Before I was in the RAF by Reg Payne



Before I was in the RAF by Reg Payne
Wartime Memories


An account by Reg Payne of his wartime experiences. Too young to sign up at the start of the war he spent two years in the Home Guard. Training started at age 18 and lasted for two years. He served at RAF Skellingthorpe and his brother served at RAF Fiskerton. His brother was shot down and taken prisoner but Reg was not allowed to go home to comfort his mother.
He met his future wife in the Unity bar in Lincoln.
Reg survived a crash on a fighter training session when four of his aircrew died.
He also survived ten operations to Berlin. On one operation they were shot up and lost a lot of fuel and had to make an emergency landing at RAF Wittering where no one could be found because they were at a party, on base.
Arriving back on another operation they found everywhere fogged in but landed at RAF Melbourne where they had to stay for a few days until the fog cleared. They had no clothes to change into, no money and no toothbrushes.
After one operation they landed safely and on powering down the aircraft a bomb, which should have been dropped over Germany, came free and rattled down the bomb bay without exploding.
Once they came back with a large hole in the wing, made by a bomb.
On another op they shot down a JU-88 night fighter.
Bombing operations were directed by a Master Bomber who set flares.
Reg and Fred were given Lincoln Imps as mascots but the night Fred died he had left his mascot on another tunic.
He describes the landing procedures when 40 Lancasters arrive back at the same time, most low on fuel.
His navigator, Fl Lt Frank Swingerd calculated winds aloft and Reg transmitted these to 5 Group aircraft.
He describes the various operating areas of the crew on board the Lancaster.


Temporal Coverage



28 handwritten pages


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[underlined] Wartime Memories [/underlined]. Reg Payne
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I didn’t think of being killed whilst flying until I visited one or two crash sites in the Kettering area, some of them were German aircraft and I knew members of the crew had been killed when the A/C crashed.
I visited the crash site of a Blenheim Bomber which crashed in some sand pits, I rescued parts of flying clothing in the hedge row, and found there were still parts of human flesh mixed with the lambs wool.
Another aircraft crashed near a pond and the crew were all killed, bits of the Blenheim Bomber were still on the ground. A bunch of boys with caterpilts [sic] were shooting at something floating in the pond. As it came nearer to me I saw that it was, a human eye ball.
All this didn’t stop me from Joining the RAF to fly when I reached the age of eighteen yrs.
After two yrs of training as a W/OP Airgunner for two yrs I finally arrived at RAF Skellingthorpe 50 Sqdn on the outskirts of Lincoln. My brother two yrs older was also flying in the RAF, near by at RAF Fiskerton, also a W/OP, he had already flown a number of operations.
I was already a member of a Lancaster crew, and my pilot had to fly on an operation with another, before he could take his own crew on his own. After the operation was over we were glad that he had returned OK, and said that he didnt [sic] think the operation was as bad as he expected.
The next day I had a phone call from my mother to say that my brother was missing from the same operation that my pilot was taken on. She asked me if I could come home.
I visited our Squadron C.O. and asked if I could visit my mother, he refused to let me go saying that my parents would perswade [sic] me to stop flying if I did. I told him that I promised him that
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[deleted] 2 [/deleted] 3
I would come back and continue flying. My Mother and Father both told me to be very careful when I was flying so the C.O. had nothing else to say to me. Luckily later we found that the Lancaster that my brother was in exploded whilst flying and two of the crew, by brother one of them, were blown thro [sic] the perspex roof, although in a German hospital they were not killed.
After a few weeks my mother told me that Ron Boydon the fellow that I had done all my training with was reported missing from operations, followed by Arthur Johnson who I trained with. She told me that Mrs Boydon has been seen looking in peoples gate ways at night looking for her son Ron.
We didnt [sic] think much of our hut at Skellingthorpe with no washing arrangements, to do this we had to walk to the Sgts Mess some distance away.
On our first evening there Fred our Rear Gunner and myself cycled to Lincoln as we were told it was only a short bike ride.
We found a small pub called the “UNITY”,? it was quiet inside not many people in the room that we were in, just tow ATS Girls sipping their two drinks together across the other side of the room.
It was not until they got up to go that we spoke to them, they had to be in their quarters by ten o’clock, in a large house near the cathedral. We were ready to go ourselves and asked if we could walk back with them. They seemed a couple of nice girls and we arranged to meet them at an earlyer [sic] time the next night
Luckily we were not wanted for any evening duties and we were able to get away early and spend time with the two ATS girls until it was time for them to be in their billets by ten oclock [sic]
We spent time with the two ATS girls for a few weeks and both Fred and I found a close relationship with them, Fred along with Joan & myself with Ena, we all became very friendly, and met each other as early and many times as we could get away.
Returning to the large room of ours in our hut, we were
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surprised one evening when entering our large room that there was three extra beds in there, with lots of kit bags and luggage scattered about the room. We had three Canadian aircrew members added to our room who had just joined our 50 Sqdn.
They seemed to get lots of parcels from Canada, and told us we could help ourselves to any chocolates or fruit that we could see in the room they could not cope with it all.
