An Airmans Tale

BPayneGPayneGv1.pdf

Title

An Airmans Tale
By Geoff Payne

Description

Geoff Payne's autobiography divided into five chapters.

Chapter 1. Under Training.
Having been assessed in Birmingham Geoff sets off to London in August 1942 for training, at Lords. Initial training was at Bridlington then gunnery school at Andreas on the Isle of Man. After a short leave he was posted to an operational training unit at Chipping Warden followed by intensive training at Edge Hill. Finally he went to Feltwell for Escape and Evasion training before joining a Heavy Conversion Unit at Wratting Common then Waterbeach.

Chapter 2. Operations RAF Witchford. After seven days leave he commenced operational flying in a Lancaster. Their first target was Augsburg and he reports being waved off by WAAFs and airmen. On the next operation the navigator had a breakdown and refused to help. He continues with details of several operations.
Chapter 3. Return to Ops RAF Waterbeach. Initially this proved to be a very relaxing posting but after his recovery he was back on operations. After 30 operations he was posted to RAF Brackla, Nairn.

Chapter 4. Grounded. He was unhappy at Brackla which was remote and cold. Next was a transfer south to RAF Weeton where he learned about motor transport and learned to drive. He was then posted to RAF Halfpenny Green, followed by RAF Croughton and South Cerney. He then went to Hornchurch before being sent to Germany where he joined a micro film unit at Frankfurt. On completion of photographing relevant factory installations his unit headed south to Triberg in Bavaria.

Chapter 5. As Time Goes By. He reflects on his letter from the Secretary of State from Air, Bomber Command losses and life after the war. he discusses Labour minister John Strachey, a pre-war fascist then Communist Party , who belittled the work of Bomber Harris. and the refusal to allow a thanksgiving service to honour the ex-Prisoner of War Association at Coventry Cathedral.

Creator

Date

2010

Language

Format

56 page memoir

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IBCC Digital Archive

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

Contributor

Identifier

BPayneGPayneGv1

Transcription

AN AIRMAN’S TALE

By Geoff Payne

[514 Squadron Crest]

[115 Squadron Crest]

[RAF Training Command Crest]

[RAF Bomber Command Crest]

[Picture] Artist’s Impression of Bomber Command Memorial in Hyde Park

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AN AIRMAN’S TALE

By Geoff Payne

Chapter 1
Under Training (U/T)

Chapter 2
Operations RAF Witchford

Chapter 3
Back on Operations RAF Waterbeach

Chapter 4
Grounded

Chapter 5
As Time Goes By

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An Airman’s Tale By Geoff Payne
The Story of His Time in The Royal Air Force

Chapter 1
Under Training (U/T)

Having attended the Aircrew Assessment Board at Viceroy Close in Birmingham, I passed for aircrew training, given my RAF service number and told to return to work and await my call up documents. This was in August 1942 I was seventeen and a half at that time, an Air Cadet and eager to join the service of my choice. Time seemed to drag over the next few months, air raids had virtually ceased, although fire watching duties at my factory were still a priority and was able to pick up five shillings per night doing this chore, a useful supplement to my apprenticeship wages.

The end of March 1943, my travel documents arrived, together with information that I was to report to the Air Crew Reception Centre (ACRC) at Lords Cricket ground, St John’s Wood, London.

A month later, my family and I stood on platform three at New Street Station awaiting the early train to London, fortunately, a trainee school teacher from my school was also going to ACRC so it was nice to have his company. This was the first time I had been away from home by myself and looked forward to the new experience.

London Euston station was all bustle, full of service personnel manoeuvring around the station looking for directions, we eventually got to the tube station and made our way to St Johns Wood and Lords Cricket ground. What a fascinating experience travelling on these tube trains and, from information gathered, all service personnel could travel anywhere by tube, free of charge. Booking in, we were given a pack of sandwiches, told to hang about for an hour so, spending our time, inspecting the wicket, gazing at the pictures of past players in Lords Taveners and in general, soaking in the atmosphere of the home of cricket.

About fifty of us were assembled and given a general talk on what was to happen during the next hour or so and, told to memorise our service number and to mark every piece of our service clothing and equipment when it was issued.

We were then marched into a hall and ordered to stand behind the gym benches that lined the hall and ordered to strip, including socks, this inspection was known in the services as a FFI (free from infection) then two M/O,s [sic] walked down the lines of naked men checking fingers, toes and nether regions. Modesty went out of the window that afternoon.

When clothed, we marched in single file to the stores where we were issued our uniform and kit then assembled outside the hall to board a service bus that took us to our billet, a set of high rise luxury flats facing Regents Park and the Grand Canal, our block was Stoneleigh Court. All the civilian occupants had been decanted, six airmen were allocated to a room. Quite cosy under the circumstances.

After settling in, we assembled in the main road with our enamelled mug, knife fork and spoon (irons) ready to march to our mess, not knowing at the time, we were to be fed in the London Zoo canteen.

Later that evening our time was spent sprucing up our “best blue”, trying to get a shine on our boots, parcelling up our civilian clothes and in general, just getting sorted

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out ready for our first parade in the morning.

The following morning, we deposited our “civies” [sic] to be posted home, after breakfast we paraded in the main road at eight o’clock, inspected by a sergeant, then marched off to the medical centre for our inoculations and whatever. The RAF medical centre, Abbey Lodge was also a high rise block of luxury flats, half a mile away from our billet, which also doubled as a RAF hospital and surrounded by a fence of black architectural iron work. We were organised in a single file that stretched alongside this fence. here we waited for some time before the file began to move along slowly, up stairs into one room where an orderly drew an armful of blood, up more stairs and into another room, a scratch on the arm for small pox, injections for tetanus and whatever, so it went on until finally we emerged into a courtyard to the rumble of expletives. Not finished yet, now for night vision testing which took over an hour to complete before being marched back to our billet and lunch at the zoo.

During the first week at ACRC the air raid alarm sounded and our group were woken up to go to Abbey Lodge.

As we set out the anti aircraft batteries in Regents Park began to open up and falling shrapnel began to scream on its way down, thankful for our tin hats on that occasion. Arriving at the hospital, the lifts were off so we had to manhandle the bed patients down the stairs on stretchers into the car park situated beneath the block. this was by no means an easy task negotiating ones way down the stair wells, manoeuvring around the sharp corners. The raid continued intermittently for three hours before we could take these patients back to their wards then began a slow walk back to Stoneleigh Court for a well earned rest.

Most of the remaining time at ACRC was taken up with rifle drill, physical training and marching everywhere, however, we had plenty of leisure time to take in the London sights, thankful for the free transport on offer.

One amazing coincidence was meeting up with my cousin Jack Stone whilst wandering around London Zoo.

I knew he had enlisted in the RAF as a boy and trained as an armourer, surprisingly, he was also wearing a white flash in his forage cap, the sign of an aircrew cadet. He had re-mustered and was going forward for air gunner training the same as me, sadly that was the last time I saw him, he was lost on his second tour of operations later in the war. His name is recorded on the walls of The Runnymede Air Force Memorial as having no known grave.

Finally, after four weeks of hard training and feeling fit, we received orders to move as a group to ITW (Initial Training Wing) wherever. Destinations were never broadcast because of security, although we knew the next port of call was Kings Cross Station.

14 ITW RAF Bridlington

Arrived at Kings Cross in full marching order, back pack, side pack, water bottle and kit bag plus a pack of sandwiches to sustain us on our journey. A reasonable journey up to York, then changed over to a non corridor train for the final leg of the trip to the seaside resort of Bridlington. Here we were met by transport which took us into the town to be dropped off in a street of vacated terraced houses. Ten cadets, including my two friends, Vic Lodge from Halifax and Nick Alkemade from Loughborough

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were allocated to one of the houses, a sparsely furnished house without running hot water. We had arrived at 14 ITW RAF Bridlington, Yorkshire.

The messing facilities were located in the Spa Ballroom near to the promenade, an art nouveau type of structure where one could imagine the flappers of the twenties and thirties gyrating around the dance floor, soon to be brought back to reality with the greasy food odour permeating the once splendid ballroom.

Our time at Bridlington was spent on drill during the morning, and being an ex corporal in the ATC, the DI (Drill Instructor) often gave me the opportunity of taking the squad on these exercises. The favourite route was along the promenade where there was always an audience to give us a cheer or on occasions, a humorous comment from “Matelots or Squadies [sic] who were out for a stroll.

The afternoon parades were less exhausting, attending classes on aircraft recognition, a very important aspect of an air gunners job, sessions in a gun turret simulator and boring lectures on KR’s (Kings Regulations). We also had regular excursions to the 303 rifle range and to the Butts for pistol and Sten gun practise, surprisingly these visits became very competitive amongst our group with bets being bandied about.

The most enjoyable afternoon sessions was the visit to the local swimming baths where we could partake of a hot shower, get some dinghy drill in and generally play around in the pool.

All this exercise, the bracing sea air, made us healthily fit and always hungry. There was the NAAFI, a few fish and chip shops and cafes around the town but on this occasion, short of cash we decided to make use of our own mess for “supper”. Usually there was bread, margarine, jam and sometimes the left-overs of a sweet. We were lucky this night, there was plenty of trifle available and tour regret. three of our group including myself, were up all night vomiting and feeling very, very sick. The following morning we had no alternative but to report sick, the doctor immediately diagnosed food poisoning and dispatched us off to hospital, a rambling country house on Flamborough Head, I never looked at nor even consumed trifle again for many a long year.

Five days later, having been discharged from hospital, our group of city airmen were scheduled for posting to Gunnery School in two days time, quite excited and looking forward to our first flying experience. Bridlington had been a pleasant town to be posted to, nice beaches for sunbathing and swimming and ample entertainment in the town. Although our billets had been pretty Spartan we were sorry to say goodbye to this friendly seaside resort..

11 AGS RAF Andreas IOM

We boarded our train at Bridlington Station early evening with no idea the route we were taking, it must have been westwards as the sun was just setting ahead of us. After a lot of stopping and starting, we eventually arrived at Piccadilly Station, Manchester to be allowed of the train and told there was an air raid in progress somewhere in the vicinity. We spent an uncomfortable three hours hanging about the station not knowing when we would be on the move again, luckily the tea bar was open.

Back onto the train feeling tired and hungry, our train clattered on until someone shouted that we were coming into Blackpool as theTower could be seen in the

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distance, no such luck, we ended our train journey in the fishing port of Fleetwood alongside the quay. Tethered to the dock was a one funnel steamer, looking like a cross between a cargo ship and a ferry boat, bringing to mind the John Masefield poem, “Cargoes”.
Feeling miserable and weary after our lengthy train journey, we scrambled aboard this ship and looked for a spot to get some sleep during the four hour sea crossing. Very surprised to find a sort of tea and sandwich bar on board, although welcome, we were disgusted at the exorbitant prices. After an uneventful journey we arrived in Douglas, the capital of the Isle of Man, the home of the TT Races and the tailless moggy.
Disembarking, following roll call, we marched off to the train station to board a very unusual and unique style of rolling stock, most of our group including myself were unaware that an efficient railway system served most of the island. The island scenery was quite lush, hilly and dominated by Snae Fell, the only resemblance to a mountain on the island. Travelling on we by-passed the little town of Peel before arriving at the end of the line, the little fishing port of Ramsey to the north east of the island. Transport met us at the station to take us the short journey to RAF Andreas ready for a welcome meal in the airmens mess after our long drawn out journey from Bridlington.
RAF Andreas was a normal wartime airfield, a mixture of wooden and concrete buildings and sporting the usual three runways. With it’s sister airfield RAF Jurby just four miles from our base, these airfields were built primarily to provide cover for our shipping against the long ranging Condors of the Luftwaffe.
Having been split up into groups of ten, our Gunnery Course was set out with lectures and practical work during the mornings with afternoon sessions flying in the worthy Avro “Annie” Anson.

[picture of Wartime Anson in RAF markings]
Avro Anson

A very comprehensive course started with practical work on the reliable air cooled 303 Browning machine gun, getting to memorise the parts, stripping and assembling and eventually being able to do this job blindfolded with flying gloves on. During these exercises, our instructor timed us with a stop watch, here again bets were being laid and even encouraged by our instructor, I think he was a bit of a gambling man.

