What my father wrote about his life.

He died Feb 15, 2004 after a short illness.

I have found this printed history and scanned it in using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) so there could be mistakes in the text that he would not have made, I will correct them soon but they are here for interested people who knew him  to read. What you read below is all written by him and I find interesting.


Funeral   Thursday Feb. 26, 2004. Mortlake Crem   3.30pm


Notes on my Life

A casual history for the Butler family 's record.

1. I left Colston's School in Bristol in 1939 with a reasonable School Certificate and no idea what I

wanted to do for a living. I eventually took an apprenticeship in a chemist's shop. It was not my

metier. A number of people told me that I didn't look right standing behind the counter in a white

coat. There is no doubt that in my eighteen months there I learned very little pharmacy (I was

cheap labour on the counter) but I did learn some interesting things. For instance, I found that the

day passed much more quickly if I made a real effort to be exceptionally helpful to the customers,

however trying they were. I also learned how to dress a shop window even given the unpromising

collection of boxed bottles and pills, with the odd tin of "Flit", some suppositories, dog-flea

remedies and the rest. Unmentionable things like sanitary towels were dispensed by the women

who served on the cosmetics counter across the shop The shop sold no contraceptives except

Mrs Rendall's Pessaries.

2. On the first day of January 1941 [ had been eighteen for six weeks and the German Air

Force was entering on a series of raids on my home town of Swansea that was to destroy the centre

entirely. I presented myself at the R.A.F recruiting office and signed on in the RAF Volunteer

Reserve 'for the duration of hostilities' as a trainee pilot. A few weeks later I was summoned to a

medical examination at Keble College, Oxford. There I learned that my rib cage has a slight

congenital malformation when the young doctor who was doing the examination called over his

equally young colleague. "Look - some-one or other's skeleton!" he exclaimed. I wish 1 could

remember who the some-one was He spent a while checking where my heart was before telling me

that I was lucky, this condition often pressed upon the heart and deformed it, but I was clear of

problems. I had evidently made his day and his chum's by providing a living example of something

rare that must have been included in their fairly recently completed course. After that I was

declared accepted for aircrew training and sent home to await call-up papers. No other doctor has

ever noticed this rare skeletal aberration.

3. Months went by after this medical without a word from the Air Force. When the

Summer vacation came the University Air Training Corps put a notice in the South Wales Evening

Post that they were opening the initial training course, that they were just starting, to outsiders who

had the necessary aircrew acceptance. I was there like a shot- This course gave exemption, when

one was eventually called in, to the six week Initial Training Wing (the ITW). The course was

conducted by a University don assisted by a Flight Sergeant Air Gunner with a Distinguished Flying

Medal earned manning the pathetic pan-fed machine gun mounted at the back of the hopelessly

obsolete two-seater Fairy bomber that the RAF had been using to defend ground forces in the

retreat to Dunkirk. He still kept the old battle-dress jacket that he had been wearing when he was

sprayed with machine gun bullets by some passing Messerschmidts and he got it out to show us the

scattering of bullet holes. From the fact that he had been decorated one can assume that not all the

Me's got home. He had just come out of hospital when he was given this cushy posting, to


4. This air gunner's grasp of the importance of military discipline was no better than that of

any other aircrew so we never learned to march properly, salute smartly or do any of the other

tedious things that every-one who had had to attend a formal ITW could at least do if they tried.

The University don taught us what the book said we needed by way of rudimentary navigation, but

in my case only just We had to gain at least 60 in the mathematics paper at the end of the course

and I was never any good at sums - in School Certificate I was given only a "Pass" rather than the

"Credits" and "Distinctions" that the other subjects earned me (I've just remembered that the

Bristol examination board had just dropped the term "Distinction" and substituted "Very Good"

presumably not wishing us to get above ourselves). Anyhow, when the results of our ITW

exemption exam came out I had passed, but with a bare 60 in maths. I have the abiding

impression that the Prof, who marked the papers himself, had massaged my maths results so that 1

could scrape through, the rest of my scores being pretty good.

5 It was December before I was formally called up. The RAF had taken over many of the

massive blocks of flats fronting on to Regents Park in St.John's Wood to house the flood of new

aircrew recruits and here I found that "No 1 Flight" had been composed entirely of people who had

been through a University Air Squadron training in place of ITW. Meals were taken in what had

been the restaurant in the zoo, and the hundreds of other new entrants were lined up in flights along

the approach road, awaiting their turn to enter. We, however, having completed our basic training

were all promoted to Leading Aircraftmen and thus glorified we were marched past the waiting

hundreds to eat first although the last to arrive. I ought to have felt it was quite unfair but

somehow I couldn't, although the ribald remarks shouted at us, as we shambled by in clear evidence

that we were not fit to be let out in the King's uniform where people could see us, should have

shamed us.

6 This did not last long. We were transferred to civilian billets in Manchester to await

shipping to Canada and thence to the USA to be taught to fly by the US Navy at Pensacola. This

was under a scheme known as "Towers Chuck" There was an Admiral Towers in the US Navy so

perhaps he had some hand in it - but "Chuck"? Perhaps it was the admiral's nickname. Anyhow,

we had to paint it on the side of each of our three kit bags (Two big ones for our normal uniform kit

and a smaller one for the as yet unused flying gear). On Christmas Eve 1941 we were transferred to

the docks at Gourock and put on board a large Norwegian cargo vessel called the "Rei-yensftorif'.

Inside we found that below decks had been cleared and long dining tables with backless seating

benches occupied the whole space Above each table there were sturdy hooks from which at night

we were to sling the hammocks that were issued. I believe I recall correctly that there were three

thousand of us swaying beneath those hooks, every hammock touching two or three others,

throughout the entire length and breadth of what I suppose had been the cargo deck.

7 Things did not seem too bad until the morning - Christmas morning! - when the ship hit

the open sea just as we were hitting the deck Ugh! The smell of sea-sick pervaded the whole ship

for most of the three weeks it took us to reach Halifax, Nova Scotia Few of us could keep

anything down. I spent most of my time up on the deck in the freezing wind - so did most people.

