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RAAF Roundel
463 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force
Memories of wartime service, JA Campbell

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Updated: 21 Sep 10

J A Campbell, a mid-upper gunner who served on 463 Sqn RAAF and 61 Sqn RAF has contributed his memories to the site.

[In Nov 1942] On the permanent pre-war base of Waddington, near Lincoln, a new Australian squadron, 463, was being formed from “C” Flight of 467 Squadron, RAAF. Alex had the opportunity to transfer us over to the new squadron, and happily for all of us he took it. We packed up our gear and took transport over to Waddington, and warm barrack-blocks with a fine Sergeants’ Mess building a few steps away. Our new location was within walking distance of three good pubs, a fish and chip shop, a bakery and only about three miles from Lincoln town. Our first “task” after we got settled in our new quarters was to go on leave again — another six weeks had passed.
On the 8th of December we prepared for our leave. As usual our British crewmembers were going to their homes for a pre-Christmas visit with their families and friends. There would be no chance for a Christmas visit later. Henry and I made plans for a trip to Scotland and had our travel warrants made out for Aberdeen. We left Lincoln on the London, Midland & Scottish railway and spent the first night in Carlisle, just below the Scottish border. While travelling through the northern English county of Cumberland, we were totally fascinated by the maze of stone walls dividing the hilly landscape into tiny fields, a collection of odd shapes and sizes. We wondered at the origin on these miles and miles of low stone walls, all enclosing small sod fields. The next day we were onto Perth, where we spent the night. We usually found a dance or pub-crawled during the evenings. Next day to Aberdeen, which turned out to be a quiet sort of place. Our hotel, the Queen’s, was too cold to sit around in, so we went to the lounge of another hotel and spent the evening there. There was quite a good chamber music group playing there, something we had never struck before. The piano player made a good start into “Moonlight Sonata” but disappointed the entire room when he stopped and had to admit he didn’t know the whole thing. The next morning we were walking along the high street when we saw a sign reading, “Servicemen’s’ Canteen”. We dropped in, were greeted very hospitably and were served delicious cakes, scones and tarts, along with a large pot of tea. As we prepared to leave later, we looked for the place to pay and were told “no charges”. This was all free for servicemen. We were, of course, grateful, and this was the only totally free canteen I came across in all my travels during the airborne years.
Next day we started southward again, and went to Edinburgh, which was shrouded in fog. Our train approached the town, and crossed the Firth of Forth over the famous Forth high-level railway bridge. A gentleman in our compartment started giving us a little information on points of interest, including the bridge. He told us of bodies of the original bridge-builders which were down inside the huge tubular girders, where they had fallen during construction. He also pointed down to the hull of a large ship, lying in a shipbreaking yard. She was the Mauretania, sister to the other “Four Stackers”, which had reached the end of her career.
We stayed at the Caledonian hotel, and next morning the fog was so dense there was no traffic moving, not even the trams. By about 10 a.m. it had thinned out enough for vehicles on the streets to move again. We went to the famous Castle, and along Princess Street in this ancient city of monuments. We also appreciated the good Scotch ale — Younger’s — on draught in the pubs. Next day, southward again to the town of Leeds in Yorkshire, where we spent a pleasant but uneventful evening in the lounge of the Queen’s Hotel. This was a rather modern place, and a change from most of the hotels we had stayed in. The lounge was warm and comfortable, and was filled by many spiffy-looking officers from the big RAF Officers’ School at nearby Harrogate. Next day we took the train down to Nottingham where we spent the last two days, then back to our new abode at Waddington.
Moon-phase and fog-bound bases kept flying and operations to a minimum in the first half of December. Also, the new 463 Squadron was acquiring aircraft with the squadron letters “JO”. On one of their first operational trips before our arrival, only three aircraft had been put up. On December 20th we were briefed for an attack on Frankfurt, in the upper Rhine valley. This was our second trip to this heavy industry centre, the first having been in October. Details of this trip are hazy in my mind — nothing out of the ordinary could have taken place. The aircraft we flew in was JO-F, and total time lapse was six hours and twenty minutes.
Christmas eve was spent in Lincoln Town, a new place for us. Lincoln was very different from Nottingham, and was rather a grubby, smoky, small industry centre. It lacked the facilities of Nottingham, but as time went by we did find interesting pubs and small restaurants. There was no “Palais” and we still had to undertake a trip to Nottingham for that. Christmas day was spent on the base. A number of us went to the Airmen’s Mess at noon where we waited on tables, as had been done for my old gang back home at Trenton the previous year.
In mid-morning, operations were scheduled, but the Lord in His wisdom, laid a blanket of fog over Bomber Command bases, and we carried on with our Christmas celebrations. We had dinner in our Sergeants’ Mess late in the afternoon. It was roast pork, which served with a spicy dressing, was every bit as good as fowl. There was no operational work for us during the following week, and we had a good time in Lincoln on New Year’s Eve, and in the Saracen’s Head hotel I tasted the most watered-down rum ever served to the public. Our questions about it were answered with, “That’s what they sent us, my dears.” Later I met one of the lads from Macdonald, who filled me in on the whereabouts of some of our numbers. About three of our old course at No. 3 B&G were now in German prison camps, but no word on my two missing friends Harold Queen or Harold Suthers. The chap I spoke to was wearing a crown over his Sergeant’s hooks — promotions to Flight Sergeant were coming through, effective for October. I was happy to know that on our next leave, I’d probably go down to RCAF HQ in London to collect back-pay.
Our aircraft had now been fitted with a new device, code-named “Monica.” This was a small audio-radar set, with the antenna at the rearmost position on the aircraft, just below the rear turret. This sent out and electronic pulse, which echoed back into the intercom system if it struck an object within 600 yards. The beeps on the intercom became closer together as the distance between the object and the antenna closed. We found it a bit useful in as much as there was an audible alert when an object was in our most vulnerable quarters, and preparations for evasive action could be made. All contacts we had were from our own bomber stream, with an aircraft moving across from one side to the other. We also found that the “window” bundles produced an audible beep. This audio “Monica” was soon replaced with a visual one, again radar, but now the signals operator had a small cathode-ray set at his position that he had to watch. The radar echo would out on the tube-screen, and Doug could call “contact port, 600 yards and closing.” The blip on the screen would move as the object closed, and he could give a quite accurate range reading. Now we could give our attention to one particular spot. Again all our contacts were our own aircraft. Some gunners fired in the general direction of the reading. This might spoil the stalking of an enemy, but it might also endanger one of our own aircraft. Alex’s action was to turn into a contact on whichever quarter-port or starboard and lose it. It was best to have distance from whatever type of aircraft it was.
On January 1st we were briefed for another attack on Berlin — nothing like starting the New Year right. Again, I cannot say much about this trip, although I recall cloud conditions over the Continent were heavy again, and the marking had to be done by suspended flares as before. I did cause a bit of a panic on board as we were on our return trip. I discovered that my intercom (mike part) had failed. This was a bad situation and I had to remedy it at once if at all possible. Each of us had a small white signal light at our positions with all the positions connected. I decided to tap out “M-U” (mid-upper) on the light to alert my crewmembers to my problem. Right away a big shout went up, “Who in hell touched that God-damned light?” I waited until things quieted down, and then repeated the signal. Another shout — and then Alex realized something was amiss, so he started calling each position in turn (I could hear all this, but I could not speak). Finally, when he got no response from me, he knew. There was immediate speculation — Jack was out of oxygen, he was sick, he was injured, or maybe his mike was U/S. Alex sent Doug back to see. Dough grabbed my ankle, and I have him a kick in the shoulder. He shone his flashlight up in my face, and I pointed to my mike. First he gave me a spare mike, and when that didn’t remedy it, he went and got an extension cord — that worked. The trouble was in the rotating service joint of the turret. All was now in order; except I had to remember not to do a full rotation or I could break the extension. This was a fairly long trip; eight hours and ten minutes flying in JO-J, and return to base was made with no further incident.
Our squadron commander on 463 was Wing Commander Rolo Kingsford-Smith, the nephew of Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith, and Australian aviation pioneer. Our commander in “A” Flight was Squadron Leader Bobby Locke. Weather had cleared up by the 5th of January when we were once again on the Battle Order for an attack on the city of Stettin, on the estuary of the Oder river, where it empties into the Baltic Sea. I am able to recall this trip with a good deal more detail. The briefing was late, as take-off was to be late. There was almost a half-moon in its waxing stage, but it would be set before we were in enemy territory. The previous night there had been Bomber Command activities in south Germany, and it was expected the bulk of the night fighter forces would still be there. We took off and headed in a northeasterly direction over the North Sea toward Denmark. This night we were carrying a “second dickie” or pilot. He was Squadron Leader Billy Brill, DFC, and Australian coming back to the squadron on a second tour of operations.
As we flew over the North Sea the moon descended, and was set shortly after we had reached the Danish coast. We proceeded across Denmark the southeast down into Germany for a bombing run into Stettin from the west. It was perfectly clear, with a minimum of flak and searchlights. There was plenty of ground detail being revealed by the photoflashes, and the attack was well concentrated on this northern town, which had escaped heavy attack up until this time. Again we were obliged to move out from under a Halifax with bomb-doors open. I saw the load go by again, this time they appeared to be 1,000-pounders — green with yellow printing on them. We saw only one air-to-air combat, with the bomber the loser.
We turned port off the bombing-run, and them back over the Baltic, Denmark and the North Sea. On the trip toward the target I had experience a burning sensation on the sole of my right foot. Now it was getting unbearable. I undid my flying boot and disconnected the slipper of my electronically heated inner suit. Alex would start a gradual descent now and we would soon be down to warmer air layers, so I knew my foot would not freeze. I could now let my foot go flat in my shoe instead of holding it up in an arched position. As we made our way westward, Alex and S/L Brill decided to change positions (Billy was going to pilot while Alex rode second). During the changing of positions they let JO-E veer to starboard, and quite suddenly we saw these huge dark shapes go hurtling by. We were going to get rammed by flying at 90 degrees to the stream! They got into their seats, put her into a short turn to port and rejoined the stream properly. Dawn broke as we were about halfway to Yorkshire coast, and we had let down to about 6,000 feet.
Shortly, it was quite bright, and we spotted another aircraft dead astern. It was overtaking us, and proved to be just one of our own Lancasters. We dropped down to about 500 feet, and Dennis and I got some air-to-sea firing in just before we made landfall. I never found out why JO-E was so slow, but we were the last aircraft in the group to land. Duration of the trip was nine hours and forty-five minutes. While removing my flying boot and electric slipper back at the Flights, I found a hole about an inch in diameter burned into the slipper, through the sock and a large burn and blister on the sole of my foot. Gremlins, no doubt.
On the first of October, while we were still with 61 Squadron, Alex had been promoted from flying officer to flight lieutenant. Now in January, Henry had been commissioned, and we were sorry to see him move from the Sergeants’ Mess to the Officers’ Mess. Henry had acquired a rather serious girl in Nottingham who took up a good deal of his spare time, so now we four remaining NCOs spent a lot of our off hours together.
Lincoln had the Theatre Royal, not a very pretentious place, but with a new variety show every week and this was a regular thing for us. Also we attended the “Crown” just across the street; the Saracen’s Head in the centre of town, and a little pub down by the canal called the Brickmakers’ Arms. Lincoln was within a fairly easy walk, but in this winter weather we usually went in by bus, which went through Waddington village. We used to visit an interesting restaurant in Lincoln — the Highbridge Café. Just simple meals, served in dining rooms on three floors. I used to marvel at the garbage disposal system. The Café was built right on the canal bridge, and the garbage went straight out the second-floor kitchen window and into the canal. There were several rather grubby-looking swans that parked themselves under the bridge and picked out the choice bits.
After our long trip to Stettin, operations for the Main Force were curtailed for a bit, as the moon passed through its fullest stages. On the 20th of January we were again briefed for a Berlin attack. At this time, I might say that our crew was not going on all the Berlin operations. During the period of November to March there were sixteen major attacks launched. We were involved in five of these, and I had one extra — the preliminary raid in September when I flew with the Woods crew on 61 Squadron. Conditions on this 20th January trip were again shrouded in cloud cover. The night fighters were active, and were certainly not having weather problems on their bases. Our losses were rather static and held at about six percent. The trip time was seven hours and five minutes, and was flown in our new shared aircraft, JO-H.
Quite often, when we were not on the battle-orders we’d join the group at the end of the runway in use, and give the departing crews a wave as they started their takeoff runs. On one occasion we had watched the departure of one of our aircraft, and as it was about ¼ of the way down the runway, a sharp swing to port developed — the pilot had not compensated with enough throttle to control the torque effect. The swing seemed to be taking the fully-loaded bomber in the general direction of the Control Tower, and it was too late to stop. The pilot managed to hold it straight at last and they continued across the grass and cleared all obstacles and were safely airborne. For a few moments we thought we were going to witness one of the tragedies that sometimes happened, and we were relieved to see the Lancaster making its climbing turn to port against the darkening western sky.
As the winter dragged on with the grey depressing weather, the crews were glad to take off to town at any opportunity, and quite often an over-indulgence at the pubs and bars took place. Also, there was quite a lack of discipline amongst some of the lads, and they were sometimes inclined to run off a bit at the mouth, often to their superiors. This was tolerated up to a point, but if the slackness appeared too often, there was a remedy at hand, and everyone knew about it. There was a special aircrew station near Sheffield, and if a person got sent down to this establishment, he’d return with his attitudes somewhat improved. It was not exactly a “glass house”, just a very strictly run place for aircrew that had got a little out of hand, and needed to straighten up (it had nothing to do with flying attitudes or abilities). When people returned from Sheffield, they were usually much improved and many said the place wasn’t half-bad — they had forgotten that discipline and strict routine made one feel pretty good. I had one friend who had two trips down. He was resentful about the first time, but the second session he admitted he really deserved, and he had no more problems.
