Ray Charlton Memoir

BCharltonRCharltonRv1.pdf

Title

Ray Charlton Memoir

Description

A twelve-page type written memoir by Ray Charlton, entitled 'Ramblings of my Memories'. It begins with his acceptance for aircrew in August 1942, continues with his call up in July 1943, and then a training period until joining a crew as Flight Engineer, flying Stirlings. Following a conversion course, he was posted to 630 Squadron at East Kirkby, flying Lancasters. There follow many anecdotes relating to his time at East Kirkby until the end of the war in Europe, when the Australian members of his crew were sent home.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Contributor

Eileen Reddish
Steve Christian
David Bloomfield

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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

One 12-page typewritten document

Language

Identifier

File #15626: “BCharltonRCharltonRv1.pdf”

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

[underlined] RAMBLINGS OF MY MEMORIES. [/Underlined]
Ray Charlton
[copy of a photograph of two bombers in flight over land]
[page break]
Accepted for Aircrew training August 1942.
Called up July 1943.
Two weeks St, Johns Wood, Jabbed etc.. and kited [sic] out then on to Paignton.
Caught out of bounds by my Sergeant Meek, exercising his dog accompanied by his wife. He said if you are caught say I sent you in, if not, good luck. When the sentry challenged me, I knocked the torch out of his hand and raced to my bed, only removing my shoes. Pulling the bedclothes up to my chin thus avoided detection. Flight Sergeant McTaggart on parade next morning asked for the culprit to step forward but I had agreed with the rest of my room mates if only verbal threats no way, but if general punishment I would confess. After a time of blustering and threatening he dismissed parade to get on with lectures. Even Sergeant Meek remarked, “Cool devil.”
In 1945 when on Officer Cadet Training Unit RAF. Grantham I boarded the train for a week end pass, who else joined my carriage although dozens were empty, Warrant Officer Mc, Taggart I with my white flash in my cap gave no recognition but he started off by saying “Don’t I know you”, I smiled and replied Yes, Paignton. He then said “oh yes there was one mystery I never solved, who did attack the sentry. I admitted my guilt. He replied quote “I would have placed you at the bottom of the list of suspects. (Goes to show.)
Having failed the mid term examination of the Pilot. Navigator. Bombaimer course by I/ %, a board chaired by an Air Commodore and four other senior officers interviewed me. The Education Officer pleaded for me to be accepted but the answer was No, having passed a similar examination in the Air Training Corp. The chairman then asked me to what do you attribute your failure to which I replied, Women and Song Sir. When I realised what I had said I awaited with horror his reaction. Coolly he said, “What no Wine” and I replied “Not on half a crown a day Sir. I was then dismissed the meeting saying I would be remustered.
Off to the island of Sheppy. Tested and accepted to be trained as a Flight Engineer.
Posted to Usworth near Washington Co Durham. At the half way atage the whole camp changed over with Bridlington.
At Bridlington I fell ill with tonsillitis. We were living in council houses the whole street had been commandeered. Missing the exams with my own intake I had to wait for the next intake sitting two weeks after my discharge from hospital.
The next posting was St. Athans [sic] South Wales.
Only one funny experience but two minor ones.
The first involved a Canadian who was training with us. Queuing in the N.A.A.F.I. produced a roll of bank notes. My thoughts were, you idiot. An hour after lights out Military Police entered our billet ordering us to stay in bed. They drew the blackout curtains and then switched on the lights. A search commenced and I asked the corporal standing near to me what they were searching for. Eventually he said money. My mind flew to the queue in the N.A.A.F.I. and another Bod whose eyes almost popped out of his head I suggested the next billet to ours and my bed space. Yes, they found the missing £80 in his locker. Next morning the Station Commander had me wheeled into his office and asked me to explain. After telling him my story he asked me to advise the Canadian how to bank the money and draw it out as and when he needed it. The lucky fellow had that amount per month from his father.
One day, two of, us were detailed to conduct an American Colonel around the airfield and point out the types of aircraft. Usually there was housed more varieties of aircraft than most dromes, including a M.E. 109. Towards the end of the inspection he asked if we had a Flying Fortress. Actually we were near to one parked very close to a Sterling so I replied “Oh yes Sir, we park it under the wind of the Stirling to keep it dry. I thought I was about to be court marshalled [sic] but after a while he smiled and thanked us both.
The third incident was a spot check F.F.I. (Freedom From Infection). We (150) were ordered into a large room, lined the walls and be ready for such an examination. When the Doctor arrived we dropped our trousers and underpants and with a pencil in his hand he proceeded to inspect by lifting the parts. One fellow drew attention to himself and when ordered to clearly
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state what he had said, pronounced “It has been in some funny places, but never on a perch before. Yes he was charged Contrary to good order and Military discipline.
Then to Swinderby Lincolnshire, to join a crew. Great skill was used to fit you up with a crew. Pilots were listed alphabetically and so too were we Engineers. Baker and Charlton were both third down. The aircraft to be flown were Stirlings whereas we had trained for Lancasters so a conversion course to start with. We were detailed to carry out a 3 hour 45 minute training trip with a test pilot, navigator, and engineer. Only a test pilot was available to he said he would check the three of us and it was obvious he was not in a good mood. The aircraft we were to fly was out doing Circuits and bumps so we sat at the end of the runway awaiting its final bump.
