I was with Guy Gibson’s 106 Lancaster’s when he was busy hand picking his crews for the big one. At the time I was getting ready for my first two and only two, both to Berlin; Saturday 16th Jan 1943 and again Sunday 17th 1943. 190 of us on the first and 170 on the second; but at 80 years old in Oct, I’m not complaining.
Just a few memories from 1941-43. In the RAF if you were asked if you played the piano and you said yes you finished up as the regular removal man. I was a V.R, in the early 40’s and a fitter 1E; the next time I volunteered was for Air-crew duties, I cannot remember my feet touching the floor before I was back in S.Wales on No 1 course Flt Engineers Squad 15. This included 10 days to pass through No7 AGS and out as SGT Flt Eng A/G. A few weeks later, stripes and brevet I was posted to 1654 C.U at Wigsley 9/12/42 where I met my six crew mates.
After 14 days of circuits bumps came a Boxing day posting with several more crews to Guy Gibson’s 106 Lancaster Squadron at Syreston. Due to losses they had just been given a 14 day stand down…I seem to recall being told we would be found some nice “quiet” mining trips. These started on Saturday 16th January 1943; 190 Lancaster’s ours was “Flagday” “A”Apple our target Berlin, only one failed to get back. We returned from the Danish coast on three engines.
Sunday 17th January 43 our second trip 170 Lancaster’s ours was “B” BAR our target Berlin. 19 failed to get back; as we crossed the Wash on our return we received a divert order” land on air-fields nearest to London, dense fog in midlands” As soon as we altered course we were challenged by our own coastal guns and searchlights criss-crossing and waving us away from London. We eventually landed on a new US base at Harwich near Norwich where we learned that the Germans were raiding London, a reprisal for our first raid.
That is where my “have a go” ended at my Pilots request (I suspect) I was given a lengthy session of combat flying after which I was returned to non-operational duty on medical grounds. Back to the drawing board and overalls I/C a mobile team specialist in engine changing damaged Merlins. Still more training this time at A.I.D; school at Bristol where I qualified with Inspectors stamp M.5.M I spent the rest of my RAF service inspecting spares engine test-bed duties and pre-flight inspection after repairs I think I could say my Pilot bought me time.
A number of people have asked “Why ever did you leave a safe ground staff job to go into the Air-crew one” How do you start to say why? Apart from a couple of loose screws I hope that the following might be considered as a reason.
After square bashing as it was called at Morecambe I was posted to R.A.F Filton on ground defence of the air-field for the Bristol Aircraft factory during which time I survived the intense day-light raid by German aircraft on the factory and the airfield when they dropped a large number of bombs many of which had delayed fuses with the intention of completely stopping the production of the Beaufighter. In less than an hour the bomb craters had been filled and the emergency services were at work. I don’t remember sleeping for the next four days unless it was whilst I was stood up. The rest of the time was spent recording and reporting to control room each new exploding bomb. Several mates suffered damaged ear drums and were later to be discharged. Myself and others were offered training courses I chose to go for Flt Mech. training at St Athan which presented no problems and I was asked to go on to complete Fitter 1 Eng course.
Next came the day of postings, you were asked with the usual RAF style where you would like to be posted to? If you lived down south you asked for Scotland and were then posted to Wales, no-one ever got it right My posting was to a patch on the Cumberland coast built on sand-dunes and land-mined all the way round the bay. The only safe way out was past the guard-room. This was Haverigg one of the early Navigator training units, home of the dreaded Blackburn Botha, the air-crew lived from day to day. A good part of the air-field was a grave-yard for clapped out Bothas and the bay claimed more than its fair share.
It was here that I was to spend my first winter. The snows came and drifted and the only way you could find a road from the village of Haverigg to the town of Millom was by holding on to the phone lines. Everyone was confined to camp 2hrs on 2hrs off snow clearing duty; in the end the Engineering Officer had the tanks of the scrap Botha’s emptied and used the petrol it to melt the packed snow. We returned to something like normal after two or three weeks of this. Next I had a unusual early visit from my section Sgt to tell me that two urgent postings were wanted for a station work-shops only a few miles from my Home. By tea time I had cleared camp and was on my way back to the Midlands. This was the start of a long list of unbelievable surprises. I had been posted to a RAF station work-shops that was host to a Polish Fighter training school, however to improve the situation, I was granted permission to hold a sleeping-out pass, next I was asked to report to the Armoury for my weapons.
The first item was a Pike, a 6ft council brush stave into which the joiners had driven a 8inch nail and the duty fitter had finished this to a pub dart point, the next item was if anything a bigger surprise I was pointed in the direction of several WAAF’S sat at sewing machines the first one machined a strip of green webbing into a long tube, the second proceeded to fill this with several pounds of air-gun pellets and machine the top closed, the third completed a neat job by machining and attaching a very secure wrist-strap this I was told was my truncheon and I was asked to sign for both.
Before I left I was reminded that I was due to be shown both the mobile gun and the perimeter defences against airborne attacks, the mobile gun was from a local breakers yard it was a ex coal merchants flat truck on which a double wall of corrugated iron sheets had been shaped into a square and filled with sand bags, the mounting for the 303 machine gun was a flanged length of pipe securely bolted to the floor. I was still getting settled when the visit to the outer defences was arranged and it really made my day. We left the camp and were taken to a small wood which overlooked what was described as a ideal dropping zone for paratroopers. I had already noticed strange attachments to the tallest of the Poplar trees, car inner-tubes looped in daisy-chain fashion to form what I can only describe as a every large catapult which if properly loaded would shower the area with deadly shrapnel from the old ammo boxes that were used as the discharger. Well, the time to jump had arrived, I was being given more night duties than the hours spent in the workshops doing the work I had been posted to do. The answers; stay put or tighten the screws and go for Aircrew. You have the answer.
Frank Reeve’s Logbooks