Billington, John
Billington, John

John Billington was born on 2 February 1917 in Preston. His father was William Richard Billington (b. 1873 in Preston), a clothlooker in a cotton mill and later night watchman. His mother was Esther Ann Williams (b. 1874 in Preston). William and Esther were married in 1897 and they had 6 children, John being the youngest. His older siblings were: Bert (b. 1897), Harry (b. 1899), Ada(b. 1901), Fred (b. 1903) and Mary (b. 1906). In 1911, the family lived at 23  Gerrard Street in Preston. So far as I can tell, in 1939 John was still living in Preston – at 27 Albyn Bank Road, and he was working as a flange pipe iron moulder, but his widowed father and brother Harry and Harry’s family were living at 37 Laburnum Avenue, Lostock Hall.

John was 22 when War broke out and he joined the Royal Air Force. He was posted to 101 Squadron and was promoted to Sergeant. He was a wireless operator.  In May 1939, 101 Squadron became part of No 2 Group, Bomber Command. During the Battle of Britain, 101 Squadron Blenhiems carried out bombing missions against the German barges in French ports as well as German airfields in France. 101 Squadron were re-equipped with the Vickers Wellington in April 1940 and were based at RAF Oakington and became part of No 3 Group Bomber Command. Ten Wellingtons of 101 Squadron took part in the first 1,000 bomber raid on Cologne, but losses began to mount and between July and September the Squadron lost 20 Wellingtons, with 86 aircrew killed. In September 1942, 101 Squadron moved to RAF Holme-on-Spalding-Moor and became the first operational Avro Lancaster squadron in No 1 Group Bomber Command. 101 Squadron moved to its final wartime base, RAF Ludford Magna, on 15 June 1943. 101 Squadron Lancasters took part in the raids on Hamburg and the raid on the secret German rocket site at Peenemünde.

From 1942 onward, the British bombing campaign against Germany increasingly targeted industrial sites and the civilian manpower base essential for German war production. In total 364,514 operational sorties were flown; 1,030,500 tons of bombs were dropped and 8,325 aircraft lost in action. Bomber Command crews also suffered a high casualty rate: 55,573 were killed out of a total of 125,000 aircrew – a 44.4% death rate. A further 8,403 men were wounded in action, and 9,838 became prisoners of war.

The role of Bomber Command and its leader Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris is controversial. Harris believed passionately (fanatically to some) that ‘area bombing’ – the mass targeting of the German industrial heartland and its civilian workforce – would destroy German morale. The scale and intensity of the offensive was an appalling trial to the German people and the Hamburg attacks, particularly, profoundly shook the Nazi leadership. However, the indiscriminate nature of the bombing and the heavy civilian casualties ultimately stiffened German resistance to fight to the end. The tactic must be judged a failure, but that must not detract from the bravery and sacrifice of the aircrews involved.

Billington, John

Hamburg, summer 1943

In the bombing of Hamburg in the summer of 1943, 58,000 civilians were killed and more than 100,000 injured.

After the bombing of Hamburg, in August 1943, 101 Squadron turned its attention to the launch sites of the new V-2 flying bombs at Peenemünde. The V-2 was the world's first long-range guided ballistic missile, and the first artificial object to travel into space. The missile was developed as a "vengeance weapon" and assigned to attack Allied cities as retaliation for the Allied bombings of German cities.

Billington, John

V2 rocket

John Billington’s last mission was a night raid on Berlin on 3 September 1943. They took off from Ludford Magna in Lincolnshire but the plane (Avro Lancaster) came down between Suttrup and Lingen, just over the Dutch border. The cause of the loss is not known.

Rank: Sergeant

Service Number: 1097892

Unit/Regiment: Royal Air Force, 101 Squadron

Date of death: 03/09/1943

Age: 26


Cemetery Reference:  15. G. 11.

Additional Information: Son of W. R. and Esther Ann Billington, of Preston, Lancashire.