Six chapters of wartime memories



Six chapters of wartime memories


A Short Personal View of a Bit of History (interview with Jim Allen)
'Based at Burn' Introduction by Jim Allen
One More Chalked Up
A Trip to Remember
Sabotage on 578 Squadron at Burn by Joe Dudley
Memories of 578 Squadron at Burn 1944 by Joe Dudley



Temporal Coverage



24 typewritten sheets


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The following questions and answers may be helpful to those studying World War II history by bringing a little closer what war was like for one man. The man concerned flew Halifax III aircraft in Bomber Command in 1944 over Europe. There is nothing exceptional in this account other than surviving a full tour of operations - which was largely a matter of having a good guardian angel.

Q1. How did you first hear that Britain was at war with Germany. How did you feel?

A. It must be appreciated that the declaration of war was no surprise. For at least a year everyone in the country was aware that war preparations were in hand, and Hitler was set on war. I heard the Prime Minister (Mr Neville Chamberlain) broadcasting on the radio at 11am on Sunday 3 September 1939 when he announced that “a state of war exists between Germany and ourselves”.
I was aged 16yrs and 1 month.

How did I feel? First I think some sense of relief that the decision had been made. (Hitler had invaded Poland on 1 Sept and there was a general feeling that we should declare war at once). Secondly for me a vague feeling that my world was on the brink of change and I was somehow about to enter the unknown.
Summed up: some sense of relief, a little apprehension and some vague feeling of excitement.

It is interesting to note that my father's war had started when he was 15yrs old (in 1914) and mine was starting as I reached 16yrs.

Q2. When did you join up?

A. I went along to the RAF recruiting office one week before my 18th birthday at the end of July 1941. Strictly speaking one could not join up under the age of 18yrs of age, but I was allowed to fill in the application form for training as aircrew. I was called up on 30 March 1942; I reported to Lords cricket ground, this being the assembly point for men intended for training as aircrew.
In common with all the other young men there I had volunteered for flying duties; in the RAF all aircrew were volunteers. In fact I had been fascinated with aeroplanes and flying since I was about 5yrs old, and the prospect of flying was far more important to me than the war, and I think this was the general feeling.

The timescale for my training was:
Reported for duty 30 march 1942
Sailed to Canada November 1942
Received my 'Wings' 28 May 1943
Returned from Canada July 1943
Flew first operation 1 May 1944

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Q3. Can you remember how your grandparents & parents reacted to the outbreak of war?

A. Again I would mention that war had been expected for a long time.
The reaction of both my grandparents and parents was one of deep disappointment that they were involved in a war only 20yrs after their previous one – the war to end war! They blamed Hitler for the war, but also felt that the weak British governments of Mr Baldwin and Mr Chamberlain had, with the policy of appeasement, encouraged Hitler. There was a general feeling that had Hitler been confronted when he re-occupied the Rhineland (I think that was about 1935 or '36) the war would have been averted. “Appeasement” was now a dirty word.
My grandfather was nearly 70yrs old in 1939, but he became a War Reserve policeman and served throughout the war. Once war was declared the feeling was that we were caught up in it and would have to do what was necessary. It is worth noting that nowhere did one hear any suggestion that we might lose the war. It simply wasn't considered.

Q4. What were your experiences as a bomber pilot?

A. “Experiences” has a fairly broad meaning so I'll confine my answer to how and what I felt under a few different circumstances. Initially on arrival at the squadron the feeling was of a certain excitement in approaching a new job with some element of danger. The feeling remained constant for about 10 operations; after that the excitement faded and a certain amount of worry began.
On return from each operation one was mentally exhausted, but felt a certain elation (and relief) on having returned and of having contributed something towards winning the war.
A question sometimes asked is “How did you feel when carrying a load of bombs to a city knowing that women and children would be killed?” The answer is that almost everyone thought little beyond the next moment; the main concern being to avoid fighter attack, searchlights or flak; in short to survive. Bear in mind that we usually flew in the dark and there was virtually nothing to focus on but the instruments: and with the engines pounding away in your ears our concentration was quite intense. Whatever the target it was thought of only as a city, military camp, gun battery or whatever. We didn't think of people.
On only one occasion did I feel sorry for the people in the target area: this was one night over Kiel when I deliberately banked my aircraft in order to look at the target. (Normally I never saw the target, as with my seat fully lowered I flew entirely on instruments in the target area). I looked down on a city ablaze; it was like looking into the mouth of a huge furnace. I thought 'you are looking into the mouth of Hell'. On that raid my aircraft carried one high explosive bomb weighing a ton and 13 cannisters [sic] each containing 90 (yes ninety) incendiary bombs; that is 1170 fire bombs of 4lb each, some with explosive charges in them. Over 200 aircraft took part in that attack. Today this is called conventional warfare.

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One point I do want to make is that war is not as shown in films or on the tele, with handsome men charging heroically and willingly into the mouths of guns. Initially on any bombing raid there was apprehension. When actually engaged by enemy fire the feeling varied from real worry that one might be hit to downright terror when, for example, one was boxed by flak and an engine was damaged and on fire at night. Or flying against a target in the Ruhr Valley in daylight when the intensity of the flak was itself terrifying. In these cases the mouth goes dry, one's temperature soars, sweat pours down the face, the knees tremble and the hands grip the control column like iron. To watch another aircraft spinning down or blown apart makes one physically sick. In short wars are fought by terrified men; and anyone who tells you different has never experienced it.
But training, discipline and sense of duty still carry men through.
Not every bombing trip was dangerous: sometimes we would complete an operation with no trouble at all, and be thankful for that. On other trips things could be difficult and one struggled back to make an emergency landing, everyone utterly exhausted and oh, SO thankful to have completed the sea crossing. The prospect of crashing into the North Sea (that is, ditching) was not a happy one. Even if one survived the crash and got into the dinghy before the aircraft sank the chances of being picked up were slim - about 1 in 9.
Sometimes it was possible to have a quiet laugh. One day in daylight we were flying west at 18,000ft just north of Calais; over France it was quite hazy. I happened to be looking towards the land when in the haze I saw a very bright flash and knew instantly that I was looking almost straight down the barrel of an anti-aircraft gun which had just fired at us. My training had taught me that the shell would reach us in 11secs, so by putting the aircraft into a diving turn towards the the [sic] gun we dodged the shell and saw it explode where we would have been had we continued on our original course. In this case we felt very pleased with ourselves. Even so one did not want the war to get so personal.
On finishing our tour of 40 operations we were posted from the squadron. How did we feel? Firstly very happy at the fact of surviving. Secondly an appreciation that we had been very lucky (although
of course we always believed that WE wouldn't be shot down: just as everyone else did). We HAD been lucky as only 1 crew in 4 survived a full tour. And of course my new wife of only two months was very pleased.
Sometimes one is asked if religion played a part for a bomber crew. For myself, I had a definite belief in God and in the power of prayer long before my bombing tour started. I did pray as I got into the aircraft, usually “Dear God, please look after us” or something as simple. When pounding through the night to or from the target I certainly felt a Presence with me, and if in difficulty dragging home I certainly did pray for help. On landing I ALWAYS offered up a heartfelt prayer of thanks.

