No 72 Squadron Association











The other day I had a good look

Through what's now, my old logbook,

So below some memories, to share

With you, and those who were there!


May 1952

 My first ever flight and entry in my old log book is in a B-29 Superfortress, WF446-B of 115 Sqn at RAF Marham. However that is now history and I wish to cover my time with 72 Sqn on Wessex HC2 from 1967-1972. My first contact with rotary wing machines was in 1962 when I was posted to RAF Northolt as an airframe fitter. There, apart from various small VIP aircraft of the Metropolitan Communications Sqn, they had two Bristol Sycamores with wooden blades. Whilst at Northolt I attended a Westland course on the Whirlwind Mk 10 to teach me rotary wing theory of flight.

 It was not till 1967 on being posted to RAF Odiham that I came into contact with the Wessex HC2 and 72 Sqn on which I have always been proud to have served with so many friends and colleagues, both ground and aircrews, over that period of 1967 to 1972. From my old log book I have selected a few dates, which some people may recall and others never heard of.

 One of my first jobs on the Wessex was to carry out a modification which entailed moving the underslung hook release cable and handle from the square hole in the centre of the cabin floor and re-position it outside, just forward of the cabin door. In those days we did not have hooks, other than manually operated ones. Among other mods was fitting gun mounts by the cabin door and the port window escape hatch plus there were no BIM blades. Of course things changed as time went by. At last and to save boring you, here is my selection from the log book!


 25th July Wessex XT668 on UN duties in Cyprus:

 On a re-supply trip to Limnitis the aircraft suffered nose door starboard intake damage, I was flown out to assess and after my inspection and in agreement with the pilot we flew back to Nicosia on one engine.


 6-16th October on exercise at RAF Geilenkirchen, Germany:

 On this exercise what I recall must have given the SAS a real laugh. It happened like this - Working on a Wessex with a Belgian FN rifle (SLR), or Sterling SMG was never going to be easy as we found out. So it was decided on the day in question to hand our weapons over for security. That is tie them to a tree with a cable going through the trigger guards with a padlock on the end. The key being held by whoever was the guard. However, as always happens in war films, the SAS decided to attack us and came roaring through the camp in their Landrovers, guns blazing away and throwing wooden dummy bombs everywhere. We all ran to get our weapons only to find lots of our chaps standing by the tree as it seemed our guard had picked that time to go off to the toilet!


 28th June My flight in a Queens Flight Whirlwind:

 As part of the servicing crew of, I think, three ground crew with Wessex XT672 we were at RAF Benson carrying out down runs when we were told the Queens Flight would carry out bomb checks on the aircraft and we were to be flown back to Odiham to pick up our best blues. Thus we flew to Odiham and back to Benson in Whirlwind XP299. Once back at Benson we took off in Wessex XT672 and stayed the night in Swansea. The following morning we positioned at Rhoose airport in Cardiff from where Wessex XT672 was used to fly Princes Philip and Charles on their visit to Port Talbot.


 8th February Wessex on UN duties in Cyprus:

 I was then at Nicosia in Cyprus. Three Wessex arrived from the ferry flight which, as servicing crew, we had accompanied flying in an Argosy, XP412. On arrival I confirmed a cracked main rotor gearbox which I think was my first.


 8th-11th May East-West Air Race London Post Office Tower to Empire State Building and return:

 We were positioned at RAF Northolt to fly participants from Moreton Valence into London. It was decided to do a high speed trial run so XR498 duly took off from Northolt ten minutes earlier than we expected with a very annoyed pilot in the cockpit shouting "Who didn't wind the ?!* clock!". It seems it stopped somewhere between Moreton Valence and London, but there you go, you can't win 'em all!


 May 5th - July 6th Exercise Bersatu Padu, Malaya:

 The squadron personnel flew out to Singapore prior to the 5th May when the first of ten Wessex arrived by Belfast aircraft. Thus we built up the ten as they arrived taking, I believe, six hours or just over for each aircraft. The Belfast carried two Wessex at a time. I'm sure like myself we all really enjoyed that exercise which took place all up the east coast of Malaya. Mind you it seems our so called enemy caught us out on, I think, the second or third day of the exercise when aerial photographs showed our camouflage nets covered with our laundry! Needless to say that was not repeated and we all enjoyed the lovely weather, sea and environment. Again I had the good fortune to be with our last Wessex to leave Malaya. As the other nine Wessex returned to Singapore (RAF Changi) I flew in XV726-J to Butterworth from where it lifted a new radar cabin onto Western Hill (See Exercise Bersatu Padu article in this issue). Then on July 6th I flew back to Changi with XV726 where, on arrival, 72 Squadron's skilled ground crews had removed two main rotor blades before the second pilot was out of the cockpit!

 I have many hours in my log book of vibro-graph air test and exercises with 72 Sqn and in Honk Kong and with Bristow Helicopters and consider the Wessex one of the best helicopters to work on and fly in.

 I have been very fortunate to have been an engineer on a Wessex 60 of Bristow Helicopters that was ferried from Port Harcourt to Redhill via the Sahara Desert. We ferried two Wessex at a time with one pilot and one engineer per aircraft. But all that is another story. (My pilot on 5N-AJI was Capt John Bleaden, possibly ex-72 Sqn).

 I would like to wish all my old friends, plus current and future members of 72 Sqn my very best for now and the future.

 Bomber Brown

 72 Sqn pilots I flew with:


Lt Thompson RN        Flt Lt Beatie                Flt Lt Wines                Sgt Smith                Flt Lt Joyce                     Fg Off Carter                   Flt Lt Watson              Sqn Ldr Oliver

Flt Lt Roberts                         Fg Off Ryott               Flt Lt Wood                Flt Lt Shepherd

Flt Lt Young              Flt Lt Beatson             Fg Off Whitney          Wg Cdr Moore

Lt Hedges RN                       Sqn Ldr Thompson     Fg Off Finnie              Flt Lt Willis    

Fg Off Sneddon         Fg Off Taylor              Fg Off Baker              Flt Lt Woods 

Flt Lt Carpenter          Sqn Ldr Miller                        Sqn Ldr Robinson       Fg Off Chubb

Plt Off Woolley          Fg Off Hopper                        Flt Lt Benson              Fg Off Manson

Wg Cdr Wilson           Fg Off Whatling         Fg Off Rawlings         Fg Off Bird    

Fg Off McCluskie       Fg Off Johnson           Fg Off Chandler         Fg Off Wright

Fg Off Donaldson      Fg Off Binnie             Fg Off Waldron          Flt Lt Jenner

Fg Off Henderson      Maj Lee US Army      Fg Off Tullock            Flt Lt Selby

Lt Westgate RN          Flt Lt Wain                 Flt Lt Horrobin           Fg Off Smith

Fg Off Price                Fg Off Duggan           Fg Off Lakey              Lt Evans RN

Fg Off Todd               Fg Off Shaw               Sqn Ldr Windust










The Belvedere was designed and built initially by Bristol until its helicopter business was absorbed by Westland in 1958. Developed from the civil Bristol 173 concept, 3 variants (191-193) were envisaged but only the 192 was produced for the RAF as a Support Helicopter, and was both it’s first tandem rotor and twin turbine engine helicopter.

  The Bristol 192 Belvedere was based on the earlier Bristol Type 173 10-seat (later 16-seat) civilian tandem rotor helicopter concept which first flew on 3 January 1952 but was abandoned in 1956. (Pictured left below). Having further developed the concept into the 190 series and with over 90 191/2/3 variant orders in prospect, Bristol initially focused on the Type RN 191/RCN 193 ASW variants only for the RN and RCN orders to be cancelled after initial development issues provided an excuse for the RN to buy their preferred ASW Wessex instead. However, the RAF 192 was ordered into production in 1956 with an increased initial order from 22 to 26, and to ensure it could field a “heavy lift” helicopter capability quickly given the concurrent helicopter operational experiences in Malaya and the Middle East with smaller single engine aircraft. The RAF Type 192 was the only 190 series variant to be named the Belvedere.