The ground crew, when it landed carried out a check and invited us to take it over. As Flight Engineer I had to sign the form F700 when satisfied after starting up the engines. Duly starting up the four engines I was unhappy with the last one, the starboard outer. Cutting all engines we all climbed out and I reported to the mechanic I was unsure whether it, was the engine or the instrument, so the engine mechanics and an instrument mechanic rechecked and again invited us back.
Remember this was only my third or fourth trip, so a novice really. Back we all climbed and proceeded to restart the engines. The same oddity showed again in the last one, the starboard outer. Out we climbed again and the engine and the instrument were rechecked and declared OK
In again we climb and the ground staff Sergeant took over and clearly indicated I was a sprog and he wanted his crew on another kite.
The test pilot asked me before we started up if I would agree to start up the offending engine first then if OK the others. I agreed but upon restart sensed the same trouble. The test pilot then asked me if the ground staff sergeant came with us would I then sign to which I could not argue. When I asked the sergeant he declined with a flow of expletives. When asked by the Test Pilot for his answer I told him that with a stream of expletives he had not the time where upon I was ordered to put him on a charge. Well, me a sprog sergeant, him an old sweat. I did so and handed him over to another Admin Sergeant.
My Pilot and I had to see the Station Commander. As my pilot said, he could only give moral support it was my baby.
The Station Commander informed us he had ordered a complete ground crew from another aerodrome to come over and strip the engine down and with a sneer said if they find nothing wrong you will be charged with L.M.F. (Lack of moral fibre) in other words Cowardice.
Some hours later we were again summoned to “God” sorry the Station Commander and he greeted us “Oh sit down fellows and I sensed I was off the hook. He held up the report, which was three or four foolscap sheets and said I will only read out the final paragraph. It read, If this aircraft had flown for more than 20 minutes it would have blown up. Apparently there was an oil blockage. The circuits and bumps only lasted 12 to 15 minutes.
The Station Commander turned to me and said, I bet that takes a load off your mind to which I replied, Well it vindicates my observations but Sir, you threatened me with a court martial what about the ground [underlined] staff [/underlined] Sergeant. He replied, he has already been posted which is a black mark. To this ‘day I still feel he should have been charged, all eight of us would have killed [sic] had I not stood firm. Much later the crew admitted my esteem had risen because those six had been together some time before I joined them when converting from 2 to 4 engines.
We then moved to convert to Lancasters at Syerston.
THEN OFF TO A SQUADRON No. 630 East Kirkby Line,s. [sic]
September 22 1944. I still have vivid memories of our first trip Kaiselautern. Our instructions were to fly in at 4000ft. The target was marshalling yards.
As we approached the sky was full of what looked like fountain sprays of many colours. This was created by Jerry inserting an excessive proportion of tracer bullets in the beltings. It was the light antiaircraft guns for reason of our height. The heavy fire was a mass of sparkling red spots. I was fascinated by the colour show and innocently asked the pilot what it was where upon he replied Flak
October 11 Th 1944. Wacherem Dykes.
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A daylight raid to relieve a unit of soldiers cut off when the Germans flooded the area by breaching the dykes. Shortly afterwards on leave I met an old colleague with a damaged little finger shattered by a bullet which had bounced off a mills bomb slung across his chest. When I asked him where it happened I told him I was in one of the Lancasters that had helped to get them out. DUCKS were used while we kept the Germans occupied and all he said was “Rather you than me
Incredible when you think they had only hard rations and being sniped at every time they moved, living with pigs at the farmhouse which was the only land above water for nearly a week.
During November 1944 a trial was made for formation flying using seven aircraft. Naturally our pilot was picked and on one occasion over the Wash area a Trainer Lancaster formatted upon us. When the Wing Commander called for a starboard turn I pressed my speaker button and called Straight Ahead. A voice of you know who said “announce yourself who cancelled my order”. After explaining, he ordered me to use our Vari pistol.
Needless to say I had taken a note of the aircraft number and markings. We were later told he had been suitably dealt with.
