SGT/FLYING OFFICER G BOOTH – SERVICE NUMBERS 1111815/119496
In late April 2013 I had a strange letter that started, ‘I have found your name on the internet as being the Historian for 72 Sqn RAF. I recently bought a house in
Harold and Elsie Booth bought 24 Shadwell Walk, Moortown,
On the 31 Aug 1941 he completed No 24 Course at 57 OTU Hawarden probably flying the Miles Master trainer before converting onto the Spitfire. (Chester Hawarden Airport is an airport located near Hawarden situated in Flintshire, Wales, close to the border with England and 3.5 NM (6.5 km; 4.0 mi) west southwest of the English city of Chester. Number 57 Operational Training Unit was formed in 1940 to train fighter pilots.)
A short period of leave probably followed and on 21 Sep 1941 he was posted to No 72 Sqn at Biggin Hill from 122 Sqn at RAF Catterick. 122 Sqn were flying Mk IIa Spitfires so he probably got in a few extra hours on type before joining 72 Sqn. He would have spent the next 2 to 3 weeks getting familiarisation flights around the local area and becoming combat ready with practice air combat and firing sorties. The F540 Operations Diary showed me that he flew about 40 Ops sorties on the Sqn including cover for the RN Swordfish in the ‘Channel Dash’ incident.
Fg Off Booth was posted from 72 Sqn on 3 May 1942 to the ‘Merchant Service Fighting Unit’. I have now to try and find his history post this date but below is a description of the job on the MSFU.
The MSFU pilots flew Hurricanes from catapults on merchant ships attached to convoys of anything up to fifty merchant men a time. The ships were mainly bringing supplies from
On 22 Nov 1943 Fg Off Booth died aged 23 whilst flying a Spitfire on 57 OTU (which had moved to RAF Boulmer) probably on a refresher course after his time with the MFSU. The accident record card indicates that he was taking off at night and at about 200ft he lost control and crashed due to not allowing enough time for his instrument gyros to get up to full working speed. He is buried at the Chevington military cemetery near Hadston to the south of Amble in
Whilst on 72 Sqn he was photographed by the Kent Messenger newspaper at Gravesend and a large copy of this is in the current 72 Sqn briefing room.
Before I ever really knew what a helicopter was, I was an Air Signaller on Hastings Mk IIs with 48 squadron, based at Changi in
Then came Harold Wilson and the world started to close in on RAF Transport Command. We were informed that our squadron would close within six months and the scramble for good postings started. For a Signaller, Coastal Command’s Shackletons loomed with the prospect of eighteen-hour flights at fifty feet, hunting submarines in the Atlantic wastes. Failing that, working in a map-store on some RAF station somewhere was a likely alternative. Neither option filled me with lust.
On the 7th December 1966 I was picked to crew our entrant in the Bennett Trophy competition, a supply-dropping and navigation competition for Transport Command squadrons in the
About a fortnight later, I was told I’d been posted “Supernumerary to Course Number Whatever” at RAF Odiham for
When I joined the SRCU at Odiham, it was nicknamed “RAF Long Sutton” as it was closer to that village than it was to the main camp. There, I found out how helicopters actually managed to stay airborne, but along with many of the other crewmen, I didn’t believe it, and we all thought that the whole thing was really done by mirrors. And unless you jumped out of the cabin from time to time and threw a handful of peanuts into the air-scoop on its nose, the beast would get hungry and stop working. Well, the
Eventually the Course finished and I was posted across the airfield to 72 Sqn. On my first day, my Flight Commander welcomed me and told me that this was a happy squadron where we worked hard, played hard and took no notice of the few discontented ex-Transport Command crewmen who were constantly complaining. It should be mentioned that most of the crewmen at that time were Air Engineers, Air Signallers, or AEs, and they had all come from multi-engined fixed wing aircraft to replace the previous crewmen who had been groundcrew, but flew as crewmen until there arose a problem with insurance cover. As several of the previous non-aircrew crewmen were still around and many of the replacement aircrew crewmen were less than totally in love with helicopters, it could be said that an “atmosphere” could occasionally be detected. It was not unknown for crewmen to complain, sometimes loudly and persistently. This led to several situations two of which I will mention.