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These lectures also included the identification of different types of ammunition by the use of colour coding on the base of the cartridge case as to whether it was tracer, incendiary, armour piercing or general purpose, a calculated mix of all these types of rounds were used operationally.
A very important part of this course was the understanding of the hydraulically operated Frazer Nash gun turret currently in use on the Lancaster and Stirling bombers. It became obvious that we were destined to be operating in either the Stirling or Lancaster aircraft as we never had any instruction on the electrically operated Boulton Paul turret currently in use in the Halifax bomber.
Many hours were spent on the workings of these turrets, the causes of stoppages and rectification, how to obtain an aircraft drift reading by using the movement of the turret against a fixed point on the ground or sea, how to synchronise four guns firing 5000 rounds per minute to achieve the optimum bullet spread over a certain distance. Then there were the visits to the special firing range using fast moving aircraft models at 100 yds distance. Firing from a gun turret was quite an experience although only one Browning was operable for obvious reasons.
Our first exercise in the Anson was a simulated attack by a Miles Martinet, three cadets were allocated to our aircraft, each one of us to take turns in the turret using a camera gun. On all our flying exercise, lots were taken in cranking up or cranking down the undercarriage, quite an exhaustive feat especially winding up the landing gear, some chore 140 turns up or down.
Two more flights with camera guns then on to drogue target practise using a single Vickers machine gun in the turret. Each cadet was allowed 200 rounds of identifiable ammunition, meaning that the tip of each round was dipped in a soft colour paint ie; 200 rounds blue, 200 rounds red, 200 rounds green. If a bullet pierced the drouge[sic], the gunner could then be identified. These exercises varied in many ways, with simulated attacks coming from all directions, finally the last few exercises of our course, were air to ground firing.
A enumber[sic] of bulls eye targets were set up on cliffs to the north end of the island, it must have been upsetting for the bird life in that area.

[picture of X Squad 11 AGS RAF Andreas IOM – Standing 3rd from left Geoff Payne, 5th from left Nick Alkemade]

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Looking in my log book recently, I noted that in just the month of July I had clocked up twenty flying details of roughly an hours duration, mostly with Polish pilots.
During our time at 11 AGS, apart from the occasional guard duty, Saturdays and Sundays were non working days which, gave us the opportunity of exploring the island. The weather during our months course was excellent, so we took advantage of swimming off the charming little coves to the North of the island, there was also a small yachting pool alongside Ramsey harbour with the nearby Enemy Aliens Stockade, a series of commandeered boarding houses, bordering on the nearby Enemy Aliens Stockade, a series of commandeered boarding houses, bordering on the pool. We had previously been warned not to fraternise with the inhabitants of any of these camps. Sitting in a Ramsey pub one Saturday, three aircrew sergeants, all sporting navigators brevets, wandered into the bar, what a surprise to see my brother in the party, they were on a Wireless Operators course at nearby RAF Jurby and destined for operations flying in the “Wooden Wonder” the Mosquito. It would be another four years before I met up with my brother again.
The first week in August 1943 saw the end of our course with, a passing out parade and presentation of our AG,s brevet by a high ranking officer whom, if my memory serves me correctly, was then, Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire.
Not much time to celebrate, within two days we were given our seven days leave passes and travel documents. Pity my two friends were posted to RAF Desbourough[sic] whilst I was posted to RAF Chipping Warden by Banbury, only forty miles from my home and on the London to Birmingham main rail line.
I had enjoyed my time in the Isle of Man but very sad that over the years I have been unable to make a return visit to this interesting island.

12 OUT RAF Chipping Warden

Enjoyed my first seven days leave at home, left in civilian clothes and returned three months later in uniform, sporting three stripes on my sleeve with an AG,s brevet above my breast pocket feeling proud of myself. The seven days passed very quickly with time taken up visiting my relatives, ex workmates and of course my girl friend. Standing on Snow Hill Station waiting for my train back to Banbury, my thoughts brough me back to reality that this war is serious and that I could be on operations by the end of the year.
Chipping Warden was a pre war station, two story[sic] barrack buildings, administration blocks and massive hangers with brick built flight offices attached.
After picking up my bedding I enquired where the billets were and was taken aback when I was directed to a wooden hutted compound, complete with a sergeants mess, outside the main camp confines. This posed the question, are the newly promoted NCO aircrew being discriminated against?
Entering my designated hut I found a motley collection of aircrew including Aussies, Canadians and New Zealander’s, it was then that I discovered that aircrew NCO,s under training had there[sic] own messing and accommodation facilities. Meeting up with my fellow bunk mates, pilots, bomb aimers, wireless operators, navigators and gunners, found difficulty in picking up their accents and slang words. Meeting up with thee airmen, created a great feeling of camaraderie which was almost instantaneous.
The following day was spent doing the usual round of signing in and getting kitted out

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with flying clothing, me being a rear gunner I had special issues, electrical heated Irvine Suit, fur lined heated bootees and gloves, fisherman’s sweater and thermal underwear. All this gear required another kit bag issue which I lugged back to the billet, spending the rest of the day getting to know more about these friendly “Colonials”.
Reporting to Flights next day, the various aircrew trades were segregated, we as gunners went to the firing ranges for some rifle and clay pigeon shooting. During the afternoon we were introduced to the type of aircraft that we would be flying.

[picture of The Vickers Wellington (Wimpy)]

At that time all the aircraft at 12 OUT were all ex operational Wellingtons, virtually “clapped out”, the replacement parts being in short supply creating a shortage of serviceable aircraft. A rotational system of aircrew to aircraft had to be adopted, hence a crew could be flying three to four times in one day utilising the same aircraft.
The course began in earnest with a mixture of circuits and landings, fighter affiliation using camera guns, high and low level bombing, the same such exercises applied to night flying, apart from fighter affiliation exercises. After three weeks of intensive activity, the day came when the CO told the assembled aircrew to get moving on to the satellite station RAF Edge Hill some ten miles west of Chipping Warden.
My bunk mates and I had anticipated being crewed up so we had already sorted ourselves out as a crew, two Aussies, one a pilot from Melbourne, the other, a navigator from Sidney, our bomb aimer from Carshalton and wireless operator from Bognor Regis with myself as rear gunner. Over the past three weeks we had really got on well, that was a good start.

RAF Edge Hill

A typical war time airfield, very dispersed with plenty of walking between sections, built right up to the edge of Edge Hill itself. Due to an indecisive battle fought out between the Royalists of King Charles 1st and the Roundhead Parliamentary forces of Oliver Cromwell, the local population believed that the area was haunted by a headless horseman. Will that be a bad omen? Weird!
This part of our course was to develop these newly formed crews into an efficient operating team, an essential commodity in our own survival and for effectively doing the job that we had enlisted for.

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An intensive programme of night and day cross country flights began, usually incorporating high or low level simulated bombing attacks using small smoke or flare bombs. During our daylight flights we were often buzzed by a fighter, all part of the learning process for air gunners.
On one night exercise, we must have gone miles off track when we encountered a Barrage Balloon which stood on it’s tail as it caught our slipstream, we knew we had entered a defended area when a few bursts of anti aircraft fire appeared not far away. This caused a bit of a panic until our wireless operator fired off the Very pistol with the colours of the day, to our relief that gunfire abated. At de briefing, our navigator learned that, due to a false wind forecast we had strayed close to the defences of Bristol.
Time came to return to Chipping Warden for our crew assessment to be met with news that we were to participate in a Nickel, a leaflet drop to Lille in France, however, the operation was scrubbed due to our aircraft being unserviceable. At OUT’s this type of operation was a normal occurrence enabling proficient aircrews to get in some operational experience. I still have one of those leaflets.
20th of August 1943 was the end of our time at 12 OUT and the faithful old Wellington, the next phase of our training schedule was a posting to RAF Feltwell in Norfolk to undergo an Escape and Evasion course.

RAF Feltwell

RAF Feltwell was a typical pre war brick built airfield with grass runways, then in the process of converting to concrete runways. Upon arrival, surprised to find that there was only a skeleton staff in occupation, apart from a unit of RAF Regiment personnel who were to be our instructors to this Escape and Evasion course. We were joined by six other crews, a total of thirty airmen. In the event of being shot down over enemy territory, the object of the course was to impart some skills that would assist downed airmen to escape or to evade capture. It was a prerequisite for airmen to attempt escaping thereby tying down essential enemy manpower.
The first part of the course was training in the rudiments of enarmed combat, no holds barred, using all the dirty tricks available, the Queensbury rules didn’t apply in dangerous situations one may find oneself in.
Following on this exercise we practised the art of concealment, our five crew members would spread out in some scrubby woodland approximately one mile square, then to conceal themselves the best way they could and, using whatever materials came to hand. The Regiment unit were then sent out to locate us if they could and after a number of attempts this exercise proved useful and effective although one escapee got bitten by an Adder whilst hiding in some gorse bushes. Our final exercise was hilarious, we were taken out at midnight in an enclosed vehicle, dropping two of us off at a time some fifteen miles from the camp with only a box of matches and some cigarettes, no money and told to make our own way back to Feltwell. This exercise proved to be a non event as it began to pour with rain. We had been dropped off on a farm track in the middle of a scrubby wheat field where we found a dilapidated corrugated type of shed. A few fairly clean sacks were lying about and some wooden boxes which gave us an ample supply of fuel for a small cosy fire.

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There we stayed until a farmer with his truck arrived to give us an amount of verbal abuse until we explained that we were on an exercise and would wish a lift back to Feltwell. The truck dropped us off about a mile from the rear of the camp, success! The Regiment were out looking for us that night but we got back into the camp unchallenged and in time for a welcome breakfast.
One memorable occasion during the evening playing cards in the billet, we heard a sort of rumbling noise which got louder and louder. We rushed out of our billet and looked up at the sky, a clear night and almost dark. At about ten thousand feet there must have been hundreds of four engine heavy bombers heading eastwards, an amazing sight. Back in our billet, we contemplated that we could be part of that type of air Armada very shortly.
At the end of our weeks course we were given our travel documents to report to RAF Wratting Common, a Stirling conversion unit which caused much consternation among the crew. We had hoped to avoid operating in Stirlings due to the high loss rate attributed to this aircraft.

1651 Heavy Conversion Unit RAF Wratting Common

Wratting Common was a war time aerodrome situated between Cambridge and Newmarket, it had recently been vacated by 90 Squadron who had operated with the Short Stirling Aircraft. A well dispersed cap, miles from anywhere, the nearest rail station being Six Mile Bottom, three miles from the camp. Mud everywhere, I am sure that if you stepped off the concrete paths you would be a goner.
Settled in our Nisson hut and proceeded to scout round for wood and coke to service our lonely stove, an east wind was blowing in over the low lying expanse of East Anglia, cold enough to try out our new thermal underwear.
Reporting to the flights the following day to meet up with two new crew members, Dick Hollis, Mid Upper Gunner and Cyril Bridges, Flight Engineer making, up our seven man crew. Together with two other crews, we were then taken to a hanger[sic] to get to know this massive aircraft, the Short Stirling.

[photograph of the Short Stirling]

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Spent the afternoon scrambling about this aircraft, proudly showing off the various escape hatches and doorways to my crew. As an apprentice, my company was involved in the manufacture of various component parts associated with the Stirling, as was my girl friends[sic] mother being an electrical inspector on this aircraft.
Our first flights in the Stirling consisted of two three hour sessions of circuits and landings, not at all present, no wonder this exercise is known as “Circuits and Bumps”, we certainly had our share of bumps that day. It was a relief when the Gunnery Leader informed us that all the gunners on the course were to undertake an advanced gunnery course at RAF Newmarket as, there was no point in wasting time just sitting in an aircraft doing circuits and landings. Newmarket was some experience, we were billeted in buildings associated with the racecourse, even the Wellington based there took off from the racecourse.
This gunnery course took place over the North Sea and was more realistic using the same type of gun turrets that we would use on operations. Spitfires simulated the attacks and our Wellington would be doing the defensive manoeuvre of corkscrewing.
On the firing exercises we were either in the front or the rear turret firing at a drogue being towed by a Miles Martinet. Our time at Newmarket was very instructive being trained by ex operational air gunners. I am positive that by imparting their experiences gave me confidence for the task ahead.
Back at Wratting Common to find that we had lost our Australian pilot, they had been engaged on circuits and landings at RAF Downham Market when the starboard outer engine failed when coming in to land, the wing dipped and struck the ground causing the aircraft to crash. Our pilot sustained a severe head wound but was dragged to safety by the Flight Engineer. Apart from a few bruises the rest of crew escaped unhurt although the aircraft was a write off. The accident allowed us to take a fortnights leave over Christmas and New Year awaiting the arrival of a new pilot.
Festivities over, back to Wratting Common we met up with our new pilot F/O Bill Martin an experienced pilot on twin engine aircraft, it did not take him long to master this giant of the sky. Just a few day and night exercises of circuits and landings then on to long distance three to four hour cross country flights.
After nearly forty hours flying time converting to Stirlings our course finished abruptly when we were informed that as a crew we would be moving onto RAF Waterbeach to convert on to Lancasters. A quiet feeling of relief when word came that due to the heavy loss rate on German targets, Stirlings were being withdrawn from the main thrust of Bomber Commands activities.

