A Personal View Of RAF Service during WW2
It must have been around the time I became a teenager that I decided that I wanted to be a RAF pilot as soon as I was old enough to volunteer. A new stall had recently opened in the Saturday morning market place, one that stocked American magazines. And amongst the American girlie books of the day, oh how innocent by today's standards yet how much more provocative, were the monthly editions of magazines such as Battle Aces and War Birds. Fifty percent fictional tales of the daring exploits of American pilots in WW1, but containing a lot of factual information and photos of aircraft and the aces of all nations. I complied a scrapbook full of such information and knew all the details of the men and aircraft by heart. and that was my burning desire, to learn to fly and make a career of the RAF.
By 1938 it was obvious to all that war was in the offing, despite Chamberlain and his little bit of paper and "peace in our time". I spent my summer holidays that year with other school friends assembling gas masks - thank God we never had use of them - and the following summer it was obvious that war was inevitable. My 17th birthday was on September 2nd, war was declared on the 3rd, and I started work as a junior at the Royal London Insurance head office on the 3rd. And there I remained until I was called to the colours.
Living just to the East of London in a grimy Thames side town called Grays, we were in close proximity to Tilbury docks as well as Thameshaven and Shellhaven and these were attacked quite early in the war. The pall of smoke from the oil tanks blotted out the sun when Thameshaven was targeted. Then came the Battle of Britain, and walking with my girlfriend in the bright summer sunshine we could see the vapour trails entwining far above us. The aircraft themselves were not visible but the tac tac of machine gun fire was perfectly audible. Our next door neighbours had a nephew who was a fighter pilot stationed at Hornchurch, only a few miles from our home and he made a couple of hasty visits at that time and I had the opportunity of meeting him. Flt/Lt Jock Campbell as I recall. He survived the B of B but was shot down, I believe, in 1942. Don't know if he was killed or taken POW, our neighbours had moved away by the time I was demobilised so never got to ask them.
Then came the Blitz, and while most of the bombers passed over us on their way to bomb London we suffered a few attacks, probably jettisoned bombs for the most part though quite a few fatal casualties in the town. Sandbags lined the roads to be used to extinguish incendiaries and there were a couple of occasions when we ran the length of our parade of shops, throwing sandbags onto incendiaries. One evening I was at my girlfriend's house when their garden shed took a direct hit from and incendiary and I had great fun helping to put out the blaze. Full of excitement when I went home, bursting to tell my parents what had occurred, only to find there was an incendiary in our bath tub! Fortunately had not ignited but there was a large hole in the bath! It wasn't until my father died in 1965, and I was helping to clear some of his effects, when I found the incendiary tucked away in his garden shed where it had languished for 25 years!
On another occasion, my girlfriend and I were walking in a nearby wooded area known as Hangmans Woods during a raid when we heard the sound of desynchronised engines and then the unmistakable sound of a bomb falling. We flung ourselves on the ground and the missile thudded into the undergrowth not more than a few feet away. There was a smell of oil and we thought it was an unexploded incendiary device. We beat a hasty retreat and I made an anonymous phone call to the police to report the incident. Daren't give our names as we had been strictly forbidden to go anywhere near the woods. It wasn't until I was a pilot myself that I realised what we had experienced, a discarded long range fuel tank. Cartainly gave us the devil of a fright.
As employees of the Royal London, we were expected to take our turn firewatching on the roof of our six storey building in Finsbury square. Certainly felt exposed up there on the roof with only an Anderson shelter for protection. Saw a good deal of the Blitz first hand and while nearby buildings were hit, ours escaped damage for which we were duly thankful.
