A pilot’s story – One hell of a bombing run

Then I had to dodge under another Lancaster coming from our port side, looking up into its yawning bomb-bay with its rows of 500lb bombs and a cookie.

Flying Officer Roy Yule DFC – a Lancaster pilot and captain on No 626 Squadron based at RAF Wickenby, Lincs during 1945.

‘On February 7th 1945 we were briefed for a night raid on Kleve. This operation was to prepare the way for the attack by 15th Scottish Division across the German frontier near Reischwald. We took off at 7pm and at 10pm approached the target at 10,000 feet. There was a layer of thin cloud at 5,000 feet and we clearly heard the Master Bomber, who was circling in a Mosquito at 3,000 feet, ordering the main force to come below cloud. To comply with his orders, I closed the throttles and put the aircraft into a dive, getting under the cloud and levelling off at 4,000 feet. This turned out to be one hell of a dangerous bombing run. Over half the main force did not come below cloud but bombed through it on the fires and flares that could be seen through the thin layer.

The one hundred and forty or so Lancaster pilots that did obey the Master Bomber converged onto the tight bunch of target markers. Stan, the bomb aimer, gave “Bomb-doors open”, and we heard the clear, casual voice of the Master Bomber, “Bomb to starboard of the red Target Indicators”. Then I had to dodge under another Lancaster coming from our port side, looking up into its yawning bomb bay with its rows of 500lb bombs and a cookie. I jabbed the left rudder to slide clear of it. Stan, who could not see the other Lanc, had started his run-up patter giving me “Right,” and shouted agitatedly, “Right, not bloody left!”

The scene ahead was fantastic. Red and yellow tracer shells were crisscrossing from the flak batteries outside the town. They seemed to be coming from eight different positions and looked like 20 mm and 37 mm, which are nasty blighters at the height we were at. Strings of bombs were falling through the cloud from the Lancs above. Flashes from the exploding blockbusters on the ground were blinding. A stricken Lancaster crashed on its run-in blowing up with its full bomb load. Large columns of thick black smoke rose from the town up to 3,000 feet.

Stan gave, “Right, right, steady, bombs away.” then our aircraft was bucking and rearing as the pressure waves hit us. 4,000 feet was reckoned to be the absolute minimum height for dropping a blockbuster. At last we were through the target and turning south over the Rhine and my stomach muscles started to relax.’

We landed back at Wickenby at 42 minutes after midnight. At debriefing, Frank, the mid-upper gunner, said that a string of bombs with a wobbling blockbuster dropped past our starboard tail-plane as our own bombs were leaving.

Robert (Bob) Gorham – 207 Sqdn Mid Upper Gunner 1944

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.

Haydn Peter Smith (known as Pete)

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?

Jeanette McClelland

‘Lancaster NG116 took off from RAF Wickenby at 182 hours on 23 September 1944’

434468 Flight Sergeant MENGAL, Colin Eric

434468 Flight Sergeant MENGEL, Colin Eric

AWM 237 (65) NAA A705, 166/15/320 Commonwealth War Graves records W R Chorley : RAF Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War, Page 434 Volume 1944.

Summary: Lancaster NG 116 took off from RAF Wickenby at 182 hours on 23 September 1944 to bomb Neuss, Germany, nothing was heard from the aircraft after take off and it failed to return to base.

Crew: RAF FO Bamberough, R Captain (Pilot), RAF Sgt A Dodd (Flight Engineer), RAAF 4302279 Flt Sgt R H Gawler (Navigator), RAF Sgt G Whyles (Bomb Aimer), RAAF 434468 Flt Sgt CE Mengel (Wireless Operator Air), RAF Sgt J W Cox (Mid Upper Gunner), RAF Sgt F J Gooch (Rear Gunner).


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 we look forward to seeing your names on the new memorial in 2015.

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

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 Dussel-dorf.

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 Frank-furt. Six hours and ten min-utes 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


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 transfered 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 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

Clifford John Boreham 1390575

Thanks to Rob Davis MSc MIAP Telford Shropshire UK for the information below.

DATE : 03-May-1944 / 04-May-1944

UNIT : 44 Sqdn

AIRCRAFT : Lancaster III

RAF BASE : Dunholme Lodge

TAKE-OFF AT : 21:56



TARGET : Mailly-Le-Camp

PILOT : Nolan, Allan William, Pilot Officer, RAAF (Aus/412660) (killed)


  • Sergeant Eric Howard Charlton (flight engineer) (1188067) (killed),
  • Flight Sergeant Kenneth Brice Milton (navigator) (1394305) (killed)
  • Flying Officer Eric George Blake (bomb aimer) RNZAF (NZ/429027) (killed)
  • Sergeant Clifford John Boreham (wireless operator) (1390575) (killed)
  • Sergeant Ronald Derek Crook (mid-upper gunner) (1762053) (killed)
  • Sergeant Patrick Higgins (rear gunner) (1109234) (killed)

DETAILS : Tasked to bomb the military camp. May have been shot down by night fighter (Hptm Martin Drewes, III/NJG1) and crashed 0118 near Neron, 11¼ miles south-east of Dreux, where the dead of the crew are buried in Dreux Communal Cemetery.

  • P/O Nolan, 29, was the son of William and Ethel May Nolan, of Homebush, New South Wales, Australia.
  • Sgt Charlton, 26, was the son of Howard Edwin and Jane Charlton, of Northfield, Birmingham.
  • Sgt Milton, 22, was the son of Thomas B. Milton and Florence L. Milton, of Lymm, Cheshire.
  • F/O Blake, 24, was the son of George Stanley Blake and of Mabel Frances Blake (nee Nuttall), of Waihi Beach, Auckland, New Zealand.
  • Sgt Boreham, 24, was the son of George and Beatrice Maud Boreham, of Hollington, St. Leonards-on-Sea. Sussex.
  • Sgt Crook, 21, was the son of William and Gladys Crook, of Harrogate, Yorkshire.

(Numbers within brackets are Air Force Service numbers.)

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.

In memory of 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.

In memory of Sgt Brian D West

By Janice A Furze

I was a close friend of the Fiancee of Sgt. Brian D west of 106 Squadron based at Metheringham, Lincolnshire. Occasionally my friend talked to me about Brian because I myself was a Private Pilot with a keen interest in aviation history, particularly the Second World War. It was only in recent years, and almost by chance that I learned more about the fate of Brian who was the Flight Engineer, and the crew of R-Robert who set off on the late evening of 7th May 1944 to bomb an ammunition dump near Orleans in France.

The aircraft was skippered by Flying Officer Bartlett, and had survived some punishing trips prior to the final one, in fact they would have been considered ‘old hands’ by newcomers to the Squadron. But the odds were stacked against them. The trip to the Loire Valley to fulfil their mission, which was in preparation for D-Day, should have been ‘a piece of cake’ according to those who later recalled the events of that evening.

The Squadron flew out via Reading crossing the coast at Portland Bill. For some reason they were flying much lower than usual, perhaps to try to avoid enemy radar alerting the night fighters who were stalking the Squadrons and finding the Lancaster’s vulnerable under-belly. A few miles North West of the target the Squadron was intercepted by the dreaded night fighters and three aircraft were shot down. R Robert crashed in flames having lost the tail section, and with the fire raging ordnance began to explode completely burning out the aircraft. The aircraft had crashed into a field near a small village in the Loire Valley, and a villager later wrote a graphic account of the incident. Because of the curfew he was not able to visit the site until the next day. It was clear that the crash was not survivable and he saw the aircrew till lying in and around the aircraft. The next day the airmen were taken to the municipal cemetery at Orleans where they were buried and is the place where they still lie side by side today. The villagers who lived so close to where the crew died erected a memorial to the airman at the local church and over the years remained constant in honouring their memory and keeping in touch with 106 Squadron.

For several days my friend only knew that her Fiancee was ‘Missing’, then a few days later came the official news that he had been killed. I think they were both just 20 years of age. I decided the details of the incident were too horrific to share with her during her life time, but since her passing I thought this was an event which should be recorded in the Memorial archives close to where he served because I am in awe of that Generation and what they achieved. On my friend’s behalf I visited what is left of the aerodrome at Metheringham and placed flowers in Brian’s memory at the Garden of Remembrance by the Museum there. It is a pilgrimage I would recommend to those who cherish the memory of those who gave everything so that we can live the lives we choose in Freedom.

A Seven Year Scratch Memories of a World War II Pilot – Arthur John ‘Jack’ Ball, DFC

Arthur John Jack Ball and Crew members outside a bomber

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 cafe 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.

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’.

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.

Norman George Smith

Norman 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 Shoesmiths 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 kefuffle 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.

Don Miller , Rear Gunner – Lincolnshire based, Waddington

Don Miller

My uncle Don “Miller” rear gunner, Lincolnshire based, Waddington then Ely, married my English Aunty Joan Willers who lived in one of the 2 remaining houses on great northern terrace lincoln, The new memorial looking over it now.

They moved to canada and brought up 5 sons. Some became pilots.

You may notice on the service log on 15th he bailed out, I believe he said the aircraft then landed back in the UK without the gunners etc? He also talked about the pilot falling out of his seat once during a steep evasive dive. he flew many more missions, a very lucky man indeed.

