“I was compelled to pull out of the dive as my hatches flew apart.“
Dicky Bastow experienced four dramatic air incidents, including the one that killed him in May 1943.
His first actual combat was with 125 Squadron on 27 June 1942:
Dicky took off from RAF Fairwood Common on the Gower Peninsula just before 8 o’clock in the morning, flying a Mark II Beaufighter. He and his RO Clifford George were accompanying Squadron Leader Hughes, sweeping the Southern Irish coast for German intruder aircraft. Some two hours later they were vectored onto a ‘bandit’ 15 miles ahead of them and were lucky enough to get a visual sighting of it a long way ahead crossing cloud. They were at 15,000 ft and the German 3,000 ft lower, and they were pursuing with the sun behind them. The gap was quickly closed – 2 miles, a mile, half a mile – and then Hughes identified the bandit as a Ju88. Hughes attacked from 300 yards, then firing from 200 yards: ‘a long burst of at least 4 seconds’. The Ju88 was hit on port engine and fuselage, and a large piece broke off from its starboard side. In the meantime, return fire whizzed over the top of Hughes’ aircraft. Hughes fired again from his cannon, now from 150 yards, and finally at 50 yards with his machine guns. No return fire was coming now, and the German aircraft began a climbing turn to port, glycol pouring out of its starboard engine and it went into a diving turn to port, spiralling as it went.
At this point, Dicky Bastow closed in, putting his Beau into a dive and making another attack on the doomed Ju88 as it spiralled down. A large piece of its tailplane (or possibly fin or rudder) fell off it. The plane made one aileron turn, before bursting into flames and hitting the sea at high speed.
Sqn Ldr Hughes claimed one Ju88 destroyed, and Dicky Bastow wrote a corroborative statement:
“As S/Ldr broke off his attack, I saw the enemy aircraft turn away under him. I then dived on the E/A and gave it a 2 second burst from 250 yards. I was compelled to pull out of my dive as my hatches flew apart. I saw E/A dive into the sea in flames”.
Canada was the go-to place to get your training as an airman in the Second World War.
“In December 1939 an agreement was signed by the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to form the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, answering to a desperate need to match the production of warplanes with trained airmen to fly them. In Britain this was not to be achieved by using the operational aerodromes under pressure at home. A similar agreement was set up with South Africa.
“Canada was the primary location. It was not too far from the theatres of war, but provided dedicated aerodromes, ideal weather conditions, wide open spaces for flying unhampered by enemy action, and readily available resources such as fuel and industrial facilities in both Canada and nearby America for production and maintenance of aircraft. For Canada, this was seen as their major contribution to the war, and it was a huge operation, involving 94 schools in over 200 sites across Canada, nearly 11,000 aircraft and over 100,000 ground organisation personnel. Many Canadian young men also joined up to the RCAF and 55% of BCATP graduates were Canadian. Overall the BCATP trained almost half of all Allied servicemen in the various air forces, constituting a significant factor in establishing the Allies’ air supremacy in the conflict.
“Bryan Wild was one of over 130,000 air crew to graduate through the system in Canada.”
‘Flying Blind: The Story of a Second World War Night Fighter Pilot’ :
by Flt Lt Bryan Wild and Elizabeth Halls
Introduction to Chapter 3: “Wings Over Moose Jaw”
Header photo shows Untrained Pilots Tommy Hunter, Bryan Wild and Jimmy Ward enjoying the cold weather at Moose Jaw, Canada, 1940, courtesy of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.
My overwhelming impression here is a sense of direct connection with the fighting spirit of the past in a modern world still sadly filled with uncertainty and threat. Having close-up tours of the Typhoon and Tornado brought to the fore that unbroken link of innovation and development which means that, surprisingly, I can now see as many of the similarities as differences between these fast jet fighters and the Spitfires, Hurricanes, Beaufighters, Defiants, Typhoons and Tempests of seven
Sgt Stuart Smylie, presenting me with a print of the Typhoon behind me, signed by crew of II (AC) Squadron.
decades ago. At first, it seemed to me that all had changed and the old planes were unrecogniseable in the new, but beside the computer screen displays in the Typhoons, you open a tiny flap to discover three small instruments dials, by which the pilot can bring the plane home if the computer system should fail. The glass screen that displays green-lit information between the pilot and the bubble of the cockpit canopy are showing him the old instrument information in a different visual format, generated by computer, but still the same information, albeit with loads of other stuff available at whim.
