People in story: Bill Barwick
Background to story: Royal Air Force
‘ Cheerio Bull ,’ he said and I said.
‘See Ya Geordie’. We had worked together for well over a year. Which is a long time in wartime. Shared the same hole, broke our last fag in half to share it. Only a few weeks previously we had both offered to go ashore in the first wave across the channel because our C O had volunteered to over-fly the invasion until he ran out of fuel and ditch. We had said we would get ashore and get him down and possibly refueled and up again. It would not have worked, but we meant well and The C O was not allowed to do it. I think somebody else did.
I saw Geordie only once more after that, when I scrounged a ride on a truck in the north of Italy and he had done the same. I suppose that is one of the things about wartime. You team up with someone, share their dangers and triumphs and then move on. As the old time sailors said,
‘It was ships that pass in the night.’
The orderly room was a tent. The standard eight-man affair. I walked in through the open end to be greeted by The Squadron Warrant Officer from behind a folding table.
‘ Barwick Sir’ I said. ‘Posted from 654 squadron’
‘I’m Skip,’ he said. ‘Have you met Prince?’( Prince and Wilber Rex where dogs the unit adopted)
‘No’ I answered.
‘Prince go and meet a new boy’ he said to an Alsatian, which got up from behind him and walked around the table to sniff around me.
I had always had a dog back home, but not one as big as this and his breeding was obvious. He did have a distinctive fault. Which even I saw and that was a soft ear. I said
‘Hello Prince’ and ‘Where do I dump my gear Sir?’
‘Everybody calls me Skip’ the Warrant Officer told me, ‘And you will be working with Benny, he’s in that tent over there, he’ll put you right’...
I walked into the tent he’d indicated to find three or four blokes sitting around on an assortment of home made beds. I noticed that one of them had two tapes on his arm so I addressed him.
‘I’ve been told to look for Benny, Corporal,’ I said.
‘I’m Herbie,’ ( Keith "Herbie" Herbert, 575845 RAF) he answered ‘and that’s Benny’ he pointed to a large bloke with thick glasses on another bed.
‘The S W O said I’m working with you,’ I told him.
‘That’s right. You was swapped with Johnny MyescougF)h.(1058495 RAF’ he said. ‘Our airoplane is W for wizard. The pilots are Bill Illidge, (328963V, SAAF) and Chris Liebenburg,(542464V, SAAF) My name’s De Hond ( AC1 Bernard "Benny" Dehond, 1238984 RAF) What’s yours?’.
‘Barwick ‘ I said ‘Bill Barwick.’
‘Pity that,’ he answered ‘I hoped it would be something like Macnamara. De Hond, Leibenburgh and Macnamara would look good, Come on I’ll show you where the kite is, do you know the Mustang?’
I had to admit that I didn’t know the Mustang and as we walked toward the aircraft lines I also felt a bit concerned. I’d heard of this aircraft. It was reckoned to be one of the best fighter-bombers in the world. Its specification was still on the secret list. I also felt just a bit uncomfortable about my dress. I was wearing my battle dress, webbing and small pack, with proper army boots. All the blokes I’d seen so far wore any sort of rough gear, few had hats, none had gaiters or puttees and certainly no webbing. I had seen no sign of a gun of any sort. This was The Desert Air Force. I had a lot to learn…
In wartime you expect and get, steep learning curves. This move was a prime example. On 654 squadron we had learned to work as a small unit where you did everything yourself. And that included the cooking. If you had a good officer you became a team of which he was a part and you had the back up of a Captain I was now. I soon discovered, on the famous Shark squadron. Probably the most famous squadron in the Desert Airforce. My airoplane was a P51 (Mustang) which had a Packard Merlin 21 engine. I just hoped that I could get some information about it, but there did not seem to be much around. No tools either. Well not much. A couple of spanners from the toolkits of Kittyhawks with which the Squadron had been equipped until just before I joined them.
Benny De Hond was a mine of information( Benny was knifed to death after the war while working as a bouncer in a London night club), but not about Packard Merlins. Herbie helped, but in truth as they had only just got the Mustangs nobody knew much about them. I don’t recall any sergeants at that stage. I did eventually find that there were sergeants, but as they knew nothing either, they kept out of the way. At this stage of the war the ex apprentices who had been in the R A F prewar and done their training then had learned quite a lot about playing cricket, football and rugby and very little else. I met very few sergeants who were worth more than the proverbial.
So now here I was on a temporary airstrip, somewhere just north of Lake Trasimeno where there was said to be a village called Foiano or something like that. I never saw any houses or civilians while I was there. I did not see Lake Trasimeno either, but the pilots did when they landed or took off.
Somehow the air force must have organized the personnel swap on a quiet day because there was very little activity. This gave me time to look around ‘W’ and dig out an inspection schedule. There was a tent which passed as flight office, probably presided over by a sergeant. I didn’t see one. I picked up as much gen as I could and found a tent where there was room for me to roll some blankets out. There was a cookhouse from which grub could be got. It was just an open space where the ovens formed a sort of enclosure. If you got there at about the right time there was food available. I think I must have looked out of place there because I had my set of mess tins, my mug and knife, fork and spoon. Benny I discovered had one part of his mess tin and I think a spoon. So he went for his meals with his mates who had a large mug and some had a knife and possibly a spoon. They would get as many as three dinners on one mess tin and then somehow eat it, sharing the cutlery. He invited me round to his tent, which was the social centre of the squadron for drinks that evening. It was the standard eight man tent, but there were goodness knows how many crammed in when I got there. I had been warned to bring my mug and this was soon filled from a carboy of vino. This was a very large glass container in a protective basket. Always called a cowboy.
It was not possible to identify the ranks of the other inmates of the tent. It didn’t seem to matter, but some were obviously pilots. I later learned that it was not unusual to find the C O in Benny’s tent and sometimes even Groupy Eaton who commanded the wing. I concentrated on learning as many names as I could. Drank a few glasses of booze and got back to my blankets.
Somebody yelled Wakey Wakey in the morning and I headed for the cookhouse for my mug of tea and some breakfast. The food was O K, but not as good as when we cooked our own on the section. I looked the plane over, doing as good as I could and I think I got Benny to give me the run down on the starting procedure. It was very different from the Auster. These engines had the American Bendix Stromberg fully pressurized, down draft Carburetor. Fitted as updraft. You started it in Auto Cut Off. By switching on the ignition, engaging the self-starter and feeding petrol into the intake system from an electric control switch. When it fired you pushed the mixture control from ‘Cut Off’ to ‘Auto Rich’, stopped feeding petrol in and set the throttle to catch her and get the tick over speed up to about eleven hundred revs to warm it up. I soon got used to it and the thrill of running a thousand horsepower Merlin was something you have to feel to understand.
But now we were busy. I forget which of our pilots came out to the plane first. I suppose I let Benny see him off with his two five hundred pound bombs. We could watch him and the rest of them fly to the target, start their dive and hear the faint noise of the explosions and they were back. It was the closest I’ve ever seen the squadron work and I figured that we were probably inside the range of German eighty-eights. Certainly their bigger guns, but they didn’t have all that many of them.
We didn’t bother with refueling for such short runs, but everybody got stuck in to loading more bombs. We were using five hundred pounders because four men could lift them up on a stretcher. Detting them and arming them, I soon found was easy enough. The pilots swapped over when they thought they felt like it and we topped up the tanks when we thought they needed it. I don’t think they used their guns, but with half the wing attacking this one target they must have created mayhem.
239 wing had about six squadrons and half of them were still Kittyhawk equipped. These I think used just one thousand pounder each trip. One of the Kitty squadrons had this competition going. It was quite simple. They modified the landing technique by approaching the runway at a great height until right over it when they set the plane on its wingtip and let it fall like a brick. At as low a height as they dared go they flicked it level and there it was on the runway. Very spectacular. The winner was the one who came in at the greatest height and dropped the plane the lowest. Mustangs do not lend themselves to this sort of trick.
I later found out that the C O of the Kitty squadron won when he left it a bit late to flatten out and the plot went down with an almighty thud which bashed the undercart up through the wings and turned the rest of the machine into instant scrap.
The crash truck had quite an advantage on this crash in that they knew exactly where it was going to happen and had parked right there. They drove round the mess with a cable and dragged it off, almost before it had stopped bouncing.
One of our Mustangs crashed on take off. The pilot lost it and the weight of the bombs took over. It cart wheeled almost into our lines and the pilot was taken off to hospital not too badly injured. (Possibly Mustang Mk. III FB291/ GA F, Sgt Kenneth Richard Mann, 1332895, RAFVR, 2/8/44, 42-103143 to RAF Mar 1944 as Mustang III FB249. Crashed on takeoff, Landing Ground Crete Aug 2, 1944 or Mustang Mk. III FB317/ GA T, LT A H Jones, 542465V, SAAF, Engine cut on take off pilot KIA, 42-103247 to RAF as Mustang III FB317 Mar 1944. Crashed on takeoff at Landing Ground Crete Aug 1, 1944)
We grabbed meals as and when we could, I had watched the lads as they sat on the port wing well outside the prop arc and signaled to the pilot with arm movements. It was simple enough, most ground crew were used to using hand signals around aircraft. You can’t shout above the engine and prop noise.
(Knobby) Clark, ,
Our tented accommodation was pretty good. Most of us shared an eight man tent with three others which left us with some room. I think it was here that I was in a tent with the bowser wallah, PaddyWoods , Bill Bailey. All Baileys are Bill. I forget who else. Perhaps nobody. Bill was like me, an engine basher who’s pilot was a small fair haired lad from Kettering. Knobby Clark (Plt Off GEORGE GORDON
, RAFVR). He was I think a sergeant, but universally called Knobby. We naturally talked much about home. When you are a long way from home Kettering and Olney are very close together. We both knew places like Wellingborough and some of the villages. I was getting into the squadron.