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Q5. Describe any campaign or important flights you were involved in.

A. Apart from a few spectacular actions such as the breaking of the Mohne and Eder dams, and attacks on the battleship 'Tirpitz' Bomber Command's campaign was continuous, but help was given to actions such as the Battle of the Atlantic, support for the Army in Normandy and defence of London against the flying bomb (the V1).
The Battle of the Atlantic was continuous, and Bomber Command helped by attacking the U-boat bases. Kiel was one such base where U-boats were built; it was of course heavily defended. I twice went to Kiel with the object of bombing the U-boat yards. If we couldn't find the U-boats then bombing the peoples' houses was almost as effective in stopping the U-boats being built. Flying to Kiel involved a long flight each way over the North Sea; thus if an aircraft was damaged near the target or by a flak ship off the Danish coast there was little hope of living if we had to bail out, and not much chance of survival if we ditched in the sea. The round trip took some five and a half hours, most of it quiet, but over the target quite exciting and not a little worrying. Strangely enough it was unusual to see another bomber except one below showing up against the fire.

In 1944 the British Army was held up in Normandy and Bomber Command was asked to help. On 30 June a village called Villers-Bocage was occupied by three panzer divisions: 250 bombers were put on this target and with precision bombing wiped out the village without damage to British troops not far away. This was a daylight attack; a message of thanks and congratulations on the accuracy of the bombing was sent by General Montgomery to Bomber Command HQ.

On the night of 12 August 1944 a major attack was made on the Opel motor works at Russelsheim, Germany. It was a moonless night, and the pathfinders put the target indicators down three miles from the factory. My navigator told us that the markers were wrong as we approached them, but as our bomb-aimer could not see the factory we carried out the master-bomber's orders to bomb the target indicators. One the way home, over Belgium at 12,000ft we were suddenly boxed by radar-predicted flak. We dived to get out of it, but our port outer engine was damaged and caught fire. We managed to put out the fire by stopping the engine. (We did this by feathering the propeller, which means turning it edgeways on). We now flew on 3 engines and about an hour and a half later landed at Woodbridge emergency landing ground. We were the first of over 50 damaged aircraft to land there that night, many with dead and wounded crewmen. When we learned that reconnaisance [sic] photos proved that the target had been missed by three miles we felt very cross with the pathfinders as all our efforts had been for nothing.
(You probably know that 12 August is the start of the grouse shooting season. I KNOW that the grouse don't like it).

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In September 1944 oil plants were high priority targets. On 11 Sept an attack was made on the synthetic oil plant at Gelsenkirchen in the Ruhr Valley. This was a daylight attack against a small target which resulted in bombers getting very close together on the bombing run. Flak was so intense that the smoke from exploding shells formed a thick black cloud through which the bombers had to fly. This was very frightening, as also was the danger of being bombed by other aircraft only a few feet above. A damaged Halifax spinning down just in front of us made me feel quite sick; there were seven men inside struggling to get out.
After return to base it was found that every aircraft on the squadron had sustained flak damage; it was probable that all the other squadrons suffered as much.

In July 1944 Bomber Command made a big effort to destroy flying bomb bases in France - from where these weapons (the V1s) were being launched against London. Attacks were made in daylight in good weather. The targets were small, but well defended by flak; even at 18,000ft flak was quite accurate. On 4 July we attacked a site at a place called St Martins L'Hortier. On the run-up to the target our aircraft was hit by flak; the instrument panel was smashed and one engine was damaged. We completed the bombing run and later made an emergency landing at Farnborough.

Q6. What was it like to come home on leave?

On my return from training in Canada in July 1943 I became engaged to a young lady named June, so my main interest when on leave was to be with her. She lived at Romford, about 15 miles east of London, so she was familiar with air raids.
We were generally aware that civilians died in air raids and airmen were killed when flying, and this tended to strengthen our feelings for each other. We married in July 1944, with flying bombs passing overhead, and had a 3-day honeymoon. I had to get my father's permission to marry (in writing I may say) as I was 2 weeks under 21yrs. I had by then flown 22 operations over Europe - for which I did not require my father's permission!
After our marriage I flew a further 18 missions to complete a tour of 40 operations, (I flew 39 missions with my crew; my first trip was as second pilot with another crew – just to get the idea!). The time taken was from 1 May to 24 September (21 weeks), during which time I had three lots of leave.
The depth of feeling we felt towards each other during leave was undoubtedly greater than under normal conditions, and provided a foundation for many year of happily married life as we had learned that each day really could be the last. When coming home on leave one brought a ration card as no family could feed an extra person for more than a day or so.
On the bomber squadron we got 7 days leave every 6 weeks provided we weren't shot down. Thus leave became very precious and we lived every minute conciously, [sic] but not morbidly; we did our best to enjoy life together.

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Q7. How did the war affect your family?

