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  97 Squadron Royal Air Force : Bob Carswell

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Updated: 10 Jan 09

My father learned to fly in England in the RAF after leaving the Canadian Army, flew with 97 Squadron as a copilot out of Woodhall Spa for a few operations in September 1942. He died in November 07 (3 months shy of his 89th birthday)

My mother, who died in 2005, was a WAAF plotter, first commissioned WAAF officer at RAF Wigtown, station cipher officer and first WAAF on the station, was previously a survivor of the Battle of Britain at RAF Biggin Hill, the most bombed fighter station in England.

She and my father met at this No. 1( AOS ) navigator training station, RAF Wigtown in Scotland about 10 minutes after she arrived and they were together from that day for the next 64 years and after 4 children.

Being the only WAAF there for the next 6 months or so, she finished her connection with the station as a Section Officer at the end of November 1942 after 2-1/2 years in the military. At age 22 she was in charge of a 250 contingent of WAAFs at the station. She met my father on the first day of arrival and about a year later they were married. By then he had already been posted to the Navigator Selection Board at the Spa Hotel, Harrogate.....she found out she was pregnant, put in for a release from her commission, and made plans to be back with her husband by Christmas....

He, in the meantime, was posted to 97 Squadron at Woodhall Spa as a second pilot, finally filling his dream of getting into a little combat, something he wanted to do since trying to join the RCAF back in Canada in 1939 but ended up in Non Permanent Active Militia ( a reserve force) and then the Canadian Army Signal Corps when war was declared. All he wanted to do was fly.

He fooled the doctor with his eye test, was accepted as a (1) pilot & (2) Air Observer {navigator} candidate with the RAF instead. He was saved from being killed in France because of Dunkirk as the Canadians were next due to go over. He was saved by his bad eyesight that got him into training command rather than front line fighters or bombers and it was only when they realized that they needed 2nd pilots desparately to keep planes and crews in the air after the pilot was shot up that he saw the opportunity to see some combat when the note went around for volunteers.

Travelling through flak at 1500 to drop bombs on a airplane factory was enough to qualify him as a combat pilot and when the short tour was over, he was back at Harrogate but, this time, as a member of the Pilot Selection Board before being released 6 months later to join the RCAF and return to Canada in July 1944 after 4-1/2 years in the UK, only to be grounded and stranded here, unable to get back to England.

Once again, his pregnant wife, with their second child (me), was left behind. My children have to honour to say that both their parents were born in England all their four parents were in the RAF during WWII, three as officers, one of the three as a station doctor. The doctor retired from the RAF in the 80s as an Air Commodore and head of eye medicine for the RAF. Prince Charles and I share a common connection since we both had our eyes tested by him....which knowledge of... and about 2 pounds sterling would buy me a cup of coffee in most fancy coffee shops here in Canada today....the young girl behind the counter would probably say..... "Prince who?....from where?.......Where is that? " <chuckle> How quickly we grow old....

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