We had a corporal Duncan. ‘Dilly’ who was pretty good on Merlins and he helped a lot, but we were all feeling our way for a bit.
Benny De Hond
‘Wiv a capital ‘H’’ he said. Described himself as ‘An East End Jew boy bookie.’ He knew everybody, organized everything, made money out of everything, which supplied free booze to everybody who wanted to drink it. He drank his way through most of the nights, waking the cooks up to start breakfasts before grabbing some sleep himself. He was almost always a bit behind getting to the plane in the morning. I still had the 654 ethic of starts at first light and was always there. I quickly got the gen on The rigger’s Daily Inspection and so had everything about done by the time Benny got there. He was always happy to sign his bit if I said it was O K. I was after all by this time a very experienced airoplane mechanic. He had been born within the sound of Bow Bells and was a genuine cockney.
‘A good old English name De Hond,’ he used to say. His folk were in fact Dutch Jews who did indeed run a Betting organization of some sort. Close to Petticoat lane near Liverpool Street station in the East End of London.
I did not take long to fit in on 112. It’s easy to not do things like cooking and gun cleaning. I missed having a Jeep or motorbike at my disposal, but the squadron did not have much transport and what they had was kept very busy. The lads were easy to get on with and I was not there as a rookie. I soon got my dress as scruffy as the rest of them. There was a bit of resentment at the fact that I had displaced Johnny Myerscough. I explained that I had not asked to be sent to 112 any more than he had asked to go to 654 squadron. I made up my mind not to talk too much about life with 654 because it would be shooting a line about what action I’d seen and that is not the way to become popular.
When I’d been with the squadron about a week we were suddenly panicked off to another landing ground near Leghorn. (12 August 1944, LG Crete to LG Rosignano detached for four days (16 August 1944) to cover the Landing on Southern France) This was to cover the invasion of southern France. This event could be dated by the war records. I think only the Mustang squadrons went on this excursion and we were not there very long as it all went smoothly and I assume that landing grounds in France were soon available and we went back to Fioano. (LG Crete)
The war by this time must have been going badly for the Germans, but progress was slow up Italy. The defender has the advantage in the mountains. Their Luftwaffe was in poor shape I can not remember any of the pilots reporting seeing an enemy fighter. I suspect they were all kept at home for the defence of the homeland. Our planes were used mostly as fighter-bombers. Often flying over the front in what they called Cab Rank. Waiting to bomb targets, which the army wanted bombed. They had an alternative target for their bombs, if they were not needed by the army.
The ground staff were worked fairly hard, but nothing like the work load I had got used to in trainer command or even with 654. I had to adapt to being in a larger community of men and to working only on airoplanes. There were some not very savoury characters on the squadron as there will always be, but most of the blokes were O K. There was some advantage for me in the fact that almost nobody knew much about Mustangs when I joined them, so I was not greatly disadvantaged. I remembered lectures in training school about the Bendix Stromberg carburetor. How it was fully pressurized and Diaphragm operated with four main chambers so I knew where and how to adjust it. Which was more than most knew about it. The magneto also had been taught in training as a future fitment, and I had remembered a bit about that.
I can not remember how long we were at Foiano before we were warned that we were moving and an advance party was sent off. This move did not affect me like the 654 moves used to because I had no vehicle to load or drive. I just mucked in with the lads and eventually found myself a comfortable ride in the back of one of the trucks and helping to unload at a place called Jesi. Yesi on the Italian maps.( 28 August 1944, From LG Crete to LG Iesi situated about one mile east of the village of Iesi) It is somewhere inland from Ancona. We were again in our tents. Our squadron area was at the farthest point from the town of Yesi. Which we could actually see because it lay on high ground. Headquarters and the Pilot’s Mess were in the town. Though I can not recall ever visiting either place.
Jesi Italy 1944 shows a string of Marauders on the runway, Spitfires or Mustangs, Mitchell's and tents in the foreground which were a temporary repair shop for Spitfires. This was one of the few serviceable runways in the poor weather- everybody was using it! The original pic is not a good quality.
You will be interested to know that the South Africans had five squadrons of Marauders in Italy. Three wing was desert Airforce consisting of 12, 21, 24 and 30 Squadron. 25 Squadron was part of the Balkan Airforce.
The social centre of the unit was as always Benny’s tent where anybody could be found drinking into the night. The airstrip was reasonably long for a forward airstrip. We had the whole 239 wing there under the command of Groupy Eaton ( Gp Capt Brian Alexander
, RAAF) a hard bitten Ausie who needed all his toughness to look after his squadrons as we shared the place with a unit of American Thunderbolts. These oversized monsters dominated the place and as the Americans often did the air traffic control were almost always given priority with landing and takeoff.
The other obvious thing about the landing strip was just how congested it was. The whole place was packed with Marauders. The original flying prostitute. (No visible means of support) I think they were American, but I never saw anybody ever go to them and never found out what they were doing there. I never even tried to count them. There were too many. There was also a small cemetery quite close to the landing strip with those headstones which are used for Non Christians. I wondered if they were of casualties from that strange operation I was involved in which had probably come close to this area when I was with 654. We also had a small hospital at Jesi and the wing Dentist ‘Fangs Redfern ‘ also set up his stall with us.
112 I now discovered was Commanded by Squadron Leader A P Q Bluett D F C and Croix de Guerre. (Anthony Peter Questil
,43539, RAF) I suppose I met him in Benny’s tent. He also was Jewish and probably one of the best pilots in D A F. I was now seeing the difference between the R A F and the Desert Air Force. Both our pilots were South African Air Force Lieutenants. They had never been in The R A F.. Their training had been more Luftwaffe than R A F and most of the pilots on 112 at that time were S A A F.. I also discovered that one of the wing squadrons was 5 S A A F, which was entirely South African. Although all these men spoke Afrikaans I never heard any of them use that language when in our company. I should have expected this sort of thing having worked previously with the Six South African Armoured Division. They had been trained by the German army.
Very soon after we got to Jesi I spent an evening drinking in Benny’s tent which culminated in my doing a helluva Yaahoo at about two in the morning. It was loud. From then on I was Yippy and the name stuck. I didn’t mind, it does no harm to have a nickname on a squadron, but you have to back it up with your ability to do the job and take a joke. I really did make an effort to learn the P51 and I hope I was able to take a joke.
The operations were different now. Our planes went further into enemy territory. Mostly to take out bridges and important buildings and they also used thousand pounders quite often and this did make a bit more work as they were too heavy to lift by hand and had to be jacked into place with a hydraulic lift. As we had quite a good runway at Jesi our pilots found that they could get off (Just) with all tanks full, as well as two thousand pounds of bombs and two thousand rounds of point five ammo. There were snags with this.
The bomb racks on the earlier Mustangs had the legend . (The Load On This Rack Should Not Exceed Two Hundred and Fifty Pounds). It was clear therefore that a thousand pounder overloaded the things and this did give some trouble. Every so often the rack would refuse to release its bomb. If this happened on both sides, the pilot could probably carry on and shake the things off somewhere when all was O K. But if they would not release, the alternative was to fly over the sea, call up the Air Sea Rescue service and when they were in position, bale out and get picked up.
It cost a plane, but was the only way. If one only hung up things could be more difficult and if it didn’t take the plane in and the hang up would not shake off then it too was a ditching job.
The other alternative job. Which the squadron did was long range escort, which entailed fitting drop tanks on the bomb racks. I think they held about 75 Imperial gallons and gave the plane over five hours Endurance. We were often not told where they went off to, but I think they met our own bombers from England over the targets. They nearly always came home with about enough petrol left to fill a fag lighter and with very little ammo left as they always had a target to strafe on the way home.
I can remember them coming home almost out of petrol and being told by the American control officer to wait until his Thunderbolts had landed . They never went on long trips because they got lost. Bluit decided that his squadron could not wait and told the lads to ‘Follow me in lads’. As he landed from the wrong end of the runway meeting some terrified Yanks as he did so, with all the lads dutifully following him in through a wonderful display of red very lights. He didn’t even taxi away from the runway, as he had urgent and important things to say to the American control officer.
As previously mentioned Yesi was crowded. It didn’t help when four engined planes on the way home with problems dropped in. To be parked to await their crews to come and fix them. The Liberators were the ones to watch, especially if their inner port engine was knocked out as this supplied the hydraulics. This situation meant a no brakes, no flaps landing. With an under cart which had been shaken down, but was always O K for landing. The plane would come in at much higher than normal landing speed and once down the crew would stand by the fuselage hatches, hook their Parachutes up and open them to act as air brakes. Quite spectacular.
One morning I saw three Beaufighters of 600 City of London squadron land and taxi to a park at the Yesi end of the ‘drome. I had heard on the grapevine that my old mate from 654, Ernie Mc Lellan had been posted to them, so when I got a few minutes I wandered over to find an Australian Flight Lieutenant Pilot, sitting there near one of them. I asked him if he had ever heard of Ernie McLellan and he said
‘Yeh, he’s in that kite there.’
I walked under the Beaufighter, stuck my head through the hatch and yelled
‘Are you there? Ernie you old bastard.’
‘Bill you old bastard, come on up.’ He called, so I joined him in the cockpit.
I spent the next half hour learning how to use this newfangled Radar gun-sight to sort our which plugs in which engine were misfiring and that Paddy Burns had also been posted to 600 squadron. I think that Air Ministry had for some reason had a swapping over of ground staff fit and taken almost all of the old hands from 654 and spread them around the squadrons. Perhaps they got the idea that on 654 we were becoming more like soldiers than airmen. It must have been a bit difficult for the airmen who got dumped on 654 to get used to the idea that they had to do their own cooking, driving, slit trench digging and aircraft defense.
