1 Group (Bomber Command) Pipes and Drums

The band was formed in January 1967 as the 1 Group (Bomber Command) Pipes and Drums and we are all very proud of our Bomber Command roots.

From those early days the band has gone from strength to strength and is currently one of the largest pipe band units in the armed services. Held in high regard across the piping community the band now known as The Waddington Pipes and Drums are in great demand for performances at home and overseas.

The band wears the RAF Tartan, the colours of which can be interpreted in many ways, the blues reflect the changing mood of the skies that we protect, the white stripe for the clouds and the blood-red stripe in honour of the fallen.

There has always been a long tradition of piping and drumming in the Royal Air Force, bands formed throughout the UK and overseas, Singapore, Egypt, Cyprus and Germany to name but a few locations. Every year Boy Entrant and Apprentice Units at Saint Athan, Halton and Cosford churned out trained pipers and drummers in great numbers and they spread their music far and wide.

The County of Lincolnshire has never been closely associated with the Great Highland Bagpipe. Never, that is since the far-sighted William Shakespeare’s allusion to the “drone of a Lincolnshire Bagpipe” in his King Henry IV Part I.

In January 1967, however, the threads of the story were taken up where the Bard left off, and the newly formed No 1 Group (Bomber Command) Pipe Band began to show its face and music to the world. The band was an amalgamation of the RAF Scampton and RAF Waddington pipe bands which had formed independently in September 1965.

The Band Officer and main force behind the establishment and funding of the band was a piper, Flt Lt. Keith Knight from 101 Vulcan Bomber Sqn at Waddington. It was mainly due to the hard work and effort on Keith Knight’s part all those years ago that piping and drumming have become an integral part of RAF Waddington. Keith also established the first World’s Bagpipe Altitude record of 43,000 feet in a Vulcan bomber.

In September 1967 the RAF Finningley pipe band was absorbed into the 1 Group band. That first summer the band carried out over 30 engagements and parades, the climax of the 1967 season was leading the march past at the Nijmegen festival in front of the Dutch Royal Family and an audience of millions.

1968 was a very significant year, it was the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Royal Air Force and Bomber Command was amalgamated with Fighter Command to form Strike Command.

The band became No 1 Group (Strike Command) Pipe Band and during the Vulcan the band and its members enhanced their reputation with performances in the USA, Canada, the Far East and Europe.

With the demise of the Vulcan fleet the station changed roles and left 1 Group, the band was renamed and became the RAF Waddington Pipe Band. Aircraft and personnel changed as part of 2 Group but the band played on.





The 100 Mile Walk (Stalag Luft VII to Berlin) with Saxophone and Clarinet

On the 25th April 1944 Flight Sgt Navigator Bob Burns, along with other members of his crew (Pilot F/O Bishop) climbed aboard Lancaster J-Jig having been briefed that the nights operation was to be Schweinfurt a small town in Bavaria containing a factory which produced a major supply of Germany’s ball bearing requirements.  After flying a very hostile route because of night fighters and changing weather conditions they arrived over the target at 17,000 ft, around 2.30 am, amidst fires, smoke searchlights and flak.  Jack Pickstone, the bomb aimed, gave his skipper the approach instructions for bombing.   On release of the bombs the Lancaster jumped into the air having released its deadly load.

Almost immediately the Lancaster was attacked by a night fighter at which point the rear gunner, Bill Stevens shouted “I’ve got the bastard, he’s going down”.  Simultaneously an alarming crunching noise ripped through the Lancaster and the bomber now on fire went into a steep dive. Bishop, the pilot shouted, ‘Bale out’, and the crew reacted immediately. Bob, after clamping on his parachute, climbed with difficulty over the main spar and headed for the rear door.  By now the aircraft had gone into a spin and the crew found themselves pinned to the floor due to the G-force.  Bob had resigned himself to the inevitable when, at around 3000 ft, there was an enormous explosion and he was propelled upwards and outwards through the roof of the bomber, being knocked out in the process.  The cold night air brought him to his senses and it was then that all the previous training kicked in.  He pulled the parachute rip cord and floated gently to earth, arriving with a bump in a ploughed field.

He discovered that the battle dress trouser covering his right thigh was torn to shreds and although in no pain his thigh was covered in blood.  Bob had landed near to a small town called Arnstein, 20 Km. south of Schweinfurt.  Bob and Jack Pickstone were the only crew members of Lancaster J-Jig to survive.  Of the 199 Lancaster’s detailed to bomb Schweinfurt, 16 were from 106 squadron. Twenty one aircraft failed to return which included five from 106 squadron.  Finally captured in the yard of the local railway station Bob was taken to a local cottage hospital, run by Nuns.

After around 3 months of treatment and with parts of Lancaster J-Jig finally removed from his thigh he was taken to Stalag Luft VII. At Bankau in Silesia  Shortly after arriving imagine Bob’s surprise when, on the 24 November, a crate of musical instruments arrived, curtesy of the Red Cross.  Bob immediately laid claim to the saxophone and the clarinet which he says were better quality than the ones he had at home.  He immediately set about forming a 14-piece orchestra writing all the music for the other instruments.

Unfortunately, Bob’s time at Stalag Luft VII was not to be for long as the camp had been built on a direct path of the advancing Russians heading for Berlin.  At 3.30 am on the 19 January 1945 around 1,500 prisoners were given two and a half days rations and evacuated from Bankau into a raging blizzard and one of the severest winters in memory.  Bob of course was one of these prisoners carrying with him his most prized possessions, a saxophone and a clarinet.  Although regularly falling from his grasp because of the cold, no way was he going to leave them behind.  For three weeks they marched in atrocious medical and weather conditions sleeping in barns and cattle sheds surviving on very limited food.  They arrived at Goldberg on 5 February, after walking 100 miles, suffering from dysentery, malnutrition and frostbite and were herded into cattle trucks and taken to Lukenwalde near Berlin.  Luckenwalde was greatly overcrowded and food just as scarce as on the walk.  Amazingly very few prisoners died on this walk.


The Russians arrived on the 21 April, handed over the prisoners to the Americans and Bob finally was sent home on two weeks leave.

Bob remained in the RAF, now promoted to warrant officer, until the end of 1946, returning to his musical career.  He then retrained as a civil engineer, a job he continued to do until retirement in South Devon along with his wife Anne and two sons, Peter and Tim.

Bob carried on playing his treasured saxophone with all its memories for family and friends until he died aged 95 in 2015.

“The Long Road” by Oliver Clutton-Brock gives a detailed description of the 100 Mile walk.


William Meyer DFC

William Meyer was born in London in 1910.   His background was very unusual, his birth certificate is in the name of Wilhelm-Alex Meyer-Braselmann, his parents were German.   The family company were importers and agents for a variety of industrial hardware, mostly from Germany.  Their agencies included Primus, well known for their Primus stoves and associated equipment.    After the death of his father in 1939 William, known as Bill, took over the running of the company.   Despite being in an essential occupation Bill organised a reliable team to manage the company and, once they were in place in 1941, he volunteered.  Facing the RAF Selection Board, he managed to persuade them to recommend him for pilot training despite his age of 31, the cut off for acceptance for pilot training.

In October 1941 Bill was sent to the USA for initial training at the Polaris Flight Academy at the aptly named War Eagle Field.  Following that he completed his training at RAF Forres in the north of Scotland.   He was then posted in December 1942, together with his newly formed crew, to join RAF IX (B) Squadron based first at RAF Waddington before moving to RAF Bardney.  From January to June 1943, he flew numerous sorties to targets usually in what was known as ‘Happy Valley’, the heavily defended industrial heartland of the Ruhr Valley.    He and his crew became known for the accuracy of their bombing earning special mentions in the squadron monthly reports.  They also had an unusual success when, having been attacked by a Me 109 during a sortie to St Nazaire, they managed to shoot it down and returned unscathed.

Having completed a successful tour of 30 sorties Bill was awarded a DFC his recommendation reads:

This officer has carried out 30 sorties against enemy targets, involving 175 hours flying.  He has at all times displayed the greatest determination to carry out his tasks to the best of his ability.  His courage and leadership have made his crew extremely successful, and his tenacity has produced good results in the number of night photographs he has obtained of his targets.  He is strongly recommended for the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.

As was usual Bill was then ‘rested’ from operational flying for six months and sent to help train new crews at No. 82 Operational Training Unit, at Ossington.  Here he survived a training accident that destroyed the Wellington that he had been instructing on.  Following the crash the aircraft caught fire and he was lucky to escape with burns.

After he had recovered from his burns, he then volunteered to become a Pathfinder, the elite force that led the bomber stream and marked the targets accurately for the main force.  A more dangerous role as not only did the Germans target the leading bombers but Pathfinder aircraft were unable to ‘weave’ over the target to enable the gunners to spot night fighters approaching underneath them as they had to fly straight and level in order to mark the targets with the utmost accuracy.

Bill joined 97 (Straits Settlements) Squadron in December 1943 and, now flying Lancasters again, flew throughout the winter of 1943/44.   This was during the ‘Battle of Berlin’ when Bomber Command was sent repeatedly to Berlin.   Bill, and those like him, now faced ever mounting losses during the long, icy nights in skies filled with flak, searchlights and fighters.    On the night of 15/16 March 1944 Bill was the first to take off from RAF Bourn on a sortie to Stuttgart.   The route lead over France before turning north near Lake Constance.   There a German fighter Ju 88C flown by a German fighter ace, Hauptmann Horst Heinz Hissbach, picked him up on his radar.   The Lancaster was raked with cannon shells setting the port engine on fire.   The fire rapidly spread and there was an explosion.  The aircraft broke up and crashed on the outskirts of a small hamlet, Zillhausen, in Germany.  There were no survivors.

William Meyer was my father’s greatest friend, a name remembered from my childhood.    Many years later, on coming across his photo and plaque in my parents’ effects, my husband and I decided to research Bill’s wartime history.   It was the start of a lengthy search full of surprises.  Bill’s German ancestry was a huge shock, when I told one of his first crew, he refused to believe it insisting that Bill was a typical English gentleman.   Another surprise was finding a witness of the crash in Germany.   Kurt Schneider, only fourteen at the time, had never forgotten that night and was able to tell us about it in great detail.   Thanks to the support of local people and the Mayor of the nearest large town, Balingen, we were able to erect a memorial to William Meyer and his 97 Squadron crew on the site of the crash in Zillhausen.   The unveiling ceremony was attended by men from IX (B) Squadron and two Tornados.

William’s entry on the IBCC Losses Database can be found here

Norman George Smith

Flight Sergeant 427226


I was born on 8th March 1924 in Perth at Nurse Stockley’s house and was delivered by Nurse Stockley. I admit to being a one-eyed West Aussie through & through. I’ve never fancied living anywhere else, even after traveling around a fair bit here and overseas.

I can vaguely recall living on a road off the South West Highway in Armadale, heading down toward the railway station, the house belonged to Mrs Graffen. Mum & I were renting a room at Mrs Graffens while Dad had gone to work at Whittakers Mill which used to be about 4 miles up in the hills above North Dandalup. I was the only child then so I must have been around 3 yrs old.

We then moved to the middle house of three out in the bush on the railway line near Whittakers Mill. I don’t think anyone lived in the first house, but Clarry Thorpe lived in the third. Each house was about 50 yards apart from each other. As I recall there were no other women or kids out there. My pet was a crocodile – probably a goanna, that lived in a fallen tree. I gave him a drink of milk every night.

While we were out there, Mum had to go to Pinjarra to have Winnie. Old Mrs Fitz took Mum to the hospital, she was always drunk and she was drunk when she took us to the hospital. Roy & I had to go along with them because we were so young and there was no-one to look after us. Mrs Fitz couldn’t stay straight on the road and I’d have to yell out to her to get back onto the road properly.

My brother Roy & I had some great times together out there, my sister Winnie was too small to play with of course. There was a photo somewhere of me nursing her on the front steps of the house. One time I had her on the steps on my knee and a big snake went under the steps, which I was a bit worried about. I couldn’t move, I was worried I’d frighten the snake and it would get us. Another time, I was with Dad and we were walking along the train line and I stepped over a snake. I didn’t realise I’d stepped over it at first but then I saw it and I told Dad who came and killed it and put it on the side of the track. I wanted to take it home, to show Roy & Mum, but he said no, we couldn’t because it wouldn’t be dead until sunset!!

Mum used to do our washing in a “copper”, a big round copper tub set above a fire which you filled with water, and a tub, down by the creek. I was always helping mum with the chores, Roy didn’t seem to have to do as many as me.

To keep ourselves occupied, Roy & I would sometimes put an upside down box on a stick with a string tied to the stick and we’d hide in the house and wait for crows to come for the breadcrumbs we’d put under the box.

One time we got 2 crows so we tied their feet together, but they were back the next day and one had the bit of string still on it’s leg.

I remember the train used to come past us once a day on the way out to the landing to pick up logs and take them back again to the mill. We used to always wave to the driver and the engineer.

When I got closer to school age we moved into a small house on the edge of the mill town. We were there just a few months and then we had another move into a fairly big house next to a laneway. Between us and the Post Office was Mrs Shoesmiths boarding house which later became the store after the original store and the Administration Office burnt down. There were quite a few store accounts and mill records lost in that fire. Insurance???

Mrs Shoesmith’s husband had been killed at the mill, logs had rolled down over him while he was working on them. She had 2 daughters, Rosie & Pearl. Pearl was a bit younger than me and Rosie was a bit older, I had a crush on them both. Pearl slapped me on the face because I tried to get a cuddle from her.

Many years later, after I’d start the South Mandurah RSL club, I was talking to a man at the club and he mentioned he’d married a woman from Whittakers Mill. It was Pearl. I asked him to see if she remembered me. Well she did, and she said she’d give me another slap if she saw me!! Women have memories of elephants!!!

There’s a photo of Rosie & I sitting at a table in Whittakers school, we were considered the head boy and head girl.

The mill also burnt down while I was overseas in the War. It was a suspected insurance job as most of the good equipment had been replaced by second grade stuff shortly before the fire. It seemed to be the fate of many of the timber mills around the place.

I really enjoyed school and my life to no end! There were other kids to play with now and more things to watch around the mill. For holidays at Christmas time, we would either go down the hill to the beach at Mandurah, or when the train went through to Bunbury, we would sometimes take the train to Bunbury and have a great time at the beach in Bunbury.

If we went to Bunbury on the train, Dad and Uncle Percy knew the drivers and engineers as they all worked together, so Dad and Uncle Percy would share a few bottles of beer with the driver & engineer all the way to Bunbury – it was Christmas after all!!

I recall a time we were in Mandurah, there used to be a footbridge across the estuary from Mandurah Terrace over to the land where the Peninsula Hotel would be built, Dad, Uncle Percy and I were walking on the bridge when I heard Uncle Percy ask Dad if I knew how to swim yet. Dad said he reckoned I was alright in the water. Next thing I felt Uncle Percy give me a shove and into the water I went. I was splashing about trying my best to keep afloat calling out to them to help me out when to my embarrassment I realised I could touch the bottom if I put my feet down! Uncle Percy & Dad had a great old laugh, I wasn’t so amused, but it made me determined to learn how to swim so there wouldn’t be a repeat trick played on me. By the end of that holiday I was a pretty good swimmer.

I remember sneaking a cigarette when I was about 10, I used to take one of Dads each time he’d get me to roll him some for the next day.

Dad used to make his own beer, sometimes they’d go pop in the night, I used to sneak in and pinch one now and then and believed Dad thought the numbers were down because they’d popped. Years later I’d find out he knew all along what I was up to. Roy used to let me go and pinch the beer, but he sure used to help me drink it.

One day Roy & I were out getting firewood, we had axes with us. Roy was standing on the end of a log, I was on the ground, I went to cut the axe into the end of the log and I hit a shrub which deflected the axe and it got Roy on the back of the knee. I wrapped my hanky around the wound and I carried him back to the headmasters house which was the closest to where we were. The headmaster made me stand up in front of the class as if I was a hero, but I felt ashamed because it was me that had wounded Roy in the first place. I don’t know how Roy felt about it all, he’d said “good on you” to me for getting him back but we never spoke about it after that. It was just another thing in our life, we didn’t see it as anything out of the ordinary.

When I was about 11 or 12 I saved a young boy, my school chum, from drowning in the swimming hole at Whittakers. As a reward I was given a silver hairbrush & comb set and the parents of the boy I’d saved took me to stay with them for a weekend in “the big smoke”, Maylands.

We were swimming at Whittakers and you used to be able to swim out to the middle and sunbake on the rocks there. Well this particular day he was on his way back to the shore and he got into trouble. I heard it and jumped in to help him. He grabbed me round the neck and for a minute I thought we’d both go under. I managed to get him to the shore though. He must’ve told his parents because I hadn’t said anything to anyone about it.

I’d arrived at their house at night and when I heard machines as I woke the next morning, I went to the bottom of the garden to see what it was. I went up a little slope at the end of the garden and there before me were all the planes flying in & out of Maylands airfield, it was love at first sight. I felt so excited, it was a feeling I can’t describe and I knew what I wanted to do. One day I’d be up there in one of the planes. I didn’t want to be a train driver anymore, which was what I thought I wanted to do.

My first job, when I was about 13 or 14, was helping old man Edison (retired engineer) on his small farm out near the Halls place which was on the train line out to the bush. My wages were 5 shillings a week plus lunch 6 days a week. He was very generous, 5 shillings was a good pay then. I was a good worker and he soon gave me a pay rise of 2 and sixpence a week. The next thing I knew he had arranged with his son Ollie, who was now the head engineer at the mill, to take me on as an apprentice engineer & machinist. I didn’t get to finish the apprenticeship because we left about 2 years later to go to Perth. The pay at the mill while I was the apprentice was 10/- per week. I was RICH!!!!  I was able to pay mum 6/6 and I had 3 & sixpence to spend. I spent it mainly on magazines about engineering and aircraft.

One of the magazines had an offer of a real working part of the controls of a Tiger Moth air plane in each edition, so I started to make my own Tiger Moth controls. Eventually I had it all together and was pleased as punch to have a real working Tiger Moth – apart from the body and motors that is. I knew how to fly one without ever having been in one. I would be able to put my knowledge to good use later on when Australia entered the Second World War, as our only planes in the Air Force at that time were Tiger Moths.

Just after my 16th birthday we moved to Perth and went to live in Victoria Park, our house was at the tram stop just at the end of the causeway bridge. When we lived here, we were right near the Chinese market gardens which were where McCallum Park is now. I can still remember the last trip the last Chinese market gardener made into Perth across the causeway. He waved to me and smiled, he said he was going back to China.

At this time I was working with Whittaker Bros in Subiaco with a German engineer. Hans Hagdorn. He’d jumped ship in Sydney, they caught him & put him back on the ship, he got as far as Melbourne and jumped ship again. They got him and put him back again. He got to Fremantle, jumped ship and before they picked him up again he’d got married. When the war broke out, he was put into a camp as all Germans were, but Whittakers got him out to go and work for them as they knew how good he was. He’d been working for the opposition. I was put with Hans and another engineer who would leave Whittakers and asked me to go with him, but I said I wanted to stay working with Hans.

I used to ride my push bike from Vic Park out to Subiaco to work in the mill. I used to hook onto the back of trams to get me up the hill past Barracks Arch, going home was all right, it was a pretty fast ride down the hill and onto the causeway bridge. I also had to ride all over Perth to pick up bits & pieces we needed in the Engineers shed at Whittakers. I knew ever lane and street in Perth and the shortest routes to get across town and back.

For fun in summer, my mates and I would try to make rafts out of old kerosene tins, they never worked and I reckon if you dredged up the river near where we used to live it’ll have a ton of old kerosene tins in the sand. We’d swim up the river to the Pagoda, lie around on the shore or go into the Pagoda and have a few dances while we were drying off, then swim back home in the afternoon. The Pagoda wasn’t licensed and anyone could go in and dance.

While living in Vic Park I’d become an Air Force cadet. But when the war came, I got a letter telling me to go and join the Army.

I passed all the Army checks and got to the end of the line of all us cadets, and the assessor had my reports. He said you can’t join the Army, you have to join the Air Force air crew, and I said well that’s what I bloody well wanted to in the first place! He sent me home. I waited at home until I got an invite from the RAAF. This was what I wanted but I had to wait for training as a pilot. I signed up in May 1942.

My initial training was at Pearce Air Force base in Bullsbrook, but it wasn’t very memorable. It was hours of marching under an abusive Sergeant – left, right, left right…….

Sleep at night would have been welcome but the pig trough we had for a bed didn’t ease the aches very well. The beds were three 6ft x 8ft slabs of wood forming a trough with a straw mattress & 2 Army blankets.

I was then posted to Geraldton on 16/6/1942. Geraldton was a lot better, we had beds and sheets and blankets. We also started to study aircraft & flying – not actually in the air but various lectures about how to fly. Our main job was to patrol all the various installations, aircraft, offices, hangars, workshops etc, mainly at night. It was rather scary at first until I realised all the “footsteps” I was hearing was only the canvas around the walls of the hangars flapping in the Geraldton wind. The canvas went from the roof all around the hangars and down to about 2ft to join the walls.

It’s quite amazing what a kafuffle a .303 shot makes on a RAAF station at 3am!! With no Japs around to blame for my shot I was in for quite a lecture from the adjutant.

I was only once more in trouble with “the higher ups” when the Service Police caught me with a WAAF in an air raid shelter having a bit of a cuddle. I managed to get out the back door OK but she got caught so yours truly went back to keep her company. I was confined to barracks for one week, she was confined for 2 weeks. I must have been led astray!!

The Army boys used to drive past our barracks for their showers and they’d see inside our huts and were jealous of our beds and sheets and other luxuries that they obviously didn’t get. I was glad I’d joined the Air Force!!


I was moved to Clontarf and finally began to learn to be a pilot. Clontarf was pretty good as most of us on Course 32 had all been through the initial training at other locations together. The PT instructor could blow up a tyre. He used to go to the Royal Show and demonstrate blowing up a car tyre.

When we first got to Clontarf we had to spend 2 weeks in tents because they still hadn’t cleaned the Clontarf units of the mess the students had made. When they’d left they’d made a huge mess, there was poo and other stuff all over the place. There weren’t any air planes there but we had lectures about flying.


I was sent to Cunderdin and got to start flying in the greatest and best trainer ever – the Tiger Moth DH82A. After going solo it was great fun to compete against each other in trying to flush a fox out of his bush retreat and run over him with our wheels. I never managed this myself but my instructor reckoned he got one. I never heard confirmation of that but I did see another pupil do it.

One of my mates there, on his first solo trip, made the most perfect of three point landings, textbook in fact – except he was still 50ft up in the air!! Needless to say the plane ended up a bit bent. He finished up flying Spitfires in England. The last time I saw him, he was a taxi driver in Perth in 1946. We had a great chuckle about his landing skills and time in Spitfires.

Bluey Truscott had the same trouble with landing planes, one time his whole squadron landed before him. He was killed when his dove into the sea, the last time I’d seen him was in Geraldton while we were training.

I was posted back to Geraldton and into a 2 engined Anson aircraft on 15/3/1943. Flying in Geraldton was fun, shooting up fishing boats, army vehicle wireless antennas, playing footy, army parades etc.

I got an emu once by chopping off his head with my port engine propeller but I got tail damage doing it.

I was now a pilot and after I was presented with my wings I was headed overseas. But first I went to Perth for a 5 day break. Dad took me to the pub and asked me did I want a smoke, I said yes please, he said “oh so you smoke now?” to which I said I did, he said “Liar! I know you used to sneak my rollies you made for me”. Then he asked if I wanted a beer, of course I said yes please. He said “oh so you drink now do you?”. Well I should have learnt from the first question, but I hadn’t. I said yes I do now. Again he said “Liar! I know you used to steal my home brews and tell me they’d blown up!!” “Don’t think I didn’t know all about it” I’d been busted, but if you think about it, it had taken many years before my game had been gazumped!!!

We went to Adelaide, then on to Melbourne & Sydney embarking on a yankee ship on 11/8/1943 headed for USA. It was damn hot on the ship, in a single cabin there’d be 3 or 4 of us. I remember there was hundreds of yanks in the pool on the ship, they were going home. Twice a day we had a meal, one was at about 11pm and the other about 11am. We could do nothing but lay around on the deck during the day, it was really crowded. The yanks slept in tiers, about 5 to a tier.

We landed in San Francisco and went across America and Canada by train to Camp Myles Standish. This train trip was a bit different to our train trip across the Nullabor which was pretty basic. This time we had a porter to make our beds each day with clean sheets & blankets. He was there to do whatever we wanted. There was magazines & cigarettes & 2 vans of things to keep us amused. Quite often the train would leave a station and there’d be a report somebody had missed the train.

Every stop we made there’d be crowd to welcome us and wanted to know all about us and to wish us luck. They’d give us a bottle of something, whatever they had.

Camp Myles Standish was just outside a place called Taunton, near Boston in Massachusetts, not far from New York. The camp processed over 1.5 million servicemen before their deployment overseas.

Some of the fellows got various ailments so we were able to visit Boston & New York quite a bit. This was because each time the ship would pull in to take us to the UK, somebody would have Scarlet Fever or some other thing and they’d keep us in the US until we weren’t contagious.