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1678 Heavy Conversion Unit RAF Waterbeach

[photograph of Lancaster Mark II (Note: Flying on one engine)]
What a great feeling to get away from Wratting Common with it’s isolation and mud to arrive at a pre war brick built camp with all the amenities, a regular bus service into Cambridge, three pubs in the village and comfortable billets.
Accordingly to the talk around the camp, we were to convert onto the Lancaster 2 with Bristol Hercules radial air cooled engines as opposed to the Merlin inline liquid cooled engines. According to records, there were only five squadrons allocated this type of aircraft, three Canadian and two British. Just over three hundred were build by the Armstrong Whitley Company in Coventry as a stop gap, due to a shortage of Merlin engines and a surplus of Hercules engines. This Lancaster was a strange looking aircraft, but apart from it’s ceiling, the performance was comparable to the original Lancaster.
Within a week of arriving at Waterbeach, with only seven hours day and six hours night flying exercises under our belt we were considered capable of joining a squadron. Unfortunately, due to the Stirlings being phased out, a bottle neck seemed to have occurred throughout the squadrons of Three Group, consequently, our crew were sent to a holding unit at RAF Stradishall for two weeks before being awarded a seven days leave prior to our operational posting to 115 Squadron at RAF Witchford by Ely.

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Chapter 2
Operations RAF Witchford

After seven days of a very welcome leave, I arrived at Liverpool Street Station, London, early afternoon, joining up with three members of my crew, Sid Longhurst our Wireless Operator, Joe Waple, Bomb Aimer and Cyril Bridges our Flight Engineer. As usual, the train full of servicemen, mainly RAF, stopped at every station en route to Ely, destined for the many aerodromes scattered about East Anglia. Dusk was approaching giving the flat frosty landscape a look of foreboding which added to the apprehension that was building up inside me. Even the idle chatter failed to divert my thoughts away from the task that we had so flamboyantly volunteered for.
Arriving at Ely, the crew bus picked us up with all our gear and drove the short distance to Witchford camp, collected our bedding before being dropped off at our billet. Here we met up with our Mid Upper Gunner Dick Hollis and our Australian Navigator.
RAF Witchford, a Nisson huttet[sic] camp, recently vacated by 196 Stirling Squadron. The domestic site was situated to the rear of the village of Witchford with our billet directly behind The Shoulder of Mutton public house as it was named in those days. The administration area and airfield was situated at the eastern end of the village with the main runway start, close on the borders of Ely itself, a camel trek from our billet.
The following day was very cold, a hoar-frost covered the trees as we went about getting our bearings and doing the usual business of signing in at the various sections of the camp ie medical, transport, parachute section etc eventually arriving at C Flight to be designated a locker for our flying kit. Our Pilot, F/O Bill Martin arrived on the scene and introduced his NCO crew to the C Flight Commander, Sqd Leader George Mackie.

[photograph of the crew] L to R Back Row; Sid Longhurst W/op Cyril Bridges F/eng Dick Hollis M/u Jim Henry Nav
Seated; Geoff Payne R/g Bill Martin Pilot Joe Waple B/a [/photograph of the crew]

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Early next morning February 5th 1944, reporting to the Gunnery Leaders office, I meet up with F/Lt Eric Bilson who casually informed me that I was on the Battle Order for that nights[sic] operation, briefing at 19.45hrs. I would be joining the crew of P/O Speirenberg as their rear gunner for that nights[sic] operation.
During the afternoon, met up in the Sergeants mess, some of the crew with whom I was to fly with that night. Most of the afternoon was spent moping about the Mess trying to allay the nervous tension with a “cat nap” or a lot of idle chatter. This operation was to be the first for P/O Speirenberg and his crew, we were indeed a “sprog” crew.
Time came for our operational meal of bacon, eggs and fried bread, a luxury in those days, then the leisurely stroll to briefing along the ain street of Witchford to the admin site. Here we were directed to a large Nisson hut, on guard at the entrance stood two white capped service police looking very ossicious. Our pilot and navigator had already been briefed and were awaiting us at a large trestle table. Introductions all round, we sat waiting for the formal proceedings to begin. A command from the back of the hall brought us to attention when the squadron hierarchy marched to the front, led by the squadron commander.

[photograph] RAF Witchford Briefing (I am seated forefront left) [/photograph]

Stepping on to the dais, the CO wished us a good evening before withdrawing the curtain covering a blackboard showing a large map of Europe. Starting at Witchford, a red ribbon stretched out, crossing the North sea, meandering across France and finally ending way down in southern Germany. Gentlemen, your target for tonight is Augsberg, announced the CO to gasps from the assembled crews, many had recently operated on some very difficult and long distance sorties, including a number of Berlin raids.

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Following the CO,s briefing on the importance of this target, the M.A.N. works, we were briefed by the section leaders as to fuel and bomb loads, weather conditions, intelligence reports on enemy flack areas and industrial installations etc with a final word from the CO wishing us good luck. My own thought at that moment was, we will need all the good luck we can get.

Our pilot, a South African, gathered his “sprog crew” together, and trundled of[sic] to the flights to change into our flying gear and to pick up a thermos of coffee, flying rations, a few biscuits, barley sugars and “wakey wakey pills” (Benzedrine) plus my lucky Golliwog which my girl friend had made for me. Not too long before our transport arrived with it’s WAAF driver who would take us out to our aircraft dispersal pan.

At dispersal we chatted to our ground crew and chain smoked until it was time to climb aboard our aircraft M for mother. As a crew, we had not air tested our aircraft during the day so, each crew member did his own preliminary checks prior to start up.

A green Very light rose from the control tower then one by one the powerful Hercules engines roared into life, disturbing the roosting bird life and breaking the eerie silence of the darkened evening. Our skipper called up for crew reports if everything was Ok before waving chocks away, a short burst of engine power we began moving forward on to the perimeter track following a long line of Lancaster’s trundling towards the start of the east-west runway. On to the main runway, I was surprised to see a number of airmen and WAAF’s congregating alongside the Control Caravan waving their arms wishing us god speed.

The green Aldis lamp signalled us to go, and with a mighty roar from our four engines we sped down the runway taking off at 21-45 hrs thereon setting course for our turning point on the East Anglian coast. There we would be joining a bomber stream of almost 600 heavies on their seven and a half hours operation into the heart of Germany. The German air defences would already be aware that a heavy air attack was being prepared because they were able to pick up the RT traffic emanating from the large amount of air tests being carried out from the airfields of Eastern England during that morning.

Crossing the North Sea our Bomb Aimer called up to announce enemy coast ahead, a term that I had heard many times while watching such films as “One of Our Aircraft is Missing”. I never thought at the time that I would hear it for real which brought about an awesome feeling of apprehension, we were going into battle from which there was no opt our clause. We were going to war.

Now at our operational height of 18500 ft, above cloud and beginning to feel the intense cold, the condensation from my oxygen mask started to dribble down onto my Irvin suite[sic] where it froze solid.

Apart from a few searchlights and spasmodic flak activity away from our track, the journey across Germany was uneventful until our Bomb Aimer reported target ahead, seeing the Pathfinders red ground markers falling. Approaching the target, our aircraft began to be buffeted about from the slipstream of other aircraft converging on to the aiming point. The Master Bomber happily giving instructions as to what colour markers to bomb on.

Our squadron was in the second wave, the air defences were by now fully alerted with the many searchlights weaving about the sky accompanied by heavy flak, sometimes a

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loud crump as a shell burst close to our aircraft sending the acrid smell of cordite wafting into my turret. Lancasters and Halifaxes seemed to be closing in upon us, our bomb doors came open, and almost spontaneously, the Lancaster flying above us opened it’s bomb doors, my right leg began to jerk uncontrollably wondering if their bombs were going to hit us. Bombs away, bomb doors closed, nose down for a little more speed before setting course for home. By now my leg jerking had ceased and looking down into the target area it was like grazing into a giant cupola of molten metal, heaving and bubbling, a truly awesome site.[sic] Another glance down, I saw six ME109’s flying in formation three and three, well down below us silhouetted against the flow of the fire with their with[sic] navigation lights on. Very weird!

As we cleared the target area, a burst of tracer from the starboard quarter passed over us followed by a ME 109 crossing fast above our aircraft. The Mid Upper gunner and myself managed to get in a short burst but the fighter disappeared as quickly as it had arrived. I think that this 109 had his sights on another aircraft.

Heading for home, I could still see the glow from the destruction that we had caused even after an hours flying time. A few fighter flares, spasmodic bursts of flak and the odd searchlight were seen but way off our track, however ! we still kept our vigilance as these were the occasions with your guard was down, fighter attacks occurred.

Feeling very tired and cold we landed back at Witchford at 05-15hrs after a seven and a half hour flight then transported directly to de-briefing. A welcome cup of tea and a generous swig of rum in a chipped enamelled mug awaited us, served up by one of the cheerful WAAF’s, followed by a welcome breakfast.

Back to my billet, my own crew were away on a cross country exercise that day which left me completely alone thinking of that horrendous nights operation before dropping of[sic] to a very disturbed sleep.

According to records, the Augsberg operation proved successful although 21 heavies were lost on that raid, the equivalent to the loss of a squadron.

Due to adverse weather conditions on the continent Bomber Command was relieved of operations for the next seven days. This respite allowed our squadron to re-group, taking in a series of training flights and air tests. The break also gave us the opportunity of exploring the ancient city of Ely with it’s magnificent Cathedral, the little tea shops or just strolling the banks of the river Cam. There was also the unforgettable boozy evenings in the Lamb and other hostelries entailing a three mile stagger back to Witchford.

The third of March brought us back to reality when the Battle Order was pinned on the mess notice board indicating that operations were on that night and our crew were to participate. At briefing, the usual rigmarole, then naming Stuttgart as our target for the night, another southern Germany flight of six and a half hours. Our take of[sic] time was put back two hours due to the fore-casted weather conditions on our return, new take off time now 23-45 hrs.

An uneventful flight out with lots of thick cloud at various ceilings en-route until we neared our target, then clear skies above and 10/10ths cloud below us, illuminated by the many searchlights and exposing the bomber force to the higher flying German night fighters. The Master Bomber brough us in to bomb on the red sky markers (Wanganui flares) our bomb aimer began his instructions then, bombs away. Our pilot turned away from the target and requested a course for home but received no response

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from the navigator. Our flight engineer went back to find out if we had a casualty but, found the navigator was refusing to do his job. This caused a nasty verbal confrontation between the navigator and pilot who then ordered our bomb aimer to find a temporary course back as there was no possibility of trying to continue on the route set out at briefing.

This serious set back put our aircraft and crew in a very dangerous situation, not on track with the bomber stream, we were liable to being picked off by enemy fighters. Although the cloudy conditions at various levels gave us a modicum of cover, we were virtually alone in the heart of Germany, running tight on fuel and a navigator still refusing to do his job. Thankfully we had a very experienced pilot and our bomb aimer had a good knowledge of navigation. After flying in and out of cloud for some time and diverting occasionally to avoid defended areas the bomb aimer reported coastline and English Channel ahead, well south of our projected route.

Immediately our pilot radioed that we were running low on fuel and requested an emergency. Crossing the English coast, two searchlights lit up indicating a flare path, one circuit and we were down. We had landed at RAF Manston in Kent at 06-30 hrs with just fifteen minutes of fuel in our tanks, a flight of nearly seven hours.

While our pilot was at the officers mess, we tried to reason with our navigator but to no avail. Later in the day we were transported to our refuelled aircraft and took off on the 45 minutes flight back to Witchford, our bomb aimer doing the map reading.

Arriving back at Witchford dispersal awaiting transport, a staff car arrived with two service policemen. After consulting our pilot, the navigator was apparently arrested and taken away in the staff car. That was the last time that we saw our navigator, even after the war, we have been unable to trace him.