However the Station Warrent [sic] Officer came in one early evening and looked around the room. He said the place looked like a rubbish tip and he would come to look at it each evening and we were not to go out until he looked to see how tidy the room was. At times he was late comming [sic] so it became late each evening for Fred and I to meet Joan & Ena, especially as they had to be back in their billets prompt at 10 Pm.
However one evening the Lancaster that the three Canadians were flying in failed to return and all their clothing and goods were taken out of the room, leaving our room neat and tidy again as it was before the Canadians moved in.
Now that our room was now so clean and tidy, the Station Warrent [sic] Officer said that he would no longer come to visit us each evening as he could see that the room would no longer be full of food parcels etc.
I never did know if the three Canadians lost their lives, but if they did all I could think was that it cost the lives of three men to allow Fred and I to go out early evening to meet our girl friends when we were not flying early evening ourselves.
Having the three Canadians possibly killed made it possible for Fred and myself to go out early and meet our ATS girl friends when we were not on duty ourselves.
Many of [deleted] Fred [/deleted] Ena’s ATS friends had lost their air crew boy friends, and never knew if he had lost his life or not
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Ena’s ATS friend Joan spent all her spare time with Fred Ball our Rear Gunner. Fred was killed when our aircraft was in flames and he didnt [sic] Bale Out.
Lots of Ena’s ATS friends had lost RAF Boy friends flying on operations and tried not to get attatched [sic] to them anymore.
Ena’s Mother came to Lincoln and work in the NAAFI as she was called up to do war work. She chose Lincoln to be near to her daughter Ena.
She had lodgings with a nice lady Mrs Fatchet in Winn St Lincoln. Next door to her was a young lady, that had a small baby, she had it in her arms as we watched the Lancasters flying off on another operation.
She told me that the babies [sic] father was an aircrew member that had been missing from operations for some time, and no one had had any news of him. I always felt very sorry for her as she watched the Lancasters taking off from the Lincolnshire Airfields.
When I knew we were on operations that night I would ring Ena around lunch time, and say to her, I wont [sic] be able to meet you tonight, but all being well will see you tomorrow.
She knew that we were on operations that night.
With my brother Art now a POW in Germany, only two of his crew surviving, my mother was worried what would happen to me. She already knew that our Lancaster was on fire over the Humber Estory [sic]and four members of the crew didnt [sic] have time to bale out and were killed. I went thro [sic] the clouds pulling one of the carrying handles and not the parachute release handle, luckily I pulled the correct one and my parachute opened and I made a safe landing.
We were asked to identify the four bodies in the crashed aircraft
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by one of the senior RAF officers, but not one of us wanted to identify the crushed up bodies in the burned Lancaster. We did’nt [sic] want to go near the aircraft.
On one of our ten operations to Berlin, a German night fighter attacked us and his bullets made a large hole in our Port wing. I thought it was smoke coming out of the large hole in the wing, but our flight Eng. said it was petrol coming from one of the large tanks in the wings.
Arriving back as far as Northamptonshire we were nearly out of Petrol and our Pilot decided to make a landing on the emergency airfield at RAF Wittering to save the extra miles to Lincoln. We circled the airfield, and were waiting for the runway landing lights to come on, expecting any time for the engines to shut down as the petrol had all been used. At last the landing lights came on and we were able to land with all the petrol now used up.
As we entered the Wittering office buildings, we heard the dance band close down and found that no one had been on duty, to turn on the Aircraft landing lights when Aircraft were in trouble and needed to land.
Returning from another of our operations to Berlin we were told to land at RAF Pocklington in Yorkshire, as there was a dense fog in the Lincoln area. We tried a few times to find the runway at Pocklington, but then were told to proceed to RAF Melborne which we found was also foggy.
After flying quite low for some time Michael found it in the fog and managed to land safely.
A large van driven by a WAAF picked us safely up and drove us to their crew rooms. In the fan she had a radio that could hear all of our aircraft calling and saying that they must land as they had little or no fuel left.
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One of our squadron aircraft ran out of fuel and crashed into a nearby farm house, the farmer and his wife were both killed, and only the rear gunner in the Lancaster survived. From then on all the Lancasters on the circuit trying to land were told to Head their aircraft out to sea and Bale Out, which they had to do.
The fog stayed with us for three days up in yorkshire [sic], and we could’nt [sic] return back to Lincoln. We had no washing or shaving items for three days or money to buy anything with, not even our toothe [sic] brush’s [sic] or razors to shave with, we had to stay with our lancasters until the weather improved and we could fly them back to Skellingthorpe.
We had a scare one morning, we had just landed after completing another of our operations, and taxied the Lancaster back to our usual dispersal. Michael Beetham then said to us all, OK everybody “All Switch’s [sic] off.” Before I could check all my radio and inter Comm switch’s [sic], there was a loud scraping noise like a van dragging along the side of the aircraft, followed by a heavy thud.
We all scrambled out of the aircraft and expected to see a small lorry or van firmly stuck to the side of the aircraft, but there was nothing any where near us. The Bomb Aimer went back to the Aircraft and opened the little inspection door panel that allowed him to look down into the Lancasters Bomb bay. He was shocked at what he saw.