Then the day of my 19th birthday dawned and I had already volunteered when I was 18½. And on my birthday I reported to a centre in Oxford where I stayed for two days. First came the medical which was very thorough and a great number of hopefuls were turned down as not attaining the degree of fitness demanded for pilot training. Then came two days of written exams which were easy enough for school certificate standard applicants though a good number were failed. And I was then duly signed in as 1324602 AC2 L Hugh Bone. I was in! But put on deferred service. It wasn't until March 2nd 1942 that I found myself waiting at Grays station for a train to take me to London and ACRC at Lords Cricket Ground. We had no sooner arrived there than it was panic stations. An urgent request came from Southern Rhodesia for more trainees. From that moment on, everything was done in undue haste. Uniforms issued and on parade next morning with buttons polished and boots shining. We were up most of the night polishing the mildew from buttons and trying in vain for a polish on oiled boots. Then straight off for inoculations, the whole lot at once, the normal injections plus tropical disease injections. When we woke the next morning, none of us could raise either arm above shoulder level and we were ordered to be on parade in full kit and packs within the hour. There was about 400 of us on parade and within 10 minutes half had dropped out. Then I became dizzy and fell and someone helped me back to my room and when I came to and looked out on the parade ground there were no more than half a dozen still standing and they were quickly packed off to their billets. One fellow hit his face on a curb stone when he fell and broke his jaw. Regulations were that we should have been on light duties for 48 hours but the Flt/Lt in charge had decided to put us on full kit parade. It was with some satisfaction that we learned later that he had been severely reprimanded.
So we were rushed through ACRC, sent on to Blackpool to await a boat and then to Swansea to embark on the Highland Princess, which was Hell on water! We were in the bowels, below sea level, long fixed tables over which we slung hammocks at night. At the far end of the deck were the latrines behind swing doors and as the ship rolled so the doors swung, wafting the pungent odour of urine and sickness throughout the deck. I was one of the fortunate few that wasn't sick, nevertheless the conditions were deplorable. As was the food. The main meal of the day never varied, it was rotten potatoes and boiled horse meat, great lumps of fat swilling around in a greasy liquid. It was uneatable. The only edible meal was tea when we were given a mug of tea and two slices of newly baked bread with jam. Fortunately there was a canteen which had an endless supply of ginger biscuits and I existed mainly on the afternoon tea and ginger biscuits for the whole 5 weeks of the voyage. We were in a convoy of some thirty ships with destroyer escort and it was an uneventful voyage until we rounded the Cape when the convoy was attacked and two ships torpedoed. I can still hear them now as the destroyers dashed to and fro, going whoop whoop and dropping depth charges.
Then landfall at Durban where a selected few were allowed ashore for a few hours. I was not one of them but prior to docking I had been mounting guard on the CO ship's cabin and when he left the cabin for a few minutes I saw shore passes on his table - and helped myself to half a dozen! So I got ashore as did my closest friends!
When we arrived at ITW Hillside, Bulawayo it was to find that we were not welcome! Hillside was chock a block and rumour had it that a signal from Rhodesia to England requesting more airscrews for the Tiger Moths was interpreted as Aircrew. Whatever, they had to find somewhere for us to live and we were put into what they called U lines. Hillside had been the cattle market before the war and that is where we lived for 3 months, in the cattle pens. Was quite OK really as the climate was semi tropic but we kicked our heels there doing orienteering trips in the bush to keep us occupied. We called them bundu bashes. And the food! It was a revelation after 2½ years austerity in England followed by the appalling food on the boat. Mealie meal for breakfast, white, yellow or toasted brown, took a few days to get accustomed to but soon got to like it. And then there were the eggs and bacon, as many helpings as you wished while at the top of the mess hall were four barrels filled with oranges and other fruits in season from which you could help yourself at any time of day. When we had been there for about three months, a new course arrived and we could then see ourselves as we must have looked when we arrived. Issue tropical kit which was very unflattering and clothes and bodies washed in sea water with special sea soap, they stank to high heaven. Rules were extremely lax in Rhodesia and all of us, as soon as we could raise the money, went off into town and bought natty bush jackets and very short shorts!
Finally we moved into huts and started our ITW course, at the end of which we were informed that there was still no room for us at EFTS but a lucky four would be posted on. And I was one of the four plus a fellow that I had palled up with on the first day at ACRC. And we were to serve together for 21 months, Derek Aston and I.
