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Tiger Moth

Prestwick, October 1940

“Just before two I put on my flying gear and parachute. While Allan was signing the Flight Record book in the hut, I walked out to the aircraft to climb into the rear cockpit and spend a few minutes looking round and getting used to the confines of the cockpit, as the Sergeant had suggested. I looked down at the floor and gently tapped it with the sole of my flying boot. God! It seemed paper-thin. Would I fall through? Would I be sick? I glanced along the wings: ribs, struts, wires, the gravity-feed petrol tank above and central on the upper wing. Up front, the nose and the large wooden propeller, leather edging round the top edge of the cockpit, small windscreen, smell of petrol and oil.

I suddenly felt uncomfortable, nervous and overheated: the fur-lined Irvin flying jacket was rather stifling, but I knew that once I was airborne the clothes would be essential. Even my hands felt clammy inside the gloves. I sighed, then looked down to the control stick between my legs. I held it gently and moved it to gauge its mobility. I noted with some satisfaction that the ailerons and the elevators moved up and down. I then tested the rudder bar: OK, too.”

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And here am I in 2015 sitting in THE SAME cockpit Dad sat in all those years ago – not the very first he flew that day, but one of around 8 in which he trained in those weeks: BB814, now G-AFWI

“Then came the starting-up procedure dealing with tail-trimming, ignition switches, throttle, fuel and so on. The mechanic responded to the ‘contact’ routine and the propeller was swung. It fired after the second swing. I experienced immediately and for the first time the cool slipstream from the prop and instinctively brought the goggles down to protect my eyes. The engine was making a regular pulsating noise while it was warming up, and I liked the rhythm of it….

“The aircraft slowly surged forward as the throttle was opened. At first the stick was held back, but as the speed increased the stick was moved forward to bring the tail up. I could now see ahead beyond the front cockpit and at about 60 mph we were riding on the surface of the grass with hardly a bump. I suddenly realised that my nervousness had evaporated. I was simply thrilled at this new experience and felt on top of the world even though we were still on the ground. I looked to one side and saw the parked aircraft, buildings, petrol bowsers flashing by. And then, as if by magic, we were airborne. Speed … around the 70 mark. The climb straight ahead was gentle while airspeed was gained. At a height of 1,000 feet we levelled off and into a straight and even flight path. Speed … around 100 mph. Allan asked me if I was enjoying it, and I said I was. I was surprised to find that I wasn’t feeling squeamish in any way.”

'Dad's' Tiger Moth

BB814 (G-AFWI) – a typical log book entry covers spinning, sideslipping, precautionary landing, steep turns.

Flt Lt Bryan Wild and Elizabeth Halls, (2014) Flying Blind: The Story of a Second World War Night Fighter Pilot. United Kingdom, Fonthill Media.

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Prestwick 1940

“I opened the door and found myself in the well-lit main room where three other U/T pilots were lounging in wicker chairs. They turned out to be my close friends from Cambridge, Jimmy Ward and Bernard Wills, and a stranger, Dave Smith, a South African. I took off my wet coat and flopped into a chair, revelling in the warmth emanating from the cylindrical stove in the centre of the room. I had been in one other such Nissen flight hut before and this was much the same: curved, corrugated metal roof, metal window frames, the ubiquitous stove, desk, tables, umpteen chairs, and the whole room littered with the aircrew’s flying gear, parachutes and other accessories. I wrinkled my nose; a faint musty smell pervaded the place.

   I had hardly settled when a door opened at the rear of the room and Sgt Allan emerged in standard blue battledress. I had met him briefly on arrival the day before. Stocky, fair haired, rather fine features; about twenty-five years of age, I guessed. Allan called, ‘Wild—I’ll see you first’. He turned, retreated, and I followed. This room was small with a desk and a few chairs. As soon as we were seated, Allan smiled and said, ‘Welcome to “A” Flight.’ He paused to consult some papers. ‘Now then, let me see. You spent a month at RAF Finningley, as an Air Cadet plonk doing various chores, and then you were posted to Cambridge ITW, where you were genned up on armaments, navigation, etc., before arriving here yesterday. Before I go on, have you managed to get home?’ He glanced at the file. ‘You live at Bolton?’

   ‘No, Sergeant. Actually I’ve not been home since joining.’