A. I was the oldest of 7 children – 16yrs old in 1939. My father was not called up as he was over 40yrs of age and in poor health. The three oldest children (myself and two brothers) served in the RAF and Royal Navy respectively. The elder of my brothers did 4 trips to Murmansk in Russia on convoy duties. Those trips were extremely dangerous and uncomfortable. He also took part in the D-Day landings in close support bombardment.
The four youngest children lived at home in Romford, spending many a night in the air raid shelter in the garden, and going to school as possible. My mother was not called up for factory work as she had children at home under 14yrs of age.
No-one in our family was killed or injured during the war; In this respect we were very lucky as the family suffered the air raids and the two oldest children were actively engaged in the fighting.

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J H Allen
May 1995

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It is fairly well known that Bomber Command lost over 55,000 aircrew killed in the Second World War. Perhaps not so well known is that over 6,000 aircrew were killed in training. There can be little doubt that most operational aircrew were lost to enemy action. Possibly a large proportion of trainees and some operational crews were lost because the pilot failed to interpret or believe his blind flying instruments:- Airspeed indicator, Artificial horizon, Climb & descent indicator, Altimeter, Directional gyro and Turn and bank indicator. In cloud or pitch darkness it is impossible to determine one's positional attitude by human senses alone.
The following account shows how one crew survived several nasty moments because the pilot took blind-flying seriously and the crew applied the disciplines taught in training. The operation described was one of thirty-nine that the crew flew together.

In producing a Squadron history it is appropriate to include descriptions of operations as experienced by individuals and crews. This account makes no pretence to be anything but factual; the events described were at the time not considered out of the ordinary; certainly not worthy of serious presentation in the mess. Many experienced bomber crew members may well say that they experienced far greater trauma; and they should be believed. For a description of a rough trip the reader is referred to the account of Plt Off Cyril Barton VC of 578 Sqn; target Nuremberg, 30 March 1944.

Rising generations may nonetheless be interested in trying to imagine the conditions described. As in so many situations there are lucky people and lucky aircraft – in this case a happy combination. The aircraft was a Halifax III, B-Baker, no. LW473 which survived the war completing 91 operations. The crew contained at least two 'lucky' members, (the sort of people who get knocked down by an ambulance) and flew twenty operations in her.
The other factors that mattered were crew training, and crew discipline based largely on crew confidence e.g. keep quite unless you have something worth saying; stick to the drills and procedures.

Although considered part of the job at the time experiences such as described can have strange long-term effects. Fifty year on the pilot's wife still tells him about three times a year that he has spent the night thrashing about and shouting, and cannot be woken – yet he wakes with no memory of disturbed dreams.

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12 August 1944 Pilot Plt Off J H Allen

Take-off for Russelsheim was 2120hrs in LW473, B-Baker, with time on target 0016hrs. A routine run to the target, some opposition, the trailing aerial taken off by an unseen aircraft passing below. No moon, pitch dark. As we approached the target the bomb-aimer gave a course correction to enable us to bomb the target indicators (TIs) as instructed by the Master Bomber (M/B). The navigator (Joe) immediately said that we would miss the target by three miles if we altered course. This posed a dilemma as standing orders laid down that the M/B's instructions were to be followed even if the TIs were clearly wrong. Even so crews were prepared to disobey the M/B and on this night one crew did (Fg Off Townsend, pilot, who brought back the only photo of the factory being hit). Recce photos next day showed open fields three miles from the target heavily bombed!

There was of course heavy flak opposition in the target area, but the crew were not overly concerned as we had seen it all before. Myself and the bomb-aimer were concerned to find the target as there was no point in making such effort to deliver the exports if they did not get to the right address.
I asked the bomb-aimer (Phil) if he could identify the factory and if so go for it. However the glare from the incendiaries was blinding, so the M/B's instructions were followed. The navigator was cross and asked why we bothered to bring him along, then gave the course out of the target area.
We were all glad to leave as there was a lot of exciting activity around.

Part of the tactics of the bomber stream was to alter height at various points along the homeward route, usually between 18,000 and 8,000ft. Hopefully this 'would confuse the enemy'. Heard that before? At 0120hrs somewhere over Belgium B-Baker was in climbing power on such a leg when without warning both port engines cut dead. The aircraft swung violently to port, and I found myself instinctively pushing the control column hard forward with right stick and rudder at the same time asking the flight engineer (Geordie) to check fuel to the port motors (as they say at Courts Martial “or words to that effect”). In fact in something approaching a high pitched scream! The blind-flying instruments previously so well behaved now looked decidedly sick, the artificial horizon at 45deg, altimeter unwinding rapidly and gyrocompass turning steadily, turn & bank needles slammed into the left hand corners with the airspeed approaching the world record: again the instructors’ voice clamoured, “Believe the instruments”. As control was regained the engines burst into life and with balanced power back the situation could be reviewed. The aircraft was below 8,000ft and 90deg off course. The incident had occupied about 10secs on the clock (and taken 10 years out of my life). On resuming course the engineer was asked if he had let the tank run dry – both engines were feeding from one tank, which was the correct drill. He was emphatic that this was not so, but had changed tanks as soon as the engines cut. There was no argument among the crew, nor was the matter referred to again. It could have easily been due to flak damage.

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After a minute or two temperatures had come down, knees and hands stopped shaking and thoughts turned to bacon and eggs in two hours time. At 0130hrs (ten minutes gone) I saw flashes by the starboard wing and called “Fighter, flashes to starboard”. The rear gunner (Eric) called back laconicly, [sic] “it's not a fighter it's flak and it's all around us”. As each shell burst into many pieces there was a lot of metal flying about. I now carried out a diving turn to port, lost 2,000ft and climbed up again, resuming course.
All seemed comfortable back in the friendly darkness until the wireless operator (Ron) seated immediately below the pilot came on to the intercom and said quite quietly, “Al, port outer's on fire”. There can be few other phrases which produce so much instant worry. A quick look showed a streamer of fire. Reaction was instant as only drill can be. Throttle slammed shut, feathering button punched – time 3/5sec. The engineer was now alongside me and said, “Shall I press the fire extinguisher?” I said “NO!” and the engineer held off.