Some of the places wouldn’t charge us for being there because we were service men. There was Jack Dempsey’s night club, they made us sing a song, there was 4 of us, we had to get up and sing an Australian song because they hadn’t had much contact with Aussies. I think we sang Waltzing Matilda. At about 2am, we went to leave to go back to the hotel and as we’re going we asked for the bill. Jack Dempsey came and signed the bar tab, he wouldn’t let us pay for our drinks. He also paid for the taxi that took us back to the hotel which was the Hotel 14 on East 60th St.

The Americans were very hospitable.

Eventually we were put on board the Queen Mary as we were being sent to England. I’d filled my kit bag with things I thought might be useful for bribes or to entice the ladies in England if I should meet any. It was full of American cigarettes, chocolates, candies, silk stockings and other goodies. I gave all of them away – but got very little in return.

We landed in Scotland and went to Brighton by train. Here we were flying 2 engine Oxfords. At Bruntinthorpe it was 2 engine Wellingtons. At Swinderby it was 4 engine Sterling’s. At Syerston I finally got to fly the best of them all, Lancaster’s, they were beautiful. Most of the airbases here in England were a lot bigger than what I was used to in Australia, the planes were bigger over here.

We lived in Nissan huts, usually there were about 10 – 15 of us in each hut. There would be one bathroom per hut, they were pretty warm inside, though outside the weather could be really cold. I used to want to stay in bed but the boys used to find ways to get me up. I remember one time they picked me up in my blankets and took me outside and dropped me in the snow! Whenever they would play tricks on me to get me to get up I’d end up chasing them out of the hut. Either way you could say they were successful in getting me out of bed. The tucker was pretty good, I have to say I liked it – and I liked the girls that used to serve it too. There were a lot of girls on base with us, they had huts in a separate area to us. It was against the rules to fraternise with the girls, but most of the lads found ways to get to see them. And I’d even say that the girls could be very inventive in finding ways to get to see the boys too. There used to be a hut with just 2 beds in it, this was for those on night guard. That little hut was a very popular meeting place!! I was there with a lovely lass one time and we got caught, for some reason she was confined to barracks for 3 weeks and I only got confined for 2 weeks.

We would be on shifts while I was there, sometimes I’d be on 5pm to 5am or we’d do day shift. We would be required to have lessons on what it’s like to fly over Germany or be shot down and we needed to learn what to do to survive. My favourite times were always when I got to fly. A lot of the time was spent on guard duty or sitting around waiting for things to happen.

While in England we would get a few opportunities to have a look around. I went to London a few times, to the Lake District with the boys and we went to see the place where they had tested to “dambuster” bombs.

I remember London was full of night clubs, it was always a big night if we went to London. Quite often when people saw we had Australian uniforms on they would buy us drinks or pay for us to stay in a hotel, they were grateful we’d come over to help them fight the war. There was always so much to see and do in England, it was a very pretty place, set up for people to be entertained.

I flew a lot of decoy missions. This was where we’d have to fly to France and basically turn around & come back. They wanted us to do this so the Germans would fly after us, in the meantime, there’d be other squadrons fly in to Germany on other routes and drop the bombs, with less interference. We’d fly in from the south, they’d fly down from the north. Later when I would be dropping the bombs, there were decoys operating for me too.

On 7 Feb 1945 I was stationed at Waddington, outside Lincoln with the 463 squadron. Now we were ready to paste those Germans & win the war.

One time we bombed Dortmund it was a night trip, a “jerry” came home with us hiding in the stream and shot up aircraft that were on the ground and got the bomb dump. He’d also nearly got me and my crew. We’d gotten off the plane and climbed into the back of a truck with a canopy cover on the back to head back to barracks. Next thing there was the “jerry” coming at us straffing across the airfield. I threw myself on top of the lass that was driving the truck as we dived under the truck. The bullets went straight through the middle of the 2 parked trucks. It turned out she was dating a fellow who helped curate the Bullcreek Air museum, they ended up getting married. I know this because I was at the museum one time and got talking to the fellow at the museum about their Lancaster. While we related stories to each other I told him about throwing myself on top of this lass and he described her, I said yes that’s her. He then said he had been dating her at the time and they’d gotten married and now lived here in Perth. He asked me if I was sure I’d jumped on top of her to save her from the bullets!! I said “of course I did” Hahaha.

Soon after this happened I was transferred to another airfield and that’s when I finally got to start bombing Germany.

I recall one time we were on an active bombing mission and I said to the navigator that I thought we must be really close to the target or we were lost because we had been flying for so long. Over to my right you could see “ack-ack” in the sky about 3 or 4 miles away. I thought, gee I think we should be over there too. The navigator insisted we weren’t lost but we were. We’d overflown the mark by about an hour so I told the navigator we had to turn around and for him to set us a course for England. The navigation gear was broken so we had to use the stars – if we could see them – to try to find our way home. Eventually we got on what we thought was the right path home when I saw we had no fuel left. I told the boys they’d have to bale out but I was staying put, I didn’t want to get wet in the freezing cold English Channel. They all elected to stay with me too so the next thing we had to do was throw out any excess weight. We got over the coast of England and back in radio contact only to be told we couldn’t land at out airfield due to weather and we had to fly an extra 30 minutes to another airfield. Well we made it. We got there in one piece. When the engineer put the dip stick into the tank he pulled it out, looked at us, and said it was a miracle we’d gotten home, he said we had no fuel at all in the tank. I told him I bloody well knew that half way across the damn channel.

Another flight we were in place to drop our bombs and I said the bombardier to let them go, he didn’t come back to me for a bit and when I asked him if they’d got away OK he said “no skip, they’re stuck in the bay”. I hadn’t been flying active missions for long so I thought to myself, gee I’d better get these bombs dropped or command won’t be too happy. So I turned around and went back over the target after the engineer got the release working again and we dropped our bombs. I was in for a bit of a shock when I got back to base. The commander was really mad, he was fuming, he said I was a bloody idiot for turning around as I flew under my own boys dropping their bombs and the crew & I could have been bloody killed not to mention costing them a plane! Well I hadn’t thought about that but I could see his point. When I told my daughter Kath about this she remarked that my nickname of Mr Magoo was deserved even back in those days.

After the war pilots were asked to volunteer to fly back into Europe to pick up prisoners of war, I volunteered without hesitating. The crew & I thought about what we could do for these poor buggers and we came up with an idea. We painted “Smith’s Tours” above the door of the plane and wrote “comely waitresses inside” and a few other bits and bobs. We flew in to get the boys and sure enough it brought a smile to their sad faces. Some would ask where the girls were once on the plane or for a cold beer but mostly they were glad to have a bit of a laugh finally. When we touched down in England these boys would get off the plane and kiss the ground.

When the European war was done we were getting ready to go to the Pacific to fight the Japs when the Americans dropped that ruddy bomb and Japan surrendered. I was keen to continue to fight a war, we’d had a good time and we’d survived, I felt like I could go another round or two.

Anyway, it was time to go back home. While I’d been in England I’d become engaged a couple of times but these had fallen through, usually because the girls would go off with a Yankee or I’d find one I liked a bit better than the last. At the end of the war I had met Peg, she didn’t take off with a Yank and she seemed to like me, so we got married on 29 September 1945 in Nottingham. I was 21 and she was 19. The plan was that I would go home with the Air Force and Peg would come out by ship as a war bride a few months later. She set sail in December 1945 and arrived in Perth in February 1946. I didn’t think about it at the time but I now wonder what it must have been like for her to leave an English winter and arrive in the hottest month of an Australian summer.

Upon my return I was stationed at Pearce Air Force base in Bullsbrook north of Perth. Peg & I had been staying with my mum and dad in East Vic Park but we needed a place of our own as it was only a 2 bedroom house with a sleep out and the girls, my sisters Beatty, Lynne & Winnie were all still living at home. My brother Roy had been in the Air Force too and was at Pearce during the war.

Peg & I rented a house at 54 Marine Parade Mosman Park. Nobody liked living on the beach they said it was windy and sandy but we liked it. For Peg it was a very new experience as England didn’t have the white sandy beaches like we did. The house was like 2 houses in one. It was a big old fashioned typical Australian house with wide verandas that were partly enclosed. It had a curved bull nose tin roof and trellis on the veranda. The yard was huge.

My boss at Pearce said he wanted me to live on base at Pearce but I didn’t want to live up there because I thought he had designs on Peg. I didn’t trust him because he was married and he had a girlfriend, I wasn’t going to let him get near Peg.

While we were living here, Peg had become pregnant a couple of times but sadly she miscarried each time.

On way home, stopped in India,  I got to see the Taj Mahal.

A Seven Year Scratch – Memories of a World War II Pilot

Arthur John Jack Ball and Crew members outside a bomber

by Arthur John ‘Jack’ Ball, DFC

I’ve wanted to fly since I was a boy. Living under the circuits of two famous aerodromes presumably had an influence on me and I went through all the usual stages, reading magazines, building models and visiting air shows, finally joining the Royal Air Force. Many good books have been written about the period covered and many survivors’ tales have been told, so I will try to limit myself to the facts as seen through one pair of eyes and to convey the flavour and attitudes of the times. These are so important, yet difficult for succeeding generations to appreciate. I’ve regretted not discovering more about the lives of those who went before me, so I’ve included a sketchy piece of family history – if only I’d asked more questions or paid better attention. It is with this in mind that I hope that what follows will be of interest to some.

I was born in 1922 at 9 Goldsmith Lane, Roe Green Garden Village, Kingsbury, Middlesex. My brothers, Henry and Richard, were then ten and nine years old, my sister, Joan, was seven. A famous architect had designed the village in 1917 to house workers at Airco, who had been building aircraft for the Western Front, and it earns a mention in the RAF Museum at Hendon. The wing of a surplus airplane formed the roof of our chicken house, until it burned one Bonfire Night.

It was a delightful place to be raised. In those days, no neighbours owned a car, the front gardens, grassed and unfenced, were a communal play area and we were surrounded by safe, open country. Our roads were travelled by the horse-drawn carts of the baker, milkman and fishmonger, with occasional street singers, muffin- or onion-sellers crying their wares. Towards dusk the lamplighter would appear with his ladder, which he placed against the crossbar of the lamppost and went up to light the gas-lamp. Modernisation later gave him a long pole instead of the ladder to deal with the evening ignition and the dawn dousing. Mr Roberts was our lodger, a white bearded man who had been a colleague of my father at Airco. He was well-educated and used to chat to me: he told me that the snow came when the man in the sky was shaking his mattress.

In 1925 my parents bought a larger house, No.16. Solidly built, concrete floors throughout and a terrifying thermostatic gas boiler that I remember only my mother dared to light. Owing to the wartime timber shortage, the doors and windows were of poor quality. The combination of the construction and a roaring coal fire in the living room resulted in a freezing draught sweeping through the rest of the house in winter, when the water system frequently froze and the pipes burst. A few years later Mr Roberts died in his sleep. His will was on a postcard: ‘No flowers and no one to follow’.

In the summer holidays, I was packed off to my father’s home village of Eathorpe, on the ancient Fosse Way in Warwickshire. My grandmother’s thatched cottage dated from the 1700s, but an added, brick-built, adjacent washhouse and a combined privy and pigsty at the end of the garden, had brought it more up-to-date. Rainwater was used for ablutions, although there was a communal water-pump nearby. I had a plentiful supply of cousins in the area, whilst my father’s twin brother ran the village watermill on the River Leam.

My paternal grandfather had been a farm labourer, dying in 1911. Before that, my father had left the village to enter domestic service, travelling Europe and America before marrying a ladies’ maid, my mother, and setting up a shop in Battersea. It didn’t suit him and he re-entered service with Washington Singer at Norman Court in Wiltshire, before moving to Roe Green in the First World War.

My times at Eathorpe were idyllic: a summer’s round of village fetes and country carnivals, roaming the fields and riverbank. My grandmother was a tiny figure, always dressed in black, whilst my aunt cycled to Leamington Spa weekly to pick up a bunch of part-finished gloves. She spent the rest of the week sewing the seams. Money was in short supply and milk from the local farm was watered to last out.

Home was near two famous aerodromes, Hendon and Stag Lane. The latter was De Havilland’s base and most of the record-breaking flights of the time started from there. Hendon was the home of the annual RAF Pageant, a national event that drew huge crowds, packing any open spaces for a view, whilst traffic jams blocked the road for hours afterwards. The show was spectacular: it included the apparent shooting down of a WW1 observation balloon with the attendant observer descending by parachute, and the destruction of a fort, inhabited, it seemed, by blacked-up airmen dressed in bed-sheets. Rehearsals for the great show went on for weeks above our house to my delight and my intentions for a career crystallized.

My mother’s father, in his eighties, would come by pirate bus (independently operated, they would scoop up all the passengers just ahead of the regular bus) to sit in our garden with his binoculars and enjoy the mock combats. A dapper man, immaculate in a dark suit, white Panama hat, diamond tiepin and silver-topped walking stick. He was a man of property; my mother had been privately educated for a while when things were good.

In 1938 the Munich crisis occurred when Neville Chamberlain sold Czechoslovakia down the river to preserve peace and, incidentally, buy time to put our defences into a better state. There was a big flypast that year of eight hundred aircraft, mostly obsolete: Heyfords, Harts and Blenheims, to bolster morale. I remember seeing a large number of Avro Ansons included, a civilian passenger airplane, pressed into service with Coastal Command.

I had to finish at Kingsbury County School in 1938, as I was needed to contribute to the family finances (my siblings had been at work since they were fourteen and had continued their education at evening classes) and my father’s health was bad. I had been planning to apply for a short-service commission – four years and £400 gratuity – as a pilot when I was eighteen, so in the meantime I replied to an advert in The Daily Telegraph and was interviewed at the Mayfair branch of the Motor Union Insurance Co. They needed a good halfback for their football team and I was engaged as a junior at a salary of five guineas per month.

In those days there were 12d (denarii=pence) to the shilling, 20 shillings to the pound sterling and my guinea was worth 21 shillings. My ‘workman’s’ return on the tube was 9d, whilst pie and beans in a Savile Row café was the same. I ate a lot of pie and beans.

There were four office boys; I was the low man on the totem pole. The men ranged from twenty-one years up to grizzled veterans of the trenches in their forties or fifties. The office opened at 0930 but my ‘workman’s’ ticket required me to be at Green Park by 0800, so there was plenty of time to explore the West End on fine mornings and I was surprised to see so many people sleeping in Green Park. Bad weather meant coffee and a 1d newspaper. There were eight girls in the office, out of sight in the typists’ room.

When the war came the twenty year-olds were called up and the boys volunteered for their choice as they became eighteen: one to the Navy, a couple to the army. After Dunkirk and the surrender of France in 1940, I joined the Local Defence Volunteers (later the Home Guard). On fine evenings we would crawl around wasteland learning how to raid enemy trenches as it was done in 1918. We were issued with armbands to denote our combatant status and once we had a grand mustering of all local units. A fellow member was Charles Lofthouse who had been a year above me at school. He was soon able to join the RAF, and after a short and distinguished career, became a prisoner of war.

By summer 1940, there were daylight raids on London as the Germans switched from attacking the airfields. Transport became unreliable so I cycled to work and checked out the damage. I remember standing in Piccadilly watching our fighters attacking some Heinkels and realising that I was next to Billy Bishop, the Canadian fighter ace from the previous war. He was muttering to himself, but whether imprecations or instructions, I know not. Then an Air Vice-Marshal, he looked too big around to get into a cockpit.

At night, when the sirens sounded, our orders were to report across the fields to HQ at the British Legion Club, but when the Blitz started in September 1940, the futility of this became apparent. The gunfire and thump of bombs happened every night. The drinkers in the Club did not appreciate our presence and we could not sleep through their noise and smoke. A few bombs fell on our village with casualties.

Equipment started to trickle down, gaiters and bayonets, then US 1917 pattern rifles and denim uniforms. The high point of my Home Guard career was a dusk patrol around the village with an elderly veteran who must have been in a Bantam Battalion. We both survived.


On my eighteenth birthday I went to the Drill Hall in Edgware for an aircrew selection board. Waiting with me was a pleasant public schoolboy who rejoiced in the name of Gerald Francis Barnett Newport–Teignley, if I remember correctly. He told me that he’d been recommended for a commission. I was pleased just to have been accepted.  We both opted for immediate entry on ground-defence duties; the alternative was to wait at home for a training vacancy. I was called to RAF Uxbridge for a few days, where I passed the medical examination and returned home to await instructions.

On 25th November 1940 we arrived with other recruits at Blackpool for six weeks of training. I was billeted in a small, comfortable hotel in South Shore with a couple of older fellows, one smooth, one off the farm, and a number of Polish officers who had escaped through Roumania and France. Later, prosperous families fleeing the Liverpool bombing joined us.

Food was meagre and it was clear our RAF rations were being diverted. Of the fourteen shillings due to me each week, I had allotted seven to my mother and the rest went on food. I fondly remember the different varieties of tripe available at the United Cattle Products restaurants.

Blackpool was a windy town and there was plenty to do if one had money. We drilled, marched hither and thither, learned to use a rifle. Twice a week we marched along the promenade to the Derby Baths for a shower and swim. I couldn’t swim. It wasn’t much of a Christmas either.

In January 1941, a hard winter with snow, fifty of us arrived at Kenley, a fighter airfield south of London, as the Main Gate guard. The airfield had taken damage and casualties in the Battle of Britain the previous summer and was very heavily defended by units of the Irish Guards and Essex Regiment among others. They were out on the perimeter; we just had responsibility for the gate and some 20mm Hispano-Suiza AA gun-pits close by. Known as Kilby’s Killers after our CO, we were clearly more of a danger to each other than the enemy. Getting out of bed one morning, I watched the sentry coming off guard fail to clear his rifle properly. The resulting bullet went through the just-vacated next bed, split on the frame and ricocheted via the wall into the ear lobe of the early riser. Watching the blood pour through his fingers was a salutary lesson.

A minor irritation was the total absence of light bulbs, bath plugs and toilet paper from the washrooms, which made evening toilet an adventure on those winter nights. Such items had to be commandeered from wherever.

Arthur John Jack Ball with fellow crew members

There was a Bristol Beaufighter in one of the hangars. Still on the secret list, it became one of the great weapons against enemy shipping. I enjoyed climbing over it. The days were spent at ground classes on related military subjects.

After a month, about ten of us were detached to Redhill, a satellite airfield used by the Hurricanes to re-arm and re-fuel. It had been a flying club and facilities were limited. We seemed to be the only defence, having two sets of stripped twin Lewis guns, 1917 pattern on AA mountings, gratefully sold by the USA. Patrolling at night was nerve- racking: the hangars were full of interesting old aircraft but were unlit, whilst out on the airfield there were desultory shots from airmen potting rabbits for the local butcher. We did have an Armadillo for tackling enemy paratroops. This consisted of a flatbed lorry with a loop-holed, single brick enclosure on the back.

I opted for duty on the crash tender which, because of limited aircraft visits, gave me a chance to acquire some valuable time on the Link Trainer, where the instructor was grateful to have some interest shown. This was the counterpart of a modern simulator. Its purpose was to brush up your instrument flying and to teach associated procedures such as radio range and blind landings. You sat in the cockpit with a hood over, whilst the instructor introduced rough air, cross-winds and other difficulties. Your course was reproduced on a glass-topped table by a crab-like copier. I found it fascinating and always got as much time on the Link as possible.

Most of the men there were ‘old sweats’, who had been in France with the British Expeditionary Force and had escaped one jump ahead of invading Germans, minus most of their equipment.

Training Command

Time passed slowly, we wondered if we would ever get to fly, and then the magic posting came through. In April 1941 we went to Stratford-on-Avon as aircrew cadets with a white flash in our caps and a spring in our step. Quite a number of squads there were ex-army who’d got tired of inaction and had been encouraged to transfer. They could easily be distinguished by their superior turnout and the crash of their steel-shod boots when marching. The only things I remember are the cross-country runs and the church parades. On the latter, the Sergeant ordered Roman Catholics and Jews to fall out, and then divided the squad into ‘C of E’ and ‘Other Denominations’ (‘ODs’). By the second week I decided that my sermons were too long and opted for the ‘ODs’ thereafter.

This was a pleasant fortnight, but just a sorting out before we went on to an Initial Training Wing at Aberystwyth. Here we were living in a sea-front hotel and the training was getting interesting. I was picked for the Arnold draft, which sounded like a plum posting. General Arnold of the US Army had arranged for RAF aircrew to be trained in Florida and Arizona etc, where the weather was kinder to intensive flying. As the USA was still officially neutral, we were to travel in civilian clothes and were duly measured for grey chalk-stripe suits and black berets.

At the last moment the numbers were cut and I was taken off the draft. My disappointment turned out to be misplaced, when over the years we got stories back of the draftees’ mixed experiences. Here I teamed up with Stanley Stilwell, another who had been a year above me at school. Tall and handsome, he was a good athlete.

By the middle of June 1941 twelve of us arrived at Burnaston, No.16 Elementary Flying School, between Derby and Burton-on-Trent. It was a grass airfield where now stands a Toyota factory. Instead of the usual biplane trainers – Tiger Moths etc – there were low wing monoplanes, Miles Magisters. We were a mixed bunch, some from ground defence, some re-mustered regulars, one from the army – Richard Board.

The next six weeks were as good as it gets. My instructor was Warrant Officer C.G. Unwin DFM, who had gained fame in the previous summer’s air battles. He was a gritty, quiet Yorkshireman who missed the front-line life. He had a habit of taking over the controls and diving in pursuit of any passing aircraft. I was surprised and pleased when he sent me solo after seven hours of training – a tribute to his teaching.

The weeks went too quickly, as the rudiments of aerobatics, forced landings, map- reading and instrument-flying were drilled into us. I managed to sneak off on crosscountries sometimes, in order to do a steep turn around my grandmother’s cottage at Eathorpe.

Stan and I hitched a lift one Friday on a weekend pass but the driver had started from Glasgow and we all fell asleep. An irate householder at Stony Stratford woke us at 6am Saturday, complaining that the engine had been running all night just outside his bedroom window. We decided it was safer to take the train back to Burnaston on Sunday.

Come August we were at Wilmslow in Cheshire, a transit camp, where the bedding seemed never to have been changed. We were being sorted out for overseas and it was there I first realized how complex was the Empire Air Training Scheme. There seemed to be hundreds of aircrew cadets milling around waiting to be posted to exotic places.

After a week we were in Greenock on a steamer, which many opined was too small to brave the Atlantic. Fortunately it took us only to SS. Leopoldville, a Belgian liner, dirty, allegedly from carrying Italian prisoners, where we had to sling our hammocks in close ranks. There were other decks below us stuffed with troops and, at the bottom of the pile, were the Jersey Coastal Artillery, exiled since the loss of their island. They had been selected to defend Iceland, which we had invaded the previous year.

It was an unpleasant journey, made at top speed in foul weather with our three escorting destroyers (four-funnelled surplus American, swapped for British bases) rolling wildly. After the first night swinging uncomfortably with my nose between two pairs of feet, I found a comfortable carpet under the officers’ saloon table. We were able to buy huge chocolate bars on board, but after three nights of bouncing around, I soon became sick of it and it was two years before I could face chocolate again.

There is a memorial plaque on Weymouth promenade to the liner Leopoldville and the eight hundred men, mainly American troops, who died in her when she was sunk in the Channel at Christmas 1944. At Reykyavik, we transferred to a hillside at Helgafell, bare except for two empty Nissen huts.

We slept in full flying kit on the floor. It never got dark and the days brought jolly route marches over treeless hills, with sometimes a glimpse of an unfriendly blonde holding back an unfriendly hound.

Food was bully beef and hard tack and we went to the stream at the bottom of the valley for our ablutions. A real treat was to go in the evening to the hot springs where the mixed toilets had no doors, but were comfortable, and you could wade in the pond to shave.

After five days we embarked on HMS Ausonia, an old Cunarder out of Liverpool. She had a Scouse crew from the Merchant Navy on T124X Articles, a few DEMS (defensively-equipped merchant ship) gunners for the two 1897 pattern 6” guns and a smattering of anti-aircraft guns that we were deputed to man. When we took station in the centre of the leading rank of a convoy of some fifty ships, Ausonia proved to be the flagship.

Around the convoy could be glimpsed the escorting destroyers, whilst on either flank in our row, there was a CAM (catapult aircraft merchantman) ship with a Hurricane perched on the catapult. If hostile aircraft appeared, it would be launched on a one-way trip to end in the sea. Sunday church parade saw our elderly Commodore in full uniform, sword dragging at his side, reviewing the complement. The civilian crew were naturally nervous that in the event of a German battleship appearing over the horizon, our Commodore would sail out to meet it as HMS Jervis Bay had done. It didn’t strike me at the time that in such an event we would have to go along. There was no alternative. The crossing was a boring eleven days, which put me off ocean cruising for life. It was enlivened by a concert and a boxing tournament to which the RAF contributed a professional clarinet player, two fencers, a stand-up comedian and a flyweight.

Our voyage coincided with Churchill’s meeting with Roosevelt on HMS Warspite, when they declared the Four Freedoms of the Atlantic Charter for which we were alleged to be fighting. The battleship was moored next to us when we berthed at Halifax, Nova Scotia, but the Prime Minister was not in sight.

The Canadian Pacific train we boarded was familiar from Hollywood films. Two-tier bunks at night on either side, shielded by heavy curtains. The train trundled slowly westward for four days, the food was excellent and at rare stops the locals provided apples etc. The scenery was not exciting, but going through Quebec Province it seemed that every tiny settlement had a gilded, domed church.