Our six-week working period had passed safely once more, and here we were getting prepared for another nine-day leave. Henry and I had made vague plans for a trip to Ireland, but in the interim, Britain had sealed the border between Ulster and the Irish Free State, and suspended all travel. Security leaks were feared for the impending invasion of the Continent. Therefore, any plans, vague or otherwise, were down the drain. Some of my friends had gone to Dublin on leave and had a marvelous time, so we were a bit disappointed — we should have done it sooner. Henry, of course, was so busy with his girlfriend in Nottingham that he wasn’t too keen to travel at all. At this time Doug invited me to his parents’ place out in Norfolk, oddly enough, not far from the U.S. airbase where we had landed on our return from Leipzig. But first, a side trip to London so I could pick up my Flight Sergeant’s back pay.
Doug came down with me and we stayed at the K of C hotel out by Hyde Park, and next day went to RCAF HQ and collected a fistful of crisp new pound notes. That afternoon we took the London & Northeastern Railway train to Norwich, and then the Bungay bus down to the little village of Brook, where Doug’s parents lived.
Doug’s father was a farm manager for the MacIntosh family of MacIntosh-Caley, the candy and biscuit people. The big manor house had been loaned to the War Department and was in use as a convalescent hospital for wounded army personnel, and Doug’s parents lived in a very handsome (and cold) house near the entrance to the estate.
Brook was not much more than a crossroads — only two pubs: the King’s Head and the Red Lion. The King’s Head was the place for the toffs, and the Red Lion was strictly for the farmers. We, of course, gave both places a share of our business. We rode around the countryside on bicycles, as the weather was quite good for the end of January. We just sort of slobbed around for about six days. The only head in the Broome’s house was a little coal-burning fireplace in the kitchen, where a big black tea kettle sat singing “at the ready” at all times. There was also a certain amount of heat that came from the electric stove as Mrs. Broome cooked and baked for us. Her homemade bread was a treat. Rather that sit around the kitchen all the time, we frequented the King’s Head, where there was a large fireplace, and certainly the customers supplied a little body heat. It was quite cozy. We went back to Nottingham for our last day and night. We had found a particularly good restaurant there called the Beaufort Club, where they served steak. It was a bit tough, but good. No one questioned its origin, but we watched for horseshoe nails. They also served the best plaice I ever tasted. We were back at Waddington by the 4th of February.
During the first week of February we flew on a few training exercises as the bright moon-phase passed. Some of these were low-level air-to-sea firing, where we would drip an aluminum powder Sea Marker. This would put a bright patch on the water about twenty feet in diameter. We really enjoyed this, as Alex made full-powered fly-pasts on the target while we fired on it. This was also a good illustration of deflection. If it was not laid on correctly according to speed and height, the concentration of fire wouldn’t come anywhere near the target.
The moon was suitable again by the 15th of February, and we were going again to the “Big City” — Berlin. There was always a good bit of excitement just before we’d enter the Main Briefing Theatre, as here the route and tactics would be revealed to us. Nearly everyone suffered from a bit of “ring twitter” and most of the lads were rather fatalistic about the whole thing, especially if they were well into their tours. One older chap, a gunner whose age must have been nearing forty, had a severe attack just after the briefing. He was shaking, pale and short of breath. We thought he was in the first stages of a heart attack. He had to be taken off operations and was given another job. Really, the job was not fit for the average man if he was forty or more, but quite a number of them kept volunteering from other trades to have a go at operational flying.
This trip was again seven hours and five minutes, oddly enough as the route taken was not similar to the previous one. Again the target was under cloud. Dennis Bourke, our bomb-aimer, was not satisfied with the grouping of the target indicators, and after a straight and level approach through the flak barrage, he called for a dummy run. In other words, he was asking Alex to come about and make another run. Against our bomber stream? He had to be crazy!
Alex told him to get rid of the load in no uncertain terms, and I think Alex’s estimation of Dennis’s judgment took a big drop at that time. Dennis was very quiet on the trip back to base. As we crossed the Channel, Doug received a message from base — there were “bandits” — enemy night fighter intruders in the Five Group area. As we reached the vicinity of the base there was a minimum of aerodrome lighting visible, but landing procedures were going on. There was a shoot-up incident at one of Waddington’s satellite aerodromes, but the Lancaster was not severely damaged and no one was hurt. This would be our last trip to Berlin.
On the 19th of February we were again briefed for an attack on Leipzig — hopefully with better results that the previous balls-up on the 20th of October. Conditions were better for a more concentrated strike, and a full maximum effort was being mounted. The route was fairly straight, with feints or “spoofs” on various other cities — usually done by high-flying fast Mosquito bombers. A number of them had been fitted with a special bulging fuselage and could carry a 4,000-pound “cookie”. Twenty or thirty would be sent on a spoof with target indicators and 4,000-pounders to attract the attention of the defenders. The spoofs on the way in broke up the fighter concentration on the Main Force, but there was still a lot of action. We were surprised to find heavy snow cover on northwest Germany, which made a reflector for air-to-air combats and burning aircraft. I remember one in particular — the bomber was attacked and set afire at about our height, and roughly a mile to starboard. It made a rather gradual descent as the fire enlarged, and as it approached the ground, it went into a spiral dive, and then straight down. During the last few moments of its death-dive, the trailing fire cast a shadow of the spinning aircraft into the snow, then impact and a tremendous explosion of bombs and fuel.
The scene was typical, but the snow cover on the ground produced a cinema effect. As we made our approach we could see that Leipzig was under partial cloud-cover, but not the total situation of our October raid, when our loads were wasted on the open countryside. PFF was on the job with the right markers, and the concentration was good with large overlapping fires starting. Opposition on the return trip was stiff, as the defending forces concentrated on the Main Force stream after the spoofs. We made our return to base with no incidents, and a time-lapse of seven hours and thirty minutes.
On this trip, George Pike, a rear gunner from our section, shot down an enemy fighter. George was a bit older than most of us in the section. He was married, had children, and had been a dockworker in Liverpool. He was a conscientious fellow, and was very accurate in his instructions to his pilot as the fighter tried to close in for a dead shot. As he did so, he ran into devastating fire from George’s four Brownings, was almost cut in half, and fell away in flames. The next day, some wise guy in the section asked Pikey if it didn’t bother him that he had probably made some frauleine a widow, and orphaned her children. Pikey’s reply was, “He didn’t bloody enquire about my family, did he?” Pikey was awarded an immediate DFM. Losses were heavy on this Leipzig operation. Over fifty aircraft failed to return.
News of the development in long-range escorts for the heavies of the U.S. 8th Air Force was encouraging. Republic Thunderbolts-P47s; Lockheed Lightning-P38s; and North American Mustang-P51s were being fitted with overload wing-tanks. These tanks would carry them deep into enemy territory — then the tanks were jettisoned and the fighters were combat-ready with their main tanks untouched. This almost doubled their effective range, and the B17s and B24s were now ready again for in-depth attacks. They had been well occupied the last few months pounding airfields and rail-centres in northwest Europe with good results, when weather conditions were clear enough for their precision bombing, which had to be carried out visually.
On the 20th of February, a maximum effort was planned for an attack on Stuttgart, and we were on the battle order again — second night running. This entailed a long leg over France, and coming back as well. The trip in, as before, was fairly quiet until we started our final leg into southern Germany. We arrived a little early for unknown reasons and had to do a dog-leg southeast of the target until the TIs went down. WE were actually heading away from the target when I saw a group of TIs descending. I immediately informed Alex, and he pulled around and back into the stream for his run-in. There was plenty of flak, and the night-fighters were making contact. I saw a profusion of red trace, and a smaller burning aircraft. One of our Main Force gunners had struck pay dirt. There were other combats, with the greenish trace of the enemy 20mm cannon taking their toll again. The night-fighter opposition cooled down as we went further out on our leg back over France. Henry was having an attack of airsickness again, and was unsure of our position when we crossed the south coast of England. To top it all off, his Gee box had ceased to function. Alex decided to try the emergency course-finding procedure — ask the Royal Observer Corps — call sign “Darky”. He called, “Hello Darky, this is Stugas How. Can you give me a course for Waddington?” After acknowledgement from Darky, searchlights all over the area came on vertically; then as one they all dropped their beams in the direction of Waddington. Now all Alex had to do was line up on one of the beams and read his compass-course. He did so and informed Darky. Immediately all the searchlights went out. It was an amazing and dramatic sight.
Our A-Flight Commander had gone missing, and Alex being deputy and senior Flight Lieutenant had to assume the duties of Acting Flight Commander. Wing Commander Kingsford-Smith was still the Squadron Commander. Our Gunnery Leader was F/L Brian Moorehead, DFM RAAF, a second tour man. He was a popular fellow and a no-nonsense Aussie. We asked him what he did in civvy-street, and he told us he was a “jackaroo”. That didn’t mean much to us, and his further explanation revealed that it was “the lowest form of human life on a Sheep Station.” Brian didn’t fly with a regular crew, as was the case of most Section Leaders. The DFM he held from his first tour was the result of an experience a bit like George Pike’s, except he said, “When I fired, you should have seen the shower of shit that went just under my turret!” The enemy fighter pilot had delayed about two seconds too long. We also had another Australian Flight Lieutenant who had recently joined the section and also a second-tour man. He’d done his first tour in North Africa, and he was the opposite type to Moorehead — the worst type of bullshitting loudmouth, and coveted Brian’s job. He actually wanted us all to address him by his rank, which no one did of course. The idea of him taking over the section when Brian finished his tour didn’t go down well with anyone. Actually, at this time he was not even Deputy — that position was held by F/O DaiRaw-Reese, a very personable Welshman, with a very large red RAF moustache. However he was unfortunately outranked by the Australian.
On the 24th of February we were briefed for an attack on the German centre for ball-bearing manufacturing — Schweinfurt. This city was not large, so a good concentration was critical. This was the target where Americans had been so badly cut-up on their unescorted daylight attack of October 14th. We were glad to be going there for that reason, and when at the briefing we were informed that the U.S. 8th had been there again that afternoon, everyone was keen. We were also told that their bomber force had used the long-range escorts, but the results were not given to us. We took off and we carried a different type of bomb. A single 4,000-pounder, but not a conventional “cookie” was the main part of the load. This bomb was the streamlined, elongated type, and it had a thirty-six hour delay fuse. Its purpose was to cause trouble in the post air-raid cleanup, and it would penetrate deeply. The remainder of the load was made up of cans of incendiaries.
We took the straight south route, and over the channel into France. We flew between Frankfurt and Mannheim on the eastward leg into Germany, and we could notice what seemed to be a trail of fires on a target still burning brightly from the American’s daylight strike. The target was clear, and the concentration excellent. Flak was moderate to heavy, and a good number of searchlights were in use, but we didn’t see anyone get coned. The route out took us between Mannheim and Stuttgart. There was fighter activity in and out, and we saw about eight aircraft going down in flames. Back over France the activity dropped off, and we made our return to base without incident.
At our interrogation we were told of the success of the long-range escorts. Most of the fires we had seen burning along our route were the remains of enemy day fighters. The modern and powerful escorts, flown by well-trained, skillful pilots, had succeeded in keeping most of the enemy fighters away from the bomber formations, and had inflicted extremely heavy casualties. This was retribution, and sounded the death knell of the German day fighters, as the tremendous production facilities of the U.S. sent bombers and escort fighters in an ever-increasing stream to their 8th Air Force squadrons. RAF Bomber Command would continue its nighttime attacks as before. It would be quite sometime before our heavies would fly into Germany on escorted daylight operations. Schweinfurt had been our twenty-second trip, and we were getting to be the “old-timers” on the squadron.
The Schweinfurt trip was our last for February. There was an operation laid on near the end of the month and we were not included so we hiked it off to Lincoln late in the afternoon. We went to another little restaurant we’d found where their specialty was stewed rabbit, and it was a change from our usual fare. We were sitting having a beer and waiting for our order to come when suddenly there was a loud rumbling explosion, and we knew it had to be at our base where bombing-up operations were in progress. When we got back later that evening we heard the details. A WAAF tractor driver was dragging a string of loaded bomb trolleys along the perimeter track. One must have had a faulty fuse, and the load went up. The poor girl was blown to pieces, and spread all over the remains of the tractor. No one else was near, and the damage to the perimeter track was immediately repaired, and operations continued as scheduled.
One of evening of March 2nd, there was a bad weather forecast with hints of snow. Next morning, all was white and we’d had about four inches. It continued all day, and by nightfall there was a foot on the ground, which was stalling all traffic including the railways out of Lincoln. There were a few snowplows available, but the operators lacked experience handling them in the wet, sticky snow. By the morning of the 4th the plow operators were getting the hang of it and had traffic moving, also the railway had been re-opened. Operations were scheduled and the plows were trying to clear the runways. Snow shovellers were called for, and more volunteered than there were shovels. We worked all day using any kind of tool that resembled a shovel, but gave it up at about 6 p.m. when the operation was called off. Next morning we went on an unexpected leave — seven days rather than nine, as we’d been away only a month previously.

