View Full Version : Obituary of interest: Bill Comfort

Keith Bryers
14th March 2011, 21:28
The undernoted appeared in today's Herald:

Bill Comfort

Published in The Herald (Glasgow, Scotland) on 14 Mar 2011

Master plumber and Spitfire pilot ;

Born January 24, 1922 ; Died January 19, 2011

BILL Comfort, who has died aged 88, was a single-minded young Spitfire pilot who went beyond the call of duty and ended up in a notorious PoW camp.

Having successfully completed a tour in June 1944, he was due time off but volunteered to fly 50 extra hours, only to be shot down near Rome while completing them and be posted missing in action.

His brother Sandy had already been lost when his Hurricane was downed earlier in the Second World War, and when the news about Bill came through, it was devastating, not least for his young girlfriend, Nan, who worked in the local post office and had to take down her own telegram informing her that her sweetheart was unaccounted for.

She endured another three months not knowing his fate before finding out he was a prisoner of war. But Bill survived the regime at Stalag III-A and they were eventually reunited, going on to enjoy life together for 64 years.

However, the full details of her husband’s wartime experience did not come to light until decades after his liberation, long after he had returned home to work in his father’s plumbing business.

It was only when his grandson was preparing a school project that the family learned the full story – thanks to the daily notes he kept in his green wartime diary.

Determined to join the RAF, he had failed on his first attempt, turned down because he was suffering from lead poisoning, the consequences of dealing with lead pipes at work. He had joined his father’s firm, in the Aberdeenshire village of Alford where he was born, after leaving the local school at 15.

At 19, his second bid to volunteer as an airman was successful and he began training on Tiger Moths at Brize Norton before sailing on the SS Arundel Castle from Glasgow to Cape Town. After more training on Harvards, he was selected to fly Spitfires for 111 Fighter Squadron.

Poignantly, his determined nature had been highlighted on the day of his pilot’s exam. Having been about to sit the examination, he was called out of the room to be told of his brother Sandy’s death. He returned to his seat and passed, following in his brother’s footsteps.

He served in Algeria, Tripoli and Sicily, flying a Mk IX Spitfire with clipped wings. By 1943 he was flying out of Capodichino airstrip at Naples and had shot down two Messerschmitts.

He was on patrol duty at Anzio, the Battle of Salerno and Monte Cassino. And it was on the morning of June 4, 1944 that he was shot down after volunteering to put in the extra flying hours.

Describing it as “just another warm Italian day”, he recalled the enemy being in retreat and fully expected the CO to say “Let’s go home, boys”, anticipating having the rest of the day to himself. But, he said, fate intervened in the form of flak.

“Then it happened,” he wrote. “Robbie, decent chap, received a direct hit, burst into flames, half-rolled and went straight into the deck where the petrol tanks blew up. Jed called up saying ‘Christ, Robbie’s had it’ and at that moment, my aircraft was hit.

“All I heard was a bang. I opened up the motor but it sounded so hellish I throttled back. It was then I observed my airscrew was gone.”

With the propeller lost, he undid his straps and started to climb out but the aircraft was too low to bale out and he decided to crash-land. “Gliding down, I crossed over a wood at zero feet, stuck my feet on the instrument panel, checked and shut my eyes.”

Having survived the landing, he started to run but, with bullets whistling overhead and the Luftwaffe closing in, was forced to surrender. Held briefly at a farmhouse where the Germans had a radio tuned into the BBC, he heard the news and Vera Lynn singing We’ll Meet Again before being put on a truck to Germany.

Initially held at Stalag Luft VII, he was forced, while suffering from frostbite in one foot, to march for hundreds of miles across the frozen Polish countryside and later transferred to the infamous Stalag III- A, from where he was eventually liberated by the Russians.

Among his diary entries was the observation: “The joy of escaping death can only be known by those who have experienced it, but it’s mixed with the pain of the ordeal which one is hardly likely to forget.”

He was flown home in a Lancaster bomber in May 1945 and within two months was engaged to Nan, whose letters had comforted him in the PoW camps, where he had contracted TB. They married in 1946.

Having returned to the family business, he qualified as a master plumber and central heating engineer, working until he was 60 when the business closed down. In retirement, he and his wife loved touring Britain but also visited many of the locations of his wartime service abroad.

A keen golfer and gardener, he was also knowledgeable and well read. He had a vast collection of military books and was a member of the Air Crew Association, regularly attending Leuchars Air Show. Many of his wartime mementoes have been donated to his old squadron which is based at RAF Leuchars.

They include a Christmas Day menu from one PoW camp where, as quartermaster, he had displayed his ingenuity and single-mindedness by devising different ways to cook things, including a Christmas pudding made from biscuits.

“He was a remarkable man, and very determined,” said his daughter, Jean. “He wouldn’t give up easily. He was firm but fair with my brother and I and very generous towards us as a father.”

Mr Comfort, whose wife Nan died less than a month after him, is survived by his children Jean and Ian, brother Jamie, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

15th March 2011, 09:12
Nice obituary.

L7 152 Comfort W S 1342606 RAF

RAF casualty List 488 April 12th 1945, Flight magazine

His story

I'm lost as to which unit but I'm guessing 3 RAAF Sqn or 243 RAF Sqn?

15th March 2011, 10:42
As indicated in the Obituary - No.111 Sqn.

COMFORT, William Simpson Flight Sergeant RAF No.1342606

Comfort served as an NCO pilot with 111 squadron in Italy from December 1943. He was promoted to Flt Sgt in March 1944. On 4 June his Spitfire MJ189 'E', was last seen going down streaming glycol after he had been hit by light flak whilst making a strafing attack on motor vehicles west of Rome. he was later reported to be a PoW. A second Spitfire was also shot down, Lt E Robarts, SAAF being killed.

1944 - 23 May - 2 - Bf109s - Spitfire IX MH976 - JU-D - SE Rome - 111 Sqn.

Total - 2 destroyed

ROBARTS, Eugene Lieutenant SAAF No.206857V

Gene Robarts from Durban, South Africa, served in Italy with 111 Squadron, joining during February 1944. His first claim with the unit was also the squadron's 200th of the war. on 4 June 1944 he took part in a dawn strafing attack on motor vehicles west of Rome. two Spitfires were hit by light flak during this operation, one of them MH538 'H' flown by Robarts, was seen to crash to his death. he was aged 21 at the time, his name was subsequently recorded on the Malta memorial. The other pilot shot down was Flt Sgt W S Comfort, who became a PoW.


14 May - Bf109 - Spitfire IX MH493 - UF-F* - 111 Sqn.
23 may - Bf109 - Spitfire IX MH493 - UF-F* - 111 Sqn.

Total - 2 destroyed.

Those Other Eagles/Shores. pp.115 & 495

*UF coding a mystery, 111 Sqn used JU!