If you can't take a joke...

BThomasWKThomasWKv1.pdf

Title

If you can't take a joke...

Description

A detailed account of Ken Thomas's life from his early years at school, through his ground crew technical training followed by his aircrew training, operational tour, short post war service and his civilian career, he revised the account in 2005.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2005-02

Contributor

Peter Bradbury
David Bloomfield

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

19 typewritten pages

Language

Identifier

BThomasWKthomasWKv10001 to 10019

Transcription

If you can't take a joke ........
by William Kenneth Thomas DFC

I was born in Liverpool on 19th December 1921. I have a sister namely Evelyn Gwyneth born 15th October 1920. My father and mother moved from Liverpool to Beaumaris in 1924 approximately and purchased a well established chemist business in 40 Castle Street. At that time the population of the town was approximately 3000 and there were two chemist shops.

I attended the Beaumaris Council School, both infants and seniors. Whilst at Primary School in Beaumaris, I spent quite a lot of time in the summer months on the boats and the sea shore. I also did a fair amount of swimming, and although there was a public swimming baths in Beaumaris, I preferred the end of the pier. I often swam across the Menai Straits which was very dangerous particularly at low tide when the current was flowing at some 12 14 knots. I was on occasions carried under the pier and was badly cut on the barnacles. I also did rowing, sailing and fishing, and used to know the Straits fairly well.

The end of the pier was also one of my favourite places for catching crabs and prawns. I got into a terrible state with mud and grime. I remember on one occasion being there when my mother and a very posh friend of hers, namely, Mrs Sircus waiting at the pier wall, dressed up and ready to take the small ferry boat, which in those days plied from Beaumaris to Bangor. Of course, I wanted to go with them, although I was filthy dirty with mud and had no shoes. Exactly what happened next, I do not remember, although I do recall the incident very well, and no doubt caused my mother some considerable embarrassment.

I was a poor scholar and frequently in trouble as I got in with a bad crowd, who were generally very poor and appeared jealous of my living conditions in comparison with their own. I was therefore involved in numerous affrays and mischievous pranks. I only just managed to pass the required standards for entry into the Beaumaris Grammar School as a fee paying pupil, and continued to be in trouble as I seldom did my homework, and spent many long hours playing football and cricket.

The headmaster of the Beaumaris Grammar School was a man called Frank Jones. He was a real tyrant, and was most unpopular and hated by both staff and pupils because of his general attitude. He walked in a very stupid manner, and I called him "Here's my head, my arse is

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coming!" I was always in his black books, and whenever anything went wrong, I was usually there. I disobeyed many of his rules, such as not kicking or playing football in the school yard, not wearing school uniform cap and blazer etc., throwing fireworks, snowballs, and so on. I smashed one window in the memorial hall as there was a stone in the snowball

I played a lot of football and cricket and was in the school's first eleven. I was also a strong swimmer. I carried off many prizes at local and school swimming galas.

I must just mention that in the early days all the rubbish in Beaumaris was tipped in a place called the Point. This is now a boat builders' yard, but it used to be infested with rats. Anyone could go there and catch and kill as many rats as possible and obtain a shilling a tail at Beaumaris Town Hall. Since I had a good dog, a Springer spaniel called Glen; I often went there and made a few bob. Sometimes my friend and I would take a few rats home and let them go in the yard and let the dogs chase them. Most of the money we got was spent in the liberal club on billiards and snooker.

Having failed at school in Beaumaris, my father made arrangements for my education to be continued at Friars School in Bangor, and this was where I met my first girlfriend namely Eve Bock. I used to see her every day, as we were both catching the same bus to school in Bangor each morning…More about this will be mentioned later.

I once again failed to pass the matriculation examination, and by this time, it was plain to see that the Second World War was fast approaching. Since I was 17 plus, I would be obliged to register for military service. I was completely undecided what I was going to do and finally decided to go into the Merchant Navy as a cadet. This all came about after a long discussion with a friend of my father's Captain Morris Jones who was a member of the Beaumaris Lodge of Freemasons. He was incidentally later killed in action out in the Middle East. I was measured up for my Cadet uniform and had passed all the necessary medical and educational standards required. However, by this time, the war had started, and numerous ships were being sunk by submarines. My mother decided that this was not a good idea and stopped me going. I then informed her of the seriousness of the situation, which she didn't seem to quite understand, and I finally persuaded her to let me go into the RAF on the Ground Staff, with the condition that I was not to fly! I duly passed the medical and educational standards required in Caernarvon, and since I was still under `calling up' age, was able to choose the ground course I required, that was, Flight Mechanic.

I was finally called up just after the evacuation on Dunkirk, and had to report to Padgate in Lancashire, where I spent three weeks

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confined to camp until I was conversant with RAF Regulations, and able to conduct myself as an airman. l was then transferred to Blackpool south Shore, where I was in private billets for two weeks and we were thinking we were going to have a very nice war!

I was then posted to Bridgnorth Shropshire for further training i.e. square bashing, rifle drill, inoculations, guard duties etc. I was there for approximately 3 months during which time Coventry had received its heaviest raid of the war. We could see exactly what was going on and hear and visualise all that was happening over the skyline, because Bridgnorth Camp was situated some distance from the town on the top of a very steep hill. I also remember carrying our kitbags all the way from the station to the camp, and when we got there, the billets had not been prepared for us. Therefore, we had to set to preparing and cleaning the huts, cleaning the floor and stove, and setting up our beds for the night. We were all by this time muttering a few hash words, but we had to take it, and as we went on, we found that the discipline in this camp was very strict by comparison with what we had experienced previously. The instructors and the people in charge of the various intakes were extremely crude and corrupt. One sergeant instructor immediately informed us that they called him `Slim the Bastard', and that if we crossed him, he would show us `what a real bastard was like.' For instance, on one particular day, we had three inoculations one after the other followed by rifle drill on the square. Several of the people on parade either fainted or fell down, and were merely carried away to sick quarters to recover.