According to records this Stuttgart raid was highly successful with 557 heavies participating in the operation and only four heavies lost.

During the next few days, we carried out a series of training flights, including an abortive five and a half hours North Sea rescue search which classed as an operation.

On the 18th of March, with the Navigation Leader on board, our crew was listed on the nights Battle Order, the target Frankfurt, a heavily defended large industrial town with the massive factory complex of the IG Farben Industrie. Take off time 20-30 hrs.

The flight out was uneventful apart from a number of exchanges of tracer fire seen away in distance but, as we approached the target, many fighter flares lit up the sky. The target area was less cloudy than on the trip out and as we went into bomb, masses of searchlights were probing the sky. With the continuous red flashes of bursting shells, light flak tracer coupled with the crump of heavy flak, one wondered how anything could penetrate these defences let alone make it through the target area unscathed. However! We made it through and headed on track for home when a twin engine aircraft appeared astern and below at about 400yds, it was a Me 110 closing in on us. I switched on my mike to alert the crew to be ready to corkscrew but, the mike was dead, frozen up with condensation. Taking off my glove, I attempted to scratch away the ice that had collected in my oxygen mask but to no avail. I then tried to contact the crew using the emergency light button but no response was forthcoming. As the fighter closed underneath our aircraft, I got a good bead on it’s nose area and pressed the trigger. A two second burst and all four guns jammed leaving us completely at the mercy of the Me 110, the rest of the crew being unaware of the desperate situation that was to unfold.

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Suddenly there was a number of loud bangs, our aircraft shook and the strong smell of cordite permeated my oxygen mask. The aircraft began to manoeuvre violently as if out of control and with no information coming through on the intercom, panic set in, thinking that the crew were either dead or wounded. As I could not be of use in my turret, without an communication and my guns out of action, I decided to find out what was happening. Clipping on an emergency oxygen bottle I began to work my way up the fuselage when I noticed the main door flapping open and the M/u gunner gone. A horrible feeling came over me as I thought that the crew had baled out and left me to my fate. Looking up and around the M/u gunners position, there were bullet and cannon shells in the fuselage, an intercom junction box shattered, the gunners helmet hanging on the foot stirrups.

Our aircraft began to level out as I made my way up the fuselage, drawing aside the gangway curtain, to my relief the W/op and the navigator were settling down. Reporting that the M/u gunner had baled out, I went back to sit in my turret contemplating that if we got attacked again, we didn’t have the capability of defending ourselves. However! The rest of the journey was uneventful apart from my turret electrics being out of action which left me at the mercy of the bitter cold.

When we were almost back home, my oxygen mask off, I could smell something burning. I opened the doors of my turret and saw a yellow glow emanating from one of the ammunition panniers and reported to our pilot that we had a fire, he immediately requested a priority landing. After the engines were cut I raked out the belt of ammunition from the pannier and found that an incendiary bullet had penetrated the pannier and lodged in between the rounds of ammunition. Luck seemed to be on our side again, if this incendiary bullet had penetrated a cartridge casing, there would have been an almighty explosion.

After de-briefing I was taken to the sick bay to be checked for frost bite, the ends of two fingers on my left hand were numb due to scratching out the ice in my oxygen mask. After an overnight stay in sick quarters, the MO declared me fit for duty.

According to records this raid was successful with 829 heavies taking part in the attack with the loss of 22 aircraft.

Two days later, on the 22nd of March, we were detailed for operations again to Frankfurt, this announcement caused an air of dismay amongst our crew having lost two of our original crew members over the last two operations. However! we were fortunate in having the Gunnery Leader as our M/u gunner and the Navigation Leader on board again. Take off time 19-00hrs.
Over 800 heavies were detailed for this raid, a well planned diversionary route to the target was detailed which caused problems for the German night fighter force. Nothing of real concern encountered during the flight out but, being in the third wave, the defences were fully deployed by the time we arrived. Around the target area we were met by a terrifying barrage of flak with many searchlights weaving about the sky. We bombed then, flew on through this heavily defended area and, as we turned on to our course for home, a blue master searchlight came on astern of our aircraft.

I reported to our pilot that the searchlight was closing in upon us and coming closer, closer, closer, it’s got us. Immediately, our pilot put the aircraft into an almost vertical dive which caused all four engines to cut, then came the crackling on the intercom “prepare to abandon aircraft”. Opening my turret doors I struggled out and unclipped my parachute from it’s housing before dragging myself into the fuselage. The aircraft

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was still diving and I thought “this is it” there was no way that I could reach the doorway as I was floating about in mid air. Luckily the engines picked up again, with a mighty roar the aircraft began to pull out of its dive pinning me to the fuselage floor by the G forces. When the aircraft levelled out I made my way back into the turret and found that we were flying very low, almost in a valley with a river beneath us and searchlights crossing the valley almost horizontally. The intercom came on “pilot to crew we are going home now chaps” to a muffled response of “hear hear”. or words to that effect.

On the way back I began to have a peculiar sensation of throbbing in my hands, something akin to how chilblain’s feel until I realised that during the scramble to get out of my turret my heated gloves had come detached from my Irvin Suit. I tried desperately to reconnect my gloves but found it impossible, due to the numbness in my hands. My hands didn’t seem unduly cold, I wasn’t even bothered until we landed back at Witchford. After de-briefing the MO examined my hands that had started to blister, a sure sign of frost bite. I was immediately transported to the RAF hospital at Ely and put to bed, both hands being tied up to the bed rail.

Spent a couple of weeks in the ward having my hands dressed three times a day with mentholated spirits then allowed out, dressed in hospital blue. For a few hours each day, along with a couple of other patients, we wandered around Ely sampling the many tea rooms, the pubs were out of bounds to servicemen dressed in hospital blue.

One interesting feature at the time was wandering down by the river Cam and witnessing the actual Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race taking place on the river because London was too dangerous at that time to hold the event.

After another week in hospital, the blisters on my hands disappeared, the top skin had peeled and I was getting plenty of movement in my fingers so the doctor discharged me and gave me a few days sick leave.

Back at Witchford I learned that my friend Sgt Nick Alkemade and his crew had been lost on the previous Berlin raid and also that the squadron had lost two of its aircraft when they were shot down by a ME 410 intruder as they were coming into land after a raid on Rouen.

Reporting to the MO the following day and told that I was posted to 75 New Zealand squadron at RAF Mepal, just four miles down the road from Witchford. Sad to say farewell to the remainder of my crew with whom I had trained and flew with over the past few months, incidentally, that crew completed their tour of operations.
Spent a couple of weeks at Mepal just kicking my heels until the Gunnery Leader told me that I was posted and to report to 514 squadron at RAF Waterbeach awaiting my medical assessment.

In closing this chapter I would like to make reference to my friend Nick Alkemade.

Their aircraft was returning from a raid on Berlin when they were attacked by a JU88, setting the Lancaster on fire. The pilot ordered the crew to bale out but, the rear gunner found that his parachute was ablaze, his oxygen mask began to melt on his face, leaving him no alternative but to jump, better a quick death than being burned alive. He abandoned his aircraft at 18.000 ft and landed in a huge snow drift, high in the Hartz Mountains and eventually to[he] became a prisoner of war.

His story is well documented in the records of 115 Squadron and the RAF

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[photocopy extract] Log Book Copy of the Frankfurt Action

[photocopy extract] Medical Report

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[photocopy extract] [underlined] Combat Report [/underlined]

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[photocopy extract] [underlined] Combat Report [/underlined]

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Chapter 3

Return to Ops RAF Waterbeach

514 Squadron was formed at RAF Foulsham in September 1943 as part of 3 Group and began operations in November 1943 flying Bristol Hercules radial engined Mk2 Lancaster’s before relocating to RAF Waterbeach for the rest of the war until disbanded in August 1945 Arrived at Waterbeach and deposited on the ground floor of one of the H Blocks. RAF Waterbeach was a pre war aerodrome with all the facilities one could wish for. Hot and cold water, baths and showers within the billet and only fifty yards to the Sergeants Mess, Luxury indeed as opposed to the Spartan conditions which prevailed at Witchford. The rest of the inhabitants of my billet were all aircrew awaiting medical assessment prior to being returned to operational duties and were known as the “Odd Bods”. Some were recovering from wounds, frostbite, or illness and would be joining other crews when declared fit. In the meantime, we were all allocated some useful task to keep us fully occupied until we were returned to operational duties.

Together with another air gunner and as senior NCOs we were allocated airfield defence which meant on occasions being in charge of the perimeter guard or of manning the guns at either end of the main runway when the squadron was operating. This duty was necessary due to the frequency of German intruders who followed the bomber stream back to their bases. One night as I was manning the guns on the downwind end of the main runway awaiting the return of the squadron, I saw a twin engined aircraft approaching the runway and got a bead on it. As it came closer I noticed that it had it’s port undercarriage down but to my relief this aircraft turned out to be a Mosquito, obviously, in trouble coming in down wind. It must have landed half way down the runway in a shower of sparks then, a terrific bang and flames lit up the sky. After about five minutes the field phone rang to inform me that I could stand down as the squadron had been diverted. Three days later the station adjutant informed me that as I had recently been promoted to Flight Sergeant, I was to take the funeral parade for the two airmen that had perished in that Mosquito crash.

During my time “convalescing”, there was ample time to get involved with the many recreational activities on the station. One such time was the visit by a dramatic group with Margaret Lockwood taking the lead ni a play by and directed by Terrance Rattigen. On another occasion the RAF film unit arrived on camp to get the feel and film some aspects of an operational squadron. Among the group was the famous American actor Edward G Robinson with a retinue of lowly airmen who were to participate in this documentary/film although in later would become famous, such names as Dickie Attenborough, George Cole, David Tomlinson and a few others. This film became a box office success entitled “Journey Together” a copy of which I now treasure.

Very soon the “honeymoon” would be over, a message came over the Tannoy for me to report to the Medical Officer who told me to pick up transport the following day

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and report to the RAF hospital at Ely for my final medical assessment. A friendly type of third degree took place and, eventually I was passed fit for flying and would return to Waterbeach operational. Back at Waterbeach I reported to the Gunnery Leader and had a pleasant chat with him concerning my interview with the Medical Board. He told me that they were trying to ascertain if I was “swinging the lead” as frostbite was considered, in the first instance a self inflicted wound and that the recipient had to prove otherwise. With that, I was given first option of joining a crew when a vacancy arose and ordered to report at the gunnery office the following day and every day. D Day came and went and as I was now operational I was excused normal station duties so, I spent much of my time flying in the Link Trainer or knocking about in the cricket nets or even swimming in the river Cam. Bomber Command had switched from attacking the industrial cities of Germany to supporting the advancing allied armies by attacking German troop concentrations, communications, flying bomb sites/storage areas as well the many oil plants.

Reporting to the Gunnery Office July the 7/th, to my delight was informed that I would be flying that night with F/sgt Witwood’s crew as M/u gunner, as their own gunner was off sick with a bad stomach Target for the night was Vaires railway marshalling yard Paris and was part of the plan to disrupt the German supply route to the Normandy battlefields. Take off time 22-30 just as darkness was falling.

Flying as a M/u gunner was a new experience for me with great views all around. A fairly direct route to the target, plenty of searchlight activity but the flak was nowhere near as heavy as my experience of German targets. A well concentrated attack without the loss of aircraft possibly due to another attack on a flying bomb storage depot at St-leu-d’esserent north of Paris where enemy fighters claimed thirty aircraft. Landed back at base after a 4hr 45min flight.

On the 10th July I was with F/sgt Witwood’s crew again on my first daylight raid for an attack on a flying bomb dump at Nucourt. Take off time 04-04hrs uneventful trip with light flak at the target area which was covered in cloud. Landed back at base at 07-45hrs F/sgt’s Witwoods crew completed their tour of ops and all survived the war. Five days later I was to join a crew who’s R/gunner had lost a foot from a predicted flak shell which had penetrated his current and continued on to it’s predicted height before exploding. F/O Cossets crew were, navigator F/O Jimmie Gould a Scot from Kilmarnock, F/eng R J Flint from Motherwell, B/a FO Billie Lees Canada, W/op F/O Hayden, M/u Sgt Dennis Young, with myself as rear gunner. As there was four officers in the crew, socialising as a crew never arose, however, the M/upper gunner Dennis Young became firm friends until he passed away in 2008. It will be a mammoth task to describe all the remaining operations in detail so will pick out some of the more interesting ones as I detail all the operations at 514 sad.