We were posted on to Induna, an EFTS some 9 miles outside Bulawayo. I was very pleased as I had been taken in by a couple of families almost from the day of arrival and would have been sorry to have been parted from them. And now came the most nerve racking period. There were eighty of us on the course but only forty would go forward. You were expected to go solo on the Tiger Moth at around 8 hours, certainly not more than 10. Otherwise you would be "scrubbed" and posted to a navigator's course or air gunner or bomb aimer and the likes. One after another, fellows around me came in joyously saying they had gone solo and then there were those with long faces that said one word "scrubbed" and then were gone the next day. Until all had gone solo or scrubbed except me. I had now done 11 hours and was up for a CFIs test the next day. And continued to bump bump bump on landing. That is that I thought, I must be scrubbed now, but when I came down to the fights the next morning I found I was still flying, this time with a new instructor. At 15 hours I did another CFIs test and unfortunately, though perhaps it was really fortunate, there was a very strong wind and again I couldn't land without bumping, worse than ever this time. Now, I thought, now I really WILL be scrubbed. Came down next morning and my instructor took me up and I bounced down. "You are no bloody good are you Bone?" "No sir" I replied. "No, and these kites are expensive and we haven't many of them. I don't give a damn if you kill yourself, you mean nothing to me, but I have a duty to preserve these aircraft and I can't have you smashing one up". With that he got out of the aircraft and I thought he was off to the side to have a pee as some of them were known to do. I sat there, engine idling, when he came to my side and said "OK, off you go and kill yourself" I was going solo! And I can remember singing the whole time and making a perfect three point landing. And I didn't look back, nor did I ever once bounce a Tiger Moth after that date. Good psychology on the instructors part.
I had flown 16½hours before I went solo and it was a mystery to me for some while why I had survived. One of the regular visitors to the Rhodesian family that had adopted me was a SFTS instructor, W.O. Jacko Jackson and I asked him if he could find the explanation. Transpired that I had shown above average aptitude in the air and they decided it was worth persevering with me. I am so glad they did!
Then on to Kumalo which was just three miles outside Bulawayo and on to Oxfords where my instructor was - Jacko! That was great, he had worked it so that I could be his pupil and all went very smoothly. After we had done 80 hours on the Oxford and passed our classroom studies we were eligible for our wings but in Rhodesia we had yet another 80 hours of training. Now we were coupled with another pilot and one day he would pilot the aircraft while I did a navigational exercise, or acted as bomb aimer and we took it in turns throughout the rest of the course. Then we had to do two weeks under canvas out in the bush and finally we went on an exercise bombing mission to be intercepted by Harvards from the SFTS near Salsibury. And finally we were awarded our wings on June 2nd 1943.
During the course we had our commission interview and the Wing Commander at Kumalo was one of the old school. And old school tie! He asked me only three questions, did I go to a grammar school or a public school, did I play soccer or rugby and what was my father's profession. I was grammar, soccer and shoe shop owner so that put paid to any commission at that point! But my good friend Derek was commissioned which, as time would tell was his misfortune while my sergeants stripes were my good fortune.
The system in Rhodesia was for one course to go on to Nairobi and an OTU for Middle East service, the next to South Africa for a General Reconnaissance course for Coastal Command and the third course to return immediately to Britain. Derek and I were sent to George in South Africa for the GR course. This was not a happy time, it was a wrench to leave behind my lovely Rhodesian friends and discover that we were in what was a hostile environment. While South Africa was engaged in the war, there was certain opposition to their participation, especially from the more far right Africaaners and there were strong OB sympathies in George. If we went into town it was in groups and we managed to avoid trouble while we were there but there was a sense of uneasiness when one was off base. And it was rather boring after the excitement of flying and obtaining our wings. At George we stooged around over the South Atlantic, South Africans piloting Ansons while we navigated over endless stretches of water. Then there was more aircraft recognition plus ship recognition, which took in British, American, German and Italian.
But the course came to an end at last and we moved to Capetown to await transport home. We were out along the coast at Retreat and again caution was the word. No problem in Capetown but there was a long walk from the camp to the station at Retreat and it was dangerous to walk alone. I was in a room for five and one fellow was a Polish pilot and one night he walked alone and paid with his life, stabbed to death as he made his way back to camp. I wonder if the OBs realised it was a Pole they had murdered and not a hated Brit. So it was with some relief that after two weeks at Retreat, we were to board ship for home. Many was the rumour, it was to be the Queen Mary or some other luxury liner, so you can imagine our disgust when we found ourselves boarding the Highland Chieftain, sister ship of the prison hulk that we had come out on 18 months previously. Derek, being a PO, had good accommodation and certainly ours was better than the outward journey and the food was better but still left a lot to be desired.
