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A D-Day Retrospective - Part 3 - weather or not?

Despite the massive intelligence operation and logistical support, Overlord would not have happened if the one uncontrollable factor of the weather had been ignored, yet with all the current media attention on this 70th Anniversary it hardly gets a mention. It is therefore appropriate here for my thoughts to return to a gentleman, who I was honoured to call my friend, Warrant Officer John Bristow whose story was recorded for the first time on our web site.

Memories of the late Warrant Officer John Bristow - 518 Squadron RAF

John Ronald Stanley Bristow, who as a 23 year old Halifax navigator with 518 Squadron based on the island of Tiree, played an instrumental but largely unsung part, along with his crew and others on the Squadron, in the ultimate success of Overlord. It was they who carried out Met Check flights deep into the eye of the storms that were approaching from the Atlantic 70 years ago and then fed their report down to the Chief Meteorologist Group Captain James Stragg. It was on their information that the Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower, on the strong recommendation of Stragg, delayed D Day until a window of opportunity was found for 6 June 1944 when Eisenhower uttered the immortal words: "OK Let's Go!"

Sadly John Bristow received his final posting in December 2004, but his story lives on. We have another "feature" on our website which brings home forcefully, written in their own words, the skilled and dangerous operations the chaps on the squadron performed. These operations, often in atrocious conditions, brought back the weather reports essential to both, the running of a war, and the success of the biggest seaborne invasion in history.

Publication of this "feature" (back in late 2003) created enormous interest amongst journalists and historians. We were glad to be asked to help with the historical background on various TV documentaries - they found the weather aspects of running and winning a war an entirely new angle. If you found "518 Squadron and the Key to the D Day Landings!" interesting, you might find our related features describing how a wartime Irvin flying jacket led to the writer and John Bristow meeting and becoming firm friends. This is a two part story which tells how we met and follows on with stories of escapades and narrow scrapes that John experienced whilst serving with 518.

I would add here this story now has a postscript. When I attended John's memorial service in January 2005, I honoured him by wearing the Irvin jacket that brought us together. In talking with his family after the service, it was clear they would have liked it back with them where it belonged. Quiet words were exchanged and sometime after the service the jacket was returned, where it is, I believe, cherished to this day. John told me he originally sold it to another dealer as it was "a bit scruffy" and he wanted to finance a new greenhouse but by a circuitous route it has now been returned! I would like to think John would be pleased with the final outcome and just a shame he did not live to see the 70th Anniversary that proved the turning point in WWII and in a roundabout way his Met Check flight should qualify him as an honorary D-Day veteran!

The Arms of William the Conqueror fly freely off Normandy today

Geoff Pringle
July 15th 2014

To read Part 1 of this feature "A D-Day Retrospective - Part 1"    click here
To read Part 2 of this feature "A D-Day Retrospective - Part 2 (or how I joined the Bigot List!)"    click here
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