From Bridgnorth, I went to No7 S of TT (No 7 School of Technical Training) at Hednesford which was situated on Cannock Chase and very high up in the hills. Consequently, it was a very cold camp. My course here lasted about three to four months. Again, there was very strict discipline and since the school had some four brass and silver bands, we had to form up and march back and forth to and from our work and technical school daily. Apart from the school we had to do guard duties, fire and air raid drills, and also gas precautions and action to be taken in the event of an attack. These duties were all done in the evening after school hours. As you can see, there was very little time for recreation and we didn't manage to get out very much. During my stay, an epidemic of scarlet fever broke out on the camp, and this further complicated matters.

However, I finally passed out as a Flight Mechanic – AC1 (Aircraftsman First class) but knew comparatively little about my trade. I was immediately posted to Penrhos Bombing School near Pwlleli in North Wales along with a number of other people on my course. Penrhos was a small grass airfield and was really too small for the types of aircraft operating there i.e. Whitleys, Blenheims, Fairey Battles and Ansons. These aircraft were used for the training of navigators and straight air

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gunners and were kept pretty busy. I was looking after the only Whitley fitted with radial `Tiger' engines and experienced considerable trouble keeping it airworthy. There were constant problems with the engine ignition systems mainly due to the exposure of the plug leads which allowed a certain amount of moisture to seep in, causing engines to cut out or lose power. This, on such a small grass airfield, described in many instances by pilots as `like landing on a saucer' proved to be very dangerous and there were numerous accidents. It was quite common to see five or six accidents daily, due to aircraft either overshooting or undershooting the airfield. Some of these were, of course, fatal and aircraft could be seen burnt out around the airfield perimeter.

I [inserted] t [/inserted] eventually became apparent that this airfield was unfit for the purpose for which it was being used, and much of the flying was eventually transferred to a new aerodrome that had just been opened near Caernarvon, namely Llandurog. Here there were proper runways and hard standing, and we finally did all our night flying from here. This meant frequent travelling in open wagons and of course it was very cold and uncomfortable in wintertime. We were obliged to exist on such occasions on pilchards, sandwiches and cocoa for many of our meals, and were glad of these. There was only one really bad accident in the whole time I can remember flying from Llandurog. It involved a couple of Whitleys which were both trying to land at the same time. One landed on top of the other causing the deaths of about sixteen personnel on board. It was, of course caused by carelessness on the parts of the pilots of the aircraft and also the people controlling the aircraft from the control tower.

I used to get very depressed with life at Penrhos, although I did do some [deleted] night [/deleted] flying on flight tests, and often flew to our maintenance depot at Hell's Mouth . [deleted] This again [/deleted] [inserted] Hells Mouth [/inserted] , was [inserted] also [/inserted] very precariously positioned, which [inserted] & also on cross country frlights with training navigator & gunners [/inserted] accounted for many accidents during landings. [inserted] & take offs [/inserted]

In view of the situation, I was frequently at home [inserted] in Beaumaris [/inserted] at weekends, and [deleted]of course [/deleted] [inserted] was often [/inserted] missing from my flight duties [deleted] and [/deleted] [inserted] I [/inserted] [deleted] i [/deleted] t was [inserted] therefore [/inserted] only a matter of time before I would have been caught. I used to break out of the camp at the back of my billet, and climb over the barbed wire entanglements in order to catch the local bus to Caernarvon and Bangor. Of course, this meant I had to get back [inserted] again [/inserted] very early on the following Monday morning and my father had to drive me to Menai Bridge, where I caught a [deleted] small [/deleted] [inserted] local [/inserted] train on a single track line to a place called Avonwen and then on to Pwlleli. The problem then was getting back into the camp without being seen and before roll call. Fortunately, for me, we had a good sergeant in charge of our flight, Sgt. Hudson, and I [deleted] got [/deleted] [inserted] managed to get [/inserted] away with it on all occasions.

In order to prevent trouble in the future, I decided to attend night school. I had a very good education officer, and managed to achieve the required standard of education very quickly. I finally had an interview

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with the camp commanding officer Group captain Williamson, and after an aircrew medical examination, was recommended for a Pilot/Navigator [inserted] /Air Gunner [/inserted] course. I was then posted to London ACRC (Air Crew Receiving Centre) where I was given a white flash for display in my forage cap. I stayed in flats in London in a place called Avenue close, St John's Wood, and had to attend various centres for tests in maths and Signals particularly Morse Code. The Morse test was carried out at Lord's Cricket Ground. We had to pass out at 12 words per minute. Fortunately, sitting close at hand were a couple of wireless operator air gunners who were in the course of remustering to Pilot/Navigators. We, naturally, got all our information from them, and so passed the course comfortably.

From London ACRC, I was posted to No 4 ITW (Initial training Wing) at Paignton for 14 weeks. Here we had more instruction on mathematics, signals, meteorology, navigation, airmanship, air force law, armaments, aircraft and ship recognition, and of course square bashing and drill. All the hotels in Paignton had by this time been taken over by the RAF, and I was billeted in the Ramleh hotel right on the sea front. The Palace hotel was close by and this was our mess. All lectures and instruction were arranged daily at a very smart country house outside Paignton off the main Torquay Road. No transport was laid on, and we therefore had to fall in and march to attention at 140 paces to the minute, which was quite a fast pace, for quite a long distance. I had to work very hard to keep up with this course as the pass marks on each subject were very high. In subjects such as Morse Code and Aircraft Recognition it was 100%. I was very lucky to get some help at weekends with my studies from a Beaumaris acquaintance, namely Hugh Williams, who happened to have been a headmaster in Manchester prior to the war and had been called up and commissioned in the RAF. He was instructing on Maths and Navigation at an ITW in Torquay where he lived with his family. Our final test in Signals was unique in many respects as [inserted] we [/inserted] were all assembled on the Paignton seafront and had to read an Aldis lamp signal flashed to us from Torbay (Hope's Nose peninsula) a distance of some six to seven miles.

