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Gaining An R.A.F Pilots Brevet In WW II

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Gaining An R.A.F Pilots Brevet In WW II

Old 15th Dec 2009, 17:48
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Much appreciate you sharing your precious memories, but it is precisely that they were "ordinary" men who did extraordinary things that makes them special to all of us. They were there, at any moment they could be gone, but they did their duty.
A little more about the Queen of Bermuda here: H.M.S Queen of Bermuda. - World War 2 Talk
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Old 15th Dec 2009, 19:45
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A Spitfire Pilot - Part 23

A real dogfight.

We shared the Biggin Mess with the third Eagle Squadron, 133, and 124 Squadron. Now one of the Eagle pilots had a little tiny dachshund puppy and one of our chaps, Jack Wratten, had a little tiny, Bitzer puppy, what it was we never found out. Anyway, the dachshund was called “Hoiman the Goiman” and Jack Wrattens’ little dog was called Major, because, said Jack, he was a brown job. Now we used to take these little pups into the mess and after lunch we’d all sit around in the hall, up the stairs, and all the way around and the idea was to get the two little pups to play or fight each other, but neither of them did any damage to the other, but it was really comical to watch. They’d wriggle and squeal and roll about and more often than not little Major would somehow get Hoiman on his back and the poor little dachshunds’ ears would flap out of either side and Majors’ front feet would often stand, one on either side of his head, holding his ears down, whilst he growled and tried to bite chunks out of the little dachshund. It really was the funniest thing we’d seen for ages.

There were several dogs roaming around the aerodrome, some belonging to pilots and some just spares that came in when the NAAFI wagon arrived and got fed by everybody. Brain Kingcome had a bull terrier, called Gus and at this time we had a squadron mascot, a rooster, and we used to watch Gus chase Ben, the rooster, all over the place. He never really did him any damage, but he’d rush at the rooster, and Ben would immediately leap into the air, Gus would shoot underneath and the rooster would scuttle off. Now that was fine as long as the grass was short, but the grass near the dispersal hut was quite long and Gus would often manoeuvre the rooster into the long grass which made leaping about and dashing and dodging him a bit difficult and all the pilots used to line up and shout at the rooster,

“Get out, Ben, get out Ben, you stupid buggar!!” and so on. It was quite funny.


72 Sqn June 1942 – Martlesham, a missing gun panel and new wheels


We were sent to Martlesham for a week, theoretically to do air-to-air firing, but also to give us a bit of a rest and it proved quite a pleasant change. The idea was, that if you were lucky, you got on your air-to-air firing early and then you had a day off, so I tried to organise my air firing as early as possible, bang away at the target, come back and land, then fly back to North Weald, leave the aircraft there and go and see Mum, which was great.

George Malan and I had a day off at the same time and we were also on the early show for air firing and I took the first bang and shot the drogue off, which pleased me immensely, but it was more luck than judgement. We immediately shot back to Martlesham, picked up our gear, got it back to the aircraft and went to North Weald, left the aircraft there and transferred ourselves to 76 Kings Ave, where Vicki, George’s girlfriend, had come down for a couple of days. We met her in London, had a very pleasant time, then came back to Woodford and as we only had a day we had to rush about a bit and Mum and Vicki decided they’d come to North Weald with us and see us take off. So they came on the little chugga-chugga line (The now-defunct London Underground Central Line branch that ran from Epping to Ongar, via Blake Hall and North Weald.) and we said cheerio to them, walked to the station, which wasn’t particularly far, got in our aircraft and flew off. We thought we’d have a bit of a show for the girls, beat up North Weald and the train. Well we started to beat-up North Weald and my outer gun-panel blew off. Now as it was supposed to be checked by the North Weald groundcrew before I took off, I should have landed straight away and put in a big complaint, but as I’d spent about ten minutes beating the place up, we didn’t think it was a very popular move, so we just flew back to Martlesham.

Being on operations, if you owned a car, you were entitled to some legal petrol coupons. Well I didn’t have a car, but Ferdie (Future Father-in-law of Robbie, and, perforce, father of "Connie" - my mum!) did, a little Hillman 10, which he’d laid up as he wasn’t allowed petrol and I had a chat with him and said if he’d like to make the car over to me, I could get the petrol, I could run it, it would be better for the car, it would also be better for Con and everybody else. So Ferdie agreed with this and on the next day we had off, George drove me up to Woodford and then tackled the business of putting Ferdie’s car in order. George, incidentally, before being called up or volunteering, had worked at Austins in Birmingham, so he knew a fair bit about cars. Anyway, it didn’t take him too long to get Ferdie’s car running, and I was as pleased as punch. I said cheerio to Mum and drove happily back to Biggin Hill, the proud possessor of a car and legal petrol coupons. Now they didn’t matter so much, so long as you had one or two to show the police if you were pulled up. As most of us had cars then, we used to fill up at the bowser on the dispersal and we were never short of petrol!

I had some groundcrew service the car, which I used to leave in the road outside my billet and they really did a good job, although “Timber” Woods did come up to me one day, when he was looking for certain groundcrew, and said,

“I’m bloody fed up Robbie, if they’re not working on your bloody aircraft, they’re working on your bloody car! Get ’em back!”

But he didn’t really mind.