RAAF Official Picture, Waddington Lines, Early March, 1944, 463 and 467 Lancasters,
A very unusual late snowfall- the only snow in 1944

Doug and I left for Norwich and Brooke at about noon on the 5th. The weather had cleared and the snow was melting in profusion. Henry was going to Nottingham for a couple of days and Doug invited him to come down and join us at Brooke later. We were out of the snow area before we changed at Peterborough for the Norwich train. There was rather a funny incident here. Doug and I had third class travel warrants, but we always tried to get into a first class carriage. After all, why not? We got into the first class coach compartment at Peterborough, and just at the moment of departure, a Royal Navy Captain entered. He gave us a dark and haughty look and settled himself at the opposite end with a book. He did not speak a word to us all the way to Norwich. Some of the first class coaches were peculiar – there was no corridor, and the compartments ran right across the coach — they were really short-run coaches and had no washrooms available. Also the doors were opened with a key device when the train pulled into the station, this duty being performed by the platform guard. When we arrived at the Norwich station there was no guard on hand to open the door right away, so rather than wait Doug and I departed out the window with a display of some agility. Our dignified RN Captain was not prepared to do this, and we left him purple-faced and hanging out the window for the “blithering idiot” of a guard. Now if he’d only been friendly, we’d have got that key and opened the door for him.
Norwich was a sea of U.S. khaki; the bases of the U.S. 8th Air Force were mainly in East Anglia and Norwich was one of the chief towns. We took the bus down to Brooke, and signs of real spring were everywhere — green grass and budding trees, also a few early blossoms. The second day there, Doug’s mother served us fresh cauliflower, which had been growing in a cold frame all winter. That was a most welcome treat. We would turn our ration coupons over to her and she would hike it down to the grocer’s — there certainly wasn’t a lot, but it helped her out. Mrs. Broome also introduced me to real Yorkshire pudding — quite different to what I had tasted. She’d had a Canadian boyfriend during the First World War, and still had a brooch made from an old large Canadian one-cent piece. I was really lucky, because she treated me like another son.
The weather was fine for cycling now, and we started cruising around the district and stopping in at the pubs. There was one quite nifty one called the “Peacock” a few miles from Brooke, and another in the nearby crossroads of Poringland called the “Green Man” which was so rural it had kerosene lamps, and a very fat English bulldog that drank beer from his own dish at the foot of the bar. There was another dog, a Border Collie belonging to another customer at the Green Man. This little fellow would go around nuzzling everyone’s hands until someone would give him a penny. Then he’d beg someone to toss it for him. The penny would make a loud ringing when it dropped on the red flagstone floor. This was what the dog wanted. He would chase the coin around amongst the chairs and tables in the dimly lit room, then bring it back to be thrown again. It was cute.
Henry found his way down to Brooke in a couple of days. Doug had through he could perhaps fix him up with the widow who ran the King’s Head. Henry took one look and decided that things were a lot better in Nottingham, and departed for that fair city the following afternoon. Our seven days were soon over, and we were all back at Waddington by the 12th.
On the 14th of March we took JO-H on a test flight. It had been fitted with the new visual “Monica” mentioned previously, and this was our first demonstration. One of our base Hawker-Hurricanes came with us, and made feint attacks while Doug read off the position on his set-screen. It was really quite accurate.
At this time I would like to mention the other crew from 467 Squadron, which shared our barrack room. They were a decent bunch — the pilot and mid-upper gunner were Australians and the rest were British. They had a navigator, a good ones whose first name was Wally. Wally got married to a rather pretty, but sad-eyed WAAF girl on the base, and they moved into a married quarters flat. Right away she started pressuring him to give up flying, because she could not stand the thought of losing him. He eventually succumbed to this pleading, and he was replaced on the crew. He was removed from aircrew and sent down to a remustering unit, and lost his rank, of course. The irony of the whole thing was that this crew finished out the rest of their tour with no real problems. This was a rare happening. Everyone was apprehensive at times, but most didn’t want to show it. We had another case of a rear-gunner raking all of his training up to the end of Heavy Conversion Unit, going on leave, and bringing a letter back from his mother saying he just had to be taken off flying, which he was, right away. The odd part was that it didn’t phase him one bit that he had wasted so much time with his training.
Rooms in the Sergeants’’ Mess building were allotted on a seniority basis, and we were getting to be seniors. A crew went missing and we were next on the list for two double rooms. This was a big step up from the noisy barrack-block room. Dennis and I got one, and Doug and Ted took the room across the corridor. Now all we had to do was walk down the hallway, turn right, pass the poolroom, and into the foyer. The bar and lounge were straight ahead, and the dining hall to our left. Such luxury — our mail was set in a rack in the foyer. One of our section members got a strange looking card form a buddy of his on another squadron. We knew this chap had just recently gone missing — the card had been sent from a German prison camp. It didn’t say much except to let us know that the whole crew got out safely. The time of this chap’s going missing until his card was picked out of the mail rack was exactly two weeks. The card had been sent via international Red Cross through Switzerland, and had struck everything exactly right. It was not uncommon for a lapse of two months or more before word would be received from survivors.
Dennis and I really started cracking on that room. We scrubbed it top to bottom, then we stole linoleum from the mortuary (they didn’t mind) and had it laid in jig-time. Then we got some floor wax and had the place gleaming like a hound’s tooth. My family had sent me a huge calendar from “Brantford Binder Twine” which was now resplendent on one wall, and a map of Europe from the Map Section on the other. We also had family and lady-friend’s pictures on our dressers, and were pleased with our little bit of home.
On March 15th our crew was back on the Battle Order, and the briefing was for another strike on Stuttgart, our third trip to this southern German city. The fogs of winter were behind us now, other than early morning mists, and routes and targets were expected to be clear. One this trip we were taking along another “second dickie” a young Australian flight sergeant — a recent arrival on the squadron with his crew. He was quite a cool-headed chap, and got a good look at proceedings. The night was clear over the Continent and there was a bit of activity on the long leg down over France. Most of our night fighter opposition came after we’d crossed into Germany now. The Luftwaffe was drawing the main fighter defense strength back over the homeland, where most of the heavy industry was located. We observed another Pathfinder aircraft attacked and shot down near the German border with a great flash of bombs, fuel and coloured indicator markers. Concentration of bombs on target was good despite an extremely heavy flak barrage in the early park of the attack. We observed nine aircraft going down in flames, and a couple of parachutes going down in the target area. One wondered about the fate of those jumpers. The trip back was fairly quiet, and time airborne was seven hours and forty minutes.
Lincoln being a mill and industrial town, there was a profusion of labourers from the Irish Free State working there. I had to go into town on the afternoon of the 17th, and the streets were crowded with these lads all dolled up in baggy suits, wearing green ribbons, and most of them drunk. It must have been a rare night when they all started fighting with the British servicemen. However, we couldn’t stay to see this because we were on the Battle Order again.
The target for the 17th of March was Frankfurt, our third trip to this centre north of Stuttgart. The new crew, whose pilot had been our “second dickie” on the 15th, would be flying on their first operational trip. We wished them well as we all left the Flights. The trip was basically the same as the one on the 15th — clear conditions all the way, and fighter opposition just a bit heavier. There were many night fighter bases either side of the Rhine. We carried out our attack with a good run on a clear and well-marked target. There were no unusual incidents on the trip back, and we crossed the channel and flew upcountry as before. As we approached the midlands and our base area, a medium cloud layer was hanging at about 1500-feet. Just before Alex called for landing turn we heard the young Flight sergeant calling in, and we all felt good that they had made it back safely. He was given a height in the circuit just below the cloud layer, and as we joined the circuit slightly above the cloud layer, suddenly there was a flash, a flickering, and then two more flashes and a reflection of red fire on the cloud. Alex was given a new height and descended through the cloud. Below us were the burning wrecks of two aircraft, about a quarter of a mile apart. On landing we were informed that one of the aircraft belonged to our base. Back at the debriefing we found out that it was the young Australian and his crew. Another Lancaster from a group farther north had crossed through our circuit, and the two had collided just below the cloud layer. There were no survivors.
On the 26th of March our briefing was for a strike on Essen, in the heart of the heavily defended Ruhr Valley. At this time I would like to mention the activities of 100 Group. This specialist group had been recently formed, and with their airborne electronic devices gave a partial curtain of protection to the Main Force as it formed over England. The jamming procedures that they carried out left the enemy with mostly blanked out radar until the Main Force was ready to break through to the continent. This would keep enemy defenses unsure of where the breakthrough would be made, and as a result their night fighter forces would be more dispersed. When the breakthrough came, the sheer weight of numbers carried the Main Force. It occupied an airspace on a maximum effort approximately sixty-five miles long, ten miles wide, and a mile deep. The bomber stream, if kept concentrated, minimized the effectiveness of ground-controlled enemy radar.
Essen was not a long trip, and the more or less direct route required the Main Force to attain most of its altitude over England, and behind the curtain of 100 Group. We had been airborne for about fifty minutes, and had most of our required height. Suddenly the hydraulic power to my turrets failed, and I at once informed Alex, as this was cause for early return to base, or “boomerang” as it was popularly called. He considered for a moment, and then asked me if I wanted to turn back. I told him that my electrically fired guns were still serviceable, and I could rotate my turret to dead astern and attempt to backup Dennis on a possible attack from the rear. I think that was what Alex wanted to hear, and the rest of the crew agreed with it, so we carried on and crossed the coast at our allotted time and height. The trip in over enemy territory was quick, and the attack was pressed home with a good concentration. There were no incidents for our crew, but five aircraft were seen going down in flames. We landed back at base after an airborne time of only five hours and fifteen minutes; our shortest time for a German target. This operation had been flown in Jo-K. Our shared aircraft, JO-H had been lost on another operation on Berlin on March 24th, whey seventy-two of our aircraft failed to return. Essen would be our last target in Germany, and our twenty-fifth trip.
The crew which had been sharing JO-H with us sometimes was required to fly on the same operations as we were on. They operated on the trip to Frankfurt in JO-K and returned safely. Now the subject of mascots and lucky pieces comes up. The rear gunner on this crew, an Australian, had as his lucky piece a toy kookaburra, about ten inches tall. This he used to tuck up under a bulkhead before he entered his turret. When they returned from Frankfurt, he forgot to remove the kookaburra. They took JO-H on their next trip and failed to come back. When we went to do our pre-flight inspection on JO-K before our trip to Essen we found the lucky piece stuffed in behind the bulkhead. We left it there and gave it to the personal effects people when we returned from Essen. I don’t think anyone was really superstitious, but I didn’t think it appropriate to remove that toy kookaburra until we got back.
This was Henry Mahon’s last trip with us. He had suffered repeated bouts of airsickness and carried on despite it. Personally, I think he should have been replaced sooner, because his sickness was a hazard at times to all of us. His early removal from operational flying was not unexpected, and his dogged determination and guts had earned him a DFC. We were all happy for him, and had a bit of a celebration with him before he was posted away to instruct at an OTU.
At this time we had no idea that Essen would be our last German target. The next operation we did not fly because Alex had to act as OC Night Flying. This turned out to be an operation where Bomber Command suffered record losses. After the heavy losses on the Berlin trip of March 24th, it was rather surprising that the Main Force was sent out under the prevailing conditions, and there were many conflicting views amongst the squadron commanders. The moon-phase, the general route and the length of the various legs on the route were all questioned, but the High Command prevailed and the plan was completed.
On the afternoon of March 30th crews were briefed for an attack on Nuremburg, deep in Germany’s heartland, about 100 miles north of Munich. There were hints of scrub because of changing weather conditions over the Continent, but this did not come about, and nearly 900 bombers were dispatched. Fighter opposition was deadly as soon as the Belgian coast was crossed, and crews reported having never seen so many fighters in the Main Force stream. It was as if the defenses were pre-alerted, and had been lying in wait. The leg in from Belgium took them across the Ruhr Valley and north of Frankfurt to their turning point at the small town of Fulda, and then on a straight leg southeast to Nuremburg. Unexpected wind conditions caused a scattering of the stream, also an almost half moon lit up group cloud layers, and made the bombers quite visible and vulnerable. To top it all, the Main Force aircraft were nearly all leaving condensation trails, which also were being made luminous by the moonlight. The target had an unexpected deep cloud cover, and the attack had little success as most of the target indicators were of the wrong type. Night fighter attacks were devastating — one pilot saw more than thirty-five aircraft falling in flames. When the exhausted crews returned to England, the airwaves were filled with Mayday signals from damaged and disabled aircraft. In all, a total of ninety-four failed to return, and a further fifty to sixty suffered battle-damage.
When our crews came in they were upset and bitter about conditions and tactics. They were certain that plans for the operation had been leaked to the enemy in some way, because never before had the Main Force been in such an ambush. Our base lost five aircraft from the two squadrons. Controversy still goes on over the tactics for the raid — and questions remain unanswered, and probably never will be. Who knows, perhaps the truth will come out one day when all those who were involved are dead and gone.
The following day we flew a couple of mechanics up to an emergency aerodrome in Yorkshire where one of our aircraft had come down with mechanical problems on the return from Nuremburg. This was indeed the greatest loss suffered by Bomber Command, and now operations were going to be switched, in part, to targets in northwest Europe ports, railways, airfields and mysterious “rocket-launching sites”. This was in preparation for the impending invasion of the Continent — Fortress Europe.
April in England is a delightful time of year. The spring is a long drawn out affair, but by April leaves are bursting, and the early shrubbery is coming into bloom. Morning mists are pushed aside by bright sunshine, and the roadsides and meadows are a rich dark green. We were thoroughly enjoying our surroundings at RAF station Waddington. On one of the main roads between Waddington and Lincoln there was a delightful little village called Bracebridge Heath. Here we had two pubs, the Crown and the John Bull. The Crown had a piano and a “singing license” and consequently, this was the place we patronized.
Ted Martin, our flight engineer, was a person who really liked to sing, and I think he knew every off-colour song in the RAF — the kind that Vera Lynn would never dream of singing. I think he had learned most of his songs when he was a mechanic on Wellingtons at OTU in Northern Ireland. One was:

Just an old-fashioned Wimpy
With old-fashioned wings,
And a fuselage tattered and torn –
Two ropey engines that grumble and groan
Like a gramophone run-down and worn.
Though she drinks bags of petrol and eats castor oil,
There’s something about her, divine –
She’s so safe and sound, ‘cause she won’t leave the ground,
That old-fashioned Wimpy of mine.

Also:
And then there came the CO’s wife,
And she was dressed in blue, sir
And in the corner of her drawers
She had the SMU* sir.
She had the SMU my lads
The hangar and the doors,
And in the other corner there
Was “B” Flight forming fours
(*Station Maintenance Unit)

And “Salome”:
Salome. Salome – You should see Salome
Standing there with her ass all bare,
Every little wiggle
Makes the boys all stare –
(The rest of this RAF favourite is a bit crude)

Another favourite coming-home-from-the-pub selection:
Down our street we had a merry party,
Everyone there was oh so hale and hearty.
Talk about a treat – plenty there to eat
We drank all the beer from the boozer down the street.
There was old mother Riley…
And little sonny Jim…
(Also the ultimate in crudeness)

These were the sorts of “walking along” songs and were not normally sung in the pubs, unless it was about one minute to closing time. Everyone joined in on the pub songs, which were usually the Vera Lynn type.
On the way back from the Crown was a little fish & chip shop. It was a Mom and Pop place, had a coal-fired cooker, and was lit by a kerosene lamp — but the fish and chips were the best. For some reason during this spring everyone started drinking Guinness stout. It tasted slightly like burdock root — maybe it was supposed to be the spring cleanser — I don’t know, but we used to pick up fish and chips after drinking a quantity of this stuff, and eat them as we trudged along the road back to our digs. This was when Ted entertained us with his unending repertoire of songs.
The pub-hotel at Waddington Village was the Horse and Jockey. It was a bit more elaborate with a downstairs lounge and an upstairs dining room. The Publican was one Albert Titmarsh, but his wife was the real boss. She wanted to be called “Mrs. Marsh” but was called everything from “Mrs. Titmouse” to “Mrs. Tomtit” or sometimes, just plain “Mrs. Tits,” which she was not fond of at all.
Just down the street in the village was a little bakeshop where the proprietor looked exactly like the brush-cut one of the Three Stooges, and acted about the same. However, there was nothing comic about his hot buns and jam tarts.
The in-depth attacks against Germany were curtailed considerably after the Nuremburg disaster, and the Main Force was split up into much smaller units for operations against tactical targets. The in-depth trips were resumed later, but it was not a continuous assault as had been the case during the winter. Attacks on Germany would be referred to as “majors.” The remainder of our tour would consist of these tactical operations on targets in France.
Our next trip, on April 5th in JO-J was to the southern French town of Toulouse, where our target was an airfield and railway yards. These attacks were mostly carried out with conventional 500 or 1,000- pound bombs, and no more incendiaries. Conditions were quite different — we seldom operated at more than 8,000 feet, and in a much smaller force, usually under one hundred aircraft — sometimes two squadrons, and sometimes just one. The operation on Toulouse was successful. Some of our aircraft dropped anti-personnel bombs on the airfield, along with the HEs, and others dropped HEs on the railway yards. No incidents, and an airborne time of seven hours and fifty-five minutes. Again we had fuel problems, and had to land at RAF Station Silverstone in southern England for debriefing.
On April 10th, there was a new JO-H available for us and our target was the town of Tours, a railway centre halfway between Paris and the Bay of Biscay. A screw-up developed here — we had a partial moonlit night and there were enemy night fighters about, and a few casualties. The Pathfinder aircraft was lost, and something happened to his backup and consequently no target indicators. Our small force orbited south of the target waiting for instructions. A voice was heard over the RT saying, “Get your finger out!” and an abrupt reply came from Wing Commander Billy Brill, “Shut your bloody mouth!” After about fifteen minutes wait it was clear there were no markers, so each aircraft had to bomb visually, using the moonlight shining on the river and rail lines into the junction. As the attack progressed there was more confusion, and many bombs were going straight into the town. The rail lines were knocked out, but damage to the town was extensive. The next day there was a meeting with Intelligence where we were informed of the high casualties among the French civilians and asked for more caution.
On April 18th our target was the Juvisy railway marshalling yard near Paris. We carried sixteen 1,000-pound HE bombs in JO-H. Our route took us west and south of Paris, and a bombing-run on a northerly heading. Night-fighter activities were starting to increase as the enemy moved forces back out from the German heartland to combat attacks on the rail system that would be so vital to them when the invasion started. We saw a couple of combats and aircraft going down during this strike. The bombing was well concentrated and the following day reconnaissance photographs showed the marshalling yards completely obliterated. Airborne time for the Juvisy operation was four hours and fifty minutes.
In mid-April my promotion to WO II came along on schedule, and no trip to RCAF HQ was necessary to collect back pay this time. My uniform was getting a bit threadbare, so I drew a new set of RAF blues. What a difference in the cut — but no bother, it fit right in with the scenery. I got out my sewing kit and transferred the AG wing, Canada flashes and sewed the blue cloth crowns on the lower sleeves. Brian Moorhead started calling me “his WO.” While I was down at the clothing stores I mentioned that my outer flying suit was developing holes in the elbows. They told me to bring it right down and change it, which I did. They were only too pleased to oblige. They said they very rarely had to issue a replacement flying suit!
The following day Doug and I were walking down one of the shopping streets in Lincoln. I saw a display of gold signet rings in a shop window, so decided to buy one and send it to Laura, who was now stationed in Halifax. I had her initials engraved, and sent it off in the mail. She was surprised and said other girls in the office were trying to find out if it was an engagement ring. --- What a bunch of speculators.
On April 20 our target was a bridge and rail lines at La Chappelle in the Brest peninsula. Our route down and back across the channel took us near the Channel Islands. These British islands were German occupied, as they are much closer to France than to England. There were a number of heavy flak batteries on these islands, and we had to skirt around them. They popped off anyway, but did not hit anyone. The same bomb-load was carried in JO-H, sixteen 1,000-pounders. Flying time was four hours and twenty minutes, with no incidents. Our new navigator, who replaced Henry, was an RAF Flight Lieutenant — Alf Williams. He was on a second tour and had a DFM from his first tour when he’d been an NCO. He was a methodical type, and completely at home and competent in his little curtained office. This ended our April activities, and we prepared to leave again in early May.
The leave schedules were changing now, with not the regular nine days every six weeks. Operational changes were the chief reason, with the uncertainty of timing for the invasion, which everyone was expecting to commence at any time. Flying over, or travelling through the English countryside the sight of the buildup of ordnance and supplies was astounding. Roadsides and fields were storage areas for thousands of tanks, vehicles and artillery, while many airfields had hundreds of gliders and towing aircraft parked row on row. Also glider exercises were overheard at almost any time during fit weather. At this time we also saw the first nighttime formation flying of glider-towing aircraft. Most of the towing aircraft were the DC3 or Douglas Dakotas, although there were large numbers of Halifaxes being readied for this duty as well. There was the noise of aircraft twenty-four hours a day.
We had now, near Waddington an American Ground Control Unit for homing their long-distance escort fighters, and the P51 Mustangs used to flash overhead. The American Sergeant in charge made use of our messing facilities, and this solitary khaki uniform stood out amongst all the blue.
Doug and I went to Nottingham for a couple of days, and then on to Norwich and Brooke. The weather was perfect, and we took a long bicycle trip while at Brooke, to the coastal town of Lowestoft, where Doug’s uncle and aunt lived. It was about a twenty-five mile trip one way. We went through the flat tidal lands, and the Norfolk Broads —rather canal-like rivers complete with the Dutch style of windmills pumping water from the flatland drains. We had to cross one of the Broads via ferry. The old man in charge took us and our bikes across in a big old rowboat. At the other side there was a small pub called “the Ferry” — what else? Here we tasted the best cider we had ever found. Doug’s uncle was a gamekeeper on a big estate near Lowestoft, and we had an early supper with he and his family before starting our journey back.
On our return trip, we helped the old man crank the hand-powered ferry back across the Broad, but were not rewarded with a lesser fare. As we cycled westward toward Brooke, we saw a runaway barrage balloon sailing along on the wind dragging about 400 feet of steel mooring cable. We stopped to watch its progress and saw a great flash as the cable was dragged across a high-voltage transmission line. We expected the balloon to catch fire, but it did not, instead disappearing over the horizon. We spent the rest of our leave cycling around the Brooke area, visiting the pubs, playing darts, and thoroughly enjoying the green and flowering countryside. We were back at Waddington by the 12th of May.
Back at our base our aircraft JO-H had failed to return again. That made one Victor from 61 Squadron and two Hows from 463 squadron that three of our sharing crews had gone missing in. We now switched to JO-A but no longer thought of it as “our” aircraft.
The month of May was taken up by a lot of flying exercises, practice bombing and photography. I have a very clear recollection of one of these exercises. Our squadron commander, Wing Commander Kingsford-Smith took a group of gunners on a flight for a session of the “Five Group Corkscrew” utilizing a camera-gun, and with one of our resident Hurricanes as a target. We were all using the rear turret which had the camera-gun mounted, and had to take turns. I was among the first to do the exercise, and after finishing was obliged to sit inside the fuselage with no view out while W/C Kingsford-Smith put the aircraft through the violent evasive action. After about ten minutes in the hot and oil-smelling fuselage I got a queasy feeling, and knew I was getting motion sickness. I made my way up to Elsen, a chemical toilet in front of the tail-plane spar, and started to get violently ill. Now I realized what poor Henry had been contending with. A feeling of total misery came and stayed. Frankly, if someone had told me that aircraft was going to crash, I’d have been glad of the end to it all. This continued until we landed and taxied back to dispersal point about an hour later. As soon as I clambered down the ladder and my feet touched the ground, I was OK. It was just as if someone had turned off a switch — all of the misery was gone. I felt dehydrated and a bit exhausted, but otherwise fine. That evening, Doug, Ted, Dennis and I went to the Crown at Bracebridge Heath, where my fellow crewmembers saw to it that I was thoroughly hydrated again.
On May 24th our operational strike would take us to Eindhoven, a town in south-central Holland. This was to be a small target: the Phillips Radio Valve factory. We were assured that there would be no could, and good visual bombing was imperative on such a small aiming point. We flew straight east out over the North Sea, and southward and in over the Dutch coast. We were surprised to find the Continent cloud-covered, and when we reached the vicinity of Eindhoven about twenty minutes later, we found the whole area blanketed by cloud. Orders were for visual bombing, so after making a couple of orbits, we turned back toward the sea and proceeded back to base, where we landed still fully bombed-up. This was termed an abortive operation and airborne time was three hours and twenty minutes in JO-A.
The abortive trip to Eindhoven had been operation number thirty, a full operational tour. Alex had been promoted to Squadron Leader in mid-May, and was now “A” Flight Commander. He called us to a meeting in his office, and told us our tour was now finished, and we could step down if we liked, but he was going to stay on as Flight Commander for a bit, and could we stay on as a crew with him. We had anticipated such a request, and had more or less decided to call it quits. Alex asked us in individually — first Doug. The rest of us were a little surprised when Doug answered without any hesitation “I’ll stick.” We thought now that the trend had been set we may as well follow suit, except Dennis Bourke, our bomb-aimer. He was an only son and his mother was a widow, so he chose not to continue. We NCOs well understood, and didn’t blame him one bit. Alex, who had never really liked Bourke, said afterwards, “I’m glad that we’re rid of that bloody Bourke!” We felt a bit sorry for Dennis, because the parting was not really pleasant. F/O Jack Kennedy, a rather brash Australian, replaced Dennis. Kennedy knew his job well, so we were now ready to start our tour extension, the length of which was uncertain. Before we left the office, Alex told us he wanted us to tall make applications for Commissions, and handed us the first forms to fill out. This was something none of the four of us had thought seriously about previously.
Our first trip with our new bomb-aimer was on June 3rd, and it was a short one, to Cherbourg and rail-lines again. There was an enemy operational airfield near the town, and it was uncertain whether a force of JU88 night-fighters was based there. Before we took off, Kennedy was impressing upon Doug and myself how these could do us a lot of harm if they got amongst us. We were quite aware of the danger and assured him our eyes would be skinned as usual. I suppose he was just trying to be keen. As we flew directly south from our base area, our stream of aircraft met a small force of enemy bombers heading up toward the Midlands. It was really made up of single-engine aircraft each carrying a couple of 250-pounders, actually a nuisance raid. The ground defenses let them pass through our stream before they set up the barrage. We didn’t’ see them hit any of the enemy force as they were so few and so scattered, but the ack-ack batteries were using some sort of a multi-headed rocket anti-aircraft weapon that burst in a very lethal looking cluster. We heard later that most of the enemy force was tracked down and destroyed before they could make it far out to sea. The Mosquito night-fighters had such a speed and radar that they could overtake and track down anything. The cross-channel trip and bombing was done without incident — we assumed after that the JU88s had been moved to where they were considered more necessary. On the return trip we ran into a summer thunderstorm, and I saw a very unusual sight. We must have passed through a heavily charged cloud, because St. Elmo’s fire enveloped us briefly. My position gave me a view of all top parts of the aircraft. First I noticed the propeller discs were glowing luminous green. Then the two aerials that ran from the astrodome to each tail fin became about four inches in diameter and glowed green. As I rotated my turret around, my two gun-barrels were a luminous green, and green flames were blowing back from the muzzles. It was a very strange sight, and was gone before I could call anyone’s attention to it. We were back at base with an airborne time of three hours and fifty-five minutes in JO-A.
After Alex handed us the Commission forms, we had to make up our minds what we were going to do about it. None of the four of us was particularly interested in leaving the Sergeants’ Mess, and moving across the road with the Toffs. On the other hand, the war for us was winding down, and who would know, perhaps a Commission would give us a chance to pick up some knowledge that might be of use later. I don’t think any one of us was giving much thought to post-war service, as we had volunteered for “The Duration” or “His Majesty’s Pleasure.” We filled in the applications, and gave them back to Alex.
A short while later the series of individual interviews commenced. First, with W/C Kingsford-Smith. This was not a long interview, as he knew each of us quite well. He was rather interested in my previous training on the Tiger Moths at St. Catharines. A few days later I had an appointment with the Station Commander, Group Captain Bonham-Carter. This was longer and quite different. His chief interest seemed to be in what kind of social contacts I had made and how I had gone about doing that. Club memberships were important to him, so I gave him a big line about belonging to the Toronto Ski Club. He was a bit impressed because he didn’t know anything about it. Really, he was an interesting old duck. He had been in the RAF all his adult life, must have been over forty years old, was short, stout, and wore a hearing aid. He was also a good active pilot, and every now and then took an aircraft and a crew of spare bods on an operational trip. Otherwise he was always present at briefing, take-off and debriefing. He had some rather odd-looking ribbons on his uniform, and when I asked him what they represented, he said that they were from operations in Iraq in the thirties during some sort of disturbance there. He said that they had been presented to help maintain the price of dates! Of course, in those days no one knew that the Middle East was floating on an ocean of oil.
The final interview was with the Base Commander (the base consisting of Waddington and its satellite aerodromes) Air Commodore Hesketh. He had a splendid office in the Base Headquarters building, or Bullshit Castle, as the troops called it. He was a down-to-earth fellow, and I suppose his seemingly casual questions and conversation told him all he wanted to know. His WAAF secretary served us tea during the interview, and I found him a great deal more comfortable to be with than Group Captain Bonham-Carter.