Why did I say No? Because the instructors had stressed this drill and the lesson was absorbed. You can't [underlined] practice [/underlined] fire drill with real fear present.
As the propellor [sic] feathered the engine stopped and the wireless operator reported that the fire had died. Had it not done so [underlined] then [/underlined] the extinguisher would have been used; the last chance.
The really important point here is that in the moment of high stress the engineer [underlined] asked [/underlined] if he should use the extinguisher. Crew discipline isn't a matter of shooting people at dawn: and crew drills need no remembering.
With the fire out and the instruments getting back into proper order power was increased on the remaining three engines to maintain speed in the stream; the engineer checked fuel to use more from the port wing tanks, and parachutes were returned to stowages.
The navigator advised that there was still 30 minutes to go before crossing the enemy coast, and we would then set course for Woodbridge emergency landing ground.
The crew had now been badly frightened three times in less than a quarter of an hour. The worry, sweat, trembling, parched mouths and throats gradually subsided to something like normal fear of something else going wrong. What other damage had been done? The port inner was now surging, or was it?
The next half hour was a long one; there was no knowing what other damage had been done, but at least there was no injury among the crew. I was certainly praying fervently – not a sudden conversion this being the [sic] our 31st operation – just 'Dear God get us back, be with us please'. I also gave some thought to my wife, married just four weeks earlier on St Swithin's Day.

Eventually the navigator said that we were crossing the coast and the let-down into Woodbridge began. The aircraft was now in thick cloud, but with good Gee reception an accurate homing was possible.
At 1500ft the aircraft broke cloud and almost immediately two searchlights came on producing an inverted 'V' marking the emergency runway.

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B-Baker was now over the runway at 1000ft; I was calling “Darkie” on the emergency frequency and being given clearance to land. Some two minutes later we were down on the runway. The landing was not the best I'd ever done; but the sense of relief was palpable. The following day I noted in my diary, 'Landed (?) 0226hrs. Shaken up a bit. Nerves stretched'.
At the end of the runway a Jeep was waiting to guide us to dispersal. Some 50 aircraft followed B-Baker into Woodbridge that night, some with dead and wounded crew members.

As one would expect the organisation was excellent. We were received kindly, fed and accommodated without fuss and generally made to feel welcome. In the meantime other crews were being received and cared for with much more attention, as the crew of B-Baker had had a relatively easy trip; no-one was hurt.

Before departing (by train) the next day we checked to find the cause of the fire. The oil cooler situated below and at the rear of the radial engine had been smashed allowing oil to be pumped out into the exhaust flame. The ensuing comet-like tail must have been gratifying to the flak crews!

This crew completed a further eight operations without personal injury.
The lessons learned in training: blind-flying, crew discipline based on confidence in each other, together with total attention from our Guardian Angel paid off.

Abbreviations used:

u/t under training

SFTS Service flying training school

OTU Operational training unit

TIs Target indicators

M/B Master Bomber

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Aircraft B-Baker, LW473

On 4 July '44 the Squadron was detailed to attack a flying bomb base at St. Martin l'Hortier in France, a daylight mission on a nice easy target. Fine sunny day with no troubles to crease the brow. Bit of flak after starting to trespass, otherwise a smooth run to “Bomb-doors open” then an almighty thump which literally shook everybody. The instrument panel immediately reported sick with the gyro instruments out of action.

A quick check over the intercom confirmed no-one injured. The bomb-sight was OK so the run was continued and the target attacked. Course was set for home after clearing the target. No great immediate problem - daylight, in clear air with good visibility.
Damage assessment indicated that a piece of shrapnel had entered the fuselage a few inches in front of the pilot's windscreen and had been stopped by the solid brass gyroscope of the artificial horizon, making rather a mess of the back of the blind-flying panel. However the airspeed indicator and altimeter seemed to be working so there was no great anxiety and we continued fairly comfortably giving me time to contemplate the point that had the aircraft been flying 12inches lower the shrapnel would have entered via the windscreen and been stopped by the inside of my skull. As we approached the English coast the cloud cover below thickened to 10/10ths and the starboard outer engine began running roughly. The flight engineer (Geordie) reported that it was suffering low oil pressure and high temperature; he recommended immediate feathering of the propellor [sic] (or words to that effect). The prop feathered OK and attention was turned to the question of what to do next.

Standing Orders dictated that if engine damage was sustained south of The Wash the aircraft should land as soon as possible as there was no way of knowing of possible damage to other engines.
We had a text book problem; the answer was clear.

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In 1944 the Bomber Command emergency call was “Hello Darkie” (today's “Mayday”). Darkie was called and an airfield answered at once giving a course to steer and runway heading (around 240 mag).

The aircraft descended on this heading in thick cloud with a worried pilot balancing it horizontally on the turn & bank needles which may or may not be working, fully aware that not-so-funny positions can be achieved in dense cloud. However all was well, cloud base was broken at 1500ft with:- wonder of wonders a big fat runway dead ahead!! A bit close admittedly, but nothing that couldn't be accommodated with closed throttles, full flap and undercarriage down and a 50deg nose-down approach with a horrified flight engineer looking at the runway through the perspex roof of the cockpit.
A rather fast approach (say 40% above normal), brakes on as soon as the tail gunner had landed and held hard on as the runway got shorter.
As the aircraft stopped figures with wheelbarrows and shovels were seen running to the sides of the runway. A new section was being laid; we stopped just before the wet concrete, brake drums at approximately the same temperature as the crews' brows.

We had landed at Farnborough – and everyone concerned was surprised.

Our first concern was to telephone Wg Cdr Wilkerson to say that we hadn't lost one of his planes – just mislaid it. He didn't mind as it would come back again.

We returned to Burn by train next day.

Out aircraft returned to Burn a week later with new instruments, a few patches and a new engine.

So ended trip 19.

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Monday 11 September 1944 Lovely Summer Day
Aircraft: Halifax III, B-Baker, LW473

Briefing was at 1330hrs with take-off at 1555hrs which gave the crew just on two and a half hours to think about the target – the synthetic oil plant at Gelsenkirchen in the Ruhr Valley.
A daylight trip down Happy Valley on a clear sunny evening was not a Sunday School outing.
The crew of B-Baker had additional reasons to be concerned. Their original mid-upper gunner having done thirty trips with them (his second tour) had departed. Another gunner, F Sgt Wilkinson, had been allocated to the crew for the last few trips of his tour, [underlined] and this would be his final trip [/underlined] He too was more than usually worried.