 Three already completed Type 191 (RN ASW) airframes were used to aid more rapid development of the Type 192 Belvedere including fitting the more powerful Napier Gazelle engines and for airframe fatigue and powered controls tests although none of those 3 (RN) aircraft were test flown. Unfortunately, the 192 retained some design features with the 191/193 naval variants, in particular making it a cumbersome and hazardous trooping aircraft. The front undercarriage was designed tall to give clearance for twin torpedo carriage under the forward fuselage which meant the main starboard cabin troop and freight door was inconveniently very high off the ground and the cockpit at least 6 feet (1.8 m) above the ground and both requiring awkward ladder entry.

 The new Napier Gazelle turbine engines were placed vertically at either end of the cabin to drive each rotor - unusually and unlike the slightly later Boeing Vertol CH46 and CH47 Chinook designs mounting both engines above the rear fuselage. Cabin to cockpit access was a small alleyway using an asymmetric port side fuselage bulge past the forward engine placed immediately behind the cockpit space. On the positive side its tandem rotor configuration assured best vertical lift performance for the power available, which proved a real bonus in overseas hot and high climates. Handling too was more assured compared with tail rotor designs operational alongside the Belvedere. Overall though the Belvedere might best be described as under-developed from the outset, and needed rapid and regular improvements to optimise it as a practical and safe operational aircraft. This resulted from it being needed in overseas combat zones urgently as the UK disengaged from Empire in the 1960s and leave stable countries behind.

 The first Type 192 prototype XG447 flew on 5 July 1958 with wooden rotor blades (reflecting its heritage from the Bristol Sycamore), a manual flying control system and a castored quad fixed undercarriage. From the fifth aircraft, better performance all metal, four-bladed main rotor heads were fitted. Concurrently fitting production standard hydraulic controls resolved much of the handling qualities issues, and complete instrument sets enabled practical night operations. The tail plane was also re-designed significantly, with the initial production horizontal tail plane with end plate vertical stabilisers being changed for a significant double anhedral shape as production continued. The two rotors were synchronised through an interconnecting shaft atop the cabin, allowing the aircraft to operate OEI following single engine failure, with the remaining engine automatically powering up to compensate – a pioneering design attribute at the time. Initially the design had an upwards-hinged main cabin door prone to being slammed shut by the rotor downwash so it was often removed. A safer and useful sliding door replaced this later on all 26 aircraft. The aircraft was also notorious for its engine start fires caused by the AVPIN starter cartridges, leading to at least 2 written off airframes. Furthermore, any forward engine fires or uncontained turbine failures would cause immediate hazard into the cockpit causing at least one fatal crash. It was not surprising therefore that Belvedere pilots had a habit of leaning out of the cockpit windows and sometimes with one leg outside too in readiness to evacuate the cockpit rapidly and despite its hazardous above ground height.

 Bristol attempted to market a civilian variant, designated the Type 192C. This 24 seat version was aimed at intercity services. To demonstrate the 192C’s potential, Bristol chief test pilot Charles "Sox" Hosegood set the London–Paris and Paris–London speed records in May 1961 in a Belvedere borrowed temporarily from the RAF and civil registered. However, no orders were ever placed.

 The Belvedere HC1 could carry 18 fully equipped troops and had a maximum 6000lb (2700kg) load which at the time was a step change improvement for RAF helicopter performance and support capability. In 1960 the first 192 prototype/production Belvedere (XG447) went to the Belvedere Trials Unit (BTU) at Odiham, which later in 1961 was expanded to become 66 Sqn. The engine starter problems and fires caused trouble early on but (urgent and necessary) operational deployment plans continued.

 As well as 66 Sqn, 72 Sqn was the second unit to equip with the Belvedere in 1961 and 26 Sqn the third in 1962, all initially based at RAF Odiham. Notable firsts included in June 1960 when the fifth aircraft, XG452 set a 130 mph (210 km/h) speed record between Gatwick and Tripoli, and in 1962 a 72 Sqn Belvedere lowered the 80ft long crucifix (see left) onto the new Coventry Cathedral spire to extensive national and international media attention. Such precision helicopter heavy lift tasks being novel in those times. Unfortunately, 72 Sqn suffered 2 significant early accidents with the first in 1962 with a fatal crash in Germany, and1964 was also marked by a double fatal mid-air by 2 aircraft at Odiham. 72 Squadron operated the Belvedere until August 1964 only when it exchanged them for the new Wessex HC2s. This was largely driven by the lack of airframes (by then only 20 of the original 26 were available) coupled with the urgent need in the Middle and Far East theatres for improved helicopter support, and the Belvedere’s lift performance in particular.

 Overall aircraft availability and reliability was also regularly lower than required as spares shortages were common as well as unexpected failures of components. The latter causing several accidents resulting from blade loss and in flight engine explosions further reflecting the immaturity and under-developed status of the design and its logistic support plans. Therefore, 26 Sqn (see right) transferred to RAF Khormaksar, Aden in 1962 where it flew brave and sometimes innovative work in support of counter-insurgency activities in the Radfan (now part of Yemen). Two of its aircraft were deployed by carrier to British Tanganyika (now Tanzania) in 1964 to help suppress an insurgency prior to independence. With the arrival of 78 Sqn and its similarly capable Wessex HC2s in 1965 26 Sqn was disbanded in November 1965 at Khormaksar and its Belvederes were transferred by the RN carrier HMS Albion to Singapore to reinforce 66 Sqn’s airframe numbers. Since 1963 66 Sqn had been providing excellent capability in Malaya, Borneo and Brunei. The latter had in 1963 involved an 800 mile self-ferry from Singapore to Brunei to support the successful suppression of a coup against the Sultan. The intensive Indonesian Confrontation battles between1963 and 1966 demanded maximum effort in demanding jungle conditions from the Belvedere as well as many other RAF and FAA helicopter and fixed wing sqns. With a successful end to the Indonesian Confrontation in 1966, 66 Sqn returned to Seletar and continued routine SH flying in support of the large UK Force presence in the Malaysian AOR.

 Plans were also in hand to replace its Belvederes with 15 Chinooks building on the tandem rotor advantages that the Belvedere had demonstrated despite its immature development, and high loss rate (10 of the 26 fleet having crashed), and resulting difficult fleet management issues given poor spares availability. Unfortunately, all came to nothing as HMG in 1967 decided to withdraw from all its Singapore bases by 1971 and other East of Suez bases apart from Hong Kong, and the Belvedere was withdrawn in 1969 altogether after less than 9 years RAF service and with no immediate replacement. 66 Sqn marked its disbandment with a 12 ship formation flypast around Singapore and Seletar. In all remaining operational theatres, including a reprieve for RAF helicopter operations in Singapore until 1975 (103 Sqn), the Wessex HC2 provided a more than suitable substitute in most respects for the Belvedere, and proving a much more robust, practical and safer aircraft to operate.

 Preservation: The following Bristol 192 Belvederes have been preserved:

The British helicopter Museum, Weston-Super-Mare: XG452 being restored and XG462 (Nose section only) on display.

Manchester Museum of Science & Industry; XG454 on display.

RAF Museum Hendon; XG474 on display.

