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  RAF/RCAF Digby : Digby Recollections of Jack Lucas

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Updated: 28 Oct 08

LAC Jack Lucas was a fitter on 154 Sqn, posted to Digby in Sep 1942 and deployed to the Mediterranean theatre.

The War Diaries of 1232581 - L.A.C. Jack Lucas R.A.F.V.R.- (PART-ONE)by onestopshop
Article ID: A2812114, WW2 People's War

I volunteered to join the Royal Air Force Volunteer reserve in November 1940, and was attested at Cardington, nr Bedford. I failed the maths test and was turned down for a pilot. They offered me Air Crew, which I declined, deciding I would join as a flight mechanic, and was called up on the 1st April 1941. After six weeks square bashing (drill) at Skegness, I completed a six months Flight Mechanic's (Riggers) course, attaining 95% in my finals. This resulted in my continuation of a three months fitters course at the same place, RAF Locking, Nr Weston-super-Mare.

Now a fully-fledged Air Force Fitter I was posted to an Air Gunnery School in Wales, Nr Snowden. Here I serviced Lysanders, which towed the targets and Whitley bombers in,which flew the gunners. This was boring work in a depressing place, where it always seemed to be raining and the locals were most unfriendly.

My constant applications for a posting resulted in a move to bomber command at Throgmorton, Nr Pershore, where I serviced Wellingtons (Wimpys). It was mostly pilot training, taking off and landing, (circuits and bumps). In the first 1,000 Bomber Raid on Cologne, we seat 30 aircraft, and only 8 returned, although a few more landed at other dromes. I did plenty of flying as the servicing crew had to fly in the test flight after inspections.

I was determined to join Fighter command, and did so in September 1942 at RAF Digby in Lincolnshire, with a newly formed 154 Squadron being equipped with Spitfire V.B’S. This was my first, contact with these beautiful aircraft (Kites), and I was to spend the next four years servicing and inspecting them. I was to know every nut and bolt. All R.A.F Aircraft were maintained by 40 flying hours servicing checks culminating in a major overhaul at 240 flying hours. It was my task as an airframe fitter to carry out these checks, and also to repair kites damaged in action. The flight mechanics did the daily servicing and refuelled the aircraft during flying operations. There was normally one engine and one airframe mechanic assigned to every Spitfire, and problems were handled by the fitters. This policy was adhered to abroad as in England.

It soon became evident that I was to see some action. This 154 Squadron was part of a group, being prepared for overseas operations. After home leave I arrived in Glasgow and on to tenders, which disembarked us on to a large ship called the "Strathern". A ship built to carry 300 passengers. We sailed out of the Clyde with 3,000 troops aboard. As we left, the mountains of Morne on our port beam, I mused would I see England again. I was then 21 and this was the height of the U-boat war in the North Atlantic we were crossing, we were part of a large convoy with the destroyer escorts visible on the horizon to port and starboard.

Conditions on board were horrendous. Below decks men were sleeping in three tiers - on the floors, on the tables and above in hammocks. The toilets were pathetic and the temporary ones installed on the top deck overflowed in rough weather and spilled down the hatchways to the lower decks. I spent most of my time outside, sleeping there with a line tied round my waist, secured to a firm anchor. After six days of this misery, shoals of dolphins were visible escorting our ship. A sailor remarked that their presence ensured our safety. That day we saw land in the mist. My sailor mate said it was Newfoundland. This perplexed me, as we all had been issued with tropical kit, toupees etc. Some time later we turned south, later joining an even bigger American convoy. We were told it consisted of 300 ships, everyone was guessing our destination. Rumours were rife; soon to be confounded as about a week later we sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar. The lights of Tangiers glowed in the dark.

