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?