Well Ernie was doing O K and so was Paddy. Ernie had an Australian aircrew who kept him well supplied with Australian cigarettes and rolling tobacco and I left with a large tin of Ausie rolling tobacco. I didn’t see him again and when the war ended I got it on the grapevine that he’d been sent back to Liverpool to sort out his Marriage problems. They had never seemed like problems to me.
It was the tin of rolling tobacco, which stopped me smoking. For the next few days I was almost a chain smoker, until I realized that I had an almost continuous dry throat and slight cough. Right out of the blue I decided that I was not going to smoke from then on. I think also that I had noticed that I was getting as bit breathless. Probably when swimming. There was an irrigation ditch which ran through our side of the ‘drome. It was about six feet wide and the water about three feet deep flowed really fast along it. It was a bit cold as it was probably melt water off the mountains, but I tried a swim in it and found that by going like mad I could nearly stand still.
The big bloke I knew as Tiny Gilvray watched my capers until he decided to have a go. He was big and could really swim. He could actually make headway slowly against the current. He started telling me how I could improve my speed and eventually with his help I found that I could just go like hell and stand still until I had to pack in through breathlessness. I could not match Tiny, but it did help my Ego to find that he had been a Mersey-side 220 yard champion. I never saw anybody else try it. Later when we found places where we could get a swim Tiny would say.
‘Go on Yippy I’ll give you five yards start to pace me.’ He was also very good at showing me how to improve my crawl. He was a great bloke and was sent home as soon as the war ended because he had been out in the Middle East since just after the war started.
Packing up smoking was not all a good thing. It turned me into a Baron because cigarettes were money and I had my free issue to sell and I could buy a certain amount, which sold at a profit and I was rich in a land where booze was cheap. It took time to settle down and eventually I did, but like almost all the others I drank far more than was good for me.
Despite all the distractions I still managed to write home and to Doreen, but her letters began to show less interest. She had taken up some form of nursing and been sent to an Airodrome somewhere near Manchester. I tried once to send her a bunch of flowers by post. She got them, but said in her next letter that it was a bit difficult because the florist, who I understood had undertaken to deliver, merely sent her a note telling her where she had to go to collect them. In another letter she said she didn’t mind me mixing with other women provided I stuck to the English girls who were out there in the services with us. This set me wondering what sort of war they thought we were mixed up in, as the last woman I’d heard speaking English was the Nursing sister in the hospital in Naples. We had heard that there were WAA F somewhere in Italy, but we never saw them and assumed they were Officers groundsheets way back at some headquarters. A bit unfair perhaps but we had no way of knowing about that sort of thing.
I had always kept in touch with Bob. Not always easy, as he was dashing about all over the world. He’d been a dispatch rider in the Far East where he’d worked in the wettest place on earth. Then his flying training had come through and he went to America for that as well as Africa where he was as close as he ever got to where I was. He came back to England before going once more to The Far East as an underbelly gunner. Occasionally we wrote drunken letters to each other. It was fun to do that, but you can only do it when you are sober I found.
Mum always wrote to me and I tried to get letters off to her. It was not always easy to write optimistic letters to her. We didn’t always feel all that optimistic and once when with 654. I had drawn a picture of my billet in a vineyard in Sicily where I could reach out and pick grapes from my bed. I thought of that as luxury and sent this home as an Airograph. She wrote back and said it made her cry. I just had to be careful about what I told her.
I think my best correspondent was my cousin Norah. She was a year or so older than me. Very beautiful. Tall and slim. I had once seen her. Purely accidentally in the meadow where we went swimming, standing in the doorway of an old fashioned Bell tent, facing inwards, completely naked. Her hair golden and glistening fresh-dried and brushed, down below her shoulders. A picture of beauty, which I carried with me till well, now, I suppose. She went into the Woman’s Army Corp W R A Cs I think they were called and became a driver. Her letters told me of the people I knew and the places I knew. Always written in Copper plate handwriting which I wish I could emulate. We still send cards at Christmas and I know her hand as soon as I see the envelope. More of Norah later.
Quite suddenly Bill Illidge came to the end of his tour. A quiet bloke, he had done what he was told to do. I got the impression that he did no stupid things and took the risks which had to be taken to do the job. He did come back one day with a bit knocked out of a cowling, which we fixed. He was not replaced on ‘W’ so Chris Leibenburg had the plane to himself. He also was almost at the end of his 200 hour tour. And then he failed to come back from an op. I panicked around the pilots who came back and was told they had seen him bale out, land O K, roll his parachute up and hide it before moving off, so he was O K.
Now without a plane I found other employment and latched on to Dilly Duncan who was doing snags. He was a dour Scot, but knew as much about The Packard Merlin 21 as anybody. I got along well with him. Until the morning we reassembled the Hamilton propeller on one of the planes. I forget what the snag had been, but Dilly seemed happy with it as we slipped the dome and cylinder back on and screwed up the ring nut. Dilly got into the cockpit and started the engine. I stood at the wingtip and thought that the propeller blades looked a bit different. I walked past the front of the plane and felt the slipstream blowing at me. This was wrong, so I went to the wing tip, got Dillie’s attention by touching the Aileron and signaled to him to cut the engine. He did a cockpit check, looked at me and shook his head. Everything in there was O K, he signaled. I gave him the ‘Cut Engine’ signal again doubled it this time and he reluctantly cut the engine. Now that the noise was off we could talk.
‘What’s the matter?’ he yelled
‘Your slipstream is going backwards,’ I said, at which he leaped out of the cockpit with malice aforethought. Intent on bashing my head in.
‘Cool it’ I told him, ‘Come here and look where the prop blades are.’ He looked and saw that they had gone well beyond fine pitch into what was effectively reverse pitch. When we had put the dome and cylinder back onto the fixed piston the cylinder had moved and the drive teeth had meshed in the wrong place. We had to take it down and put it together again in the correct mesh. I was really learning. I eventually became something of an expert on the Hamilton prop.
Well, we had still not got our own plane, and I just did what I always did when at a loose end, I fitted in where I seemed to be needed and then one morning I was looking after a plane which was due off. I don’t think I’d even D I’d it, but I was going to see it off. The pilots came out, I had been told that this plane was to be flown by a new pilot on his first Op. I could see that as he got out of the truck and handed his parachute up to me. He was to me just a kid. I settled him in, made sure his chute and safety straps were comfortable, gave him the usual run down about the plane. Its fuel and bomb load and all that sort of thing and told him to stay with his number one because he was a good pilot and would see him right. Anything to give him confidence. And then I saw him off.
They were gone a long time that day and came back without Knobby. This was hard because Knobby had almost done his 200 hour tour when he took off and I had looked forward to seeing him go back to Kettering. I had always thought of Knobby as a sergeant, but many years later I discovered he was a Flight Lieutenant.
I met them in and my pilot looked exhausted. I thought I might have to lift the kid out of the cockpit, but he managed and I handed his chute down to him as the truck came up.
‘See ya in Benny’s tent’. I told him as they left. His name was Wright, Bob Wright, (Sgt Robert A (Wilbur) Wright 1024883, 26/10/44 to 16/12/45) but of course he became Wilbur. From then on I became his sort of minder as he progressed through his tour. He was never my regular pilot.
What had happened to Knobby? The story came out eventually. Well it was the official one. The Squadron had set off to attack a target in Yugoslavia and found it obscured by fog, so had diverted to a Venice target. This target was one which Knobby knew well and had the maps and been briefed for. He took charge in the air, led them to it, and they bombed it. They all came out O K, but nobody could give Knobby a satisfactory report on how they had left it. Knobby therefore returned to over-fly it to look and the guns were waiting for him. He had gone well over his 200 hour tour when he was killed.
Benny and I soon got our own plane and with it a pilot. A South African Captain, who introduced himself as Featherstone. ( Denis W, 103902V, SAAF) He was not a happy man that first meeting and was grumbling about the fact that as he called his wife Pie, he wanted ‘P’ and it had been taken by somebody else. Even as a senior pilot he could not push the pilot who had ‘P’ off it and here he was on ‘M’.( Mustang Mk. IVA, KH720, GAM, in January was given the symbol of pi )
‘That’s nothing to flap about.’ I told him, ‘have this one renamed Pi, you know the Greek Pi, the relationship of the diameter to the circumference.’
‘Hadn’t thought of that,’ he said, ‘How do you write it?’
I didn’t know how to write a capital Pi but I used my imagination. Which is why, although we had the only Pi on an RAF airoplane I didn’t get it quite right when I painted it on, but it passed and pleased Feathers. He was an extremely good pilot having been a flying instructor for quite a long time before wangling his way onto active squadron work. We later discovered that he had learned to fly with the Luftwaffe on German machines and had been for some time a flying instructor teaching tactics with M E 109s. He also had a lot to learn about wartime flying. Some of our pilots were far more experienced than him, but had nowhere near the flying hours in their logbooks that he had. Their experience was in combat and he had to accept that he was for some time just a number two to pilots much lower in rank than himself.
Yesi as a landing strip did provide quite a lot of excitement. It was there that we first saw Napalm used. It was pretty crude really. The stuff was sprayed into a drop tank and a detonator put in the place of the filler cap. They worked quite well we found when Groupy Eaton dropped a pair down quite close to our irrigation ditch so we could see the effect. A bit scary being dive bombed by your own plane, but he meant well.
Then there was the Liberator, which had dropped in with troubles. It had been fixed and was ready to take off. It was always worth taking a minute to watch these events, but this one was better than usual as the thing got up to almost lift off speed when the port undercart folded. She went down to port as the pilot tried to hold her straight. He couldn’t and away they went through the massed ranks of Marauders taking a nose wheel off here, a tail off there. Setting a couple on fire until they came to rest on a starboard wheel, a nose wheel and a gently burning port wingtip.