Empire Air Training Scheme

Eventually we arrived at Carberry, Manitoba, a small town set in a rolling prairie. The RAF had settled No.33 Service Flying Training School a few miles away where the Canadians had constructed three runways, huge timber hangars and a hutted camp. We were No.28 War Course but, unfortunately, I failed the ensuing medical due to eyesight and my career prospects hung in the balance. I went for re-examination the next day, pleaded a bad cold, and they relented. The thought of shipping me back to England may have been the deciding factor.

For better or worse, I then decided, somewhat selfishly, to commit to memory all four standard eyesight test cards then in use on RAF stations.

For the next three months we learned to fly and navigate Avro Ansons. Originally conceived as a six passenger aircraft, the RAF had bought a large number in the desperate expansion days of the late thirties. Fitted out with a turret, guns and bombs they were used for convoy duty around the coasts. Unmodified they were ideal training aircraft.

They were a delight to fly, safe and stable, but on these early models the flaps and undercarriage needed a lot of effort on the hand-pump, whilst the brakes relied on a single air bottle, which quickly emptied. My worst moment came when the maintenance Flight-sergeant asked me to taxi an aircraft to a new position, without warning me that the air bottle was empty. I found myself heading for a line of aircraft with the ground crew desperately hanging on or trying to throw chocks under the wheels. I cut the switches, they succeeded and I was saved.

In daylight the flying went well, but at night I realised that I could not see the glide path indicators, red or green, to which the instructor, Flying Officer Clough, was directing me. It was difficult enough to pick out the airfield in the profusion of Canadian lights, but I never actually tried to line up on the main road. I soon learned to judge the glide path angle from the perspective of the runway lights. Later on 625 Squadron, Clough was reduced to the rank of Sergeant for repeated low flying.

On the first free weekend, five of us hired a taxi for the two hundred and forty mile round trip to Winnipeg to stay in the YMCA. I knew I had relatives in the area and wrote for their address.

Local families, especially those with spare daughters, were free with their invitations and the La Pierre family treated me as one of their own. One weekend, for a change, three of us went to Riding Mountain National Park. In searching for lodgings, each cabin door was answered by a large, black-bearded man in black trousers and white shirt. Apparently they belonged to a German religious sect, the Hutterites, doing forestry as their war effort. We eventually found accommodation and enjoyed the park facilities.

We had all been asked if we were keen on a commission, but my circle of pals, many of them regulars, decided to opt for NCO in the hope of staying together. Suffice to say I was young and foolish with little thought for the morrow. Came the great day, 5th December 1941, when the pilot’s brevet was pinned on my chest and I graduated as a Sergeant.

Pearl Harbour was attacked two days later, bringing the United States into the war and a rash of rumours about submarines off the west coast. By this time I had contacted my Uncle Frank who picked me up at the YMCA. He still had his Warwickshire accent and was superintendent of the city’s parks. I recalled the newspaper cuttings in my grandmother’s cottage regarding the annual chrysanthemum displays. Now I met my Aunt Ruth and four cousins, Bella, Arthur, Edna and Frank.

Of the new pilots, six of us were posted to 33 Air Navigation School at Mount Hope, Ontario. Many others went to similar postings around Canada: Bert Hauthausen and his clarinet went to Prince Edward Island, Stan Stillwell went to Patricia Bay on the west coast (to be killed within a couple of months) and another crashed the following year at a Gunnery School.

I got to Mount Hope a few days before Christmas 1941 in deep snow. Sergeants Baxter, Edinburgh, Gribble, Piper, Board and myself had first to be cleared for taking trainee navigators around the Ontario skies and bringing them back safely, despite where they wanted to lead us. I was assigned an Aircraftman wireless operator, Norman Lister, who was to fly with me for the next sixteen months, as we carted pupils on two threehour details per day or night, come snow or rain. He was the link to base by Morse code: we had no voice contact and got landing instructions by Aldis lamp. I also carried a small radio tuned to the Radio Range beams crossing the area.

Being the pilot in those days meant that you were captain of aircraft and full responsibility was yours, no matter what higher ranks were carried at any time. Mount Hope was a typical three-runway aerodrome of the sort built all over Canada, the UK and other places where the RAF was the main customer (later American military airfields were generally single runways built to the prevailing wind for tricycle undercarts). It lay on an escarpment a few miles from Hamilton, a steel-making city of about two hundred thousand people, nestled against the western corner of Lake Ontario. Our bombing range was on the Six Nations Reservation a few miles south. The aircraft were Ansons, some of which had been ‘winterised’ by lining them with hardboard, increasing the stalling speed.

On winter nights you either froze or sweated, depending on which aircraft you had been allocated. You sat there in full gear plus Thermogen in your boots, icicles forming on eyebrows or moustaches. Frequently, the pitot head heater failed, leaving you with no airspeed indicated. Nevertheless, I liked the night flights for the phenomena you sometimes saw: the moving ribbons of the Northern Lights, the ice crystals before the rising moon and the great ball of the red sun at dawn. Eye tests were given every six months, but an excellent memory got me through.

One night, snow and engine trouble forced me to land at what is now Toronto International airport. Because of the weather, we were ordered to return by train to Hamilton, glad to be wearing full flying kit despite the jeers of street urchins.

In summer, the problems were the cumulonimbus clouds building up as they traversed the Niagara Peninsula from Lake Michigan. By the time they got to us they were towering thunderheads. In flying, the weather was always the chief concern; although the forecasts were generally accurate, it was the unexpected for which you tried to prepare.

Many of the original staff had been co-opted bush pilots with great experience, but there was some concern amongst the navigation instructors that aircraft landed after exactly three hours, whatever the standard of navigation. The bush pilots tried to maintain that we were built on a magnetic mountain.

I was caught out one May night when we had been flying west along the centre of Lake Erie. The pupils were using astro navigation with the only lights below being the freighters ploughing west to Sault St. Marie or eastwards towards the St. Lawrence. We were battling a headwind clearly greater than forecast, as we had not reached the turning point and the trainees could not believe the fixes they had calculated. I had been keeping a weather eye on a big thunderhead to the northwest when we were recalled by radio. After crossing the coast I recognized Dunville aerodrome, but the weather ceiling was forcing us lower and near base we ran into solid rain and cloud down to the ground, so I turned back.

Unfortunately, in the meantime, Dunville had closed. No runway lights were showing, but in the lightning flashes I glimpsed the runways as I did a low circuit at a couple of hundred feet. I decided to aim at the central triangle, which I knew should be grass. With the pupils pumping the undercarriage down and full flap, I closed the throttles, held the stick back and prayed. Faithful Annie pancaked into waist-high grass. We sat in the blackness and pouring rain to get our breath back and waited for the transport. I had a lot of drinks bought for me that night.

The months rolled by, we were asked what our choice would be for an operational squadron and I put down ‘torpedo bombers’. A number of Polish officers came through as pupils, plus a few of my old school acquaintances.

We were on Canadian rates of pay that were advantageous and were working hard, especially at night flying. We had a Sinhalese Sergeant-pilot at the school, a delightful chap from a wealthy family. Unfortunately, he was refused entry to the dance hall in Hamilton resulting in our CO placing the premises ‘out of bounds’ to all ranks. The proprietors quickly apologised.

On free evenings we went to town, usually the cinema or ten-pin bowling. I had made some friends there through the Hamilton Players and they were generous with their hospitality.  One of them, Arch Mullock, arranged a splendid trip for four to New York. We were busy the whole time meeting celebrities like Gracie Fields, who bought us drinks in the Astor hotel before she sang. Every evening we hurried from theatre to nightclub: my twentieth birthday party was in the Twenty-One Club as the guest of Frank Crowninshield, the editor of Vogue. I thought what a fine-looking bunch the attending naval officers were with their suntans and white uniforms. Later I realized they were the chorus line of the floorshow.

One afternoon I was leaving a bar when two elderly ladies waylaid me. Dr Pringle told me that she had been the first female medical practitioner in the USA; her companion, Maureen O’Flyn, had been a ladies’ maid in England before emigrating. They insisted that I accompany them to their suite in the Henry Hudson Hotel, which was piled high with boxes of pullovers. The only one that fitted me was in dark Australian blue, but it kept me warm for many years.

My closest friend then was Bernard Edinborough, the son of a policeman living near the Harrow Road in London. We sometimes used to spend weekends in Buffalo NY. Booking into the excellent Ford Hotel cost $4.50, which at that time was the equivalent of £1 sterling. Once we got to the bar, our uniforms excited enough interest to ensure a good evening.

On camp, home-grown talent provided light relief. We were lucky that the Edwards brothers put on hilarious acts for our concerts. Jimmy went on to fly Dakotas at Arnhem and star on radio and television.

There were mishaps: Jock Forsyth got lost and force-landed in Bad Axe, Michigan; Len Gribble became disorientated and put down in a moonlit field; a new pilot decided to go under the bridge at Detroit and hit the water; sadly, Richard Board (who had married a local girl) crashed with no survivors. Unusually, we were detailed to carry his coffin through the snow. He is buried with his companions in the churchyard at Mount Hope.

The year went quickly. Much was happening in the war which was passing us by. By April 1943 I was a Flight-sergeant with over eleven hundred hours of twin-engine flight time and was at last posted to Moncton, New Brunswick, the transit camp for overseas. There we went to the cinema, ate lots of steaks, walked the countryside and waited for a ship.

There was a scarlet fever epidemic and I was sent to hospital with a throat infection. It was so crowded that we less serious cases were packed end to end in the corridors. After three weeks the next fellow came out in chickenpox and in due course I followed. I was placed in a single room where I grew long hair and a beard, until the Matron looked in and kicked up a fuss. They found I was suffering from Bright’s disease, a kidney complaint and all changed. Thereafter the chef came each morning to find out what I wished for lunch and dinner. They put me through a battery of tests and several weeks of treatment. I recovered, went on leave, relapsed, met Des Dowding, a fellow patient, and finally boarded the mighty Queen Elizabeth on 12th September 1943 for a five day zigzag, unescorted voyage to Greenock. I was not alone. I shared a ‘hot bunk’ with a stranger: my turn was midnight to noon. We had two excellent meals per day, 5am and 5pm. There were some seventeen thousand American troops on board. We found that they were too good for us at poker, but they were sure the ship had been built in the USA. We arrived in Liverpool.

After two months in the Grand Hotel at Harrogate, where many of the RAF staff were famous sportsmen, I went to an advanced flying unit at Kidlington, near Oxford. These units were necessary because flying conditions were so different in the UK from Canada or South Africa. Weather, the blackout and the enemy each posed their own problems.

We flew Airspeed Oxfords, a lively twin-engined job, not quite as forgiving as the Anson. It was a hard winter again. The Australians and South Africans had not seen snow before, so sun-lamp sessions were arranged in the evenings. Each twin room in the wooden huts had a coke stove, but the fuel ration was minimal. The Aussies burned the steps to the huts and joined us nightly in raiding the coke enclosure. I was having problems with my throat and spent a lot of time grounded. Finally I was sent to the RAF hospital at Halton for a fortnight to have my tonsils out.

There was also a two-week detachment to Holme-on-Spalding Moor in Yorkshire for a Beam Approach course. Conditions were foggy which helped the reality of the situation and it was instructive and enjoyable. We shared the aerodrome with 78 Squadron flying Handley Page Halifax I with Merlin engines. These aircraft will be met later. According to an old friend from Mount Hope that I met, morale was low here as they were taking heavy losses. He was gloomy about the prospects. I saw from the official lists that Francis Newport-Teignley, with whom I’d joined up, was now a prisoner in Germany.

Bomber Command

In April 1944 I arrived at 30 Operational Training Unit at Hixon, near Stafford. By this time I was a Warrant Officer, the highest I could get unless I took a commission.

It was time to gather a crew from the other categories, which we now met for the first time. I approached a boyish navigator, Gordon Foot, who seemed happy to join me. I liked the look of a large, elderly Aussie, Mike O’Connor, standing nearby. He was a Bomb aimer but had also had navigation training. He volunteered to get a good Aussie wireless operator and I agreed. It turned out to be eighteen year-old Peter McGill from Woolamaloo. Out of the melee a pair of gunners approached me. They were short, stocky and elderly to my eyes. They had been pals through training in South Africa. Bob Job and Pat O’Malley admitted to their mid-thirties and came naturally as a job lot.

Mike O’Connor was a splendid man, thirty-six years old, calm, imperturbable and rather shy. He claimed to have been in a Western Australian rifle regiment that had been disbanded for insubordination, but I was never sure when he was joking. In civilian life he had been a gold mining engineer in Kalgoorlie and had prospected in the desert. Many years later I found that he had been raised in a foster family.

Gordon Foot was to fly with me for the next three years, eighteen years old, below average height, he looked so young that if he wore shorts when on leave, he passed for a schoolboy and travelled half fare. He was an excellent navigator, very precise and accurate, never betraying any anxiety.

We went to Stafford Baths for dinghy training, which meant stepping off the top board in flying gear. I had to be first. One of the crew was reluctant, but followed. Mike said to me later, “If push comes to shove I’ll hit him over the head and out he’ll go”.

We flew Vickers Wellingtons, designed by Barnes Wallis on the geodetic principle, capable of taking heavy damage, proven since the war began. Now classed as a twinengined medium bomber, they were easy to handle and roomy. The course was about eighty hours flying, with half at night, and consisted of long cross-countries identifying coloured TIs (target indicators) before turning for home, or fighter affiliation, where we tried to outmanoeuvre the fighters.

It all culminated in a trip to Holland dropping leaflets.  We had an engine cut out over the North Sea, due to Pat, who was a passenger (no turret to man) kicking a fuel tap to ‘off’ in his sleep. On these flights, I landed using the Blind Approach system as often as possible. It was an early version of ILS (instrument landing system). With this, it was reckoned to be safe to let down through cloud to three hundred feet.

About this time the invasion of Europe took place and long columns of troops and tanks rolled south. I heard later that George Baxter, a friend from Mount Hope, had been lost with all his crew, mainly Canadians, in a disastrous raid against Wesseling oil refinery, when over a quarter of the Lancasters were shot down. Here I was commissioned to Pilot Officer.

Our next step in this long progression to operational flying was on 21st July to 1667 Heavy Conversion Unit at Sandtoft on Thorne Waste. Crews already there cheerfully told that it was known as ‘Prangtoft’ due to the crash rate of the Halifax I. Engines were cutting out because the fuel was fed from a large number of small tanks, the controls for which were hidden under a rest-bed back in the fuselage. It was too easy to select a wrong tank or cause a vapour lock.

Flight Engineer, ‘Jock’ Mackintosh, joined us here, pushing forty, a fine dancer: his tango was a delight to behold. His civilian experience was as a lorry driver, and he had something of a cavalier attitude to problems, but more importantly to me his eyesight was as keen as Bob Job’s, and it was reassuring to have a good lookout at both ends of the aircraft. His immediate job on the Halifax was to operate the fuel controls on my intercom instructions, thus solving the local problem (later Halifaxes were fitted with radial engines and more sensible fuel controls). Once engines were started, there was no chatter on the intercom and the crew reverted to addressing me as ‘Skipper’ and vice versa.

I was being instructed on ‘circuits and bumps’ by Ted Ellis, who had won the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal over Berlin with 625 Squadron. There was a crosswind and, on landing one fine day, I failed to cancel out all the drift, the result being that we left the runway at an alarming angle and sped across the grass, scattering football players on either side. Ted wanted to show me where I’d ‘boobed’ so we went round again. Unfortunately he got the same result. We laughed about it, but I don’t think the footballers or the crew were amused.

From Sandtoft we went to No.1 Lancaster Finishing School at Hemswell, near Gainsborough where, over three days, I put in eleven hours learning to handle the Avro Lancaster. This was an aircraft without vice. Easy to handle, sturdy, fuel cocks on a simple side panel and four throttle levers that fitted snugly to the hand. Sadly, to save weight, the ILS blind landing system had been removed and the armour behind the pilot’s head had been replaced with painted plywood. I belonged to No.1 Group which, I later learned, had a philosophy of carting maximum bomb load to the enemy. Anything else was secondary.

Ted Ellis CGM was the main reason that I and two other pilots applied to go to 625 Squadron. He described it as very friendly, a great CO and Station Commander. Unfortunately, the demand for this squadron was too great, and my pals with whom I’d spent many happy evenings, ‘Taff’ Edwards and ‘Jock’ McGonigle, were both posted to 101 Squadron down the road at Ludford Magna, to be killed, with all crew. They carried an eighth German-speaking crewman whose job was to give misinformation to the enemy night-fighters.

625 squadron was based at Kelstern, near Louth in Lincolnshire. The aerodrome, built in 1943, was high on the Wolds and could be cold and windy at any time of the year. The squadron had been formed there as soon as the accommodation was ready with “We Avenge” as the pointed motto. We arrived there in September 1944. The CO was a young and dashing Wing Commander, Douglas Haig, allegedly of that family; the station commander was Group Captain Donkin, a more venerable gentleman who could also stand on his head to drink a pint of beer if required.

We were sent off on a night cross-country trip for experience. After four hours we were diverted to Lindholme, Yorkshire, because of fog at base. Everything looked fine when we arrived, the runway lights being visible from above at a thousand feet, but as we made the landing approach all lights vanished when we entered the fog at three hundred feet and I had to abandon the landing. This was a very fraught situation: now I needed the missing ILS. The control tower had no reachable alternative airfield to offer.

I requested that the Duty Pilot, in a caravan at the threshold of the runway, fire Verey lights when he heard our engines approaching so that I could try to line up the giro compass on the runway heading whilst letting down on instruments.

I tried twice more, with Gordon getting me a radar fix to turn on to the runway heading, while Jock and Mike both strained their eyes for a glimpse of the threshold. Twice more we had to abandon. On a third attempt we saw the caravan as we passed over and I put the plane down. We finished up stuck in the mud off the far end of the runway, but safe and unbroken. It was a very lucky escape in which Gordon’s radar fixes and the Duty Pilot’s Verey lights were essential.

My first operational trip came the next night. It was as ‘second dickie’ to an experienced pilot, Flight Lieutenant Avery. I was a bit dismayed when he climbed in and put on a pair of spectacles. I sat in the Engineer’s seat during the flight and we attacked an airfield at Rheine-Salzebergen with twenty 500lb bombs in support of the Arnhem landings due on the morrow. We left it well cratered.

Our 12 Base Commander from Binbrook, Air-Commodore Wray DSO MC DFC AFC, came over to give a welcoming pep-talk. He had been shot down in the previous war and was known as ‘Pegleg’ as a result of his wounds. He was a doughty warrior who used to take inexperienced crews to Berlin and such places. The gist of his talk was, “don’t weave around trying to dodge the flak, just go straight through it”. I decided to adopt his credo.

I remember my fellow pilots fondly: Len Doward, Clem Koder, Sandy Lane, Geoff Perrott, Bert Hazell; Harvey Hewetson and Lloyd Hannah from Canada, Dave Mattingley and John Murray from Australia. The Brits among them had similar experience to my own: a couple of years spent training other aircrew.

The next day I was with my own crew on the Battle Order for a daylight attack on Eikenhorst, a V1 storage base in Holland, which we were to bomb from ten thousand feet. The V1 was the ‘doodlebug’ currently bombarding London. My gunners told me that when going for the ‘ops’ meal they were delighted to call out whose crew they belonged to.

No telephone calls in or out were then permitted. After the main briefing when the target, route and special hazards were pointed out, the other categories went to their own briefings. We picked up our first aid kits, emptied our pockets of personal items and finally were conveyed around the perimeter track to the dispersal points where the aircraft stood. The ground crew were there to discuss any recent faults that had been corrected. Lofty Parsonson, the rigger, and Jim ‘Sparks’ Docherty were great friends then and many years later.

Then we set about loading the mound of brown paper parcels of ‘Window’. These were the metallised strips cut to interfere with the enemy radar frequencies and the number of parcels varied with the length of the trip. On a long raid we hardly had room to move. The bomb-aimer was supposed to stuff handfuls out through a small opening, from approaching the enemy coast until we returned to the same point. This trip is retained in my memory because on my first sight of the strips, glinting as they flashed by, I thought they were tracer bullets. I was disabused of this idea when a large brown paper parcel came tumbling past.

We had two main aids for the navigator. Gordon was an absolute wizard with ‘Gee’ which was accurate over the UK, less so as you went away. The other was code-named H2S. This painted a picture of the ground below and could normally pick out towns, rivers and coastlines. Unfortunately, the night fighters could home on to its transmissions, so we normally only used it over the target. Clamped to it was a camera that recorded the screen when the bombs were dropped.

Similarly, Peter had a screen, code-named ‘Fishpond’, which was believed to show any night fighters attacking from underneath, but as the Germans could also home on that, we used it rarely. One of his jobs was to search the radio frequencies until he located the German Fighter Controller and then transmit on that frequency from a microphone in an engine nacelle.

I was in a Nissen hut with three other pilots. That winter was brutally cold on the Wolds and there was a temptation to keep your ‘long johns’ on whether flying or not. This had to be resisted.

My crew, who shared a Nissen hut, had melded well, although some confided that they found Pat O’Malley’s habit of oiling and exercising his suitcase hinges every night to be a trifle wearing. I paid them a visit to witness this but took no further action. Mike also told me that young Peter the wireless operator was very nervous, tended to sit on the main spar and recalculate the odds against us after each trip. I regret that I did not have the nous to discuss this with Pete and possibly avoid his later illness.  He had a frightening task over the target, having to go off-intercom and back along the fuselage, carrying portable oxygen and a short length of broomstick, to ensure the six-inch diameter photoflash went automatically down its chute. This lit the target for the photographs that hopefully proved we’d been there.

Initially on trips I carried my revolver in a holster, but soon got tired of this and left it in the hut. Thereafter I just flew with a gas mask case on my chest like a horse’s nosebag, full of sultanas made freely available by a Dominion government. We were equipped with various escape items: a compass in the form of a trouser button, a knife in the top of a flying boot (to reduce them to a pair of shoes) and a map printed on a silk scarf.

We had passport photos taken dressed in a sports jacket and tie. The idea being that, having contacted the Resistance, new documents could be rapidly made. Naturally, only one jacket and tie seemed available to the photographer. The Germans revealed after the war that they could usually tell which squadron prisoners belonged to by the pattern of the tie.

Looking back through my logbook, it seems that we flew on most days. If there were no operations scheduled for us, we were away to the bombing range or on fighter affiliation.

On a trip to Calais to attack the heavy guns that were bombarding Kent, the targets could not be seen through cloud. We had a Master Bomber there who ordered us to take the bombs home. This was a new experience, rewarded by the sight of the first pilot home landing too fast with his wheels up and sliding through the far fence. This was a man reputed to smoke two cigarettes at a time. The rest of us landed cautiously. I found that my smoothest landings were those made with a full bomb-load aboard.

On October 5th we went to Saarbrucken, but on the way home were diverted to Coltishall in Suffolk because of the weather. The Americans there turned out new beds and mattresses and gave us a meal of ham and peaches. We flew back to the delights of Kelstern the next morning.

On daylight raids, contrary to our lonely missions at night, we flew in a ‘gaggle’, confident of our fighter escort. The ‘gaggle’ was due to our lack of recent formation practice. Three aircraft from each group had brightly-painted rudders and other aircraft would formate as close as comfort dictated. Later, instructions were given that over the target the leaders would throttle back to merge with the ‘gaggle’, in order to reduce the risk from radar-guided flak. No crew were keen to be the aiming point for the German gunners and I remember an occasion at Cologne when the leaders reduced power but so did everybody, even lowering their wheels to keep station.

On the 7th we went off to attack Emmerich. It was a bright autumn day (my mother’s birthday) as we flew in a great ‘gaggle’ of some three hundred and fifty Lancasters towards the target. Over to starboard a similar force of Halifaxes was attacking Kleve, from which a huge column of smoke and dust arose. There are conflicting accounts for the reasons we went there. One states that both towns were on the route from which a German counter-attack against the flank of the Allied armies might come, although my recollection is that the garrisons were holding up the Allied advance. Suffice to say that the towns were left impassable. I was struck by the incongruity of the scene at 3pm on a sunny Saturday, at a time when people in England were going about their business, perhaps to a football match or the weekly shopping.

In the early hours of 14th October we were called from our beds at 0300 and briefed to attack the Thyssen steel works at Duisburg in the Ruhr. Watching Lloyd Hannah, a young Canadian pilot, ahead of me taking off, I took my turn on to the runway just as the dawn sky was ripped apart by a huge explosion and pyrotechnic display dead ahead. We knew immediately that he had gone in with his nine tons of bombs. Engine failure on take-off was the dread of any pilot. It was a successful attack but, as we left the target, the flak got our starboard inner engine and it had to be shut down.

At Kelstern we were briefed to go back to Duisburg that night, but this being a ‘maximum effort’ target, there were no spare aircraft. This clearly put the ground crew on their mettle. I understand they set a new record for a Rolls Royce Merlin engine change and we finally took off some time after the rest of the squadron.

I cannot remember details of this raid, perhaps because of the wealth of incident this day. Suffice to say that we were late back, and as we touched down, I was asked to clear the runway quickly as there was an aircraft in trouble behind me. It was a Wellington from a Polish squadron that crashed in flames on the runway, but with no casualties.

The ‘double Duisburg’, as it became known, was officially ‘Operation Hurricane’, an attempt to persuade the Nazis that their situation was hopeless. Over a thousand bombers took part in each raid, with other attacks by the US 8th Air Force during daylight.