After one particular crewman had been complaining, cause unknown, a notice was posted on the crewroom board that said “Sgt “X” is herby permitted to shout in the Crewroom. Sgt “X” is also allowed to swear in the Crewroom. In no circumstances will Sgt “X” shout and swear at the same time in the Crewroom.” It was about that time that I found myself standing to attention in front of my Flight Commander in order to inform him of something or other. I said my piece and he wearily reached under his desktop, opened a drawer and withdrew an oblong piece of card which he turned towards me. On it was printed in large script “Thank you for bringing your complaint to me, to which I have listened intently. Now go away and f**k your hat”
I saluted smartly and left.
When the new breed of Air Quartermaster crewmen began to arrive on the squadron, there was a small amount of muttering among the older hands but this came mainly from the guys who had never worked with AQMs before. To many of us, they were very welcome. The job of crewman on helicopters was a positive addition to their career patterns and they were, in consequence, a happier, more upbeat group. The general effect was to lighten the mood in the crewroom, or so I felt, anyway.
Gradually the less-happy guys drifted away to other squadrons or other jobs or left the RAF for good and we who remained got on with the job and enjoyed what there was to enjoy. I became familiar with almost every military training area in
My service ended in May 1970 and I had been in a state of uncertainty about whether to go or stay and then I had an offer that was too good to refuse from an industrial company in the
On 29th April 1970, our Wing Checker found me in the crewroom. “Doing anything? He asked, to which I said that I wasn’t. “OK, we have to do a Cat-check. See you at the aircraft” Again booted and suited, I joined him and the pilot who was being checked and we got everything turning and burning. On the intercom he asked me “Why were you looking at your watch when I said we had a trip to do?” I said “Well, I have to be at the Stores at 14.30 to hand my kit in. I’m leaving to go on terminal leave today”
Without a word he air-taxied XT605 across to the air-raid shelters at the edge of the field and said “Get out” so I jumped down onto the grass-covered roof. They then cleared off and carried out the check flight while I sat and watched. The aircraft came back after forty minutes and hovered so I could remount and then we air-taxied about two feet off the ground back into 72’s dispersal. We landed, shut down and walked back into the crewroom, saying nothing. I handed in my kit and went home to start a new life.
I have ever been airborne in a helicopter since that day. I do, however, carry with me a wealth of memories from my three years with “72, City of
There was a delight to be had in simply sitting in the doorway of a
I remember creeping through the mountains over the heel of
I am sure, too, that there are some of my contemporaries out there who will have seen all of these things through lenses of a different colour, so please accept my apologies if I appear to have been using pink ones.
Frederick Lionel BASS-WORTHINGTON – AN UNLIKELY MASCOT!
Military units have adopted mascots for centuries, and there is still an official allowance from the MOD for the upkeep of mascots to provide for their well-being, food and ‘uniform’ to this day. All three services have taken mascots with the Army being well known for the ‘Regimental Goat’ as of the Royal Welsh, the ‘Irish Wolfhound’ of the Irish Guards, and the ‘Drum Horse’ of the Queen’s Hussars. For the Royal Navy it was a bit more difficult unless the unit was shore-based. In the early days all ships were encouraged to have a cat or two – which became the ships mascot – to control vermin - but this practice was forbidden in 1975. In World War Two many ships had unofficial mascots (technically a unit-pet) such as the Bulldog ‘Venus’ of the destroyer HMS Vansittart. Submarines presented a special problem and most mascots in the underwater service were in-animate as extra lungs were not welcome using up the available air to breathe! The Fleet Air Arm had some notable mascots, in the 1970s a lion called ‘Simon’ was the mascot of 892 Sqn who operated a display team of Sea Vixens known as ‘Simons Circus’, and the RAF often had mascots related directly to the heraldic coat of arms for the unit; for example, 27 Sqn adopted a baby elephant at a local zoo. Everyone knows of the black Labrador which was the unofficial mascot of 617 Sqn (The Dam Busters) and owned by Guy Gibson, but the dogs’ name is now not PC! Current RAF mascots include a goat called ‘Aircraftsman George’ of RAF Halton and once 8 Sqn had an eagle owl called ‘Boo Boo’, unfortunately he was agoraphobic so did not like to fly over the airfield but only around his cage, so he was not much use in deterring other birds off the runway.