On another formation exercise briefing the Wing Commander announced Leicester to be the oblique turn point. I must have exclaimed louder than I thought and he said “Why, do you live there’ I concurred Producing an ariel map of Leicester he asked me to point out my home which I did His comment was “Well we cannot get that close but how about Humberstone Park On an oblique turn we would break formation and fly line astern. We cleared by a few, say 50 feet the line of trees on the East side, dipped lower over the park and pulled up to clear the trees on the West side. Mothers and their prams scattered. We continued without climbing up Uppingham Road which leads to Humberstone Road at about 100 feet. Banking around Lewis’s tower I, from my seat had to raise my head to see it. Then the pilot yelled out “Christ Leicester is in a hole”. He had to haul the stick back into his stomach in order to climb towards Uppingham and then to re-formate. On one raid our return whilst still over German held land daylight broke and our instructions were to fly low when we soon found ourselves over a German Army Barrack and they were being paraded. Naturally the two or three Lancasters also with us, opened up firing their front guns. We joked about the thoughts of the R S M On another similar occasion daylight came after crossing the front line and in an area with no buildings visible in any direction when suddenly we were aware of a solitary, very obviously a French man on an upright bicycle. To start with he waved, then he gave us the V sign. The pilot commented that was the rude way and pulled up the nose of the aircraft. Needless to say at 2/300 feet our slipstream hit him. His cycle skidded across the road and he was rolled across finishing up in the ditch. When he stood up with just his head and shoulders showing he shook his fist and I turned to the pilot and remarked “ I am glad I cannot lip read French.
Another raid, the target was a pocket of resistance on the Atlantic coast. It was a moonlit night and a 4000 lbs. bomb fell on to a mansion built into the cliff side, believed to be the H.Q. The blast blew the building outwards into space then returned to the original site appearing to be still intact and at that instant just crumbled completely.
Landing one day after a training trip with a blustery crosswind. Unknown to all the Wireless Operator had failed to wind in the trailing ariel. As we came in the final approach the Control Caravan Operator whose head was in the look out dome on the roof, suddenly left the caravan and dashed across the grass and flung himself down in a trench already there for emergencies . Bannister would not have kept up with him. Had he stayed he would have been beheaded when the ariel removed the dome.
Upon another night raid just after attacking the target a Fighter turned to attack us. We dodged into a convenient layer of clouds and continued in between these layers until we reached the English coast. The Debriefing Officer asked us if we had been on a different trip to the rest because they had been mauled all the way back to the Channel.
Another trip to raise eyebrows. After the Bombaimer called bombs away he corrected himself to say one 1000 lbs. bomb remained Our height was around 14,000 feet. On the return leg we dropped, as instructed to 6,000 feet when over France, when suddenly a bang occurred and we realised the bomb had fallen onto the bomb doors. Apparently the release hook
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had been frozen. Shining my torch, to my horror I realised it was primed when falling. The Pilot asked if I thought it would be safe to land with it but I pointed out when we landed the bomb would slide up and strike the bulkhead It would not have been a pretty sight. What to do we all called out. Being reluctant to travel to a safe dropping area in the North Sea we searched the channel below us, saw no shipping and opened the bomb doors then reclosed them. When we landed back at base all crews were asked, “who dropped the bomb in the Channel. One never or rarely, told untruths so we admitted it. It appeared there was a two man fishing, boat, mind you only French ones who were nearly Swamped and came to the English coast to complain. No action was taken aganst us.
After the introduction of the 10 ton bomb to 617 Squadron it was ordered that in the event of early recalls no, repeat no bombs to be discarded in the North Sea because the Lancasters carrying the 10 tonners were not altered apart from the bomb doors. Pilots and Engineers had to initial the order_Naturally it was not long before such a recall. The Pilot actually asked the Navigator for a new course to the dropping zone but I ‘felt obliged to remind him of the new order. That night we were No 2 to land
These landing numbers were always known before take off. No 1 called up when we approached base, the girl on control tower duty made the initial response and then over the air came the Wing Commander’s distinctive voice saying “now watch it No 1 you will be heavier so come in faster and telling us to keep clear until No 1 was down. Upon landing some way down the runway (about 1/5 way) we watched him plough through the fence at the end of-the runway, across one then two and then the third field. The Wing Commander merely turned his attention to us and said quote “You saw what happened to No 1 be more careful.
We approached and landed almost on the beginning of the runway but we were still travelling at 105 m p h as we approached the other end. The Pilot shouted, “Brace Yourselves” and braked the starboard wheel and opened up the port engines, doing a 90-degree turn. When stepping out I requested the ground crew to check the under carriage. They did this while we slept and found it to be OK The very next day after a short training trip we landed, returned to our dispersal point where the ground crew without instructions rechecked the under carriage and found a metal crack in the oleo leg.
Talking of the Ground Crew, we had a Corporal, an Edinburgh man for Engines and an L.A.C. named Enderby from Market Harborough for Airframes. On return from every operation one of them greeted us no matter what the hour. The petrol load always gave an indication of the duration. We all considered it an honour to be so greeted. I always gave them my report when I put my feet on Terra Firma, and when not flying I spent a lot of time with them acting as labourer and naturally paying for tea and wads ‘when the wagon came round.