These major night raids were quite complicated: Lincolnshire and the surrounding counties were a mass of airfields, some cheek by jowl. From most of these, other squadrons would be rising to join the bomber stream, whilst diversionary raids to mislead the enemy fighters would also be setting out. The intention was to overwhelm the defences by concentrating the attack with careful timing. Diversionary raids were mounted to ‘light up’ some of the defences en route. This guarded us from wandering into them and also gave a good navigational fix. Frankfurt was a case in point. It was frequently near our route and was very heavily defended by guns and searchlights, so a couple of squadrons of Mosquitos would attack it as we approached and we would alter course as the defences lit up.

It was the overall plan of the night’s operations that I think gave most of us the confidence that we were not just being sent ‘over the top’ without thought. Despite this we never referred to the C-in-C as ‘Bomber’ Harris as the newspapers did.  He was always ‘Butch’ to us.

Personally, I never saw an enemy night fighter. Their presence was sometimes obvious from the lines of flares being dropped along the track of the bomber stream or the sudden bursting into flames of a neighbouring aircraft. Their tactic was to approach from the rear to the blind spot underneath the bomber, then open up with twin upward-firing cannon. They did not use tracer ammunition, so the method remained unknown to us for a long time.

Defence relied on the vigilance of Bob Job who, on sighting a night fighter, would warn me and initiate the ‘corkscrew’ at the moment he judged the fighter was committed to the attack. This was a violent evasive manoeuvre designed to shake off the fighter and leave us ultimately on the same heading. It was a great strain on a loaded bomber and upsetting for the crew who had to be warned at each change of direction.

Daylight raids were much preferred from our point of view. Firstly they were shorter, being limited at that stage by the range of the escort fighters, our guns being too puny to fight our way against mass fighter assault. There was the danger of ‘friendly’ bomb-loads from above, when some joker had sought extra insurance in the way of altitude. The sight of a four thousand-pound ‘cookie’ wobbling past or a string of thousand-pounders just missing the wing tip was not easily forgotten, but at night they fell unseen.

Collision was a real danger at night or in cloud. I remember setting out over Southend at dusk with an uneasy feeling about the proximity of others. Suddenly two aircraft ahead of us burst into flames and fell to earth. Immediately several hundred sets of navigation lights were switched on to reveal how near they were.

October drew to a close with a trip to Essen and three trips to Cologne, one in daylight where we picked up some flak damage.

November had some cold, clear nights and we were kept busy. On the 4th we went to Bochum, heavily defended by searchlights, flak and fighters. Seeing a Lancaster caught in a cone of searchlight beams is a terrible sight, matched by the numbers of aircraft falling in flames. It was here that my friend from Sandtoft, Taff Edwards, and his crew died. Claude Terriere, the navigator, was nineteen and had come from Mauritius to fight.

It is not easy to describe one’s feelings as the target drew near. Foremost was anxiety that you were in the right place at the right time; the coloured TIs going down in front of you hopefully solved this. If you were late then you were greeted by the twinkling of the flak barrage ahead. It would be natural to have a moment of sympathy for those about to receive the bombardment, but the situation was too tense for such luxuries and the realities of Nazi rule for the occupied countries meant that we had to strive for the earliest end to the bloodshed and grief.

Our main targets this month were oil-related, the weak point of the German economy. On the next two daylight jobs we were chosen as the leading squadron in the ‘gaggle’, the first was to the refinery at Gelsenkirchen. It was a fine day with scattered cloud and on the approach to the target an aircraft ahead began to trail smoke and flames from one engine. We soon overtook it and I told Jock Mackintosh to make a note of the squadron markings as it was not one of ours. Then the crew started to bale out; not easy from a Lancaster. I counted three leaving before it was lost to view under our starboard wing. The rear gunner saw no more go and it continued straight on, so presumably the pilot was still in control and sticking with it, as would be expected. In a Lancaster the escape hatch was a smallish round hole under the nose, easily accessible for the bombaimer and engineer in a panic situation, less so for the navigator and wireless operator back by the main spar, and difficult for the mid-upper gunner in his turret, or the pilot encumbered by his seat parachute. The rear gunner could exit, if he got the order, by rotating his turret and falling backwards. Post-war analysis showed that on average fewer than two out of seven aircrew escaped from a Lancaster.

Three days later we went to the refinery at Wanne Eikel in daylight, again being lead squadron. There was complete cloud cover and it felt lonely out front but I was pleased to notice Clem Koder in ‘G for George’ alongside on the bomb run. When we got through the target there was no one in sight, but this was normal as the tendency was to hightail for home.

On 11th November we went to the oil refinery at Dortmund and I had to take a new crew. The system had changed since I did my ‘second dickie’ trip. Instead of just the pilot, I had to take the whole crew apart from the navigator and rear gunner, so it was reassuring to have Gordon and Bob Job with me. I was not overjoyed at the prospect, as an operational tour then required each crew member completing thirty ‘ops’. If somebody was not on the Battle Order, it behoved the crew to bring him up to scratch by doing extra trips. I don’t think anybody liked flying with strangers; your ear got attuned to the comfort of familiar voices on the intercom. But the night went well.

One daylight operation was against Duren on the 16th, one of three towns holding up the advance of the American First Army. They were all destroyed. We were bombing from a medium level and I had the impression of an aircraft blowing up in front of us just as I received a blow on the head, leaving me momentarily dazed and disorientated. We were still on the bombing run with some loads falling past us, so as soon as we had ‘bombs away’, we took stock of the situation. The offending object was a bomb pistol that had shattered the thick plexiglass cockpit canopy and bounced off my helmeted head to land beside the engineer.

Fortunately, it was made of aluminium or it would have been the end. Such safety devices were fitted to a bomb to make it ‘live’ after it had fallen a set distance, a small propeller unwinding as the bomb fell. Either it had been dropped from well above or it may have come from an exploding aircraft. In this respect, we had been told, and firmly believed, that the Germans fired ‘Scarecrow’ rockets to simulate an aircraft blowing up. We had all seen them and they were quite unnerving, but after the war the Germans denied using any such tactics. I had the bomb pistol until 2005 when I presented it to the War Heritage Museum at Mount Hope.

On the night of 18th November we were again attacking the refinery at Wanne Eickel and I had another inexperienced crew doing a ‘second dickie’. The weather was bad, we bombed on a glimpse of the target indicators and then we were back into the thick cloud and turning for home. Suddenly a dazzling white light reflected by the surrounding cloud illuminated us. The Bomb Aimer was using the Aldis lamp to check for hang-ups. Not a good idea at that point and my oaths reflected my unease. The Wireless Operator then advised that we had been diverted but he didn’t know to where. This was no problem whilst over Germany, but when we got over the North Sea it became more pressing and when I saw that we were gradually losing power, I decided to turn on the carburettor heat.

The Lancaster was a great aircraft with two things I didn’t like. The escape hatch being too small was the important one. A minor problem was that the carburettor heat control was behind the pilot’s seat adjacent to the similar fuel jettison control, which was wired shut. I picked the wrong one and the pungent smell of the high-octane petrol being dumped made me correct my mishandling at once.

By now the wireless operator had worked out that the diversion was to Knettishall in East Anglia, an American Flying Fortress base and an excellent choice. I knew from experience that they would give us clean bedding, a slap-up meal and the liquor would run free. I was not disappointed. There was a bonus too, of sorts. When we appeared at late breakfast, unshaven and shabby, we joined about a hundred good-looking English girls who were staying overnight for a Mess party. Kelstern was never like that: we were grateful there for a relieved welcome and a tot of rum.

At an American base there was always the danger that the pilots and navigators would be taken by coach through the fog for a couple of hours to where Intelligence Officers could comfortably hold the de-briefing. It happened. Being diverted to another RAF base was worse. It would probably be suggested that you look in the huts for the bed of somebody on leave.

Anyway, the Knettishall Mess invited us to their party, but after watching a Bob Hope film, ‘Thanks for the Memory’, the expected recall to Kelstern came through. Particularly impressive to my eyes was that every man on this US Base had a fleece-lined, leather Irving jacket. In the RAF such items were rare amongst bomber crews by this stage of the war November 1944 closed with a ‘gaggle’ to Dortmund when the flak got our range and several were wounded, including Sandy Lane and Dave Mattingley, the quiet Australian.

The long mid-winter nights were now upon us: more darkness meant more distant targets. I carried two bottles: one personal, the other full of de-icing fluid, in an attempt to maintain a peephole in the ice that covered the inside of the windscreen at altitude. Neither worked.

We set out to breach the Urft Dam near Heimbach on 3rd December, but cloud hid the target and we brought our bombs back. American troops waiting to advance were in peril if the enemy released the water while they were attacking. It was raided and damaged the next day, but the Germans kept control for some time.

On the 15th we were sent to Mannheim-Ludwigshaven where IG.Farben had two important plants. Dusk had fallen by the time we were over the Netherlands, when a sudden flare on the ground caught my eye. In seconds it began to rise and rapidly accelerated past us trailing smoke or steam until it disappeared in the clear sky above. It was my first and only sight of the V2, the second terror weapon that Hitler had promised. They had been falling on London with great effect for some nights. The government did not explain until much later what the huge explosions followed by the roar of the rocket, which I’d heard when on leave, meant. This added to the mystery.

Due to unexpected winds we got to the target early and I told the crew that we would do a circuit to come in at the correct minute and heading. This evoked a cry from the substitute rear gunner who suggested that we go home. I put out of my mind the three hundred or so other aircraft which might also be circling, but as we turned on to the correct bomb run, the TIs went down.

It was a very successful attack particularly on IG.Farben. Sadly, Pilot Officer Fletcher, who I’d taken to the Dortmund Refinery about a month before, was shot down and killed with all his crew. A quiet, married man who had just been promoted, he was twenty-eight with a crew of twenty year olds.

During a spell of leave I went to the Harrow Road to see the parents of Bernard Edinborough (ex-Mount Hope) who was flying obsolete Stirlings on operations. Unfortunately, my call coincided with the delivery of a telegram to say that he was missing. I found out later that he had been dropping guns and supplies at low level to the Maquis when he was hit and crash landed. He was hidden by them in a wine cellar for six weeks, then escorted by a flamboyant character in riding breeches and boots to Paris, and then down the line to the Pyrenees and Spain.

On December 17th the target was Ulm, which meant another trip of eight hours plus. At briefing, we were cautioned to avoid the highest church spire in Europe. We were bombing from eleven thousand feet, which meant that we had a good view of the target and the fires that ensued. About this time Gordon was commissioned to Pilot Officer.

On the 21st, Bonn was the objective, from where we diverted to Sturgate. This airfield was still in Lincolnshire but had been fitted with FIDO (fog investigation and dispersal operation) a fog dispersal system that used a line of oil burners either side of the runway to make a clear tunnel through the fog. This was a real lifesaver, the reflected glow of which could be seen from a great distance. It compensated partly for the withdrawal of the blind landing system.

The fog and snow persisted for several days, preventing any flying from intervening against enemy tanks that had broken through the Allied lines towards Antwerp and Brussels. This was the Battle of the Bulge. We had to wait until Christmas Eve to recover our own aircraft from Sturgate, when we used FIDO for take-off to return to base.

It was Christmas morning, I think, when, drawn by the noise, we rushed out of our Nissen huts to see two V1 doodlebugs about two hundred feet above our runway heading West, probably meant for Sheffield, Manchester or Liverpool. They had been launched from a Heinkel over the North Sea. The Germans had sometimes sent Heinkels to observe our mustering and Junker 88 ‘intruder’ night fighters to intervene in our landing pattern, with some success.

On Boxing Day we were called early from our beds. The weather had cleared and we went to attack the SS Panzer Division at St. Vith. The ground was snow-covered and the target clearly visible at the curve of the railway, so the bombing was concentrated. From this point the German advance was stalled due to the resistance of the soldiers on the ground and the armoured columns running out of fuel.

The following day I was detailed to take fifteen aircrew (skeleton crews) over to Fiskerton for a FIDO landing to recover some aircraft stranded there. They had been refuelled and bombed up so the weight was high for a return. Once the snow had been cleaned off we set out and my landing was naturally smooth. We had a commendation from the Base Commander at Binbrook for this and I got three days rest in the sick quarters because our CO thought I looked ‘peaky’, but I was confident it was the Christmas beer.

The New Year saw us going to Nuremburg on the night of the 2nd. This was the scene of a Bomber Command disaster some months previously, but on this occasion things went well. The weather was good, and although the rising moon illuminated the contrails we left, which would normally cause concern, the use of Mosquito fighters, code-named Serrate, weaving through the bomber stream, was a great comfort. They were at great risk to themselves from nervous air-gunners. One Mosquito flashed across our nose, too close for comfort to my mind.

It was a different story on January 14th when we went to the refinery at MersebergLeuna. The weather was grim and so were the flak and fighters. This was a trip of nearly nine hours and it seemed particularly cold, with condensation putting a film of ice over the side windows and inside the windscreen. Bert Hazell, a quiet, twenty-four year-old Londoner, and his crew, were killed this night.

At last we came to my thirty-third trip, with all the crew having done at least the regulation thirty. It was to the oil refinery at Zeitz. I don’t remember a lot about it except that it was a very black night and we were doubly glad to return to the English coast. Another force of Lancasters went to Brux in Western Czechoslovakia, a longer trip. They only lost one aircraft but I learned later that it was my friend, Jock McGonigal with all his crew. Probably he had finished the magic number as well.

I threw a dinner at our usual Louth pub for the crew and the ground staff who had looked after us so well.  We had our photograph taken in front of the aircraft, but Bob Job was absent from the photocall for some reason I forget.

We went on leave, the crew were disbanded and posted elsewhere. Gordon and I had applied together for Transport Command and were pleased to be posted to Canada (via Morecambe, to wait for a ship). We were happy until we boarded SS. Louis Pasteur and realized that all those new Sergeant Air Gunners who had been saluting us feverishly along Morecambe promenade were on the same draft. Why did they need them in transport aircraft?

We had a cargo of German prisoners heading for safety in a Canadian camp. They were an ingenious group and among the souvenirs they peddled was a plentiful supply of fake Iron Crosses.

We arrived at Moncton on April Fools’ day 1945. Gordon and I took a fortnight’s leave in Boston, Massachusetts, where we were made to feel very much at home by local families and by the British Officers’ Club formed by veterans of the previous war. Then we had to proceed via Montreal and Winnipeg to Boundary Bay, near Vancouver. Here we picked up two wireless operators, Flying Officer Basil Harrington and Warrant Officer Joe Sharp. A Flight Engineer, Bomb Aimer, O’Reilly Sykes, and a new second pilot, an exDundee policeman, Jock Brown. The engineer was an ex-London bobby who proved too tall for the turret and was shipped home, to my chagrin. The airport was on the foreshore and we learned to operate the B25 Mitchell, a powerful American twin-engine medium bomber with a tricycle undercarriage that was like having your own sports car, a delight to fly.

The country to the north was unmapped at that time, wild and mountainous. We went looking for a missing aircraft with no luck and heard later that ground parties had found almost a dozen that had been lost for years. There were two sights that are well remembered: the forest fires and the great rafts of logs being towed by tiny tugs. I had some friends visiting Vancouver Island so took the ferry to Nanaimo and was rewarded by the sight of Finnish-owned ‘Passat’, one of the last four-masted clippers.

VE day arrived which meant a wild night in Vancouver. Somehow I finished up on a tugboat in the harbour among friends.

We learned that we were destined for the Far East, the next stage being a move to Abbotsford, some way inland, with Mount Baker looming in the distance. Here five gunners joined the crew, two of them being experienced men: Warrant Officers Cooper and Rees, and Sergeants Benton, Beale and Herbert.

We flew Liberator B24 heavy bombers, very different in our experience. The USA was turning them out at the rate of one per hour. They were seriously armed with ten heavy machine guns in four turrets (Sgt Herbert had to be squeezed into the Ball Turret underneath) and open waist-hatches. They carried a bomb-load that was small to our eyes. One feature was a very thin wing, the tips of which only became visible to the pilot when they rose into view on take-off. It was a complicated aircraft, and having no engineer, I made it my business to learn every detail.

The reliable engines had an excellent supercharging system that enabled a climb to 30,000 feet. We only approached that height on one night flight over the Rockies when fire broke out in the radio room, just behind the pilots. Time stood still while Warrant Officer Joe Sharp fought and extinguished the fire that melted the radio. The senior radio officer had fled the scene and was buckling on his parachute.

Our time was spent practising formation tactics against fighters supplied by a local squadron. There were longer flights over the Pacific and a great deal of high- and lowlevel bombing on the range.

There was a regrettable incident when our Bomb Aimer, more used to a sophisticated British system, left a neat row of craters across the estate of a citizen living near the bombing range. We both had to appear before the CO for that, but our explanation was accepted.

We finished the course a few days before the atom bombs were dropped in Japan, to our great relief, which meant that our flight from Montreal to the Far East was cancelled, and we proceeded via Moncton and SS. Niew Amsterdam to Southampton.

When we sailed from New York the banners read ‘Welcome to our American boys’, and at Southampton they said ‘Farewell to our American friends’.

Arthur John Jack Ball

Transport Command

After a month swanning around Harrogate, Gordon and I went to Full Sutton (now a high-security prison) where 231 Squadron was being formed as a round-the-world, highspeed VIP transport unit equipped with Lancastrians, ie a Lancaster sans turrets, but with a cabin and nine sideways-facing seats, plus a long-range fuel tank. Not a very practical aircraft to compete against the Douglas DC4 etc, but the Marshall Plan was finished now and we were in a competitive environment.

All the aircrew on 231 were highly experienced, most had completed at least one tour of operations. For recreation, York was nearby and we often went there for an evening without booking a room, relying on getting a bed for the night by turning up at Mrs P’s, a lodging house of many rooms. This kind and generous lady left the door on the latch and a table laid with excellent baked goods for those needing food. There were sometimes a dozen or more of us at breakfast where the menu was bacon and eggs. The total charge was five shillings.

There were hilarious evenings. One two-tour wireless operator had been invited by friends to share their room in a well-known temperance hotel. Arriving there after closing hours, he staggered to a room and took off his shoes and trousers, only to be jarred by a scream from the young lady occupying the bed. Grabbing his clothes, he fled down the corridor to be hauled into the correct room by his friends. There was an official complaint to the CO and all navigators, wireless operators and flight engineers were paraded. The young lady remembered seeing a single wing brevet on the officer’s tunic, so pilots were excused. Nobody owned up until the CO threatened to confine all those on parade to camp until the culprit came forward. Later he did and I believe it was settled by a profound apology.

After retraining on the tail-draggers and various radar courses, sanity intruded and the squadron was disbanded. Some, I read, went to the newly-formed British South American airline under D. C. T. Bennett. We proceeded to Stradishall, near Cambridge, to 51 Squadron, for conversion to the Avro York.

The York was a more practical adaptation of the Lancaster. The high wing allowed a roomy fuselage, enabling about thirty passengers to be seated or carriage of mail and freight. The absence of a pressurized cabin and lack of oxygen for passengers meant that there was no prospect of climbing above rough weather, so sick bags were a necessity.

This was a good time from May to August 1946: we had an objective in view, the training was interesting and the delights of Cambridge were close. It culminated in a trip to India via Holmsley South. My old friend Bernard Edinborough of the Harrow Road was there on Transport Command, and we decided to visit a pub in the New Forest on his motorcycle. Unfortunately, he had to proceed in low gear to keep the lights on and we ran out of petrol on the way back. Faced with a long walk on a lonely and dark road, I was amazed when a lady driver stopped and agreed to sell a gallon from her ‘ration’ (at 400% profit). The sight of her pouring petrol from the can to the tank with a lighted cigarette between her lips caused me to retreat hastily.

We left Holmsley South for Castel Benito in Tripolitania, thence Cairo, Basrah, and down the Persian Gulf, when we were warned of storms at Karachi and put down at Jiwani on the Baluchistan coast. I still harbour the suspicion that they over-egged the forecast to persuade us to land. On a previous occasion they apparently had a welcome complement of service nurses arrive. We only had a load of diplomatic mail. I could sympathise. The landscape was uniformly grey and the fresh water had to be flown in every week. The bathwater was more than brackish. In the Mess, we were made very welcome, but beer was limited to one bottle per head. Unlimited spirits were available, but there were no mixers. It must have been the worst ever posting – Shaibah in Iraq, with its trees of camouflage netting, was heavenly in comparison. No wonder that the great Alexander pressed on. The evening was brightened by the presence of the wife of a chap flying to Australia in a small aircraft. We were flying the Empire Air Route, where in those days every base was British-controlled, by force of arms where necessary.

On this leg of the journey we would often see great fleets of sailing craft running up to the Gulf: Kuwaiti Booms (modelled on the first Portuguese sailing ships to penetrate there) and sleek schooners.

Britain was still in control of India and we took the balance of our mail to Delhi where I made a point of calling on the Station Warrant Officer who, according to Bernard Edinborough, was the same martinet who had harried us new sergeants at Mount Hope. I wanted him to know that he was not forgotten, so we exchanged pleasantries.

After a magnificent curry we returned to find the aircraft almost untenable from standing on the Palam concrete in the noonday sun. I decided to do the take-off stripped to my underpants and get dressed at a cooler altitude. By the time we got to 6000 feet, I was back in my kit and seated when a gaggle of dots materialized dead ahead. I just had time to duck below the windscreen level when they hit us, fortunately on the wing tip, which had a two-inch dent and a smear of blood. I presume they were kite hawks, although surprised at their altitude. The whole trip took nine days, retaining the same aircraft.

In August 1946 we arrived at Lyneham, near Swindon to join 511 Squadron which was running regular services to Cairo, Delhi and Singapore. The co-pilot and the radio officer outranked me, which might have been awkward, but with Gordon as navigator, we all got on well together.

I was detailed to go as co-pilot to Singapore with a senior pilot who was being demobbed on return. It was a chance to observe things without the ultimate responsibility. All pilots had been asked to extend their service to assist the repatriation of troops from the East and I had signed on for another eighteen months beyond my demob date. It was a pleasant trip. We were staging, which meant that after two legs of the journey, we stayed overnight, but the aircraft went on. We then took the next aircraft.

Previously in Karachi, I had engaged a young Goanese boy, Manuel, to stop his fellow urchins pestering us and to run errands. He proved invaluable, absolutely trustworthy and a good guide. He worked for other pilots and made it his business to know who was due on the schedule. On one occasion he was unavailable and I had to hire a Pathan. I was a bit uneasy being followed around the markets by this black-bearded giant.

Karachi was our main shopping centre for carpets, flatpack furniture and ladies’ shoes. Providing you gave an illustration and a plan of the lady’s foot, they would turn out a replica in a couple of hours. Tea in bulk was also available.

Karachi was also good for relaxation. We frequently hired a boat at the harbour complete with a skipper and two tiny tots whose job was to squat on a plank set out to windward, thus balancing the craft when underway. I was happier when we anchored. We would have a good day’s fishing with an exotic catch, plus a spell around midday when the skipper would set up a charcoal stove to cook the fish, reinforced with eggs, bread and beer. The alternative was a picnic facility at Hawkes Bay along the coast. In the Mess of an evening, I had drinks with the French pilots who were flying ex-RAF Halifax IIIs, laden with wounded from their troubles in Viet Nam.

We proceeded via Calcutta’s Dum Dum airport and the last leg to Singapore proved unpleasant with heavy cloud, rain and turbulence. We had to go through it. Unfortunately, the passengers were in considerable distress until we landed at Changi with a great clang. In those days the only runway was of PSP (perforated steel plate). We beat the BOAC York in, which meant our passengers were quickly through the formalities. Japanese Imperial Marines, prisoners of war, offloaded the luggage. They were all six feet tall and built like the proverbial outhouses.

Because of the uprising in the Dutch East Indies we had been issued with Sten guns and ammunition at Calcutta to be handed in on arrival. When we came to draw the Sten guns and ammunition for our return, we had to be content with a signed statement to the effect that they could not be found. This was not satisfactory but we were quite glad to lighten our load.

The return leg from Singapore to Ceylon, once we’d passed the northern tip of Sumatra, involved a long sea crossing. I found Ceylon fascinating, from the dung beetles up to the working elephants, but we moved on after a couple of days.

For the next ten months we settled into a regular pattern of trips to Delhi with mail or freight, sometimes to Cairo with a full load of passengers. In India, I found that the loading of the aircraft needed supervision. Getting to the tarmac at Karachi one morning, I found them trying to push a huge piece of electrical equipment through the loading door by bumping a lorry into it. I suggested they find a train going to Delhi. By the end of my time in India, the troubles between Hindu and Muslim were getting out of hand and burning villages became more frequent en route to Delhi.

The scheduled service was subject to interruption given our circumstances, but we did at one time get up to fifteen successive days. Unfortunately, it was my turn on the sixteenth morning and when the Meteorological Officer briefed me, I decided that the weather through France was unsuitable. By the time I got back to the Mess there was a call to see the Wing Commander who asked me for an explanation. He was clearly upset, but I went over the salient weather points which had lead to my decision, and he accepted them. We were both aware that Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory, with a picked crew, had refused to be put off by the weather and had crashed into a French mountain en route to take command in the Far East: an end reminiscent of his brother’s death on Everest twenty years earlier. This was the only time I refused to fly.

Between trips we were fully engaged in training and constantly being tested. There were still casualties. One aircraft had engine failure taking off from Ceylon, another ploughed a mile-long furrow in the Sinai desert – possibly the whole crew were asleep after flying from Karachi via Shaibah. This was a tiring trip and we had been told that we were being used to set the limits for future regulation of pilots’ hours.

