Sparks in the air - Jack Smith's wartime story



Sparks in the air - Jack Smith's wartime story


Covers life before the war and volunteering for the RAF in August 1940. Continues with account of training as a wireless operator. Includes radio school crest and photograph of a Battle aircraft. Describes voyage from Liverpool via Cape Town then escorted by HMS Repulse and Prince of Wales to Bombay (Mumbai) and then onward to Basrah in Iraq. Eventually arrived at RAF Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates and describes life and work on this station. Describes medical issues and subsequent posting to RAF Habbaniya in Iraq. Goes on to describe journey back to England overland via Gaza, Cairo and Alexandria thence by ship. Continues aircrew training at RAF Madley and Llandwrog in Wales. Includes photographs of Proctor, Dominie and Anson. Describes crewing up and starting operations on Wellington aircraft. He continues with postings to heavy conversion units and Lancaster finishing school before joining 189 Squadron at RAF Fulbeck. Describes in detail operations from December 1944 to April 1945. Mentions repatriating prisoners of war and Cook's tour to see damage to German cities. Describes life after the war including his marriage. Includes photographs of Wellington. Stirling, night bombing, wedding and page from log book..




Twenty page printed book with b/w photographs


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Sparks in the Air

These are the wartime recollections of Pinchbeck resident John George Smith known to his friends as Jack.

Jack was born in 1921, the son of George and Bessie Smith. George was the keeper of a smallholding, raising Poultry and assisting a local farmer.

[photograph of Jack]

As a young teenager growing up in 1930’s England, through the newspapers of the day, Jack was aware of events taking place in Germany and of Britain’s own Fascist problems directed by Oswald Mosley. Although still only a teenager, Jack approached the time he would leave school realising that another war in Europe was inevitable.

Jack left Donington Grammar School in1937 his parents and relatives asking the question “What are you going to do?” Jack had an ambition to become a Chartered Accountant however this required any potential candidate to pay an indenture however the cost was prohibitive and Jack decided to try and join the RAF instead. Ironically jack encountered the same obstacles as his Father who had been unable to join up to serve his country during the First World War because of the poor state of his teeth. At the age of 17, Jack had 22 teeth removed!

Having seen an advert in the Spalding Free Press for “Well educated youth required by Chartered Accountants, Hodgson, Harris & Co”, a national company who had a small office in Spalding over Gibbs shoe shop, Jack applied and got his first job. There was no payment to the company however it only had a low wage of ten shillings a week. There were no girls in the office and as a consequence Jack had to learn shorthand typing to a standard of 100 words/minute, this alongside learning accountancy.

[bold] This is Jacks[sic] account of his wartime memories. [/bold]

When war broke out on 3rd September 1939 recruiting for the forces had started at 20 years plus however I was only 18 at the time. Accountancy was not a reserved occupation and in the August of 1940 I and my colleague Bill Taylor who was the same age as me and worked in the same office both decided to volunteer for the RAF as we didn’t fancy the Army or the Navy.

In September 1940 we were called to the RAF station at Padgate near Warrington to be attested and undergo a medical. Bill and I undertook intelligence tests but we both knew that we wanted to be Wireless Operators.

[page break]

Although the war was now into its second year, there had been as yet no air raids in South Lincolnshire. Whilst at Padgate we suffered ten air raid warnings but fortunately no damage was inflicted on the airfield. It was my first experience of an air raid. This took place over the 13th, 14th and 15th of September and later became known as the Battle of Britain weekend when British fighters shot down 185 German planes.

After my three days at Padgate I returned home to Lincolnshire and on the 4th November 1940 I and my friend Bill Taylor were required to travel to Blackpool. We left from Donington and travelled by train via Manchester arriving at Blackpool in the late afternoon. We were directed to Offices in the centre of Blackpool where we were officially enrolled in the Royal Air Force. Bill and I were then separated and I was lodged at a boarding house at 30 Reads Avenue Blackpool where another 15 RAF personnel were also residing. I was accommodated in the attic where there was a single fanlight, two beds and a wash basin.

The next morning we assembled on the promenade near to the Hotel Metropole. Grouped into Units of approximately thirty, we were placed in the charge of an Acting Corporal. We commenced drill training and were marched around Blackpool for exercise stopping around mid morning at a Café for coffee and buns!

As we were potential Wireless Operators we were required to attend the Winter Gardens daily where we were given instruction in radio technicalities and morse training. Due to double Summertime being in operation, it was exceptionally dark when we set out for the day at 8am. I was given the role of marker to the squad and marched at the front carrying a lantern. There was no heating in the Winter Gardens where we sat throughout the day in our greatcoats breaking only for refreshments before finishing training at around 4 to 4.30 pm.

The food at the boarding house was acceptable being plain in nature but sufficient. In the evenings we were free to enjoy the night life of Blackpool but we had to be back by 10.30pm.

After I had been there for several weeks, I joined a harmonica band consisting of around ten or twelve members and we performed at concerts held in various village halls in the area. The highlight was being able to perform at the Opera House on the same bill as George Formby.

After three weeks I moved to 45 Ashburton Road along with three other RAF personnel. It was a much more homely atmosphere there, living and eating with an elderly couple who owned the property.

After another three or four weeks I moved further down Ashburton Road but only stayed for a couple of nights as it was overcrowded with five to a room. I then moved to 4 Bank Street off the promenade near to the Hotel Metropole and where I had to parade each morning. This was a private hotel and very comfortable as I shared a room with only one other member of the RAF. it was extremely convenient for excursions into town in the evenings and I was happy to remain there until it was time to move on from Blackpool.

