Extracts of unpublished writing by Charles Cuthill



Extracts of unpublished writing by Charles Cuthill


First page annotated 'Unpublished writing by Charles Cuthill, publication rights please, Matt Nicol'. Continues with account of icing, flashes round the aircraft and static on the intercom. Difficult flying conditions and weather. Reference to aircraft 'Old Dog' and drawing of dog mascot at bottom. Next page annotated 'DFC awarded for this raid, publication rights please'. Referring to "Charlie Mascot". Description of returning with damaged aircraft and landing. Account of events after landing and picking up little black cloth dog (Charlie) and leaving the aircraft. Mentions injured crew member, trying to light cigarette while standing in a pool of petrol and he himself being taken in the ambulance at crews insistence.




Three printed document pages


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SCuthillCR574146v10008, SCuthillCR574146v10009



all around us the stars are shining. I turn out the cockpit lights.

Old Dog is losing her tremors; and, without a change in power, she's gradually picking up speed. The ice should be slowly dissipating in the clear air – even at night. At least, that's what a met, man told us (Ithink?).

By Christ, where was that flash from? I look over my shoulder and check the navigator's black-out curtain. Now a faint buzzing sound is coming over the intercom.

And that was another flash! I'm sure of it, this time. I start looking round the cockpit, hoping not to find anything . . . Outside, the clouds have begun to cover the stars again. Was it lightning?

The engineer gives me a nudge, and is pointing. Erratic tiny blue flashes are darting round the metal windscreen frames like frenzied ants. I watch it, mesmerised – until the port wing dips low enough for me to notice.

"Navigator" – I hope my voice doesn't tremble. "Get the W.0.P. to wind in the trailing-aerial."

He's done it, already Skip. He says there's a hell of a lot of static around." I'm about to complain to the navigator for not telling me right away – but the windscreen is ringed in blue light. Now, white flashes occasionally leap out of the blue rings on to the glass; and the buzzing noise is increasing. I think the rear gunner is trying to call me; ". . . gun-barrels, Skip . . . blue fire . . . “ and that's all I hear of him. Someone else is trying – "There's a halo . . . astrodome . . . "that's Paddy (the W.O.P). Now everyone's wanting to talk, but all we are hearing is BUZZ – Z – Z – Z. . .

Turning the cockpit lighting full on, I try to instrument-fly; but the white-light flashes – Increasing in intensity – are completely criss-crossing the windscreen. Second-by-second I wait for the fuel-tank petrol vapour to explode . . .

190 m.p.h. – helter-skelter, down through the night . . . with the high cloud behind us, and the glows and flashes subdued to the merest flicker. It's a wonderful feeling . . .

"We'll be crossing the Dutch coast in fifteen minutes," says the navigator. I wonder about the weather at Base. The W.O.P. should be getting that any-time now.

More cloud – the tops are below us. A fighter could pick us off against the white background. I chivvy the crew for extra vigilance . . . but it's not just fighters and flak that can get us the 'chop'. I'm learning!

Soon, in the warmer air, we'll be losing the residue of ice. I'm prepared for more 'bangs' – but, this time, the revs, are low . . . I suddenly remember our little black dog. The tiny cloth mascot, Vicky made. Our Gremlin Basher! He'll keep us safe for our return.

The pressure is building in my ears. I'll blow them clear, in a minute . . . and there's the usual pain, growing, just behind my left eye . . . Hell! The white cloud sweeps up, and over the top of the canopy.

Come on, Old Dog – let's get 'George' to fly us home, I've had enough.

[boxed] D-DOG [/boxed]


[page break]


fumbling with the trim – My whole arm has gone stiff. "Give me some left rudder-trim, Bomb Aimer . . . That's enough!" Keep going, Old Girl – just this once, we're almost home . . . a little 'S' turn to keep lined up . . . Good.

"Flaps, twenty!" The bomb aimer's hand goes straight for the handle . . . I feel her lift. “A little forward trim,” I tell him, “. . . that’s it!”

We cross the coast with our wings rocking. I struggle to counter. Speed 130. "We're getting low. More Power! . . . Enough!" I call. My left foot strains against the pedal – and the runway is stretching out, big, before us.

"Full Flap!"

The runway is opening out – it's too wide, for my eyes . . . Christ, we're high! Get Down! . . . Down . . . bloody fool . . .

"Cut!" A series of crackling-pops come from the exhausts as the bomb aimer snaps closed the three throttles . . . and we're going like stink! I'm having to stand on the right-hand pedal, hard . . . the runway, somewhere beneath us, is slowing. I can feel us sinking back on the wheel a bit. More . . . we're sinking into that great black space, and I'm still not sure how high we are! Back on the wheel . . . and only one hand! Blindly now – all the way.

We're down . . . and smoothly. I didn't even hear the tyres squeal. Now we are starting to swing. Straight! Keep her straight – full left rudder . . . we're still swinging . . . Hell! . .