 Versions Operated: HC1 (SH)


 26 Jun 62 - Nov 65

 66  Sep 61 - Mar 69

 72 Nov 61 - Aug 64

 Belvedere training units were:

 BTU Jul 60 - Sep 61 (to 66 Sqn)

 BCU Aug 64-Aug 66 (from 72 Sqn)

 SRCU Aug 66- 69










 As a schoolboy I visited the Science Museum in London, sometime around 1977. One of the things that caught my eye was the Spitfire hanging from the ceiling in the History of Flight gallery. I bought a post card of it as a souvenir, went home and promptly forgot all about it.

Wind the clock forward 12 years and I have now joined the RAF, qualified as a helicopter pilot and been posted to 72 Sqn at Aldergrove. In a bid to brighten up my bedroom in the Mess a few posters and postcard get stuck up on the walls – one of them being my Spitfire postcard.

 Around the same time I was given writing the F540 as my secondary duty. The current F540 was then a Secret document but the old F540, relating to the Squadron’s history in WW2, was by then only Confidential and it made really fascinating reading.

So where is this leading I hear you ask…

 A closer look at the reverse of my treasured Science Museum Spitfire postcard revealed that it had been a 72 Sqn aircraft during the Battle of Britain. It was mainly flown by FO Pigg. As I recall it survived the Battle of Britain but was written off later in the war. Operating out of a northern airfield (possibly Acklington) the pilot (possibly FO Pigg again) got hypoxic and became unconscious. When he came to the ground was looming and he had to virtually pull the wings off the aircraft to avoid crashing. The overstressing of the main spar resulted in the aircraft being grounded and somehow it ended up hanging from the ceiling in the Science Museum 35 years later. Sadly FO Pigg did not survive the war.

 I have not been to the Science Museum for many years and now live in Manchester. If a London-based Association member felt like popping into the Science Museum to see if ‘our’ Spitfire is still there, it would be most interesting to find out. Likewise if the current Officer in Charge of the Form 540 would like to go through the 1940/41 records and double check my account that would be helpful too.

Extract from Robert Deacon-Elliott Diary ref Spitfire in Science Museum.

 The 6 Jul incident I must record; although mentioned in the official history it lacks detail. PO Robson was No. 2 and I was No. 3, and thus responsible for operating ‘Pip Squeak’, (a transmitter usually operated by the No 3 of the section to enable Ops to track and vector the leader for an interception), in the C.O.’s red section when we were scrambled - my NEW machine would not start. So I quickly jumped into P9444 belonging to F/O Oswald Pigg.  I must digress here to explain that the rubber oxygen tubes - usually on one’s personal clothing card - were in extreme short supply.  By pooling them there were enough for one per aircraft but not one per pilot. The C.O. therefore directed that the tube should become part of the aircraft equipment and as a temporary measure a column was added to the Form 700 for this purpose. The cloud base was low and the tops unknown.

  On the way up flying through thick and very dark cloud and thus in tight formation to keep contact with the C.O.; he checked with us at about 10,000 feet for ‘oxygen on’ - this is when I discovered there was no tube in Oswald’s aircraft.  I felt all right so I went on, hoping we would soon be on top - this eventually was the case but not until we were at 20,000 feet.  I was still with the section but well astern - ‘Pip Squeak’ pushing out our position but now my vision was deteriorating. The two aircraft in front became four - then two - then four. That was it; the stick thrashing round in all directions and the effect of excessive “G” crumpled me down in the cockpit - but I was still able to transmit that I was spinning down completely out of control in thick cloud. I resigned myself to death and I so vividly recall that I was quite happy, content, and at peace with the world, with no vestige of fear. 

 At this stage the Lord must have taken over for after an undetermined lapse of time I found myself below cloud in pouring rain - very close to the ground and - fortunately - climbing rapidly. I thought I was over the Lammermuir Hills so I headed due east, turned south down the coast to Coquet Island and cut inland back to Acklington.  I noticed the flying characteristics of the plane were most peculiar - perfectly all right flying straight and level but skidded badly in turns. On landing a technical inspection revealed the aircraft to be buckled, twisted and corrugated to such a degree it was a complete write-off.  Supermarine technicians when stripping the Spit found the wing root bolts, which normally are straight, to be like little boomerangs. (They were of the opinion the aircraft had performed series of manoeuvres involving excessive “G” forces - almost to the limit of destruction.) 

 This aircraft I read was, and may still be, in a technical museum.  Oswald was furious at losing his beloved Spitfire - the C.O. was furious with Oswald for not complying with the instruction to leave his oxygen tube in the aircraft instead of having it sewn round his helmet. My feelings were a combination of fear, elation, delight and intense surprise to find myself still alive. That night Dutch, who was always so understanding, invited me to see a film, the name of which I forget, but I know it was starring Mickey Rooney. The results of the court of inquiry charged me with ‘rank disobedience for continuing to fly beyond a height of 15,000 feet knowing you had no oxygen.’

 Andy Cooper

Flt Lt (Ret)

72 Sqn 1988-1990






 As with most squadrons which were reformed during this expansion period the nucleus would be provided by air and ground crews from established squadrons; No 72 Sqn was no exception.  The squadron destined to provide that nucleus was No 1 Squadron, which at that time was equipped with the last of the line of sleek Hawker biplanes, the Fury.  The pilots of ?B? Flt, No 1 Sqn were initially not very keen to leave as it was rumoured that the squadron was to be shortly re-equipped with the new Hawker Hurricane.  Nevertheless, the flight commander, F/Lt EM Donaldson took his pilots to Gloster?s factory to collect the first Gladiator biplane fighters to join Fighter Command. Donaldson returned to No 1 Sqn after four months with 72 Sqn.  Over the following months the pilots became used to their new mounts and the ground crew became familiar with the servicing requirements.  

 72 Sqn shared Tangmere with three other fighter squadrons; 1, 43 and 87.  On Empire Air Day, 29 May 1937 all four squadron took part in a four hour flying display during which the crowds were thrilled by demonstrations of fighter interceptions, aerobatics, Air Drills and ground attacks.

 Finally, in June 1937, now commanded by S/Ldr EJ Hope, 72 Sqn moved to its permanent station at RAF Church Fenton in Yorkshire.  Here the squadron shared the airfield with No 213 Sqn, which was still operating the Gladiator?s predecessor from the Gloster stable, the Gauntlet. 

 72 Sqn adorned its shiny new Gladiators with gaudy bands of red and blue atop the upper wing and along the fuselage sides and took them to Farnborough in Hampshire for the 1937 Air Exercises.  In addition to the red/blue markings the Gladiators also were adorned with fin and wheel hubs painted variously red, yellow or blue to denote each flight commander?s aircraft.  Following this the squadron adopted the RAF peacetime routine and carried out training in individual pilot skills, formation flying and air gunnery from its base at Church Fenton.  The squadron lost one Gladiator on 23rd July 1937 when it crashed near Barnsley killing the pilot, P/O Philip Hughes Crompton.  The Gladiator was an improvement on the earlier biplane types in RAF service, though the enclosed cockpit was not universally popular with pilots brought up in the days of open cockpit flying, though they soon came to appreciate the protection the canopy provided from the elements.

 S/Ldr JBH Rogers replaced S/Ldr Hope as CO on 15 January 1938 and the squadron continued its training regime. Although a stable aircraft to fly the Gladiator could bite and the Squadron lost another aircraft and pilot when P/O Alfred Alexander Devany crashed his Gladiator on 7 February near Brough. Like all new types to service the Gladiator had some teething troubles and during firing practice in April 1938 the squadron had a few problems with holed propellers.

 Fine as the Gladiator was it was a product of a bygone era and the pilots of 72 Sqn could only look on in envy as other squadrons were re-equipped with modern Hurricanes, Spitfires and Blenheims. On 20 May 72 Sqn and 64 Sqn, which had replaced 213 at Church Fenton, put on a spirited air display at the station?s first Open Day. 29th June 1938 brought another loss to the Squadron when F/Lt William Forster Pharazyn was killed in a mid-air collision with another Gladiator.   