The crew of the Liberator did the proper crash drill. Get out and run. And there was only one casualty. If you don’t count airoplanes. This was the pilot, who got out of the escape hatch above the cockpit, ran up the main plane and leapt off. He should have taken his parachute. He broke his leg or something like that.
WILLIAM WADSWORTH, Leading Aircraftsman, RAFVR, 1181560,
died 09/11/1944, Son of William Wadsworth, and of Amelia
Kate Wadsworth, of Dedworth, Windsor., ANCONA
We lost our instrument basher at Yesi. Waddy claimed fame as the Kings watchmaker on civvy street. He used to wind up the King’s watch he said. He normally lived in Bennie’s tent, where he would lie in his bed most evenings. Getting drunk under some four or five bods who were using his bed as a seat whilst they got drunk, but for some reason he moved into a sort of flat with some of the gang in Yesi.
Waddie’s flat was several stories up and somehow he managed to topple over the rail and fall down the stair well. I had only just got to know him, but he was a great bloke and we missed him. I expect he’s still buried in the cemetery at Yesi.
I went down with malaria there and was sent to the hospital, which overlooked the landing strip, so I could watch the flying. I think I was there about a week, It was a change to see the lads take off and come home and it gave me the opportunity to watch and compare the performance of our folk with the Americans. The Yanks had these monstrous Thunderbolts which roared off with their one puny bomb which looked silly against the thousand pounders on the Mustangs and away they would go on their Missions which were never long ones. I think they got lost if they went too far. Then they would roar back low over the ‘drome pulling up with so much G force that water ran from their wing tips. Our own planes came back looking as if they had been a long way and were just glad to drop in and go for a drink.
Sadly one day I watched one of 112 ‘s planes fall away on the landing and dive straight into a petrol bowser. It all blew up of course and I didn’t know and never did find out who it was that got killed in the plane or the bowser.( Fg Off Jacques William James Roney, 156137, RAFVR. 16/11/44, A nut left in the feed pipe to the carburetor chocked the flow of fuel. From 350 feet he tried to regain the runway but his engine cut and he collided with two Marauders and a petrol bowser, all of which caught fire, He was extricated from the wreckage but died a few hours later in No.1 Canadian General Hospital
Once settled at Yesi I went to see Fangs Redfern the dentist. He had certain rules of conversation. You talked to him about teeth only when in his caravan. He never allowed anyone to talk about teeth at any other time. Mine had got into a bit of a state, I think my dentures had got broken so he worked on them and eventually a new set came along. I went to his caravan and he fitted them. I walked out of the van and hadn’t got fifty yards before somebody threw a medicine ball at me and knocked the front two off. I dare not go back and tell him.
We were working hard and the squadron took losses. I felt this very keenly. On 654 I had always felt as if I were like all the others, taking some of the chances as well as the pilots. Now the squadron would go off and sometimes come back with one plane missing. With luck the other pilots had seen him bale out. At other times they had seen him go in. No wonder they mostly drank heavily. By this time I knew most of them as friends and losing them was painful, but I, like most of the blokes shrugged it off as well as I could. When I heard of a loss I would swear horribly about the war and get on with what I was doing. It was no good going on about things.
Wilbur was getting on with his tour, but rarely flew Pi. I think he had R almost to himself as he had proved to be a pretty good pilot with a fair bit of go about him, but an unwillingness to fly close formation as he considered that an added danger which he could well do without. He had a name for going in close and getting his bombs on target. I always kept my eyes open for him, but of course I had Feathers to look after. Wilbur however would come for me when he was off around the town drinking so I could pad around behind him and get him out of trouble and back to his billet when he’d had enough.
Feathers had also fitted in well. With his vast flying experience he soon got into the swing of things. The job was dangerous. Anybody who did not get scared would have been a fool, but they had learned to cope with it. Benny looked after him most of the time. Benny looked after everybody. He ran the supply of booze, the selling of N A A F I supplies and almost all of the gambling and entertainment which went on. The snag, if that is what it was with this, was that he was often a bit too busy to do the inspections on the plane, which he really should have done. This did not bother me all that much. In the three or so years I had been working with planes I had gained half a lifetimes experience. I could and did, do all the checks he should have done. And he was happy to sign for anything I said was O K. Even after all these years, when I walk to an airoplane, I still look at the droop of the ailerons, the condition of the tyres and at how much if any, hydraulic fluid is seeping down under the engine. As well as the position of the prop blades.
One day Chris Liebenburgh came back. He looked a bit rough, but having walked without food and shelter for several weeks that was to be expected. I did not get a chance to speak to him before he was whisked away to hospital. He gave us a wave and a grin as he was taken away and that was fair enough, he was safe. Many years later I found he was living in Canada.
Slowly the front moved up the leg of Italy and as we got to the later months of 1944 we were warned of another move. This time to Fano (18 Nov 1944). Right on the Adriatic coast. The runway starting inland and ending almost in the sea. It lay very low and some of the advance party who camped in the ‘drome in tents had a very wet and uncomfortable time. In the main party we went into billets which were just old derelict houses. I landed in a very small room with Paddy Woods and Bill Bailey. They were good blokes, but really untidy. From my bed I could look up and see the sky, but although we were there for the winter and it actually snowed. I never got wet. There were two doors as it was a right of way to another room and one small window. Which had no glass. Not luxury, but better than a tent in a muddy field. We were in a slum area near the wrecked railway station.
There was no let up with the flying until the weather clamped down. Work went on just the same. I felt at home on the squadron and we were almost sure we would be in Fano for the winter so we could make ourselves as comfortable as we could. We built a fireplace out of an old oil can and stole timber from wrecked buildings. The food was pretty good and Benny really came into his own by setting up The Shark Bar. This became quite famous or perhaps infamous would be more accurate. Here there was entertainment, darts, skittles and bets could be placed on almost anything. It was more or less open to anybody. The booze was cheap sometimes free if Benny had worked one of his fiddles.
The war got into a bit of a stalemate as the weather closed in. We must have been there for Christmas, but I can not remember it. I was probably busy. Some ground crew got posted. I think a few went home. We had new blokes sent to us. 3226 servicing commando had been disbanded and we got some of them so I saw some familiar faces about. One night just as I was about to hit the hay little Geordie came to me with a request.
‘Yippie,’ he said ‘You know that new bloke who came on the Squadron yesterday, I’ve been drinking with him around the town and he’s laying in the Piazza and I can’t carry him. Will you give me a hand?’
We found the bloke in a heap and Geordie helped me up with him onto my shoulders and we dumped him on his bed. Did the usual things, like off with his boots and undid his collar and belt and left him. The next day he came to me.
‘Hey you are Yippy aint you?’ he asked.
‘That’s me mate,’ I said.
‘They tell me you got me home last night,’ he went on
‘That’s right mate, you’d had about enough,’ I said.
‘Thanks,’ he said, ‘the name is Sanders everybody calls me Sandy, how about we go get a drink?’
That was how I met Sandy. An unsavory looking character with a nasty knife scar down one side of his face. Which he claimed a Yank gave him. He had come from 3226. He had been to Art school and his people had some sort of decorating business somewhere he reckoned. He was Bob Streiffer’s mechanic (2/Lt Robert W Strever. 543007V, SAAF, 14/11/44 to 21/2/45) I’ve probably spelled that name wrong. Bob was another South African, I’m not sure what rank. Sandy did a water colour of his airoplane.
On the drome we had all the usual assortment of planes. The Marauders were left at Yesi, but plenty of damaged ones dropped in and got left there. It was here that we began to get fog trouble. Our U K pilots were used to fog and mostly avoided it, but the Australians and South Africans had no experience of it and found difficulty in getting to terms with it. It caught 5 SAAF in the air as a Squadron and they were really in trouble. Johnny Crowther. (Sgt later Plt Off W Johnny Crowther, 1670847, 5/6/44 to 30/12/44) Probably one of the best Mustang pilots ever. Went up and found some of them and led them in. I think he got four or five of them down O K, but they lost several blokes that day. Johnny was blessed with some sort of homing instinct. He always knew just where he was and where to find every target. He came back one day with a hole in one side of his plane, which had removed the roundel and was big enough to put your head in the other side of the fuselage.
‘ Mice had got at it,’ he claimed.
Wilbur came back from a cross Adriatic Op one day and came in first with a slight smoke haze following him. I gave him the.
‘Are you O K?’ signal as he passed me and he signaled
‘Yes,’ with a big grin and I pointed to the scrap yard because we did not want a wreck like he’d got, on the dispersal.
A neat line of bullet holes started just behind the spinner. Evenly spaced almost to where Wilbur was sitting. There were all sorts of holes in the rest of the machine and the last drop of engine oil was dripping from the tail fin. The engine was still running, but sounded like an engine which had crossed the Adriatic with no oil in it.
They found Wilbur another airoplane and he had not had that long before he brought it back to Fano with a bent main plane. This had been caused by the thousand pound, overloaded bomb rack, releasing one side and not the other and forcing Wilbur to pull the thing out of the dive on its fuselage. I did not hear the full story of these events until 1980 when we met up again.
The first one he told me, happened when he hit an ammunition train which blew as he hit it. Someone must have been firing at him as it happened and was probably taken out by the blast. Wilbur was too low to miss the explosion and flew straight into it, putting his nose down to go under a set of bogie wheels, which were on the way up. He did well to get the wreck home.