After one trip base was reported, naturally in code whilst returning that fog blanketed Lincolnshire and we were diverted to Tarratt [sic] Rushden, a Halifax’ drome. (It was common practice to recieve messages but Taboo to transmit). I told the mechanic assigned to our aircraft, Nothing to report and to await my arrival next morning before Topping up the engines. When I arrived he boldly announced he had already done it. I was displeased but could find no problems so signed the Form 700.
Once in the air the Starboard inner behaved oddly by surging. The pilot said Feather it if you feel like it but I decided to watch it and trust. Upon return to base I asked our engine mechanic to check, informing him of the odd, behaviour and could give no reason for it. He soon found out then [sic] he opened up the engine covers. The idiot had topped up in that one engine Oil in the Coolant and Coolant in the Oil. I was so livid I went to see the Wing Commander myself and requested action to be taken against the Mechanic at Tartan [sic] Rushden. Naturally his name was on my form. They assured me he had been so dealt with.
On one trip when well on the return journey I became suspicious of the volume of petrol in No 2 Tanks. The pilot said check it through and having recalculated what should have been in I ran them dry and found them to be 100 gallons short. Our landing number that night was in the 40’s. The number indicated the minutes to add after receiving the usual coded E.T.R. (Estimated Time of Return) sent out by No 1. I said to the Pilot either we land at some other drome near the South coast or make a straight line back to Base. He decided on the latter. I recalculated the petrol position every
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five minutes or so and when near to Base asked for an Emergency Landing. Thy squeezed us in and as we were on Approach I patted Tom the Pilot on his shoulder and said “No Heroics One Landing No Overshoot.” They shot a measured quantity of petrol into the tanks and then Dipstick checked and found 16 gallons in each tank was the landing figure. Phew, how close can one get. A big Stink went up as expected but as I and the other Flt. Engineers said they had told us to no longer Dipstick check ourselves and no instruments could be trusted.
After that the instruments were all put into good condition and kept that way.
I and the rest of the crew agreed that the 1,000 bomber raids were the most dangerous, fortunately we only went on two.
On the first one the aircraft directly above us opened his bomb doors and released his bombs. The 4,000 Lbs. bomb actually passed between our Starboard wing and Tail unit. The string of 1,000 Lbs. bombs fell ahead of us but it was the Cookie to watch. On the 4th July 1993 I met a person who had seen a photgraph taken by another aircraft, the bomb was clearly shown.
One hairy trip, Politz the target, Soon after take off when we were over the North Sea most of the. Pilot’s instrument panel failed for no explainable reason. The only one left was the Climb and Dive but the Altimeter was U/S. The secondary panel on the Navigator’s table was still working but the readings had always been slightly out but were used by the navigator as a guide.
We all agreed to press on and it went reasonably well considering. We made serious attempts at map reading but the cloud was 9/10th thick so only occasion [sic] sightings. The navigator using Dead reckoning plodded on. When the time arrived that we should be over or near the target we realised when we did see the markers we were some 50 miles north.
My heart stood still when we turned towards the target, the sky from a low level to a height greater than ourselves was a mass of Flak (Red spots) I think I can safely say I was most apprehensive, the worst I ever felt but said nothing. Maybe we all felt the same way. As we did our final turn to fly in on the bombing run believe it or not the whole of the show (flak) was like an archway and we flew under this arch.
Upon return to base we had not received a single flak hole whereas the majority of the other planes were literally Pepper pots. The planned bombing run had taken them across the arch but because we were on another heading having been off course our luck was holding.
We were given permission to make a courtesy call at an Australian Squadron with four of our crew being Aussies. When asking for permission to land the Control Tower casually replied “Fly low over runway in use” At about 6/700 feet we did so and realised the runway was full of Bods. The Control Tower called us calling “Fly Lower over runway in use,” so we dropped to around 100 feet and the fellows on the ground looked up, waved and made other gestures. The pilot dipped the nose sharply and by george didn’t they scatter, we then circled and landed.
Apparently the Gunners had been clearing their guns whilst taxying on the runway and the bullets had caused a puncture so they were ordered to clear up the problem.
One day we landed at Waddington Station on one of our training trips, I cannot recall the reason but as we approached the drome a rain storm covering half the field was in full swing. Half the Circuit was in sunshine but the vital half was in blinding rain and do not forget we did not have windscreen wipers.
Anyway we made it down and then were instructed to await a vehicle, which would direct us. A small 5 cwt open van appeared with an illuminated sign mounted above the driver showing “Follow Me” We did and eventually to our horror realised we must be travelling at around 60 mph. Suddenly he changed the sign to –STOP- No way could we or even dare to do, so I flashed the Search Light fitted underneath and he took the message and kept rolling until we felt safe enough to brake.
The driver in such an open van must have been wet through so hence his hurry.
Another trip with its funny yet hairy experience was when the Weathermen and told us a Front stretched from the South of England, right across the Continent. Go under it across the Channel and over it on the Continent. Under it meant 7080 feet crossing the Channel and we found it impossible to climb over it in Germany. The cloud was the dangerous one (I forget the name). Anyway we made it through. Being lighter on the return trip we managed to fly over then came the channel bit. The choppy sea and being hemmed in below the