No 72 Squadron’s heraldic emblem is a Swift bird, not a very suitable subject for a mascot, but not to be deterred the squadron adopted a very unusual creature on 28th Feb 1957 in the form of an alligator! At the time the unit was based at RAF Church Fenton in Yorkshire flying various marks of the Gloster Meteor night fighter with a crew of two. The arrival is noted in the formal F540 Operations Diary for the day and the entry continues; ‘He (or she) has been given the honorary rank of Pilot Officer (unpaid) and christened Frederick Lionel Bass-Worthington. He measures 13.5 inches from tip to tail and his rate of growth is being watched closely. He has started his aircrew training in the Anson and it is hoped that he will soon progress to jet-flying. Flt Lt Hole has undertaken the arduous – not to say dangerous – task of caring for Fred and a great affection has sprung up between them. Despite his name, FLBW has a taste for Guinness – scope for civilian occupation when the ostrich retires?’ Notes: His surname was taken from the two breweries visible from 72 Sqn base at RAF Church Fenton in the nearby town of Tadcaster, and the reference to the ostrich is because of the advertising campaign that Guinness were running at the time which featured a cartoon ostrich.
The F540 entry for March 1957 includes the following. ‘Plt Off F L Bass-Worthington’s training has continued and he shows a lively interest in matters appertaining to aircrew – particularly fingers. It is rumoured that offers have been made to No 19 Sqn for unwanted pilots with a view to fattening up for future meals.’
Fg Off Ken Hughes with B-W 1 about to go flying.
All did not progress smoothly and in April the following record appears: ‘the latest addition to the Squadron History Room is a rather regrettable letter from the Station Commander to Plt Off Bass-Worthington, reprimanding him for running a wine bill whilst under the age of 16 and not paying mess subscriptions. We understand the matter has now been cleared up and a rather sulky alligator can be seen most evenings waiting outside the bar in the Officers Mess. Incidentally Bass-Worthingtons operation score is now 6 pilots, 4 navigators and 6 civilians.’
At some time in the summer time, Pathe News visited the station and there is a piece on ’72 Sqn pets’ which includes footage of B-W being handled by his keeper, Fg Off ‘Timber’ Woods. The aircrew are all in Lloyd-loom chairs in front of the hangar with Hunters and Meteors on the flight line behind them. At the scramble call Timber Woods puts B-W into a Fire-bucket full of water and the crews scramble airborne. B-W is seen peering over the lip of the bucket before scrambling himself – but not airborne, just out of the bucket to waddle off into some bushes.
Tragedy came on 14/15th December when, during a very cold weekend Plt Off F L Bass-Worthington was found dead when the Squadron was opened up on the Monday morning. As reported in the F540, ‘The corpse was pickled by the medical section and is now on display in the Sqn History Room.’
Fortunately, Flt Lt Nicholson had made a Christmas Card featuring B-W which is pictured here but he is showing little respect for the squadrons’ aircraft.
The news of his demise was reported on television and as a result a replacement was offered by the Mayor of Southport. The new version was said to be ‘slightly larger and more hardy and was called Plt Off F L Bass-Worthington 3.’ Note: I have no idea why the numbering went from BW1 to BW3 with no mention of BW2!
Additional information comes from a copy of the ‘History of Church Fenton – 50th Anniversary’ booklet and in it is an article by Allen Rowley of the Yorkshire Evening Post who often reported on the activities at Church Fenton. In a piece entitled ‘Fenton Memories’ he reports on F L B-W as follows, ‘Pink elephants, they say, are not the best drinking companions. But men used to travel hundreds of miles to drink under the beady eyes of an alligator at the Bay Horse, Cawood, not far from Church Fenton. Mind you, this was a very special alligator - he once rejoiced in the name of Flying Officer Frederick Lionel Bass-Worthington – and like many other weird and wonderful items then in the bar at the Bay Horse, he was once owned by a fighter squadron based at RAF Church Fenton. Three squadrons – Nos 19, 72 and 609 contributed to this unofficial museum. He then describes several items from crashed aircraft before returning to B-W. Flying Officer Frederick Lionel Bass-Worthington was introduced to the locals at Cawood by a pilot who slipped him – very much alive – on to the domino table. ‘There wasn’t half a scatter’, said Mr Redall! Members of the squadron used to take the baby alligator all over the place but the Bay Horse was his favourite pub. Pilots used to start him off on warm milk and stout and he would end the night on whisky. Then he used to swim to the bottom of the kitchen sink and sleep it off! When it finally came time for him to go to the great swamp in the sky, Bass-Worthington was well and truly pickled in a large glass jar and sat in a corner of the bar studying the antics of the pilots for many a long night!’ Unfortunately in 2006 when I tried to find if B-W was still in the bar I discovered that the Bay Horse had been flattened and a small residential estate was now on the site and not a sign of a pickled alligator to be found.