A thousand pound bomb had been still in the bomb bay, it had not dropped with the others over the target. Its [sic] a good thing that it didnt [sic] hit its nose cap on the way down the bomb bay or we would all have been blown to pieces.
I’ve often wonderd [sic] how the bomb disposal crews got to remove the bomb without it blowing up the Lancaster.
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We landed early morning after a long trip to Berlin again and our ground crew asked how the aircraft had flown, we all said there were no problems with the aircraft and we all left in a hurry to get back to the Sgts Mess and get our breakfast before getting into bed and have our sleep.
After we were all awake again around tea time we were told that they wanted to show us something about our aircraft. Arriving at the dispersal point of our aircraft “B” baker” the ground crews pointed to a large hole in the port wing where a large bomb had gone thro [sic] and left a large hole you could look thro. [sic] Not only did it go thro [sic] the wing it also went thro [sic] a large petrol tank
Luckily the petrol tank was empty by the time we got to the target. There were three tanks in each wing and this tank was empty when the bomb went thro [sic] it. Had it been thro [sic] the one next to it which was full of petrol we would never have got home and finished as POW’s etc.
On one Berlin Operation as we were getting close to Berlin, I heard the engines on the Lancaster open up and felt the aircraft starting to climb. Our Bomb Aimer Les Bartlett shouted to Jock Higgins our Mid Upper Gunner and said, “Not yet Jock, wait until I say now.” I moved over to our Astro-Dome near my compartment and looked above and in front of us, and I saw straight away a German JU88 Night Fighter which had not seen us.
We flew closely underneath it and Les shouted “OK Jock NOW” They both opened up together and I could see the red hot bullets crashing into the German Heinkel Night fighters. Our Bomb Aimer bullets were being sprayed along its wing area, but I noticed that Jock’s the Mid Upper Gunner, his red hot shower of bullets were going into the cabin area where all the crew members were close together. The JU88 continued to fly steadyly [sic] on for some time whilst the bullets continued to enter the cabin area where the crew were based. After a short time after
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the German night fighter tipped over on its side, with smoke now coming from its engines and cabin area, as it fell lower and lower it was lost from my view.
The forward members of our crew said, that smoke and fire came from it as it plunged down to the burning city below it, and was certainly shot down.
What upset me though, that our bomb Aimer was an officer, and he received a medal for his shooting, but Jock who was only a Sgt received not even a mention.
[underlined] Frank Swinyard Navigator. [/underlined]
Frank Swinyard was a Flying Officer, we sat very close together, and we go on together very well. Frank was our Navigator. Frank and I worked together. He would ask me what stars I could see from the ASTRODOME close by me, when I told him the ones in view, I would take his sextant and read out the degrees & minutes for him to use on his Astro Graph. Also I obtained quite a number of radio bearings for him from distant Radio stations, this helped him to plot his position.
When we were diverted to another Air Base on the way home he would not worry about getting the Lancaster there, he could ask me to get him a QDM to the base, [underlined] QDM COURSE TO STEAR [/underlined] after another on or two, I could take him there.
My worst flying experience was not a bombing operation, but an Air Gunners training flight which we had over the Humber Estory [sic] part of the North Sea of course
We had our own crew of seven, plus another pilot and his two gunners, making ten men altogether.
From Lincoln we had to fly over the Humber Estory [sic] where a spitfire would join us, and in radio contact would continue to attack us whilst our two gunners would train their guns on it as it dived on them. We would then call the Spitfire Pilot & tell him that the other pilot and his two gunners were changing over and we would call him to begin attacking us.
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Cameras were fitted to the guns so the film could be shown after the exercise to see if the Airgunner was using the correct deflection in the attacks etc.
We had our full crew of seven on board the aircraft, along with the other pilot and his two gunners.
On boarding the Lancaster I noticed our Flight Engineer was’nt [sic] taking his parachute with him, I remember saying to him, wheres [sic] your parachute Don, and he said, it’s only a training flight Im [sic] not bothered about that.
The time of the year was January but it was a sunny day although the sea looked very cold should we ever have to land up in it one day, and I wondered, should I be wearing my Mae West. Looking down from the aircraft all I could see now was cloud, so I didnt [sic] know how far away the coast was should you have to use your parachute etc.
The other pilot and his two gunners were moving into their positions in the aircraft, and I noticed that our two gunners had now joined us at the rear of the Lancaster where we could see the other Australian pilot and his two gunners do their part of the exercise.
At the word GO. the Lancaster was taken in a very steep dive, Ive [sic] never seen one dive so steeply, but as it pulled out of its steep dive one of it’s engines burst into flames.
The pilot operated his extinguisher for the engine and for a little time we thought all was well, but after the extinguisher had finished its work, the whole wing seemed to be on fire, and Michael gave the order for all of us to abandon the aircraft. There were only two escape doors in the Lancaster, and ten men who needed to use them.
The Australian Pilot & his two gunners in the front of the aircraft started to bale out of the nose escape exit, as our Mid upper gunner Jock Higgins baled out of the rear exit, but damaged his ribs as he hit the tail plane. I tried to leave by the back exit, but the
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gust of wind blew me back again. I think I was given a push with someones [sic] foot that got me out of the aircraft.
As I fell thro [sic] the air there was nothing but cloud below me, and I didnt [sic] know if I was over the sea or the land.