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Adamton House, Dad’s billet – photographed in 2015 on my visit. This part could still have been the same, and shows why he remembered it as such a great place to be!

‘Bad show. Hopefully you’ll be able to visit before too long. And your billet, Adamton House? Your first kip there last night. OK?’

 

   ‘Yes, great. I slept like a log. And the food was first-rate.’

   He grinned. ‘You’re lucky. Better than our mess.’”

My own experience of Adamton house was completely different from my father’s. Terrible place, terribly run. ‘Fawlty Towers’ was on everyone’s lips. I shiver now at the memory of that bare room at the top of the building with a rusty old fire escape outside my window. Hope it is looking better now.

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I hope Dad’s view in October 1940 was better than mine in 2015

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My room was clean but depressing, and frighteningly high up in the building!

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Young and Keen

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1940

“I was young, but very keen. The medical was thorough, and during the lung test the Corporal had to bully me to hold my breath long enough to hold up the mercury in the tube. I was tallish, rather pale, and on the thin side. To my utter delight, the man whose job it was to gauge my fitness shook hands with me and wished me luck. I was in. The date was 3 June 1940 and I was eighteen”

So began Dad’s RAF career. And before he was out of those shorts, and before he had even climbed into a plane, he had two close shaves with death:

 “On 27 July I was posted to RAF Finningley in Yorkshire where my duties were mainly on duty crew, flare path, and fire picket; for this was a bomber station with mainly Whitleys and Halifax. I was billeted with the station service police, but found them a nice bunch of chaps. I managed to learn Morse code in my spare time. I also had a narrow escape here; the first of many. I changed my mind in the last minute of accepting a flight in a 106 Squadron Hampden, which crashed near Scunthorpe. It is thought that the pilot lost control after being dazzled by searchlights on what was described as a Training Flight. All four crew were killed.

   “During August I was posted to Babbacombe recruiting depot on the south coast of Devon, prior to going to Initial Training Wing for aircrew (ITW). The place was crawling with RAF personnel, mostly young and untrained, like me. On our very first night, we were greeted with bombs, and one hit our billet directly. Fortunately, we weren’t in at the time, but it felt like a near do. This was my first experience of the ‘shrieking’ bomb, with whistlers attached to the fins, and, boy, it was frightening. Every bomb coming down appeared to have my name written on it.”

From ‘Flying Blind: The Story of a Second World War Night Fighter Pilot’ by Flt Lt Bryan Wild and Elizabeth Halls, with Joe Bamford, (2014) Fonthill Media.  ‘Flying Blind’ is available on Amazon here  or if you would like to buy direct from me and have £1.50 donated to the RAF Benevolent Fund, please go to my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/wheretheyserved and message me

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Fritz

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Bryan Wild with ‘Fritz’, 46 Squadron 19

Charlie Peace had acquired a Dachshund, left behind by the retreating Germans, which he named Fritz. Fritz was good company, and I often took him with me on these swimming expeditions.” wrote Dad in 1943, pictured with Fritz, right.Fritz was a firm favourite in the Squadron, and obviously enjoyed his time in the Mess, as can clearly be seen by his wagging tail and expression in the photo.

After Charlie was killed, missing in action in March 1944, Fritz became Dad’s charge until Dad went back to Blighty in April. Dad told me later that Fritz was friendly but a ‘one-man dog’. It must have been hard for the little chap to be transferred from one owner to another. I wonder where he ended up eventually, and hope he was OK.

 

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Bryan Wild standing at the back, next to ‘Sheriff’ Muir, and Doc MacDonald on piano. Charlie Peace with ‘Fritz’ on his knee. 46 Squadron 1943

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Dad left, and Charlie (in shorts) with Fritz. Charlie also has Timbaki the cat on his shoulder – you can see the paw coming down!

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Acting Sqn Ldr Owen Hooker with Fritz

Flt Lt Bryan Wild’s full memoirs are published by Fonthill Media (2014): ‘Flying Blind: The Story of a Second World War Night Fighter Pilot’

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Sqn Ldr William Kemp DSO DFC

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One of Dad’s friends in North Africa was a character-and-a-half from New Zealand called Bill Kemp. Dad knew him because Bill was a Flight Commander with 227 Squadron, who were also based at Idku in Egypt alongside 46 Squadron and the two Squadrons sometimes flew together on operations. Dad flew with Bill a couple of times, most notably when Dad and Dave Crerar shot down the Heinkel over Leros, and two 46 Squadron Beaufighters were lost in action. Dad thought Owen was a great companion, a great deal of fun, and a great fighter.