The other one, he dived at the target released his bombs as he pulled out, the plane flipped onto its side and he had to give full opposite rudder to clear the ground. As he screwed the thing upward the other bomb fell off and when he looked back from the top of his climb he saw a great big church crumble into a heap of rubble. A devote catholic he decided that the least said about that the better. He refused to carry on flying the machine with its badly bent main plane and they had to find him another. By this time he was one of the best pilots on the Squadron. And he still would not fly in close formation, as that was a daft way to risk your life.
As his unofficial minder I used to pad around behind him when he was out getting drunk, carry him home when he’d had enough and dump him on his bed with the usual drill. At Fano this entailed carting him through the pilots mess, up some stairs into the dormitory. He as I mentioned was a catholic and one night as I dumped him he staggered to his knees crossed himself and started to say his prayers, so I left him to it. The next morning he challenged me with
‘Yippy did you put me to bed last night?’
‘Yes ‘ I said ‘I put you to bed’
‘Did you actually put me in bed?’ he persisted, so I told him I left him on his knees saying his prayers.
‘Daft sod,’ he said, ‘I was still on my knees there this morning.’ From there on prayers, or no prayers, into bed he went. My normal drill was to dump him in bed and grab a couple of drinks in the pilot’s mess on the way out.
Sergeant Henry Cotton joined us at Fano. He was another prewar apprentice who had became the heavy weight champion of the R A F. He was useful to another of the sergeants who had been with us for a long time. His hobby was taking cheap wine and distilling it into very potent hooch. This did no harm and kept him away from where the work was done, but left him with very few people to test his hooch on. Henry fitted in there nicely. He would drink anything.
There was this about Henry he did go to the ‘drome. Sandy and I found this out one morning when we had been warned that there was a long O P on and drop tanks were to be fitted. Sandy and I did as we had often done. Went to the nearest plane and started to put the safety pins in the bomb detonators, pull out the safety wire and were going to do the usual drill. Which was to get into the cockpit and release the bombs onto the grass, ready for the drop tanks, when a voice from some distance yells
‘Yippy, Sandy, come away from them bombs,’ and we looked to see Henry down a hole with several other blokes.
‘What’s the matter Henry ?’ we yelled back at him.
‘That’s a bomb armourer’s job.’ he called.
‘ It’s anybody’s bloody job we told him,’ but he wouldn’t creep out of his hole till an armourer appeared. Blokes like Henry just had no idea what it was all about. What you did have to watch with him, was when he came round in the morning to roust everybody out. You had to make sure there were no bottles of beer in sight because if there were he just grabbed them, bit the top off and if was down before you say.
‘Leave my beer alone you thieving bastard.’
He was not so bad I suppose and had come out to get his overseas service in whilst there was still a war on, even if it was obvious that it could soon be over.
Benny really came into his own at Fano. The Canadians came there in quite large numbers and with them was Tommy Osbourne. (Update SOME AMATEURS TURN PRO 1935, Murray Patrick’s surprising knockout of Tommy Osborne, Montreal star in the Dominion amateur heavyweight final at Edmonton in May ranked the Victoria, B.C. son of Lester Patrick as one of the most promising amateurs in the country. Patrick, one of Canada’s best all-round athletes since the earlier days of Lionel Conacher, was considered an easy mark for the Montreal slugger. Later Patrick won the Washington State title. Article from http://www.canadianboxing.com/profiles_content.htm) Tommy had been heavy weight champion of Canada and he and Benny. Probably from The Shark Bar. Organized Boxing and Wrestling tournaments. Some equipment was found and Benny found a supply of Boxing gloves, fitted up a ring and started teaching anybody who wanted it how to box. He obviously could, but when he took his bottle bottom glasses off, was at a real disadvantage.
‘Where did you learn to box Benny?’ I asked him.
‘In Uncle Jacks gym,’ he said
‘Uncle Jack?’ I queried.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘you’ve heard of him surely, Uncle Jack Solomans he does all the big promotions I used to do instruction for him’
There were a couple of the Canadian wrestlers, quite a few boxers and some quite good entertainment was on. Tommy Osbourn refereed and gave demonstration fights. Benny would do the M C stuff and as the war had slowed down due to the weather we sometimes got leave and went down to Rome to a leave camp there. I went there once and as I dumped my kit on the bed looked around and found I had a Military Policeman on either side of me.
‘This is going to be some sort of leave with coppers all around me,’ I said. One of them laughed.
‘Tell you what mate,’ he said, ‘You hang about with us and you’ll get a better weeks leave than you expect,’
He was right too. To two Red Caps there were no out of bounds places, no restrictions or rules. We went all over and it was one of the best leaves I’d had. The downside happened when I got back to 112 and this pair looked me up in the Shark Bar and nearly caused a riot.
I made a point of not going on leave with the Benny De Hond gang. They were a mobile riot. One bloke who had just come back off a week in Rome with them came to me and asked.
‘What is there about that rigger of yours?’
‘What Benny ‘, I said,’ He’s a great guy, why?’
‘Well,’ says this bloke ‘I went to a forces show with him and we sit there till it was over. The big star was the singer Issy Bon. Brought out from England and when the show finnished Benny says.
”Lets go and see Issy” I said you can’t go to see him, but followed him round to the backstage where he finds a dressing room door with Issy Bon on it. Knocks and Issy Bon opens the door, looks at Benny and says
“‘Benny my boy, what you doing here, come on in I’ve got a bottle of whisky.” And we sit there drinking whisky with him.’
‘That’s Benny,’ I told him, ‘He knows everybody.’
I got a bit of trouble when I came back off one weeks leave. Paddy Woods and Bill Bailey were an untidy pair and the room was in a shambles. Normally I did try to get the place a bit clean, but I was in late on Sunday night and off to work early Monday. Squadron Leader Bluit looked round on Monday and gave us a right rollocking for being untidy. They were both good enough blokes, but from there on I got at them about the place.
It was difficult to keep really clean and tidy through that winter. It snowed quite heavily once. An almost unknown phenomena there and it brought out a great gang of kids in the main square. I was walking past this battle with a couple more blokes and could not resist it. I stopped, made two good big snowballs and whacked one into each side. This brought down the full force from both sides on us and caused the complete and ignominious defeat of the Desert Air Force. You should have heard what they called me when they got their breath back.
Keeping warm was a problem. We kept our fire going with looted wood, but below us there were more technical methods of heating being used. In one room somebody had set up a forty-gallon drum with a crude chimney and hole in it. There was a metal plate in the bottom of it, onto which hundred octane petrol dripped from a five gallon drum above it. The plate soon got hot and then as the petrol fell on it it exploded with a very satisfying whoosh which we could hear from our room directly over head. Another room also set up a forty gallon drum with a chimney, but these blokes had a metal channel down which it was organized that alternate drops of engine oil and water were fed onto the hot plate. This caused a sort of continuous steady spitting roar. Which was also nearly underneath us.
It was easy to identify the denizens of these rooms as they had almost permanently smoke blackened faces. We for our part always kept open the option of leaping out of our window. I understand that these machines did give off a lot of heat and were exciting to operate.
The weather did improve and the war showed signs of starting up again. Bill Bailey and me had got to know the kids around our slum and their parents. We used to join in their games, which they loved and it amused their parents. The railway station became operational again as the lines were repaired and Fano was getting back to normal by the time we were once more on the move. Up the coast again this time to Chervia. Which had been a fishing village converted into a holiday village with lots of small villas, which we took over. I, this time, decided to be on my own and found a small villa kitchen. There were no services in it and it had room only for one bed so I had a room to myself.
Chervia (Cervia 25 Feb 1945)had at some time had a small forest of pines, planted I presumed to hold the large area of sand together. Through this we had carved a runway and paved it with the boot scraper road of steel plates linked together. There were miles of sandy beach and some quite good swimming. If you could put up with small crabs nipping at your toes. It was at Chervia that 260 Squadron were equipped with rockets with sixty pound warheads. Just along the beach from our dispersal was a great sheet of four inch steel, so Groupy Eaton took up one of their Mustangs and fired some rockets at this. They went through it like it was butter. 260 soon found out that these rockets went so fast that if they were fired at a normal ship they often went right through it and exploded in the sea. leaving a neat hole all the way through.
Ships were a regular target at this stage of the war. I think the enemy were desperately trying to get supplies to Jugoslavia. Mostly from Trieste. I think our people were always aware when there was anything leaving Trieste and our planes were often able to pick them off somewhere at sea. Our pilots were quite good at attacking ships. They did slip up on one occasion when they were told of ships leaving Trieste, attacked them and in the middle of the attack were told they were ships which had been stolen by the Partisani and were on their way to our ports.
In one attack on ships Taffy ‘Parson’ Jones ( Sgt J K Jones 170728, 28/8/45 to 20/9/45) dived at a ship, dropped his bombs and looked around to see if he’d hit it and it was not there.
‘Where the hell’s it gone?’ he asked of his number two who was following him in.
‘Your bombs went straight down the funnel, it leapt into the air and went straight down,’ he was told. His bombs must have gone down into the engine room blown the bottom right out of the ship and sent it down like a stone.
One of 260s pilots got shot down in Venice harbor, baled out and got into his dingy. He paddled away out to sea and the rest of the gang drove a German rescue boat back with threats. A converted Wellington flew over him and dropped a lifeboat, which he got into and drove off out to sea where a Royal Navy destroyer picked him and his boat up. A Catalina amphibian then collected him from the destroyer and he was home within a few minutes. This was regarded as something of a joke until he did the same thing the next day. They told us they sent him off to be an air sea rescue instructor.
I also made a pal at Chervia I sat in my room I expect I was writing letters and felt hungry. I decided on a cookhouse raid and made my way to the cookhouse which was in fact just an area where ovens sinks and tables formed a square. I went round the ovens and landed on a chocolate tart. Looking round I saw another figure looming up and I dropped down behind the oven with my chocolate tart in it. I recognized this thief as a bloke who had recently joined us at Fano. He went round the ovens until he found mine at which he exclaimed.