 No 72 Squadron?s shiny Gladiators soon lost their sparkle under a coat of camouflage paint and toned down roundels.  The overall silver was replaced with a dark green and dark earth disruptive camouflage pattern on the upper surfaces and the under surfaces split into equal halves of black and white.  72 Sqn busied itself with further training including a visit to Aldergrove in Northern Ireland for an armament training camp at No 2 ATS, utilising the extensive range facilities on the shores of Lough Neagh. 

 In April 1939, whilst the government began planning the ?call up?; compulsory military service, 72 Sqn at long last began to re-equip with modern aircraft in the form of the, soon to be world famous, Supermarine Spitfire.  The squadron immediately began working up to operational readiness, whilst keeping one eye on Hitler?s moves.

On 1 September the Germans began the invasion of Poland and the RAF went onto a war footing.  The government demanded the withdrawal of German forces from Poland and when the deadline for acceptance of the demand was reached on 3 September Britain and France declared war on Germany. 72 Sqn was ready and waiting.


K6130                                     From Manufacturer 22 Feb 37.  To 112 Sqn.

K6131                                     From Manufacturer 22 Feb 37.  Crashed and struck off charge 1 Jul 38.

K6132                                     From Manufacturer 22 Feb 37.  To Ouston.

K6133:F                                  Crashed in bad weather near Barmby, Yorks, 23 Jul 37.

K6134                                     To 112 Sqn

K6135                                     To 72 Sqn 1936.  To 112 Sqn

K6136                                     To 72 Sqn 1936.  To 112 Sqn

K6137                                     Force landed but repaired Aug 38.  To 607 Sqn.

K6138                                     To 112 Sqn

K6139                                     Collided with K6138 and crashed 29 Jun 38.

K6140                                     To 72 Sqn 1936.  To 112 Sqn

K6141                                     To 112 Sqn

K6142                                     To 72 Sqn 1936.  To 112 Sqn

K6143                                     From Manufacturer 12 Feb 1937.  To 112 Sqn Apr 39.

K6144                                     Abandoned in a spin and crashed at Monk Fryston, Yorks, 1 Dec 38.

K7893                                     From 3 Sqn.  To 80 Sqn.

K7897                                     From 3 Sqn. To 112 Sqn

K7898                                     From 3 Sqn.  To 607 Sqn.

K7922                                     To 72 Sqn.  To 112 Sqn

K7934                                     Hit high tension cables and crashed at Brough, 7 Feb 38.

K7954                                     From 3 Sqn.  To 112 Sqn.

K7963                                     From 3 Sqn.  To 112 Sqn.

K7964                                     To 72 Sqn.

K7969                                     From 85 Sqn.  To 112 Sqn.

K7974                                     From 87 Sqn.  To 112 Sqn.

K7977                                     From 87 Sqn.  To 112 Sqn.

K7978                                     From 87 Sqn.  To 112 Sqn


K7981:RN-D                          From 87 Sqn.  To instructional airframe1597M, Jul 39.

K7986                                     From 3 Sqn. To 112 Sqn.

K8004                                     To 72 Sqn.  To 615 Sqn

K8018                                     To 33 Sqn.

K8019                                     To 33 Sqn.


K8024                                     From 3 Sqn. To 112 Sqn.





All Mk IIs on brief loan from No 152 Sqn.


N5547                                     152 Sqn. Built as Sea Gladiator.

N5630                                     152 Sqn.

N5640                                     152 Sqn.

N5644                                     152 Sqn.

N5645                                     152 Sqn.

N5647                                     152 Sqn.

N5677                                     152 Sqn.










Over 100 years ago the First World War broke out. When the First World War commenced in 1914 the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was a very small part of the British Army and was equipped with a wide variety of flimsy biplanes used, in the main, for artillery spotting and reconnaissance.  By 1917 the RFC was a very different organisation and had grown from the original small number of squadrons to over 100 operating some of the most advanced aircraft of the period. In just a few years time, in 2017, 72 Sqn will celebrate its 100th anniversary. 

It was into this expanded and still expanding RFC that No 72 Squadron was formed on 2 July 1917.  Commanded by Capt HW Von Poellnitz, the squadron was based at Upavon in Wiltshire and was equipped with Avro 504 trainers it had brought with it?s nucleus of men and equipment from ?A? Flight of the Central Flying School.  The squadron had a training role at this point and soon added the highly regarded Sopwith Pup to its inventory, training scout pilots for the Western Front.  The squadron moved to Netheravon and then to Sedgeford in Norfolk where it began preparations to move to Mesopotamia for operations against the Turks. 

After a long journey by land and sea the squadron arrived in Basra and was joined by seventeen flying officers from Egypt.  The squadron received two types of aircraft as

its equipment; the monoplane Bristol M1C, which despite official prejudice, proved itself to be a very successful fighter type, and the Martinsyde G.100 Elephant, a slow but forgiving fighter/reconnaissance type.  It was with these two types that the squadron fought a successful campaign in support of the army. 

With the formation of the Royal Air Force (RAF) 72 Sqn continued to serve in Persia, Mirjana and Samarra, before being recalled to Baghdad, where it was reduced at a cadre in February 1919. By September 1919 the rapid run down of the RAF was in full swing and amongst those to disband was No 72 Squadron on 22 September 1919.












            On March 24, 1944 a sharp stick poked up through the turf into the cold darkness of an eastern German night.  It was followed shortly afterwards by a man?s head, 70 years ago The Great Escape was underway.  This is the story of one of the escapers, Al Hake, the compass maker. 

Albert Horace Hake, known as Al, was born on June 30, 1916 in Haberfield , Sydney, New South Wales (NSW), Australia.  He went to school in the local area and found that his greatest talent was in technical drawing and metalwork.  After his schooling he put his skills to use as a craftsman and apprentice engineer with an air-conditioning firm and although this was fine for a few years Al aspired to greater things and dreamt one day about starting his own air-conditioning firm.  Early in 1940 he met and fell in love with a girl named Noela Horsefall.  Al had applied to join the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in May 1940 and was enrolled in the RAAF Reserves in Sydney on July 22, 1940.  On January 4, 1941 he was called up to begin training and was posted to No 1 Initial Training School at RAAF Somers in Victoria.  At the completion of his initial training he took 4 days leave and Married Noela on March 1, 1941.  This was just days before he reported to No 3 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) at Essendon on the outskirts of Melbourne, Victoria.  Al started his flying training on the De-Havilland DH-82 Tiger Moth as a lowly Aircraftman on three shillings a day ? 15 pence in today?s money! 

He proved an able student and went solo for 20 minutes on March 27, 1941 after just 9 hrs 45 mins dual flying.  He continued on the Tiger Moth until April 27, 1941 when he completed the course and was assessed as Above Average.  He was then posted to No. 2 Service Flying Training School (SFTS), which was based at RAAF Station Forest Hill near Wagga Wagga, NSW, and operated the Commonwealth Aircraft Company Wirraway aircraft.  He successfully completed the course and was assessed as an Average pilot and was awarded his wings on June 26, 1941.  In July he moved to the Advanced Training Squadron still on the Wirraway and he graduated from that course on Aug 20, 1941.  His total service flying was now 165 hrs 20 mins and he had been promoted to Sergeant with a salary of 16 shillings a day and four shillings flying pay ? one pound Sterling in today?s money.           