My Aunt still lives in Canada but sadly Don passed away a few years ago, I believe he made Captain before retiring.

By Jon

TOBIN, Thomas Patrick

Tom Tobin

Service Numbers: 436106

Enlisted: 7 November 1942, Perth Western Australia Australia

Last Rank: Flying Officer

Last Unit: No. 153 Squadron (RAF)

Born: Kalgoorlie Western Australia Australia, 16 April 1916
Home Town:
 Port Adelaide, Port Adelaide Enfield, South Australia
 Christian Brothers College Wakefield Street Adelaide
 Police Officer, Public Servant

Died: Natural Causes, Scampton England United Kingdom, 7 May 1991, aged 75 years
 Not yet discovered


World War 2 Service:

7 Nov 1942:   Leading Aircraftman, Empire Air Training Scheme
23 Jul 1943:   Sergeant, Empire Air Training Scheme
1 Oct 1944:   Flying Officer, No. 153 Squadron (RAF), Air War NW Europe 1939-45


Flying Officer Thomas (‘Tom’) Patrick TOBIN, RAAF

Tom Tobin was born in Boulder City on the Western Australian goldfields on the 16th April 1916.  He moved with his family to Ceduna on the West Coast of SA.
He went to school at Christian Brothers College in Adelaide, leaving at the height of the Depression and returning to the West Coast.

He was 15 years old and living in Ceduna working in Irwin Brothers Grocery store when Jimmy Mollison flew over Ceduna during a round-Australia flight.  Tom was on a half day off on a Friday and saw Mollison throw something from his aircraft.  It was a rolled up Advertiser newspaper with a request for someone to call Adelaide and advise Mollison’s ETA there.  An excited Tom Tobin ran to the Post Office with his message.  The Post Master promised to relay the message to Adelaide.  Thus began Tom’s desire to fly.

He had applied to join the SA Police as a cadet, and in due course was accepted. He recalls in his memoirs that the cadet scheme was ‘akin to slave labour’ as they were paid very little and required to perform duties pretty much as per those of a sworn officer.  The arrangement was that they would be duly attested on attainment of the age of 21.

Tom recalled that he spent most of his pre-war police service in Port towns;  Port Pirie, Port Lincoln and Port Adelaide.  He was an accomplished boxer by this time and dealing with intoxicated merchant seaman in his various postings figures strongly in his recollections.  “Sailing Ships were still common and most of the crews were Swedes and Norwegians.  Sober they were no trouble but after months at sea they made the most of their shore leave and influenced by liquor they could be troublesome”.  After being involved in a tense stand-off with enraged sailors after one of their number had been locked up, Tom was left to ponder what might have happened.  “However the local people were very law abiding so mainly my stay at Port Lincoln was a happy one.  The scrapes with the sailors must have tuned me up because when I arrived in Port Adelaide, I won the Police Heavyweight Boxing title.”

In fact he won the Heavyweight boxing title three years iin succession; 1938, 1939 and 1940.  The Championship belt is in the SA Police Headquarters building in Wakefield Street to this day.

When war broke out, Tom was stationed at Port Adelaide.  He sought permission to enlist in the RAAF, and then began a long and torturous process to do so. Police officers were classified as a ‘protected occupation’, governed by the Man Power Act.  He had managed to get offside with the Police Commissioner, the legendary Brigadier Ray Leane (/explore/people/378781), a hero of WW 1.  Ray Leane had allowed his own sons to enlist, but not Police Constable Tom Tobin, nor his brother Steve. Tom was therefore unable to enlist  – at least in South Australia.  Tom eventually ‘went AWL’ from the SA Police and went to Perth in his native Western Australia in order to enlist in the RAAF.  He only just managed to evade a warrant for his apprehension, issued by the SA Police.  His brother Steve remained in SA and stayed in his role as a police officer, eventually rising to the rank of Assistant Commissioner.  Tom, however, was now on a different trajectory.

Thanks to a sympathetic Recruiting Officer and an official in the Man Power Branch, Tom managed to slip through the cracks and on the 7th November 1942, he was enlisted into the RAAF.

He was initially selected for pilot training and with the rank of Leading Aircraftsman,  was posted to No 9 Elementary Flying Training School at Cunderdin in WA, No 33 Course.  Here he learned to fly on DH 82 Tiger Moth aircraft from Feb 12 1943.  He flew his first solo sortie on 23 March 1943, a signature point in every pilot’s career.  By 7 April 1943 he had accumulated  57 hours of which 26 were solo, and 3 hours of night flying.  He was rated an ‘Average’ pilot. during basic flying training.  He was assigned to  4 Service Flying Training School, at Geraldton in WA, having been selected for multi-engine training on the Avro Anson.  By the end of July 1943, he had accumulated 194 hours flying time.  His rating of Good Average in bombing probably set in train the next course of events.

During this time, on the 5th July 1943 in the middle of winter, he was involved in an incident in an Anson, flying as second pilot on a cross country night navigation flight.  Bad weather engulfed their aircraft and he and his colleague began debating their options.  They eventually spotted a rail car through the gloom which had stopped with its headlight on, realising they were in trouble.  There was a cleared paddock adjacent to the rail lines and Tom took control of the aircraft and put it down in a ploughed field, wheels up. It turned out they landed in one of a very few suitable spots for miles around with only 12 gallons of fuel left in the tank.  The Anson was repaired in situ and flown out some days later.

On the 27th July 1943, Tom Tobin was awarded his wings and promoted to Sergeant.

After a short period of pre-embarkation leave, he embarked on the 30 August 1943 on the SS America, a fast liner of 35,000 tons.  Their destination was the USA running unescorted to San Francisco.  From there, travelling by train from West to East they took in the scenery in relative comfort.  A brief stay of leave in Boston enabled him to make acquaintance with three aunts who lived near Bangor.

On the 3rd of October 1943 then boarded the SS Aquitania  to cross the Atlantic, zig zagging to avoid German U Boats..

In the UK at No 29 EFTS it was back to basics albeit at an Advanced Flying School where he was once again flying the DH82 Tiger Moth.  Then it was on to RAF Croughton and conversion and training on a series of training aircraft including the twin-engine Airspeed Oxfords and an emphasis on navigation and night flying operations. By the end of May 1944 it was on to the next stage – conversion to the Vickers Wellington twin-engine medium bomber.  This was followed by the four-engine Handley Page Halifax bomber at the Heavy Conversion Unit Sandtoft.

Tom was posted to 153 Squadron RAF which had formerly been a night fighter squadron, but was being reformed as a Heavy Bomber squadron equipped with the legendary Avro Lancaster.  Like most RAF Squadrons at the time, its composition reflected the diversity of nations in the British Empire, with Australians, Canadians and other Commonwealth nationalities in its ranks.  Tom was among the first aircrew and relatively few Australians to join the squadron when it reformed in October 1944, equipped with Lancaster Mk III heavy bombers.

He ‘crewed- up’ with the men with whom he would fly for the rest of the war.

– Tom Tobin (Aus) – Pilot

– F/Sgt Bob Muggleton (UK)  – Bomb AimerF/Sgt Peter ‘ Paddy’ Tilson (NI) – Navigator
– F/Sgt Peter Rollason (Aus) – Wireless Operator
– F/Sgt Red Maloney (Can) – Mid Upper gunner
– Sgt Bill ‘Yorky’ Dolling (UK) – Rear gunner
– Sgt Peter ‘Jock’ Smart (Scot) – Flight Engineer

He flew his first familiarisation mission as a second pilot with another crew, to Essen. His log book then begins a pattern of recording the eventual fate of the tail numbers of each aircraft in which he flew.  The first training flights he made with his crew were in aircraft that were subsequently lost.  His log makes grim reading; a mid air collision, ‘did not return’, shot down by Ju 88 fighter attack (6 bailed out) and ‘wrecked’ accounting for the first four aircraft

Fourteen of his missions were flown in ‘W for Willie’ tail number 642.  In an incident that goes someway to explain the reputation for superstition that characterised flight crews, on the evening of 16/17th March another crew took their aircraft while they were stood down.  It was lost with all on board. They completed their tour in W1 RF 205, a replacement for their much loved W 642.

Tom and his crew went on to fly a full Tour of 30 operational missions with 153 Squadron, which are exquisitely described in his log book and a personal memoir. He and his crew completed their tour of duty just before the end of the war.  He had accumulated 204 operational hours and another 56 hours training with 153 squadron, giving him a total of 705 hours 20 minutes flying time in all.  He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).

His trials and tribulations with his employer, left behind when he went AWL from the SA Police in order to enlist, didn’t end there.  On return to Australia, and resumption of duty with the SA Police, the award of his DFC was gazetted and he was scheduled to attend Government House in Adelaide for his investiture. However the SA Police would not grant him leave to do so.  This resulted in a furore in the Press and Tom was duly granted leave. However not long after this Tom resigned from the SA Police and gained employment with the Commonwealth Department of Immigration, where he remained until his eventual retirement many years later.

After nearly 30 years, Tom began to pick up the threads of the contacts with his time with 153 Squadron.  In 1972 he began actively seeking out his former colleagues and began travelling to do so.  He also corresponded with former squadron crew mates and historians.  He even corresponded with a German man researching one of the raids flown against his home town of Ludwighshafen on which Tom flew.  He was active in the 153 Squadron association attending a number of reunions.  It was on one of these in 1991 that he suffered a fatal heart attack.

