A Short Life Story
Jack Forster Overton was born in Huddersfield, West Riding of Yorkshire in 1918. His secondary education was at Worksop College, Nottinghamshire where he was in the Officer Training Corps. On leaving school he joined the Territorial Army and in January 1939 he was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers (later Royal Artillery), 43rd (5th Duke of Wellington’s Regiment) Anti-Aircraft Battalion, West Riding Area – 371 Searchlight Battery, Huddersfield. In August 1941 the Battalion moved to the Humber Zone in the East Riding of Yorkshire where the city of Hull, particularly, was being heavily targeted by the German Luftwaffe.
Jack’s dream was to join the Royal Air Force. This he successfully realised on 29 November 1941 when he became a Pilot Officer (trainee) with No. 7 Elementary Flying Training School, RAF Desford, Leicestershire, learning to fly de Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moths. He was confirmed as a Pilot Officer in March 1942 and further training followed at: No 1 Pupil Pilots Pool, RAF Peterborough, Northamptonshire; 37 Course RAF, College Cranwell, Lincolnshire; 17 Advanced Flying Unit, RAF Watton, Norfolk and 41 Operational Training Unit, RAF Old Sarum, Wiltshire. On 1 October 1942 he was promoted to Flying Officer and on the same day he made his first solo flight in a North American Mustang I.
On 18 November 1942 he joined 613 (City of Manchester) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force, ‘B’ Flight, based at RAF Ouston, Northumberland. At that time, the Squadron was part of Bomber Command (Army Co-operation Command; it was to become part of 2nd Tactical Air Force, affiliated to Fighter Command in June 1943). The Squadron was equipped with Mustangs, which had recently replaced Westland Lysanders II & III and Curtiss Tomahawks IIA.
Jack flew his first operation on 5 February 1943, a ‘popular’ (photo reconnaissance) from Berck to Le Crotoy along the northern coast of France. Over the following months from a variety of RAF Stations in England, Jack carried out many operations with the Squadron: fighter sweeps, shipping reconnaissance and anti-shipping strikes off the French & Dutch coasts from various RAF Stations in England, as well as anti-submarine patrols and bomber escorts off the north-west French coast and Bay of Biscay, when the Squadron was based in Cornwall.
Jack wrote the following on the back of the photo:
Yours truly + Quien Sabe prior to convoy ‘pranging’ on April 29, 1943.
‘What a line’.
Jack named his first Mustang ‘Quien Sabe’ (which he took as ‘You never can tell’; in Spanish, it translates as ‘Who knows?’). That Mustang was borrowed by another pilot, who crashed it in England and died on February 6, 1943; the pilot, F/O Alan M. Peake, was with 63 Squadron at RAF Odiham, Hampshire.
The 613 Squadron Mustang in the photo would be ‘Quien Sabe II’, AM175; the ‘pranging’ on April 29 was an operation accompanying Beaufighters attacking a German convoy off the coast of Holland near Texel. Jack renamed that Mustang ‘Peggy’ (his future wife) in June 1943. Mustang AM175 would be shot down on 18 July 1943 by German fighters off the coast of Den Helder/Egmond, Holland. The pilot, F/O Henry G. Taverner (RCAF) of 613 Squadron, was killed.
ABOVE: Jack with another Mustang (Peggy II).
On 23 August 1943 this aircraft was bombed and slightly damaged by the Luftwaffe when it was on the ground at RAF Coltishall, Norfolk after it had been flown there for repairs by another pilot of 613 Squadron.
In October 1943, while based at RAF Lasham, Hampshire, 613 Squadron started converting to the fighter-bomber version of the de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito, FB Mk VI. By that time, Jack had completed 33 operations in Mustangs. In January 1944, he was officially promoted to Flight Lieutenant, back-dated to November 1943.
Jack later named 2 Mosquitos ‘Peggy’: Peggy III was shot down on 14 January 1944 while over France on operations against V-1 rocket sites; both crew, F/Lt Joseph G. Oliver (pilot) and Sgt. Harry Williams (navigator) managed to survive the crash and, with the help of French civilians, were sheltered and then managed to get back to England; F/Lt Oliver rejoined 613 Squadron but was killed in a flying accident near RAF Swanton Morley, Norfolk on 28 July 1944. Peggy IV crashed on 2 February 1944 near RAF Hatfield, Hertfordshire; the pilot, F/Lt Raymond E. Knight, was flying solo and survived.
