My life in the Royal Air Force Bomber Command
My life in the Royal Air Force Bomber Command
An extract of my RS service from my autobiography by Sqn Ldr T J Page DFM, RAF (ret'd)
Includes several b/w photographs of people and aircraft. Writes of early life and mentions beginning of the war and volunteering for the air force in January 1940. Continues with account of initial training and mustering as an airframe mechanic and subsequent technical training. Describes first posting to 257 Hurricane Squadron, advance training and subsequent postings as fitter IIA including travelling around the country to fix aircraft. Continues with account of aircrew selection and training as a flight engineer which included visit to A V Roe factory at Chadderton. Followed by account of aircrew training and his roll as a flight engineer on Lancaster and Manchester and crewing up. Includes list and photographs of crew. Posted to 49 Squadron at RAF Fiskerton. He then provides a detailed description of duties of each crew member and the interior of a Lancaster and lists flying kit used. Goes on to describe all activities concerned with preparation for and flying an operation and includes very detailed account of first operation to La Spezia. Continues by describing highlights of a number of operations and mentions battle of the Ruhr, weather, aircraft damage and , being shot at and diverting to RAF Dunholme Lodge with casualties. List the subsequent history of all his crew after completing their tour. Continues with account of staying on the squadron as flight engineer leader and flying on several more operations. Summarises his operational flying and gives account of subsequent postings as a staff flight engineer instructor. Goes on with detailed account account of post war postings and activities including flying Lancaster to Egypt and Lincoln to Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). He was posted to HQ Bomber Command at High Wycombe where he was able to partake in gliding activities which he describes in detail. Continues with account of journey to posting at RAF Mauripur in Pakistan. Continues with account of the rest of his RAF career and left the RAF on 6 May 1968.
Thirty-five page printed document
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MY LIFE IN THE ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND
SQN LDR T J PAGE DFM. RAF
[black and white photograph]
An extract of my RAF service from my Autobiography by
SQN LDR T J PAGE DFM, RAF (Retired)
The years slowly passed and the storm clouds of war were gathering over Europe again. This was something that youth and many others in the countryside were unaware of because news was very limited, wireless was in its infancy and newspapers were few; in fact, many of the older people could not read. The young did not see newspapers because some parents considered them a corrupting influence. On reflection, perhaps this was a good thing. Now seventeen and on the first Sunday in September 1939, and not required to work I decided to visit my grandmother at Coleswood near Ramsgate. I cycled the thirty miles there through the lovely countryside, past myoid schools and my birthplace and on along the road that passed through Manston aerodrome. Already there was greater activity at the air station and once more, my boyhood ambitions came to the fore.
Soon after arriving there the air raid siren sounded, it was eleven o'clock the 3rd
September. The government had declared war with Germany. Being apprehensive, and, like many others, thinking there would be an immediate invasion as the place was near to the South East Coast of England, I decided to return home straight away. History relates that nothing much happened until the following springtime. As spring approached, the aerial activity over Southern England increased. Fighting Aircraft appeared overhead, their long condensation trails making patterns in the sky. There were sounds of machine gun fire. At times aeroplanes would streak fast and low across the farm further kindling my love of flying machines and the air.
In January 1940 I became eighteen years of age I began to feel more independent and
assertive. I left my employment and cycled fifteen miles to the recruiting office at
Canterbury and volunteered for the Royal Air Force and was immediately accepted and placed on reserve service until called for duty. I had accepted the ‘Kings Shilling' signed the Oath of Allegiance and proudly travelled home wearing the badge of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. The first part of my dream had come true.
Overhead the air fighting continued with Fairy Battles streaking low over the Kent
countryside. They had taken great losses over these early days of the war. Three months past and on the 19th July 1940, the time came to leave home. My dream was coming true.
This was a day of apprehension; I was now committed to whatever lay ahead. Where
would life lead me? RAF service could be worldwide as the Empire still existed and now there was a war on. My dreams of being an Airman did not include war. There was nothing to take with me other than the clothes I wore and a little money. Walking away down the lane there was a last look at the cluster of Dignash cottages of Westwell nestling at the foot of the wooded downs before they disappeared from view
On the Monday afternoon the 19th July 1940, I arrived at the sand bagged and barbed wire protected gate of the RAF Depot at Royal Air Force Uxbridge, entered the restricted doorway into the guardroom and reported for duty.
There were many Volunteer Reservists from all parts of the country joining for duty that day. We wondered what was before us. Each barrack room contained about twenty beds and a certain amount of overcrowding was necessary because large numbers of new recruits. The iron beds were rather unusual in that the foot
part slid under the head part. The mattress was in three parts named 'biscuits'. When
not in use the whole bed was neatly stacked away. This provided extra space in the
barrack room for day use and was in accordance with the spick and span neatness of
service life with a place for everything and everything in its place, a form of discipline.
The staff NCOs explained the routine of the barracks.
Next was the first and foremost of the induction formalities. This was the 'Swearing In'
to become legally bound by the Air Force Act and allegiance to the Crown. This made
one legally bound by the Air Force Act and to ones allegiance to the Crown. There was a roll call of Names, Initials and Religion. Each airman received a service number. Mine
was 922297.Afterwards we were officially Airmen of the rank of Aircraftsman 2nd Class. Each Airman received an Identity Card RAF Form 1250 and Identity Discs; called 'Dog Tags', both to be carried on the person at all times, uniform, kit and accoutrements. The kit was such items as shaving brush, button stick, cleaning brushes, knife, fork, spoon, mug, kit bag, and mess tin. The button stick is still in my possession. The accoutrements were, webbing belt and harness to support a haversack, water bottle and bayonet, finally there was a gas mask. In the evening, the new recruits were off duty. I went to the cinema in Uxbridge town.
The new intake of Airman were mustered for training as Airframe Mechanics and on the Wednesday, we travelled by troop train to the training school at Morecambe in
Lancashire. On the way to the railway, station at Uxbridge small local boys offered to
carry the heavy kitbags for a few pennies, an offer taken up by many of the new Airmen. It was obvious that the lads were well versed in the routines of the RAF and were showing enterprise. Each group carried food rations for the long slow journey and at various stops on the way urns of tea appeared.
Towards evening, the train arrived at Morecambe. The Airmen then were marched round the streets and given accommodation in private houses known as billets. Billets were private houses where the occupants with space to spare were required by law to accommodate Service Personnel. Compulsory billeting is only authorised by Parliament in wartime. Three of us found ourselves in rather a poor billet whereas some other Airmen found relative luxury, a home from home atmosphere. The
billeting was rather unexpected as everyone thought we would be in Royal Air Force
The technical training took place in various commandeered large garages and factories. Tuition was by lectures and practical work amongst a collection of Aircraft and Aircraft parts, workbenches, tables and chairs completed the layout of what was a large classroom. Here I was in my element and enthusiasm made it easy to learn and the practical work was most satisfying. A Fairy Battle was in the classroom. It was the first aircraft that I was able to inspect and sit in.
Near the end of December, the course was finished and we became qualified Flight Mechanics 'A' (for Airframe) and were promoted to Aircraftsman 1st Class. Over the Christmas, I went home to Dignash in uniform for the first time. I carried posting instructions for a new unit. On this leave, there was a shot down German
Me 109 fighter Aircraft at Park Farm. Later I would be required to dismantle crashed
The new unit was No.257 Hurricane Fighter Squadron whose Commanding Officer was Squadron Leader Stanford- Tuck, one of The Few of the Battle of Britain. Soon my new skills were tested. This was a fighter squadron.
After three months on No.257 Fighter Squadron, it was time for more training at RAF
Innsworth near Gloucester for a three-month course to increase my skills to that of a Fitter. The course finished in July, 1941 and I was remustered to a Fitter HA in the rank of Leading Aircraftsman after being in the Royal Air Force for the happiest year of my life, so far, despite the fact that there was a war on.