During our time in Paignton and Torquay, we had frequent visits from the Luftwaffe fighters, mainly Messerschmidt 109, and Fokkerwolf 190 fighter aircraft, which roared in from the sea on many occasions and dropped their bombs and strafed the sea front and retired. However, all in all, we had a fairly pleasant time in Paignton. I missed the athletic display put on in Torquay for the visit of King George V1 by Air Commodore Critchley. The reason for this was that I got very badly sunburnt, and managed to get out of this very well. Everybody thought it was a waste of time anyway, and we were browned off in more ways than one, for having to go and prepare for this event.

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On completion of the course, I was made up to Leading Aircraftsman, and had the coveted propeller badge on my uniform sleeve.

From Paignton, I was posted to Desford near Leicester to do my [inserted] Flying [/inserted] Grading School. This was to see if I was suitable for Pilot/ Navigator/Bomb Aimer. In order to pass as a pilot, I had to go solo by day and also solol by night. [inserted] T [/inserted] His course was completed in the allotted 12 hours and again, I had no real problems, but many [deleted] people [/deleted] [inserted] students [/inserted] were then sorted out. [inserted] as they failed to achieve the required standard. [/inserted]

[inserted] All details of my flying at Desford were lost as I had no log book at that time. This was unfortunate as I particularly wanted to know the exact times I required to be “solo” day & night. [/inserted]

I then went to Heaton Park, Manchester [inserted] & slept [/inserted] under canvas to await my posting as trainee pilot to Canada. This was also the time of Gwyneth and John's wedding. John was heading for the Middle East, and they decided on the spur of the moment to marry. Under the circumstances, I was unable to attend the wedding. I only stayed in Manchester for some three or four weeks, during which time, I got engaged to Eve Bock. She was also living in the [inserted] symbol [/inserted] Manchester area, as she had not at that time been called up for the WAAF.

During my stay at Heaton Park, the Station Warrant Officer who was a bit of a bully , was thrown into the lake and almost drowned. Nobody had much sympathy for him, and I believe he was later removed from office and absolved of all responsibility for airmen, as clearly we were on the verge of rioting. I finally left Manchester late at night by train for Greenock, Clyde Scotland and was taken out to a liner, namely the Thomas H Barrie, by a steamer known to me from my days on the Menai Straits as the St Seriol, which pre war, was a pleasure steamer plying from Liverpool to Menai Bridge during the summer season.

I sailed in a large American convoy, which zig zagged its way across the Atlantic in August 1942, and after fourteen days at sea during which one boat was sunk and another set on [deleted] fore [/deleted] [inserted] fire [/inserted] , the convoy arrived in New York. The journey had been fairly unpleasant as we had very little to do and my bunk was situated near to one of the vents from the engine room and it was very hot and uncomfortable. However the food was good and there was plenty of it. Most of the lads had stomach trouble due to the richness of the food which we were not used to. I had severe diarrhoea but I didn't stop eating. There was a large 14 inch gun at the back of the boat on a special platform and this was firing from time to time. It was manned by naval personnel who were also dropping depth charges because of the submarine menace. I can well remember going through the Newfoundland fog bank off the coast of the USA and waking up in the morning on the outside deck soaking wet and very cold. I had little choice but to sleep [inserted] outside [/inserted] most of the time on deck due to the heat from the engine room. On arrival in New York, we saw the liner Queen Mary which was used at that time as a troop ship. She was speeding back to the United Kingdom full of troops and without a convoy.

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We entrained for Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, and stopped at a place called Bangor Maine on the way north. We were allowed to get off the train, and this was the first experience I had of spending American dollars. The journey took about 24 hours to complete and was reasonably comfortable. We had plenty to eat and the seats were large and roomy.

Moncton was a very large holding unit, and all RAF aircrew personnel going in and out of Canada had to pass through there. I was only in Moncton for about four weeks and was then posted to Stanley, Nova Scotia No 17 elementary Flying training School ( Royal Canadian Air Force) where all instructors were civilian bush pilots. Here we flew Fleet Finch bi planes which were fitted with a Kinner 5 R radial engine. The machine was roughly twice the size of a Tiger Moth and used for initial training purposes. It was, I think, a very good aircraft on which to commence flying. The instructors were also very good at their jobs. They were conversant with the aircraft and knew the territory over which we were flying. Seldom did they have to refer to any maps, although these were always taken on our flights. Apart from day and night flying, and aerobatics, we had to attend Ground School, and covered Navigation, airmanship, Aircraft Recognition, Meteorology, and Armaments. [inserted] & Signals [/inserted] Altogether, I did some 76.55 hours flying at this station. There were no serious accidents, apart from the occasional ground loop to which these machines were subject in [deleted] the [/deleted] [inserted] a [/inserted] cross wind. [inserted] The remedy to counteract this was a very quick & positive pressure on the rudder bar – to stop the swing to the right - which was a characteristic of this aircraft.

My next posting was to No 8 Service Flying Training School at Lakeburn, New Brunswick, another Royal Canadian Air Force station. This was a fairly large aerodrome, and in those days used by civilian aircraft on regular routes throughout Canada. All Staff in our area were Royal Canadian Air Force, and our unit was separate from the civilian sector. Incidentally, our training was carried out under the Empire [inserted] Air [/inserted] Training Scheme. (Later the name was changed to Commonwealth Air Training Scheme) and there was a large notice board to this effect at the camp entrance.

I started my training here on Harvard 2 aircraft, but only did some [symbol ] 2hrs 30 [deleted] m [/deleted] [inserted] hrs [/inserted] on these before changing over to the Anson twin engmed aircraft. I flew some 270 hours in total before getting my wings, instrument rating etc.

Again it was , hard work, and I had to attend some of the extra instruction [deleted] exercises [/deleted] [inserted] classes [/inserted] in the evening [inserted] s [/inserted]when I wasn't flying. We had no flying accidents during my time here, although the winter was very harsh and the aircraft difficult to control when landing on ice and snow, particularly in any cross winds. Naturally, we had a `Wings Parade' at the

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end of the course. My `wings' were presented by the C.O., namely, Group Captain Hubbard, and I was promoted to Sergeant Pilot.