[page break]

Radio training continued everyday and we were tested each week at the premises of Burtons the Tailors. We were required to increase morse speed by one word per minute each week until a speed of twelve words per minute had been achieved at which point the course in Blackpool was concluded.

[RAF Radio School crest]

We were then posted to radio schools on normal RAF stations. I was posted to No. 3 radio School at RAF Compton Bassett in Wiltshire which was for ground operators.

There was another radio school nearby to Compton Bassett, No. 4 at Yatesbury which was for aircrew operators.

I enjoyed life here for the first time on a proper RAF station. My day started at 6:30 am with PT on the parade ground square before starting work at 8:00 am.

I was at Compton Bassett from the end of March 1941 to the end of June which was when I qualified as a ground wireless operator and was allowed to wear ‘sparks’ on my right arm.

Having successfully completed training I was allowed home for two weeks leave. This was my first leave since travelling to Blackpool the previous November. I thoroughly enjoyed the break and whilst there I received a posting to the RAF station at Bramcote near Nuneaton. This was a regular peacetime station however at this time it was mainly occupied by members of the Polish Air Force. This was my first experience of an operational signals cabin and for the first time working for real with a radio set.

After several weeks at Bramcote, at the end of July, I was notified I was going on embarkation leave. After three weeks leave I had to make my way to the RAF station at West Kirby in the Wirral Peninsula. On arrival here, I found that several of my fellow colleagues who had been at radio school were also awaiting the same posting. We were all accommodated in tents.


POLISH Aircrew RAF - Fairey Battle Mk 1 sun L5427 BH*E of 300 (Polish) Bomb Squadron “Mazoviecka Province” - RAF Bramcote August 1940 -

[page break]

After several days we were moved by RAF transport into Liverpool for embarkation. The docks were very busy with movement of troops. We marched in units towards the vessel we were to leave England on. This vessel was the Orient Liner SS OTRANTO. Otranto was a 20,000grt passenger vessel that had been modified as a troop carrier. Some 500 RAF personnel embarked along with 3000 men of the Yorkshire Regiment. The decks of the ship went from A to H. RAF personnel were accommodated on E deck which was the last level with portholes.


There were eighteen on each mess table, we slept in hammocks and the toilets were primitive. Ten toilets without doors so there was no privacy. We knew nothing of our destination as security was so tight. On each mess table, two of the men were nominated as mess orderlies and had to bring the food from the galley. I was lumbered with one of these jobs!

After being on board for 24 hours, we departed Liverpool. For me this was quite an experience having never been on a Liner before. It was quite a bright day on 31st August 1941 and our course followed the coast of Northern Ireland. We all started to take a guess at our destination and some of us thought we may be off to Canada to start our Air Crew training.

For a day or so we headed due what until we were well clear of the Irish coast and out into the Atlantic. We were under escort of a number of Royal Navy vessels including two Battle Ships, the ill fated HMS REPULSE and HMS PRINCE OF WALES.




Prince of Wales

[page break]

There was very little to do onboard and very little reading material available. The only book that seemed to be in circulation was ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. After some time a number of personnel got sick and went off their food. It reached a point that on my table only myself and one other Mess Orderly were eating. A number of the party were literally very green and extremely poorly.

The vessel eventually altered to a southerly course from its westward heading, still under escort, many of us spent a lot of time just sleeping and looking over the side watching the waves. Some spent their time writing letters intending to drop them off at the first port of call. All letters were censored prior to posting and in fact one of my associates was identified by the OIC as having referred to the Commanding Officer as bring “nothing more than a broken down commercial traveller”. As a result he was brough before the CO and given 7 days confinement to barracks which in this case was a cell in the depths of the ship on deck ‘H’.

Several days later the vessel changed to an easterly direction giving rise to further speculation as to our destination. Eventually we made landfall on the west coast of Africa, berthing at Freetown where we stayed for a week. This was a very boring seven days as we were not allowed shore leave. We amused ourselves by watching the local boys jumping into the harbour to retrieve coins that were being thrown into the water by army personnel. The temperature was extremely hot and the humidity was high.

At the end of the week we left Freetown and the vessel headed in a southerly direction. We now assumed our destination to be South Africa. As we were now in a consistently hot climate, some of us erected our hammocks on deck where it was much cooler to sleep.

The next sighting of land was that of “Table Mountain” on the Cape however to our surprise we did not call at Capetown but carried on further along the South African coast eventually calling at Durban. We stayed here for a week and during that time were allowed shore leave daily. We were kindly entertained by South Africans who took us to restaurants and hotels for meals and tours in the neighbouring countryside.

The weather was perfect and this was a really enjoyable and welcome break. We were extremely surprised that none of us were staying on in South Africa. We Aircrew thought that we may have been going on to Southern Rhodesia to continue air training – no such luck ,,,,,!

At the end of this week we once again set sail along with our escort of Battleships heading east into the Indian Ocean. We sailed for several days before Repulse and Prince of Wales left us. No one could have imagined that only a few months later both these mighty ships had been sent to the bottom of the South China sea sunk by land based bombers and torpedo bombers of the Imperial Japanese Navy on 10th December 1941. In Japan the engagement was referred to as the Naval Battle of Malaya (Mare-oki Kaisen).

