later a resident of Canada and New Zealand, who literally fell out of his aircraft at eighteen thousand feet.
Hardly a month passed without some new detail emerging and, although the crew was composed entirely of airmen from the U.K. and New Zealand, the author was surprised that the story drew in characters from Canada and Australia too.
There were the two young soldiers, members of the Royal Canadian Artillery, who appeared in a photograph in the book, who were also struck by tragedy, and there is a written testament to the generosity of the Canadian people from a surviving member of the squadron who was wounded in action. In a chapter about three Lancasters with significance to the author, there is a fascinating description of the flight he took in the Mynarski Memorial Lancaster, during its visit from Canada to the U.K. in 2014.
One of the most heart-warming of the stories, a family reunion involving members of the Mallon family, begins and ends in New South Wales, Australia, but the discovery that one of his father’s comrades was still alive, aged ninety four, was the icing on the cake. Although the Mallon crew survived the war, their lives would never be the same again, and I would be very surprised if readers were unmoved by their stories.
Rosie Thornton, of the Guardian, described the book as an “extraordinary” and “moving story”, “the kind of story that so many people would like to read”, and Julia Richardson, of the Times, called it an “incredible story of discovery”. Since its release in November, it has featured in local newspapers across both the U.K. and New Zealand, and the author has been interviewed on two B.B.C. local radio stations.
Vic Jay is a retired teacher who had several wildlife stories published before embarking on this project. He is well on the way to completing his second book, “The boy with barbed wire legs”, a collection of short stories for children.
Release: Vic Jay