Tom was an active member of the Royal Australian Air Force Association at Mitcham sub-branch.  He figures strongly in the 153 Squadron website.  At well over 6 feet tall he was not inconspicuous and was known by the nickname “Tiny” Tobin.  He was survived by his wife Pat and only daughter Jane, her husband Denis and grandchildren Andrea and Heath.  He is fondly remembered as a wonderful man and a ‘great bloke’.

His log book and memoir are a wonderful legacy.  It has been my pleasure to write this up – these men were indeed part of the ‘greatest generation’.


– Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC)
– France and Germany Star
– 1939-45 Star
– Defence Medal
– British War Medal 1939-45
– Australian War Medal 1939-45

Credit: Steve Larkins July 2013

The Dresden Raid February 1945

Tom Tobin’s 153 Squadron was part of what was to become, after the war, a controversial raid on the old city of Dresden. This is extracted from the 153 Squadron Website.

On 13th February, 15 aircraft were sent to Dresden. Although afterwards it became the subject of considerable and continuing debate, as far as the crews were concerned this was just another attack in aid of the Russian armies, on which (because of the distance involved), only a comparatively small bomb load could be carried.
Thus each crew took 1 x 2,000lb bomb plus 1,800 incendiaries. In clear weather and aided by gale force westerly winds, it took just over four hours to reach and bomb the target.

There could be no argument over the effectiveness of the attack – a massive firestorm (more intensive than that on Hamburg in 1943) swept the city, and could be seen from 100 miles by crews on their 650-mile homeward journeys.

They had plenty of time to watch, because there were now fighting against the same fearsome gales that had carried them so swiftly on the outward leg. Although benefiting from a much-reduced all-up weight, it took well over five hours of juggling of the fuel valves by anxious F/Engineers to struggle home.

Many made unscheduled landings to re-fuel: others reached Scampton with nearly dry tanks.

Nearly home but with fuel dangerously low Tom Tobin and his Flight Engineer Jock Smart shut down the two outer engines to conserve fuel. With no bombs and little fuel the Lancaster could easily fly on just two engines. So they feathered the props, and struggled on. On approaching Scampton and gaining a clearance to land he declined the instruction to complete the customary circuit and flew straight in to land – which was just as well, considering he was literally ‘running on empty’.

(A grim PostScript to mull over – of the 105-crew members from 153 Squadron who attacked Dresden and returned unscathed, only 66 survived the war – which finished just two months later. 39 died in subsequent operations)

Tom Tobin’s Log Book Report

Tom kept an exquisitely detailed log book of his flying career, together with memorabilia such as maps, photographs and the like.

His log book is now in the possession of his daughter, Jane. He recorded in great detail and in very fine neat hand writing every mission he flew.

He also kept track of the tail numbers of the aircraft he flew and their eventual fate. Lancaster 642 was the aircraft in which he flew most of his missions.

One evening in March 1945, he and his crew were due to fly but his navigator called in sick and rather than split the crew, they were stood down and another crew took 642. It didn’t return. No wonder flight crews had a reputation for being superstitious.

He is mentioned repeatedly in the 153 Squadron website as one of the characters (and survivors) of the Squadron.

At war’s end his grateful crew (he had brought them home safely 30 times) presented him with a beautiful scale replica of their aircraft. On its base is inscribed the targets of the 30 missions he ‘skippered’. It is now in the possession of his grandson Heath Eblen.


*All information provided by Jane Eblen, Tom’s daughter.

This is the poem I wrote for Dad:

Excuse me if I cry, but I will miss you as time goes by,
You suffered pain, but never complained,
Your conscience heavy because of many,
You flew 30 missions,
But returned with God’s permission,
And now your ashes shall be scattered alongside the great Lancaster
I could not say good bye, I love you Dad, Jane     

According to my Dad’s wishes I spread his ashes on Scampton Airport in May 1991 accompanied by his brother Steve Tobin, the then Commissioner of Police in South Australia.

Jane Eblen

Robert Jay – Flight Engineer. No.75 (NZ) Squadron

*My dad was a Lancaster bomber flight engineer with No.75(NZ) Squadron during WW2 and as a child growing up in the 1950s I never tired of asking him about his experiences. I wanted to know where in the aircraft he sat, what his role was, what flak was like and even how aircraft were able to fly. By the time I left primary school my interest had started to wane and when he died in 1974 at the age of just 55 I thought that any chance of finding out more about his experiences was lost. I was left with a handful of photographs, his log book and the name of his pilot, Bill Mallon.

In the spring of 2012 I acquired Bob’s service record and decided to document as much as I could of his war-time experiences so that his grandchildren, who never met him and for whom the Second World War was ancient history, could learn about this momentous part of his life.

What was intended to be a single-entry blog for the benefit of close family now has 28 chapters, 16 appendices and more than 50,000 words and has unearthed incredible stories of courage, sacrifice and disappointment.


Robert Alfred Jay, the youngest of three children, was born on the 3rd April, 1919, 6 months before his dad was demobbed after 4 years in the army and just 2 months before Alcock and Brown’s historic trans-Atlantic flight.

He left school shortly after his 14th birthday and on the 23rd April 1933 he started a seven year apprenticeship with Grimsby Motors. He was released a year early, nine days after his 20th birthday, on the 12th April 1939 as a fully qualified motor mechanic and joined the local fire brigade.

3rd June 1939

Along with all young men of 20 and 21 Bob had to register at the local Ministry of Labour office under the terms of the Military Training Act (1939). This act, passed an the 26th May 1939 in the face of imminent conflict in Europe, required all men born between 4th June 1918 and 3rd June 1919 to register, after which they were to be called up for 6 month’s full-time military training, and then transferred to the Reserve. It is not hard to imagine how his parents would have felt having lived through the horrors of the ‘Great War’.

To ensure that the call up did not take men away from vital industries and services the Government introduced a “Schedule of Reserved Occupations” – men meeting the age criteria laid out in the schedule were “reserved in their present occupation”. As a full-time fireman Bob met the criteria in the schedule and remained in civil life.


Being politically aware Bob had understood the threat posed by fascism since before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and had followed closely the rise of Hitler in Germany during the 1930s. It was inevitable that he would join the armed forces and play his part at some stage. By 1942 German troops had advanced as far as Stalingrad, the mass murder of Jews was well under way and the Japanese were overwhelming large areas in the Far East. There was wide-spread feeling in Britain that the fight should be taken to the enemy in Europe, rather than appearing to await the outcome of the struggle between Germany and the Soviet Union, and Bob probably saw joining Bomber Command as the way to do this – and maybe he found the prospect of flying quite appealing too.

30th September 1942

As the war progressed there was an increasing need for men and women to join the armed forces and Bob volunteered to join the RAFVR (Volunteer Reserve). He was instructed to attend RAF Padgate, near Warrington, where he was assessed and interviewed by No. 10 A.C.S.B. (Aviation Candidate Selection Board). His service record shows that at the end of the process he was “Not recommended for aircrew duties”, a decision generally made for ‘aptitude, educational or medical’ reasons. He therefore remained in civil life.

The reason for this recommendation does not appear on his record of service but the family story is that it was because of an elevated temperature, something he had always had, but we will never know for sure. Bob did talk about his lack of mathematical skill preventing him from becoming a pilot, something he was keen to do, and this must have been part of the reason he was so desperate for his children to do well at school. Although the majority of pilots (and navigators and bomb aimers) were drawn from ex-grammar school and university volunteers, I recently met the son of a pilot whose father had a similar background to Bob, i.e., left school at 14 and completed a trade apprenticeship.

28th July 1943

Undeterred, Bob reapplied ten months later and was instructed to attend RAF Doncaster where he was assessed and interviewed again, this time by No. 1 A.C.S.B. He was successful and was “recommended for training as a Flight Engineer”. He was instructed to continue in civil life until further notice.

2nd/3rd September 1943

A few weeks later he was instructed to return to RAF Doncaster for two day’s assessment, which included a medical which he passed with ‘medical category grade 1’. He was enlisted ‘D.P.E.’ (for the ‘Duration of Present Emergency’) and ‘mustered’ as ACH/F.Eng (Aircrafthand/Flight Engineer) with the rank of Aircraftsman Second Class (AC2) grade A (the lowest grade).

Having sworn his allegiance to King and Country he was issued with service number 1596172, placed on reserve and once again instructed to return to civil life until further notice.

He later received a letter from the Air Ministry to welcome him into the R.A.F. and advise him on preparation for his ‘Air Force career’.

17th January 1944

The call-up came in the New Year and on the 17th of January 1943 he reported for five weeks basic training at No.3 A.C.R.C. (Aircrew Receiving Centre) at RAF Regent’s Park in London. In the first few days he would have:

  • A regulation hair cut
  • A thorough dental check, at which time he lost most of his top teeth
  • Received inoculations against diphtheria and typhoid – it seems he missed out on the smallpox inoculation normally given at this stage
  • Received basic RAF kit and ‘Service Dress’ uniform, commonly referred to as “Best Blues”, including the white cap insert, clearly visible later on his wedding pictures, that identified him as trainee aircrew.