Having a car was an enormous help inasmuch as if we were released at any odd time, all I had to do was jump in the car and belt back to Woodford. Obviously on day release and weekend leave, I was able to run about quite a bit. I took Mum and Ferdie and Else down to Southend one day, we had quite a pleasant time, and at that time anyone living or working near the coast, had to have a special pass and we were just driving down towards the pier and a policeman walked into the middle of the road and stopped me. I let down the window and he said

“You have got a pass, sir, haven’t you?”

“Of course”, I said and put my hand in my pocket, not bringing anything out, because I hadn’t got anything to bring out!

“Righto, sir, carry on” and that was that. Mind you, Ferdie was a bit worried.
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Old 16th Dec 2009, 19:42
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A Spitfire Pilot - Part 24

72 Sqn June 1942 to Lympne, Oxspring takes over from Kingcome

At the end of June the squadron was moved down to Lympne and we could never find out why inasmuch as all we did were convoy patrols and general stooging round the Channel and nothing very exciting happened. The only good thing was that the officers were billeted in Sir Phillip Sassoon’s house which was a magnificent place, not very far from Lympne aerodrome, with a swimming pool in the garden and when we weren’t on duty, we’d lie about in the garden and go swimming. It really was most pleasant. We also had a talk by a chap who’d been shot down over Germany, a bomber bloke, and managed to escape and we were most interested in this, because the one thing that worried us was getting shot down and becoming as prisoner and any gen on how to avoid becoming a prisoner and getting back was always good.

I can well remember him telling us, or giving us the gen on various points of disguise and he was wearing an overcoat which didn’t really seem to disguise him much, he still looked like an RAF officer to me, but then he pulled out an old cap from his pocket and stuck it on his head and with a sort of half-bent look, you wouldn’t have thought it was the same chap. It was a quite interesting talk.

I had a bit of a surprise one day while we were at Lympne. I was looking out of the dispersal window and there was my aircraft being painted with great white stripes. So I rushed out to find out what they were doing and who’d given them permission and was told that orders had come down from on high that all the aircraft were to have broad white stripes painted on them. So there we were, nothing you could do about it. Anyway, the following day we were sent back to Biggin and told that the white stripes were to come off and I can only imagine that the Dieppe raid, which took place about a month later, had previously been arranged for the week we were at Lympne and that’s why we were down there, but I never got any farther than that.

Brian Kingcome was promoted to Wing Commander Flying at Kenley and we were most sorry to see him go because, as I’ve said before, he was not only a brilliant pilot, a great leader, but a very charming chap all round and Bob Oxspring, who took over from him, wasn’t really in the same class. A nice enough chap but we never really felt the same with him.

Group Captain Kingcome and his example as an officer, leader and fighter pilot remained with my father for the rest of his life. When my brother expressed an interest in joining the RAF, my father told him it had to be via the RAF College at Cranwell, which had enhanced and produced the qualities he held dear, in Brian Kingcome.
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Old 17th Dec 2009, 10:44
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What an act to follow !

I know now what the old time vaudeville artistes must have felt when they had to follow the great acts that were around on the prewar and wartime stages. How could one follow Gracie Fields, Max Miller, Harry Lauder and later Tommy Cooper, Morecambe and Wise to name a few ? I hesitate to pen my own rather trite memories after reading the terrific recent contributions from such a varied selection and I cannot and will not select any one as they are all so beautifully written and so vividly redolent of the times they represent. I just thank you all for the emotions that your contributions have stirred and for the absolute pleasure and privilege it has been to read them. I can't believe that there is no more to come. Surprise and delight me. Thank you, Regle.
 
Old 18th Dec 2009, 03:18
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regle, did you receive my PM?
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Old 18th Dec 2009, 09:47
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" I hesitate to pen my own rather trite memories...." - Regle

"A superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions" - Confucius

Seems to me, Regle, that Confucius has summed you up rather well, as anyone who has followed this thread in its entirety will appreciate!

With very best wishes to you, and the other outstanding contributors still with us, and the families of those who are sadly not, for a happy Christmas and a good New Year

Jack

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Old 18th Dec 2009, 10:07
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Abraham

Sorry. Brian, nothing shows from you.Regle.
 
Old 18th Dec 2009, 10:27
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A Spitfire Pilot - Part 25

72 Sqn –A Bounce, A party and A Tale of Two Spits


Anyway on one of the early sweeps that Bob Oxspring took us on, we were jumped over Dieppe, and got split up a bit. Bob was flying with his number 2 and I had mine, not George this time, and as we were coming back over France a 190 shot down in front of us and Bob told me to have a go at it and he would stay up top and give cover. Well, that suited me, because we were half way across the Channel by then, in a good position, and I had a bounce, so down I went. Now the 190 was going like the clappers, as they always do, so instead of following him right down, I pulled out so that when he eventually straightened out, as he had to, lower down, I’d be that much nearer. Everything was going like clockwork, until I suddenly heard a hell of a great bang in my ear. Naturally I thought the other 190 had got in behind me and let fly, so without pausing, without time to read a book or think, I yanked back on the stick and gave it full right rudder and hoped for the best. I was down to about 5000’ then. When I came to, I was somewhere about 12,000’, on my own, not another aircraft in sight, and the aircraft felt a bit strange. Well there was nothing left to do, so I ambled home, but on the way back over our coast I was looking at the wings and I thought ‘Well I don’t remember them being like, that, it must be me.’