I have one very clear memory from early in that voyage. The ship was sailing alone, no convoy or escort. I was in the ablutions shaving and Bing Crosby was singing "You are my sunshine" on the tannoy system when it was interrupted for and announcement. The ship was not sailing directly to England but was stopping off at Buenos Aires to collect a cargo of meat.As argentina was pro facist at that time it would have meant us staying on board for three or four days. However, Uraguay was pro Allies and they had graciously offered accomodation ashore for as long as we had no boat. None of us were happy about this, we wanted to get home, back to dear old Blighty! On the day of arrival, the Colonel in charge of ship had us all assembled. "You will go ashore and be accommodated at a luxury hotel on the shores of the river Plate - free, gratis and for nothing! You will be entertained at various venues - free, gratis and for nothing! You will be paid before you go ashore and the Uraguayan government is doubling your pay so that you will have plenty of spending money." Sounded good but we were still itching to get on our way back home.
Ashore we were accommodated at the hotel Miremar but we had scarcely been shown our rooms when we were detailed to attend a welcoming feast. We moaned about that as well, being marched to a venue in town and detailed to be there. It was at the Palatzia de la Cerveza where we were seated and immediately two pint sized glasses of beer were placed in front of each one of us. An orchestra played various well known English and Scottish songs and when we all cheered, they then repeated the song they had been playing. The meal was piles and piles of ravioli and whenever one glass was empty it was immediately replaced by another. As we said afterwards, first time we'd ever been detailed to attend a booze up. As the proceedings drew to a close we were informed of the addresses of various pubs and clubs around town where people would be waiting to offer hospitality. And I guess I must have been one of the more lucky ones. I headed off on my own to a pub that was a bit farther away than the rest and I was immediately picked up by a very friendly American who, it transpired, was the South American representative for Eastman Kodak. Buzz Tait and wife Pipa were so kind and I spent some of the happiest days of my young life in their company. Our boat was meant to be back within four days but as luck would have it, for us that is, it ran aground on a sandbank and we were in Montevideo for two long glorious weeks. The next door neighbour of the Taits was the Dutch Ambassador and his family and as Holland was occupied he was living on the charity of other embassies. He had a very charming 19 year old daughter, and Beba and I spent whole days together seeing the sights of Montevideo. On the night we were leaving, her father said to me that it was with certain misgivings that they had allowed their daughter to go out with a stranger without a chaperone. But knowing that this was not a custom in Britain they had taken a chance and he wanted to thank me for being such a gentleman and behaving so honourably towards his daughter. I was very touched and thanked my lucky stars that I had behaved myself! And now, at the end of a fortnight, none of us wanted to leave, we could have stayed on forever. While we were only sprog pilots we were treated as heroes and the few operational types that were on the boat were given blazing headlines in all the newspapers. I saw a boxed set of Bessie Smith 78rpms and being a jazz fan I went into the shop to ask the price. And was given them free! It really was a fantasy fortnight.
