George Thomson
Born: 10 January, 1924;
Died: 10 November, 2023

George Thomson, who has aged 99, was one of the last surviving Lancaster navigators from the Second World War.

On the night of 12 September 1944, he was flying on his 19th mission over Germany in Lancaster NF958 (LS-M) captained by a New Zealander, Flying Officer Overend, enroute to their target at Frankfurt. Their aircraft was attacked by a Heinkel (Bf) 110 destroyer flown by Ober feldwebel Ludwig Schmidt who was vectored on to LS-M by the German radar defences.

The night fighter slid under the Lancaster, thus evading the tail gunner and fired its upward firing canon, known as “Schrage Musik” directly into the underside of the aircraft. The munitions in the bomb bay exploded destroying the Lancaster. Two crew members were killed immediately while George and five of his crew survived and landed in Germany just to the east of the river Rhine.

On landing, George joined up with his flight engineer and they spent eight days evading capture and seeking to cross the Rhine and join the Allied forces. During this time, they spent one night in a forest holding a zinc animal water trough above their heads to keep off the pouring rain until the noise, and sense of ridiculousness, became too great for them.

On the seventh day, by accident, the two of them found themselves on the edge of a German village and, realising it was too late, just kept walking through the small town – still in RAF uniform – noting that all the inhabitants seemed to be women, all the men having been conscripted. They were ignored and probably taken for Russian prisoners.

George and his companion were caught just before trying to hide on a train hoping to cross the Rhine. After a number of days of interrogation, they were sent to Stalag VII where they met up with the remaining survivors of their crew.

As the end of the war neared, and the Russians approached from the east, the POWs were, at almost no notice, on 19 January 1945, marched out of the camps poorly equipped and with little rations in the coldest European winter for years and commenced what became known as the Long March.

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Many died and POWs and guards suffered in almost equal misery. During the 21 days of this dreadful journey, the total rations received by George and his colleagues were: three loaves of bread; four packets of rye-vita-like biscuits; six cups of soup; four cups of porridge and one cup of barley.

George and his fellow “Kriegies” were liberated near the River Elbe by US forces and flown to Brussels. George managed to hitch a ride on an USAAFE aircraft which brought him and 11 others to RAF Wescott in Hampshire. After a short reception, a meal, and fresh cloths, the now ex-POWs were given railway warrants and left to make their own travel arrangements to a variety of RAF camps prior to demob. No counselling in 1945.

Being shot down over Germany at the age of 20, and surviving, was a critically formative period for George Thomson. For the rest of his life, he retained contact with his squadron colleagues, and he continued to attend reunions and events.

Sometime after the war, George, one of his crew and his wife went to southern Germany to visit his pilot’s grave. The hotel in which they were staying was out in the country and some way from the Commonwealth Graves Cemetery. They were overwhelmed at the kindness of the owner who drove them the 20 miles to the cemetery and waited while they paid their respects. George never forgot this generosity of spirit from a former “enemy”.

Prior to joining the RAF, George had joined the Union Bank as a trainee and completed two years there before joining the RAF. After the war he returned to the Union Bank, eventually becoming the Inspector of Branches. In 1955 the Union Bank merged with the Bank of Scotland and George moved into branch management, advancing in more senior roles until he ended up as assistant general manager based at the Glasgow Chief Office.

For three years George was president of the Institute of Bankers in Scotland and he retired from the Bank of Scotland in 1986 and remained involved in many other Glasgow companies and organisations including the Trades House and Merchants House.

George was a life member of the National Trust for Scotland, and his interest in St Kilda led to him joining and then leading work parties there. George subsequently led a number of working parties through the St Kilda Club of the NTS, of which George was president for many years.

George married “Rene” Williams in 1961, initially setting up home, first in Old Kilpatrick, then in Helensburgh. Rene died in 2001 and George subsequently married Margaret Campbell whom he had known for many years.

The Church of Scotland played an important role in his life, and he became an elder at St Columba’s Church in Helensburgh. George was invited to join the Council of Church where his talents and business acumen were recognised and he became convenor of board of budget and allocation. He also served as chairman of the Scottish Churches Committee.

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After Margaret died from cancer, George moved to Newton Mearns where he continued an active life, until mobility and health issues required a move into a local care home for the final years of life.