We were more fortunate with our destination as the Otranto finally docked in Bombay (Mumbai) India. Once again we were alongside for a week and were entertained on pleasure trips. I found Bombay to be a very exciting and busy place.
At the end of this week, we Aircrew were taken off the SS Otranto and transferred to a much smaller vessel, the SS KHEDIVE ISMAIL complete with its Lascar crew. Of 7513 grt, formerly the SS ACONCAGUA, built in 1922 as an Ocean Liner and converted to a troop ship in 1940.

[page break]

We eventually left Bombay heading West and once clear of India we were advised that we were going to Basrah in Iraq. This revelation was our first indication as to our final destination.

There was very little comfort onboard and hammocks were again the order of the day. The Lascar crew were very helpful and attentive and at night whilst in our hammocks they would come around with a bucket of tea or chai as they called it. This was very refreshing especially with the temperature as high as it was.

Although the food onboard was quite acceptable, the toilet arrangements were primitive, consisting of a trough the width of the vessel with wood seats where you sat side by side with your fellow airmen – Absolutely no privacy whatsoever …..!

We were off into the Arabian Sea without any sight of land until we entered the Straits of Hormuz, being the entrance to the Persian Gulf. We now had no escorts and sailed on alone through the tranquil waters of the Persian Gulf in very high temperatures and daily sunshine.

[photograph of SS Khedive Ismail]

Land eventually came into sight as we approached the Northern end of the Gulf and we eventually arrived at the Port of Basrah which was a very busy port.

After disembarking, we were directed to a very large cargo shed on the dockside where we were to stay for the next few days. We only had beds made from boards and raised off the floor on four empty biscuit tins. The luxury was completed with one blanket and a small pillow. The temperature at this point was most uncomfortable.

Whilst awaiting a posting, we were able to go into Barrah itself and sample the local life. The authorities were slightly puzzled as there were some fifty of us qualified Wireless Operators and they were not at all sure what to do with us. This took some time to sort out. Eventually a few of us were posted to Shuaiba which is now the second largest port in the State of Kuwait. At that time it was a camp about ten miles out of Basrah which had been a peacetime RAF camp.

The accommodation at Shuaiba was of brick constructed buildings having been built partly below ground to try and reduce the heat as during the height of the season temperatures exceeded 40 deg’s. I spent quite some time carrying out general duties until one morning an order for volunteers for anybody who could type was requested. By this time I was rather tired of filling sand bags and doing guard duty. As I could type and do shorthand, I decided I would risk it and volunteered. I immediately became the Squadron typist and carried out all the office work and correspondence for the C.O.

After a week or so the Squadron was posted to Sharjah a British Protectorate which is now a part of the United Arab Emirates. The squadron consisted of 18 Blenheim aircraft all of which were ex OUT and were not terribly serviceable.

[page break]

The Blenheims were required for anto[sic] submarine patrols up and down the Persian Gulf and out into the Indian Ocean. We were moved to Sharjah by boat and disembarked by dhow into the then village of Dubai. We continued by road transport to Sharjah where we were billeted in huts which had the luxury of fans.

On the edge of the airport was a stone built structure known as the ‘Fort’. This was well equipped as it was used by BOAC crew for overnight stops. Because of the very high temperatures, the Mechanics could only work on the aircraft until 10am and then cease until 6pm. It was so hot an egg could be fried on the wings of aircraft.

Water was in short supply and the only bathing was done in the sea which was about half a mile away. We only had a small supply of fresh water for shaving and tea was rationed. Food was very repetative with many combinations of risoles you have never seen the like of.

Once every fortnight we were allowed American beer which equated to about four half pint cans which were consumed in one night. We used to leave the empty cans outside our billets and by morning they would have been removed by the locals. If you then happened to go into the village of Dubai, these cans could be seen on sale as mugs, having had handles attached.

Although I was trained wireless operator, I was still being misemployed as Squadron Typist which mean that I could not be reclassified and so remained an AC2. However, I eventually took the AC1 examination and was upgraded. Like all the other Wireless Operators out there, we all wanted to get back to complete our Air Crew training. The Adjutant suggested I re muster as a Radio Observer which meant I could go to Southern Rhodesia for training or alternatively consider obtaining a commission as a Filter Officer.

Whilst at Sharjah I suffered quite badly from ‘prickly heat’ which developed into blisters requiring my admission to the base sick bay. I also had heat exhaustion around the time of my 21st birthday, running a temperature of 106 degs.

I was taken to the Fort at the edge of the camp which had air conditioned rooms. My skin problems got progressively worse and I had to have by head completely shaved. I received treatment with bread poultices on my arms and legs which became septic.

[photograph of an aeroplane]

Eventually I was taken by air to the RAF Hospital at Shuaibah and spent 2-3 weeks there recovering in the dermatology ward. At the end of my hospitalisation, I was posted to Tehran in Iran on sick leave. I travelled by road transport through the town of Ahwaz in Iran and then by train to Tehran. This journey took 24 hours. The train was completely full with people sleeping not just on the seats but also on the luggage racks and corridors.

[page break]

When the train stopped in the early morning there were many locals selling eggs and bread on the platform which was very welcome. On reaching Tehran we were taken to a rest home on the edge of the city. It had pleasant facilities. We used to go into Tehran in groups of 3 or 4 personnel.

Towards the end of the two weeks, I developed tonsillitis which resulted in my being taken to the Sick Bay at the RAF Station at Tehran where I remained for a further ten days. The MO allowed me to remain in Tehran until I felt well enough to travel to Basrah but after about a week, I became quite lonely as all my colleagues had by then left.

