Alway, Edwin John, Flight Lieutenant 77382

Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR).
Died 5 September 1940, aged 37

Edwin John Alway
Edwin John Alway
Image courtesy of Wendy Jeffrey, a grand-daughter © 2014

The marriage of George Edwin Alway (born 13 Jul 1875 in Pack Horse Cott., Barton Hill Bristol, Gloucester) to Eliza Martha ('Dolly') Graysmark (born Holborn, London, 1878) was registered in Epsom for the first Quarter of 1902. A son Edwin John came to be baptised at St Barnabas' Church on 3 December 1903. For the 1911 Census the family may be found enumerated at 38 Miles Road, Epsom. George Alway's occupation is found variously stated as bricklayer/general foreman (building)/ master builder/master bricklayer. The Municipal Review, 1957, reported that Ald. G. E. Alway (Epsom & Ewell) [elected to Epsom Urban District Council in 1920] received the council's congratulations upon completing more than 36 years as a member of the Highways committee, 24 of them as chairman. Alderman Alway, the 'Father' of the council served as mayor of the borough (incorporated 1937) [1946] and as chairman of the former UDC [1930-31].

By 1921, when aged about 18, E J Alway had become Hon. Sec. of the Wireless Society of Epsom. It seems Edwin entered the Royal Air Force at an early age and during 1926 may be found serving at Ismailia, Egypt, as a Corporal. Presumably this was as a member of 208 Squadron, an army co-operation and reconnaissance squadron formed at Ismailia by the renumbering of 113 Squadron, which spent the pre-war years based in the Middle East. He became an Associate Member of the Institution of Radio Engineers - 'A.M.I.R.E'.

Photograph from E J Alway's album - possibly of a  Bristol F2C, type 22B, two seat fighter-recce biplane with a Bentley B.R.2 Rotary engine - as flown by 208 Squadron in Egypt.
Photograph from E J Alway's album - possibly of a Bristol F2C, type 22B,
two seat fighter-recce biplane with a Bentley B.R.2 Rotary engine - as flown by 208 Squadron in Egypt.
Image courtesy of Wendy Jeffrey, a grand-daughter © 2014

Edwin J Alway married Grace L Innes, Wandsworth, 12/1927, and they lived at 50 Canford Road, SW11, (probably with his wife's parents) where he operated as a radio 'ham', using the call sign 5AU. Also in that year he wrote from Kings Lynn about frequencies describing himself as 'Sergeant in RAF'.

Having returned to civilian life, he pops up in 1933 residing at 579 Gander Green Lane, Sutton, presumably a rented property because a year later his address had changed to number 535. E J Alway became involved with the BBC Empire Service operating from 1932 out of Chelmsford with short wave equipment rented from Marconi, call sign G5SW. Programme material was wholly derived from the Home Service but a small studio had been set up manned by two BBC engineers, one of whom was Edwin Alway - they were responsible the opening and closing announcements.

By 1936, under L W Hayes, he had been appointed Engineer in Charge, Empire Section, Overseas and Engineering Department of the British Broadcasting Corporation. During 1937 he was back at Canford Road, Clapham Common before moving to 18 Laburnum Road, Epsom for 1938. He applied for UK patents involving radio technologies in 1937 & 1939.

E J Alway at BBC
E J Alway at BBC
Image courtesy of Wendy Jeffrey, a grand-daughter © 2014

Following his entry to the RAFVR, he was enlisted, for the duration of hostilities, Pilot Officer 77382, on probation from 6 January 1940. A transfer to Technical Branch in April was followed by elevation to the substantive rank of Flying Officer on 19 July of that year. Briefly, he had commanded a 'Listening Post', part of the 'Y' Service, set up in a caravan on corner of RAF Hawkinge which operated long range Hallicrafter VHF receivers listening to German transmissions. Having subsequently been attached to the Air Ministry for work on radio countermeasures, he was very shortly acting with the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

Knickebein - the German bombing beam

Prior to the War, the German aircraft industry had invested heavily in research and development of blind landing aids which allowed aircraft to approach an airport at night or in bad weather: the primary system developed for this role was called Lorenz. For bombing use the modifications to Lorenz were fairly minor but much larger antennae were needed to provide the required accuracy. This was achieved by using aerials with many more elements, but it retained the simple switching of two of the reflector elements to alter the beam directions very marginally. The beam angles were so dramatically reduced that it was only a few tens of yards wide over the target. It was the shape of the aerials that gave the new system its code name, Knickebein, which means "bent leg". For the required range, broadcast power was increased considerably. The Knickebein receivers were disguised as a standard blind landing system.

A single broadcaster would guide the bombers towards the target, but could not tell them when they were over it. To add this ranging feature, a second broadcaster similar to the first was set up so it crossed the guidance beam at the point where the bombs should be dropped. The aerials could be rotated to make the beams from two transmitters cross over the target. The bombers would fly into the beam of one and ride it until they started hearing the tones from the other (on a second receiver). When the steady "on course" sound was heard from the second beam, they dropped their bombs.