Al was granted eight days leave but soon had to report to No 2 Embarkation Depot at RAAF Bradfield Park (now known as Lindfield) NSW to be kitted out and given the necessary jabs and medicals before setting sail. On  September 7, 1941, the airmen were put aboard the Athlone Castle, an old luxury liner bound for England.  Arriving in Scotland, the airmen were moved to No 3 Personnel Reception Centre based at Bournemouth in the south of England on October 26, 1941 and from there to No 53 Operational Training Unit (OTU) on November 18, 1941 at RAF Heston to the west of London near Hounslow to learn to fly the Supermarine Spitfire. 

Al?s first flight in England was on November 21, 1941 in Miles Master B8698 with Pilot Officer Bolton for 35 mins and after just 20 mins dual the next day he went solo on his third trip.  A local area recce in a Dragon Rapide followed, then after one more solo and one more dual sortie in the Master, he flew his first trip in a Spitfire Mk1 H4163 on November 26, 1941 for 1 hr 25 mins.  Through December 1941 and January 1942 he continued with formation, cross country and aerobatics followed by air gunnery and forced landing practice until he completed the course on January 13, 1942 with an Above Average assessment and a total of six hours on the Miles Master and 38 hrs 30 mins on the Spitfire.  Al was posted to No 72 Squadron at Gravesend and he had his first flight with the unit in Spitfire Mk Vb ?Echo? AB283 which was followed by some air to air combat practice using a camera gun and some section attack practices for the rest of January.  Al took part in his first operational flight on February 8, 1942 in a convoy patrol over the Thames Estuary when nothing of interest was seen.  He then flew almost daily to improve his flying skills and repeated the convoy patrol again on the February 16, 1942 with the same disappointing ?nil seen? result.  His quiet operational trips continued with a Practice Wing Sweep over north east of Dover twice in one day on the February 24, 1942 but this quiet period came to an end on the February 28, 1942 when, on a high cover for a Ramrod escort of six Bristol Blenheim bombers who were attacking a submarine in dry dock at Ostend, the formation came under light attack and withdrew with one damaged on each side.  At the end of the month he had flown 22 hrs 10 mins with 6 hrs 50 mins on operations.  On March 3, 1942 he took part in another fruitless offensive sweep from Beachy Head to Berck then Hardelot and return via Boulogne and Dungeness.  This trip was repeated by the Wing on March 8, 1942 but Al had engine trouble and had to return early.  He quickly turned himself around and in the afternoon took part in another trip escorting six Douglas Bostons to Abbeville marshalling yards when they met only light flak and no air opposition.  The March 9, 1942 brought another quiet convoy patrol over Shoeburyness then in Spitfire Vb AB848 came Al?s first major action on March 13, 1942 when escorting 11 Bostons on Circus 114 to Hazebrook marshalling yards in the middle of the afternoon.  Heavy enemy action was encountered both from the ground and in the air with the Wing claiming eight enemy aircraft destroyed for the loss of seven RAF aircraft, fortunately none from 72 Squadron.  The following day he was in action again on an escort to six Bostons who bombed an armed cruiser in the Le Harve area but apart from flak there was no aerial opposition.  The same ?nil opposition? applied to his next trip on a fighter sweep over St Omer flown out of Biggin Hill as this sortie had been preceded by a mass formation over London for the ?Warships Week?.  On April 3, 1942 Al escorted a Blenheim of the Calibration Flight over the English Channel and met no opposition but this was the last ops trip that he returned from.  On April 4, 1942 he took part in another escort operation in Spitfire Vb AB258, and the details from the Squadron Operational Record show that ? ?72 Squadron provided high cover to 12 Bostons with the Biggin Hill Wing to St Omer railway station. They were attacked by enemy aircraft south of St Omer.  WO Robillard destroyed one FW190 and damaged a second. PO Kitchen probably damaged one Me109.  FL Gillespie, Sgt Hake (Blue 1 and 2), and Sgt Watson failed to return.  PO Kitchen pranged at Biggin but was unharmed.? 

When he was shot down Al Hake had a total flying time of 255 hrs 45 mins with 16 hrs 40 mins operational.  The details of his ?posted missing? sortie were later revealed in a letter from his friend John Hannan to Noela dated June 4, 1942, after word had been received  that he was safe as a Prisoner of War (POW).  In it John praised Al for being a wonderful fighter pilot and although a quiet sort of chap he would always talk about his beautiful wife and how much he missed her.  He wrote ?Apparently from what I can gather, his machine was hit by anti-aircraft shells smashing the propeller.  As he attempted to get home in his crippled Spitfire he was attacked by five of the Huns? new fighters ? Focke-Wulfes.  Five to one badly damaged Spitfire is just about the odds the Hun boys like.  He fought back and shot one down before receiving the final blow.  He collected a bullet through his scarf and one through the leg of his trousers and his engine was set on fire.  He continued to fight until, injured slightly by shrapnel and burns he was forced to bail out at 300 feet which is absolutely the minimum safety height for a parachute to operate.?  He went on to say that he was sure that Al would be alright in the POW camp as he was a resourceful and determined chap and the war would be over and he would be back with her soon.  He offered to do anything he could to help them both and said that Al was a great loss to the RAF.  Finally he said not to take any notice of the newspaper reports that Al has given an interview to the German radio stations decrying the war as this was a common ploy to upset relatives and make them doubt their loved ones in captivity.  This account of him being shot down is borne out by one of Al?s first letters from Stalag Luft III at Sagan where he was taken after landing close to a German troop depot and having his wounds tended at a nearby military hospital.  The fire had destroyed his rank insignia and the Germans thought that as a Spitfire pilot he must be a commissioned officer and not a newly promoted Warrant Officer, as was the case.  However, Al was not going to tell them any different as he hoped for better treatment as an officer than an NCO.  He wrote a letter to Noela on April 15, 1942 in which he said ?I feel sad ending up like this darling, being a prisoner of war is quite jolly and you won?t have to worry about my health as before.  That I am alive now is a miracle.  When I think of the events which landed me here I have to punch myself to be sure that I am whole.  I was wearing your scarf and pullover so nothing really drastic could happen dear.  -  I was hit by flak and then shot down by five fighters over France on April 4th; caught fire and had to bail out at 300 feet.  However, I got one which evens up my loss. ? May God protect you as he does me.? 

The Squadron adjutant applied for Al to be admitted as a member of the Caterpillar Club as he had survived bailing out of his aircraft using an Irvine parachute and, after some production delays, Noela received the gold silkworm tiepin and membership card in August 1943.  Over the next year his letters showed how life as a POW was not all bad as he had a vegetable garden to tend and was learning to play the banjo and ukulele and there were lots of classes to attend if one wanted to go to them.  In early 1943 Squadron Leader Roger Bushell started planning a mass escape using tunnels.  Big ?X? as Roger Bushell was known, had already noticed that Al had a talent for making small useful items for other POWs so asked him to join his helpers.  Soon Al had set up a compass factory in Block 103 using Bakelite from melted down 78 rpm records to make the compass cases and for the compass needles he used slivers of razor blades that had been magnetised.  The covers were made from broken window glass and the solder to hold it together came from the seals of tin cans received in the Red Cross parcels.  Ironically, Al stamped all his compasses with the inscription ?Made in Stalag Luft III? so that if any prisoners were recaptured they would not be shot as spies.  Al was just one of many prisoners helping to prepare for the escape as travel documents, passes, train tickets, money, maps, clothes, food and a host of other items that were needed to give them a good chance of getting away and at the peak of the work about 30 men were involved directly on the tunnels and a further 300 on making escape equipment and getting rid of all the sand from the tunnels.  Al contributed about 200 compasses to this great endeavour but could not tell Noela anything about what was being planned. 