After arriving back in Basrah I was then posted to Habbaniya, a real peacetime RAF station about fifty five miles West of Baghdad. I was extremely pleased to receive this posting as the climate at Sharjah did not suit me at all.

Habbaniya was quite a large base, all brick buildings including two cinemas and a range of shops where you could buy clothing etc. Surprisingly even the food in the Airmans[sic] mess was exceptionally good! There were also facilities for sporting activities including tennis courts.

We had local youths acting as what we called “cheekos” who did our laundry and kept the village clean. There were 16 men in each billet and we all paid the equivalent of two shillings per week for this domestic assistance. It was always done promptly and efficiently. Each billet had fans as temperatures were around thirty to forty degrees. I was employed as a Ground operator in a Signals Cabin on a shift system, working stations in the UK and India.
I found this to be very enjoyable work.


There were numerous billets, messes and a wide range of leisure facilities including swimming pools, cinemas and theatres, sports pitches, tennis courts and riding stables. It was self-contained with its own power station, water purification plant and sewage farm. Within the base was the Civil Cantonment for the civilian workers and their families and the families of the RAF Iraq Levies. Water taken from the Euphrates for the irrigation systems enabled green lawns, flower beds and even ornamental Botanical Gardens. After World War II the families of British personnel started living at Habbaniya and a school was started.

The base at Habbaniya was used by the RAF from October 1936 to the end of May 1959, Not quite a year following the July 1958 revolution.

In recent years Habbiniya was used for the manufacture of mustard gas which was used against Iranian troops during the Iran Iraq war.

[map of the area]

[page break]

[centred] The Journey Home (Habininyah to the UK) [/centred]

On a February morning in 1943, I was sleeping in the billet after having been on a night shift when I was awoken by some excited discussion. This was caused by a sergeant from the Orderly room reading out a list of names of Operators being posted back to the UK to resume Aircrew training and my name was on the list! It was then necessary to get clearance from the OIC of Signals – so off we went! However the Officer said that as we were all experienced Ground Operators, we could not leave until replacements arrived and this took five months until July.

There were six of us with our kit bags that were put on to an open lorry to start our return journey to England. We travelled due west over the Iraqi desert. The temperature was around 40 degs C and after about four hours we stopped for refreshment and toilet relief. The stop took place at a point on the “Oil Line” known as H3.

We carried on, passing through the small town of Al Rutbah which was the only sign of any habitation that we had thus far seen. Before darkness we stopped for the night somewhere near to the Syrian/Jordanian border, having to make ourselves as comfortable as possible on our kitbags.

The next morning we resumed our journey travelling just north of the Dead Sea until we arrived in a small coastal town in Gaza just South of Tel Aviv. We were in a small transit camp with brick billets, completely unfurnished. We had to sleep on a blanket on a stone floor and in the morning we all had a large number of insect bites!

After spending a couple of days on a Mediterranean beach we embarked on a train for Cairo. It was a pleasant journey as it followed the coast and at each station there were vendors of eggs and bread. On arrival in Cairo we were taken by truck to the RAF base at Almaza, a few miles out of town. On this occasion we were accommodated in small (2 person) tents whilst we awaited the Liner which would return us to the UK.

After ten days in Almaza, we Wireless Operators were taken to Alexandria where we boarded a large Liner. Unfortunately I never knew its name however it apparently was the first ship to go through the Mediterranean since it was closed at the beginning of the war. We docked in Algiers for two days and the day after we sailed away, the Luftwaffe attacked Algiers. Our next stop was Gibralter where every night depth charges were set off at intervals as a deterrent to U-Boats. However during our five night stay there was no air raid.

The last leg of the journey was north into the Atlantic and around Ireland into the River Clyde. This was uneventful but as we sailed into Greenock it was wonderful to once again see all the green vegetation. Something that I had missed in the two years I had been away. It was now the end of August, exactly two years since I had left. There was also good news – Italy had surrendered. I was also very happy now to send a phone message to my folks via their neighbours to let them know that I was back in the UK.

I travelled by train to RAF West Kirby on the Wirral to leave my tropical kit and get a three week leave pass. The next day I had arrived home to a very happy reunion with Mother and Dad. I spent the next three weeks meeting relatives and friends recounting my travels.

[page break]

After three weeks disembarkation leave, I was posted to Number 4 Radio School at Madley near Hereford. This was where I was to resume Air Crew training as a Wireless Operator, flying Dominis and Proctors.

The [bold] Percival Proctor [/bold] was a British radio trainer and communications aircraft of the Second World War.

The Proctor was a single-engined, low-wing monoplane with seating for three or four, depending on the model.

At the start of the Second World War, many (Dragon) Rapides were impressed by the British armed forces and served under the name [bold] de Havilland Dominie [/bold]. They were used for passenger and communications duties. Over 500 further examples were built specifically for military purposes, powered by improved Gipsey[sic] Queen Engines, to bring total production to 731. The Dominies were mainly used by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy for radio and navigation training.

This was my first experience of flying and operating as a Wireless Operator and here we were flying most days for about one and a half hours carrying out various operation exercises on the radio.

RAF Madley was also a peacetime Station and the accommodation was quite good and included bunks for two members each in huts containing about sixteen personnel. Whilst I was here, I was with a number of the men that I had served with in Iraq so I was quite happy with the friends that I already knew. We used to go into the local village in the evenings, frequenting the local hostelries where I had an enjoyable time making up the[sic] for the two years I had spent overseas!