‘I saw it first.’ I told him, standing up.
‘You don’t need all this,’ he said, holding the big baking pan.
I had to admit that it was far too much for one.
‘Well I’ll take it back to my billet and you join us, we’ve got a brew on.’ And that was how Airbourne Albon and me teamed up.
Airbourne was with me the morning when I saw the Auster parked near our dispersal and came with me to find the pilot, an army captain, sitting in the shade near the plane. I asked him if he knew where Captains Carr or Creswell was and was told that Captain Carr was now a major on the staff of General Mc Cleary. He realizing that I had been on Austers, then told me that he was waiting to pick up General Mc Cleary and would I give him a start and see him off. A few minutes later the General arrived with his Military Police escort and I settled him into his seat with his parachute etc and gave him the usual run down on how to get out and use the chute swung the prop and we saw him off. I gave them the ‘all clear’ salute at take off point and it was returned by the General.
So much happened at Cervia. The planes flew all the time. Feathers and Wilbur were both experienced pilots and Wilbur got his Flight sergeant’s crown. It was obvious that the end was near, but as we were right on the beach we were very much aware that the enemy could mount a do or die raid from the sea and our beach was very suitable. So we still mounted guards but they were not very efficient I’m afraid. We did not see much of Chervia. Most of us were too busy to go boozing round the village. Some new faces appeared on the Squadron, We got a new Flight Sergeant who did come down to the flight to see what went on. I can not remember seeing Henry Cotton there. I expect we assumed that he’d been sent off to dry out somewhere. A flying fortress dropped in with an engine out and a team of Yanks came to do an engine change. Which caused some amusement. They put up tents with dining tables to service the crowd of experts who clambered around the thing for days. They even had a special crane mounted on one of their trucks and eventually the engine was in place. And then our Cheify came into our flight tent with their Top Sergeant.
‘These blokes,’ he said, indicating their Top Sergeant. ‘Have put their engine in. Their carburetor expert has checked that. Their Propeller expert has checked that. Their lubrication expert has checked that. They have done it all, except they have not brought their engine testing expert along and could we lend them one. Now have any of you bastards ever been on Forts?
‘I done Forts Cheify’. Ginger Waldron told him.
‘ Well go and run the bloody thing up for them,’ he was told and if I ever send any two of you bastards to change an engine and you are gone more that two days I’ll come and bloody well shoot you,’ he growled.
‘You don’t know one end of a bloody gun from another we told him as he stamped off and Ginger went to run the Fort up.
On the Squadron Squadron Leader Bluit finished his tour and went away. And was replaced by Laurie Usher. (Flt Lt G L Usher, 88251, RAF, did 2 Tours with 112 Sqn) As far as I was concerned he had been a first class C O. Not as flamboyant as some, but a good steady C O who had led some good sorties and won the respect of his Squadron. I don’t think he told anybody how he got his Croix de Guerre. Laurie Usher was just the opposite. Probably put in charge to liven the unit up a bit. He had been on 112 previously in Africa and certainly did liven it up a bit. I still don’t really know what his rank was. His dress never gave it away. He had been a Flight Lieutenant when at Yesi. he had been accosted by R A F Military Police and threatened to bomb them out of the place if they bothered him again. They didn’t because Bluit had them moved out.
He wore trousers made from blankets, a silk scarf from home, civvy shoes and normally flew in a roller neck pullover. I think he took more chances in the air than he should have done. He was certainly much respected as a pilot, but did not last long as C O because he got shot down in Jugoslavia, where he was picked up by the Partisans, who stuck him in jail because he did not have a single item with him to prove he was British. He was held there for about a month and as any C O who is away from his command for a month loses it, he did just that and I think Paul Forster (Flt Lt P M Foster, 106650, 19/6/44 to 29/4/46) took over. Paul also had done two tours with the Squadron and I think held a D F C and Bar. He also was a steady but forceful leader. He already had the respect of the Squadron, but was Officer Commanding not Commanding Officer.
I suppose we were all getting a bit war weary as it dragged on. We all knew it soon had to stop, but it did not seem to. We kept hearing about Germany’s new weapons the V1 and V2 and, in Italy we were continuously up against new defense lines.
One of our South African pilots got shot down and taken prisoner. He was held temporarily in a nearby village, which was dominated by one S S Officer who bullied his way around. The ordinary soldiers knew the end was nearly there and did their best to curry favor with their prisoner, by cleaning his boots finding him cigarettes etc and allowing him to wander in the village. Eventually as he walked in the main street an Italian girl gave him the come on sign and he followed her down an alley, where she led him through more back alleys. They took him that night to another village near to the front where some New Zealand infantry blokes had discovered a way through the mountains into enemy territory where the booze was cheaper. Here he was handed over to a couple of thoroughly drunk New Zealanders who sat him in their jeep along with a load of booze and drove back over the mountain goat tracks in a suicidal manner. He claimed it was the most frightening thing he’d ever done, but it got him back to tell his tale.
There was a final push and Von Kesselring decided he could no longer hold out. It was over in Italy. I think it was the next day that they packed in in Europe. We were in a state of peace, but I knew that Bob was now out in the Far East on his Squadron and they were moving up to their airfield. We celebrated in the only way open to us by getting horribly drunk, letting off every very pistol round there was and starting fires with live ammo in them. It was just luck that nobody got killed that night.
I went to Paul Forster and asked him to put me in for a posting to the Far East to join Bob, but he pointed out that he. Being the older brother. Had to ask for me to be sent to him.
As it was all over a half-hearted move was made to allow us some educational opportunities. The Churchill government didn’t really want to see an educated lower class, but they wanted to be seen as altruistic because they knew they would soon have to face an election.
From the information he got. Sandy discovered that as he was a trained artist he could get a class together and be paid for teaching art. So Airbourne and me were trapped into art classes, where we sat at the back and listened. Leaving Sandy to concentrate on the other pupils who were keen. Our job was to help Sandy drink the proceeds. In fairness I have to say he really did work with the rest of the class and I’m sure he helped them. Ginger Waldron had always been a painter. He had his brushes and I went with him to a newspaper office to scrounge some watercolors. He used to buy postcards and copy them a bit larger then they were. And he did a good job of it considering the circumstances. He, I think, got a lot from the classes. I didn’t learn much. A little bit about perspective and form I suppose. I did enjoy the lessons though.
We were soon warned to move again. Up to Venetia Giulia this time close to the Jugoslav border to a strip which the Germans had built with Italian almost slave labor. This was called Lavariano (19/5/45) from the nearby village of that name. It was a few miles north of a town called Palmanova. Here we went under canvass again near the village of Chiasiellis
Somehow we knew that we were here for some time and in a very short time the village girls were doing the washing and tent cleaning for us and it was not long before lots of relationships sprang up. Airbourne, Taffy Furnival, another bloke and me, got an eight man tent to ourselves and Amelia did our washing and tidying up for some money. I can’t remember how much.
With the village girls in the tented area almost permanently and us living almost in the village the locals were soon right up to date with who we were, what we did, girl friends back home and all that sort of thing became common knowledge. It was here that Doreen wrote to me and informed me that she had just married an Australian. She returned my ring, which was not very valuable anyway. Without me knowing it, this bit of news went round the village girls and Amelia informed me that they were incensed that a woman should be so stupid as to leave Yippy. I had no idea that I was so popular, but apparently as I had never made any overtures to any of them I was considered Gentillia. Some sort of gentleman. I never really understood why. I used to get as drunk as the rest.
I tried to take a course on Motor Engineering, but I did not get much time to spend on it and it did not seem a lot of good anyway. I found a book The Complete Self Educator which I studied. It was quite good and gave a condensed version of most of the educational disciplines. Logic, Philosophy, History, Mathematics and Physics etc. I got a chuckle out of it one day when one of the blokes asked me what I was reading. It happened to be about nuclear physics as known at that time and I showed him. The next day the news came of the bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima and this bloke demanded to know what I knew about it.
From my point of view the war in the far east was over when the Japanese gave in and I no longer worried about getting out there.
Next they found us more solid billets in old houses. I got a billet with Airbourne, Taffy, Paddy Woods, Ken something, an ex 3226 bloke and a couple more new blokes in the attic of a big house which had been occupied by the Germans when they were there. The village was Santa Maria La Longa some three or four miles from Chiasiellis and just about all the girls came with us. This had a most strange effect on Paddy. He had always been a bit scruffy. Now Isolina came with him and Issy believed in looking after her man. She was dark, very young, about the most attractive girl of the lot and within a few weeks Paddy was about the smartest bloke on 112. Even his working kit was clean and well pressed. Small wonder he married her. but that brought up the old problem. Paddy was a Dublin Orange man. Issy was of course a Catholic and very soon he had a letter from home telling him that if he married a catholic he would not be welcomed back. Paddy just decided to forget Dublin and everybody there.
When the war was drawing to a close, the German army almost ran out of fuel and they took anything that looked like a horse for transport. So when it was all over they handed over a mass of animals to our veterinary Corps, which had just about the capacity to mange a couple of mule teams. They sorted them out as well as they could and then did the old army move, which was hand them out to anybody they could push them on to and we the Erks, got landed with some horses. Some stabling was commandeered, which was the spare stalls in a cowshed in Santa Maria. Taffy Furnival was volunteered into looking after two horses, very old and decrepit tack was found and anybody who could, could take them out and ride them.
Somehow I taught myself how to sort of ride the things. Well the quiet one. The other was quite a good Arab gelding with attitude and although there was a bloke who claimed he knew all about horses and claimed he could ride. I suspect that he did not ride that one.