The new posting was to No.71 Maintenance Unit at Slough in Buckinghamshire.
Arriving there, I found that the unit was in a commandeered garage close to the Hawker Aircraft factory at Langley. The factory was manufacturing Hurricane aircraft.
At Slough, one of my billets was in the suburb of Wrexham with a gentle old couple in a tiny cottage near to the hospital. They were charming and gracious and treated me like a son. At one stage, there was a month's detachment to the RAF Station at Cosford in Shropshire to do a Junior Non Commissioned Officers course to learn the disciplinary aspects of service life and leadership. The course member's
accommodation was in Fulton block, a barrack that was a byword in the service for its extremely high standard. Here we taught the art of commanding Airmen on parade and of Air Force Law. I returned to Slough as a Corporal and given charge of a servicing party.
Not long afterwards I was sent to RAF Burtonwood in Lancashire to study the American Boston aircraft. It was not long before my party went to service a Boston Aircraft at Royal Air Force Manston in Kent. This was the airfield of my boyhood dreams when living close by with my grandparents. The work was in a hanger that had escaped the German bombing; it still stands today, and is close beside the road that goes through the centre of the aerodrome. I have such memories of travelling that road in the years before. One morning there was a damaged Short Stirling bomber standing outside the hanger.
It was very impressive, long and tall and the biggest we had seen. This type of Aircraft
was new to the Royal Air Force. The basic wing and engine were of the Short
Sunderland Seaplanes design. The sight of the Stirling was very impressive.
This was the day the 2nd of May 1942 when I flew on my first ever flight. The Station
Commander had come to the hanger to fly a small tandem two-seat aircraft and I ask
him if I could fly with him. He replied by saying, "Go and get a parachute". We flew
over Canterbury to see the damaged caused by the German raid during the night. This day would trigger a drastic change in my service career.
After the servicing of the Boston Aircraft at Manston, the party returned to Slough
travelling once more by train with heavy toolboxes. A few days later there appeared on the Daily Routine Orders an appeal for Aircraft: Fitters to volunteer for flying duties as Flight Engineers to assist Pilots in flying the new four engine bombers that were rapidly coming into service; the Stirling's, Halifax's and Lancaster's. The experiences at Manston made me volunteer.
My next servicing party duty was at RAF West Malling to repair a Hurricane where the Squadron there were flying Boston's. Here I was able to get a flight in the back cockpit with the Radar Operator. The aircraft was practicing radar interception and we were flying along the South Coast. Fortunately, we encountered no German aircraft.
The next serving job was another Boston at Hunsdon in Essex where I was informed that was required to report to the Aircrew Selection Centre in Euston Road, London for a medical examination to see if I was fit enough for Aircrew duties. I passed the examination and went to RAF St Athan in South Wales for aircrew training as a Flight Engineer.
It was October 1942 when training commenced. (Photograph - Thomas, back row third from right)
Being an Airframe Fitter, the first part of the course was on the theory of Aircraft engines and their construction, working, servicing requirements and finally on how to operate them for maximum efficiency particularly in relation to range flying.
After engine theory, it was instruction on the airframe side of the Lancaster airframe.
The flying controls, the fuel system, and the hydraulics that operated the undercarriage and the flaps and other miscellaneous services. There were vacuum and air pressure systems to drive instruments, automatic pilots, wheel brakes and other emergency apparatus. The aim of the course was to understand the whole Aircraft. Part of the course included a week's visit to the Rolls Royce Engine factory at Derby and a week's visit to the Aircraft factory of A. V. Roe at Chadderton.
Finally, there was a short course at Stormy Down in South Wales on air gunnery and
gun turrets. For the Flight Engineer to know something of gun turrets and gunnery was to not only complete the knowledge of the Aircraft but also so that an Engineer could operate a gun turret especially during low level, mine laying when the Bomb Aimer was busy.
The course was finished at the end of December and the successful course members
promoted to the rank of Sergeant Aircrew and awarded the coveted Flight Engineers
flying badge. It was time to leave Wales where it seemed to be always raining.
Lancaster Aircraft - Flying Training
My new unit was No.l661 Heavy Conversion Unit at the Royal Air Force Station at
Winthorpe just outside the town of Newark in Nottinghamshire. Here I joined the
following aircrew to form a seven man crew to fly Lancaster's.
Around the 20th February 1943 the all sergeant aircrew assembled at the Aircraft dispersal point with a Flight Sergeant Staff Pilot Instructor to fly on their first flight together as a crew. This was to familiarise themselves with a new type of Aircraft. Disappointedly we found that the Aircraft was an Avro Manchester and not a
Lancaster. The Manchester was a two engine aircraft and was unsuitable for Squadron operational service. The shortage of Lancaster aircraft had made it necessary to use them for the initial training of new crews at the Heavy Conversion Units. This particular Manchester was No.L7398, which had seen operational service on Nos.49, 97 and 106 Squadrons. It was in poor condition and did not inspire confidence.
Now it was my job as the engineer to see that all external protective covers had been removed from the aircraft and the inspection panels checked for security as they could cause a great hazard if they came off in flight. That the flying control locks and undercarriage safety struts on the aircraft were removed. The caps of the petrol tank filler had to be checked for security before priming the engines with petrol ready for the start up. With pre-flight checks done I would secure the entrance door, stow the entrance ladder and go to my position beside the pilot to start the engines and assist with the preparations for take-off.
On this first familiarisation flight, the FIt Sgt Hamilton said to me "Watch what I do". This was to be only my third time in the air, an event in its own right. Now I was to be instructed how to assist the pilot in flying the Aircraft. The Instructor did the take-off, talking and demonstrating as he did so to both the Pilot and me. Away from the airfield, he showed the handling characteristics of the Aircraft, its flying and stalling speed in various configurations. Jock my Pilot would then try the various manoeuvres himself to get the feel of the Aircraft. The duration of this first flight was 1. 55hrs. We did a total of six hours with the Instructor mostly on circuits of the airfield with landings and overshoots of the runway.
On the 26th February we did our first flight in the Manchester without an instructor and went on to fly a total of eleven hours mostly on circuits and landings with some
bombing and air firing exercises.
On the 6th March 1943, the day came for conversion to the Lancaster and after three hours flying with an Instructor we took off in Lancaster No. W 4190 for a further period of practising circuits and landings. On the 13th March, we flew Lancaster No.R5541 on a six-hour cross-country flight followed by periods of flying by night with the emphasis on taking off and landing in the dark. After a total of 53 hours, flying on the 24th March the crew became proficient and ready for full operational flying.
On the 26th March 1943, we went to No.49 Bomber Squadron at RAF Fiskerton, an
airfield about five miles east of Lincoln. Lincoln Cathedral was to become very
prominent to us in the next few months for on most take offs the runway use was East to West which took the aircraft directly over the cathedral.
On the 31 SI March, we flew our first flight on an operational squadron with some local flying in Lancaster Mark III No. ED 452, followed during the next two weeks, with practice bombing sorties, air firing and cross-country flying. On the ground, there were practices drills for emergencies and explanations as to what to do in a crash landing and how to escape from the aircraft by parachute. In addition survival if forced down into the sea.
By the 12th April Jock the pilot had already flown on two operational bombing flights
over Germany as second Pilot with other crews to gain experience of flying amongst
enemy defences before taking his own crew as Captain of an Aircraft.
On the 13th, our names appeared on the Battle Order for operations that night to fly
Lancaster Mark III No. ED 620. The decisive moment had come for us, the
apprehension before each bombing operation was to start. These feelings were relieved to some extent by doing all the preparations necessary before us take off.