Some-one told me there were three people down below for the Christmas dinner. I can only

suppose their fathers owned sea-going yachts on which their stomachs had been broken in to the

ocean's heaving. For the first week or so we had an escort of two of the old four-funnel destroyers

supplied by the Americans in return for bases in the Caribbean. These ancient warships were out of

sight for most of the time, just the tops of their many funnels showing above the great waves. The

North Atlantic in Winter is not recommended but my resolve to have nothing to do with the open

sea ever more was defeated a year later - but you will read of that later on.

8 Halifax was a shock! Bright lights visible for miles out at sea! After more than two

years of strictly enforced black-out it seemed like fairy land. We were put straight on to a train to

take us to Moncton in New Brunswick. Here there was in the course of completion a huge holding

centre to receive the coming flood of aspiring aviators. The snow was thick on the ground but the

barracks were sadly overheated by a system that used steam in radiators, although we did not know

it. That night, finding no way of adjusting the temperature in the barracks we opened the windows,

only to awake in the morning near frozen. What a fuss there was! The Canadians could not

believe anyone could be so stupid as to condense the steam in the heating system. To their credit

they had the place warm again by night fall. To pass the time we were put on to polishing the miles

of newly laid flooring - the experience of handling a large electric polisher was to be repeated in a

Brighton hotel a year later; it just demonstrates the truth of the saying that war is 99 boredom

relieved only by rare episodes of terror

9. We were in Moncton for some weeks. Happily one of my chums was a Baptist and

thus very welcome in the New Brunswick community. We soon got to know a friendly family with

two daughters and a niece with whom we were taken skating, given meals at home and on one

disgraceful occasion repaid them by pulling their legs. 1 asked one of the girls what was her work.

She was a Comptometer operator "What's that'7" says I, tongue in cheek. "It's an adding machine"

says she. "Don't be daft" says my good friend Jim Andrew, picking up my line straight away, "If

there were machines to add up we needn't go to school". We kept up this pretence of frank

disbelief until they rang a man friend to ask him to come over and explain to these pathetically

ignorant English! From the look on her face the girls' mother had rumbled us, but she said nothing.

In the end we had to confess it was a leg pull but it says something for the understanding of things

in the U.K. that we could con them for so long. We were forgiven but nothing we said was taken at

face value thereafter.

10. This very hospitable family, whose name I have to my shame forgotten, took us to the

Sunday service in the huge, modem Baptist chapel. There was a sizeable gallery upstairs where we

had to sit, having arrived late One wall of the main hall could be folded back to make the large side

room available to extend the auditorium when, as on Sundays, the crowd was too great to be

accommodated in the main chapel. The preaching was pretty forthright. "The Sunday collection

here is now averaging only two dollars a head and this is supposed to be a Christian community!"

was one example I remember. They were all strictly tee-total and actually pointed out to me a

neighbour's car, saying, "Do you know, in the boot of that car they bring home liquor'" They were

quite seriously shocked.. I was to see them again on my way home a year later, and join in the New

Year's night service, and I have the warmest memories of these good-hearted Canadians and their

snowy township -1 suppose it looks quite different in the Summer but I can only imagine it against

a white background.

11 After a few weeks we were put on a train for Detroit. There there was a U. S.Navy

airfield with no made up runways, it was just an enormous field - or I suppose it was a field, we

never saw what lay underneath the packed snow that covered everything. The snow had all been

flattened by road rollers, so that we had a firm white table on which to take our first flying lessons,

the direction in which we landed being dictated by the wind-sock.. The aircraft were large yellow

two sealer bi-planes, open cockpits with no proper intercom, just a speaking tube in the instructor's

helmet that fed into the ear-pieces in our helmets. He could speak to us and we had no need to

speak to him, we just did as we were told. Any-one who could not learn to fly solo in eight hours

was sent packing, presumably to be given training in some other aircrew trade in Canada. Apart

from one short visit to Detroit we had no time off, and as soon as we had all solo'd we were put on

the train South.

12. The train to Pensacola, in Florida, was an eye-opener Slow moving, when it stopped at

some small station for the engine to take on water the mob of young English lads pouring out to

buy everything edible in the little station shop must have been an alarming sight We were two or

three days on the way. The carriages transformed at night into long corridors lined with curtains

closing off the two tiers of sleeping bunks. We gained a fascinating view of the variety of the

American countryside, the train occasionally passing slowly down the middle of a small country

town's main street, to our absolute amazement. We would spend hours passing across an

enormous plain, then more hours in dark pine forest, the snow vanishing as we moved further


13 Pensacola itself was a small hick town, (rather bigger when I saw it 53 years later with a

group of other ex-RAF characters on a nostalgic return visit). On a promontory off to the right of

the bay there was, and still is, a U.S. Naval Air Base There we were housed in one of the large

brick buildings. The dormitory that my intake was assigned to was known as "Compartment I". 1

can still hear the strong Southern accent of the seaman in the duty office as he called over the

loudspeakers calling the attention of "Compartment Ah" to some official announcement or other.

Our beds were steel double bunks. On the walls were large G.E. electric fans swinging back and

forth, not really needed when we moved in in February but very soon most welcome as the weather

warmed and became extremely humid. These fans turned day and night without stop throughout

the months that I was there, quite a tribute to General Electric.

14. We were bussed out to one of the three outlying airfields for flying training.. It had a

huge area of tarmac where three massively wide runways converged. We all had to go through the

initial training again, only allowed to fly solo after some hours of dual. Here, we were flying over

the enormous marshes of the North Florida coast. We were taught to stunt, to land on very small

fields surrounded with tall bushes (it was, of course, a programme basically designed to prepare

naval people for carrier landings eventually) and above all not to loose our bearings and not to lose

sight of the other 'yellow perils' also being thrown around the skies. We followed the fashion and

each bought ourselves a cheap pocket watch which we hung around our necks on a boot lace when

we were flying - it was important not to lose track of the time for we were all expected back at the

end of an hour One of the hair-raising memories is of the mob of about eighty yellow bi-planes,

mostly flown by learners with only a few hours flying practice, all jockeying for position as they

came in to land, like a flock of starlings, on the huge expanse of tarmac. Another abiding memory

is of the way that the cheap watch, strung around the neck on the long bootlace, would hang down ; ''^/"'i; ',.'

in front of your eyes when you were hanging upside down in the middle of a loop or a slow roll.