He was cheered up in March 1943 when he heard that she had won £1000 in a lottery draw and told her to keep it all for herself so that she could feel independent but in the same letter he expressed concerns about her house purchase plans and told her that he had ?had it? with POW life in general.  He moved to a new compound in April 1943 with only six to a room and the ability to wash indoors but this appears to not have removed his depression as in May he received eight letters at once and in his reply told her that she must not think his letters ?unfeeling for two reasons, one the censorship and two my fluctuating temperament? in the camp environment.  Life for all POWs was not easy to bear mentally and must have been even harder for a young man who had married only months before being shipped across to the other side of the world to fight and then to be shot down and captured before he could make his mark.  In a letter he sent in June 1943 he asked her to send him a new pair of trousers, but he emphasises that it must be in ?officer?s material and to make up the rest of the next parcel with razor blades, toothpaste and chocolate.?  Noela did not know it but she was helping to provide materials for Al to make his compasses.  All the time the tunnels were being dug and the escape equipment was piling up in stores all around the camp.  At first three tunnels were started, Tom, Dick and Harry but Tom was soon discovered and Dick was used to get rid of spoil dug out from Harry and to store some of the escape items ready for the big day. 

His preparation for the escape is referred to obliquely in his October 31, 1943 letter in which he says ?Been keeping busy lately taxing my inventive genius by designing and making all sorts of Heath Robinson gadgets, my latest being a quick heating coffee percolator.?  For the past few months he had been making compasses for the escape and in February 1944 he told Noela ?all my time this month has been taken up making a working model of a patent device for a New Zealand Wing Commander.  The idea promises big things for the future.?  Was this something truly for their future after the War or a reference to the escape preparations? 

The tunnel Harry was finally ready by early March 1943 but the escapers needed a moonless night and the next suitable dates would be March 23, 24, and 25.  March 25, 1943 was a Sunday and all the trains would be restricted so the Escape Committee settled for the March 24, 1944.  In his letter of March 1944 Al told Noela that ?I had my usual cold shower this morning and pottered around without dressing properly despite six inches of snow that fell in the night.  Well damn it all, I?ll be home for our next anniversary darling.  Until then remember, I love you always, cheerio pal, Albert.? 

On the night of March 24, 1944 the escapers congregated in hut 104 where the entrance to Harry was concealed under a stove and at 2100 hrs the first man broke through the turf above the end of the tunnel only to find that the exit was ten feet short of the woods.  A rope was tied from the top of the shaft to a tree and one man lay at the exit; when the guard was furthest away a man in the woods would give on a pull on the rope to signal the next man to exit the tunnel and follow the rope to the cover of the woods.  This delayed the start till almost 2200 hrs and the men waiting in the tunnel caused minor collapses that needed clearing.  Further delay was caused by an RAF bombing raid passing close by that caused the camp to switch off the security lights, and as the tunnel was lit from the camp electric supply this meant the escapers had to light fat lamps which caused more panic among the waiting POWs underground.  It was now clear that the plan to get 200 escapers out of the tunnel was not going to work so the Escape Committee decided to close the tunnel at 0500 hrs but at 0445 hrs the guards spotted someone exiting the tunnel and raised the alarm.  A total of 76 prisoners had managed to get away but the rest retreated back to hut 104 and tried to burn or destroy as much material as possible, those caught red-handed spent a long time in solitary confinement.

Al was among those who got out before the tunnel was discovered and stumbling across the snowy landscape he managed to evade capture until the 29 March when he was caught and brought back to Sagan suffering from severe frost-bite.  He had had a very rough time and soon afterwards along with others was removed to Gorlitz prison where the other recaptured POWs tried to alleviate his frost-bite.  The day after the escape Hitler gave personal orders that every recaptured officer was to be shot, but several high ranking German officers told Hitler that this might bring about reprisals to German pilots in captivity. Hitler agreed, but insisted "more than half" were to be shot, so Himmler, as Chief of State Security, fixed the total at 50. Orders were also given that the murdered POWs were to be cremated and their remains returned to the camp as a deterrent to further escapes. The general orders were that recaptured officers would be turned over to the Criminal Police, and fifty would be handed to the Gestapo to be killed.

As the prisoners were captured, they were interrogated for any useful information, and taken out by car, usually in small parties of two at a time, on the pretext of returning them to their prison camp. Their Gestapo escorts would stop them in the country and invite the officers to relieve themselves. The prisoners were then shot at close range from behind. The bodies were left for retrieval, after which they were cremated and returned to Stalag Luft III.  Albert Norman Hake was seen being taken from the Gorlitz prison and put into a dark car and driven away to be murdered by Dr Wilhelm Scharpwinkel, head of Breslau Gestapo, and his associate Lux on March 30, 1944.  The man renowned for lively renditions of songs, including Waltzing Matilda, on banjo at Stalag Luft III, was never seen alive again.

His remains were cremated at Gorlitz and then returned to Sagan where they were interned in a memorial created by the prisoners that was designed by Flight Lieutenant W W Todd, who had been an architect before the War, and was made to take all fifty of the urns.  They were place inside and there was dedication service on December 1, 1944 attended by 30 British POWs and the German camp adjutant.  A short service was conducted by a Catholic and a Protestant padre and the last post was sounded on a bugle.  The outrage felt by the POWs on learning of the executions was demonstrated by the whole camp wearing a black armband to remember those who had been shot, even if this meant cutting up their last pair of black socks.  When the facts became more widely known a post-War hunt was started for the perpetrators and a team of 19 RAF personnel worked for three years to bring them to justice.  They identified 72 men who were guilty of murder or conspiracy to murder and were able to account for 69 of them.  Twenty one were tried and executed, 17 were imprisoned and 11 committed suicide.  Some had been killed in the war and some were presumed dead with just seven untraced.  Scharpwinkel was taken by the Russians who refused to co-operate with the Allied investigation and he disappeared after making a statement in Moscow in August 1946.  The Russians said he had died in 1947 but he was believed to have found a high position in the Soviet administration.  Lux died in the fighting around Breslau at the end of the war.  Of the 76 POWs who got out through the tunnel, 73 were recaptured and 50 of those were murdered; three made ?home runs?, Peter Bergsland and Jens Muller, both Norwegian, travelled back to England via Sweden and Bob van der Stock, a Dutchman, made it to England via Spain. 

It is of no consequence that Al Hake was shot down and captured after flying only 16 hrs in operations following many months of training; what matters is that a young man with his whole future ahead of him volunteered to train and fight as a pilot against the Nazis for his King and Commonwealth country; that he left his young wife of only a few short months to cross the world to carry his fight to the enemy; that he acquitted himself in combat and, but for an unlucky flak shell hitting his propeller, he may have gone on to be a great fighter pilot; that he endured years of confinement as a POW and that he took part, using his skills and inventive flare, to prepare essential items to aid other escapers; and finally, after escaping,  his life was taken in a cowardly execution by the Gestapo under Hitler?s direct order.  Noela never recovered from his loss and never remarried, she died February 27, 2004.  The remains of Albert Norman Hake are buried in Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery ? Plot 7.D.4.  On June 8, 1944 Albert Hake was Mentioned in Dispatches for distinguished service.  

I am indebted to Jude Preen and the other members of Al Hakes family for access to a wealth of documents and photographs and especially for their permission for me to write this very personal story of one of the Great Escapers.


E J Mannings

72 Sqn Historian







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 Leeds.’  At first I could not see the relevance or ‘join up the dots’, however, all became clear.