He would have been instructed to mark every item of kit with his service number and be expected to keep every item spotlessly clean in readiness for regular inspection.

Over the next few weeks he faced a rigorous daily routine of fatigues, inspections, training drills, lectures and assessments. I can’t imagine Bob taking to this very well! As an AC2 (grade A), Trade Group V (Aircrafthand/Flight Engineer) his pay was 3 shillings per day plus sixpence per day war pay – considerably less than his pay as a fireman but he did not, of course, have to pay for his upkeep. He would collect his pay at the fortnightly pay parade.

The piece of kit that would have been the starkest reminder of the perilous nature of the task ahead was the pair of identity discs. Manufactured from fire-resistant material and with the airman’s religion clearly punched between his service number and name, none of the recruits could have been in any doubt why they had to wear these once they were flying.

26th February 1944

Having completed the first stage of his training Bob was then posted to No. 7 I.T.W. (Initial Training Wing) at RAF Newquay, in Cornwall. The purpose of this training was to ‘lay a foundation of discipline, physical fitness and mental alertness’ and provide a ‘sound basic knowledge of the RAF.

The I.T.W. syllabus included such things as: 

  • Aircraft recognition
  • Air reconnaissance
  • Armaments – “To introduce cadets to the use of firearms and the precautions necessary for their safe handling”
  • Engines
  • Instruments
  • Meteorology
  • Navigation
  • Principles of flight
  • Signals

Along with other trainees Bob would have been issued with his ‘War Service uniform’ (“Battledress”) and, later in the course, with flying clothing, which was needed for training purposes.

This included:

  • Helmet, with oxygen and communication mask
  • Goggles
  • Flying suit
  • Mae West (life jacket)
  • Parachute harness

Trainees were assessed throughout the course and examinations had to be passed prior to further posting. Bob successfully completed the course and his next posting was an attachment  to RAF Wrexham (from the 8th to the 15th April 1944) but it is not clear why, especially as RAF Wrexhamwas used for night fighter training.

Bob married Vera Stephenson in St James Church, now Grimsby Minster, on the 19th April 1944, about a year after it had been badly damaged by a German bomb and 4 days after returning to Newquay from Wrexham.

May 1944 (exact date not known)

Having completed his I.T.W. training and attachment to RAF Wrexham Bob was posted to No. 5 S.o.T.T. (School of Technical Training) at RAF Locking near Weston-super-Mare where he carried out the first phase of his ‘trade’ training as a Flight Engineer. This phase consisted of ten weeks of ‘preliminary’ training on airframes, engines, carburettors, electrics, instruments, hydraulics and propellers. This was followed by one week’s leave.

12th July 1944

He was posted to No. 4 S.of T.T. at RAF St Athan in Glamorgan, S. Wales to complete the second and third phases of his flight engineer training. Phase 2 consisted of 7 weeks of ‘intermediate’ training in engines, airframes, hydraulics, propellers, instruments and electrics, followed by one week’s leave. Having completed this phase of the course Bob was reclassified on the 1st of September as Aircraftsman Second Class (AC2) grade B. His pay would have increased from 3 shillings a day to 5 shillings a day (from 15p to 25p).

The final phase consisted of 7 weeks ‘advanced’ training on a specific service type aircraft and included a week at the factory of an aircraft manufacturer (‘Makers Course’) but there is no record of this in Bob’s service record. This was followed by a week of written and oral exams.

13th November 1944

Having successfully completed the course and passed his exams Bob attended a ‘passing out’ parade where he was presented with his Flight Engineer’s brevet and promoted to the rank of Sergeant, the minimum rank for aircrew. His pay was increased to 12 shillings (60p) a day. If Bob had achieved a mark of 70% or more in the exams then he would have been considered for a commission – his mark was 66.1%.

5th November 1944

The final step in Bob’s training involved a posting to 1669 Heavy Conversion Unit (H.C.U.) at RAF Langar on the Notts/Leicestershire border where he would be trained as part of a seven-man crew on a Lancaster bomber

Normally the flight engineer was posted to the H.C.U. a few weeks before the established crew so that he could get some flight training in. Bob ‘crewed up’ some time in late December but his Log Book shows that he didn’t fly with his pilot Bill Mallon, and presumably the rest of his crew, until the end of January.

His first three flights as a trainee flight engineer in a Lancaster bomber on the 17th, 18th and 21st of December 1944 were with pilot S/L Alban Chipling. Among the exercises they carried out were 3-engine landings, training which would prove invaluable on the 27th March 1945 when my dad’s aircraft lost an engine to flak on a daylight raid on Hamm in Germany.

Shortly afterwards S/L Chipling was transferred to RAF Hullavington, near Chippenham, where, after a distinguished flying career and only a couple of weeks before the end of the war in Europe, he lost his life in what appears to have been a tragic accident.

Bob had a total of just 59 hours flying time, 36 hours daylight and 23 hours night flying, between mid-December and the end of February and only 35 hours of this were ‘solo’ flights with his crew. Pilots obviously had more flying hours in training, though nowhere near the number required in peacetime.

The training schedule involved:

  • Familiarisation with the aircraft
  • Circuits and landings
  • Bombing practice
  • Fighter affiliation
  • Cross country flying

All entered in the log book as a series of numbered exercises. These were often carried out with experienced instructors (normally crew who had completed an operational tour) and then repeated ‘solo’.

Whenever Bob climbed into the aircraft he would have with him his parachute and his emergency repair tool bag and before, during and after every flight he would have to complete a four page Flight Engineer Log.

Having successfully completed their H.C.U. training the crew were considered ready for operational duty. Bob was officially declared qualified as a Flight Engineer for the Lancaster Marks I and III with effect from 1st March 1945 and was immediately assigned to No. 72 Base which, as well as Langar, included the airfields RAF Bottesford and RAF Saltby.

6th March 1945

Four of the seven in Bob’s crew were from New Zealand so it was no surprise a few days later when they were posted to RAF Mepal in Cambridgeshire, the home of No. 75(NZ) Squadron,  part of No. 3 Group, Bomber Command. This was an RAF squadron formed from the ‘New Zealand Squadron’ in 1940 when the N.Z. government made their airmen and aircraft available to the RAF to help with the war effort. It was one of the larger, 3-flight squadrons which, between 1943 and 1944 had about 35 crews. By 1945 it seems that the squadron was practically ‘double-manned’, with two crews per aircraft, which would explain why Bob and his crew, who were assigned to ‘B’ Flight, flew in several different aircraft during their tour.

Credit Vic Jay

My father, Robert Jay, was a Lancaster bomber flight engineer with No.75 (NZ) Squadron during the last few months of the war. He died at the age of just 55 in 1974 and in 2012 I decided to chronicle his war-time experiences for the benefit of the family members he was never to meet.

All I had was a few photographs, his log book and the name of his pilot and the original intention was to describe his training and the operations in which he took part.

Three years of research, the power of the internet and the generosity of numerous people have enabled me to publish so much more. I have been able to locate the families of all but one of his crew, four of them from New Zealand, and to tell some incredible stories of courage, sacrifice and disappointment.

The full story can be found here:

Sgt. William Brodie McVicar

Sgt. William Brodie McVicar

R.A.F. (Volunteer Reserve) – Service Number 655655

Based on research so far this is what I think happened to Uncle Willie, but as I explain, not all the information matches the sources.

He was lost on 16/17th August 1942 during a minelaying (codenamed – Gardening10) operation in an area of operations codenamed “Willows”9 which is between Cape Anconaia and the River Dievenowia. All the crew assumed dead when their Lancaster – Serial Number R5509 – 207 Squadron designation EM-G – was shot down by Major Gunther Radusch6 the Commander of Night Fighter Group II./NJG 3 at 02:42 in the morning of 17th August over Sonderborg, Denmark.

The other Lancaster from 207 Squadron lost that night was also shot down by Major Radusch at 02:56 which is confirmed by the lone survivor who bailed out and was taken ashore at Esbjerg on the west coast of Denmark. This corroborates the claim by Major Radusch that he shot down two bombers that night. As they were within 14 minutes of each other we can assume that they were roughly in the same area – that is over or near Denmark.

Based on timings we can conclude that both bombers had completed their missions and were intercepted on their return flights. The Lancasters took off at about 21:00 hours (9 p.m.) from Bottesford (near Grantham). The distance to “Willows” (one of the furthest targets in N.W. Poland) was about 600 miles. The Lancaster’s cruising speed with a bomb load was approximately 180 m.p.h..They would have arrived at the target area at about 1 a.m. on the 17th August. Once they had confirmed their position they then would have to descend to 200 feet12 to drop their mines and then climb back to altitude maybe taking 30 minutes. After this they would head back home. It is about 150 miles to Denmark so they would arrive somewhere between 2 and 3 a.m..
I assume that the German radar would have picked them up and the ground stations would vector the night fighter on to the bombers. The night fighter would then visually acquire the targets and shoot them down.

