Navigator: Flt Sgt Vivian Nicholson DFM

Vivian Nicholson came from Sherburn, Co Durham and was the eldest of eight children, all boys. When he left the local school, Vivian was apprenticed in the family joinery business but then, even before he turned 18, he volunteered to join the RAF.

After initial training in No.1 Initial Training Wing in Babbacombe, near Torquay, he was packed off to Canada on the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Canada, with its wide open spaces and distance from the main theatres of conflict in Europe, was ideal for aircrew training, and over 150,000 people from Britain, the Commonwealth countries and the USA, were sent there during the war. He started his training in Canada but then went on to Tuscaloosa, Alabama in the USA for part of his course. Even though the USA was not yet in the war, it was already providing training facilities for the Allies.

Besides the training in navigation itself, there were a number of other courses aspiring navigators needed to pass, such as map reading, armaments, Morse Code, instrument and radio direction-finding, reconnaissance and aerial photography. Navigation itself required a lot of mathematical skill. No calculators or other mechanical help existed then, although there were complicated slide rules which helped with some of the calculations.

By the late summer of 1942 Vivian’s specialist navigator training was at an end, and the work of getting him ready to fly in a bomber crew began. He was sent to No.10 OTU at RAF St Eval, Cornwall, in September 1942. He arrived there at the same time as bomb aimer John Fort and wireless operator Antony Stone, and it is likely that the trio teamed up there. Some of the training flights in this Unit took place on anti-submarine patrols in Whitley aircraft, but it doesn’t seem that Vivian took part in these. All three arrived at No.1660 Conversion Unit at RAF Swinderby in January 1943, at the same time as William Hatton and Harold Simmonds, and probably crewed up there. A month or so later, they were ready for operations and they all left for 207 Squadron at RAF Langar in Nottinghamshire.

For his role in Operation Chastise, Vivian Nicholson received the Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM). He was promoted to Flight Sergeant in August 1943.

See the navigation equipment used by Vivian Nicholson on the Dams Raid in May 1943 on the Gallery page.


Vivian Nicholson, right, with a friend, Mick Smith. Picture taken while training as a navigator in Alabama, USA, December 1941. Picture: Cyril Nicholson.