I did a silly thing I was tugging away at the carrying handle of the parachute pack and not the release metal handle so by the time I had pulled the correct parachute release handle I had already gone thro [sic] the cloud.
A large part of the wing had broken off and was coming down behind me, I’m glad that it drifted away from me and didnt [sic] cut thro [sic] my parachute.
As I got nearer the ground I could see the coast a short distance from me, and I was drifting towards it, then there was a large crashing noise, and smoke and flame as the Lancaster crashed a few miles in land near East Kirkby Airfield and I was still drifting that way myself.
I finally landed in a large field and before I could get in a standing position I saw an RAF van coming towards me with two airmen in it. At the same time some one on a parachute coming down a short distance away landed in a dense spinney, I could hear the branches on the trees breaking as he fell thro [sic] them, I found out later it was the other Australian Pilot.
Our Lancaster had crashed close to East Kirkby Airfield, where I was taken to, there were four men in the aircraft when it crashed and I was asked if I could identify the bodies. I was told they were all crushed, and I just didnt [sic] want to look at them
Fred Ball our Rear Gunner would no longer come with me when I would visit Ena in Lincoln he had every chance to bale out the aircraft early but he didnt [sic] have the pluck to do this Jock Higgins hurt his ribs as he baled out and hit the tail plane, he spent a short time in the base hospital and made a good recovery.
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Following this air crash I would go into Lincoln to see Ena on my own.
Also I was introduced to Ena’s mother who was in lodgings with Mrs Fatchet in Lincoln, whilst working in one of the large NAAFI forces canteens in Lincoln.
Luckily I had plenty of time off when not flying, and during the cold winter day’s [sic] I could ride on my bike and visit Mrs Fatchet at her home in Winn St.
She always made me welcome and found me something to eat, she had a fish & chip shop next door to her so I could always pop in there during the day.
Before going on an operation taking six or eight hours flying time, after no sleep during the day, we were given Wakey Wakey tablets which we only swallowed just before we were airborne, there was no chance of a sleep during the day before going on operations, you didnt [sic] even know where the target was until the main briefing just you were airborn. [sic]
I was the wireless Operator in the crew of Lancaster LL744 VNB 50 SQDN. each morning after breakfast, if I had not been flying the night before, after breakfast I had to visit the Accumulator Store and collect two small but heavy accumulators, on my bike I would ride to our Lancaster, and replace them with the two in the aircraft. I then had to [inserted] VISIT [/inserted] the flight office and collect the form 700 and say the batteries had been changed Sign my name etc. and return the two batteries that I had replaced to the accumulator store. This had to be done by me every day unless I had been on operations the night before.
The batteries had to be changed each day, even if the aircraft had not been flown.
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During one operation the two gunners said how cold they were, especially the Rear Gunner.
Michael Beetham air pilot told me to see what the problem was, I had to put a portable oxygen [inserted] BOT. [/inserted] round my neck before I went down, you wouldn’t last long without one.
I could see straight away what the trouble was, the back door was open & a strong freezing cold wind was coming in.
The flight Engineer came down to help me, but together we could not close the door. There must of [sic] been a wind of over one hundred miles per hour coming thro [sic] the open door and the temp would be around minus thirty degrees.
With the help of I think the Navigator we managed to tie the door up but not fully closed, and leave a sharp knife there to cut the rope should we need to bale out.
One other night the mid upper gunner said his turret had frost all over it and he could’nt [sic] see a thing, he asked me to bring him an axe, I gave him one and he smashed the perspex from the front of his turret so he could see, luckily he had electrical clothing on and could only have the turret facing backwards.
We have a long length of rope close to the back door in the Lancaster, should a crew member loose [sic] an arm or a leg and we are three or four hours from reaching home, we could tie a torch on the wounded crew member, tie a length of rope to his parachute release handle and when passing a large German town or city push the wounded airman out the back door. His parachute would open and he would be seen with the torch and parachute. Hoping he would be rushed to a German hospital to have his life saved.
We called it The dead mans rope.
As a Wireless Operator whilst I was flying on operations I was given a frequency band on my radio to search, and if I picked up a German mans [sic] voice giving out instructions
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[underlined] 14 [/underlined]
I would tune my transmitter to this frequency, and press down my morse code key, this would transmit the sound of one of our Lancaster engines on that frequency and blot him out. A Microphone was placed against one of the engines for that reason.
To prevent to [sic] many aircraft over the target at the same time and hitting each other, we were divided into two or three waves, First, Second, or third wave, we had our own height to bomb the target and the time over the target, but after a long flight to get there we rarely arrived at our time over target, it was not unusually [sic] for an aircraft to get an incendiary bomb thro [sic] its wing whilst over the target, from an aircraft above.
Whilst over the target area a senior RAF officer would be circling the city area, he was the “Master Bomber” he would be shouting out details of which colour’d [sic] flare’s [sic] to aim at, reds or greens etc. His language at times didnt [sic] meet up to an RAF Officer.
On one operation we were told to land at St Eval Cornwall on our way home, but during our flight I received a message, which said cancel Landing instructions “Return to Base” Unfortuneately [sic] the Wing Commanders Wireless Operator failed to get this message and they landed at St Eval. The only crew to land there.