15. We were worked hard. Woken at six o'clock, then straight after breakfast either out to

the airfield or into a lecture room - or occasionally to the excellent engine sheds, each of which held

a large radial engine rigged up so that with the pull of a wire some typical engine defect could be

brought about. One demonstrated the effect of carburettor icing; this I was able to recognise two

years later as someone described the slow falling away of their plane's speed over the Atlantic

despite the opening wide of the throttle. Interestingly enough they were only saved from disaster as

the aircraft descended closer and closer to the sea because one of the crew, the second pilot,

(something we had on Coastal Command, although never on Bomber) had also been at Pensacola

and had suddenly recalled the lesson learned in those engine sheds and the remedy, which was to


press a button marked 'spot heater'. It was my own crew but I had a head cold and had been

replaced for this trip. I felt a pang of jealousy, 1 would have loved to be the Smart Alee who saved

the day by recognising the cause when all others were flummoxed! The lucky man who did save the

day was called Alee Haslam (a truly smart Alee!) I have just remembered. I wonder where he is


16 When we arrived at Pensacola the weather had been dank , damp with sea mist rolling

oft'the Gulf of Mexico. As the year wore on it rapidly warmed up and we were dressed in khaki

trousers held up with U.S.Marines' black belts. Air Force blue shins with the standard black tie and

our fore-and-aft R.A.F. caps. I still have my marine's belt somewhere, I'm sure. One day I was

amazed to find myself covered in spots I had German Measles' There was an isolation wing and

there 1 was in company of one Frank Garner who had contracted scarlet fever (how the names come

back!) He was a married man with a house in Pinner and I was to meet him once just after the war,

when he told me that on returning to the U.K. he had found his wife had gone off with another man.

We were kept apart in separate rooms, but after a few days we spent our days together despite the

instructions of the medical people. They were a bit panic struck when it came out that we sitting

together in each other's rooms -1 suppose the thought of people perhaps infected with both scarlet

fever and measles at the same time was not comforting, but it didn't worry us.

17 Back home the R.A.F. was re-equipping with four-engined bombers in their thousands,

and the word was passed down to the training airfields that half the half-trained pilots were to be

transferred to Canada to be made into Navigators, Bomb-aimers or Radio operators. I had

completed just a hundred hours of pilot's training and was very disappointed to be stopped. At the

R.C.A.F. station at Trenton we were given aptitude tests, intelligence tests, interviews and anything

else that caught the imagination. 1 was told off to make my way to the Central Navigation School

in Rivers, Manitoba and there was just time to complete the three month Navigation course before

Christmas - but before going back to England there was a little leave which I took in Toronto.

18 In Toronto 1 had an introduction from my father to one of his suppliers, Coro Jewellery

(Cohen & Rosenburger Inc.) and the Company Secretary there was a charming elderly woman who

had come out from England many years before. Miss Maywood, who would lend me her car and

introduced me to a Mrs Macdonald and her pretty daughter, Jean. The company even put me up at

the palatial Royal York Hotel together with my chum Ivor Morgan (Ivor was in the Navy and they

were allowed to resume pilot training in Canada, to my chagrin). Jean Macdonald was, I think, a

year or two older than I was (I was just twenty). We knocked around a bit together, both in that

first January and at Christmas when I was once more in Toronto on my way home, but she was

engaged to a soldier who was fighting in Europe and was not about to get too involved with a

passing Englishman, although she was kind enough to shed a tear when saying 'Goodbye' at the

station.. We corresponded for a year or two after I returned to the U.K. but when the troops

returned home she soon stopped writing - the last letter was from her as a married woman, Mrs

Jean Macdonald Bennett. It was all quite Platonic and really rather sweet. I hope Soldier Bennett

was good to her.

19. Learning to navigate out on the prairies was quite absorbing and I was good at it,

although not in the first half dozen in the class. At the end of the course I was invited to stay

behind in Canada and become an instructor Like a fool I at once declined. Commissions were

then handed out to the top few in the examinations, which I did not quite achieve, but I suppose

that my agreement to stay and teach would have secured the little thin ring on my sleeve. I can't

pretend it would have made a great deal of difference, aircrew NCOs were paid as much as junior

officers and our messing arrangements were not noticeably different, so not being given to status

chasing I easily shrugged it oft'.

20. By the time we finished our Navigator's course the weather had turned Arctic, with

deep snow and a dry but very deep cold. There was once more a chance for some leave in Toronto,

on the way home. We nearly missed Christmas, because the train bringing us from the prairies,

which we picked up in Brandon, the nearest real town to Rivers, was two days late in reaching

Toronto. Of course as the timetable suggested four days for this journey, the extra two days was

not quite as staggering as it would be in the U.K. Coro did not offer to put ^up again, but iwr

a-ft41 stayed at a little hotel near the station. I f-annnii_rempmhp.i_how-hi- p,mir.l liigfimr l-n^f was

taken in hand by the Macdonald family and spent Christmas day with the manager of Cohen &

Rosenburger and his family (I think he may have been related to the Macdonalds).

21 Returning to England was not as uncomfortable as the voyage out. We were put on the

train to New York, where we boarded the newly completed "Queen Elizabeth", and this went

tearing across the Atlantic, flat out, vibrating everywhere, unescorted at the height of the U-boat

menace, and arrived in Goiirock in just over three days. We were accommodated nine to a cabin, in

triple-decker bunks in what had been a first class cabin. There was an old Cunard steward who

would come around trying to keep an eye on the polished woodwork and see that these rough

servicemen did not damage his lovely cabins

22. . We used to start queuing for our meals an hour or more before we could get in to the

huge dining room. 1 remember us sitting on the floor in the corridors and shifting our bottoms

along on the polished surface as we slowly approached the dining room where long tables had been

set, probably a dozen or so people on benches on each side. The tables were athwart the ship, and

as she rolled in the winter Atlantic swells the tables tipped at an alarming angle. On one occasion

the roll was so extreme that the huge metal coffee jug that was supplied to our table started to slide

down the length of the table, pushing aside condiments and anything else in the way in a sort of bow

wave and shot off the end into the arms of a passing airman. Luckily he was able to catch it and

keep it upright. That coffee was hot and 1 imagine he would been a hospital case if it had spilt on

him. I only remember us lining up for one meal a day, in the late afternoon; if we had breakfast I

don't remember it but I don't remember going hungry either It is all too long ago!