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Cloud at 70/80 feet the aircraft shook and even with George in and the pilot helping it was some feat to keep her out of the drink. (75% of the crews out that night were airsick but funnily one of us were. We cleared the coast around Kent on correct course and still under the cloud when the navigator called out I do not wish to worry you but there is a hill looming ahead at 600 feet. No way dare we climb into the cloud so I suggested angling the Searchlight at 45% and hope the beam hit the land giving us time to lift over the hill. Shortly the pilot’ and I noticed two little lights similar to animals eyes caught in a car head light. It moved to the right, then to the left followed by turning over and over. The pilot and I queried what it was then dismissed it as an oddity. Upon arriving back at base during debriefing the Wing Commander asked all crews present if they had travelled up the A 29 (I think that was the road). Upon checking the flying map with the road map we realised it was us whereupon the Wing Commander came over to us and read a report from the Kent Police. A complaint from a motorist, stating “I was driving down the road when I saw a very bright light, I first moved to the left and then to the right and realising I could not get around it I drove through the hedge and rolled down the embankment. The C.O.s reply was “Forced to fly low because of adverse conditions,” and it was forgotten.
I have mentioned before landing sequence. The numbers were given out in order of Seniority and experience so the more trips you did the lower your number, so naturally on our last trip we were No. 1. which we had been our privilege on several other occasions. During our return the Navigator estimated our return to base time and this was radioed in code which would be then transmitted to the rest of the two squadrons from base. With a twinkle in his eyes the pilot asked the navigator for the course to base. I believe we were at 10,000 feet or thereabouts. Setting the aircraft in a slow descent we set forth and when some 50 odd miles away he called up base and received the reply “No 1. Permission to land,” and they switched on the landing lights. We called out “No 1 Upwind” Control tower answered OK. No 1 but we cannot see you, flash your lights. We called out No 1 Cross wind. OK. replied control; we still cannot see you flash your lights again. Flashing we replied. Again taking no action. Steadily we were dropping our height and the pilot asked me for 5% Flaps which I did Calling control he called No 1. Up Wind, to which they acknowledged and said again We still cannot see you Flash your lights. Lights flashing we answered still taking no action. Then with the runway straight ahead of us we applied full flaps, wheels down and called No 1
Funnels. A good landing and went into briefing well ahead of our E.T.R. The Wing Commander was there to greet us and even smiled when he said you Devils, you did not do a circuit but have one with me, and as per his usual greetings for all end of tour flights a crate of beer two bottles each, with a mug of hot sweet tea it was a strange but welcoming mixture.
I must record this eerie experience. No idea of the date as also goes for many of the operational trip incidents.., Johnny the bombaimer upon waking up sat up in his bed and called out, “We have had it on our next trip, I have just had a dream of being shot down.” This registered on my mind and it recalled my own dream. They do say we all dream but it takes a reminder to recall it. In my dream I could see trouble in the form of a night fighter but it took evading action. The dream was like a film of the events that took place. I pointed out on the maps the position on the English and French coast lines before the navigator drew his route in. Across France and Germany I could see all the roads, railway lines, rivers, canals and forest areas. The target, even the pattern of the fires etc., were as real as the dream. The return journey was the dream unfolding. According to Johnny the outward journey was almost identical to his dream but he had not spotted the fighter so we Bought it, as was the term for being shot down. It was not unknown that in most instances of taking avoiding action the fighter pilot turned his attention to unsuspecting targets. Over a target they could spot and trail you while your eyesight was less keen due to search lights, fires and flares.
It was usual on every night operation to be issued with two tablets to every one. These were to keep one fully alert. I only used one tablet once. We were not compelled to
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take them. A funny side of these tablets occurred. We were on the perimeter road awaiting our turn on to the runway for take off. The rear gunner, due to his restricted area and exposure always took his tablets as we turned onto the runway, replacing his gloves before engine run up. As we were running up the engines a signal was given cancelling the trip. Poor Mike was unable to sleep all night whilst we all snored merrily around him.
Following another trip I as per usual went to see the aircraft, which I had, handed over to the ground staff saying “Nothing to Report.” Upon approaching I noticed an interested group of people looking up to the Port wing. When at the aircraft I realised the Engineering Officer was among the crowd. He came over to me and said “Your pilot must have landed as light as a feather because take a look.” There was a hole both sides of the outer Engine casing ‘and one hole only in the inner engine casing. It was only then I realised what whatever caused it finished up in the tyre. The wheel was removed and a new one’ fitted. When the original one was deflated an incendiary bullet not completely burned out was removed. It had penetrated the rubber casing almost travelling completely through, When I told the engineering. Officer it had been one of the worst landings we had endured, even the rear gunner complained he found it incredible. Some 40 years later at a reunion a member of the association spoke to me, Starting off “I remember you; You were the bullet in the tyre Flight Engineer.” I could not remember the gentleman in question but he reintroduced himself as the Engineering Officer.