A week or so after the final interviews, we were required to do a test of foot-drill commands. There was a flight of very keen young Air Cadets doing their summer training on the base, and they were only too glad to be of help. Most of us were a bit rusty with our foot-drill, so these lads with their Cadet Officer would show up for us a few evenings during the week, and we would brush up on our commands. This was soon finished, including the test, and we just sort of forgot about it all, and concentrated on our normal working activities.
On the morning of June 6th the news came on the BBC that everyone had been anticipating — the invasion of enemy-held Europe was at last underway. In the late afternoon we were called to a briefing, and the target for our single squadron was a concentration of troop trains at the French town of Argentan, about forty miles south of the beachhead area. In June, daylight did not fade until almost midnight because of the two-hour clock advance known as Double British Summer Time, and as we crossed the channel toward the French coast, we could faintly see a line of about six destroyers heading westward, steaming abreast. They all fired on us as we crossed their line at about 6,000 feet. They even managed to shoot someone down in a small force flying about eight miles behind us. Those Navy gunners didn’t believe in asking any questions, and I doubt they gave a damn about whom they were shooting at.
We were flying in the JO-F, and W/C Kingsford-Smith was leading the strike and carrying the target indicators. As we flew over the beachhead area, there was nothing visible with the exception of a small fire here and there, probably the remains of burning vehicles. It was a short trip from the coast to Argentan, and we could see small flashes and sparkles on the ground as enemy troops popped off at us with their small arms. The Wing Co. had us orbit southeast of the target while he dropped his first T.I. He then told us to stand by while he took a low pass to assess it. He was quite satisfied, or perhaps I should say almost satisfied, because after he had a look he called, “Right-O Main Force, bomb twenty yards to the right of the red T.I.” Each of the eighteen aircraft ran through and dropped its load of sixteen 1,000-pounders on the railway yards. All returned to base without incident with a time lapse of four hours and forty-five minutes. All Bomber Command aircraft were active on this night, most operating in small strike forces on similar types of targets.
On June 12th our briefing was for a railway marshalling yard in the French south-central city of Poitiers. This again was southward across the channel and almost 200 miles straight down into France. The target was well marked again, and a good concentration was put down on the rail yards. Enemy night-fighters were getting more active now, as they moved out from Germany to waylay the scattered groups operating on these small targets. Brian Moorhead, our popular Gunnery Leader failed to return from one of these operations. We all felt sick about it, as he had almost finished his second tour of missions. We were also not looking forward to the Section being taken over by the other Aussie Flight Lieutenant, who was all full of big ideas about how he was going to change things around from the casual way Moorhead had led us. On June 13th there came another expected development. The first of the enemy “V” weapons was launched against England — a small jet-propelled, pilotless aircraft — a flying bomb. This caused a big stir. The populace had known something was pending, because of the continuous attacks on the mysterious Launching Sites in northwest Europe.
On June 20th, we were given a five-day leave. I left for London immediately as I wanted to see what the flying bombs were doing. I also intended going down into Kent where Bill’s Ordinance Unit was operating near East Grinstead. The flying bombs were getting through London in some numbers, as the defense systems had not been coordinated in such a short time. I stayed in London the first night, and got used to the horrible echoing roar the ramjet engines on the bombs made. While I was at the Swan out at Lancaster Gate, a dear old lady said how she hated the flying bombs, and that, “the old bombs had been much nicer.” One could hear the engine cut out, then a swishing sort of sound during the steep descent before the impact. They were timed to fall in the general area of London, which presented an extremely large target. The people were very upset, and once again all the Underground stations were being utilized as shelters. The whole floor area would be covered with reclining and sleeping forms, with just about a four-foot strip of platform left for the transit users. The trains were all running as usual.
The following day I went down to Tunbridge Wells, where Bill had got me a hotel room. I stayed for a couple of days — he was busy loading railcars with ordnance supplies for dispatch to south coast ports. One afternoon Bill and I were walking along a country road when we heard a low-flying bomb coming. It was being pursued by two U.S.A.F. P47 Thunderbolts, which overtook it and managed to shoot the motor out. The bomb came straight down into a field about 300 yards away and blew a hole about 30 feet in diameter and ten feet deep. There was no damage, but when this kind of blast occurred in a built up area damage was severe, and there were heavy casualties in London. I went back to London in the evening, and the alert was continuous with a terrific cannonading of “ack ack”. Later defense forces moved the guns down toward the coast, as it was pointless to shoot bombs down onto the city. Barrage balloon units were also being moved down toward the coast to make a sort of fence, and fighter aircraft were patrolling at sea to intercept. The flying bombs, of course, were completely indiscriminate like the rest of the German strategic air war. This is what had led to our Bomber Command area attacks, although such strategy has had to bear a lot of hindsight criticism in later years. We were all back at Waddington by the 26th.
Operational activities were going on every night the weather was fit, and this was the season of good weather. Casualties were not heavy on most of the trips to tactical target, but were still quite high on many of the “majors” into Germany. The heavy twin-engined night-fighters were not sent up to face the American daylight escort fighters, because they were not match in speed or maneuverability. They were kept sheltered during the day, and ranged out at night seeking our heavies, in great numbers and would remain a menace for many months to come. The enemy flak defenses over their homeland had if anything, improved. Most of the losses suffered by the U.S. 8th were now flak-inflicted.
On the 27th of June we were briefed for a strike on a railway yard in the town of Vitry-le-Francois, about 100 miles southeast of Paris. We were given a round about route in and out because of increasing night-fighter activities. The approach was from west and south of Paris, and it was again a concentrated attack on a small target. The return took us out over western France and northward toward the channel. Ted noticed a power drop in the starboard outer engine, and soon it conked out altogether and was wind milling. The propeller had to be feathered, which didn’t seem to make a lot of difference to the performance of the aircraft. This was the single time there had been any power failure — an endorsement for the Rolls Royce Company. Most of these engines were now coming from the U.S. where the Packard Motor Company was manufacturing them. Our maintenance hangar had large quantities of these engines packed in their wooden packing cases and stacked up in one corner of the building. The maintenance crews always had a number completely at the ready, and the aircraft were pulled in for an engine-change whenever there was a serious snag involved. This could be done in a matter of a few hours. Airborne time for operational trip number thirty-five: eight hours and five minutes in JO-F.
The commissions for we four NCOs came through in mid-July. Mine was POR’d oddly enough on July 11th, my twenty-first birthday. We were all in a mild state of shock to realize that we were suddenly officers. There was a lot of rushing around Lincoln to get our new gear after we’d collected our clothing allowance money. It was with mixed feelings that I turned my WO’s uniform back in at the clothing stores. Then came the big move — over across the road to the Officer’s Mess. It was rather a grand place with a beautiful lounge and dining room. What the chef could do with ordinary powdered eggs was amazing, and at my first breakfast there I was sure the omelet had been made with fresh eggs. I could never get used to the WAAF Batwoman brining in a cup of tea to our room at wake-up time. I didn’t like that at all so used to rise a half hour or so early and get on with my ablutions. We wore our rank on our battle dress with just a little loop of braid over the shoulder epaulettes, and this could be slipped off quite easily so for about a week we spend about half our time back at the Sergeants’ Mess. A gradual withdrawal, so to speak.
Late in the evening of July 17th, we were given notice of an early morning operation. Briefing was at about 2 a.m. and the target was the enemy strongpoint at Mondville, just south of Caen where the forces in the British and Canadian sector of the beachhead had been held up for nearly a month. It was to be a massive strike, and just at daybreak. There would be almost 900 of Bomber Command’s heavies involved. As we crossed the channel we met twin engined light bombers of the Tactical Air Force and the U.S. 14th on their way back. They had already dropped their loads on other dawn targets. It was a crowded situation as we approached the beachhead and flew toward the target, but was not semi-daylight so the aircraft could fly quite close together with no danger of collision. The Master Bomber’s voice came on the RT, “Weightlift One to Tonnage, Weightlift One to Tonnage. Bomb the red T.I.s” as a large cluster of target indicators splashed down into the smoke and dust. The first wave of the Force sorted itself out and proceeded over the aiming point. A Halifax off our starboard beam opened bomb doors and a long string of 500-pounders plummeted down. Two more Lancasters on our port beam were spewing more 1,000-pounders. The target area was a mass of smoke and red flashes, and as we turned to starboard after our run-through I looked down at the beachhead area. There was a curious sparkling effect coming from everywhere on the ground, like someone shaking flakes of gunpowder on a hot stove. I suddenly realized that this was from Allied artillery firing into the same general area that our force was bombing. The T.I.s were being backed up constantly as the bombs were obliterating them, still pouring down from succeeding waves of our Main Force. A glance upward, and formations of our single-engined escorts were wheeling about, a thousand or so feet above us. This attack was to dislodge a very strong fortified area where the enemy had successfully been holding up Montgomery’s British and Canadian Armies. One would think that nothing could survive a bombardment of this magnitude, but when Montgomery’s forces advanced there was still stiff resistance from the deeply dug in enemy. However, this was the attack that weakened the strong point and started the roll toward Falaise. WE wheeled out over the channel and proceeded up country towards our base area on a fine summer morning. The end of trip thirty-six and airborne time of three hours and forth minutes in JO-D
ON about the 21st of July we were given six days leave. Doug, Dennis and Ted went to their homes resplendent in their brand new uniforms. They were really proud of themselves, and I didn’t blame them one bit. Dough had got a very touching letter from his father, who said that he hoped Doug would use his new authority wisely. Doug appreciated the contents of the letter enough to show it to me. His father was a real rough-diamond countryman, and that letter was on e of the best I’d ever read. I hiked it off to London for a few days and set up at the Strand Palace. The days of the little K and C hotel at Lancaster Gate were now over, as it was for “other ranks” only. Somehow I thought I was missing out on something. When we went on leave we were given some ration coupons and these need not be surrendered to a hotel unless the stay was for more than four days. As I was checking out after my three-day stay at the Strand Palace, the lobby was crowded with American Officers. One of the women at the desk was giving the American officer in front of me a hard time, and he was doing his utmost to be polite. One could tell that he hadn’t been in England for long. This made me a bit angry to see this woman getting away with her abusive manner. When my turn at the desk came I paid my account and then she asked for my ration coupons. I asked her if she was not aware that there was no need to surrender the coupons if the stay was four days or less. This really sent her, and I took a rather sadistic delight in refusing to hand them over. I suggested to her that she was probably keeping them for herself, and that I had a much better use for them. I went to the hotel writing room, got free stationary, and mailed the coupons to Doug’s mother. We were all back at base by the 27th.
We were unsure of just what was going to happen now, until we were called into Alex’s office and he informed us that our tours were now over and we were entitled to a further seven days of “tour expiration” leave. After this we were to come back to Waddington and await postings to OTUs for instructional duties. Doug and I had agreed that the first Sunday after our tour was complete, and wee were on leave in Brooke, we’d attend the little stone Church of England there. Off we went to Brooke, and our bike riding around the country pubs. Doug’s parents were very happy to have us finished operation flying for now. I had already sent a cable from Lincoln to my family telling them that the operational tour was completed. The church at Brooke was a beautiful little place. It had a round Norman tower rather the shape of a short stone lighthouse, and was very old. We hiked it down the road to the churn on a pleasant Sunday morning, but it was not quite as expected. The Vicar was a real oddball — he rode a bike around the village and never spoke to anyone. There were only about ten of the faithful flock there, so you can imagine the service — no organ or other instrument, and a few quavering voices rendering a couple of dead slow hymns. The Vicar gave some sort of a nondescript sermon and then disappeared out into the back. That was it. He never came out to meet or greet anybody. Doug and I went straight to the King’s Head — a far better place to give thanks for our good luck. Mr. and Mrs. MacIntosh of MacIntosh-Caley had come up to the estate for a few days. They had come over to Doug’s parents’ house and brought some beer. As we sat around sipping and chatting, they invited us to use their swimming pool. We gladly accepted, although the weather had not been all that warm. We did make use of it, and the lying in the sun bit was better than the icy-cold swimming in the water bit. We were back at Waddington on August 6th to await our fate.
There were no posting for us when we got back to base, but there was a bit of a surprise. Some awards had come through. Alex had got the DFC, and Ted and Doug had each received the DFM. Dennis and I were not on the receiving end. Award presentations were changing, and there were more and more being given out for a job well done. We had seen this a month or two previously when Wing Commander Billy Brill had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order for no reason that was apparent to the troops. Awards now didn’t seem to require the outstanding incidents that had been called for in earlier times. Ted remarked to me that he couldn’t see why he and Doug had got them while Dennis and I did not. I replied that he and Doug had been able to display their skills whereas Dennis and I had never had the opportunity of firing our guns in combat. Ted said, “You don’t half make us feel like a pair of bastards.” We hastened to assure him that was not the case, and we congratulated them because we knew that they really had done a good job.
Actually, if we had been given some sort of awards at the time, I’d have found it embarrassing to explain, short of fabricating some sort of story. A gunner pretty well had to shoot down, or share a successful combat with an enemy aircraft to win DFC or DFM. We were well satisfied with our completed job at this time. We’d had no early returns, and the bombs had always gone onto, or very close to the target if the conditions were anywhere near normal. We were thankful for our good luck in this game of chance. Our weapons were always at the ready, but if they remained unused I didn’t care.
Group Captain Bonham-Carter had said it was not good luck, but disappointing luck, never to have had a combat, but I would never agree. WE had been told that report intercepted from the Luftwaffe stated, “seventy percent of British heavy bombers are not aware of imminent attack, and ninety percent never answer the fire of the attacking fighter.” This showed the difficulty of the night search of the gunners. As we said before, “dicing with death.” And we had won.
On return from this last leave there was a letter from home waiting. My mother wrote me the shocking news that she had been diagnosed as having terminal leukemia — a disease I had never heard of. She had been told she had about six months to live, and she wanted me to come home if I possibly could. I wrote her saying that chances were slim at the time, but I would see what I could do. It was ---- news from a person who had never been seriously ill. When I’d said farewell to the family at Union Station in Toronto sixteen months before, I truthfully thought it a one-way trip. Now it seemed the situation between my mother and myself was reversed.
We filled our time in around our Sections as best we could while awaiting postings. We helped with new crews coming in, and it was plain to see that the shortage of aircrew was getting to be a thing of the past. Also, the Bomber Command squadrons were all back up to strength after the heavy losses of late winter and early spring. We tootled off to town often, and always took in the new shows at the Theatre Royal. We were there the night the attempt was made on Hitler’s life and the show was stopped while the announcement was made. Of course, everyone cheered and clapped. The flying –bomb situation in the southern countries and London was well under control, and by the end of August only one in seven was getting through the combination of defenses. Both Ted’s and Dennis’s homes in the London area had suffered damage, but by mid-September the majority of the launching sites had been overrun by the Allied advance, and the second Battle of London was over.