The report of B-W3s’ arrival was recorded in the F540 for Feb 1958 as follows. ‘On Wednesday, 12th February 1958 Wg Cdr R D Doleman DSO, DFC, Flt Lt P D Gooding, Flt Lt J K McLean, Fg Off C H Davis and Fg Off J F McLean visited Southport Zoo to collect Alligator number III. He was presented to the Squadron on behalf of the Zoo by the Mayor of Southport. He is a much larger version than his predecessors and has settled in his new home very well. The Squadron representatives thoroughly enjoyed themselves during their visit.’
As the photograph shows, B-W3 is much larger than his predecessor.
This is the last entry to the official diary that mentions Plt Off F L Bass-Worthington 3 and I cannot find out what happened to him, however, the Squadron was very busy with the change of aircraft from Meteor to Javelin and the accompanying move from Church Fenton to Leconfield in April 1959. If anyone has any further information I should be glad to hear of it.
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Denys Mobberley stand beside a Vampire.
A North Weald RAF pilot was never far from his beloved wife Barbara as he bailed out at 11,000ft, his blazing jet crashing to the ground below. Sgt pilot Denys Mobberley’s Vampire disintegrated after it was hit by another jet, falling to earth in pieces, narrowly missing All Saints parish church in Purleigh, near Maldon. But it was a lock of his wife’s hair, sewn into his uniform, that kept the former squadron leader safe, on this and another death defying occasion during his 25-year career with the RAF, which started in 1943.
Denys Mobberley recalled:
“I had been taking part in a wing formation exercise involving 604, 601 and 72 squadrons, comprising 18 Vampires led by Sqn Ldr Kingaby, a Battle of Britain ace. When we had completed our high level exercises we started our descent towards base, with a reasonable space between each squadron. However, my number two continued to close up on me and the leading edge of his wing collided with my tail booms.
Everything in the cockpit was vibrating and breaking up, and it was not possible to focus on anything – all I could think of was my wife, Barbara. I knew that I had to escape – this was before ejection seats – fortunately the cockpit canopy was still intact so I quickly checked that my parachute and dinghy were correctly secured but disconnected my radio plug and oxygen tube. I then put one hand on the harness release and the other on the canopy eject lever. I bent fully forward, knocking my forehead on the gun sight, and operated the harness and canopy releases.”
The remains of Mobberley’s Vampire
As the formation was travelling at 350mph at about 11,000ft, he felt the full blast of the airflow; his oxygen mask flattened hard against his face before breaking away.
“At this stage I must have temporarily lost consciousness and the next thing I remember was being clear of the aircraft and falling towards the earth. I was not very high so I pulled the parachute ripcord handle. To my great relief, the chute opened immediately and luckily, being over open country, I landed softly in a freshly ploughed field. One of the other pilots had seen my parachute open and flew down to see where I had landed. I was able to indicate to him that I was safe and uninjured.
There was a country road alongside the field and, after a few minutes, during which I gathered together my parachute and dinghy pack, a local couple arrived in their car. Mrs Jarvis offered me her handkerchief and asked me if I would like to wipe my face. I asked if it was muddy to which she replied that it was covered in blood; I had cut my forehead on the gun sight. She then asked me if I would like a cigarette. I said I didn’t smoke, to which she replied, “Aren’t you going to start?”
Sgt Denys Mobberley (2nd left) at Angelholm, Sweden, 25th August 1951.
They took me to their home, from where I called the RAF station, and gratefully accepted a cup of tea and biscuits, before an ambulance arrived and took me to the Chelmsford & Essex Hospital for a check-up.