The course finished at the end of December 1943 and this is when I passed out and was promoted to Sergeant. At the same time I was also presented with my previ, the letter ‘S’ for Signals in the centre.

Previously Wireless Operators had been Air Gunners as well but that had by then been discontinued and a Wireless Operator was purely a Wireless Operator and not required to do a Gunnery course. Having qualified, I was kept on for a few more weeks assisting with the training of other personnel.

At the end of April 1944 I was posted along with some of the other Wireless operators to No 9 Advanced Flying Unit at Llandwrog in North Wales which is close to the town of Pwihelli and also close to Caenarfon. The drome here was along the coastline and planes taking off the runway immediately across the Irish sea.

[page break]

At Llandwrog we were training in Anson aircraft doing cross country exercises, out across the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man, back to the Lancashire coast and returning to base in Wales. This was during the month of May 1944 and continued into June until the course was completed on 12th June 1944. By this time, I’d had 43 hours of lectures and about 37 hours of flying time. This had been quite good experience as we had been night flying on a number of occasions and experienced flying in terrific thunderstorms. The whole aircraft having been completely encircled in a blue light including the wings! This was quite an unnerving experience.


On two occasions whilst stationed at Llandwrog, two of the training aircraft taking off failed to raise into the air and ditched in the sea. Each about 200 -300 metres from the shore. Fortunately the crews survived.

During my time there I was kept pretty busy however I did get into the local pub occasionally. There was a bit of a problem in that the pubs closed at 9 o’clock in the evening so you were never late getting back to camp. I was aware that there were certain local farms where airmen could go and have a bacon and egg meal and other enjoyable food but I never managed that.

Having completed the advanced w/t course, I was then posted to No. 17 Operational Training Unit at Turweston, Northamptonshire which was also part of RAF Silverstone. Turweston was the satellite drone where I spent my first period operating.

It was here at Turweston where we were all selected into different crews which was quite a hit and miss affair. This was because the Pilots were selecting more or less randomly the members of their crew from those present in the room.

I was picked by an Australian Pilot, Flight Sergeant Rob Richter. In addition to myself we had a Navigator (Alan Capey) from Stoke on Trent, a Bomb Aimer (Taffy Cross) from Llanelli, an Flight Engineer (Ossy Williams) from New Malden, a Mid Upper Gunner (Price Proctor) from Hartlepool and a Tail Gunner (Paddy McCrum) from Belfast.

It seemed strange putting together a crew in such an informal manner but thank goodness it all worked out reasonably well and we all sort of bedded down together in pretty good form. We then started operating together and flew in Vickers Wellington Mk III’s and I was now flying as a Wireless Operator no longer under training.

[page break]


We were accommodated in nissan huts amongst a lot of trees and I was working together with a team for the first time. As we got on so well together we were socialising each evening, visiting the local hostelries in Silverstone and Brackley. The weather at this time was perfect and I was enjoying the experience of flying with a crew in the Wellington aircraft.

The flying exercises we were doing began with circuits and landings. We then developed this on to cross country and high level bombing exercises at Wainfleet in Lincs. and also Epperstone in Notts. This included air firing for the benefit of the gunners.

At the end of July our crew were moved into the RAF base at Silverstone with more permanent accommodation than we had previously had at Turweston. It was all most comfortable and I was quite content here. We were now mainly doing cross country flights on a regular basis with these being between three and five hours in length.

In the middle of August we were sent on a semi operational patrol known as a “Nickel Raid”’ dropping foil paper to interfere with radio in enemy territory. This was a flight to Nantes in France where we unloaded the foil. This was a five hour trip. Two days later we were sent on a “Bullseye” which was a diversionary raid for the benefit of the main force. This was a trip to the coast of Holland to the town of Imjuiden.

During the time at Turweston and Silverstone we had experience of 57 hours of daytime flying and 57 hours of night flying. As part of the training we carried out bale out drill, ditching, dinghy and oxygen drills as well as procedures when lost at night. It was the Wireless Operators job to carry the radio transmitter into the dinghy which would be used to transmit any distress signals. I’m pleased to say that this situation never arose.

On 24th August 1944 we were sent on two weeks leave after which we were then posted to the Heavy Conversion Unit no. 1661 at RAF Winthorpe near Newark. The planes we used here were Mk III and V Stirlings. We carried out more cross country exercises however we were only here for one month. Our Pilot always likened the Stirling to the equivalent of flying a Double Decker Bus because the undercarriage was so high.

[page break]

[black and white photograph of a Short Stirling]

Short Stirling

On the 18th October 1944 we were posted to No. 5 Lancaster finishing school at Syerston, between Newark and Nottingham. This was our first experience of flying Lancasters. We were only here until the 8th November when we were all posted to various squadrons.

[Crest of Royal Air Force Syerston]

I and my fellow crew were posted to the RAF staion [sic] at Fulbeck which was purely a wartime air station and here we joined No. 189 squadron which is a Base that we shared with No. 59 Squadron.

I arrived at RAF Fulbeck on the 9th November 1944. The Station was situated between RAF Cranwell and the villages of Leadenham and Brant Broughton all with good pubs which we visited regularly when off duty. My home in Quadring was only 25 miles away and as I had my bicycle I went home for the evening several times. I left camp at 4pm and by 6pm I was home. At midnight I would return to camp, arriving two hours later. It was a lonely ride but I usually had a pint bottle of beer in my saddle bag for refreshment on the journey!