The centre of the wing, by the cannon, seemed to have a slight bump in it, but I thought, well it must have been there before and I hadn’t noticed it. It was a bit rough to fly and I imagined that one of the trim-tabs had been torn off the wing or the aileron and that was the reason for it flying a bit left wing low. Well I got back to Biggin and it landed a bit faster than it normally did, but I got down alright and I taxied back to the dispersal and as I got out, Jack Hilton came over to have a word with me and without turning round and having a look at the aircraft, I told him that I thought some of the trim had come off and would he have a look at it, because it was flying a bit lop-sided. OK he said and that was that.

So I got back to the dispersal and was chatting with Bob Oxspring and Co. and Jack Hilton came over, he said.

“Robbie, I’ve brought your aircraft over for you”

I said, “Oh, Yeah?”

He’d parked it right outside, right next to the CO’s aircraft. As you know the Spit has a certain amount of dihedral. Well they’d parked my aircraft, as I say, next to the CO’s and the difference was quite alarming. I’d doubled the dihedral at least, the wingroots had come away, and the bolts were showing on the underside, and it was also buckled from the cannon outwards, consequently it was a sort of gull-wing effect.

Now in those days we were flying with the old type hoods which had a flat side and a knock-out panel which was kept in by split-pins. The idea being that if the windscreen misted over, you knocked out the panel and had clear vision. Now what had happened to me was that the wind had got under the panel and ripped it off, and the resulting noise, was, I thought, the chap shooting at me.

I came in for a fair bit of stick from the rest of the pilots who said,

“Don’t make a noise or Robbie will bale out!. Don’t slam the door or Robbie will do something dreadful!” and it went on like that for ages.

I had to write a long report for Farnborough because I think it was about the first time someone had only half-pulled the wings off a Spit and got away with it.

Anyway, the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary, the civilian operation that delivered and returned aircraft from factory to squadron, often flown by women.) brought in another nice new aircraft for me and had the squadron letters put on and the signwriter put “Connie” on the side as usual and I tested it and all was well.

Then we had a party for the 900th Hun to be shot down from the Biggin Hill Sector, and I’d arranged for Mum to come down and spend the night in Bromley and I’d pick her up in the car, take her to the Mess, when it was all over, run her back to Bromley. At that time, as you’ll appreciate, there were two aircraft on the squadron, both with RN-H and both with “Connie” written on them. Anyway, I was most anxious to introduce Mum to all the chaps on the squadron who hadn’t met her and we arrived at the mess and I proudly introduced her to “Timber”, who by this time was three parts under. He was a tall lad and he leant over Mum after I’d introduced her and instead of saying something nice such as how nice to see you, what a nice bloke you’ve got, he just stared at her and said,

“So it’s your bloody name we’ve got on half the bloody aircraft in the squadron!” Mum, as you can imagine, was somewhat embarrassed.

Anyway, it was a good do and later on I took Mum back to Bromley, despite the entreaties of “Timber” and Hugo Armstrong, who decided it would be a great thing if we could get Mum to stay in one of the rooms occupied by a WAAF and the WAAF would move out and I would move in, but we didn’t really fall in for that idea.

Apart from coming down for the party, Mum used to come down from London of an evening and we’d arrive at The White Hart or another place in Bromley, meet the chaps, have a few beers and Mum would catch the last train back to London and I would go back to Biggin. But being close to London, Biggin was a great place to be.

I said the Germans weren’t very early risers, but once when I was on dawn readiness with Johnny Lowe, we got told to scramble as there were two bogies over Dover somewhere. So we took off about 7 o’clock in the morning, it was a beautiful day and the sun was as bright as anything, but unfortunately the vector they sent us on meant we flew straight up into the sun and we literally couldn’t see a thing, so we had to jink from side to side and pray that we’d see the Jerries before they saw us, which was highly unlikely in view of their position. Anyway we were flying about 200 yards apart and I suddenly saw silver streaks going down towards Johnny Lowe, so I yelled at him to break, which he did and the first 190 that was having a go at him, shot past and straight out onto the Channel and away and the second one dived down, came up behind him and I, by this time, had turned in towards Johnny and I thought this was a great chance, we might get something down over our coast.

But immediately the 190 saw me coming, Johnny by this time was obviously going away, he did a half roll, got down to ground level and went home like a bat out of hell. Well I poured on everything but I couldn’t get anywhere near him so I didn’t even get a shot at him.
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Old 19th Dec 2009, 15:52
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A Spitfire Pilot - Part 26

Postings in and out and in again.

It wasn’t really all milk and honey at Biggin, because during the time we were there we lost several very nice chaps and good pilots. In fact some we lost before I even met them. I went on leave for a week once and when I came back, two chaps had been posted to us, one had been shot down and one had crashed on coming back and he hadn’t even unpacked his gear.

We had a supernumerary Squadron Leader attached to us for a while, a Sqn Ldr Tidd, who came to us to get some experience before he took over another squadron and about the first sweep we went on, to St Omer, we just lost him, no one saw him go. We imagined he might have gone down in the Channel, so we searched the Channel later on, but no sign of him, so he was written off.