One happier incident was when a crew encountered rough weather over the Bay of Bengal, resulting in damage to the aircraft. The pilot managed to land on an old Japanese fighter strip in the Andaman Islands that was too small for a take-off. He retained the nickname thereafter. The aircraft remained there for several months, until a team was sent from England to chase away the animals, strip it down to a reasonable weight for take-off and fly it out.

In March we landed at Istres in the south of France and had to sit through three days of the Mistral blowing down the Rhone Valley, very cold and strong. This was the last trip we called at Almaza, then the airport for Cairo, which had been delightful from a tourist point of view. The Egyptians were getting resentful and the city becoming dangerous.

Henceforth we went to Fayid, near Ishmalia in the Canal Zone. Here, German prisoners did all the manual duties, guards and truck driving. They were the Afrika Korps, a fine body of men, desperate to return home. So desperate, that they built three of their comrades into an igloo of mail bags in one of the Yorks, much to the astonishment of the authorities back at Lyneham. The prisoners had to be used, because our experienced men were being replaced by National Servicemen in their teens.

Although we were in tented accommodation in the Canal Zone, there were compensations. I could swim/float in the Bitter Lakes, where the water was so buoyant, and sail at the Officers Club in Ishmalia. I had never actively sailed before, but under the guidance of the Engineer who was an expert, we set off. Our faith was misplaced, because at the first alteration of course, we capsized. Gordon and I didn’t even get our feet wet in climbing on to the side of the dinghy, leaving the engineer struggling in the water. The Germans, who manned the rescue boat, forbore to laugh…. out loud.

Another sign of the times was the switch to Luqa, Malta, instead of Castel Benito in Tripolitania, where the garrison was made up of local levies and the African Rifles. I found this out when I returned to the aircraft to pick up a map I needed. On trying to climb in I was met by the tip of a bayonet followed by the biggest African I have ever seen. I am still convinced that it was Idi Amin, his thigh below his khaki shorts looked bigger around than my waist then. I beat a quick retreat to find his officer who guaranteed my safe entry.

There was another occasion in Ishmalia when Gordon and I were being hassled by a crowd of locals and it looked as if it might become violent. It did when a trio of African troops waded happily into the fray.

Instead of Shaibah at Basra we started to call at Habbaniya, near Baghdad. This was the base from where the RAF and sundry civil servants ran the whole of Iraq from 1923 until the war. It had been besieged in the 1941 uprising and defended by a scratch force of RAF and Army until relieved by a column from Palestine. Compared with Shaibah, it was paradise. The desert had been made to bloom with an intricate system of waterways: there were swimming pools, gardens, racetrack, polo ground and golf course.

In August 1947, when I last saw it, I spent a pleasant evening at the cinema watching Rita Hayworth, then a quiet drink in the bar. I had a restless night watching the ceiling fan rotate, troubled by a pain in my abdomen. We had two senior officers doing a check on us until Fayid, so I did not want to go sick, which might look as if I was trying to dodge the check. Besides, there was a Bank holiday weekend coming up and I felt Malta would be preferable to Iraq in the circumstances.

The flight to Fayid went well. After refuelling, we pressed on to Malta where I reported sick in some pain. Following a bumpy ride, the ambulance delivered me to Imtarfa Military Hospital where they prepared to take out my appendix.

My companions in the ward were two young Commando officers from the garrison, suffering from amoebic dysentery picked up in the Far East. The Commando had been used to make first landings in Saigon and the East Indies wherever the welcome was uncertain. They were good company and had lots of young visitors who helped make the time pleasant; the occasional pilot from my squadron called in, one of whom carried the news of my promotion to Flight Lieutenant.

By September I was able to leave the hospital and after a splendid farewell dinner at the Commando Officers’ Mess I caught the next York to Lyneham.

I had to be cleared by the Central Medical Board before being in command of an aircraft again, so flew as co-pilot on some paratroop exercises from Brize Norton and on a Battle of Britain day in Hullavington. I also acted as liaison officer at the manoeuvres on Salisbury Plain attended by Field Marshal Montgomery and Air Marshal Tedder, which must have been the last time a thousand British paratroops dropped out of the sky and the first time helicopters took part.

My last duty was fending off the media when a USAAF Douglas DC4 landed after crossing the pond without intervention of the safety pilot.

Then to London, for the medical bigwigs. Two young doctors gave me thorough eye tests and I heard one murmur “a typical myope”. So that was that: I was found to be permanently unfit for flying, and after waiting at Lyneham for the paperwork to seep through, I arrived at the demob centre on 4th November 1947 to get a new suit.

I had realized some time before that my dreams of getting a permanent commission or continuing in commercial aviation were unrealistic. I was upset, but in no way resentful. I had enjoyed seven years doing more or less what I wanted to do. I needed to get on with the rest of my life.

Over the years the bombing campaign against Germany has been the subject of controversy. It is easily forgotten that in 1941 this was the only way that we could strike back against an enemy that would overrun Europe: it had the direct effect in Germany of causing the retention of vast numbers of men, aircraft and 88mm guns to defend the Reich.

Every man on the Allied side that took part was a volunteer and the refusal to grant a campaign medal reflects badly on the top British politicians. Whilst the pilots could reasonably expect to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for leadership, or whatever, on the completion of a successful operational tour, the majority of aircrew have nothing to show that they took exactly the same risks.

ajb  23rd August 2006

Footnote: Jack was pleased that some recognition had at last been given to the aircrew of Bomber Command with the building of the Bomber Command Memorial in London’s Green Park. Plans for this did not exist when he wrote his memoir. Sadly, due to ill health, he was unable to attend the unveiling ceremony on 28 June 2012.

Eric Ronald Harper

Eric Ronald Harper

My great uncle served in World War Two as an Air Observer (Navigator) with 207 Squadron, 5 Group, Bomber Command, Royal Air Force (Volunteer Reserve).
Eric enlisted in the RAF Volunteer Reserve on the 14th May 1940, twelve days after his 18th birthday. His first port of call was the No.1 Recruiting Centre at Penarth and Melksham and on the 20th of May No.4 Recruiting Centre at Bridgnorth, Shropshire.
On the 7th of June he transferred to Linton and joined No.5 Initial Training Wing on the 10th at Hastings. On the 28th June No.5 I.T.W. moved from Hastings to Torquay where Eric would stay until the end of October.

This is a letter from Eric to his mother when he was at Torquay.

925454 L.A.C Harper
D Flight 3 Squadron
5 I.T.W. RAF
Dear Mum,
The money was a bit late this week and your letter was four days late. I expect that they were held up in the air-raids at London. You’ve had it pretty hot there lately haven’t you. One of our corporals was in London when they raided it on Saturday night and he gave a graphic account of dodging from door to door with bombs dropping all around, news of houses collapsing, bombs falling in the road and two lorries smashing head-on and goods from shops scattered all over the show to say nothing of numerous fires etc. So I know what you must have been through.
It’s been pretty peaceful down here though. I went up to Exeter for a short time last Sunday when I got a pass but there was hardly anything doing.
We’ve got a route march coming up shortly so we have – “something to look forward to”.
Well there is nothing much more I can say now.
So cheers.
Love Eric xxxx.
P.s. I will write to the others tomorrow.

This is another letter written at Torquay from Eric to his mother while he had been there for some time.

925454 L.A.C Harper
D Flight Room 54
3 Squadron 5 I.T.W.
RAF Elfordleigh
Dear Mum,
You need not send a registered envelope each week now. I can easily afford that anyhow, besides every little helps. But thanks all the same.
Well we are still in Torquay and no notice of posting has come through yet. All the chaps are getting fed up.
We had some fun the other day when two of D Flight went out about half past two in the morning and climbed up a high telegraph pole in the road just outside the hotel and tied a cracked lavatory pan on top and left it there. As we all parade outside the hotel in the morning the whole squadron had a good laugh at it. The trouble was that the police complained and had to take it down. The chaps owned up however and got off with only having a Sunday late pass stopped, as they had not put one in they were not affected.
Another squadron who have also been waiting a long time threw down there rifles when they had to parade for rifle drill and just cleared off. Nothing was done about however and they were told they would be posted as quickly as possible. So you can tell how fed up we are getting with this wing.
Still some are being remustered as pilots and the longer we are here the more chance we get. So there is a brighter side.
Well Cheers for the time being.
Love Eric. xx

Eric left for South Africa on 31st October 1940 destined for No.45 Air School where he would train to be an Air Observer. He travelled on the ‘Union-Castle’ vessel ‘Warwick Castle’ and arrived in Cape Town on the 30th November.

This letter was written on board the ‘Warwick Castle’ on the 27th November 1940.

925454 L.A.C HARPER
No.1 A.O.N.S.
Dear Mum
I am afraid it has been impossible to write before as there has been no oppurtunity to post any letters. I hope you got my last letter alright as I had to trust it to a girl in Scotland to post, it should have been posted on the first of the month.
Although I give the address on first page, we are still at sea while I write this although we are nearing the end of the voyage. It has been fine on board, the only trouble is that there is so little to do the only entertainments being an occasional game of cards on deck games and reading.
Love Eric.

When they arrived at Cape Town there was then a lengthy train journey to Oudtshoorn where he would be on No.2 Course which began on 2nd December. Eric had been at Oudtshoorn for three and a half months when he was part of a party that visited the coastal town of Kynsna. On the return journey back to base the large lorry they were travelling in overturned with a number of airmen injured, some seriously. Luckily Eric escaped with only slight bruising though three airmen nearly lost there life. Shortly before he left 45 Air School everyone was confined to base due to the right wing Ossewabrandwag party protesting in the area. They were opposed to South Africa fighting on the side of the British and even formed their own armed unit based on the German SS. Eric was at Oudtshoorn for three months where they used Avro Anson aircraft until he and the rest of his course were posted to other Air Schools to continue there training. Eric was transferred to No.42 Air School on the 14th March 1941 at Port Elizabeth and completed the No.1 Bombing and Gunnery Course using Fairey Battle aircraft on the 30th May 1941 passing out as a Sergeant Air Observer with 77 percent. He immedately left for Cape Town by train en route to England. On the return journey from South Africa Eric briefly visited Canada but did not undertake any training in North America.

When he finally returned to England he sent a telegram home from Liverpool on the 8th July 1941. Eric had been away for eight months abroud and arrived at the No.3 Personnel Reception Centre in Bournemouth. Soon he moved to RAF Finningley, Yorkshire and joined the No.25 Operational Training Unit on the 20th July where they operated Vickers Wellingtons, Handley-Page Hampdens and Avro Manchesters. He spent about three months there starting a Conversion Course flying with Flight Sergeant Basil Courtney Wescombe before being transferred to his operational squadron.

Eric’s record with 25 Operational Training Unit at RAF Finningley.
Conversion Course

Thursday 23rd October 1941
Avro Manchester L7430
F/Sgt. Wescombe
Sgt. Harper
Sgt. Sieve
Sgt. Westbury
Sgt. Bell
Sgt. Howe

As part of their conversion course at Finningley F/Sgt. Wescombe and Sgt. Sieve had a number of flights conducting Dual Control and Landings with the pilots Pilot Officer Hughes and Flight Lieutenant Stewart in control. This flight with a larger crew is named Raid 2 in F/Sgt. Wescombe’s log book.
Eric became a member of 207 Squadron at RAF Waddington on Friday 3rd November 1941. He was with the squadron for 72 days operating from RAF Waddington and RAF Bottesford flying in Avro Manchester aircraft. 207 Squadron was a training squadron at the outbreak of war and lost it’s identity in April 1940. Re-formed in 5 Group in November 1940 for the introduction of the Avro Manchester and commenced operations in February 1941. It served in 5 Group for the remainder of the war, converting to Lancasters in March 1942.
Eric’s Operational Record in 207 Squadron.

RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire.
Two days after Eric arrived at Waddington he wrote this letter to his mother.

925454 Sgt. Harper
c/o Sgts. Mess
“C” Unit.
Dear Mum,
We moved out of Finningley on Monday just as I thought we would, and arrived here on Monday evening. We will be moving to another drome shortly however. We shall probably get cracking soon. The place where we are billetted is terrible at the moment but we’re getting different billetts, probably in the mess as soon as they can arrange it. What a time we had on Monday, we were told we were moving only about 2 hours before we went and I had a hell of a job collecting all my gear from Rossington and all over the camp to get away on time. Well I haven’t got any more to say just now so Cheers for the time being.
With Love

Wednesday 12th November 1941
Avro Manchester L7432 EM:J
F/Sgt. Wescombe
Sgt. Harper
Sgt. Sieve
Sgt. Westbury
Sgt. Howe
The crew took off at 15.15 and conducted local flying and beam approaches training.

Saturday 15th November 1941 – Emden
Avro Manchester L7432 EM:J
F/Sgt. Wescombe
Sgt. Thomas
Sgt. Harper
Sgt. Van Puyenbroek
Sgt. Westbury
Sgt. Sieve
Sgt. Walker

207 Squadron detailed two ‘freshman’ crews to attack the the railway station in Emden. The crew apart from Sgt. Van Puyenbroek conducted a ‘Night Flying Test'(N.F.T.) at 14.30. Eric and the rest of the crew took off for Emden at 17.50. This was their first mission apart from Sergeant Van Puyenbroek who had had fifteen previous missions. He was unaware that this was their first trip and has said since that he would have been terrified if he had knwon. There wasn’t any flak on this trip and they bombed on E.T.A. (Estimated Time of Arrival). When they reached the target three bursts were observed and before leaving the target a large fire was seen reflected on low cloud. On return from this operation they were terribly lost and Sergeant Thomas the second pilot asked Sergeant Van Puyenbroek to turn on the squeeker which alerted crews to the presence of barrage balloons. The sound in Van Puyenbroek ears was deafening and they quickly discovered they were in the middle of the Southampton balloon barrage. The plane was soon illuminated by searchlights but luckily were not fired upon. They returned to Waddington at 23.59 and experienced more complications on landing. They touched down and bounced 15ft in the air, Flight Sergeant Wescombe quickly opened the throttle and went round again for another attempted landing. 49 aircraft were on the raid with no bombing results observed due to cloud with 4 Wellingtons lost. The next morning Sergeant Van Puyenbroek went back to the aircraft to look for his torch, as you didn’t receive a replacement if it was lost. As the ground crew opened the bomb-bay he looked up in horror to see 3x1000lb bombs still hooked up.
RAF Bottesford, Leicestershire
At 10.00 on Monday 17th November 207 Squadron’s fifteen servicable Manchesters took off from Waddington, overflew the station in salute, and made for Bottesford where they landed a few minutes afterwards.

Sunday 23rd November 1941 – Lorient
Avro Manchester L7432 EM:J
F/Sgt. Wescombe
Sgt. Nixon
Sgt. Harper
Sgt. Sieve
Sgt. Westbury
Sgt. Howe
Sgt. Walker

The squadron had organised itself to a sufficient extent that it was once more in a position to mount operations after moving from Waddington to Bottesford. Two inexperienced crews (F/Sgt B.C. Wescombe and F/L W.D.B Ruth DFC) were required for a shallow penetration raid to Lorient docks in search of U-boats in their pens. Basil Wescombe had just begun his second tour, but because it was customary to fly a complete tour as second pilot before becoming a captain on ‘heavies’ he was still considered a ‘freshman’. Eric’s crew were flying in L7432 EM:J which was considered 207 Squadron’s ‘lucky’ Manchester as it had been nursed back from Berlin on one engine the previous August to earn it’s pilot a DSO. Crews carried out night flying tests during the day with the crew conducting their’s at 11.50. 51 Hampdens and the 2 207 squadron Manchesters were on the raid. EM:J took off at 17.00 and the crew reported that the target was located in good visibility but the bursts were not seen due to heavy flak. The conditions over the target were cloudless allowing the dock installations to be indentified easily. After dropping ten 500lb bombs in the area both crews returned to make a landing at 22.05 at RAF Coningsby. Fires were seen in the vicinity of the docks with no losses. On the journey back to the French coast 8 packages of nickels (propaganda leaflets) were dropped.

Sunday 30th November 1941 – Emden
Avro Manchester L7432 EM:J
F/Sgt. Wescombe
Sgt. Thomas
Sgt. Harper
Sgt. Sieve
Sgt. Westbury
Sgt. Howe
Sgt. Walker

Two 207 Squadron crews attacked Emden and were about to lose their ‘freshman’ status. The crew set off at 17.15 and recorded excellent visibility, slight haze and target point “B” located and bombed on heading 340 degrees at 19.34 from 12,000ft. They released five 1000lb bombs and saw them burst with two large fires being started. At 19.50 at 11,000ft five ships, one thought to be a warship, were heading south between Nordnerney and the mainland. The other ships appeared smaller and the crew were unsure of their character. They returned to Bottesford at 22.15. 50 aircraft attacked the target with good bombing results claimed. 1 Wellington and 1 Whitley were lost.

Saturday 27th December 1941 – Dusseldorf
Avro Manchester L7432 EM:J
F/Sgt. Wescombe
Sgt. Thomas
F/Sgt. Sieve
Sgt. Westbury
Sgt. Howe
Sgt. Walker
Sgt. Harper (Obs)

5 Group cancelled daylight formation flying and instead specified 207 Squadron to prepare 12 Manchesters for a night operation to Dusseldorf in what was only the third Manchester operation of the month. Later in the day 5 Group cancelled five of the 12. The remaining seven joined a total force of 132 aircraft including 66 Wellingtons, 30 Hampdens and 29 Whitleys. Eric set off at 17.21 headed for the marshalling yards in Dusseldorf. The crew reported 3/10 cloud cover at 2000ft with good visibility. They identified the target by the river and the railway concentration and dropped five 1000lb bombs from a height of 10,000ft at 20.04. There were no bursts observed but a large fire was seen after the target had been left. They dropped sixteen bundles of nickels to the South West of the target area. A line of lights with a rotating beacon at each end were seen in the mouth of Osterschelds. Only five of the 207 Squadron planes reached the target where the visibility was good. All aircraft landed at Horsham St Faith, the hydraulic system in Eric’s Manchester failing in the process at 22.50. Although 96 aircraft claimed to attack the city the records reveal that only 32 high explosives and 3 cans of incendiaries fell in the built up area which caused very slight damage and no casualties. 5 Whitleys and 2 Wellingtons were lost.

Friday 2nd January 1942 – St Nazaire
Avro Manchester L7378 EM:A
F/Sgt. Wescombe
Sgt. Thomas
F/Sgt. Sieve
Sgt. Westbury
Sgt. Howe
Sgt. Walker
Sgt. Harper (Navigator)

January 1942 began with poor weather but on the 2nd twelve 207 Manchesters were detailed for operations, but two were later cancelled owing to the aircraft becoming unservicable. The remaining ten took off for St Nazaire. Eric’s crew left Bottesford at 17.34 with the primary target being the docks and submarines. They attacked the target at 20.02 and at 12,000ft. 3/10 cumulus cloud cover at 2,000ft hid the target but it was picked up by the river and canal North of the target area. The bomb bursts were obscured but 6x1000lb bombs were thought to have fallen in the target area. They dropped eight bundles of Nickels on land en route to the target area. On the return back home at 20.32 whilst at 12,000ft five small boats, believed to be fishing smacks, were seen at 45 degrees, 08 minutes North and 02 degrees West. Eric and the rest of his crew arrived back at Bottesford at 23.12. Of the whole 207 force four aircraft were unable to locate the target, four found and bombed it and two attacked alternative targets at Cherbourg and Brest. The crews bombing Cherbourg reported that the flak gave them a “warm time”. On the homeward journey two Manchesters landed at Exeter and one at Shrewton on Salisbury Plain. 15 Whitleys and 12 Manchesters attacked the target with only 8 aircraft bombing the primary target and no aircraft lost.Monday 5th January 1942 – Brest

Avro Manchester L7432 EM:J
F/Sgt. Wescombe
Sgt. Thomas
F/Sgt. Sieve
Sgt. Westbury
Sgt. Howe
Sgt. Walker
Sgt. Harper (Obs)

The weather at Bottesford that day was fair and 11 aircraft were detailed for operations, but one failed to take off. The take-off time was 04.34 with the primary target being the docks. Eric’s crew reported that 9/10 cloud cover hid the town, but a few gaps revealed the dock area. The full moon that night helped in locating the target. They dropped three 2000lb bombs in the dock area from 12,000ft where a large fire was seen in the centre of the town on arrival at target area. 154 aircraft took off consisting of 89 Wellingtons and 65 of other types. 87 of the crews were ordered to bomb the ships the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, the remainder being given the naval docks generally as their target. A smoke-screen prevented accurate bombing but large fires were claimed without the loss of any aircraft. Of the 10 207 Squadron Manchesters 9 bombed the primary target with the tenth reporting that the target was obscured by cloud and did not drop any bombs. The crew arrived back at Bottesford at 08.41.

Saturday 10th January 1942 – Wilhelmshaven
Avro Manchester L7378 EM:A
F/Sgt. Wescombe
Sgt. Thomas
Sgt. Harper
F/Sgt. Sieve
Sgt. Westbury
Sgt. Walker
Sgt. Howe

EM:A set off at 16.53 with the aiming point being the main railway station, but with the intention of causing resultant damage in the port area. The town of Wilhelmshaven should have been an easy target to locate in good weather, lying as it does on the shores of the Jade Bay. Three 207 crews succeeded in bombing the railway station and two found the secondary target. Eric navigated his plane EM:A down the Jade Bay coastline to release their bombs from 16,000ft at 19.30. They pin-pointed the impact position at one mile north east of the railway station and the crew saw the 4,000lb ‘Cookie’ explode. The crew reported two fires were left burning with seven bundles of nickels being dropped in the target area. They were diverted on the return journey and landed at RAF Coningsby at 23.18. The bombing results from Wilhelmshaven, bore little resemblance to the optimistic claims of returning crews. Although a total of 124 aircraft were dispatched the German defenders recognised this as only a light attack with only six civilians injured.

Eric was killed along with the rest of the crew on Wednesday 14th January 1942 when his Avro Manchester bomber L7523 EM:M piloted by Flight Sergeant Basil Courtney Wescombe crashed and burnt at Mill Hill near Cliff House Farm, Holmpton, Nr Withernsea, E. Yorkshire (now Humberside).
The aircraft L7523 was an Avro Manchester MkIA fitted with 33′-0″ span tail and twin fins, delivered to 207 Squadron on Friday 31st October 1941. It was part of a production batch of 200 aircraft order from A.V.Roe & Co. Ltd. Manchester, to Air Ministry Specification 19/37 under Contract No. B648770/37 dated 12-37, and covered Works Order No. 5723. The first 157 aircraft (L7276-L7325, L7373-L7402, L7415-L7434, L7453-L7497, L7515-L7526) were completed as Manchester Mk.I’s and IAs (the latter from L7420), the remaining 43 as Lancasters. Deliveries commenced to the RAF on Wednesday 31st July 1940.

Wednesday 14th January 1942 – Hamburg
Avro Manchester L7523 EM:M
523056 Flight Sergeant (Pilot) Basil Courtney Wescombe. RAF. Age:25
1111152 Flight Sergeant (Pilot) Frederick Edward Thomas. RAF. Age:26
925454 Sergeant (Air Observer) Eric Ronald Harper. RAF(VR). Age: 19
902414 Flight Sergeant (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner) Leonard Sieve. RAF(VR). Age: 23
961733 Sergeant (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner) Claude Raymond Westbury. RAF(VR). Age: 21
1194389 Sergeant (Air Gunner) John Thomas (Jack) Howe. RAF(VR). Age: 20
641700 Sergeant (Air Gunner) Maurice Robert Walker. RAF. Age:19

Although 1942 had started quietly due to operational restrictions losses rose sharply during the raid on Wilhelmshaven on the 10th of January. Hamburg was chosen for two consecutive night raids in the middle of January. On Wednesday 14th January 1942 207 Squadron had been stood down for three days, and despite the first fall of snow, it was called upon to join an attack on Hamburg. L7523 EM:M was part of a force of 95 aircraft tasked to attack Hamburg. 48 aircraft claimed to have bombed the target and local reports state approximately 12 fires were started and the Altona railway station was hit with 6 people killed and 22 injured. 5 aircraft, 5.26 percent of the force were lost these being 1 Manchester, 2 Wellingtons and 2 Hampdens.
L7523 took off from RAF Bottesford, Leicestershire fifteen minutes late after suffering an unknown technical problem. At briefing the crews were informed of a new tactic to be employed for the first time. Instead of taking off at irregular intervals and making their own way to the target by whatever route the captain and navigator favoured, the aircraft were to take off in a close-spaced procession and fly exactly the same route and speed, joining up with other units to form what came to be known as the bomber stream. The condensed take-off sequence went smoothly until the last aircraft in line. Wooldridge 17.07, Birch 17.08, Dawkins 17.09, Hathersich 17.10, Coles 17.11, Leland 17.12, Green 17.18 and Wescombe 17.35. They were destined for a raid on the dockyards and nearby Blohm and Voss aircraft factory near Hamburg. As it was, the North Sea was covered by a thick layer of cloud, and many aircraft were unable to locate the target.
The aircraft took off at 17.35 and was airborne for 3 hours and 10 minutes, given the cruising speed of an Avro-Manchester was 185mph and that they returned with an engine on fire it is not possible for the crew to have reached Hamburg and unlikely that they came under enemy fire. At 20.45 the elder of three Misses Walker was sitting in the kitchen of Cliff House Farm in the hamlet of Holmpton on the Yorkshire coast. She heard a loud popping sound of a throttled back aero engine at low altitude and rushed outside to see the plane pass low to the south, with flames apparently coming from the rear. Seconds later the plane hit the ground and there was a flash and explosion. The source of the fire is unknown, but possibly an uncontrollable fire in the port Vulture engine would have given the same appearance to a ground observer. The Home Guard were soon on the scene arriving from a nearby Observation Post on the cliff-top. It took the Withernsea Police and the Auxiliary Fire Service over an hour to reach the crash site. They found a deep crater filled with wreckage, and propaganda leaflets (nickels) printed in German were being blown about in the stiff breeze. Amongst the debris were also three bodies. The Fireman returned to their depot at 01.55 and by 02.46 it was established that the wreck was that of a British bomber. The Home Guard carried the remains of the crew to Cliff House Farm where they remained overnight in one of the farm buildings. The next morning farm workers found a sorry sight. Soldiers were already guarding the impact point and the tail unit had been thrown over a nearby hedge. Small fragments of airframe were spread over a wide area, with apparently the bomb load already been jettisoned. A freezing rain was falling from a leadened sky and within a short period the farm workers’ clothes were frozen stiff. Later that morning the bodies were conveyed by RAF ambulances to RAF Catfoss (2 Coastal Operational Training Unit) near Hornsea.