Bill’s citation reads thus:

Distinguished Service Order

Acting Squadron Leader William Papillion KEMP (NZ 403550), Royal New Zealand Air Force, No 227 Squadron

During operations in North Africa this officer took part in very many sorties, involving attacks on targets ranging from El Alamein to Tunisia; his successes in that theatre include the destruction of a small supply ship and a Junkers 88. More recently, Squadron Leader Kemp has completed many sorties over the Aegean Sea and has achieved excellent results. In January, 1944, he took part in an attack on an enemy vessel escorted by 2 armed ships. During the operation, his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire which rendered all the electrical equipment unserviceable. Nevertheless, Squadron Leader Kemp, who had sustained a wound in the foot from a piece of shrapnel, continued to attack until the operation was successfully completed, all 3 ships being hit and set on fire. Although in much pain and suffering from the loss of blood Squadron Leader Kemp refrained from informing his leader of his injury. Displaying great fortitude and resolution he maintained formation throughout the homeward flight. Not until base was reached was anyone aware of his hurt. Squadron Leader Kemp displayed great courage and devotion to duty setting an example of a high order.

After the war, Bill retired to Australia, where he pioneered crop spraying and advised the Government on the subject.

 

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28th and 29th October 1943 – Timbaki

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The morning after the fright with the 15 JU88s, Dad took the Ford van with ‘about a dozen chaps’ on board into Cyrene for a swim in sea, which was warm even though the sky was partly overcast.The road from camp at Lakatamia wound steeply over spectacular hills and required good driving skills. They got caught in a few rain showers on the way back, but everyone enjoyed the views and the trip out.

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Dad was sharing a tent with Arthur Horsfall, a Canadian pilot about the same age, who was keeping his own diary notes. Arthur had also enjoyed the swimming outing, and names this Castle St Hilarion, commenting: “Some drive! Some Castle!”

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In the evening, Dad set off again with the crowd for some night-life of Nicosia, finishing up at The Empire. Here, he found a little kitten shivering in a stairwell, so brought it back in his jacket into camp, where it spent the night at the foot of the camp bed. Arthur had stayed behind and gone to bed early, but Arthur’s own diary entry for that day mentions the arrival of the kitten! When Dad woke up on the next morning, Friday 29th October, the kitten was nestled next to his left ear, and Dad stayed in the tent writing up his ‘reserve’ log book, to help settle it in. He named it ‘Timbaki’, after a popular night-club singer from The Empire.

On days like these it must have seemed that the war must be a dream. But who knew what the next day would bring?

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27 October – 72 years ago

46 Squadron, Beaufighters, Idku, North Africa, October 27th 1943. My father had a rather busy day. I love the laconic entry of the first paragraph. If that had happened at the start of my day I think only three pages would suffice!

One of 252 Sqdn’s Beaufighters crashed on take off early this morning, about 200 yards from our tent, ammo going off for approx. 1 hour. Both got out OK.

Briefed at 2.30 pm for Naval escort to 1 cruiser and 3 destroyers off Castelrosso, which turned out to be quite exciting.

Four of us – F/Lt Dudley Arundel, F/O Arthur Horsfall, W/O Boswell and self – airborne at 16.15, me leading the second section with Boswell as my No 2. Found convoy OK, but at 18.00 hrs we were vectored by the cruiser for a ‘bunch’ of hostiles approaching from the west, and at 12000’ we climbed to 13000’ then we saw 15 (!!) JU88s in very close formation, heading towards us. We peeled off and attacked from the beam. Heavy return fire was observed. I only managed to get in one attack, before they all turned and headed for home at full throttle. F/Lt Arundel damaged 2, Arthur damaged one. I must have hit something, but didn’t claim anything. Returned to convoy to find a hostile dropped flares, but he buzzed off.

