Book 5, Return to UK

YGeachDG1394781v5.pdf

Title

Book 5, Return to UK

Description

Fifth and final diary kept by David Geach chronicling his time training and on operations. He writes about his return from Canada on the Queen Elizabeth then his training in England which began with arriving at the Posting Centre in Pannal Ash, Harrogate. He was then posted to AFU Bobbington, training on Ansons. From there he went to O.T.U. Hixon and satellite station Seighford training on Wellingtons. He then went to Flying Conversion Unit Woolfox Lodge to train on Stirlings. Once training was complete he was posted to RAF Downham Market on 623 Squadron flying Stirlings on operations. When 623 Stirling squadron was disbanded he was transferred on to Lancasters. He was posted to Flying Conversion Unit 1678 at RAF Waterbeach to train on the Lancaster and then on to RAF Witchford where he undertook operations over Germany, including a number on Berlin. Covers the period 17 March 1943 to 17 February 1944.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Contributor

Tricia Marshall
David Bloomfield

Rights

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

Format

One handwritten diary

Language

Identifier

YGeachDG1394781v5

Transcription

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GOVERNMENT OF CANADA
NO. 288
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[underlined] Wednesday 17th March. [/underlined]
Back in England again, gee! its great to be home, I don’t know how fellows must feel being overseas 10 years or so, 8 months was enough to make me feel really thrilled at the sight of old England again. Beg pardon! I should have said Scotland, for it was up the firth of Clyde we slipped and anchored off Greenock. It was a nice morning & the fields & hills looked really pleasant in the sunshine. As we slid along we were shot up by Hurricanes and Martletts from the Auxiliary Aircraft Carriers. There were quite a few of the latter, converted merchant men turned into A.C. Carriers, quite large some of them. Beside this, the usual swarm of naval craft lay around. Destroyers, & corvettes slipped past, & occasionally the sleek black hulk of a submarine would slide along; in the distance. There was a Catalina station, with quite an amount of activity going on. One of the “Cats” landed quite close to us in a flurry of foam, nice looking jobs! We anchored just by three aircraft carriers & the modern battleship Howe, there was quite an amount of Aldis flashing, but far beyond our limited 8’s. I was glad I was on guard as I had a fine view, whilst all the others weren’t allowed up on deck.
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We docked on the 15th about 3 pm and it was 24 hrs. before we got off her. Being as there were no large docks as at Boston & New York everyone had to be taken off in lighters, & there were a good few thousand to go ashore. The lighters seemed like little toys alongside the Queen Elizabeth, although in reality they were quite large two funnelled vessels. Pumping oil in was a large tanker she really was a size, a smart looking American ship, with the T of the Texaco Oil Coy. on her funnel covered by the grey war paint. We struggled into the boat in full webbing lugging the kit bag, that everyone had crammed with cigarettes, chocolates, cosmetics, & heaven knows how many with stockings, for everyone at home. Quite a delay ensued before the lighter was packed to capacity, then away she went. My God as we passed alongside the Q.E. we could get an idea of her size, she was immense. As we drew further away, & saw the cluster of ships around her, dwarfed to doll size, looking like a duck with a swarm of ducklings we realised what a prize it would make for Jerry U Boats. No wonder they had claimed to have sank her, that made us laugh when we were on it. She really had a rakish cut, though, and as we neared the dockside, gazing back through the [deleted] Deff [/deleted] half mist, I was glad I had had the opportunity of travelling on the two largest ships afloat.
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On the dockside we had the inevitable hours wait with packs, full webbing on, but being as it was our priviledge [sic] to moan we indulged in it to the full, & were cheered by it. The troop trains were drawing away and at last our turn came. Comfortable seats were taken, our mass of webbing crowded everything out of the way but nobody worried away we [deleted] wend [/deleted] went, into a lovely drizzling evening, it may sound dim, but were we glad to see the rain again, after months of continuous snow without a drop of rain. It must have appeared depressing to the Canadians, raining on their arrival, bearing out tales of the island when it always rains, that they had heard, but to us it was home & heaven. Everyone waved out of windows & from streets as we slid along, everything was so friendly. Some of the fellows tackled the canned rations they had of Beans & Hash etc. but I stuck to the Biscuit & Sweet ones. Into Glasgow we rattled, onto Edinburgh when the NAAFI gave us tea on the platform, & so to Harrogate. Here we were assembled in the [deleted] [indecipherable word] [/deleted] dim light & pushed into lorries & away we went to Pannel Ash, three miles out of Harrogate to a large school. Here we whizzed around getting bedding & filling forms and having an eagerly awaited breakfast. However I am getting tired so I’ll continue in my next entry.
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[underlined] Sunday 21st March [/underlined]
As I said we arrived here at Pannel Ash, about 5.30 AM. on the 17th & they told us to be on parade at 8 A.M. to start the whirl of kitting, form filling and heaven knows what else before we went on leave. It sounded a line of bull to us, but the magical word leave was enough to keep us moving. We rapidly discovered that there were two of the biggest b-s I have seen here, & the two most influential. No 1 the C.O. and No 2 the W.O. I can truthfully say the C.O. or Sqdn/Ldr was the most illiterate fellow I have ever seen holding a commission. They say [deleted] [indecipherable word] [/deleted] he was an N.C.O. pre-war & just got a lucky push. The W.O. vies with him for our hatred, he is a fat red faced guy & a real nasty piece, just loves to catch one of us N.C.O’s with something wrong. It is something like a Gestapo purge, they are [deleted] [indecipherable letter] [/deleted] possessed with the idea, that because we have come back from overseas we are no longer fit for aircrew, are a pack of scare-crows, are unruly & undisciplined etc. etc. Admittedly the Guards could give us a few points on smartness but hell! we haven’t had time to get back into the rut of drill again. Our job doesn’t depend on whether we can drill smartly either, a point which they always try to hammer in.
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We have whizzed about filling in reams of forms, kitting up to the English scale once more, this was a scream Some of the fellows had thrown away nearly all their service kit in order to make room for their presents, & they certainly had some 664B action. When they can’t think of anything for us to do, we drill, with the C.O. binding continually. The latest purge is haircuts, & as mine hasn’t been trimmed for about 6 – 7 weeks I’m right in the line of fire, guess I’ll need a lawn mower on my mop. On the evenings that we can get away we generally walk into town to see a show, the trouble with this town is it is [deleted] [indecipherable word] [/deleted] lousy with aircrew. When we first arrived we were so tired that we got some bed hours in, & wrote letters with the old 2 1/2' stamp on again. It was quite good to write a letter, & in a couple of days get a reply come buzzing back. The family & Mary had a surprise as they didn’t think I would be home for a couple of days, Mary is trying to get leave at the same time as myself. We should be going on leave pretty soon now, yippee! will we hit the high spots, & guess I’ll be glad to hand over their presents after lugging them quarter way round the world & guarding them, ah! well it wont [sic] be long now.
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[underlined] Thursday April 8th [/underlined]
Time certainly has flown by, but in a glorious fashion, since I made my last [deleted] [indecipherable word] [/deleted] entry. In the last couple of days we got packed, stowed our flying kit, & personal kit in the in the cellars & were all ready to move. The great day was Wednesday the 24th. and the coaches came to take us to the station. All the A.G.’s had gone a couple of days before, but only for 7 days, as they needed them, I felt sorry for them as we were all getting 14. After some waiting the train drew in, & we piled in heartily, it was well organised, all the London fellows were in one train those going South, Portsmouth etc in another, & Midlands & North a third. We got a good seat & old Fred Porce was opposite me so we arranged to travel on the Met to Plaistow together. On the journey we dozed & ate a little of the rations, & thought & made plans of what we would do on leave, then finally we drew into London, bang on! Fred had a monster kit bag crammed with tinned goods, & it certainly was a weight, we both had to drag it along to get on the Met. Sinking into a seat, not daring to remove our packs, for fear we wouldn’t get them on again, we soon became wedged, & I had the devils
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own job to struggle out, when we reached my station. It was really great to get home again, there was a great welcome, everyone saying things together & I know, I forgot lots of the things I wanted to tell them. Mary & my sister certainly were enthusiastic over the cosmetics, most probably be run in for hoarding.
Leave time as usual simply whirled by, shows & films, different people to see, & places to go. I saw Frank Pritchards mother, apparently I just missed him at Greenock, he went back on the Queen Elizabeth, they must have embarked the morning after we disembarked. Life always seems to be like that just missing people, well, I hope he likes Canada, one thing he won’t get the hellish winter conditions I had. I could kick myself missing the mildest winter England had for 17 years, & catching the coldest Canada had for 19 years. Anyway time flew, & yesterday it was time for me to return, they ran a special train for us, good show, & at 5 PM I met Norman & all the boys, & back we travelled swapping stories of leave. Harrogate once more, & in the Grand Hotel, where we were billeted when we arrived from Hastings, & so here I am.
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[underlined] Wednesday 14th April [/underlined]
We are ‘squaddied’ now, (placed in a squad) and waiting for the lectures to commence. Still the memories of our leave keep coming back to torture us, in heaven knows when we will be home again. Won’t be till after O.T.U. I’d wager, some fellows say we get some after AFU but I doubt it. Most of the fellows here whilst they are waiting for a posting are sent to Whitley Bay on a 4 week Commands Course with the RAF Regiment, I don’t quite know whether I relish the idea or not. The first few days we were back we didn’t do anything merely route marches, occasionally if we had a decent fellow in charge we would lay down in a field for the afternoon, but that wasn’t often. That state of affairs rarely lasts long however & we were soon put in a squad and commenced lectures. These are held at the Majestic Hotel, & we parade and march there each morning and afternoon. The lectures themselves are the same as they are anywhere the inevitable Signals, Armaments, Aircraft Rec, & Bombing Theory, they certainly cheese us, & I have a hell of a job to keep awake.
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There is quite a bit of P.T. as well, & we always have to run up to the Crag or thereabouts then turn off, for a general town of Yorkshire, around 5 miles or so. A fellow who was already in our room when we arrived, (a pilot on singles) is on the permanent P.T. squad, this is a hell of a racket. You are put on this when you have finished all the lectures. They parade in the morning in P.T. kit, or more often than not trousers, vest & jacket, then after roll call, go for a run by themselves to the Cing Café & sit there gazing at the view, & eating scones & supping tea till nearly dinner time, then they trot back for their midday meal. In the afternoon they repeat the process, maybe add a game of football, if they feel energetic, always ensuring that they finish in plenty of time for an early tea, & a quick get away to the cinema. Still you can’t blame them, they’ve been here nearly four months & I’d be really fed up.
Looking around at the thousands of aircrew here, & hearing of the thousands of Canadians & Australians at Bournemouth it amazes me. All these aircrew hanging around waiting to get onto operations and they can’t, & it goes right to the
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bottom of the ladder, to the fellow just joining up for aircrew who has to wait nearly a year after he has been accepted, to get into the RAF. If only we could clear the bottlenecks & get all these fellows on ops’ what a mighty bomber fleet we should have. Surely it isn’t the shortage of aircraft, we should be turning out enough by now. It must be a bottleneck at O.T.U. & AFU & not enough to cope with the flow of crews, or the most likely explanation they have been piling up here, owing to there being limited flying during the winter. I daresay there will always be the same situation here, though. As for myself I’m quite content, we have a decent room, Norman, Henry, Jack, & Ron & myself all together. There’s a wash basin in the room & a bath room next door, which is good. The food isn’t bad either, it is a rush for meals now that we are on [deleted] [indecipherable word] [/deleted] lectures. There isn’t much to do in town but go to the cinema I have been six nights running, but there’s nothing else available. One thing about coming in at night the lights are switched off at 10.30 PM by a master control, so we always creep in, in the dark, stumbling over things. Rumours of leave here are as prevalent here as at any other posting centre, but after a while we discredit them all.
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[underlined] Wednesday April 21st [/underlined]
Norman, Harry & myself are still here, but Ron & Jack are at Whitley Bay now, getting that cave man complex on the North Sea now. The went off in the traditional RAF style full webbing etc, & kidding us about our getting posted up there when they had nearly finished. Us not to be outdone assuring them, that there was an AFU posting on the way & they were merely clearing the dim ones out. I wouldn’t mind betting we’re “joes” though & get sent up there shortly. In the meantime we are just continuing with lectures, we have had one period of wet dinghy drill. We went in the swimming baths, belonging to a school, now occupied by the Civil Service. Being as the changing accommodation in the boxes is inadequate a lot of fellows changed on the spectators seats at the far end. There are a lot of full length windows, & as the boys changed & stood there in the altogether, quite a lot of the female Civil Servants opposite found a sudden lack of interest in their work. We have to don full flying kit and Mae Wests, & as a crew jump in & swim to the dinghy & climb in. It wasn’t so bad in the water, but when one went to climb into the dinghy, their weight
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soaked, with water, became apparent, & it really was a struggle to get aboard.
I have been with Norman to visit his Aunt & Uncle living here. His Uncle is in the Civil Service & took us to their club they have on the Ground Floor of a Hotel. Its a nice place with refreshment bar, dance hall, games & card rooms, we went to a nice dance there the other day. It is so nice to meet someone like that, because Harrogate is a hell of a place if one knows nobody. Being as it is crammed full of aircrew & soldiers, every place of entertainment is bound to be packed. There is nowhere to go but the cinemas really cos the dances are pretty dear. Most probably with the idea of keeping the services away, because the citizens really resent the troops being here, & hate the war being forced on them. It really is a “Forget the War”, town. The solitary Y.M.C.A. & a couple of small Forces Canteens do sterling service, but are overwhelmed & can’t cater for all their customers This leaves the troops at the mercy of the money grabbing café owners. The Copper Kettle being one, 2 small sausages & a few chips being 3/6’, out of an ordinary soldiers 2/6 a day its not even funny. Yes this town certainly wants re-organising & a few of the rackets squashed.
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[underlined] Tuesday 27th April [/underlined].
We are on the point of recommencing our flying in England we have arrived at our Advanced Flying Unit, at Bobbington near Stourbridge. So we did steal a march on Ron & Jack after all, I bet they are annoyed about it, but still most probably they will be posted soon. They called us all out together all our little clique, & when they said Bobbington we jumped for joy as most of us are Southerners and didn’t fancy going up North again. There was quite a dash around & quite a bit of bull with kit inspections & parades, clothing parades, & Heaven knows what else. Bags of waiting around & queuing as usual, arguing and scrambling for different things. At last all was done & our kit was left downstairs in the lobby ready to go next morning. We went out in the town to have a last night celebration, I am a bit sorry now that I have left there, as it was pretty good there, and I had some decent times with Norman’s Uncle & Aunt. Still there it is the training system doesn’t worry about individuals, & it is the only way I guess. Anyway after that last night we staggered in rather merry & noisy stumbling through the pitch black corridors of the hotel.
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Up the next morning bright and early, early anyway I dunno so much about the bright. With bull to the last we had to parade in full webbing and march to the station. We got fixed up on the train O.K. & commenced our first stage of the journey to Leeds. It was crazy weather, raining like anything, when we arrived at Leeds we were going to have a stroll around but the weather deterred us. The train to Birmingham was crowded & although we had a carriage reserved, bags of civilians crowded in & as there were elderly women & women with babies, we gave them the seats, but boy! was it a squash. At Birmingham we darted around unloading the kit & dashing over to another platform to catch the Wolverhampton train. We were beginning to look like porters after lumping the kit around all the time. The train had to wait a few minutes until we had loaded everything, the guard was a bit peeved but there was nothing he could do. Off we bowled and then found we had left Norman behind, nothing could be done then so on we went. At Wolverhampton there was a lorry waiting so we loaded it all on & climbed on the kit. We were rather shaken by the distance we were from the town through miles of country lanes until we finally arrived here.
They say that first impressions are often misleading, & I hope so, because our first impressions of this place is that it is a bloody awful station. We are in a damp Nissen hut with a concrete floor, that clouds of white dust rise from on the slightest stir of anything. Being ‘pupils’ as we are termed we aren’t allowed to eat in the sergeants mess, they say it isn’t large enough. We may go into there for letter writing etc. after 5.30 P.M Our meals are in the airmen’s mess, and we queue up amongst all the a.c’s and it is no exaggeration that we get less food than them. I have experienced it many a time the WAAF has given the fellow in front a ladle full, & had one ready for the next chap. Then looking up & seeing they are aircrew they tip half of it back. The mess is terrible and so is the food. All this we have found out in our few hours of being here, tomorrow we start the course. Our ablutions is a place not finished, no bowls or mirrors, just a line of taps containing freezing cold water – grim isn’t the word for it. By all accounts aircrew are disliked on this station by all & sundry from the Groupy downwards, we meet him tomorrow. – Norman has just rolled in he followed on the next train, had quite a shock when he found we had gone.
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[underlined] Sunday May 2nd. [/underlined]
We have been here long enough to dislike the place entirely, & the sooner we leave here the better for all of us. On our first day we met the W/O in charge of the school, Alves his name is, & we didn’t take much of a liking to him. He gave us quite a few warnings with a long list of “Donts”, [sic] & impressed upon us how the “Groupy” disliked aircrew and was always ready to catch them out, then he marched us off to see the big noise himself. All the time he was marching us along in threes he was binding “Stop that talking”, and “Swing those arms”, just like the old I.T.W. back again, it gets a bit cheesing at this stage. We had the ‘welcome’ address in the station cinema a rather bare place that is still undergoing completion. The Groupy bore out all the stories we had heard about him, a rather mean faced individual. During the talk he broke off three times to tear a strip off a poor M.T. driver who had the misfortune to be starting his lorry & drowning the old man’s voice, what a type. Quite a lot of his talk was devoted to the subject of WAAF’s we weren’t to go around with them or associate to any given extent, & if he caught anyone near the WAAF site it would be too bad. Anyone would think it was a convent here, still from what I’ve seen of the WAAFs here, I can’t see anyone wanting to associate with them.
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Our day is quite a long one here, we rise & have our icy wash then dash over to the airmen’s mess to queue for our “breakfast”. Back to the hut to dash around making up our beds & sweeping the floors, then on parade at the unearthly hour of 7.45 A.M. Even at I.T.W. we went on parade at 8 A.M. nowhere have I seen it as early as this, a quarter of an hour doesn’t sound very much, but one can pack an awful lot into it in the morning. Lectures are from 8 AM. to 10.15 then a quarter of an hours break, lectures from 1.30 to 5 P.M. a half hour for tea, then back for an hours lecture 5.30 to 6.30. The latter is the worst of all I think, we have to dash from the classroom to the mess, which takes about 6 mins, queue for our meal, bolt it down then dash back to the classroom, all in half an hour, we’ll all be suffering from indigestion before long. Unless the instructor taking us is willing to let us off a little early then we are unable to catch the 6.30 p.m. bus into Stourbridge.
Each day we have an hours P.T. & there is a mad F.O. for the P.T. officer, at least we call him mad, he is one of these very keen types he used to be a champion swimmer before the war. The first
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time we went over the assault course, it was pretty gruelling. Twice round a half a mile track then into a veritable maze of climbing over walls, crawling under wire, balancing along poles ten feet high. One part was swinging along on a single rope across a pond until we were able to wrap our legs around a tree & pull ourselves in. The P.T. instructor a Cpl that was showing us got about three quarters of the way across to the point where the rope sagged the most & there he fell in. He had his long blue P.T. trousers on too, boy! did we laugh, needless to say he didn’t join in. Twice we have been on hellish long cross country the P.T. officer being bang on at running cracks along at a hell of a pace. Then he binds us because we dont [sic] do so well & shoots the bull about being fit for flying etc. We bind him back, & tell him to have a crack at aircrew it is quite a scream. The trouble is we generally arrive back at about 12.45 & have to wash & dress & dash for dinner in three quarters of an hour, so invariably we arrive back late for classes.
The NAAFI here is a pretty good one, we have our break there, they have a good selection of cakes. In classes we are doing all the old familiar Bombing Theory over again, & using the Bombing Teacher. We do our flying on Ansons, seems we are never free from them, I’m really cheesed of winding that undercart up & down.