The daily routine in camp commenced about 9am when all crew members reported to their Sections. We were then given the days programme after which it was necessary to check your own particular equipment. At midday we all returned to either the officers or Sergeants mess for lunch. The only flying our crew did in November was a cross country and two high level bombing exercises at Wainfleet and Epperstone.

Naturally we were waiting to be called for our first operation and during the month we had the experience of being fully briefed for three trips, all being cancelled before take off which was a bit nerve wrecking.

However on the 4th December 1944 when we reported to our Sections we were informed that we would be on ‘Ops’ that night. After lunch the procedure was for all crews to attend the full Squadron briefing between 4pm and 5pm when we were told the target location and purpose of the raid.

Depending on the nature of the target, the maximum bomb load was 16,000 lbs and 2,200 gallons of fuel. With a full load of bombs/fuel, the total weight of the plane on take off was 30 tons. The flight plan gave the level at which we would be bombing and could be 8000 to 16000 feet. The more trips you did, then lower was the level at which you bombed.

[page break]

There were usually several Squadrons - about 200 aircraft on night trips. There was a rendezvous point, either Northampton or Beachy Head, for us to group together. As the whole force would be over the target for thirty minutes, each crew was given a bombing time - H plus 10 or H plus 20 etc.

It was an amazing experience in total darkness with no lights on the planes and a complete blackout of all towns and villages below. Our average take off time was 7 to 8pm. As we were not permitted to return to the mess or accommodation after lunch, we had sandwiches and flasks of tea with us.

Upon returning to base, often in the early hours of the morning we were first debriefed on the raid. After that we had a very welcome meal of bacon and eggs etc, before going off to bed.

Our first trip was to HEILBRON near STUTTGART in the RUHR to bomb the railway marshalling yards. Taking off for your first raid was a rather eerie feeling, not knowing what it would be like or if you would be coming back. However, once airborne your thoughts fall to getting the job done. After three hours we were over the target area giving us a very bumpy ride. Thankfully we were not hit and having dropped our 4000 lb bomb and a load of incendiaries, the yards were glowing with the fires raging. We returned to base safely and satisfied with our first operation.

Our next ‘Op’ was GIESSEN near FRANKFURT on 6th December where the target was once again marshalling yards.

On the 19th December we went on a long ten hour journey to GDYNIA. All went fairly well until we arrived over the target which was the docks. We should have done a ‘dog leg’ around the target (which we somehow missed!) to enable us to bomb on a northerly heading, coming out of the run over the Baltic Sea. As a consequence we were coned by searchlights and received heavy targeted gunfire from the German Navy below. Fortunately they missed us and we eventually had a successful raid. To avoid the enemy night fighters our Pilot took us down and we flew as low as possible over the Baltic and North Sea, not seeing any other activity although there had been some 200 enemy night fighters in amongst the main stream of bombers on the way home.

Two nights later we were sent to POLITZ, not far from GDYNIA which was another ten hour trip. On this occasion we were in heavy gunfire and heavy anti aircraft fire and for the first time we witnessed ‘Scarecrow’ being used by the enemy in order to create panic. Once again we were successful and set out to return home. On the journey back we were informed by radio that Lincolnshire was completely fog bound and we were diverted to RAF Milltown near Elgin. We remained there, as from 21st to 28th December 1944, Lincolnshire continued to be fog bound.

Far Right: ‘Scarecrow’

[black and white photograph of a ‘Scarecrow’ exploding]


[page break]

On the 30th December, we were sent to Houffalize, Belgium which was a town in the middle of the Western Front, south of Liege in the Ardennes. Here we were supposed to bomb the front line which was a rather delicate operation. Although it was a relatively short trip of five hours, we needed a lot of care as to where we were bombing. We learned later that a number of the Polish army had been caught by the bombs on that occasion.

On New years Day 1945 we were sent to bomb Gravenhorst for the numerous oil targets that were situated there. Unfortunately we could not return to base and once again returned to Milltown in Scotland where we stayed for a couple of days.

On 4th January, I flew with another crew piloted by Flying Officer Martin due to the sickness of their Wireless Operator. On this occasion we went to Royan, a town in the south West of France near to Bordeaux principally to attack the Submarines of the German Navy which were on the river there. This was a seven hour journey to the mouth of the Gironde which was quite uneventful.

On the 13th January we were sent to the town of Politz again which was a ten and a half hour trip. We were successful mainly targeting oil and marshalling yards alongside the Navy. Because of the length of the trip, on the return journey the flight engineer indicated that our fuel was not sufficient to get back to base. I made contact with base to establish where we should land given our circumstances and we were directed to make for Carnaby which was the emergency landing strip near to Flamborough Head in Yorkshire. We were fortunate to land there safely as there was virtually no fuel leaf onboard.

On the 16th January I was back with my own crew and flew with them to the town of Brux. This was an oil target with a round trip time of nine and a half hours. This was over towards the Polish area.

On the 1st and 2nd February we attacked the towns of Siegen and Karlsruhe. Both these trips were bright moonlit nights which made it much easier for the German night fighters to attack us when we were silhouetted against the moon. We did experience interference from night fighters and as always the anti aircraft fire was very intense. On the Karlsruhe trip, out of our 18 aircraft we lost 4 that night.

On the 7th February we went to Ladbergen in order to attack the Dortmund-Ems canal. On this occasion we only carried 1000lb bombs with no incendiaries in the hope that we inflicted as much damage as possible to the canal.