As described in “The Avro Lancaster” Pg 51  “. . a minelaying operation – often it must be said, a long flight to the Baltic – would be allocated to a freshman crew. Many a crew would testify that these “Gardening” flights were as difficult as many a subsequent bombing operation, for the minelayers flew out individually to their dropping point, which was not in any way marked, and the sorties, performed singly, were particularly vulnerable to the attention of prowling night fighters. The skill of every crew member in conditions of prolonged isolation, discomfort and danger were thus tested to the full.

Lancaster EM-G -R5509 was involved in the following raids and I am assuming was crewed by Uncle Willie. (from The Avro Lancaster pg. 333 and 77). We will need his Service Record to find if he was involved in any other missions before these.

1. 25/26th June 1942 – Bremen – northern port of Germany targeting  Focke-Wulf factories
2. 27/28th June 1942 – Bremen
3. 29/30th June 1942 – Bremen
4. 12/13th August 1942 – Mainz

Research issues.

Areas of Operations.

The very first research based on the Bomber Command Diaries (by Martin Middlebrook) states that on the:
 “16/17 August 1942 Minelaying: 56 aircraft to the Frisian Islands. 2 Lancasters lost.”

However, the 207 Squadron rafinfo Website8 says:
“Then came what turned out to be 207 Squadron’s final, and sad, mission from Bottesford, when six Lancasters took off on 16 August to drop mines in areas Willow and Geranium.”

The “Willows” and “Geranium” areas are not the Frisian Islands. Maybe the other aircraft on the operation went to the Frisian Islands or other areas.

There is also a conflict with these operational areas where the Bottesford History3 gives the following; Willows – Kiel Bay and Geraniums – Kattegat, whereas the Bomber Command Minelaying Area Codes gives Willows as Arcona to River Dievenow and Geraniums as Swinemunde (now called ?winouj?cie which is between Arcona and Dievenow).

From the 3. http://www.bottesfordhistory.org.uk/documents/App_2.pdf


part of “CARR F (SQUADRON LEADER)” (photographs) Made by: No. 207 Squadron RAF 1942-06
Two Avro Lancaster B Mk Is, R5509 ‘EM-G’ and R5570 ‘EM-F’, of No. 207 Squadron RAF based at Bottesford, Linclonshire, in flight. Both aircraft were eventually lost on operations, R5509 while minelaying in the Baltic on 17 August 1942, and R5570 which…

1. http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/aug42.html – also Bomber Command Diaries.

16/17 August 1942

Minelaying: 56 aircraft to the Frisian Islands. 2 Lancasters lost.

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Bottesford

RAF Station Bottesford is a former World War II airfield on the LeicestershireLincolnshire county border in England. The airfield is located approximately 11 miles (18 km) east-northeast of Radcliffe on Trent; about 107 miles (172 km) north-northwest of London.

The airfield was opened as a Bomber Command station in No. 5 Group area during the autumn of 1941, with No. 207 Squadron moving in with its troublesome Avro Manchesters during November. However because of continual difficulties experienced with their Vulture engines. operations were frequently curtailed, but in March 1942 the squadron was able to step up its bombing raids onGermany when it became one of the first to receive the new Avro Lancaster in March 1942.

No. 207 left in September 1942 for RAF Langar and in November a new Australian manned squadron, No. 467, arrived in November 1942 commencing operations on the night of 2/3 January 1943.

3. http://www.bottesfordhistory.org.uk/documents/App_2.pdf

This is a pdf file of 207 Squadron operations from 23rd November 1941 through to 10th March 1945.

4. http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections

This is the link for the pictures of Lancaster EM-G.

5. http://www.hellzapoppin.demon.co.uk/mines.htm

List of Bomber Command Minelaying Area Codes 1940 – 1945.

6. http://www.luftwaffe.cz/radusch.html

Claim by Major Gunther Radusch of 2 RAF Halifax Bombers shot down on night of 16/17 August 1942.

No Date Time A/c Type Unit Location / Comments
1 22.4.1937 I-15 2./J 88 Spain
2 10.4.1941 3:00 Wellington I./NJG 3 2km SW Papenburg
3 27.2.1942 0:55 Wellington II./NJG 3 W Westerland
4 26.4.1942 2:08 Stirling II./NJG 3 S Schelde Estuary
5 28.4.1942 1:05 Stirling II./NJG 3 Romo
6 29.4.1942 2:18 Wellington II./NJG 3
7 17.8.1942 2:42 Halifax II./NJG 3 Sonderborg
8 17.8.1942 2:56 Halifax II./NJG 3 866 7O1
9 22.9.1942 1:01 Wellington II./NJG 3 18km W Blidsel

I am assuming he misidentified the aircraft. The Halifax and the Lancaster were very similar and at night it would be easy to make a mistake.

Major Radusch was the Commander of II Group of Nightfighter Wing NJG 3.

Nachtjagdgeschwader 3 – II. Gruppe: Gruppenkommandeure:

Hptm Günther Radusch, 3.10.41 – 1.8.43

http://www.ww2.dk/air/njagd/njg3.htm also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nachtjagdgeschwader_3

Night fighter group Nachtjagdgeschwader 3 was stationed at Wittmundhafen 3.42 to 4.44 which happens to be in Northern Germany near the Frisian Islands and, I assume, must have covered Denmark as an operational area.

They operated the twin engine Messerschmitt Bf 110 night fighter at this time.

7. http://www.flensted.eu.com/194246.shtml

Lancaster I R5616 crashed in the tidal area south of the island of Mandø 17/8-1942.

The aircraft belonged to RAF 207 Sqn. and was coded EM-J.
T/O 21:00 Bottesford. OP: Gardening Geranium.

At 02:58 Lancaster R5616 was attacked by a German night fighter piloted by Major Günther Radusch of Stab II./ NJG 3 and crashed burning in the tidal area 200 metres south of the Island of Mandø.

8. http://www.207squadron.rafinfo.org.uk/r5616.htm

207 Squadron Royal Air Force Association – Lancaster R5616 EM-J

This aircraft took off from RAF Bottesford at 2100 on 16th August 1942 for mine laying duties in the Kattegat coastal area of Denmark code named Geraniums. It crashed in the sea SSW of Mano (Fano) Island.

Pilot P/O Anthony Jeaffreson SOUTHWELL RAF(VR)
Flight Engineer Sgt Jack READ RAF(VR)
Observer F/O Dennis John QUINLAN RCAF
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner F/O Wilfrid Milton EDMONDS RAAF
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner Sgt Robert ROBSON RAF(VR)
Air Gunner (Mid Upper Turret) Sgt Thomas DOUGLAS RAF
Air Gunner (Rear Turret) F/Sgt John Andrew McLEAN RCAF

All except Jack Read were killed. They were buried on 22 August in Fourfelt Cemetery, Esbjerg, Denmark. Sgt Jack Read was made POW and was in Stalag Luft III, prisoner no.42821.

The Squadron History ALWAYS PREPARED says: “Then came what turned out to be 207 Squadron’s final, and sad, mission from Bottesford, when six Lancasters took off on 16 August to drop mines in areas Willow and Geranium. Two failed to return: R5616 EM:J piloted by P/O AJ Southwell which crashed into the sea off Fano Island, Denmark, and R5509 EM:G with F/Sgt NJ Sutherland and crew, which was also thought to have come down in the sea. A Danish newspaper Nationaltidende report next day stated that a British aircraft had been shot down by a fighter and had crashed to the South of Fano, four of the crew being dead and the fifth brought ashore injured. This was Sgt J Read, flight engineer of R5616, who survived to be captured.”

JACK READ’S POW LOG (from the RAF ExPOW website)

QUINLAN CORRESPONDENCE & PHOTOS WEB PAGES (from the Canadian Letters & Images Project website)

9. Bomber Command Minelaying Area Codes 1940 – 19455

Below is a table with a list of the codes given to sea lanes and areas that Bomber Command dropped mines in. The codeword for a mining operation was “Gardening”, and the area codes used generally followed a horticultural theme, although there were a few exceptions, as can be seem from the list below. We are sure that this list is probably by no means exhaustive, and if anyone can add anything to it, please email us (please replace the “AT” with an “@” before sending your email) with details. The codes are listed alphabetically below, working down the left hand column first, and then down the right hand column. The codeword used is shown first, with the area or lane name following.