There were certain points in a crew's tour of operations that were regarded as particularly dangerous ('dicey' in the jargon of the day): The first trip together, the 13th, any trip on which an 'odd-bod’ ie not a regular crew member was carried, and the last trip either for the crew as a whole or any individual member. F Sgt Wilkinson had flown seven trips with our crew – and as this was our 37th operation we were nearing the end of our tour. I spoke quietly to the worried mid-upper saying, “We've simple GOT to get you back come hell or high water”. The combination of an odd-bod on his final trip, and down Happy Valley on a sunny afternoon was not cause for rejoicing.

Met briefing had promised a smooth flight there and back with clear skies, and good visibility in the target area.

On the climb out from base I engaged George, the automatic pilot. This was not my normal practice; the reasons now were firstly to be able to concentrate better on the large number of aircraft around (379 heading the same way) and also to try to be that much less tired when approaching the target area. All went according to plan with no undue worries until the turn-in for the last 10mins, the bombing run. Looking towards the target I commented, “Met have got it wrong again; there's a great black cloud over the target – and at our height”. A minute or so later I realised that the Met [underlined] hadn't [/underlined] got it wrong: the sky was cloudless. The 'black cloud' was in fact smoke from flak, so thick that it formed a dense block bracketing the height band of the bombers, (17-20,000ft).
Exploding shells twinkled within this black block.

I was now flying manually, virtually rubbing wingtips with lots of other aircraft, with more above and below. Piccadilly Circus at rush hour had nothing on this.
There was no alternative to flying straight through; as the course was good only minor changes were called by the bomb-aimer which could be accommodated in the press of aircraft. This was no run of the mill trip; at least in the dark one didn't [underlined] see [/underlined] the extent of the flak and rarely saw another aircraft. (What had we missed?).
This lot was not just scary – it was near terrifying; and in addition bombs were falling past from aircraft above.

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B-Baker ran in and bombed then kept a steady course until the camera had operated to film the bombs hitting the ground. This time was once described as 'akin to standing naked in Piccadilly – and you are NOT dreaming'. (The photos later showed the bombs straddling the aiming point).

Then GET OUT!! We were in a swirling circuit of aircraft trying to avoid collision and with the flak still in close attendance. As B-Baker set course away from the target a Halifax ahead and above rolled to port and dived vertically passing dead ahead at about 100yd. Reaction was instant - mouth dry, sweat bursting out on my face, fingers locked hard on the control column 'spectacles', almost physically sick into my oxygen mask. The bile rose into my mouth, to be forced down again (care to join in the taste?). The bomb-aimer reported that the tail of this aircraft broke off and also reported two other aircraft going down. Within all this activity I found myself worrying about getting the mid-upper safely home; of how ironic for him to be shot down on his last trip, and also asking myself what the hell I was doing three miles up in the sky being shot at when there were better jobs going – like Orderly Room Clerk.

Some ten minutes out of the target area there seemed to be more sky per aircraft and life was generally quieter.
A check round the crew revealed everyone still in place no-one hurt and no apparent damage; (this was found after landing). Temperatures returned to somewhere near normal the coffee flasks were opened and sampled, everyone thankful for some relief from the physical and mental effort (and also to allow me to wash my mouth and throat). It had been a long half-hour.

The rest of the homeward run was without incident. A very relieved crew landed at 2025hrs none more so than the mid-upper gunner. The rest of the crew now had something else to think about – the next two trips would entail carrying an 'odd-bod' as a gunner, and the second of those trips would probably be the final one of the tour.

Final notes: Bomber Command War Diaries (by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt) record, “5 Halifaxes of 4 Group and 2 Pathfinder Lancasters were lost. These losses were caused by flak or 'friendly' bombs”.

And every 578 Sqn aircraft on this raid was damaged by flak.

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[underlined] SABOTAGE ON 578 SQUADRON AT BURN [/underlined]

On the night of 24/25 July 1944 Halifax Lk”C” LL548 took off on its way to attack factories at Stuttgart. Earlier in the day the crew had given the aircraft a flight test and the very experienced crew captained by F/Sgt J Allen had given it a clean bill of health, including the oxygen supply and the distant reading (DR) compass.

On reaching 10,000ft oxygen masks were clipped on and the oxygen supply switched on. The Mid-Upper, nearing the end of his second tour, reported that he could feel no puff of oxygen as he had during the test flight. The Flight Engineer discovered that the oxygen tube supplying the M/U had been cut, but he was able to rig up an emergency supply from one of the crash positions. Unfortunately it would allow the gun-turret to turn only 180 degrees.
A little later the navigator asked the pilot to check his DR compass which did not agree with the Navigator's compass, and it was decided to ignore the DR compass (thus flying on the basic magnetic compass).

Finally nearing the target the Rear-gunner reported that his hydraulics system was out of action; thus the guns and turret could be moved only by hand.

They flew on to the target then back to Burn, to report all these matters at de-briefing. Next day they were informed that the M/U oxygen tube had been cut with something like an electrician's wire-cutter, the rear turret's hydraulic system had been loaded with iron filings as also had the DR compass. All this had been done while the flying crew and the ground crew had been eating a meal prior to take-off. From that date all ground crew were required to stay with the aircraft until take-off, and eat later.

There was no doubt whatever that “C-Charlie” had been deliberately and very skilfully sabotaged. The official supposition was that it was performed by someone coming from the road nearby (through a hawthorn hedge 8ft high and 4ft thick!).

But whoever it was had to know which aircraft were operating that evening, and when they would be unattended. They also needed a highly professional knowledge of the Halifax. The sabotage was designed to be undiscovered until late in the fight, [sic] while in the event of cancellation the evidence could be easily removed or repaired. The saboteur also needed solitary authorised access to the interior of the aircraft so that his presence would not be challenged.