Once I’d got used to the quiet one. Which was just stubborn and lazy, I wanted to try the Arab ‘Jimmy’. I had already found that he was well behaved in the stall, but had a tendency to bite if you pulled a saddle girth up. I got over this by giving him the broom handle to bite on. Once out, he was very difficult, would refuse to move, kick at anything near him and then bolt. He had a hard mouth and pulling on the bit only made it worse. I found the cure one day by chance. I’d drunk the best part of a bottle of rum before I got on him and once I got him out and he bolted I not only let him. I cheered him on. We went like hell for miles, he jumped anything he came to and ended on the Airodrome and by this time his head was going down a bit and I was sobering up.
Now was the time to put a stick round his backside and I galloped him round the ‘drome a couple of times till he could hardly walk. He was in such a state that I got off and walked some of the way back with him. He never bolted on me again and was great to ride. We had a lot of fun together. I drank rum and brandy. He liked Vino Bianca. We used to get into quite something a pickle sometimes, but always got home somehow.
As all this was going on blokes were being sent home and a system of home leave was started, but that was very slow as we had to go through Switzerland and the channel was still heavily mined. The squadron took over the Albergo Catulla in Sirmione at Lake Garda. This was very posh and had been used as a headquarters by high ranking Germans. I suspect that they were under some suspicion, so they put us there because they could do very little damage to a crowd of Erks. I don’t think anybody need to have worried. They were O K and the girls working there seemed to enjoy having a lot of very ordinary people to look after. The whole atmosphere was relaxed. They had a sailing boat and others were easy to hire. A couple of times I swam right out into Lake Garda in the middle of the night. Navigating my way back from the lights of the villages and stars.
Of course there were women there. Some were really nice, and I had no commitment to anybody I felt no guilt about associating with them. I probably learned more about women, sex and how to behave than I ever did anywhere.
I had quite a few leaves at Sirmeone. Wilbur and I often worked it so we got there together. We used to sit in the main square drinking cognac in tumblers and testing our drunkenness by tearing around the ornamental garden there on hired bikes. When the cycle bloke refused to hire one out to me one day a bloke who had been watching our antics loaned me his bike as he didn’t want to miss the fun. Italians are like that.
One day I decided that the pier to which the paddle steamed tied up. At the time it was on the bottom. (Somebody in a Kittyhawk or Mustang had sunk it.) Would provide a good diving platform. It ended with a great baulk of timber about fifteen feet above the water. I checked that there were no obstructions, paced out a twenty yard run and then went like hell for the end. It was great. Sailing through the air. I swam back to the steps and climbed out wondering if I’d get another chance. When I got back onto the pier there were two blokes clearing the way for me to have another go. The pier was always clear ed for me after that if I went there in swimming kit.
Another new Sergeant joined us. About this time. Bill Tracy was the exception. I was doing most of the snags on the Squadron. Changing radiators after-coolers, magnetos, etc and Bill left me to do it. I had no rank, but quite some status. Then one morning as I was warming an engine up he came along and got up to the cockpit to tell me I was down for home leave. I shoved the lever to Auto Cut Off and flicked the switches down to produce silence.
‘What have you stopped it for Yippy’ he asked
’Bill,’ I said, ‘If I run this engine and something goes wrong and I’m on a fizzer I wont go home will I?’
‘You crazy sod,’ he said, ‘go on, bugger off to the billet and get your kit looked out.’
I was off to Milan the next morning. There I was stopped with all the other men going on leave because rough weather in the channel had brought mines into the swept lanes. I think we waited almost a week there. Then we got on the train, which would take us to Calais via Switzerland. We were warned that the Italian engine would be replaced at the border and as this was being done the Swiss army would mount a machine gun on both sides. They would shoot without a challenge or warning anyone who got off. I thought how nice it was to be wanted.
As we were going through Switzerland and I might never see it again. I decided to stay up all night and watch it go by. There was a good moon and it was quite marvelous, but it brought on a bout of Malaria. I reported to the medical officer who was just some Corporal who seemed to know very little about medicine,
‘Get off when the train stops at Dijon to change engines,’ he said, ‘and report to the Railway Transport Office there...’
I duly got off at Dijon and found the R T O.
‘I’m sick,’ I told the sergeant, ‘I need quinine and somewhere to sleep it off for a couple of days.’ He gave me the usual dim look, which I expected and mumbled something about not knowing anything about that sort of thing, so I swore at him and walked out onto the road outside the station.
There was a jeep out side with two American Military policemen in it (Snowdrops) I went up to them and said.
‘I’m sick, I want to get to a doctor as soon as I can’. The Rainforest Gorilla in the passenger’s seat swung an arm out, grabbed me by my uniform and dumped me in the back seat without even moving.
Within minutes I was deposited in front of an American doctor to tell my tale once more. He took my temperature and said.
‘Jeez,’ which I took to be American for high and asked me what I took for it.
‘Some quinine if you have it,’ I told him, or Mepacrine or Attebrine
I thought perhaps it was just as well not to tell him we usually dosed ourselves well with whisky.
I think they held me in some sort of isolation ward while I was there. The doctor came and checked my temperature every day and an orderly of some sort brought meals in. I was in a quite small room and the hospital was, I soon realized just a fairly large town house. One day a French girl came in and looked at me and said something. I don’t know what she thought of me, but she seemed sort of scared. I suspect she had heard all the propagander about Montie’s sunburned assassins. We knew that there were some people in England who had said that anybody returning from the Middle East should be made to wear a yellow armband to warn women away from them.
I did not care about any of it. My problem was to get out of the place and on that train. I put this to the doctor when he came to see me.
‘I’m not letting you go so soon after the sort of high temperature you were running.’ he said.
I suppose it was about four days before they turned me loose on Dijon one evening. Not enough time for me to find the right places to go. I got a drink in an American Nite Club and found my way back to my bed.
I thanked the Americans for looking after me and was taken to the railway station where I once more got going. They had been very good to me, but did not seem to know much about Malaria.
At Calais we had to wait again for a boat and here the army had erected one of the new prefabricated homes I had heard about for anybody to look around. A couple of Army girls were living in it, in what to me looked like absolute luxury. I found difficulty talking to them and left others to do the talking. Then the trip across and some papers were supplied which gave me fourteen days leave and I was riding through the night looking out at a very dark England. It was a troop train and had a N A A F I canteen so I went for a cuppa and found myself once more embarrassed by the fact that the girl behind the counter was English. I had some difficulty talking to her and felt an idiot, but did manage to get a cuppa and a cake eventually.
I think it was November the fifth and there was no sign of a bonfire of firework in the back yards we passed.
I got to Bedford as it got light and caught the train to Olney. Now I was in countryside I knew, seeing stations I knew. I showed my pass to the man at Olney station and walked out onto Midland road. The cars, what few there were, were on the left hand side of the road. The houses were familiar. People here spoke English. I walked the half mile to East Street slowly and stood a few seconds outside the door of home looking at the familiar door knob Dad had made out of leather. He made anything out of leather. I turned it and opened it.
‘Anybody home’ I called.
Scamp the old dog hit me with a thud as he could not stop. I heard Mum say
‘My God it’s our Bill.’ And I walked in just as they were having breakfast. Bob was there and so was Dad. Mum was crying and Dad was nearly.
‘How long have you got?’ they always ask that don’t they.
‘ Fourteen days from tomorrow,’ I told them.
‘ Where did you sleep?’ Mum asked
‘I didn’t sleep much. I’ve been travelling all night, it’s taken me a long time to get from Italy.’ I told them, ‘I could do with an hours sleep now.’ I said
This put Mum in a flap. A bed had to made up clean sheets found. Bob was in the middle bedroom.
‘Would it be alright if I went into the small back bedroom ?’
I stopped her with a laugh.
‘Mum,’ I explained ‘I’ve got used to sleeping in ditches, on the floor, in railway coaches, anywhere. You don’t have to look sheets out for me. I’m used to rough blankets.’ At last I was getting used to talking. I got a couple of hours sleep and wanted to get out. I’d busted my dentures again by grinding them when I was down with malaria I think and I wanted to get to Northampton to get them fixed if I could.
The word had got round that I was home and at midday my cousins came in. they were working in the Lodge Plugs factory. I knew Doff and Jean, but the other one I didn’t until I asked about Doff’s sister Nita and she said I’d been talking to her for ten minutes.
In Northampton the dentist told me I would have to wait two weeks for my teeth to be fixed until I told him I would have to be back in Italy then and he said I’ll get them done for you tomorrow and he did it for nothing. I needed to look a bit more civilized that day because I think it was Saturday and Mum told me I’d arrived just in time. Norah was getting married that afternoon..
My old suit was looked out, a decent shirt found. Mum had looked after all my old kit for years. Bob was in uniform all smart. My old battle-dress was a mixture of two colours as I’d got hold of Canadian trousers which were dark green and my shoes were well on the way, but I did not mind all that much.
Norah looked smashing. In her letters she had not told me about Les. I don’t know why. In church Mum introduced both Bob and myself to Les’s half sister Vera an attractive Blonde. Bob and I looked at each other, I figured that I had no chance there, as I was only around for a fortnight and he was back in England for good.
That evening I went out for a few drinks and found some of the lads. Mum was excited. She had to get a special dinner and all that sort of thing while Dad showed no emotion, he never did. He had always been a bit self effacing. A quiet man who went around the house helping everybody and singing quietly to himself. He loved singing. He claimed that he could sing a different song every day of the year and never have to think to find one. That evening he was in the kitchen singing away I looked at Mum
‘He hasn’t changed has he,’ I said, ‘Still singing away.’ She stopped what she was doing, looked at me and very quietly said.
