Wednesday 10 June 2015

Captain Evans, Monty and the Flying Fortress - an update

Monty with the crew of Theresa Leta (Bobbie Kinnear collection)

Regular readers may remember that in February 2014, I recounted some of the exploits of Captain (later Colonel) Richard E Evans USAAF and his crew when they were flying the Theresa Leta, B17 Flying Fortress which General Bernard Law Montgomery had 'won' in what was thought by General Eisenhower to be a light-hearted wager but which the deadly serious British general had insisted be 'paid out' to him.

Monty 'Learning the Ropes' (Bobbie Kinnear collection)

At the time of writing the second part of the story, I had a feeling that my crew list was incomplete but following a further meeting in London with Bobbie, her husband John and daughter Kate, I was alerted to a book called "Victory Mail of World War II; V-Mail, The Funny Mail" by Captain James W Hudson, who was heavily involved in the setting up of this vital morale boosting method of communicating with home for the boys posted overseas.

Monty at the controls (Bobbie Kinnear collection)

Although Hudson was based in Egypt running the V-Mail system, his official title was 'Senior Photographic Officer in the US Army Forces, Middle East' and thus in November 1943, he was appointed to be Photographic Censor for the Cairo Conference between Winston Churchill and President Franklin D Roosevelt  and ended up taking many of the photos of this event himself. Later still, he was at the 'Big Three' conference in Tehran, when Prime Minister and President were joined by Soviet Leader, Josef Stalin and it was during this period that Hudson got to fly in the Theresa Leta along with some illustrious passengers.

Bobbie has subsequently most kindly sent me a copy of the book, as well as some of the original photos that form part of her collection and which also appear in the book - perhaps originally taken by James Hudson.

As a result of reading Hudson's chapter on the Theresa Leta and her crew, as well as Captain Evans' as yet unpublished memoir, we can now show the complete crew list, their rank and position aboard Theresa Leta and where known, their hometown in the USA.

The Crew of the Theresa Leta:

Captain Richard E Evans (Pilot) (Tennessee)
Lieutenant Fred I Johnson (Co-Pilot) (Logansport, Indiana)
2nd Lieutenant Albert L Beringsmith (Bombardier) (Chicago, Illinois)
2nd Lieutenant Thomas Carver (Navigator) (Alameda, California)
Tech. Sergeant Dale Owens (Flight Engineer)
Staff Sergeant Francis (Frank) R Morris (Radio Operator) (Soodenow, Illinois)
Staff Sergeant Victor Kennedy (Waist Gunner) (Tylertown, Mississippi)
Tech. Sergeant Lewis (Top Turret)
Staff Sergeant Austin (Ball Turret)
Staff Sergeant Charles (Chuck) W Ward (Tail Gunner) (Albuquerque, New Mexico)

Also after writing the first series of articles, I received an email from Lee Beringsmith, the son of the Bombardier, Albert L Beringsmith. Lee spoke very highly of Captain Evans and recalled that his father felt that he was the best pilot in the squadron and gladly swapped places with another bombardier who suffered from nervous problems and wanted off Captain Evans' crew. Lee also kindly recounted an amusing story but one in which we see Monty's sometimes well hidden 'human' side which showed his insistence at nothing but the best for the men under his command:

"My Dad told me that when they reached Cairo, Monty had them check into the Cairo Hilton as part of his personal staff. As Monty left the B17, he told Captain Evans to call him if there were any problems. When they got to the front desk at the hotel, the rather rude clerk informed them that there were no rooms available. Captain Evans asked to use the phone and reached Monty. He passed the phone to the clerk and said 'General Montgomery would like to speak to you.' The desk clerk rolled his eyes, picked up the receiver and suddenly snapped to attention, saying ' Yes sir, yes sir, right away sir.' Needless to say, rooms were somehow magically found and the crew got a well deserved rest from their combat missions."

I am indebted to Bobbie Kinnear as always for her generous sharing of her family photographs and to Lee Beringsmith for his email and shared anecdotes.

Published Sources:

Victory Mail of World War II: V-Mail, the Funny Mail - Captain James W Hudson, Xlibris Corporation 2007

Unpublished Sources:

Unpublished memoir of Colonel Richard E Evans USAF

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