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Yesterday, May Day, was our day off, not because the RAF favoured the Labour Party, but it just happened that way. After quite a bit of wangling they finally granted us the priviledge [sic] of getting off an hour earlier [inserted] Friday [/inserted] There was a bus running at 5.30 P.M. & we went into town on that & there caught a bus to Birmingham, we were able to book beds at the Services Club that night. Jimmy Selkirk, Harry & I went out on the beer as Norman had gone by train to Oxford as his fiancé was there spending her leave. We eventually found a pretty low dive & finished the night there. The next day we wandered around for awhile, then went to a cinema, & travelled back on the 9 P.M. bus to catch the 10.30 P.M. from Stourbridge to the camp.
The other day we had our flight photograph taken, we all agreed to look cheesed in it, to register our disappointment of this place, & it came out pretty well. We have been to the station cinema here, they charge us 1/- it isn’t too bad, if only they didn’t have rows of old seats on the same level. Because if one is sitting a fair way back it is impossible to see over all the heads on the same level as yourself. I wonder if we will get leave after this place, I hope so, there are the usual rumours floating around, first we will then we wont, [sic] I guess we wont [sic] know till it arrives.
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[underlined] Sunday 7th May. [/underlined]
I should say roughly half our time has passed here, as most chaps remain here a [deleted] fortnight [/deleted] [inserted] month [/inserted] anyway roll on the next fortnight, & lets get to hell out of here. It is a fairly hum drum existence with the lectures & so forth. On Monday we had a pleasant diversion in the form of wet dinghy drill, in Stourbridge baths, I rather like it as we are able to swim about afterwards – Turning the large bomber dinghy over when one is in the water with full flying kit, will be some job in the North Sea, I reckon. It isn’t too bad in the baths, but then there is no rough sea or wind to contend with.
The F/Sgt in charge of us is a pretty good guy, pretty quiet, & got quite a bit of service in, he is thoroughly cheesed with the station. Beside the famous old Theory of Bombing lectures he takes us on the Bombing Teacher. We were up there the other day & looking from the open window, when old Alves went dashing past. Tom Alan commented “Old Alves is on the warpath”, boy! he must have had keen ears because he called us down & bound us rigid. For the Gunnery lectures there is an F/O A.G with a V.F.M. he is a Welsh chap, shoots a fair amount of lines, but is really a good type, his lectures make a welcome break. For the aircraft rec. there is a nattering little sgt A.G. who absolutely cheeses everybody, nobody likes him. The other chap a tall F/Sgt is a good egg though, livens up the epidiascope slides with an occasional nude woman.
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The map reading periods are O.K. too. the F/O who takes us did his tour out in Abyssinia, I believe it was on Valentine or some obsolete kites. Thinking of it, it must have been a pretty easy tour, but he is a good chap, a Flt/Lt D.F.M. who is also there, shoots bags of lines, but they are worth listening to & at this stage, we are ready to lap up all lines. A chap who ‘nattered’ to us the other day about ‘ops’ in the Middle East, said at the beginning of the campaign, the crack Italian liner Rex was in the harbour at Tobruk. They were briefed to attack & did so, but they were made to bomb with 25 lb H.E. naturally they were like pin pricks, & that night she whipped up steam & was away. An Air Commodore was slung out of the RAF for that. We went out on a lorry the other day for practical map reading, & drove around the lanes, stopped & had to find where we were & make tactical sketches. About three times we did this, & then had to change into our P.T. kit, that we had brought, leap out of the lorry & run the 3 miles back to camp. It rather reminded me of the hunt with the hounds leaping from the van & tearing down the road. We have been on Groupie’s parade, & he certainly is down on aircrew, the parade was a real bully one, bags of shouting & everything. He whizzed through the permanent staff without saying much, & when he came to us, he went really slow & bound practically everyone rigid, & the W.O. almost wore his pencil out, taking names.
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Yesterday was our day off again & once more we spent it in Birmingham. We were unable to get in at the Services Club & had to go to a large house converted into a hostel, it was pretty good. This week saw the commencing of our Flying here, I made three flights all day bombing exercises. The first one was Wednesday, & came off alright, there is a village fairly near the range & that made me twitter. It is a bit more awkward to bomb from the kite than from the Canadian Anson, because there is no perspex panel in the nose. Also the sliding panel is metal, not perspex, this necessitated having it always open, causing quite a draught. On Friday Harry Jamieson & I did two more flights with an ex-operational pilot F/O Ryan. It was pretty grim because he hadn’t the technique of the steady bombing runs, like the regular B.G pilots. The kite would be bouncing around necessitating us giving corrections & sometimes we would be nowhere near the target so we had to call ‘Dummy Run’. He would scream & bind & curse like the clappers, & said “It’s a bloody good job you’re not over a target”. That kind of stuff never gets anybody places though, & only leads to a bad exercise. We do a few of these Day Bombing trips, maybe some Night bombing, & then some Night Combined exercises. These are only cross countries but they give them the high sounding titles. We’re beginning to get really cheesed with all this training, no wonder chaps get stale, & lose all their interest & enthusiasm.
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[underlined] Friday 14th May. [/underlined]
Life still flows in its uninteresting way, we have done some map reading trips. We go on a small cross country of 3 legs, with the pilot & 3 B.A’s each who map reads one leg of the trip. They are O.K. if you get a decent pilot, who puts the Forces programme on the intercom, & is fairly tolerant with the map reading. I was up with ‘Taffy’ Evans & Norman Griffin the other day & we had a binder! Poor old Taffy chopped in the mire, by losing himself completely. The pilot was one of those tricky individuals who would fly the aircraft so a village was directly under the nose, & out of sight, & then ask you suddenly where it was. We coped anyway.
I had a good laugh the other day, whilst standing by in the flight hut for a day bombing exercise. There were a couple of chaps from the previous course there, also detailed for a bombing exercise. Like us all they weren’t very keen on it, but the antics of one of them kept me in fits. He was small with dark wavy hair, & a perfect cherub face, chubby rosy cheeks etc. looking about 17. Every few minutes he would pop to the door & gaze at the sky. Any cloud, no matter however small, was greeted with a beaming smile & the exclamation “Wizard” drawing out the last syllable, as it meant there was a faint hope of the exercise being cancelled.
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Whilst every time the sun burst forth he would scowl & slump disconsolately back in his chair, resigning himself to Fate. In the end they took off & so did we.
The lectures are still as binding & unvarying. Yesterday our “Chiefy” was taking us on Bombing Theory & although he is a good chap, he is a real lousy lecturer. Bombing Theory being one of the driest subjects in itself he succeeded in putting half the class to sleep in a quarter of an hour. Then a Sqdn/Ldr Education Officer from Group slipped into the room, & after listening for 10 mins, took over the lecture. For the next half hour, it even became quite interesting, & some points were cleared up, which I for one had been doubtful over for a long time.
So far rumours that we will not get leave at the end of the course have gained strength, I hope they turn out false. When the last few days arrive W/O Alves gives the Senior Man a list of the O.T.U’s to which we are to be posted & then the course is left to sort them out amongst themselves, I hope we get some decent ones.
Norman has had an old cycle of his sent up, it is quite handy for getting around on, and half the course use it. It might be a good idea to get one if I land on one of there really dispersed drones I hear about. I played a game of football earlier & am just beginning to feel the effects, so I’ll have supper at the NAAFI & turn in.
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[underlined] Thursday May 20th. [/underlined]
We had our day off on Tuesday, & a crowd of us caught the bus outside the camp into Wolverhampton. The morning was spent looking around the town & then after dinner in a nice little café we found a decent park & spent the afternoon. After tea in the Forces Canteen above Surton’s we got down to a steady pub crawl. I have never seen a place like it, for so many girls of 16 – 17 in the pubs. Old Pete Rawlings had quite an amusing encounter with one, but this is not the place to disclose it. Anyway after closing time, four of us wandered around in a happy stupor till we sobered up a little & realised we had better look around for means to return to camp. We finally phoned a taxi who took us right into the camp, & off we bowled to bed.
As far as the flying part goes we are on the last stages, that of day and night cross countries. I don’t know which one the greater bind the latter gets it by a narrow margin, I think. It will be a relief to get to O.T.U. & go on a really organised X country. So far I have been on two day trips & five ‘scrubs’, it is an inoffensive word – ‘scrub’, but conceals a lot. When we are due for a day X country we hand our names into the Guard Room & then at 5.30 or 6 AM an S.P. rudely awakens
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us, to tear off for early briefing, breakfast & take off at 8.30 A.M. – there are afternoon X countries but I haven’t had the luck to get on one yet. It is binding to get up, see the rain, & knowing in advance it will be scrubbed, tramp 10 mins through the rain to the briefing room, & wait until they inform you officially it is cancelled. Now we are getting wise & only two going up, one with Norman’s bike to nip back & arouse the others if by chance, flying is on.
On a night cross country, our main function is winding the undercart. Actually we are supposed to do some infra red bombing, but no-one has been known to see the target, the pilot hates stooging around, & the navigator is chomping to set course. Consequently we sit & shiver in the darkness, maybe once in a while giving a beacon position to the Navigator, or taking over the controls while the pilot dives to the back. We had a little excitement on one trip when the weather was closing in over the airfield when we returned, but we got in O.K. The only good thing about it is we sleep the next day, & it breaks the monotony. A kite crashed the other day killing the occupants, they weren’t on our course. The S.S.Q. backs onto our billets though & the blood wagon was outside with the bodies in while they were getting things ready inside. It was a fairly sobering thought, but I guess we shall see more of it, the closer we get to ‘ops’.
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[underlined] 25th May. [/underlined]
Once more a change of address, I am now at my O.T.U. at Hixon, Staffs, having arrived here today. Most of us came here, some went to Whitehead & four to Lossiemouth. ‘Taffy’ Evans has gone to Whitehead & ‘Buntie’ Rogers, Norman, Jimmy, Harry, & most of our clique are still together. Naturally the Lossiemouth posting wasn’t wanted, there being no Scots on the course, so it was drawn for, I thanked the Lord my name didn’t come out of the hat.
Anyway the usual clearance procedure was got through & we were driven by lorry into Wolverhampton this morning. There was a couple of hours to kill before the train & we spent them in town. Although the distance from Bobbington to Hixon isn’t so great as the crow flies it took us a few hours by train with the changing. Transport came out after we phoned from Stafford station, & I was surprised to find the airfield was 8 miles, out from the town, at least – somebody had told me it was nearer than that.
We are all in the same hut, they are not Nissan huts, but kind of asbestos boarding & wood, on concrete bases, much better & larger than the Nissan hut. Each collection of huts is called a site & given a number, the site with the mess etc. is called Command Site, these sites are dispersed over a wide area, & are a considerable distance from the airfield. Apparently a cycle is a very handy thing, Pete Rawlings has one now.
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A course arrives here every fortnight, & we are No 17 course. After nearly a fortnight of ground training terminating with exams, we commence flying, by this time we have ‘crewed-up’ of course. This is the stage where we crowd of Air Bombers will finally split up, because inevitably after each of us joins a crew we shall go about with them, I shall be sorry, because we have been together a long while, but this breaking up of friendships happens again & again in the RAF as ours is an odd course number (17) we move to the satellite airfield, Seighford, when we have completed our ground training & finish our O.T.U. there. It is situated the other side of Stafford & is more dispersed than this, but there is a lot less discipline, as chaps say who have been there.
As usual on arrival at a new place, we have been pumping all the fellows that we can find on the various aspects of the course, & every conceivable thing attached to it. We haven’t collected much ‘gen’ yet though, beyond the fact that we parade outside the mess, after breakfast tomorrow, with the rest of training wing personnel, & then the S.W.O. will march us to the Training Wing for roll call. Apparently this is an everyday procedure & is fairly strictly adhered to. I have written off the letters to home & Mary as usual on arriving at a new station, with the address & what gen is available, & now I’ll close this entry and get into bed I think, then tomorrow I’ll start one of my last stages towards a squadron.
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[underlined] June 1st. [/underlined]
Things have changed somewhat since I last wrote. I have just returned from a compassionate 48 hr pass, which I went on when I received some very bad news from home. The C.G.I. said that I would have to revert back a course, so I am staying here on 17 course, whilst the boys on 17 go over to Seighford. We would have broken up anyway so maybe it is just as well this way. They finish their ground training this week and then my course commences the following week.
This O.T.U. course lasts approximately 3 months, after the fortnights ground training, it is all flying training with an occasional lecture slipped in. Half of the time, (the first half of the 3 months) is day flying, & the other or second half night flying. The exercises are similar in each case, we commence circuits & bumps with an instructor, then after our pilot has flown solo with us as a crew, we complete our circuits & bumps without the instructor. Then day bombing with a ‘screened’ or instructor pilot & a ‘screened’ Air Bomber after the first exercise, we do the rest alone, there are quite a few of them too. The same procedure is followed for gunnery & fighter affiliation, although most of the actual firing exercises are done with four gunners & a ‘screened’ gunner in one aircraft. Then we do a cross country with a ‘screen’, & afterwards another couple by ourselves, each longer in duration.
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The same procedure is followed for night flying, as far as is practical. Then at the end of the course comes the pièce de resistance – a leaflet [deleted] [indecipherable word] [/deleted] or “nickel” raid on France. I hope we are able to do one, as sometimes the weather prevents it & crews do a “bullseye” instead. This is an exercise over England, combining Fighter Command & the ground defences, except ack ack naturally. It isn’t that I am all that keen to see what the other side of the Channel is like, but I think it affords quite good practise, before going to a squadron and the real thing.
From what I have seen of the actual station here it isn’t too bad. The mess is about 8 minutes walk from our site, & the food is pretty good, (a lot better than Bobbington anyway) it is laid out fairly well too, & the waitresses serve us sitting down. The ante room & billiards rooms are quite large, & the station cinema, isn’t too bad, they are improving the latter I believe. Getting in & out of Stafford is rather a snag, there is a liberty bus from the Guard Room of an evening, but we are required to book seats the previous day by dinner-time, & as we rarely know that far ahead if we are going in, it is generally by taxi that we arrive there. At the moment I am acting as runner in the Discip Office until the next course commences, I wonder what sort of chaps they will be. Pete Rawlins has crewed up with the pilot that I originally had, he seemed a decent chap.
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[underlined] 8th June. [/underlined]
Well, I have been on the course nearly two days now. There wasn’t much for me to do last week stooging around in the Discip. Office, so I was given a 48 hr pass over the weekend. So I said goodbye to all the boys as they moved over to Seighford during the week end, though I shall see Norman a couple of times in Stafford if we can arrange it. I was lucky travelling into Stafford, I had just come out of the Guard Room with my pass, when an MT Corporal said “Going into Stafford, Sarge?”. So in I travelled in style, lolling back in the Groupie’s car, the driver was going to meet the Groupie at the station.
When I returned yesterday I had expected to find the billet empty, but I had switched my things to the corner bed, just on the off chance, somebody might roll in. They certainly had – a whole room of Canadians, pilots, navigators, and Air Bombers. On the whole they seem a pretty decent crowd, pretty noisy, but full of life and really generous & anxious to be friendly, I like Canadians quite a lot, anyway. I had to smile, because as soon as they found I had been on the previous course, they kept asking me all sorts of ‘gen’ about the course, in exactly the same manner as I had done a fortnight earlier. It was precious little I could give them. Then today we started the ground work, it was exactly the same as my first few lectures on the last course, they follow a strict pattern here.
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[underlined] June 13th. [/underlined]
I have arrived at a stage which will play a most important part in my immediate future – I am crewed up. In a bomber a man’s life is wholly in the hands of his crew members, and the closer they are together, and the better they are as a team, then the more chance of survival they have. I [deleted] a [/deleted] had always understood that considerably rare, and quite an amount of time was allotted at O.T.U’s for the purpose of selecting crews. Hixon has proved the fallacy of it, everyone starts the course separately as a course of pilots, & course of navigators or Air bombers – W/Ops etc. They remain in their classes for the first lot of lectures and hardly have any chance of meeting the various other categories of air crew, the only chance being in the mess or the billet. Suddenly like a bolt from the blue it is announced that everyone must be crewed up in two days or else they will be allocated by the instructors into a crew. A mad flap then starts, people go wandering about, staring into each others faces, vainly trying to sum up whether a person will be an asset to crew up with – or otherwise. Having experienced this on the previous course, I thought it best to let matters take their own course.
Friday night, I was sitting in the mess, after writing a few letters, having a quiet drink & waiting for the sandwiches to arrive for supper. At the next table to me, were two Canadian
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pilots from my billet, McCann who slept next to me & Cecil Kindt who slept opposite McCann. They had been drinking for a while and were both pretty mellow, as Kindt went out to get some more drinks he [deleted] [indecipherable word] [/deleted] leant over me and said, “Mac said would you join him at the next table”, so I moved over to where McCann was sitting.
We chatted for a couple of minutes, then he asked if [deleted] [indecipherable letter] [/deleted] I was crewed up with anyone. When I replied in the negative, he said “Well how would you like to sling in with me, and be my bomb-aimer?” I rather liked him, and so I had found a pilot. Cecil Kindt returned with the beer and we had a drink to it. Well, I think I had better put on record my impressions of Mac, as he is always called, & the other crew members. Len McCann, though I’ve never heard anyone call him Len, is only about 5’ 4”, and almost as broad. He said he has lost a lot of weight over here, & that he weighed 220 lbs in Canada, so he must have been tubby. For his weight & size though he isn’t so very fat, he has some superfluous flesh but is extraordinarily thickset under it. The amusing part of him is his neck which is very short & seems almost as thick as his shoulders are wide, actually he takes an 18 1/2" collar. The other fellows often call him for no reason at all, just to watch him turn around.
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He cannot swivel his neck as we do, but has to lift his shoulder & turn as one would with a stiff neck, yet the action is not a slow one; he takes all the kidding in very good part. In features he strikes me as very similar to the comedian Lou Costello, having the same cheery round face & turned up nose. He had his hair cropped right short in Canada & now stands up in a mass of wiry black bristles. With a short bristly moustache this completed my description of Mac, with whom I shall be for long time – I trust.
I asked Mac if he had a Navigator, & when he said he had one in mind, I told him of another one, who seemed quite a ‘gen’ chap to me. He was a Canadian & Mac knew him & told me he was a real farmer, & that he always ‘nattered’ nineteen to the dozen, so we didn’t ask him. On my advice Mac tackled the navigator he had in mind, just in case somebody else should snap him up. Nobody had, and he became our navigator.
His name is Ken Price, also a Canadian, and I cannot give a better description than say he is the exact image of Gary Cooper. It may seem as though I am rather a film fan, but the resemblance is remarkable. He is tall & lean, very quiet and reserved, and seems a thoroughly decent chap all round. By all accounts, from what the other navigators say he is a darned
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good man at his job.
Then this afternoon Mac introduced me to the wireless/op. he had chosen. Bill Bowery is his name, and he is English coming from Sunderland. He seems quite a keen type and knows his gen, his broad “Geordie” accent tickles us, but it is nowhere near as broad as Jimmy Selkirk’s was, or others I have heard. In appearance, he is about 5’ 8” well set, with straight auburn hair, brushed down, he seems to have an expression as though puzzling or enquiring over something, & that may be a good thing. Anyway there are four of us now, we shall get a rear gunner in a day or so, & the five of us do O.T.U. together.
Mid/Upper Gunners do their Gunnery School somewhere and then join us at the end of the course, generally in time for the “Nickel”. As we are flying Wimpeys there is no accomodation [sic] for them, & it would be a waste of time their coming here all through the course. Also in Fighter-Evasion Tactics the Rear Gunner gives all the instructions, as the co-operation between the pilot & him is the result of their training at O.T.U. The remaining member of the crew, the Flight Engineer we will pick up at our Heavy Conversion Unit, and then we will be a full crew of seven. I hope the other three members will be as good as these, & we should have a rattling good crew.
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[underlined] Thursday 17th June. [/underlined]
On Monday we found ourselves a rear gunner. Mac had noticed a chap who looked pretty keen, but I had heard him ‘nattering’ away and didn’t go much on him. I had another one in mind, fairly similar in appearance to the above mentioned one, and pointed him out to Mac, so he told me to go ahead and contact him.