Anemones – Le Havre Melon – Kiel Canal
Artichokes – Lorient Mullet – Spezia
Asparagus – Green Belt Mussels – Terschilling Gat
Barnacle – Zeebrugge Nasturtiums – The Sound
Beech – St Nazaire Nectarines – Friesan Islands
Bottle – Haugesund Newt – Maas and Scheldt
Broccoli – Great Belt Onions – Oslo
Carrots – Little Belt Oysters – Rotterdam
Cinnamon – La Rochelle Prawns – Calais
Cypress – Dunkirk Privet – Danzig
Daffodil – The Sound Pumpkins – Great Belt
Deodar – Bordeaux Quinces – Great Belt / Kiel Bay
Dewberry – Bologne Radishes – Kiel Bay
Eglantine – Heligoland Approaches Rosemary – Heligoland
Elderberry – Bayonne Scallops – Rouen
Endives – Little Belt Silverthorn – Kattegat Areas
Flounder – Maas and Scheldt Sweet Peas – Rostock and Arcone Light
Forget-me-Nots – Kiel Canal Tangerine – Pillau
Furze – St. Jean du Luz Tomato – Oslo Fjord Approaches
Hawthorn – Esbjerg Approaches Trefoils – Texal (South)
Hollyhock – Travemunde Turbot – Ostende
Hyacinth – St. Malo Undergrowth – Kattegat
Geranium – Swinemunde Verbena – Copenhagen Approaches
Gorse – Quiberon Vine Leaves – Dieppe
Greengage – Cherbourg Wallflowers – Kiel Bay
Jasmine – Travemunde Welks – Zuider Zee
Jellyfish – Brest Willows – Arcona to River Dievenow
Juniper – Antwerp Xeranthemums – River Jade
Krauts – Lim Fjord Yams – Heligoland Approaches
Lettuces – Kiel Canal Yewtree – Kattegat
Limpets – Den Helder Zinneas – River Jade

Operational Areas. The map below shows the general area of Kiel with the “Willows” operational area to the eastern side starting near Sassintz and stretching down to east of Swinoujscie (Swinemunde) at the mouth of the Oder River system. The Frisian Islands are to the west stretching along the Dutch, German and Danish coasts. The Kattegat is the straight between Denmark and Sweden at the centre top of the map. On the west coast of Denmark half way down is Esbjerg where the other Lancaster was lost and one of the crew rescued.

Willows – Arcona to River Dievenow.

Arcona – Cape Arkona (GermanKap Arkona) is a 45-metre-high cape on the island of Rügen inMecklenburg-VorpommernGermany. It forms the tip of the Wittow peninsula, just a few kilometres north of the Jasmund National Park. The protected landscape of Cape Arkona, together with the fishing village of Vitt, belongs to the municipality of Putgarten.

River Dievenow

Dievenow, the German and pre-1945 name of the Dziwna strait

Dievenow or Berg-Dievenow, the German and pre-1945 names of Dziwnów

Wald-Dievenow or Klein Dievenow, the German and pre-1945 names of Dziwnówek

Ref Wiki.

10. Gardening was the mining of ports, canals, rivers and seaways with a payload of 6 x 1,850 lb parachute mines. The mines were codenamed “VEGETABLES”.

11. Lancaster Crew.

The Lancaster had a crew of seven.

1. Pilot

Seated on the left hand side of the cockpit. There was no Co-Pilot.

2. Flight Engineer

Seated next to the pilot on a folding seat called a dicky seat.

3. Navigator

Seated at a table facing to the port (left) of the aircraft and directly behind the pilot and flight engineer.

(See below for a picture of this position).

4. Bomb Aimer

Seated when operating the front gun turret, but positioned in a laying position when directing the pilot on to the aiming point prior to releasing the bomb load.

5. Wireless Operator

Seated facing forward and directly beside the navigator.

6. Mid-Upper Gunner

Seated in the mid upper turret, which was also in the unheated section of the fuselage.

7. Rear Gunner

“Tail End Charlie” seated in the rear turret in an unheated and isolated position. Most rear gunners, once in their turrets, did not see another member of the crew until the aircraft returned to base, sometimes 10 hours after departing.

In 1942 the Navigator relied on dead-reckoning and visual aids. There were no electronics available to help. He would sit behind a curtain fitted to allow him to use light to work. This would be so that on a night flight the light would not show and give away the aircraft position. His position faced to port with a chart table in front of him. An instrument panel showing the airspeed, altitude, and other information required for navigation was mounted on the side of the fuselage above the chart table.

Above the wireless operator was an astrodome, a clear plastic bubble, which the navigator could use for celestial navigation.

Compared with other contemporary aircraft, the Lancaster was not an easy aircraft to escape from; in a Halifax, 25% of downed aircrew bailed out successfully, and in American bombers (albeit in daylight raids) it was as high as a 50% success rate while only 15% of the Lancaster crew were able to bail out.[

12. The Avro Lancaster – Francis K. Mason – pg. 73.

13. Ages of the aircrew.

Interestingly the crew seemed relatively old. Average age in Bomber Command was 22.

  • F/Sgt N J Sutherland – 30
  • Sgt A M Craig – 22
  • Sgt W B McVicar – 27
  • Sgt A H McKenzie – 31
  • Sgt S Spencer – 28
  • Sgt J McArthur – 28
  • Sgt A Roddam – 29

Uncle Willie is commemorated at the Air Forces Memorial, Runnymede – Panel 89.

Flt. Lt. Norman James Eley, RAFVR

Norman James Eley

An occasion which remains vividly with me to this day occurred on 30th. April 1945.

Piloting a Lancaster bomber with the rest of 514 Squadron we went unarmed and at low level to Rotterdam in Holland whilst the German army was still in occupation. The Dutch people were by this time starving and relied only on eating tulip bulbs, leaves, flowers, berries and scraps found in garbage. Death by starvation was a daily occurrence..

We made several runs over the city at low level and finally dropped several panniers of food into the main square. .One could see the Dutch people waving. with happy smiling faces. An incredible sight never to be forgotten. Two days later we carried out a similar operation over The Hague. I sometimes wonder if any surviving Dutch people occasionally gaze skywards today remembering the sounds of our Lancasters merlin engines so often heard by them during WW2 and think about those terrible times..

I’m lucky, I’m still around in February 2016.
Good luck to all at IBCC. Jim Eley.

S/Ldr Kenneth George Bickers DFC

Kenneth George Bickers

S/Ldr Kenneth George Bickers DFC
103 Squadron RAF Elsham Wolds
Avro Lancaster Bomber ME665 PM-C
(Lost night of 24/25 March 1944 over Berlin)

On 27 March 2015 we stood in a quiet field on the edge of a small forest near the village of Luckenwalde , about 30 kilometres south of Berlin , and placed a small wooden cross in memory of Kenneth Bickers and the six crew of his Lancaster who were shot down and killed on the night of 24/25 March 1944. Only three of the bodies were discovered, and they lie buried in the Berlin War Cemetery.
A Poppy Cross was placed on each Grave side in Respect. A very emotional moment in time.

To explain how my father and I came to be here with our new German friends exactly seventy-one years after that tragic event we need perhaps to explain Ken’s story. Ken was my Father’s brother, and we had come to try and find his final resting place.

Kenneth Bickers grew up in Southampton in the West End district of the City, one of five children born to his parents James and Gertrude Bickers. Ken’s father James had run away to Argentina at the age of just fifteen, but returned in order to fight in the First World War – he survived but his brother Edward was not so lucky and was killed on the Somme just three months before the end of the war at the age of nineteen.

Ken’s father was a hard-working man who was not afraid to impose himself on his young family if the need arose, but he always did his best to provide and the family lived in a small rented semi-detached house not far from the centre of Southampton – however these were the Thirties in the years leading up to the Second World War, there was no bathroom, no inside toilet and no central heating, times were hard and about to become a lot harder.

Ken studied at Bitterne Park Boys School, was very popular amongst his peers, and rose to become Head Boy – in fact his Headmaster wrote of him ‘I cannot speak too highly of this boy’s character – he has been my Head Prefect for 18 months and has done excellently, he is self-reliant, steady and most reliable’.

The Second World War broke out when Ken was just seventeen, and he was keen to get involved. As he was under age for active service he joined the Royal Artillery and trained in mechanics and searchlight operations. A highlight came when he was commended and promoted to Corporal having taken control of a searchlight at the end of Hythe Pier in Southampton during the first Blitz in November 1940.

However Ken was not satisfied with being in the Royal Artillery, and decided that he wanted to join the RAF to make a more meaningful contribution, so he switched codes in 1941 and trained to be a pilot in Terrell , Texas , USA , returning to England after 6 months to complete his training and commence operations as a Pilot Officer in 1943. His first sortie from RAF Elsham Wolds with 103 Squadron was on 7 February 1943 attacking the German-held French port of Lorient, and by the beginning of April he had already flown 15 sorties attacking amongst others Wilhelmshaven, Nuremburg, Bremen, Cologne and Berlin.

In April 1943 Ken was awarded an immediate DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) – the entry in the London Gazette of 30 April 1943 describes Ken’s heroic actions on the night of 9 April:

‘One night in April 1943, Flight Lieutenant Bickers captained an aircraft detailed to attach Duisberg. During the homeward flight , whilst over enemy territory, the aircraft was attacked by an enemy fighter. The first burst of fire from the attacker killed the rear gunner, severely wounded the mid-upper gunner and set the rear turret on fire. For twenty minutes the enemy aircraft continued its attacks and only the skilful evading tactics employed by Flight Lieutenant Bickers prevented the bomber from being shot down. The elevator trimming gear was put out of action, the engine controls were damaged, the wireless apparatus and the hydraulic system were rendered unserviceable. Many instruments were destroyed while one of the port petrol tanks was pierced , causing its contents to leak away. In spite of the tremendous odds, Flight Lieutenant Bickers, displaying superb airmanship, flew the badly damaged aircraft to an airfield in this country where he effected a successful crash landing. In the face of a most perilous situation this officer displayed courage, skill and fortitude of a high order.’

Ken came to the end of his first tour of operations on 29 May 1943, having successfully completed 30 sorties over enemy territory in just under three months. He was still only 20 years old.