All the Sqdn Aircrew were at the airfield when the Wing Comm landed back at Skellingthorpe to Cheer him home.
At our next briefing for an operation the Wing Commander said, Wireless Operators, make sure you get all the messages broad casts not like some clot I could name that misses them. His wireless operator stood up and said. If thats [sic] what you think of me sir, you
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can get some other Wireless Operator to fly with you tonight, and then started walking towards the door. RAF police at the door moved to stop him leaving, but the Wing Commander said let him go.
I’m glad I was’nt [sic] the Wing Comm Wireless Operator.
The Wireless Operator had an unusual name which you could remember and looking at a long list of aircrew who lost their lives on fifty Sqdn I saw his name on the list.
After breakfast if I found I was in operations that night, I knew that our Sgts Mess Phone was disconnected and to Tell Ena that I would not be able meet her tonight I used to cycle to a nearby village and us the public Phone Box (she always knew the reason why.
On one day when operations were detailed, I found our crew were not on the list of crews taking part.
I needed a few items such as soap & toothepaste [sic] etc and cycled into Lincoln to purchase them.
I found Lincoln rather quiet whilst in the shopping area with no local aircraft flying at the time.
As it became dusk winter time, all the local airfields were preparing for aircraft take off,
Suddenly I heard a heavy Lancaster taking of [sic] from Waddington, taking off with an overload, then another one from our Skellingthorpe, also from Fiskerton & Bardney, all these Lancasters were flying with an overload of bombs and needed all the power their engines had to get them airborn. [sic]
This was the first time I had been in Lincoln City to hear all the aircraft circling round Lincoln with a heavy overload of bombs, they needed all the power their engines had, to get them airborne. The people of Lincoln didnt [sic] seem to take notice of it I suppose they were quite used to it.
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Ena & Joan had given Fred our Rear Gunner & I a brass Lincoln Imp which they said would bring us luck, and told us not to fly without them.
I kept mine on my flying jacket so I always had it with me when I flew. Fred often removed his from his flying jacket and wore it on his tunic when he went out at Evenings.
One evening we had attended briefing for an operation, and were on our way to our aircraft when Fred told us he didnt [sic] have his Lincoln Imp with him, On arriving at our aircraft we told a ground staff member and he said he would collect it from our billet, after we gave him the hut number, and the position of Freds [sic] bed etc. Freds [sic] Lincoln Imp was on his tunic hanging up over his bed. First bed on the left as you go in the main door.
Off went the man in his van and he returned later with Freds [sic] Lincoln Imp which he had removed from Freds [sic] tunic
We all felt better after this, and we hoped it would make Fred more careful to make sure he always wore his Lincoln Imp.
It was a month or two after this that we had to do an airgunnery exercise with some extra members of the crew, during the exercise the pilot put the Lancaster in a very steep dive, which caused one of the engines and the wing to burst into flames. The Lancaster was overloaded with ten crew members taking part. Four crew members were killed when the Lancaster crashed and sadly Fred was one of them.
My bed was next to Fred’s and I didnt [sic] have a very good nights sleep, I lay awake for some time, looking up at Freds [sic] tunic which hung close to my bed the early sun light shone over Freds [sic] bed area, his tunic was hanging up above it, and the sun was shining on a small brass item on the lapel. I could’nt [sic] believe it, it was his Lincoln Imp and he was’nt [sic] wearing it again.
[inserted] PS I still wear my Lincoln Imp. [/inserted]
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I think my first fear of our operational flying was the Lancaster taking off and getting airborne.
At the briefing for the operation we were usually told we would all be flying with a thousand pound overload.
With a normal all up weight of bombs in the Lancaster it took a long run along the runway before the aircraft became airborn, [sic] but when they had added another thousand pounds of bombs on the aircraft it became that bit more stressful.
As the Lancaster began its way along the runway, the Navigator would read the speed it was travelling at, it needed one hundred miles per hour before it could take off.
Some times when the pilot could see that the aircraft was not going to reach that speed at a certain position along the runway, and the gate was getting closer on the throttle control, he would say to the flight engineer, “THRO THE GATE”, and the throttles were pushed that little bit more before the aircraft started leaving the ground.
[underlined] The gate had to be moved to get [/underlined] the take off speed up to 100 miles per hour.
We had an ELSAN toilet at the rear of the aircraft, but it was not used very much when we were flying. We all had our own metal cans close by us that we could use and they were emptied into the Elsan Toilet as we left the aircraft. The Elsan toilet was at the rear of the aircraft, and to get there in flight you needed a portable oxygen bottle to breath for the journey, and for all your layers of heavy clothing, and the temperature around minus thirty degrees you could’nt [sic] take your gloves off and touch anything.
Most of our flying time over Germany was around six to eight hours. Berlin was around eight hours which our crew flew ten times. We went there three times in five days. (Nights)
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In our pockets we had a bag of sweets, and a selection of money according to which country we were flying over. Also we had a map of the area that we could use should we have to bale out and find our way to safety.
If we had flying boots with high leather padding half way up to the knee, a knife would be in one of the boots so the tops could be cut off should you be shot down in Germany, or any enemy country, to make them look just like a pair of shoes, and not flying boots.