Then we boarded the ship once more, moved out of the harbour past the Graf Spee that still lay half submerged after being scuppered and two weeks later we docked at Southampton and immediately entrained for Harrogate. And so began a long long wait for a posting. We arrived there on October 18th 1943 and found ourselves one of thousands of air crew. Back in the early days I imagined how proud I would be to meet my family and fiancÚ with wings on my chest. Harrogate knocked that out of me, first leave I had I changed into civvies as soon as I got home! Harrogate was where Wing Commander Kenneth Horne and Squadron Leader Dicky Murdoch held court, their RAF experiences serving as the basis of their successful radio show Much Binding in the Marsh. We fully expected to be given leave at Christmas, seeing we were only kicking our heels at Harrogate but they had other more devious plans for us, they sent us to an EFTS at Brough! All the pupils were on Christmas leave while a few of us had to fly Tiger Moths in cold wet weather. We were there for four whole miserable weeks! Then back to Harrogate where we remained until February 18th 1944. It was during this period that my friend Derek Aston was posted a little before me and I have often thought that had I been commissioned at that time I might well have been posted on with him. I was posted to Banff, and then on to Frazerburgh. That was a dead and alive hole in the middle of winter, and we were housed in a leaking Nissen hut that had a very worn and uneven brick floor. And I was given a bed beside a boozy Scot who lost his mind when under the influence. I'd already had the misfortune to meet up with him at Harrogate because I woke one night with something pouring onto my face and realised with shock that someone was peeing on me. It was this Scot, who had no recollection of what he had done the next morning. I took a shower and was given a change of bedding and I hoped when posted that I'd seen the last of him and here he was, my bedside neighbour. And time and time again, after having got a skin full he would pee by the side of his bed and next day swear blind it couldn't be him. He just didn't remember anything when he was drunk. Everybody moved their beds a little closer so that there was a big gap between him and the next bed. You certainly saw life in the RAF!
Frazerburgh was an AFU where we virtually had to learn to fly again, not having flown for eight months since earning our wings. So it was like SFTS all over again but in less favourable surroundings. At the end of the course I was called in to the COs office and informed that I was being posted to a Lancaster OTU. I protested that I was trained for Coastal Command but I was over ruled. No way did I want to fly Lancs. I'd heard a rumour that you had to have a certain leg length for Lancasters and in the hope it was more than a rumour I pointed out that I was only five foot six inches in height and didn't I need to be taller for Lancs. And it seems it wasn't just a rumour, they measured my leg length and said I was too short and sent me off on leave! Five days later I was recalled and ordered to present myself at Crosby on Eden where I would do and OTU on Beaufighters. I received this with mixed feelings as during that five days leave I had met up with an old school friend who was on a short leave. He was a navigator on shipping strike Beaufighters and said whatever I did, not to get onto Beaus. The life expectancy on his squadron was four ops and he had already done four. You won't see me again he said. Which was sadly true as he was lost on his very next operation. And here I was, about to convert onto Beaufighters! And it was here at Crosby that I first met my friend Bob Kirkpatrick, a natural who was by far the best pilot on our course. Fortunately for us, there was a greater demand for intruder operations than coastal so while we had to complete the course we were informed that we would be posted to a Mosquito OTU at Bicester. The course went well at Crosby, it was a good station and there were lots of lovely girls in Carlisle that liked RAF air crew as boyfriends so a good time was had by all! Kirk has already told you about Bob Golightly and his penchant for rolling the Beau when he had a pupil standing behind his seat. Bit unnerving that was even though we were prepared for it. And the Beau was fun to fly, especially after sixteen hair raising hours on the Beaufort. I pity the poor fellows that had to fly it operationally earlier in the war. No doubt they got used to it but it was not a pleasant aircraft to fly when compared to the Beau and the Mossie.
We did, unfortunately, lose one crew while at Crosby and I'm pretty sure that I know how it occurred and I could say that there but for the grace of God go I. We practised night navigational patrols over the Irish sea , operational height 8000ft. One night an aircraft went missing and it was found to have flown into the side of a hill. In the Beau, the navigator sat half way back in the fuselage and you, as pilot, were alone up front. It was very warm inside the cockpit and there you were, droning along at 8000ft. Checking my height one night I saw to my horror that I was no longer at 8000ft but at 2700ft and still descending. I righted the aircraft gently and then commenced a slow and steady climb back to 8000ft. Ken, my navigator made no reference to this and I don't believe he knew what had occurred and I certainly never told him! Fortunately we were over the Irish Sea when I had drowsily nodded off, and I feel certain that is what happened to the crew that was lost.
The course over, we had another few days leave and then to Bicester and the Mossie. After flying the Beaufort and then 60 hours on the Beaufighter, the Mosquito felt like child's play to fly. Just one hour's circuits and bumps dual and I was off solo. What a lovely aircraft, the queen of the skies we called her. Fifty hours on the Mossie and I ended the course with assessments of average as a pilot, average for navigation and above average for bombing and air gunnery. Not being a frustrated fighter pilot as friend Kirk, the only aerobatics that I tried were rolls, which were fun and the low flying and close formation at which we became accomplished was exhilarating.
