Pilot: Sqn Ldr David Maltby DSO DFC

David John Hatfeild Maltby was born at 8.45pm on 10 May 1920. He was born at home, which was a large house called Hydneye, in Baldslow near Hastings, Sussex. Hydneye House was a boys' preparatory school, owned by his father, Ettrick Maltby, who was the headmaster.

Ettrick Maltby (whose unusual first name is supposed to have come from the Scottish river in which his father was fishing when he was received news of his son's birth) and Aileen Hatfeild were married in July 1914 in Margate, Kent. Aileen's family, the Hatfeilds (spelt in this unusual way) were a well known local family, with many property and farming interests in the area. Ettrick and Aileen had three children: Audrey, born in June 1915; David; and Jean, my mother, born in December 1924.

They all had a conventional upper middle class upbringing, and David was sent away to school, first at St Wilfrid's in Hawkhurst, and then Marlborough College, which he left in 1936. In 1938, he decided that he wanted to train as a mining engineer, and went to work at Treeton colliery in South Yorkshire, boarding with a local family in the neighbouring village of Aughton.

When the war started he decided that he wanted to join the RAF, and he tried to sign up on 6 September 1939. At the same time so did tens of thousands of other young men. Most of them (including David) were told to go away and wait, and that they would be invited for assessment as soon as possible. In David’s case this didn’t happen until 20 March 1940, when he was accepted for aircrew training and formally joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve. There was then a further period of waiting, and he finally got his call up papers in June of that year.

He was given a fortnight’s notice to present himself at the RAF Receiving Unit at Uxbridge on Thursday 20 June, when he would begin aircrew training as a member of the RAF Volunteer Reserve. After time in the Initial Training Wing, he went to Elementary Flying Training School, at Ansty in Warwickshire, receiving one to one instruction in the famous old training aircraft, the Tiger Moth.

Flying an elderly biplane is one thing, becoming a battle-ready pilot needed more training on more advanced aircraft. David was sent to No 12 Service Flying Training School at RAF Grantham. On 18 January 1941, he became a qualified pilot and was awarded his wings.

Further training was needed before a pilot was ready for operations, but by June 1941, he had been through all this and was posted to RAF Coningsby, the airfield from which he would fly on his last operation, in September 1943.

Coningsby was the home of two squadrons, Nos 106 and 97. David flew his first operations in 106 Squadron's Hampdens, but was soon transferred to the new Avro Manchester aircraft, operated by 97 Squadron. This was the two-engined precursor of the formidable Lancaster, but it was notoriously underpowered and unreliable. However by January 1942, the new Lancasters were available (97 Squadron was only the second squadron in the whole RAF to get them) and David was able to fly as a first pilot with a crew of his own. This included a number of members who were to become close friends, plus a dog called Shep which they adopted as a mascot, and can who be seen in the official 97 Squadron aircrew picture – the only dog amongst more than a hundred airmen. David took part in a number of famous operations, including two unsuccessful attempts to destroy the German battleship Tirpitz, which was concealed in a Norwegian fjord.

David finished his first tour of operations in June 1942, and was awarded the DFC. He then spent a few months commanding a flight which trained gunners and bomb airmers before returning to active operations with 97 Squadron, in March 1943.

He was given a new crew, all recently qualified from training. Within 10 days, as a group, they were transferred to a new squadron, set up under the command of Guy Gibson, to prepare for a highly secret mission, to drop a completely new weapon on the German dams.

David married Georgina (Nina) Goodson of Wickhambreaux, Kent, in May 1942. Their son, John, was born on 1 July 1943.

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David Maltby, probably taken in August 1943.

Left: David Maltby aged 10, sitting on the steps at Hydneye. On the right is his cousin, David Yule. Picture: Ruth Walton.

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97 Squadron aircrew picture, probably June 1942. Click to see a larger version. Picture: Nick Stein.

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