He was born in Clonmel, Co Tipperary on 8 January 1919, the only son of Michael John and Margaret Teresa (nee Kennedy) Mullally. He had a sister Maureen.
Bill was educated at Terenure College in Dublin from September 1930 to September 1933; at St Mary’s College, Rathmines, Dublin, from September 1933 to September 1935; at Rathmines Technical Institute, Dublin, from September 1935 to September 1936 and at Christian Brother’s School, Tuam, Co Galway, from September 1936 to September 1938. In this last year of his education he passed the Leaving Certificate with passes in five subjects and ‘Honours’ in three.
On 19 December 1938 he enlisted in the Royal Air Force (RAF). He gave his height as 5’11¼” with brown hair and grey eyes, and his civilian occupation as Chemist’s Assistant. He claimed to have knowledge of the internal combustion engine, and slight knowledge of aircraft construction, mechanics and electricity. This background saw him being appointed as Acting Sergeant and Air Observer just five months later in May 1939; he was confirmed in both on 30 November the same year.
Initially stationed at RAF Hendon, he trained at Yatesbury, Calne in Wiltshire. Four letters, full of enthusiastic descriptions of his daily life and studies, have survived. He joined 82 Squadron at Cranfield, Bedfordshire, flying in Blenheims, in May 1939. On 15 December that same year he joined 101 Squadron at West Raynham and on 30 January 1940 joined 107 Squadron at Wattisham, Suffolk.
Three telegrams addressed to his parent’s house at 102 Athenry Road, Tuam, Co Galway, survive. One is dated 19 April 1940, and orders him to report immediately to RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland. However, another telegram survives which tells his father that his leave had been cancelled. The date of this telegram is almost unreadable but appears to be in April 1940. Thus, it can be deduced that the telegram of the 19th recalling him from leave was sent in error. Another telegram, however, dated 20 April, was not a mistake - it told his father that Bill was reported missing. The latter is brutally abrupt ‘Regret inform you your son 580583 Sergeant Mullally reported missing 19/4. Letter follows.’
Seen from these more modern times, seventy years later, it seems impossible to imagine the anguish that this telegram brought. But, at least, they were told straight away, and were clearly kept as up-to-date as possible in the months that followed.
The stark facts are that Bill, aged 21, as navigator/bombardier, his pilot, Sergeant Peter Chivers, aged 19 (from Purley, Surrey) and AC2 Henry Greggan, aged 18, as telegraphist/air gunner (from Bootle, Lancashire) set off from Lossiemouth near Inverness, Scotland, on 19 April 1940 to fly to support the British Army then fighting in Norway. They were flying in a Blenheim Mark 4 bomber (P 4906) loaded with 4 x 250lb bombs to bomb the large airfield at Sola, near Stavanger in west Norway, a round trip of about 600 miles in daylight. The airfield had recently been occupied by the Luftwaffe and a large force of fighters and bombers had been concentrated. They posed a threat to the British Army that had landed in Norway and to Royal Navy targets in Scotland and the north of England. By the end of the month, 107 Squadron had lost 10 aircraft on several missions but, although it cannot be proved, it is very likely that Bill and his crew had flown on at least one mission to Stavanger before their final fatal one. It is difficult to imagine how such young men were given such responsibility but they were not unique in war time. The Blenheim was regarded as a pleasant aircraft to fly although, like many other aircraft of the time, it did have some characteristics which could catch even experienced pilots by surprise.
They never returned home. Whether or not they ever reached their target is not known but somewhere – presumably over the North Sea – they simply disappeared.
The loss is recorded in Graham Warner’s seminal book, The Bristol Blenheim, a Complete History as follows
On 19 April seven of the nine aircraft abandoned the sortie because of the weather conditions, this time a completely cloudless sky, for they had been ordered not to attack unless sufficient cloud cover was available – of the remaining two, one bombed ‘an airfield’ and one was lost (Sgt P. Chivers and crew shot down by a Bf 110 of ZG 76).
The acclaimed aviation historian Christopher Shores records in his book Fledgling Eagles:
Early next morning six Blenheims from 107 Squadron again prepared to raid
Stavanger. Due to a series of mechanical mishaps only three got off, and two
of these returned when the pilots realised that the formation was incomplete.
Sgt P. Chivers continued alone in P4906, and was intercepted by Fw Lothar
Linke of 3lZG 76, who shot the Blenheim down west of Stavanger. Linke
reported that the Blenheim crew put up a good fight. Even with flames pouring
from the aircraft when just about to crash into the sea, the pilot pulled up into
a climb, opened fire and obtained hits on a second Bf 110 which was flying
as Rottenflieger to Linke.
So, Bill and his crew died heroically, taking the fight to the enemy - who clearly viewed them with respect - and not as the result of bad weather or silly mistakes. Notwithstanding their heroism, they simply disappeared and have no known grave. They are commemorated on the Runnymeade Memorial near Egham Surrey, among 20,456 men and women from the British Empire who were lost in operations during World War II. All of those recorded have no known grave anywhere in the world and many were lost without trace. Bill is also commemorated on his father’s grave in Mullinahone, Co Tipperary though the wrong date of death is given (it shows 18 April).