A short stop off at Swanton Morley for our escape kits and service revolver and then Thorney Island to find myself a member of 487 squadron. Our CO was Wing Commander Porteus, and a finer CO one could not have wished for. He welcomed the new crews, introduced us to our flight commanders and for our first two operations he eased us in gently, two easy operations to allow us to get the feel of operational flying. From Thorney the course was always the same, Thorney to Dungeness, Dungeness to Cap Gris Nez and then on to the patrol area. We were instructed to carry our escape kits plus our service revolvers and this was less than comfortable. I had two packs of escape rations that were thrust in either side of my battle dress. It wasn't convenient to have your revolver in a holster at your side so that was stuffed in between the two escape kits. Then came the Mae West over your battle dress, then your parachute harness and finally your safety straps. Very cumbersome!
The worst part of operational flying was the long wait after briefing. You'd see that 487 was operating that night and a check in the crew room showed that you were on the battle order that night. "Dicing tonight. Great, get one more in towards the total for a tour." Then briefing, reports from the Met officer, Navigational officer and the Intelligence officer, the last mentioned unpopular as he always started his briefly by saying "Tonight we will be ------" and a huge groan from all the crews at the word "we". Fortunately he was never on duty for debriefing where we talked to Fying Officers less arrogant. Briefing was, say, at 5pm and you were on take off at 1.30am. Back to the mess and your comfortable room. Thorney must have been the best in Britain for accommodation and food. Ken's and my room was up a flight of stairs above the common room and was pure comfort. Carpeted floor, two single beds and two wardrobes plus a table and desk, a couple of arm chairs and fully central heated. You could wish for more it was as good as a first class hotel. So you lay there in comfort and peace, trying to get some sleep, knowing that in a few hours' time you were to fly into hostile air space with the possibility of being killed. So you got little sleep while your thoughts mingled between the comfort and pleasure of being alive, with the thoughts that this could be your last night on earth. But in the event, all such thoughts disappeared. You got down to the crew room, geared up, climbed aboard and in a few moments you were airborne and alert and looking towards carrying out your patrol with efficiency. Then you approached the bomb line and could see the battle raging below. Over the line and commence your patrol, keeping a sharp eye open for night fighters. And if you were coned on searchlights and the flak was coming up hard and fast, you were too busy evading both lights and flak to worry about the situation. You completed your patrol and once over the bomb line could relax. Ken and I did our version of the Big Noise From Winnetka into our mikes, he'd play drums and I'd play double bass and next op we'd change instruments! Then we were back at Thorney and at debriefing there was the welcoming tot of navy rum in a cup of hot tea and a slice of lovely fruitcake donated either by an Aussie or Kiwi. They were always receiving fruit cakes from home which they kindly donated to the debriefing room.
While still at Thorney we had two mess parties when ATS girls were invited from a nearby station and Wrens from Hayling Island. They came in force as we provided a very fine buffet by wartime standards. Food rations were saved over the previous weeks so that we could make a splash when there was a mess party. And it was at one of these that I experienced an alcoholic black out. I have never drunk very much, nor did I then, and that particular evening I was to be one of the stewards that offered sandwiches to our guests. I had half of a pint left in my glass when it was time to serve the sandwiches. "Drink up Hugh and get cracking" I was urged and I knocked back the rest of my beer which tasted most peculiar yet in my haste I drank it all. And it must have been laced. I can remember gathering a couple of plates of sandwiches and setting out to serve them and the next memory was of being engaged in a snow ball fight between 464 and 487 at 1am outside the mess. Of the three previous hours I had no recollection. I was told that I had gone through the motions in a normal way and had danced and mingled but those three hours remain a complete blank in my mind. Frightening really and what my drunken Scot must have experienced on a regular basis.
