Billam Allen 609 *


Allen Billam, was a Yorkshireman and quietly proud of it.  He was born on April 28th 1923 in Crookes, Sheffield. His family were not well off. His father was a self-employed knife-grinder in the cutlery trade and the dust from the grinding caused frequent bouts of ill-health, but his childhood was a happy one.

Allen was a bright, if not model, scholar but had to leave school at 14 to start earning money. So began a lifetime’s association with the Post Office with his first job as a telegram delivery boy complete with bike.

Still, his intelligence must have been noted because when war came he volunteered for the Air Force and was taken on for pilot training. He was sent to Calgary, Canada to train, and told a great story of the crossing. The ships would travel in convoy to evade the U-boats, but one morning their boat awoke to found themselves deserted. They had suffered from engine problems and so had been left to their fate. Canada must have been a fantastic experience for a boy who prior to the war, had hardly left Yorkshire. He acquired a love of pancakes and maple syrup and spoke of the intense cold and wonderful scenery they flew over. On a sad note, the first letter he received overseas was to say that his father had died of a perforated ulcer whilst only in his 50s.

Back in England, he was posted to numerous airfields around the country as D-Day preparations got under way. He used this time to develop his relationship with his future wife Barbara, and  when he was finally posted to 609 Squadron (just before D-Day) and had his own aeroplane – a Typhoon armed with rockets – it bore the name ‘Barbara’  in her honour.

609 Squadron provided critical support to ground forces pushing the German troops back towards their eventual defeat, and was made up of pilots from many nations – Belgium, New Zealand – and even Germany in the case of Klaus Adams, who had Jewish ancestry and is much more famous now as Ken Adam – designer of James Bond sets.

Allen would talk about the fun they had—the jokes they played for one thing. Someone allegedly stuck chewing gum over the bottom of the ‘toilet pipe’ in the cockpit of another pilot’s plane so that any fancy manoeuvres would cause an overflow. I never did find out if that was true but I believe pilots were banned from urinating on the plane wheels as it was perishing the rubber. He talked about the chap who was shot down and killed while still owing him money (card games being a common way of passing the time). He spoke of another who had borrowed his gloves. Allen finally badgered him into giving them back and the next time the pilot flew, his plane was attacked and his hands got badly burnt. He related how he got his nickname ‘Lord’ by signing just his surname at the bottom of an NCO’s letter he had censored—apparently only peers were allowed to omit their initials!

Allen’s active wartime service only lasted a year but it was one of the most intense, exciting and probably downright scary times of his life. (He did admit to being halfway out of the cockpit once preparing to leave a damaged plane but decided that he was too scared to bail out and took his chance landing instead!). When hostilities ended, he was posted to 2 Squadron where he flew Spitfires—always comparing them unfavourably to his beloved Typhoons—and took aerial photos of bomb damage. He also got married: that wartime romance led to nearly 66 years of happy marriage and two telegrams from the Queen. However, the RAF in peacetime was not his thing—I suspect he found the protocol and formality not to his taste.  So he returned to Sheffield; to the post office, his wife, Sheffield Wednesday during the football season, coarse fishing during the fishing season, and enjoyment of a good pint of bitter in any season.

He became a father relatively late in life – nearing 40 and with 17 years of marriage under his belt. Then  with one daughter and another on the way he moved out to settle in Lincolnshire where he spent the rest of his life, acquiring sons-in-law and grandchildren along the way and notching up nearly 50 years with the Post Office—service which won him the British Empire Medal. He was always happy to reminisce about the war and enjoyed catching up with former colleagues at reunions and book signings. He proved he still ‘had what it takes’ when he piloted a light aircraft as part of his 70th birthday celebrations.

Allen enjoyed relatively good health until the last couple of years of his life, when arthritis and heart trouble took their toll. He died of lung cancer on October 3rd 2011 with his family by his bedside. We miss him still.

Above: 87th birthday with grandchildren 2010

Posted in Memorial Stones.