The first thing to do was to fly the Aircraft on a Night Flying Test (an NFT). This was
to ensure that everything was working satisfactorily before the bombs and the correct fuel load for the flight were loaded on the Aircraft. Afterwards the time was with things personal, this included having a meal, and resting.
Later we would dress in the clothes suitable to withstand the cold of the
particular aircrew position in the Aircraft. Air from the two inboard engines warmed
the main cockpit.
The flying kit included:
A helmet with a microphone, earphones and an Oxygen mask
A Mae West Life jacket
An observer type parachute harness
A parachute pack
Gloves, these were both silk and leather.
Soon it was time for the briefing. There was a buzz of excitement as we trooped into the briefing room. There was a gasp as the route map on the wall was uncovered and the Target shown as the docks at La Spezia in the north of Italy. This would be a very long flight requiring full petrol tanks and flying for maximum range. Two hundred and eight Lancaster's and three Halifax's were to attack. A good point about this operation was that the route was out and back over the South Coast of England and the South of France where the defences were relatively light.
The next thing was to go to the Locker Room to collected flying kit, helmet, parachute and flying boots. I also carried a toolkit. During the flight, I completed a log of engine conditions every twenty minutes. The other crewmembers would also collect their flying kit together with those things necessary to their particular duty; maps and charts, target details, radio frequencies, a sextant for the Navigator a carrier pigeon for the
Wireless Operator. Each crewmember would also have received in flight rations of sandwiches, a tin of orange juice and a bar of chocolate.
Now came the worst part of the preparations, waiting outside the locker room for the buses to take each crew to their Aircraft. It was at these times that the stomach would churn needing a call to the latrines as one thought of what lay ahead. This could be a nuisance when all dressed up and ready to go. There would be banter for some, quietness for others at this time and during the drive out to the Aircraft dispersed around the airfield.
At the Aircraft, the Pilot and Engineer reported to the dispersal Flight Office to check
the Aircraft loading and talk to the ground staff and the Pilot would sign the Aircraft
logbook. Before flight, as the Engineer, I inspected the aircraft both inside and out.
This was to see that everything was in order and that a battery trolley was plugged in for starting the engine and there was ground crew standing by to prime the engines with fuel before it was time for the crew to board. Each crew member would do his check of his particular part of the aircraft.
I would now secure the entrance door and stow the ladder. Moving forward up the
fuselage I would see that the oxygen supply under the rest bed was turned on and the electrics were connected to the external battery trolley would then take my place on the right hand side of the cockpit beside the pilot. Here we would start the engines and do the pre-flight checks.
On seeing a green Verey light from the control tower, it was time to taxiing to the
runway for take-off. I was checking engine temperatures and oil pressure, as it was easy for engines to overheat at this stage. The Pilot called up each member at his crew position to see if all was ready for take-off.
At the threshold of the runway, we would do our last minute take off checks before the Pilot turned ED620 onto the runway to await the green light to go.. Each Aircraft took off at 30-second intervals after a signal from the Control Tower. Our take off time was 20.50hrs.
On seeing the green light from the runway controller, the Pilot eased the throttles
forward leading and when the Aircraft was running straight, he called for full power and I pushed the throttle levers fully forward. The Aircraft gathered speed down the runway and this was one of the most anxious times as the loss of an engine when fully loaded with fuel and bombs would be disastrous.
It took the entire 6000ft runway to gain flying speed. The loss of an engine on take-off when fully loaded with bombs and fuel would be disastrous. When safely clear of the runway, the Pilot said undercarriage and I lifted the undercarriage lever, secured it into position, checked to see that the undercarriage was fully up and locked.
When safely airborne I reduced the engine power to complete the initial climb to a safe altitude and closed the flaps from their one-third take-off position. The Aircraft then flew over the airfield for the Navigator to set the correct time of departure and to set the first course. I reduced engine speed to the climbing power.
At this time, it was still daylight. The rendezvous point was on the South Coast of
England and we could see the other aircraft around us.
We settled down to our individual routines for the long flight with me monitoring and recorded at twenty-minute intervals the engine speeds, their temperatures and pressures of the oil and coolant, whilst keeping a check on fuel flow and other things and keeping a look out for other Aircraft. 1 was fortunate to have a view from the cockpit of the full 360 degrees around the Aircraft. I had engine and ancillary controls on the right further. There were engine and fuel controls and instruments on the right side of the cockpit.
Darkness closed in as the coast of France was crossed. All went well as the flight
progressed. Occasionally we would get a glimpse of a silhouetted aircraft below.
Eventually the Navigator gave an estimated time of arrival (ETA) at the Target at
Spezia. The ETA time came and passed and so did the H-Hour time of attack but there
was no sign of a raid anywhere. Raids could normally be seen from many miles away
especially from altitude. The Aircraft was over the sea and it was soon realised that it
was off course and the correct position not known. With the bombs still on and over
half of the petrol gone I said to the Pilot "If we don't get rid of these bombs we shall not get back to base". We released the bombs into the sea. We turned for home with an intended landfall on the South Coast of France at an intended time but the coast at Montpellier was not reached until 30 minutes after that time. It was not until a series of course changes that we eventually we crossed the French coast at 4000ft. Some light opposition (anti-Aircraft fire) came up from the sand dunes but fortunately no damage occurred to the Aircraft. It is a long story of flying alone across hostile France.
Over the channel, there was very little fuel left and it was necessary to find an airfield
for landing. Throughout this time there were anxious moments watching for any
engine to cut out for want of fuel. After getting no reply to emergency calls for
identification and landing, the misty coast was crossed and by chance, we saw an
airfield. Without contact with the control tower, we landed the aircraft. The airfield
was Dunsfold. The time was 07.40hrs and the flying time had been 10.50hrs. The
aircraft had flown alone across the hostile territory of France expecting opposition at any
time. After a meal, we flew back to Fiskerton who had posted the Aircraft and crew as missing.
An examination of the navigation chart, and a check of the two compasses, revealed that the main one was under reading by thirty degrees and that the courses flown had always taken the Aircraft to the right of the required track. This meant that on the outward flight the true track had been down into the Mediterranean whereas the return brought the Aircraft back on track to the south coast of France. Afterwards the track had been northwards around Paris before the turn westwards. This very long first operational bombing flight at maximum range had been quite a lesson.
The Battle of the Ruhr started in March 1943. The aircrew, because of the intensity of
the defence's searchlights, fighters and anti-Aircraft fire, knew the Ruhr area as Happy Valley.
On the 26th April, we attacked Duisberg with five hundred and sixty other aircraft. The Ruhr area was visible for miles away, a solid ring of searchlights surrounded it. Inside the ring, it was a fireworks display of rising shells, shell bursts, tracer gunfire and marker flares. Seeing the Ruhr for the first time made me gasp and I said, "How do we get through there" no one answered, each had his own thoughts, the Navigator in his blacked out compartment declined to look.
Soon we passed through the searchlight belt and were amongst the anti-aircraft bursts and tracer fire, the Pilot, the two Gunners and me, keeping a sharp lookout for other Aircraft to avoid collision and for enemy fighters. We saw Aircraft exploding, some catching fire and going down, others in searchlights. I was standing up at this time being required to move about to operate controls and to be able to read and to make a record of the instruments. The run up to the Target flying straight and level seemed to take a very long time although in reality it was only minutes. When the bombs left the aircraft, I would feel the movement of the cockpit floor. This was a relief. The Aircraft would rise up from the sudden loss of weight and the aircraft remained on course until the photoflash had gone off and the camera had recorded the bomb strike Only then was the Aircraft turned and dived away to get out of the target area. To look down from 20,OOOft and see the great area of fire and the bombs bursting was a sight I would never forget. The explosions of the heavy 4000lb bombs affected the Aircraft. This flight took five hours and was without mishap but 17 other Aircraft were lost that night.
