Wes Weekes of Yarraman
Wes Weekes ex farmer, sawmill owner, building hardware supplier in Yarraman, now deceased had a vital role as a RAF Pathfinder in World War II.
A book written by pilot Tom Scotland DFC tells of Wes Shorty Weekes the radio operator.
In June 1944 Weekes' Pathfinder crew of seven men were flying over the industrial heart of Europe. Pathfinders were selected crews who led the bombers into attack during WWII. Weekes' role as radio operator included dropping strips of aluminium foil through a chute to confuse enemy radar. Suddenly, his Halifax aircraft was pinpointed and lighted up by an enormous number of searchlights on the ground.
Pathfinders were prime targets of enemy defences. Despite the glare of the searchlights, Smithie the rear gunner saw two enemy fighters coming in to attack. "Get weaving skipper, quickly," he called to Scotland the pilot.
Evading the searchlights and the fighters seemed a hopeless task to Scotland, but he had an idea.
Weekes was at the rear of the Halifax with cartons stacked full of strips of aluminium foil. "Shorty, quickly, lock open that big door near you. Empty all the aluminium foil in a heap on the floor near the door. When I say 'GO' you heave it all out into the sky - all of it."
Weekes tells his part, "It wasn't easy to hold on that night because the skipper was tossing the big plane around so much. But I found a way to steady myself as the plane twisted and turned. I looked out of the plane's open door. All I could see was glaring light. Suddenly I was pushing out that huge heap of aluminium strips. They disappeared into the rushing air. I just saw sky and lights and held on for dear life."
Scotland had done a quick manoeuvre that left the aluminium foil glittering in the powerful glare of the searchlights. Enemy aircraft and searchlights were confused long enough for the Halifax to escape and for the crew to complete their task. Next morning Weekes was the toast of his fellow crewmembers. His quick thinking and courage had saved their lives.
Weekes continued with his skipper to complete more than 60 attacks on enemy targets. He also survived the fall of a bomb which landed in his radio cabin. He astutely led the crew to dispose of it and then to set up parachutes at the back of the badly damaged aircraft as a braking mechanism. Somehow the aircraft eventually landed and the parachutes slowed it to a halt
But, Weekes' favourite souvenir is a piece of shrapnel steel that came from an exploding shell, which smashed open the bottom of his Halifax. One piece of shrapnel was ultimately found under the pilot's seat. Weekes says, "My skipper and I were lucky. The shrapnel would have missed him and me by a whisker."
Weekes met a charming lass called Elsie Bodell from Bexley in Kent. So began a wartime romance. Elsie worked as a Punch Card Operator computing servicemen's pay for depositing into their bank accounts. The machine she operated would have been a pre-cursor to computers today. Despite enemy bombs, she couldn't go home until the day's work was completed. There was a bed at work for her to sleep in if she needed it. Imagine how Elsie was over the moon when her Wes survived his terrible air battles of WWII and she became his wartime bride. Since that time Wes and Elsie have enjoyed 57 fulfilling years together and have raised a large family of sons and daughters. At the door of their home in Yarraman they have an aircraft painting to remind Wes he had survived that terrifying bomb dropped into his wartime radio cabin.
The book that includes the adventures of Wes Weekes, "Voice from the Stars, a Pathfinder Story" is obtainable from Tom Scotland at our Orders page.