Nobody has asked him to crew up, and he agreed to pitch in with us. He is a pretty decent kid, he is only 18, I know I’m only 19 myself but he looks very young and he is only about 5’ 5” and slimly built. He is a Londoner and comes from fairly near me, the most important thing, he seems to know his ‘gen’ on gunnery pretty thoroughly. His name is Johnny Watson.
So there we are the five of us, who will do O.T.U. together as a crew and pick up the other two afterwards. Somehow I can’t help wondering sometimes what lies in store for us, and the ability of a crew counts for such a lot in emergencies. Still ours looks pretty good to me, even though it does seem rather early to say it.
At the moment we are completing our ground lectures, and then tomorrow we start our exams. They aren’t actually long ones, or terribly important, although if one makes a pretty poor showing they are liable to be put back a course. The only subject
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I am hazy on is gun turrets, I had hardly any instruction on them at B. & G. School, then here a couple of hours were devoted to it. As it happened I was at the back of a crowded class room, and the diagram being on the wall, well I just couldn’t see a thing.
We have had some lectures together as a crew although for the majority of them we remain in our aircrew categories. There is an old Wellington Mk I in the Airmanship Hangar, & is sitting on supports, so that undercart drill can be carried out. We scramble all over it, learning the positions of various things, petrol cocks, escape hatches, crash positions, oxygen bottles, dinghy releases, & a 101 other things necessary to learn in an aircraft. A couple of times we have scrambled out of it, on dinghy or baling out drill – hope I never have to use either. The Wimpey is a real battered old thing, but it was used for the “1,000 bomber” raid on Cologne. Apparently to make up a 1,000 aircraft they called on all the old kites at O.T.U’s & anything that could get airborne was used. If the public had only known some of the old kites that were used they would have had a shock.
The airmanship instructor, Sgt Peacock, did a tour on Lancs as a mid/upper gunner and saw quite a bit of action apparently. One would think he would at least get a crown at the end of the tour, but his is well overdue.
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[underlined] 21st June [/underlined]
‘Midsummer’s Day’ – it certainly has been glorious weather too, I’m afraid the long daylight evenings mean later day flying for us and consequently less evenings off. We officially started our Flying Course today, though our crew weren’t on today, we commence our circuits and bumps tomorrow.
The results of the exams were posted up today. I had done well in everything but Turrets, on which I made a horrible ‘boob’ – it was as I expected Macgillvray the Canadian pilot opposite me in the billet was cursing because his Bomb Aimer, another Canadian named Dodson, had come bottom in the B/Aimer course. Apparently Dodson is a bit of a woman chaser, & didn’t bother staying in to do any swotting for the exam. Macgillvray was giving forth “He wants to get down to some studying instead of getting on the nest so much”, and so forth. The most amusing part is that Macgillvray is one of the biggest wolves I’ve known. He has a stock of Tangee lipsticks & cosmetics, with a few silk stockings which he uses as bait for the women, - he says. I have never known him to part with anything in the fortnight he has been here & he has been with a couple of women. It is dead funny to hear Mac slang him about them, as Mac has very little time for women. He isn’t a misogynist but he just doesn’t bother. Anyway most of his remarks although screamingly funny are quite unprintable.
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We are all in ‘A’ Flight, a whole course comprises a Flight which goes round in strict rotation, as the courses commence Day or Night Flying. Our Flight Commander Sqdn/Ldr. Ford seems quite O.K. he gave us a welcoming natter, and was very much to the point regarding keeping the crew room tidy, punctuality etc. still he is quite right in stressing these points. This afternoon I squeezed in an hour’s practise on the Bombing Teacher. There is a system here where the various aircrew categories each have to put in so many hours practise on exercises relating to their own particular aircrew duties Bomb Aimers have to do 20 hours in the Bombing Teacher, 10 hours on the Link Trainer, and 6 hours operating a secret navigational instrument. Navigators have to spend quite a few more hours on this instrument than we do, and also take a certain number of astro-shots. W/Ops have to get [deleted] [indecipherable word] a stated number of Q.D.M’s fixes etc. & Gunners get so many hours, spotting turret training, and other exercises, I haven’t found out what the pilots do yet. All the exercises which are carried out on the ground, that is practically everyone’s except the W/Ops have to be fitted into our spare time. That is when we are hanging around the crew room & not flying, then we can nip across & tick off an hour in the Bombing Teacher or the Link. During the rest of the course, although we are flying most of the time, we still have some lectures, as crews on matters of general interest & importance.
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[underlined] 27th June [/underlined]
Sunday again – although it is very similar to all the other days of the week, here. We have a Church Parade, first thing, all the pupils fall in at Training Wing and then march to the airfield, along the perimeter track, to a temporary parade ground outside a hangar, its about 1 1/2 miles from Training Wing. Anyway all the station is on parade there, & we take our place, the Groupie then rolls up for the flag hoisting, inspection and so forth. The flag is flown on a double line & pully attached to the extension of the hangar roof, where the door slides back into. Today the S.P. that was doing the flag hoisting pulled the flag up O.K. then when he gave a pull to unfurl it at the top nothing happened. He pulled & pulled & still no joy, the poor devil got very red in the face as the Groupie was waiting to give the order “General Salute”. However there was nothing else for it, & shamefacedly he hauled it down, & not daring to risk it again, pulled it up already unfurled. After the salute we had to march off in squadrons to another hangar where the pulpit was an RAF lorry covered with the Union Jack and a piano, for hymn singing on. When this was over we were marched off dismissed, and then everything carried on as in a normal day. On all stations when flying is done there is no break for Sundays as they had in the peace time RAF, funny how one almost loses track of the days that way.
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Although we are still on the circuits and bumps stage we are about at the end of it, and will soon be onto some more interesting exercises. All of the crew except the Navigator fly on circuits & landings, & he is lucky not to, it gets pretty binding after the first hour or so. When we first started a ‘screened’ pilot flew with ‘Mac’ giving him the ‘gen’ and everything, and after a little while let him go solo. We were a little apprehensive, in case the short time given, wasn’t enough to let Mac become acquainted with the new cockpit layout. However everything went O.K. and then we continued on our own with circuits & bumps. It hardly seems as though we are off the ground before we are getting ready for the approach & landing. Some of the landings we bump up & down quite a few times & Mac [deleted] [indecipherable word] [/deleted] refers to these as the “Grasshopper Blues”. I sit in the collapsible seat, for the second pilot, & it is O.K. seeing everything that goes on, but I wouldn’t like to be in the W/Ops position, feeling the bumps & jarrings, without seeing what was what. For some of our circuits we go over to Seighford and do them there. Actually if we could fly continually we could do them all in a couple of days. However in order to make the aircraft go round, & keep all the crews at the same stage in training, we are allotted the same length of detail. Sometimes a crew does get ahead of the others by luckily striking good weather every time, & never scrubbing an exercise through snags.
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[underlined] July 4th. [/underlined]
American Independence Day – I expect all the Americans around here are making whoopee. There are always a lot in Stafford, they come from the large transit camp at Stone, a small town 6 – 7 miles from here. All American aircrew, I believe, entering or leaving the country pass through there.
We are making steady progress on the course, we have managed to get three bombing exercises done, we are a bit ahead in that respect but behind in Fighter Application & a couple of other things. As I said before it is a matter of luck sometimes the kites are U/S & that puts us behind on that type of exercise for a while, it pretty well evens up at the end though. On the first bombing exercise we went up with a ‘screened’ pilot & a ‘screened’ bomb aimer. Mac had never made bombing runs before, it is only pilots that have been instructors, & staff pilots at B & G schools who have that experience. The ‘screened’ pilot was there to instruct Mac on how to make the corrections of course, that I asked for, & various other little points. There wasn’t very much need for the ‘screened’ bomb aimer, as bombing is very similar on whatever aircraft one flys in. The main point, he was there to point out, was in the method of giving corrections of course. In Ansons the pilots could flat turn them, thus the sighting angle was practically round when you gave “steady”, and a good pilot could hold it practically as it was. However a Wellington has to have banked turns, consequently if the bomb
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aimer waits till the target is in the drift wires of the bomb sight & then gives “Steady” – the pilot flattens out and the target is then way off to one side, so it requires some practise to estimate when to say “Steady” thus making the target come into the drift wires when the pilot flattens out.
Poor old Mac has a hell of a time on run ups, he is so small that he can just see out of the windscreen. He watches the target whilst making his run up, & then when I give a correction, he slides down in his seat to kick the rudder bars, & his head is below the windscreen level, so then he has to pull himself up again to look out. He told us he is actually just under the height standard for a pilot but flannelled his medical.
We did a low level bombing exercise yesterday, & once more took up the two ‘screens’. My first bomb overshot by about 300 yds, & so did the next, I checked every setting on the bombsight, & all were correct, so I called the ‘screened’ bomb aimer & told him, & he could find nothing wrong. So I tried the third one & that was 300 yds overshoot again, then I realised I was taking a line of sight with the back & fore sights as for high level, whereas for low level bombing the back sight, & front beads are used. I told the screen & he told me to carry on & they would make the exercise a grouping one. That is by maths they discount the different sighting & work out where the bombs would have landed, using the front beads. The exercise came out to 47 yards so it ended O.K.
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[underlined] 10th July [/underlined]
The time is slipping past and we are well on the way to finishing our day flying. We had rather an amusing incident the other day, amusing that is to everyone but Mac. He always taxies rather swiftly & as we were passing the control tower, we reached the part where the perimeter track, dips a little. Consequently we gathered speed and started to swing, instead of throttling back & braking, Mac decided to open up the opposite throttle to swing us back. However he over-corrected and we swung back across the perimeter track & onto the grass the other side, in the direction of the runway. Again Mac opened the opposite throttle, and again over-corrected, & we crossed the perry-track once more & raced towards a hangar. Mac clamped on the brakes for all he was worth but it wasn’t enough, the hangar doors were fully open, & we struck the edge of them with our port main plane & sent them thundering across. It must have shaken the people inside to see the hangar doors suddenly move swiftly. From our point of view it was quite amusing, one moment there was hardly a soul [deleted] [indecipherable word] [/deleted] in sight, then with the same effect as if someone had kicked an ant-hill, people came pouring out from the hangar, & clustered around the kite. The pièce de resistance was the fact that we had cut clean through the ropes that held the Groupie’s flag & this was now drooped nonchalantly over our astro-dome. – Groupy took a dim view of it. Poor Mac sweated blood, but he only got a strip torn off, but the kite had a mains-plane changed.
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[underlined] 17th July [/underlined]
We had an enjoyable night in Stafford this week, as usual we got set into a regular pub crawl. Old Mac is all against this, he likes to get settled in at one pub and stay there all night drinking steadily. His words of wisdom are “Jeeze, you’re wasting valuable drinking time, going round looking for other pubs, - sit here”. I have never seen anyone drink so much, and affect them so little, it is amusing. He can knock back the pints and I have never seen him, what you might call drunk, merry yes, but inebriated – never. His personality is amazing everyone everywhere gets to know him, & all like him, he will sit and ‘natter’ with people for hours, and tell the most amusing stories of his life in Ottawa, and recount anecdotes of his numerous friends. He certainly is a tonic to have around. While we were in Stafford we saw the Gunnery Leader, he is an Aussie Flt/Lt, and a real lad when he is sober. Now he was out on the beer, evidently, & was strolling down the High St, with his hat on the back of his head, a dingy old battle dress on, & swinging, a gent’s black umbrella, rolled up (where he got [deleted] [indecipherable letter] [/deleted] it from I dont know). On his other arm was a real brassy blonde – he certainly doesn’t give a damn.
All our bombing exercises are finished and two of our three cross country trips, I have one more gunnery trip to do, and so has ‘Nipper’, thats [sic] what we call Johnny now. I rather like the Air Firing trips which are carried out in Cardigan Bay, then
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they generally fly to Rhyl, & fly at about 30 – 50 ft just a little way out from the shore. There are always lots of holiday makers there. Cecil Kindt had a strip torn off the other day, through an Air Firing accident. They were sent out over the Wash to fire so many rounds into the sea, this in itself is pretty boring and the gunners always look round for some sort of a target. His rear gunner spotted some sort of an old hulk and fired at it on a couple of runs. Apparently it was a wreck & their [sic] were a couple of divers, & salvage men working on it, & one leapt into the water, because of the bullets. God knows how the rear gunner didn’t see them, anyway they got the kite’s letter, phoned to the shore, & by the time Cecil landed the pressure had been put on Sqdn/Ldr Ford as he gave it to Kindt hot & strong.
Macgillvray has been providing laughs all round with his amorous adventures. Not so very long ago he met a nurse in Nottingham, a very nice girl by all accounts, a widow, anyway it wasn’t long before Macgillvray was staying at her flat. However he couldn’t get to Nottingham very much so he began associating with a WAAF Sgt here on the camp. One thing about him he admits openly what he is after, anyway she wasn’t that type, but after a little while with Macgillvray she was. Now she is crazy over him, & runs about after him, whilst he is very off handed. At the same time he meets an A.T.S. girl, on leave who lives in a house, a couple of hundred yards from our billet. It didn’t take him very long to string her along
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as well, so there he is with three strings to his bow at the same time – no wonder he looks a wreck. The amusing incident arose the other night when the WAAF Sgt saw him coming out of a corn field with this blonde A.T.S. She was furious & drinking with him the next night she said “Don’t let me see you with that – tart again,” which for her is a very strong word. Jokingly one night she said she was the “Three-hook Wonder”, hook meaning Stripes, Macgillvray, & Mac, who also knows her well, immediately changed it to the “Three-Hook Blunder,” & later cut it down to “The Blunder,” & so it has remained – poor girl.
They are a pretty decent bunch of fellows in this hut, we have had a little reshuffle in order to get crews together. Some of the original Canucks are in other huts, whilst Johnny, & Bill are now in here so we have all our crew. Macgillvray has his Navigator – Lance Weir, & his Bomb Aimer Dodson, both Canadians in here. Weir is a really decent chap, very quiet spoken, some of the boys kid him & call him “Toody-Fruit,” because he has a habit of rubbing talcum powder over his body. Frankie Allen, pilot, Yelland, navigator, & Tom Hughes – bomb aimer, all Canucks form another crew. Hughes is very decent, I have only one pair of pyjamas & when that was at the laundry he saw me dive into bed in the altogether, & asked the reason. When I [deleted] said [/deleted] [inserted] told [/inserted] him he tossed me a Canadian Comforts pair & said “Keep it, I’ve got five other pairs”, it was good of him. Their rear gunner Rose, an English chap is here, a small comical fellow, they call him John L. after the boxer Sullivan, because he wears long pants like him. Cecil Kindt, with Sam Small, navigator, and Macdonald, b/aimer, all Canadians, complete the hut.
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[underlined] 22nd July [/underlined]
We are now the senior course here, and have now moved on to become the ‘night-flying’ flight, tonight we expect to start our night circuits & bumps, some of the chaps commenced last night. They hoped to squeeze us a 48 hr pass in between the end of day flying & the start of night, but we were a little behind as a course through unavoidable incidents, so we had had it! I am sorry the day cross country trips are over, as I really enjoyed them, we generally flew to Rhyl, and I camera-bombed the pier. Then drill was done as if we were on an ‘op’ & that was our coast we were leaving. We then flew across to the Isle of Man which separated the enemy coast, & I would camera-bomb the quay at Ramsey. With a brilliant sun, & flying in our shirt sleeves everything looked lovely. The sea was a sparkling blue and invariably there would be a huge convoy spread about, a never failing source of interest to us. However we had been warned to keep well clear of them, as the naval gunners were very trigger itchy, and one of our crews had been fired on by an aircraft carrier. We would fly across the Isle of Man, head North, then turn in at the English coast once more, & return to Cannock Chase for a bombing exercise of 12 practise bombs on the range, & then return to base. The rations were pretty good, we always saved our tin of orange juice to drink on a morning after the night before it was very good, I suppose we will get the same on night X-countries.
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On the first one we had a ‘screened’ pilot, then the next one did by ourselves, the third & largest, we carried a full bomb load of 250 lb H.E’s filled with sand, except one which was live. This I had to bomb on a sea range with and photograph the splash. We had a ‘screened’ bomb-aimer/navigator on this one, an F/O pretty decent chap. [deleted] [indecipherable word] [/deleted] [inserted] He [/inserted] asked Mac if he would let him do some tight turns over his home in Aberystwyth as we were passing over it. Mac agreed but quickly retrieved the controls when he saw we were almost stalling.
For night flying we report to the flight just after 6 P.M. to see what is on, naturally it is broad daylight then. Then if we are not on till late we can go to the Station Cinema, as we did last night. It is the usual effort, it is in the lecture hall, when we first came the cinematograph was mounted on a large table, so if one sat well back, the noise of the machine drownded [sic] the sound track. Now they have built a brick projection box, and have provided a wooden platform for the dearer seats – with the usual front two rows reserved – Officers Only.
Looking back at my last entry, I see I have forgotten to mention ‘Pinky’ Tomlin. He is a Canadian Bomb Aimer, but his pilot, & navigator are commissioned, & his W/Op & R/Gunner are in another hut so he is ‘one alone’. He is pretty tubby & really loves food, he bought himself an electric [deleted] plate [/deleted] [inserted] heater [/inserted] to use as a grill, & cooks things from the numerous parcels he receives from home. He was a scout master back in Canada – not a bad chap, rather hail-fellow-well met.
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[underlined] July 30th. [/underlined]
Night circuits and bumps are almost completed for us – Thank God! – they really are binding. We follow exactly the same procedure as with our day flying, first of all with an instructor, then Mac solo’ed and we carried on by ourselves. The first couple of times were O.K. but then it grew monotonous staring out into the blackness, with just the circuit lights to relieve the unbroken darkness. I suppose an artist gazing at them would murmur “Pearls cast upon a black velvet background”, but to us they mean “Keep me under your port wing, and fly at [symbol] 1,000 ft.” The Dren lighting takes some getting used to, the flarepath lights are only 15 watt bulbs and are hooded and secured to give a 15o vertical, and 40o horizontal spread of light, only in a down wind direction. Consequently one can only see them, immediately facing into them, as soon as we have taken off we can no longer see them. It was funny when Bill first saw this, he is generally working on the radio, then he looked out of the astro-dome for the first time on night take off, and called on the A/T “Hey! they’ve switched off the flare path now we are airborne”. Johnny has the worst job, sitting right at the end of the kite, cramped in his turret, and feeling all the crashes and jars of landing far more than us. Every now & again, I go lurching along the catwalk with coffee for him. Bill was quite eager to sit in the cockpit, so I change places with him sometimes & listen to dance music on the radio.
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We get more time off now than we did on night flying, our day off now becomes a night off. So we have the day off after night flying, then that night off & the following day until 6 P.M. Should night flying be scrubbed the night before, then one can make two nights and two days out of it, providing one hasn’t put in a pass. On a couple of days off we have been into Birmingham and stayed at the Services Club. At least we did the first time, the second time they were full up, so we had to doze in arm chairs & so forth. Mac took me into the American Red Cross, I didn’t think we could go in there, but it was O.K. The food in there is very good indeed, I believe it is sent over from the States. I took Johnny in there on our second visit and he thought it was an excellent place, they are certainly superior to our Services Clubs.
There is another instructor in the Bombing Section now, a Sgt Bomb Aimer, just finished his tour of ‘ops’, Sgt Mason his name is, quite a decent fellow. He gave us a ‘natter’ on what life was like on a squadron at the moment. It certainly cleared up a few points and provided a shock. According to him it is a pretty odds on chance that a crew will get the chop before finishing a tour. On his squadron only about 4 crews finished, as far as he could recollect all the time that he was there. It certainly isn’t a rosy future anyway, still there’s always the chance we will be one of them to come through.
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[underlined] 5th August [/underlined]