Next day, assembled on deck an Army Officer told us we were to invade North Africa. To cheer us up he added that 95% of the women here had V.D. The other 5% were for officers only. We anchored in Algiers Harbour and watched the show. Bodies began to drift past with some shooting ashore; a lone piper marched up and down the Quay wailing away. It seemed to be a push over until the Luftwaff arrived, getting a warm reception in the shape of a tremendous naval barrage. After disembarkation we assembled as a squadron. No transport was ashore, so we marched with the full kit and 40 rounds of ammo 13 miles, to the airport at Mais-En-Blanc. Italian aircraft strafed us unsuccessfully. Unknown to our officers the army had by-passed the airport, and we had to fire our sten guns to gain access on arrival. We slept on the concrete floor of an enormous hanger. Soon mosquito and Beaufighter aircraft were landing, and we were busy refuelling them with 2-gallon petrol cans by the method of a chain gang. These were night fighters, brought in from Gibraltar. We were very hungry; on board ship we had been given a 48-hour pack of rations. Most of us ate this on our last nights march. No other food was available.

The next day our transport arrived, and we travelled south into the Atlas Mountains avoiding the coast road. We then turned north to the coastal resort of Djeli, which had a small beach airstrip. We had no tents and we just slept on the ground covering ourselves with tree branches and ferns. We heard gunfire in the night, and in the morning we found a dead horse. Our guards had shot it in the darkness. The kites arrived and needed attention. They began flying up to 4 sorties a day protecting our ships. Out tents turned up and we rigged up a cookhouse. We could have hot meals at last. We saw our first German, a dead one (flying a M.E. 109) and badly hit. He was being escorted by one of our Spits to an emergency landing on our drome when he opened up on us (the ground crews). The escort gave him another burst and he crashed beyond the runway. Jerry bombed us heavily later during the night. The next day I spoke to the army lads manning the Bofor Ak-Ak Guns, and was surprised to meet Clive Farmer, a Burbage man.

A few weeks later, my brother-in-law Harry Spencer turned up. He was in the Navy and at the Port of Philipville, and had traced me somehow. Later we met our first Americans. They took over the Bofor Guns from our Army lads; some had only been in the forces six weeks. They had been issued with military money, and lots of it. They could not understand it and gave us wads of it. We had moved on before they had realised its true value.
The allies had complete control of Algeria now, but had been checked on the Tunisian border by Germans rushed in from Sicily.

The squadron was at full strength now. 240 personnel plus the pilots. These numbers were gradually reduced, eventually streamlined down to 90 men. In later operations we were split into A and B parties of 45 men. We became so efficient that operations were hardly effected.

Spitfires could only carry 90 gallons of fuel, so the time spent over the front line was limited to about 30 minutes. This needed the drome to be as near to the front line as possible, usually up to 30 miles back.

Christmas day dinner consisted of a thin slice of corned beef with a hard ships biscuit. We ate this lying in a dockside warehouse.

January 1943 was spent on a new airfield, with a runway fitted with American interlocking steel plates. They were wizard, and flying commenced in earnest. The new 30-gallon long-range tanks arrived. We fitted them to all our spitfires. These tanks could be released in action. So we were kept busy with this extra task. A letter from home said that my brother Charlie was a prisoner of war in Singapore. Mother was pleased, but as my other brother was a prisoner of war in Germany, and I am in Africa, she has plenty to worry her.
We moved on again nearer the action to Souk-el-chemis, where we were bombed daily, usually at Tiffin time (Lunch time). One raid caught me in the open, flat on the deck. The bomb blast lifted me six inches off the ground. We were woken early one morning by the Americans retreat from the Kasserine Pass to our south. We got the kites off in early dawn, and then watched a British Armoured Brigade move south to push back the Panzers, who were under air attacks by Mitchel Bombers.

February brought better weather and activity increased by both army and R.A.F. The low hills all around us were covered in flowers, our garden plants grow wild here,
American bombers were constantly overhead bombing ports, shipping and airfields. The 8th Army are advancing into Tunisia, having conquered Libya. The race was on to capture Tunis, our 1st Army from the west and the 8th from the east. Our kites are all out on Rhubarbs; this is strafing anything that moves. Our flight sergeant called Rollo was posted back to Algiers; his nerve had cracked and spent most of his time sitting by a foxhole waiting for the raids. Not good for our morale.

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