After one trip I landed and came back to dispersal to be greeted by my chums with the news that I’d been posted to an OTU. I wasn’t at all amused as I was having a great time at Biggin and the whole thing suited me down to the ground. So I rushed in to see Bob Oxspring and explained that I had no wish to go to an OTU and he and “Tiny” le Petite, who was our Adj, grinned at each other and said,

“Don’t worry Robbie, other arrangements have been made.”

In fact they posted poor old Pilot Officer Jones, who by that time had got ten operational hours in and they sent him back saying he was a most experienced chap and would be a great help at the OTU!

72 Sqn leave 11 Group for the North – July 1942

At the end of July we were told that we were being moved up north for a rest, which didn’t really surprise us because we’d been down in 11 Group since I’d joined the squadron in December 1941, and they’d been down since the previous July and we thought we’d go up north for a rest and then come back again all fit and keen to start again. I went on leave for a week and someone else flew my aircraft up to Ouston and Bob Oxspring asked that if I was bringing the car up, could I bring some of his gear? Well, I agreed to that, no hassle, and as this now became an official trip, the Station Adjutant nearly busted a gut when I told him how many coupons I’d need to get the car from Biggin Hill to Newcastle. But he grudgingly gave them to me in the end.

By the time I’d driven to Ouston, the squadron had moved to Ayr, which meant getting more petrol coupons and going from Ouston to Ayr, which I managed alright, without even a puncture. Now after this, there was some rumour going about that we might be sent abroad and most of us were most unhappy about this, because we thought the Second Front must be starting in the fairly near future and we obviously have to go into France and there’d be so much fun flying over the Channel with lots to do and lots of chances to fire the old guns, that none of us, as I say, were particularly keen on being shunted off to the Far East or wherever. So George Malan and I did all we could to get out of it and George had a word with “Sailor”, who by that time was running an air-gunnery course near The Wash. As it happened there was nothing we could do about it and we were stuck and we learnt afterwards that whatever pilot Bob Oxspring wanted for this trip abroad, they were his, without argument, so there was nothing we could do about it.

Bob Oxspring was posted down south for a few days while the Dieppe do was on and he took a few pilots with him, including George Malan and other chaps who hadn’t seen much action so far and when George came back, he was complaining bitterly of Bob Oxspring’s leadership. Apparently they’d been told to patrol at a certain height and not go higher or lower at any time. Well a Dornier flew underneath them, about a thousand feet below apparently, and instead of sending down a section and getting rid of the Dornier, Bob Oxspring just watched it fly away and George was really quite mad about it and he reckoned if I’d have been there I might have forgotten to tell Bob I was going and just go, as we did in North Africa later on.
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Old 21st Dec 2009, 19:52
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A Spitfire Pilot - Part 27

While Bob Oxspring was down south, the squadron was taken over by a Squadron Leader Archie Winskill and he was a bit of a miserable character and he didn’t like anybody that we could find. We had one or two slight accidents, like taxiing accidents of various sorts and odd things going wrong that for some reason or another had never occurred when we down at Biggin and Winskill threatened us with the direst of penalties for the next person who did something really bad and I’m delighted to say that the next person who had a taxiing accident was Sqn Ldr Winskill!

Some of the Works & Bricks boys had left a small roller near the edge of the perimeter track and as Winskill was taxiing back he smashed straight into this, smashing up the prop and doing a fair amount of damage to the Spit, so we never heard any more from him after that and in any case, Bob Oxspring came back and all was well.

Whilst we were up at Ayr, all we did were convoy patrols and long-distance cross-countries and on one of the convoy patrols, I was up when the Queen Mary came up the Clyde towards Glasgow and it really was a magnificent sight. We flew round and round it, just admiring the rate at which it was going, it really looked beautiful. It had no escort because it was so fast that most of the escorts couldn’t keep up with it anyway, but it really was a beautiful sight.

I also had to fly to Etherington in Northern Ireland to do a convoy job over there and that again was for the Queen Mary, but when we got there the weather was so bad we couldn’t take off so we couldn’t do the convoy job anyway.

I had a small accident at Etherington. I was taxiing along the perimeter track, when a lorry decided to come out of a side road which was disguised by a bit of a hedge and I just caught the far wingtip and damaged the navigation light, there was no other damage to the aircraft, but they decided it wouldn’t be fit to fly back to Ayr, so I took another chaps’ aircraft and flew the section back and the other chap came back on his own later on.

We continued to do lots of formation flying and long cross-countries and on one of the formation trips, my seat came adrift and shunted down towards the bottom of the aircraft. I was trying to fly the Spit with my nose practically on the compass, but I managed to land alright and all was well. I realise now that the long distance cross-countries were to get us ready for what was going to be a fair old flight from Gibraltar to Algiers.