The `wings' presentation was the subject of a telegram home, as I felt I had achieved a positive result of which I was duly proud. Many of my school friends had failed the pilot's course in the early stages, and I don't believe they expected me to pass, in view of the results I had obtained at school.

I returned to 31 PD Moncton to await my posting back to the UK, and was fortunate to meet two old school friends from Beaumaris Grammar School, namely David Prewer and Clifford Roberts. David Prewer was a sergeant bomb aimer, and Clifford Roberts was commissioned as a wireless operator/air gunner. Both were on operations late in 1944 and David Prewer was killed in action. Clifford Roberts bailed out over France and was taken prisoner of war.

I returned to the United Kingdom on a very fast liner called the Louis Pasteur. We had no escort and were not troubled by submarine activity en [inserted] – [/inserted] route. However, again it was a very uncomfortable few days at sea, and during this time we had to sleep in hammocks and were squashed into one of the lower deck compartments. Had anything happened while we were in transit, we would not have got out. We had no fresh water on board for washing etc. and sanitary arrangements were very primitive. Going to the latrines was a dangerous business since these were merely long troughs with the sea water rushing through, and any careless movement would have been disastrous.

We duly arrived in Liverpool after about seven days out of Halifax which was really good going. The customs people checked all our kit and [deleted] other [/deleted] baggage for cameras and other contraband, and several airmen had to pay up or get their goods confiscated. There were no concessions made even in those days.

From Liverpool, we went on to Harrogate by train, and were billeted in the town centre in the Majestic Hotel. My intake was settled mostly on the top floor, and we were a mixed batch of pilots, navigators and bomb aimers. There were no lifts in operation and the main staircase had been boarded up to prevent wear and tear and other damages. We were given further tests, and one which I particularly remember was to check on our night vision capacity. Mine was assessed as being above average and this was noted in my log book. We were also given further inoculations and vaccinations, and after one particular dose, I was taken ill and removed to the sick bay. There I remained for two or three days recovering. Upon discharge, I had noticed some suppurating sores occurring on my nose and mouth area. Nevertheless, the M.O. still discharged me, but by evening time, I was re admitted with impetigo.

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This meant isolation for some three weeks, and then of course a period of sick leave.

On returning home, I contacted Eve Bock who was by this time a WAAF sergeant, and based in Lewes in the south of England. I went down to see her, but obviously she had found another boyfriend. I decided almost immediately to retrieve my engagement ring. [inserted] & [/inserted] I finally returned home to Beaumaris really sad and fed up. After this, I had several more girlfriends but nothing serious until I arrived at Shepherd's Grove on a Heavy Conversion course on Stirlings. I was home on leave when I met Mary. More will be said about this at a later stage.

My first posting in the United Kingdom was to South Cerney near Cirencester, Gloucestershire to an A.F.U (Advanced Flying Unit). Since South Cerney was the `parent' unit, we were almost immediately transferred to satellite units namely Tetbury and Southrop, to do our day flying and night flying respectively. Owing to the blackouts, night flying was very difficult, and we depended on occults and pundits for determining our position when on navigational exercises. ‘Occults’ were green lights flashing a single Morse [delete] character [/deleted] [inserted] characteric and denoted an aerodrome [/inserted] , and ‘pundits' were red lights flashing a two letter character [inserted] [ indecipherable word ] [/inserted] These were changed periodically to confuse the enemy, and all details of these were given [inserted] to us [/inserted] during pre flight briefings. In the event of any air raids in our vicinity, all aerodrome lights were switched off, and when flying we had to stop all transmissions, and fly from pundit to pundit until the raid was over and the all clear given.

In the event of any emergency when flying in Training command, the code word [inserted] for aircraft in difficulties [/inserted] was "Darky” as opposed to the international "Mayday" code used by operational squadrons. All these things had to be fully explained to [deleted] all [/deleted] aircrew taking part in such exercises, and this information was given usually in pre flight briefings.

The next stage of my training took me to Cranage in Cheshire where I completed a [inserted ' [/inserted]Beam Approach [inserted] ' [/inserted] course which we had to use in extremely bad visibility, conditions where we could not see the surrounding territory [inserted] or airfield [/inserted] . This was quite a difficult procedure, and we found it almost impossible to follow when flying heavy four engined aircraft because of the frequent large course changes which were necessary to carry out the landing procedures. We therefore used a different, system namely QGH, which was a `talk you down' control through [deleted] the [/deleted] cloud, and your aircraft headings [inserted] & height [/inserted] were all given by the ground controller. A similar system is still in use today. [inserted] Another procedure in foggy conditions was called “Fido” comparatively few airfields were equipped with this system. [/inserted]

Upon finishing at AFU, I went to Upper Heyford near Banbury - No 16 OTU (Operational Training Unit) on Wellingtons. Here we had to pick a crew of five people out of numerous aircrew milling around. This

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included a navigator, bomb aimer, wireless operator, air gunner, mid upper gunner, and rear gunner. [inserted] My flight engineer was chosen at Heavy Conversion Unit they were only employed on 4 engined A/C. [/inserted]