He also wrote about the incident later. This is how it appears in his memoirs, ‘Flying Blind’, which is published by Fonthill Media (2014) and also available on Amazon:

That same afternoon we were briefed at 1400 hrs for last light cover naval escort of a cruiser and three destroyers around Castelrosso Island, heading for the Turkish coast. Four of us in the flight, Dudley Arundel (leading), Art Horsfall, Boswell and myself, plus RO’s, were airborne at 16.14. I was leading the second section with Boswell as my number two. We found the convoy easily despite the bad weather, but as dusk fell, at 1800 hours, the cruiser in RT touch with us vectored us to a bunch of hostiles approaching from the West at 12,000 feet. Arundel immediately ordered the planes to fly at 13,000 feet. The bunch of hostiles came into view and, to our astonishment, we saw fifteen Ju 88’s in a very tight V-shaped formation heading directly to attack the convoy, a frightening sight. The four of us peeled off and attacked them from the beam and from behind. There was heavy return fire but all four Beaus fired their four cannons and six machine guns, causing such havoc among the enemy that they scattered and fled for home at full throttle the way they had come. Flt Lt Arundel and Arthur, the front pair in the attack, claimed aircraft damaged: Arundel two, Horsfall one. In the second wave I thought I may have damaged one, but owing to the confused state of the encounter I didn’t claim anything later. The light was very poor with lots of cloud about and I couldn’t be definite about it. We could not get close enough to follow up and split the formation: our Beau’s were too slow. However, we all felt satisfied that we had driven off a potentially dangerous group of bandits. The return fire from the Ju 88s had been heavy, and it inflicted some damage to two of our Beaufighters. WO Boswell had to return to base on one engine. In fact, it turned out that he had been particularly lucky: one bullet passed through the Perspex only one inch from his head. I was lucky not to be hit, but as far as I was concerned, it was the first time I had been fired at by the enemy, and it was quite an experience. We returned to the convoy to find a hostile dropping flares, but he saw us coming and buzzed off

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Battle of Britain Hymn 1943

In 1943, the Dean of Liverpool, Frank Fletcher, wrote a hymn for the forthcoming commemorative service in celebration of the Battle of Britain, to the tune ‘Darwall’s 148th’ (often used for ‘Ye Holy Angels Bright’):

O Thou that hearest prayer
Our brothers shield and guide,
Who through the spacious air
On high adventure ride,
To watch or fight
Near and afar
On wings of war
For truth and right.

Give skill of hand and eye
And quick discerning mind
Through lonely wastes of sky
Uncharted ways to find,
Nor faint or fail
Nor evil fear,
But know thee near
Whate’er assail.

And as that hero band,
The young, the few, the brave,
To shield our menaced land
Their eager manhood gave,
Nor turned aside
From danger’s call,
But for us all they dared and died.

So unto us to-day
Thy strength and aid impart,
Our country’s call to obey
With brave unfaltering heart,
Till war shall cease
And victors come
Rejoicing home
On wings of peace.

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For Dad. Now it’s all over

It’s the morning after the 60 airfields before, and before I continue with other posts, filling in the many, many gaps I’ve missed over the last six months, I want to dedicate one post to Dad himself, because although this was all about the RAF, the wartime bravery and sacrifices, and all about the RAF Benevolent Fund and saying ‘Thank you’ for their care for Dad in his last few years, this is actually all about him, the best of dads. Dad, we did it together: thanks for the memories! And for everyone else, please excuse the indulgence. I’m feeling a bit sentimental today.

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Adventures on the road

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Chattie had to tackle Lincolnshire and Yorkshire on her own without the Sprinter. We did a splendid 619 miles. The weather was wonderful. It was ALL wonderful. Ah. Except for a few little hiccups on the way. We travelled the first 170 miles to Steve and Heather Hardwick’s house near Lincoln. Then Chattie refused point blank to start when I tried to put her in the garage. She was as relaxed about it as the cat, but something needed to be done.

A piece of string connected to the starter motor lever and a quick trip to MG Raw’s excellent garage, where they fixed the problem for no charge – may they prosper! – enabled me to make the three fantastic visits to RAF Scampton, Coningsby and Digby.

KWIK WHAT?!

Yorkshire2webThen to Yorkshire, where on returning from seeing Ack Greenwood’s grave with friend Roger Gill, we spotted a flat tyre.

No problem, there was a Kwik Fit garage nearby. We pumped in enough air to get her there; but this was a fast puncture and she wasn’t going to get me to Church Fenton or my evening accommodation. The wheel had to be changed, and I had no jack. “We can’t touch it” was Kwik Fit’s response. I explained that the wheel spinners could be knocked off and I had the correct copper hammer in the car, but didn’t have a jack. “We can’t do it,” was the response, “We don’t know the correct torque setting, and can’t let you go without that because the wheel might come off.”