15/16th July 44 My first trip with my new crew was a night operation to Chalons sur Marne a railway marshalling yard, a trip of six and a half hours.

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18.th [sic] July 44 Daylight raid to Amieville to attack enemy troop concentrations. Arriving at base at 00-70 [sic] hrs and informed to be ready for operations again that night
18/19th July 44 Night attack on the rail junctions at Auloyen, flak was moderate but in the distance, another attack was taking place at the rail junction at Revigny with fighter rockets seen. Back at base 00-40 [sic] hrs very tired but ready for a seven day leave.
Back from leave, we practised formation flying for a few days in preparation of deep penetration behind the German lines but once again Bomber Harris still wanted to continue his attacks against German industrial towns hence, another night trip into the heart of Germany.
28/29th July 44 Detailed to attack Stuttgart which was to be the third heavy raid by Bomber Command against Stuttgart in seven days.
Fairly clear moonlight night, fighter flares began to illuminate the sky as we approached the French/German border with a number of combats taking place north of our track. It seems as though the German Radar had correctly forecast our target owing to the amount of searchlights waving about the target area. Very heavy flak as we went into bomb with usual buffeting about, turning for home I spotted a number of Me 109’s scurrying about, silhouetted against the fires. The return journey was uneventful although these were the times that a marauding fighter could catch you unawares. After an eight hour flight we landed back at base at 04-00 hrs. Later we were to learn that 39 aircraft had been lost on this raid against the five hundred that had participated.
30th July Daylight raid to Normandy in support of our ground troops who were ready to advance against the stubborn resistance of a German mechanised division. Caen target area B was our aiming point, orange smoke was deployed as the British front line, and we were to bomb east of that line at 4000 ft.
Going in to attack we were met by a lot of light flak which subsided appreciably as the Germans took cover. I don’t know how anyone could have survived such a concentrated battering that I had witnessed.
3rd Aug 44 Daylight operation to Bois de Cassan flying bomb storage sites, four hours flying time.
4th Aug 44 Daylight raid Bec d Ambes oil storage port on the Gironde Estuary (of The Cockleshell Heroes fame) leading into Bordeaux.
Take off time 1330 hrs To avoid being detected by the German RADAR we were detailed to fly out below 4000 ft. Setting course in close formation, we joined up with other squadrons at Falmouth Cornwall then out to sea heading for the Bay of Biscay, an area notorious for patrols of Ju 88’s. Nearing the French coast we climbed to our bombing height then went into bomb. The attack was extremely successful as I could see the storage tanks on fire and a tanker alongside the jetty listing badly. Very strange that there was only light flak in the vicinity, it being obvious that we had caught the defences unawares
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Relative pleasant journey on the way back but it must have been quite a strain for our pilot flying at that low level. A couple of our Mosquito escorts buzzed us on the way home which was gratifying. Back at base after an eight hour flight and ready for a 48 hr pass
8/9th Aug 44 Night operation Forte de Luchieux, munition storage dumps and depots.
12/13 Aug 44 Back to the German industrial towns with a night operation to Russelsheim by Frankfurt on Main. Target, the Opal factories who were manufacturing aircraft and military vehicles. Very apprehensive as, this was my third visit to Frankfurt and held many unpleasant memories. Clear night with heavy flak and many searchlights and fighter flares. Incident free trip but losses were high, losing thirty aircraft, a loss rate of 6.7 percent
16/17th Aug 44 Loud groans from the assembled crews as the target Stettin was revealed, a Polish port away in the Baltic. We were to adopt the same tactics as employed in the successful daylight raid on Bec de Ambes and to fly out below 4000 ft under the RADAR screen. A diversionary raid would also take place against Kiel in an attempt to confuse the German defences.
Take off time 2100 hrs we set out over the North Sea, crossing over the northern tip of Denmark. To the north we could see the lights of Stockholm with one or two searchlights wafting about, accompanied by a few bursts of flak. I think they were warning us to keep clear although, I knew that some of our aircraft had wandered into Swedish neutral airspace.
Continuing on over the Baltic we began to gain height in preparation to attack. Not many searchlights about With [sic] a moderate amount flak we bombed and turned away dropping very quickly down to almost sea level for our flight back home. Uneventful trip back to base after a [sic] eight and a half hours flight.
It seemed as though the tactics employed on that raid were successful, with Stettin being very badly damaged, unfortunately our squadron lost one aircraft crashing in Denmark on the return flight.
Five aircraft were lost on that raid.
19/20th Aug 44 Night operation to Bremen. Very heavily defended and reports indicate that this raid on Bremen was the most devastating of the war. Uneventful trip
21st Aug 44 Converted to Lancaster III s Merlin engines
25th Aug 44 Operations Vincly. Flying Bomb site and storage depot in the Pas de Calais area. Watched a Lancaster spiral into the ground, two parachutes deployed.
26/27 Aug 44 Night attack on Kiel
6th Sept 44 Operations Le Harve. [sic] German fortifications and transport
20th Sept 44 Operations Calais enemy troop concentrations
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[black and white arial photograph of Calais]
[underlined] Attack on Calais [/underlined]
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Picture taken during the R.A.F. attack on Calais in September. Calais was bombed by large forces for two and a half hours.
BRITISH OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPH NO. CL. 1200. (XP)
(Air Ministry Photograph – Crown Copyright Reserved)
R.A.F. BOMBER COMMAND’S ATTACK ON CALAIS.
Picture shows:- Under the pall of smoke lie heavily defended positions four miles West of Calais. The picture was taken during R.A.F. Bomber Command’s attack on 20.9.44. when large forces of Lancasters and Halifaxes bombarded Calais for nearly two and a half hours. Two aircraft can be seen flying over the target. The craters at the top of the photograph were caused by bombs dropped from aircraft in the opening stages of the attack. (Picture issued September. 1944)
[underlined] Attack on Calais [/underlined]
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23/24 Sep 44 Night attack on Neuss (Ruhr) Heavily defended
25th Sept 44 Operations Calais enemy troop positions
26th Sept 44 Operations Cap Griz Nes enemy troop concentrations.
28th Sept 44 Operations Calais enemy troop concentrations
[copy of a navigation plot chart]
F/Lt Nye Navigation Plot Westkapelle 3-10-44
3rd Oct 44 Daylight operation to Westkapelle. The target shown was the Dutch island of Walcheren at the approaches to the port of Antwerp on the river Scheldt. We were informed that the target was strategically important as the Germans were denying the Allies the use of the port of Antwerp and was required for the supply of material for our advancing armies. The object of the raid was to breach the dyke’s and to flood the island purposely to neutralise the German forces established there.
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I was feeling rather disturbed that we were going to flood vast tracts of land that had taken years to establish and concern for the population who had suffered four years of hardship and deprivation during the German occupation
Take off time 1207 hrs. Reaching our rendezvous point there seemed to be hundreds of four engine aircraft converging before heading out over the North sea. Dropping down to our bombing height we approached our target and dropped our 8000 lb bomb which according to our bomb aimer, got a direct hit on the dyke. Passing over the target I saw that the dyke had been breached with the sea gushing through the gaps. Due to the concentration of German forces on the island there was an enormous amount of light and heavy flak as we turned for home, however it was thankful that no enemy fighters were seen over the target area but we still had to keep a watchful eye open as there were many enemy fighter airfields in Holland. Back at base after a two and a half hours flight, after “interrogation” we repaired to our mess for a meal and a pint to celebrate our M/uppers 20th birthday.
Some time later I was to learn that my best friend, a Marine, was killed during the assault on the island of Walcheren at Westkapelle. They attacked through the breaches that we had made in the dyke.
[black and white arial photograph of the dykes at Westkapelle]
Breaching the Dykes at Westkapelle 3-10-44
5/6th Oct 44 Night operation to Saabrucken to attack marshalling yards and steelwork installations This raid was at the request of General Patton in preparation for the American forces offensive along the Southern front in an attempt to stem the flow of German reinforcements to that front. Heavy flak in the target area, no fighters seen.
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7th Oct 44 Daylight operation to Emmerich a German town on the border with Holland. Synthetic oil installations and German supply were to be attacked.
It was the first time that we had been ordered to fly in formation, our two sister squadrons, 115 ahead and 75 New Zealand squadron behind us. Other groups and squadrons had made similar arrangements. As we neared the German/Dutch border very accurate flak opened up which immediately dispersed the Bomber stream. The lead Lancaster of 75 squadron who was following us took a direct hit and completely disintegrated, the wreckage slowly drifting to earth, a very
[black and white photograph of a Lancaster taking a direct flak hit]
75 New Zealand Squsdron Lancaster taking a direct flak hit.
disconcerting sight. Clear sky’s [sic] over the target which we bombed on the PFF flares accurately but as we closed our bomb door an enormous crump shook our aircraft and shrapnel rattled along the fuselage, putting my turret and M/uppers out of action. The hydraulics had been severed somewhere leaving us to operate our turrets by hand, not a good position to be in, although we were supposed to have an escort of Mosquito’s. [sic] Arriving back at base there was some concern that we would be unable to activate the undercarriage owing to the problem with the hydraulics, however, the undercarriage dropped down perfectly.
We delivered U for uncle to the hanger for repair and said a fond farewell to the lady. That was my 29th operation and keeping my fingers crossed that number 30 would be an easy one ?????
14th Oct 44 Briefing 05-00 hrs Taken aback when the target was revealed, a daylight attack on the Ruhr town of Duisburg one of the most heavily defended areas in
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Germany, dangerous enough at night. This is me going out with a bang one way or another. As we were to have a fighter escort, the flight out was uneventful until we were approaching the target area, there were nearly a thousand heavy bombers converging towards then passing through what seemed to be a black haze intermingled with deep red flashes of exploding flak shells. As we dropped our bombs, I looked down to see the fires and the ground erupting, a truly awesome site. Soon we were out of the Ruhr defences heading back to Waterbeach feeling slightly more relaxed but still scanning the sky’s [sic] for the unexpected fighter to jump us. Landing back at base I felt that the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders and what a relief to be looking forward to a fortnights leave in a couple of days [sic] time.
At de-briefing, the C/o said that operations were on again that night and read out the crews who were to participate. All gunners who were not flying that night were to report, to the bomb dump to assist the armourers to bomb up again. That included me.
The following day I learned that our squadron Had followed up on our raid with a night attack on Duisburg in the company of almost a thousand bombers.
Two days later, the crew celebrated the completion of our tour of operations at The Eagle, a well know hostelry in Cambridge.
Off on leave then, as a redundant airman, I was given a posting to the Aircrew Re assessment Centre at RAF Brackla by Nairn, Northern Scotland, jokingly this station was known as Brigadoon. That is another story.
[copy of a log book entry by F/O Cossens]
F/O Cossens Log Book entry at the end of operational tour
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Chapter 4
Grounded
[underlined] RAF Brackla [/underlined]
After a long food less overnight train journey from Peterborough, we eventually arrived at Nairn station late morning. During the journey to Scotland, I teamed up with a F/sgt F/Engineer, Jim Simpson from Walsall who was in the same situation as myself, redundant aircrew both feeling fairly low. Awaiting the crew bus, we became aware of how bitterly cold it was with snow on the hills and a cold east wind blowing in from the Moray Firth.
Eventually the crew bus arrived to transport us to our new home, a dispersed unused airfield with a few wooden buildings as the domestic/administrative site, our Nisson hutted billets a mile away from the main camp, situated on a hillock. With the usual rigmarole of signing in, we eventually made it to the Sergeant’s mess for a late lunch which we ate ravenously. Back to our billet we scoured around to find wood and coke to feed the pot bellied stove, the only means of warming our “tin hut”.
The following morning after breakfast, about fifty aircrew of various ranks, including officers, paraded outside the headquarters hut, many dressed in what one would describe as non regulation dress. Some wearing their Irvine jackets and many with scarves much to the displeasure of the parade Warrant Officer, however! due to the bitter cold wind that was still blowing around the camp, nothing more was said on the subject. Sectioned off, we waited in one of the offices until called individually for interview and assessment.
RAF Brackla was a war time airfield built alongside an ancient distillery, according to the stories from the permanent staff, it was to be used by Wellington aircraft patrolling the North Sea. Because of the peat sodden ground the runways began to sink and distort, making the airfield unserviceable for heavy aircraft.
Called in for my interview by a seemingly disinterested Flying Officer, I addressed him with the usual courtesy, before his questioning routine began. What was my education qualifications, my civilian occupation, and my recreational activities etc;? and so it went on for some time. I had worked in the automobile industry as an apprenticed sheet metal worker so I was offered training as an airframe fitter or a driver/mechanic.
I had given a lot of thought to what sort of peace time occupation I would like to be involved in when demobilised, deciding that factory work with set routines was not for me. As a youngster I had always been keen on all sporting activities, this could be the opportunity I was looking for. I conveyed my thoughts to the interviewing officer that I would like to train as a PTI (physical training instructor) which would give me the opportunity of going on to Loughborough University. With a wry smile, he said he would make a note of my request and that was the end of my interview.
On parade the following morning, the Station Warrant Officer addressed us with the comment that “we looked like a bunch of layabouts and needed to get back to some discipline and fitness”, we were then dismissed and told to report back in an hours [sic] time dressed in “Best Blue” ready for inspection. The inspection was performed by
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the C/O, an ex operational pilot sporting the DFC and Bar, with a bit of tongue in cheek formality he handed over the parade to SWO. The officers were dismissed leaving us in the hands of a F/sgt air gunner who marched us away and continued to march us at regulation pace onto and then around the perimeter track. After about fifteen minutes, the parade began to mutter amongst themselves until one wag in the centre of the file bawled out an order “parade break step”, the whole parade then began to shuffle along to guffaws of laughter until the parade F/sgt brought us to a halt and demanded to know who gave the order and why? The offending airman a F/sgt Engineer put his hand up and said or words to the effect “If we had continued to march in step we would have disappeared into the peat and I wouldn’t like you to be responsible for the catastrophe”.