There was little to do outside the airfield, Emsworth was a dead village in the depths of winter and the nearest dance hall was in Chichester, or Chi as we called it. But this was to be avoided as there were regular punch ups and pub brawls between the three armed forces. Seemed crazy to me, here we were in the middle of fighting a war and some seemed to enjoy fisticuffs with sailors or soldiers. I paid one visit to Chi and that was one too many. We had Ensa concerts on the base and for the rest we were operating, doing low level formation practice or sitting around half the night while on standby waiting for either the stand down or to operate.
Christmas 44 was lost to us, I operated on the nights of both the 23rd and 24th, returning to base as dawn approached on Christmas day. I was flying Bill Kemps kite, T, and it was brand new. We were supporting the Yanks over the Ardennes salient and on the 23rd, I reported no flak when debriefed. So it came as a surprise the next day to find that the aircraft was liberally peppered with bullet holes from just behind the cockpit back to the tail plane, while there was a large hole in one bomb door. Never could figure out how that got there without an exit hole in some other part of the fuselage. Must have occurred while the bomb doors were open and we tried to work out what the trajectory of the shell could have been to pass through the bomb door and nothing else. Bill wasn't too happy about his brand new kite taking punishment first time out, but it was hastily patched up and I flew it again the following night. I had to wait until February 4th 1945 before I was given my own aircraft, W for Willie.
And it was W that I flew to Rosieres on February 5th when the squadron moved over to France. And what a shock after the luxury comforts of Thorney. 464 and 487 NCOs were in one long hut, separated by a long corridor down the middle of the hut. We flew over in mucky weather and slopped our way into this cold and uninviting hut. At least Ken and I bagged a bed close to one of the two iron stoves that were to be the only warmth and we set to and got a fire going as quickly as we could. Nevertheless we made the best of things and one perk was that the Luftwaffe had left behind a huge stock of liqour and spirits which we could purchase at ridiculously low prices in the mess. Before long we all had small cocktail cabinets inside our lockers and with a few glasses purloined from the mess we would offer a drink to anyone that came by one's bed for a chat! The hut was alongside the ruined remains of the village church and was out of bounds because it was unsafe. This was a red rag to a bull where 487 was concerned and it became a contest to ring the bells in the church tower before the SPs could arrest the offenders. The bells were rung regularly and no one was ever caught. There were a number of near misses but we always managed to foil them.
There were two ground staff NCOs that attached themselves to 487 and I am proud to say that they became life long friends up to the day that they died. Harry Winrow was in Flying Control, and whenever Ken and I and friend Curly Waterer were operating he would leave a bottle of beer on our beds, his good luck token for a safe return. Charles Watson was in stores and they were both lovely fellows. Harry was a county cricketer, played for Notts and after the war I would meet up with him whenever Essex were playing Notts in Essex. Older than me and not so lucky with their health, they both died in the 1960s.
It was while I was stationed at Rosieres that I got word that my friend Derek Aston had been lost on Beaus back in August of 44. He'd been on shipping strikes. As mentioned previously, I might well have continued to serve with him had I been commissioned at that time. It was while we were at Rosieres that Clarion took place, and Wing Co Baker, who had replaced Porteus, chose commissioned pilots for 487s contribution. Leading the squadron, he insisted in taking them in at 3000ft despite being warned by his flight commanders that this was suicidal in daylight. And Baker and his box of four were shot down almost as soon as they crossed the bomb line while Dickie Henderson and nav managed to bale out and were taken prisoner. Had I been commissioned I might well have been in Bakers box. Quirks of fate that can govern life or death.
Another move, this time to Brussels Melsbröek, April 20th '45. And an immediate problem, as 487s NCO quarters were on the other side of the airfield to the sergeants mess. No problem, we were told, and we were allocated a Morris commercial. Trouble was, we were experienced pilots but none of us knew how to drive. There was always friendly rivalry between the pilots and their navs and Ken, my nav, jumped in and said he could drive. One up for the navs! In the event, it became increasingly obvious that he had no idea how to drive as we shunted and juddered our way round the perimeter track on our first outing. Arriving at the mess, Ken was unable to brake and drove the Commer into a brick wall. From that day on we were allocated a driver and Ken acquired the nickname Commer!
