An extract from the eulogy prepared by Rosemary and Michael, and read out at the service of thanksgiving, telling about his life in World War II.
…With the onset of war, Ted volunteered for the RAF, much to the disgust of his father, who wanted to get him a commission for the Royal Navy. Ted was sent for training in Blackpool and lodged at a guest house with the Carter family who had befriended him. His first training course was at Invergordon for training in seamanship where his skills at flag signalling learned at Scouts stood him in good stead.
Aircraft flown there were Londons, Stranraers, Lerwicks and Catalinas. He was posted to 201 Squadron, flying Sutherlands in the Shetlands and later moved to Loch Erne in Northern Ireland. After a stint of escort and anti-submarine hunting in November 1941 he was posted to Bircham Newton to become a founder member of 279 Air Sea Rescue Hudson Squadron which was set up to cover the Thousand Bomber raids, due to commence in the Summer of 1942. He was given the responsibility of researching into what supplies ditched airmen required. To that end, he visited Pilot Officer ‘Hoke’ Mahn, the Hampden bomber pilot who famously survived adrift in the North Sea for fourteen days. Ironically, just a year later, Ted found himself next to him in Ward 3 in East Grinstead hospital.
After the second Thousand Bomber raid, he located six men in a dinghy, dropped supplies to them and his aircraft was set on by three ME 109s. The plane sustained over 100 hits and they were lucky to spot the white cliffs of Dover in time and crash-landed at Eastchurch. Later it was found that only one strand of wire remained holding the elevators. The dinghies he had found were picked up and the survivors joined the crew at Bircham Newton a few weeks later. After rescuing some 36 more airmen he was posted to 206 Squadron, Benbencula, operating Flying Fortresses.
He was then transferred to the New Forest to convert long-range Liberators. Overnight they became 86 Squadron, operating out of Aldergrove with reduced armaments. Although it has never been published, they covered the centre of the Atlantic Gap. During this time, they located four submarines and sunk a further two in June 1943. On 20th June that year they went out and flew into thick sea fog. Low on fuel, they spotted U-boats lying in wait and realised something big was going on. The crew took a ballot and decided to go further to investigate, knowing that in doing so they would not have enough fuel to get back.
They found a large allied convoy with thousands of men on board. They were in radio silence, so all they could do to warn them was ditch in front of the leading ship, HMS Faulknor, not realising that there were 25 foot high seas running. Upon impact, Ted was knocked unconscious, coming to in total darkness, unable to breathe as he was totally immersed in water. A slight current pushed him through the top hatchway – he had a chance. But his left foot was caught on a cleat and with great effort he managed to bend down, grabbed the zip on his boot and pulled it down to free himself. Rising to the surface, he found to his horror a 25 foot wave coming towards him and all he could do was shut his eyes. Out of the darkness came a light and a booming voice telling him to grab an oar.
Once on board, he was winched onto the aircraft carrier and taken to the hospital wing for surgery – he had lost half his face. Ted was just 22. No one was allowed to see his face for some time, it was so badly injured. After the operation, the ship’s surgeon apologised that he had not made a very good job of his face, but wired his friend, Sir Archibald McIndoe to book him into East Grinstead hospital. The convoy that within seven days would go on to carry out the assault on Sicily, called at Gibraltar and landed the survivors who were then flown back to the UK. Ted arrived at Ward 3, East Grinstead for treatment, and became a member of the famous Guinea Pig Club.
The Guinea Pig club…was so named because Archibald McIndoe admitted that he had no choice but to try out his ideas on his patients to repair horrible fire and facial injuries that were not in any reference book. It is said that the Club was ‘the most exclusive club in the world but the entrance fee is something most men would not care to pay and the conditions of membership are arduous in the extreme’.
Ted married Peggy in December, 1943, only partially patched up from his injury, and spent the honeymoon at Carter’s in Blackpool. Peter was born in October 1944, followed in later years by Rosemary and then Michael. Ted and Peggy were married for 56 years. After the war, due to his injuries (he had three air crashes in all, damaging his back in one and was saved by a rubber dinghy on one occasion, thereby becoming ‘Gold Fish’, a title given to people who had been rescued from the sea), he was in hospital for a long time and couldn’t walk properly for four years.
…I was always curious to learn of his RAF experiences, but aware that those who had endured such terrible experiences rarely talked about them, dared not ask. It was only at Ted’s 90th birthday party when, after having cut his cake, Ted suddenly began to tell his story. Those of us fortunate to be present sat in silence. A mark of his humility is when I asked Rosemary, preparing for today, what was Ted’s title in the RAF she told me that she thought he began as a rear gunner but due to his other skills he was promoted to Wireless Operator and Navigator and she believed that he could also pilot an aircraft and may possibly himself have crash-landed his stricken aircraft at Eastchurch as the two other pilots were severely injured. To this day she is confused somewhat as he always said his rank was Warrant Officer, but correspondence from the Guinea Pig Club comes addressed to Wing Commander Buller!