Letter from Bill Akrill to his mother



Letter from Bill Akrill to his mother


Bill catches up with home news. Comments about cold and rain conditions and heating not being turned on until 1st November. Writes some course details and crewing up with bombadier.

Provides a detailed description of his and others experiences in decompression chamber including anoxia. Mentions recent operations to Milan. Enclosed is a medical confidential sick report concerning decompression training dated 17 August 1942 but with Bill's signatures on the back, showing how it changed during the decompression chamber experience.




Temporal Coverage



Ten page handwritten letter and two sided sick report


IBCC Digital Archive


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Sgt Akrill,
c/o Sgts’ Mess,
R.A.F. Station,
Upper Heyford,
Tuesday 27.10.42
Dearest Mum,
Very many thanks for letter which turned up this morning and for all news therein. Oh, the journey was O.K. I shall go via Kings X next time. Its further & takes longer perhaps but I needn’t leave so early.
Glad Mary’s cold is getting better. Pity about the soldiers going just as they were getting so helpful. Maybe the next lot there will come a bit. Well done Miss M. getting all the trees done. Wonder if she got any more mushrooms. I’m counting on finding bags of bluestalks when I come again. If you go to Kelsey give my love to everybody. I shall be writing shortly. But while you are there why not stay a bit longer. It will be a change for you
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Remember me to the Henrys if you see them. Sorry I didn’t see the S/Ldr. If you do see him tell him I [underlined] may [/underlined] be coming along to join him ere lang!!
Everybody’s shivering here. We’re not allowed heating until Nov. 1st. and for a day or two it’s just poured. In the Married Quarters we tried lighting a fire with pinched coke and remains of a wooden plate rack but it wouldn’t go. I got my feet wet and had to use my soaked top-coat as an extra blanket on my bed beneath water systems coppers and the kitchen sink! However tonight we moved out of there & most of [deleted] the [/deleted] [inserted] our [/inserted] Navigators are together in a room in Barrack Blocks. It would have been alright in M.Q. if there’d been hot water & a few other things – just a few of us together. My new bed’s not half as comfortable & I’ve nowhere at all to keep things but I’ll find more room later I dare say. Hope to get sheets soon too.
Been getting lectures since last Thursday. Don’t suppose I shall work any harder than
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my conscience thinks I should. Not a case of passing exams and pleasing instructors now but something more like life or death so for my own and my crew’s sake I must get all the gen I can here. I’ve got one member of my crew. Ginger Ames is teaming up as Bombadier. He’s a good sort – you can’t help liking him. Very young and a proper twerp – not a streak of seriousness in him but I like him a lot. It was Ginger who used to collaborate with me in pinching carrots at the Freugh. We were lucky enough to find some growing in the gardens at M.Q!! Now, most important, I want a pilot I can like and rely on. Looking them over anxiously but of course, as captain, it’s up to them to pick their crew. A good Wop. means a lot too. It’s very exciting sorting out. Gives you something to work for having a crew.
Now I must tell you of the experience I had today. A number of us went in the Decompression Chamber. I’d better explain what this is. You know that as we go
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[underlined] 4 [/underlined]
up higher and higher the pressure becomes less and the air contains insufficient oxygen to keep life going. This has 2 effects on flying – lack of oxygen sends you incapable and finally unconscious until you pass out absolutely. Decreased pressure naturally causes swelling – fountain pens & watches burst, we get wind in the intestines, pain in forehead & cheek bones, partial blindness &c &c. excess [deleted] oxy [/deleted] nitrogen causes “bends” – horrible pain in joints. Well in the Decom. Chamber the M.O. can cut off the [deleted] Oxygen [/deleted] air to agree with varying heights.
Six of us sat in while the M.O., a medical orderly and a few others watched us from windows in the top. All had normal flying equipment – oxygen masks and [deleted] ma [/deleted] intercom headphone receivers. And then I heard that No 4 was to go up to 25,000’ without his oxygen supply plugged in until No 6 did it for him on instructions from the M.O. (he being physically incapable of doing so.) Well [underlined] I [/underlined] was No 4!!
Off we went. At 10,000’ all but me turned on
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their oxygen supply. The M.O. asked me to shuffle a pack of cards, write my signature 5 times and count backwards, missing out even numbers, from 101. All of these I did O.K. but when I tried to count again at 20,000’ I remember finding it requiring an enormous amount of concentration. I shuffled the cards again and assured the M.O. that I was feeling fine.
Then the fun began for the others. I got to 25,000’ and the M.O. took us up higher to 27,000’ I counted again tho’ I was barely conscious of doing it. They told me after that I counted all over the place and then I was asked to write my signature again (I don’t know whether I counted or wrote first actually) I thought I was doing fine and wrote the five asked for. Somehow, I got the cards into my hand when asked to shuffle again. I think somebody must have given me them. I don’t know what I did with them but the boys say they nearly died with laughing at my antics. Finally I closed my eyes happily and stroked them in my hands. Then the M.O. asked