Flying the Wellington, which was classed as a twin engined medium sized bomber, was very different from what I had been used to. [inserted] As it looked very big and of course far more sophisticated from previous aircraft flown to date. [/inserted] Fortunately most of the people I chose as my crew proved reliable and [deleted] very big and of course far more sophisticated [/deleted] efficient, or at least they did at this stage. Further on, in [inserted] training on [/inserted] the different courses, some weaknesses did develop, and more will be said about this later. First of all, Upper Heyford closed down as a Bomber command [inserted] OTU [/inserted] [deleted] OUT [/deleted] and we were all transferred or posted to No 84 OTU at Desborough, Northants again on Wellingtons. This aircraft, [deleted] as already stated [/deleted] was far more complicated to fly because of [deleted] the [/deleted] [inserted] its [/inserted] size and extra instrumentation. We did many cross country flights particularly at night, some lasting six hours or more, and under some terrible weather conditions. Consequently, there were many accidents occurring in OTUs throughout the country. Many of these flights consisted of [deleted] a [/deleted] simulated attack [inserted] s [/inserted] on various towns and [inserted] chosen [/inserted] targets throughout the country, and usually fighter affiliation and [inserted] machine [/inserted] gun firing exercises were included in these flights. Firing the guns at night particularly, is quite an experience at first as we had tracer bullets mixed in with ordinary rounds of ammunition and the idea of this is self explanatory as it enables the gunners to [deleted] fix [/deleted] [insert] set [/insert] their sights on a particular [symbol] target. [insert] and see exactly where their bullets were going [/inserted] However, when first experienced one got the distinct impression that the aircraft's bullets [inserted] when fire in the [indecipherable word] areas [/inserted] were coming straight in at us, in our aircraft [inserted] which was extremely frightening [/inserted] . However, we all completed this course satisfactorily and went on to fly Stirlings Mark I and Mark III at Stradishall in Suffolk, and; [inserted] then [/inserted] on to its satellite at Shepherd's Grove, near Bury St Edmunds. This aircraft was [inserted] again [/inserted] huge by comparison with the Wellington and was classed as a heavy 4 engined bomber, with a particularly bad reputation: Numerous aircrews were killed flying the Stirling which suffered from all sorts of problems. Operationally they were almost useless because of their limited height approximately 12 14,000 maximum with a full bomb [inserted] if you were lucky [/inserted] . The undercarriage and flaps were operated electrically, and the undercarriage particularly [inserted , [/inserted] was in two tiers making the pilot's cockpit position [inserted] when on the ground [/inserted] some 2 [deleted] 6 [/deleted] [inserted] 0 [/inserted] ft above ground level [inserted] . [/inserted] Added to this, the braking system was inefficient and during circuits and bumps many aircraft ran off the runway due to lack of brake pressure. The undercarriage was weak, as already stated, because it was in two tiers, and in a cross wind, it was easily damaged and I [deleted] f [/deleted] [inserted] t [/inserted] often collapsed. [inserted] with catastrophic results. [/inserted]

Towards the end of the Stirling course, I was obliged to take a full medical examination. This happened [inserted] to all aircrew [/inserted] every six months to ensure that [deleted] aircrew [/deleted] we [deleted] e [/deleted] [inserted] were [/inserted] in good physical condition. [deleted] On this occasion [/deleted] , [deleted] I [/deleted] [inserted] I [/inserted] t was [deleted] found [/deleted] [inserted] discovered [/inserted] that my blood pressure was. too high [inserted] & [/inserted] I was immediately sent to hospital in Ely. I was kept under observation [inserted] there [/inserted] for some two to three weeks during which time several tests were carried out, as they thought I might have a

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[inserted] ** [/inserted] kidney problem. However, nothing was discovered and I was then sent down to London to No 1 Central Medical Board where I was seen by about eight doctors. Once again nothing could be found, and I was posted [inserted] on completion of the course [/inserted] [deleted] back [/deleted] to No 3 LFS (Lancaster Finishing School) at Feltwell in Norfolk. During this time, my crew had all been on leave and had been enjoying themselves. We were lucky in one way, as we missed [inserted] our previous [/inserted] [deleted] a [/deleted] posting on Stirlings to Algiers, and were really quite pleased about this. [inserted] We were not keen on the Stirling because of its operational performance & other major problems taking off & landing due to weak undercarriage & poor brakes etc. [/inserted]

However, I still had to complete [deleted] my [/deleted] [inserted] the [/inserted] Heavy Conversion Course on the Stirling and was obliged to do a night exercise which was a simulated night attack on Bristol. This was called a `Bulls Eye' and during the exercise, it was customary to have on board a screen navigator and also a screen pilot. It was [inserted] therefore [/inserted] very important we all pulled together as an efficient crew. Unfortunately, due to a navigational error, our navigator, by the [deleted] m [/deleted] =name of Jack O' Toole, got us to the target too early, [inserted] and In stead of getting me to do a dog leg in order to waste some time, he took us straight to the target, which was enough to fail him on this particular [deleted] course [/deleted] [inserted] exercise. [/inserted]

While stationed at Shepherd's Grave, Jack Gambell and I decided to purchase an old Morris 8 Saloon for £50 at a garage in Bury St Edmunds. The car really was `clapped ' and [deleted] s [/deleted] had a hole in the roof [deleted] of [/deleted] [inserted] on [/inserted] the right hand front corner, and when it rained your legs got wet. It also consumed a large amount of engine oil. [inserted] and this was an indication of pending expensive repairs [/inserted] I taught Jack to drive on this car; and he took it home on his first leave from HC unit. Really speaking, the car served its purpose very well as Shepherd's Grove was way out in the sticks. [inserted] and we needed some transport. [/inserted]

The next car I bought was a Triumph Dolomite [inserted] ( [/inserted] Open Tourer [inserted] ) [/inserted]. This was in Littleport. I paid £50 for it from the next door neighbour of Mrs Leicester where we went quite regularly for a slap up meal. She always had plenty of eggs on the menu and made good Yorkshire puddings. Many of our Australian and New Zealand crews [inserted] also [/inserted] met here. The first time I took the Dolomite out, it caught fire [deleted] . [/deleted] I got the wiring behind the dash panel renewed on the camp [inserted] at Mildenhall [/inserted] by a corporal from the MT section. I took this car back to Coventry several times, [inserted] and [/inserted] On one particularly cold winter's day, I was just outside Daventry on my way to [inserted] Coventry [/inserted] to see Mary, when coming towards me on the wrong side of the road was a huge Scammell truck. Apparently, the driver was having difficulty getting up the hill [inserted] in the slippery conditions [/inserted] and had [deleted] chosen [/deleted] [inserted] decided [/inserted] to to try the right hand side [inserted] of the road [/inserted] . I couldn't stop because of the ice and snow on the road, and didn't want to hit the lorry, so chose to turn into the left hand hedge and a deep ditch! The car turned over and I was left upside down in the ditch. Fortunately, I was unhurt and my car was pulled out and put back on its wheels and I drove on my way. I didn't even take the offending vehicle's registration number. However, I found

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that the steering was damaged, due to bent track rods and had difficulty getting to Coventry where it was easily repaired.