‘That’s the first time I’ve heard him singing since you went away.’
A fortnights leave is not very long I don’t think I drank all that much, I had so many people to look up and talk to. On the last day or so I decided to try my luck and rode my old push bike to R A F station Cranfield. Here I reported to the guard room. Showed my pass to the sergeant, my chit to say I had no proper uniform, shoes because I had no boots. My deficiency chit to prove these things.
‘Alright,’ he said ‘so what are you doing here?’
‘Nearest R A F unit Sarg, I’m reporting sick,’ I told him.
He stood for a minute eyeing me up and down then he turned to his clutch of Corporals hovering in the background..
‘Here,’ he told them, ‘Have a good look at him, This is the sort of sod you’ll have to learn to deal with sometime, take him to the sick quarters.’ He told one of them and I was escorted to the sick quarters.
A few minutes wait and I was ushered into see the doc. He stood a few minutes looking at me and then grinned. He had the same row of gongs that I had.
‘Who are you from,?’ he asked
‘112,’ I told him, ‘Who were you with?’
‘140’ he said.
‘Spits, they were down at Ravenna I think,’ I told him.
‘You’re sharks then?’
‘Yes The Sharks we are at Lavariano now near Palmanova near the Jug border.’
‘What are you here for?’ he asked
‘Well a fortnight ain’t long after three years is it? I thought I’d go sick,’ I told him.
‘Have you got anything wrong with you?’ he asked
‘I’ve got sand sores on my feet,’ I said.
‘They’ll do, lets look at them.‘ he said.
He found me some stuff to put on my sand sores, a bed in the small ward and told me where the hole in the fence was that I needed to get through to get to the pub in Cranfield. I soon joined the small band of pub visitors, who left through the hole in the hedge and returned into the rear of the sick quarters via the bathroom. One night one of the medical orderlies decided to take her bath late at night. Only to have three or four bods troop through the bathroom with polite
‘Good evenings,’ as they passed.
Dad came to see me one day. He’d cycled from Olney. I don’t think he was really worried about me. He should not have been I was doing O K. I think he was more amused than anything at what I was doing.
Well, all things come to an end and home I went with my sand sores better than they had been for years and with another four days sick leave to do before I caught the train back to Italy. I left Olney with mixed feelings. My home and family were there, but the life I knew was with the squadron. I knew so much that would be no use to me in England. On the journey back it felt a bit like going home, but when I eventually got back to the Squadron I found the place in a bit of a mess. They had set the place on fire and every body’s kit had been got out and jumbled up. I sorted out my few things from the jumble and picked up the filthy rifle, which they said was mine. The number on it didn’t agree so I went around looking at rifles till I found mine and gave the bloke who had it the filthy one. He moaned a bit, but even he should have known that the first thing you do when you clean a rifle is to check that it is your own. I was back.
The war was over, but there was still a lot of flying. We were very close to the Yugoslav border and Tito who ran that country had some big ideas. It did no harm to over fly the place sometimes with bombs on the planes. They were not detted up, but you can’t see that from the ground and of course they were only five hundred pounders.
The south Africans were slowly going home, but the day when we lost the five planes I think we lost four South Africans. I was on snags and did not see Pi off so I did not meet R A F Sergeant Eyers.(EYEARS, GEOFFREY PETER NEWTON, RAF, 575856) Who flew her. The first I knew of trouble was when I saw Captain Van Aart land and taxi like crazy across the ‘drome to us.
I stopped him in our lines and opened the cockpit
‘Got this thing filled up Yippy,’ he said.
Bowser’s on its way,’ I told him, ’what happened Van?’ I asked, as I held his straps out of the way.
‘They went in Yippy five of them, hit the mountain, I was last in the line, pulled the stick back, stalled and slid down along the mountain. I’m going back to look for them.
I felt terrible about it afterwards. I had never met the youngster who died in Pi and felt worse about the plane than him. It left me feeling guilty in some strange way and the fact that we had lost so many lives in a peacetime accident was hard to take.
I settled into a life of working, riding horses around, getting drunk and getting my horse drunk too. A system of demobilization numbers was worked out based on how long you had been in and I was 38. Bob wrote to tell me he was 42 so I should be out before him. Mum wrote to say Bob was courting this half sister of Les. Norah’s husband and she wanted me home because they knew nothing about her and she was worried. I had thought that when I got demobbed I’d write some town in New Zealand on my travel warrant, but Mum seemed so worried.
New faces appeared on the flight, and Benny of course had gone home on his fortnights leave and never returned. He stayed home to run his father’s business. They knew somebody in The Air Ministry who pulled some strings. Feathers went home. After giving me as near as I’d had to heart attack.
I was on the flight finishing off a radiator change I’d done and all on my own. I finished it and rang the pilots mess and got Feathers.
‘I got a kite wants an air test,’ I told him, ‘Only to see if it overheats, ten minutes will do,’
‘I’ll be there Yippy,’ he said.
In a few minutes he came to the flight, straight across the runway to where I had the plane waiting. He threw his chute up to me with a big grin.
‘You’re bloody drunk,’ I told him
‘No I’m not,’ he said, ‘I’ve only had a couple of whiskies.’
A bit reluctantly I strapped him in.
‘Just check she don’t overheat,’ I told him as he closed the canopy.
He took off and rolled the thing straight off the ground wheels unretracted sticking up in the air as he went. As he rolled the thing the bottle or so of whisky inside him rolled around and encouraged him to give me a flying display which got me jumping up another plane to shake my fist at him. This brought him down at me so low I dived for cover. I never did know whether the bloody thing overheated or not. I didn’t ask him when he landed. I was too busy swearing at him. I had promised him that if he ever got killed I would write to Pie to tell her what happened and I’d had this terrible vision of me writing to tell her that I’d strapped him in and sent him off blind drunk to kill himself.
Taffy Furnival still looked after the two horses. In fact I did as much of the work on that as he did. He was a busy man now that the war was over. He was what we called the latrinologist. His basic job was the care and supply of the toilets, but it also entailed disposal of waste etc. For this Taffy was supplied with a truck and a team of Italians. Four I think. They dug latrines and put shelters over them.
I think the latrinologist was probably the best job on the Squadron. It certainly paid well. Taffy and his loyal gang disposed of kitchen waste by selling it to pig farmers. Almost any waste was saleable. The truck was never idle for long as there were always people who needed a removal truck and a team of blokes to load and unload. Taffy only did the driving, his gang did the work and the profits were presumably divided fairly.
It was government policy to employ as much civilian labour as possible and Frank Gandy in the cookhouse had two Italians with him who soon virtually ran it for him. I being a cigarette baron had only to say I needed hot water for a bath and it was carted up all the flights of stairs from the cookhouse by Louey a strange kid who just turned up and earned his keep by this sort of job.
We held meetings every few weeks with Paul Forster and the adjutant Taffy Probert to discuss welfare and Paul said we had to take on more Italian staff as we were getting thin on the ground.
‘Before we take on more staff, could we not start paying Louey?’ I asked, he works all day for just his keep.’
‘We can only employ adults over eighteen Yippy’ he answered
‘O K I said, He has no idea where he comes from and certainly no idea how old he is so I say that today is his birthday and he’s eighteen. I’ll tell him as soon as I see him’
That was how Louey got a birthday. I told him after the meeting.
‘You are eighteen to day Louey that’s official. Yippy says so.’
I can’t remember what date it was, but I bet it’s still Louey’s birthday.
Bill Tracy brought a couple of corporals just out from England to me one morning.
‘Yippy,’ he said, ‘I’ve brought you a couple of apprentices, they want to work with you on snags.’ They introduced themselves. One was Ginger Allison and the other I think Frank something. I got on well with them. It was great having some help.
It was a pretty good life for me, I only had to tell Bill I wanted a day off and it was O K. We took the horses to a cavalry barracks in Palmanova to get them looked over and had them taken off us and replaced with bigger ones. Taffy and I turned up there this morning to be told
‘Tie them up there and go through that door.’ by a sergeant. We did this and when we went through the door we found ourselves on the stage of a large sort of theatre. The main floor of the theatre was almost a foot deep in peat. Show jumping jumps were in position and German prisoners were attending to them. On the stage with us was quite a lot of Army officers mostly high ranking brigadiers and generals. Taffy and me were just scruffy Erks in our working gear, but it didn’t seem to make much difference to them we were horsemen and therefore equal there. They soon put us at ease.
This sort of thing was not unusual. They ran a hunt from those barracks one day with hounds brought out from England and Fox urine to lay a drag trail.
It was all very well, but I wanted to go home now. Bob wrote to say he had been demobbed and my number lower than his meant I should have been out first. So when the time came for my repatriation I thought that I would go on leave and my demob would come through. So when I was warned for home posting. I thought I’d almost finished with the Air force. I went round with my chit getting it signed at all the appropriate places and when I got it done Ging Alison and Frank came to find me.
‘Jump in the truck Yippy,’ they said ‘you have to see this,’ as they took me down to the planes where they had just received a brand new Mustang with a new type of prop. They had taken this off and stripped it out for me to look at. It was interesting because it worked very differently from the Hamiltons which I’d been used to.
Paul Forster was also leaving the squadron on the same day as me and a new Commanding officer had been installed. I did meet him, but only just. Wilbur wrote me later to tell me he was a bit of a shit.
The journey through Germany this time to Calais was notable only because somebody got a decimal place wrong and the train had a hundred men on it instead of a thousand which meant the meal stops were very short and there was a seat to sleep on for everybody. Well luggage racks for some. My time with 112 was over. I had normal leave and repatriation leave and quite a bit of cash. It had been a better war for me than most I had been lucky, seen action and not got hurt, lived rough, but well and never really been hungry. I already thought of myself as a Civvy.