Squadron Leader Maurice 'Roy' Skeet.
It was in late summer 2000 when I began to conduct detailed research into my late Father's RAF Career. Since my earliest years I had harboured a deep inquisitiveness about his life and RAF career yet I had learnt very few details about him throughout my sixty odd years. However, in 1998 I obtained his Service Record from the Personnel Department at RAF Innsworth. This document listed the numbers, names and dates of the various Units and Squadrons he had served with.
One of my earliest tentative enquiries was a contact via the Internet with a Peter Porter who had posted a Website recording his father's RAF Memoirs with No. 158 Squadron with which my father had served shortly before his death. On Pete's recommendation and with his encouragement I contacted "H.N. (Bluey) Mottershead, DFC" The President and Secretary of the 158 Squadron Association. I subsequently became a member of that Association and then acquired the book "In Brave Company" by the Historian W.R.Chorley recounting 158 Squadron Operations, this book included the new information to me that my Father had been Flight Commander of "A" Flight of 158 Squadron during May and June of 1942. Holding such a position in the chain of command he would have been aware of the objectives and consequences of the 'Area Bombing Campaign' that began in the spring of 1942 under the New Directives of the Air Ministry and Air Marshal Arthur Harris.
Late in 2000 I began receiving information from the Public Records office at Kew, which contained mentions of my Father's operational activities. Within the early Records I obtained were the Operational Records for No. 158 Squadron during May and June 1942 a few weeks before my Father's death. These confirmed that he had taken part in the 1st and 2nd Thousand Bomber raids on Cologne and Essen. Some time later, with the help of (Bluey) Mottershead I managed to speak to an Air Gunner who had flown with 158 Squadron on the same missions and knew my Father reasonably well. Apparently, he had by chance, met and spoken to him on the evening before the day of his death. In my discussions with him he expressed the opinion that my Father's tragic decision to end his life was related to the indiscriminate nature of the Area Bombing Offensive.
Then, early in 2001 using the Online Ordering System at the Public Records Office I obtained some detailed records concerning the various Squadrons and Units my Father had served with in the Middle East and in particular the transport unit known as the Communications Flight stationed at RAF Habbaniya Iraq and its activities at the time of the hostilities that occurred during the Siege and Battle for Habbaniya in April and May 1941. It was these records that first prompted me to consider constructing a Website.
At around the same time I was in contact with "Dr Christopher Morris" Secretary of the RAF Habbaniya Association and had become a member of that Association. This subsequently resulted in my contact with a Mr. Alan Summerbell a retired RAF Corporal Fitter who had recognized a picture of my father I had provided for use during an Association Reunion. Later in discussion with Mr. Summerbell he described how he had on several occasions been on flights with my father in Iraq and he related some of his memories from that time in the Middle East and at RAF Habbaniya. Some of those Remembrance's are included in this Website with a painting created for him by his Artist friend 'Reg Sampson' which he very kindly gave his permission for me to reproduce.
I had also obtained, by that time, a copy of the book "Hidden Victory" written by "Air Vice Marshall A.G. Dudgeon CBE DFC" in which is described his personal experiences and knowledge of the Siege and conduct of the Battle at Habbaniya, and later acquired the book "Dust Clouds in the Middle East" by "Christopher Shores". Neither of these publications or searches on the Internet gave any indication of the contribution and activities of my Father's Unit the Communications Flight during the conflict in 1941. The records in my possession indicated that the Flight had played a small but important part in this episode. It was the absence in these and other official publications of the history of this episode in Iraq and the consequences of my Fathers brief participation in the 'Area Bombing Campaign' in Europe that this Website is primarily intended to record with details of my lifelong curiosity, ultimate research and discoveries relating to his overall RAF Career and untimely death.
The Roots of my Curiosity and Ultimate Research.