We have only about a fortnight left before we finish here, one crew became well advanced so they were sent over to Seighford onto 17 course the previous one to ours. At the moment we are on Night bombing exercises, and somehow we always seem to be ‘joed’ for the very last detail. Consequently we hang about all night waiting to take off, and finally get the exercise in between 6 & 7 A.M. when it is beginning to get light. Then we arrive back in the hut to find all the others are up and have been for hours – they nicknamed us “The Dawn Patrol”.
Our first prang on this course occurred the other night. There have been some major prangs on other courses while we have been here, and a few minor ones [deleted] [indecipherable letter] [/deleted] on our course, this was our first major one though. We were circling the airfield waiting to land, when we saw a kite overshoot, prang and burst into flames, not far off the end of the runway, we couldn’t see much detail at all. So we continued to circle and await instructions, then all lights were extinguished and we were ordered to land at Seighford. Over we went and lobbed in then with three others crews, and naturally were wondering what had happened.
We had a meal in the mess, & then as there was nobody around to fix us up with beds, we had to doze on chairs in the mess. After breakfast, which was quite early,
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we decided to sleep on in the ante-room, as Hixon was going to phone when we were to return. However the C.M.C. had locked the ante-room, & said it was always out of bounds in the morning, and would make no exception for us – nice type. So we had to sit on the grass outside the mess for a couple of hours.
I met Derek Ashton over there, they will be finished in a day or so, & so would I if I had still been on that course. I couldn’t have had a better crew than what I have now, though. Ashton said they liked Seighford better than Hixon as there was no ‘bull’ there and it was a lot easier to get into Stafford. The only snag is, it is far more dispersed than Hixon is.
We didn’t get back to Hixon before 1 P.M. as we were held up for brake pressure. It turned out to be Carr’s crew who had pranged. They were making a flapless landing with an instructor, owing to trouble with the flaps. The instructor was flying it, and he approached too fast, overshot didn’t make it, and crashed on the railway lines, when the kite immediately caught fire. Luckily they were all unhurt except Sgt Mann, the ‘screened’ bomb aimer, he was burnt slightly on the face, and has been admitted to hospital for a short while. It seems Fate that he should get through a tour unscathed and then have this happen at O.T.U.
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[underlined] 12th August [/underlined]
Only a week to go, and then most probably we shall fly over enemy territory for the first time – on a ‘nickel’, I hope we do one anyway. The course is split practically in half with the first half slightly ahead of the others – we are in the latter. I said goodbye to Norman and the boys on 17 course, when they came over here, they have to get cleared here as well as at Seighford. Pete Rawlings was chatting to me about his skipper, he was the one I would have had on 17 course. He said he was a damn good pilot, but he would ‘natter’ such a lot on the inter-com. – I should have hated that.
We certainly get good meals on night flying, they have opened, a place especially for us near the cinema. It is a pukka little cook house, with a Cpl & two WAAFs, just for our flight. The Cpl is a good type & we get steaks & eggs for our flying meals, it is bang on. Although we are not supposed to officially, we go there for supper, if there is no flying detail for us that particular night. There is a real craze for cards now, & Hughes, Mac, Bill, Johnny & myself & various others, often play Blackjack & Pontoon, of a night if we aren’t on. We start in the evening & play till the small hours & then stagger down to see what Flying supper is. The Canadians are fond of playing “Shoot”, & have a school regularly in the locker room.
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If night flying is scrubbed for everyone, most of the boys turn in at 11 P.M. or so, in order to have the next day free. However Mac & a couple of others hate getting to bed at that time, preferring to turn in late, & sleep the following day, as if night flying was on. They generally get Pinky Tomlins, electric heater out, & cook things out of their Canadian food parcels. Mac is really amusing when he gets nattering about “Chicken soup with noodles”, & “weeners” & various other Canadian foods. Naturally they kick up a fair amount of noise, and the boys trying to sleep shout out uncomplimentary remarks to Mac, as he is generally telling an anecdote or a story about back home. Then he immediately bellows back “- this is a night flying hut, get out of that bed, you lazy so & so”. The amusing part is the following day, when they are all up & about, & Mac is trying to sleep through the noise. He will sit up & shout “Quiet, let a guy get some sleep”, & they laugh & generally Hughes will give him a shake & say “Come on McCann this is a night flying hut”, & various cracks until Mac aims a boot. They are a good bunch of boys though.
Another good thing about this night flying is that we don’t bother about the C.O’s billet inspection every week. We just put a notice on the door “Night Flying Hut – Do Not Disturb”, & funnily enough nobody does.
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[underlined] 19th August. [/underlined]
Our O.T.U. Course has now ended, the perk was last night when we did a “Nickel” to Rennes. The first lot of our course left a few days ago, they had to do a ‘bullseye’ exercise to finish as there were no “nickels” laid on. They got 10 days leave, & posted to Lindholme to go on Lancasters, that is where we will go, everyone goes onto Lancs from this O.T.U. We had another cross country to do, the usual long stooge right up to the Orkneys, with airfire and bombing at Caernarvon – what a farce.
Yesterday we were told that all the remaining crews would finish with a ‘Nickel’ that night, & we have to take up the kite we would be flying in and Air-Test it. The tail trim proved to be U/S on ours & another was put on, with another crew air testing it. At evening time we assembled in the intelligence room for briefing, it was a pukka briefing, like they have on a squadron, with the Sqdn/Ldr Intelligence Officer taking it. Then the C.O. & a couple of other officers said a few words, & briefing was over, they even had an S.P. on duty outside the door. We put all our personal belongings in an envelope with our name on it, collected our escape kits & foreign money, then off to the locker room to dress.
Half of the crews were going to St. Malo, and the rest of us to Rennes, we were flying the same track & course to Isigny at the base of the Cherbourg peninsula, & then to Avranches our next pin point, where we would continue our various ways. Soon we were all dressed, then into the crew bus & out to the kites.
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They were lined up together, & as R/T isn’t allowed on any ‘ops’ take-offs, a yellow verey was to be fixed from control for the signal to start up engines, then a green verey, when it was time for the first kite to start taxying out. The photographic vans drove out with the camera magazines, & the LAC, rather a gigolo type, who handed up mine, uttered the famous words “Wish I was coming with you”. Suddenly up went the yellow cartridge & the ground crews leapt into action, and the roar of engines shattered the summer’s evening. Johnny then called up to say none of the lights would work in his turret, & the spare fuses had no effect. This caused quite a flap, ‘bods’ went dashing everywhere, & both an armourer & a fitter came dashing along when it was a job for an electrician. During this time the green verey went up & the first kite taxied out, Macgillvray was next, on our right and he waved to us, as they went out, we were still waiting there as the kites on our left followed Macgillvray out, & soon we were sitting there alone. The Groupy came whizzing over in his car to see what the electrician was doing, but at that time one came along with the fuses that had to be changed inside the fuselage. So everything O.K. at last, we taxied out by ourselves, the others all having taken off. All the officers were on the control tower and they waved as we went past, then onto the runway, a green from the A.C.P. and off we went. The others were circling base to gain height, & there was 10 mins to go before setting course, so we were O.K. for time. We set course with them, & made up our height by the first turning point.
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It was quite dusk as we crossed the coast near Southampton, & it was quite dark when Ken said “We’re getting near the enemy coast”. I strained my eyes to peer through the darkness, & after a little while made out the long narrow neck of land, that I had memorised so well as the Cherbourg peninsula. Then I saw my first flak, the sudden whitish flashes on the ground, & after a brief while, the flashes (like twinkling lights but not so harmless). I felt a sense of false confidence, as it seemed remote from us, but the truth was there wasn’t very much flak, and nobody would have worried much. I told them we were starboard of track, & we altered course & soon crossed the enemy coast. Johnny said there was quite a bit more flak going up at the chaps behind us.
I pinpointed the river at Avranches, & after a while we came to the dropping place, it was 15 miles S.E of Rennes owing to the wind. We had to follow the bombing procedure, & drop them by a distributor in order to space them out. A sudden shout from Johnny caused a flap, & as he said “There’s thousands of them floating everywhere,” I cursed him as I wanted to give the order “Close Bomb Doors”. Eventually we shut him up and returned to base. It was an uneventful return journey, & we landed tired but happy (admittedly mainly because we were going on leave). Carr got quite a bit of flak over St. Malo.
We slept in this morning for a while & then got going on our clearance chits. Mac has met the Mid/Upper who has joined our crew, but the rest of us haven’t seen him yet. Tomorrow morning we will complete our clearance chits, then off on 10 days leave, before going to a Con Unit. So goodbye to Hixon.
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[underlined] 29th August. [/underlined]
Since I last wrote various changes have taken place. On the morning of the 20th, the day we [deleted] went [/deleted] left Hixon, we reported at the Adjutant’s office for our warrants & passes. He came out very apologetically & said a last minute change of posting had occurred, we were to go on Stirlings & report to a Con. Unit at Woolfox Lodge, after [underlined] 6 [/underlined] days leave. Losing four days leave didn’t seem too good to us, also we had heard pretty duff reports of Stirlings on ‘ops’. Still off we went – the orderly room had told us the Con Unit was near Cambridge & the warrants were made out to there.
I caught the evening train back, but when I went to the Cambridge R.T.O. they said Hixon Orderly Room had boobed, & Woolfox Lodge was near Stamford. As there were no more trains that night, I had to spend the night in the Nissen hut there, rather grim. In the morning I met Johnny & Pinky Tomlin, & we travelled to Stamford, we had to change at Peterborough and there met some more of the boys. At Stamford we phoned for transport, but it was a few hours before it arrived and we had [deleted] dinner [/deleted] lunch in the George Hotel. Mac & some of the others arrived here yesterday and are in the hut near to ours, and today we have been tramping around with our arrival chits, but as the course commences for us tomorrow we won’t bother to finish them. This course has already been on a couple of days, they were as unprepared for us, as we were for coming here.
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[underlined] [deleted] August [/deleted] [inserted] September [/inserted] 5th. [/underlined]
First, I had better bring my crew up to date, as we have a full crew now. Don Keeley the Mid-Upper Gunner, who joined us as we left Hixon is tall & very dark, his face has been sunburnt so much it leaves one with the impression almost of an Indian, he is quiet a good looking chap & seems very decent. Our engineer was allotted to us by the Engineering Leader, and is a Welshman, Jack Barker. He is about 5 ft 5” with a cheerful face, & crisp wavy hair, we haven’t had a lot to do with him yet, as quite naturally he still goes around with the engineers who came with him as a course, from St. Athens, I think I can safely say that we have got a very good crew, though.
This station is far more dispersed than Hixon was. It is cut in half by the Great North Road, to the East of the road is the airfield itself, whilst to the West are the living & communal sites. Our billet is a quarter of an hours walk to the mess, then from the mess it is a 20 min walk, to the other side of the airfield where training-wing is. There are no ablutions on the sites, and washing kit is stolen if it is left in the ablutions by the mess, so we wash from an old rain water tub at the back of the hut.
We have a ground course of a week to 10 days here, comparable to that at O.T.U. only bringing newer work into it. At last I have met the MK. XIV Gyro Bombright, the one I shall actually use on ‘ops’ – it certainly is a bag of tricks. In a day or so we will have our exams, & then commence our flying on Stirlings.
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[underlined] 14th [deleted] August [/deleted] [inserted] September [/inserted]. [/underlined]
The exams are over, everyone passed O.K. and we are now underway with our Flying Conversion. For the engineers, this is when they fly for the first time, as they pass out from there [sic] training school, and come straight here to be crewed up, without ever having flown before. It seems pretty hard on them, to have only a few hours air experience before they arrive at a squadron and go on ‘ops’.
Stirlings are the largest 4 engined bomber there is, and the cockpit is certainly a height from the ground. They have a long undercart, & it is quite a common prang, to see an undercart wiped off, as the aircraft have a tendency to swing & if one brakes severely & swerves, the undercart is quite likely to go. I have to fly as second pilot in there, and attend to boost, revs, flaps & undercart, it takes both of us to get the kite off the deck & they take a hell of a long run.
For a lot of our circuits and bumps we flew over to a Yankee airfield, they had Fortresses. We used to fly there for 2 hours or so & then return. Before Mac had soloed, he was taking off there, & the kite swung viciously & shot across the grass straight towards a Fort. There were some mechanics working on it, and they looked up to see a Stirling thundering at them, without pause they leapt off the wing, fell over picked their selves up & dashed off. If it hadn’t been dicey, it would have seemed ludicrous, however, the screened pilot took a hand, pulled at the controls, & we took off right over the Fort. Mac soloed O.K. a little later, & now we are on X-countries.
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[underlined] 22nd [deleted] August [/deleted] [inserted] September [/inserted] [/underlined]
Our Con. Unit is nearly over, & we shall soon be on an operational squadron, different instructors speak in glowing terms of their old squadrons, & advise us to try & get posted there so we don’t know where we are. At the moment we are commencing our night X country period, this is a tricky airfield to taxi on at night.
Macgillvray has been going out with a WAAF M.T. driver here, & at last it seems like the real thing he is talking seriously of marriage. When he left Hixon, “The Blunder”, went into Stafford with him to stay the night, & then spins a 48 hr pass with him at the Strand Palace. Macgillvray was half & half about telling her to go, however when he arrived here he wrote, & told her he didn’t want to see her again. She wrote back & said as soon as she got a pass she was coming to have it out with him. Then a letter arrived yesterday saying she would arrive in the evening, & would he meet her in town. Macgillvray religiously stayed in camp all evening, & every now & again the phone would ring for him, it was her, phoning from Stamford, & it was really funny to see him keep telling chaps he wasn’t in. Suddenly, the boys came in with the news, she had come out on the 10.30 P.M. bus, & fixed up with the WAAF Officer to stay the night. Macgillvray was off to his billet like a shot. [deleted] Next [/deleted] [inserted] This [/inserted] morning, the Blunder, was in the dining hall, early, & waiting behind the servery, when Macgillvray came in, she dashed out, & told him exactly what she thought of him, in a loud voice. Everyone listened interestedly, & the cooks even ceased serving in order to hear clearly, Mac went deadly white, & after a while walked out, with the Blunder behind. Anyway that was exit to the Blunder. We’ve certainly had some laughs here.
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[underlined] Wednesday [deleted] August [/deleted] [inserted] September [/inserted] 29th. [/underlined]
At last the time has arrived, and what a time I have had to wait for it, 2 1/4 years ago I volunteered for aircrew, & right up till now I have been training for the real job, & we have arrived at last on a squadron. It is a new squadron just forming, No 623, and we are stationed at Downham Market with No 218 squadron. We left Woolfox about 8 AM. on Monday, and caught the 9.15 AM. to Peterborough, where we arrived about 10.15 AM. Deciding to spend the day we trooped out and started off with a large meal in the Silver Grill, a very satisfying start. During the afternoon we looked over the Cathedral, and afterwards went to the cinema to see Tyrone Power in “Crash Drive”, pretty good. Another large meal at the Silver Grill then off on the 6.46 PM. to Downham Market. Naturally the trains were late and we reached Downham Station around 10 PM. & phoned for transport. When it arrived we threw the kit on, we were getting rather cheesed with it by now, after lumping it on & off different trains, and out we went.
It was rather a grim reception, they told us we couldn’t have a meal, & then we found out there was no accommodation for us. So we drove round in the dark in a lorry and they found room for us in ones & twos with the erks, it was pretty grim organisation.
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They locked our kit up in a hut, my overcoat & groundsheet amongst them, so of course it poured of rain during the night & the next morning. Being as the station is all clay like most of the Fen country, it was one helluva mess. Like all Bomber Stations it is horribly dispersed, & we tramped around miserably in the wet, with our arrival chits. The mess was large and new, & very bare, & the food just happened to be pretty grim, so I’m afraid we took a rather poor view of the station, things look a little better now though.
There is a rigged up cinema & I believe they have occasional shows there, but there isn’t a lot of entertainment available. The town [deleted] of [/deleted] or village of Downham is only 15 mins walk from the mess, but there isn’t much life in there. They have one rather ancient cinema with old films & a dance hall, that is always over crowded & 21 pubs, the latter is over shadowed by Stamford’s 63. I don’t think we will be going in there very much. There were three crews arrived from Woolfox together, Pete, Macgillvray & ourselves, Carr is travelling down too today, as he hadn’t finished his flying at Woolfox. We are binding for leave as most crews get it on arrival but our efforts haven’t been successful so far. Our first two ‘ops’ here are mining trips & the pilot was a second “dickey” (pilot) trip, before we start we have to do a bullseye though.
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[underlined] Monday 4th October. [/underlined]
Things are looking quiet a bit better now, the mess seems comfortable, & the food really is good. Up till Saturday we didn’t do much, mainly hung around & had a few lectures, & got our kit into the parachute section. This is a new idea, they have a large room, with lockers, & hang our kit up properly, to dry etc, also testing it each time, then when we want something we go & ask for it & they bring it out. If they have found any stuff U/S they tell us what it is so we can change it, it’s a good scheme. The essentials such as chute, harness, helmet, boots, & ‘K’ type dinghy, are laid out already when the crew is on ‘ops’. No waiting or anything its quite a good scheme. We drew our electrical kit & our new flying boots, from stores, there [sic] boots are the new type with leather boots as bottoms, they have a knife in the side to cut the upper off, should we land in enemy territory, & thus leave a fine pair of walking boots.
On Saturday our bullseye arrived and we were briefed in the afternoon for a 7.50 PM take off. We got away a few minutes late but with no mishap & climbed over the drome then set course for Bedford, this was the starting gate of the bullseye. About 15 mins after we left there, we were coned by about 20 beams & passed on to other cones. We were diving all around the sky but we were
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held pretty well for around 10 – 15 minutes, before we got out. At Portsmouth we were held for around 2 minutes, & again at Beachy Head, then we headed for the target – London. We came in over Croydon & Lewisham to run up to our target, Westminster Bridge. There were about four cones in action with about 30 beams in each, and they all had a kite in, jerking like mad. Whilst they were occupied we were able to slip in smoothly on our bombing run without interference. The searchlights blinded me a bit though and I was unable to get a good line of sight on the bridge, but took the photographs. The black out of London was pretty grim, there were bags of lights about, & the docks were clearly lit up along the river & so were the main railway stations. I don’t think I would fancy an attack on London though, the defences seem pretty hot. After London we went to Bedford again where the bullseye finished, so we had no engagements with fighters. From here to base then up to Goole and back on another I.R. stooge. It was pretty nippy & poor Johnny & Don in the turrets were frozen stiff. There were hardly any fighter interceptions I guess the fighter boys didn’t feel like playing. Anyway back to the bacon & egg, the usual natter with the other crews on various points & then off to bed, for a nice lengthy sleep.
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When we got up at dinner time yesterday it was to be told that we were operating that night – mine laying, it rather shook us. Briefing was at 4 PM. & we learned we were going off the Frisian Is. (a fairly short trip) & taking 6 x 1500 mines. Back to the mess in the bus for the operational meal, then over to the billet, where like old men we clamber into our long flying underwear. Even though it is all pure rayon lined it makes me itch, just not used to long legs & sleeves I guess after jockey shorts & singlet. Our next move is back down to the dressing room in the parachute section, where we collect our kit. We never put the stuff on otherwise we would sweat moving around & then it would freeze when we got up & defeat the clothing. Out to the kite in the bus then, dump the kit on the grass & everyone climbs in for their last minute check of their equipment. Whoever D.I’d the first turret did a poor job, because the reflector sight was left on & the guns weren’t loaded, so I got cracking on those & tested the tuner, then climbed down for my initial bombing check. The engines were run up, tested, then shut down again & we climbed out for a smoke and sign our various forms. The Wing Comdr & Sqdn Ldr drove out to give last minute tips & see if there were any snags, then we all climbed aboard again, fully dressed now, all hatches closed, & taxied out.
