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    Suitcases, Vultures and Spies

    The story of Wing Commander Thomas Charles Murray DSO,


    Cover image courtesy and copyright of Keith Woodcock

    Thomas Murray with Mark Hillier

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    Yellowman Publishing

    First edition, printed 2013

    Copyright Mark Hillier.

    No part of this book may be reproduced without prior permission from the

    author. Every effort has been made to try and establish the copyright of all

    material used. If there are any omissions or errors the author will always

    seek to re-credit any material in subsequent edition.

    The medals awarded to Wing Commander Thomas Murray, DSO, DFC*

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    David Barnard

    Warrant Officer Fred Bowman

    Edwin Bryce

    Mary Denton

    Warrant Officer Mike Gibbons DFM

    Wing Commander David Haines, RAF

    Flight Lieutenant Fred Hill DFC, MID*

    Kate and Molly Hillier

    Imperial War Museum

    Martin Mace

    Wing Commander Thomas Murray DSO, DFC*

    Ed Norman

    The RAF Heraldry Trust,

    Squadron Leader William Stoneman DFM

    Peter Taylor

    Nick Trudgian

    John Ward

    Philip Wickwar

    Keith Woodcock

    49 Squadron Association

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    The author would like to express his thanks to the following

    who have generously sponsored the production of this book.

    David Andrews

    Helen De Burgh

    Eric & Irene Dordain

    Wing Commander David Haines

    David Hewings

    Mr and Mrs C Hillier

    JM Partnership Surveyors

    Martin King

    Andrew Perry

    Martin Simpson, Vectaris Ltd

    Mark Taylor, Solar Architecture Ltd

    Peter Taylor

    2351 Squadron Air Training Corps

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    Chapter 1 Fly like a bird

    Chapter 2 Ops in a Suitcase

    Chapter 3 Vulture Trouble

    Chapter 4 Spies and supplies




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    Wing Commander David Haines RAF

    (David Haines)

    I met the author nearly 2 decades ago through our joint passion of aviation and we have shared the

    skies on numerous occasions; he is a skilled aviator as well as writer. Throughout the time I have

    known Mark, his enthusiasm and love of aviation has been ever present as you will learn in the

    pages of this book. When aviation researchers delve into the archives in an attempt to discover the

    truth about the exploits of World War 2 airman, it can be a daunting task to translate the bravery,

    stoicism and stamina prevalent during those times into an accurate picture for today. Fortunately in

    this instance, the author was able to interview his ‘man of interest’ in the flesh and gain a wonderful

    insight into the exploits of Wing Commander Thomas Murray. Having been awarded a DSO, DFC &

    bar and his operational accomplishments in the most dangerous of circumstances, with the slimmest

    chances of survival, a fleeting glance at his biography is both revealing and humbling. This book is an

    outstanding tribute to Wing Commander Murray, his fallen comrades and those that survived the

    most appalling of odds whilst operating as Bomber Command aircrew, and it is most commendable

    that the proceeds of this book will be donated to support the RAF Benevolent Fund.

    As I started to read this book, I was struck by the number of connections I shared with Wing

    Commander Murray. We both learnt to fly at RAF Halton and Cranwell, were both treated at

    Grantham hospital for broken collar bones gained in motoring accidents and we both served on

    operational squadrons at RAF Cottesmore. But most striking of all was his philosophy of ‘leading

    from the front’ which I believe is just as important today as it was then. This differentiates between

    an average military leader and a great leader. Having been a fellow RAF bomber pilot and squadron

    commander with nearly 200 operational sorties in my flying logbook covering Iraq, the Balkans and

    Afghanistan, I sought to identify how my operational experiences as a leader compared to those of

    Wing Commander Murray. It was surprising to note the many similarities between how the RAF

    conducts operations today, yet also the stark differences.

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    One of the things that has remained unchanged is the desire to conduct offensive air operations at

    night, and improving aircrew survival rates by avoiding detection is as valid today as it was in WW2.

    The skills to operate in such an environment should not be underestimated. During WW2 aircrew

    would be required to fly, navigate and defend the aircraft en route to a target or SOE location, with

    ground avoidance being conducted with the aid of rudimentary instruments and the naked eye

    utilising moonlight, stars and cultural lighting. Today’s aircrew are able to rely on modern navigation

    systems that measure accuracy in metres, and other aids such as night vision goggles, infra-red

    cameras, radar altimeters and terrain proximity systems to achieve their mission. Regardless of the

    technological changes, night operations are still the primary choice for commanders in an effort to

    minimise aircraft detection.

    The political appetite and public expectations of aircrew and aircraft losses have fundamentally

    changed these past 70 years. Losses are now avoided at all costs in both war and peacetime and can

    be measured in single figures instead of tens of thousands. Today we have the luxury of time to

    train aircrew to a high standard and develop safer aircraft. However there is a trade off as training

    for each fast jet pilot costs £3-4 million, and highly complex and expensive aircraft (£30-70 million

    each) mean that the RAF is equipped with a limited number of jets. Better training, more modern

    (and arguably easier to fly) aircraft, and the move away from low-level operations to medium level

    sorties have changed modern aerial warfare. It is easy to understand why training accidents and

    operational losses have become the exception rather than the norm.

    Although risks have been minimised, as a squadron commander I remained constantly alert to the

    risks of losing a pilot or aircraft and the challenges of command this might bring. Losing one of my

    aircraft became a reality during operations in Afghanistan when one of my pilots safely ejected from

    his Harrier aircraft which was destroyed in the ensuing fireball. This book highlights the fortitude

    required of a wartime squadron commander to handle the stresses of almost daily losses whilst at

    the same conducting dangerous missions on a regular basis. Few of us will ever experience the

    loneliness of command, the daily wartime struggles and the inner strength required to survive, yet

    this story will give you that insight.

    This book echoes the stories retold by the surviving aircrew I had the privilege of meeting in March

    2013 at the Downing Street ceremony to commemorate the award of the Bomber Command medal

    clasp. The author has written a compelling biography which tells it ‘like it was’ – there are no tales

    of bravado or bragging. Whether you are an aviation enthusiast or not, I urge you to read this book

    as you cannot fail to be humbled by the exploits contained within. It will make you realise how brave

    those young men were in World War 2 and how much we owe to those that served a spell in

    wartime Bomber Command.

    I salute them all.

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    As a boy, I was always enthralled with the stories of wartime air and ground crew. I was fortunate

    enough as a young lad to get to know a Lancaster rear gunner of 218 Squadron, by the name of Bert

    Avann who lived in our village. I spent many hours listening to his stories and in my teenage years

    often shared a pint with him in the local pub. It was on these occasions I learnt more about the

    mental stress and strains of operations. He tolerated my youthful ignorance and answered my

    questions with good humour and grace. Never one to boast or embellish the stories, he told it as it

    was. I developed the greatest of respect for his generation who went to war in defence of our


    Over the years I have been lucky to make the acquaintance of many more air and ground crew who

    served during WW2. I could sit and listen for hours to their tales of flying or working on aircraft that

    would now only grace the halls of museums, the likes of which I will never get my hands on. I could

    only imagine what they were like to fly. Sitting with these heroes of mine, they bring it to life for me.

    They are sadly getting fewer each year and there are still many tales to be told, regrettably many

    already lost in time.

    Portrait of Squadron Leader T