My curiosity had originated some Sixty years ago when I learnt of my true parentage. At about the age of 4 years I was informed by my mother of my real Father's existence, by that time my mother had remarried and I was being known by my Step father's surname. I was told that my Father had been a Bomber Pilot in the Royal Air Force and had died in the war about 2 years earlier and that he was buried in an Air Force grave somewhere in Yorkshire. Regretfully, my Mother and Step father were reluctant to discuss any detail about my Father or his family, consequently it was left to my childhood imagination to build its own picture of the few facts in my possession.
Being a child born just at the start of the war, by the time I learned of my true Father's existence, I had become somewhat aware of the tragedy and horrors of that War and the heroism and sacrifices made by our armed servicemen. With the little information I had to hand, I naturally came to the conclusion that my father must have died in action and therefore felt a great deal of pride in him.
Despite my overwhelming curiosity I learnt very little else about my fathers life or career in my early years, however when I was aged about thirteen I delved into some private papers belonging to my mother. In absolute shock and stunned horror I discovered that he had committed suicide. This knowledge left me in a state of embarrassed confusion and devastated pride which I kept much to myself for many years.
However, during my mid twenties I had the opportunity and felt strangely compelled to make a visit to my fathers resting place in Yorkshire. This was an extremely moving and emotional experience that somehow reduced the feelings of embarrassment and reluctant curiosity I had lived with since that horrifying childhood discovery of the circumstances of his death.
With my curiosity rekindled and my cynicism suppressed, a few months later, after a few discrete inquiries of possible surviving family contacts, I discovered that my Father's mother was still alive and was living on the South Coast. Shortly after this I managed to make contact and meet with her. My grandmother "Mrs. Jean Mary Ann Skeet" was most pleased to be reunited with me and in our many discussions tried to tell me all she could about my Father and the circumstances surrounding his death.
My Grandmother told me he had been a much respected and well liked Officer in the RAF, and had been in Command of small Unit in the Middle East during the early part of the War. Apparently, he had requested a transfer back to the UK and had subsequently returned to the UK in early 1942. I further learnt that in the months before his death he had taken part in the early days of the Area Bombing campaign over Germany. Although he had expressed his concerns and stressed his repugnance for this new strategy, he had been unable to discuss in any detail his duties and responsibilities with her on the few occasions they met. Apparently his actions and concerns about the new strategy had its roots in what he had learned about the indiscriminate bombing by the RAF of Arab villages during the early history of the British Occupation of Iraq.
According to my Grandmother he had left a letter addressed to her at the time of his death which the authorities permitted her to read under supervision. In the letter he is said to have described how troubled he was by the humanitarian consequences of the Area Bombing Policy and the responsibilities he held and the possible influence his personal opinions and objections might have on the men of his Squadron and those directly under his command. This resulted in him being unable to reconcile his conscience with his duties and had led to him going Absent Without Leave and his decision to end his own life.
I was told this letter along with another addressed to his Commanding Officer were retained by the Authorities as they contained sensitive information relating to Wartime policies and could not be released. I was also informed that despite his circumstances he had been afforded an official RAF Burial and that his Life Insurance Policy had not been invalidated by his suicide, as was usually the case.
From what I learnt from my Grandmother, at that time, and with the little I knew at that time of the controversy about the Area Bombing of German Cities I began to understand some of the confusion of conscience and dilemmas of duty my Father might have experienced in the situation he faced at the time. The relief I felt on listening to my Grandmothers account of my Father's RAF history served to lessen the many doubts and fears and sense of cynicism that had plagued me for so many years. It was in the light of this new knowledge and out of respect for my Grandmother and in honour of my Fathers memory that I decided to revert back to my birth name of Skeet.
Sadly my grandmother died in 1971 leaving me some mementos of my Father in the form of some newspaper cuttings, a few photographs, including one of the young woman who was his closest companion at the time of his death, his War Medals, Flying License and Passport, regretfully most of his personal possessions, papers and his Flying Log had apparently been destroyed by my mother, consequently at that time I was unable to confirm further details of his life and career or the kind of flying he had carried out.