We were given what turned out to be embarkation leave so I piled all my gear into Ferdies’ car and drove it back to Woodford and that was the last time I drove back. Anyway, we managed to have quite a decent time, Mum and I, whilst I was on leave; the only snag was I had to leave a telephone number every time I went anywhere and one evening we were at the Queens Brasserie in Leicester Square, one of our favourite haunts, and the band stopped playing and the bandleader went to the microphone and said there was a telephone message for Pilot Officer R*******n. My heart dropped a foot, anyway I went out to the managers office and young Alan (brother of RJHR) was on the phone saying they’d had a telegram from the squadron saying return immediately if not sooner. So Mum and I came home and that was that. Ferdie and Mum saw me off from Forest Gate station and as we thought I’d be away at least two years Ferdie agreed that it would be OK for me to marry Mum when I returned. So away I went, but in the event we got married about six months later, but that’s another story.
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Old 22nd Dec 2009, 00:54
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Squadron Leader Archie Winskill .... was a bit of a miserable character and he didn’t like anybody that we could find.

Let's hope that he cheered up when he became Captain of the Queen's Flight!

Interestingly enough, the second paragraph of the summary on A L Winskill gives an indication of why he had a lot on his mind around the time in question.

Jack

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Old 22nd Dec 2009, 08:20
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Thanks a lot John, keep it up. Absolutely fascinating stuff.

Interesting, too, to see some of the pubs mentioned. When I was in the sixth form I had a car, so on a Friday afternoon my girlfriend and I would forego an afternoon of double history and economics and head off for the pubs around Biggin....
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Old 23rd Dec 2009, 16:31
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A Spitfire Pilot - Part 28

October 1942, en route to Gibraltar

I got back to Ouston to find that we’d had a few other pilots posted in to us, two of them, Jerry le Cheminant and Chas Charnock.* They’d both been in the B of B and Chas in particular was a terrific flier and we got on very, very well indeed, in fact in later months we flew together quite a bit.

We were issued with tropical kit and given a lot more injections, everything from a cold in the nose to the bubonic plague, I think, and we were also given lectures on how to survive in the Far East and we were all laying bets that we’d be sent to India or somewhere. It wasn’t that we were all that annoyed at being posted abroad, but it seemed to us that we weren’t likely to see very much action, but in fact we did manage to see quite a bit eventually.

Finally, with a few bits of our personal gear packed in parachute bags, we embarked at Liverpool on an ancient merchant ship called the Fort Maclaughlin. It was hardly what you could describe as a pleasure cruiser and twelve of us were down in one of the holds in bunk beds next door to what we could understand were coal bunkers and consequently with the rolling and upping and downing of the ship all we heard were clangings and bangings. In fact on one occasion there such an almighty bang that we thought we’d been torpedoed and two of the chaps were out of their bunks and up the stairs onto the deck before you could say “knife!” In actual fact what had happened was that a large chunk of iron from somewhere had clattered along the deck and frightened the life out of us.

We had a large number of crated aircraft on the deck and on each crate, in letters about a foot high was the word “Gibraltar”, so we thought well that’s the last place we were going to land. Anyway, we went up the Clyde to join the rest of the convoy and there were aircraft and ships all over the place. There were little landing craft zipping to and fro and lots of Dakotas trundling around and it really was quite an impressive sight. We disappeared out into the Atlantic at last and the weather wasn’t too good. Fortunately none of us were sick, but we had a Wing Commander with us, a Wing Commander MacMullen, a strange chap. He had a round face and he looked like one of these cartoon tigers, and he was very upset if he ever heard anyone addressing him as “Tiger” As I say, he was a strange enough lad, we’d never come across him before and he thought it would be a great thing if we had a sweep on who was the first chap to be sick. Well, naturally enough, the first person, and the only person to be sick, was Wing Commander MacMullen.

As I said the sea was a bit rough and we used to go up on deck and watch all the ships in the convoy bouncing up and down. We had a small aircraft-carrier near us and that was followed by a little corvette and we used to stand up on the deck and watch this corvette going up and down and you could almost see the screws at one end and the front sticking up in the air every now and again – I wouldn’t have fancied that job at all.

We were supposed to do anti-submarine lookout, so two of us at a time would go up on deck by one of the Oerlikons and stand there and scour the sea for submarines, but fortunately we never saw anything. In fact we weren’t troubled by any submarines on the whole trip, but it didn’t alter the fact that you always imagined that you were going to be attacked and had visions of sitting on rafts in the middle of the Atlantic for days on end.

Trying to get some idea of where we were going, a couple of us managed to get up into the chart-room and saw our course plotted and from what we could see, we got nearly to New York and turned round and started coming back again and turned round again and all we seemed to be doing were little circles in the middle of the Atlantic. But eventually we got down and we could see Gibraltar and by that time the sun was shining, the weather wasn’t too bad and having got land in sight, we all felt an awful lot better.

* = An interesting chap, Chas Charnock. He'd been a Cranwell Cadet in the 30's, graduated and was posted to fighters, but for some (unkown to my father, but suspected low-flying) reason, was court-martialed and dismissed the service. He joined up again in 1939 as Sergeant Pilot and by the time he joined 72, was a Warrant Officer and was subsequently commissioned again. A lot of the chaps mentioned in this memoir can be found in the definitive volume of RAF & Commonwealth fighter pilots, "Aces High", by Christopher Shores.
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Old 25th Dec 2009, 10:52
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WAY OFF THREAD AND i DON'T CARE.


A MERRY CHRISTMAS ,AND A PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR TO STAFF OF PPRUNE , ALL CONTRIBUTORS, AND READERS .