23. A couple of us went exploring the lower decks one day. We found that all the cabins

had been taken out in order to accommodate the many thousands of American troops who were

being carried (was it twenty thousand9). There were just massive wooden structures, floor to

ceiling, with what were little more than shelves about two feet high which made bunks for the

troops - all we saw were negroes. The bunks appeared to be pretty well continuous, side by side,

perhaps three alongside each other before a gap occurred. I don't know if there was any way they

could get out on to a deck. In any event it must have been a fairly unattractive way to cross the

sea. If a U-boat had managed to lie across our path and put a torpedo into us... well, it does not

bear thinking about. Happily the ship was going at some thirty knots and we reckoned, rightly, that

it was not likely that anything would be able to molest her, a view presumably shared by the powers

that be.

24. I remember standing on deck against the aft rail, beautifully polished it was, and j

watching the great wake stretching straight for miles behind us. This was in January l^§fc. Years A- r

later I read that in the course other war-time journeys as a troop ship that rail became covered with

initials carved into the wood by servicemen , and that it is preserved somewhere as a memento.

Presumably the Cunard line have it.

25. Landing in Britain in January 1943 was a nasty shock. Things had been pretty austere

when I had left a year ago but now it seemed very seedy - of course I had the bright lights of North

America in my mind still, but it wasn't just the blackout (it is hard now to visualise a town with no

street lights, no lit shop windows, every house with heavy curtains or cardboard shutters across the

windows at night and thus no artificial light visible throughout the long Winter nights). What really

struck home was the dreariness of the shops, and in the North of England the appalling food in the

cafes - we were first put into accomodation in Harrogate, a building with 20-watt lamps on the

landings, shedding the dimmest, gloomiest glow you can imagine, and to get a meal in town meant

accepting Spam and potatoes and weak coffee. There seemed to be nothing else on offer.

26. From Harrogate we were soon transferred to Brighton. What a difference! We were put

up in one of the grand hotels - perhaps it was The Grand, I cannot remember, maybe The

Metropole - and our dignity as Senior NCOs was not offended by being put to polishing the floors

in the corridors with great electric revolving brushes. Wandering the shops in Brighton passed the

time. I remember playing chess in a hospitable chess club above a tea shop (they had a notice in the

window welcoming servicemen) and it was in Brighton then that I bought my first typewriter, a

small portable, and a pocket chess set. The beach was out of bounds, big notices reminded us that

it had been mined. While we were there my parents enjoyed their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary

and I bought them a pair of solid silver serving spoons in a shop in the town.

27. The civilised comfort of Brighton was quickly exchanged for more of the rigours of the

North. The RAF evidently had over-provided for replacement aircrew and we were not wanted on

an operational squadron for the time being, so we were sent to do a month's combat course under

the care of the RAF Regiment, mostly conducted on the cliff top in Whitley Bay. It was freezing

cold February weather and one day when were having our third lesson in the mysteries of the Sten

gun from our corporal instructor it came on to snow. "Should we not go indoors9" was the

question. He looked outraged. "Air Cahncel Instructions and King's Reggilations state that

instruction shall proceed under cover in the case of precipitation" he informed us. '"Precipitation

means rain. This 'ere is snow. Nah - the Sten Machine Carbine consists of free parts, the barrel

piece, the breech piece and the buf piece. Nah, Sarn't, can you tell me what are the parts of the

Sten Machine Carbine?" This was lesson three. Lessons one and two were much simpler. All

lessons occupied forty minutes. They were certainly not easily forgotten.

28. We were eventually released to return to Brighton to await posting for further training

In the middle of May it came. Two weeks at an Advanced Flying Unit at Staverton in Gloucester

covered, I see from my log book, as well as map reading, the elements of dead reckoning, astro-

navigation and other items rehearsing all that the navigation course had covered in Canada. The

flying was done in ancient Ansons..

29. How and where we passed our time in June I cannot tell. In early July I was flying in the

fabric-covered Wellington bombers, now being released from operations as the four engined

Sterlings came in to use, followed by Halifaxes and Lancasters. This was at the conversion flight at

a 3 Group Operational Training Unit at Edgehill, also in Gloucester. Here we were told to mingle

with the other brands of aircrew and make up a crew of our own choice consisting of a pilot, who

would captain the crew, a navigator, a bomb-aimer, a flight engineer, a radio operator and two air

gunners. Rather willy-nilly what coalesced was a crew consisting of an Australian called Skirving

as pilot, me as Navigator, Don Bamendas Bomb-aimer, Les Weddle as Engineer, Gordon

Stromberg to run the radio and two gunners, Fred Carey and Colin Drake. Bament and Drake were

also Aussies. All were NCOs.

30. Sergeant Skirving was not a success. His relations with the rest of us were so strained

that after six weeks, when we had been posted to a branch of the same O.T.U. at Chipping Warden,

we decided that we would somehow have to dump him and seek a change. For all of us to go as a

group to the C.O. would have constituted a serious offence, officially mutiny, so I was deputed to

go alone with our complaint. The C.O. had every-one called in to his office, where Skirving

launched into a litany of complaints about the abilities of his crew. The C.O. simply rang the

leaders of each trade for a quick opinion on the merits of each of us, while we stood before him.

Each one was 'above average'. The boss said he wanted no more of this, would we each agree to

continue together. Luckily he first asked Skirving, who shook his head. He enquired no further.

Skirving was told he would be found another crew, but he was still hanging around the station un-

crewed when we left a fortnight later.

31 The following day we were allocated another pilot, who had himself been dumped by his

crew. This was Lou Greenburgh, a commissioned Canadian, a Flying Officer. In his case the last

straw for his crew had been when on a training flight he, without warning, practised a surprise and

violent avoidance manoeuvre just as one of the crew was approaching the Elsan at the back of the

aircraft and upended the thing over the poor man's head. We hoped we would find him agreeable

mdfaut de mieux we made no demur. He was a terrible line-shooter and would not have been our

first choice but he shared all our adventures on Bomber Command and ended up with a D.F.C. -

and then a bar to the thing after evading capture when he was shot down over France (this was after

I had been taken off operations and was training as a meteorologist and after Weddle and Bament

had had to bale out during my last trip on bombers).