Map showing the positions of Knickebein transmitters during the battle of Britain.
Map showing the positions of Knickebein transmitters during the battle of Britain.
Map by Dahnielson and reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Early in June 1940 no signals which could be ascribed to a Knickebein beam had been detected in England. As a matter of urgency, however, arrangements were put in train to attempt interception. American VHF receivers were acquired, and modified to run on on 28 volts DC rather than 250 volts AC. Mountings and VHF aerials needed to be fitted to three elderly Anson Mk 1 aircraft (N9945, N9938 & L7983); all the work being undertaken almost single handed by Edwin J Alway, drawing on his experience with the BBC. On 19 June 1940, a test flight failed with a fault in the HT generator and nothing could be heard over the following night by detectors in N9945. Alway, who had previously been aboard was to tired to fly for a third test on 21 June. The three Ansons from Boscombe Down's Blind Flying Development Unit (under the command of Sqn. Leader R. S. Blucke) had been moved to RAF Wyton, Huntingdonshire, nearer the East Coast, and on that occasion the investigation flight proved successful.

On 5 September 1940, still working with BAT & DU (Blind Approach Training and Development Unit - otherwise Wireless Intelligence Development Unit ), Edwin was aboard another Avro Anson, R9815, engaged in a beam approach development flight whilst enemy aircraft were in area. A wing struck ground on the final approach and Fg. Off. K. Munro, Flt. Lt. E.J. Alway, Sgt. C.J. Hames, W.op/AG. Sgt. F.W.K. Wood, Obs. were casualties

Amongst other details the Flying Accident Card records:
"Crashed making Lorenz approach in fog. Flew into ground on a turn with subsequent bounce and stall from low height. Made approach down beam to left of contact lights. As boundary is in line with lights a/c (aircraft) turned or banked to avoid same, wheel hit ground."
Michael Cumming, writing Beam Bombers:The Secret War of No 109 Squadron in 1998, remarked on page 18: -
"...Anson crashed at Boscombe Down while making a blind approach landing in fog at night. Munro was the captain and pilot this time and he died in his plane, as did one of the NCOs in his crew. Two more died either in or on their way to hospital. One of the dead men was a member of an Air Ministry radio countermeasures establishment who had taken part in the very first investigations into the enemy's beams over Britain, Flight Lieutenant E J Alway. It was Alway who reported back to the Air Ministry after the initial flight on 19 June and it was Alway who flew as wireless operator the following day when Bafton made his debut investigative flight on resuming his service with BAT&DU. There was just a single survivor of this fatal crash, Sergeant A D F Allen, air gunner, who escaped with only slight injuries. Allen was awarded the George Medal for his actions during this incident."
The Air Ministry reported that Acting Flight Lieutenant E J Alway died of wounds or injuries received on active service, 5 September 1940, presumably having been extricated fron the crashed aircraft. His demise, aged 36, is recorded at Salisbury for the September quarter of 1940, with the other casualties from the crew.

Edwin was brought back to Epsom Cemetery for burial in Section N. Plot 263 (in a group of CWGC graves) on 9 September 1940 - from Boscombe Down Aerodrome, Amesbury, aged 36 yrs. 11 mths.

Edwin's Headstone in Epsom Cemetery
Edwin's Headstone in Epsom Cemetery
Image courtesy of Brian Bouchard © 2014

His mother, Mrs Eliza Martha (Graysmark) Alway from 38 Miles Road, Epsom,aged 64, was brought to be interred nearby, in Plot N 229, on 16 June 1942. Her huband George Edwin died 4 January 1962 in Epsom Hospital , aged 86 (reg. Surrey Mid E 3/1962) to be buried in the Cemetery on 8 Jan 1962 [Epsom & Ewell Herald, 12 Jan 1962. 'Last Tributes to Ald. G.E. Alway - Forty years of voluntary service acknowledged'].

The ashes of the widowed Mrs Grace Lilian Al(l)way of 18 Laburnum Road, who had died aged 72 in West Park Hospital, Epsom, on 8 February 1979 were scattered on Grave Space M263, 20 February 1979.

Edwin's Inscription on the BBC Roll of Honour
Edwin's Inscription on the BBC Roll of Honour
Image courtesy of Wendy Jeffery © 2014

Brian Bouchard ©2014
With additional information provided in 2016 by Martyn Rapley.

The man who pulled Edwin Alway from the burning plane:

As you know, Edwin Alway died in a plane crash at RAF Boscombe Down on 5th September 1940.

My interest in Edwin Alway is that my wife's father was Dudley Allen who was the sole survivor of the crash and was subsequently awarded the George Medal for extricating three of the crew from the wreckage, including Edwin Alway, although sadly all three died of their injuries. Dudley only survived because he was in the turret gun position. At the time Dudley was a Sergeant and he eventually became a Squadron Gunnery Leader with the rank of Wing Commander. In the crash he suffered head injuries which caused his eyesight to steadily deteriorate and by the 1950's he was blind.

As part of my research into Dudley's life I was aware of Edwin Alway through RAF records and also from Michael Cummings' book "Beam Bombers: The Secret War of No 109 Squadron". When I came across your article during my research I was fascinated to learn about the earlier part of Edwin Alway's life. Given the crucial part he played in radio beam development during the early part of the war it does seem remarkable that his services were not recognised (as far as I am aware) by an award of some sort, albeit posthumously.

Martyn Rapley, January 2016