Most Recent Research.
Following my Grandmothers death my Mother's sensitivity about the issue prevented me from feeling able to find out more about my Father and his RAF career until in 1998 when I plucked up the courage to obtain his Service record, even so, it was not until the year 2000 following my Mother's death that I felt enabled to begin the more detailed research I had so longed for many years to embark upon.
A summary of the principle results of my research are included in these pages and there are several aspects of particular personal note, firstly the horrific discovery of his death certificate when I was a young teenager left me with a lasting sense of doubt and hesitation regarding anything I might learn, I had even considered the account given to me by my grandmother might have been influenced by her wish to save me any further anguish, this doubt was completely expunged by my recent research. I had been also only too aware that due to his conscientious objection to the Area Bombing Campaign and his Absence Without Leave, he would most probably been subject to Court Marshal proceedings and classified as LMF. (Lacking in Moral Fibre) had he survived.
Moreover, my latest research of the York Coroners Archives revealed that only the briefest details remained on record regarding my Father's death, this consisted of a one page entry giving the names of the witnesses and the findings of the coroner which were subsequently recorded on his death Certificate, any witness statements or references to the two letters reported by the Yorkshire Evening Post as having been presented to the Coroner at the Inquest were absent from that Archive. Furthermore, enquiries of the Ministry of Defense resulted in a letter containing a brief comment and extract from their records stating that they held a file on my Father including a description of the circumstances, place and cause of death. The brevity of this reply seemed to imply that there might be other more detailed information that was not available for release.
Therefore, my research and the independent respected opinions of others regarding the circumstances prevailing at the time has dispelled any doubts I may have held regarding my fathers courage and personal convictions, this together with him being afforded an Official burial in an RAF grave alongside other Airmen who had died as a result of Combat and his name being included in the register of RAF War Casualties by the War Graves Commission, confirm for me that his tragic and untimely end was considered, even by the Authorities, as a tragic consequence of the War. Therefore, it is with a deep sense of pride, respect, and sadness I place here on this Website my compiled record his RAF Service Career and its sad conclusion.
Nevertheless, my enquiries are continuing via the Official Records and other possible sources, in particular to try to obtain further detail regarding all aspects of his career, and as more information comes to light it will be incorporated into this Website, where appropriate, and will be recorded for the benefit of my family and to honour the memory of: -
SQUADRON LEADER MAURICE 'ROY' SKEET
and my beloved Grandmother
JEAN MARY ANN SKEET.
Read Squadron Leader Skeet's RAF Service History Timeline.
Read my personal Poem and memoir "An Airman's Son".
In 2002 a representative of the BBC, INSIDE OUT regional documentary series, approached me. I was asked if I would be willing to be interviewed and provide some information about the circumstances of my father’s death The article was related to the subject of conscientious objection in WW2 and the Hundreds of wartime airmen that were classified LMF. Brief summaries of which were included in This is York Archive and a Press release at the time. The program contained descriptions of how these men were treated and that they were mostly suffering from the condition ‘PostTraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The article included a brief representation of my father’s last days with some of my personal comments and was aired on Monday 24 February at 7.30pm in the Yorkshire & Lincolnshire region and a week later in the Southeast region.
I was exceedingly honoured and proud to learn that the villagers of Anzegem had selected a reading of a version of my Poem 'Wings of Thunder' to be included in the ceremony to celebrate the unveiling of a memorial to Lancaster III JB455 MG-N held at Anzegem, West Flanders, Belgium on the morning of 20 June 2004.
And further, that the poem was included at the
65th commemoration date of the loss of Lancaster EE138 and all
crew members. The Remembrance Ceremony was held on September 4th
2008 at 2:00pm at the Crash site in Denmark.
Some of the information contained in this website is also included on: -
The BBC Peoples War Website
Michael A.R.Skeet, Revised 11th October 2010.
All content Copyright © Michael A.R.Skeet. 2001-2010, except where otherwise stated.