32. With Lou we were posted first to a Sterling squadron (No 620) at Chedburgh, a wind-

swept, bitterly cold spot in East Anglia on the road from Bury St.Edmunds to Haverhill, where the

RAF had built a group of widely dispersed Nissen Huts around an airfield. In the four weeks we

were on this squadron we did no more than two ' nursery slopes' trips, laying mines in the sea lanes

off Denmark. This was just as well, the Sterling was at the end of its operational life, unable to

climb higher than 16,000 feet when the Lancasters and Halifaxes were now operating at over

20,000 feet. The rate of losses (the "chop rate'' we called it) in attacks on Germany was running at

around 10 a night, when the much more successful Lancasters were suffering about 5 a night.

At home on leave for my birthday on the 19th November a telegram came to the house. It was for

me. '"Return to Base this day" was all it said.

33. Back at Chedburgh that night the C.O. addressed the Squadron. Stirlings were being

taken oft'bombing and transferred to glider towing, but without us. He was "Pleased and proud" i

to tell us thajall of the 620 Squadron crews were to go to Waterbeach, an airjield just North of ^

Cambridge, to be retrained on Lancaster Mark Us, which were equipped with the same Hercules

radial engines as the Stirling had, in place of the normal in-line Merlins. They were almost as good

as the Merlin-equipped Marks I & III, although stilt stuck a thousand or so feet below the rest of

the Lanes, but at least in company with the Halifaxes We were glad, although we could have done

without the other Lancasters dropping their bombs down through us. I almost wrote "through our

formations" but of course, unlike the U.S. Air Force, we did not fly in formation, each aircraft

having its own navigator who guided the plane in the dark along the route ordained for that night's

sortie. It says something for the system that we managed to get 800 or so aircraft over a target in

the space often minutes on most nights.

34. At Waterbeach we were just able to complete the conversion course on to Lancasters

before Christmas, be transferred to 514 Squadron, which operated from the same airfield, and get a

fortnight's leave which happily covered the whole of Christmas, returning on December the 29th to

find ourselves on the battle order for that night, target Berlin, known to all as The Big City. What

no-one had told us was that the Lancasters used on the Conversion Unit although almost identical

with those on the squadron were not exactly so The difference showed up when we were airborne

and I reached up to turn on that marvellously accurate navigation aid, the G-box. The switch was

not there! Fortunately the plan called for us to climb to height over the airfield before setting oft'.

During that climb there was a certain air of panic. If the switch was not found we would have to

abort and return in ignominy to the airfield. Fortunately Gordon Stromberg on his hands and knees

came across the switch screwed to the underside of the desk as some undocumented mod that was

doubtless supposed to be helpful.

35 My log book for the 29th December 1943 gives the aircraft as S' which was normally

used by another crew, as we had not yet been allocated our own craft. It also records "Three

combats, one enemy aircraft damaged, probably destroyed' followed by "Ditched in North Sea"

The flying time is recorded as 6 hours 30 minutes. One of the crew to which that aircraft properly

belonged turns up at the annual squadron reunion at Waterbeach and he never fails to remind me of

the distress we caused them by letting their beloved "S sugar" sink to the bottom of the North Sea.

I respond that the damned thing wasn't really much good, when its petrol tanks got a few holes in

them over Germany it just gave up the ghost after a few hours and stopped flying. Small things

amuse us in our old age.

36 For ditching I took up position on a bench in the fuselage with my back against the

bulkhead to the wireless cabin. I plugged in my intercom ready to pass a message to the pilot when

I was given a signal by the wireless operator His task was to come through the door from his cabin

but hold it open and shine his torch on the ammeter on his set. There was an aerial trailing beneath

the aircraft and when it hit the water the shorting would show up on the meter. When that

happened the w/op was to smack my leg, close the door and put his back against it, and I was to

say down my intercom "Forty feet!" which got over the driver's problem of landing on the sea in

the pitch dark. Well, that's the theory What actually happened was that when the w/op came

through his door he leant over and shouted in my ear "I've lost my bloody torch!'' It was when I

was passing this message to the pilot that we flew straight into a damned great wave and came to a

dead stop. My head hit the bulkhead and the next thing I knew was a voice from an open hatch over

my head enquiring kindly "Aren't you coming0"

37. We were fifteen hours in a crowded little rubber dinghy that winter's night and through

the morning into the early afternoon, the seven of us. I felt that some cynical boffin had decided to

keep those dinghies to their smallest possible dimensions by assuming that if an aircraft was so

damaged that it had to ditch there would almost certainly not be a chance of all seven men getting

out. We were crammed around the perimeter crushed shoulder to shoulder. There was a half gale

blowing, a huge swell with foam capping every wave, and we were all sea-sick within a few

moments. The dinghy being perfectly round the shape forced all our legs to cross at the knees, in

the middle. Every half hour or so the owner of the bottom legs would begin to holler and we would

bring our knees up so that his legs could take their turn on the top of the heap. Because I had taken

a blow on the head when we landed I seem to have drifted in and out of consciousness during the

night and I soon developed a monumental bruise down the side of my face which can be seen in the

picture that the local newspaper took of me when I arrived home (they wrote up quite a dramatic

story of the local boy's near escape, but it was killed by the censor - somewhere I must have the

galley proof that my father was given to prove that his old journalist drinking partner had really


38. When we were eventually picked up by the Air-Sea Rescue launch about two in the

afternoon the crew, on learning how long we had been in the water, were astonished that we could

all still stand up unaided. It was, after all, mid-winter, blowing a gale and the sea was icy. What

made us so sturdy I cannot imagine. We never took exercise and had only our normal battledress

on - except of course for the gunners, who had thick canvas overalls and wore special woollen

underwear, they being the only people who were not normally in the nicely heated cabin. The rest

of us were soaked to the skin by the waves of cold water that would every now and again break

over the dinghy. I put our sturdiness down to the fact that no-one tried to be hearty, calling for a

singsong or trying to raise our spirits. We just sat there soaking wet gloomily waiting for time to

pass and, I suppose, thus conserving our energy.

39. Almost unbelievably not one of us caught a cold, although there was one minor casualty

when we were dropped a spare dinghy by the ASRS plane that found us; when we got into it and

were hauling on board the big packs of warm clothing that came down with it one was dropped on

Drake's foot, the only one in the boat without a boot on it (it had fallen off when he slipped as he

was getting from the plane into the dinghy). This kept him in the sick bay for a week or so while

we all went off on leave.