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The first aircraft was due off at 7.35 and took off dead on time, we were third, got the green from the ACP opened up & away we went. They are a bit of a job to get off with a heavy load & we didn’t miss the trees by much but we made it. We set course for Cromer, where we were leaving the coast, at 1500 ft, we were staying at that height so Jerry couldn’t pick us up, then climbing to 5,000 ft at the last moment to avoid any flak ships. Everything went fine, poor old Ken was sick again, he certainly has guts to keep flying and navigating when he is often queer. We had to climb quickly at the mining area, & the revs wouldn’t increase for the minute, consequently we nearly stalled. At 1500 ft with that bomb load we would [deleted] dive [/deleted] have dived straight into the waves, it was touch & go for a minute but worked out. The mines were dropped, one [deleted] f [/deleted] could feel them drop, & back we went. When we got back to Cromer there were lots of searchlights & they picked us up, but shut off when we flicked our nav lights on & off. They suddenly coned a single engine kite so we watched it like hawks just in case, there have been a lot of intruders around this area. There was a large fire about 50 miles off the port bow, enemy activity maybe. We landed O.K. though were interrogated & off to the mess, when the siren went so we had just dodged it, still we were safe then. A bang on supper then off to bed for another good rest.
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[underlined] Thursday 7th October.. [/underlined]
Life is proceeding along fairly smooth lines, and we are pretty well settled in. The other night when we did our mining trip, the main force went to Kassel. Clarc Carr went with another pilot to get his second ‘dicky’ trip in. The pilot he went with had 23 trips in & was on the point of completing his tour, but they never returned. Poor old Clarc, he was one of the best chaps I have met, he never got in a temper with anyone, yet he was pretty tough, it’s a shame that such fellows have to go. It really shakes us when fellows we have been with for a long while get the chop, brings it home the hard way. They have sent his crew home on 3 days leave, I don’t know what they are doing after that, whether they are returning to ‘Con’ Unit to pick up a new skipper, or stay here as ‘spares’, the former would be better I should think.
Speaking of spares they grabbed Don, our mid upper to go in somebody else’s crew on Monday for the raid on Frankfurt, as their m/u.g had gone sick. It was rather a nerve I thought both asking a crew to fly with a chap they didn’t know, & worse for the gunner to fly with a strange crew. They did the same thing to Smith, Macgillvrays rear gunner, if they keep this thing up they will
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soon be doing away with the crews & just have a pool that they draw on, I always thought that if somebody was sick in a crew the whole lot was declared U/S. there is a word they have when referring to men they call them ‘bodies’ or ‘bods’, & how right it is, you are just merely a figure on paper. Every morning the big noise walks into the flight office & asks the flight commander “How many crews have you, fully operational?”, and then demands those that aren’t be made so in as short a time as possible. That is all they are interested in, is, how many crews have they available for an ‘op’, regardless of how much flying you’ve done, just recently some of the chaps have been on the main force 3 out of 4 nights. Anyway all kites returned from Frankfurt O.K. and Dan gave us a vivid description, it was very interesting but I guess we will be seeing all we want of it very shortly.
Tuesday night we were on ‘stand down’, but Wednesday we were briefed for a long mining trip to La Rochelle, right down near the Spanish border. There was a hell of a front expected at base around 6.30 so they were rushing us off at 5.50 & come back to meet the front over the Channel & battle through it. There was severe icing from 7 – 15,000 so we had to try & climb above it, not an easy job in a Stirling, the extent was possibly
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right up to the London area as well. The briefing & everything was terribly rushed & we tore around in a mad flap to get everything done, and we were all dressed & on the point of going out to the kite when they scrubbed it, what a life, tonight we were in it again but it was scrubbed once more.
Last night I decided I would see what Downham was like so I ambled in with the boys & was I cheesed. I had seen the [deleted] [indecipherable word] [/deleted] film on at the little cinema, so all there was to do was sit in a smokey pub, & swill lousy beer. At last the smoke made my eyes ache so much I came home. Macgillvray was on a short mining trip last night, & a Picture Post reporter was going along. They sent down 4 camera & news men, & took photographs of them having an operational meal & were going to take bags more in the kite, but it was scrubbed, what bad luck, a chance like that only comes once in a life time. The traditional RAF bull was in evidence, for the photograph they had a spotless table-cloth, cream crackers on the table, & a Cpl WAAF waiting on them. Actually we queue up for our meals & a long one at times & eat of [sic] bare dirty tables, & the only biscuits we see are hard dog ones. – We did our first day flying, here, today, took two kites up on air tests, we were doing a loaded climb but that was scrubbed, at least we know what the drome looks like in daylight now.
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[underlined] Sunday October 10th. [/underlined]
We look like having our first leave in a few days we are officially due to go at 0700 hrs on Thursday 14th, until the following Tuesday midnight. The chaps generally get away on the Wednesday, & if they are very lucky & they aren’t on ops on Tuesday they get away Tuesday afternoon which is pretty good. I only hope we are that lucky, Mac has to do a second dicky & if he gets that in tomorrow night we may be on ops the following night (Tuesday) & mess things up a bit. Should it be scrubbed tomorrow, Mac will go Tuesday & we can go Tuesday afternoon, I am afraid we are unscrupulous enough to hope that the weather is lousy tomorrow night. He has got his Flight through at last, & is now ‘Chiefy’ McCann, it is well overdue, but the Canadians get back pay on crowns, one of the numerous ways they are better than the RAF, so he has about £16 back pay to come. The comical part is that after all this waiting & binding now it has appeared in P.O.R’s the stores have no crowns so he is unable to wear it – poor Mac.
Friday night we went on our long mining trip, off Bordeaux in the estuary of the Gironde. We took 4 1,500 mines a fair weight, our all up weight was 69,784 lbs. The briefing was at 6.0 P.M. it shook us but they were having a late take off because the room was nearly full & they were waiting for it to die down as the German fighters have an easy time in the bright moonlight. The bus took
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[inserted] [newspaper cutting showing a WAAF with a mine] [/inserted] [duplicate page]
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us back [missing words] as our operation [missing words] wasn’t until 8.45 we had bags of time to fill in. Lots of Forts went over then & we watched them the next day we learned they had been to Bremen. We had our egg & at 10.25 the transport took us back, we didn’t have to struggle with our kit as we had taken it out in the afternoon. The run up & testing commenced, then shut down while we donned our kit & start up once more. We took off bang on time & 5 mins later set course. Old Petch who was the only other one beside us going swung on take off & hit his undercart against some iron rails for fog lighting & they wouldn’t let him take off, consequently we were the only ones from this station that went.
It was practically 10/10ths cloud down to the coast, it cleared there & I was able to get a wizard pin point on Selsey Bill, our crossing point. The moon was like a searchlight & we felt all naked illuminated up there, it set quite a bit after they told us it did, because there was the time of setting as seen by a ground observer, whereas we were at 12,000 ft. The cloud built up more & more over the Channel until it was 10/10ths again on the French Coast and we were unable to pin point. It remained like that most of the way, the least it was, was 7/10ths, approaching the target area it began
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to clear & I got down into the bombing hatch ready. I was determined to get my night vision up to scratch because if we couldn’t pin point we had to bring the mines back. The green indicator target on the VCP was glaring on my vision panel like a searchlight so I piled my long cushion over it. Then I wanted to see my target map so hopped to switch on the light for a brief second, next the cushion fell down & the light glared again, I dove back at that. I was hopping around like a rubber ball, & sweating lest I should miss the coast & be unable to pin point. Suddenly I saw it, it was pretty dark, I could make it out clearly though, then we passed out to sea over the first island & swung out to rear to clear the island defences. Then altering course we swung in for the mainland once more, I was straining my neck, thats [sic] the worst of the Stirling bomb aimers window, the Lancs have a beauty. After a bit I made it out we were heading up the Gironde estuary, so we made a left hand turn & came bang on the corner of the estuary, which was our pin point. Setting course on a D.R run we dropped the eg O.K. & set course home. Just after we left the flak began to open up on the islands & one searchlight probed around, but they weren’t near us.
Stooging along happily with thoughts of home & bed we were shaken by a show of
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flak suddenly thrown up. We had got a little port of track & were too near Nantes, they had some accurate heavy flak down there, because of the Fort raids on the U Boat Bases. Anyway they were too accurate for our liking the first burst exploded with quite a crash underneath us & burned the kite a bit. We did some hectic weaving & finally got clear, it was a sticky moment though that predicted stuff is deadly they reckon to get you on the first burst. Nothing happened on the way back beyond sighting another Stirling, the cloud thickened over England, & when we reached base they diverted us to Tangmere, although we could have got in. So we had to fly back all the way we had come down to the South Coast. Arriving there after 6 hrs 40 mins flying we found 11 other Stirlings there. We had a meal, & the guy told us you can sleep as long as you like they gave us good accommodation, boy! we needed sleep. Hardly had we laid our heads down when they dragged us out saying we had to return right away. Then we had to wait 3 hours before we were re-fuelled & away. Two squadrons of Typhoons scrambled while we were there, straight off down wind a lovely night. Flying back to base I could hardly keep my eyes open we had had no sleep for nearly 36 hours. We certainly slept well on return. Today there hasn’t been anything doing because of the lousy weather. Jack Spackly & Ron Winnitt have arrived here, they were with me from Manchester & all through Canada, I was glad to see them arrive here, they are in 623.
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[underlined] Sunday October 24th [/underlined]
It is a fortnight since I last made an entry but I have been on leave during that time, & following my maxim of never letting work interfere with pleasure I made no entries in here. I had a fine leave, Mary was able to get the time off & that made it just right we saw a couple of shows, popped around to a few friends & had a wizard time. There was one disappointment overshadowing it though, Ken didn’t come on leave with us, it all began a little while before - . A fair number of times through his earlier training, so he tells me, and during the time we were with him at O.T.U. and on Conversion Unit, he was sick during trips. He tried hard, by doing everything he knew to overcome it, but unsuccessfully. Then on our first mining trip to the Frisians he was sick at the target area & we had to rush to drop them & there was a fair flap resulting as I have previously mentioned in the kite nearly stalling in. Poor Ken, he reckons he is to blame but I don’t think he has anything to worry about, out of the lot I think he did his job the best & the smartest. He was sick a lot on the long mining as well so he reported sick a couple of days afterwards to see what the M.O. could do.
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He was given some Anti-Air Sickness capsules, & tried them without effect, so the M.O. grounded him for a little while. Then they took Ken’s case up a little more & the Wing Comdr said he would have an interview with him. This was the position on the day we were going on leave Tuesday 12th, Mac also hadn’t done his second dicky trip. So Ken was hanging around all morning waiting for the Wing Co to say he would see him, & we were worried in case he wouldn’t catch the 3.51 London train with us. We left him waiting at the camp & told him to whizz down on his bike if there was a chance of catching the train, if not, to follow us down on the later train. On the road we got a lift to the railway station in an army lorry & had a cup of tea in the café next door. Waiting on the platform later, the [deleted] [indecipherable letters] [/deleted] train was almost due in, when Ken came dashing up. Everyone was overjoyed because we thought he had just made it, but he told us the Wing Comdr. had cancelled his leave and he had to remain behind to get 15 hrs Fighter Affiliation in, to see how often he was sick & then go before a Medical Board. My God! as if anyone wouldn’t feel lousy after 15 hrs. Fighter Affil. Also with the weather as it had been, a stinking yellow fog, there didn’t
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appear to be much chance of flying. It was a hell of a twist all the way round, and poor Ken was on the receiving end. There was nothing to be done, however, so off we had to go without him. I felt pretty rotten though seeing him standing there watching us go on leave, & having to ride back & spend a week by himself.
As I said previously I had a fine time, the days flew swiftly as they always do, & the last day arrived. I had arranged with Johnny to meet at 5.30 in Liverpool St to catch the 5.40 P.M. However he arrived up from Bristol early & came over to my place, so we travelled up together, & met Jack on the station. The train was very crowded & we had to bunk in the luggage room, at the first stop, Bishops Stortford, lots of people got out & we got a seat easily. At Cambridge there was about a 20 minute wait so the three of us got out for a cup of tea. A porter told us it wouldn’t be going for a while yet & we had plenty of time. We were only in the canteen for about 3 minutes and as we emerged, saw the train about a quarter of the way along the platform. I broke into a sprint with Jack about 10 yds behind and Johnny 10 yds behind him. Down the platform we raced, porters shouted out “Clear the Way”, and people skipped
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nimbly aside, luckily the platform was fairly empty. Some people shouted encouragement, other shouted “You’ll never make it”, but unheedingly we pounded quickly on.
One American soldier told us it was just like the races, first I flashed past, and he turned to watch me when Jack whizzed by. As he swivelled his head to watch him Johnny shot past, so he ran after us to see the result. Down the whole length of Cambridge platform we raced & closed the distance to about two yards, I had already selected the door I was jumping for, when we reached the blacked out part of the platform. There were no lights at all & it was as dark as the pit, I tried to maintain speed but cracked against a pillar and spun around like a top. So the chase was abandoned & we stood watching the tail light disappear into the darkness. We were in rather a fix as all our kit was on the train, none of us had hats & Johnny had no belt either. After hunting around & getting wrong directions from a few people, we contacted a porter, and old sweat from the last war, who was very helpful & took us to a fellow, who sent off a wire to the different stations telling them to take our kit off the train & send it to Downham. That done, with certain misgivings as to whether it would work out we went over to the A.T.O.
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Here we phoned the camp and told them we would be arriving late & fixed things up. That done we adjourned to a nearby pub & treated our helpful porter to a few. After that it degenerated into a regular crawl, hatless & hands in pockets we rolled round Cambridge. Greatly warmed by the beverage, we didn’t notice the hardness of the bunks, & I didn’t suffer as I did on the previous occasion I slept at Cambridge ATO. We travelled on to Downham on the 8.13 AM. next day & arrived about 9.15. As I feared they hadn’t any of our kit there, so I thought “Goodbye to that”. It rather shook the S.P’s in the guard room when we rolled up with no hats or anything, they didn’t say anything, though, I shudder to think what would have happened at a training unit under similar circumstances. Within an hour of arriving back we were flying on an air test, maybe they thought we would forget how.
We haven’t done much since arriving back, the weather has been pretty rough. The situation regarding Ken appears pretty obscure, he didn’t get much flying in as he predicted, now he is just hanging about to see what the score is. I hope they wont [sic] take him out of the crew he is such a decent chap. Its growing late & the other guys are binding for the lights out, so I guess I’ll put more next time.
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[underlined] Thursday 28th October [/underlined]
The weather still remains duff, after days of rain, it has changed into pretty thick fog every day. The last time we flew was over a week ago when we did a loaded climb in “D”, we now have I for Ink, instead of D. For the time being Ken is out of the crew, we are all praying it wont [sic] be for long although we have another decent chap in his place, Les Gray another Canadian. The whole situation is pretty vague, Ken himself feels he would rather not go on in case he should be sick one time & we wandered into a flak area whilst he was sick. As for us, we would put implicit faith in him whatever happened, & I just hate to lose him. So nobody knows what is going to happen, we’re just keeping our fingers crossed.
To keep ourselves amused now quite a bit of our time is spent in seeing films, I have seen a couple of decent ones on the camp recently. The other day they had the power off all day, no electric light, wireless or anything, I certainly think they ought to get there [sic] fingers out with the lighting in the ante room, it is very dim. Last night seeking amusement further afield, Mac, Jack, Don, Johnny & myself went in the liberty bus to Kings Lynn. We had a good meal when we arrived there, & then saw a decent show, coming out from there, Jack, Johnny & myself
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went into a dance, while Mac & Don went to the Duke’s Head for a meal. I think they had the best of the deal, because the dance was pretty corny, & then when it finished at 10 P.M. we were tramping all over the town trying to find a place with something to eat without success, it was pretty grim.
We got back to the bus O.K. & off we went, by this time a thick mist had rolled in, add to this the fact that our driver had a fair number of drinks under his belt, & we went weaving all over the road. It wasn’t long before we went into the ditch, & a fellow raised a laugh by asking “Does this count as an op?” We lifted the thing out of the ditch, then he found he had taken the wrong turning so back we had to go. It took us 1 1/2 hours to travel a 25 minute journey, we heaved a sigh of relief when we arrived back here. It would be that night too that they had an ENSA show at the camp and who should be in it but Pat Kirkwood, I would have liked to have seen it. Our next leave is due on the 24th November & I have written to Mary & told her to book some shows up. It is rather a long chance, that we will be there on time, even providing all goes well. Still I think it is worth trying. Ah! well I’m tired we didn’t get much sleep last night so I’ll turn in.
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[underlined] Monday November 1st. [/underlined]
Friday was just one of those uneventful days, though the mist seemed to have lifted a bit, a few very keen types were speaking eagerly of the prospects of flying, but the main horde, including all of our crew, nearly, retired to the mess early & buried theirselves [sic] in the newspapers, springing up eagerly to get in the dinner queue. That evening we went into town to see an Abbot & Costello film, it wasn’t bad, with a simple meal of fish & chips, we wandered back, what an uneventful life this is. Saturday was no better, but we really put some work in on the kite harmonising all the guns. We made quite a job of it, having Bill & Jack run backwards & forwards with the harmonisation board. The only thing that marred it was the fact that both Johnny & myself broke our lateral levelling screws on the reflector sights, necessitating harmonising them over again. We have been informed that it is nigh on impossible to get any small nuts & bolts of that type, so we are waiting for them, meanwhile the kite is unable to go on ops without the two reflector sights harmonised. So a kite has to stay back because of two nuts & bolts. Just a classic example of the important part played by the small cogs in the big wheel.
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Yesterday the weather seemed to be better, but there was nothing doing in the morning so we put in quite a bit of work on the kite. In the afternoon though there was a sudden flap, to get as many aircraft airborne as possible, so off we went for our air test. We have a new kite now I Ink instead of D Dog that we used to have, yesterday was the first time we had flown in it. She seemed a pretty decent kite, if we can do a loaded climb on it, & see how much height we can get out of it, it will be O.K. In the evening I just remained in the mess & went over to the hut early, I just seem to be in a state of lethargy here, with no inclination to do anything. We tried to get the fire going in the hut, these stoves are grim things at times. All the time we are chopping fences down & scrounging wood & ‘borrowing’ coal from out of the dump opposite. Most times that we light it, huge clouds of smoke belch out in every direction and there is a frantic rush for the doors to breathe some fresh air in. Last night was an exception though, the fire lit right away, & it gradually warmed up until it was giving out a heat like a blast furnace. It isn’t very often that we get it to go like that though, still I am nearest to it, I had that in view when I chose my bed.
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Today we had quite an interesting time, the morning we spent going round the bomb dumps. Practically all the bomb aimers went out, and at the dump we saw how the carriers are fixed on, & then at the firing point how they are flared. It was quite a sight in the dump to see all the rows of bombs laid out in their rows behind the blast walls. The corporal who was giving us the gen set a 4 lb incendiary off for us to show us how they went, boy they certainly burn, they seem better than the ones the Jerries dropped on London in the blitzes. We handled all the equipment & all of it was quite different from the stuff we had been taught throughout training all that was obsolete a good while before. Finally we went out to the kites to watch them bomb up & then try the various ways of releasing hang ups, it was quite a useful morning.
This afternoon we flew again, to level the bomb sight, & then to continue to Goodestone for a bombing exercise. It went off pretty well, but I don’t know how they are going to figure out where bombs are where, because we didn’t have 3073’s and didn’t inform the range as we dropped each one. As there were at least four kites bombing, they seemed to be showering down. Most certainly there will be some news in the morning.
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[underlined] Thursday 4th November. [/underlined]
There has been some flying recently but not a lot we have been up on a couple of air tests but on the whole the weather is still rather grim. We have been putting in quite a bit of work on the kite, Johnny, Don & myself have had our guns out & cleaned them. They were in a hell of a mess as they were packed with grease, then somebody borrowed our kite & the dope of a bomb aimer fired my guns, mucking things up well & truly. We have got them back again now. Tuesday afternoon they gave us a stand down, its funny no sooner do they say stand down & the fellows have started trekking into the different towns, when the old sun comes out & things are fine again, I bet they gnash their teeth.
