[Pic: P Humphries]
Plt Off S L Whillis
Lancaster serial number: ED927/G
Call sign: AJ-E
Second wave. Crashed on outward flight.
Samuel Leslie Whillis, known as Leslie to his family, was born in Newcastle on Tyne in 1912, the second son of Charles and Edith Whillis. He worked as a commercial traveller before joining the RAF shortly after the outbreak of war, and served as ground crew until 1942. He then he took the opportunity to train as a flight engineer at the No 4 School of Technical Training at St Athans in Wales. Having qualified, he was then posted to 16 OTU, where it would seem that he first came across both Norman Barlow and Alan Gillespie. The three moved on to 1654 Conversion Flight, and then in September 1942 to 61 Squadron. All three flew their first operation over the Alps to Turin in Italy on 20 November 1942.
In January 1943, Whillis missed a few operations – perhaps because of illness – so by the time Barlow was at the end of his tour, he had only completed 22 operations. When he was offered the chance to move to a new squadron with Barlow, he must have thought that it was a good opportunity to complete his tour with a pilot with whom he had worked well.
Two days before the raid, both Whillis and Gillespie received commissions, backdated to April 1943. At this stage of the war, commissioned flight engineers were rare, so Whillis had obviously impressed his superiors.
Leslie Whillis married Gladys Cooper in Newcastle in 1941. His wife Gladys kept his medals, the letter from Gibson concerning his loss and various other mementoes. They were later sold at auction and are now on display in the Bygones gallery in Torquay.
Not much more than two hours after take off, Whillis and the rest of his ex-61 Squadron comrades crossed the Rhine, and then hit a pylon and crashed, killing all on board. Their bodies were taken to Dusseldorf North Cemetery, and reburied after the war in Reichswald Commonwealth War Cemetery.
Whillis’s wife Gladys kept his medals, the letter from Gibson concerning his loss and various other mementoes. They were later sold at auction and are now on display in the Bygones gallery in Torquay.
Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Eric Fry, An Airman Far Away, Kangaroo Press 1993
The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.
Further information about Leslie Whillis and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.