“My understanding,” I said, “Is that the spinners tighten themselves as the car moves forward, though I haven’t done it myself.”

“Yes, but you don’t know the torque setting so we can’t touch it,” was the response

“Would you just jack it up for us so my friend here can do it?”

Again, the torque argument came again and Kwik Fit felt they would be responsible if the wheel fell off. I asked if there was perhaps an older KwikFitter who might have had some experience with wheel spinners in the past, but the present KwikFitter took it as a personal insult to his expertise and ability; which is not what I had meant at all.  In the end, he did put some air in the tyre for me so that Chattie could limp further down the road into the shade of a tree while I called out my excellent breakdown service. While we were waiting, a gentleman came out of the house behind us, offered help, gave us a cup of tea, gave a donation to the RAF BEnevolent Fund. He had served in the RAF many years ago. How nice that was.

Yorkshire1Then the breakdown van came. Callam, pictured here, was the absolute opposite of Kwik-Fitness, and said, ‘Wow! What a lovely car! I’ve never done one of these, but it’s great to have the chance.’ I offered the copper hammer, but he was already reaching for a rubber hammer in the van, and had the wheel off in no time. Turned out he had two family members in the RAF, and he also donated to the RAF Benevolent Fund before he went. (He didn’t bother about any mythical torque problem, being younger and wiser than the Kwik Fit man.) May his career prosper!

SINGING IN THE RAIN

Yorkshir5wdb Yorkshire4webSo, saying goodbye to Roger, I set out under a brilliant blue sky for Church Fenton, and thence to Jennifer and Ian’s house for the night. Jennifer is Deryk Hollinrake’s Goddaughter (Dad’s Radar Operator during the war), so I guess that makes us Godsisters. Half way there, the sky blackened and soon I was in the middle of a raging – and I mean raging – thunderstorm; lightning flashes like strobe lighting, and monstrous rain slapping and bouncing off everything; the air thick with it.  Like almost every other car on the road, I got off it as quickly as I could, taking refuge with the crowd in the doorway of the Sweet Basil restaurant at a service station (though I think I was wetter than most!). Would they serve anyone coffee while we waited out the storm? No. Though there were tables aplenty, though the conditions outside were freakishly impossible and continued so for about an hour, they would only serve those eating a meal. Thumbs down, Sweet Basil.

Yorkshire3webI only had about 20 minutes’ driving to go. I set out in a break in the rain, only for it to pound down again. My all-weather clothing didn’t cope with this and soon I was drenched. A little basin of water sat in my lap where I had draped a plastic cloth. Remembering my lovely ‘Aunt’ Monica, who was daunted by nothing the weather could possibly do, I sang my way there, working my way through rain songs and laughing at the sheer scale of the drenching. I was a drowned rat when I arrived. Jennifer set a bath running straight away and lit the bathroom with scented candles: what a fantastic greeting! It was just lovely to stay with her and Ian, and talk about our two Dad’s and their wartime friendship. The sun smiled on us: metaphorically speaking, for our evening together over a LOVELY meal; and literally in the morning.

BACK TO SCHOOL

Every airfield has its surprise, and so had the journey down to my mother’s house in Ilkeston. I set the SATNAV to avoid motorways. What a pleasant trip that was! Down country roads, old long Roman roads almost empty of traffic, through towns and villages, while occasionally I could see the motorway running parallel to my left or right, chock-a-block with cars. Negotiating Doncaster was a doddle. Along the way I had the sense of the country and its life: what was farmed in the fields, the type of villages, the different stone, the variation between rustic or industrial, the old mining towns and villages. On the motorway I would have had the monotony of that plain tarmac ribbon cut off from the world. I don’t know if I’ll ever travel that horrible stretch of M1 again after this.

BestwoodwebBut the greatest surprise was when I suddenly and completely unexpectedly found myself in Bestwood Village, and there was ‘School Lane’ and the primary school where my father was headmaster for many years before he retired. I hadn’t seen it since the 1970s. A man walking a dog was kind enough to take the picture, and for my mother and me both, this last adventure of the road brought a tear to our eyes.

Back home. Chattie, you are full of gifts and surprises. We did it, girl, and what a great journey!

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