My father wrote a long description (in Flying Blind: The Story of a Second World War Night Figher Pilot, Fonthill Media) of chasing a Heinkel bomber across the English Channel, with his Radar Operator, Deryk Hollinrake, struggling to keep its ‘blip’ on his small radar scanner; and the desperation to get a visual on the aircraft, as this was the only means of shooting it down. The old Mark I Eyball, as they say. Today, suffice it to say, it’s very different indeed. As the amazing technology was explained to me (a little), I kept thinking, ‘What would Dad have said to all this?’
Controls, Beaufighter 1943
Controls Typhoon 2015
One thing has not changed in all the years: the RAF family here – and elsewhere – has made me feel I belong, even though I know that belonging is because of my dear father, because of those years he served in the 1940s, and for whom it really was a family in more than just name.
The Spirit of Coltishall Association is an aptly-named group of people whose aim is to keep alive just that. Having served at the RAF airfield, they consider it to have been one of the friendliest stations they experienced in their various RAF careers, something with which my father would have concurred. Though he was only there for a number of weeks, the name ‘Coltishall’ was quite familiar to us, but we couldn’t think why. Having visited and met these lovely people, and seen the site, I am beginning to understand that ‘the spirit of Coltishall’ is indeed a happy one. The place is remembered with affection and pride, and now that it has been sold off, this small group of enthusiasts represents an unofficial guardian of the site and the memory of those who served here.
And it is a special site. It was finally vacated three years ago, and is now in the care of the borough and county councils, but its future is being decided carefully and gradually, and the Spirit of Colishall Association are consulted at every stage. The wartime hangars, control tower, runways, officers and sergeants mess – in fact a whole siteful of buildings – are all intact.
Especially impressive is the existence of wartime revetments, or aircraft dispersal bays. These were where the aircraft were scattered around the site in concrete enclosures, cleverly placed so that enemy aircraft could not hit more than one in a single run. Two aircraft would have been parked here in back-to-back double bays, with their own air raid shelter and a dispersal hut where airmen would lounge around ready to scramble. Discarded tea cups have been found in the ground here, dropped when the call came. The walls of the bays are remarkable.
They made me think of the walls of Machu Pichu, as their stones are rounded and fit closely, curving into one another. These are not stones, however, but sandbags mixed with concrete, that set into each other to form this beautiful wall. I am very glad that the Spirit of Colishall Association is here to guard them for the future.
“I was shaken awake at 4.30 in the morning of 24th January. It was dark and cold. ‘Weather’s OK,’ said a voice, as I sat up in bed. ‘You’re all off!’ We were told to go across Portugal, down the border of Portugal and Spain. ‘5/10 cloud till halfway and then clear’, the Met. said.
We were all airborne about 6.00 a.m., but shortly after leaving Lands End, our RT packed up. The IFF (Identification Friend or Foe radar signalling) blew up, and the petrol cover flew open, so we returned. The message came through later that all the rest had reached ‘Gib’ safely.
The next day we were feeling rather down. Our kite was ready to go but the Met. said a front was expected the next day so we wouldn’t be going then either. We wandered into the village. Nearly all the locals were closed, it being a Monday, and we had to be satisfied with the remaining two dives. We came back on the liberty. I was not feeling too good, and looked forward to having a hangover in the morning.
4.30 in the morning, dark and cold, and once again I was shaken awake. ‘Weather’s OK,’ said a voice, as I sat up in bed. ‘You’re off!’ I groaned and turned over. ‘Go away! Leave me alone!’ I was shaken again, more roughly this time. ‘Get up, you idiot, you’re off, I tell you! The Met. was wrong: the weather’s going to be OK today.’
Ralph shook his head when we saw me. ‘You look rough!’
‘I’ll be OK,’ I said. I looked gloomily up at the sky. ‘Which is more than I’d like to say for the weather.’
‘It doesn’t look too good, does it?’ said Ralph. ‘Low cloud and continuous rain. Not what I’d call wonderful for flying, but apparently it should get better as we go.’”
On my visit, on a lovely day in June, it was still not too difficult to imagine my father’s Beaufighter, with navigator Ralph Gibbons on board, taking off into that dreadful weather, which must have cut across this cliff-top runway like a knife. Here, I’m pictured with Julia Smith, Flt Lt Wilfred Robert ‘Bob’ Peasley’s daughter, who was stationed here at one stage during the war; it is where he met Julia’s mother. He and Dad were in 46 Squadron together in Idku, where Bob nearly died when flying and shot down with Wing Commander George Reid in the defence of the Island of Cos. Reid died; Bob scrambled out of the plane under water. You can read the full story in Flying Blind.