Jack married Margaret ‘Peggy’ Weldrick from Dewsbury, Yorkshire on 1st June 1944 but the honeymoon in Devon had to be cut short when he was recalled for D-Day. His younger brother, Guy, an Able Seaman in the Royal Navy, was due to be best man at the wedding but Navy leave had been cancelled in preparation for Operation Neptune.
During 1944 the Squadron flew operations over occupied France: night intruders and rangers, bombing railways, transport routes and V-1 rocket sites. By July 1944 Jack had completed a further 43 operations in Mosquitos, making a total of 76 operations. During this time, Jack won the French Croix de Guerre medal, as did his navigator, Adjudant Jacques Murray of the Free French Air Force. On 20 February 1944 their Mosquito was one of 6 from the Squadron that took off from RAF Lasham, Hampshire to attack a V-1 rocket base target in Northern France. As Jack’s aircraft was flying at low level over the French coast, the starboard engine was badly shot up by German flak. The port engine and hydraulic system were also hit but Jack managed to nurse the aircraft back to England, crash-landing at RAF Ford in Sussex, just a couple of miles inland from the English Channel on the south coast. Both Jack and Adj. Murray were unhurt. Jack was the only Englishman in 613 Squadron to be awarded the Croix de Guerre.
In July 1944 Jack transferred to 417 R&SU as the officer in charge of flying. This Unit, closely affiliated to 613 Squadron and the other Squadrons in 138 Wing, was tasked with the Repair & Salvage of damaged aircraft and ferrying them back to the Squadrons. However, Jack was still called on by 613 Squadron for another couple of operations, one of which was during Operation Market Garden over Arnhem, Holland on 17 September 1944.
In November 1944 the Squadrons of 138 Wing moved to Northern France: Cambrai-Epinoy airfield, which had been liberated from the Germans the previous September. Jack flew to the airfield on 30 November. That same day, 3 years and 1 day after joining the RAF, he was killed in a road accident. He was a passenger in a car driving on a cobbled road to 138 Wing near Cambrai. The car skidded, overturned and Jack was killed instantly.
All the aircraft christened ‘Peggy’ by Jack were either shot down, shot up or crashed by other pilots. It seems that in the air Jack was very fortunate. It was ironic that, after successfully completing 78 operations, he met his end in a car crash on the road.
The recommendation for Jack’s Croix de Guerre had been accepted and notified by the Air Ministry on 19 October 1944 but the medal was awarded posthumously.
EMBASSY OF FRANCE 10 Duke Street
LONDON London, W.1.
AIR ATTACHÉ Welbeck 4471
– EXTRACT –
ORDER N° 65
Air Force General BOUSCAT, General Chief of Staff of the Air Force, mentions in despatches of the Air Brigade:
F/Lt. OVERTON JACK – 613 Squadron –
“ This Officer showed great courage and remarkable skill as a pilot. On 20 February, during the course of an effective attack on objectives in France, his aircraft was seriously damaged by Anti-Aircraft fire. Skilfully guided by his French navigator F/Lt. OVERTON succeeded in bringing his machine back to its base in England thus avoiding through his skill and his decisiveness, a forced landing in enemy occupied territory ”.
This citation awards the Croix de Guerre with Bronze Star.
PARIS, 5 June 1946
Air Force General BOUSCAT
General Chief of Staff of the Air Force
Certified to conform to the extract
Colonel de RANCOURT
Air Attaché with the French Embassy
In addition to the Croix de Guerre, Jack won the Distinguished Flying Cross, announced in the London Gazette on 29 December 1944. It was awarded by the Air Ministry to Jack and his navigator, P/O Alan E.D. Eyles, particularly for their part in a number of daylight raids in February 1944 against well-defended German targets in the Pas-de-Calais region of northern France and most notably, on 25 February: when returning from one such raid, they saw an RAF Mitchell bomber ditch in the English Channel and the crew escape into 3 dinghies; Jack and P/O Eyles gave fixes on the position and orbited for 30 minutes to enable Air Sea Rescue to assist and recover. In Jack’s case, the DFC was awarded posthumously.
Flight Lieutenant Jack F Overton, DFC, Croix de Guerre, died aged 26. He is buried in Cambrai Communal Cemetery, Northern France.