I took this car with me to Feltwell and Mildenhall, but in the meantime, I had acquired a Hillman Minx, which was being sold cheap on the squadron by a F/Lt Parker. I must mention that second hand cars on the squadron were plentiful, and it was customary when crews were shot down and killed, for these vehicles to be auctioned off on the station. The Hillman saloon proved to be the best car I had purchased to date, and in it I covered a few thousand miles. I remember deciding to paint it blue while on leave in Coventry, but after hand painting it, it started to rain. What a mess! Mary's father finally got it resprayed for £20 in grey and it looked quite presentable. I kept it until the end of the war.

The Triumph Dolomite was not used much in Mildenhall as I had two cars, and one night my two gunners stole it. They drove to Littleport where the steering broke and it was finally left on the side of the road for several weeks. I finally arranged for it to be towed back by the army. The towing vehicle was a Matilda tank, and by the time it reached our base, it was a complete wreck and ready for the scrap heap.

I duly finished my heavy bomber conversion Stirling course at 1657 Shepherd's Grove on Ist September 1944. We all went through to a Lanc finishing School at Feltwell on 14th September 1944 and I did some 12 hours 50 minutes Conversion Course on Lancasters. We found the Lancaster comparatively easy after the Stirling.

On completion of the Lancaster course, I was posted to No 622 Squadron at Mildenhall, where I completed further exercises in fighter affiliation, air firing and bombing before going on to actual operations. I started full operations on 23rd September 1944.

The first trip I made was a flight with F/Lt Orton to Duisburg in the Ruhr. This procedure was followed on all operational squadrons as it was felt that the pilot required some actual operational experience before taking a complete crew over Germany. It must be mentioned that F/Lt Orton did not do many more sorties after this, and was shot down and killed along with his crew.

I did several more flying exercises in Mildenhall consisting of cross country flights, loaded climbs with full bomb load, fighter affiliation etc., before taking my complete crew over Germany. It was during these exercises that my navigator Sergeant Jack O'Toole was assessed to be incapable of navigating with the accuracy required for operations, and was `washed out.' I was therefore without a navigator for some time.

I was very lucky in Mildenhall to quickly find another suitable navigator, namely Sam Berry, as most of the spare people were doubtful

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characters, who had either come off operations because of illness, or because of other navigational discrepancies. Sam Berry was a Flight/Lieutenant and was of Indian descent. He had been taken off operations because of being ill, and had at one time been suspected of having tuberculosis. During the time he was in hospital, his original crew who were Canadian, had been shot down and killed. He was a Fl/Lt when I met him and I was a Fl/ Sergeant, but I was in charge of my aircraft, so he was obliged to carry out my orders.

Sam flew eleven operations with me before being seriously wounded on a trip to Homberg in the Ruhr on the 8th November 1944. we were flying in aircraft `L' Love. This was the nearest I got to being shot down, although we had various damage [inserted] s [/inserted] on all flights over Germany, mainly due to the accuracy of their anti aircraft fire. The Germans knew that we would normally be flying in at heights between 18 20,000 feet, and they would put up what we would call a `box barrage' between these heights , and obviously they had to hit something or somebody. As a matter of interest, I will describe what really happened on this particular visit to Homberg.

I remember remarking to Jack Gambell, my bomb aimer, that there was a very dark cloud over to our starboard side, and of course, he immediately replied that this was our target and that we would be turning right into it in exactly one minute. He was, of course, right, because the next thing I knew was a big bang and we were on fire caused by a direct hit on the starboard inner engine and aircraft fuselage. Sammy, who was sitting directly behind me at his navigating table, was of course hit in the back by shrapnel. By the time Bill Ralph had got to him, it was after we had cleared the target and he was bleeding [inserted] and [/inserted] in a bad way. My starboard inner engine [inserted] had been [/inserted] [deleted] was [/deleted] on fire. [inserted] And in [/inserted] [deleted] In [/deleted] addition, my windscreen in front of me was smashed, and in the panic, I gave instructions to my engineer to feather the starboard inner engine and stand by. Bill Ralph, my flight engineer, feathered the wrong engine, and consequently we were obliged to fly as accurately as possible over the target area on the remaining good engines, and this proved to be very difficult with an aircraft that was fully loaded with bombs and flight crew. However, we managed after losing about 2000 feet in height, and began to assess the damage. As already mentioned, my windscreen had been completely shattered, and the glass had fallen down and cut my face a little bit, but it was not serious. My mid upper gunner had suffered similar injuries in his turret. Fortunately, we all played our part in getting out of this serious situation, and Bill Ralph who had experience in first aid, managed to get Sammy to the bed which was available a mid ships. Sam was awarded an immediate D.F.C. and I was assured that mine would come later.

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My first priority was to keep the aircraft flying and try to get Sammy comfortable. It was not possible, however, to stop his bleeding, and my next consideration had to be to get down as quickly as possible on to an aerodrome on the English coast. I chose Woodbridge emergency aerodrome situated on the east coast, and [deleted] o [/deleted] after considerable difficulty [inserted] in [/inserted] getting the undercarriage down and locked, I made a reasonably good landing, despite having a further two engines pack up on the approach. Fire engines and ambulances were awaiting our arrival as we had called the station up in advance and Sammy was rushed to hospital for emergency treatment. We were all examined by the station medical officer and were all back in Mildenhall soon afterwards. My aircraft was written off, and I was obliged to fly the Lancaster that picked us up, back to base. This procedure was always adopted on our squadron whenever air crews had been involved in such actions or flying accidents, in order to restore their confidence. I was later informed that I could not have reached my home base, had I decided to remain with my original aircraft.