Another witness of the crash was a 14 year-old boy who was looking out of the window of his house in Holmpton. He saw the plane travelling North away from the River Humber parrallel to the coast. The plane had flames pouring from it and ultimately crashed on the crest of Mill Hill approximately half a mile from the Rocket House in Holmpton. He places the time of the crash much later at about 23.00 and was at the scene within minutes, but could not approach the aircraft because of the intense fire and bullets firing in all directions as the stored ammunition exploded.
The ‘Loss Card’ held at the archives in the RAF Museum at Hendon contains very little detail and the cause of the crash is listed as ‘not known’. There is no mention of the crash in the AVIA division of documents in the National Archives despite the plane crashing in Yorkshire. The subsequent inquest held at the farm established that L7523 had jettisoned her warload out to sea, and concluded that the aircraft had probably been damaged by enemy action as there was a suggestion of battle damage on the aircraft, forcing an early return and culminating in the crash. An equally likely explanation given the engine fire and the poor record of the Vulture engines on Avro Manchesters was that failure of one of the Vultures, possibly due to severe icing, had forced F/Sgt Wescombe to turn back.

An hypothetical account of the mystery surrounding the crash is given by Vince Holyoak 1992, author of ‘On the Wings of the Morning’ a book about RAF Bottesford.
Could the crew, already behind schedule, have pressed onwards only to find at some point over the North Sea that there was a difficulty with the port engine, perhaps running rough or the temperature rising alarmingly? Now even further behind, and with a failing aircraft, possibly they had no alternative but to jettison their bombs and set a course for home. Perhaps the engine was feathered and switched off, but as they neared the coast, maybe their height had dropped so much that the engine had to be restarted. Could it be that this time it seized up, immediately bursting into flames?

Eric is buried with his mother in Grave 305, Block 9, Streatham Cemetery, Tooting where his family were living after moving from Lowestoft earlier in the war. In 2009 a memorial was dedicated in Holmpton at St. Nicholas Church and the service was attended by the families of the crew members, representatives of No.207 Squadron, No.207 Squadron Assoociation, RAFA, RAF Holmpton and local residents.


F/O Kenneth Wilson 131566

Kenneth Wilson

F/O RAFVR in 78 Squadron, Group 4

On the night of July 29/30th 1943 a force of 757 aircraft left Bomber Command airfields in England to attack the port of Hamburg in Germany. The force was made up of 340 Lancasters – 224 Halifaxes – 119 Stirlings – 70 Wellingtons and 4 Mosquito Pathfinders. The mission was recorded as being successful. The losses suffered by the attacking force totalled 28 aircraft, 11 Lancasters – 11 Halifaxes – 4 Stirlings and 2 Wellingtons.

My late brother, 131566 Flying Officer K Wilson who was a Flying Officer RAFVR in 78 Squadron 4 Group Bomber Command, was flying as Navigator in Halifax JD 252 which was one of the Halifaxes that did not return from the raid. On the 30th of July 1943 a body was recovered from the sea near Bridlington by the Air Sea Rescue Services and was later identified as that of the W/O of Halifax JD 252 – 1111494 Sgt G.M Gibb who after identification was buried in Driffield Cemetery with full Military Honours on the 4th of August 1943 – Military Marker Grace 6227 – I have visited his grave and placed a floral tribute on it. The other six crew members of Halifax JD 252 were not found and it was assumed they lost their lives at sea and their names are commemorated on the panels at the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede.

When WWII ended in 1945 the MOD imposed a 30 year rule which prevented any research into missions flown by the RAF over enemy territory being undertaken which resulted in my Mother and Father going to their graves not knowing the fate of my brother ( the navigator of Halifax JD 252 ).

After the declassification of the missions flown by the RAF during WWII was activated in 1975 I decided to carry out research into the steps that my brother has taken from joining the RAF as a VR in 1939 until the loss of his aircraft Halifax JD 252 on the 29-30th of July 1943. I did not carry out my research with the intention of writing a book but it was to try and find out what happened to my brother 131566 Flying Officer Kenneth Wilson who was the navigator of Halifax JD 252. After the aircraft had been reported missing as both our parents had gone to their graves not knowing what had happened to the Official Secrets Act etc. It was ex RAF personnel who had read my research documents who persuaded me to try and turn my research and documents into a colour illustrated book (entitled No Known Grave) to record for future generations what it was like for a family to receive the so called “Dreaded telegram” during WWII and who have a loved one with no known grave as a result of the conflict.

At the time that I wrote the manuscript for the book people did not have computers and I did not have a typewriter or any experience in the field of writing so my manuscript was written with a pen on paper which I then sent to a professional firm to be printed as a manuscript before going to be published.

If I could have foreseen that when the book eventually published Her Majesty the Queen (the head of the three Armed Forces) – Dame Vera Lynn – David Jason etc would read it then I don’t think that I would have attempted to write it however some good has come out of it as I have received several letters from people in our country and countries abroad who have read the first issue of my book and who were asking if I could research the loss of their loved ones who sacrificed their lives whilst serving in the RAF to find out if their fallen loved ones have a Military Marker Grave as they have been unsuccessful in their efforts in doing so. I have been able to trace the final resting place of several of their loved ones and therefore I feel that I have been able to do for them that no one could do for my Mother and Father due to the war time restrictions etc. Although I have done these researches voluntarily they are very rewarding as I am in receipt of letters from them containing photographs of them standing by the Marker Grave that I have managed to trace for them also it has helped to keep my mind active in my old age.

Finally, I am in the process of writing an updated version of my book which contains many more photographs – documents – Her Majesty the Queens letter – Dame Vera Lynn’s two letter etc. If all goes well and the second edition is published I will forward a copy to you for the archives. The first edition, which sold out, raised much money for charity.

Yours Faithfully,

John Wilson (RAF Veteran)

78 Squadron Halifax II JD252 EY-W Sgt. Peter Snape Hamburg, July 1943

Operation: Hamburg, Germany.

Date: 29/30th July 1943 (Thursday/Friday)

Unit: No. 78 Squadron

Type: Halifax II

Serial: JD252

Code: EY-W

Base: RAF Breighton, Yorkshire

Location: North Sea


Took off at 22.30 hrs from RAF Breighton, Yorkshire to bomb the port and city of Hamburg joining 776 other aircraft on the third raid on this target within the last five days. 340 Lancasters, 244 Halifaxes, 119 Stirlings, 70 Wellingtons and 4 Mosquitoes made up the force.

The idea was that the target be approached from the north to concentrate on the northern area of Hamburg which had not been bombed on previous occasions. The pathfinders dropped their markers too far east of the city. 707 aircraft got through to the target, dropping a total of 2,318 tons of bombs on residential areas – no figures are available as to the casualties on the ground for this raid although it is known that over 40,000 were killed during that week and over 16,000 residential buildings were destroyed.

The worst incident was when bombs hit a large department store in Wandsbek – the building collapsed and blocked exits from a shelter that was in the basement – 370 people died from poisoning by the fumes from a coke store nearby. An amazing 1,200,000 people fled the city after these raids.

The allies lost 31 aircraft on this operation with 176 aircrew losing their lives and a further 17 being made pow. Most of the aircraft were shot down by the Luftwaffe night fighters, although 14 were shot down by searchlight assisted flak over the target area.

No details or claims have been made for this loss. Another 78 Squadron was also lost on this operation:

Halifax II JB798 EY-P Flown by Fl/Sgt. Peter A. Fraser RAAF who along with his 6 other crew members were all killed and buried in Hamburg.

Some publications have the Bomb Aimer listed incorrectly as F/O. C.E. Burns.

All but one of the crew are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial (panel numbers below). Sgt. George Gibb‘s body was picked up by an air sea rescue launch and after identification was buried in Driffield Cemetery on Wednesday 4th August 1943.

Pilot Sgt. Peter Francis Snape. 1434323 RAFVR Age 22. Killed. Panel 165. Son of Frank and Harriett Evelyn Snape, of Rugby, Warwickshire, England.

Fl/Eng Sgt. Leonard James Dugard. 920070 RAFVR Age 27. Killed. Panel 148. From Brighton, Sussex, N.o.K details currently not available

Nav F/O. Kenneth Wilson. 131566 RAFVR Age 22. Killed. Panel 130. Son of Zachariah Wilson, and of Winifred Wilson, of Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England.

Air/Bmr F/O. Charles Eric Burras. 135685 RAFVR Age 20. Killed (1). Panel 123. Son of Charles and Elizabeth Ann Burras, of Liverpool, England.

WOp/AG Sgt. George Muir Gibb. 111494 RAFVR Age 21. Killed. Driffield Cemetery. Grave 6227. Son of John Purvis Gibb and Margaret Muir Gibb, of Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland.

Air/Gnr Sgt. Edward George Nickels. 1811748 RAFVR Age 19. Killed. Panel 160. Son of George Edward and Florence Caroline Nickels, of Wood Green, Middlesex, England.

Air/Gnr Sgt. Cecil Raymond Langley. 1603246 RAFVR Age 20. Killed. Panel 156. Son of Mrs F. Langley from Hays End, Middlesex, England.

Page of Remembrance created for John Wilson (ex RAF) Brother of F/O. Kenneth Wilson and dedicated to the crew of Halifax JD252. With thanks to the following, Bill Chorley – ‘Bomber Command Losses Vol’s. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions’, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie – ‘Nightfighter War Diaries Vol’s. 1 and 2’, Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt – ‘Bomber Command War Diaries’, Commonwealth War Graves Commission.





James Douglas Hudson DFC AE RAFVR

Flying Officer James Douglas Hudson


Douglas Hudson joined the Manchester Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in 1939 as an Air Observer. After training he was posted to 101 Squadron flying Blenheims. Whilst ferrying a Blenheim to Heliopolis via Malta, Douglas and his crew had to make an emergency landing in Tunisia and were interned by the Vichy French. Douglas spent two and a quarter years in three POW camps, escaping and being recaptured twice. He was repatriated in November 1942, when North Africa was liberated.

In January 1944, Douglas joined 100 Squadron as a navigator on Lancaster Bombers at Waltham, from where he completed a tour of 30 operational flights over Nazi Germany and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In his autobiography ‘There and Back Again – A Navigator’s Story’ Douglas powerfully expressed his views on the Lancaster aircraft.

‘The Lancaster could be our salvation, our cradle or perhaps our coffin. She possessed weaponry of matchless peer. Loved or hated, her potential powers of destruction from the air were unequalled. She bolstered the morale of a British public, which had been tyrannized since 1940 by the Nazi war machine, and bolstered the morale of an even greater European public, living under German occupation and subjected to the Nazi yoke. The roar of her engines and her sisters’ engines as they thundered overhead on their way to the German targets, gave those beleaguered citizens new hope.

Rugged, robust and reliable, she remonstrated only when ill treated. As the devil incarnate she terrorized and was feared and hated by the enemy. She obeyed our bidding.

Rocked in her cradle and in the warmth of her cabin I was able to suppress the dreaded fears of adverse possibilities. Calmed by the comforting, continuous roar of her engines which drowned all other extraneous noises, time would pass quickly for me as I worked incessantly until we reached the target. Then I would go up front, look around and take in the awesome proceedings.’

Douglas spent his latter years back in ‘Bomber County’ and worked tirelessly to raise awareness of Bomber Command so that the sacrifices of over 56,000 should never be forgotten.

By Ann Smith – memories from my late father James Douglas Hudson.

Crew of R Roger James. Douglas Hudson 3rd from left
Crew of R Roger James. Douglas Hudson 3rd from left.

Flight Lieutenant William Alfred Colson DFM

Flight Lieutenant William Alfred Colson

Bomb aimer, 97 Squadron Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve Written by Wyn Harrison

My memory is of being told about my mother’s much loved cousin, Flight Lieutenant William Alfred Colson DFM. 141402 – Bomb aimer, 97 Squadron Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve who died on 17th December 1943 – Black Thursday – when his Lancaster JB119 OF-F, F Freddy crashed on the edge of Bourn airfield in Cambridgeshire returning from a raid on Berlin.

William (Billy to the family) was in the front of the aircraft with pilot, Squadron Leader Donald Forbes MacKenzie, and Flight Engineer P/O John Towler Pratt, who were also killed.

The four other crew members were seriously injured. Many aircraft crashed at or near Bourn that night and in other parts of the country due to dense fog with great loss of life and injuries.

I found from reading the book “Bombers First and Last” by Gordon Thorburn that William Colson had previously flown a full tour in Whitleys and another in Wellingtons and Lancasters with Dick Stubbs in 9 Squadron.  In this book the famous veteran, Harry Irons DFC, talks about ‘Bill’ Colson being his bomb aimer in 9 Squadron (Lancasters) with Dick Stubbs’ crew. This lead me to asking Chris at IBCC if he could put me in touch with Harry, which he and his colleagues were able to do. To my amazement I discovered that ‘Bill’ and Harry were very good friends and room mates for nine months at RAF Waddington before Bill left to join 97 Squadron, Pathfinders. Harry read from his log book, telling me about the many operations that they did together, narrowly escaping disaster, night after night. At this time Harry was 17 years old and William was 26.  Harry told me  “Bill was a life saver – he got our crew out of many bad situations, you could rely on him, a very brave man. He must have been in the bomb aimer’s position when they crashed. I always told him to sit in the crash position in the centre of the Lanc, but he didn’t take any notice, always thinking of the crew – a wonderful man.”

Harry survived the war (but he doesn’t know how!) He completed 60 sorties and was heavily involved in the organisation of the Bomber Command Memorial, Green Park London which, at long last, gives these brave men the recognition that they deserve. My thanks to Harry for taking the time to tell me the things that we didn’t know about my mother’s cousin.

William was 28 years old when he died and is buried in Willesden New Cemetery, London. He left a wife and two small children. Billy’s grandmother was staying at our house for Christmas in 1943 when the telegram arrived, addressed to her, to say that he had been killed. She asked my mother to open it and so my mum had to tell her the bad news.

The photograph of the crew in front of their Lancaster WS X-Xray 5915 was taken at Waddington on 10th September 1942. Left to right, W/O Harry Irons, rear gunner, Bob Brown W/op, Brian Moorhead, mid upper gunner, Dick Stubbs, pilot, Tom Parrington, flt engineer, Bill (William) Colson, bomb aimer, Ken Chamberlain, navigator.

Steve Rogers, Co-ordinator, The War Graves Photographic Project has kindly given permission to use the picture of Bill’s headstone, “Died that others might live” – how true.


Wyn and Billy's sister Joan taken in 1951
Wyn and Billy’s sister Joan taken in 1951
William Colson with Lancaster Crew 9th Squadron
William Colson with Lancaster Crew 9th Squadron
William Alfred Colsons Headstone
William Alfred Colson’s Headstone
Harry Irons
Harry Irons
Harry Irons
Harry Irons’ pictures of himself at 17 years old (Warrant Officer)

Sgt Reginald Lawrence Lewis

Australian 460 Squadron

Our father Sgt Reginald Lawrence Lewis RAF Volunteer was attached to the Australian 460 Squadron, based at Binbrook. On 12th June 1943 his Lancaster 4960 was shot down over Reeuwijk, Holland, all  7 crew died.

His crew were buried in Sluipwijk in the Church graveyard where they laid until 1953 when their remains were transferred to Jonkerbos war cemetery Nijmegen. We are very grateful to the Valette family who lived in Reeuwijk in 1943, Gerauld Valette organised the burial of the crew and his young son Jack Valette placed flowers on their graves only for them to be taken off by the Germans, he was so upset that he vowed that if they were ever liberated he would place flowers on their graves every year.

When the war ended he went around the village and collected money to have floral tributes for the 7 graves but collected so much money there was enough to have a stone cross made with the names of the crew to replace the 7 wooden crosses. Jack continued to place flowers on their graves and continued to when the crews remains were taken to Nijmegen until his death in 1990 when his son Charley Valette accompanied by his young son, Guy Valette, have continued laying flowers on their graves. An amazing family who have been so dedicated for the past 71 years paid tribute to 7 Lancaster crew buried so far away from their native land.

Since 2002 we have met Charley Valette and his family and also met 3 eyewitnesses who told us of the events of the 12th June 1943 . We have attended the 4th May Memorial service in Reeuwijk every year. We have visited the crash site and also handled parts of the Lancaster which Crash40-45 Aviation Society have dug up over the years and are on display at their Museum in Alsmeer Fort by a very dedicated bunch of volunteers.

Since 2001 we have located the families of 4 of the Australian crew and they are so pleased that they know that we go over and place flowers on their loved ones graves.

The story of our dad and his crew are on the website www A.V.R.O W4960 created by Frank Moorman a friend of Charley Valette.

John and Michael Lewis

William E. Goodman 1922-2002

Service number- 1263380 A/G and W/Op – 7 Squadron, Oakington, Cambridgeshire

Extract taken from his book- ‘Of Stirlings and Stalags: an air-gunner’s tale’

“…new electronic navigational aid, they were being installed in aircraft. Named ‘Gee’, it consisted of a cathode ray tube mounted above the navigator’s table which looked like a television screen and showed grids which, when read, would allow the plane’s position to be calculated with accuracy. It received signals from ground stations in England which transmitted those grids. It was mounted down in the bomb aimer’s compartment. Top secret maps were issued from which those grids could be interpreted, and so they should not fall into enemy hands they should be put into a long tube adjacent to the observer’s seat. Those three installations contained explosive charges, as was a device known as IFF (Identification, friend or foe), mounted towards the rear. IFF indicated to the people manning the radar installations which tracked incoming aircraft that a particular plane was not a ‘hostile’. It was the duty of the wireless operator manning the front turret to disarm the charges by unscrewing and withdrawing them.

On another trip I was in the front turret and it was our task again to get there early. It had been quite a dicey trip as we had been coned by searchlights. With these the main searchlight using sophisticated gear locked onto their target and a number of other searchlights swung onto it. That main searchlight was very intense and with a bluish tint to it. It was absolutely blinding, even with the visor down and the goggles on the pilot had to really throw the plane around the skies in order to escape from it. It was usually linked to anti-aircraft batteries and, in that light, we were sitting targets. Buck weaved, dived and climbed and we eventually freed ourselves from the cone but not before we had suffered considerable flak (anti-aircraft) damage. Even so we managed to reach the target on time and bombed according to schedule. We got back in good time, and were the first to reach Oakington. The Station Commander drove out to greet us. Jack had left his turret as we taxied round to our dispersal point and I commenced the task of disarming the secret equipment. The first was the receiving equipment in the bomb aimer’s compartment. The explosive charge was held in place by a collar with a long, fine thread which required goodness knows how many turns. When the thread ended the connection was simply pulled out from the charge. I pulled it out and as I did so there was a blinding flash from within the casing. Its joints bulged outwards and the flash could be seen through the ventilation louvres of the case.

These were the last things I saw.

Later I learnt that all the detonators had gone off simultaneously, even the one in IFF, which was immediately opposite the rear door. Jack had opened the door and dropped down the steps and the Station Commander was just mounting them to discuss the trip when the IFF detonator exploded right in front of him. He fell backwards and drove off to get help. I was led, still blind, through the aircraft and into the ambulance which the Station Commander had brought. These were some of the worst moments of my life. I did not know what would happen; would I be blinded for life, walking round sightless and with a white stick? I could imagine nothing worse, and my thoughts immediately went to Monica and how glad I was not to be involving her to a life of drudgery with a helpless husband and was glad I had not declared my feelings. I was still conscious, of course, and spent the night in Station Sick Quarters while the surgeon extracted something in the order of seventeen pieces of glass from my eyes and face.

In 1942 transistors were still several years into the future. They replaced valves which were pressurised glass tubes, rather like electric lamps, with all manner of radio equipment sealed inside, which, together with minute particles of glass would explode outwards if burst. Happily I suffered no lasting damage to my eyesight.

Many years later there was a sequel to this event. At that time I was a constable doing a night patrol when I was visited by a Sergeant, newly on the streets after several years in the quietness of H.Q. and put out to gain some street experience. Amongst my medal ribbons the Air Crew Europe marked me out as having been an operational flyer in the earlier days of the war. The sergeant asked me about my service. When it came out that I had been on 7 Squadron and when it transpired he had also been in the RAF with the trade of radar mechanic who had worked on Gee…suddenly my name rang a bell in his mind and he asked whether I had blown up Gee equipment. Apparently my episode was the first such occurrence and the hierarchy was most upset to lose such valuable equipment. They had considered a Court Martial for carelessly damaging such vital equipment, but the intention was cancelled when a detailed inspection of the plane’s electrical circuitry was found to have been damaged during enemy action, which had resulted in the explosions (all the charges were connected to the same switch in the cockpit and it was that which detonated all at the same time).

Sent by Gill Chesney-Green:
My father’s book opened my eyes to just what he had done in the war and what he had suffered whilst in captivity in various Luft Stalags. His efforts, along with many others in Bomber Command, showed me just how brave, and yet how young, these men and women were.

One complete tour in just one Lancaster Bomber

ED995 PH-X by Andy Smith

At 15.40 hours on 19 May 1943 Flight Engineer WJ Smith (Wally to his friends) of 12 Squadron RAF Wickenby, along with the rest of the crew, boarded Lancaster bomber ED995 PH-X for the first time. The crew’s duty this day was to last only one hour, for as ED995 had only been delivered that morning, this flight was just a shake down. Five days later this plane was to embark on what was the first visit to enemy territory for both plane and crew, a nearly six hour sortie to Dortmund.

Flight Engineer Wally Smith was a reasonably local lad, the son of a grocer in the village of Walesby, Nottinghamshire (just a short ride home on his Norton motor bike when off Ops). The others were from more distant parts of England. They came together as the seven men left standing when everybody else had crewed up through self selection based on experience and friendship. All the crew were to survive their first tour bar the Wireless Operator, Sgt Tom Routledge, who died of oxygen starvation on the second operation, a night raid to Dusseldorf.

During the summer of 1943 Bomber Command suffered its heaviest losses and the life expectancy of both crew and planes was very short. For Wally and the rest of the crew to survive was against all the odds. Raids were carried out on Turin, Milan, Berlin and Peenemunde to name a few, a remarkable feat at this point of the war. What made this tour even more remarkable for Wally was that he completed his 30 ops in the same Lancaster. Through his undoubted ability as an engineer and the phenomenal skill of pilot
Jimmy Wright and the rest of the crew, after each raid they were to bring ED995 back to Wickenby virtually unscathed. So when they were next on Ops ED995 (who was affectionately named Sarah) was waiting at dispersal.

Superstition played a big part in bomber crews’ lives, and as the sortie numbers rose into the twenties, the crew became more and more anxious to keep ED995 as their own, to avoid breaking a winning sequence. After twenty seven ops Wally was chosen to be Flight Engineer to Wing Commander Craven on a night raid to Berlin. The mission was a success, but it meant that when the rest of the crew had only completed twenty nine ops, Wally had finished his tour of duty. Having no intention of breaking the sequence however, Wally still went on the last op with his regular crew.

So on the night of 4 October 1943 the crew set off in their trusty Lancaster ED995 on a raid on Frankfurt. Six hours and ten minutes later they landed safely at Wickenby for the last time. ED995 had carried them close to two hundred operational hours.

On the morning of 5 Octo-ber 1943 Wally walked away from his kite for the last time, mindful of how lucky he had been to have such a wonderful plane beneath him.
ED995’s next mission was three days later. She was to take her new crew to bomb Hanover, a mission from which she never returned.

Wally went on to complete another tour of 20 operations with 463 Squadron and was commissioned in August 1944.