We also had water tablets in our pockets to use when selecting water from small streams, or brooks.
As the Wireless Operator I had to know the position of some of the stars, the Navigator would ask me which ones were plainly in view. I then had to use the Sextant and take a shot of the star asked for. This was taken in Degrees & Minutes and the correct time. From this the Navigator had equipment where he could plot his position
3.12.43 around lunch time Michael Beetham was instructed to take his crew to RAF Waddington to collect a Lancaster.
When we got there the Lancaster DV376 was already loaded with bombs and before we took it to our airfield, we had to go off and bomb Leipzig first, then take it to Skellingthorpe
During the operation we were attacked and damaged by a JU88, we were very short of fuel and managed to land at Wittering.
Another Lancaster from Skellingthorpe had to collect us the next day and take us back to our base Skellingthorpe whilst the Lancaster DV376 went thro [sic] repairs.
On the 29.12.43 we had to Bomb Berlin, and had a [sic] Incendiary Bomb through our Starboard Outboard Petrol tank and were lucky to get back home again.
We flew on operations to Berlin ten times, and in doing so, we lost 383 aircraft
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Our first three operations were to Berlin [underlined] 22.11.43 23.11.43 26.11.43 55 MISSING. [/underlined]
114 aircraft missing in our first three operations.
The inter comm system was powered by two smallish Lead Acid Batteries. Every morning, it didnt [sic] matter if the aircraft had flown or not these Lead Acid Batteries had to be replaced.
Each morning after breakfast, I as the Wireless operator, I had to visit on my bike the Battery Store. I had to collect the two batteries on my bike and cycle across the airfield where the Lancaster was parked. I had to change the batteries in the Lancaster. I then had to visit the flight offices and ask for the form 700 for our Lancaster.
I then had to sign it to say the batteries had been changed, then on my bike again I would return the two batteries that I had removed from the Lancaster to the battery store where they would be put on charge again.
This I had to do as the Wireless Operator every day, regardless of the day of the week or the weather. Even if the Lancaster had not left its parking site. The hardest job was finding the form 700.
If we were on our way back after an operation over Germany, and the weather was bad over lincoln [sic],”usually fog”. we would be diverted to another airfield which could be as much as sixty miles away from Lincoln.
To help our navigator, I would contact the airfield and ask for a QDM, a course to steer to reach them. By pressing down my morse key, the receiving station could give me a course to fly to reach their airfield, which I would then pass on to our navigator & the pilot.
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My Navigator was a wind finder, this because he was an experiest [sic] Navigator of around thirty years or more of age.
The winds that he found I would pass them on to 5 group, and these would be passed on to all 5 group aircraft in their half hourly broadcasts.
One evening I spent some time passing wind details to the 5 group radio people not knowing if the receiver was a man or a WAAF female.
In morse code I asked if the receiver was a male or a WAAF. I got a very short but strong answer,
In morse code I got, ([symbols]) which was a [underlined] G [/underlined] and an [underlined] S [/underlined]
The G & the S. was a short way to tell me to [underlined] get Stuffed. [/underlined]
When I attended de briefing after the operation, I asked if the 5 group radio operators tonight were male or female, and I was told they are all WAAF female operators.
All this gave us a lighter side of the serious thing we were doing in bombing cities in Germany ETC.
During our training days at RAF Cottesmore, we would be riding our bikes back to Cottesmore after an evening out at Stamford. Frank Swinyard our Navigator would ask me to point out certain stars in the sky, as he always asked me to do his astro shots for him with the sextant.
He had to make sure that I knew the star that he wanted Both he and our pilot (now Sir Michael Beetham) received the DFC. after war, but for us Sgts, there was nothing.
We always relied on my radio bearings when in trouble to get us home safely.
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When flying over the sea, I was taught to let my trailing aerial out, this hung down from the aircraft and [deleted] locked [/deleted] [inserted] touch’d [sic] [/inserted] the sea when the aircraft was flying at sixty feet.
If the pilot was flying over the sea and in the dark he could not see the water if he was going to ditch.
With my radio on, I would loose [sic] my signal as soon as the aerial touched the sea, and I would tell the pilot we are at 60 ft, and he would land the aircraft in the sea. We would call this ditching, “having to ditch”
When we were doing our training, flying as a crew on 14 operational unit at Cottesmore, I would tune my radio into one of the regular BBC programmes and we would all listen to some nice music, I would turn it down should our pilot want to give us instructions. Our cross country flights sometimes lasted two or three hours.
It became general practice for bomber crews to wear a white silk scarf when flying on operations, printed in black ink on the scarves [deleted] wh [/deleted] were the names of the German cities that the wearer had bombed. This went on for a short time until we heard that airmen shot down over Germany wearing one of these scarves, had one wound round their necks and hung on a lampost [sic] etc. This soon stopped us wearing them anymore.
By this time Ena my ATS girl friend and I had become very close to each other, she knew I was on operations, as I had contacted her & told her I would not be seeing her this evening.
However in the morning on the BBC news they would mention the RAF Bombing raid, then finish by saying sixty five of our bombers failed to return, and she could’nt [sic] believe it when I rang her the next day and said I will meet you again tonight.