All of us except Mac caught the 2.3 P.M. into Cambridge, had a look round, & a decent tea then booked our beds in the W.V.S. Afterwards we saw a show, then diving into a pub for a drink we landed in a flight passing out party. They had just finished their exams at Cambridge I.T.W. & were celebrating, when we entered somebody said “Here’s the gen boys”, at which I nearly fell over. Still they plied us with free beer so that was bang on, they also asked quite a bit about their future training & ‘ops’. Maybe quite a few lines were shot, but we had enough shot at us
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during our training so it was our turn. They all had bright blue uniforms, ‘bully’ white belts, close cropped hair, a general sprog appearance altogether. I shudder to think I was like that once, though not to such a degree, but I was & so must everybody who goes in for aircrew, we didn’t notice anything strange then. They had various toasts & I’m afraid I smiled a little cynically when one chap said “Goodbye to all exams and binding”. Still we had a good time, followed by a meal in a nearby café & then to bed. We rose at 7 AM. & went round to another W.V.S. place for our breakfast, then from there to the station to catch the famous 8.13 AM. to Downham.
They were taking a squadron photograph, & naturally Jack & I had to roll up late and miss being in it – such is life. Last night they had an ENSA show to which we went and surprisingly enough it was quite good, we almost got in without paying, but not quite, it would have helped our financial status quite a bit. Today we had to take the Flight Commander’s kite up an [sic] Air Test it, a doubtful priviledge. [sic] The bind was it was 12 midday when they rang the mess and told us & we were already in the dinner queue, so out we had to go & tramp back to the flights. We came down fairly late so didn’t go back again, but phoned into town & booked our seats for the cinema it was a good film, though I’d seen it before.
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[underlined] Sunday November 7th [/underlined]
Friday was quite a busy day, in the morning there was a smashing lecture by a Dutch F/O who had been shot down in a Lanc. & had got back from Holland. We had been listening to him for about 10 mins & lapping every word, when they came in and dragged us up for flights affil. typical RAF. The bind was there were two crews in the same kite, ourself [sic] & Bennett. We stooged around for over an hour but the fighter didn’t show up, so back we had to go, I was pretty cheesed about missing that lecture though. They put us up again in the afternoon, & after a bit of stooging around, boy! that fighter could fly. I sat in the Wops seat all the time, listening to “Music While You Work” poor old Bennets Engineer was sick, he must be quite a lot because he had a paper bag ready with him. I felt a bit grim once or twice, because they were really throwing the kite around. I am O.K. if I can see out to see whats [sic] doing, but if I am in the middle of the kite unable to look out then its rough.
Ken has gone on leave at last, this was the one he missed when we went, he has gone to Iver, Bucks & to London. I have told him to pop in at my house I hope he does. Meanwhile he has let me ride his bike which comes in very handy at this blasted place. Friday
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night it was given out on the radio that F/Sgt Aaron who used to be with 218 had been posthumously awarded the V.C. The citation said his courage had never been surpassed, & by jiminy they were right. In absolute agony & with severest wounds he had diverted the kite on from Turin to N. Africa, where he died 9 hours after, it was a marvellous show! The air bomber who flew it & landed it, belly landing, with 4,000 lb still on received the C.G.M. & most of the crew the D.F.M. They arrived back from Gibralter not long ago, with tins of sugar & heavens knows what else besides.
All our trips recently have been in other kites ours was U/S, when we came down from a flip they found the tail plane was only secured with about 3 nuts & bolts, we nearly had it that time. Yesterday it was put serviceable again & we had to take her up for a couple of hours. It had rained cats & dogs in the morning so there was a stand down & we were the only joe’s flying, & Saturday afternoon too. We were caught in some hellish storms but dodged them, then found parts with clean weather, & played tag with the cloud tops it was good fun. I broke a bigué and then we couldn’t get the undercart down, so poor old Jack & Bill had to set to & wind it down. We all held our breaths when we came in but it didn’t collapse & we were O.K.
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The Wing Cmdr was attacked by a JU88 on a gardening trip to the Baltic the other night, & they claimed it shot down. Who is to dispute them, I bet they went nowhere near the thing, as everyone else thinks & its popular talk that the Wing Cmdr. may get a gong for it whether its true or not I don’t know. There is something funny going on Stirlings haven’t operated against a land target for a month now, & there are all sorts of rumours going around. We are going on Coastal Command, are going out East, are converting onto Lancs, are towing gliders, are only going to do mining trips, these are but a few of the speculations floating around, there certainly seems to be something in the air. The most obvious solution I think is they are waiting until a .5 mid under gun is fitted, we also have to operate this, quite a few jobs we have now.
It has been bitterly cold all day today, whilst harmonising my front guns I gashed two fingers & I didn’t feel it, nor did it start to bleed for a good while, my fingers were so frozen, it’s a real touch of winter. There are two fires in our huge ante room & that is the only method of heating the place. Consequently there is a circle of fellows packed tightly around it, & another circle around them waiting for someone to vacate a chair at which there is a mad rush. The rest of the fellows just have to hover around hoping to catch a glimpse of the fire or of moving into the outer circle.
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[underlined] Thursday 11th November. [/underlined]
The cold weather continues, it takes ones breath away just walking down to the flight, I am glad there are no ‘ops’ on from this station nowadays. I wonder what is happening, it certainly is funny, Stirlings off ‘ops’ all this time, must be something behind it all. The rumours are flying as thick as ever, but nobody has any definite ‘gen’ at the moment. We will find out in due course I daresay. Yesterday we went on rather an interesting trip, an Eric, which is a daylight bullseye. Naturally the only defences we had to combat were fighters, & we didn’t have any engagements, so everything went smoothly. Our route took us across London three times, & pin pointing became very interesting, as I found the various places I know. The balloons were quite a sight, flying at their operational height, there seemed literally hundreds of them. Old Father Thames looked grand in the sun with the boats chugging slowly up & down, there was a fair amount of shipping off Tilbury & Grays & a convoy at Southend. At Chatham there were a fair amount of naval vessels, but nothing like peace-time. We followed the Thames up to attack our target Tower Bridge, there was a certain amount of difficulty in finding this owing to cloud that had rolled across. We eventually made it though.
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Being used to stooging along by ourselves at night it was a novel experience for us to see about another hundred bombers all around, on the same course & height. It was rather tricky at turning points, some kites E.T.A’s would be due slightly before one’s own & they would turn & come cutting across, diving underneath, or lifting above, there must be some close shaves at night, which the darkness hides. When we returned to base the weather had changed down so we had to stooge around for a bit, but we landed quite safely.
Our leave is due on the 24th, and we are beginning to make our arrangements, praying to the Lord, that nothing crops up & we lose it. I had a letter from Bill today, saying that old Bob Blackburn, who was in our room at I.T.W. had got the chop on his 13th over the Ruhr. He always maintained there was nothing in superstition & insisted on third lights, I guess it was just Fate that it should be his 13th, I hope he managed to bale out safely. We lost a crew the other night on a long mining off the Spanish border, Johnston was flying with them as rear gunner, it was his first trip. He was in Carr’s crew that is the second one gone, these mining trips certainly don’t seem to be such a stooge nowadays.
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[underlined] Sunday 14th November. [/underlined]
What a hum drum life this is, & a cold one. Rush for breakfast, fight to get a wash basin then trudge down to the flights. Knock around in the Bombing Office for a while to see the score then out to the kite for a D.I. It’s a hellish cold job polishing the perspex on the first turret, especially the outside I have to mount a rickety iron ladder, & perched up there 25 ft in the air polish away vigorously with frozen hands, each movement causing the ladder to sway. We generally continue to get back to the flights at 11.15 AM. in time for the NAAFI van. Then back to the mess, with more chances than one of being called back for an air test, just as we are about to go into dinner. The afternoon’s procedure is very similar, if we aren’t flying, it is link or Gee, Astro or something, until we scuttle back to tea. Over to the billet, then, to coax a fire into the stove & all huddle round it. Gangs of fellows scour the immediate vicinity of the huts for wood, posts are pulled up & everything of an inflammable nature seized upon. There is a huge coke dump opposite & every evening sees a dozen fellows or more filling buckets & other articles. These stoves are quite our pride & we take an experts delight in raising a large fire in a short while.
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If we aren’t writing letters we are listening to records on a gramophone that Bill managed to ‘borrow’ from the W/T section, I wish we had a wireless here, though. Sometimes we attend an ENSA show, the one this week wasn’t so bad. Friday afternoon we had a stand down so Jack, Johnny & myself bowled into Cambridge again, following the routine of our previous visit, but not having the luck to fall into any flight parties again. So far this month we have gone in quite a few flying hours the weather has been lousy on quite a few trips. Last night we were stooging round in a rain storm trying to find a bombing target before we were recalled, Saturday night, too. The other day Mac, Johnny Don & myself went up with Wiseman’s crew for Air to Air firing over the Wash. After landing & unloading the blasted ammo. when it came to my turn the Martinet ran out of fuel & had to return.
The other day on our Air Test, Mac feathered the starboard outer to test it, but couldn’t unfeather it. After a few unsuccessful attempts we gave up & landed with it feathered, & got down O.K. too. If it isn’t the undercart refusing to come down, its something else. Still old I Item is quite a good kite now, & we can get a fair turn of speed from it.
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[underlined] Thursday November 18th [/underlined]
Quite a lot of things have happened in the few short days since I made my last entry. First like a bolt from the blue came the news that the squadron was being disbanded. It was quite a shock we are supposed to be moving to Chedburgh shortly & there given individual postings. Everyone is thoroughly cheesed about it, we were just getting settled in here too, all the top bags, Bombing, Nav & Gunnery Leaders are fine fellows, one couldn’t wish for a better bunch, I guess that’s typical of the RAF when one gets a piece of cake, they aren’t allowed to eat it. 214 squadron which is at Chedburgh is coming here in our place & we are gradually breaking up. They say we are converting to Lancs & if so it may be time that Stirlings are gradually dieing [sic] out of Bomber Command & the Lancs taking their place. If we are moving in a few days, as the tale says, then it will mess our leave up, after all our arranging, its driving me nuts, we never get a leave that works out smartly. Johnnie Smythe a Nav. from Sierra Leone has had a letter from the people there saying they want to adopt 623 Sqdn. & have collected 100 to £150,000 for our benefit – phew! that’s over £250 per head ground & air crew, of course it would be used for the betterment of the squadron, building a wizard crew room, & various other things.
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The Wing Cmdr. has been up to Group to raise Cain, I don’t know if he has had any satisfication, but I & everyone else hope we stay here together. Monday night we had our Sqdn party, strictly bachelor, the air crew paid for it all, & invited the ground crew to show their appreciation for their maintenance of the kites. There was lots of beer & everyone was happy especially old Mac he was well under, a gang of them started down the mess before the party, then rang Downham for a taxi to take them to the party 200 yds away. There was a championship table tennis match between a couple of top notches in peace-time & then the winner issued a challenge. Ginger Morris who used to play for England, had been waiting for this to just bowl out & beat him. The only fault was Ginger had been imbibing heavily & consequently could hardly see the ball, so lost easily. At 10.30 P.M. it broke up and Mac got in at 5 AM. he had wandered over to the mess to shoot the bull & fell asleep there.
Poor Johnnie has been feeling grim and was very bad the other day & went sick, & they chopped him in dock with flu. Jack was also feeling bad but has recovered, but Don is in bed very queer & I feel it myself, what a crew, but this place is enough to give people all the illnesses under the sun.
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Tuesday night, six Canadians came & gave a concert show, they were a travelling party all [indecipherable word] & they put up quite a performance too. Last night there was an ENSA show which I thought rather good, so we haven’t done too bad for entertainment. Today held a big shock for quite a few people, Group came through to say there was a big do, & 218 & 623 were on the main effort. All crews available were put on, & after 6 weeks they thought it was a laugh & a joke, but realised it was true. Mac was due to go on a second dickie with Sqdn/Ldr. Overton, but it was scrubbed at the last minute as Overton’s Navigator was sick. Petch has gone with Flt/Lt. Willis, & Macgillvray with Flt/Lt. Nesbitt, I hope the morning saw them all back safe & sound. Apparently we are still an operational squadron, but for how long is the question. There is also a fair amount of mining & a new crew is taking our kite, so Don & I were out there this afternoon checking on the turrets.
The other afternoon we had a wizard lecture from a Lieutenant in the Navy. He had quite a few experiences to recount he had been on the Greton in the Graf Spee battle & in the U-Boat War, & seen quite a bit of excitement in the Med., he was very interesting to listen too. [sic] His story showed both sides of the picture too, we weren’t always winning. He said a good word for mining, the results of which were definitely assessed as 1 ship sunk every 11 mins which is good going.
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[underlined] Sunday November 21st. [/underlined]
The squadron definitely is disbanded, though in the meantime it is fully operational. The Wing Co. leaves on Dec 6th to some O.T.U. I believe. Sqdn/Ldr Smith adding his D.F.C. to his D.F.M. is going to an O.T.U. also, - as a flight commander, he has both his tours completed now. The Navigator Leader has already gone, & the Wing Co. has been asking crews what squadrons they would like to be posted to, but nothing is promised. Anyway it appears we are remaining in 3 Group & not going onto Lancs, so that is one theory squashed. Right now we are just praying that nothing will crop up to cheat us of our leave, there are only two days to go. We have arranged to get on the 11 AM pay parade Tuesday & hope to catch the 11.48 AM London train.
Three kites were lost from here on Thursday’s trip to Ludwigshaven – one from 218, & two from 623. Poor old Ray Bennett was one, Johnny Smythe was his Nav. I only hope they baled out, F/Lt Wallis was the other & Petch was with him on a second dicky. That leaves only Macgillvray & us with complete crews from Hixon. P/O Ralph & F/Lt Nesbitt turned back with engine trouble, so it wasn’t too good for 623. It was even grimmer on Friday night, they were going to Leverhulme or something a small place just north of Cologne, & a pretty easy trip it turned out.
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623 only managed to get two kites off the deck, & there was hell to pay, there was quite a bit of finger trouble, though. They said Group sent through the bomb load too late, but then it was the armament officers first experience of bombing up for ‘ops’. Bombs were being sent out to kites that were U/S with engine trouble when others were standing there with engines running merely waiting for bombs, consequently most of them never got off in time. They told one chap to take off 5 mins after time & catch the force up, he told them what to do. Another just got off & set course over the runway in his take off. Wiseman was waiting for one more 1,000 lb H.E. when the Armament Officer said that’s O.K. take off without it, this made the C. of G somewhere in the region of the rear turret – Wiseman’s reply was rather flowery. So poor old Mac didn’t get off again & still has to get his second dicky in. All the kites got back safely but were diverted owing to local fog, one of 218’s was pretty shot up by flak, and pranged at Chedburgh. The kites that were on mining also returned safely. Nesbitt has been told that his tour is completed now, so they are screening him after 24 trips, still that’s enough for anyone, and if I had that number under my belt I would feel very contented.
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Johnny seems a lot better now, we have popped in to see him each day, & he is having a regular rest cure, he intends trying to come out tomorrow as he doesn’t want to miss his leave – nor do any of us – keen types. Ken & I went to the camp cinema the other night, quite a good show but the place is like an ice box. There is a real fiasco here, the water supply is being cut right down, apparently the camps normal consumption is 52,000 gals a day, & the water company will only supply 10,000 gals daily, until their reservoir rises. Consequently all water on the sites is cut off & we cant [sic] have any baths or showers, & now we have been informed we are not supposed to wash or shave in the mess ablutions. This means not washing or showering day in, day out, I wonder what the M.O. thinks of it! There are a couple of water carts that come round the sites & people fill up old cans etc. Even of we hand round all cans we are never on the sites, our whole day is spent down the flights or in the mess. The whole situation is preposterous and it’s a pretty poor show for an RAF camp.
I went into town last night, for the first time for over a week, it was a real pea souper of a night & we muffled right up. The film was quite a decent one, & a drink after made a little break out of the monotony.
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[underlined] Wednesday December 1st. [/underlined]
Another fair interval since I last made an entry, & for the old reason that I have been on leave, we arrived back last night. After all the sweating & heartbreaking we eventually got away on Tuesday, & we did sweat as I will account. On the Sunday, before going on leave, when I last made an entry there had been rumours of something big coming off the following day, as all Ground Crew N.C.O’s had been ordered to have their kites in really tip top condition. Monday dawned a thick misty day, visibility wasn’t more than 50 yds, Jack & I danced for joy as Mac couldn’t possibly do a second dicky that night & we would definitely go on leave on Tuesday, what a fine world it was. Down at the flights a rude shock was awaiting us there was ‘ops’ on that night & Mac was going as second dicky to Sqdn/Ldr. Overton. Everyone thought it must be a farce, it was bound to be scrubbed, the Met reckoned it would clear though. However out we went to the kite & gave it a thorough D.I. because Sgt Ralph was taking it. Gradually the weather cleared, and gradually our hopes sunk, because if Mac got his trip in we would be definitely on “ops” the following night instead of on leave. Every few moments we would gaze at the cloud formations & the fast disappearing mist & try to cheer each other up, although we all felt we had had it.
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We had found out all tanks were to be filled that meant Berlin or Italy & it all pointed to The Big City. Briefing was at 2.30 P.M. & off they went & I went out to the kite again, Johnny was still in dock as his guns had to be checked but Johnny Hyde the Gunnery Leader was out there to do them. At this time the sky clouded over really black, & everyone was certain the Met had boobed. When large drops of rain fell I could have danced for joy, but as though the Met had exercised a superhuman influence the skies miraculously cleared as take off time grew near. The crew came out to I Item & I spoke to the Air Bomber for a bit & happened to see the Nav’s charts, & Berlin it was. I wondered whether Mac was twittering inside, Overton was taking Les Gray, our Nav. who had only done a Nickel before. What a task without even having done a Mining to navigate to Berlin & back. When the actual take off started the weather wasn’t too good but they went, they scrambled at 5 P.M. & set course 5.30 P.M. with our best wishes. During the evening five kites returned early but old Mac wasn’t amongst them, they were mainly 218’s kites too. So off we went to bed, hoping to hear old Mac come banging in at about 2 AM he did. It had been a fairly quiet trip he said, cloud cover all the way, & no fighter sightings. Les’s navigation had been bang on & he was personally congratulated by the Groupie.
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There had been a lot of reporters and photographers there & someone said a B.B.C. chap, lots of lines were shot anyway, we listened to all the story & then sank back asleep. When the morning came it seemed as though our luck was really out, it was clear as a bell. Jack & I grabbed two bikes & dashed down to the Flights to see whether we were on or not. What an anxious half hour that was, the Wing Co. rang for P/O Ralph who was acting Flt/Comdr. then & he came out with lots of papers etc. our hearts sank, but then he said “Nothing on, only mining” we could hardly believe our ears. Back we tore & dressed up for pay parade & a speedy get away. We reckoned without Pay Accounts, with their typical efficiency they paid us at 11.45 AM instead of 11 A.M as it was supposed to be. So we missed the 11.47 train, still nothing mattered then we were off & going home. Scorning the RAF food we had a dinner in Sly’s Café then a drink & homeward bound.
I had a fine leave although the weather wasn’t so hot, that night (Tuesday) it was Berlin dunno if any Stirlings went but we didn’t send any at all. During the leave I saw quite a few shows, among them the new film “For Whom The Bell Tolls”, also read the book, both very good. We arrived back O.K. without any incidents we only stopped 5 mins at Cambridge so couldn’t recreate our previous escapade.
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Johnny was looking very seedy going home, as he had only come out of the dock that day, he wangled round the M.O. He came back looking fit though, we all seemed to have reduced our colds. Ken had been down to Pastow for his Medical Board, & has been taken off flying. So we have definitely lost him, it is goodbye to a fine Navigator & one of the finest fellows it has ever been my priviledge [sic] to meet. We are lucky to have an equally good chap to fill his place they are much alike in many ways. Old Jack Yardley the W/Op who is in our hut & also suffered with air sickness went down with Ken & he is also off of flying.