My two wing men, Syd Hyams and Peter Blake, quickly drove down to Woodford Green to tell my wife Barbara that I would be a bit late getting home that evening. When the full story came out Barbara thought that I had a miraculous escape, but I assured her that she had been there to look after me the whole time. You see, ever since I was awarded my ‘wings’ I had always sewn a lock of her hair under the pilot’s flying badge on my ‘battle dress’; the uniform I wore under my flying overalls.”
Denys Mobberley in 2012.
THE ROAD TO CAP SERRAT
“It was an inauspicious introduction to 72 Sqn. Just prior to departure I was languishing in the RAF Police cell at Ouston. I was going to phone my dad but fizzing as the phone had been smashed. I reported it to the police, who accused me of the damage despite my saying that if I had done it I wouldn’t have reported it. However I was missed (by the Sqn) so I was reluctantly released.
We got our first glimpse of our cruise ship and like the John Masefield poem it was ‘a salt encrusted relic of a glorious past’. SS Staffordshire of the Bibby Line with a single stack. What caused rumours as to our destination was a huge snow plough on her sharp end. It was really packed. ‘Brown Jobs’ and RAF. Cooks package tours had really earned their cash! We were given a long table but I can’t recall if food was a ‘free for all’ or if someone at the table top was detailed. The menu card was missing. Owing to over booking our cabins were missing, instead eight hammocks for 12 men. Failing to get one I was on the deck – away from the route to the toilets. There was more consternation when we slipped our moorings on Friday 13th – for where?
The days so far were uneventful on calm seas and we had acquired quite a big collection of ships; tankers, tramps and some lovely, grey-painted, liners. Nearest to us was a Canadian Pacific three-funneled ‘Empress’ class. Once we hit the
The weather and the sea got warmer and calmer. The torrent’s clients got fewer. Our immediate escorts, a pair of dolphins. Occasionally depth charges were fired accompanied by a great wall of water. Destroyers dashing up and down the convoy. I was detailed to break coal in the depth of the ship, which was not to my liking. Gradually we got our ‘sea legs’ and at night, sleeping on the deck, watching the graceful arc of the tip of the mast against the stars and looking at the phosphorescent wake was indeed the stuff of dreams. Then one night the lights of
On the 22nd we disembarked from SS Staffordshire. Heavy sea running. One of our lads was tied to a rope and he endeavoured to get a huge tire from the sea. Why? We hadn’t even got transport. We assembled and Tiny le Peppit told us to report on the morrow. So in dribs and drabs we went to sample the fleshpots of
We got into the cattle trucks; ’40 Hommes, 8 Chevaux’. A Frenchman armed with a knife who was in the van tried to knife one of our lads but was soon overpowered and presented to the gendarmes. Not relishing being one of the ‘Hommes’ I decided to travel in one of those quaint sentry box-like things at the back of the van, which served as lookout along the train. On the way to Souk el Arba, at the stops we piled out to the engine to get boiling water for a brew. One sobering thought remains in my mind; we waited for an ambulance train from the front to pass by, coaches marked with the Red Cross. We had one coach with the adjutant and other officers on board. The next stop was most embarrassing for me. We were formed up and I was singled out for a public washing, as I stood out like a sore thumb. I was the only coloured person in the Squadron, spending so long exposed to the smoke from the locomotive. From then on I was one of the ‘Hommes’!
At Souk el Arba, during an attack, we watched as a goat grabbed a freshly washed shirt off the line and ate it, despite the strafing! The motorbikes were a bad choice for campaigns; ‘Matchless’ with telescopic forks that after a few weeks became jammed on the lower half and split; result – a rigid frame. Christmas Day was held in the barn-cum-mess. The menu card had the Swift on the front and the menu inside. It was a very good meal.
Jan 25th – we move to Souk el Khemis not too far from Arba, only big problem was mud. Just possible that we influenced the cancellation of an offensive on ‘Longstop Hill’. In his book General Eisenhower stated his mind was made up by seeing several motor cyclists struggling with the mud. The car road was on the Medjez el Bab to Mateur highway and the Top Brass was often seen on their inspections of the front. The mud was really bad. Many a time I had to take the rear wheel off as the mud had built up so thickly that the wheel wouldn’t turn.
