The trip up to see Jack (Bob’s Navigator for his first tour in 1943) was wonderful. He and his wife made Bev and I feel so welcome for the 2 days we were with them. I spent in total about 2 and half hours sat with Jack and a digital recorder – which will transcribe to a few pages I think. Physically, he is in remarkable health, though its clear that somethings have been lost in the mists of time, though this is probably compounded by the fact that the 43 tour represented a small part of what ended up being a full RAF career to the point of retirement. Interestingly, he did seem to remember more as we talked.
Too much to go through – though I think what struck me was the precarious nature of the operational flights – I knew they weren’t pleasure flights, but I suppose I had tended to view the ORB reports of the raids and occurrences therein as a definitive description of ‘what happened’. Jack made it clear to me that this was certainly not the case – Jack actually said that he personally didn’t expect to last 30 ops. Whilst he didn’t say he thought he would die, he was resigned to ending up a PoW. Also interestingly, it would appear that the order to screen the crew (and another in the squadron) actually came from 3 Group HQ (not from the station commander as I had thought) as a way to try to show the other crews it was actually possibly to survive a tour.
Jack and the boys never returned with all 4 engines working and they were hit by flak on every raid. On one raid, just prior to making the final run into target, Jack went up into the astro dome, first looking to the back of the aircraft, only to turn his head to see a lancaster only 50 foot above them with its bomb bay doors open – a screamed ‘STARBOARD BANK NOW!’ to Allan resulted in the Stirling banking to vertical as the Lanc’s bombs silently fell through the space that their wing had occupied only seconds before.
On their second raid the Flight Engineer accidentally turned the wrong fuel valve whilst balancing wing fuel loads as they approached the Dutch coast on the way out. All for engines stopped mid air and everybody was reaching for their chutes – luckily the FE realised what had happened and opened the valve pretty quick smartish and they flew on to the target.
It also appears that Dad’s remark in the logbook referring to ‘shot up train’ did in fact relate to him shooting the train up himself! Returning from their 3rd op, gardening in the Gironde Estuary, Dad saw a train and got Allan to drop the plane down to about 150 foot and they shot the hell out of it – when they got back they were as pleased as punch – when they told the Intelligence officer during their debrief, he apparently bollocked them and said if they pulled a stunt like that again, they would be on a court martial – apparently the germans often sent out flak trains with the express intention of luring allied aircraft down to low level, before dropping a side panel on a carriage and cutting the aircraft to ribbons with a set of 20mm cannons.
On a fighter affiliation and flight check, a Typhoon came in a bit to tight and a bit too fast, despite the pilots best efforts, the Typhoon took the end 4 foot off of their wing – Jack rather calmly observed ‘if it had been a foot more, we would have been buggered……..’
Jack also lent me a photo album to scan. Most not relating to 75(NZ) to be honest, but 2 target photos and a beautiful, faded knackered old picture of JN-Johnny, which the boys did 13 of their 21 ops in – this was really a surprise find and it feels that much more special because of that.