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On a bombing raid to a large German city, the RAF Pathfinder Force would have arrived there and dropped marker flares for us to aim at, Greens & Reds.
Along with them would be the master Bomber, he would be in charge of the operation.
Green & Red marker flares were dropped all around the city and his voice could be heard telling us not to aim at the Reds, but hit the greens. I think what surprised me most was his bad language and his swearing.
I spoke to Michael Beetham and asked who was that man using that language over the target and he would say it was Wing Commander So & So.
I never thought that an officer such as Wing Co. would use language like that, I only heard it from Erks as we queued for our lunch.
The RAF bombers arrived over their targets in two or three different waves, each wave flew at a different height, should you be late getting over Berlin, you could have two hundred bombers dropping bombs from above. Our navigator F/O Frank Swinyard always urged Michael Beetham to get to the target on time.
There could be 500 ft between the height of each wave. One night we had a bomb dropped on us from above, it punched a large hole in one of our petrol tanks, passing thro [sic] the wing. We were lucky that the tank was empty, the petrol being used to get us to the target, should it have been the one next to it which was full, we would never have got back to Lincoln.
The wireless operator controlled the heat entering the Lancaster, you could never please all the crew. It entered the aircraft from the Engine Exhaust by the side of the Navigator, If I turned it up to please the pilot & Flight Engineer, the navigator would tap my knee and get me to turn it down a bit.
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[underlined] LANDING INSTRUCTIONS [/underlined]
When there was [underlined] two Squadrons [/underlined] based at the same airfield
This could involve over thirty aircraft wanting to land at their airfield, and most of them had only twenty minutes fuel left in their tanks.
[underlined] NUMBER [/underlined] 1 The first aircraft to arrive had to orbit at three thousand feet, and as he circled the airfield he would call out his position on the circuit such as “CROSS ROADS,” OR “BAKERS FARM,” “RAILWAY STATION”, then NUMBER 2 would arrive and call up and he would follow No 1 on the circuit shouting out NO 2 BAKERS FARM ETC,
After around four of five aircraft were circling at three thousand feet, number one would be told to circle at two thousand feet, but still shout his number and position on the circuit, until he was called down to one thousand feet, where he would call out, No 1 down wind, then he would call out No 1 Funnels, then No 1 “touching” “down” then No 1 clear as he left the runway
Our flying control would give the calling aircraft their number and instruct them when they could reduce their height as long as they all called there positions out whilst flying round the circuit
This would possibly go on for fourty [sic] aircraft to land. Our crews were trained to do this on night training exercises, to prevent aircraft running out of fuel whilst circling the airfield many times waiting to land.
My pilot, Michael Beetham (now Sir Michael Beetham) was told by one of the WAAF M.T. drivers that he could use one of the Commer vans on the airfield to check on the servicability [sic] of the aircraft. He asked me if I could drive a car, and on telling him NO. He then said, I have never driven a car.
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This came about because the Wing Comm. Spoke to Michael Beetham and said, now you have been promoted to a Flt Lt you will have the responsibility of checking the servicability [sic] of the Lancasters in “B Flight, but you can use one of the comer vans to get round the airfield. He didnt [sic] like to tell the Wing Commander that he had never driven a car before.
As the Wireless Operator I had the major hot air supply control close to my seating. Also it was close to where the Navigator spread his maps and charts to keep us on course.
The actual heat came from the flames of the port inner “Roles [sic] Royce” Merlin Engine, and were quite hot at times.
The navigator often got quite hot during checking his Course and direction, and signalled me to turn it down a bit, but after ten minutes or so the crew at the front of the aircraft complained at feeling the cold.
I could never please all of them.
Frank Swinyard FLT.LT. was our navigator, also he was a wind finder, from time to time he would find a wind & I would transmit it to our five group base
We must have had around ten aerials on the Lancaster, most of them small whip radar aerials, these had to be looked at before each flight to check that they had not been damaged by the ground crews
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During the bombing operations that we did to Berlin, I would look out of the astro dome and see areas of Berlin covered in the small incendiary bombs, the wide roads were plain to see running thro [sic] the city with all the buildings on fire each side of the roads.
At regular intervals the four thousand pound cookies would explode in the roads and that part of the wide road could not be seen any more, the whole area was covered in large cicular [sic] explosion areas, and the wide roads that were clear to see at the beginning of the raid, were not there anymore, just one large area of fire.
As we had no washing facilities on the site where we slept, we had to walk some distance to the Sgts mess, there we had washing and shower facilities. After we had been in the showers and dried ourselves we had to fold up our towels and put them back in our canvas hold alls, they never got dry, and were always damp when we used them.
Our canvas hold alls were hung on a long row of coat hooks in the shower room of the Sgts Mess.
After a number of weeks we were told to remove our canvas hold alls from the Sgts Shower rooms for a single day. During this time all the canvas holdalls were removed on a trolley that were [underlined] still [/underlined] hanging on the coat hooks, these hold alls were the property of the Sgts who were missing from operations.
When our Lancaster was taking off with an overload of bombs, I would see the flames comming [sic] from the port inner engine, and spreading over the leading edge of the wing.
