Edward Henry Thomas (Ted) ALDERSON

Poppy

ALDERSON, Edward Henry Thomas

Service Number: 402838
Enlisted: 11 November 1940
Last Rank: Pilot Officer
Last Unit: No. 3 Squadron (RAAF)
Born: Rotherhithe, London, England, 21 July 1913
Home Town: Katoomba, Blue Mountains Municipality, New South Wales
Schooling: Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia
Occupation: Bus Driver
Died: Flying Battle, Egypt, 20 October 1942, aged 29 years
Cemetery: El Alamein War Cemetery
XXXII A 20
Memorials: Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour
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World War 2 Service

11 Nov 1940: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Sergeant, SN 402838, Aircrew Training Units, Empire Air Training Scheme
11 Nov 1940: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Aircraftman 2, SN 402838, Aircrew Training Units
15 Jul 1941: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Sergeant, SN 402838, Operational Training Units (RAF), Empire Air Training Scheme
1 Mar 1942: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Sergeant, SN 402838, No. 3 Squadron (RAAF), Middle East / Mediterranean Theatre
20 Oct 1942: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Pilot Officer, SN 402838, No. 3 Squadron (RAAF), El Alamein

3 Squadron Ops June 1942

From the Operational logbook on 16/6/1942 -

"On this day the squadron completed a total of 69 operational sorties, totalling 40.50 hours, thus establishing a record for this command. Great credit is due not only to the pilots, who carried out the strenuous duties cheerfully and courageously, but to the ground crew who worked unceasingly thoroughout the day, maintaining the necessary high standard of serviceability..."

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Biography contributed by Neil Morgan

Edward Henry Thomas Alderson - Ted

Ted life began in 1913 in London, son of carpenter Henry and Ethel who a married in 1911. The outbreak of WW1 saw Henry drafted into the Coldstream guards and sent to fight the Germans in the fields of France. On the 21st of October 1915 and at just 2 years of age, young Edward lost his father in battle in the Flanders field area. Cpl H. Alderson is memorialised on the Menin Gate, Belgium.  

Distraught at the death of her husband, the great Depression and the tensions of Europe, Ethel and her younger sister Emily (my grandmother) left for the relative safety of Australia in the early 1920's and started out their life here in Bundaberg (ref-school report card 1923). I imagine the change from London to tropical Bundaberg was quite a shock and it wasn't long before they moved to cooler Katoomba in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. Emily later married and relocated to nearby Lithgow.

Ted was 27 when he left his day job as a bus driver working alongside Emily's husband, George, on the 11th of the 11th 1940 (11/11/1940 Armistice day) and enrolled to be a pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force.

He started out learning to fly Tiger Moths at Narromine and then boarded a transport ship travelling over the Pacific ocean to Canada stopping along the way in New Zealand and Fiji. As part of the Empire Air Training Scheme, Ted trained on North American Harvard aircraft and successfully completed the course by July 1941. Ted was then shipped through Iceland and into Wales.

Llandow, Wales was home to 53OTU, the Spitfire combat training unit and under the command of the famous Battle of Britain ace, Wing Commander John Kent. In November and December of 1941, Ted was relocated to Biggin Hill air base with 124 Squadron flying Spitfires in formation practice, escorts and patrols.

Next up, Africa. Arriving in Freetown, Sierra Leone and then on to Takoradi, Ghana, the pilots travelled across Africa in a DC3 to Maiduguri, Nigeria then on to Khartoum, Sudan and then up to Cairo. This journey alone would have been an amazing break from the duties of war, seeing the Pyramids and antiquities not long after they were just starting to give up their secrets. Ted's photo album gives us a view of this old world before modern society and the collapse of colonialism took place. It's facinating to see places like the Damascus Gate in Jerusulem, Tomb of the Vigin Mary or the Blue Mosque in Cairo as they were back then through his eyes and captured on film. And I still have that camera and it still works.

By March 1942, Ted joined up with 3 Squadron in El Ballah and learned to fly the Kittyhawk. April and May saw the squadron move to Sidi Hanaish and it was here that Ted got in to active combat missions against the forces of Rommel. 

Ted probably stood out amongst the other pilots, he was almost 29yrs and 6'1 tall while the average age of the pilots in 3 Squadron were just 21 and as you can see in the photos, he was generally a lot taller too.  But what great company he held too with the likes of Bobby Gibbes and Nicky Barr in the same squadron and both in command at various times while Ted was there. 3 squadron had a remarkable influence in North Africa, going on to become the most successful allied squadron and helping to defend the Suez Canal and Cairo then going on to spearhead the defeat of Rommel, pushing the axis troops out of Africa and back in to Europe.