40 The launch was a converted high-speed torpedo boat but it still took four hours to get

back to Great Yarmouth in the teeth of the gale - we had ditched seventy miles from land. We all

slept throughout that journey despite the hammering the boat took as it leapt from wave to wave.

The bunks we were sleeping on were little more than shelves built against the side of the boat; I

discovered later that both my hips had bruises on them, caused as I bounced up and down, fast

asleep in the bunk. Waiting for the launch crew when we docked was a telex of commendation for

having managed to get to us in such weather.

41 In the hospital in Great Yarmouth, where we were put to bed on landing, a nurse came

to ask us what we would like for supper Colin Drake, a true Aussie, said "Steak and eggs"

without regard to the fact that steak was a real rarity and eggs were strictly rationed. To every-

one's amazement the nurse just nodded and twenty minutes later returned with the goods. We had

had no food for 24 hours and this was a very welcome breaking of a long fast.

42. In the morning we were told that the Wing Commander commanding 514 squadron (his

name was Sampson (I seem to remember) was flying over himself to pick us up. We had been

provided with warm blue woollen overalls in substitution for our soaking wet clothes. When we

arrived back at Waterbeach it was near lunchtime and the Wingco invited us all in to the bar in his

mess for a few strong drinks. (Very privileged! Rough NCOs in the Officers Mess bar!) That

night the Medical Officer gave each of us a sleeping pill, the famous "yellow torpedo", to make sure

we slept. No problem! In the morning we were issued with a leave pass for fifteen days - by

tradition, one day for every hour in the drink I had an uncle Ralph, a widower, my father's eldest

brother, who lived in Radlett with his two daughters. Winks and Celia, (I wonder where they are

now9) and his spinster sister, Hattie. I rang them and got myself invited for the night rather than set

about the long wartime journey down to Swansea.

43 I was conscious when I got to the house in Radlett that, although I had changed into

fresh clothes, I had brought with me a haversack containing the drenched gear I had been wearing,

hoping to get my mother to wash it, and it really stank of sea water. My aunt rang the folks at

home and told them I was with her and suggested that I stay over the next day, which was a

Sunday, and go home on Monday. On Sunday morning my uncle Ralph, who was a colonel (well,

perhaps a Lt.Col.) in the Royal Engineers with a job in the War Office, took me up to his golf club

and bought me a pink gin - my very first - and introduced me to his friends, rather evidently full of

pride in his nephew, so very recently dragged out of the stormy ocean. I was quite touched.

44. Returning to the squadron in the last week in January 1944 we were given an aeroplane

for ourselves and thus a ground crew dedicated to our craft. This was "C Charlie". She took us to

Berlin twice before the end of the month, on the 27th and 30th. I have notes of two attacks by

night fighters on the 30th, one on the 27th, both failing to discommode us The first trip took 8

hours, the second only 6 hrs 30 mins The length of the trip depended on the course the bomber

force was told to follow. These courses were elaborately designed to confuse the Germans about

our final destination and prevent them lying in wait for us along our route, and not infrequently

would add a couple of hours to the journey.

45 In February for some reason there were no visits to Germany. I expect that bad weather

accounted for much , and of course there would be in any case ten days when the moon would be

up and no attacks would be made - attacking on a moonlit night had been found early in the war to

be a big no!-no!, every bit as risky as daylight raids without massive fighter cover, the riskiness of

which the U.S.Air Force had discovered to their great cost. (They stopped operating after a month

or two and were only able to continue when the Mustang fighter was re-engined with a Rolls-Royce

Merlin that enabled it to accompany the daylight bombers all the way to Berlin and make it back

even after a dog-fight.) The Merlins were made for this purpose in the USA, and many US-made

engines were used on the Lancasters known as Mark Ills. Also one must remember that

operational aircrew were granted a weeks leave every six weeks - and incidentally were given a

handsome five shillings a day allowance by Lord Nufffield every day we were on leave. It seems

incredible now, but it really happened. Nuffield would also arrange to pay for a weeks stay at a

hotel during our leave. No-one could say the RAF was not appreciated.

46. In March of 1944 we were over Germany 6 times, Stuttgart twice, Fankfurt twice, Le

Mans to bomb the marshalling yards once (it was aborted because the weather closed in and we

could not be sure we would not hit the French in the town) and once more to Berlin - my last

operation on Bomber Command. We were airborn seven hours, not all of it tranquil.

47 The problem with this last raid was that when we were over Berlin and had just released

the bomb load a night fighter attacked us from in front, a most unusual and difficult manoeuvre

Luckily the alert eighteen-year old engineer, Les Weddle, from his seat beside the pilot, spotted this

dark shadow sweeping up from below, coming towards our starboard wing, and shouted, just as a

gunner would, "Starboard for Chrissake!" . Lou, luckily, was a bag of nerves and reacted like a

startled stag when the call came As he swung us down to the right a single cannon shell hit the

inner starboard engine. Fred Carey, the mid upper gunner, had his turret swung around towards the

front and actually saw the flash as the shell struck and stopped the engine. The effect was to

magnify the speed that the wing was dropping in answer to the pilot's wrench on the control

column so much that the fierce drop sucked the petrol out of the outboard engine's carburettor and

that stopped too. All this we worked out later. At the time all we knew was that the plane had

turned on its back, nose down, two engines stopped on the same side, and was beginning to spin.

48. I was largely unaware of all this, being tucked as I always was behind the curtains of the

navigator's cabin, and found it rather startling when I heard Lou's voice saying "Abandon aircraft!

Abandon aircraft!" I pulled back the cabin curtain to see what was going on and viewed with

amazement the remakable sight of of the twinkling fires blazing far below, all revolving in the field

of view while overhead the giant flares that were fired up by the guns below, to illuminate the

bombing force for the night fighters, blazed with a most unwelcome light. I, like most of my trade,

never looked out during a trip, there was nothing to see that would help us.