Other problems met by this same crew on operations, in a cluster of three aircraft were:
9 May “D” Bombs failed to release 'due to electrical fault'
22 May “C” Bombs failed to release 'due to electrical fault'
24 June “B” Air position indicator U/S 'due to electrical fault' AND DR compass became U/S 'due to electrical fault'
10 Sept “B” Bomb-sight U/S at target 'due to electrical fault'

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If this person sabotaged one aircraft it [sic] likely that he did the same to other aircraft on the Squadron, sending them off track to be easily picked up by enemy radar, anti-aircraft batteries and night fighters, and with both turrets out of action unable to defend themselves.

A few days before the Stuttgart operation the Squadron had set off to attack a target at Bottrop (26 aircraft, 20/21 July). Six failed to return to Burn. Two collided in mid-air near Hull with the loss of all crew members, but the other four were lost over Europe, with the loss of 22 crew, the most disastrous episode in the history of the Squadron, while the total losses that night in Bomber Command were 7 Halifaxes (B.Cmd War Diaries, page 547). One has to consider seriously the possibility that the high losses on 578 that night were due to sabotage.

Colin Joseph Dudley
August 1994

ADELAIDE Sth Australia

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[underlined] Memories of 578 Squadron at Burn 1944 [/underlined]

Colin Dudley Flt Lt DFC Navigator

Among the luckiest days of my life is the day I met Jim Allen, my pilot through 39 operations over Europe trying to bring peace to our suffering nation by destroying Nazism and defeating their armies as quickly as possible.
He was also my pilot through Operational Training and Conversion Units which were quite as dangerous as ops over Europe.

Jim was not my first pilot. I had done an OTU and Conversion to Halifaxes with a crew that I regarded as the greatest. The pilot was an antique dealer, an old man 30 years of age, while the Bomb-Aimer was an Irish poet, Louis Chamberlain, and the others equally interesting. But on our final night exercise at Con. Unit I got lost. In my EFTS in South Africa I had emerged as top student. But navigation by map-reading in daylight in perfect weather in South Africa was vastly different from night-flying in British weather at 18,000 feet, using H2S, in which I had little confidence. I was also wearing an unfamiliar oxygen mask as my own had been taken in error that night. Whatever the reason, my navigation was a failure and the following day the C.O advised me to take further training, which I certainly felt in need of, and my place in the crew was taken by a spare navigator looking for a crew, while I was sent back to OTU to find a new crew. I was deeply depressed and disheartened.

Then I was introduced to Jim and his newly picked crew. We were all NCOs and all under twenty-one except an old chap of twenty-three, the Mid-Upper, who was forgiven this fault as he was entering on his second tour. Eventually after miraculous escapes from certain death we arrived at Burn and I, who had now done two OTUs and two Conversion Units, was probably the best-trained navigator in Bomber Command not yet on Ops. Furthermore, to my great relief I never had to use H2S again. The Gee-Box was my friend everfaithful, [sic] and my guiding star. It could not mistake one city for another, nor could it be homed onto by night-fighters as it was discovered H2S could be.

Thirty-nine ops later we all said goodbye to Burn without a single scratch on our persons, although I at least had my digestion ruined for years after by the combination of stress, irregular hours and an unremitting diet of fried bacon, sausages and eggs, Which reminds me of the incredible hilarity that marked our meals on returning to base. We would laugh our heads off for an hour before making way to our beds where we found it difficult to get to sleep for the sound of engines that continued to ring in our ears. It always took two hours after landing before we got to bed, as it also took two hours from briefing to take-off. The shortest sortie of four hours therefore always occupied us for eight hours, whilst the longest, of eight hours, kept us busy for twelve hours.

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The next that I heard of my old crew, piloted by Bill Hogg, was that they had gone missing (got lost?) on their first sortie, and later I heard that they were in a German prison camp. Quite remarkably, on VE Day, when like everyone else, I made my way to London and home, the first person I met on getting off the train at St. Pancras was my old rear gunner just having landed in England after two years of Nazi hospitality.

Jim was not only a brilliant pilot and a lucky one (better to be born lucky than rich), but he had, rather uniquely I imagine, begun is training for aircrew as a Navigator and he was very quick to check any of my courses and ETAs, (and there has never been a Navigator who hasn't made at least one modest error in his career, though I can't remember a particular instance, and I double-checked all my calculations). I on the other hand, had begun my training straight into Navigation, with my Observer's wings, and knew virtually nothing about piloting.

Jim was very 'highly-strung' and lived perpetually on a high level of adrenalin. He also felt very keenly his responsibility for the lives of his crew. The whole crew had absolute confidence in his skill, courage and intelligence, but some of the crew found his intensity hard to live with at times. But they couldn't ever fly with anyone else, although on one occasion they came to me to try to persuade Jim to ease up and relax a bit, (a lot!) which he very sensibly did.

Jim (or Al) has described his feelings in graphic detail when flying over the target, braving the flak and dodging other aircraft. But while all this excitement was going on, I in my curtained Navigator's corner was busy checking the Estimated Time of Arrival, entering details in my log and calculating the course out of the target area; and seeing nothing of the War in the Air.
The more Jim sank down in his seat hiding from the shrapnel the higher his voice rose and the faster his speech. The Flight Engineer also had a rather disturbing habit of suddenly shouting through the intercom at moments of high tension with some dire information about engines being on fire:- 'HEY, AL!' I therefore made it my business to speak very calmly and slowly into the intercom when instructing the pilot, as though I was lazing on the beach and sleepily commenting on the nice weather. I also used the correct procedure – “Navigator to Pilot”. I hoped thereby to cool the atmosphere. Of course it was easier for me to appear calm and relaxed or at least to sound like it, for over the target I could see nothing except a glimpse of flares and bewildering lights over the bomb-aimer's shoulder.

But although my voice may have sounded calm, my knees were shaking with at [sic] a tremendous rate and with great vigour while my hands were trembling so much that I could hardly write at all as I tried to record everything in my log and work on my chart. In fact one could always tell from my log when we had crossed the enemy coast because my

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writing immediately became a bit shaky until it became almost illegible over the target. Coming home, crossing the enemy coast the writing became neat and clear once more. As for the parachute, which was supposed to rest beside one, I always wore it clipped on my chest. The idea of trying to catch a parachute flying around the aircraft as we spun out of control with only one wing did not seem a very hopeful exercise.