February 24th was a Panic Day. Field Marshal Rommel launched his attack through
Darryl Briggs passed through Sedjanane on the way to Cap Serrat shortly after the battle for the town:
“I met a solitary Arab “going my way”, and so against rules and regulations I gave him a lift. After many miles and somewhat near to my destination I told him as best I could he was on his own, and this was true. It was a bleak landscape, no signs of life. He was OK though, but it did puzzle me as to how he had endured the ride; no footrest, only a carrier instead of a seat and a hot exhaust pipe – the blighter was also barefoot!
Coming to Sedjenane I saw signs of a recent battle, dozens of Italian sun helmets with feathers as decorations were strewn around; I believe they were a Bersagliari unit. German tanks, half tracks and trucks were burnt out – courtesy of 72?
I again disregarded the rules and decided to inspect a half track which looked like an old charabanc as regards seating; it was also very badly burnt out. Inside the drivers side was a type of slit pocket from which I got a huge revolver, a knife fork and spoon in a neat metal holder which incorporated a bottle opener (think of everything these Germans) which was much more practical than our loose ‘irons’ and two pay books. One of these was for Paul Wiegers, who was my age, but born the month previous.
Well, I got to Cap Serrat but they were not a very hospitable lot and I was glad to shake the dust off and ride into the sunset. About half way back disaster struck; a flat rear tyre. With no grass to stuff in the tyre I did attempt to carry on but in the end could go no further. The tyre shredded and as I had not been issued with a carrier pigeon I was really ‘up the creek’.
After an hour, smoking and thinking, an American jeep pulled up. “What’s up buddy?” They hoisted the bike on the jeep and took me to their camp, “Go get some chow, buddy. One of our guys seen a French bike down a ravine, we’ll go take a look”.
What a meal, loads of coffee, food as you only dreamed of, not a sign of bully beef and biscuits. If there had been a recruiting officer there I would have been a GI. Well, they got the wheel and as luckily it was the right size. They even fitted it; great guys. I cannot remember if I told Chiefy Arthur or Sgt Calver of my journey, but much sand and mud has passed since then!
When we finally reached
ROBERT WARDLOW OXSPRING DFC**, AFC
May 19 1919 - August 8 1989
Part One of a two part
feature by Gordon Wright
Bobby Oxspring (he preferred Bobby and was also known as 'OXO') did not have a silver spoon in his mouth, far from it, but he did have the benefit of a father, of the same name, who had been a WW1 flying ace, with 44 Squadron St Omer in 1917, who won an MC and bar and is recorded in Air Aces of the 1914-1918 War as having destroyed 16 German aircraft
This family history gave him an absolute determination to get into the RAF as a pilot. His flying career started early in 1938 at No 4 E & R FTS (
TO 66 SQUADRON
Qualifying early in 1939 he was assigned to 66 Squadron, at that time with Group 12 in Duxford, one of the first squadrons to be equipped with Spitfires. In his early experience of night flying with a Spitfire, he managed, on landing, to exit through a hedge, across a road and through another hedge - fortunately neither aircraft nor pilot was too badly upset
by the experience. He was briefly in on the tail end of the
Squadron, although none of the squadron recorded any victories. His first successful action was a joint kill of a Heinkel 111. But pilots in Group 12 were often frustrated at not being involved in some of the action being seen by Group 11.Years afterwards a
few admitted they had felt aggrieved by Keith Park, who did not get on with Leigh Mallory of Group 12 – although later history was inclined to put more blame on Leigh Mallory. However, the structure of Fighter Command was intended to keep each Group self sufficient. Late in August, 66 Squadron at last got a posting to Group 11, where they were stationed at Kenley. September 5 and 6 were black days for 66, losing eight aircraft and six pilots in two days. On September 7, following the frustration of being vectored to find a 'mythical' enemy, 66 Squadron was given a short release from action for the rest of the day. The pilots took leave to go up to
PART OF THE BIGGIN HILL WING
The squadron was soon reassigned to
He realised that his rate of descent was likely to break both his legs, or worse. However, after narrowly missing some high tension cables he came down in woods, where the foliage of an enormous tree saved him from the worst possible consequences. Rescued by the Home Guard hewas carted off to the
AT BIGGIN HILL