It was a few days later that we suffered our last loss, the Welsh crew of Evans and Jenkins. I was operating that night and we saw a flash of light to the north of us and at the same time came a Mayday call. Someone answered "Mayday received, Roger and out" to which a Welsh voice replied "Roger be buggered, we're on fire!" and we could see the burning aircraft descending and then the flash as it hit the ground. No idea why they were unable to bale out.
Then came VE Day and rather than whoop it up in Brussels, we NCOs just relaxed in the mess and were thankful that it was all over. What of ops? I think enough and more than enough has been written about them. There were a few strange and unusual ones. Such as when we attempted an low level pin point raid at night. A complete fiasco. Trying to eliminate a V2 unloading site at Leiden in Holland. A flight dropping flares while B flight were to bomb. The weather was bad, a thick mist and drizzle over the target area. As soon as the flares were dropped it was impossible to see a thing because of the glare of the flares in the mist, all one saw was the dark shape of a Mossie as it flashed past you. It was a miracle that there were no mid air collisions. And don't you think that we attempted the same thing the next night with exactly the same result. Then there was the raid on Isselberg when we were to bomb from 8000ft, being directed by MRCP. We all thought this would be suicidal, some sixty aircraft being guided in at two minute intervals and we were number 48. Thought night fighters would have a field day but we suffered no losses that night. "48, maintain your height, turn 2 degrees east, steady. There is an unidentified aircraft behind you, do not alter course or speed" Bugger that for a lark thought as I took evasive action. Then it was back on track and bombs gone. Jerry had locked onto our wave length and there was a hilarious exchange of epithets in mixed German and English. Another op was when we did a long distance patrol just in front of the Russian lines. Was supposedly showing support for our Russian allies. As if one aircraft was of any use. We threw off a night fighter twice during the long flight and we spotted Gosfar airfield and straffed the parked aircraft and planted our bombs on the runway for good measure. And encountered no flak. With hindsight I think we may well have attacked one of the dummy airfields that were set up to fool us and protect the proper airfield.
Our last operation took place five days after VE day when we provided air escort to the navy who were repatriating Prince Olav of Norway back home to Oslo. The next fifteen months were full of incident and I thoroughly enjoyed that time before demob. I acted for a time as Bill Kemps adjutant which was a case of the blind leading the blind. I guess the most notable period was the three weeks in July 1946. We were living in the luxury of the brand new officer's mess at Gutersloh when we went sent to Munster Gladbach to spend three weeks under canvas. Ken, my nav, had a chortle about this as he was off to an Educational and Vocational Training (EVT) course. I was busy thumping tent pins into the ground when I was called to Paddy Maher's office, our CO on 107 squadron. I was to be crewed up with Hugh Cohen, a nav without a driver, and we were to do the Nuremberg run for the next three weeks. This was THE best of the best. Two days in the USAAF officers mess in Nuremberg with a press card to sit in on the trials from the press box. Fly to Blackbush to deliver the press dispatches, and Lord Chief Justice's laundry which I suspect was the more important, stay in the UK for three days and then back to Nuremberg and so on. Full PX rations every time we flew into Nuremberg and the food in the American officers mess was of the very best. Free fruit juice and coca cola on tap, it was a wonderful three weeks and a fitting conclusion to my RAF service. Before demob we were offered an 18 months extension of our commissions, after which there was the chance of a short service commission after which there was a chance of a permanent commission. Too many chances and maybes so most of us took demob. My good friend from 487, Curly Waterer took the chances and obtained a permanent commission. He met his future wife when visiting me in the late 40s and I was best man at his wedding as he was best man at mine. And we remained firm friends until his death a few years ago and I am still in close contact with Sheila, his wife.
I was in the RAF for five years but it has permeated throughout my life in one way or another. At the end of the war I had over 650 hours to my credit, of which over 150 were with 487 squadron. On demob I had only increased my hours to 810. It was a great five years during which I met many fine people and saw a good deal of the world and had achieved my boyhood dream, to be a pilot in the RAF.
1324602 W/O later 201207 F/O L Hugh Bone, October 2010
|Please feel free to contact me if you have any comments or questions about this page.|