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Diss and District Royal Air Force Association lead tributes to Second World War veteran Norman Gregory





Norman Gregory, one of the last remaining veterans of the Second World War, has died.

Prior to his death on Monday, Mr Gregory was one of a handful of surviving airmen from the RAF Bomber Command involved in the strategic bombing of Germany – a campaign that saw him jump out of a burning plane at 23,000ft and into the hands of Nazi troops.

The Diss Branch of the Royal Air Force Association led the tributes this week by describing the 100-year-old former member as a “great character who will be sorely missed”.

Mr Gregory pictured at a Bomber Command memorial event in London.
Mr Gregory pictured at a Bomber Command memorial event in London.

Born in Blyth, Northumberland, Mr Gregory moved with his family to Suffolk at the age of eight. As a teenager, he became an avid cyclist, once clocking up 200 miles in 24 hours without sleeping – but little did he know his endurance would be further tested in the years to come.

With Britain at war, he joined the RAF in 1942 and became one of the ‘bomber boys’ of Bomber Command, working as a bomb aimer in Wellingtons, Halifaxes and Lancasters.

In May 1944, he became a prisoner of war after his Lancaster was shot down over Germany.

“The whole aircraft was ablaze so the order to abandon the aircraft was given by the skipper,” he recalled.

“I was lying on the one and only escape hatch and I was the first one out. I jumped out at 23,000ft. I was soon captured by the Germans, and ended up as a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft 7 camp at Bankau.”

Out of a crew of eight, five were killed in the crash. During a year in captivity, he was forced to march for 21 consecutive days in deep snow, blizzards and freezing temperatures.

“There was a metre of snow and it was the worst winter for 40 years,” he said. “Sometimes, we marched all night.

“I had four pairs of socks – two pairs on my feet and the other two pairs were inside my shirt against my body to keep warm.”

He survived the notorious so-called death marches to Berlin in May 1945, managing to finally escape to the American lines.

Mr Gregory finished his RAF service in 1946, with the rank of Warrant Officer. Three years later, he married his late wife, Katherine.

His wartime service earned him recognition when he was made a Knight of the Legion d’Honneur by the president of France.

He became a member of the Diss RAF Association in 2019 and attended their first band concert at Diss Corn Hall, where he received a standing ovation.

“At branch meetings, and at Flixton, he recounted his inspiring story with humour and modesty,” said Richard Youngs, chairman of Diss and District RAFA.

“He was a great character and a much-valued member of our branch. He will be sorely missed.”

Earlier this year, a party from the Diss and District Royal Air Force Association, went to RAF Coningsby, in Lincolnshire, for his 100th birthday, where he sat in one of the two remaining Lancasters in the world – the first time he had done so since he was forced to bail out of the plane 80 years ago.

Prior to his military service, he went to St John’s College in York to train as a teacher.

During his time there, his actions in helping to save lives after an air raid in the town led to him being made an honorary Master of the university – the only time a student was honoured in such a way.

Mr Gregory was presented with a birthday cake for his 100th birthday earlier this year. As the oldest member of the Royal Academy of Octogenarian Cyclists, he remained on his bike until his final days. Picture: Mark Westley
Mr Gregory was presented with a birthday cake for his 100th birthday earlier this year. As the oldest member of the Royal Academy of Octogenarian Cyclists, he remained on his bike until his final days. Picture: Mark Westley

After the war, he continued his work as a teacher, teaching at several schools around Suffolk. Mr Gregory retained his passion for cycling up until his death, clocking up 5,000 miles a year well into his 90s.

Air Vice-Marshal Chris Elliot, controller of the RAF Benevolent Fund, said: “We were thrilled to see Norman at the Bomber Command tenth anniversary event in June this year, when he shared his incredible story about being shot down over Germany during the Second World War. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time.”



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