That was the end of marching at RAF Brackla, to the tour expired airmen, Brackla became known as Brigadoon.
Christmas and new year was nearly upon us although Christmas as such, did not exist in Scotland, the New Year being the prime celebration. Brackla was just a small cluster of cottages, not even a pub or shop. We had absolutely nothing to do on the camp although I took the opportunity of playing rugby for the station which relieved the boredom. At other times we could scrounge a lift into Nairn, although it was a lottery getting return transport.
Nairn was then, a sleepy seaside resort with a couple of hotels and the odd bar. Sunday was a day of rest in Scotland and Nairn was completely shut on the Sabbath. On Saturday nights, there was always the dance at the Pentecostal Church hall. My friend Jim Simpson and I always stuck together on these excursions and invariably we were offered digs for the weekend, we even attended the Pentecostal Church on the Sunday. This weekly event followed the same pattern during our stay at Brackla, friendly people the Nairn folk. Two weeks into the New Year, Jim Simpson and I were summoned to the administration office to be informed of our posting to RAF Weeton near Blackpool to undertake a motor transport course. My hope of becoming a Physical Training Instructor was finally dashed.
[underlined] RAF Weeton [/underlined]
Met up with Jim Simpson at Birmingham New Street Station after a welcome seven day’s leave, en route to Kirkham and RAF Weeton.
RAF Weeton was a sprawling complex of wooden huts with manicured verges, white painted kerbs and edging which typified a multi training establishment, a formidable place. One of it’s [sic] saving graces was the close proximity to Blackpool, sporting a frequent bus and train service to the seaside town with it’s [sic] many entertainment attractions.
We soon settled into one of the wooden huts and made acquaintance with the other inhabitants, all tour expired aircrew, two of them were air gunners with whom I had trained at the Isle of Man, one of them was a fellow named Ward from Hull. His Stirling had been shot down during a French resistance supply-drop and he was the only one to survive, being rescued by a French resistance group. He fought alongside this group, the Maquis and with the assistance of a French escape organisation, he eventually made his way back home via Spain. He proudly sported a German Eagle emblem sewed under his breast pocket flap, he claimed that he had taken it off a German soldier whom he had shot during his association with the Maquis.
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The following day, we assembled in one of the huts, our dozen aircrew plus about twenty airmen recruits (Sprogs) were briefed on the course that we were to undertake, then spent the rest of the morning doing basic drill. Although the aircrew were senior NCOs we were still expected to carry out the same tasks as the recruits during the course, this didn’t unduly worry us. The afternoon was far more interesting, firing 303 rifles on the range.
Then began a very intense and interesting two months course on all aspects of motor transport. The squad was split up into two groups, one group being involved with class work and practical mechanics during the morning and then taking driving lessons during the afternoon, the other group rotating in a similar fashion.
Our first driving lesson was in an Austin 10 saloon under the auspice’s [sic] of The British School of Motoring (BSM) three to a car taking half hour instructional driving in and around the Blackpool area during the morning or afternoon.
After three weeks of driving lessons and intensive course work we were ready to take our driving test around the narrow streets of Blackpool. In those days hand signals were the norm as there was no such modern aids as indicator lights. Jim Simpson and I were delighted that we had passed our driving and theoretical test and were ready to move on to the heavy vehicles, 75 percent of our group were also successful.
Our first introduction to lorries, Bedford’s, Fordsons, Albions and Dennis’s, [sic] took place within the camp precinct getting familiarised with “double declutching”, reversing on mirrors and in general, getting the feel of a heavy vehicle. Out on the road we enjoyed the convoy excursions into the Pennines with it’s [sic] many twisting and turning country lanes, stopping on occasions at village cafe’s [sic] to sample the home baking.
Apart from the extra guard and orderly sergeants [sic] duties, as well as our normal course work, we had ample leisure time to take in the delights of Blackpool. During the war, Blackpool was an extremely busy town, full of service personnel of all nationalities, undertaking various courses or being kitted out prior to postings overseas. Competition for the attention of the ladies of Blackpool was very fierce, however! there was plenty of other diversions such as free entrance to the many shows at the Wintergardens, the Tower and other establishments. One such show remains in my memory was, seeing Sandy Powell doing his ventriloquist act at the Tower, hilarious!
During the final three weeks of our course, we graduated on to lorry with trailer driving, then finally the long articulated “Queen Mary’s” complete with an aircraft fuselage. The achievement of driving and manipulating this lengthy vehicle, made one feel like Mr Lucas or “The King Of The Road”.
Our course ended with notification of our posting and presentation of our RAF driving documents, the equivalent to a full driving licence. This would serve us well when we returned to civilian life. Jim Simpson and I were very lucky to be given home postings to RAF Halfpenny Green, within easy reach of our homes.
On leave, my mother received a letter informing us that my cousin was missing on operations to Harberg 7/8th of March 1944. He was a M/upper gunner with 57 squadron based at East Kirkby in Lincolnshire, lost on his second tour.
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[underlined] RAF Halfpenny Green [/underlined]
RAF Halfpenny Green was a war time aerodrome situated within easy reach of Wolverhampton, Stourbridge and Bridgenorth. It was originally called RAF Bobbington alongside a village of the same name, but the name was changed because of the possibility that the name Bobbington would conflict with an army base in Wiltshire.
Quite a compact camp with a mix of wooden huts and Nisson [sic] huts with all services within easy walking distance. Halfpenny Green was the base of No 3 Air Observer Navigation School using the reliable Avro Ansons and Airspeed Oxfords.
Signing in completed, Jim and I were billeted in a Nisson [sic] hut situated adjacent to the sports ground and, occupied by four Canadian F/sergeant pilots and four F/sergeant navigator instructors. We were in good company.
The following morning we reported to the MT office to be confronted by the MT officer, a surly red faced looking Warrant Officer. When he was told that we were his new drivers and were reporting for duty, he burst out laughing and said “I wonder what this air force is coming to”. or words to that effect. He turned out to be a decent enough fellow and we became firm friends during our time on the camp.
The MT section was overloaded with drivers and my actual driving consisted of driving the ambulance and patients to either, RAF Bridgenorth or to RAF Cosford and on occasions driving the salvage truck around the camp lifting the rubbish to the incinerator. Italian POW’s carried out this task accompanied by their patriotic Neapolitan singing.
Every Thursday evening, I was detailed to transport the Station Education Officer into Dudley to supervise the local Air Training Corps. As I was an ex ATC cadet, we got on famously, I think that is why I was always his driver on these occasions
When I dropped him off, invariably he gave me a free pass to visit either the Palace cinema/Dudley Hippodrome/the dance hall or the roller skating rink. It transpired that he and his family owned these entertainment facilities and is a pity that I cannot recall his name.
On one of these excursions I took in the Dudley Hippodrome to see Vera Lynn who was top of the bill that week, a very enjoyable evening.
Due to the posting away of two of the station drivers, our friendly Transport Officer gave Jim and I the opportunity of manning the Fire Tender, each on a turn about 24 hr on and 24 hr off basis, I think he wanted to get us off his patch as my promotion to Warrant Officer had just been posted on Daily Routine Orders (DRO’s) together with my war medal awards.
This arrangement was ideal, we would have more free time and also avoid the embarrassment to either party in the Transport Section.
The fire station and crash tender building was situated by the main gate and opposite the Headquarters Office Building. Our fire officer was a F/lt Lieutenant and a dead ringer for Arthur Askey, he also played the ukulele and entertained us on many occasion when flying was scrubbed. Some character that fellow.
Each morning, we gave our Fordson fire tender a run round the perimeter track and if flying was on, we would position ourselves on the hard standing at the end of the runway until the flying ceased.
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Fordson Crash Tender
[coloured photograph of a Fordson Crash Tender in front of a Nissen hut]
[black and white full length photograph of Warrant Officer Geoff Payne in uniform]
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My navigator Jim Gould from 514 squadron was the Navigation Leader on the station and was now a F/lt Lieutenant. He arranged for me to get some unofficial flying lessons on Ansons and Oxfords during my down time. We kept in touch over the years but sadly he passed away in 2001.
VE day arrived and I managed to get home for the celebrations, although very short and sweet, everyone let their hair down and danced into the early hours of the morning around the street bonfires. The war in Europe had ended with victory for the Allies, the Japanese conflict was still a major problem. My elder brother was flying in Burma as a Mosquito navigator, would I be seconded to the Tiger Force for a second tour on the other side of the world,?
On duty, sited at the end of the runway one day, our phone rang to tell us that one of our Oxfords had crashed, and we should follow the staff car to the site. When we arrived, it seemed as though the aircraft had dived into the ground, the cockpit area completely crumpled up. We had managed to get into the field with some difficulty and began to play foam onto the engines whilst the ambulance crew began to retrieve the occupants. Sadly there were no survivors and flying was scrubbed for the day.
When our shift finished, I returned to my billet to be met by a strange silence, two of my friends, a Canadian pilot and one of the navigation instructors had died in that crash plus the pupil navigator. During my time at Halfpenny Green, that was the only incident we were called upon to attend.
Arrangements were made for an open day on the camp to which I invited my girl friend and her mother. A lovely summers day wandering around the camp and showing off our station facilities. The highlight of that day was the appearance and aerobatic display by a Gloucester Meteor, the RAF’s first jet powered fighter. This was my first sighting of this amazing aircraft.
The following day, all camp personnel were assembled in one of the hangers to be congratulated on the station performance during the open day, then came the bad news that Halfpenny Green was to close down within the next few weeks. This news came as a big shock, Halfpenny Green was a friendly sort of station, in easy reach of familiar places and my home. Jim and I received our notice of posting quite quickly due to the cessation of the flying programme, both of us being detailed to report to RAF Croughton.
Our final task on the station was to dig a large hole on Bobbington Common and to destroy all the camp pyrotechnics. We literally left Halfpenny Green with a bang.
RAF Halfpenny Green is now Wolverhampton Airport and also home to the RAF Fire Services Museum.
[underlined] RAF Croughton [/underlined]
RAF Croughton is a 1938 airfield, sited on a hillock with grass runways and a concrete perimeter track situated about seven miles southwest of Brackley in Northamptonshire and within easy reach of Banbury, Oxfordshire.
The domestic site, a mix of wooden and Nisson [sic] huts, was a good mile away from the airfield. fortunately [sic] Jim and I managed to get our accommodation in a farm house alongside the airfield which was inhabited by two pilots and two glider pilot instructors, all NCOs. The rooms of the farmhouse were comfortable and had been decorated throughout by a modern day Picasso, very cosy.
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After the usual signing in. we reported to the MT Section and told that we were detailed to report to the airfield tractor section the following day for glider towing. RAF Croughton at that time was Number 1 Glider Training School, training pilots on Hotspur gliders. Our job was to tow the gliders, using small nippy American tractors, on to the runway and to retrieve them upon landing. The Miles Martinet was used as the towing aircraft, a noisy little beast.
With the dropping of the Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, VJ day came and went with no celebration on my part as I was detailed for a twenty four hour duty as Orderly Officer. The war was over to great relief and there was no danger of doing a second tour which left me pondering as to how long before demobilisation. Time began to drag as our only serious occupation was tractor driving when the weather was suitable for flying. During my down time there was ample opportunity of getting plenty of unofficial flying lessons in gliders and the Miles Martinet.
[black and white photograph of a group of men carrying a Hotspur glider]
Troop Carrying Hotspur Glider
Christmas and the New Year over, there were rumours that the Gliding School was to be relocated, possibly to RAF Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire. This left me wondering if I would be relocated or posted to some other RAF station. Two weeks later all flying ceased and I was to be posted to RAF South Cerney with immediate effect, my friend Jim was to be posted to RAF Coningsby. With the sale of our jointly owned 600 cc Panther motorbike, there ended a very close friendship.
[underlined] South Cerney [/underlined]
South Cerney is situated on the old roman road A419 three miles east of Cirencester, a pre war brick built aerodrome with a grass airfield and home to No 3 Advanced Pilots Course. Nicely laid out, compact, with all the services within easy walking distance.
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Quite a friendly greeting when I reported for duty at the MT section and was given my
main task of driving the Albion ambulance, based at the station sick quarters.
The camp also housed a German POW compound, the prisoners being employed in work activities around the area or within the station on general duties. I became friendly with one such POW, Ollois Kissel who worked in the station sick quarters. He was with a flak battery in Belgium before he was captured and was a chemist in his home town of Koblenz, we corresponded for many years but sadly he died 1998
On occasions, I was offered the task of delivering the camps dirty linen to the Tyseley laundry in Birmingham, entailing an overnight stay at my home, allowing me time to visit my girl friend. I even managed to get to my cousins wedding on one of these trips, much to the surprise of my cousin and family.
During my time at South Cerney most of my down time was spent either scrounging flights in Tiger Moths or Harvards or getting in some athletics training. At weekends I played football for the station team, the station sports officer being the centre half. After one of the games he asked me if I would like to drive him to RAF Tern Hill as he and another officer were representing the station at the Training Command athletics meeting.
During general conversation on the way up to Tern Hill in Shropshire, I said that I had been involved in athletics with Bromsgrove Athletic Club and I would have been interested in competing for our station. When we arrived at Tern Hill, I was introduced to the other members of the South Cerney team who managed to provide me with a pair of spikes and told that I would be competing in the long jump, high jump and the 120yds hurdles. Pleased to say that I was third in the long jump, and second in the high hurdles, our station coming second in the competition. This achievement gave me the opportunity of competing for Training Command at the RAF Inter Command Athletic Meeting held at White City London gaining fourth in the long jump and a fourth in the high hurdles. My only claim to fame at that meeting was competing in the final against the British Champion and Olympic Hurdler F/Lt Lord Burghley.
[black and white images]
Training Command Championship Medals 1946

