Trench Raider to Dam Buster: Air Cdre Wilfred Wynter-Morgan CBE MC - Kathryn's history blog

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Trench Raider to Dam Buster: Air Cdre Wilfred Wynter-Morgan CBE MC


In the Summer of 1914, the nineteen-year-old Wilfred Wynter-Morgan was living on his widowed mother's farm in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire. He had evidently shown promise from an early age, attending private school at the nearby Wycliffe College and working as a local government surveyor, rather than joining his elder brother on the farm.

Alongside this work, he was also a territorial soldier, training regularly with the 1/5th battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment. As war broke out in early August they were en route to their annual training camp in Buckinghamshire and quickly had to return home before leaving again for formal training on the Isle of Wight.

Grade II listed Churchend Farmhouse, Slimbridge
Wynter-Morgan's childhood home, Churchend Farm in Slimbridge. Today it's a B&B. (source)
Wynter-Morgan was at this time only a private, arriving in France with the 1/5th Glosters on 23rd May 1915. Colonel Waller later praised his service in these early days, saying 'as a private he had the merit of doing his job entirely unobtrusively. He knew how to obey, which was the first step in knowing how to command'. From his youth Wynter-Morgan had known how to distinguish himself, earning the position of Head Prefect while at Wycliffe. Once in France, he appears to have shown these traits, becoming one of the first in the battalion to be trained in bombing and quickly promoted to lance corporal. He was also able to use his skills as a surveyor to draw accurate diagrams and maps of the trench system, aiding the battalion.

On the night of 3rd August Wynter-Morgan was chosen to lead the support party of six men for a trench raid on a German listening post near Hebuterne on the Somme. This night was to become famous in the battalion, with the raid's leaders Cpl RE Knight and LCpl FW Harvey winning the DCM for their bravery in rushing the post and shooting three of its German occupants. Upon the arrival of Wynter-Morgan and his men the others fled.

Like Knight and Harvey, Wynter-Morgan was soon promoted again, leaving the Fifth Glosters in October to undergo Officer Training. In January 1916 he was then posted to the 1st battalion Glosters as a temporary second lieutenant; temporary in that it was for the duration of the war.
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It wasn't long before he impressed in his new unit, winning the MC for bravery on 15th April while at Maroc, northwest of Lens. Their trench was 'very heavily shelled by all calibres of artillery', forcing Wynter-Morgan to rescue four of his men from a mine. Following this, he was granted leave to return to England and collect his award from Buckingham Palace, with his bravery reported in the local press upon his return.

Wynter-Morgan saw out the war with the 1st Glosters on the Western Front, being promoted to temporary lieutenant in 1917, and fighting at the Third Battle of Ypres, the German Spring Offensive and the Battles of the Hindenburg Line.

It seems that Wynter-Morgan enjoyed the military life as after the war he transferred back to the Fifth Glosters, where he was further promoted to captain. Despite his years in the 1st battalion, this was very much his home, with the chaplain and many of his friends from the unit being involved in his 1925 marriage to Mollie Gwendoline Herbert.

However, by the time of this wedding, he had transferred away from the Glosters to take up a role with the Royal Air Force. His departure from Gloucester Station on 5th January 1924 was recorded in the local newspaper and shows just how fondly he was thought of within his battalion and the city:

"Shortly before the departure of the 12.5 pm train on Friday morning, the up platform of the GWR station at Gloucester was crowded by a large number of local Territorials who had gathered to bid God-speed to Capt. W. Wynter-Morgan, MC on his departure from the city to join the RAF at Uxbridge, prior to embarkation for Egypt on January 12th ... The popular former officer commanding A Company, 5th Battn. Gloucester Regt was given a rousing send-off. “Auld Lang Syne” was sung, and cheers were given as the train left the station."

Following his first year in Egypt, Wynter-Morgan moved with his new wife to India, with a further posting to Iraq in 1933. He spent most of the 1930s working as an armament officer, putting his his experience to use in training from April 1939.

In the Autumn of that year, aged 44, now Group Captain Wynter-Morgan found himself involved in a second world war. Although not in the front line this time around, he came to have a crucial role in some of Britain's most important weapons. Owing to his work in armaments, he was posted to the Ministry of Aircraft Production to work on behalf of the RAF as 'an expert on problems of explosives and ballistics' and became the RAF's Deputy Director of Armaments.

Soon, Wynter-Morgan became involved with Barnes Wallis and his development of the bouncing bomb, advising on the use of Torpex, an explosive originally used in torpedoes. These bombs, codenamed "Upkeep" and "Highball", were designed to be dropped on water for the destruction of dams and ships. Wynter-Morgan's work was significant enough that on 13th May 1943 he was onboard the only "live" testing of Upkeep prior to the iconic Dam Busters raid, held near Broadstairs.
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The Upkeep test flight (source)
In the test flight, Squadron Leader MV Longbottom flew the Lancaster plane with Wynter-Morgan in the rear turret, so that, in the description of historian John Sweetman, he could 'watch the behaviour of the mine after release as it slowed to 55mph behind the aircraft'.

Days later, the Dam Busters raid was a success, with large areas of the Ruhr being flooded. Wallis and team, including Wynter-Morgan, then turned their attention to developing heavy bombs: the five ton "Tallboy", which was used in 1944 to sink the Tirpitz ship, and the ten ton "Grand Slam", deployed from March 1945.

The successful use of this second bomb drew lots of press attention to the MAP, with the Telegraph citing the 'responsibility for development of the new bomb' as the concern of Wynter-Morgan alongside Squadron Leader JB Davies. Wynter-Morgan also won praise closer to home in the Gloucester Citizen, which commended his length of experience, which now stood at more than 30 years in the military.
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Months later, at the end of the war, Wynter-Morgan was awarded a CBE for his services to the RAF. He went on to join the Ordnance Board, an advisory board on munitions within the Ministry of Defence until he moved again in 1949 to work for the British Joint Services Mission in Washington DC as an Air Commodore.

This appears to have been his last posting before retirement. He died on 27th March 1968, aged 73. His military career was long and remarkable: serving in two world wars and across two forces, from raiding trenches as a lance corporal in 1915, to developing some of Britain's most important bombs by 1945. With time spent in India, the Middle East, and the US, he must have seen some amazing things and drawn together a wealth of experiences and expertise.

Much of my research into Wilfred Wynter-Morgan has been achieved through drawing together various mentions of him in online records and through newspaper citations. I would be interested to know if a fuller story existed, perhaps to his descendants, as there is still so much to flesh out understand and remember his amazing life.

Kathryn

Sources:
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid (Cassell, 2002), p.94.
https://www.flightglobal.com/FlightPDFArchive/1948/1948%20-%201055.PDF


The Daily Telegraph
The Gloucester Citizen
Charles Foster, The Complete Dambusters: The 133 Men Who Flew on the Dams Raid
With thanks to the Ancestry tree of Neil Howarth and Slimbridge LHS.

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