 Harold and Elsie Booth bought 24 Shadwell Walk, Moortown, Leeds in 1946 and on Elsie’s death in 1958, Harold married Audrey Violet Wilkinson in May 1959.  Harold died in 1974 and Audrey remarried Bernard Stanley Sutcliff of 9 Shadwell Walk in 1977.  Bernard died in 1989 and Audrey died in 2011.  Neither of the last two occupants was directly related to Harold and Elsie Booth’s son, Geof, who had died in 1943 whilst serving in the RAF and there were no relatives of the last owners nearby who had any interest in the house contents.  When Dr Phil Gamlen and Toby Gamlen bought the house in Jun 2012 the property was cleared by the agents, however, in the loft they found a box of personal mementos that included photo albums, diaries and family birth, marriage and death certificates.  Dr Gamlen tried to find a living relative of the Booths to pass them on to but was not successful and was told by the solicitors to dispose of them as he wished.  Hence the letter offering Geof Booth’s album and collection of aircraft postcards to the Sqn for our archives, which I duly collected.  I then discovered the information below on Geof’s life.

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 America and taking them to Murmansk and Archangel, the hard-pressed Soviets and Gibraltar. This was a highly physical and uncomfortable task, apart from also being very scary. The ships were constantly attacked by U Boat packs and aircraft. When they were in range of the latter, if they launched the Hurricane they knew they would ultimately have to bail out and hope to be picked up by either a friendly escort vessel or a sunken ships lifeboat.

 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 Northumbria, not far from RAF Acklington (now HM Prison). 

 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 Singapore. My logbook from those days reads like a copy of the Phillips All the World Atlas that we used to be given in school when I was a child. Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Karachi, Tokyo, Fiji, Tonga and a whole alphabet of other exotic locations appear regularly on the list of scheduled flights we made. On any day of the year our squadron’s aircraft could be found anywhere between Cyprus and the west coast of the USA, from Korea and Japan in the North to New Zealand in the south. It was not impossible to log a thousand flying hours per annum and some crews got more than that. Most people got their clothes made by Samtani’s tailors, or Charm’s, in Hong Kong and had a favourite bar in Bangkok, a girlfriend in Manila and could recommend good hotels in virtually every capital city in the Far East.

 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 Far East. During the flight, monitors watched everything we did to check that we worked exactly to regulations. One of them started talking to me in a quiet moment and asked what I’d do when the squadron folded. I said I’d probably go onto Shackletons and then get out as soon as possible afterwards. He said “Why not try helicopters?” I said “What they?” or something similar and he said I should give it a try at least.

 About a fortnight later, I was told I’d been posted “Supernumerary to Course Number Whatever” at RAF Odiham for Wessex helicopters. Stumped to think of what one of those was, I braved the 90% humidity and 110 degrees of the Changi afternoon and strolled across to the Education Section where I borrowed a copy of Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft K to Z and looked up Westland Wessex. There was a picture of something that looked like a cross between a flat-bottomed barge and a Kenwood Mixer, with a touch of Boston Pug thrown in to improve its looks. Four weeks later I was faced with the beast itself, in all its camouflaged glory and I still could not work out, for the life of me, how it could possibly fly!

 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 Wessex did actually look more like a fish than an aircraft, didn’t it? Not long after I joined the SRCU I was sitting in the crewroom, alone, when the CO looked in and asked me whether I was doing anything. I said no, I wasn’t and he said “OK, nip out there and get in the left hand seat of that aircraft. The pilot is just going to do his first solo”. Booted, suited and helmeted, I did as I was told. The young pilot appeared, rather stressed looking and hot in the face and we climbed aboard. He started her up, asked if I thought everything was OK, I said it was and we took off for the first of three timed circuits. After the first two he landed, wiped his face, asked me if it was all OK and then took off again. Finally we landed, shut down as the aircraft wasn’t needed any more that day and climbed out. He was visibly relieved and delighted that I thought he’d done so well. Then he asked me how many hours I had on the Wessex. I said “None. This is the first time I’ve been airborne in one!” and he virtually collapsed in terror. I often think about that trip.

 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 Britain, and worked with very nearly every regiment of the British army. I went on exercises all over Britain, in Norway, Denmark, and Germany and did detachments to Cyprus and Northern Ireland. I learned to be comfortable in a 12 by 12 tent in winter, and how to make a palatable meal out of a tin of compo-rations and a spoonful of curry powder. I was a member of the team who ferried three aircraft down to Nicosia in Cyprus at the start of the UN detachments in Cyprus which could easily make a story in its own right, and I was one of the first 72 Sqn crewmen on the ground in Aldergrove when we were deployed there at the outbreak of the Troubles again in ’69.

 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 Midlands and the die was cast.

 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 Krakow Squadron” aka “The 72nd Fleet of Foot and Light of Finger”. No, don’t ask me why. They were just nicknames. The sight of Stonehenge looming through the summer mist as we flew across Salisbury Plain at first light. The clear outlines of the remains of long-lost villages in the sun-dried fields, and the scintillating snow-clad hills of the Lake District in winter.  The panorama of the Norwegian fjords spread out below as we hovered at ten thousand feet (Yes. We did) Roaring across the fields of northern Germany in a group of three, and saying “Here comes Alec” as another Wessex began to pass us very low down. “How do you know it’s Alec?” asked my pilot. I looked again and said “Because he’s the only pilot I know who leave wheel-marks in the grass” And again, yes. He did.

 There was a delight to be had in simply sitting in the doorway of a Wessex as it made its sedate way over the patchwork of the countryside, even when number 5 bearing of the starboard engine failed and you found your legs frying in discharged engine-oil. And the day when, with an aircraft full of troops, there was a loud bang and a seagull that had hit the oleo-leg filled the cabin with a million white feathers and a similar number of avian body-parts, shredded small. A bit like that scene in “Apocalypse Now” when a stray shot ignites a flare in the cabin and everyone except the mad colonel hits “panic” at the same moment.

 I remember creeping through the mountains over the heel of Italy in low cloud and fog on a January day en route to Corfu during the ferry trip to Cyprus. Supplying the Finns on top of the mountain ranges in deep snow, with them unloading the aircraft while clad in sandals and shirtsleeve order. There are hundreds of other images in my mind, too, but no space in which to tell about them. Some other time, maybe?

 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.



 Erik Mannings

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.


North Weald memories

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Dramatic Escape


 Steve Clow



 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.

North Africa




 Darryl Briggs

 “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? Norway? Russia?  Some lads could even see their homes from the Clyde. My biggest shock was the toilets – for washing we were issued a bar of salt water soap, no hot water.  The toilet was communal and believed origin was ancient Rome.  It consisted of a very long plank with holes along its length suspended above a long torrent of rushing water.

 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 Bay of Biscay life on board was more lively.  Complexions turned from rosy to grey, vomit was everywhere, some spending long periods on the plank, which was extremely busy.  If bacon was on for breakfast it caused a renewed rush to more contemplation of the torrent.  We did lose one overboard but the ship was not allowed to stop so just guess as to his fate.

 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 Morocco on the right and of Spain on the left as we threaded the ‘Pillars of Hercules’ – a lovely target for U-boats.  So, Algiers, Arabian nights, romance and magic beckoned us from a heavy sea and a grey day.

 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 Algiers.  I bought some ‘Evening in Paris’; well we’d be back by Christmas! Later fortified by wine, and considerably sobered after seeing the toilets; a square with two places for feet and a pile of crap resembling a termite structure, was somewhat disheartening.  Three of us thought we would get a good nights rest on some stone steps leading to the beach.  It was cold and in the small hours the tide came in and flushed us out.  Soon dried out in the hot sun, we met up and marched to HMS Bicester, a Hunt Class destroyer.  So, with two other destroyers we were on our way again.  I was impressed by the speed. In the stern we seemed to be below the sea’s surface on account of the huge bow wave as she sliced through the sea.  We landed at Phillipville much nearer the front and from here joined the excursion at the railhead.