On one occasion (our 37th op, 11 Sept) a daylight raid deep in Happy Valley, to Gelsenkirchen, Jim invited me to come up to stand beside the pilot's seat as we approached the target, which was clearly visible to the bomb-aimer from about 50 miles away. So Jim called me up saying, “You've never seen the flak, Joe. You've nothing to do just now. Come up and have a look”. So up I went. Unforgettable! All those black blobs suddenly appearing from nowhere like magic. All the aircraft around us, one suddenly diving out of control, – one or two parachutes blossoming into life.

Then, for some reason (a little bored perhaps!) I looked above me, and there about ten or fifteen feet above my head the sky was blocked out by a whole bomb-bay full of bombs, bomb-doors wide open. Our bomb-aimer was calling “Steady, Steady left, left, Steady”. I punched Jim on the shoulder and pointed upwards. He took one glance and immediately threw the old Halibag into a steep dive to port. The Bomb-aimer yelled “What the hell!” Jim levelled out and as we found an even keel the bombs above dropped past our starboard wing, it seemed within inches. A few seconds later the B/A called “Bombs gone”. Then the interminable wait, flying straight and level for the camera to do its stuff. As Jim has said, our photos showed our load straddling the target, so our friends above must have fallen short.

That was my only view of the outside world over a target, and it was according to Jim the most fearsome of our whole tour. But what made Jim call me up? And what made me look up at that moment? Another one, or two seconds at the most and we and the aircraft would have been obliterated by “friendly bombs”. Many of our Squadron came home with 'friendly holes', and one was certainly lost as photographs were to prove. All this was reported at our debriefing and passed on to HQ Bomber Command. But at our next briefing the CO read out a letter from the Boffins at HQ in which they stated that damage from from [sic] “friendly bombs” was 'mathematically impossible!' Actual words! Never to be forgotten. Amazed and bewildered merriment (?) from all present.

What our wingless boffins did not appreciate was that in daylight navigation is much easier and more accurate than at night, and that therefore far more aircraft arrive over the target on track and on time. Also the target is seen far ahead, to greater accuracy; and also that sheer fear, as with ground troops, tends to make men under fire bunch together.

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All this led to much closer concentration of aircraft over the target.
There was little that one could do about it except to keep an eye on what was going on overhead, and perhaps below, but Jim, being a sensible fellow kept our old Halibag on the outside edge of the herd of aircraft approaching the target in daylight, not only to avoid bombs from above, but also because he knew that the A/A guns would be shooting at the centre of the clearly visible mass of aircraft.

Although none of the crew suffered a single scratch in 39 ops, many of our colleagues died and our aircraft suffered damage, sometimes severe enough to require landing away from Burn. Such landings were quite pleasant for they required us to travel back to Burn by rail through London, where Jim and I both had fiancees working. A quick phone call, and when we all arrived at Waterloo, Liverpool Street or wherever – with no caps, collars or ties, to the chagrin of the Service Police – there we would find our lovely laughing girls running to meet us, rayon covered legs flashing down the platform. Very good for morale! One memorable landing was made at the “Secret” experimental base at Farnborough – by mistake! It was the 4th of July, returning from a daytime visit to a place called St Martin L'Hortier. We were flying above ten tenths cloud over Kent seeking a bomber-sized aerodrome. Our “Darkie”* call was answered by a 'drome south of London and we made our way there until I was able to give the pilot a Gee fix over the answering 'drome, a fix that would in this area have been within a quarter of a mile. Receiving instructions from Ground Control we descended through the thick low cloud to find the runway dead ahead. Still speaking to Ground Control Jim with his duff engine and smashed instrument panel landed safely, only to discover that we were not on the aerodrome with which he was communicating, but at a station which had no Emergency service therefore without knowledge of our existence, being an independent experimental station, until we suddenly arrived out of the low cloud and landed in front of the Control Tower! Meanwhile our 'Darkie' aerodrome about a mile away was wondering what on earth had happened to us. Being driven away from our crippled Halifax we were intrigued to see little fighters with no engines! Our first encounter with Jets. But there was no way our pilot coming out of low cloud with a smashed instrument panel and a duff engine, runway almost underneath him could have known it was an unmapped aerodrome only a mile or so from the one he was talking to. Farnborough would have had no identification letters, just as it would not be listening on the emergency frequency.

But to return to our fiancees in London. They of course were suffering the horrors of the V1 Flying bombs and the V2 rockets, both of them massive and terrifying. My own girl (whom I have known since childhood and to whom I have now been married for nearly fifty years) after nights in the air raid shelter would be travelling every day from her home in south-east London to her office in the City of London by overland train as crowded as any modern Japanese underground train, the train stopping as the roar of the V1s overhead cut their engines

* Bomber Cmd emergency call. Equivalent to today's “Mayday”

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and began their silent descent to blow as many people as possible to pieces. Flying out one night over Kent towards the V1 launching sites I once saw a little red light passing below us towards London, the back end of a V1 Flying Bomb, and felt great satisfaction in knowing that I was on my way to destroy their launching sites and storage depots.

Forty years later I watched and recorded a T.V. programme called “Wings of the Storm”, concerning the Australian contribution to Bomber Command, which was massive, immensely courageous and skillful, [sic] and I heard Air Marshal Don Bennett say that “Germany had 10,000, I repeat ten thousand! Flying Bombs to descend on London in one week! If Bomber Command had not gone to a little place called Watten in northern France and had not destroyed that entire stock in one night [underlined] we would have lost the war[/underlined]!” The terrible thing is that Australian aircrew in England were receiving white feathers from people in Australia who thought they should be in Australia, where there were no aircraft and no sign of a possible invasion. What would have happened to Australia if Hitler and his SS and Gestapo had defeated the Allies, as they very nearly did, may be left to the imagination.