I am sitting in the cockpit, shaking . . . we are at rest. My job is done.

We have stopped, angled-off, on the most glorious runway we have ever seen. There is a van racing towards us across the tarmac . . . Control wants their single runway to be cleared quickly. "Follow the follow-me van to dispersal," they tell us.

I try to follow the van – half-standing, to reach the throttles – but I can't. Beaten by the last half-mile! Feeling foolish, I tell Control we are unable to taxy.

The bomb aimer and I shut down the three live engines; and the resulting quietness – after nearly five hours of clattering road – sets our ears singing. I can feel a sense of security growing; which, with firm ground underfoot and a smoke, will (I know) become almost overwhelming. But first, the aircraft-equipment has to be switched off; and the maps charts and logs all collected and put into the respective bags and folders.

An ambulance and a fire-truck has pulled up alongside us and two medical orderlies, entering the aircraft by the rear door, are coming to get the wounded engineer from the rest-bed. We cannot get out yet, so I continue to sit.

I hope the engineer's going to be all right, but I hate having to stay in an aircraft after the engines have been run down and stopped. Already the trip (our 26th, if it counts? we never got to the target) was a hundred years ago and I've no wish to remember it. But the visual reminders surround me (Was it really us?) . . . the hole in the windscreen, the splattered blood . . . then everywhere, metal, in the fresh black cockpit paint, punctured and chipped silver. And the artificial horizon's dead: like we all should be . . . Jesus, it's getting cold!

The crew is outside, calling for me. As I get out of my seat, I feel a wave of exhaustion . . . the little black-cloth dog (Charlie) is lying on the floor at my feet. I pick it up with an effort (thinking of the WAAF who made it) and put it into my battledress top. We'll all have to go and get drunk, tonight: except for the engineer, poor chap – but we'll drink to him . . . Blast, my arm!

As I struggle to get over the main-spar, the bomb aimer and the navigator have re-entered the aircraft and are coming to get me. I wave them back, angrily. Now I can see chinks of light shining through the fuselage in unusual places. There are many more holes – too many to count – as I work my way aft: and the gunners, and the rest of the crew,


[page break]

had to face all this! I was the only one protected by armour-plating.

There are no steps at the door and I have to jump the last few feet to the ground . . . Christ! But that first touch of the earth is always magic – I've seen blokes kiss it! I stand back, to look at the Lanc. She was a beauty – brand new, with real Rolls Royce's. Now, she's just a shot-gun-blasted tin! This is the only time I've flown her, she was the flight commander's. He'll give me Hell! I give her a pat: Goodbye Old Girl, we'll not see you again . . . thanks for bringing us back."

Sam, the engineer, is lying in the ambulance on a stretcher, wrapped in blankets. He tries to return my smile, but his face is puffed like a pumpkin. Despite a heady feeling, I start off walking round the aircraft to look at the rest of the damage. The bomb-doors, flaps, and the starboard main-plane are riddled with holes – as is the starboard-inner's engine cowlings. I hadn't realised that we had been flying a bloody colander! I stop by the starboard wheel. The tyre is flat.

I put a cigarette into my mouth without thinking. Matches? . . . to get them out of my trouser-pocket I have to loosen the left-hand leg strap of my parachute harness. It takes time. I have the match-box in my hand, ready to light up; when a groundstaff sergeant comes running towards me, yelling – and he smashes my matches to the ground.

The sergeant is persuading me, firmly, to get into that damned ambulance – and telling me to get lying down on a stretcher beside the engineer! I'm in no state to resist . . . So, that's why the ambulance was waiting!

I am still wondering what all this fuss is about; and everyone, except me, seems to be laughing. Had I not been feeling so tired, I would protest. Now I'm being allowed the privilege of a smoke, and the crew tell me the reason for the sergeant's action. Apparently I had been standing under the wing in a pool of petrol, which was leaking from one of the tanks.

The ambulance driver is raring to go – I have delayed things long enough. The crew are thanking me (to my surprise), as I thank them for getting us back. Only now, do I realise what a good crew I have: Paddy, and All – and I tell them so . . . but everyone is chatting at ten to the dozen:

"Hey, Skip! You don't usually swear: Why were you cussing and blinding all the time you were avoiding those bloody Messerschmitts?" (I never knew I was!) . . . "What did it feel like Wilkie, jammed in the turret and not know what was going on . . . ?"

Dog, our Mascot! – I remember just in time . . . Ken puts it in his nav-bag, for safe-keeping, until our next trip.

I should have kept Dog: They are wheeling me into a small operating theatre. I don't like it. I didn't even have time to say good-bye to the crew. Someone is cutting away the rest of my clothing and my arm is hurting . . . I am having to lie on the table. Now I am going to be pumped full of anaesthetic: I hadn't thought it would come to this! "Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four . . . "slowly my world is becoming a blank.




C Cuthill, “Extracts of unpublished writing by Charles Cuthill,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 26, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/38418.

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