?FIVE?

NO. 22 OUT RAF WELLESBOURNE-MOUNTFORD —
FLYING AGAIN IN THE WIMPEYS —
MEETING THE CHIEF-HONCHO PADRE —
BACK TO WORK —
“YOU’RE GOING HOME” —
RCAF REPAT DEPOT, WARRINGTON, LANCASHIRE —
GREENOCK, SCOTLAND —
THE LAST OF THE FOUR STACKERS —
WESTWARD ON THE ATLANTIC —
NEW YORK —
ROCKCLIFFE, OTTAWA —
TORONTO UNION STATION —


O
n the 23rd of August a signal for my posting was sent through. I was going to No. 22 OTU at RAF Station Wellesbourne-Mountford, not far from Leamington and Stratford. After farewells to my crewmembers whose postings had not been confirmed, I gathered my gear together and left Waddington on the morning of the 25th. I was rather reluctant to leave the Lincoln area and my crew, as we had developed a sort of brotherly attitude toward one another. I took the train to Birmingham, then to Stratford and a bus to Wellesbourne. I rode the bus in from Stratford with another Canadian, Dick Murray, who was a tour-completed staff pilot. He filled me in on the situation, and helped me get fixed up with quarters. Wellesbourne OTU had all Canadian trainees and most of the instructors were also Canadian. The executive officers (brass) were RAF types, and there were some dandies. The CO was a Group Captain — tall with a big hook nose and a chest full of ribbons. The Squadron Leader Administration was a WWI pilot with the DFC and the DSO with two bars. The Flight Lieutenant Adjutant wore thick glasses with horn rims, and could have passed for Phil Silvers’ double. The station was semi-dispersed and quarters were about ten minutes walk from the mess. All in all it didn’t look like a bad deal. Dick Murray was at the mess later that evening and introduced me to a few of the bods. The mess wasn’t a patch on the Sergeants’ Mess at Waddington, but had not a bad little lounge and bar for a non-permanent type of station.
Next morning I was up early, had breakfast and went prowling around the hangars to see what types of aircraft were in use. I was glad to see the old Wellingtons again. These were a much later model than the 1Cs we had used at 14 OTU. They were the Mark X with the four-gun Fraser-Nash turret in the rear position. The nose turret was the same two-gun job as on the 1Cs. Engines were much larger and more powerful, the Bristol Hercules which was also used on Beaufighters, Stirlings, Halifax III and Lancaster II. It was also used on the big Coastal Command flying boats — the Short Sunderlands. The Wellington X was still being used in the Middle East and on Coastal Command operational flying.
As I walked along the hangar road I saw a sign, “E Flight Gunnery” and this looked like the section for me. F/O Reg Prebble and P/O George Mitchell were in charge, and some of the other instructors were P/O Jack Gilliland, P/O John Francis, W/O Ernie Plunkett and W/O Jim Mason. Our job was taking the gunners from each course on air-firing and camera-gun exercises. We had about five Wimpys with staff pilots and signals operators available to us, and it seemed a far better setup than we had when we were OTU trainees. Mitchell and I went over to the canteen and he told me our basic duties as we had a coffee. I flew that afternoon with a group of pupils and instructor John Francis on an air-firing exercise, and familiarization for me.
It was certainly not a difficult job — just getting the gunners into the turrets and helping them with stoppages or other problems they might have. On the air-firing exercise, two Wellingtons flew together. Each carried five pupil gunners and an instructor, and each was fitted with a drogue towing cable and winch. First, one would let a drogue out, and the gunners from the other ship would fire in turn using the same type of dye-marked ammunition that we had used at Macdonald. Occasionally a drogue would get shot off, so we carried a spare. When the trainees in the first aircraft had finished their firing, then that aircraft would act as drogue-ship for the second. An air-firing exercise usually took about an hour and a half, providing everything was working. Sometimes we had gun problems, but these could be often dealt with without having to return to base.
The camera-gun exercises were carried out using the rear turret only. Dick Murray flew as target-attacker using a Miles Martinet. We also had a little snot-nosed RAF P/O flying Martinet. He had just made it as a pilot and it was easy to see he would never be capable of operational flying. During the exercise, each gunner took his turn in the turret, loading the films he had been issued with and unloading the camera-gun when finished. The instructors would stand up in the astrodome of the Wellington for an unobstructed view, and call the fighter in on the RT when the change of gunners was complete. Later the same day the films would be developed, and were ready for assessment the next morning. The group of trainees would watch the films together and listen to commentary by the assessor. It was amazing how many would lay the deflection on the wrong side, despite all they had been taught. This film viewing in front of their buddies made them remember for the next time. I flew six times in the last five days of August, and felt that this was as good a way of filling in time as any. The weather remained good from August into September with flying nearly every day.
About the 10th of September I received another letter from my mother. Her condition was deteriorating, and there was another piece of shocking news. My brother Bob had lost his wife and infant daughter in childbirth, and things at home were in a real turmoil. I told our Flight Commander, F/L “Torchy” Peden, and he suggested that I see the padre at once. The Canadian padre, Squadron Leader Minto-Swan listened with interest, and said that he would fix up an appointment for me with the Chief Padre at RCAF Headquarters in London. I carried on with my flying duties and he set up a date and time for me. I went down to London on the 24th and stayed at Bailey’s Hotel, as the Strand Palace was all booked up. I was pleased with Bailey’s. It was a little cheaper than the Strand, and much smaller. Despite all the personnel involved in the invasion forces on the Continent, the hotels were still filled with people from the Military. I had my meeting with the Group Captain Chief Padre on the 25th. The meeting was not long. He said that he would put in the application for a return to Canada for me, but he held little hope of it being approved. At that time I felt that he did not really intend to make much of a recommendation. I suppose he listened to an awful lot of requests, and had a hard time sorting them out. After all, despite the grand sound of his rank, it was an honorary one, and he was in reality just a minister trying to satisfy everyone.
Later that night at the hotel I had just retired when without warning there was a terrific explosion some distance away. I went to my second floor window and took a look outside. Everything was still except a few people moving about in the blackout. A bobby was on the sidewalk below, so I called down to him and asked if he knew anything about the explosion. He replied that he thought a gas main had blown up about a mile away, as one had done a few nights before. Earlier that evening I had gone to the lounge of the Strand Palace to check it out for familiar faces and had found two of my former classmates from the Hamilton Technical School. This pair had become friends at Hamilton, and the last time I had seen them was at No. 1 Manning Depot at Toronto almost 2 ½ years before. I had quite a chat with them. Unbelievably they had managed to stick together all through their training and staff-piloting duties in Canada. They had just recently arrived in England and were a bit envious of my having finished my tour. The previous time I’d been at the Strand Palace I had met a former guard-duty compatriot from the Manning Depot in Toronto. This hotel was certainly a popular spot with Canadian Air force personnel. On the 26th I took the train back to Stratford and RAF Station Wellesbourne-Mountford. I wrote my mother telling her that I hoped to see her soon, but in reality after going to HQ in London, my hopes were slim. Later that evening I saw S/L Minto-Swan in the Mess and thanked him for his help.
On the 27th it was flying as usual and I did four flights that day. My single flight the next day finished my September flying and a total of 23 trips for the month. The October weather was almost as good as September, and we carried on with the new courses. Quite a number of these trainees were French Canadian. They had received basic English schooling, but it was very difficult to be certain that they understood all that we told them. There were a couple of squadrons up in the Canadian Six Group where their working language was French, and that would have been where these lads would be sent. WE also heard rumours of a back-up of aircrew developing. Losses were way down, and as a result not nearly as many replacements were required. The new crews had to wait for openings on the squadrons now. Training had finally caught up with losses and attrition, and one of the main contributors to this fact was the U.S. 8th and their long-range delay escorts. They were laying waste to the Luftwaffe and its bases. In one of the London papers that I picked up in the Mess one evening, there was a picture taken from Allied occupied territory toward Belgium. There were seven columns of black smoke — the remains of seven Luftwaffe bases over the horizon in Belgium. RCAF and RAF fighter and fighter-bomber bases were also following and locating behind the advancing front, and these units would soon be joining in on daylight escort duties for Bomber Command. As yet, night tactics were in effect for in-depth operation, and daylight strikes were not far in advance of the front.
The Padre at Wellesbourne, S/L Minto-Swan was a good man and a real sort of buddy to our boys. On Thanksgiving Day he organized a real Canadian-style dinner for us (there was no Thanksgiving holiday in England). Somehow he procured chicken. It was rather tough, but nonetheless it was real chicken with dressing. WE all thoroughly enjoyed it, and had a wingding in the lounge after. It developed into a singsong, and after the Padre, the CO and the Adj. had left the real songs started. We got going on the limericks with everyone taking his turn. They got worse and worse, and even made the toughie barmaid leave. Our old Squadron Leader Admin. (He of the DSO and two bars) had never heard these versions before and I thought he was going to have a seizure, such was his mirth and delight. Ah, yes, it was a great evening, and as I wended my way back to quarters through an autumn fog, I was startled by a loud hoot just over my head. I shone the flashlight into an overhanging branch of a tree and there sat a large brown owl, adding his remarks to the end of a Thanksgiving celebration.
We had a fellow in our section that had just received a “Dear John” letter from his fiancé in Canada. He was lamenting the facts to us in the mess later, and Reg Prebble asked him if he had a picture of her that we could give a look at. He pulled one from his walled and passed it around. She was ugly, but really! We all told him what a lucky guy he was. Shortly after that he started taking this babe from the MT (motor transport) section out. Strange thing, but most of the girls from transport were very good looking and she was no exception. I think our friend was a bit keener than she was because within a few days he was talking serious, the exact opposite to most WAAF-Canadian relationships. He took her to the Station movie one night, and right after she volunteered to go back to her quarters because she didn’t feel well. There was a dance that night at the NAAFI (navy, army, air force institute) canteen in the village, and who should show up but this girl. Our friend was back at his quarters writing letters. He felt pretty badly about it when he heard about it the next day. He had done his tour with the Pathfinders, but it took and MT Section WAAF to shoot him down.
October was slipping by — no frosts yet, but the nights were damp. Our quarters, a hut with about twelve occupants with a bit better than the Quonset hut at Skellingthorpe, but still heated with just one small stove, and I was not looking forward to the real winter. The ablutions were really primitive, an unheated wash house with a big tub a bit like a maple syrup kettle over a brick fire box. This was supposed to be kept fired up by the Batmen but often the fire went out before the water was properly heated. For a bath, we had to go up to another building near the mess, but here at least the water was always hot. The dining room in the mess was not large, and one day when we came in to lunch, signs had appeared on the first three tables, “F/Ls and above.” One can imagine how well that went over with the F/O and P/O staff members. The three tables were immediately filled with junior officers. The signs soon disappeared. The English cookhouse staff never bothered to enquire about what kind of dishes Canadians might like. They used to serve us some kind of macaroni pudding for dessert, and as each man came along the steam table he thought it his duty to inform the cooks what a crazy way that was to serve macaroni, and that the ONLY way to serve macaroni was with cheese. However, this did not change the cooks’ habits at all.
October continued with pleasant autumn weather and almost daily flying in our section. The new crews were being assembled here, as was the case when we had been trainees at 14 OTU. It was an event for the crews when they made their first flight with no type of instructor along. We had just taken off on an exercise at one time when we overheard the remarks of a crew who were airborne on their own for the first time. The pilot had inadvertently left the RT on “transmit”. He proceeded to render in a raucous tenor, one of the filthiest songs ever sang by an Airforce man. Suddenly, there was a, “this bloody thing is on transmit!” and then a click. Of course, the broadcast was being heard loud and clear by all the WAAFs in the control tower.