On the 13th February we had a very long trip to Dresden. This we were told was because the Russians had driven the German Army back and it was encamped in Dresden. This was termed as a “Russian Army co-operation raid”. The American Airforce had been operational during the day and had bombed the target so by the time we were arriving around midnight, the town was ablaze.

We were successful over the target but did encounter a lot of the usual anti aircraft and fighter aircraft. On the way back to base over the Alps we were icing up and had to go down as low as possible which was a tricky operation being amongst the mountains. However we were once again able to make it back to base.

[page break]

Of course after this raid there has been much publicity about it and as the years have passed, the extent of the damage became more apparent and the subject tended to not be mentioned. However being aware of the reasons for the raid, it seemed to me to be a very satisfactory legitimate target and one that was done with extreme efficiency.

The very next night on 14th February, we attacked an oil target at Rositz which is near Leipzig. This was another nine hour journey there and back. A few nights later on 19th February we were again in the vicinity of Leipzig over the town of Bohlen and once again it was an oil target. On all these Oil targets we carried a 1000lb’er and a load of incendiaries.

On 20th February we went all the way to Gravenhorst but unfortunately the sortie was aborted and we were unable to return to base because of adverse weather conditions and we were diverted to Colerne. On 23rd February we were given a very different target in Horten which were the docks in the Oslo fjord in Norway which had a German Naval base there. This was a comparatively short trip it being only six and half hours and we experienced a lot of intense anti-aircraft fire from the German Naval gunners.

On 12th March, we carried out our first raid in daylight and joined a one thousand bomber force. The target that day was the town of Dortmund. This was quite a new experience and rather frightening being amongst so many other bombers, all at the same time and all approaching the same area. However, the raid was successful and we returned without incident in what was a five hour trip.

The next trip was to Lutzkendorf, an oil target which was quite a long journey and well into Eastern Germany. This was on 14th March and although the raid was a success, we did lose several aircraft. Once again the weather conditions in Lincolnshire prevented us from returning to base and we were diverted to Manston in Kent where there was an emergency landing strip.

Two days later on 16th March we had another oil target to attack in the town of Wurzburg. Here we experienced a lot of fighter activity and heavy anti-aircraft. We were very lucky to get back!

On 20th March we returned to raid Bohlen near Leipzig and this was another eight hour trip. On 23rd March we were sent to the town of Wesel to attack the marshalling yards there. This was a mere five and half hour trip which we carried out without incident.

On 4th April we were sent on a daylight raid to Nordhausen and this was to attack oil targets and the marshalling yards. On 23rd April we were again raiding in daylight, this time to Flensburg on the Kiel canal. This was to attack the submarine pens there however the sortie was aborted and we returned home without encountering any problems.

Three days later we were sent to Brussels to repatriate a group of ex prisoners of war. We managed to pack in twenty four in the fuselage of the aircraft and we flew to Westcott in Buckinghamshire. This made a very pleasant change and the former POW’s were naturally in good spirits.

As the war was nearing its conclusion, we found ourselves doing more training exercises for a day or two and on 6th may[sic] we were back in Brussels collecting more former POW’s and this time we brought them home to Dunsfold in Surrey.

[page break]
We repeated this some six days later on 12th May. On each occasion there were twenty six former POW’s in our fuselage. On 15th April we flew to Lille to repatriate more POW’s.

On 16th April 1945 we were sent on a grand tour of Germany to see what damage had been done. This covered the towns and cities of Bremen, Hamburg, Harburg in Bavaria, Brunswick, Cassel, Wurzburg, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Cologne, Osnabruck and back to base. The whole trip took some eight and a half hours. This was a very interesting and exciting flight to see just what effect the bombing had on Germany.

On 1st April 1945, the Squadron had been transferred to Bardney which is nine miles east of Lincoln. This is the RAF station from where we operated the two daylight raids and the trips to collect the former POW’s. Also on this Station was No. 9 Squadron. They specialised in carrying very large bombs which they used to bomb the hiding place of Hitler in the Mountains.

On most of the raids I was on, the anti-aircraft fire was quite intense in most places and the night fighters were usually very busy. The one frightening aspect that the defenders of certain targets used was to send up “scarecrows” this giving the impression of one of our bombers exploding and crashing in flames. How this was achieved, I am unsure but it was extremely frightening.

Our crew had the unfortunate luck of having to be changed after the third trip as our Rear Gunner had been caught sleeping twice whilst we were still over enemy territory. On the first occasion when the Skipper called to him there was no reply and I was asked to go and find out what the problem was. I found that both the turret doors were open and he was lying back on the shute into the turret with his intercom lead pulled out of the socket. I informed the Skipper that he had not replied because his intercom was out. However on the very next trip the same situation occurred again whilst we were still well over Germany. On that occasion I did report to the Skipper that he was in fact asleep. After that he was removed from the Crew and we had to have substitutes for the remainder of our trips.

After the raid on Karlsruhe we had lost four aircraft which I have already referred to but in fact on several trips one or two failed to return however I have no record of the numbers lost in my period of Operations.

In the May of 1945, the Crews were being dispersed as our tours had finished with the war coming to an end on 8th May 1945. A number of us volunteered to assist with hay making and I spent about two weeks on a farm near Gainsborough, Lincolnshire after which we were all sent on leave for a few weeks.

As we completed the tour, we were then given a rest period and at that point we expected to be going on operations in the Far East at the later stage however the war ended there on 15th August.