On the 28th April, we tried to drop magnetic mines off the coast of Juist in the Fresian
Islands together with two hundred and six other aircraft. The weather was bad in the
area, dark, rain and low cloud. At 500ft in cloud and bad visibility, the target area could not be located. Because the position of mines in the sea had to be known, they were returned to base. One hundred and sixty seven of the Aircraft laid 593 mines in the area of the islands that night. Twenty-two Aircraft failed to return. This was the greatest loss on any mining during the war. It was the only mining sortie undertaken by us.
The bombing operations continued. What was I doing in these frequent infernos? What had made me volunteer for aircrew duties in the year before not expecting this? It was not my knowledge of the German tyranny; so much of that had been, and still was, unknown or knowing that Germany had unlawfully invaded and conquered the countries
of Europe, had bombed England and would have subjugated the British Isle as well if
they had not been stopped in 1940. Fate had decreed I would be here because of my
love for aeroplanes, and, if I was destined to be a combatant, what better way was there than to do this. The results of bombs dropped on German military Targets gave me no qualms of conscience, even if they fell on houses and killed civilians. All Germans had participated in the Nazi fanaticism of world domination and their excesses, these and the Italian had to be stopped.
It is not practicable to describe each raid but some are worthy of note especially the first two raids on Hamburg that started those great firestorms.
13th May Aircraft Lancaster ED 452 Target Pilsen in Czechoslovakia
There was the instance where the target was the Skoda factory at Pilsen a place deep in the east of Europe. Out over the North Sea, the starboard inner engine shed its exhaust flame cover and some of the cylinder exhausts. In the dark a long sheet of flame curled back over the leading edge of the wing, this would have been a fire risk and a beacon to enemy night fighters. The engine was shut down and the airscrew feathered. The Aircraft now lost air speed and was no longer able to keep up with the rest of the force; it would become a sitting duck to the opposing fighters. It was time to return to base to live to fight another day. It was dangerous to land with a 4000lb bomb on the Aircraft. It was dropped into the North Sea.
Arriving back at base still heavily laden with 6 x 500lb bombs and a large quantity of
fuel on board the Flying Control gave instructions to land on the short South West/North East runway. This was to avoid any obstruction on the main East/West runway in case of mishap and with the subsequent need to divert the other returning squadron Aircraft to another airfield. The approach to the runway was faster than normal because of the high landing weight and with a gusty side wind blowing the aircraft floated before touchdown. With the heavy load and poor braking the pilot realised he could not stop before the end of the runway and shouted a warning to his crew to brace. ED452 plunged off the end of the runway into a field and the undercarriage collapsed. With fear of immediate fire and explosion, I quickly had the escape hatch in the roof of the cockpit off and dived straight out ignoring the drop from the top of the fuselage to the ground. The rest of the crew quickly followed and all ran as fast as possible across the field to get away. Fortunately, neither fire nor explosion occurred and the crash crews were soon on the scene. Taffy the Rear Gunner suffered a severe shake-up in the crash and was not able to fly again. We went to the sick quarters for a medical check.
At one time, we flew a total of 22.15hrs on 4 nights in 7 days in stressful conditions and were very tired. In May, the darkness of night was quite short. Take offs were always late in the evenings. By the time, aircraft had landed and crews had been collected from dispersal, removed their flying clothing at the locker room and then been de-briefed at the Intelligence Section it would be daylight. Sleep was difficult before returning to the airfield by 11.00hrs to carry out a Night Flying Test (NFT) in readiness for the next flight.
On the 12th July, we flew to Turin in Italy. Two hundred and ninety five Lancaster's took part on this raid in clear weather conditions. The view of the snow-covered Alps was
fantastic. To see the twinkling lights of neutral Switzerland and Sweden was quite
something. Once again, it had been a long flight at maximum range. LM 306 was short of fuel when nearing the South Coast of England and the aircraft landed at Exeter. We returned to base later in the day.
On the 12th August, we flew to Italy again to attack Milan. This was another long flight. Over the Alps, there were storms and flying in cloud, St.Elmos Fire danced across the windscreen and ice formed on the airframe resulting in a lower bombing height of 17,700ft because of the extra weight. It was a successful raid with only three Aircraft lost. The Alfa Romeo motor works, the railway station and the La Scala opera house suffered substantial damage.
LM 306 had now completed three operations in four days with a total of 22.30hrs flying. It is not surprising that we had little sleep over those four days. It was a great relief to have leave. After debriefing, a meal and a change of uniform we travelled into Lincoln on the bus to catch a train to our respective homes. Two of us were travelling to London on the first part of our journey and after changing to a very full train at Grantham we both fell asleep exhausted in the corridor all the way to London and other passengers just walked over us.
There was relief, as always, as the enemy coast was crossed but no one could relax
because of possible dangers ahead. The North Sea was very wide, wet and cold.
Mechanical failures could occur from various causes not least from unsuspected enemy damage. The chances of survival if forced down into the North Sea were minimal. There was always the chance of bad weather over the base and collisions with other circling aircraft waiting to land. The circuits of other adjacent airfields were very close. It was easy to approach the wrong runway. There was also the possibility of enemy intruder aircraft in the airfield circuit.
One night we were returning below cloud at 3,000ft just off Cromer with other aircraft. Navigation lights were on. Suddenly cannon fire hit the aircraft. It was from the British Navy. Also attacked was Aircraft JB 235 of the squadron. The noise was uncanny as red-hot shrapnel passed through the fuselage close beside us. We waited to see if any faults developed but things so far, appeared normal. The Pilot called for reports and the Navigator said "Ralph's been hit." Ralph was the Wireless Operator and sat in the centre of the aircraft with his back against the hefty main spar; this no doubt had shielded him from injury that is more serious. Squeezing past the Navigator I went to Ralph's aid to see that he had received wounds in his legs and shoulder area but the most serious at the time was a hole through one of his hands. Getting the first aid, I applied bandages and put a tourniquet on the wrist before going back to my duties in the front cockpit leaving the Navigator to watch Ralph later returning at intervals to release the tourniquet to prevent gangrene setting in.
At Dunholme Lodge, the weather was foul with low cloud and driving rain. The
aircraft was required to circle for some time before getting position six for landing. Air Traffic Control had been informed that on board was a wounded aircrew member. Eventually the turn came to land but on the downwind leg of the landing circuit it was found that the undercarriage would not come down; it was obvious that the hydraulic
fluid from the system had been lost. There was damage in the bomb bay area where the pipes were located. Fortunately, the emergency air system was working and I was able to lower the undercarriage and flaps. The landing was very heavy.
At dispersal, when the engines were shut down, the levers that operated the fuel cocks failed to work and hung loosely down. The control cables in the bomb bay had been severed. Fortunately, no petrol lines to the engines had been damage. There were shattered bomb doors, broken pipes and cables, holes in the tail plane and flying control rods shot through, luckily they held to keep control of the rudders and elevator. This new aircraft was taken out of service after one bombing trip. The original crew was now down to five having lost Ralph and Taffy and spare aircrew were to fill the rear gun turret and the wireless position on subsequent operations.
Jock, the Pilot, had been a Warrant Officer since the 6th of June and was now commissioned to the rank of Pilot Officer. Jimmy the Navigator, Hugh the Bomb Aimer and I were Flight Sergeants.
2nd October. Lancaster ED 426. Take off 18.36. Target Munich. 03.15 hundred and ninety-three Lancaster has attacked the target. Eight were lost. ED 426 bombed at 22.41 from 19,000ft. On the 20th
October after a raid on Leipzig Jock, the Pilot completed his tour of 30
operations and afterwards we sadly broke up leaving the others to complete their tours flying as spares with different crews. I still had four more to do. No longer would we men experience the close friendship and respect that had built up over the last ten months flying, living and working together and going out on the town. The memory of the bond that bound us, especially in periods of great danger, would never fade. Such a depth of comradeship would not be experienced again.