November saw 66 Squadron move to Biggin Hill to join 74 and 92 Squadrons. The start of winter closed down most of the action, but by the turn of the year Fighter Command's strategy (with Dowding and Park gone) changed to taking the fight to the enemy on the Continent. This was the start of 'circuses', where a formation of bombers would be escorted by covering fighters intending to entice a response. This simply mirrored German tactics during the Battle of Britain and were to prove no more successful for the RAF than they had been for the Luftwaffe. The first such raid was led by 'Sailor' Malan with the three Biggin Hill squadrons and resulted in little enemy reaction. Meanwhile, the nightly blitz on
TRAINING DUTIES & BACK TO 11 GROUP
No. 66 Squadron found itself giving fighter cover to convoys in the Channel. Returning from one of these Bobby horrified himself by landing with his wheels retracted. After 500 hours of Spitfire flying without serious mistakes, the strain was probably beginning to tell, he was deemed tour-expired and posted to training duties with the OTU in
they were moved north for a rest and Bobby was asked if he wanted to stay in Group 11. Indeed he did, he still wanted more action, so he was offered 41 Squadron at Merston. The squadron was equipped with Spitfire MkVbs, with 20mm cannons. They were often engaged in 'rhubarbs', formations of two or four looking for opportunistic targets, including railway locomotives, river barges and shipping. No. 41 Squadron had lost its commander Elmer Gaunce, shot down and killed over
HIGH COMMAND INEPTITUDE
No. 91 Squadron was part of the Biggin Hill Sector, at which time Captain Dicky Barwell was sector commander. They were a specialist reconnaissance squadron, equipped with the latest MkIIs to give them height and speed advantage, for which they had acquired the tab of 'Jim Crow'. 'Sailor' Malan had brought the Biggin Wing to such a pitch of efficiency, that when Bobby arrived to take command, 91 Squadron's morale was sky high. They usually flew the first and last sorties of the day on routine recces, known as 'Milk runs', to check on overnight movement of enemy shipping, with weather recces at 30,000ft over a large arc of enemy territory. The German capital ships Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen had been bottled up in
Early in 1942 the Luftwaffe started to retaliate to the perpetual RAF operations over the occupied Continent, by beginning hit-and-run raids. In the Biggin Hill sector, counter measures fell on 91 Squadron, but interceptions were virtually nil. Bobby took his concerns to Biggin sector commander Dicky Barwell, who suggested, with BilI Igoe controlling, they should go out on a patrol to investigate where things were going wrong. Close to
FROM THE ARCHIVES –
LANDON, Lawrence George, Flight Sergeant (561015, Royal Air Force) - No.72 Squadron - British Empire Medal - awarded as per London Gazette dated 17 September 1943. Public Record Office Air 2/8959, courtesy of Steve Brew, has citation. Mutilated document; some words uncertain.
"This airman has been in charge of an operational flight throughout the North African campaign. He has been a tower of strength [words missing] of a hazardous or arduous nature. His administrative [words missing] in his flight and in looking after his men at all [words missing] particularly good service as a result of which the lives of his men were saved by his prompt and effective first aid given after a land mine had exploded after an expedition to Thelepte."
NORTON, Raymond Cyril, Warrant Officer (526684, Royal Air Force) - No.72 Squadron - Member, Order of the British Empire - awarded as per London Gazette dated 17 September 1943. Public Record Office Air 2/8959, courtesy of Steve Brew, has citation.
"Warrant Officer Norton has been in charge of the Squadron Armoury Section since the summer offensives of 1941 and 1942 and throughout the campaign in
NO FAIRY LIQUID
At Souk el Khemis in 1943 for washing our eating utensils etc we had a great square tank, hot water and no Fairy liquid to ‘protect our hands’! Well, as soon as the plug was out the ground resembled a swamp with gallons of the ‘juice’ lying on it, which was no joke after a few days.
So, I decided to do a spot of plumbing as I possessed a handy small trench digging tool, ex-U.S. military issue. Next I had the cookhouse save me the large tins and small ones which, with my service jack-knife that included a handy tin opener, cut holes in the large tins to fit. I punched holes in the base of the large tins so the water would leak into the ground. (“What did you do in the war, Daddy?”). Then with the entrenching tool I made a well fitting hole for the tin beneath the plughole. Of course ‘
Future archaeology bods, 1,000 year on, will puzzle over what the primitive tribe was getting at!