|Steve's full war memories ................ / page 3|
On the weekends we often went into Leamington Spa - the town not far from camp - and one night they got me drunk and had to carry me back to camp. I think it was Bill Cullen who spiked my beer - Happy Days!
At the end of our training at OTU, we, together with two other crews, were selected to fly our first mission. We were to destroy a bomb arms dump in northern France. To the best of my recollection there were possibly six aircraft on the mission in total with a round trip of about five to six hours of flying. I think the Mess staff thought we would be away for a week as the food we took was laughable. It consisted of 5 flasks of coffee and a large bakers wooden tray that contained neatly cut sandwiches of cheese, ham, sardines, egg and paste as well as some cake. On our return the ground crew polished off what was left, which, if you can imagine how strung up we were, was a large amount! In the Mess on our return, all three crews became heroes.
Eventually, it was time to move on and the five of us, Wilfred, Bill, Chuck, Stan and myself were posted to Croft, west of Darlington, so that Wilfred could convert from twin engine Wellington's to four engine Halifax's. Here we picked up two more crewmembers - Pete Smith - flight engineer and Harry Pritchard - mid upper gunner. We all had to familiarize ourselves with the new equipment on the Halifax.
Within a few weeks we moved to Middleton-St-George, east of Darlington, to join the "Ghost Squadron" 428 Squadron RCAF 6 Group Bomber Command. The Flight Commander, Squadron Leader McLean, informed us that the "Ghost Squadron" was so named because they were rebuilding the squadron after heavy losses. We shared the aerodrome with 419 Squadron RCAF.
Wilfred was told by S/L McLean that when we were on stand down from missions, it was a good idea for the crew to get into town to "imbibe the amber nectar", which would help to relieve any tension caused by sticky missions. Naturally, we had to obey our leader's instructions and were happy to take our ground crew along with us. They were a great ground crew, led by a Sergeant Games RCAF. They did us proud, keeping Q. Queenie in Tip Top condition.
Our initial quarters when we joined 428 were about four miles from the aerodrome where we slept in the gate house of a manor house called "Dinsdale Hall" in the village of Dinsdale which consisted of a few cottages, a church and a Pub! Each day we had to travel back and forth often getting to bed in the early hours of the morning after completing a mission only to be called at lunchtime and informed that we were "on again" that same night!
However, within a month or so we moved back to the aerodrome with the
five of us sharing a nissan hut. This was, by now, November/December 1943
and was rather chilly to say the least and were all delighted to move
into the Sergeants' Mess by Christmas. Wilf and I shared a room, Chuck
and Peter in one nearby and Harry and Stan in another.