Jock left the service in 1948.
Hugh the Bomb Aimer became a Flying Officer. On No. 97 he killed on 11 November 1944 whilst on a second tour. His name is on the RAF Memorial at Runnymede and the Lincoln Memorial.
Ralph the Wireless Operator settled in Bournemouth and suffered in his later
years from the wounds received.
Commission was granted to Jimmy the Navigator. He left the Service in
1946. Sergeant G Green was demobilised in 1945. Since those days, there has been no
contact with them but I was proud to have served with them.
I stayed on in the squadron as the Flight Engineer Leader. During the next
five months I flew as a spare Engineer. To Berlin with PIt Off Rowntree on the 21st
January 1944. To Leipzig on the 19th February with PIt off Dickinson. To Stuttgart with
the Sqn CO Wing Commander Adams.
My last one was on the 15th March to Stuttgart again with Pilot Officer Lett.
906 Aircrew of No. 49 Squadron failed to return. This was a loss rate of 33 of the
Aircrew who flew with the Squadron.
Years later, on the 24th April 1994 a Roll of Honour showing their Number, Rank and Name, date of death and place of burial in a foreign field was dedicated in the Fiskerton village Church of St. Clement of Rome.
In May 1995, a memorial was placed in the centre of the old airfield at Fiskerton to all those who were lost and those who served on the Station during the two and a half years from January 1943 to mid-1945.
I flew 211.50hrs by night on 30 sorties over enemy territory plus 2 almost to the enemy coast. Seventeen of the sorties had been in one Lancaster Aircraft No. LM 306 with the Squadron letters EA-F (F for Freddie). The Targets were The Ruhr = 11, Berlin = four, Italy = three, Hamburg = 2, 11 other German Targets and one Mining operation. I remember the stress, the tiredness, fear, and the pride in belonging to Bomber Command
My next posting was in April 1944 to RAF Winthorpe near Newark where I had done
my flying training, there to be a Staff Flight Engineer Flying Instructor. This was not
much fun, as we had to fly old Stirling aircraft to teach new crews. This was to save new Lancaster's for the operational squadrons.
After a few weeks and 32 hours of flying, 13 of them at night, I was sent out to all the
Stations in Number Five Group Bomber Command to lecture on the new Airborne
Lifeboat that was being introduced to the Air Sea Rescue Squadrons. When this was
finished, I returned to my base at RAF Scampton and on the 19th July 1944 I was
commissioned as a Pilot Officer.
Whilst visiting RAF Strubby Commanding Officer informed me that I had been decorated. The London Gazette had promulgated the award of the Distinguished Flying Medal. (L.G Volume II 1944 Page T. J Entry 3090) The public Record Office reference is ZJl 985. The Pilot "Jock" Morrison was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Shortly afterwards I was posted to RAF St. Athan in South Wales to train Flight
Engineers. The introduction to the Officers Mess and its customs was a great
experience; other Officers were most charming and helpful. It was an agreeable task
teaching new aircrew the duties of a Flight Engineer. Occasionally the Maintenance Unit on the other side of the airfield called for a Flight Engineer to assist the Test Pilots to fly Lancaster's to and from the factory at Baginton. This became a pleasant task. Just the two of us, the pilot and engineer, flying the Lancaster's on these flights. I can well remember flying low over the Malvern Hills. During my posting at St Athan, I did the Flight Engineer Leaders Course from 20th June to 25th July 1945 despite the fact that I had been a Flight Engineer Leader on an Operation Bomber Squadron in 1943. I spent two happy years at St. Athan.
On Tuesday the 16th February 1947 I was posted to No.44 (Rhodesia) Squadron at Royal Air Force Wyton in Huntingdonshire. On the Wednesday, I was once again in the air flying as a Flight Engineer in Avro Lincoln aircraft a larger version of the Lancaster. The Squadron routines and with a comfortable room and pleasant facilities in the
Officers Mess life was very enjoyable. The comradeship of colleagues was enjoyed and one particular Flight Engineer; Flt.Lt. Jimmy Hudson became a great friend for many years.
Months of 1947 passed with plenty of flying, it was different and relaxed after the hectic and dangerous wartime operations. On the 12th November, there was a pleasant flight out to Egypt to deliver spare parts to some of the squadron's aircraft. They were on detachment to RAF Shallufa in the Canal Zone. The Pilot was FIt. Lt. Cumber and the aircraft Lancaster No.TW 909, this being my first flight with a landing outside England in a foreign country.
First part of the flight was to RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire for custom clearance. At 23.05hrs, we took off to fly by night to RAF Castel Benito in Tripolitania on the North Coast of Africa. Prior to World War II Castel Benito had been an Italian airfield and during the war the German Luftwaffe had used it. Later the airfield was renamed Castel Idris and in years after it became the International Airport for Tripoli.
The next day it was a 5hr flight along the North African coast to Shallufa in Egypt
passing over the great battle areas of Sollum, El Alamein and Knightsbridge. On this
flight, I flew the aircraft for two hours. RAF Shallufa was beside the Suez Canal and it
was quite a sight to see large ships appearing to be travelling across the sand and to
experience an RAF airfield in a hot desert.
After three days, we took off for the return flight to the UK via Castel Benito making a detour to flyover the Pyramids and the Sphinx. On the 20th November, we arrived back at Wyton after a total flying time of 25.40hrs.
On the I" March 1948, the Squadron flew out to RAF Shallufa in Egypt for a month's
stay on exercises. I flew as the Flight Engineer to FIt. Lt. Bristow in Lincoln No. RF
426. On the 24th March with FIt. Lt. West in Lincoln RF 514, we flew to Khartoum in the Sudan for an overnight stay returning to Shallufa the next day. This round trip took 11.20hrs. On the 31 st March, the whole Squadron return to Wyton via an overnight stop at Castel Benito.
In May 1948, the whole Squadron was engaged in preparations for Operation
"Chessboard". This was to be a goodwill visit to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe)
at the invitation of the Government. It was in recognition by the Royal Air Force to the people of Southern Rhodesia for the Rhodesians, who had served, and those who had been lost, with the Royal Air Force during the war.
On the 3rd June 1948, the six Lincolns took off for a practice in formation flying in preparation for the displays in Southern Rhodesia. These are the preparations on the 9th June 1948 before the squadron of six Aircraft took off on the first leg of the flight to Southern Rhodesia with an 8hr45min flight to Castel Benito in North Africa. I was flying as Engineer to Flying Officer Barnes in the lead Aircraft KM-L No, RF417. He is the officer at the foot of the entrance ladder about to board with before him the navigator the Squadron Commander, Squadron Leader Moody was to fly with us. If you look closely at the photograph in the distance on the perimeter the two figures are the CO and me his Adjutant completing the inspection before take-off. On the following day, the Squadron flew on to RAF Shallufa in the Canal Zone of Egypt for a three-day rest and for servicing of the aircraft. This flight took 6 and half hours.
The journey continued from Shallufa on the 14th flying along the Nile Valley to Khartoum in the Sudan for an overnight stop. From Khartoum it was on to Nairobi in Kenya the next day for another overnight stop.
On the 16th it was on to the Belvedere airport at Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia. The
outward flight took 38hrs 25mins. This was to be the base for the Squadrons stay in the Country. The aircraft arrived over Belvedere in formation and after landing the personnel paraded for a reception by the Prime Minister Sir Godfrey Huggins. In the evening the Officers and Airmen attended a Government banquet and a highlight for me at this function was to sit next to, and talk with, the Prime Minister, Sir Godfrey.
There was now a two day rest for the Squadron. On the 18th Bamey and I with the rest of our crew took off to take mosaic photographs of the area of Salisbury for the local authority. We think it was for a proposed building of a Dam on Lake Kariba. It was a flight of over five hours.