Whilst based near Leicester he had met a girl called Joan whom he had fallen for, and plans were made for them to get married on April 5 1944. In the meantime on 23 November 1943 Ken was accompanied by his parents and Joan to Buckingham Palace to receive his DFC from King George VI.

Once a pilot had completed a tour of operations there was no obligation to go back and put yourself in the front line again. It was considered that you ‘had done your bit’ and you were able to continue in service by training other aircrews.

However Ken decided to go back, in spite of his near miss as described above when attacked over Germany and despite being engaged to be married. It is not clear from the surviving papers why he took this decision, but reading between the lines it can be surmised that the ‘exhilaration’ of battle and the needs of the country triumphed over any regard for personal safety that may have given him pause for thought. There is a surviving letter written to his parents in February 1944 in which he writes:

‘..as soon as I received news that we were on our way back (to recommence attacks on Germany) I nipped smartly down to Leicester to see Joan – she’s still going to marry me at Easter and wouldn’t hear of any postponement. I’m glad!’

From this it is possible to gather that Ken was well aware of the risk he was taking, but the chance to do what he could for his country in its hour of need was the stronger pull, and tragically it would mean that he would not marry Joan as planned on 5 April.

Having moved around various air bases whilst doing further training Ken returned to RAF Elsham Wolds with 103 Squadron in February 1943. His surviving letters home are a mixture of describing the conditions under which he is living (‘..all my kit dirty and damp, the temperature is freezing, not a single clean handkerchief to my name..’) , and making plans for his forthcoming wedding to Joan (..’Joan gave me the job of deciding where to go on honeymoon, was supposed to have come to a decision last week but haven’t had a real opportunity to think’..).

A surviving letter written on 12 March to his parents indicates that although operations have not yet been recommenced he is expecting to go ‘any moment now’. He comments ‘I have a very good crew and a very good aircraft. The aircraft C Charlie is brand new, it took some wrangling, but we got it in the end!’ However it is also apparent that morale is low as Ken comments that ‘the squadron has completely changed, the old squadron spirit is almost entirely non-existent….we haven’t managed to make ourselves very popular….the Wing Commander and I don’t see eye to eye on a number of things..’

Ken, now newly promoted to Squadron Leader, recommenced bombing operations on Wednesday 15 March with an attack on Stuttgart – his logbook records it as a ‘quiet trip’. His last letter home was written on Friday 17 March – in it the preparations for his forthcoming marriage on 5 April are very much to the fore – he implores his Father to come to the wedding (..’how about taking some of your hard-earned summer holidays and coming along with Mum..’) and casually mentions his raid on Stuttgart (..’Twas a long stooge (sic) but an uneventful one for us – that’s how I like ’em !’). He ends the letter ‘…Well I think I had better close so cheerio for now. My love to Bunty (his small sister) and God Bless you all. Your loving Son , Ken.’

On Wednesday 22 March Ken’s logbook records a sortie to Frankfurt, again recorded as a ‘quiet trip’. There are no further entries.

Ken and his crew, F/O Plummer, F/O Tombs, F/O Bell, F/S Wadsworth, F/S Comer and F/S Cannon, took off on what was to be their final sortie on Friday 24 March 1944 to attack Berlin. The operation to Berlin on 24/25 March 1944 was the final raid of The Battle of Berlin and the last large-scale attack on the city by Bomber Command. Forty-four Lancasters and twenty eight Halifaxes were lost from the force, 8.9% of the total.

The official entry for Ken’s last flight appears in Bomber Command Losses, volume 5 1944, page 131 by William Chorley:

‘Homebound, came down 2km east of Luckenwalde and exploded with great force. Three lie in Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery and four are commerorated on the Runnymede Memorial. S/L Bickers was on the third sortie of his second tour. At 21, he was one of the youngest flight commanders to be killed in Bomber Command during 1944.

There may be no finer epitaph to Ken than that contained in Don Charlwood’s gripping first-hand account of life as a Bomber Command pilot, ‘No Moon Tonight’, in which the author describes coming across Ken shortly after his DFC exploits detailed above:

‘In the morning I heard that Bickers’ crew had had a shaky do the night before. The rear gunner had been killed and for ‘Bick’ himself there was talk of an immediate DFC. Their plane had been attacked by fighters and damaged beyond belief. In the crew room ‘Bick’ was being congratulated. To everyone he gave the same brief answer, ‘It was a crew show. The way they stuck together got us back.’

‘Looking at Bickers, I felt that in him our last seven months were typified. For a Flight Lieutenant he was more than usually young. His face was finely formed and unsmiling; his eyes direct. And in his eyes was that enigmatical ops expression I had noticed so often before. I wondered what he had been before the war. I thought of him as a bank clerk, university student, even a schoolboy, but each was poles removed from the Bickers before me.’

‘It was as though he had been created to wear the battered ops cap; the battle dress with its collar whistle; the white ops sweater; to be a man to whom years did not apply. But most of all, it was as though he had been created for this very hour, to stand in this drab room of many memories hearing the congratulations of his fellows.’

2. The Search

My father (Ken’s younger brother by four years) has always been immensely affected by Ken’s death – indeed my own middle name is Kenneth in tribute. However it has only been in the last few years since the death of my Mother that I have become acutely aware of just how much he has been affected, and one day earlier this year whilst were discussing the subject, I realised that the only way for him (and me now) to try and find some peace would be to visit Luckenwalde and see if we could find the exact spot where Ken’s Lancaster had come down, we had no clues, other than the statement from the official record of Bomber Command Losses stated above, but by visiting we would at least gain some sense of time and place and how it all must have happened.

My Father was sceptical, worrying about the reaction of the local populace, but eventually I managed to persuade him to go, and I booked the flights from Liverpool to Berlin. It was only after I had booked them that I realised with amazement that the date of our flight to Berlin was 24 March 2015 – exactly seventy-one years to the day of Ken’s fateful flight. We took this as a sign that perhaps what we were doing had merit after all, and upon arriving in Berlin we picked up our hire car and drove to our hotel in preparation for the search ahead.

The next day we drove initially to Luckenwalde, a small friendly town about twenty kilometres south of Berlin near where Ken’s plane came down as described above. We decided to visit the local museum to see if we could find any clues as to the actual crash site, and eventually we were ushered upstairs to meet the Curator, a Herr Schmidt, not your average looking Curator it has to be said, looking very hippy-dippy with Panama hat, pony-tail and goatee beard (!), and also with no English, but he did everything he could to help, digging out old photos of the time showing the aftermath of the bombing raids and even producing a logbook that had noted in it details of all the bombing raids in the area. Ken’s raid was there right enough, but no details were available of the actual crash site, so we adjourned for a delightful German coffee and ice-cream next door and decided on our next move.

We knew that the Lancaster had come down somewhere between Luckenwalde and the neighbouring much smaller village of Janickendorf, so we determined to drive to Janickendorf to see if there was any visible evidence of the dreadful event all those years ago – unlikely but we had a lot of time on our hands .

The village of Janickendorf is very spread out, and to drive through it takes a good three or four minutes – at the far end is an industrial estate and next door is an overgrown piece of land full of bumps and hillocks, and we surmised not unreasonably that the undulations could well have been caused by a plane crash, so we decided to lay a cross in memory of Ken and his crew at this location, and set off to drive back to our hotel.

However I think we were both feeling frustrated by the fact that we didn’t know for sure that we had found the actual crash site, and on our way out of the far end of the village I happened to glance to my right and saw a gentleman walking up a side road towards the main road we were driving along, so I suddenly said to my Father ‘I’m going to stop and see if he might know something’ , pulled over about a hundred yards further along the road and got out to walk back to talk to him. The fact that I knew only about a dozen words of German wasn’t going to put me off !

By the time I got back to the gentleman he had crossed the road to the other side, and was talking to two other people, but I looked to my left and I saw a quaint building with the word ‘Museum’ (or the German equivalent !) on it – the barn door was open, and at that exact moment a lady emerged – so I changed tack and walked over to the lady, intercepting her as she was about to close for the day. I asked if she spoke English, and as I did so I glanced into the museum – to my utter shock there in front of me was a piece of the framework from Ken’s Lancaster, together with a list of him and his crew, and depictions of what the aircrew would have been wearing at the time. I think my reaction and the way I was looking at the artefacts made the lady understand, because she then beckoned to the original gentleman I had seen (who turned out to be her husband!) and called him over together with a young lady who was able to speak English, and suddenly all became clear. At this point my Father was still in the car, so I raced back up the road, opened the door and said words to the effect of, ‘I think we might have found the plane’.

My Father of course couldn’t believe it – when he walked into the museum for the first time and saw the piece from Ken’s Lancaster it was a very emotional moment. The German couple, Manfred and Gisela Bolke, welcomed us with open arms, and Julia Horn (the young lady) translated. We were offered tea and cake in the Museum, and gradually our story unfolded, much to the amazement of our German hosts who could not have been more welcoming and understanding.

During our conversation, Manfred said that there was a Herr Kruger that he would like us to meet – when Julia explained that this other gentleman was the boy who as a fifteen year old had found the remains of the crashed Lancaster we were stunned, and agreed to come back on the morning of our departure back to Liverpool to Manfred and Gisela’s house to meet Herr Kruger from where he would take us to the actual crash site.