Behind all the tragic drama of ops from Burn, a few human dramas:-

One of our crew, our Mid-Upper on his second tour, was having trouble with his girl in Scotland, a Scottish nurse. She couldn't make up her mind to marry. The rest of the crew were concerned that our colleague, very much in love, was not in a FIT STATE OF MIND to concentrate on finding night fighters, so we concocted a letter, I think I was asked to frame it, to his nurse telling her of the situation and asking her to do something about it and give us all a better chance of surviving. She did so, she said “Yes” and they both lived happily ever after, as did the rest of us.

Another member of the crew had decided to get married during the tour. He was a strict teetotaller and non-blasphemer. His strongest expletive was “Flipping”. Eventually our crew were given a few days leave and our friend went home to finalise arrangements for the wedding. Arriving back in camp on my return I found my hopeful bridegroom in the middle of the Sergeants Mess as pissed as a newt and cursing the whole world in the strongest possible language. I got him back to our billet and soon we were back over Germany and eventually I attended the wedding. It was only long afterwards that I learnt that on his leave my friend had discovered that his future father-in-law who had a respectable income and was to pay for the wedding, was quite penniless. In fact he had been keeping another family quite unknown to his own wife and family.

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All this was discovered when the future bride and groom went to pay for the wedding goodies that had been ordered. No wonder our mate got sloshed. But he said nothing and we went on to complete a long and successful tour, always bang on target and bang on time. Three of the crew commissioned and all gonged except for the poor Rear-Gunner, – the best gunner on the Squadron. Although he had picked out a number of night fighters he had never fired his guns as the enemy had never seen us. Perhaps they were homing on the other poor so-and-sos who were using H2S, the fighter pilots watching their radar instead of the night sky around them. On our last op however, which was low level to attack the German troop positions at Calais our pilot, Jim, flew back and forth below the level of the cliffs, (the Master Bomber having cancelled the bombing due to the very low cloud base) so that the gunners could fire at the searchlights and gun emplacements and anything else that looked nasty; and at least tell their grandchildren that they had attacked the enemy.

This final sortie to Calais was particularly difficult for me, for we flew out in heavy rain under clouds that became lower and lower until the pilot was able to check my watch by reading the time off the clock on Maidstone Town Hall! Halifaxes may have been reasonably waterproof on the ground, but at 180mph the rain drove through the bodywork as though it was wire netting and my chart table and log were soon under half an inch of water. Not the easiest way to navigate an “easy” op.

The attack on Le Havre on the 9th September was a disaster. The noise on the R/T was horrendous, but had to be suffered in case of recall. In fact as we approached the target the Master Bomber aborted the attack with the codeword 'Applepie' But as we turned away we heard him repeating “APPLEPIE, APPLEPIE” more and more desperately until finally he cried, “For God's sake stop bombing!” It would seem that Allied troops on the ground had moved forward unknowingly or unexpectedly, which must have resulted from a lack of co-ordination or communication somewhere, but it also meant that someone in the air was not hearing the Master Bomber's words either because they had switched off their R/T or perhaps they were on a different wavelength. According to the official record Mosquitoes and heavy bombers went out on the operation, but the bombing was aborted before the heavy bombers reached the target, which suggests that the Mosquitoes were the problem. Anyway our problem was to jettison some of the bombload. The problem there was that not only had had [sic] we navigators been given areas of the English Channel which were prohibited for such purposes that day, but all the way out the W/Op was passing me new co-ordinates extending the prohibited areas until only one square mile (a tiangle [sic] actually) was left. When the pilot asked me where to go to jettison I gave him a course for this little spot and eventually a very clear Gee fix over it. But below was ten tenths cloud, so Jim said, “I'm going down to have a look and make sure”. We came out of cloud at 1,300ft to cries of amazement! We were surrounded by warships all firing at us. A quick press on the bomb release and up we zoomed into the cloud, but not before some of the bombs exploded in the sea and bounced us around. Back at Burn everyone was closely questioned about what happened at the target and where bombs had been jettisoned.

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Our living accommodation on the Squadron was a Nissen hut remote from the central administration. Because of this remoteness, and perhaps because of orders from a wise Commanding Officer, our hut was never visited by an Orderly Officer nor by anyone else except the coke cart to fuel our stove in the centre of the hut. This situation suited me in particular for I have always been one of the untidiest people on Earth. As it happens I had taken up a couple of correspondence courses before arriving at Burn, but the books didn't catch up with me until I was on ops. Before enlisting for Aircrew I had been at art school with the aim of becoming an art teacher, though with some hope of becoming an architect. Therefore I had entered into a course on the History and Appreciation of Painting and another on History and Methods of Architecture. My bed-space, in the corner of the hut was strewn with books and papers, under the bed, on the bed, around the bed. My desk was the hut card-table propped up between the bed and the corrugated wall of the hut. I still have the essays on the development of Egyptian temples, Greek and Roman styles, and portrait painting as well as the books I used. One great advantage of being in the Armed Services for a student such as myself was that such correspondence courses were available free of charge and also we had access to all local libraries, even in South Africa. I was also freely able to attend evening classes in art schools where ever I happened to be.

But tragedy overtook my architectural ambitions. On my 21st birthday, which I celebrated on 13 April 1944 by going to a Sergeants Mess Dance (ruining a few WAAF stockings, and trying to drink my first Guiness [sic] – which was over-ripe and frothed all over the bar), my parents gave me a fine set of Architectural Drafting instruments in a hansome [sic] chamois leather case.
Although I had never had anything stolen in the RAF I decided to take my birthday present with me tucked into my battledress top during a bus trip to Pontefract. Returning to Burn I ran for the bus only to discover immediately that my case was missing; although I jumped off, ran back, searched madly, reported to the police and bus company I was never to see my beloved instruments again, and that was the end of my career as an architect. But as an art teacher I was never out of work and eventually became Head of a University Department.

At the end of the tour, all nervous wrecks, the whole crew felt the need for a long rest from each others company. On the other hand we did not want to fly with any other crews, so we voted to apply for an immediate second tour on Special Duties (spies, saboteurs and all that). But by September 1944 the Second Front was well on its way and spies weren't needed any more. So we were all sent off in different directions and never met all together again.

Colin Joseph Dudley (Joe)
August 1994

ADELAIDE Sth Austrilia



Jim Allen and Joe Dudley, “Six chapters of wartime memories,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 14, 2024,

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