This morning we did the inevitable Air Test, it always happens the day one returns from leave. I Item is still here, someone buckled a wing tip whilst we were away, there are only four kites left now, they have ferried all the others away. So we should be leaving in a few days, but where to nobody knows yet, rumours are flying as thick as ever. One thing that is definite 214 Sqdn are arriving here on Monday so we will have to leave by then. It is so cold as anything today, there was a frost like snow this morning. If this weather continues & gets worse during the winter I would welcome a posting to Italy or somewhere warm. Talking of warmth, I think I’ll turn in, bed is the best place to warm anyone up.
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[inserted] [newspaper cutting about the raid on Berlin with a photograph of the crew led by Flying Officer Wiseman, and including Sergeant Twydell, engineer; P/O Craig, Sergent Foreman, Sergeant Copley F/Sergeant Brasington, F/O Theriault, and Flight Sergeant Macgillvray, second pilot] [/inserted] [duplicate page]
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[underlined] [missing words] December. [/underlined]
The cat is out of the bag, & there were a few surprises in the bag too, the gen has been dished out as to where we are all going. We all leave tomorrow on the 2 P.M. train, except for those who were due for leave & they went today, (our luck was in we were the last ones to get away, all leave was cancelled after we went). The Wing Co. went a few days ago to 90 Sqdn at Tuddenham, & P/O Ralph, Macgillvray & somebody else are going as well. After all this time then we are parted from Mac, it’s a pity, we two crews have been together a fair while, we are the only ones from Hixon now. By the by. Macgillvray appeared in the newspapers, there was a large photograph of old Wiseman & crew being interrogated upon their return from Berlin, & Macgillvray was in as second pilot quite celebrities now. That B.B.C. chap was here he gave a hell of a ‘bully’ story after the 1 P.M. news the following day.
To resume we and about six other crews are off to Waterbeach to convert onto Lanc IIs. As they have Hercules engines, we wont have Jack, as he won’t have to take another course. Four or so of the crews have gone on leave, today as they are due for it & they arrive there a week after us. It came as quite a surprise we all thought we were set on Stirlings, it will be quite a
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bind, circuits & bumps & screened cross countries all over again, oh hell! There is a squadron there as well 514, I wouldn’t mind being put on that, pray to the Lord we are. Four chaps are being transferred to 218 Sqdn. Overton & Wiseman are amongst them, they say Overton will have to revert to F/O. Nickie Nesbitt went back to P/O & Vickers the Engineering Leader did also, daresay they will have ‘em back again soon though. Some of the postings were to 199 & 149 Sqdns I believe. Last night we were put on the main effort, right in the middle of getting cleared from here, quite a flap. It was only 2, 4 & 6 tanks and 8 x 1,000 lbs & 6, x 5,000 lbs, as it must have been to these rocket gun emplacements they are building to shell London. It was scrubbed though, the minings went & poor old P/O Puch got the chop, his B/A Sutherland was a good guy, they were only an a short mining, too, quite shaking.
The latest Berlin raid where they lost 41 two war correspondents are missing, one got back though, gee! if they were paying that reporter £200 for going on a mining trip, heavens knows what those boys were raking in. One thing is sure from the way the Lancs are operating nearly every night whatever the weather, our tour will be over pretty soon one way or the other. We were paid today & finally cleared from here, last night we went into town to the dance & to the Crown for a farewell ‘do’ before we said goodbye to the hallowed precincts of Downham.
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[underlined] Thursday December 9th. [/underlined]
This entry is being made at Waterbeach, another new station this is my eighteenth station since I have been in the RAF, like Crosby & Hope I certainly get around. We left Downham Monday dinner time, and in the rush I missed saying cheerio to Ken, and was sorry but I have written to him. As usual when they tell you transport will be waiting, there was none, so we walked it was about 15 mins to the billet. The tales of the billets etc. being good inside the camp are quite true, the only snag being we aren’t in the camp. Our quarters are in the inevitable huts “Con Sight” as we call it though it is listed as Conversion Site. The Con Unit (1678) is almost entirely separate from the squadron we have our own mess about 5 mins walk from the hut. The food is good, better than at Downham, but the mess is bare, empty & cold. Not being many crews here either, it is generally isolated, & not very cheering. The squadron have a smashing mess in the camp, with living quarters above, very handy, wish we were in it.
I think the most shaking thing is that breakfast finishes at 7.45 A.M. right on the dot, so we have to be up really early. Then breakfast over we wash & are supposed to be at the flights at 8.15 A.M. It is a 25 min walk too, so we have to start out in time. There is [underlined] P.T [/underlined] 8.15 till 8.30 AM. then lectures.
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The walking is rather a bind as we didn’t expect it here, poor Mac is looking somewhat slimmer, as he lost his bike at a [deleted] [indecipherable word] [/deleted] wild party, before leaving Downham. Tuesday was occupied with filling in the arrival chits as usual, then yesterday & today we have had ground lectures, weather permitting we may commence our circuits & bumps tomorrow. There was nothing new in the ground work, the bombing side of the Lanc. is simpler than the Stirling. We carry cookies on there now, there is no second pilot, so I have lost my comfortable seat. This is compensated by the much better bombing compartment, there is a fine huge vision panel in the nose, no more straining one’s neck to get a line on the target. One also enters the turret from the bombing compartment, so there is no chance of being locked in the turret. The performance of these aircraft are pretty good, especially speed & climbing power.
Tuesday afternoon we went into Cambridge, there is a pretty decent bus service to & from there. In the village there isn’t a lot of life but a couple of decent pubs do a good trade. I have just heard from Bill Taylor, & he tells me poor old Jack is missing now, he was on the same squadron as old Bob Blackburn who is now reported killed. Its pretty grim to hear of the old pals getting the chop, wonder if I’ll be alive at the end.
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[underlined] Monday 13th December. [/underlined]
The weather at this place is as bad as at Downham, I didn’t think there could be another place as bad. Mac’s day circuits & bumps are now complete & we are ready for a day cross country which finishes the day flying & then on to night c & b’s. I rather like the lay out of this station, it is very neat and compact, of course that is because it was a peace time station. I wish we were billeted in the camp although I understand the food in the permanent mess isn’t as good as in ours. On Friday the Duke of Gloucester came down to inspect the camp, we knew a full 24 hrs before who it was, the old grape-vine certainly defeats security. On the Thursday morning the Bombing Leader asked us who it was as he wasn’t able to find out. Our six crews were joined for a cheering party we had to line up opposite a line of WAAF’s at the gate & cheer when he left. I haven’t been on P.T. yet I have a hard enough job to get up in the mornings. Mac has managed to scrounge an official bike now, that is one thing he moves fast for. Every Wednesday they have a C.O’s parade and march past, there is a fair amount of bull here considering they have an operational squadron, I guess it is because they have the Con Unit still, yes, the more I think of it, the more easier 623 appears.
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[underlined] Tuesday December 21st. [/underlined]
We are now back on an operational squadron again, 115 Sqdn at Witchford near Ely. Our course finished here last [inserted] Sunday [/inserted] night and yesterday & this morning we were completing our clearance chits. It wasn’t such a bad place, & the work was pretty easy, the ground work was nothing new at all, except a new photo flash fuse. Our first flip was a day cross country at 23,000 ft, a really binding trip, 10/10ths all the way, just sit there and freeze about 25o below. Then after the night circuits and bumps, we were on a Bullseye, Sunday night. Or rather a Flashlight exercise, because the I.R. bombing is abandoned over London, & they have a target of three red lights to simulate T.Is, & at various distances of a couple of miles altogether were white lights flashing various Morse characters, so on the photograph, one could tell in theory how near the bombs would have landed. That trip was a cold one as well but we had a hot time with the defences, a solid belt of searchlights all the way round, & a hell of a cone sight over the target, we were picked up on our bombing run & they sure dazzled me. We rather preferred to remain at Waterbeach with 514 Squadron owing to the compactness of the station. They don’t operate such a lot, the other night they landed at Downham Market, practically all kites were diverted. It was a black night, & the Met boobed badly, all England almost was fog bound, & we have heard from reliable sources that 65 kites either crashed or had to be abandoned owing to weather. With the 30 kites lost that made 95 kites, the public will never know of that.
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The transport brought us by road from Waterbeach it is 13 miles & when we reached Witchford there was a howling gale & the rain was lashing down. Nobody knew where we were supposed to be billeted & we were driving around the place, dashing in & out of huts, until soaked to the skin, we eventually found one. Roger’s crew is in the hut with us, we are on 4 site & it is about two miles from the mess. I have seen some dispersed stations but this is the worst of them all, the mess is a 30 min walk from the flights as well, we certainly use Shanks Pony here, it is killing Mac he hasn’t done so much walking for ages. The usual thick mist is everywhere that is the trouble in East Anglia. Everything about the station & squadron seems to be grim, at one time it was a happy squadron & contented, but this station has got everyone down a lot; they have only been here 3 weeks. To give a typical example of the way the place is run, they moved here via Berlin. The crews were sent off to Berlin from this base & on return had to land here, what a fiasco that must have been, tramping round in the dark trying to find billets etc. Leave here is about every 12 weeks, its incredible, they don’t appear to worry whether you have any or not. There is no operational meal before ops, just tea & a couple of sandwiches & the rations are pretty small, & no coffee. No transport is organised to take us into Ely, & there are hardly ever stand downs, there appears to be a complete lack of interest in air crew, oh! well I’m too cheesed to write any more.
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[underlined] Monday 27th December. [/underlined]
Xmas is over now, & I’m none too sorry really, it wasn’t a lot to shout about. Now we are settled down a bit better, but its hard to shake off the feeling of being cheesed here, everyone is, the old chaps of 115 Sqdn, the fellows on 196 the sqdn that was here before, & ourselves the mix crews from 623. The Bombing & Engineering Sections are in the same room, the Bombing Leader is a decent chap, but I don’t see how you can get to know the other bomb aimers, they don’t make any advances or anything. We flew the second night we were here on another Flashlight exercise, & were getting around O.K. but as we were running in towards London for the target, all the searchlights began homing us away from London, so we realised there was an air raid in progress, & beetled back to base. There they told us over the W/T to continue with our exercise & we had to beetle up North & keep cracking around. The trip took us 6 1/2 hours & they didn’t give us any rations at all, I was absolutely frozen, & had an electric waistcoat on, but that didn’t keep my legs warm, I was glad when we landed. On Thursday night, Mac did his second dicky they have to do them on these kites as well, of all places it was Berlin again. Thats [sic] two second dickeys he has done there now, packing ‘em in alright. I think it is a terrible feeling waiting around for them to come back I would rather go myself, he returned O.K. there was one missing from here.
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On Xmas Eve afternoon Bill & I cycled the 26 mls to Waterbeach & back to collect the Xmas mail for about a dozen fellows, we could have used a truck coming back. That night we all went into Ely to the Lamb Hotel to commence the celebrations. What a night it was, & what a head I had next morning. On Xmas Day the officers mess invited us over in the morning then came over to our mess in the afternoon, it was more of a drunken brawl than anything else. Bags of broken bottles & glasses, it is grim like that, we were supposed to serve Xmas dinner to the airmen, but I felt too grim to go across. Our tea that night was really wizard, it was served buffet form, & there were sausage rolls, cakes, pastries, sandwiches, sardine on toast, spam & chopped egg, trifle & cream cake it was grand! There were two fights, because tempers were rather frayed after drinking. Afterwards we all tramped into town to have our Xmas Dinner for the crew, in the Lamb Hotel, it was pretty good, we were in bed pretty early that night. Boxing Day was very quiet, we had our turkey dinner at 7.30 P.M. it was well served, afterwards there was a dance in the mess. There wasn’t a single decoration in the mess for the Xmas just lovely & bare. Anyway that was the end of the festive season, & this morning we donned battle dress once more & got cracking on the same old grind.
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[underlined] Thursday 30th December. [/underlined]
We have made a start at the squadron now, they don’t waste a lot of time, last night we began ‘ops’ here with a trip to Berlin. The pre-briefing was at 1.30 P.M. & Les & I got cracking on the maps and charts before all the crews arrived at 3 P.M. for the main briefing. Our route was worked out to try to bluff Jerry in believing the attack was being carried out on Leipzig or Magdeburg. We went straight for those places and as Mossies opened the dummy attacks on both towns we suddenly turned north & headed for the “Great City”. Taking it on the whole it wasn’t a bad trip twenty kites lost when over 700 were sent.
The trouble with these early take offs is that we don’t get a meal before we take our kites away & start dicing. At the end of briefing there is a mad rush to grab a cup of tea and a couple of sandwiches at the back of the room; then down to the locker room to change. Out we lumber to the transports, & they take us to the waiting kites. Here we dump all our heavy kit & climb in to check all our equipment & run the kite prop to see everything is bang on. Then we shut her down, & climb out to complete our dressing, a few minutes for a smoke for those that need it, then 20 minutes before we are due to take off we climb aboard again & start up. As the time approaches we taxi out & take our place in the line, then one by one [missing words]
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Round & round we circle, then as the time for setting course arrives we make the last circuit and away we go. By this time we are at about 13,000 ft & generally by the time of crossing the English coast we are a little [deleted] of [/deleted] over 15,000 ft. I carry out all my Bombing checks & put the front guns on Fire, all ready for something, we begin our vigilance here, as the German fighters often operate right across the North Sea. At our turning point we are at our operational height of 20,000 ft, & we set course for the Dutch Coast. Approaching the coast the flak can always be seen coming up from Texel or other equally well defended spots. The cloud was 10/10ths awarding us a natural protection from the searchlights.
Every now & then along the south some place would start throwing up flak, if it came close we weaved but generally didn’t bother. Quite a few times a fighter would drop three flares, lighting up quite an area of sky, if they were too near for safety we corkscrewed quickly, with everybody searching the sky carefully. The searchlights would also shine on the clouds in large concentrations causing us to be silhouetted to any fighter above. Two markers were dropped on the route to guide us away from hot spots, we didn’t see the first, but the second at Leipzig was plainly visible. The dummy attacks had commenced & there were some red & green T.I’s & a few bombs, they were certainly throwing up some flak, we had to nip in between Magdeburg & Leipzig, it was very warm & we got away as soon as possible.
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Just after leaving Leipzig I had a momentary panic when three ME110’s came whizzing past us going the opposite direction to Leipzig, I guess they came haring back later when Berlin opened up. We were running into a head wind coming up to the target & I thought we were never getting there; the T.I’s were burning there, & the cookies exploding, & the flak was pouring up, although it wasn’t too heavy; but we never seemed to be getting any nearer. As we eventually approached I could see the glow of a large fire reflecting on the clouds. Then “Bomb Doors Open” – “Running Up”, “Left Left” “Steady” “Bombs Gone” “Bomb Doors Closed” & away we went. The return journey was much the same as the outward, but we found the W/Op had turned the inter-wing balance cock the wrong way & we had lost 200 galls. So we had the worry of whether we would be able to make it or not. We crossed the English coast O.K. and were trying to make base, when the fuel warning lights started to flicker meaning we were almost out. There we were at 400 ft to [sic] low to bale out & unable to use up petrol to climb, just expecting the motors to cut at any moment. Suddenly a drome appeared & we screamed in there without announcing or anything but we were down & that was the main thing. It was a P.F.F. place Warboys, we didn’t get the egg there & had to sleep in a chair in the mess, so it wasn’t so good, next morning we flew back to base, & had a badly needed sleep. There was one missing from here which wasn’t so bad, however that was our first major ‘op’ over.
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[underlined] Monday January 3rd [/underlined]
Well that’s another year gone and 1944 is here, I wonder if this year will see Germany out of it, somehow I doubt it, though I think she will be well on the way. Last Friday ‘ops’ were on, so we had visions of seeing the New Year in over the other side. Briefing was at 3 P.M. again and the target was Frankfurt, it was an attempt to fool the Jerries and make them think we were going to Berlin, somehow I don’t think it would have been successful, anyway just as briefing it was scrubbed and we didn’t cry over it. There was a New Year’s Dance on in the gym, so we went there and got pretty merry, eventually getting into bed around 4 A.M.
Getting up well the worse for wear in the morning we were shaken to find there were ops on again that night. Pre briefing was 1.30 P.M. but the main briefing wasn’t until 9 P.M. there being an operational meal before we took off. The target was once more Berlin, this time we were going in from the north with a dummy attack on Hamburg though I wasn’t so sure that that would fool them. Take off was at a quarter to one in the morning a hell of a while to wait up till. This time they sent the fighters out to meet us and the fun started right over the Dutch coast. The flak was as eager to greet us as ever.
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About 10 mins after we had crossed the Dutch coast I saw a burst of tracer go streaking across the sky then suddenly flames burst out on a Lanc & she slowly peeled over & went spiralling down through the clouds, then a few seconds later a huge glow shot up – poor devils. It couldn’t have been more that five minutes afterwards when Johnny the rear gunner screamed “Corkscrew Port”, I thought “here it comes” & gripped on. I guess whoever they are they all feel a bit of panic at such moments, I know the flesh on my back crawled as I kept anticipating the feeling of bullets ripping into my back. However we dodged him, it was a JU88 who came screaming down and fired a burst at us, he broke off the attack though. The flak in the target area was quite a bit heavier this time & it was really close, the return journey took us a fair bit longer as we were pushing against the wind. There were quite a lot of fighters lobbing down three flares at a time, it certainly is a hell of a feeling when one is battling along in the dark, & suddenly one is lit up as plain as daylight, & the feeling that every fighter in the sky is leering down at you is no fun. Mac generally swears and corkscrews viciously. We got back to base without mishap, shot the lines at interrogation then trotted off to another bacon & egg meal. There were 28 missing on that raid out of about 450 kites so it was heavier losses, none were missing from here which was good but 3 didn’t take off, and 3 turned back. ‘We got to bed at 10.30 A.M.
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At 2 P.M. we were awakened by the Tannoy blaring for all Navigators to report to the briefing room at 4 P.M. for pre-briefing. My God! there were ops on again & we were feeling nearly dead from lack of sleep already. It certainly set me back when going into briefing the target map showed Berlin again, gee! three times in five nights to the Great City it was pretty rough. Take off was at 12.20 P.M. because we were fighting to avoid the moon, even then it wasn’t set when we took off, but it had set before we reached the enemy coast. Things were pretty lively because there was a ninety mile an hour gale blowing and we had to go straight to Berlin, with no dummy attacks, & boy were they ready for us. For miles around the target it was like day with lanes of flares and kites whizzing around. It certainly was hectic over the target, I was expecting a fighter attack at any moment, & when the bombs had gone I got in the front turret & scared old Mac by flashing the guns backwards & forwards. Altogether we were in the thick of it for nearly 25 minutes it seemed like 25 years. I thought we would never get clear of there. It took us 2 1/2 hours [deleted] for [/deleted] to reach the target & 4 1/2 hours returning, because we were battling almost head on against the gale, it seemed an eternity before we reached the French coast. We reached base O.K. & tumbled in at 10.30 A.M. & boy! did we need the sleep, we lost one from here & I believe 27 on the whole effort.
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[underlined] Saturday 12th January [/underlined]
Its quite a while since I wrote here, but as usual I have been on leave in the meantime. There were no ops on the Tuesday after I last wrote, but on Wednesday there were. It was to Stettin & the route was all around Norway & the Baltic, then the stream suddenly headed south to Berlin, where Mossies started a dummy attack & the main force suddenly swung west to Stettin. The trip was terribly long 8 hr. 32 mins at the minimum & it was cutting it fairly fine with a full petrol load. At the last moment the route was lengthened by another three quarters of an hour, so that if we had made the trip we would have landed in the North Sea, consequently all Lanc IIs were scrubbed, the I’s & III’s went though & only lost 15 I wouldn’t have minded going. The next morning at two hours notice we were told we were on 7 days leave & had to rush around to get away that day.
We returned Thursday night, & got to bed about 1 A.M., then as it was the 4th day after the full moon, we were sure there would be no ops. Because 4 days before & 4 days after the full moon is the moon period & there are no ‘ops’. However Chopper Harris shot us up by putting ops on, after the morning air Test we dashed off for dinner then Les & I went back for 1.30 pre-briefing. The target was Brunswick, the place that the Forts went to a couple of days previously. They attacked aircraft factories about 20 miles from Brunswick, & we attacked the town.