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[coloured photograph]
Albion Ambulance
Summer 1946 came and went, the station started to run down and in October rumours began to circulate that No3 Advanced Flying Course was being transferred to RAF Little Rissington
. These rumours became fact when my name appeared on DRO's and I was posted to RAF Little Rissington with immediate effect. Two days later at RAF Little Rissington my name appeared on DRO's stating that, after seven days leave I was to report to RAF Homchurch, Essex in preparation for a posting to a Micro Film Unit in Germany.
Deutschland
RAF Homchurch was one of the original RAF airfields situated some fifteen miles south east of the centre of London. The fighter aircraft based there during the war played a prominent role in the defence of our country during the Battle of Britain.
Our short time on the camp was taken up by lectures governing the rules of occupation upon arrival in Germany. This covered such topics as, non fraternisation with the German population, the Black Market, and medical issues regarding the high prevalence of venereal diseases.
After a medical examination plus inoculations for Typhoid and boosters, we were issued with a . 303 Lee Enfield rifle and five rounds of ammunition. The rest of our time at Homchurch was spent just hanging about waiting for our travel documents.
This waiting time gave us the opportunity of wandering around, sightseeing in London, getting cheap meals in the crypt of St Martins in the Fields or Lyons Cornerhouse in Piccadilly. Sadly this rest period came to an end, our group of airmen were handed travel documents for the following day to train up to Hull for the overnight sea crossing to Cuxhaven, en route to RAF Buckeberg.

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Arriving at Hull station, we boarded the waiting transport for the journey to the docks, ahead of us there was this massive all welded American Liberty ship. Proceeding up the gang plank, a typical army RSM confronte.d me, addressing me with the correct term of Mr, assigned me in charge of the Deck Guard, no ifs or buts. However, this arrangement suited me as I was allocated a cabin, shared with two anny sergeants and a naval PO, a far better situation than being squashed in between decks and packed like a tin of sardines. A walk around the deck on occasions, checking on the deck guards was all the official requirements.
The night crossing was horrendous, these Liberty ships didn't cut through the seas, they just rode the heavy swell, sinking and rising, very uncomfortable. There was, the uneasy feeling that somewhere in that expanse of water there may be a rogue mine drifting about in the North Sea. Accompanied by sleet and snow, my first sea voyage, literally turned out to be a nightmare. My cabin companions and I were issued with red arm bands to signify that we had some official status when supervising the decks. Apart from the odd sandwich which the cooks specially made up for us , the food on board was quite unpalatable although a regular supply of coffee kept us warm on our regular strolls around the decks..
Dawn was breaking as we nosed our way into Cuxhaven, cracking the ice that had formed in the harbour overnight. We had arrived in Deutschland feeling miserable and cold, the Air Force party given priority to disembark to the RAF transport waiting on the quayside. A short drive through the cobbled streets of the port, we arrived at what was once a German army barracks for the overnight stay prior to our journey to Buckeburg, a spa town and holiday resort 25 miles east of Hanover. At that time RAF Buckeburg was the Headquarters of the RAF in Germany, and used mainly as a transit camp, although later, it became strategically important during the Berlin Airlift
The following morning, after a well earned rest, we boarded our RAF transport for a seven hour journey. arriving at our destination late afternoon. Most of the town, including hotels and homes had been taken over by the RAF, my group of four senior NCOs being deposited in a Pension a type of boarding house. After settling in I took a walk through the town and was taken with, children and adults begging for chocolate and cigarettes, little realising then, that these commodities were a valuable means of barter due to the German Mark being worthless.
The Messing facilities and Station Headquarters were situated in a large hotel near the town centre. After breakfast I reported to the Orderly Room to discover that I was posted to Frankfurt on Maine that same night to join a Micro Film Unit based at the IG Farben Industrie at Hoechst. My pay and British currency was changed into British Forces paper money, the travel documents made out for me take transport into Hanover and connect with the Bremerhaven to Stuttgart overnight train, little knowing that this train was run by the American Forces.
All my kit had to be packed again in a hurry, humped to the mess for an evening meal and given a travel pack of sandwiches just in time to get my transport to Hanover Bahnhof (station).The train arrived on time full of American service men newly arrived from the States and like myself, were heading for the American Zone.
This overnight journey was the most uncomfortable trip that one can imagine, the carriage that I was allocated had wooden bench seating and was full of coloured American troops, although that situation didn't worry me, I was concerned that the white troops were in the plush seated accommodation. This sort of discrimination

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stayed with me for many years. There were many interruptions to the journey and, time seemed to drag until, eventually we arrived in Frankfurt 10-00hrs, two hours late. Having contacted the American RTO regarding transport to my allotted base, I hung around for a couple of hours before a RAF Sergeant arrived in a 15cwt F ordson. Introductions completed, he was the Sergeant in charge of the Micro Film section and responsible for all the equipment plus a complement of four airmen operators.
I was to take over responsibility of a three ton Fordson van which housed a mobile micro film laboratory and the 15cwt truck.
During the drive to our base I was amazed at the utter destruction of the city of Frankfurt and it's environs, caused by the many concentrated raids by Bomber Command and the US Eighth Air Force. Strange to relate, I felt little sympathy for this destruction or for the German people at that time.
[black and white photograph]
Frankfurt on Main 1944
Our final destination was a small company housing estate which had been occupied by workers from the nearby I G F arben Industrie factory. These workers had now been decanted, the estate now occupied by units of the British Army, RAF and British civilians working for the British Control Commission under the umbrella of The British Army of the Rhine (BAOR).Two of these houses were allocated to the Micro Film Group .. A Board of Trade official was part of our unit who's function was to visit various factory organizations and to confiscate machine tool drawings and important documents as allowed under the War Reparations Agreement. Our unit would then photograph any important documents or drawings onto micro film.

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Another group on the site was a unit of the RAF Investigation Branch, who's sole purpose was to investigate and locate RAF aircrew, declared missing on operations .. This meant exhuming bodies from unmarked graves to ascertain if they had been murdered or otherwise. Many cases of murder had been discovered; the perpetrators being brought to justice.
The Americans had taken over office accommodation blocks within the massive factory complex of the IG Farben factory at Hoechst for their administrative headquarters. The British Control Commission for the area also had use of these office buildings. This arrangement was ideal during our off duty time, we were able to use the iced up tennis courts for skating and attend the many shows and musical concerts that were on offer. We also had the use of the American PX with it's restaurant, serving up real hamburgers and coffee. There was not much restriction on the amount of cigarettes and chocolates that we could purchase, the shop itself was like a miniature Harrods, selling a vast selection of quality goods. The Americans didn't want for much.
[black and white photograph]
Frozen up at Hoechst
There had been rumours circulating around the RAF bases in the UK that, redundant aircrew were going to be demoted At that time. I didn't give much thought to this situation, thinking this would not apply to me as my demobilisation was due

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sometime early 194 7. How wrong could I be when I received notification from Bucke burg that, I was to be demoted two ranks to Sergeant, with immediate effect. Christmas 1946 just two weeks away, what a nice Christmas present.! On the same notification was an order to proceed to Triberg in the Black Forest on completion of our task at Hoechst.
Christmas day, along with other senior NCOs we had the pleasure of serving up the Christmas dinner to the OR's (other ranks) followed by our own festive meal in the Sergeants Mess, a small hotel that had been taken over by the anny.
On Boxing day, I played my final game of f football for the base against a select Gennan side. We lost or should I say we were thrashed, losing 7--0 what a
humiliation. This was my first experience of playing against a team, playing a different style of football, this showed up how out of date British football was.
On New years day we set about clearing our house of equipment, loading up our transport with boxes of provisions and a few Jerry Cans of petrol, not knowing what the situation was like in the French Zone.
It was bitterly cold the following morning as, we filled up our radiators with water, no such luxuries as anti freeze. Now ready for the long journey to the Black Forest, our Board of Trade official had already departed in his Volkswagen having left us with all the relevant details regarding the route and our hotel accommodation.
This was my first experience of driving on the autobahn, two lanes of white concrete stretching as far as the eye could see, very quite, no civilian traffic, only military vehicles. We made excellent progress. although the temperature in the cab must have been around the zero mark, no heaters in those days, though a piece of cardboard in front of the radiator kept the ice from forming on the windscreen. At intervals, there were large advertising hoardings along the route, one of which struck me forcibly, a hangman's noose with the message "The Penalty For Rape is Death”, a sobering thought.
During our journey along the autobahn, we passed a few towns which had been visited by Bomber Command during the conflict, the twin towns of Mannheim-Ludwigshafen then on to Karlsruhe and eventually
Stuttgart all showing signs of utter destruction. There would be many an airman who had these names added in their log books.
Turning off the autobahn beyond Stuttgart we eventually entered the Black Forrest Region, along winding roads through valleys, flanked by tall snow covered coniferous trees glinting red in the sunset, what a beautiful sight. Darkness had just fallen as we drove up the main street of Triberg. Stopping to ask directions from a passer by, we eventually arrived at our hotel the Golden Kreuz to be met by a French Officer who questioned us regarding our authorisation documentation. While the unit was involved in setting up the equipment in one of the Hotel rooms, I took the opportunity of wandering around this picturesque town and familiarising myself with what was on offer. Triberg, a Ski Resort, world famous for cuckoo clock manufacture, and is also the home of the largest cuckoo clock in the world.
During the period of our stay, I was able to take in some elementary skiing lessons, having bartered for a pair ski's plus a complete pair of ice skates for a few cigarettes, our Forces money was of no use at all, being in the French Zone. A tin of corned beef was the going price for a large cuckoo clock which I "purchased" and is still hanging in my lounge after sixty three years, pity the cuckoo is croaking some what.