During this month I met another of my old mates from No. 1 ITS in Toronto — Bob Chambers, who I had not seen since October 1942. He had been a staff pilot for some time in England and had finally got to OTU and was gathering a crew. Also, a New Zealander came into the mess one day. He had been Jack Gilliland’s rear gunner, and he turned out to be “Chatty” Chatterfield who had been in our small flying section at Macdonald. I reminded Chatty of the day at Macdonald when he and I jettisoned all our ammunition because we had been on our third flight that day with a U/S Vickers gun and didn’t want to go up again. It was amusing how these chance meetings kept popping up. I finished out October with a total of twenty-one flights.
As the month of November started we had a diversion early one morning, of a number of Six Group Lancasters to our base. Many of the Six Group squadrons were converting from Halifaxes to Canadian-build Lancasters, which were being constructed at Malton, Ontario. The talk among these crews was about how many more “majors” or lesser operations they were required to do, and one got more and more the impression that there was a backup of partially trained aircrew developing, especially gunners. I had heard nothing from RCAF HQ so had pretty well put a posting back home out of my mind. Another interesting revelation had just been made on the BBC and in the papers. The mysterious “gas-main explosions” in the London area were in reality the V2s, a new enemy rocket-propelled missile. It was ground-launched and approached its destination on a steep trajectory at many times the speed of sound, hence absolutely no warning, and totally indiscriminate as to targeting. The first one had fallen on September 8th, and that was what I’d heard in London on the night of September 25th.
There was a U.S. presidential election in the autumn of 1944, and there was much political talk amongst the few American RCAF chaps we had, as to whether Roosevelt should be reelected. The American people knew best and he was put in for a fourth term. WE were pleased because he worked so well with Churchill, and it seemed like a poor time to change the team now that the end of the tunnel was almost in sight. The U.S. Navy had delivered a decisive blow to the Japanese Imperial Navy at the battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines during late October, and the Japanese Navy was no longer an effective striking force. Bits and pieces of information about the new U.S.AF b29s were floating about, and now with the defeat of the Japanese fleet, speculation was that the Americans would soon be seizing islands nearer the homeland to base these new super bombers for the attack on Japan proper. We wondered where we would fit into this plan, which was largely an American show, gaining momentum with every passing week.
On the morning of November 8th I got a phone call at the section. The Adj. wanted to see me so I hiked right over as soon as I had brought a group of trainees back from camera-gun exercises. He greeted me with, “Campbell, you’re going home.” That was indeed welcome news, and I was posted to the RCAF Repatriation Depot in Warrington, Lancashire, effective November 12th. Right away I went to the village post office and sent a cable to my family. They would tell mother, who was now hospitalized at London, Ontario. The next few days were taken up with getting clearances, and socializing in the mess with my friends. One of our staff pilots, Bill Blamey from Hamilton, was also going home. He had completed two tours of operations, plus the stints of staff piloting at the OTUs.
On November 12th we gathered our gear together and got transport to the station at Stratford. We entrained shortly after noon for Warrington, about 100 miles to the north. We were at the RCAF Depot by late afternoon and found the place crowded with people waiting to go back to Canada for various reasons. One group of gunners I spoke to had only been in England for two weeks and now was being sent back. The rumours we had heard were all true and the system was backed right up, which of course was a good thing.
Warrington was rather a helter-skelter place with a parade each morning — really not much for than a roll call. At the first morning parade I met one of our original group from 14 OTU — Malcolm Price from Toronto. He had also been commissioned, and had been awarded the DFM for a successful combat on his tour of the Ops. Price and I hadn’t really known each other all that well, as he’d been one of the class receiving their training at Mont Joli Quebec while we were at Macdonald. They had joined us at the time of our overseas draught. It was good to see a familiar face, and we started chumming around together. Warrington Repatriation Depot had Group Caption Denton Massey as the Commanding Officer. He was almost as theatrical as his brother Raymond, and used to sweep around in his long greatcoat with much grandeur, swinging a silver-headed swagger stick. He was the only RCAF officer I had ever seen carry any kind of swagger stick.
The quarters at the Depot were quite comfortable, and at least warm, but the meals were the worst by far that we’d struck in all England or Canada. I guess it was the people in charge as the rations on all stations were basic, and the end result was up to the planners and cooks. The Warrington kitchen scraps would have been a bonanza for a swine-feeding contractor, because there surely were a lot of full barrels after each meal. Price and I completely gave up on meals there, except for some toast and coffee in the morning. We were slated for a draught to a ship for about the 20th, but Group Captain Massey called us all into the theatre on the 17thand informed us that the ship was going to be used to transport wounded back to Canada. Our Army was having a struggle working its way along the coast of the Low Countries, and the casualties were high. We settled down for another waiting period as the November rain and fog enveloped the industrial Lancashire countryside.
One foggy evening Price and I wandered through the drizzle in search of a fish and chip shop we had heard about. We eventually found it after tramping through every kind of terrain including a manure-filled barnyard. It was worth every step, and we trudged back eating our supper out of the newspaper wrappings.
We also spend a bit of our time in Manchester, which was about 30 miles distant. There was a fairly good Officer’s Club where a bed could be had reasonably. There was a big pub called The Long Bar and really, one could hardly see the far end for the distance, and people bellied up to it. We met an interesting chap there — he was having a pint by himself, and we noticed that the palms of his hands had on them what looked like plantar warts, except completely covered. After a bit I struck up a conversation with him, and he was such a pleasant fellow I chanced asking him if he would mind telling us the problem with his hands. He was quite pleased to tell us that he’d had the condition develop slowly over a period of about ten years, and there was nothing to be done for it. He had lost his job as a machinist because his fingers were now too clumsy to hold small tools. Our visit with him made us feel fortunate, and also it got us an invitation for Christmas dinner at his home if we were still in England at the time.
Back at Warrington a draught was being made up, as there was space on a ship now lying at Greenock on the Clyde. WE entrained late in the evening and were at Greenock, the port of Glasgow early the next morning. The train rolled down to river’s edge at the same place we’d come ashore eighteen months before. Out in the river channel lay our ship — the Aquitania, the last of the “Four Stackers”. This majestic old lady had been on the go since about 1912, and was a sister to the Lusitania, the sinking of which in 1915 was almost instrumental in bringing the U.S. into the war. The other sisters were the Titanic; and the Mauretania, which I’d seen in the ship breakers’ yard near Edinburgh. We embarked on the lighter and were on board before noon. The Aquitania got underway late in the evening, and next morning we were out into the misty, grey Atlantic southwest of Ireland, with a pair of British destroyers escorting.
This ship, although not nearly as large as the “Queens” dropped her escort after the first day out. Her speed was still sufficient to outrun any submarine and enemy surface vessels were a thing of the past. Shipping losses had fallen dramatically as the combined British, U.S. and Canadian Navies had decimated the U-Boat fleet. Quarters on board were quite comfortable, and we were not so deep down in the hold as on the Queen Elizabeth. We were bunked in sort of a dormitory affair close to the outer hull of the ship, and when she rolled on the swell her ribs cracked and groaned, as she was all rivets and no welded seams. She had much oak paneling on her stairways, in the corridors, the lounges and in the dining rooms. Our first class dining room gave us strictly white linen service — no more mess tins required. WE had a fair bit of entertainment; a movie each day in the lounge and there was a good U.S.O. show where an attractive blonde sang a group of songs we had never heard, from Oklahoma. These great songs that all the American passengers were familiar with puzzled us. None of the music had been released in Britain up to this time.
WE were lucky having a reasonably calm passage for the time of year it was, and some of the ship’s crew were busy with pneumatic chisels chipping away thirty-two years worth of paint. One could pick up a thick chunk of hard paint and count all the layers. There were about four coats of pre-WWI white for the twenties and thirties, and more recent layers of WWII battleship grey. They were readying her for the spanking new white they expected to apply before many months.
On the morning of December 3rd we came on deck to see the New York skyline, and what a welcome sight it was. We had our last dinner on board at dockside, then disembarked early in the afternoon, and boarded a Central Vermont train, which was standing almost at dockside. Kindly American Red Cross ladies served us coffee and real donuts before we left — we had to jump off the train to take advantage of their hospitality.
We got underway just as the school children were heading home from their classes, and they were a sight — all the colourful snowsuits and parkas against the new snow. The CN coaches on the train seemed strangely large and roomy after the smaller but neat trains of England. They had a homey feeling — things familiar again. As we passed through the outskirts of New York, the flashing wigwags and warning bells at the level crossings were another familiar sight and sound. Also, the lines of stopped traffic, with clouds of exhaust vapours drifting away on the crisp breeze. Faintly we could hear the throaty chime whistle of the big CV locomotive as it picked up speed heading northward and into the wooded hills of New England. Later that evening we enjoyed a splendid dinner in true railway fashion as the sparkling unblacked-out towns and villages swept by.
An overnight journey found us at Union Station in Ottawa, with quite a large crowd there to meet the “repats”, and more coffee and donuts from pretty young Red Cross girls. Transport took us to the RCAF station at Rockcliffe, where we got our gear straightened out and relabeled for our hometowns. We went back to the city centre for lunch and a few beers at the Chateau, and at the same time checked the Toronto train times. I sent a telegram to my family saying that I hoped to see them at Toronto Union Station at 7 a.m. on December 5th.
We entrained late in the evening and bedded down in comfortable berths as the outdoor temperature hovered at near zero degrees F. Excitement kept me awake as we rolled out from the Ottawa station, and it was hard to realize that we were on our final leg of this long journey. The train was soon into her stride heading for Smith’s Falls and Toronto, as I lay in the berth listening to the even rhythm of the wheels, and the beautiful moaning call of the chime-whistle as we flew over the level crossings and through the whitened countryside. I raised myself on one elbow and slip up the window blind to view with winter night.
The endless parade of telegraph poles flashed by amid the swirling snow, and across the bleak fields the lights of the farms of Eastern Ontario drifted. What were these dim lights, I wondered. Perhaps a farmer’s wife poring over the pages of a mail order catalogue in a lamp-lit kitchen, while the kettle sang on a wood-burning range. Or maybe a farmer with a stable lantern doing late chores or tending a sick animal. It didn’t matter, I felt as if I could walk into any one of those farms and feel at home. Could I be so near my own home? It hardly seemed possible, but as I dropped off to sleep, I new I would soon feel the porter’s hand shaking me awake.
Right on time we rolled into Union Station. We had arisen early and had finished our morning routine as the first lights on the outskirts of Toronto were becoming visible. The train slowed as we crossed the dozens of switch points leading into the station, and the final little squeal of brakes sent a shiver down my spine. The sounds the journey had ceased, after a ten-day period of wheel clacking and the thumping vibrations of the engines on the Aquitania.
When we arrived at the incoming passengers area, there were soon a lot of touching and tearful reunions going on. Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters — many damp-eyed, smiling and greeting the home comers. Then there were the young couples, united at last. Some were facing each other, almost shyly holding hands, and others were sitting on the benches exchanging hugs and kisses in profusion in their joys of reunion.
I looked around carefully. No family. I telephoned home. No answer. And when I stepped out of the phone booth, there they were, searching the crowd for me. I had forgotten how early they would have had to leave home to arrive at the Station by seven in the morning! It was a joyous but sad occasion for our family — everyone was smiling, and there was an extra bonus. My youngest sister Molly had her beautiful, new little bright-eyed daughter there, staring with puzzled interest at this new uncle.
So here it all was, right back to the place it had started on that afternoon in December 1941, when my friend Sid had seen me off on that train to Hamilton. Such a lot had happened — some expected, and a whole lot unexpected. We had all changed, and the world was rapidly changing. Our hellos were almost as awkward as our goodbyes had been, and we walked, hardly knowing what to say to each other, out into the crispy-cold morning where the car stood at the curb on Front Street — pointing toward home.

