Memories of 405 Pathfinder Squadron and the last flight of HOMEBY S/L John Roberts



Memories of 405 Pathfinder Squadron and the last flight of HOMEBY S/L John Roberts


Account of the last crew from 405 Squadron flying home from RAF Linton-on-Ouse. Tells the story of an airman groundcrew plucked to replace a flight engineer who had been taken ill and subsequently being transformed into aircrew. Mentions Operations Manna and Exodus. Writes of Canadian crew returning home and escapades of crew. Refuelling and overnighting adventures in the Azores.


Temporal Coverage



Two page printed document


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The date was June 19, 1945. At 1100 hrs. I estimated our position as about halfway to the Azores from St. Mawgans, Cornwall. We cruised in brilliant sunshine at 8,000 feet, just above a solid bank of clouds. "WE" were the last crew of 405 Squadron, flying home from Linton-on-Ouse in a Canadian built Lancaster. With us were two passengers, A/V/M C.M. McEwen, AOC 6 Group Bomber Command, and his Scottish terrier, also known as "Black Mike". As I rose to stretch, F/E P/O A.W. (Bill) Bishop (no relationship to his namesake), his usual impish grin stretched from ear to ear, was pointing to our skipper, W/C Don McQuoid. "Tex", with folded arms and half closed eyes, relaxed while dependable "George" flew the Lanc steadily southward. "BISH", one of the freer of the many free spirits who inhabited Gransden Lodge, had been plucked one day from the ground crew by John Fauquier, whole F/E had suddenly taken ill. That same night BISH found himself on the way to THE target. ... Berlin, searching frantically, but unsuccessfully, in the nose of the Lanc for the chute through which to eject the bundles of "WINDOW". He remembered having been told that every time a bundle of the stuff hit the slip-stream a distinctive sound could be heard on the inter-com. Rising to the occasion, with his inter-com open, he uttered a discreet "pip, pip, pip" at suitable intervals to indicate that he was hard at work! Having done several "ops", BISH presented himself in the C.O.'s office. "Sir", he began, "I can see there is some risk involved in flying ops, but I am still being paid as a ground crew Sergeant. Shouldn't I be getting air crew pay?" Recognizing the merit of this observation, G/C John Fauquier, with one stroke of his pen, transformed BISH into instant Aircrew. Memories came, and still come, flooding back: thoughts of friends who were not flying home, or going home by any other means of transportation... The seven weeks, prior to take-off from Linton the night before, had been hectic ones ... The "MANNA" flights, marking the race track at LeHague, so that others could drop food – not bombs ... The "Exodus" flights, with twenty five P.O.W.'s jammed forward of the main spar for take-off from Brussels; back at 1,000 feet: tears streaming down the cheeks of battle-hardened "Tommies" as we crossed the White Cliffs – "Thought I'd never see 'em again, Matey!" VE DAY – and permission to fire Very pistols from the air on return to base. The first haystack, I'm sure, caught fire accidentally ... BISH, fat face aglow, eyes alight, bursting into the billet at midnight, with the SP's in close pursuit ... "The stupid SP's! If they had gone to the haystacks that weren't on fire, they'd have caught us, for sure!" May 26 – Sad farewells from the RAF, WAAF, and local residents, as the Canadians departed by train from Gamlingay to take up temporary residence at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorks, and to prepare to fly home. June 16 – The take-off of nineteen Lancs under the direction of W/C "Tex" McQuoid ... Alternating running down port and starboard sides of the same runway, number two half-way down the runway as number one was lifting off ... forming up and doing a low-level fly past in V's of three ... a magnificent show! Quiet descended. "Tex" and his crew must wait behind until the AOC was ready to depart. We could not leave the station – but the bar was still open. On the evening of June 17, BISH and his roommate "tied one on". Sometime after midnight, just before they both passed out, a cigarette butt was tossed in the general direction of the corner fireplace. About 3 A.M. a passing "ERK",

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seeing smoke coming from a window, turned in[sic] the alarm. The firemen found BISH and his pal sleeping soundly on smouldering mattresses. The carelessly thrown butt had ignited some newspapers, which had set fire to window drapes, which in turn had caused the only real casualty of the night – BISH's large kit bag, all packed for the journey home. Even BISH had to laugh as he viewed the remains in the early morning – nothing left but fine ashes and a near little pile of ... buttons! As one would expect, they were placed on charge: "Appear before SCO – 0900 hrs, best blues. "Best Blues?? BISH's best blues had just made the major contribution to the pile of scorched buttons. But the resourceful BISHOP, scrounger par excellence, searched the almost empty officers quarters and found a discarded, well-worn, officer's uniform. Shortly after 0900 hrs. The charges against BISH and pal were dismissed. Moreover, the SCO, trying to keep a straight face, had some difficulty delivering a severe reprimand. BISH was standing stiffly to attention in the uniform of ... A Group Captain! The SCO was outranked! ********* As we left the clouds behind us and rode the beam earthwards the island of Terceira was a beautiful sight, ruby red in a sea of wrinkled green velvet, under a deep blue sky. Our intended refueling stop was extended and after much delay became an overnight stop. Gander was socked in, as it so often is! Like so many places and people you see and encounter in life, the jewel of the ocean, on closer examination, was not what it appeared to be. The rich ruby red soil was volcanic dust, which rose in a cloud and hung in the still evening air as we trudged steadily downhill three miles to the nearest village. The five of us, who had exchanged our sterling for Portuguese escudos, endeared ourselves to the proprietor of the first pub we saw by each purchasing one or two bottles of good wine. The profit on these transactions put the publican in an expansive mood: drinks were on the house! While we sat on stools at the bar, the shot-glasses in front of us were repeatedly filled and emptied of many and various liquids. Finally, it was time to leave: we called a taxi. After a lengthy wait, during which the imbibing continued, the "taxi" arrived. Our conveyance was a two-wheel buckboard powered by a very small horse. BISH instinctively took the F/E position to the right of the vehicle's pilot – a small man with half-shut eyes, wearing a huge straw sombrero and carrying a whip. The rest of us piled in the back, two pairs facing each other. At the crack of the whip the little horse started up the hill at a gallop, its dainty hooves churning up the volcanic dust, which rose in a crimson cloud from the rough road. We bounced about on the hard benches, one such bounce shifting all of us far enough back to lift the little horse clear off the road. While the tiny hooves pounded the air the buckboard proceeded to roll down the hill. As we all shifted forward, the poor little horse also plunged forward with its heavy load. This manoeuvre, I regret to say, was repeated several times until BISH, who had been unusually quiet, suddenly turned, tears streaming down his face and exploded, "Stop! I can't stand it! All out!!" And out we, without anyone had to ask why. We paid the driver his fare, plus a handsome tip – in order to buy extra food for the over-worked horse – and completed our journey on foot. BISH turned to me. "Robbie" he said, "if, in the future, you're down on your luck, and life's going wrong for you – just think of that poor, bloody horse, and things won't seem so bad!"

Dear BISH ... Where are you now? S/L John F. Roberts 405 Squadron.



J F Roberts, “Memories of 405 Pathfinder Squadron and the last flight of HOMEBY S/L John Roberts,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 17, 2024,

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