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[underlined] 6 [/underlined]
for my oxygen on again – I was on the verge of collapsing. Well I remember finding myself with cards all over my knee but didn’t think that at all wrong and told the M.O. so. I began to recover & the M.O. asked me if I’d know [deleted] whether [/deleted] if he asked No 6 to turn on my oxygen. I told him of course I would – but I was feeling quite O.K and didn’t want it on yet! “What would you say if I said I’d already asked for it on?” said the M.O.
“You haven’t “ said I “I’m O.K so far – feel fine”
M.O. “Would you take a bet on that?”
Me “Yes, of course, anything you like”
M.O. “Would you bet me half-a-crown that I havn’t [sic] asked No 6 to turn your oxygen on?”
Me (very decidedly) “Yes!!!”
M.O. “Well look at your oxygen dial.”
I looked and was [underlined] astonished [/underlined] to find it on – absolutely dumfounded.
But I was more so when I saw my signatures. The M.O. asked me what I thought of them.
Me. “Oh they were alright, may have been just
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the tiniest bit shakey [sic] but I could do them alright”
M.O. “Would you be able to read them again?”
Me. ([underlined] very [/underlined] indignantly) “Certainly I should, sir.”
M.O. “Have a look at them.”
What a shock!! I’m enclosing them for you to see. The second 5 were at 25000 – 27.,000’ feet. The first of the 5 isn’t so bad but the monotony of doing it, so the M.O. told us, brings on a feeling of increased self-confidence & that is the result.
What an experience! It was wierd [sic] to have passed out like that. I’d never have believed it but for the proof of the oxygen supply & the signatures. It certainly proves the terrible importance of every precaution with Oxygen in the air for you’d never know that it had been cut off or that your mental-powers wern’t [sic] working & your movements not co-ordinated. Next, I saw one of my pals go thro’ something similar. It was funny. Then I peeped thro’ the window at 2 more. Their signatures were a scream to be seen being done. Far worse than mine! But my antics with
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cards seem to have been the star attraction. We had to decend [sic] very carefully as in the rarified air hollows & things had swelled – particularly the eustacian [sic] tube, as its called, of the ear – and in coming down the pressure was greater again & brought about intense pain and a liability of a burst ear drum. My ears usually give me some trouble in rapid decents. [sic] For this reason it’s fatal to fly with a cold & we’re not allowed to do so here.
Well, so much for that, don’t know whether you’re interested. We’ve had a lot of medical and first aid lectures here. Man wasn’t built for existing at those heights & many gruesome consequences may result if care isn’t taken.
What did you think of the latest Lanc. raid on Milan? We had them all over here at 1300 hrs. I’ve [underlined] never [/underlined] seen anything like it. They were hedge-hopping and where-ever you looked were great 4 engined Lancasters, & it took them ages to finish coming. They came over again at 2100, so I guessed
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that it was Italy again. All that for 3 lost. Compared with 6 months ago the losses are incredibly small but our modern aircraft are extremely good. Only the very [underlined] best [/underlined] stuff is used these days. At one time we had to send anything that would fly at all.
There’s a rumour that we may get Saturday off. I hope so. We’ll all work better for a day off and I want to get into Oxford for a few things and a haircut. Also I want to look round this wonderful town I’ve heard so much about.
Just been pleased to find that not only are the Barrack Blocks heated now but that the lounge in the mess which used to be like a refrigerator is also heated.
Food for the last week has been really good. As much as you like and its something you can enjoy too. But I’m [deleted] catious [/deleted] cautious of giving too much praise!! Some chaps trained in the lands of plenty overseas grumble like anything. Gosh they should have had some West Freugh feeding. I’m feeling
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heaps better. It really wasn’t sufficient or good enough to keep you in health. We get vitamin tablets too here so when you see me again I’ll be no end fit!!!
And I don’t think it’ll be so long before I do see you. It’s time anyway. Havn’t [sic] been home for a week!!!!
Until then, lots of love to all.
Lets here from you all.
[underlined] Bill [/underlined]
P.S. Do you remember me looking at the Oxfords flying over and saying “Get some flying hours in boys – I’ll be with you soon!”? Well so I am. A number of our pilots are from Ossington!
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[underlined] CONFIDENTIAL SICK REPORT [/underlined]
[underlined] UNIT 80 WORKS FLIGHT [/underlined]
[underlined] DATE 17-8-42 [/underlined]
[underlined] STATION Upper Heyford [/underlined]
[deleted] [indecipherable number] [/deleted] – [deleted] AC 2 [/deleted] – [deleted] [indecipherable name] [/deleted] – MoD
[date stamp]
[underlined] ORDERLY N.C.O.s SIGNATURE [signature] MEDICAL OFFICERS SIGNATURE [signature] [/underlined]
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[10 signatures]
[underlined] 1st Row [/underlined]
Without Oxygen below 10,000 ft.
[underlined] 2nd Row [/underlined]
Without Oxygen at 26,000 ft.



William Akrill, “Letter from Bill Akrill to his mother,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 4, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/18068.

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