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[coloured photograph]
Triberg 1946
We completed our assignment in Triberg after three weeks and were ordered to return to our base at Hoechst for further instructions. After a few days at base, orders came through that I was to be demobilised, a replacement driver would arrive by car from Buckeburg with two officers. The officers were to carry out inspections at the RAF Units in the Frankfurt area then return to Buckeburg with me as their driver. Three days later, the inspections completed, we set off in the Humber Staff car, arriving early evening just in time for an evening meal.
Spent the next couple of days getting clearance and travel documents, selling off my ski's and ice skates, posting home my treasured cuckoo clock and changing my forces money into coin of the realm, I was then ready to take the reciprocal journey back to the UK and to RAF Kirkham for demob.
Date 25th of February 1947, what an anti climax, wondering where do I go from here? civilian life seemed to be a daunting prospect, after almost four years of interesting and sometimes traumatic experiences of war time RAF. During that period many friends were made, many were lost during flying operations ..
Let us hope that their sacrifice was not in vain and that we will always remember them.

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Chapter 5
As Time Goes By
During the Second World War, in order to avoid being conscripted into a military service not of your choice, the way was open to enter a choice of service if you signed up at 17½ years of age. This happened in my own particular case when I passed the Aircrew Selection Board in 1942 and was given my service number.
Searching through some of my old documents, I came across this very interesting patronising letter addressed to me from the then Secretary of State for Air, Archibald Sinclair, dated July 21, 1942, and though it would be interesting to reflect on how some of these young men fared during and after the conflict.
AIR MINISTRY
WHITEHALL SW1
MESSAGE FROM THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR
July 21, 1942
You are now an airman and I am glad to welcome you into the Royal Air Force. To have been selected
for aircrew training is a great distinction, the Royal Air Force demands a high. standard of physical fitness and alertness from its flying crews. Relatively few attain that standard and I congratulate you on passing the stringent tests. You are, of course, impatient to begin and you naturally ask, "When do I start?" Your order on the waiting list is determined
by your age, date of attestation, and so on, and you may be sure that you will not be overlooked when your turn comes. While waiting, go on with your present job, or if you are not in employment, get a job if possible one which helps on the war effort.
You will want to know why you, who are so eager, should have to wait at all. I will tell you. The Royal Air Force is a highly organised service. In the first line are trained and experienced crews whose stirring deeds and dauntless courage daily arouse the admiration of the world. Behind these men and ready to give them immediate support the newly trained crews fresh from the schools. In your turn, you and other accepted candidates stand ready to fill the schools. Unless we had a good reserve of young men like you on which to draw, time might be lost at a critical moment and the vital flow of. reinforcements would be broken. I hope this explanation will help you understand. The waiting period should not be a waste of time. There is much you can do. You are very fit now or you would not have been chosen.

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See that you keep fit. Work hard and live temperately. Learn all you can in your spare time about the things you must know if you are to be efficient later on in the air.
The more knowledge you gain now, the easier it will be when you come to do your training.
In wishing you success in the service of you choice I would add this. The honour of the Royal Air Force is in your hands. Our country's safety and the overthrow of the powers of evil depend upon you and your comrades. You will be given the best aircraft and armament that the factories of Britain and America can produce. Learn to use them well. Good luck to you.
Signed ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR
INTO THE STORM
RAF Bridlington ITW
[black and white photograph]
RAF Bridlington was one of the aircrew Initial Training Wings (ITW) and catered mainly for Air Gunners and Flight Engineers. In this photograph are aircrew cadets, the majority of which were barely 18 years of age, marching six abreast after just four weeks of training. Another four weeks of training.

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and then they were off to gunnery schools for the Air Gunners or to RAF St. Athan for
the potential Flight Engineers. Then further training through Operational Training Units, Heavy Conversion Units and, eventually, destined for an operational squadron within
Bomber Command.
Many books have been written about Bomber command during the Second World War by aircrew members and distinguished authors. The media also has been at the
forefront with films, newspaper articles and television programmes, some authentic,
some controversial. The role of Bomber Command has been well documented, so there is no reason for me to add any comments and I will move to the ending of hostilities with Germany and Japan.
VICTORY
The Second World War ended with victory for the allied nations. An estimate of the
deaths accredited to all the nations involved was in the region of 40 to 50 million,
including the civilian populace. Still on the subject of the RAF, and in particular the
aircrew of Bomber Command, losses were in the region of 56,500, which was, in
proportion, far greater than any of the three services, although our Merchant Service
lost more than 30,000 semen/women.
[coloured photograph]
Rheinberg War Cemetery
The above photograph of the Rheinberg Cemetery is one of many such cemeteries in Germany and other locations throughout Europe which contain the remains of RAF
Aircrew, many of whom were from the Dominions, the Commonwealth or from allied
nations. Over 2000 airmen who have no known grave are commemorated by name at
the Runneymede Memorial and could be lying in a watery grave of the North Sea or
buried in unmarked graves after being murdered by the Gestapo or by German civilians. Over 100,000 young men volunteered for aircrew in Bomber Command, over 50 per
cent of them died in flying accidents or from operating in the hostile skies of Europe and the Third Reich.

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THE AFTERMATH
The war in Europe over and a Labour Government elected to govern the country. As bomber Command had a surplus of trained men, tour expired aircrew were made redundant, a new word in my vocabulary, and were sent to re-assessment centres throughout the UK, then on to training establishments for non-aircrew trades within the Royal Air Force, i.e. motor transport/clerical duties, etc.
The war against Japan finally ended on September 2, 1945, after the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Jubilation all round, the country celebrated, then came the recriminations.
[black and white head and shoulders photograph of Air Chief Marshall Arthur “Bomber” Harris] ’Cometh the hour, cometh the man.’ Tough and uncompromising. ‘Bomber’ Harris was the C-in-C that Bomber Command desperately needed, a man who could express himself clearly and who exuded a strong sense of purpose.
A high-ranking Labour government minister, John Strachey, began a vicious campaign to belittle the strategy of area bombing as devised by Air Chief Marshall Arthur Harris. Pre-war, this politician was a sympathiser of Oswald Mosley, the Fascist leader in Britain, and then he changed his allegiance to the Communist Party. He joined the RAF in 1940 and held a ‘grace and favour position’ as public relations officer in the Directorate of Bombing Operations. At that time Harris was becoming very concerned about the possible internal security risks posed to his command and who, following a tip-off from a member of his staf [sic] and, identified this officer as a person with an unstable political background. Harris demanded that the Air Ministry remove him at once, but thanks presumably to friends in high place, this person remained in place for the rest of the war.
After the war Strachey, as a minister in the Atlee government, maliciously continued his attacks on Harris and his command, gathering support from other party members and some high-ranking clergy. As the political pressure grew, even Winston Churchill withdrew his support of the area bombing campaign, although he had backed Harris during the conflict. Sections of the British and German press took up the debate, with some pundits questioning the contribution made by Bomber Command as to the necessity of area bombing, on the outcome of the war.
[black and white headshot of John Strachey]
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Peerages and knighthoods were handed out to our war leaders and campaign medals issued to our armed services, except for the aircrew of Bomber Command and its leader Sir Arthur Harris. The aircrew of Bomber Command were not issued with a campaign medal and Harris was ignored when the peerages were handed out. Many aircrew were unfortunate to be shot down and deemed to spend the rest of the conflict as prisoners of war. Some of these airmen did not have the nominal amount of operations or the length of time on a squadron to qualify for either the Aircrew Europe Star or the France Germany Star, and all they were entitled to was the 193 Star and the war Medal that was issued to every serviceman/woman, irrespective of their duties. The reason given for this anomaly was that as POWs, they were unable to take any further part in the war effort, although they were expected to make escape attempts, thereby tying down much-needed German manpower resources.
These aircrew were incarcerated in POW camps throughout Europe and were kept in appalling conditions on starvation rations and suffering severe malnutrition. As the war in Europe was coming to an end, they had to endure The Long March across Europe with many of them dying on the way from starvation and freezing temperatures.
Some time after the war the Ex-Prisoners of War Association made a request to hold a Thanksgiving Service in Coventry Cathedral. This request was refused by the then Provost of the Cathedral, Canon Paul Oestriecher, on the grounds that the Ex-Prisoners of War Association had ex-aircrew of Bomber Command among its member. It seems to have been forgotten that public donations contributed to the re-building of Coventry Cathedral as a centre of reconciliation. Also at that time, this cleric was instrumental in organising a protest at the unveiling of the statue to Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Harris by the Queen Mother and he even had the temerity to post an advertisement in the RAF News touting for monetary contributions to replace the Dome of Dresden Cathedral, which had been destroyed by bombing during the conflict. There are many more instances where this so-called cleric and pacifist has castigated the efforts of the aircrew of Bomber Command in the execution of their duties, so these instances can be left for another time.
[coloured headshot photograph of Canon Paul Oestriecher]
THE LAST POINT OF IGNOMINY
These redundant NCO aircrew, now trained in ground duties, were posted off to the many Air Force stations throughout the UK and were allowed to keep their aircrew rank, even though the tasks that they had been trained for only warranted a starting rank of AC2. However, on some stations, the aircrew rank was ordered to be covered during working hours.
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[black and white photograph of airman in flying kit]
[underlined] RAF Waterbeach 1944 [/underlined]
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At the end of 1946, a directive from the Air Ministry, stating that all these redundant aircrew be demoted by two ranks, I.e. WOs to Sergeants, Flight Sergeants to Corporals, Sergeants to LACs, although the pay would remain the same as was. This was a ruse in case any of these aircrew pursued a claim for a war pension when they returned to civilian life.
Upon demobilisation I was extremely surprised and disgusted to find entered in my discharge papers that my rank was AC2 Driver (Sgt. Air Gunner) and not the rank of Warrant Officer that I had achieved during my operational service with the Royal Air Force.
However, RAF Records graciously forwarded my Warrant Certification sixty four years after my promotion to Warrant Officer.
EPILOGUE
With a lot of back-slapping and encouragement these young men from Britain and the Commonwealth donned their Air Force Blue and went off to war knowing full-well that their chances of survival were very slim. The press and the public supported the efforts of Bomber Command as, at the time, it was the only means of taking the war back to Germany. Yet, just in the matter of a few months of the ending of hostilities the recriminations began. A few left wing politicians and some blinkered clergy crept out of the woodwork and began a vitriolic campaign against Arthur Harris. This campaign eventually permeated through to his airmen who began to suffer the brunt of these biased accusations.
As the political situation in Europe developed into the ‘Cold War’ it was thought prudent to keep Germany and the German people supporting the west, hence ‘The Marshall Plan’, etc, with respective British governments distancing themselves from the controversy of the Bombing Campaign against the Third Reich, a controversy that continues today. These proud young men went to war to preserve our democracy and freedom against two of the most tyrannical regimes in the history of mankind, yet there are still these vociferous groups of politicians/clergy and the media who continue to abuse this privilege of freedom for their own political expediency and personal agenda.
On a point of interest, our previous government recently decided to recognise the war-time achievements of three groups, the veterans of the Arctic Convoys, the ‘Bevin Boys’ and the Land Army, yet we as a country have failed, or are politically reluctant, to recognise the contribution that Bomber Command made during this terrible conflict.
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115 SQUADRON FINAL REUNION, HOUSE OF LORDS 2008
[coloured photograph of veterans of 115 Squadron]
Back Row
Not Known Cyril Bridges Lord Mackie Frank Leatherdale Geoff Payne
Front Row
Jim McGillivray Not Known Not Known W Farquharson Not Known
On that note let us recall Philip Nicholson’s “Return”
[underlined] RETURN [/underlined]
We have come home, dropping gratefully through friendly skies,
And though in tired brains the engines thunder on and images of death remain in reddened eyes,
Though nostrils sniff the legacy of oil and sweat and legs must learn to cope with the solid ground,
We have come home and are at least alive, to mourn our friends, indifferent now to sight or smell or sound.
Philip Nicholson
WARNING
Beware the retrospective historians and university-trained politicians who may eventually turn history on its head, whereby Britain could become the aggressor.
G.A.P. 2010
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[coloured portrait photograph]
[underlined]Geoff Payne[/underlined]

Collection

Citation

Geoff Payne, “An Airmans Tale,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 4, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/32271.

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