So the next morning we returned to meet Herr Kruger at Manfred and Gisela’s house which is located just over the road from their private museum. On this occasion Manfred and Gisela’s grand-daughter Christina joined us in order to be able to translate which she did incredibly well in spite of a lot of technical jargon !

Herr Kruger is now eighty-six years old but he was able to recall the events of that day as if they had happened yesterday. After the initial introductions and a brief discussion Herr Kruger said he would take us to the crash site, and we all got into Manfred’s car (Julia now having rejoined us to take over translating duties from Christina) and drove about a kilometre out of the village (in the opposite direction to where we had laid the first cross) and turned right up a small narrow lane. At the top of the lane we turned right again and entered a wooded area, dense with trees on both sides, the lane became ever bumpier until eventually after about five minutes Herr Kruger asked us to stop.

We got out of the car and with Julia translating Herr Kruger told us his story. He described how as a fifteen year old at six o’clock in the morning he and his ten year old sister had come to the crash site where we were standing to see what had happened. He pointed to the ground and told us that it was at this exact spot that he had found the dead body of a British airman, and said that he was struck by the fact that a lot of his clothing had been torn off but how clean his socks were. He was able to show the exact angle at which the body was lying (this body would either have been Air Gunner Tombs or Air Gunner Cannon, both of whom are buried at the Berlin War Cemetery).

Of course at this point we were reeling with the amount of information that he was telling us, because he was making it all so real. Herr Kruger then requested that we get back in the car, and we drove a further five hundred yards or so before getting out once again. This time we walked through the trees and dense bracken to the edge of a vast field which was sewn with crops. It was here, said Herr Kruger, that he found a second body, and heart-rendingly and with great emotion he said he felt that this airman may still have been alive when he hit the ground, as there was evidence of the soil having been disturbed by the movements of one of his feet, and in his hand was a photograph of his wife and children which he must have taken out of his wallet to look at before he died (this body was probably that of Flight Engineer Wadsworth).

Herr Kruger pointed to the vast open expanse of the field and told us that this was where the bulk of the Lancaster had hit the ground. He was able to show us a photograph that he had taken of his sister in front of what looks like one of the propeller sections. He had made it all so real, and we were so very grateful. My Father laid another cross at the foot of one of the trees nearest the field (no remains of the other four bodies including Ken were ever found) and we all stood together, united in our remembrance and sadness for what had occurred here seventy-one years ago.

We then repaired to Manfred and Gisela’s house where Gisela had prepared a delightful tea and cake, and we were able to have further conversations (Julia now having left us) by virtue of the Google translator which Gisela had set up on her laptop ! Herr Kruger had driven around sixty kilometres to be with us that morning, and we are indebted to him and of course to Manfred, Gisela, Julia and Christina for the wonderful welcome that they afforded to us, which bearing in mind we had arrived out of nowhere only two days previously was nothing short of incredible.

However the story didn’t finish there. Upon our return to England, again by the use of the Google translator and email I corresponded with Gisela, and suggested to her that we might like to come back at a later date with a metal detector to see if we could possibly find any further remnants belonging to the downed Lancaster or perhaps any personal possessions relating to the dead airmen. Gisela immediately wrote back and said that they already owned two metal detectors, had been in touch with the farmer for permission to search his land and they were going to do so in a week’s time ! Words can’t do justice to the way we felt about this.

A week or so later Gisela sent us some photographs of Manfred and a younger couple with their young son all fervently engaged in metal detecting on the field of the crash site – they had unearthed several mainly agricultural items but as yet nothing that could be said to be from the Lancaster. However more intriguingly Manfred had taken a photograph of a piece of rusted metal embedded halfway up a tree which looked as though it could have come from a plane as it was slighted rounded in appearance.

Ken’s Story Continued…
Once we had returned from Germany, we continued our correspondence with Manfred and Gisela via email, and it quickly became apparent that they were determined to help us as much as possible, not only in searching for any remnants of the lost aircraft and its crew, but also in taking full responsibility for planning and organising a dedicated memorial plaque in honour of the lost airmen.

One day a parcel arrived for my Father from Germany – contained within it were a small part of the Lancaster’s fuselage, and more poignantly a part of a leather boot – we were incredulous!

My Father and I asked Manfred and Gisela if it would be possible to install a memorial plaque at the crash site, and they immediately began making enquiries of the German authorities as to whether or not this was permissible. When the answer came back that it would not be possible, Manfred and Gisela nevertheless kindly agreed that a plaque could be put up in front of the museum in Janickendorf which is only about a kilometre away from the actual crash site.

Over the next few months the design for the plaque took shape, thanks to Karl Spath, a well-known designer from Luckenwalde, and as the project progressed it became apparent that it would be most appropriate to unveil the plaque on the anniversary of the Lancaster’s demise, 24 March 2016. The timetable was very tight, but the determination of Manfred, Gisela and Karl together with the help of many friends and neighbours knew no bounds, and on 22 March my Father, son and myself travelled to Germany for the unveiling of the plaque on 24 March.

In the meantime by chance we had been put in touch with the grandson of Norman Tombs, one of Ken’s crew members also killed on that fateful day. Mel Taylor and his daughter Rebecca met us at our hotel in Luckenwalde on the morning of the ceremony and we exchanged many fascinating stories about eachother’s families before proceeding to Janickendorf.

The ceremony itself was very moving, and wonderfully organised by Manfred and Gisela. A violinist played some very moving music, and short speeches were given by the Mayor of Nuthe-Urstromtal, Gisela and myself, and then the plaque was unveiled by Manfred and Karl, a very moving moment.

The eyewitness of the time, Herr Kruger, was once again with us and following the ceremony we travelled to the crash site where Herr Kruger was able once more to tell us what he had found on that March day back in 1944. His emotion and distress were evident to all and we are very grateful for his sincerely held memories.

We then paid our respects at the tree adjacent to the crash site where Manfred and Gisela had put up a portrait of Ken along with the remembrance cross that we had left on our previous visit.

A year to the day after first stumbling across Manfred and Gisela , a permanent monument to the fallen airmen now stands outside the museum in Janickendorf, thanks to the unswerving efforts of Manfred and Gisela themselves along with all of their colleagues. It has been a magnificent achievement by them and an emotional journey for us – we thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts.

Flight Sergeant David Wilson Inglis (1569642)

David Wilson Inglis

Served with No. 1 Group, 166 Squadron, RAF Bomber Command as a Rear Gunner from 18 May 1942, died in service 17 December 1943

Stationed at:

Tranent Gladsmuir
Haddington North Berwick
Drim East Fortune
East Linton Dunbar
Dalkeith Lauder
Stow Cockburnspath
Duns Greenlaw
Earlston Melrose
Galashiels Prestonpans
GullaneEast Reston
Peebles Queensferry
Rosyth Dunfermline
Port Seton Eddleston
Burntisland Kirkcaldy
Balerro Berwick
Newcastle Darlington
York Doncaster
Barnetby Brocklesby
Kirmington Grimsby
Brigg Scunthorpe
St Boswells

Serving on Lancaster Bomber JB639 – Crew at time of death

Arthur Edward Brown (170737) – Pilot
Henry Albert Williams (1801135) – Navigator
Charles George Thompson (1637596) – Flight Engineer
Norman Nowell Griffin (1396113) – Air Bomber
Leslie Dennis Perry (1324106) – Wireless Operator/Air Gunner
Edward Victor Smith (1811495) – Air Gunner
David Wilson Inglis (1569642) – Rear Gunner

This crew stationed at:

Edinburgh Berwick
Newcastle Darlington
York Doncaster
Barnetby Brocklesby
Kirmington Grimsby

Sgt David Inglis may have been a member of the crew of this Lancaster S for Sugar which is not confirmed at time of compilation of this memorial. (Newspaper cutting in his widow’s possession at the time and mentioned in her notes of his service).

S for Sugar crashed, then E for Embrace – 166 Squadron

Sergeant Inglis and all the above crew were killed upon returning from a night bombing raid on Berlin. They were part of a 498 aircraft force (including Lancasters and Mosquitoes) which set off from Kirmington at 16.20 hours on 16 December 1943. The route led directly to Berlin across Holland and Northern Germany. They were met by German fighters at the coast of Holland and further fighters were guided onto the bomber stream throughout the approach to the target. More fighters were waiting at the target where many combats took place. The bombers shook off the opposition on the return flight by taking a Northerly route over Denmark.

Lancaster JB639 successfully fulfilled their mission and returned to England where the weather was worse than forecast with low cloud base over high ground. They crashed at 23.35 hours on 16 December 1943 attempting to find the airfield near Little Walk Farm, Thornton Curtis, Lincolnshire, with the loss of all seven crew members. The squadrons of Nos. 1, 6 and 8 Groups were particularly badly affected by these adverse weather conditions– in total, 29 Lancasters either crashed or were abandoned when their crews parachuted. No. 1 Group, of which JB639 was a part, suffered the heaviest losses with 13 aircraft lost.

25 Lancasters were lost on the raid.

The bodies were taken to RAF Elsham Wolds, Lincolnshire, and buried in Brigg Cemetery, a small market town 10 miles South of Barton-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire. Sergeant Inglis’ grave 181, Plot B.