It was only a few hours before that I had seen the petrol Bowser pumping petrol into the wings in the same area. And petrol running down the wings.
I felt easier after ten minutes of flight, only a small flame leaving the exhaust.
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During my time with 50 Sqdn at RAF SKELLINGTHORPE aircrew started wearing long silk scarf’s [sic] (pure white) on the scarf’s [sic] were printed in black marking ink the names of the German cities that they had bombed.
We were all proud of our scarves mine had the name of Berlin on it ten times.
This all came to an end when it was found out that aircrew who were shot down and were wearing one of these scarfs angered the german public, that the scarf was hung round the airmans neck and he was hanged from the nearest lamp post or tree.
I dont [sic] think I saw anyone wearing his any longer.
I still have mine in my wardrobe.
The pilot of the Lancaster sat in the front of the Lancaster on the Port (Left) side, behind him sitting at a large table was the Navigator, he needed a large table to spread his maps open so he could read his maps.
Also on the left hand side of the aircraft, behind the Navigator was the Wireless Operator, who had his large Marconi transmitter and receiver in a smaller table, along with his morse key for him to transmit his messages etc.
Also by the side of the Wireless operator was the Monica (aircraft Warning) Receiver which he had to keep his eyes on thro [sic] out the flight.
Down along the Starboard side of the aircraft were a number of box’s [sic] of “Window”. Window was small lengths of stiff paper, with a stiff metal like coating on the paper strips. The Bomb aimer in the nose of the aircraft would thro [sic] out a bundle every five or six mins or so, and each time he would call out Window.
A large blip would show on my Monica screen as it passed us by, and I had no need to shout a warning.
When I saw a blip on the monica screen & the
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bomb aimer had said nothing, I would shout a warning, shouting “CONTACT” “STARBOARD QUARTER UP” our Lancaster would dive in a different direction and for the next few minutes everyone would search the sky until we were sure we were on our own again,.
The paper bundles of window strips were along the bomb bay floor in a row along the starboard side,
As our flight continued I would keep passing these bundles down to the bomb aimer in the nose of the aircraft, and as he said “WINDOW” I would see the blip apear [sic] on my Monica screen.
Its when I saw a blip apear [sic] on my screen and the bomb [inserted] aimer [/inserted] had not spoken that I shouted contact Port, should it be that, or Starboard if it was on our starboard side.
As a Wireless operator I had to tune my receiver to our five Group radio broadcast every half hour to see if they had any messages for us.
One part of my operational flying that I never felt easy with, was when we became airborne on an operation.
The Lancaster always had a one thousand pound over load and the engines needed every bit of power to get us airborn. [sic]
I would look out of my small side window and see the flames leaving the port engine exhaust, the flames were so long they even left large scorch marks on the wings, each side of the engine.
I knew that in those wings were over two thousand gallons of high octain [sic] petrol, the flames would burn the paint off the wings, each side of the engine. This continued until we reached the height we were detailed to fly at over Germany.
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In our flying clothing pockets we had a fare [sic] ammount [sic] of French or Dutch money which we could use if we had to bale out of the aircraft over such as Holland or France. We also had a supply of water purification tablets to make sure we had drinking water. This all had to be handed back in to the Squadron after landing, which we were always glad to.
A little farther down the aircraft where the Navigator sat, and the Wireless operator, was the rest bed, quite a large bed where a crew member could be placed if he had been wounded.
It was also handy for placing spare heavy flying clothing, especially if I myself had to move into one of the turrets to take the place of a gunner if he had been wounded. I would need to wear some heavy warm clothing.
All our Wireless operators had completed an Airgunners course during his training and could man one of the turrets if need be.
During our crew training period at 14 OTU Cottesmore and Market Harborough we were detailed to do long cross country flights taking two or three hours.
I made this period a little more enjoyable by selecting some nice music on the radio and feeding it on to our “inter comm” circuit in the Wellington,.
Our crew always looked forward to this.
But when flying on our operations over Germany we needed every bit of information on the inter comm spoken, and action had to take place immediately
Our Pilot Michael Beetham was concerned that we were always in bed at nights at a reasonable time.
He had nothing to fear for Fred our rear gunner and myself, as our two ATS girl friends had to be in their quarters before ten oclock [sic] at nights failing this they were not allowed out at nights for some time.
We only had a fifteen minutes bike ride back to our hut at Skellingthorpe, and were soon in bed.
Our ATS girls often gave us a sandwich or a slice of cake to eat on our way back to Skellingthorpe so we didnt [sic] go back feeling hungry.
During our operations and the long journey, our reward came when our Bomb Aimer decided which bunch of PFF marker flares he was going to aim att. [sic]
He would then say “Bomb Doors Open”, and a cold draft would fill the aircraft, then he said “Steady” Steady – “Steady”, and then “Bombs Gone”. You could hear and feel the “clonk”, “clonk”, as the bombs left their positions hanging in the bomb bay. The cold air left you as he said Bomb Doors closed.
We all felt better now we had no bombs on board, and the aircraft felt much lighter now all we had was the long journey home, hoping that there would be no fog over our airfield and we could have a nice long sleep.



Reg Payne, “Before I was in the RAF by Reg Payne,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 24, 2024,

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