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Shrewsbury Bomber Command survivor dies at 97

By Toby Neal | Shrewsbury | Features | Published: | Last Updated:

A Bomber Command pilot who was the only survivor when his Lancaster blew up 18,000ft over Berlin has died aged 97.

Jim Penny during the war

Jim Penny, from Shrewsbury, remained at the controls to give time for the rest of the crew to escape the stricken aircraft and was blown clear when its bomb load detonated.

He wrote a book a few years ago telling of his experiences called "The Lucky Penny" – the title was mainly inspired by those events of the night of November 23/24, 1943, although Mr Penny would say he had been lucky all his life.

And publication of the book led to him giving talks to groups across Shropshire about Bomber Command and his own part in the air war.

Glasgow-born Mr Penny remained in the RAF and the last five years of his career up to 1971 were spent at RAF Shawbury, after which he retired from the service with the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

Afterwards he became a teacher at what was then Meole Brace Secondary Modern School – later to become a comprehensive – in Shrewsbury.

The funeral of Flight Lieutenant Penny is at Emstrey Crematorium on Monday, October 28, at 3.30pm. The coffin will be draped in the RAF colours and a standard bearer will be in the procession. In attendance will be representatives from RAF Shawbury, the Royal British Legion, RAFA and the Air Crew Association.

Jim Penny, left, with most of the rest of his Lancaster crew, of which he was the only survivor.

He is survived by wife Ursula – they had married in July 1948 – four children, 15 grandchildren, and three great-great grandchildren.

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Son Stuart said he was an energetic, determined, and honest man.

"He spoke often about going on the last adventure – and now he has."

Mr Penny had remained active almost to the end, and the last time he flew was only this summer, when he was taken up from Welshpool airport as part of a scheme to give veterans flights.

"We came over Shrewsbury and he took the controls, flew over the house, and flew us back to the airfield, albeit not to land," said Stuart.

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Croquet was another passion in his retirement. And he achieved one of his ambitions when Stuart took him to see the Bomber Command Memorial in London, which he had never seen.

At the time of his fateful last wartime flight he was a Flight Sergeant on his 19th operational mission, all with 97 Squadron based at RAF Bourn near Cambridge, part of the elite Pathfinder Force.

After his bomber was hit by flak in the bomb bay he began to count, knowing that the six other crew members would need at least 30 seconds to clip on their parachutes and bail out.

Speaking to children at Randlay Primary School about Bomber Command and his own experiences.

He got to 18.

"Then she blew up," he recalled.

"One minute I was sitting at the controls, next minute I was sitting in the night air. My immediate thought was where had my bloody aeroplane gone."

He landed in a back garden in the suburbs of the German city and was quickly taken prisoner, having suffered only relatively minor injuries.

With nothing being heard of his fate for weeks, his parents were told he had probably been killed. In fact the reason for the long delay was that he was held in solitary confinement as German interrogators couldn't believe that a Lancaster pilot – generally the last to get out of a stricken plane – could survive and all his crew perish, and were convinced he was in fact a Mosquito pilot.

As the war neared its end, conditions for the prisoners became worse and worse. With the advance on all fronts of the Allies, the prisoners were being marched from place to place, and his luck held out when they were strafed by British fighters who mistook them for German troops.

While serving in Shropshire he met and married Ursula Egerton Hine, of The Old Hall, Dorrington.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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