I didn't get my DFC until after I had left the Squadron in Mildenhall, although I had been told unofficially that I was to get the award [inserted] . [/inserted] [deleted] and could wear the ribband [sic] [/deleted] . This information was given to me by the Squadron adjutant, who contacted me at Chipping Warden, and was also confirmed by Sammy my old navigator, who had by this time returned to Mildenhall after his hospitalisation, and was working at the base headquarters. [deleted] Also n [/deleted] [inserted] N [/inserted] ormally, it would have been presented by the King, but at this time he was very ill and the medal was sent by registered post with a personal letter with his signature. I also received a letter of congratulation from the Beaumaris Town Clerk and Town Council.

I went on with my crew to complete our tour of 33 operations, which finished on 22nd February 1945. I did not fly with Sammy again after the eleventh operation and had to fly with many spare navigators who were floating around the squadron, and this was not very easy as some of them were pretty awful. One in particular Fl/Sgt McKay got me lost over Germany on a trip to Leipzig and we got back very late and had been given up as `missing' on operations. [deleted] Fl/ [/deleted] McKay proved to be a complete nervous wreck and mentally unstable. Whatever happened to him afterwards, I could not say, but I believe he was assessed as LMF (Lack of moral fibre)

I must say at that time, I had no regrets about bombing Germany, as they were bombing us and I just wanted to return the compliment.

Flying conditions over the continent, particularly during the winter, were the cause of many flying accidents and frequently many crews did not find their target. They were initially obliged to depend on D.R. Navigation (dead reckoning). The inaccuracy of aircraft instruments and in many instances lack of flying experience….. [inserted] also took their toll. [/inserted]

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[arrow headed line down left hand side of page]

Finding the target depended on evading the enemy fighter [inserted] s [/inserted], and ack ack anti aircraft barrages and searchlights which were particularly fierce in the Ruhr and around all the main towns and cities. As mentioned, navigation depended on D.R navigation initially, and later on new equipment such as radar [inserted] – [/inserted] GEE, G.H and [deleted] H25 and also [/deleted] [inserted] H2S increased accuracy [/inserted] …… Target marking was also important as Jerry often jammed radar and radio equipment. Added to this when flying through a cold frontsome [sic] of the flying instruments ie pilot head, although electronically heated, froze solid and this meant that we had no airspeed indicator or altimeter, and the ice that built up on the leading edges of the wings and on the [inserted] airscrews [/inserted] ………..used to come adrift and crash against the fuselage, which was very disconcerting, and when experienced for the first time, the noise was frightening. [inserted] T [/inserted] [deleted] t [/deleted] owards the end of the war, the main bombing force was assisted by Pathfinders, a specially trained force who marked the target in various ways, again depending on the prevailing weather as sometimes we bombed through cloud and with the GH equipment, we …:[inserted] were able [/inserted] [deleted] with this equipment [/deleted] to bomb to within 50 yards which was considered to be a direct hit.

There were occasions when bombs got iced up on the bomb racks due to the cold, and these dropped into the bomb bay when we descended to a lower altitude, usually after leaving th target. The ruling was that in an emergency bombs would be dropped "safe" in certain areas ie the Wash and the Channel but we had to drop all our load in or on enemy territory. We would not land with a bomb rolling about in the bomb bay, and in such cases where we were concerned, a secondary target was chosen on the return route.

Prior to any raid, day or night, there were many regulations and procedures to be followed. First of all security on the bomber stations was strict, but even so, it often happened that the people ` [deleted] dwn [/deleted] [inserted] down in [/inserted] the village' knew what was going on. Battle orders were drawn up usually each morning upon receipt of instructions from Bmber [sic] Command Headquarters. These indicated the names of crews affected, the target to be attacked numbers of aircraft taking part. All arrangements for bomb load, rations, fuelling aircraft and briefings of aircrew members, were given to the various sections pilots, navigators bomb aimers, gunners were briefed by their section leaders, and a general final briefing was given by the squadron C.O. and senior staff. A little later, after this general briefing, we were taken out with all our kit to our individual aircraft to carry' out further checks and await take off time. Radio silence was strictly adhered to, and orders to take off were given by means of Aldis lamp or signal cartridge from the control tower. A limited amount of time was taken for take off and taxiing and all aircraft were checked

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and lined up ready for departure. Timing was , of course, all important as all aircraft had t [sic] bomb and clear the target spot on time and on the appointed compass heading to avoid collisions. We usually bombed from 18000 to 20000feet and reduced height by 8000 immediately after releasing our bombs.

I would mention that to ensure we all bombed our target, every aircraft carried a camera in the nose, and a photo flash in the tail portion. When the bomb doors were opened over the target area and the bombs released, the photo flash would be released at the same time, and a photograph taken of the target area. The photographs were scrutinised by our Intelligence Department on our return to base and if anyone had not been to the target, they wanted to know why! This was really a .......method to ensure that we all did our job.

On completion of my operational tour (33 operations), all of my crew were posted as screen instructors to various OTUs in 3 Group. My wireless operator, Fred Charlesworth and myself were posted to Chipping Warden, and I was awarded my DFC on leaving the station. Prior to going there, I did an instructors' course at Silverstone to get me acquaint [inserted] again [/inserted] with [deleted] t [/deleted] Wellington aircraft on which we were instructing. My time in chipping Warden was very restricted and I did very few trips. The war in Europe ended, and many aircrew were then made redundant. I was not asked, but was posted on a Tiger Moth course at Birmingham Airport. I was not very pleased about this. However, whilst on holiday in Beaumaris, I met Lady Megan Lloyd George at a garden party and would mention here, that my father knew her pretty well. When I explained my situation, she promised to do her best to get me into Transport Command. Shortly afterwards, I had a posting, not to Transport command, but to Ferry Command, which was the next best thing, and I did a short course on airspeed Oxfords at [deleted] Boscombe [/deleted] [inserted] Aston [/inserted] Down.