On the 19th and 20th, the Squadron did formation flying over Rhodesia to be seen. On the second of the flights we had on board a passenger Mr Catsicas the Mayor of Umtali a Town in the NE of the country.
The Squadron now had a two stand down. The Squadron personnel were split up into groups of six to be the guests of prominent Rhodesians. Bamey and I with two of our aircrew and of the two of our ground staff were to be the guests of the Mayor of Umtali. This involved a long overnight sleeper journey in a rather antiquated colonial train to Umtali there and back. This was an experience. Bamey and I were the guests of the Mayor and we were rather surprised with the low standard of the accommodation.
However, this did not detract from the entertainment of Sun downer Parties of good food and drink in comparison to conditions at home. There were visits to the Vumba
Mountains and an upmarket Hotel the Leopards Rock. We were also taken to Gold Mine and an orange orchard. What lovely orange juice it was.
On the 26th June the squadron flew from Belvedere to Kamala Airport Bulawayo flying over the Victoria Falls on the way. Here was another Sun downer Party and an overnight stay as guests of the locals. Bamey and I stayed with a lady Doctor
We returned to Salisbury on the 28th• On the 29th we took off to return home via the way we had flown out. We arrived back at RAF Wyton on the 5th July having flown for over 80 hours on a good will trip. What an experience. On the way home we flew low over the African Veldt.
On return to Wyton the Squadron, members went on leave. There was a break in flying until August. I then flew regularly as the Flight Engineer to the Squadron C.O. and served as his Adjutant until the end of the year. On the 29th October 1948 came an appointment to a Permanent Commission in the Secretarial Branch. I was now a Flying Officer. The need for Flight Engineers was ending with the introduction of the new jet Aircraft and so, after nearly one thousand hours of flying my General Duties flying career was ending. It was two very happy years on 44 Sqn.
In January 1949 I was posted to Headquarters No. 3 Group Bomber Command for three months before being moved on to Headquarters Bomber Command at High Wycombe for further Intelligence duties. The post was for a junior in the Intelligence Section of four Officers. A few years before my wartime flying destiny had been under the command of Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Harris (Bomber Harris). My feelings when working in the underground Operations Room from where my wartime flying operations had been ordered and controlled cannot be described. My new Commander in Chief was Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh P Lloyd. One day in the Officers Mess there was the pleasure of meeting and talking to Marshall of the Royal Air Force Sir Hugh Trenchard the Father of the RAF.
Posting to High Wycombe was made even more enjoyable by being able to participate at weekends in the ATC gliding at Booker Airfield. In December 1949, the Air Officer in charge of Administration detailed me to represent Bomber Command at a meeting in the Air Ministry. The subject was the formation of the Royal Air Force Gliding and Soaring Association. Members left the meeting charged with organising and encouraging gliding in their respective Commands.
Duties, mess life and atmosphere at Headquarters Bomber Command continued to be very pleasant with the weekends spent gliding at RAF Booker. On the 4th July 1950, the 'C' Gliding Certificate was gained with a modest soaring flight of 15 minutes in a Grunua Baby Intermediate Sailplane No. VD 182. This was repeated a week later with a gain of height of 1250ft.
On a visit to the London Gliding Club at Dunstable on the 24th June produced my first hill-soaring flight of 30 minutes in a Sedbergh T21 b with Mr Lawrence Wright.
In October 1950 there was a week's gliding course at RAF Detling in Kent with experienced instructors, which was to be repeated again in October 1951."Jock" Forbes" was the Chief Flying Instructor at RAF Detling in Kent. He and I were two of the six Founder Members of the Royal Air Force Gliding and Soaring Association that was formed at the Air Ministry on the 15th December 1949. There was also another weeks gliding course at RAF Detling in October 1951. On the 13th January 1951, I flew my first solo hill soaring flight of I hr 50min in a Slingsby Tutor at the London Gliding Club on Dunstable Downs.
Duty at Headquarters Bomber Command ended for as a Secretarial Officer I was required to do accounting duties so it was necessary to attend an Accounting Course. After the course, I was a posting to No.9 School of Recruit Training at RAF Bridgnorth in Shropshire to be an Accountant Officer. This involved collecting cash from the local Bank, the payment of bills, the accounting for the cash transactions and the conducting of pay parades for the Airman.
It was here at Bridgnorth that I became the Chief Flying Instructor of the RAF Cosford Gliding Club, which was nearby. Two happy years followed with much gliding and soaring at Cosford and the civilian Midland Gliding Club on the Long Mynd, that lovely hill site on the Welsh border.
In July 1952 came promotion to the rank of Flight Lieutenant. My next unit was at RAF Padgate near Warrington in Lancashire. It was another recruit training school. This urban area was a contrast to the lovely Shropshire countryside. I was still able to get to RAF Cosford for gliding from time to time.
I joined the nearby civilian Derbyshire, and Lancashire Gliding Club at Camphill in the Peak District; this was another marvellous hill site. At Camphill, I was able to do my first cross-country soaring flight of over 50km towards
my Silver "C" badge by flying from Camphill to Lindholme in Yorkshire. The flight took place the 17th May 1953 in an Olympia Sailplane named "Speedwell" flying over Sheffield at 5850ft above sea level and looking down the large scar across the countryside near Doncaster, which was the first part of the A 1 road, was being made into a Motorway.
From the 25th July to the 3rd August 1953, I flew the RAF Cosford Gliding Club Gull IV Sailplane in the British National Gliding Championships at Camphill. In a total of 8 hours, only two cross-country flights were possible landing in fields, one at Staveley and one at Renishaw, both in Derbyshire. Landing at Renishaw was quite eventful. The field had cows in it and cows are partial to licking the Aircraft fabric, and standing on the wing surfaces and causing damage. A lorry driver in the field kindly offered to keep the cows from the sailplane whilst I went to find a telephone to report the landing back to Camphill for the information of the retrieving crew.
The nearest house was in fact a country mansion set in its own grounds and after knocking on the large ornate door, a trim maid, dressed in black and white, came to the door. In answer to my request to use the telephone, she offered to fetch the Master. The maid disappeared through the large marble hall with its suits of armour around the walls and then a tall-distinguished gentleman appeared to say that he was not the Master but a companion to the Master. Just then, a short rather deformed person limped into view followed by an introduction to Sir Osbert Sitwell the renowned author. The place was Renishaw Hall. His first words were "Are you all right?" to the affirmative he said "Have you had lunch?" I said "No". He then called out "Cook, lunch in five minutes". Politely declining lunch because of the need to return to the sailplane to release the lorry driver from his good deed, Sir Osbert said "Don't worry I will get my agent to go down and safeguard the sailplane".
Then came a fine lunch of Venison and salad followed by strawberries and cream all supported by a carafe of wine. Now this was the life and gliding. Afterwards all walked down to see the sailplane and to have the details of the Gliding Championships explained to them whilst awaiting the retrieving crew.
Accounting duties continued at RAF Padgate. The New Year came. Within a few weeks came a posting overseas in April.
On the 9th April 1954 came a flight by Hastings Aircraft of RAF Transport Command from RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire to RAF Station Habbanyia. The unit was situated between the Rivers Euphrates and Tigris near Baghdad in Iraq and was the Headquarters for all of the RAF stations in the Near East The posting was to be the Station Accountant Officer at the far away unit of RAF Mauripur in Pakistan.
There was an overnight stop at RAF Castel Benito now named, Castel Idris. It brought back happy memories of flying with No.44 (Rhodesia) Squadron. I waited three days at Habbanyia for onward transport. I remember seeing the clear star lit nights and hearing the loud croaking of frogs on the two rivers Tigris and Euphrates.