As I was home on leave, I received a posting to RAF Woodbridge which was an emergency landing strip in Suffolk. There I was more or less just operating in the Flight Control Tower and also assisting in the Officers and Sergeants Mess’s with their accounting systems. I had plenty of spare time and the town of Ipswich was close by. This is where [I] and my friends were going most nights.

[page break]

One of my close friends at Woodbridge was Warrant Officer Bill Patterson, a pilot who had a lady friend called Rena in Ipswich. I was told that Rena had a lady friend who said that she would like to meet me. A date was duly arranged for the 4th November 1945 for me to meet this lady on the steps of the Post Office in Ipswich at 6 o’clock. The person that turned up was a young lady called Avis Fleet.

That evening we went with Bill and Rena as a foursome for a drink in Ipswich and we had a very pleasant time. Consequently I continued to meet Avis on a regular basis and was taken to her home on Norwich Road where I met her parents and young brother Geoffrey who was only eleven at the time. We met very regularly most days as I didn’t have much to do at Woodbridge and our friendship grew until by the end of December we had agreed to get married in 1946.

Avis and I went to my parents home in Quadring on Boxing Day and spent a few days there before returning to Ipswich. At the end of December, I was promoted to Warrant Officer which made my weekly pay Six Pounds and Eleven Shillings which at the time was pretty good money.

I continued to meet Avis regularly whilst the release groups from the RAF were in number order and I was number thirty five. With the assistance of my friend Bill Patterson who was then in the Release Centre, I went for demobilisation on 3rd April 1946. I collected my civilian outfit and returned to Ipswich to meet Avis again. Of course being released at that time meant that I had a quantity of clothing coupons which helped Avis considerably in getting her wedding outfit etc.

The wedding was arranged for the 4th May 1946 and this took place at All Saints Church Ipswich. I continued to receive pay from the RAF until the end of Mat[sic] 1946 by which time I had resumed my work as an accountant with Hodgson Harris in Spalding.

[wedding photograph]

After living with my parents for 4 or 5 weeks, I managed to obtain a furnished flat in Spalding at 13 High Street which was along by the riverside.

[page break]

In 1950 when war broke out in Korea I decided to join the RAF Reserve and this meant going to No. 9 Reserve Flying School at Doncaster. I would attend there at weekends, taking part in various flying exercises. In August 1951 as part of Reserve Training, I did two weeks camp at Topcliffe in North Yorkshire and flew in Ansons on cross country exercise which also included a trip to Malta.

The last trip I did was in an Anson in a North Sea search for the Spurn Lightship. This was on 1st February 1953. After this I was retired from the Reserve as I was over the age of twenty nine.

Whilst on Operations we had nine days leave every six weeks and all received Ten Pounds per week from Lord Nuffield (The boss of Ford Motor Co). In appreciation of our services.

Returning from leave sometimes could be worrying. In our huts there would be members from 4 or 5 different Crews and returning home some would be missing from raids. On one occasion there were members of 7 Crews in our hut and on our return from one sortie, 5 were missing. This was a huge shock!

I thoroughly enjoyed all of my time with the RAF and would say that it was as good as going to a University. I realise that I am very fortunate to be still alive at the age of 92. I now have the medals of my service history including the Bomber Command Clasp for the 1939-1945 Star.

I hope my story will be of interest to whoever may read it.

[two pages from 189 Squadron Fulbeck logbook]

[page break]

[photograph of Andrew Gaunt as sub-postmaster at Pinchbeck]
Jacks[sic] WW11 story and experiences have been brought together by Andrew Gaunt former Sub Postmaster of Pinchbeck (2000 to 2014), from recordings made by Jack of his time with the RAF and his personal recollections of events and flying missions that he was sent on. Utilising Jacks[sic] log book and researching events that he has referred to.

It seemed appropriate that I brought Jacks[sic] recollections together having myself been a fellow Wireless Operator. Being a Marine Radio Officer from 1975 to 1986 and visiting many of the ports of the Middle East that Jack transited on his journey. Ironically Merchant ships no longer have a requirement to carry an R/O. This position disappeared in the 1990’s whilst the requirement to carry a W/O on aircraft was I believe removed sometime in the 1960’s. My own experiences took me frequently into areas of conflict notably the Persian/Arabian Gulf, regularly through the then dangerous Straits of Hormuz during the Iran/Iraq war and I also have my own vivid recollections of the Iranian Revolution.

Acknowledgements are made to the following sources whose photos have been used although there appear to be many copies of the same photos on different sites.

Polish Aircrew at RAF Bramcote –
Troopship SS Otranto –
HMS Repulse –
HMS Prince of Wales –
Troopship SS Khedive Ismail –
Blenheim Aircraft –
WW11 map of Iraq –
Percival Proctor Aircraft –
De Havilland Dominie Aircraft –
Avro Anson Aircraft –
Vickers Wellington Aircraft –
Short Stirling Aircraft –
“Scarecrow” phenomena –

Whilst the tragic fate of Repulse and Prince of Wales is a well known WW11 event, a lesser known event but equally tragic story lies in the fate of the SS Khedive Ismail which took Jack into the Persian Gulf in late 1941.

The SS Khedive Ismail was sunk by a Japanese submarine on 12th February 1944 with the loss of 1,297 lives. The vessel Sank in just two minutes. For more information on this terrible event visit The story is also covered in The book “Passage To Destiny” by Paul Watkins.



A Gaunt and J Smith, “Sparks in the air - Jack Smith's wartime story,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 24, 2024,

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