My wife and I are now waiting to be picked up and taken to Christmas dinner, by my son in law. Will have a very pleasant day with grandchildren, and family.
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Old 25th Dec 2009, 19:56
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Christmas wishes

I'll second that, Cliff. Merry Christmas to all, and may this fascinating thread continue long into the New Year!

Time for another whisky...
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Old 26th Dec 2009, 19:46
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A Spitfire Pilot - Part 29

Disembarkation at Gibraltar, November 1942

We’d left Liverpool on 20th October and we disembarked at Gibraltar on 6th November. We were given our billets, which turned out to be Nissen huts on some part of The Rock, quite where we could never find out, but we weren’t too enamoured of the food, everything seemed to taste of oil, and you could smell oil for mile, it was quite a sickly business. One or two of us managed to get down into Gibraltar town, which wasn’t too bad. The main street had lots of bars in it, most of them seemed to be up on the first floor and you’d start going up the stairs, to meet some chap hurtling down because he’d been a bit too drunk and had been thrown out by the local bar-tenders.

It was quite often the case, you’d walk along the road and a chap would shoot out from the doorway in front of you and collapse on the pavement. I had a meal with David Cox once, which was sold as steak and it was very, very tasty, but we learnt afterwards it was horse, but it still tasted alright.

We had very little money with us, but what little we had we changed into French Francs and sat around, waiting to hear what we were supposed to do. Well after a little while we learnt that they’d invaded North Africa and we were to fly up to Algiers. I managed to send a cablegram off to Mum, to say that we’d arrived somewhere, I obviously couldn’t tell her where, but I did mention that I’d met a chap from our old swimming club. Now I hadn’t actually met him, but it had been said that he was in Gibraltar, and so I thought that Mum would add two and two together and work out where I was. But she knew somebody in Cable & Wireless and they managed to track down that my original cable had come from Gibraltar, so at least Mum did have some news and she sent a cable out to me, which was the first communication any of us had when we finally got to Souk el Arba.

A long transit to Maison Blanche

We spent a few days wandering around Gib, most of the time in bars or going to the local cinema and finally were told to collect some flying gear and get down on the airstrip, which we did. Now none of the aircraft had any registration numbers or lettering of any kind on them and they were also the tropical mod type Spit, which means they had a great
big airscoop underneath the propeller boss and they were also fitted with long range tanks. Now none of us had ever flown an aircraft with a long range tank and we had no idea of how they’d fly or what we had to do to get them off the ground, we were just told to get to the end of the runway and follow your leader. So we undid the armour-plating behind the seat, stuffed our parachute bags in the back, put the armour-plating back, got in the aircraft and sat and waited and eventually Bob Oxspring took off and we all followed one after the other. But by this time all sorts of other squadrons were taking off and there were Spitfires right, left, and centre, and as I say, none of them had any markings at all, and it was more by luck than judgement that we managed to get in some sort of formation and head for Algiers.

Now, I must admit, even to this day, I have no idea how a long range tank works and whether it takes you off and when it finishes you go on to your main tank, or whether you start with your main tank and then transfer to the auxiliary tank. But in any event we flew very gingerly and we all managed to find our way to Algiers, which was like an ants nest. It’s a large aerodrome, but it was packed solid with every kind of aircraft you could think of, from B-17s to practically Tiger Moths, little tiny aircraft that the French had been using and the circuit was another mass of aircraft going round and round. Anyway, we all managed to land without too much difficulty and not knowing where to go we just taxied to a spare spot off the runway and sat there. Eventually some character came up and took our details and we were told to find somewhere to eat and sleep.

Well the only thing we could find in the way of a restaurant, was a small sort of café on the edge of the aerodrome, where we all piled in and had a rather greasy meal and then we had to try and find sleeping accommodation and we couldn’t, so we finished up, wrapped up in whatever clothes we’d got, on the floor of the hangar and it wasn’t too comfortable, particularly as they used to bomb Algiers, night after night, although fortunately nothing came near us.
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Old 27th Dec 2009, 17:44
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A Spitfire Pilot - Part 30

The move east to Bone and first blood to Owen Hardy

We each took our turn to patrol Algiers and the docks, to keep off any stray Ju-88s or 109s or whatever they sent down, but we never saw anything at all. After a day of this we were told we were being posted to Bone, which is a port about 300 odd miles farther east. So again we took off with our long range tanks, got to Bone where they had a single runway, more or less like a single track road and the ground off the runway was rough, full of stones, holes and what have you and also a lot of dust. No sooner had we landed and got into the dispersal, which in this case was a concrete-block house, than two 109s came over and started shooting up the aerodrome. There was no way we could have got out of dispersal, got to our aircraft and taken off, so we just had to sit there and watch these 109s shoot the place up. There were supposed to be two of our pilots up in the air, looking for things like this, but they didn’t see them on this occasion.

We all took our turn at aerodrome patrol and in the evening when it was dark we had to make our way to Bone and try and find somewhere to stay. There was literally no organisation whatsoever while we were at Bone. We had to wander around the town till we came to a hotel and then try and get rooms there. Fortunately we met up with Jimmy Barralldi, the chap who’d given us the talk on how to bale out of an aircraft at Hawarden*, and Jimmy could speak French quite well and he managed to find us rooms in this hotel, which was a good thing. Apart from the fact that there were no lights whatsoever, no candles and we had to blunder our way upstairs, and into rooms to find out if there was an empty one anywhere and finally Johnny Lowe and I managed to find a double bed and we crawled in and that was that.

