Geoffrey Eaton Wright        
           
     

Geoffrey Eaton Wright
Sub-lieutenant British Royal Navy
22 April 1923 - 25 April 2012

Geoff Eaton Wright was born on the 22 April 1923 in Stoke Newington, London. His father was a clergyman and when the family moved to Osterley in west London his father, Dr Robert Frances Wright became Vicar of St Mary’ Church, Osterley.

While a student at St Paul’s School, Hammersmith at the age of 16 the Second World War broke out and Geoffrey Wright became part of the Prime Minister’s dispatch messenger service until the age of 18 when he went to Selwyn College, Cambridge. The day after arriving at Cambridge Geoffrey Wright went to the Naval Recruitment Office and signed on, but was told that he could stay at University until he was half-way through his course.

He was called up in June 1942 and sent to HMS Ganges, Ipswich for training as an ordinary seaman.

 
           
 

While at HMS Ganges his Divisional Officer suggested that Geoff Wright should join the Fleet Air Arm as a pilot. When he went for interview he was asked the question: ‘Would you like to be taught by the American Navy or the Canadian Air Force?’ His answer was that he would rather be taught by the American Navy as he felt that their pilots possibly had more combat experience than the Canadian Air Force pilots.

In early 1943 Geoffrey Wright embarked on the Empress of Scotland (ex Empress of Japan) and sailed from Liverpool to New York. Then he traveled to Detroit to train as a cadet pilot at the USNAS Grosse Ile. He found the trainee pilots living conditions was very much like a boarding school, but the food was excellent, especially being able to eat an orange and all the other luxuries that he hadn’t seen for a long time.

The first part of his training at USNAS Grosse Ile Michigan was from 8 April 1943 to 1 August 1943 when he was first introduced to the Spartan NP-1; a two-seat primary trainer designed and built by the Spartan Aircraft Company for the United States Navy reserve units.  All trainee flying cadets were allocated a flying instructor and fortunately for Geoff Wright he found his main flying instructor was Lt Vernon Tebo:

‘When I met Lt Tebo I found him charming and was lucky because he gave me brilliant instruction and never got rattled or annoyed, but was constantly encouraging. That was the man!’

Geoffrey Wright’s was instructed on the NP-1 from May 13-June 5 when he went solo. During this time he remembers that often when flying with Lt Tebo he would hear him singing Glen Miller tunes through the microphone and Geoff would join in. Another thing that Geoff remembers was that Lt Tebo had written on the back of the band of his goggles was RELAX, RELAX, RELAX, which demonstrates more about his character and encouragement to his trainee pupils.

On June 5 1943 Geoffrey Wright went solo for two flights. However, he remembers that he failed to check the blackboard which informed him when he was down to go solo: ‘I forgot it and missed it, but thought I would be kicked out’ Lt Tebo said: ‘Watch the blackboard because it is there you will be told when you will first fly solo’. The next day he was fortunate and allowed to fly solo for the first time.

During the month of July he continued his flight training, but now in a Stearman N2S.  At the end of the training Lt Tebo decided to write some prolific words in his log book. Lt Tebo remarked that he knew Geoff Wrights father was a clergyman, and asked how many Psalms there were in the Bible. When Geoff Wright told him there were 150 Psalms he said, ‘Where here is the 151st Psalm’ and wrote:

Remember the 151st Psalm:
Keep thine Air Speed, lest the ground rise up and smite thee.
BUT HARD!!!

Rules for Living
1. Control your emotions
2. Think independently
3. Act Courageously

A Pilot is as good as his ability to make a smooth turn.

Signed Vernon Tebo 29 July 1943

Lt Tebo shook hands with Geoff Wright and wished him good luck for the next part of his training.

(This can be seen in the logbook section presented by his son-in-law Paul McVeagh)

From the USNAS Grosse Ile Geoffrey Wright travelled to Saufley Field, Pensacola where he trained on the S.N.V., a US navy version of the Vultee BT-13A. His training continued at Whiting Field, Florida where he was flying the US Navy S.N.J, and then to Chevalier Field, and Barin Field as part of the training squadron 3A at the Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. On the 4 January, 1944 Geoffrey Wright qualified for the Award of Flying Badge.