THE END

QUOTE FROM A FLIGHT COMMANDER OF 101 SQUADRON —

“People of the younger generation can get the impression that Bomber Command was one big happy band of brothers. This was not so. Squadrons were very much individual entities – we didn’t mix much with other squadrons – and they assumed the character and charisma of the people who were on the Squadron at that time. As a result, few outsiders will ever appreciate what it was really like to serve on a bomber squadron.”

QUOTE FROM AN AIRCREW FLIGHT SERGEANT –

“Is it any wonder that I avoid memorial services? For I cry very easily, and the sound of The Air force March Past brings memories flooding back. Men are not supposed to cry, but this one does, and mostly in private, for how many are there who can even begin to understand?”

***


REQUIEM FOR A MISSING AIRCREW MEMBER,
By: (Air Gunner) R.W. Gilbert.

My brief sweet life is over
My eyes no longer see,
No summer walks, no Christmas trees –
No pretty girls for me.
I’ve got the chop; I’ve had it –
My nightly ops are done.
Yet, in another hundred years
I’ll still be twenty-one.

As a final page, I would like to include some personal credits to my fellow crewmembers:

Alex, our Pilot: A cool-headed, no-nonsense captain, well respected by us all. A quote from him, “I went by the book” says it well. No races or short cuts to be the first back to base, and a healthy distance between he and the rest of the crew. His word was law, and we totally respected and admired his authority.

Henry, our Navigator: He suffered repeatedly from airsickness, but doggedly carried on despite his agonizing attacks. He was popular with all ranks in the Squadron, with a wry sense of humour. He did not carry his liquor well, but that only happened, of course, when we were off duty.

Alf Williams, our Navigator after Henry’s screening, and a DFM holder from his first tour: A quiet and skillful professional person, whom I’m sure knew where we were within a mile or two any time we were airborne.

Dennis Bourke, our Bomb Aimer: A bit of an enigma – cheerful, but during training exercises sometimes showing a lack of skill in his trade. On the positive side, cool and collected in the nerve wracking bombing runs. Not outwardly conscientious in his daily attitudes. Got his share of aiming point pictures.

Jack Kennedy, our Bomb Aimer for our tour extension: Holder of a DFM from his first tour. A rather brash young man, but with a lot of skills and competence.

Ted Martin, our Flight Engineer: Ted knew his job to a T. Totally conscientious, continually watching his bank of gauges concerning fuel, oil and engine temps and power. When he reported fuel getting low, Alex did not hesitate to pick a landing spot. Ted was probably the most nervous crewmember, but never dithered.

Doug Broome, our Wireless Operator (signals): He listened with diligence to any signals that might be relayed from base, and reported them to Alex immediately. At the same time he was watching the visual “Monica” screen (radar device) and calling the port or starboard echoes from invisible aircraft. These readings in our case turned out to be friendly. Dennis and I did not fire at an unidentified image. Some trigger-happy gunners did. In their own thoughts, this was probably a good thing, but there were numbers of aircraft returning with .303 holes in them. Doug also had a wry sense of humour, often displayed during trying moments. He was as good a signals operator as could be found on any squadron.

Dennis Chalk, our Rear Gunner: Dennis manned the remote rear turret, in a position that seemed detached from the rest of the aircraft. The open front of the turret put him in the coldest spot, but he never complained, and was always alert and cheerful. He had, perhaps, a bit of a superior, selfish attitude at times, that I’m sorry to say caused us (Doug, Ted and myself) to shun him socially during the first five months of our tour. Fortunately, during that fateful winter of ’44, his, and possibly our attitudes changed to some extent, and we became a staunch group of four NCOs socially.

God bless every one of them, wherever they may be.

Read more in "The airborne years", a complete 131 page book covering J A Campbell's training in Canada and the UK. His memoirs span 14 OTU at RAF Cottesmore, RAF Saltby, 1654 HCU at RAF Wigsley, training at RAF Fulbeck and then operations on 61 Sqn RAF from RAF Syerston and 463 Sqn RAAF from RAF Waddington. Download or read the entire book free of charge.

J.A. CAMPBELL, MID-UPPER GUNNER IN 463 SQUADRON, RAAF, AND 61 SQUADRON, RAF

 


 

 
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