In November 1940, Bill’s father (I wonder if Bill’s mother was already dead at that time) received a letter dated 9 October 1940 from a Squadron Leader at the RAF Record Office at Ruislip, which read ‘inter alia’
That confirmation arrived in a letter (dated 7 November) from the Air Ministry in London, signed by someone called Charles Evans (his appointment is not given)
The Council desire me to express again their sincere sympathy with you in your bereavement and in the anxiety which you have suffered.
I am, Sir,
Your obedient servant
The British Red Cross Society wrote on 4 December to express their sympathy and on 11 February 1941 the Air Ministry sent a money order for £21.12.2 as the balance of money owed to Bill.
It is understandable that the loss of an only son and brother had a profound effect on his father and on his sister; she never married. He was awarded the 1939-45 Star, Air Crew Europe Star and the War Medal 1939-45.
Why did he join the RAF? In his application to join he said that his only flying experience was ‘joy-ride only’ but didn’t clarify further. His father had been a Warrant Officer, later Lieutenant, in the British Army during WW1 and his father’s 1st cousin had been awarded a Military Cross with the Royal Army Medical Corps in that conflict. His maternal uncle, Fr William John Kennedy was an Army Chaplain. But we will never really know.
How poignant, in conclusion, that he should have inscribed this message on the reverse of his happy and proud photograph below.
More about his father. Michael John Mullally was born in the parish of Slievenamon near the town of Mullinahone on 17 May 1881. He had qualified as an Agricultural Instructor (Associate Royal College of Science of Ireland) and worked from December 1913 for the Department of Agriculture as their ‘Sampler’ authorised to take samples of Fertilisers and Feeding Stuffs and as an Agricultural Instructor in County Dublin. He was also appointed an Officer of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland for the purpose of the Weeds and Agricultural Seeds (Ireland) Act 1909.
He joined the Army Service Corps (ASC) of the British Army at the Royal Hospital in Dublin on 12 February 1916. Almost immediately he was promoted Acting Staff Sergeant Major in the Forage Department (provision of fodder for horses, etc) of the ASC and, just 241 days later, on 10 October 1916, he was commissioned as a Temporary 2nd Lieutenant in the same organisation. On his discharge from the Ranks his Captain wrote
During the period this Warrant Officer was under my command he was honest, sober and trustworthy and all duties allocated to him were carried out in an intelligent manner.
Lieutenant Mullally was Mentioned, as part of the office of the Quartermaster General, in a ‘B’ Mention on 25 March 1919. This was a list of names published by the War Office to recognise good service by people at Home, not overseas. It was published in the Times newspaper of that date (not in the London Gazette) and did not confer any medal or emblem. It was, nevertheless, recognition that his services were valued.
That Mention and other research points to the conclusion that Lieutenant Mullally (he was promoted to that rank on 10 April 1918) had not left Ireland during his service; he was demobilised in April 1920.
On leaving the Army Lieutenant Colonel Albert MacCullah, the Area Administrative Officer, Ireland, wrote
Mr MJ Mullally joined the Forage Department in Ireland in September 1915 (sic) and was promoted to Commissioned Rank for good service in October 1916.
Mr Mullally has shown that he has an intimate knowledge of agriculture in all its branches and has displayed great ability in all his transactions with farmers in the district in which he has been working.
Mr Mullally has had a large staff of NCOs and men working under him and possesses organizing (sic), executive and administrative ability of no mean order.
The ‘district’ referred to above is not noted but it may have been Cork, as a letter from a Captain Phipps a staff officer in Cork District, wrote on 4 July 1919
I think any Department to which you will offer your services will be lucky in getting you as, in the four years or so in which I have known you I have never met a more energetic or more able Officer or one more devoted to duty. I think your great organising ability and your tact in managing men under you should help you in your future life.
It is not known what he did after the War but by the time WW2 broke out he was running a Bus Company (the Blue Line) in Tuam, Co Galway. It would also seem that wanderlust had him, at different stages, working in a factory and inspecting cattle. He died in Dublin on 12 September 1960, aged 79, and is buried in the family grave in Mullinahone, Co Tipperary. His wife and daughter are buried in Glasnevin, Dublin.
The type of aircraft flown by Lothar Linke (below) when he shot down Bill’s Blenheim.
The Messerschmitt Bf110 was a twin engine heavy fighter known to the Luftwaffe as the 'Zerstorer' (Destroyer). It proved devastatingly effective during the early months of WW2, as the Luftwaffe swept through Poland, Norway and France, where its high speed and concentrated firepower made it the ideal support aircraft for bombing raids into enemy territory. However the aircraft's lack of agility in the air was its main weakness and this was exposed during the Battle of Britain when the 'Zerstorer' pilots came up against the well organised Spitfires and Hurricanes of the RAF. They were easy prey for the British fighters and suffered such heavy losses that some Bf110 units were withdrawn from the battle and redeployed as night fighters – a role which was far better suited to the aircraft.
 Only 23 miles from where these notes are being penned.
 In my possession, along with the other papers cited here.
 Different sources give different numbers of aircraft involved but Christopher Shores’s six aircraft appears to be the accepted figure.
 My highlight.
 An non-commissioned rank, equivalent to Sergeant.
 Lieutenant Colonel.
 19 April 1940.
 All such correspondence was addressed to the immediate next of kin so would not have been addressed ‘Mr & Mrs’
 About £21.60 in today’s decimal money.
 Dr Gerald Mullally.
 More details are being sought.