From the 6 January 1944 he started familiarization training on the Grumman TBF-1 Avenger torpedo bomber and further flight work on the S.N.J at the USNAS Fort Lauderdale, Florida until the 7 March 1944. On the 5 March 1944 Geoffrey Wright completed his training courses and his ability as pilot was assessed as Above Average. He got his wings and became a flying officer. From there he went to USNAS Lewiston, Maine for further TBF flight work, and finally to 857 Squadron USNAS Squantum, Boston from the 13 May-27 June 1944.

His time in the USA was completed and Geoffrey Wright returned to England by ship, at first to Scotland, and then Belfast, Northern Ireland. He returned to 857 Squadron and went with the Squadron to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) where he joined HMS Indomitable.

On January 4 1945 Geoffrey Wright flew his TBF Avenger as part of a 2 Squadron attack on the oil refineries at Pangkalan Brandon (N.E. Sumatra), dropping 4 x 500lbs bombs. There were no losses and all aircraft returned safely.  The British Pacific Fleet sailed from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and arrived at their main base in Sydney, Australia on the 11th and 12th February 1945. HMS Indomitable, along with the British Pacific Fleet later steamed north to support the American landings on Okinawa.

From the 5th May until the 10th August 1945 the British aircraft carried out numerous dive bombing attacks on Japanese Islands to put their airstrips out of action, and suffered some losses. For some of the attacks Geoffrey Wright was involved included the runways of Ishigaki Airfield in May 1945, the same island as Lt Vernon Tebo had been shot down just one month before on the morning of the 15 April 1945. Lt Vernon L Tebo, aged 28 and his crew, Warren H. Loyd, aged 24 and Robert Tuggle aged 20 parachuted from the Avenger after it had been hit and were captured by the Japanese, where they were tortured and cruelly executed.

It was very sad because Lt Tebo was an excellent trainer, but quite a number of the American instructors had already been in combat and were sent to the training centres and sometimes found they longed to return to active service. However, many including Lt Tebo would beg to be allowed to return to combat service. Sadly for Lt Tebo and his Avenger crew were shot down and were executed by members of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

I had been looking on the internet for information on the Pacific War and the name ‘Lt Vernon L. Tebo’ came up on the ShipleyBay.com site. I made notes of what I had found out and shared them with Geoffrey Wright. He was very upset by the news as he had often wondered what had happened to Lt Tebo and had very fond memories of his time as trainee pilot at USNAS Grosse Ile.

© Mike Roussel. June 2012

NB I am researching information on the wartime accounts of the Pacific War and if anyone has any information about training in Grosse Ile, especially if they were trained by Lt Tebo, or knew him. Also information and photographs about the Okinawa landings and any accounts by pilots or crew that took part in them that would be helpful to my research, please contact me on mike.roussel@btinternet.com
 

 
     
           
 
 
           
  Sub Lt. Geoffrey Eaton Wright's Son in Law, Rev Paul McVeagh, provided the memory noted below.  
 

 

Hello,

My Father in Law was Sub Lt Geoffrey Eaton Wright (1923-2012) of the Royal Navy who was pilot of a Gruman Avenger based on HMS Indomitable in the Far East 1944-45. He died last Wednesday at the age of 89, and his funeral is planned for 13 June 2012.
 
Throughout the 29 years I have known him he has talked about his experiences and especially of his fond memories of Lt Vernon Tebo who was his flight instructor during his primary training in 1943 at USNAS Grosse Ile. He talked often of Lt Tebo who taught him well and with great humour. In the early days of his training his log book shows that he often flew with Lt Tebo who nicknamed him, Wilbur (an obvious aviation illusion to the Wright brothers).

Geoff was the son of a Church of England vicar and Lt Tebo teased him with an entry in his log book;

"Remember the 151st Psalm:
Keep thine airspeed lest the ground rise up and smite thee
BUT HARD!!!"

Geoff went on several dangerous missions in the Far East and survived when many of his squadron did not, but over the years he was particularly upset by the death of his friend Lt Tebo. I attach a copy of a page of Geoff's log book with the 151st psalm entry and other other comments in Vernon Tebo's hand.

With best wishes,

Rev Paul McVeagh (also a Church of England Vicar!)

 
 
         
           
   
           
  Pictured above: Sub Lt. Geoffrey Eaton Wright - Flight Log  
           
           
   
           
     
   
           
           
     
           
     
           
           
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