49. A Lancaster in a spin is not a warming sight, especially from the inside. To come out of

a spin it needs about thirty thousand feet to recover, but they can never get higher than about

twenty-three thousand, so the pilot has no sensible option but to order everybody out and follow

without delay. It was at this point that my life became really interesting. The navigator's parachute

is supposed to be stored in^special place on the bulk-head - but since the introduction of the

superbly effective radar countermeasure "Windows" there has been a need to carry a huge pile of

brown paper parcels containing strips of silver paper, strips which are cut to the exact wavelength

of the enemy radar. The bomb aimer's cabin has only room for about half of the quantity needed

for a long sortie (it is his job to toss a handful of the stuff down a chute every minute or so) so the

half needed for the return trip is stacked beside the navigator's desk, closing off the parachute clip.

50. Thus most navigators simply keep their parachute pack under their chair That's not

sensible, but the idiocy of it only becomes plain when the aircraft is plunging nose down and the

front escape hatch under the floor at the front of the aircraft is opened.. Although I didn't see it go

it is evident that the thing skated happily over the shiny aluminium floor and dived to freedom out

of the front hatch, along with the bomb-aimer and the flight engineer. Some German hausfrau must

have thought she had a fairy godmother when she was presented with a ten pound packet of finest

white silk that night to sweeten the less welcome assortment of high explosive that was dropping in

the neighbourhood. I contemplated the unbelievable absence of the parachute, oddly calm and

slow to take in the enormity of the problem, with no urge to start appealing to God, Buddha, the

Pope, Mohammed or any other prospective saviour. Meanwhile Lou, as captainJunwilling to leave

before everyone was out, stood there impatiently gesturing. Seeing that 1 was stuck he got back in

his seat and waggled the control column to illustrate that the spin was real and the controls were


51 Then something very odd happened. There was a sort of bump under the aircraft, just as

if an ack-ack shell had gone oft'near us - but this was not likely, for we had now fallen so far that

the gunners below would have set their fuses to explode way high above us, where the main force

were still flying. However, the bump coincided with a change from the spin, falling like a sycamore

seed, to a spiral dive, very tight but quite different, allowing the wing surfaces to act normally and

the plane to be brought to level flight We were at eight thousand feet, down from over twenty

thousand. As far as we knew, Lou and I were alone on the aeroplane, for the two gunners and the

wireless operator would have followed the drill and exited by the hatch at the rear. We were

heading away from the target.so I stood beside Lou for a few minutes before deciding to get back

to my desk and work out what we should do next.

52. The desk was a shock The steep angle of the spinning plane had cleared not only the

parachute but also my plotting tools, protractor, ruler, pencils and such, even the handy and quite

bulky thing (oddly called a computer) that included a circular slide rule and a device for working

out quickly the effect of wind upon the track Happily the chart, on which the desired tracks had

been plotted, together with the times to turn onto each new course scribbled at each turning point -

these only a rather coarse guide, they had been roughly calculated in the briefing room before we

set off, but it was a heaven sent guide. There was another shock to come, a light up the fuselage,

over my left shoulder, heralded the arrival of Gordon Stromberg the wireless operator!

53. It turned out that the two gunners were still on board, too. Colin Drake had got stuck

when trying to extricate himself from his cramped rear gun-turret and Gordon Stromberg and Fred

Carey had with great gallantry stopped to help him He had had to use his emergency axe to clear

himself and in doing so had cut an oxygen pipe, which would prevent us from climbing to join the

main force - without oxygen we were stuck at low altitude. However, we had the semblance of a

team. In particular, as far as I was concerned, we had the ability to listen on the radio to the half-

hourly broadcasts from base that gave us details of the winds recently encountered by the specialist

Pathfinders leading the main force. Stromberg scribbled them down as they came through and

passed them to me Of course they had no direct relevance since they referred to events two miles

above us, but some indication of what was happening at our level could be inferred from the

information. I still feel that Fred and Gordon should have been awarded gongs for staying to

rescue Colin, they would have had no chance if we had continued to spin down.

54. There were some further alarums including a fire in a piece of electronics housed in the

fuselage but in essence we reached Waterbeach in due course, tired and shaken but in one piece - on

the way back Les and Lou had managed to get the starboard outer engine restarted, so that for

most of the return we had three engines rather than two. It may sound odd but we had in fact been

lucky. It turned out that the winds broadcast to the main force had been badly wrong and the

hundreds of aircraft had found themselves inexplicably flying over the heavily defended Ruhr

valley. It resulted in Bomber Commandjiargest losses of the war. 196 planes were lost

55. For me and for Colin Drake the outcome was that the RAF, following a policy of not

stressing people beyond what the medicos thought was reasonable, found us ground jobs. Colin

was returned to Australia. I was posted to the Air Ministry mess in Hallam Street off Portland

Place to be trained as a meteorologist.^! was put to work in the Met Office in Harwell, still paid as

an aircrew NCO, though forbidden to fly and in effect working as a plotting clerk under the WAAF

corporal. I quite enjoyed the rest but it was rather boring and I seemed to be stuck with a desk-

bound clerical job for the duration,

56. Rescue was soon at hand from an unexpected source. A note was circulated from

Coastal Command saying they sought Met men to volunteer for aircrew duties as Meteorological

Air Observers. I was accepted, no-one thinking to check with the medicos at Air Ministry, and I

happily completed a thousand hours flying before being demobbed - [ had done just 400 hours when

withdrawn from bombing.

57. Life was not without its stirring moments even now I was posted to Turnberry, an

airfield converted from the one time golf course (to which it has now been restored) and I was put

in a crew that had not yet completed their conversion course, captained by a Flying Officer Beagley

When after a few daylight trips to familiarise them with the Hudson aircraft they were told to spend

the evening doing night circuits and bumps 1 excused myself and went to the camp cinema for the

evening. When I came out I was greeted with a solemn handshake by the first fellow I met. "So

sorry!" he said. "So very sorry. You must be quite upset." It turned out that while I was viewing

the film the control tower had watched in horror as Beagley's aircraft on taking off towards Ailsa

Craig had suddenly slipped sideways and fallen into the sea. A sprog pilot had come as near to

writing me off as any German.