 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 Kasserine Pass and ‘Tiny’ assembled us all in the mess with the immortal words; “If Rommel continues his offensive we will all be up shit creek without a paddle.  Hint of destroying everything and be prepared”.  However, it didn’t come to that the usual strafing, the odd bomb, in fact, normalcy.

 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 Tunis we had a field day in an aircraft graveyard.  Several Ju 52 mail planes full of mail.  Got some really valuable postcards showing Hitler, Mussolini and the Duke of Aosta, later taken by burglars back home.  In Tunis, in the queue for brothels were, amongst others, certain of our officers – still who knew what lay ahead. Another interlude was the great line of prisoners with hardly any guards.  Men of the Afrika Korps.




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 (Elementary & Reserve Flying Training School) at Brough. He had his first solo flight after 4 hours 15 minutes. The next step was further training at Uxbridge, where 'bull' was very much in fashion and pounding parade grounds and skewering sacks with bayonets was believed to be essential in producing good pilots. After four weeks he was gazetted as an 'Acting Pilot Officer on Probation'.


 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 Dunkirk evacuation with 66

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 London, during which time one of the biggest German air raids of the war appeared - 350 bombers escorted by 600 fighters. The 66 Squadron pilots were left to observe, from the Catford Dog Racing Stadium, a great tumult with deafening noise as 20 squadrons of Hurricanes and Spitfires tore into the German host.


 The squadron was soon reassigned to Gravesend, as part of the Biggin Hill Wing, which was also comprised of 74 Squadron, commanded by 'Sailor' Malan and 92 squadron, both of which were stationed at Biggin. There was plenty of action over the next few days and Bobby shot down a Dornier 17 over Seaford in Sussex. First claimed as 'damaged', it was confirmed the next day by the Royal Observers Corp as crashed off Beachy Head (oddly enough this one doesn't show on his service record). On September 15 he shot down another Dornier and damaged two Heinkel 111s. On September 18 he destroyed one Me 109 and damaged another. September 24 he destroyed another Heinkel 111. September 27 he shot down an Me 110 and damaged a Dornier 215. September 30 another Me 109 met its fate at the hands of Bobby Oxspring. On October 5 he destroyed another Me 109 and further Me 109 on October 13. Numbers 66 and 92 Squadrons engaged a flight of Me 109s; Bobby shot one down and saw the pilot bale out. Forty years later he was introduced to that pilot, Leutnant Erich Bodendiek, a member of Jagdgeschwader 53, the famous 'Pik As' (Ace of Spades) Group. He had been flying a modified 109 with variable pitch prop, which had stuck at a fixed angle restricting his speed enough to prevent his escape to cloud cover. After all this successful action the moment Bobby had been dreading, but banished to the back of his mind, was approaching…On October 15 he was shot down. At the time he was leading B flight on a standing patrol over Maidstone, when six Me 109Es were spotted flying line abreast. With superior height advantage the six Spitfires, led by Bobby, tore down on them. Having selected his victim he chased him down. On the assumption that the other 5 Me 109Es had been selected by the other five Spitfires he continued the chase. In Bobby's own words, "We were creaming downhill and I could feel the high speed buffeting on the elevators and the ailerons stiffening up….when all hell broke loose." He had been violently hit and all directional control of the aircraft had gone. His struggle to bale out was prolonged and at one point he passed out. Eventually succeeding in leaving the Spitfire, he found his parachute rigging twisted, deploying  the canopy to only half its proper area. All his efforts brought a slight improvement, but two other parachutists who had been well below were soon above him!

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 Kent & Sussex General Hospital, where in his own words, "The super medical staff gave me a sympathetic going over, produced a most welcome four fingers of brandy and pronounced me fit for another adventure."


 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 London was continuing unabated. Night fighters were not effectively stemming the flow of German bombers. Finding targets in the dark for the RAF fighters was very difficult. As Bobby said, "I once saw the glow of engine exhausts beneath me, but when I turned to follow they melted into the blackness". The weather brightened up in February 1941 and long range sweeps to North West France were being made from Biggin Hill. On one of these Bobby narrowly escaped being shot down in an action with two 109s and his final "squirt" at one of the disappearing 109s was probably his last serious action for some time. Late in winter of 1941 66 Squadron was assigned to Exeter. As Bobby said, "We were very sorry to leave the activity and camaraderie of Biggin Hill only to be dumped into a relatively inactive West Country area".


 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 Carlisle, as an instructor Canadians were flooding in, who urgently needed training on Hurricanes. One aspect of this period Bobby Oxspring was able to remember with pride was that two of his students went on to become wing leaders: George Keefer and Wally Conrad who, between them, accounted for 20 German aircraft shot down over the Western Desert and Europe. Bobby had been told that he wouldn't be returned to operational duties for a year, but late in the summer, after letter-writing and desperate pleading, he managed to get a posting to 616 Squadron in Group 11. His appointment was to fill the vacancy of flight commander for B flight, with Johnnie Johnson being flight commander of A flight. Bobby became a great admirer of Johnnie, both as a pilot and as a gentleman. His time with 616 Squadron at Westhampnett was very short-lived:

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 Dieppe. He was to be replaced by South African, Piet Hugo, but on his arrival Bobby got the mumps and was never to fly with him. After finishing his sick leave he was promoted to command 91 Squadron at Hawkinge.


 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 Brest, but if word got out that they were being moved to a less vulnerable port, operation 'Fuller' was the code word for immediate counter-action to be mounted by the Navy and Air Force. However, communication was so atrocious that the word never got down to Group 11. When Biggin Hill controller, Bill Igoe reported extreme activity in the Somme estuary, Bobby Oxspring selected Sergeant Beaumont and took off with him to investigate. They ran into three large ships, whose flak guns started firing at them; they also spotted two Spitfires firing at German E-boats in the outer screen. Realising the urgency of this information and not knowing the code word 'Fuller', Bobby broke radio silence to report back to Biggin Hill. This was not acted on. On landing Sergeant Beaumont, who had served in the RAF Marine Section, was convinced that one the ships was the Scharnhorst. Unfortunately the AOC of 11 Group, Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory was away and without the code word no one took them seriously. Thirty minutes later the two Spitfires they had seen attacking the E-boats, landed with the same story. Eventually after many delays the various commands were alerted. But by that time it was too late.The British sea and air blockade had been well and truly broken. Adolf Galland, who was responsible for the German air cover, admitted years later that he couldn't understand why (but was no doubt very grateful) British counter measures had taken a whole hour after they must have known the ships were on the move.


 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 Beachy Head, Bill warned them of unidentified plots. Very soon they were attacked by two Spitfires and in spite of Bobby's desperate manoeuvre of flying head on at one of them, the other succeeded in shooting down Dicky Barwell. In a previous flying accident Dicky had broken his back, but had continued flying encased in plaster, which consequently restricted his movement. He came down in the Channel…no trace of him was ever found. A subsequent enquiry revealed that of the two pilots, one was on his first operational flight, the other on his second…neither being competent enough to recognise a Spitfire even at closest possible quarters. The loss of a very popular commander in such circumstances was a great blow to Biggin Hill. In WW2 about one-third of all air losses, on both sides, were caused by accidents or 'friendly fire'.

 Gordon Wright








 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 North Africa. The standard of his work during this period has been consistently high. Recently his section created a new low record in gun stoppages with belt feed cannons. Warrant Officer Norton's skill and excellent control of his section have undoubtedly contributed materially to the operational success of his squadron."








 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 ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ as I had many hours of cutting, digging and assembly and as I got more proficient I added more sumps and junctions to carry the water a respectful distance from the source.  It was a success!

 Future archaeology bods, 1,000 year on, will puzzle over what the primitive tribe was getting at!



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