I was born in Stalybridge, Cheshire in 1921 and at the age of 18 years I entered regular RAF service before the outbreak of world war two as a Ground Staff Mechanic. After initial basic training I completed my technical training as a Mechanic at RAF Locking. Before going on to servicing fighter aircraft at 46 M.U.RAF Lossiemouth I spent a short time assisting in the Watch Office (later named Flying Control). While there I met Amy Johnson (of England to Australia fame) she was one of the many female pilots flying with Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). Also during this time a German Heinkel 111 was shot down by Base Ground Defence and the crew given a full military funeral. The fighter aircraft I serviced during the Battle of Britain included Hurricanes, Defiants and Beaufighters. Shortly afterwards I received an overseas posting where embarkation was delayed by Luftwaffe bombing action at Liverpool. We were instead taken to Glasgow where heavy air raids had taken place earlier, to embark on the ‘Capetown Castle’.
In addition to heavy German air activity there was also sea activity by the Germans at this time. It was known that the German naval ships ‘Bismarck’ and ‘Prinz Eugen’ had recently left their Norwegian bases to attack Allied shipping. We had joined a number of other ships at the mouth of the River Clyde to enable us sail in convoy. Due to expected heavy naval action all troops were kept below decks; the naval battle action resulting in both HMS Hood and the Bismarck being sunk. Thereafter we sailed without major incidents on our way to the Far East.
Reaching the Indian Ocean, our convoy split up with each ship making for various destinations. We discovered our specific destination was Singapore where we docked at the end of July 1941. I discovered that Singapore was a busy flying boat base for ‘Empire’ Flying Boats of Australian Qantas Line and ‘Clippers’ of Pan American Airways. The adjoining RAF base was originally a swamp which had been filled in with soil and became No.243 Fighter Squadron RAF Kallang, whose purpose was to protect Singapore. I became an LAC Airframe Mechanic on 243 Squadron, and while serving at RAF Kallang there was a service request for volunteers to apply for aircrew training.. I made application but before being accepted I was hospitalised in the Alexandra Military Hospital, Singapore with an ear infection. The time was now the end of 1941 and it was considered vital to have this ear infection cleared before being accepted as an Aerial Gunner. On 10th December 1941 HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales were sunk by the Japanese to the north east of Singapore and tension was now mounting in the Far East. Flt Lieutenant Tim Vigers ‘A’ Flight Commander of 243 Squadron led the belated flight of ‘Buffalo’ fighter aircraft to the assistance of HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse to no avail, and they were sunk in the South China Sea off Kuantan. Malaysia.
The sinking of HMS Prince of Wales had a special significance as during my period in hospital a new C.O. for 243 Squadron, Sq Ldr Frank Howell, (former B. of B. Pilot) was en route for Singapore and was a passenger on board ‘Prince of Wales.’ Although 326 people were lost Sq Ldr Howell was one of the survivors and on recovering eventually took over command of 243 from Sq Ldr Bell. I never actually met Howell but sometime after the war, apparently through RAF service records, Howell’s married daughter Jennifer Dexter who became a film actress, made contact with me and I still have periodic contact with her. In addition to other films during her acting career Jennifer Dexter has taken part in the Harry Potter series. It was from Sq Ldr Howell’s daughter Jennifer that I learned after the war that her father after surviving the sinking of Prince of Wales had commanded 243 Squadron but while based in Singapore had become a prisoner-of-war.
The Allies tension was not unfounded because the fall of Singapore in 1942 clearly illustrated the way Japan was to fight in the Far East – a combination of speed and savagery which only ended with the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in August 1945. Had I still been a patient in the Alexandra Military Hospital when the Japanese arrived I would not be writing this today. Patients were systematically bayoneted in the lines of beds, even patients who were obviously seriously ill or wounded. Subsequent records show that Cpl Holden of The Loyals regiment had been bayoneted to death on the operating table and over 200 patients had been brutally murdered by the Japanese during the “Alexandra Hospital Massacre.” I thus had a very narrow escape for shortly before this occurred I had boarded the Dutch ship ‘SS Johan De Witt’ at Singapore docks and was now on my way to South Africa. On arrival at Durban and heading for Bulawayo S. Rhodesia our group of aircrew trainees became ‘Vickers Flight’ at RAF Hillside, Bulawayo. On completion of training in May 1942 we became fully fledged Sgt Air Gunners and thence travelled on the ‘Cape Express’ to Cape Town for embarkation to UK to join RAF Bomber Command.
A Norwegian ship bringing us back to UK carried a variety of passengers including Polish ex-POWs of the Russians and survivors from merchant ships which had been sunk by enemy action. We were also carrying survivors from HMS Barham which had been sunk by German torpedoes fired from U-331. Only one third of the ‘Barham’ crew had survived. Arriving at Glasgow Docks in early June 1942, I was posted to No.20 OTU Lossiemouth via ACRC Bournemouth. Then in January 1943 following a course at 1658 HCU, RAF Riccall, Yorkshire I was posted to No. 51 Halifax Squadron, 4 Group, Bomber Command based at RAF Snaith, Yorkshire. After completing several operations we were about to take off on a night mission to Keil in April 1943. The aircraft had only obtained ten feet height off the runway when all four engines failed. The aircraft dropped back on the runway ran out of space and careered through the barricade on to the LNER main Edinburgh to London railway line. Hanging over the line with props still revolving, a thirteen coach train passed under with only about three feet to spare.
On 20th April 1943, the crew of Halifax ‘W’ being on leave we were allocated this aircraft to carry out two long-distance operations. Those missions being the first time that Bomber Command had flown low-level (50 ft) moonlight operations. Our task was to support Russian Forces at Stettin while testing German defences by flying in at low level. Our altitude was 50 feet from UK, Denmark, Baltic Sea rising to 12, 000 feet at Stettin. After dropping our load we then dropped back to 50 feet on return leg to base.
The next low-level operation to employ those very low-level tactics occurred shortly after this on 15th May 1943 – the Dambusters operation carried out by 617 Squadron. With hindsight, it appears possible that our Stettin low-level moonlight operations were ‘dummy runs’ to ascertain the low level defences of the Germans around this area. The flights were very similar until reaching the dividing point i.e. Stettin/Dams.
Towards the end of April 1943 we carried out a mine-laying operation in the Copenhagen area. Returning to base we passed over the German night fighter base at Aalborg Denmark. Little did we realize that from that very base below us a three man crew were planning to defect to Britain with a JU88 of No.10 Nachtjagdgeschwader. This actually took place on Sunday 9th May 1943 when they landed at RAF Dyce, Aberdeen, to give themselves up.