RAF Mauripur was a staging post for aircraft flying the long route to the Far East. At this time in 1954, air transport was relatively slow and was before the introduction of jet powered transport aircraft into the RAF. The unit was on a Pakistan Air Force Station near to the Capital of Karachi. All services received from the Pakistanis had to be accounted for and this was to be a large part of my work. In addition, I had to pay and account for the twelve Officers and three hundred Airmen of the unit and those RAF personnel seconded to the Pakistan Air Force. There were also the Services staffs at the High Commission in Karachi to look after which included the Air Attaché, Group Captain Sands who had been my Senior Intelligence Officer at Headquarters Bomber Command in 1949.
Mauripur was on a flat, barren, desert plain with the hills of Baluchistan away in the distance to the Northwest. The Station, together with Drigh Road at the other side of Karachi, had been RAF during the days of the Indian Raj before the independence and partition of that great country in 1947 with its great loss of life and the making of two States. The effects of that period were still very evident in the refugee camps around Karachi where the people lived in appalling filth and squalor.
The small RAF unit was the only British one left on the whole of the Sub-Continent of India; this became very evident when I had to account for all of the petrol use by the British from 1947 to 1954. After protracted negotiations with the Pakistan Air Force Ministry, which fortunately was based at Mauripur, the time came for the bill of around ten million Rupees to be paid; this was the equivalent of about one million pounds sterling. In 1954, at today's values, this would be about £15-20 million. This would be the largest cheque that I would ever sign but finally the Pakistanis wanted the credit in £'s in London for International trade so the bill was passed on to the Air Ministry. The special nature of the unit required me to deal direct with the Air Ministry and not through Air Headquarters Levant.
Mauripur was a two-year posting and in some ways difficult to bear especially when bouts of dysentery confirmed one to the Sick Quarters. The climate was always hot and humid and the khaki uniform of shorts required daily 'dhobi' (washing) by the Bearer (Batman) - these were the servants employed to do the domestic chores. Because of the hot, humid climate, duty was from 7am to 1 pm for those personnel who were not required to meet and service incoming and outgoing Aircraft.
Afternoon siestas were needed There was always a daily coach to Hawks Bay on the Arabian seashore about three miles away for swimming and this was a favourite facility.
There was one highlight. At the Pakistan Air Force Station of Drigh Road was a Gliding School for training cadets and a Squadron Leader Jan Mikulski commanded this. Jan had been in the RAF during the war flying fighter aircraft. He came from a high-class Polish family. He and his wife Mary had been pre-war gliding champions.
Jan escaped to England but his wife Tula (Mary) and their daughter became prisoners of the Russians. The daughter died in a Russian camp. After the war, Jan who was stateless enlisted into the PAF for the gliding post and Mary was able to join him. They became great friends and were charming hosts.
This friendship led to me being able to fly the PAF gliders. A total of 35 hours were flown over and around Drigh Road and Karachi in circumstances quite different from those in England. It was not wise to flyaway from this area for any landing would be in remote and inaccessible countryside.
Thermals over Drigh Road were usually twirling 'Dust Devils' they were very rough and restricted in height by the cooler sea breezes drifting in above the hot air over the land. When soaring, Kite Hawks, Buzzards and Vultures would take advantage of the thermal uplift and surround the sailplane. If, when flying and searching for lift the sailplane pilot saw circling birds he flew in to join them. At over 7000ft, I circled with the birds of prey. This was a fascinating experience. It was certainly fascinating to fly with them and watch their flight feathers and manoeuvres although to see an ugly vulture peering into the cockpit from just above could be unnerving.
There was another pleasure at Mauripur. The Administration Officer was a Service pilot who was required at the time to keep in flying practice and so to do this a P AF Harvard two-seater-training aircraft was used. I went with him and had great fun flying a powered Aircraft. All went well until the PAF started to send in bills for its use. The Headquarters Levant stopped the flying. Looking back on the two-year stay at Mauripur it was a great adventure.
August 1954, during the tour at Mauripur, there was a detachment back into Iraq to take over the Accounting at RAF Shaibar in the desert. Shaibar was near to the town of Basra on the Shatt el Arab the river mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates, which led into the Gulf of Aden. The detachment was for six weeks to relieve the Accountant there who was going home to England to get married. Shaibah had a bad reputation in the RAF as one of the worst overseas posting.
Many are the songs 'Shaibah Blues' sung in the home messes, especially by old sweats who had served there in the inter-war years. I contracted some uncomfortable infections whilst there. I think it was from the swimming pool. This required me to do my work in the more comfortable air-conditioned Officers Mess. It was a relief to return to Mauripur.
April 1956 came and it was the time to hand over to my relief although the staging post was to close in the following December. Longer-range Aircraft were now coming into service that could now over fly the area. It took a week to fly home to England because of having to wait for available seats on the various aircraft flying between the homeward staging posts. Two days were spent at Habbanyia and two days at Nicosia in Cyprus.
I was now to study at RAF Bircham Newton in Norfolk.
My next duty was at RAF Jurby on the Isle of Man to train Officer Cadets .. I lectured mostly on Accounting and Administration.
Jurby held many memories; the stay there ended with promotion to the Senior Rank of Squadron Leader on 1st April 1958.
The next posting was to RAF Wellesbourne Mountford near Stratford upon Avon, which was the base for the RAF Airfield Construction Branch. The detailed was to command Squadron of Administrative personnel to accompany an Airfield Construction Squadron on a Task Force to construct a Rocket Tracking Station on the Island of St.Kilda. The island was in the Atlantic, forty miles west of the Outer Hebrides.
The passage to St. Kilda involved a long train journey to Cairn Ryan on the shores of Loch Ryan near to Stranraer in Scotland. Cairn Ryan was the mainland depot for the stores and personnel to be shipped to the Island by Tank Landing Craft of the Army; it was also the base for radio contact for administrative and emergency purposes. The twenty-four hour sea crossing took place during a most unpleasant and ill making storm. Landing Craft were the only ships that could transport the heavy vehicles, stores and building materials and are able to beach and unload on the only small sandy cove. The rest of the Islands shoreline rose shear out of the water to heights of up to five hundred feet above sea level.
The Island was about two miles long and half a mile wide and very rugged. A hardy Scottish people had inhabited it up to 1930 until they became so impoverished they had to be evacuated to the mainland. The Island was now a sanctuary for many types of seabird and a few Soya sheep and was overseen by the Scottish National Trust. The few stone houses that had formed a line near the seashore were now roofless and in collapsed piles although the more substantial Factor's house and the Manse had been rehabilitated to house the Officers and provided a recreation area for the Airmen. The Airmen lived under canvas and the messing was in a Nissen hut erected for the purpose. The construction of the Tracking Station continued throughout the summer months.
The office was a mobile caravan and from there I was able to keep in radio contact with Cairn Ryan on the mainland. Finally, the summer ended and it was time to withdraw before bad weather prevented the Landing Craft from getting to the Island. Everyone was glad to be going back to Wellesbourne for leave and to see his or her families. A small unenviable maintenance party came out to look after the installation during the winter months. At Wellesbourne I completed the work necessary to close down the operation.
Now it was to Royal Air Force Uxbridge to be the Senior Accountant Officer. Entering
the gates and passing the parade ground my thoughts were of those far off days in 1940 when first reporting for duty on joining the Service. I had come a long way since then and had advanced to a remarkable degree never thought possible when lying down to sleep on that first night in the barracks beside the square. Now it was to be the Senior Officer responsible for the financial affairs of the Station. I had been out of England for five years.
On weekends, it was gliding with the Chilterns Gliding Club at RAF Benson, which was not very far away. Evenings, using an available building on the Station, I was able to carry out repairs to the Club gliders, work that gave me great pleasure since my early days in the RAF as a Mechanic, Fitter and Engineer. Life was quite full and rewarding at Uxbridge.