The crew of ED995 PH-X were:
F/O FJ Wright—Pilot
P/O EV Saunders –Navigator
Sgt DJ Hone—Wireless Operator
Sgt DR Tattersall—Bomb Aimer
Sgt W J Smith—Flight Engineer
Sgt BS Heath—Mid Upper Gunner
Sgt GW Shrimpton—Rear Gunner
F/Sgt TA Routledge—Wireless Operator—Killed in Action 25 May 1943

W/O Fred Stokes 1029666

Lancaster LM 387 shot down 21/1/1944

Fred was my fathers brother and I grew up with a knowledge of his wartime record. When my father died I inherited a small 1942 pocket diary and photographs that belonged to Fred. I put them safely away and that was that. It wasn’t until some years later that my interest in the war prompted me to start researching his involvement in it.
I found that he joined the RAFVR to the end of 1940 and was assessed to be trained as a rear gunner. He passed out at the end of 1941 and in early 1942 was crewed up on a new Wellington bomber bound for North Africa. They arrived in Egypt in February but were not assigned a squadron until April. This was 148 Squadron based near the Bitter Lakes. He completed the required number of operations plus a few aborted ones due to technical problems. His diary detailed some near misses, crash landings etc. As war drew to a close in North Africa, Fred and crew went back to England, arriving in Liverpool by ship toward the end of February 1943. All I had then was the date he died. A chance remark to my Aunt, about my interest in Fred’s service brought the reply “oh I have his log book and some letters”. This would fill the missing months leading to his death but it was so much more.

It was usual for Aircrew on completing a tour to take a break from combat operations and Fred embarked on a Gunnery Instructors course which he successfully completed in November of 1943. Fred was then available for return to combat operations and after attending retraining at a Heavy Conversion Unit he was now a Mid Upper Gunner on the much larger 4 engined Lancaster bombers. At the end of December 1943 he joined 101 Squadron of Bomber Command, based at RAF Ludford Magna in Lincolnshire. After a few familiarization flights with his new skipper and crew, he went on his first operation over Germany on the 6th January 1944. On his second operation on the 20/21st January the plane was brought down and all the crew were posted as missing presumed killed. Fred was 23yrs and 3 months old. The crew were mainly aged 20 to 24 and the oldest was aged 33. Two of these guys were also Canadian.

In 1946 the Casualty branch of the Air Ministry contacted my Grandfather informing him that translated documents stated Fred’s aircraft had been shot down on the morning of the 21st January 1944 and that the crew had been buried in the war cemetery at Ludwigslust and that after the grave had been suitably marked with a headstone, photographs of the grave would be sent to them. Imagine their sorrow when in 1950 they received another letter stating that in 1944 Fred and crew had been exhumed and reburied on a firing range. Then they were moved again and now their whereabouts were unknown.

Fred and crew are now commemorated in the memorial on Runnymede and in the book of Remembrance in Lincoln Cathedral.

Coming to the present, over the last 6 months I have been researching Fred’s life and with the help of my brother in law we have attempted to locate the crews final resting place. We wrote to the church in Ludwigslust and the Reverend there kindly searched the church records and also those of the surrounding churches but without success. He suggested we try the Bundesarchive in Freiburg, which we did but the only thing they found was a claim by the farmer for damage caused to his crops/land by the crashed aircraft.

We also found an archived entry in the RAF Commands Forum that in 1984 to 1987 the crash site had been excavated by the Bergungsdienst of the then DDR.
I would now like to list the names of the crew of LM387. You are all remembered and included on the IBCC Memorial and in their Losses Database 

Flying Officer SWW Perry RCAF of Benito, Manitoba, age 24.
Sgt TW Durie RAF of Leith, Edinburgh, age 33.
W/O NG Dowler RCAF of Burnaby, British Columbia, age 22.
Sgt PF Searle RAF of Alconbury, Huntingdonshire, age 20.
Sgt RA Hart RAF of Lanes End, Kent, age 21.
W/O F Stokes RAF of Castleford, Yorkshire, age 23.
Sgt WE Whitfield RAF of Parbold, Lancashire, age 20.
Flying Officer R J Wilson RAF Address and age unknown

Haydn Peter Smith

The crew changed his name as it was much better over the sometimes poor in flight radio than Haydn.

Haydn Peter Smith was the eldest of five children. He was a bright lad from the word go. He was educated in The Central School, one of the three boy‘s grammar schools, and started work in a solicitor‘s office where he learned that unless his parents could find quite a sum of money to invest in him at his place of work, that he would remain a legal clerk for the rest of his life. As that was an impossibility for working class parents, he changed his job and became a trainee millwright at the C & W Works, (Railway) in Derby. In his spare time he was a fantastic pianist with his own dance band.

He volunteered to go into the RAF as soon as he was old enough. I clearly remember the day his call up papers came because as I was very much younger than him and not yet at school, only my mother and I were at home when a telegraph boy delivered a telegram to our front door. Mother opened it in trepidation expecting to learn of a death in the family. But it was Haydn‘s call up papers to the RAF. Mother did not know he had asked to join, and despite him being in a reserved occupation, he had been accepted. She burst into tears as I stood wondering what the problem was.

At lunch time Haydn arrived home for his dinner, dressed in his in his blue boiler suit on his bicycle. Mother still crying as she gave him the telegram, and he jumped for joy. Her weeping and he dancing happily no wonder I was baffled and still remember what happened next. He took the front page of the Daily Mail news paper and rolled it into a large cone. Pinning it with a knob pin, sticking the little end on to his nose. He then lit the top of it with a match and danced down the garden path with it burning down from the top as he went, Mother still crying, and neighbours‘ wondering what was going on.

He was sent first down south for initial training, to Eastbourne I think, and then on to Cape Town for flight training. He was to be a bomb aimer and was to double as the backup pilot and backup navigator, as his position in the plane was right at the front of the plane, just below the pilot and in front of the navigator.

After his training he returned to England and came home for a night on his way to his airbase at Middle Wallop, in Lincolnshire. He had all his kit with him and he showed us all of it, unpacking it on our dining room table; And from memory the first thing I saw was the leather flying helmet with a perforated leather flap swinging loose with a microphone in it and an oxygen pipe attached. The lining of his battle dress had a silk map of Europe in it; one of his black RAF tunic buttons had a top which unscrewed off to expose a miniature compass. He had a stainless steel clasp knife as a weapon and it was also to cut off the long sheepskin flying boot tops to make them look like shoes if shot down. He had a pair of white silk gloves which went under his flying gloves. The most interesting bit for me was his Wembley revolver wrapped in greaseproof paper and covered in grease. It was unwrapped and wiped clean and all the family had a go at squeezing the trigger, even the girls, but not me, as I was deemed too young. I never got over the disappointment.

Haydn went on to fly the odd Wellington bomber, mostly Lancaster‘s and had a flight in a Lockheed Lightening from an American airbase following an invitation from the USAF. He told me how many tons of paint the Wellies had on them to stop the rain coming in through the canvas.

My other brother and I (he being two years older than I) would watch from our bedroom window as the bombers with full bomb loads took off and circled round and round to gain enough height to set off for Germany. This was always an evening activity approx 7 to 8 pm. So that they arrived over Germany in the dark. There were sometimes twenty to thirty planes involved, but occasionally 1000 took part and the sky would be black with them. Many of them would never return.

Haydn‘s Lancaster was climbing steadily for height on one such raid when some twit hit them in the tail section, knocking off their fin and the rudder (The bit of the tail that sticks up) and I‘m sure the tail gunner went for a Burton, (RAF slang for being killed or crashing). But they never talked about such things to civilians, and there was no mention of the tail gunner in the newspapers. The papers said that it happened over the sea, but he told me it was just after taking off. They could still manage to fly the thing a bit and as they had to jettison all their bombs in order to try to land the thing, they set off towards Germany with the rest. They were to drop their bomb load into the sea and return to attempt a landing. When over the sea they had a quick discussion and decided to carry on and drop them onto the enemy instead. They were on a sticky wicket as it was, so they might as well do the business first and try to land it afterwards. They miraculously did both, and being one of the most accurate bombers in the squadron they always carried coloured marker flares mixed with their bombs to show the others where the actual target was. The landing was good and plenty of pints were downed on the story in the local pub which was the Dragon in Middle Wallop. I wonder if the pub is still their?

One of the crew was rumoured to be a son or nephew of Coleman‘s the mustard people, whatever he was he had money, you know, the MG sports car etc. When they all departed after the war this was the chap who we think had earlier got an artist to paint the pubs Dragon on to the plane. He also had made the memory illustrations for all the surviving crew with a list of all the raids he was involved in, dates and destinations, the odd one to France.

The Dragon was a very important venue where they toasted their missing mates and drowned their sorrows and also celebrated themselves still being around. Haydn being the pianist he was, he always had a seat in the pub at the piano. He told me that he had never bought a pint, as they were always sat in a row on the piano top, faster than he could possibly drink them.

They did some silly things to keep up moral. Crews pet dogs was one thing they indulged in, but needless to say, their owners often changed. One was the silly moustache craze that they got going. Some cartoonist had invented such a character with such a large tash, so they had a competition to see who could grow the best one. I think it was a nationwide thing for RAF men. There were bushy ones and long handlebar ones and waxed ones. It was all an inside joke thing that they seemed to need .Haydn‘s was of the handlebar variety as he came home on leave with it just to show it off. As none of them necessarily expected to be coming back after their next raid which was always tomorrow, the populous joined in with these sort of jokes. Plenty of empty pub seats were always available for the latest novice replacement fliers to fill.

When the war finished all the crews could stay on but they would lose a rank, or they could get demobbed with their gratuity which was attractive, so only Haydn‘s skipper stayed on. Haydn and his pilot kept in touch regularly, the skippers name was Harry Blow, from Louth in Lincolnshire.

A series of newspaper articles appeared in the People news paper slanging off bomber command in general and Bomber Harris in particular as murderers and worse, well that‘s how it read. It was thought that some connection with Sleeper Fifth Columnists who had been undiscovered during war time, were at the root of those articles. Trying to get some sort revenge for them losing out again.

Harry Blow telephoned Haydn extremely upset, as were all who had lived through it. Haydn still talked to Harry regularly but the skipper could not get over the poison being put out. He was by this time flying Meteor jets when an ‘accident‘ occurred with Harry‘s jet nose-diving into the ground. Haydn was convinced he knew what had caused Harry‘s death, and he still believed it as his own appointed time was up some years later.

Haydn told me of a serious incident that had occurred during one particular raid. To my knowledge it has never been exposed even after all this time. He said that it would be made public knowledge when the time came. I think there was a fifty year gagging order on things of this nature;
I am still waiting for this to come out. What he said happened was this.

When planes were trying to get back home following a raid, some were in an extremely bad condition and some crew had been killed or injured and were still attempting to get home as the alternative was to sink into the channel. A radio direction beacon was invented which was to be switched so that the returning planes could lock on to it as an assist to find their base in England.

It worked well and I think it was known as George.

One night, I think it was a thousand bomber raid night, up went the planes from various airfields around the country to all head of across the English Channel. When they got to Germany, every fighter in the Luftwaffe was up and waiting in exactly the right place to attack our boy‘s on the way in. It came to light later, after extremely heavy losses were incurred, that the beacon George had been accidentally turned on as the planes were leaving England. This was picked up by the Germans, thank you very much, and it cost hundreds of lives that night.

I don‘t think it has ever been talked about openly. Did it happen as he said and is it still a secret, I don‘t know, but I would like to find out in Haydn‘s memory.

What do you think?

Robert (Bob) Gorham

A Day In My Life When I Was 19 Years Old

This is a day in my life when I was 19 years old the date is the 15th of August 1944 Sgt Gorham 1893961 RAF Mid-Upper Gunner of FO Hiddleston’s crew of Avro Lancaster “J” for Jig of 207 squadron stationed at Spilsby in Lincolnshire.

It is just after 08.00am soon after breakfast and we all retire to the ante-room to read the days newspapers, about 0930am the battle order for tonight’s operation would be posted on the notice board. The battle order is a list of crew’s names that are to be on standby for operations that day. This would cause a flurry of activity as aircrew crowded round to see if there names were on it, reactions varied from relief if your name was not on it, to dismay if you were. My name was on it, my stomach turned over as it did every time I read my name, even though by now I had done this over forty times before today.

About 10.00 we would take a stroll down to the aerodrome to do a D.I. (daily inspection) on our aircraft. Whilst we were there we would see if we could glean any information from the ground crews as to the fuel and bomb load. This information would give an indication as to what sort of target it will be. For instance, Full bomb load of 100 and 500 pounders and minimum fuel would probably mean railway marshalling yards in France or Belgium a trip of about 3 or 4 hours usually fairly cushy but not always. The information we gained today was not at all comforting, full fuel load 2154 galls and bomb load a 4000lb cookie and incendiaries this meant a long flight of 7 hours or more to a large town somewhere deep in Germany usually a very dicey trip but also, not always. We got on with our daily inspection of all the equipment in the aircraft the pilot and engineer would check the engines gauges and controls, the bomb aimer his bomb sight and switches and front gun turret, the navigator the radar and the wireless operator the radio equipment. Myself and the rear gunner our turrets and guns making sure that the Perspex was as clean as possible as seeing our attackers was the best form of defence, all of us would also check our oxygen and intercom.

Next its back to the mess for lunch and to hear that the pilots and navigators briefing will be at 1730pm and the crew briefing at 1830pm there is a preliminary briefing for pilots and navigators as the have to make a flight plan and navigation charts which take extra time, after lunch we retire again to the ante-room for the afternoon for a few drinks play cards table tennis or generally lounge around until tea at 1630. Then it’s a stroll over to the crew room for the briefing. Now is the time when all will be revealed, on the far end wall there is a large scale map of Europe covered at this stage by a pair of curtains. When all are assembled and seated at the trestle tables the doors are locked and an armed guard is posted outside, then the station commander pulls the cord and the curtains open to reveal the map with ribbons to show the route to and from the target and says “Gentlemen your target for tonight is Stettin. He goes on to tell us it is an important port on the Baltic coast and also an industrial town with a large steel works. Those of you who know your geography will know that Stettin is now called Szczecin and is part of Poland. After the C.O. the intelligence officer gives us details of the route to and from the target of the positions and amount of anti-aircraft guns and searchlights, then the leaders of each section navigation, wireless ops, bomb aimers, engineers and gunners impart on us all the latest available information, last but not least the Met officer delivers his weather forecast most of which is calculated guesswork and invariably wrong. Then briefing over it is back to the mess for the flying meal of bacon and eggs this is always a noisy affair with lots of chatter and jokes to try and hide the tension that is building up. Everybody wonders if this is going to be their last meal but nobody dares mention it, for some it undoubtedly will be. After the meal we collect our flying rations a couple of sandwiches (usually spam) a bar of chocolate always Fry’s Crème a packet of chewing gum always Wrigley’s. (Chewing gum helped to equalise the air pressure in the ears as the aircraft climbed and descended if you didn’t do this you could burst your eardrums). A packet of barley sugars, for energy and a couple of amphetamine pills, wakey wakey pills we called them for those who thought they needed them.

By now it is 20.00pm in the evening and its back to the crew room to change into flying gear, collect parachutes and escape equipment. This was to help you evade capture if you were shot down and consisted of maps of European countries printed on silk, paper money for countries we will be flying over, a compass, a booklet of common phrases in various languages, a small stick of shaving soap and a razor, and a packet of large Horlicks tablets. Also we are all issued with a Smith and Wesson .38 revolvers, this was to defend against civilians who were known to murder shot down aircrew if they caught them. It is voluntary whether you carried this or not, I opted not to carry it as partly because if you are caught by the military they are more likely to shoot you, but mainly because it was very cumbersome and I have no where to keep it .

Putting on the flying clothing starts with a string vest and silk long johns then a shirt, tie, trousers and battledress jacket. Next came a heated outfit followed by a fleece lined Irving jacket and trousers, or when exceptionally cold (the temperature could be around -40’C at times) a Taylor suit which is padded with Kapok and had a built in Mae West lifejacket this is very bulky. On my feet were a pair of thick woollen socks over your ordinary socks then the heated socks and fleece lined boots my hands are first covered with silk gloves then chamois leather gloves, then heated gloves followed by fleece lined leather gauntlets .Now its climb aboard the lorry which will take us out to the aircraft dispersal, we now have about half an hour before boarding the aeroplane so there is time to chat to the ground crew in whom we have 100% confidence that they have done everything in their power to ensure that the aircraft brings us all home safely. There job goes pretty much unsung I’m afraid as it was not very glamorous they slaved away in all weathers sometimes in atrocious conditions boiling hot in summer and absolutely perishing cold in winter.

The tension builds up as it nears time to climb aboard the aircraft, then you hear the skipper say “Ok blokes lets go” now comes the ritual of all seven of us peeing on the tail wheel it’s the last thing we do before climbing the ladder to board the aircraft but it is also a practical thing as the next time you are able to “go” is when you get back possibly some 8 or 9 hours later.

The parachutes and other kit is stowed away and everyone takes up their allotted position in the aircraft helmets are donned and we are now in communication with each other, I do all the routine checks to see that everything is working properly the pilot has his side window open to communicate with the ground crew and one by one the four Rolls Royce Merlin engines cough and splutter into life, each engine is run up to full power and various pieces of equipment powered by each engine checked. The bomb doors are closed the pilot signals to the ground crew to remove the chocks from the wheels and we start to move onto the perimeter track to join the other 16 or so Lancaster’s moving towards the runway ready for take off. I can see other Lancaster’s taking off about one every minute and now it is our turn, we turn onto the runway ready for take off and with the brakes on the engines are revved up to full power the brakes are released and the aircraft surges forward, some of the ground personnel including the station commander gather at he end of the runway to wave us away on our journey this is another ritual which takes place on every bomber aerodrome every time there is an operation. Gradually the speed builds faster and faster the tail wheel lifts the Lancaster speeds down the runway the bumps stop and we are airborne. “Wheels up” says the skipper then “flaps up” and we are on our way. The time now is 21.25pm all around us you can see other Lancaster’s climbing steadily in the late evening sunshine and then heading out across the North Sea towards Holland, all the tension and fear falls away now that everyone has their jobs to do. I have the best view in the aircraft sitting up there on top, as we near the Dutch coast searchlights and little flashes of light from the belt of anti-aircraft defences, some of those in front of us are getting the usual reception reserved for us by the Germans for daring to cross into their territory. Now it is our turn to run the gauntlet! After passing through this zone we enter the territory controlled by a far greater threat to our well being the German night fighter, they are equipped with their own on board radar and machine guns and cannon of a far greater range and firepower than our Lancaster with no radar and only .303in machine guns. The night fighters could see us on radar far sooner than we could possibly see them with the naked eye and their superior armament allows them to stand off out of the range of our guns and plaster our aircraft with fire at will. Sudden bright flashes or long streams of light going downwards would signify the grisly end of another bomber and its crew.

As we approached Stettin ahead of us we can see the pathfinder aircraft are dropping hundreds of flares to illuminate the target and as we get closer the marker aircraft drop target indicators of a bright red colour surrounded by greens. We are now on our bomb run. The bomb aimer Ted‘s voice comes over the intercom “bomb doors open” then all hell breaks loose, all around us as every anti aircraft gun in and around Stettin opens up the aircraft leaps and bucks as we fly into the slipstream of those in front of us. “Left, Left, Steady, Right, Steady, Steady, Steady, Bombs gone!” and the aircraft leaps upwards as the weight of the bombs falls away. Thank god for that!, you think, that’s got rid of them but we still have to fly straight and level for another agonising minute to get a photo of our actual bomb bursts. The few minutes from when the bomb doors open until you turn away and you hear the pilot Sid say “Give us a course for home Les” can seem like an eternity. From 18’000 ft the scene below us on the ground is one of continual bright flashes among areas of different coloured light the flashes are the 4000lb cookies exploding and the photo flashes going off. The patches of light, fires from burning incendiaries and target indicators. What happens down there must be the absolute horror of horrors but we try not to think of that. Firework displays have meant nothing to me since those days.

We are now on our way home and the return journey is much the same as the outward except that we now go faster as we are no longer handicapped by the weight of the bomb load. We cross the English coast and we circle the aerodrome until it is our turn to land we then taxi to our dispersal shut down the engines open the door and all pile out to do again the last thing we did before we left, except this time we just go anywhere but on the tail wheel, great sighs of relief all round at this point a crew bus driven by a young WAAF illuminates the scene. We all climb aboard and someone pipes up “Sorry about that I hope our exhibition didn’t frighten you?” and quick as a flash she says “ I don’t let little things like that worry me!” She drops us off at the crew room where we are debriefed change our clothing then hand in our parachutes and the rest of our equipment. Then it’s another ride to the mess and another meal of bacon and eggs followed by going to our billet and bed, it is now 0730am on the 16th of August 1944 and we have all lived to fight another day.


John Proctor

Sgt Pilot JOHN GORDON PROCTER 1162796 VR in 50 Squadron Bomber Command

(Incorrectly printed on most official documents as Proctor)

Killed in action on 30th August 1941 aged 26 years.

My Uncle Gordon;

Before the war, he worked in the family business of Insurance Brokers together with his father, brother and sister. He was a keen sportsman and a member of West Bromwich Harriers Club.

In 1939 he qualified for his A Pilot Licence at the age of 17 and was member of Castle Bromwich Aero Club. He volunteered for the R.A.F.

Service Record:-

Enlisted: 24/05/1940

Unit 2RC – 25/5/40

54 Group, Northcliffe – 8/7/40

O.T.U. 14 (7 Group) Cottesmore – 04/41 to 07/41

50 Sqdn Bomber Command 12/7/41

Flight Log:-

17/18th July raids AD766

20/21 July. AD843

22/23 July. AD902

25/26 July. AD928

28/29 July. AD854 Gardening (Swinderby)

5/6 August. AD839*

8/9 August. AD928

27/28 August. AD839

28/29 August. No operations (Swinderby)

29/30 August. 14 aircraft detailed to bomb docks at Frankfurt. Unfortunately one aircraft failed to return.

AD839* target docks at Frankfurt.

Two fixes were given by Sealand which put this aircraft over North East France. Nothing more was heard from it. **

**Aircraft Hampden AD839

Call sign VN-

Operation Frankfurt

Hampden AD839 took off from RAF Swinderby at 2145 hours on the night of 29/30 August 1941 to bomb Frankfurt, Germany. The aircraft and crew belonged to 50 Squadron RAF (With the exception that Flt Sgt R P Urpeth (RAF) who was the Air Gunner in the crew, belonged to 455 Sqdn RAAF). During the mission the aircraft had been heard in contact with Sealand D/F Station, but it failed to return from the mission.

I would like to thank Sgt. Procter’s niece, Roslyn Loades for supplying the material for this story.

Ian Archer Wynn


My father was the Flight Engineer on LM 320 of 100 Squadron. They had taken off from RAF Grimsby (Waltham) at 23.23hrs to join 758 other aircraft in the raid.

On Thursday 27th May 1943 The Daily Mail reported, under the headline “5 “COOKIES” a minute by RAF, Dusseldorf pounded for an hour in war’s greatest bad-weather attack” The report then gives further information about the raid on the night of 25th/26th May and reports the loss of 27 bombers during the mission.

On 24th May 2013, 70 years later, a memorial was unveiled in Herkenbosch, Netherlands in memory of the crew of Lancaster LM 320 that crashed that night and the crews of all the 5 other aircraft that came down in the vicinity of the village during the war.

My father was the Flight Engineer on LM 320 of 100 Squadron. They had taken off from RAF Grimsby ( Waltham ) at 23.23hrs to join 758 other aircraft in the raid. The previous night he had flown in a raid on Dortmund. The crew were:-

S/Ldr. P R Turgel DFC aged 22 Pilot
P/O I A Wynn aged 35 Flight Engineer
F/O D Harvey aged 32 Air Gunner
Sgt. J Hudson age unknown Air Gunner
F/O J M Marnoch aged 30 Wireless Operator/ Air Gunner
F/O H N Petts aged 25 Navigator
F/O G Russell aged 22 Bomb Aimer

My mother was told that the plane had been brought down by Flak at 01.36 on the 26th May and as the Germans would not allow anyone to approach the crash site he was reported as missing. It wasn’t until April 1946 that he was confirmed as dead and buried with 4 other crew members in a collective grave. Two of the crew were identified and buried separately.

We now know that the plane was not brought down by Flak but was shot down by Hauptmann Manfred Meurer who later lost his life in the war, aged 24.

Ian’s family have generously allowed us to digitise their father’s extensive collection which can be seen here 

In 2012 I wrote to the local authority in the area of the crash to see if anyone could give me more information as I wanted to visit the site on the anniversary of the crash.

They put me in touch with a Dutch family from the village who have researched the wartime plane crashes in the area of their village, HERKENBOSCH.

My brother and I together with our wives arranged a visit which we thought would be a family remembrance event.

We could not believe the welcome we were given by the family and people of the village. It can probably be summed up by the following extract from an E-Mail sent to me by the family,


The Dutch family talked to eye witnesses to the crash and located the actual crash site where, using metal detectors, metal from the plane was found.

A local hotel gave us free accommodation and the Dutch family did everything they could to make our visit a memorable one.

Unbeknown to us until a few days before our visit, the village had banded together to erect a memorial to all the planes and crews that were killed in plane crashes near their village.  (They pointed out that not one aircraft had hit the village; a further tribute to our pilots who they believe did everything in their power to avoid crashing on their homes.)

They had obtained from a museum part of the engine from a Wellington, together with the propeller, and this is now mounted at the entrance to the village. There is a plaque showing the names of all 27 aircrew who were killed in the locality, together with an information board giving details of the various aircraft, dates of the crashes, etc.

My brother and I were invited to unveil the plaque at a ceremony on the evening of 24th May.