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It was a real daylight take off, & when we were approaching the Dutch Coast it was quite light behind us, so I was expecting a head on attack. The weather was quite clear so the searchlights were active, there was quite a cone on Texel, & three large dummy fires as well, they must have quite a faith in the dimness of Air Bombers to bomb there. Our route took us quite close to Bremen, & there was a T.I. marker there cascading yellow. Later as we were getting close to the target we had to come really close to Hanover, & they were pretty active there. She had a hell of a lot of searchlights and if anyone strayed across the old flak would poop up. The attack started when we were a quarter of an hour from there, down went the T.I’s & up came the old flak. At briefing they said it would be pretty quiet, and that the Americans had destroyed 150 fighters for us – lovely it sounded. However there was quite a bit of flak and damned accurate, & more fighters milling around there us & other crews had seen before. I saw four kites go down in flames, [inserted] & burst [/inserted] on the ground, it was really grim. There was a lovely fire burning a huge thing with the green T.I’s in it, then a minute later our load went crashing down to help the conflaguration. The return journey wasn’t so bad there were numerous red flares dropped that burnt for a very short [deleted] [indecipherable letters] [/deleted] while, not like the usual fighter flares. We landed at 10.20 A.M. came butting back to beat the moon rise, we lost Blackwell & Christianson two senior crews, which was pretty grim, 38 [missing words], it certainly was no easy raid.
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[underlined] Tuesday January 18th. [/underlined]
The weather certainly is grim, we haven’t flown since Friday, there has been a thick fog, and these last two days it has rained, but tomorrow promises to be clear so I guess there will be ops on then. According to the Press the Brunswick raid was fairly easy, they certainly harped out some guff, one of them said there were no fighters over the target & the Luftwaffe was fooled. I was looking at the official list of combats & sightings over the target, & there really were some. One chap from here claimed a confirmed & a probable. Three times over the target Bill the W/Op. happened to knock our huge nose light on, it put five years on my life, ‘cos the first time nobody knew who did it, & I was crouched there with my hands over it, & cursing like a madman. F/Sgt Foggarty who was with us put up a damn good show, over the target he was attacked consistently for half an hour by fighters & an engine (stbd inner) hit by cannon shell. He feathered it and it fell right out, he came down from 23,000 ft to 7,100 ft before he could pull out, & had to stay down low all the way. He sent out an SOS because he thought he wouldn’t make it, & the Jerries followed our homing procedure identically. They homed with searchlights to a ‘drome in Holland, lit it up & gave him a green, luckily his Gee operated and he battled off in a hurry. He crash landed with 3 engines, one bust tyre, no flaps or brakes, & nobody hurt. The engineers right arm & leg were rendered useless over the target & he carried on, but they both got a gong. Beside the two we lost we had three kites written off through fighter attacks, Waterbeach lost two. Dimmock was one of them he came back from leave with me the night previously.
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[underlined] Monday January 24th. [/underlined]
Still no more ops, in a week, at least no ops that we have completed. Last Thursday we were on the Berlin trip, it seemed a pretty good route, but there was a terrific long sea leg up to Denmark. I hate that, I don’t mind baling out over land ‘cos you have some chance, but there is no sense in baling out over water as by yourself in a Mae West, a chap wouldn’t last a couple of hours. So the only thing is ditching, then if the kite is out of control & we are unable to ditch, we’ve had it. However soon after taking off we couldn’t see any other kites & Johnny & I were picking up opposite drifts from what they should have been. Suddenly Mac checked his compasses and found they were all haywire, we were well off track, and crossed the coast at Ipswich instead of Cromer. Then trying to steer a straight course we went round in a huge circle. It was impossible for us to go on so we tried to jettison fuel in order to land. Mac & Jack tried to jettison fuel to bring our load down, but were unable to do so. We had to jettison the cookie, and flew sixty five miles out from the coast & let her go. So back we went, & were we cheesed, & hate a turn back, it was our first. Jimmy Rodgers returned earlier with a U/S rear turret & W/O Robbins with a U.S Rev counter, Anderson got lost & bombed Wilhelmshaven & I believe F.O Ogden came back after 4 1/2 hrs we were airborne 2 hrs. We lost P/O Canning, on his 19th trip.
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The following night we were going to Magdeburg, with a dummy attack on Berlin, by 15 Mosquitoes, & 20 Lancs (dont [sic] fancy that). There were 690 kites detailed, quite a few for a place that size, we were taxying out, & were almost at the flare path when the kite in front of us became bogged, it was old Howby in F, Freddie. The dim of an ACP let us get right on top of it, before flashing a red, so there was no room for us to turn & go round the perimeter in time to take off. There were other guys in the same position as us & there we all sat whilst the minutes ticked by & we were scrubbed, did we curse. In all eight kites didn’t take off & we lost one, Waterbeach lost four, which was grim, and they say six returned early, I don’t know if thats [sic] right, if so only six kites got to the target & back, it certainly was a chop raid.
Hardwick the chap who was at OTU with us has 5 weeks more [deleted] week [/deleted] grounded, he is cheesed. He gave us some news of fellows at OTU. Doc & his crew are P.O.W’s poor old Cecil Kindt had the chop, Chiefy Young is a P/O with 15 in & his navigator Shields has his W/O they have [deleted] [indecipherable letters] [/deleted] been doing O.K. Bouchard is O.K. with 9, old Towne is in jail, stripped for beating up a town low level. Mac met, Pat Macguire, who was Petch’s Navigator, in London, he said Petch was killed outright. They have an English chap who was a staff pilot in Canada. Ray Bennett was killed outright, but Johnny Smythe his dark navigator is a P.O.W. I don’t know about the rest of the crew.
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[underlined] Sunday 30th January [/underlined]
Everything was peaceful until Wednesday & then ‘ops’ were on again, bags of twitter, we beetled out to old G George to see everything was bang on. The weather wasn’t too hot & everyone was sure it would be scrubbed. When we found out it was Frankfurt, we were certain we wouldn’t go as before we had been briefed for it & hadn’t gone, sure enough it was scrubbed. The Forts went there the other day though, (yesterday in fact) 800 bombers, they certainly must have wanted to rub that place out. However the following night (Thursday) we were dicing once more & it was the old Faithful Berlin again. It seems strange but I have on obsession for that place, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I like it, that would be plain dumb, but I am less disturbed when we go there than anywhere else. Why I am at a loss to explain as it is the longest & hardest trip we will ever have to do. All I know is I wouldn’t mind doing quite a few there, I hope it isn’t a fateful fascination & we get the chop over there.
We had a strong westerly wind blowing behind us & the outward trip only took 2 1/2 hrs, whilst the return took 5 1/2 hrs. Our journey wasn’t too bad, we had a nasty moment when Les told Mac to turn on a course of 037o & Mac thought he said 137o. We were on it for 2 minutes before I saw a Lanc. cut across us & I queried our course.
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This caused us to stray over, Brandenburg I believe it was & by jimini their predicted flak was damned accurate. It burst at the dead same height about 200 yds in front & another lot off the starboard beam. Another few seconds & we were flying through the black smoke puffs. As we saw the P.F.F. flares go down (they were a couple of minutes early) the first fighter flares dropped. Some of the kites had obviously arrived early & been stooging around, waiting for zero hour, because the flak had been going up for a while already. By the time we arrived, we were in the blasted last wave as usual, there were scores of yellow fighter flares making a lane into the target & another one out of it. There was one fair sized fire going but not so big as I have seen, just after the W/Op watched my cookie go through the clouds he reported a huge explosion. I smile to think it might have been me, but one can never tell what happens in a concentrated attack like that.
Two minutes after the bombs had gone, Don the Mid Upper spotted a fighter, & called to Johnny to watch it. Then we heard Johnny’s excited voice over the inter-com, “Its a JU88, he’s coming in he’s crossing over now, get ready to corkscrew port, - corkscrew port go”. I was scrambling up to the front guns & just reached there in time. Our corkscrew was so violent that neither of the gunners were able to open fire, it also
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must have surprised the Jerry because he overshot above us, & skidded in a stall turn about 200 yds away from our nose. I remember thinking “My God what a bloody size he is”, somehow I had never realised how large a 66ft wing span was for a fighter. Anyway he was in the wing right & a no deflection shot my fingers squeezed & I nearly whooped with joy, when I saw the tracer striking the rear of the port engine & the [deleted] sp [/deleted] mainplane between the engine & the fuselage. Then he dived down to port at a hell of a speed & my little bit of fun was over. It shook me that I was the one to open the attack, as the B/A’s don’t often get a crack. I think it rather shook him to be fired at from the front as he didn’t break away there again.
The battle really started then, & it was a battle too. Up he came from underneath, & Johnny yelled “corkscrew” & opened fire, we could hear his guns shattering, & we were zooming around the sky. Johnny said he hit the port engine again, as I hit it previously & some sparks & flames shot out then subsided to a glow, I think everyone thought we had had it then, though I must hand it to that fighter pilot he really had guts. Round he would come firing right in close & both our gunners would return the compliment. We were corkscrewing violently all the time and my stomach felt as though it was being torn apart & my head smacked against the perspex. Mac & Jack were both thrown against the
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roof too. Every now & again a huge stream of tracer would pour across the top of us, & my mouth was dry with fear as I saw the cannon shells exploding at 600 yds. The gunners would be shouting “Corkscrew keep corkscrewing – here he comes again,” then the guns would chatter & we’d roll around. When it came to the break aways I kept praying he would come up to the front & I could get another crack but he never did. I would yell “Where is he?” each time but he would dive right down underneath & they would lose him, it was a separate sighting & attack each time. He made 7 attacks on us, I thought it would never end, on the third he hit us in the elevator trim. Then on the fifth attack a cannon shell exploded in the port wing & bullets ripped through the port inner nacelle. Though we couldn’t tell where the damage was we could only feel the hits. However we gave him quite a bit of punishment, we all hit him, & on the seventh attack, the glow in his engine suddenly became brighter & he dived down & that was the end of the attack, we claimed him as a probable. The whole engagement lasted 18 to 20 minutes it seemed like years, I had one moment of real fright in it. In the middle of a corkscrew with squirts of tracer everywhere I felt a violent blow in the left leg & thought “Hell, I’ve been hit” but it was all the heavy bundles of window that had shaken loose & crashed on my leg.
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We were at 18,500 ft when the attack started & were down to 13,000 ft at the end, the corkscrews were so violent, the Elsan came right out & was all over the floor & the ammo from one of Johnny’s tanks was all out. My God I was really thankful we had seen that through, one doesn’t often get continuous battles like it. Mac had a fair amount of work with no elevator trim but there was nothing vital hit and the kite flew O.K. We managed to get back on track but we were pretty late, everything went pretty well until it came to the part we squeezed between Frankfurt & the Ruhr. Everything was O.K. until some wicked predicted flak shot up about half a mile to the starboard, there were only three bursts then suddenly there was a Lanc. with flame pouring from the nose & three of her engines. She held her course for a short while, then swung round in a huge circle, came behind, assumed course for half a minute or so then plunged down, I hope they got out. I thought the return journey would never end, I hate it as long as that. We came out pretty well south of track, but we were back O.K. a fair few landed away through lack of fuel. The bullets that ripped through the port inner [indecipherable word] punctured the tyre, but we didn’t know, and landed with a flat tyre, swerved off the runway & there we were. The crash wagon & blood wagon tore out, & they insisted on us riding in the blood wagon.
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The M.O. insisted upon giving us some capsules, to make us sleep that night & wouldn’t let us go on ops the next night. He knew his ‘gen’ because when we woke we were pretty dizzy & weak from their effect & couldn’t possibly have operated. It was Berlin again, another 8 hr effort, it was a shambles here. They only got 9 out of the squadron airborne, & 2 of these returned, leaving 7 to go on to the target. Out of these 7 we lost 2 which is pretty grim, F/Lt. Aarvin & P/O Tyn were the ones missing. From the night before we lost F/O Harris & F/Sgt Morris, old Morris had been with us at Downham, they said he was in a dinghy, at least he was going to ditch, but they heard no more. Friday night, the RAF Bomber Command Band gave a performance here & was very good, Saturday there was a stand down we went to a camp dance. G George is U/S for a fortnight or so & we were going to take another kite tonight but they were so short of kites they couldn’t put us on. We are right hard up for kites now, two had a head on crash when taxying, nobody was hurt, but the kites are really ripped up. Another had incendiaries through it, they only sent 11 tonight, it was Berlin again, Chopper is really pushing ‘em in again. Old Foggarty has been awarded the DFM for the show he put up, I thought he would. So 623 has made a start here anyway. I wonder if we will be going to Berlin much more I should think it must be pretty well smashed up, they haven’t been able to get photographs for awhile.
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[underlined] Monday February 7th. [/underlined]
A week has elapsed since I last wrote, a week of doing practically nothing. That Sunday raid on Berlin was the last op there was, we got eight kites off I believe, & lost poor old F/Lt Hicks. He was the Asst. Flight Commander in our flight, a [deleted] [indecipherable letter] [/deleted] ‘Newzie’ & a good chap it was his 24th. There were no ‘ops’ then for a few days & then the moon period commenced. Our kite won’t be serviceable for nearly three weeks so they have given us J Johnny, Hicks’ old kite it was U/S & he took another when he got the chop. Sqdn.Ldr [indecipherable name] the ‘Corkscrew King’ had a real do. They had a contact on the Monica & instead of corkscrewing as they were told he asked the gunners if they could see anything. They were looking down & said “No”, & a fighter sitting about 10o up gave them a long burst while they were straight & level. He raked them right along, the rear turret smashed, the mid upper had about 20 fragments pass between his legs. A couple of cannon shells exploded in the fuselage, the [deleted] [indecipherable letter] [/deleted] D.R. Master Unit was hit, a large hole in the main plane, one prop damaged, Boy! they were really shot up. The only one who was hurt was the A/B who had a small piece of flak in his behind. We have been informed that the old Groupie has detailed us for an hours circuits & bumps for the bad landing we made returning from Berlin. That was with a burst tyre. God knows what he wants, I don’t even believe he knows we were shot up.
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It seems pretty definite that the German [indecipherable word]. is evacuating from Berlin to Breslau, its another 200 miles to the South East, surely they wont go there from here, it would be about a 10 hour trip. There is some talk that the tour is being reduced to 25 ops as they are pretty grim now with the Berlin trips, it seems pukka ‘gen’ I hope it is. During the week we have been doing loaded climbs on J to test her starboard outer now it has to be changed. We have also been trying to get some GH Bombing in but the weather isn’t so good. Yesterday we had the day off, they are giving crews a day off during the moon period. Johnny & I went home catching the 1036 AM. Sunday, & travelling back on the 8.20 AM. Monday, I had a wizard time.
On Saturday night we lost a kite on the Bullseye, it was Bishop who was at Downham with us. Poor old Jack Speechly was the Bomb Aimer, I had known him 18 months ever since Manchester, we did our training in Canada together, he was a rattling good chap. They had an American pilot with them, they were all killed, & they don’t know how it happened yet. The crash was found with them all in it, its really grim. That’s three of the crews that were with us at Downham gone now P/O Whitting Ginger Morris & now old Bishop, boy! I only pray we see the tour out & so do all the others. There’s nothing much happening, consequently there isn’t much to make an entry of, think I’ll snatch an early night.
[underlined] Sunday February 13th. [/underlined]
The moon period has definitely finished now and our period of rest is over. Once more ‘Chopper’ whipped a day off the end of it, we were briefed for Berlin & were out at the kites with about 30 mins to go before take off when it was scrubbed. The reason being the bad weather at base on return, it was pretty grim, & was a [deleted] poo [/deleted] wonder it wasn’t scrubbed before. I wouldn’t have minded the trip, because for a change it was a long trip out, & a short trip home. Last minute scrubbings are worse than some ‘ops’ I think after being keyed up all that time, still it shows there is still some of the Big City left there.
We haven’t done much this week, as the weather has been pretty duff, most of the time we tried some GH Bombing nothing came of it, owing to climate conditions. The other day we were up in a hell of a snow storm, all the time we were running before it & trying to find a way out. All the countryside looked pretty Christmassy with a coating of snow over the fields & villages. As I was in the rear turret all the time I was more interested in keeping warm. Our turrets got in grim condition during the moon period and we had to work like the devil all day to get it in shape. I was late for briefing through it and had a hell of a flap trying to get my tracks & maps all ship shape.
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All Jimmy Rodgers crew went to Cambridge on Friday, as two of [deleted] Jim [/deleted] Bishops crew were being buried there. It is terrible really four of them were married & a couple engaged, old Bishop was only married at O.T.U., I would never get married in war time for that reason. Looking at it soberly with all the chaps getting the chop it seems a hell of a mugs game still there it is.
There has been a fair amount of entertainment this week, we had a night out in Ely with a wizard meal in the KUMIN Café. On Wednesday night there was a dance in the gymnasium, then Thursday night we had a big social in the mess. They even went to the extent of polishing the floor, & in our grim mess that really is something. It went on until 1 AM. & there was bags of beer & eats, the food was very good, marzipan cakes, sausage rolls etc. £25 was allowed for it, so it should have been good. On Saturday there was another dance but I was cheesed with that & don’t think I will bother going again.
The siren is going now & there is some gunfire, be quite comical now, with us refraining from bombing Berlin owing to the met. here, & the Jerries using the same conditions to bomb us. They have left the bombs on the kites & only drained the tanks to 1500 so it looks as though they will be parking us along tomorrow. I guess now they have started again, Chopper will try & really finish Berlin, hope he doesn’t finish us.
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[underlined] Thursday 17th February. [/underlined]
All was quite [sic] until Thursday, when ‘ops’ were on again, & there it loomed on the briefing room chart, the [deleted] G [/deleted] Big City once more. It was another daylight take off, quite a sight to see all the kites streaming over the coast at Cromer. The first leg was a terrific long one up to Denmark, & it was quite light most of the way, but luckily got dark by the time we were crossing the coast. Those Danish islands can certainly poop up some flak, & I was glad when we hit the Baltic Coast. The last leg to the target was a terrific long one, straight to it, I couldn’t see that the Jerry would be fooled regarding the target, even though there was a spoof attack on Frankfurt-on-Oder. The P.F.F. boobed by sending the flares down before zero hour, & the flak certainly opened up. It was the heaviest I have seen there, I think he was relying more on that than his fighters. Running up I could see about six Halifaxes beneath us, they seemed quite happy as the flak was all bursting between 18 & 21,000 ft. We were carrying just one 8,000 lb cookie, which is quite a goodly size, it was handy in the way that immediately I said ‘Bombs Gone’ Mac could whip the Bomb Doors shut.
Bomber Command was trying new tactics this time the 1st, 2nd, & 3rd waves went one way, & we in the 4th & 5th waves went a bit south of them along another route. The idea was to split the fighter forces, & I think it succeeded we only saw two all night, one ME110 just after
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[inserted] [newspaper cutting about obliterating bombing techniques]
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leaving the target flashed across our nose. We ran into some flak though, getting off track a bit we stooged right over Magdeburg. Beside window there were two huge packets of nickels to throw out so I was sweating like anything shovelling it all out. Not much happened on our return journey apart from a few fighter flares & some rockets. We saw a kite go down in flames over the North Sea, I should hate to get the chop right back there. Two were lost from here, F/S Whyte who had 16 trips in & F/S Ralph who was with us at Downham. He had Pinky Tomlin, Petch’s old B/A, who arrived with a new skipper F/O Nice, beside losing his B/A he lost his rear gunner who went as a spare with Whyte. I hate this spare business they always seem to get the chop.
Yesterday we were briefed for Berlin, then scrubbed, then again tonight & were out at the kites before being scrubbed, the weather was terrible both days, yet they wait till the last minute before scrubbing it. We were read a message from Chopper Harris C in C. congratulating us on the progress of the Battle for Berlin. After the usual flowery comments on our ‘courage & steadfast spirit’ he said we were well ahead of schedule in the obliteration of the capital. He also said the Allied Command considered it the most important battle of all land, sea or air battles fought & yet to fight in the war. There was a long list of reasons of its immediate need to be liquidated, & he said he had to rush us to finish the job as the lighter nights and the Northern lights would soon be making their appearance. Well I hope there isn’t many more trips to be done there.
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Collection

Citation

David Geach, “Book 5, Return to UK,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 5, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/18899.

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