58 About two weeks later I was sent for by the adjutant. One body had floated to the

surface and been recovered. It belonged to F/0 Beagley. His wife of only a few months had been

told and so had his parents, with whom she lived. They had asked that his body be sent down to be

buried close by them in Weymouth As the only surviving member of the crew I was to accompany

the coffin, together with an officer of his same rank to represent the Air Force. We did not enjoy

this duty. The family was devasted, I had known Beagley for only the few days he had been at

Turnberry and could tell them nothing of his life on the unit, the accompanying officer had no

recollection of him. We were stiff and correct and I fear of no comfort to the family. We were

asked if we would care to stay for a meal after the burial but we made excuses and left as soon as

we decently could. I realised what a blessing it was that on Bomber Command people who were

killed (which half of us were) did not return to be buried in England and resurrect the distress of the

family who had suffered the shock of the dreaded telegram.

59. I was assigned to a new crew to complete the operational training.. This time the

skipper was a Canadian Warrant Officer, Ken Vear, apparently the only pilot in the RCAF who was

not commissioned. The reason for this victimisation I never knew, but he was a fairly wild lad and

could very well have stepped too far out of line even for the RCAF sometime in the past Our first.

trip together was on the 8th of March 1945 We did eleven training trips together, the last on the 30th of

the month, '^w^y ^

60 On this iast excercise there was another very near squeak. We had flown out in a North-

westerly direction and after a few hours the navigator - of course, another sprog - gave the pilot a

change of course, it being time to turn for home. Like a fool Ken did not think to query the

direction. Unhappily the navigator, whose name I have thankfully forgotten, suggested a course

which took us not in a South-easterly direction but North-easterly The truth became clear a couple

more hours later when a huge howl of horror came up from the navigation desk below our feet

Our navigator had just checked his plot and realised that we were way North of Scotland instead of

approaching Turnberry

61 I scuttled down to the navigation desk to check what was now proposed. The chap now

was aiming to set course toward an airfield on the Hebrides, a long but very narrow string of islands

which we would be approaching end on All too easy to be far enough off course to slip by without

seeing them. The sensible thing was to aim instead for the broad top of Scotland, between Wick

and Cape Wrath, a target about fifty miles across. No matter how innacurate the navigation was

we could surely not miss Scotland.

62. On the way back it was becoming plain that we would be very lucky to reach base

before our petrol ran out The wireless operator reported that flying very low, as we were, he was

unable to contact base, so if we went in to the drink they were not going to be aware of what we

were up to. Should we risk using up more petrol than we could spare in order to gain height? The

answer was - better to just press on, we should just make it. No sooner had this decision been

reached than a cry went up, echoing a poster pasted on the wall in every crew room, in mock

German, alerting us to the signs of a German submarine ^Schnorkel mil shmoke und vake!"

63. Below us was the thin trail of exhaust smoke and the faint wake of the exhaust pipe - the

schnorkel - of a submerged German submarine. The war still had some months to run and ships

were still being sunk. We had no option but to circle and gain height to contact base and then drop

back through the clouds and circle the sub, using our radio to guide a destroyer to its position. We

were boumd to end up in the water I remember saying "If I'm going to have to ditch every

couple of years I'm going to give up this aviating game". No-one laughed.

64. Rescue was at hand once again - before we had even started to circle, climbing, there

came in to view, just visible in the misty bottom of the cloud base, the large bulk of a Halifax

aircraft of Coastal Command, evidently doing what we were just facing up to but which was just the

very thing he was out there for, sub hunting. He waggled his wings in silent greeting, we did

likewise and passed on secure in the knowledge that we had no need to stay. It was just as well. It

must have been a couple of hours later that we saw Scotland, turned left, radio'd Wick airfield, and

landed - and ran out of fuel while we were taxi-ing to the dispersal point! It was the closest of all

close-run things. It was six o'clock in the evening. We had been airborne seven hours, my log

book tells me, probably two hours more than planned. After an hour refuelling we still had two

more hours airborne before reaching Turnberry, were we had set out from

65 We finished this operational training in April and I arrived at 517 Squadron at Brawdy in

West Wales the day the war in Europe was declared at an end, the Eighth of May. An important

date in my later life - Faith's birthday. There was a tremendous party in the mess, no doubt, but I

had arrived with a streaming cold and was in bed for a couple of days.

66 It was announced that the need for long range meteorological observations was no less

than before and neither was the risk attendant on collecting the information - lives were lost

regularly on these squadrons but almost never from enemy action, it was always the result of flying

every trip on schedule regardless of the weather on take off or what was forecast for when we

returned As a result, said the announcement, operational conditions would remain in force for

aircrew This meant a week's leave every six weeks, bacon and egg meals before taking off and

again on landing, bars of chocolate to take on the journey - everything just as in war. No-one


However there were still casualties, 1 think we lost a crew every month or so, sometimes

from flying into a cumulo-nimbus, a great storm cloud, out at sea, sometimes from hitting a hillside

hidden in cloud on returning. I remember it was a rule that if the visibility was good enough to see

three flares on the runway through the mist we were to take oft' We would radio in from the Bay

of Biscay for instructions about returning, and might be diverted to some other airfield, even,

though it was never my luck, being told to go on to Gibraltar or the Azores if the whole of the UK

was closed.

68. [fit was your luck to get one of these exotic diversions it was understood that you

would bring back a plane full of rarities like bananas, pineapples, and perhaps a stock of liquor for

the messes - although this might be caught for duty on return It was not unknown for the Customs

man to be waiting at the runway and to chase after the plane to be sure nothing was quietly

unloaded into a wagon before he saw it. This was the practice even during the war. None of the

generosity of the Nuffield Trust from His Majesty's Excise men With no threat from the Customs

it was common to make sure that one crew was detailed to make itself familiar with a likely

diversion airfield in Northern Ireland, landing there and while on the ground buying a goodly stock

of Guiness, not always easy to come by in England,

69. The trips were long, nine hours or more, one or two stretching to over eleven. I was

first flying with a pilot called Blatchford, who after three or four months took himself off to a job

with B.O A.C to the envy of many other pilots 1 met him once years later on a flight out to

Singapore, by then a senior captain. He was replaced by F/0 Ron Gunst, who became one of my

closest friends on the squadron, second only to Johnny Buggs, a radio operator with whom I shared

a room. Johnny was a ' regular', who had joined the RAF before the war as a boy entrant, an

apprentice wireless mechanic, and who three years after the war turned up at my flat in Russell

Square and stayed for a year - of which more in due time