Wings Over New Zealand (WONZ – http://rnzaf.proboards.com/) is an online NZ aviation forum and community, a great repository of information, frequented by people with a great deal of knowledge about the history of the RNZAF and Kiwis in RAF Bomber Command. WONZ is run by Dave Homewood, who has been very helpful to me in my research over the past six and a half years.
When we discovered the first snippets of ‘Gerry’s story’ in April 2012, I started a new thread on WONZ, and then posted our first major breakthrough when we made contact with Doug Williamson just a couple of days later. It was via this and a following series of posts recording the efforts to get Doug on the 2012 RNZAF Bomber Command Memorial trip that we first made contact with Debbie, the daughter of skipper Johnny Wood in May 2012.
Other avenues led us to the families of Jack Cash (July 2012), Jim Hooper (February 2013) and Jack Pauling (March 2013), leaving only one crew member to be found.
In May 2012 Gerry’s son Bruce found that the crew’s rear gunner Ralph Sparrow had passed away on November 19, 1995, aged 70, in Port Alberni, British Columbia, Canada, but searches of phone directories, newspapers, community websites, etc. from that area didn’t bring up anything else.
After five years I had pretty much given up, but even though we couldn’t find Ralph, he found us! In November 2018 a post popped up on that same WONZ thread:
“I realize this is an old post but just wanted to say I really find it interesting and informative. it has motivated me to find out as much as I can about my grandfather’s time in the service.
I am the grandson of Ralph Charles Sparrow.
I read this a few years back and stumble back to it from time to time to read it over again. very interesting seeing all the information that is out there about the squadron and in particular this mission. if you have any other photos of the crew and squadron I would love to see them. I will do some digging and see what my father has in the photo albums at his home as well, it has been too long since I have looked through them.
So now we are in touch with Dave, who is from Vancouver Island and following the call of aviation in his blood, works as an aircraft maintenance engineer.
I have sent him a copy of ‘the story so far’ and he is having some photos scanned and is checking what else his father and grandmother may have tucked away in albums. That suggests that Ralph’s widow may still be alive?
The photo above is Ralph in the rear gunner’s turret of a Lancaster – possibly Dog’s rear turret?
It was exciting to be able to share the information we have so far with him and his family, to know that we will soon have more to add to the story, and to forward a photo of Ralph through to Doug, who was amazed to see “Tweet” again 70 years after they last saw each other!