I was then posted to No 5 Ferry pool at Silloth. I flew many different types of aircraft, most of them twin engined and four engined types. On the twin engined aircraft, we carried no crew, but on the four-engined aircraft, we always carried a flight engineer. We were supplied with crystal [inserted] s [/inserted] for the radio transmitter unit and had to tune this equipment ourselves.This was quite an interesting job as we flew all the different types of aircraft arriving on our station. Most of these were taken to the north of Scotland or to Ireland to be put in storage. We were given no instruction on the aircraft we flew. [deleted] We [/deleted] [inserted] But [/inserted] were given a little blue book containing details of all types of aircraft and were obliged to study the respective performance figures prior to take off. Surprisingly, we had only one fatal accident the whole time I was with this unit.

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I was demobbed in August 1946, and completed a course for a `B' flying licence, as I intended to do some civilian flying. However, pilots were very plentiful in those days after the war, and there were problems finding a suitable job. Also, there was my high blood pressure which always came to the fore during the regular six monthly medical examinations, so I decided to seek work elsewhere.

First of all, I made a bad mistake and joined the Coventry Police force, serving as a police constable for some twelve months. During this time, I got married, and found the money in those days very tight. I earned £5.00 per week plus a boot allowance, and had to work on shifts. I finally handed in my resignation after twelve months. Again, I experienced considerable difficulty in finding suitable work, as I had no real qualifications apart from flying aircraft.

I finally got work in the Standard Motor Company in Canley. I had no wages for the first year as I was a student. I then went on to Service Reception, and was eventually allocated a territory as a service representative. This territory included the whole of the Midlands, South Wales as afar as Aberystwyth and right across to the Wash and East Anglia. This job entailed being away from home quite a lot. However, there were other advantages, such as having a car which was change [inserted] d [/inserted]. frequently every 10,000 miles, and of course, all the maintenance, insurance and running costs were paid for by the company.

Eventually, I had the opportunity of going abroad, which was a step forward, and an increase in status and salary, so I jumped at this. My first trip abroad was for three months, and included most countries in Europe and North Africa plus a visit to the oil wells of the Middle East which were at that time operating the Standard Vanguard. On my return,a great deal of service reorganisation and company changes were taking place, and I was posted on a permanent basis with my family to Brussels in the 1950s. This again, meant a great deal of time being spent away from home, and although Brussels was a very good centre, the job, to say the least was a little bit inconvenient, and threw a lot of extra work on my wife Mary.

After three years, I was again recalled to the United Kingdom [inserted] because of reorganisation [/inserted] and given the territory comprising Spain, Portugal, all of North Africa, as far as Angola and the Belgian Congo, and the Mediterranean countries as far south as Egypt. These changes of territory were taking place the whole time I was with British Leyland, and I finally ended up with a territory comprising the whole of Asia, Australasia, south America, central America and the Caribbean. This meant going round the world practically every time I did a trip. For this, I was promoted to Service Executive, and awarded an increase in salary for the extra responsibility and inconvenience involved. However, it meant a lot more work for Mary and

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the children. With all the problems it caused at home, the move was not really worth it, but work was difficult in those days.

I finally finished up at Land Rover at Solihull. I had by that time completed 33 years service with the company which was then known as British Leyland. The final crunch came when I had reported sick with prostate gland trouble. I was instructed by the company to get the operation completed quickly and they would pay all my expenses. This I did, but the company did not want to pay, and I finally had to foot the costs myself. I was in BUPA, but because I had previously had similar problems, they refused to accept the expenses involved.

I felt that the company had let me down, and even the trade union to which I belonged was useless. I felt that nobody had appreciated my effort s over the past years and I got out as quickly as I could. I did manage to buy my company car - a Dolomite Sprint at a special price. Apart from that the company paid nothing and the pension in those days was extremely poor by today's standards.

I would also mention that life during my working days in the motor trade was extremely precarious, as the unions were always going on strike and fighting for better conditions and better wages, but the quality of the final product was poor, and often disgusting. As a consequence, our sales, in overseas markets in particular, suffered. This deterioration became more noticeable in later years. The people in top management were most incompetent, and got their jobs not because of what they knew, but because of who they knew.

During my whole service with Standard Motor Company, Land Rover, and British Leyland, I can only remember going on strike once, and I vowed I would not do it again regardless of the consequences. It was a waste of time and money.

On retirement, Mary and I went to live in Portugal. We had a nice little two bedroomed villa situated some 3 km from Tavira, in a kind of cul de sac. We had all facilities including a swimming pool measuring some 8 x 4 metres. Most of the neighbours were English, and we got on with them all very well. We carried out various modifications during our time there including converting the top floor into a self contained flat with full facilities and capable of accommodating 3 4 people. This flatlet opened on to a flat tiled roof and overlooked the swimming pool. We were very happy living there although we did find the medical expenses there. high, and had always feared the day when we might need to pay for expensive medical treatment and hospitalisation.

We were very happy, until Mary became very ill with lung cancer and on her return to the UK, died after only two weeks in Walsgrave Hospital where she was receiving treatment. Unfortunately, she had a bad fall in the hospital ward just prior to her death and smashed all her front

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teeth, and was badly bruised. I often wonder how much this fall affected her life span, and sometimes wish that I had complained more to the hospital authorities.

However, Mary had been a heavy smoker all her life. She would not go to see the doctor because I do believe she knew what he was going to say. Being sick in Portugal was very costly, and I am sure she was avoiding medical attention over there because of the conditions and expenses involved. Being back in the UK would have improved her chances of survival, but I feel that she had left it too late to do anything about her problem.

When Mary died, my real life seemed to end and can never be the same again. She was wonderful, always so kind and considerate, not only to me but to everybody she met. Everybody I have spoken to held her in very high esteem. I feel that my life is over now and if it wasn't for my children and grandchildren, I don't think my life would be worth living. They have all been truly wonderful.

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Collection

Citation

Ken Thomas, “If you can't take a joke...,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 15, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/11808.

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