The Unit Drama Group put on a Nativity Play one Christmas time with me as a Wise Man giving performances in the Station Theatre and the RAF Church of St. Clement Danes in the Strand in London.
Another Royal duty occurred at one stage acting as an usher in the Central Nave of St. Pauls Cathedral when Her Majesty attended the dedication of a Memorial to the
Americans whom served and died in World War Il.
One of the Units at RAF Uxbridge was the RAF Regiment whose duties, amongst others, were ceremonial and it was the Custodian of the Queens Colour for the Royal Air Force. The Borough Council of Uxbridge granted the Freedom of the town to the Royal Air Force Station, which entitled the unit to march through the town with drawn swords, bayonets fixed and colours flying. The station personnel had been practising for the ceremony for some time and the parade was to be under the Command of the RAF Regiment C.O. A week before the ceremony the Officer became ill and was in hospital. The Station Commander detailed me to command the parade. This was a great Honour to troop the Queens Colour on the hallowed parade ground. Throughout the ceremony, my thoughts were back in 1940 when walking out of the station in uniform for the first time as an Aircraftman 2nd Class to go to the cinema.
The Contingent then marched the through the streets of Uxbridge with bands playing, colours flying, swords draw and bayonets fixed. At this time I was remembering the day eighteen years ago when marching the same route as a new recruit with a heavy kit bag on the way to the railway station to go to Morecambe for training.
After the parade, there was a reception in the Officers Mess for the Civic Party, Members of the Air Council and other honoured guests. The sick Commander of the RAF Regiment was the President of the Officers Mess Committee and being Vice President it fell to me to take the Chair at the Formal Dinner.
The three years served at RAF Uxbridge were very rewarding.
Two notable soaring flights occurred whilst serving at Uxbridge. The first was on the 7th May 1960. This was from RAF Booker to a field at Finmere in, Buckinghamshire. I reached a height of 5600ft. The flight time was 2hrs.5min. The second flight took place on Monday the 13th March 1961. All over the weekend, gliding had taken place at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire but the weather conditions prevented any soaring and the flights were restricted to circuits round the airfield.
On the Monday morning the weather forecast reported a steady west wind blowing, a condition that would allow hill soaring on the ridge of Dunstable Downs the home of the London Gliding Club. Taking a chance, I telephoned the club for permission to attempt a five-hour duration flight to complete the conditions for my Silver C Badge, something waited for over eleven years. Afterwards another telephone call was made to RAF Benson to see if the gliding club could have the Olympia Sailplane and a Tug Aircraft ready. All was now set for an attempt to complete the final leg of the Silver "C" Badge.
Take off by aero tow from Benson was at 11.10hrs to fly along the Chiltern Hills to Dunstable. At 11.35hrs, the Olympia was towed into the hill lift over the London Club grounds the time being taken for certification purposes by the Club Chief Flying Instructor. For an hour, all went well then, a lull in the wind made it necessary to land. Very quickly, the Chief Instructor of the club organised a quick re-launch by winch at 13.04hrs.
For the next 5 hours and 4 minutes, the Olympia scraped back and forth in the narrow band of lift along the ridge at a very low height to complete the flight by landing at 18.10hr as dusk approached. The full flying time for that day was 6 hours and 30 minutes. A very happy Thomas travelled back to Benson with the trailer and sailplane and then on back to Uxbridge.
My next duty was at the Ministry of Defence in London was with the Personnel Department, in the section that dealt with the forecasting of the number of recruits that would be required in the various trades in the coming years based on the expected wastage and the Defence Budget. As the defence requirements changed from year to year, the task was not an exact science and the tool of the trade needed to be a crystal ball. It was interesting work and it gave an insight into how a Government Department worked. It also involved on occasions to be the Duty MOD Personnel Staff Officer overnight and at weekends and being one of the Bowler Hat and Umbrella Brigade commuting up to London from Oxhey where I had bought a house every working day.
There is little to relate regarding the work at the Ministry of Defence. Much time was spent attending conferences while the two civilian staff in the Mla office did the
calculations for the assessment of the numbers of RAF tradesmen for the future.
The posting to the Ministry of Defence was to last three years and during this time gliding continued with the Chilterns Club at RAF Benson and the RAFGSA Centre at RAF Bicester. During this time, I was also the Treasurer of the Royal Air Force Gliding and Soaring Association. My dealings with the RAF Sports Board were with a retired Group Captain who was my Wing Commander at RAF Padgate.
On the 4th May 1963 flying from RAF Bicester in a Skylark IV Sailplane, r was able to make a lOO-mile cross-country goal flight to RAF Swanton Morley in Norfolk. The flight took two hours and thirty-five minutes. The landing was in the late afternoon of a Saturday and it was after midnight when the crew arrived from Bicester with a trailer for the return journey by road.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, driving through the streets of Cambridge, a wheel came off the trailer because of a broken axle. Fortunately, there was another RAF Gliding club at nearby RAF Waterbeach. They had a suitable trailer and this was borrowed so that the journey could be continued.
1964, the National Gliding Championships were at Lasham in Hampshire and a number of the RAFGSA clubs were competing. As the Treasurer, I was required to attend the meet. The RAFGSA Centre at Bicester was providing a two- seater sailplane to enable important guests to be given flights. It was my pleasure to fly this Bocian sailplane the 50 miles to Lasham behind a towing Aircraft and whilst there to give flights to some very Senior Officers and MOD Officials.
Duty at the Ministry of Defence was an experience and finally ended in June 1964 and I moved to RAF Wildenrath, Germany. it was another adventure and a challenge driving off to Dover to catch the boat to Ostende and then across unfamiliar Holland and Belgium and into Germany. Driving on the right and then through the centre of Brussels and going the wrong way down a one-way street in another town was quite hair raising.
RAF Wildenrath was just inside North West Germany over the border from the Dutch Town of Roermond, a town handy for shopping. > At Wildenrath I was the Officer Commanding the Personnel Services Squadron, responsible for about three thousand personnel including many German civilian employees, all the financial services of pay and allowances including the auditing of the non-public funds of the messes and all disciplinary matters including Court Martial, accidents and deaths. It was a full-time
job, back in uniform and living in the Officers Mess. There was one pleasing aspect of the posting and that was it was a flying station, so much previous service had been on backup and training units.
Wildenrath was on the western edge of the Ruhr area and had been heavily defended during the intense bombing by the RAF during 1943. The memories of that time twenty years before were still fresh in my mind especially when visiting some of the towns that I had helped to bomb. There was one visit with other Officers whilst attending a course in Hamburg that a call was made on the Burgomaster (Mayor) of Hamburg at the Rasthaus (Town Hall) and the Burgomaster was talking about, and showing, large photographs of the destruction of the city caused by the wartime bombing and the subsequent rebuilding. I hovered in the background; conscience of the nights in 1943 when taking part in those devastating raids and looked down on the inferno from the storms above. Whilst in Germany I was the Chairman of the Phoenix Gliding Club at the neighbouring RAF Station Bruggen and was able to continue gliding.
In the early spring of 1967 the tour of duty in Germany was over and I moved to RAF Swinderby in Lincolnshire to fill the same post as at Wildenrath i.e. O.C. Personnel Services Squadron. It was No. 9 School of Recruit Training. This unit had been at Bridgnorth when I was there in 1951/2.
Now age 45, my RAF service was ending. It was obvious that there would be no more promotion from Squadron Leader to Wing Commander. This would have taken me on to the age of 55; I decided to take retirement, think of the future, On the 6th May 1968, with much regret I left the Royal Air Force. I was very sad to leave what had been my chosen career, It had filled my boyhood dreams. I obtained a position in the National Provincial Bank in Lincoln.
T J Page, “My life in the Royal Air Force Bomber Command,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 5, 2023, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/30853.
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