It was attended by, amongst others, Mayor E Hanselaar; Alderman C Wolfhagen; a delegation from the RAF at North Brunssum; General- Major L Van den Born of the Royal DutchAir Force; a representative of The Royal Air Force Association; The Union of War Veterans Association; Ceremonial Home Guard; the local Band and hundreds of local people.

The Royal British Legion in Exeter, Devon had provided me with a RAF Roundel at short notice and my brother and I laid it alongside 6 or 7 other wreaths and floral tributes.

We understand that it is now proposed to have a service at the site every year and to visit the War Cemetery at Jonkersbos near Nijmegen where all the aircrews were eventually buried.

The whole visit was very memorable but in particular the warmth and friendship of the Dutch is something we will remember for the rest of our lives.

Life with a Lancaster

From the Memoirs of F/Lt Peter Baxter while he was a Flight Engineer with 12 Squadron out of Wickenby.

Kindly donated by Mike Baxter

It may be of interest to hear something of the details and routines of Lancaster flying which lie behind the entries in my log book. Some of these facts and figures were part of my role as the flight engineer, but the pilot was also inescapably involved in many things as, being the captain of the aircraft, his word was law.

I will start on the ground under the general heading of accidents. During my time at Wickenby very few aircraft actually crashed on the airfield, although there were several landing incidents. The reason for this was in part due to the availability of so many other airfields in the vicinity, so that if an aircraft was short of fuel, a landing could be made elsewhere if necessary. The same situation also applied to aircraft which had been damaged, and in this respect several airfields with long runways were set aside for emergency use (the most notable of these being Marston in Kent). In spite of these facilities though, numerous crews did try to get their aircraft home, only to crash in the circuit whilst attempting to land. Wickenby was no exception to this and at least two accidents occurred for this reason. I saw one of these aircraft afterwards and it was completely burnt out. Of the landing accidents, the worst one I remember happened to a Halifax which broke up on touch-down, fortunately with no loss of life. A few aircraft force-landed with their wheels up which often meant ruined engines when the propellers hit the ground. In addition to these unavoidable “prangs”, there were others that could only be put down to pilot error, such as swerving off the runway (which often meant the collapse of the under-carriage) or, amazingly enough, the retraction of the under-carriage whilst standing in dispersal!

Taxiing accidents were few, but a heinous crime was to swerve off the perimeter track and get bogged down. This resulted in forced labour for the ground crew, and the pilot was always “fined” a minimum of ten shillings to compensate them! I cannot remember a take-off accident whilst I was at Wickenby, apart from one occasion where a pilot swerved but was able to pull up before any harm was done. Another occurrence which merited a fine was to pick up a parachute from the ground by the ripcord instead of the carrying handle if one was not paying attention, and this had the embarrassing result of one having to collect the parachute together and take it to be repacked at a cost of at least 2/6d!

I will now move on to deal with the fuel and oil. The fuel used was always 100 octane petrol which was coloured green for identification purposes, and also to prevent theft. The aircraft had six tanks, all in the wings, which contained a total of 2,154 gallons. A cross-feed pipe was fitted which allowed the transfer of fuel from one side to the other if a tank had been damaged. On later aircraft from about 1944, nitrogen was supplied to the tanks as the petrol was used up, minimising the risk of explosion. All the tanks were self-sealing. 150 gallons of lubricating oil were carried, 37½ gallons to each engine. The oil consumption was one to two gallons per hour per engine, depending on its condition. An engine exceeding a usage of more than two gallons per hour needed changing.

Now to the actual flying procedure. Having done all the external and internal checks we were ready for take-off. The flaps would be set at 25 degrees if the aircraft were laden, or 15 degrees if light. The engines would be progressively opened up by pushing the throttle levers forward whilst the pilot held the aircraft against the brakes. At about zero boost, the brakes would be released and the throttles opened fully, with the port side slightly ahead to counteract a tendency for the aircraft to swing. The pilot opened up the throttles, and in case his hand should slip, I had to follow up behind him. The tail would be raised as we charged down the runway with the engines straining away at the maximum power of 3,000 rpm and +12lbs boost, and making a fearful noise. (Engine development allowed an increase to +14lbs boost during 1943, and later +18lbs in 1945.) Some indication of the power the engines produced can be imagined from the fact that 40 gallons of petrol were used up on take-off alone! Take-off speed was 95-105 m.p.h. and on the runway at Wickenby (other than the short north-east one), the aircraft would lift off without effort. As soon as we were airborne I was instructed to retract the undercarriage, and then to raise the flaps when at about 800ft. At 1,000ft the power was reduced to 2,850 rpm +9, and shortly after that to 2,650 +4, staying at that while we were climbing. At 10,000ft it was necessary to put on our oxygen masks. During the climb I would be monitoring the gauges and filling in my log sheet. The rate of climb depended on the air conditions and the engine power, which in turn depended on the engine coolant temperatures, so a certain amount of juggling would take place with the controls. The normal speed in a climb was between 145 and 175 m.p.h.. No doubt the word “boost” is a mystery to most people, but it is quite a simple term which indicates the pressure in the inlet manifold in pounds per square inch above the normal atmospheric pressure. An automatic boost control would advance the throttle levers as we climbed up, but there would come a time at about 13,000ft when the supercharger ratio would have to be changed to a higher one (known as ‘S‘ gear) to maintain the power.

If we were flying on operations we would probably be crossing the English coast by now, and the pilot would normally call out this piece of news, followed by an instruction to the gunners to take the safety catches off their guns. At this point one of them might ask permission to make a test firing of their weapon. Soon after this would come the time-honoured phrase “Enemy coast ahead”, and we now had to keep a very sharp look-out as trouble could be expected at any time. Having reached our operations height of 20,000ft plus, the engine revs would be reduced to 2,550 rpm and the throttles adjusted to give +3lbs boost, this being the normal cruising power necessary to maintain altitude. The speed would be about 150 m.p.h., but might require some alteration on request from the navigator if his timings were out of step. We were constantly reminded that we flew in the best aircraft of its type in the world, and to reinforce this view we would usually see the other types down below us struggling along! To clarify the word “see”, this would only apply in moonlight, but on dark nights we could see the pattern of exhaust flames and identify the aircraft by this method. The poor old Stirlings were usually the lowest, but I must admit that we did pass them occasionally at our own height. They had radial engines, and one could see their exhaust rings glowing in the darkness; often was the time that we could see four red rings flying along and knew that we were actually looking at a Stirling. If we could see them, so could the Jerries, and I wondered why more of them were not shot down.

On arrival at our target I was often amazed to see the ferocity of the anti-aircraft fire. Searchlights were everywhere as well, and the scene was compounded by the fires already on the ground and the various coloured flares hanging in the sky. The flak appeared as a sheet wall of bursting shells with no way through, and it was here that we benefited from the experience and calm manner of the pilot. The bomb doors were opened and our bomb aimer would be in position to sight the marker flares and guide us in the right direction. By now we were in the thick of it and the noise was deafening – a veritable vision of Hell! We heard the aimer giving corrections, and shortly afterwards it was “bombs gone”. It was hardly necessary for him to shout this as the aircraft leapt upwards when they were released and I was nearly knocked off balance. Far from the danger now being over, the next few moments were potentially the worst of the raid, for there now came a photographic session! Simultaneously with the bomb release, a flare was dropped which lit up the ground sufficiently to show on a photograph taken by a special camera so that the target area could be confirmed. The film was exposed for several seconds as the bursting of the flare, planned to occur when the bombs were half-way down their descent, could not be predicted to a second. The object was to obtain a record of where the bombs were likely to have fallen, not necessarily the explosion itself. So in order to allow for this variation in the operating time of the flare, it was crucial for the pilot to hold the aircraft straight and level for a period of eleven seconds. As can be imagined, they were almost unbearable as there was an irresistible temptation to spin away and get out of it.

We will now assume that we have closed the bomb doors and are “getting the hell out of it”! The navigator would have been on the ball and would now be giving us the course to fly on the homeward leg. As I have mentioned before, this was usually flown on a gradual descent accompanied by much twisting and turning. Our speed would have increased to between 180 and 220 m.p.h. and the engines set to 2,400 rpm +4. I would have to be alert to change the superchargers back to normal ratio at the appropriate time, but there would be no problem in remembering to take our oxygen masks off at 10,000ft. This would be to the accompaniment of three cheers from all and sundry! Throughout the homeward journey I would be keeping my log and changing the fuel tanks at intervals, and of course not neglecting my other duty as spare look-out. Apart from the unwelcome sight of an occasional night fighter, there was always something of interest to see in the night sky. If there was a touch of moonlight or the glow of the setting sun, there would be scenes of great beauty to behold with the clouds lit up in fantastic patterns; on several occasions I saw the Northern Lights at play. A starlit night was very pleasant to contemplate, and sometimes useful to the navigator too if he required to take an astro shot. There were other, more sinister things to be seen, an example of which were sudden flashes of fire on the ground which more often than not signalled shot-down aircraft crashing. Sometimes flares would light up the sky, and as these usually heralded fighter activity, we had to redouble our vigilance to guard against sudden attacks. At times like this I was reminded of the huge notice in the crew room “Eternal vigilance is the price of safety” – we couldn‘t help reading it often enough, and there were a multitude of opportunities to practice it. On some raids marker flares were dropped by our pathfinders to indicate a turning point, but these were usually used on the outward leg only.

Having braved all that the enemy could throw at us (and having faced our own defences more than once!), we would proceed to our bases in a more relaxed frame of mind, helped on our way at intervals over England by radio beacons transmitting a call sign in Morse which we could identify. Shortly before reaching home we would don our oxygen masks again, this being the second most dangerous part of the trip as collisions could easily occur, and we had to be completely alert. On landing we were whisked away to be debriefed, via the locker room where our flying kit would be deposited. The aircraft captain did most of the talking on these occasions, but the rest of us had our say if there was anything of note to report. Later on when Flight Engineer Leaders were in existence, the engineer would also report to him briefly and hand his log in. The F/E Leader would subsequently work out his air miles per gallon ratio, and if it was unsatisfactory a later meeting with the captain would be held to try and improve matters in the future. Normally a figure of one air mile per gallon was acceptable and this rested on the engineer‘s powers of persuasion over the pilot if it was to be achieved. The crews‘ lives often depended on it; hundreds of aircraft crashed unnecessarily when a bit more attention might have been paid to fuel conservation.

The final item to mention is that the bombing photographs were displayed in the intelligence department on the following day, and were usually perused with great interest. Often they would be unintelligible or spoilt, but many of them would show a hit near to the target. If a crew had achieved a direct hit it would be an occasion for celebration, and although no prizes were given, it would compensate for the terrible experience one had suffered. During my tour we were fortunate enough to score two bulls!Lancaster two bomber


Bill Jock Wishart

My father’s account of a 576 Lancaster Squadron operation

We had recently moved from Elsham Wolds to our own airfield. On the morning of 4th November 1944 I saw the Skipper’s name was on the battle order which meant our crew were on operations that night. At briefing we learnt our target was to be Bochum in the industrial Ruhr. We duly took off over Lincoln Cathedral and set course for Germany. Approaching the target I could see the searchlights sweeping the sky and what looked like sparklers in the darkness were in fact exploding anti-aircraft shells. I had just dropped the bombs and we were about to leave the target area when a searchlight caught us in its beam and immediately all other searchlights concentrated their beams on us – we were “coned”. If you were in the cone for any length of time your odds of survival were pretty low as all the ack-ack guns in the area concentrated their fire on what was now a visible target. The standard evasive action to escape the cone was to “corkscrew”. This probably lasted only seconds till you hopefully escaped the cone. Meanwhile during this violent manoeuvre anything not strapped down was just flung about the aircraft and that included me in the nose, the navigator and wireless operator, the gunners being confined in their turrets! As soon as we escaped the cone we set course for home. At the debriefing that night the tot of Navy rum with the mug of hot tea was more than welcome! Then off to the mess for a flying breakfast which included a REAL egg! On that operation 28 bombers were lost.

W/O Ron Jennings

My first op from RAF Dunholme Lodge. 619 Squadron As seen through the eyes of W/O Ron Jennings

Two married friends of mine were keen to visit Lincolnshire in June 2012 and asked me to join them for a few days. They were keen to stay at the Petwood Hotel and also to visit the BBMF and asked me to arrange this.

The only convenient dates I could get at the Petwood were the 27th. and 28th of June so off we went.

On the 28th. we arrived early at the BBMF only to be told that it was not possible to see the Lancaster as it was due to do a Fly Past during the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial. something I had forgotten about.

However, after I had explained the position the three of us were Introduced to the CO of the BBMF at the Coningsby base and given the full VIP treatment for the rest of the day. We saw the Lancaster take-off and were then taken into the mess to see the Service on TV. When this was over I was asked to do a broadcast for Radio Lincoln and in the meantime the word had got around about my poem. The CO was very interested and asked if I had a copy, which I had as I was going to visit Brian and Margaret Wykes and give it to them. After reading it the CO told his PRO to put it on the station website where it would be seen world-wide. It has been on there ever since.

When the Lancaster landed we were taken aboard and I was able to sit in the seat I used to sit in 68 years ago.

When it was all over we visited Brian and Margaret.

A truly unforgettable day out.

Givors is a small town in France with a population of around 24,000 and was important because it had a large rail network and marshalling yards, ideal for troop movements.

As this was precision bombing our height over target was 7,000 ft and when we arrived the visibility was so poor that all aircraft were ordered to switch on their navigation lights to avoid any collision.

Our flying time on this operation was 9hours 32minutes.

As a crew we did 32 ops together and our crew members were as follows:

Pilot ………………….. R. Bateman
Flight Engineer …… E.Dutton
Navigator ………….. A. Cameron (Australian)
Bomb Aimer ………. B.Shepherd
Radio Operator ….. R.Jennings
Mid Gunner ………… H.Vanderkelen (Belgium)
Rear Gunner ……… L.AIIen (Australian)

A special tribute must be paid to our pilot Ray Bateman whos undoubted flying skills enabled the whole crew to complete this tour unharmed.

In all, 669 crew members who flew from Dunholme Lodge Never returned.

One by one each mighty Merlin burst into life
It was 1944,our losses were high,a time of great strife
The noise was shattering the silence of the night
This was our very first op,there was no time for fright
Our last letters home had been written with care
Then placed in our lockers for our loved ones to share
Whilst each word we had written was truly meant
We all fervently hoped they would they would never be sent
As we waited for take-off I looked into space
Alii had learnt then fell into place
Now we were airborne and struggled to gain height
Check the equipment again, it would be a long flight
Our target-Givors-would be shortly in sight
Waiting to bear the RAF’s might
The Pathfinder boys had done their job well
The buildings they had identified would soon be a shell
Our bomb doors were open, the bomb aimer took care
It depended on him now to hit that red flare
At 7,000ft we began our bomb run
This was for real, our practice was done
The searchlights were weaving as though doing a dance
If you were caught up in those you stood little chance
Night fighters were prowling like birds of prey
Take your photographs Bill and let us be on our way
Now Dunholme Lodge lay beneath us with a welcoming arm
Our first op was completed, we had come to no harm
After de-briefing and all had been said
My only thought was to get into bed
Friendships were made, then quickly lost
We were all volunteers, this was the cost
No time for reflection, no time for a tear
Our cloak of bravado hid many a fear
A memorial now stands close to where the control tower once stood
Built by Brian and Margaret, as only they could
Each year a Remembrance Service is held there
To remember the airmen who are now in God’s care
When the time at last arrives for my final flight
I shall wing my way to Heaven at the speed of light
There to greet me will be comrades of mine
From Dunholme Lodge and 619

John Pearl

Had I not been thrown off my seat, the top of my head would have been sliced off like a breakfast boiled egg.

Hit by flak on a daylight raid over Leipzig Sergeant John Pearl – aged 19 in 1945 when he served with No 207 Squadron based at RAF Spilsby, Lincs.

‘Pathfinder marker flares were going down as we began moving across the target – the railway yards at Leipzig. Some light flak appeared ahead of us but it was spread thinly around the sky and did not look too formidable. However, black puffs of smoke from the bursting shells of predicted heavy flak seemed dangerously close and as we continued our run across the target it was one of these shells that exploded alongside, between the two starboard motors.

It shook the plane, throwing us around the sky, causing me to slip off the little hammock that served as a seat in the mid-upper turret. I fell backwards on to the floor of the aircraft. I lay there for a few seconds as shrapnel ripped through the aircraft, sounding like hail stones on a tin roof. The skipper steadied the aircraft and I climbed back to my turret to find it badly holed with most of the cupola Perspex blown away. A lot of the metal framework which had been supporting the Perspex was twisted and mangled and I sat there like a World War I air gunner with my head out in the fresh air. Had I not been thrown off my seat, the top of my head would have been sliced of like a breakfast boiled egg.

It was freezing in the shattered turret now and it could only be rotated by the winding handle as the hydraulics had been shot away. My guns did not work either, so I was reduced to the role of lookout.

Both starboard engines were damaged, losing oil, and had to be feathered but after a quick discussion amongst the crew as to what we should do, we continued on two engines and bombed the target from 14,000 feet. Leaving the target area, we were hit by flak on the port side. Ninety, limping minutes later, oil pressure began dropping fast on the port inner engine and the pilot told us to prepare for baling out.”

The crew baled out successfully, except for the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Peter ‘Andy’ Anderson, who was killed when the aircraft crashed near the village of Burgbrohl. The rest of the crew were picked up by American GIs and quickly repatriated.’

Don Charlwood

Flight Lieutenant Don Charlwood (Royal Australian Air Force) 27 years old in 1942-3 when he served with No 103 Squadron based at RAF Elsham Wolds, Lincs.

In the seven months during the winter of 1942-43 whilst Don’s crew was serving with 103 Squadron, it was the only crew to complete a full operational tour of 30 missions. Of the 20 men from his training course who qualified as navigators with him, only five survived the War.

‘We were briefed to bomb Mannheim. We meandered across Europe weaving all the way, found our target and bombed it. On the return journey, about an hour out from the target, an astro fix showed us about 40 miles south of track. I regarded this fix with extreme doubt – astro navigation on operations was a different proposition from during training. Getting another fix was then complicated by the development of high cloud obscuring the stars. Our GEE and our radios were both out of order and, in any event, we were beyond the range of British transmitters. I continued with dead reckoning navigation for almost two hours. For all that time a stronger than forecast wind blew us further south of track. There was still cloud above and below us and no sight of the ground when there was a cry from the rear turret. “Flak, dead astern!” I jumped to my feet. We should by now have crossed the English coast. “Flak coming straight up.” Called the rear gunner. We swung away from it and the pilot called on the intercom, “Navigator, where the hell are we? When we get out of this muck what about a bit of astro?”

I shuffled to the astrodome. The dome was almost over the wireless operator’s head, being shielded from his light by a black curtain. The curtain was tightly drawn, as beneath the light Max, the wireless operator was trying to find the fault with his set.

“I need a star shot”, I said.
“How the hell am I going to work in the dark?” he complained.
“We must have a check”, I replied.
“Do you want this set fixed, or don’t you?” he continued.
“Give me two minutes.”

Growling something, he switched off his lights. I pulled back the curtain and raised my head into the Perspex bubble. I could hear on the intercom, the pilot and the flight engineer discussing how little fuel we had remaining. I am to blame for our predicament, I thought – for throwing away the lives of our crew. I realised that my chief fear of ops had been this fear, the fear of wasting the lives of other men who were relying on me.

Somehow we reached Waddington, our six hours of fuel stretched to seven hours forty-five minutes.’

From Beneath the Bombs

Herr Klaus Schwerk was sixteen in February 1945. Before the war his father was a doctor in Bautzen, 50 km east of Dresden, and had been conscripted to be a medical officer in the Wehrmacht. In February 1945 he was serving in Italy and his wife and five sons (of which Klaus was the eldest) were still in Bautzen. As the Russian Army approached, and the guns could be heard, the family decided to move westward towards Dresden.

Mother and the four younger boys were there staying with friends when the firebombs started dropping. Klaus had cycled further westward that day, before the attack started, to find the next stopping point for the family, as they wanted to continue their journey. The fires could be seen from where he was, some 20 km to the west of Dresden, and he returned to find his family still alive at around 10am the next day. Then the high explosive attacks by the Americans started and they all repaired to the basement of the house where they were staying. Soon smoke became a problem for them, and Klaus ventured into the street above to see whether he could find a way out.

In the event, he did, and the whole family were lucky enough to be led by him to comparative safety outside the bombing zone and eventually they were able to walk away to the west.

Having left his bicycle behind, two days later he returned to Dresden to look for it and found it in exactly the same place as he had left it. He then saw the full effects of the devastation.

He kept a diary and has written down his experiences, a copy of which he gave me. All the family survived the war, and the father went back to his medical practice in Bautzen. There was not a sign of recrimination against the British or Americans, and at least two of the brothers have lived for many years in the US. Klaus himself studied architecture, but has been an aid worker for some time in India, which is where he learned to speak English. He is now retired in Berlin, and uses his architectural skills to design, for instance, an organ which he plays in his house, and he does other DIY work.

Billy’s Story – Part 5

Part 5

The Aftermath.

On his return to Stanton Harcourt, Gunner B was rushed to hospital at Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford, then onto the RAF hospital in Halton.

He had already lost a lot of blood when his crew discovered him slumped and unconscious in his turret.

Him and the mid upper gunner would have been feverishly, yelling instructions at each other over the intercom, directing each other towards German fighters that would be hurtling in from different angles. German flack shells were bursting all around them, leaving a heavy stink of cordite in their turrets. It is reported that they had taken on a couple of German Messerschmitt 109 fighters and shot one down. There were 31 German fighters waiting for them in La Rochelle that day. These fighters attacked our aircraft relentlessly and with hardened determination, on the run up to the bomb drop. They were trying to protect Germany’s most valuable and dangerous naval asset. I can just imagine Gunner B roaring and spitting all sorts of profanities as he fired back with his four 303 Brownings. He really was that sort of man, fearless and determined also. The noise from his guns, the constant drone and vibrations from the 4 Merlins, Flack bursting all around them and fighter bullets raking their fuselage must have been horrendous. It is little wonder that his hearing was impaired later on in life.

Unfortunately, German fighters managed to hit the target and put two bullets clean through Gunner B’s plexi-glass turret and right through his left shoulder. A few inches lower and it would have been his chest….No hope.

The flight home must have taken around 3 hours or so. That’s a hellish long time to be up there with his shoulder almost blown off and his life’s blood draining out of him. I would expect his crew would have dragged him farther back into the aircraft to administer first aid and plug the bleeding wounds, both front and back. Whether or not he was given morphine by his crew is unclear, but I sincerely hope that that was the case.

The next day, on the 25th of July, his wife Nell received a telegraph from the RAF telling her that her husband had been shot in action and had shoulder wounds, but not critical. Later that day, she got another telegraph, this time from Gunner B himself, telling her, ‘not to worry, it’s only a scratch’.   He must have been in terrible pain when he organised this telegraph, but he would’ve known the RAF would already have informed her and she’d be frantic with worry.

Gunner B was later transferred again, to the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead on the 1st of December.

This would be where he came under the specialist care of the famous and pioneering, plastic surgeon, Archibald McIndoe, who had been appointed Consultant in Plastic Surgery to the RAF.

Gunner B, I believe, became one of the 1st hundred men to receive the pioneering plastic surgery during WW11.  For this he received the Flying Guinea Pig Badge

I am pleased to say at this point, that this badge along with Gunner B’s Fur collar, complete with his dried blood and bullet holes is in the safe hands of his Grandson, retired RAF Warrant Officer, John Brough. The son of Helen (Begbie) Brough. John, and now two of his sons, David Brough and Jake Brough have followed in their great grandfather’s footsteps. David and Jake are both Senior Aircraftsmen in the RAF and who knows where they can go from there. (Per Ardua Ad Astra).

The collar shown in the picture, complete with his dried blood and bullet holes, buttoned on to Gunner B’s leather flying jacket. I remember, as a young lad, slipping my index finger through a bullet hole. A German bullet from an ME109 fighter and was surprised at how small it was. I also remember studying the actual bullets, there were two. One was a bit bent and the other was straight. I looked at Gunner B with some confusion in my eyes. He grinned as he told me that his crew had dug the bullets out of the backrest of his seat in the bullet ridden turret. They later presented them to him in his hospital bed. They had taken them to a local jeweller first and that’s why I saw his name etched upon the straight one…….. W Begbie.

Upon leaving the RAF, Gunner B came home to Kirkcaldy to re-join his wife, Nell and his baby girl Helen, named after her mother. Her Sister, Patricia (Trish) came along a little later and me a few years later still. He went on to have successful career as a Chief Engineer with the National Coal Board (Aye, doon the pits), Alexander’s Bus Garage, and finally Thomas Nicol Salvage in Kirkcaldy.

During his time at Thomas Nicol he worked as an engineer on a salvage vessel that the firm had bought, in order to salvage German warships that had been scuttled by their own commanders at Scapa Flow in 1918.  How ironic that in the very early 1970’s he was involved in raising German warships, when in 1941 he was trying to sink them.

Flight Sergeant William Begbie died in 1974 aged 59. He had been troubled with blood clotting and heart problems since the death of his beloved wife, Nell.

It is with a heavy heart that I conclude this story with this thought.

The respect I have for this man and all his comrades who fought for this country, goes beyond the realms of respect, pride and sincerity.

I would once again, like to take this opportunity to thank my wonderful sister, Pat (Begbie) Croll, for taking care of the family pictures and Gunner B’s medals, badges,etc.

Author ……Bill Begbie Jnr.