The following day Owen Hardy and I were picked for the first aerodrome patrol and our first job was to get rid of the long range tanks. We’d had no instruction on this and although we tried pressing every button and switch and lever, there was no way we could get this damn tank off. Eventually one of us sat in the cockpit and pulled the lever and the other one gave the tank a mighty kick and it fell off. So we tried that with the other aircraft and managed to get all of them off without a great deal of further bother.

We’d been doing our usual patrol up and down the aerodrome, seeing if anything was coming our way, flying as usual about 200 yards apart and on the other side of Owen, who happened to be nearer the sea than I was, a 109 came in very, very low and shot across the aerodrome, shooting things up on the way, turned round and belted for home. Owen Hardy and I both turned in to chase the 109, but we hadn’t a great deal of height advantage and from what we could gather the 109 was a lot faster than we were.

Anyway, we chased this 109 on the deck for quite a way and I had visions of the thing getting away and I was shrieking at Owen to fire as soon as he could. He was quite calm about it, he lined up the 109, gave it a couple of good burst and the thing burst into flames and hit the deck. That was our first enemy aircraft in North Africa.

* = A Spitfire Pilot - Post #1230 onwards

Last edited by johnfairr; 28th Dec 2009 at 21:55.
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Old 28th Dec 2009, 21:58
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A Spitfire Pilot - Part 31

Souk-el-Arba

The next day we scarcely seemed to have been in bed for more than five minutes when we were all called to get up and get packed. Well getting packed wouldn’t normally have taken long because we scarcely had anything with us, but in the pitch dark we had to fumble about the bedroom, finding bits and pieces, stuffing them in our parachute bags and coming down into the cold morning. We were put in trucks and taken back to Bone and told to go off and do a sweep over Beja, which at that time was in enemy hands. We did this, didn’t hit anything, didn’t see anything and were told to land at a place called Souk-el-Arba on the way back. We were told that we’d recognise the landing field at Souk-el-Arba because there was a crashed Potez or some such bomber, smack in the middle of it.

Anyway we found it alright, we all landed but it was like landing on the moon. It was rough, hard mud with the usual dust and potholes and we wondered how long our tyres would last. The town of Souk-el-Arba, or large village, was at one end of the aerodrome and a road with ditches either side, ran from the town right through the middle of the aerodrome. So we parked our aircraft on one side of the ditch, went to the other and just stood around.

During the day some ground troops arrived, together with supplies of petrol and ammunition, and having nowhere else to store it, we piled all the four-gallon petrol cans in the ditches alongside the road that ran from the little town of Souk-el-Arba, straight through the aerodrome. The cans were theoretically hidden under the trees, but there was really nowhere else to put the things.

We were given boxes of K Rations but we had nowhere to sleep and no clothes. We managed to dig out some rather poor tents from the French and also managed to scrounge a couple of paper-like blankets. Now although the weather was very nice during the day, pleasantly warm, the minute the sun went down, which was normally about 5 o’clock, when everything went completely black. It was freezing, and we crawled to bed and woke up shivering like mad. We managed to scrounge a few more blankets, but even so it wasn’t too warm at night and we continued like this for something like a fortnight.

Water was another problem. We’d go into the village and fill our water bottles from the bowser and then put in the little pills we were given to keep us clear of diseases and so on, but there was not enough water to wash in and consequently, after a few days, we were a bit scruffy.

We were kept pretty busy right from the start and on 21st November, I took part in three sweeps and one aerodrome patrol, totalling five and a half hours, which is quite a lot of flying, one way and another. On one of the sweeps, we came across some enemy lorries in the middle of nowhere, they had no air cover or anything, so we piled in and started shooting them up, but I must admit the old Germans are a bit quick off the mark. No sooner had we made our first approach, than one lot had piled out of their lorry, set up a machine-gun and were returning fire like mad. We clobbered them pretty well, but they managed to hit Bob Oxspring’s aircraft and he crash-landed on the way back, near Beja.
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Old 29th Dec 2009, 14:13
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A Spitfire Pilot - Part 32

Uninvited Guests

If at that time the Jerries didn’t know where we were, it didn’t take them long to find out, because the following day two 109s screeched down the valley, across the aerodrome, up and away, before anyone could take off. So after that we had two aircraft in the air all day long and two on the ground ready to take off. I’d just landed after doing an aerodrome patrol, parked the aircraft and was sitting down, writing a letter to Mum. Now we were expecting another squadron to come and join us at Souk-el-Arba and no one was particularly surprised when they saw a batch of about a dozen aircraft in line astern, idling, circling the aerodrome and it looked as though they were coming in to land, until someone suddenly looked up and shouted “109s!”

Well, after that you couldn’t see us for dust. There was no way we could get from where we were, across the ditch, into our aircraft and take off, before the 109s came down. In fact they were halfway down before someone started shouting. So we all scattered like mad and I ran as fast as I could, obviously, and then flung myself down on the ground. At that time we had no slit trenches or anywhere else to hide and there were a few of the groundcrew who flung themselves into ditches, but unfortunately that’s about the first thing the Hun shoots up, apart from aircraft.