Leave in those days was a regular occurrence for aircrew. For us it was Five weeks on station, nine days leave. Upon the start of one leave I took my then girlfriend to the cinema. The Odeon in Rutland Street. After the supporting film the Pathe’ News was shown. The announcer started off by saying “The other night our Bombers were out” and the screen was showing a typical target photo, when I must have exclaimed loudly ‘Gosh Munich.” The announcer continued “and the target was Munich.” Dozens of people turned to look in amazement at me. The hardest part was explaining to the girlfriend because I had on a previous leave and by letter convinced her I was still on training.
One very foul weather day with fog, ice, snow, you name it, it was outside, we Flight Engineers were all sitting around in our office. (Each trade had its own office). The telephone rang and when answered the message was “War On” meaning an Operation that night. Details would come later, number of aircraft which pilot, petrol load, etc.. The assembled contained those of us well on with our tour and new arrivals. One of the new arrivals, yet to be Blooded said “What, even in this weather” where upon a near completed bod replied “We fly even when birds are grounded.” The Leader hearing this called out “In the line book please_” We never knew what happened to all the sixpences that such lines cost. Some good cause we hope.
On the return journey of one raid the silence was broken when the mid-upper gunner called out “Oh you Sod.” The pilot rebuked him by saying “No comments on the R T. to which the gunner replied “My bloody heel is on fire” The pilot ordered me to “Sort him out,” because I was apart from being the Fight Engineer was also the First Aider. I made my way back, not easy in flying gear and struggling by the navigator. After plugging myself into the intercom I removed the Gunners right boot to find his electrically heated suit had short-circuited at the join of the heel. After ‘applying a first aid dressing to the burn, nasty looking and smelly, I made the wiring safe to the heel but when I put back his socks and boot told him he would have a warm leg but his foot may get a little, cool. I had not long been back at my post when he again called out “It aint half drafty around my head. The pilot, a little testily said to me “Go and sort him out for goodness sake. When the mid-upper gunner explained to me his problem, I put my hand on the Perspex of his dome and at the back of –his head in line with the nape of his neck was a hole. I instantly knew it was a bullet hole but I was not prepared to tell him so and just said it was the seal of the turret. Turn sideways and move your head about unless we have trouble, meaning a fighter attack. The pilot insisted upon knowing the truth when I returned and would not be fobbed
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off so I wrote it down and using my torch on the paper using the sign SHH. Upon landing the Mid-upper jumped out and started to relate his trouble about the seal to the ground [underlined] staff [/underlined] whereupon I reminded him it was my responsibility to liase [sic] with the mechanics. Unbeknown to me the Bombaimer heard me say to the mechanic it was a bullet hole and would require a new turret. He clambered into the crew bus and said they ought to go by the hospital to have the midupper’s head X-rayed because he was that thick the bullet could still be in his head. (We were always nice to each other). Upon checking the next day the bullet had apparently entered from behind his head and left the other side. Everyone wondered how on earth it missed him until I came up with the theory that when he called out “Oh you sod” he must have leaned down to touch his foot.
This story, even my own family thought it was a line shoot (a fairy story) until 38 years later that gunner, Monty Blythe of Loughborough made contact for the first time after parting and related the same story apart from the first three words. O Y S. My late wife Margaret alive at that time sat listening in disbelief and admitted his story was almost word for word whereupon I told her I knew the family thought I had polished up the story whereas it was how it all happened.
One take off proved eventful. It was the practice to take off at one minute intervals. The control tower controlling the whole event. Eventually it was our turn, remembering on maximum effort two squadrons, 24 aircraft each was 48 to 50 minutes from first to last. Engines on full power, the brakes off and rolling. Once airborne we saw the aircraft ahead of us stall and fall out of the sky. By now we would be something like 1,500 to 2,000 feet up when the other hit the deck and exploded I suppose we would be in the region of 2,500 to 3,000 feet. Knowing on board, like us he had a Cookie (4,000 lbs.) bomb we held our breaths. Normally 4,000 feet was the safe height to drop such animals. Anyway it flung us about and the pilot announced he had no control. Neither the control column or the rudder bar had any effect, we were rolling about as if we were drunk but miraculously the nose kept pointing up although no instruments told us so we realised, at least I did, we were climbing be it slowly. Eventually control was regained and none of could say how long that period lasted but we registered 5,000 feet and then made all haste to get