3 Squadron under the leadership of Gibbes became the first squadron of the war to dispence with a separate Officers and Sgt's mess, combining both to become a Pilots Mess. Life was tough, living out of a tent in the northern Sahara desert, so the little things like this would have bought comradery and friendship to the often too short lives of the pilots.

Over the next few months, intensive combat ensued and Rommel would push forward into Egypt and necessitate moving of camps. The commonwealth forces would then go on the offensive and push Rommel back. Looking back over the records and his logbooks and you can see this happened a few times and it's hard to imagine the scale of operations to up and move camp like this with the speed needed to ensure survival. But they did.

3 Squadrons task consisted of mainly Boston bomber escorts and straffing the enemy lines. Desert conditions were horrific, near 50deg at ground level while the pilots operating temperature at altitude dropped right off. Add into the mix the harsh effects of sand on the aircraft and it's not hard to imagine it was no picnic. Then consider you had an enemy to fight in mostly superior faster planes, or on the ground with anti aircraft guns. Generally twice a day, the pilots would saddle up and took off, joining up with their bombers and getting their job done. 

On one such mission 1/6/1942, Ted's Kittyhawk was shot up and he was injured as sharpnel pierced the cockpit area. He was able to fly back to base and get treatment making a full recovery and back on duty a few days later.  

From the Operational logbook on 16/6/1942 -

"On this day the squadron completed a total of 69 operational sorties, totalling 40.50 hours, thus establishing a record for this command. Great credit is due not only to the pilots, who carried out the strenuous duties cheerfully and courageously, but to the ground crew who worked unceasingly thoroughout the day, maintaining the necessary high standard of serviceability..."

July saw a lot of missions using the Kittyhawks as target bombers, flying over the enemy camps and dropping a single bomb each in to a target area that usually consisted of munitions, planes or tanks. The missions had longer airtime and greater frequency often multiple flights per day and each had great success. 

On the 3rd of August the squadron was released from Operational Flying for 3 weeks, while leave was granted for a period of 7 days. Ted took leave and fly to Palestine, as it was known then, walking in the old city walls of Jerusalem and seeing the legendary biblical places where Jesus had been, and the stage for the birth of religion.  By the 20th of August, it was back to full combat duties again.

The intensity continued into the next month, with many mission now flown and over 50hrs of operational duty, on the 15th of September, Ted had been given commission to Pilot Officer along with several other others including friend, John Bray. 

October would be Ted's last month. It was a light operational month to start but they were readying themselves for the great assault on Rommel. The air attack started on the 20th of October, a couple of days before the main ground attack.

Two waves of 10 pilots took off that day, the first was at 0835 from LG175, the second at 1135. The first escort was a good success, with the bomber able to drop its bomb accurately under intense anti aircraft fire and destroying targets below. All planes and pilots returned safely. 

Ted was in the second group of 10 escorting Baltimore bombers over targets in the Fuka area when they were attacked by waiting enemy aircraft and a series of dogfights ensued. Two kittyhawks failed to return, Sgt Tom Woods and PO Alderson. Neither pilot was seen to go down so they were both reported missing. The only hope would be that they became prisnors of war or made it back to camp somehow. 

 

Bobby Gibbes wrote to Ted's mother after saying "Ted has been with the squadron six months and had developed into a really excellent fighter pilot and his loss was a sad blow to us in many ways. His cheerfulness and devotion to duty made him very popular both in the pilot's mess and throughout the Squadron generally and I assure you that all members of the Squadron are anxiously awaiting some definite news.  

In conclusion, please accept the sincere and heartfelt sympathy of myself and everybody in the Squadron during this period of suspense."

Fellow pilot in 3 Squadron, PO John Bray wrote another letter to Ted's mother later in the year on the 12/12/1942 and attached a photo of Ted proudly standing beside his Kittyhawk and both the letter and his photo are here to view. 

Sgt Tom Woods became a POW and recounts his journey through Italy and in to Germany, spending the rest of the war in a prison camp in his book.

PO alderson unfortunately had a different fate. He was killed either during the dogfight, crash landing or from injuries. His body was buried in an unmarked grave in a small Italian cemetery of Matruh-Daba located 160miles west of Alexandria on the Libyan coast and wasn't formally identified until 1948 when the Missing Research Unit went through the area. His was re-interred in the El Alemain War Cemetery.

For poor Ethel, Ted's mother, the loss of her son was just a day difference to the loss of her husband in two different wars. His room was left exactly as the day he left and stayed that way until she died, she never got over it.

 

The campain of El Alemain was so significant that the British Prime Minister is quoted - 

It may almost be said, "Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat".

— Winston Churchill

 

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