We had American anti-aircraft gunners stationed round the aerodrome with their 0.5 machine guns and they were blasting off at everything within sight, but they didn’t hit anything, at least no 109s. But the 109s managed to hit the petrol, and some of our ammunition and the petrol went up with a terrific whoosh and although we were, by this time, about 150 yards away, you could feel the blast on the side of your face as though you were sitting near a fire. Anyway, after the first run, and I must admit I was scared stiff, and it’s no fun lying in the middle of a field where you can hear the bullets hitting the ground and ricochets going right, left and centre and you can’t tell from the noise of the bullets, whether they are coming across you, the side of you or through you. Anyway, none of the pilots were hit, so as I say after the first run, we decided to get a little farther away from the action. I got up to run away, and a chap who was some way from me, shouted out.

“Give me a hand, Robbie!”

It was Sergeant Hussey, who had come across one of our chaps with holes in his stomach and he was trying to drag him along. So I changed my mind and ran back, helped get hold of this shot-up chap. We managed to get him underneath a lorry and there we stayed until all the action had died down. I wasn’t madly happy, because I thought they were more likely to shoot up a lorry then they were some chap out on his own in the middle of a field, but fortunately they didn’t attack our particular lorry and so we got up afterwards and counted our numbers.

We’d lost several of our groundcrew who had taken shelter in the ditches including a couple of a-rabs who’d decided to shelter behind the petrol cans but we didn’t find those until we started throwing mud and dust onto the fires to put them out, when we came across these two burnt up characters; it wasn’t very pleasant.

An hour or so later we were shot up by 190s, but fortunately they did very little damage to our aircraft and none of the personnel, although two of the squadrons which shared the aerodrome with us, 152 and 93, had a fair bit more damage, in fact 152 were pulled out soon after this.

After the second raid we took a lot more interest in the aircraft that might be flying round our vicinity and we spotted the Ju 87s with their escort quite time before they reached our aerodrome, consequently we had lots of time to disappear into little holes we’d found, mostly bomb-craters from the first run and very little damage was done, although it’s quite frightening to sit there and watch an 87 come down, shrieking its head off and dropping its bombs!

Again, the American anti-aircraft gunners didn’t manage to do any damage to the opposing team, but later in the afternoon a Blenheim flew over, accompanied by a couple of Spits, and they opened up like mad, flinging flak and what have you everywhere. Now the normal form of recognition by a friendly aircraft, if it’s being attacked, is to lower its wheels and this Blenheim kept lowering its wheels and raising its wheels and lowering its wheels and we were rushing around to the gunners, telling them that it was a friendly aircraft, but they paid little or no attention and still carried on blasting away. But again, they never hit anything and the Blenheim and its escort disappeared into the distance. Funnily enough, just after that the anti-aircraft gunners were sent away and we were left with two or three Bofors gunners
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Old 29th Dec 2009, 21:07
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A Spitfire Pilot - Part 33

Two become one and Beaufighters arrive.

We lost seven or eight aircraft completely destroyed and after that we were never able to put a whole squadron in the air at the same time and consequently we used to join up with 93 and make up a squadron between us. Sometimes Bob Oxspring would lead and sometimes Nelson-Edwards, the CO of 93.

We also started getting bombed at night quite regularly and apart from high explosive, a lot of butterfly bombs were dropped, which opened out like little peeled oranges when they hit the ground and scattered shrapnel right, left and centre. But as we were still lying flat on the ground in our little tents, nothing hit us, but the tent had a lot of holes in it. After that we decided to dig slit-trenches and these sprung up all over the place and most nights we spent a good part of the night stuck in them. Consequently we were up in the morning a bit on the tired side

A squadron of Beaufighters had come in and taken over the far side of the aerodrome and they used to keep off the Hun as much as possible at night although we were still bombed, but one night we were in our slit trench as usual and I heard an aircraft go over and then a whistling noise and Daniel, who knew everything, said,

“Don’t worry chaps, it’s a Beaufighter, you can tell by the whistle”

Well the snag was the whistle was the bomb coming down. So after that Dan had a bit of ribbing to put up with.

During the day the weather was pretty good, it was reasonably warm, visibility was good, but occasionally you’d get a spot of rain. Now you could never really tell when it was coming, one minute the sky would be clear, everything fine, then the next minute, clouds would come up and it would simply belt with rain and I’ve never seen rain like it. Anyway, it turned our concrete-packed mud field into a sea of mud and it was just like walking in glue. Naturally the aircraft just sunk into the mud and to begin with, we used to all get out and crawl under the wings of the Spifire, then heave it up, move it over a bit and put it down again. But the aircraft just sunk into the mud again, so we gave that up as a bad job. The snag was that the Germans were using proper airfields in Tunis, with proper runways and they were also using the roads, because there were lots of long, straight roads in that area and they could get up and fly around and shoot us up and there wasn’t anything we could do about it. They also did a lot of damage to the Army, so much so that General Anderson came round to find out what we were doing about things and why weren’t we protecting the Army. But when he saw the conditions we were working under, he thought we were doing as good a job as possible, so that was that.
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