to the correct height and course. Upon return we learned that the crashed aircraft had landed on a remote farmhouse raising it to a heap of rubble. Therein lies a fantastic story. The farmer’s wife, just before the incident told her husband of her need to visit the Privy. As was the custom “it” was at the bottom of the garden quite some distance from the house. The husband lit the hurricane lamp and accompanied her. Whilst so ensconced they admitted later, heard this terrible noise, the privy shook and dust was everywhere but the building still stood. When they eventually opened the door they realised the house was no longer there. The Station Commander had a caravan on camp similar to “Monty’s “ famous type taken around for them to use, water and electricity being connected to it. The locals in the village of East Kirkby knew nothing of this until I mentioned it to them some 8 or 9 years ago. Apparently the news was suppressed.
The pilot Tommy Baker was in his way a character. When we were training on Stirling Aircraft the landing instructions were to “Wheel it in” meaning land on the two main wheels then let the tail wheel drop when losing speed. He declared it should be possible to “Three point” land it. HE DID.
Likewise when converting to Lancasters it was instructed that a “Three Point” (Stall type) landing be used. He insisted a Wheel in should be possible. Naturally he did it but what a hair raiser [sic]. The natural airlift
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under power kept the aircraft in the air. It literally had to be driven into the ground. Once he had done it thankfully the urge left him.
On one trip we kept we kept seeing aircraft shot down and the navigator duly logged them. We were certain they were casualties but upon return every other crew were certain they were the special shells the Germans used which behaved as if they were an aircraft even to the explosion as they hit the ground. Anyway the number we recorded tallied with the losses (either 17 or 19) and the next day a Mosquito aircraft of the photo unit actually filmed them in the areas we had logged.
October 6th 1994 [sic] Target Bremen
Recalling that last incident of being the only crew to report such brings another “Us only.” Crossing the North Sea homeward bound the water was rough and looked cold and forbidding when I suddenly saw a small light just for an instant then it was gone. The navigator duly logged it and a coded message was sent out indicating a possible dinghy in the drink. No other crew saw it and neither did we see it again. It was gratifying to be told later that two men had been picked upon the vicinity given in our report, ‘by an air sea rescue team.
One night the Bombaimer let out a shout at the same time as a bang occurred on the aircraft. We all knew it was a piece of shrapnel. The bombaimer said he had been hit so being First Aider I took hold of the collar of his battle dress and pulled him from his position in the nose to the top of the two steps at my feet. Tearing open his battle dress and his shirt all of the buttons flew off. I felt his chest and checked for damage. What I did see surprised me, a deep purple bruising about 7 or 8 inches across. Apparently just one piece of shrapnel had struck him upon his parachute harness high up on his left of his chest. I handed him two safety pins and told him to get on with his job. (On the crew photograph it is possible to see the barrel of his’ whistle is partly flattened).
Sometime in October or November 1944 we were asleep one morning following being on Ops the night before when our billet was entered by military and civilian police. After the search we demanded to know the reason and they admitted they were looking for traces of a piglet in and outside of the billets. Eventually they found evidence of bones and an Australian was questioned and he admitted to it. Back home he lived in the Bush and said he fancied a piglet which were in the field the other side of the fence of the perimeter near to our billets. Duly brought up before the Boston magistrate, the Chairman of the bench reminded him that years ago he would have been deported for such an offence to which the accused replied “Why was it rescinded M’Lord. Even the bench according to information had to smile. The bench then asked him if he would be prepared to pay for the piglet and when he agreed, the farmer stated his price, monies were handed over, had shakes and case dismissed.’
During bombing practice one night over the Wash, using 10 lbs. bombs and dropping one on each run on different headings. All went well until one bomb failed to release. Upon landing we reported to the ground [underlined] staff [/underlined] that one bomb remained but when they checked no bomb was found. Next morning a report came in of a female found dead having been struck on the head whilst walking home. That same night another aircraft also practice bombing at the same time reported a non release bomb and too found it missing. The poor lady was most unlucky when you think of the odds against.
When practising escape by parachute, a fuselage was mounted on a wooden frame with ‘slides placed below the hatches. The drill was go out head first of your respective hatch and down the chute. Poor Tom Baker, 14 Stone did not tuck his head down quick enough and became jammed by his neck and shins in the hatch opening. Only by pressing upwards, having scrambled up the chute to assist those pulling him above could we free him.
One rare occasion when we were resting and the majority were flying the return was
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around 5-30 am. The roar just above the nisson [sic] hut was deafening but to amazement a ground staff instrument Sergeant who shared our billet slept through it all, yet 15 to 20 minutes later a tiny ringing noise of his alarm clock resting on his kit bag roused him. He simply sat up in bed, rubbed his eyes and when he saw we were awake casually said “Good morning chaps.” He was surprised when we told him of the return of the boys. He was so used to it he was not disturbed.
I have mentioned only a little about the crew. It consisted of Four Australians and Three British in fact English. The Pilot, Navigator, Bombaimer and Wireless Operator were the Australians. The two Gunners and I, the Flight Engineer were English. Of the seven of us the Wireless Operator was the one to cause concern. The Mid-upper Gunner, a professional boxer certainly was a character but the wireless operator was a drinker and was given the title of Soaky. The problem, if that is what some called it corrected itself in an unusual way.
One evening when not flying there was dance in the Village Hall. Quite out of character Tommy the wireless operator asked me to accompany him to the dance and with some reluctance I agreed. After three or four dances of which I took the floor I realised Tommy had not done so and when I questioned him why his reply much to my surprise was that he had not been introduced to any of the females. An Aussie to say that left me speechless. I with my usual devilishment [sic] noticed three W.A.A.F’S standing unattached in the corner of the floor. Selecting one in my mind I crossed the floor and asked her to accompany me because my Wireless operator wished to be introduced. I escorted her to meet Tommy and said, Quote” Meet Tommy, Tommy meet, You tell him your name” to which she replied “Dorothy.” There you are Dorothy meet Tommy, and left them together. Several days passed and they would be seen walking along the camp roads, one on either side. About three weeks’ lapsed before they walked along the pathway but still not even holding hands. About a week later I met her by chance and I asked her how the friendship was progressing to which she replied, alright I suppose but he wants me to actually go into a’ public house. I tried to tell her they were not all dens of iniquity but she added, you see I do not drink. I advised her it would be a good idea to accept the invitation and to ask for a shandy or a lemon dash. This she did and believe it or not after a short time Tommy began to appear a normal human being with open white eyes instead of red edged slits. After one operation we lined up in the mess for flying breakfast. After every trip we were given Eggs, Bacon and usually one of sausage or beans or liver. Just ahead of me in the queue one fancy. My first lunch was steak, chips and peas with a poached egg on the steak. Cooks privilege. Fellow said to another in front of him “You might straiten your tie in the mess. The bod in question did what most of us would do, hold the knot in the left hand finger and thumb, and ensure it’s central position and with the right hand hold the tie to tighten if necessary. The fellow held the knot but failed to find the tie piece until he looked inside his battle dress blouse. A piece of shrapnel had severed the two points of his collar and the tie just below the knot. He just fainted and the fellow behind him in the queue pulled his limp body out of the line up saying “Do not hold up the queue.” He did come around but I cannot recall whether or not he faced any breakfast. Instead of coming to my home with the other three Aussies to celebrate my 21st birthday he went to Sheffield during our end of tour leave and I learned later he married his Dorothy. That was April 1945. In February 1989 I had dinner with them in their, Adelaide home together with the navigator and his English wife also Dorothy When leaving, walking with the hostess to the gate I asked her if she ever thought of the Village Hall at East Kirby [sic]. With a smile she said, “How could I ever forget it.” I, when it came to meal time was asked for my choice and was told, Not from the menu, what do you
To put matters in perspective after our end of tour leave I only met three of the boys again, the pilot, navigator, and the bombaimer, and only for two or three day and with the
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war over with Germany the Aussie Boys were sent home not meeting again for 35 years.
After 21 trips we lost our mid-upper gunner. He broke his wrist when he fell off the wing. We soon found another a Southampton fellow who was without a crew having been in hospital with cartilage’ trouble. He too was ’28 years old whereas we other six were one was 19 I was 20 and the others were 21 years old so he was known as Dad. When I was sent to the Isle of Sheppey, Sheerness, to remuster a friend being marched out of the camp as I was being marched in called out to me to tell me to volunteer for the first item on the Sergeant’s list on the morning parade. This I did when the Sergeant said, “I want a volunteer. He with amazement said you do not even know what it is, and then proceeded to tell me to report to the cookhouse to a W.A.A.F Corporal. Upon doing so I was asked if I could cook and answered in the negative. With a wry smile she explained the square of ovens and how to utilise them saying if you do not measure up you will be in the kitchen on chores. When the first load of food came in for cooking I went to take the dish whereupon she reprimanded me saying just tell them which oven to put it in and then later to fetch it out and place it in the hot plates. I never had to touch a thing, only detail others. Of course I had to remember where everything was and when I expected it to be cooked. Somehow everything turned out good and duly impressed the little corporal, yes about 5 feet 1 or 2 inches. I had the job for the week. We fed something like 5,000 mouths and supplied 5 alternatives on the menu.

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Citation

Ray Charlton, “Ray Charlton Memoir,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 18, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/16287.

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